Local Government New Zealand president Dave Cull made “revitalising democracy” the highly worthy subject of his opening address to the 2018 LGNZ Conference.
He made no mention of increasing pressures on local authorities to make special arrangements for Maori representation with processes which distort the democratic concept of one citizen, one vote and – when put to the test in local referendums – are found to be unpopular with most voters.
Cull talked. rather, of
” … the strong importance of local and central government partnership on the economic, environmental, social and cultural well-being of New Zealanders; working together to address the country’s needs, common priorities and agreed of work agreed around housing, water, climate change and regional development…”
More particularly, the LGNZ is pressing for a shift in the way public decisions are made in New Zealand by seeking a commitment to “localism“.
“Instead of relying on central government to decide what is good for our communities it is time to empower councils and communities themselves to make such decisions.”
The current process reflected the imbalance of power and authority between central and local government, Cull said.
Balance needs to be restored
“ … so that both local and central government contributes equally to the governance of New Zealand in an integrated way according to its unique strengths and competence.”
Cull proceeded to announce a localism project in partnership with The New Zealand Initiative and its chief executive, Dr Oliver Hartwich – Revitalising democracy: going local.
“We’re calling for an active programme of devolution and decentralisation.
“For New Zealand and its communities to prosper for the long term we need to build on the knowledge, vitality and entrepreneurial spirit of our communities. ‘One size fits all policies’ dictated by central government no longer work in the more diverse and challenging world we find ourselves in – we need to localise and the funding must follow.”
Based on the work of a reference group which LGNZ will convene over the next few months, the key elements of this programme will be a Localism Symposium in early 2019, the release of a discussion paper at LGNZ Conference 2019 and the publication of a Localism Agenda in early 2020, the year of the next general election.
The Taxpayers Union inevitably (and reasonably) said the proposed devolution of tax-and-spend powers to the local level must come hand in hand with better quality governance and clearer accountability to ratepayers.
Spokesman Louis Houlbrooke said:
“In theory, we support these ideas of ‘localism’ – Wellington lacks first-hand knowledge of local needs. Unfortunately, many local politicians and bureaucrats will be seeking more powers without commensurate accountability to ratepayers.
“Local councils lack the same level of media and institutional oversight as central government. So, in order to trust them with more spending powers, we should also introduce new oversight to ensure quality and integrity. This could include duties of political neutrality for council staff, greater transparency around elected members’ financial interests, and greater access to official information held by councils.”
Houlbrooke wants clearer limitations on the actual scope of local government – such as a requirement for councils to use new revenue sources on core infrastructure rather than pet projects.
Auckland City ratepayers would agree.
According to this post at Whaleoil, it seems Mayor Phil Goff and the Auckland Council have approved $1 million in their 10-year budget for initial design and development of a proposed structure or “pou” – $100,000 for design in the current financial year and a further $900,000 for initial development next year.
The result will be a giant statue of Papatūānuku the Earth Mother.
Proposed by Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei and envisaged to be installed in time for the America’s Cup, the pou would be 30 to 50 metres high – tall enough to stand above a forest of more than 10,000 kauri trees which have been planted on the historic headland of Takaparawhau / Bastion Point
All ratepayers, of course, have an interest in issues better taken out of local authority hands.
One of these is genetic modification.
It is illegal to import, develop, field test or release a genetically modified organism (GMO) without approval from the Environmental Protection Authority.
The courts nevertheless have found local authorities have the right to set their own GMO policies under the Resource Management Act.
Federated Farmers failed with several legal challenges against the resource management plans of several councils, including Auckland, Whangerei, the Far North and Hastings, which was the first council in New Zealand to become GMO-free in 2015.
The second issue is fluoridation.
The Supreme Court has upheld the South Taranaki District Council’s right to fluoridate water supplies in Patea and Waverley.
An anti-fluoridation campaign group, New Health New Zealand, has fought the council’s decision through the courts beginning with a judicial review in the High Court since 2012.
New Health New Zealand was ordered to pay $20,000 costs to the council, but Mayor Ross Dunlop says this goes nowhere near covering the $300,000 the council has spent on the case.
He said this had been a big imposition on the council, which had only about 14,000 rateable properties in its district.
“We have had support from the Ministry of Health on this one, but we’ve still put a huge amount of staff time and others’ time into this.
“We were really just trying to do what we thought was the right thing for our young people, our tamariki, particularly with oral health and we sort of got dragged into all of this. It’s been a real eye-opener for us.”
Central government would do ratepayers a favour by taking this matter and GM out of local hands.