Introducing Dr Keith Johnson, Labour Party Candidate for the Southern Ward, Wellington City Council
As an economist with financial skills I will carefully guard your interests in the way money is spent. I am standing under the banner ‘Caring about Costs – Caring about Community’ and undertake to keep rates and spending down, while improving local services for residents and householders.
I have worked widely on development projects and policy design overseas, and continue to provide advice on energy, housing, and transport issues here in Wellington. My two small sons attend Island Bay School and my wife is a nurse. We love the community, the local natural landscape, and the diverse and wonderful people of the Southern Ward.
The current switch of the rates burden away from businesses to householders must stop and more money must be spent at the local level and less in the City Centre. I also commit to advancing the city’s reputation as a caring, environmentally sound and enterprising community.
Hei kaiōhanga whai pukenga pūtea ka āta tiaki au i ō pānga ki te wāhanga o te whakapau moni. Kei te tū au i raro i te kōrero ‘Te Aro ki ngā Utu – Te Tiaki i te Hapori’ me te whakatika ki te pēhi i ngā rēti, i te whakapau moni, otirā me te whakapai ake i ngā ratonga ā-rohe mō ngā kainoho.
He whānui āku mahi i roto i ngā kaupapa whakawhanake me te waihanga kaupapa here i tāwāhi, ā, kei te tuku tohutohu pūtea tonu au mō ngā take ngao, whare noho, me ngā waka kawe i Te Whanganui-a-Tara. Kei te kura o Island Bay āku tama e kura ana, ā, he nēhi taku hoa wahine. Tino kaingākau ana mātau ki te hapori, ki te āhua o te taiao tūturu i konei, ki ngā tini tūmomo tāngata pai katoa o te Takiwā ki te Tonga.
Top 5 Issues
- CARING ABOUT COST - ENDING RATES INCREASES
Wellington residentiaL rates will rise by 5.6 percent in the coming year - way above inflation.
And an estimated additional $87 million will also have to be found to cover WCC's contribution to solving the local Leaky Buildings problem.
We need to spend more wisely and cut-back spending to deliver a zero increase on household rates next year.
As an economist with financial skills, I will safeguard your money, and the $6.6 billion of assets that WCC manages in your name.
- CARING ABOUT COST - ENDING RATES REBALANCING
WCC has just re-balanced the rates burden away from the commercial sector to the household sector.
While householders face a 5.6% increase, the commercial sector will be left alone - it's increase will be ZERO.
Well, I will do my best to stop further re-balancing - especially to fund work on Leaky Buildings, which is a problem that has been caused by the commercial sector
- CARING ABOUT COST - WISE SPENDING
Over the past decade, things have been good and lots of promises have been made about making Wellington vibrant and trendy. Time now for a 'cup of tea' on grand and costly plans.
As householders are now paying at a higher rate, more money should come back to local residential areas like the Southern Ward to fund local facilities and suburban shopping centre revitalization (e.g. Berhampore).
Also the Leaky Buildings issue illustrates the problems of depending too heavily on the private sector.
I will oppose the privatization of water as I believe that it would be impossible to ensure that productivity improves, prices moderate and deals do not go on behind the community's back.
- CARING ABOUT COMMUNITY - SUPPORTING LOCAL SERVICES
The community is at the centre of my thinking.
I want to see more money flowing back to suburban residential areas to support local facilities like libraries, community centres, play grounds and sports fields.
I will press very hard for increases in the availability of swimming pools, and the provision of artificial turf for games like soccer, hockey and rugby.
We also need a Council that is more responsive to local community needs and less eager to assist retailers in the 'Golden Mile', restauranters and bar operators in Courteney Palace, and hoteliers in 'filling bedspaces'.
In the Southern Ward, we have a wonderful community that loves the local natural environment. We have shown how much we all care in our involvement in outsiders' plans to develop Te Raekaihou Point and the Te Kopahou / Red Rocks area.
I pledge to defend our wonderful coastline and marine heritage and work directly with local community groups to that end.
- CARING ABOUT COMMUNITY - SUPPORTING LOCAL VOLUNTARY GROUPS AND SHARED ACTIVITIES
The Council has neglected the contribution of Voluntary and Not-for-Profit organizations to the health of the local economy - and their much bigger contribution to social harmony and enterprise.
The Wellington economy is roughly one tenth of the NZ economy - say worth $18 billion in wages, profits and rents. The contributions of the Voluntary and NFP sectors are probably worth at least 5% of the regional economy (nearly $1 billion per year).
We need to support this 'Third Sector' as well as the day-to-day activities of communities in such areas as sport, hobbies, fairs and festivals.
It is activities like the People's Market in Newtown and the Festivals in Island Bay and Newtown that bring us together to celebrate our diversity, common interests and joy in life.
"It is a great privilege to be standing as a Labour Party candidate for the Wellington City Council. I look forward to working among my many friends and neighbours to raise issues for debate within the community. And if the community so decides, I will commit myself to doing my very best as a representative and hard-working Councillor.
We live in a beautiful city that has made enormous progress over the last 20 years. And the Wellington Region contributes at least $16 billion per year to NZ’s economy. It needs and deserves good governance.
I would love to be able to contribute to this.
Who am I? I am partly a househusband and child caregiver who looks after 2 small boys who are 7 and 6 years old. I also do part-time economic and policy consulting, picking up my life-long interest in overseas development and policy analysis. I care very much about trying to create a better world.
I am a professional economist and financial analyst who has worked over 35 years across 25 or so different countries in project planning and policy development. I hold both honours degrees and a PhD. However, I am also a great believer in the learning that comes from the 'University of Life'.
I live in the Southern Ward at 368 The Parade, Island Bay
My campaign has 2 main themes:
1. Caring about Cost Control
2. Caring about the Community
CARING ABOUT COSTS – there are 5 points here that I want to concentrate on:
I. Wellington City Council is forecast to spend $343 million this year – this is a lot of money – especially in a time of tightening household budgets and spending cut-backs.
a. We need more than ever – Good financial management and Good Project Selection and Project Management – I can help with these issues given my skills and experience.
b. In particular, I think that I would be a valuable member of the Performance Review Committee.
We have just been through 10 ‘Good Years’ during which the current Mayor and her predecessor have been able to spend relatively freely – and promise relatively freely. New sports complexes, ice skating rinks etc. have become elements in a bidding war for votes at Elections.
Now that we are in a different economic and financial climate, this has to stop. I strongly doubt that many members of the current Council have grasped this fact – or that they are capable of adapting their mindsets to the new realities.
II. Some specific spending areas. The mayor has recently responded to concerns about the financial viability and public accountability of such Council Controlled Enterprises as:
a. Waterfront Development
b. Basin Reserve
c. Karori (‘Zealandia’) Sanctuary
d. Wellington Zo
e. The Cable Car
f. St James’ Theatre.
We need to be sure that these enterprises are properly and frugally managed, and that they remain viable and properly funded – and that in the current economic climate we don’t add too much from ‘wish lists’ (like adding an ice skating rink).
We also need to safeguard and enhance opportunities for public participation in decision-making, particularly where, as in the case of Waterfront Development, there have been moves to by-pass agreed planning guidelines.
III. Thirdly, we need to get the right balance between commercial and residential rates. The Council that over the longer term the ratio between commercial and residential rates will fall from 4.2 to 1.00 to 2.8 to 1.00, with a commitment to a reduction to 3.8 to 1.00.
This policy needs careful appraisal and monitoring. In the current downturn in the economy, it would be unacceptable to raise residential rates substantially.
And we need to get the expenditure balance right between the Central Business District and the suburbs.
If the rates burden continues to be re-balanced in favour of the commercial sector in the central city, homeowners in the suburbs have every right to ask for a similar re-balancing of expenditure.
We don’t need a statue on every corner of the Waterfront. We do need proper traffic control and reliable bus services in the suburban areas.
IV Taking thE point further, what should the balance regarding investment and support for the shopping centres of Kilbirnie and Johnsonville on the one hand, and Lambton Quay ‘Golden Mile’ on the other hand?
While there is a strong argument that Wellington derives much of its special character from its vibrant core, there are dangers that planning restrictions on developments in alternative centres like Kilbirnie and Johnsonville are being promoted to protect existing central city businesses from competition. This issue deserves greater consideration.
The public always need to be convinced that policies of favouring one location over another are based on sound assessments that take the whole community into account – and that they do not favour special interest groups.
And if people have to travel into the central business district to visit a supermarket, this adds to traffic congestion and parking woes, as well as depleting the viability of the larger satellite centres.
V And closer to my heart, I feel that the Council needs to take a much more active role in safeguarding the economic health of the smaller suburban centres. One very obvious case in point is the village centre of Berhampore which is being blighted by the Council’s failure to facilitate the restoration of prominent commercial-residential Leaky Buildings.
Regardless of who is to blame for such matters, when they affect the public face of communities like Berhampore, effective and rapid action must be taken to safeguard the self-respect and future vitality of the community.
2. CARING ABOUT THE COMMUNITY
I. Average voter turnout for Local Council elections is only around 40% - we need to make local government more accessible, relevant and engaged in real participation. There is a lot of money at stake – and there are lots of things that can and should be done to help the not so well off and increase community caring and pride.
One example is community housing – this is a special interest of mine – I used to work for Housing New Zealand Corporation in the Policy Unit.
Community and public housing makes an enormous contribution to the welfare of groups like mental health consumers and refugees – it needs to be safeguarded. And the provision of housing needs to be better targeted and managed.
II We also need to promote starter housing for young marrieds and single people – this is a big problem at present – and maybe shift resources from assisting apartment development in the Inner City to building lower cost housing (perhaps by getting contributions or commitments from developers).
There is a clear need to look again at the allocation of land for relatively high density but free-standing or terraced housing. While such developments have to be planned and handled with care to minimize environmental damage, it is vitally important that Wellington should provide greater opportunities for newly formed families to thrive - and for their young children to grow up as Wellingtonians.
III Third, we need to give more support to the Non-Governmental Organizations in the so-called Third Sector. It is estimated that voluntary organizations create wealth equivalent to around 5% of gross domestic product. This means we are talking about $900 m per year in the case of Wellington.
In the current economic climate, voluntary organizations are going to be pressed to do more with less as central government tightens the purse strings. The Council can play an important role here in fostering and supporting community groups and in ensuring that the contributions of volunteers are properly recognized.
NGOs that I have helped in the past include Folau Alofa, Earthlink, NZ Drug Foundation. Until very recently, I was on the Board of the Institute of Public Administration of New Zealand (IPANZ).
IV Fourth, we need to support general Labour Policies – including the Rent Rebate system which supports poorer home owners to retain their homes.
We need sustainable urban development and control, with a proper balance between the concerns of Wellington City and those of the wider region. This also means looking carefully at collaboration and possible merger between authorities.
V Finally, we also need to safeguard the environment – including paying greater attention to getting cars off the roads in favour of public transport, cycling and walking. This could include increasing pedestrian reserves along the Golden Mile.
In the light of this, I think that the time has come to think seriously about a light rail link, for example, between the railway station – Basin Reserve – Newtown – Kilbirnie – and the Airport. Clearly, there will be a long lead time on any developments of this type – particularly give ongoing financial constraints. But now is the right time to do the thinking and have the discussion and consultation.
And making Wellington eco-friendly and carbon neutral as well as nuclear free is great – but we need to know the costs and who will have to bear them (given, as we have seen, the ongoing re-balancing of the rate burden between commercial interests and householders).
As for the Southern Ward, we have shown as a community how deeply we care about environmental matters and the safeguarding of the South Coasts shoreline and marine gems - like Te Raekaihou Point and Te Koopahou / Red Rocks reserve. I pledge to continue to defend our natural heritage and promote the sensible and sustainable use of our natural resources and landscapes.
This brings me to a final point – there isn’t enough information available to the general public on financial issues and policy development – we need to improve transparency and accountability across the board, including the posting of a much wider range of information on Council websites.
Overall, we need to institute an Open Book approach to Council affairs and accounts which mandates the release of official information. Only then will members of the public be able to reassure themselves that decisions are being made in the wider interests of the community – and not to meet pressures from special interests.
Conflicts of Interest
Authorised by Keith Johnson of 368 The Parade, Island Bay, Wellington
Results - Final
- Paul Eagle
- Bryan Pepperell
- Will Moore
- Keith Johnson
- Greg McPhee
- Ida Faiumu-Isa'ako
- Rex Nairn
- Bernard O'Shaughnessy
- Seann Paurini
- Thomas Morgan