Overhaul ahead for local authorities and their governance – the big issue should be whether local democracy is enhanced or further eroded

There was an international flavour to two of the new statements from the Beehive and a cosmic flavour to a third, when we checked earlier in the day.  But the most ominous announcement, signalling big changes in the offing very close to home, emerged from the office of Nanaia Mahuta, as Minister of Local Government.

She advised us – or warned us, maybe – she has appointed a team to review our local government arrangements.

She mentioned the evolution of local democracy.

Evolution?  Or further erosion?

One outcome could be a quickening of the pace of change that already has weakened citizens’ right to decide who should govern them and their ability to hold their governors to account for their performance at three-yearly elections.

On the international front, we learned –

  • Nanaia Mahuta (as Minister of Foreign Affairs) and Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Women, Senator Marise Payne, met in Wellington for biannual Australia-New Zealand Foreign Minister Consultations. The news media have given this meeting a good thrashing over the past day or so.
  • Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern joined President Biden at the virtual Leaders’ Summit on Climate hosted by the United States overnight. The summit, held for Earth Day, brought world leaders together to galvanise efforts to reduce emissions this decade and keep the shared goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels within reach.

On the cosmic front (with implications for what we do in NZ to halt the pace of climate change):

  • New Zealand’s first government-funded space mission has taken a ‘giant leap’ with Auckland University’s Te Pūnaha Ātea-Auckland Space Institute announced as the permanent host of the New Zealand based mission control centre for a global methane tracking satellite.  Mission Operations Control Centre for the mission will be managed by Rocket Lab; when running smoothly, it will be transferred to Te Pūnaha Ātea-Auckland Space Institute as the host.

The independent review of local government will explore how councils can maintain and improve the wellbeing of New Zealanders in the communities they serve long into the future, Mahuta said.

This sounds like a welcome portent of reforms that are long overdue, as several dysfunctional councils  have demonstrated.

But Mahuta then seemed to forget her role in disallowing citizens from having a say in the way their councillors are elected and held to account at local government level.  She enthused that the review

“ …  will focus on how our system of local democracy needs to evolve over the next 30 years.”

She did recognise that …

“Local government plays an important role in our democratic system, giving people a voice in the leadership of their communities and in the governance of services and publicly owned assets.”

But don’t be gulled into thinking “democracy” is too high in ministerial considerations.

Mahuta acknowledged:

“Local councils are essential to maintaining and improving our wellbeing and we need to get the right settings for them to continue delivering their important mahi [which means their important work].

“They are now facing a wave of reforms that will significantly affect their traditional roles and functions. They have told us the timing is right to determine what our system of local democracy should look like to make sure it is fit for the future, and I agree.”

And then she declared:

“This also offers an important opportunity to explore how we can embody the Treaty partnership through the role and representation of iwi/Māori in local government.”

The “Treaty partnership” is a comparatively recent construct which provides a rationale for political change forged by and constantly refined by a gaggle of judges and politicians.

But hey – there is no mention in the treaty (if you care to look) of the way the country should be governed, either at central or local level.

The aforementioned judges and politicians nevertheless have concocted contentious interpretations of the three treaty clauses that justify – Maori would insist they necessitate – an agenda that is fast dividing the country into Maori and non-Maori components for governance and the delivery of public services.

The government simply explains it is obliged (which it isn’t) to create a co-governance system or grant privileges to Maori by saying this gives effect to the Treaty partnership.

The few critics who pop up to challenge this and ask “what treaty partnership?” tend to be denounced as racist reactionaries. Anybody else who shares their concerns is intimidated into silence.

Mahuta went on to explain she has asked the review panel to consider what local government does, how it does it, and how it pays for it. From there, they will explore what local government’s future looks like, including:

  • roles, functions and partnerships
  • representation and governance
  • funding and financing.

An examination of funding and financing is to be welcomed.

The same goes for roles, functions and “partnerships”, provided the partnerships embrace a range of groups in a community. Farmers, for example, or retailers, sporting groups or ratepayers.

Mahuta expects the review team to report back to her on their findings in April 2023.

Cabinet has confirmed Jim Palmer as Chair of the review panel, who will be joined by four members: John Ombler QSO, Antoine Coffin, Gael Surgenor and Penny Hulse.

The panel members will be engaging with a broad range of stakeholders including iwi/Māori, other stakeholders impacted by changes in local government, the public including diverse communities, and local and central government representatives.

“Other stakeholders impacted by changes in local government” surely embraces everybody.

The Review will start engaging with the sector from May 2021. It will issue an interim report on the probable direction of the Review in September 2021. This will be followed by a draft report for public consultation in September 2022, and a final report in April 2023.

The Terms of Reference can be found on the DIA website here  www.dia.govt.nz/Future-for-Local-Government-Review

News from the Beehive

23 APRIL 2021

Independent review to explore future for local government

New Zealand’s first official space mission announces ‘mission control’

Leaders’ Summit on Climate to raise ambition on climate action

22 APRIL 2021

Strengthening Trans-Tasman Ties: Australia-New Zealand Foreign Minister Consultations

3 thoughts on “Overhaul ahead for local authorities and their governance – the big issue should be whether local democracy is enhanced or further eroded

  1. Local bodies are made up of locally elected representatives, the Crown is not present. So where’s the fatuous “Treaty partnership” angle there? Just another step on the road to Maori sovereignty under this Far Left government which shows little interest in democracy, at home or abroad.


    Liked by 1 person

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