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Lee Speech: Dunedin City Council Community Boards

Hon Sandra Lee Speech Notes

Keynote Speech To Meeting Of Dunedin City Council Community Boards


Thank you for the invitation to talk with you today.

I'm a keen supporter of community boards, so I welcome this opportunity to meet those of you at the coalface of local government.

I've made the point many times this year to local body elected reps that community boards enhance our system of local government.

If used wisely and well, they can help councils to build good working relationships with the communities they serve.

My guess is that you already know this. But I just want to make sure that you are aware that I also know this!

When legislation was passed in 1988 and 1989 enabling community boards to be established in their present form, they were seen as an essential component of the re-organised local government system that was put in place at that time.

It was considered that territorial councils would be able to empower their community boards in a manner that was appropriate within the management of the district as a whole.

In general, community boards were established for an area corresponding to an electoral ward or to a recognised community within an electoral ward.

They were set up to allow for greater community involvement in the expanded administrative units that had just been created by the Local Government Commission, and to reinforce accountability in local government.

All of these features are just as relevant today as they were when community boards were first established, and they will continue to play an important role in the provision of local democracy for our communities.

In fact, the Government in partnership with the local government sector has begun a number of significant policy reviews that I anticipate will enhance involvement in local democratic processes.

I should hasten to add that the reviews I refer to are not some grand plan to design one structure of local government for New Zealand, but are reviews of legislative powers and functions.

If we're serious about acknowledging the important role local government plays in the governance of this country, then we must let local communities help design the detailed structures that best meet their needs.

It's certainly not a case of 'one size fits all'.

The Government is not in the business of prescribing what's best for local communities.

One of the Government's main goals is to create a more empowering legislative framework to allow local authorities to better meet the needs of their communities.

Before I talk about the process for achieving this, I want to mention the key issue of citizen participation in local government.

It won't be any surprise to you that broadly speaking only about 50 percent of all eligible voters take part in local authority elections. This compares with about 86 percent of enrolled voters who turned out to vote in last year's general election.

The rate of non-participation in local body elections is quite disconcerting, given the big impact that local authorities have in our day-to-day lives.


I asked delegates to the Local Government New Zealand conference earlier this year how they would interpret the trend of low or non-participation, which shows up in several key local authority indicators.

Was this a vote of confidence or 'no confidence' in our local government system, or was it a case of mass ignorance of the value of local bodies, or worse still, was it a case of mass apathy?

The answers are not straightforward but the questions should be pondered by every elected member.
I would be interested in your views. Are the people you serve aware of the work that you do on their behalf?

If your communities appear unwilling to come to the party, it is ultimately up to you to find out why, and what can be done to ensure that they do turn out.

If you find legislation is part of the answer, I would expect you to come knocking at my door.

In return, I can promise you that your concerns will in future be addressed within the context of new local authority legislative frameworks.

The key review currently under way is that of the Local Government Act.

This really is "on its last legs". It is an inappropriate piece of legislation to provide a framework for local authorities to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

The style is detailed. The Act's you-must-do-it-only-this-way approach imposes costs on local authorities that inevitably end up being met by your long-suffering ratepayers and residents.

The Act's narrow scope also generates the need for constant amendments, to try to meet ever-changing circumstances.

Decades of ad hoc amendment mean the current Local Government Act no longer reflects a consistent and coherent view of the role and purpose of local government.

The joint local and central government working parties presently addressing the different aspects of the Act that are in need of major reform, are looking at basic questions such as
 the adequacy of accountability provisions;
 governance measures; and
 role, purpose and form.

Community boards are included in this analysis along with examples of where they are working well, and why. These conditions seem to include:
 community boards covering the entire district;
 the existence of clear delegations and matching resources to give effect to these delegations; and
 the boards being well supported by the parent local authority.

Local Government New Zealand has representatives on all the 'Local Government Act' working groups, including the overall steering group.

We expect to release a comprehensive discussion document next year for public consultation, and to have new legislation enacted in 2002.

In the meantime, a summary document was released last week after the Local Government Forum in Wellington. I have some copies with me, which are available for you to take away and study.

This document includes strategic statements outlining what's envisaged for a new approach to local government, including:
 a coherent overall strategy on local government;
 a more broadly empowering legislative framework under which local authorities can meet the modern needs of their communities in modern ways;
 the development of a partnership relationship between central and local government; and
 clarification of local government’s relationship to the Treaty of Waitangi.

The early work on the review has involved developing a set of key statements about the role and purpose of local government, and some proposed principles about how best it should operate.

These will provide the vision to underpin more detailed work on the development of the legislation.

In short, the strategic statements reflect our broad view that the role of local government is to facilitate sustainable development for people and their environments through:
 the balanced pursuit of social, economic and environmental objectives; and
 a focus on the wellbeing of future as well as current generations.

I hope you take the opportunity not only to look at this summary document but also to send me your comments on it.

There are also two other important reviews going on alongside the 'Local Government Act' review.

These are:
 a review of local government funding powers; and
 a local electoral review.

I aim to have new legislation on funding mechanisms enacted next year, as a result of the funding powers review.

Decision making processes, as set out in Part 7A of the Local Government Act will be addressed through the review of the legislation.

In the case of the local electoral review, legislation will be introduced to Parliament before Christmas for referral to a select committee.

This timetable is designed to allow consideration of submissions early in the New Year and enactment by May, to allow the provisions to come into effect in time for the October 2001 local authority elections.

The electoral legislation will cover issues relating directly to the conduct of local elections while also providing for the adoption of STV by local authorities for the 2004 elections, but only if the local authorities choose STV.

It will be a freely chosen option, with the decision made at the local level. STV will not be compulsory.

The electoral bill will also introduce limits on candidates’ campaign spending to promote equal opportunities for participation and fair representation.

The bill will not address wider representation issues.
Local authority triennial reviews for the 2001 elections were already well under way well before decisions on our legislation were made.

Representation issues and provisions on the basis of election will be added to the new local body electoral legislation in a second stage of reforms.

Meanwhile the new legislation will be based on a local electoral framework that provides for a uniform approach across the country, in respect of factors that include:
 The election cycle and date;

 Electoral rights in relation to voting, standing as and nominating a candidate;

 Candidate nominations and restrictions; and

 Offences and penalties.

Cabinet has agreed that several existing electoral rights should be retained, such as:
 The right to vote based on qualification and registration as a parliamentary elector;

 The right to exercise a special vote on the grounds of not being on the roll;

 The right to exercise a non-resident ratepayer vote; and

 The right to nominate a candidate based on qualification and registration as a parliamentary elector.

The requirement for a candidate to be a New Zealand citizen or ‘non-alien’ is being removed.

This is because of the unreasonable constraints placed on candidates who are permanent residents but not citizens. Yet these people are still members of the local community.

At this stage the bill provides for the status quo in relation to the matter of dual membership and dual candidacy.

These are prohibited only in respect of regional councils and constituent authorities of that region. I know this is a matter of some interest to community board members.

The question of whether the present ban on dual membership should be extended to include territorial authorities and community boards is being addressed under the 'Local Government Act' review.

It is possible that changes may be made to the bill as this review progresses.

I also expect that it will be the subject of a number of submissions to the parliamentary select committee considering the reform legislation.

**************

I regret that at this stage I can only give you a brief outline of key elements of the government’s ambitious work programme for local government.


There's a lot of ground to cover which is why we allocated an extra million dollars in this year's Budget to boost the Department of Internal Affairs' local government policy team.

Much work is still required and we'll need your continuing support and co-operation to achieve our objectives.

There'll be opportunities for your input as the work progresses, so please seize these when they arise because your interest and participation can only enhance the final outcome. Thank you.

ENDS

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