Mayor taking part in asset sales rally 'risky'

Last updated 05:00 06/02/2013

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Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown risks distancing the capital from the Beehive, fellow mayors warn, as she prepares to speak at an anti-asset sales rally.

Next Wednesday Ms Wade-Brown will appear in an official capacity at the "Say No To Asset Sales" event at Frank Kitts Park in Wellington.

Organiser Richard McIntosh said the event was designed to stir action against state asset sales, not to debate the issue.

Other speakers include high-profile opponents of the Government's plans to partially privatise New Zealand's three state power companies, including anti-free trade campaigner Professor Jane Kelsey and Maori Council chairman Maanu Paul.

Ms Wade-Brown's appearance challenges a general principle adhered to by many mayors to avoid publicly challenging the government of the day on issues not directly linked to their constituency, as doing so may close influential doors.

Mr McIntosh said Ms Wade-Brown had initially been reluctant to appear.

"I asked her quite a while ago and I could see she was quite uneasy about it."

Ms Wade-Brown denied she was reluctant, saying a personal engagement had unexpectedly changed, allowing her to attend.

On record as opposing civic asset sales, Ms Wade-Brown said she would speak about the importance of maintaining ownership of council infrastructure and the town belt.

"It's a central government analogy to local government strategic asset sales."

As mayor, she would "absolutely" oppose sales of strategic council assets, in particular water infrastructure and the minority share in Wellington Airport, although she avoided defining her position on the Government's privatisation programme.

"I'm not going to be too explicit on that. You know where my [political] sympathies are."

Although she stood for mayor as an independent, Ms Wade-Brown is a member of the Green Party.

She has previously clashed with central government, including a face-off with the NZ Transport Agency over plans for a flyover at the Basin Reserve.

Upper Hutt Mayor Wayne Guppy said he had views on the national agenda, but where they were contentious issues he would avoid taking action if it did not affect the city. To act would risk harming relations with central government, and within the council.

Lower Hutt Mayor Ray Wallace said his personal view was that it was not the mayor's job to protest "against what has become a very political issue". Personal views should fall behind the best interests of the city.

"Your city must have a very good relationship with the incumbent government, no matter what your personal views are."

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Porirua Mayor Nick Leggett offered support for Ms Wade-Brown, saying while it was a "fine line" he had spoken from a personal perspective at an anti-asset sales rally last year, believing he had a duty to speak his mind.

"People don't want their leaders to be beige."

City councillor John Morrison said the asset sale debate had been lost in "hype" and most people had never sat down to consider the costs and benefits.

"Sometimes we penalise ourselves because we don't sell poor assets and get money for better ones ... We own some stuff that's crazy and the money from selling them could be used for public amenities."

He doubted Ms Wade-Brown had looked at the "numbers and facts, benefits and consequences" of the issue.

"I wonder how much of it is attention seeking."

- The Dominion Post

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