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Local Government Report Ignores Key Issue

10 August 2005 PR 116/05

Local Government Report Ignores Key Issue

Farmers are disappointed at a select committee report into last year’s local government elections, said Don Nicolson, Vice President of Federated Farmers.

"The committee has ruled out a return to fairer representation for groups such as farmers saddled with a disproportionately high rates burden, Mr Nicolson said.

He was commenting on the Justice and Electoral Committee’s report Inquiry into the 2004 Local Authority Elections.

The committee chose not to recommend reinstating pre-2001 criteria for fair representation which took account of population and other factors such as rateable value and land area. Instead the committee endorsed using only population for setting local authority representation.

In some rural areas, farmers are paying the lion's share of the total rates bill but make up only a small proportion of the population, which means they struggle to be heard round the council table.

“The new arrangements discriminate against people in rural areas, particularly farmers who pay high rates due to the archaic property-value-based way that local government is funded.

"As a result rural people increasingly pay for services which primarily benefit urban residents. Where is the fairness in that?”

"Farmers aren't asking for councils to be dominated by farming interests. But they seek fair representation whereby those who fund most council spending should have a fair say around the council table," Mr Nicolson said.

Twenty-eight of 86 councils reviewed their representation arrangements before the 2004 elections, while the remaining 58 must do so before 2007. They will be forced to use only population quotas, further reducing the number of rural councillors.

“I urge the government to think carefully about fair representation when it considers its response to the select committee report," Mr Nicolson said.

ENDS

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