Progressive Councillors Who Voted for Austerity Should Be Ashamed

Progressive Councillors Who Voted for Austerity Should Be Ashamed

Last Friday night, my local Councillor Julie Fairey spoke at a public meeting hosted by Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick calling for “A Council Budget that supports communities and climate.” Fairey, who represents the Albert-Eden-Puketāpapa Ward and was the only candidate from the centre-left City Vision coalition to be elected to Auckland Council in the 2022 local body elections, argued that the Budget should increase rates and borrow more money rather than cut services and sell off its 18% stake in Auckland International Airport. She gave advice to the activists present on how to stop Mayor Wayne Brown’s austerity and privatisation going ahead.

Seven days later, Fairey abstained in the final vote on the Budget, which passed with 14 for and 6 against. The Budget proposal involved $83.9 million worth of cuts to services and the sale of a 7% stake in the Airport. Worse still — Fairey voted against amendments put forward by Labour Councillor Lotu Fuli (Manukau Ward) and independent Councillor Angela Dalton (Manurewa-Papakura) which would have halted the sale of Airport shares and reduced the severity of Brown’s proposed cuts.

Fairey’s City Vision running mate Red Tsounga, who lost out to right-wing candidate Christine Fletcher in Albert-Eden-Puketāpapa, has publicly drawn attention to the platform he and Fairey stood on in the 2022 elections, which explicitly supports public control and ownership of strategic assets, including support for “keeping 100% Council ownership of Ports of Auckland and Council’s current shareholding in Auckland Airport.” Tsounga was one of the founders of Community Coalition Against Cuts, a campaign group formed to oppose Brown’s austerity and asset sales.

Despite her broken campaign promises, Fairey was not the worst offender. Labour’s Waitākere Councillor Shane Henderson, and North Shore Councillor Richard Hills — who is a Labour Party member but not a Labour Councillor — voted against the amendments and for the Budget.

These so-called progressive Councillors who voted for privatisation and austerity should hang their heads in shame. I will not be voting for Julie Fairey in 2025.

Cuts to local services hurt communities, particularly the most disadvantaged communities — those who City Vision and the Labour Party claim to represent. Selling off assets may grant a one-off dividend to Council, but in the end it amounts to selling off the family silver — it makes everyone poorer except for the wealthy few who will greedily seize on the chance to buy up an even bigger share of the city’s wealth. Both the cuts and the Airport sale will harm the Council’s ability to protect our environment.

At a time when inequality in Aotearoa is sky-high, housing is unaffordable to so many, congestion in Auckland remains a nightmare, our public transport system is hopelessly inadequate, and with the world facing a climate crisis, privatisation and austerity are the worst possible paths to go down. Our Council and our Government desperately need to invest in stronger public services such as free and frequent public transport and affordable, publicly owned renewable energy; they desperately need to build tens of thousands of public houses and tightly regulate housing affordability; they need to take long-overdue action to end poverty and homelessness; and they need to take urgent, radical action to prevent catastrophic climate change.

Instead, Wayne Brown is cutting Auckland Council — which already provides few and inadequate services — to the bone. Aotearoa already has one of the most centralised governments in the OECD, with a tiny proportion of total government spending going towards local bodies. Brown is making this situation worse, all in order to enrich his super-rich allies. Graeme Hart, the richest man in the country, was one of Wayne Brown’s biggest backers in the 2022 elections.

Privatisation and austerity are both tools to roll back the social provisions of the state in favour of the free market. They cut back the collective good and instead allow corporations to run rampant in their pursuit of profit. After 40 years of such policies being pursued in Aotearoa and across the western world, it is eminently clear that they have failed, and that the social and environmental crises we face are a direct result. The free market cannot solve climate change, poverty or homelessness — it is a machine which endlessly generates higher levels of inequality and environmental degradation. The rich will keep getting richer and the planet will continue to be destroyed unless privatisation and austerity are reversed.

The only way to fight back is for working people to stand together and build a movement to fight for the good of the many, not the few. We will only win stronger public services and action on climate change and inequality if we demand higher taxes on the rich to pay for them. At the central government level, that means taxes on wealth and capital gains; at a local level, it means reforming the rates system to be progressive, and placing far higher charges on major businesses and ultra-wealthy individuals. Other solutions could include placing charges on private planes, helicopters, super-yachts, and other forms of conspicuous consumption by the wealthiest people in Auckland.

We must build a mass movement against this Mayor who represents the rich, and against his agenda. This movement must also be prepared to fight the Government of the Rich if National and ACT are elected in October. But the actions of Councillors Julie Fairey, Shane Henderson and Richard Hills prove that we must also be critical of those who claim to be on our side.

City Vision and Labour cannot be trusted to oppose privatisation and austerity. We must put pressure on them, as community advocates from Auckland Action Against Poverty did by disrupting the Council meeting to protest against the Councillors who voted against the amendments. If necessary, we must stand left-wing candidates against those who would turn their backs on the people who elected them.

To resist the right-wing representatives of the rich and powerful, we need staunch warriors who will fight for working people at every turn. Councillors Fairey, Henderson and Hills turned their backs on that fight. We will not forget.