Most Hobson readers will be painfully aware of the way their rates bills have increased in the past five years. This has partly reflected decisions by successive councils to shift even more of the burden on to higher-value properties, and it is partly the result of higher council spending. Core council spending is up around 40 per cent since 2014 ($1.9 billion to $2.8 billion in 2017).
It’s astonishing then to discover than that while rivers of cash have gushed into many areas of council spending, the Auckland Art Gallery, one of the city’s core cultural institutions, has been starved. Its operating budget has been progressively cut from $12 million in 2012 to $6.9 this year.
Now, I’m all for careful spending, and have no doubt that some areas of the council would benefit from a dose of austerity. But it seems perverse that one of the jewels in the city’s crown should be singled out for such treatment. Over 130 years successive councils have invested heavily to redevelop and expand the gallery, so that now it is truly an amazing space.
Supporters of the gallery have been roused to action, forming Save Our Gallery, to fight for a better response. And I wish them every success. Our local councillor Desley Simpson has also been an advocate for the gallery. It is heartening that finally the mayor has indicated a willingness to support an extra $2 million a year. This will go some way to rectifying the situation. Hopefully the rest of the council will support him.
It’s worth reflecting on the 130 year history of the gallery. In the 1880s, as now, the city was in need of investment in transport, water and sewage. There were many demands on spending. But the city fathers saw value in a place to present and celebrate art. To inspire and thrill all generations.
Any city worth its salt has a vibrant arts community, including an art gallery that will take the breath away from visitors, local or foreign. Auckland has that, and in my opinion the super city should be able to marshal its resources to fund it properly.
Parliament, meantime, as you many noticed, has resumed. The new government continues to be morally and intellectually incoherent. Cancelling a modest adjustment of the tax thresholds because wealthier people might pay $1000 less tax a year, while dedicating its biggest new spending allocation to a free year of tertiary education – a $6,000 present in many instances to those same wealthier families.
Then the employment minister allocates $13 million to get community groups to help marginalised youth into employment. Sounds good, but the day before the government said it would take away 90-day trials for most businesses – a move that will hurt, you guessed it, marginalised youth. Does anyone think removing a 90-trial period will make it more likely that employers will take a chance on an unskilled youth from a troubled background, who has no work experience?
We’ll fight the good fight.
Meantime, with the freedom of Opposition I have more time to visit community groups, clubs, local businesses etc. If you want to give me the benefit of your views, please give my office a call and I’ll come.