Mayor Lianne Dalziel is annoyed that she and her councillors have been given a pay rise by the Renumeration Authority. But is she just grandstanding - and why should she and her councillors be on such extravagant salaries anyway?
THERE HAS BEEN MUCH WAILING FROM Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel about the Renumeration Authority issuing a pay increase for herself and her merry councillors.
The rise will take Dalziel's pay up from $179,350 a year to $184,300 from July 1, while deputy Vicki Buck's salary will increase from $109,900 to $114,526. Councillors will get a 4 per cent increase and receive $99,200, up from $95,300. These are salaries that are comparable to those of executives in private corporations.
In a city marred by grinding poverty, skyrocketing rents and homelessness it is certainly embarrassing for Dalziel that the Renumeration Authority should be seen to be stuffing even more cream cakes into the already fat faces that sit around the table of the Christchurch City Council.
It is especially embarrassing for Dalziel as she is one of the prime agitators to burden the people of Christchurch with massive rates increases -she and her supporters like Vicki Buck and Raf Manji are campaigning to increase rates by a third in just four years, and it won't stop there.
Dalziel, a veteran politician who is now struggling to keep the public onside, knows that this pay increase is deeply unpopular and risks alienating herself and her council further from the good people of Christchurch. That is why she wrote to the Remuneration Authority asking it to refrain from giving herself and councillors the increase. Not surprisingly, the authority has rejected her request.
I doubt though that Dalziel ever really thought the Renumeration Authority would listen to her and this is more about Dalziel playing to the gallery. It's an obvious attempt to make the authority, in faraway Wellington, the villain of the piece. No doubt she hopes this will take some of the heat off herself and her councillors - some of whom, like Jamie Gough for instance, are more than happy to take the pay increase.
But this pay rise actually serves to deflect attention from the obvious fact that Lianne Dalziel and her councillors already get paid far, far more than the average Christchurch wage.
While councillors are eating in upmarket restaurants and tweeting about their holidays in the United States, many people in Christchurch are living off cheap loaves of bread and cans of baked beans while wondering if they'll ever find somewhere affordable to live.
These extravagant salaries remove councillors from the realities of life for working people. I wonder if someone like Raf Manji would be as gung ho about sharply increasing rates if he was living on the average wage. I somehow doubt it.
Mayor Dalziel and her councillors would do well to take a leaf out of the book of Seattle councillor Kshama Sawant.
When she was first elected in 2014 she announced that she would stand by her campaign pledge and accept only (US) $40,000 a year in salary — bringing her down to the average wage of a worker in the city. The rest of Kshama Sawant's $117,000 salary has gone to social justice causes such as strike funds, and civil rights and women’s rights campaigns.
“Every council member faces a choice of who they represent and which world they inhabit,” said Sawant. “My place is with working people and their struggles. I want to give a voice to workers, trade union members, women, and immigrants. As a council member, I re-commit to a fundamentally different political outlook. In line with the principles of the political party I represent, Socialist Alternative, I pledged to stay accountable to working people by taking only an average workers' wage. "
Unfortunately we don't have any Kshama Sawant's on the Christchurch City Council. They see themselves as corporate executives 'worthy' of their bloated salaries. Unlike Kshama Sawant they don't see themselves as the active representatives of a class whose interests are ultimately for a more equitable, more just and more democratic society.