Chen Palmer founding partner launches latest book

by Mackenzie McCarty02 May 2014
Last night marked the launch of Chen Palmer founding partner Mai Chen’s latest book, Transforming Auckland: The Creation of Auckland Council.

While this certainly isn’t Chen’s first book (she published the Public Law Tool Box back in 2012 and is currently working on the second edition), she says the content wasn’t initially intended to be published.

“I didn’t start out to write a book,” admits Chen. “Flying in every week for 20 years [from Wellington] is not the same as living here. And when I came here, I wanted a Public Law Toolbox equivalent for Auckland Council and I said, ‘point me to some information that will tell me how Auckland Council works’.

The revelation that inaugural Council CEO, Doug Mckay, was stepping down served as a tipping point for Chen.

“People were starting to leave and I thought, ‘well, we need to capture this’. Otherwise, you’ll never understand why Auckland Council works that way,” she says.

Chen notes that Auckland Council has 8,500 officials and serves as New Zealand’s only international city.

“It’s a big part of the growth engine, the economic engine, of New Zealand. And learning to engage well with Auckland Council is just as important as engaging well with central Government,” she says.

She interviewed 44 people instrumental in the development of the Council and subsequently compiled them into the book.

“A lot of people wanted to know what the lessons learned were. I have found it so interesting, because you think it’s going to be quite boring, having 44 people talk about Auckland Council, but actually, it’s a page turner,” laughs Chen.

“The Hon Rodney Hide said, ‘my key regrets are that I didn’t provide by statute that the unitary planning came into effect immediately…We should have put in a permanent mechanism for Central Government to talk to Auckland Council’ and he said the Independent Maori Statutory Board is worse than Maori Seats.”

When asked how she manages to find the time to run a national firm, litigate and continue her involvement in a number of pro-bono activities along-side authoring books, Chen says it comes down to a desire to help as many people as possible.

“When I first came to this country, I couldn’t speak English and we didn’t have any resources and we didn’t know anybody. To be in a position now where I can help people – it’s fantastic…The thing that motivates me is that I am on this earth for a very short period of time. I just want to make as much of a difference as I can,” she says.