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Sandra Lee: Help restore trust in democracy

Hon Sandra Lee
Minister of Local Government

News Release
Help restore trust in democracy Lee tells Local Government communicators
For immediate release
30 March 2000

The Minister of Local Government, Hon Sandra Lee, has urged a conference of regional council communications staff from throughout New Zealand to help re-build the trust that some electors have lost in their local democracy over the last decade.

"Good communication between councils and electors, and greater participation, help to produce better decisions and benefit everyone," she said.

Ms Lee told the Local Government Regional Communications conference in Wellington today that evidence indicated only a small number of people were taking part in the annual planning process of local authorities, even though this was the major way councils communicated with their electors.

"The idea that people need to know that their views are valued is a particularly important one," she said. "Regardless of how well informed an electorate is, people will not participate if there is a perception that the local authority is not willing to listen. It all comes down to building trust."

Ms Lee said it was not only a legal requirement but also a basic tenet of democracy that local authorities listened to and carefully considered the views put to them on issues.

"The cynicism of voters is a challenge to us all as elected representatives," she said.

Ms Lee also told the conference that the Local Government Act was a hindrance to effective elector-council communication, and there was a real need for the legislation to be replaced.

She said the Act was a collection of fragments enacted at different times, reflecting different approaches which since 1974 had been amended 150 times, in a very ad hoc way.

"Not suprisingly, it can be confusing and unclear for local authorities and citizens alike," said Ms Lee.

She said the range of options for possible approaches to replacing the Act included:

 a “rationalisation and consolidation” on existing assumptions about the relationships between central and local government; to

 a “powers of a natural person” approach (effectively abandoning detailed prescription of how particular functions are to be undertaken); to

 a “power of general competence” approach (involving some lesser or greater degree of de-regulation of the range of functions local authorities can undertake).

Ms Lee concluded that the key to developing good communications required the elected representatives to ensure they had the political will to do so.


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