The Unleashing Auckland session on 16 July entailed three lively presentations followed by an even more lively discussion with the audience of well over a 100. A recording of the session is available here.
'We have stolen from our children, we have stolen from our grandchildren, it is time to put it right' was a core message of Shamubeel Eaqub.
Among the other key factors he identified were the constraints of excessive housing prices and inadequate transport systems as limiting opportunities for Auckland to become an attractive city living up to its potential. The competition is not with other NZ cities, but overseas cities. With an average cost of $800,000 for a house, and an average income of $80,000, too many Aucklanders are forced to rent poor quality houses. House ownership peaked in 1991 and NZ has gone backwards ever since. Successive Governments have failed to address the issue of overseas ownership of residential land. We have no adequate public debate about the underlying issues of immigration, banks, or taxes. In the 1990’s 10% of bank loans went to mortgages – now it is 50%. A tax regime that favours negative gearing is welfare for the rich at the expense of the poor. We have a broken system with poor infrastructure as a result. We need leadership that disrupts the bipartisan inactivity of the status quo. Generation Rent, Shamubeel's recently published book is a available here.
Dita De Boni noted that even her relatively well-off family struggles to cope with the cost of living in Auckland, and she sees many families are having great difficulty. Auckland is becoming unaffordable and unliveable for a diverse range of people. The NZ Herald and its readership have focussed on house prices as a recurring issue, but the multiple unaddressed aspects of the problem point to Government policy neglect and leadership alignment with corporate interests and the rich. Not politically aligned herself, Dita is dismayed at the lack of collective initiatives. There are many examples overseas, such as California taking a hard stance against abuse of water for personal benefit. NZ's hands-off philosopy resists such ntervention. Auckland Council is handicapped by Government’s failure to act in the public good. Government has no vision for Auckland, but reacts to crises in a short term manner.
She also noted that, while there are many public facilities and services for families and kids in central Auckland, in the outer suburbs this is not the case. The trains to Pukekohe, for example, are OK, but public transport after that is inadequate. We need services, green spaces, for kids and the elderly right across Auckland. What is needed is a new form of urban infrastructure. Politicians need to look after everyone. To achieve this we also need to deal with tax loop holes and lack of transparency around political donations.
Martin Udale has lived in Auckland for 12 years and is a great supporter of city living. But it is important that cities have a vision that is strong and enduring. It needs to be stated often leading to clear strategies, and parties should be held accountable to those commitments, with deadlines on key matters. The time now is to stop talking and start doing. Quality is the key, but this includes quality leadership and quality institutions.
He says the standard of the public debate is awful. We need to encourage the “it” factor that gives good vibes. Local Government has an important role and legitimate interest in the whole picture of what makes a good city – it should not just be concerned about drains. We need innovation to attract capital and talent. Martin is optimistic that things are getting better, but we need to involve the people who will be affected for the next 25 years in the debate and decision making.
It is very likely that another 2008 financial crash will occur very soon, according to Dr Robert Howell. In a presentation to the Fabian Society Dr Howell outlined the evidence, including overseas experts such as Ben Bernanke, former Chairman of the Federal Reserve, and Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, that the causes of the 2008 crash have not been significantly addressed. The ‘too-big-to-fail’ issue has not been dealt with. The expectation that financial institutions can privatise gains and socialise losses encourages excessive private sector risk-taking and can be ruinous for public finances.
The financial and banking system continues to be unstable due to the accumulation of debt. Dr Howell described the evidence by such authorities as Martin Wolf of the Financial Times, that the role of private banking in money creation, and the fractional banking system, needs changing. Wolf is associate editor and chief economics commentator at the Financial Times. He is widely considered to be one of the world’s most influential writers on economics and regarded as “staggeringly well connected” within elite financial elite circles.
Dr Howell stated that Wolf’s critique of the current economic model that underlines the international trading system demands serious attention. The cost to the funding of public services in particular is excessive. Dr Howell took as an example the cost of interest to the Auckland City Rail scheme to show that changing the privatisation of the money system could reduce interest costs by one sixth.
Dr Howell also looked at the world’s ecological footprint that is running at 150% above the capacity of the Earth to support human life. The current system is predicated on a growth economy and this cannot continue without major ecological and financial collapse.