Democracy – a farm leader says it could be dangerous and iwi leaders want it weakened

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen, vowing that her country would continue to increase defence spending, develop its indigenous defense industry and work with like-minded partners to contribute to regional peace and security, further said:

“We can work together to ensure that future global security won’t be determined by military or economic might. Instead, it will be guided by the values of freedom and democracy.”   

But buying into this democracy stuff is a challenge for some New Zealand groups.  In Canterbury, a farm leader is concerned about the prospect of “dangerous” consequences from regional council elections.  In Hawke’s Bay, some iwi leaders would prefer to be governed locally by regional council commissioners appointed by authorities in Wellington who share power with them.

Environment Canterbury is preparing to restore a fully democratically elected council for the first time since 2010, when the Government sacked its 14 councillors and installed commissioners over claims there were “deep-seated problems” with its water management strategy.

In 2016 the rules were changed to allow seven elected councillors and six appointed commissioners.

The Press brings us up to date:

Under the new proposals, the council would have 13 elected members from seven new constituencies across Canterbury. The proposal would see eight councillors elected from Christchurch city and five from rural Canterbury. While the wards are broadly split along population lines, they will see urban dwellers have more influence over environmental policy and water quality standards.

A similar split existed before 2010 when there were 14 councillors with eight elected from Christchurch and six from rural areas.

Federated Farmers North Canterbury president Cameron Henderson fears these changes will polarise the council between rural and urban as happened in 2010.

“It could mean that we end up with some polarising characters on the council that have some extreme views. We don’t want that from either end of the spectrum,” he said.

“They have extreme views around what targets should exist for water quality and unrealistic timetables. They fail to see how it affects the system.”

“It is very, very dangerous if we end up with that. We have come a long way. I would hate to see extremists destabilise that.”

‘We don’t want to return to a polarised council that makes poor decisions or no decisions at all.”

He said rural representation was needed “as we will likely feel the economic fallout from any decisions.”

Enough rural representation to ensure farmers’ bidding is done, presumably.

We have not caught up with Ngai Tahu opinions on the restoration of a full democratic system.  

But in 2015, the tribe was warning against it. 

The tribe made its views known when a select committee heard public submissions on the Environment Canterbury (Transitional Governance Arrangements) Bill, which aimed to introduce a diluted democratic system – a mix of elected councillors and government appointed commissioners – from 2016 to 2019.

The proposed bill provided for, but did not guarantee, a return to full democratic elections in 2019 – six years later than originally expected.

Ngai Tahu had been one of several groups, including Canterbury councils, which asked for government intervention in 2010. Those changes resulted in the elected councillors losing their seats.

The tribe support the 2015 bill.

“The proposal to return to a fully democratically elected model does not provide sufficient recognition towards the Treaty partnership,” its submission says.

“It is considered that the proposal would be a step backwards for Canterbury as a number of other regions have moved towards equitable representation for iwi at a governance level.”

 The Ngai Tahu view of a good system of local government is instructive:

The iwi supported continuing the mixed model after the 2019 elections, proposing to incorporate three Ngai Tahu appointed commissioners alongside three appointed by the Government.

In the submission, it expressed a desire to continue its improved relationship with the commissioners and to increase Ngai Tahu representation.

These are similar to iwi ideas being expressed in Hawke’s Bay. 

Some tangata whenua have called for Hawke’s Bay regional councillors to be replaced for the sake of the environment. 

They say Māori have historically been disadvantaged by council decisions.

“The health of our people is under threat and we’ve had enough.  The people who are responsible are really the Crown and they’ve delegated the responsibility to the Regional Council and those people are not performing,” says Toro Waaka, co-chair of the regional planning committee on the council. 

“We want them out and replaced with commissioners who can make decisions that need to be made urgently,”

In a statement the Hawke’s Bay treaty settlement groups concerned about the region’s water quality have called on the Crown to replace Hawke’s Bay Regional Council with commissioners.   They said:

“We propose the Crown appoint commissioners to replace the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council and work with tangata whenua to review the [regional council’s] regional planning committee engagement mechanisms”.

And:

“We propose the commissioners work with the tangata whenua post settlement entities and Ngāti Kahungunu Incorporated to resolve environmental degradation issues. We recommend the Crown work with Hawke’s Bay Regional Council to educate them on their treaty responsibilities and establish processes and mechanisms for the sharing of decision making and associated responsibilities with their treaty partners,” it said.  

Toro Waaka already wields influence as co-chair of the council’s regional planning committee.  He also is a Director on New Zealand Māori Tourism, Chair of Hawke’s Bay Māori Tourism, Chair of the Ngati Pahauwera Development Trust, and a member of the Ministry of Social Development National Māori Innovation Reference Group.

The regional planning committee apparently was set up under former Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Christopher Finlayson.

The settlement groups claim they were told by Finlayson that if it didn’t work out he would replace the council with commissioners.

Sack the elected representatives by fiat from Wellington, in other words.

Anyone surprised by this?

Former New Plymouth mayor Andrew Judd – democratically shown the door by the citizens of his city – no doubt will be siding with the iwi as they strive to strengthen their political influence.  While he was fighting critics over his council’s plans to create a Maori ward, Stuff reported :

“The reasonable interpretation of the Treaty is that you would have fifty-fifty representation around the table,” Judd said. 

“We should be incorporating the Maori perspective around council tables, and ultimately that would mean up to half the representation each.”

We should note that Judd was talking not about “electing” Maori representatives to give them half the seats but about “incorporating the Maori perspective around the council tables…” 

Let’s hear from the Green Party on calls to dump elected regional councillors to give iwi leaders a greater say.

Green MP Eugenie Sage in 2015 said the Government needs to trust the people of Canterbury and return a fully elected, democratic regional council in Canterbury immediately.

She was criticising the Key Government’s announcement at that time about the regional council’s future and the postponement of the return of a fully elected council until 2019.

“National doesn’t trust the people of Canterbury to elect councillors to act in the best interests of the region,” Green Party Christchurch spokesperson, Eugenie Sage said today.

“National may not like people who get elected to local government, or agree with their views, but that’s not an excuse for crushing local democracy as it is doing by handpicking six ECan members.

“Democracy is our greatest asset yet National is denying Cantabrians a proper vote for almost a decade.  Citizens deserve more than the second class council they are getting which the Government can continue to influence and dominate.”

In 2010 Christchurch had eight regional councillors in the former 14-member elected council, she pointed out.

“Under National’s current plan it will have four, halving the democratic representation of the city which provides most of ECan’s funding.”

 Regional democracy in Canterbury had been subverted by National in 2010 to facilitate more irrigation development, and thus more water pollution, Sage said.

 “When there was a fully elected regional council there was far more responsiveness to public concerns about the health and state of Canterbury’s waterways, biodiversity and natural environment.

“It is time for the National Government to trust the people of Canterbury to elect competent councillors and for these councillors to represent citizens in managing the region’s transport planning, water, air, coast, and natural hazards,” said Ms Sage.

 Let’s hear from her now …

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