Fellow Aucklanders. It’s time to take a stand

Many ‘Ponsonby News’ readers like me will have found themselves affected, perhaps surprisingly so, by the news of the passing of the Queen. Affected too by nostalgic memories of her long reign playing on our screens, memories of which for some go back to her very first visit to New Zealand in the summer of 1953-54. Seen through the sentimental lens of royal tour camera teams the beautiful young Elizabeth appears as if a fairy Queen in New Zealand in a golden time, a time of happy, waving people, living in wholesome prosperity. Of course, the Tangiwai disaster which happened at that time was a reminder there is no such thing as fairy tales. Nevertheless, the New Zealand of that time, was indeed a different country and as L.P. Hartley famously observed, they did do things differently there. The country the young Queen visited, was less than 10 years out of an exacting national war effort.  A unified country and a proud country. New Zealand had punched well above its weight on the WW2 battlefield and achieved outstanding success on the home front as well.  The country’s national debt at the end of the war was lower than at the beginning.  New Zealand remarkably was a net donor of war aid not only to the United Kingdom but also to the United States! So, in the 1950s, as the result of the social reforms, housing, local industry, ambitious infrastructure programmes and consequent full employment of the first Labour government and the wise decisions of subsequent National governments not to overturn these, meant New Zealand had attained a standard of living second only to that of the USA.  In the rural New Zealand that the young Queen visited, every country town typically surrounded by dozens of smallish dairy farms, owned or ‘share-milked’ by local families, had its own post office, railway station, dairy factory, schools – bigger towns had hospitals, providing full employment and support for the local people. The rural heartland was indeed that. There was no such thing then as intergenerational unemployment, nor drug-dealing gangs ruling over small towns blighted by methamphetamine.  As for the bigger cities Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin, each had a claim for primacy and so there was a healthy rivalry and national balance in terms of growth and development. I was born in Wellington. My mother who was an Aucklander and Dad a Wellingtonian used to rib each other over this rivalry (do people bother with that nowadays?) In my eyes Mum always won. So, I came to Auckland as soon as I could when I turned 21 with my young wife and baby girl. It was February 1970. The Queen was visiting Auckland at that time too. Among the four cities, Auckland, the most beautiful of course, was primus inter pares. It was not the sprawling monster government and council policies have turned it into now. In those days too led by popular Dove-Myer Robinson it was proud to call itself ‘the Queen’s City’. 

The last time I saw the Queen was on Waitangi Day 1990. I had taken my family there because it seemed the place to be at a time when the country was celebrating the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty. Everyone was in a euphoric mood because of the great success of the 1990 Auckland Commonwealth Games, the Queen had ceremonially closed a few days before. But change was in the air. 1990 was on the cusp of the old welfare state New Zealand being replaced by the new neo-liberal order. The atmosphere at Waitangi to my surprise was not so festive – hot, humid and tense. We stood halfway up the ramp leading up to the Treaty grounds waiting to see the Queen. Presently she was driven past in an open land rover. She didn’t seem especially happy. We later learned a young woman at the bottom of the ramp had flung a wet tee-shirt at her. 

What has this all to do with the coming election? The passing of the Queen reminds us not only of our own mortality, but that history is not always progress.  And that while there have been brilliant technological advances, our society, our country, our beloved city has lost a lot along the way, and stands to lose a whole lot more. It has become very clear that the so-called ‘Super City’ is failing, with another massive billion plus? cost blow-out for the City Rail Link, inexcusably being hidden from the public until after the election.

So, this election could not be more important. It is time for Aucklanders to take a stand.

To stand up for the heritage handed down to us. Stand up for our democratic rights and equality before the law. Stand up to bureaucratic AT. Stand up for our unique character suburbs and parks – and to remind the powers-that-be that governments, and in this case councils and councillors, are there to serve the people – not the other way round.

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