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First Reading Speech - Rodney District Council

Hon Sandra Lee
Minister of Local Government

First Reading Speech to Parliament
Local Government (Rodney District Council) Amendment Bill

Embargoed for automatic release after Hon Sandra Lee finishes reading this speech in Parliament 2 May 2000

Introduction of Bill

Mr Speaker, I move that the Local Government (Rodney District Council) Amendment Bill be now read a first time.

Purpose of Bill

Mr Speaker, this Bill supports and clarifies the responsibilities of the commission appointed to act in the place of the Rodney District Council.

It provides:

 first, for the early restoration of local democracy in Rodney District by way of a general election to be held on 31 March 2001;

 second, for the suspension of statutory process to fill extraordinary vacancies on the Council until the general election is held;

 third, for the Local Government Commission to undertake a shortened process to review the Council’s membership and electoral arrangements before the general election is held;

 fourth, powers for the Rodney District Council Commission to appoint consultants to provide advice to the commission.


Background

On 11 April 2000, I appointed a commission to act in the place of the Rodney District Council pursuant to section 692W of the Local Government Act 1974.
This followed a request by the Council for me, as Minister of Local Government, to undertake a review of the Council under section 692M, and the subsequent recommendation of the Review Authority to appoint a commission.

The Council unanimously requested the review because there was persistent dysfunction at Council meetings; there were serious relationship problems between elected members and between some elected members and the Chief Executive; and there were serious risks to the ability of the Council to deliver on some of its statutory obligations and on the timely completion of other tasks and functions.

I have appointed Mr Grant Kirby as the commission to act in the place of the Council.

Provisions of Bill

Mr Speaker, the appointment of a commission by me as Minister of Local Government, to act in the place of a democratically elected local council, is a very significant intervention in local democracy. It was a decision that was not taken lightly and has no modern precedents under current legislation.

Given the dysfunctional nature of the Rodney District Council, I considered there was no other practical alternative to the appointment of a commission, as recommended by the Review Authority.

This recommendation was supported by the Controller and Auditor-General, Local Government New Zealand, the Society of Local Government Managers and also the Minister for the Environment, all of whom I was required to consult.

New General Elections

While the re-establishment of effective local decision-making was an immediate priority, the overriding objective is the early restoration of local democracy in Rodney District. Accordingly, Mr Speaker, this Bill provides for general elections for the Mayor and councillors of Rodney District on 31 March 2001.

Timing of General Elections

The Review Authority recommended that new elections be held in conjunction with the scheduled triennial local authority elections in October 2001. I believe these elections should be held earlier. Accordingly the Bill provides they be held on 31 March 2001.

General elections cannot practicably be held earlier than that date. Before these elections are held, it is critical that the statutory triennial review of the membership and electoral arrangements for Rodney District is undertaken.
If a thorough review is not completed before the election, there is a real risk that an underlying cause of the dysfunction at the Council, including the balance of interests between the more urban and rural parts of the district, will continue on into the future.

The review will address whether representatives are elected by the district as a whole or by wards, the size of the Council and whether or not community boards should be re-established.

Local Government Commission to carry out review

To expedite the review process and to provide the necessary independence and objectivity, the Bill provides that the Local Government Commission will carry out the review. However, to ensure that the local community has the opportunity to input into the review, the normal consultation periods for triennial reviews is allowed for. The review is to be completed by 3 November 2000.

Election Timetable

Mr Speaker, a further reason why the general elections cannot be held earlier is that there is a clear and well understood local election process and timetable. This includes preparation of rolls and nomination of candidates. To ensure minimum alteration to the normal local election practices, and particularly to avoid any criticisms arising from these public processes running through the Christmas/New Year holiday period, the earliest practicable date for the election is 31 March 2001.

Suspension of process to fill vacancies

In addition, this Bill provides for the temporary suspension of the statutory processes now in train to fill the extraordinary vacancies, caused by the resignation of the Mayor and shortly afterwards 5 Rodney District councillors in March of this year. Clearly it would be inappropriate and indeed nonsensical, for these processes to fill the present vacancies to proceed when all elected members are effectively suspended from office with the appointment of the commission to act in their place.

The Bill provides that any further vacancies caused by resignation of suspended members, will also not be filled prior to the March elections.

Commission may appoint consultants

Finally, the Bill provides that the commission acting in the place of the Council may, if it so wishes, appoint consultants to provide advice. Normally responsibility for such matters as the employment of staff and the appointment of consultants rests with the general manager. This additional provision gives the commission flexibility in this area should it so require.

Passing of Bill

Mr Speaker, it is important that this Bill be passed though all stages today. Urgent enactment is required to halt the current statutory procedures for filling the vacancies on the Rodney District Council.
These procedures include the closing day for nominations for the Rodney mayoralty and the final day for demands to hold by-elections for councillor vacancies. Continuation of these procedures will result in unnecessary cost and cause public confusion given my decision to appoint a commission to act in the place of the Council.

I trust that the House will support this Bill in order to help ensure the immediate re-establishment of effective local decision-making in Rodney District, and then restoration of local democracy at the earliest practicable opportunity.

(Ends)

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