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A brown mark on Brown cuts

Auckland mayor Wayne Brown has revealed his budget, which includes $60 million worth of cutbacks, including the complete discontinuation of regional contestable grants. In other words, Brown has positioned himself as the fun police, cutting any hopes of funding for the city’s arts and culture scene. Everything from independent theatre shows to large festivals is funded, in one way or another, with money from these grants. Environmental programmes also benefit, and it also helps those who would struggle to access say, sports, get funding to support inclusion and diversity. Historically, the removal of this kind of funding had taken cities years to recover from and is utterly devastating for community development and community-led initiatives. If adopted, the budget will make Auckland a city without culture.

Fortunately, and probably against his wishes and beliefs, Brown is no dictator, and the budget will soon go out for public consultation. It is now up to the people of Auckland to contest it; letters to editors, online petitions and likely physical action, are sure to follow – a protest in the city centre is not unlikely. As for local councillors, just one voted against the budget going out for consultation – the lone opponent being Maungakiekie-Tamaki Ward representative Jo Bartley [although others have expressed verbal opposition]. The remaining councillors will surely be lobbied by their communities in the coming weeks and months before public consultation begins in March 2023.

Of the $60m of cutbacks, the discontinuation of contestable grants would make up $8m. A further $20m would be removed from the community, social innovation and economic development programmes. It is all aiming to plug a $295m hole in the city’s budget caused by covid-19, inflation and rising interest rates. It’s no easy hole to fill, and councillors opposed to the creative cutbacks will need to suggest some other way to front the cash. The mayor’s own advisors have warned that such cutbacks will result in “fewer activities and services” and come with a great reputational risk for Brown – after all, what good is a city without its culture? For the critics in the audience happy to criticise the arts as wasteful spending, perhaps cast your mind back to those early lockdown days. They provide an excellent example of the importance of the arts in our lives – whether you passed the time with television, music, or books, the arts surely added colour to your life. To take those away would be criminal, and to strike away a large chunk of the cultural scene of an entire city is a tragedy.

Like the cursed King Midas, Brown has a history of destroying everything he touches. He did so in the Far North, he did so with the Auckland DHB, and now he’s set to do so again in Auckland city. I put my faith in the artists, the communities, the organisers – everyone affected by these cuts – to have the ability to stand up for themselves and their city. Somebody needs to challenge Auckland’s bully of a mayor, if not the councillors, then their communities. 

I only hope their demands don’t fall on deaf ears.

George Shiers
George Shiers
George Shiers is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age interested in politics and social issues. He reports regularly on a range of topics including infrastructure, housing, and transport. George is also the Tararua reporter and helps cover police, fire and court stories.

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