Upgrading the Auckland mayoralty debate

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It looks like Len Brown will be staying as Mayor of Auckland. This will be a defeat for the moral right, which has refused to separate the mayor’s private life from his political life.

It will also be a defeat for the political right, whose strident campaign for Brown’s resignation is starting to rebound. Cameron Brewer, one of Brown’s strongest critics on the Auckland Council, has now admitted he

didn’t declare a four-day trip to the Gold Coast

, paid for by MediaWorks. Right-wing councilors, MPs and Ministers get more attention and perks from the corporates than centre-left, left or green politicians.

One of the main ways Sky City influences politicians is to invite them along to its frequent social functions to schmooze with Sky City executives and the Auckland “A” listers. Politicians (unfortunately including some Labour politicians) have also accepted hospitality in Sky City’s corporate box at sports events.

Most of Len Brown’s undeclared perks are hotel room upgrades, but Brown’s family wouldn’t be alone in getting them. Room upgrades for prominent right-wing politicians would be common. Upgrades help hotels on a number of levels. They make the politician look more kindly on that hotel chain, they help ensure repeat business, and they open up more cheap rooms for other paying customers. The prestige of having a VIP stay for a night is also good for business.

Right-wing politicians may also have received free hotel rooms on special occasions. Of course, this doesn’t justify Len Brown’s family getting free rooms from Sky City, particularly when its casino damages so many Aucklanders and Sky City is increasing the number of pokie machines under its convention centre deal with the government.

Corporate New Zealand does its best to inveigle politicians into a web of privilege to help them see the world the way they do. Lobbying, cocktail parties, corporate boxes, upgrades and corporate gifts are all part of this. Which isn’t to say that left-wing or green politicians can’t mix with people in the corporate set, and work together on agreed projects, and still retain their principles. Much can be achieved if you remember who you are and what you represent – and don’t succumb to the temptations of the high life.

In Parliament I found that the corporates weren’t so interested in the Greens when we were in opposition, or didn’t hold a critical parliamentary vote. When the Greens held the balance of power, between 1999 and 2002, the lobbyists turned up and social invitations flowed. I wouldn’t be surprised if now a Labour/Green government is on the cards, the corporate sector is taking more interest in the Greens.

As a Green politician my main “upgrade” problem was with rental cars. Green MPs sent out strict instructions that we wanted only the smallest, most fuel efficient cars. Yet I would sometimes arrive at a rental car depot to be told by the happy person on the desk: “Sir, we’ve upgraded you”. They were surprised when I explained that I didn’t want the large model outside, and wished to “downgrade” to a smaller version. The most embarrassing time was when a car was delivered to me at Parliament and parked in the alleyway next to parliament’s press gallery. Running late for a meeting in Palmerston North I rushed towards the car fumbling with the keys, accidentally setting off the alarm of what was to me a monstrous car – “upgraded” against my instructions. Too late for me to change. However, it was not too late for a press gallery journalist, alerted by the alarm, to note what was happening in the alleyway outside and write a little story for the next day’s paper about a Green MP driving a big car.