Dangerous Dog Crisis Exposes Auckland Council To Political Anxiety and Tribalism

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ER Insider.

By ER Insider. See also: EveningReport.nz’s Editorial on this issue.

AN INSIDER’S OPINION: Political anxiety, tribalism, stale and stagnant ‘part solutions’ have been brought to the fore as Auckland Council attempts to save face over this menacing and dangerous dog crisis.

Auckland politicians have for years ignored menacing dogs that roam, bark, charge and intimidate innocent residents and family pets throughout south Auckland.

The cynical would say ‘when politicians get cosy they lose touch’. The reality is: it’s easy to ignore unregistered dogs in Otara and Takanini when you enjoy the privilege and view from your 27th floor office at 135 Albert Street in Auckland City.

POLITICAL ANXIETY:

Darnell Minarapa-Brown, 7-years old.
Darnell Minarapa-Brown, 7-years old.
When violence against a child compels communities to demand action, and that call sounds from all over Auckland City – it becomes harder for Auckland’s politicians to ignore the plight of 7-year old Darnell Minarapa-Brown who spent six hours in surgery at Kidz First Hospital because a dangerous dog ripped his face apart.

In the real world, south Auckland’s people want real action. For a moment it seemed the politicians had listened. There was a glimmer of hope after south Auckland Councillor Callum Penrose announced a high-powered group of politicians would front the media with their solution.

But by the time Thursday’s highly publicised photo-opportunity concluded, hope was lost.

People in the communities soon realised, Auckland Council’s call for an amnesty, on the owners of unregistered dog owners, was a cop-out and more a solution for political anxiety than for those who live in this city’s urban communities.

Fronting the photo-op was Auckland’s Mayor, Len Brown, and Councillor Penrose.

They boldly raised how Auckland Council will initiate an amnesty so the owners of Auckland’s unregistered dogs will be able to come forward, pay their fees without fear, or fine, or prosecution.

Was this it? Was this all they had in their ‘fix-it’ box of tricks? Sadly, it appears so.

Brown and Penrose’s amnesty exposes them both to failure, and for Penrose, failure to deliver for the community he is supposed to represent is an anathema as he considers campaigning for his job at this year’s Auckland Council elections.

The people of Manurewa, Takanini, and Papakura demand hard and real solutions to this crisis. They are not stupid and this amnesty will fail to make south Auckland’s streets safer. It will also fail to inspire voters at this year’s local government elections.

The amnesty ignores the inconvenient truth. Auckland Council has wide powers under the Dog Control Act to tackle menacing dogs and prosecute dog owners. Auckland, like any council, has the ability to classify dangerous dogs. It has the ability to enforce its bylaw, and it has the ability to keep communities safe.

Therein lies the problem, Auckland Council has the power but it has failed to use it.

Why not? Because nine times out of ten the aggressive behaviour of roaming dogs, that threaten the safety of people and domestic animals in south Auckland, isn’t a hot enough topic for distracted councillors.

Defining the American Pit Bull in the Dog Control Act as proposed by Penrose and others is a useless gesture. Most of the dogs who roam suburban streets are not purebred creatures. Many are mutts of unknown parentage, born of chained bitches on unfenced properties. Few, if any, of the dogs that bite children in south Auckland are registered, let alone subject to dog obedience classes.

Auckland Council’s credibility is undermined by its unwillingness to:

  • resource its animal management functions
  • go door to door to assess and impound menacing dogs.

There are plenty of neglected, angry and unhealthy dogs in streets and neighbourhoods all over Auckland. It doesn’t take a media conference to commit to action to tackle those animals and hold their owners to account.

TRIBALISM: Disappointingly, political tribalism won on Thursday. Auckland Council side-lined the one politician with real credibility on animal management: Cathy Casey.

Auckland Councillor, Cathy Casey is a specialist when it comes to dog control and ownership issues.
Auckland Councillor, Cathy Casey is a specialist when it comes to dog control and ownership issues.
If Auckland Council was truly compelled to deliver a real solution to this dangerous dog crisis, then it would have listened to Councillor Casey who is recognised as a specialist on dog control and ownership.

It would have invited her to lead the debate on how Auckland Council will make Auckland’s urban streets safer from menacing and dangerous dogs, and, irresponsible owners and gangs.

It chose politics and tribalism instead.

POLITICAL ESTRANGEMENT: Councillor Casey fell out of favour with Mayor Len Brown and Callum Penrose after she opposed massive rate increases and the denial of property owner’s rights on land rezoning.

This week, it was payback time for Cathy Casey, as the Mayor and Councillor Penrose excluded her from the Council’s amnesty announcement.

Was this also because Cathy Casey is credible, knowledgeable, and has the ability to hold Auckland Council to account for its failure to police and enforce its own dog control bylaw – credentials that will likely sideline Mayor Brown and Councillor Penrose’s amnesty? Casey has a heart and a nose for public sentiment and has demonstrated her resistance to Council-driven team-thinking.

Unfortunately, politics got in the way, and while a photo-opportunity with media was planned, the stage was set, their amnesty idea given the spit, spin and polish, it was always destined to fail. The media, and the people of south Auckland, are not fools, and the ‘media-opportunity’ fizzed.

CALLING FOR REAL SOLUTIONS: Election year is supposed to bring new ideas, new solutions to the fore, not stale, failed, unconvincing ideas peddled by councillors that politically need the exposure of a Council-sponsored event to profile their credentials.

Politically, Auckland Council has used the illusion of action to buy itself time. But the response lies not with Parliament. The response lies with Auckland Council itself, starting with addressing the dearth of animal management contractors in neighbourhoods across Auckland.

This week, Auckland Council chose an illusion and a distraction in an attempt to halt the continual slide in public regard prior to polling day.

That slide has plagued the mayoralty throughout this term. The Mayor has endured being booed at… at Eden Park, at Victoria Park when the World Cup champion All Blacks returned to New Zealand, ignored at Chinese New Year functions, and scoffed-at in public.

Len Brown chose retirement from politics over certain electoral defeat. Political anxiety and tribalism has infected some of his strongest supporters who also fear the indignity of defeat at this October’s elections.

Sadly, this ridiculousness will not make Auckland’s streets safer for people like Takanini’s Darnell Minarapa-Brown. It has only caused people to become more fed-up with politicians past their use-by-date, and caused more people to call for a real solution to this menacing and dangerous dog crisis.

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Selwyn Manning, BCS (Hons.) MCS (Hons.) is an investigative political journalist with 23 years media experience. He specializes in reportage and analysis of socioeconomics, politics, foreign affairs, and security/intelligence issues. Selwyn has extensive experience as a commentator and has provided live political analysis to a wide range of television and radio organizations broadcasting in New Zealand, Australia and globally including the BBC (Five Live, London) and BBC (World Service). He is currently a correspondent to Australia's FiveAA radio, and is a regular live-on-air panelist on Radio New Zealand's The Panel with broadcaster Jim Mora.

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