Monday, 8 December 2008

Bend it like Mike Lee [updated]

david_beckham_victoria_beckham_boobA question for you this morning: What’s the difference between soccer player David Beckham and Auckland Regional Council head honcho Mike Lee?

In truth, there’s many differences -– from athleticism to talent to the number of Oscar-winning films with their name in the title –– not to mention the length of their wives’ skirts -- but there’s one particular difference thrown up over the weekend:

David Beckham has made a fairly large fortune playing a game that millions around the world want to see, a fortune his wife has no trouble spending.

Whereas Mike Lee just threw away a small fortune promoting a soccer game at Auckland’s Mt Smart with David Beckham that only 16,000 Aucklanders wanted to see -- around 4000 too few to make back the money Lee spent on the game – and the money he just threw away was yours and mine.

In other words: This wasn’t an entrepreneur risking his own money on a dubious promotion; it was a local-body politician spending your money so he could pretend to be an entrepreneur -– money that Mrs Beckham will have no trouble spending down Rodeo Drive.

So where does Mike Lee get the power to throw your money away like this?  To answer that, you only have to go back to 2002, when then Local Government Minister Sandra Lee (no relation AFAIK) revised the Local Government Act to gift councils "a power of general competence" – and who in their right mind would use the words “competence” and “council” without the intervening words “lack thereof” – so that councillors could legally do whatever the hell they like with your money.

And they have. This game presents in microcosm the reason the rates you pay on your property are so bloody huge while the things you’re allowed to do with your own land is such a bloody small list. 

In essence (as I said at the time) what Lee’s Act overturned was a crucial constitutional principle -- the principle that citizens may do whatever they wish apart from what is specifically outlawed, whereas governments and councils may only do what is specifically legislated for.

The main purpose of this constitutional principle is to keep a leash on government, both central and local.  You may judge from your own rates bill what removing this leash has done.

But we now have a new Minister of Local Government, and to remove the “power of general competence [sic]” would be the easiest thing in the world for that new minister.  If Rodney Hide – for it is he of whom I speak -- wants to knock off an easy and urgent target, this would be one of the easiest and most urgent.  He could do worse than refer to Libertarianz’ submission to Sandra Lee’s 2001 bill to see where to cut.

It would be as easy as Mrs Beckham spending money.

UPDATE:   Rodney Mayor Penny Webster is another local-body blowhard who needs a rocket up her fiscal arse.  Councils must “be prudent” in tough times says the woman who’s presided over enormous rate increases in the Rodney district, “but this shouldn't entail pruning.”  Well, Penny, yes it bloody should. In case you haven’t noticed, those people whom you and your ilk view as cash cows are struggling under the cloud of a coming depression.  They’re struggling to pay their bills, and they fully expect you to take “a slash-and-burn approach” to your bloated, flatulent council – a council that has levied rate increases every year for six years (2007/8 rates in Rodney lifted again by up to 12% for properties and 14% for sections) on the back of RDC salary levels rising 116% in the 5 years to 2006, even as fulltime staff numbers increased from 249 to 450.

So yes, Ms Webster, prudent really does mean slash and burn.  How about you give your bloody ratepayers a break -– you could start by taking those staff numbers back to what they were five years ago, and getting rid of all the expensive make-work nonsense those overpaid, unemployable clipboard wielding blowhards have been doing.  And then apologise for being an apologist for bloat, and resign.


  1. PC: the principle that citizens may do whatever they wish apart from what is specifically outlawed, whereas governments and councils may only do what is specifically legislated for.

    Bravo. On this specific instance: tickets were $120 NZD!!!

    That's crazy. One of the neighbours actually got tickets, and my son was allowed to come as this was one of the so called two-for-one tickets. But they cancelled the free tickets at the last minute.

    So that might explain just the 16,000 in the stadium.

    And sorry, no, I would never pay $120 to see David Beckham.

  2. I wouldn't pay $1.20.

    Clearly some 984,000 Aucklanders felt the same.

  3. Lee is claiming that the shortfall won't affect rates.

    "I think we've taken a loss here," Lee says. "But that will not impact on the rate payers. This will be ring-fenced off and the Mt Smart business unit will have to trade its way out of this."

    Whether they made a loss or not doesn't matter. Even if they made a huge profit, they shouldn't be taking ratepayer's money at gunpoint.

  4. While talking local government, and RMA, Peter, were you aware of this issue, vis a vis the Environment Court.

  5. I'm afraid so, Mark.

    As far as I can remember, the criminal conviction for doing stuff on your own property was introduced by Simon Upton, at the same time as he introduced the ability for councils to issue spot fines.

    And guess how many people spoke up against it at the time?

  6. I saw a crowd of eager fans outside Beckham's hotel, the Westin at Viaduct Harbour. There must have been at least six of them, possibly seven.

  7. Update: they lost $1.8 million on this idiocy.


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