You may have seen the picture, but do you know the people and the policies behind it? Hayden Donnell takes a trip inside Auckland’s newest lobby group, OpenTheBooks.
Have you ever looked at Auckland’s sclerotic roads, its traffic jams stretching to the horizon, and thought: “You know what this city needs? More cars.”
Have you ever been to a ratepayer meeting where a succession of oddballs rise to deliver their hallucinatory opinions and said: “This place needs more conspiracy theories.”
And have you looked at a young person riding a scooter and felt gnawing terror in the pit of your stomach?
If your answer to those questions is “yes”, then Auckland has a new lobby group for you. OpenTheBooks was launched yesterday at a press conference fronted by its founding members: former Act leader Don Brash, big hat Lisa Prager, car reviewer Clive Matthew-Wilson, and human man Jim Cato-Symonds. Its agenda is perfect for those among us who feel a buzzing sense of dread and rage at the thought of cycleways, the changing world, or most importantly, the incredibly boring and backward council-controlled organisation Auckland Transport (AT).
The group’s central idea is that AT is waging a “war on pedestrians”. In its world, AT is John Bolton, and pedestrians are Iran. It seems to believe that people inside the transport agency want to afflict walkers by allowing rented Lime e-scooters and bikes to mow them down on footpaths.
AT has responded that it has no authority over e-scooter licenses in Auckland, and doesn’t set the rules for whether they’re allowed on footpaths. That hasn’t deterred OpenTheBooks, which continues to make the point that AT still has the vibe of a place that would have responsibilities for those types of things, and as a result should be ejected straight into the middle of hell.
If that hasn’t convinced you to join, OpenTheBooks is also against AT’s plans to reduce the speed limit in Auckland city centre to 30km/h. On the face of it, AT’s move is pro-pedestrian, in that it will mean fewer of them get killed by speeding cars. However, it’s clear forcing pedestrians to survive in an increasingly overheated hellscape where they’re forced to make sense of things like OpenTheBooks’ policies is also an act of war and should not be tolerated.
In general, OpenTheBooks is sceptical of AT’s stated efforts to reshape the city around cycleways and, especially, light rail, saying the agency is handling its portfolio “wastefully, arrogantly and incompetently” and should be run by a government-appointed commissioner.
The group is spearheaded by a collection of Auckland’s minds. Its founder is Clive Matthew-Wilson, a “road safety campaigner” who writes the Dog and Lemon Guide. In the past, Matthew-Wilson has taken some arguably respectable positions like “there should be seatbelts on buses” and “mangled bodies are not nice”.
However lately there’s been some signs he is maybe not… good. One Twitter user has described a worrying incident allegedly involving Matthew-Wilson and a disastrous on-street tyre change.
One of Matthew-Wilson’s recent appearances on Radio New Zealand’s The Panel was even more concerning. While arguing for people to have their cars confiscated immediately if they’re caught not wearing a seatbelt, he veered into some horrifically offensive amateur brain science on the poor.
“The reality is the poor don’t see cause and effect. That’s one of the reasons they stay poor,” he said. “Lecture them on health and safety till you’re blue in the face. You’re wasting your time.”
“Some would say that’s a bit of a patronising attitude, Clive,” replied host Wallace Chapman.
“I’m a motor mechanic by trade. I know my people,” Matthew-Wilson said.
Lately Matthew-Wilson has taken to pestering Auckland Transport about policy areas it has no jurisdiction over. “I have repeatedly asked AT to deny that they plan to allow all kinds of bikes and scooters onto footpaths. They have repeatedly declined to discuss the issue, which speaks for itself,” he told reporters at the OpenTheBooks launch.
Matthew-Wilson likes cars.
If that doesn’t convince you to support OpenTheBooks, maybe you’ll have more time for Lisa Prager. The chronically behatted campaigner was one of the presenters at the worst council meeting of all time, where she and a greying anti-housing brigade booed young people for having the audacity to want to be able to afford a home.
More recently, Prager has devoted her considerable energy to opposing cycleways. She was caught in disguise without a hat on last year, trying to sledgehammer a cycle path under construction in Grey Lynn. Her technique was so poor that she in all likelihood eviscerated every bone in her body within a few shuddering blows. Despite what was undoubtedly white-hot pain lancing through her body, she was able to shout “Sorry boys, game’s up. We’re gonna run you out of town,” to fetish expert David Farrier, who tweeted the exchange.
Prager believes The Spinoff, Generation Zero, and the advocacy group Greater Auckland are trying to enact “Agenda 21”, robbing countries of their liberty and establishing a One World Government through cycleways or something.
Not to your taste? What about Don Brash? Known mainly for his decades-long commitment to making New Zealand’s race relations worse, Brash is branching out into spurious statements on transport policy. He was apparently convinced to sign up to OpenTheBooks after being shown evidence of AT’s nefarious deeds. The nature of that evidence isn’t clear in Stuff reporter Todd Niall’s story on the group’s launch, though it could be to do with e-scooters, speed limits or a “mysteriously-named contract” for nearly $47,000 to transport consultancy MRCagney (AT said the contract was to refresh the assessment of its Rapid Transit Network). “The evidence is sufficiently compelling – is it absolute proof? No, but it smells,” Brash told media.
Brash’s credulousness may help explain why he was also suckered into a dubious claim about something Lieutenant Governor Williams Hobson said at the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. Brash and others went on to base the entire totally non-separatist group Hobson’s Pledge around that claim, so OpenTheBooks looks tame by comparison.
The group is also home to Jim Cato-Symonds, a male homosapien from Ponsonby.
If any of these things appeals to you, please consider joining OpenTheBooks! Or better yet, move to the Auckland Islands and live there in silence among the penguins. At least then you won’t have to deal with any e-scooters.
This content is funded entirely by Flick, the electricity retailer giving New Zealanders power over their power. With both spot price and fixed price plans available, you can be sure you’re getting true cost and real choice when you join Flick. Support us by making the switch today.