Forget about invigoration – LGNZ should aim to restore the democracy its members have debased

Invigorating our democracy was the noble cause championed by  Local Government New Zealand president Dave Cull in a speech to more than 600 local and central government delegates, including the PM.   

Point of Order would press instead for  the restoration of democracy in local government.

Many of the 600 delegates will have been party to council decisions – without reference to their citizens – to arrange for iwi representatives to sit on council committees without the hassle of having to campaign for electoral support.

Waikato District Council – while Cull was speaking – was preparing a statement to declare it is planning “to introduce external specialist Maaori representatives to its principle Council Committees after the October 2019 local government elections”.

A proposal to introduce these “external specialist Maori representatives” as part of the council’s next governance structure in October 2019 is to be tabled at a July council meeting.

If approved, the positions would be made for three years and would be publicly advertised in October-November 2019. The positions are proposed to be in place for the first committee meetings in 2020.

Chief executive Gavin Ion said the council and iwi were “keen” to improve the opportunity for Maori to contribute to council’s decision-making (by means that bypass the ballot box, obviously).

“We want to improve the participation of Maaori in Council decision-making process, plus we see this as contributing to Council’s vision of creating Liveable, Thriving and Connected Communities,” he said.

Waikato District Mayor Allan Sanson said that the Waikato District Council – Waikato Tainui Joint Management Agreement (JMA) committee had made this a priority, saying that the committee “wants to enable Maaori to further contribute to, and participate in, Council’s decision-making.”

We learn that council staff have been engaging this year “with Maaori stakeholders” to discuss the appointment of Maori representatives to council’s committees, what form the positions could take, and how they could be given effect.

And the engagement with the rest of the community?

This is a fundamental constitutional change we are talking about but the rest of the community don’t seem to have been consulted.

“The council report will recommend that the Maori representatives (known as Maangi Maaori – Voice of Maaori) will be included on council’s principal committees, which currently comprise: Strategy and Finance; Infrastructure; and Policy and Regulatory. The Maaori representatives would also attend council workshops that are relevant to their  work.   

“The proposed Maaori representatives would have voting and speaking rights at Committee meetings (i.e. a decision-making role). The appointments would be made via a public recruitment process and independent panel, involving both Iwi and Council.” 

Not so long ago a strong majority of the Otago Regional Council  voted in favour of enabling Ngai Tahu to choose two iwi members, representing four Otago rūnanga, to sit on its policy committee.

The appointees were given voting and speaking rights and joined 12 elected councillors at the table.

As Point of Order reported at the time, there seems to have been no public consultation and this significant change to the council’s governance arrangements was not included in the draft annual plan that was out for consultation.

But it’s not clear from the speech notes whether Cull was talking about democratic structures and the concept of eligible citizens being entitled to cast one vote each at local government elections to choose their council representatives and hold them accountable.

What he did do was launch “a roadmap to greater localism” with the appealing slogan “Reinvigorating Democracy”. 

According to a press statement, he was banging on about the case for localising power and decision making to councils and communities.

 Speaking to the theme of the conference, “Riding the localism wave: Putting communities in charge”, Mr Cull spoke of the need to give communities more say in the important decisions that affect their lives, if New Zealand is to make meaningful progress on the tough challenges facing our society today.

He proceeded to state the obvious: the needs of communities in Auckland are starkly different from their immediate neighbours in Northland and the Waikato, let alone those of Gisborne, Taranaki, Marlborough, or Invercargill

“– and our policy responses need to be flexible to enough to respond to this.

“But that’s a complexity our highly centralised governance structure struggles to respond to, and it costs us dearly as a nation. It drags on our productivity, raises transaction costs, widens inequality, and frustrates individuals and communities who want to improve their own well-being.”

Cull proceeded to call for power to be given back “to communities”.

“The answer to the problems caused by centralised decision making cannot be more centralisation.”

The experiences of community-elected district hospital boards in working within their budgets suggest otherwise.

Nevertheless, LGNZ’s localism discussion paper provides a proposed framework by which decision making can be handed back to communities in phased and gradual way that ensures greater local decision making is matched by improved capacity and capability of institutions, like councils, to meet these needs.

This has been developed and refined with the input of hundreds of local elected members, but also academics, business people, iwi, social sector groups, and civic minded individuals.

In Cull’s neck of the woods, this suggests Ngai Tahu were consulted on how our democratic structures could be enhanced.

Here’s their track record:

  • Ngai Tahu was one of several groups, including Canterbury councils, which asked for government intervention to stymie decisions by the Canterbury Regional Council (Environment Canterbury) in 2010. This resulted in the elected councillors being replaced by government appointees, some of them Ngai Tahu appointees. 
  • Ngai Tahu in 2015 warned against the restoration of democracy in Canterbury when a select committee heard public submissions on the Environment Canterbury (Transitional Governance Arrangements) Bill.  This aimed to introduce a diluted democratic system – a mix of elected councillors and government appointed commissioners – from 2016 to 2019.  It argued:

“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.”

  • Ngai Tahu supported continuing the mixed model after the 2019 elections, proposing to incorporate three Ngai Tahu appointed commissioners alongside three appointed by the Government.
  • The iwi supported the Canterbury Regional Council (Ngāi Tahu Representation) Bill,  a measure crafted to allow Ngai Tahu to appoint two representatives with full voting rights on to the council.
  • Late in 2017 the Otago Regional Council decided against creating a dedicated Maori constituency for its 2019 election after engaging with four Ngai Tahu local runanga groups about the proposal.  The runanga are reported to have endorsed the rejection because, they said, a dedicated Maori constituency was a bad idea (apparently because any Maori could have stood for election by all Maori  living in the region).  They prefer the arrangement introduced this year for appointing their representatives.

Iwi in Hawke’s Bay have expressed similar anti-democratic ideas:

Hawke’s Bay treaty settlement groups, calling on the Crown to replace Hawke’s Bay Regional Council with commissioners, 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”.


“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.  

It is not clear what Cull means when he talks about “revitalising” local democracy.

He said greater localism poses a challenge for local government because it requires councils to devolve decision making to communities.

“Localism is about giving decision making power back to individuals, communities, iwi, neighbourhoods, districts and regions, and local and central government are the tools by which we act on those decisions, not the other way round.”

Cull urged central government not to see localism as a challenge, but an opportunity to partner up and meaningfully improve the well-being of New Zealand’s diverse communities.

“Our localist framework recognises that each tier of government has its respective strengths and weaknesses,” said Mr Cull.

“Local government cannot hope to match the concentrated expertise and resources of central government. Nor can central government match the on-the-ground presence, diversity and the proximity to communities that local government has.”

“By working together, and putting communities at the heart of our decision making processes, we can tackle the really tough problems facing us, like environment degradation, climate change, and inequality. Your goals are our goals – we want to ensure that lives of future New Zealanders continue to improve compared the generation that came before them, and that can only be achieved if we work together.”

LGNZ is calling for submissions on the discussion paper, which will help LGNZ promote localism during the build up to the 2020 Parliamentary elections.

More information on the decentralisation and localism project can be found here.

But if you read Cull’s speech, you won’t find much mention of “electing” local decision-makers.

He said if we want people to meaningfully engage in important decisions that affect their lives, “we need to enable their decision making” .  The role of local government is to give action to the decisions they make, not to make important decisions for them.

“Some might say that is the system we have now, but I put it to you that the 42 per cent participation rate in the last local body elections shows just how disenfranchised people really are.”


Or disinclined to cast a vote?

” We need empowerment at a grassroots level – in our community boards, our associations, our sports groups, our local and community boards, trusts and neighbourhoods.

“These are the basic building blocks that provide a strong foundation for New Zealand, and without it, we cannot expect to be a strong society.”

But let’s not forget what the Hastings District Council thought it was doing, when it decided it should should climb on the bandwagon of councils which are debasing their democratic governance systems and granting voting rights to unelected members who will sit alongside elected councillors on their standing committees.

The aim – according to a council press statement – was to

” … bring about more informed, inclusive, effective decision making.” 

So citizens, be warned.  “Empowerment” has a nice ring to it but democracy requires citizens to vote for their representatives and hold them to account through the ballot box.

It’s a disgrace that so many councils – without a blush – think otherwise.




One thought on “Forget about invigoration – LGNZ should aim to restore the democracy its members have debased

  1. It’s unbelievable that New Zealanders put up with this displacement of their rights as citizens by racist pandering.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.