Auckland Mayoralty Conversations
In early September, the Committee scheduled virtual discussions with each of the (then) top three mayoral candidates to discuss the vision each candidate had for Auckland, their priorities, and the specific plans they seek to address if successful.
Former AUT Vice-Chancellor and Committee for Auckland Director, Derek McCormack facilitated the discussions. In each conversation we delved into the candidate’s vision, priorities, and specific plans to help create a better future for Auckland. We drew on the Reimaging Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland work that the Sir Peter Gluckman-led research centre Koi Tū produced earlier this year.
Subsequently Viv Beck formally withdrew from the mayoralty race and Efeso Collins preferred to reply to our questions in writing. We present the conversations below.
Viv has held governance positions, senior management in large companies and CEO roles in medium-sized businesses. From 2015-2022, she was Chief Executive of Heart of the City.
Wayne is active in his own businesses and the community. An engineer, he has strong management experience and led several boards including Auckland District Health Board and Vector.
Efeso has worked in research, youth development and has owned small businesses. Since 2016, he has represented Aucklanders as an Auckland councillor for the Manukau ward.
Efeso Collins | Committee for Auckland Mayoral Response
What was your general reaction to the Reimaging Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland report released by the Sir Peter Gluckman-led research centre Koi Tū: the Centre for Informed Futures earlier this year?
I think the report is an important think-piece for the public sector, private sector and our universities for the sorts of challenges and out of the box solutions that could meet them. As an academic exercise it is a compelling report and the nine areas cover the most fundamental aspects that need focused solutions.
The challenge is always around the need to build a democratic consensus for long term change in our diverse society, where many agree with the challenges but have different views on the solutions. A good example is how we support traditional democratic thinking with other inclusive ideas such as participatory democracy, co-governance, discussions on the voting age, meaningful engagement with diverse communities etc. These are fundamental questions that affect our constitutional arrangements and need courageous conversations with the electorate. I think some of the report’s solutions of a technocratic approach to this through panels of experts misses the mark as accountability back to the electorate is fundamental.
I also think we have a fundamental challenge on how we turn long term strategy into an investment plan, and the necessary trade-offs and disruptions this involves. Climate action is a good example and is a complex area of policy making, but has essentially been portrayed as either generational arguments between young and old, government overreach, or an issue of scale that New Zealand isn’t big enough to make a significant enough difference in the world. As political and civic leaders, if we can’t find a way of building the necessary consensus on the challenge itself and the solutions, then strife, upheaval and resentment is inevitable.
How has it informed any of your plan making? Which of the nine “Key Elements” in the report would you prioritise, and which would you weight as lower priorities?
I wouldn’t necessarily say the plan itself has had a specific influence on my policy platform as such. A number of the focus areas pointed out by the plan such as decreasing engagement and democratic participation, the need for collaborative leadership, the need to focus on the environment, people centered planning and social cohesion have been key drivers for my own values base and public service throughout my life.
I also don’t think the plan would benefit from a hierarchical approach to it. The elements are integrated and to a large extent co-dependent. The elements themselves aren’t controversial. It’s the leadership, public engagement and implementation we need to get right. The theme from the report that most resonated with me is the need for joint planning by government and Auckland Council and if we can progress that in more areas in true partnership we will go far to realise the benefits the report outlines.
I am also looking forward to the work of the Review into the Future of Local Government and its draft report to government later this month as the panel has recognised some of the same challenges identified in the Koi Tū report.
The Koi Tū report takes a long-term view about what Auckland needs. Auckland Council has the existing thirty-year Auckland Plan which, if you are mayor, you will lead an update of in 2024. How well do you think Auckland plans for its future and what will you look at reviewing or changing.
Council’s planning isn’t necessarily the issue. It’s the connection between planning and operations, and effectively co-opting central government and the private sector that leaves a lot to be desired. The design of the council organisation by the Auckland Transition Agency seperated planning and operations into silos. The integration of plans into operations and integrated advice to elected members, needs significant improvement.
The related issue is understanding and analysing the financial reality of delivering planning outcomes. Lack of timely implementation due to financial constraints always leaves communities skeptical and disengaged, and disconnects planning and operations further.
What do you see are Auckland’s three biggest future opportunities and its three biggest future challenges?
Three key future opportunities (and challenges)for me are as follows:
- The pandemic has forced us to pause and reflect on key policy settings such as the nature of immigration and foreign investment, tourism, the changing nature of work and changed consumer behavior. All of these have unique impacts on a global city such as Auckland and need to be carefully approached. I think good policy settings both locally and from Wellington that are Auckland specific with a view to supporting Auckland’s competitiveness globally will set us up well for the future.
- The climate crisis and the need for meaningful action is an opportunity to cut across divides and re-engage people in policy discussions. Climate change is no longer an academic exercise but a real world impact that people can see and feel.
- The need to hear from communities and sectors that are not engaged in politics and policy. There is a general feeling of disenchantment or a sense that public policy doesn’t matter in people’s lives. A democracy that only works for the few and creates too many winners and losers is dangerous and unfair. Technology and how people consume information provides both challenges and opportunities for engaging with a wider range of people in our community.
5) How will your specific plans maximise and resolve these?
I’ve outlined some key policy priorities to address some of these challenges including:
- an affordable, safe and efficient transport system that prioritises the shift to mass transport and active modes
- a focus on delivering more housing to attract and retain our best and brightest in the city
- an all of system approach to community safety that brings together central government, NGOS, business, the community and council
- a responsive and accountable council and CCO structure that regains the trust of Aucklanders
- an economic development plan led by Tataki Auckland Unlimited to act as an honest broker and advocate for Auckland’s businesses
- a business leaders panel that advises the Mayor and council
- leveraging council’s billion dollar annual spend to benefit small and medium sized Auckland businesses
- a council organisation that focuses on cost efficiency, effective enforcement of regulations, customer service and accountability to local communities.
6) How much is your likelihood of success in these areas dependent on others, as opposed to being primarily reliant upon the actions and directions from the mayor?
None of my success will depend on me alone. A politician or any leader that believes they have all the answers and can go it alone is profoundly misguided.
7) What plans do you have to regularly change or improve engagement with Auckland businesses, not for profit agencies and other stakeholders?
As outlined above my plans include a business leaders panel that advises the Mayor and council. I will also continue with council’s various advisory panels so our community’s diverse voices influence council decisionmaking.
Although council is legally required to engage on a wide variety of issues with iwi and the community, I believe effective engagement remains a challenge, both due to the engagement approach, but also due to the fact content is presented in a long-winded and technocratic way. Improving this will be a priority for me.
How well do you think Auckland competes with its international equivalents such as Brisbane, Vancouver and others? What more could/should the Mayor/Auckland Council do to make Auckland more competitive?
I think Auckland has competed well in the past and has been at the top or close to the top of liveability ratings. We have lost some ground recently since the pandemic. This is however an anomaly rather than a trend. As we shed pandemic restrictions and the world returns to a level of normalcy, I believe Auckland will regain its pre-eminent place as one of the world’s most liveable cities. But the role of political leadership in this cannot be underestimated and that’s why Auckland needs a Mayor who looks at the big picture and has a compelling vision rather than someone out of touch with both reality and Auckland’s potential.
What is the characteristic you have that gives you the greatest chance of being successful if you are elected Mayor and why?
The social, environmental and economic challenges that face Auckland also needs an effective champion and a collaborator to navigate. These are the skills and values I hold dear. I have spent most of my life advocating for people and communities and that is what I will continue to do as Mayor. I also believe listening and collaborating with people who don’t think the same or come from a different background than me is a strength, not a weakness.
Which of your characteristics presents the greatest risk to you being successful and how will you address this?
I’ve been told by many of my opponents that I’m too nice of a guy. It’s a subject of much humour with my supporters and those who know me well. It’s a perception based on how I come across as I’ve never had to impose myself physically or through a loud voice to get my point across. It’s also part of my culture and upbringing to respect everyone and to speak softly, that I’m incredibly proud of.
If being labeled a nice guy means that I remain calm in tense situations, look to have a engaging conversation with people who have different views to me and seek to build alliances and take advice, then I’m happy with the label.
If being a nice guy means people are suggesting I am weak and ineffective, I’m happy to point to my career of advocacy and standing up for what I believe from student politics, youth advocacy, media commentary, my academic work and local politics that all suggests otherwise.
What role do you see technology playing in the way Auckland responds to its challenges and opportunities? In which areas? What, if anything, do you think a mayor should do here?
I think technology is an inevitable and important part of Auckland’s future. It will play a major role in solving some of our challenges including in areas such as sustainable food production, building and infrastructure, commerce, climate action and transport. It’s the job of the Mayor to ensure we build a city that makes it attractive for innovators and investors to live and work here, and a Mayor with the courage to be future focused that acknowledges and embraces change rather than dwelling in the past.
Our Auckland’s Future panel with youth leaders last year found the way council makes decisions and in particular engages with younger Aucklanders wanting. Only 20% of 26– 30-year-olds voted in the 2019 Auckland Council election. Do you have any ideas how to address this?
I agree this is a key challenge. A good start would be civic leadership that values young people’s perspectives and opinions. Some of the solutions to date including council’s youth advisory panel, or even an idea I have of a Youth Governing Board will help, but we need scale to make a meaningful impact. I am on record as supporting the lowering of the voting age in principle but even that doesn’t guarantee better engagement unless we can demonstrate the value of engagement and voting reflected in policy change. This is a longer term trend that has no short term or quick fixes.
What aspects of our changing climate do you see are most impacting Aucklanders? What are the longer-term steps as Mayor you would take to respond to this?
Climate change is inevitably going to have environmental, economic and social impacts and the evidence for this has been presented in a number of domestic and international studies. Council’s Climate Action Plan and Transport Emissions Reduction Plan sets out ambitious target to tackle climate change and will be an important guide for my mayoralty. I’ve spoke to so many Aucklanders this campaign that have encouraged me to continue to focus on this area.
I’ve outlined climate action as both the reason for me entering the mayoralty and the focus of my administration going forward. My transport, waste management and environmental policies all focus on climate action. For me success would be a marked shift in investment, consumer behavior and public sentiment towards more mass public transport and active modes during my mayoralty. I’d also like to push for better clarity from government on issues such as managed retreat and who pays for climate mitigation.
The pandemic has exacerbated some of inequity disadvantages in parts of Auckland. What role do you think the mayor of Auckland and the council has to address these?
These are again long term challenges. If it wasn’t the pandemic, it was the GFC before that, changes to the social welfare system in the 90s or the economic reforms earlier in the 80s that have impacted our poorest and most vulnerable more than others.
In the last term council progressed the issue of “equity” as a key policy and investment lens which was a courageous approach by elected members. The idea was to have an “equity” multiplier going forward. Of course equity means different things to different people and the challenge will be to make sure we follow through on good intentions, especially when it is difficult.
I am running for Mayor as I believe the financial, economic, social and environmental challenges we face are stark and Auckland needs a Mayor that is experienced, courageous and empathetic to meet them. I am running for Mayor to leave a legacy for my children and yours of a city that met its challenges and remains a place desired by many. Auckland needs a Mayor who knows what council can and can’t do, a Mayor that works across political boundaries to reach consensus rather than one who thinks they have all the answers, a Mayor that delivers rather than makes empty promises, a Mayor that makes sure Auckland’s voice is heard loud and clear in Wellington and a Mayor that genuinely listens to the needs and views of all Aucklanders. That is the Mayor I am committing to be.