This post is about theÂ government’s proposed reforms to local government.
These haven’t attracted a whole lot of attention because, let’s face it, even if you try to make it cool by referencing songs by Kanye West, local government legislation is mind numbingly boring.
The area which has got most attention outside Auckland is that the legislation would make it easier to merge many small local councils into a single big one. Personally, I find it hard to get too worried about this. I suspect many other Aucklanders are in the same boat.
But there are a lot of other reasons to oppose this piece of legislation and make a submission on it.
Eugenie Sage lays out some of them on Frogblog in a very good post. If you just can’t handle taking advice from a Green Party MP you can also read the discussion document that Local Government NZ has produced which raises many of the same concerns.
In particular, the fact that the government is proposing that elected councils (voted for by ratepayers) should be able to be removed by the Minister of Local Government and replaced with hand picked Commissioners is pretty concerning. The Minister will be able to do this if he believes there is a:
“a significant problem relating to the local authority that (A) is impairing, or likely to impair, the good local government of the local authority’s district or region; or (B) is endangering, or likely to endanger, the public health or safety of the people within the local authority’s district or region; and the local authority is unable or unwilling to effectively address the problem”
Now, I’m no Graeme Edgeler (constitutional lawyer) but I can’t help feeling that this clauses grants the Minister very, very broad powers indeed. The main issue is that what constitutes a “significant problem” really relates to your point of view.
For example, Steven Joyce might well feel that there is a significant problem with Len Brown’s council in Auckland in that they are investing too heavily in public transport and thus slowing the construction of yet more motorways to allow the easy flow of freight across the region. Obviously, I think he’d be wrong and so would most Aucklanders. But the point is that this legislation gives David Carter the power to intervene in such a case.
This is basically what the government did in Canterbury when they replaced the elected regional council (ECAN) with an appointed board. They disagreed with ECAN’s position on water management and so they replaced them with a handpicked board instead.
Forget about taking the “local” out of local government, this pretty much removes the “government”, by striking out one of the core principles of our democracy, i.e., that all citizens have an equal right to vote for those who represent them.
Under this legislation, maybe you will get those rights if you live in Ashburton but not in Hamilton, depending on how much the Minister likes your local Mayor. That’s bizarre.
Other things that are concerning about this Bill from a specifically cycling perspective are:
- The Minister wants to narrow the purpose of local government from “to promote the social, economic, environmental, and cultural wellbeing of communities” to provide “good-quality local infrastructure, local public services, and performance of regulatory functions.” This is a bad thing because it basically means local government will be less likely to invest in transport modes (like cycling) that are good for peoples’ health and the environment. I am sure you can also think of a whole host of non-cycling reasons why this is a bad idea. But let’s stay focused!
- As outlined above, the Minister wants more power to intervene in councils when he does not like the direction of the policy they are implementing (basically) and require them to do different things. Obviously, given the current government’s fanatical adherence to building BIG ROADS and their general indifference to all other transport modes this would be a bad thing for cycling.
- I could say a lot about how the Bill assumes that local councils are massively increasing rates, but does very little research to either prove that this is true or to explain why this might be happening. I won’t because I don’t have time, but I recommend that you read the LGNZ discussion document (particularly pages 9-10) because it sets out some really clear evidence about which aspects of local government expenditure are increasing and why. Basically – the costs that are increasing are mainly those councils have no control over, like the cost of concrete and steel, unlike the costs they can control like staff.
To sum up, the Bill is a solution in search in of a problem. It pretends it is going to fix a financial crisis in local government but, with the exception of a few councils like Kaipara District, there is none. Instead it is just a mechanism for giving central government more power over local government.
Submissions are due by the 26th of July and you can make them here. Nobody in NZ pays much attention to local government because it’s boring. But it really, really matters to transport so please do take the time.