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Muriel Newman: Ratepayers - Be Vigilant!

Ratepayers - be Vigilant!
Weekly Column by Dr Muriel Newman

The Local Government Bill, which introduces sweeping new powers to local authorities, will be debated under urgency next week.

The Bill's purpose is to provide a democratic, effective local government that recognises the "diversity of New Zealand communities". In particular, it enables local authorities to "play a broad role in promoting the social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being of their communities, taking a sustainable development approach".

Essentially, through granting power of general competence, local government will be empowered to become involved in areas that have always been the purview of central government. In particular, they will be able to provide social services, operate commercial ventures - underwritten by ratepayer and in competition to the private sector - as well as effectively having the freedom to pursue Counsellor-led projects at ratepayers' expense.

The bill also appears to enshrine special privileges for Maori, in line with Labour's racist agenda. However, if enough ratepayers understand what the law actually says, then the special provisions need not be too onerous.

The Treaty of Waitangi clause states: "In order to recognise and respect the Crown's responsibility to take appropriate account of the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi and to maintain and improve opportunities for Maori to contribute to local government decision-making processes..."

That means that, in spite of what local authorities may claim, Treaty of Waitangi responsibilities rest with the Crown, not local authorities. Further, provisions for Maori ratepayers to become involved in the decision-making process already exists through the democratic election process - get elected and sit at the council table - as well as by making submissions through the annual district plan consultation process.

The meaning of 'decision-making' is also spelt out in the Bill: a local authority must "in making significant decisions related to land and bodies of water, take into account the relationship of Maori and their culture and traditions, with their ancestral land, water, sites, waahi tapu, valued flora and fauna, and other taonga".

However, the responsibility for councils to consult with Maori over wahi tapu and sites of significance already exists under the provisions of the Resource Management Act. When such sites are identified, they should be noted on the district plan in the same way as historic sites.

Interestingly, Labour enjoys discussing the significance of the Treaty of Waitangi, yet constantly breaches its three principles in law.

Article 1 of the Treaty saw Maori chiefs cede their sovereignty to the British monarch. That means all talk of Maori being partners with the Crown is just rubbish.

Article 2 introduced the protection of private property rights, yet this local government bill, the RMA, the Historic Places Act and others, allow Maori to claim rights over that land, using intangible metaphysical and spiritual claims. These are increasingly leading to extortion and exploitation. Recent cases involve the payments by Contact Energy of $1.6 million to Ngai Tahu, and an undisclosed sum by Genesis energy to the Motua Garden protesters, to renew their water rights to the Clutha and Wanganui rivers for the Clyde Dam and Tongariro power schemes, as well as the delaying of the State Highway 1 upgrade at Mercer due to the presence of a taniwha.

Article 3 gave us one law for all, which National and Labour governments have undermined through Treaty clauses in legislation. This local government bill seeks to make those divisions worse by trying to create two classes of ratepayer - Maori and the rest.

It is vital that, once the local government bill is passed into law and councils begin to consider where their new responsibilities lie, ratepayers vigorously oppose moves they may make to establish special provisions for Maori. I believe one law for all is a principal worth fighting hard for.

_____

Dr Muriel Newman, MP for ACT New Zealand, writes a weekly opinion piece on topical issues for a number of community newspapers. You are welcome to forward this column to anyone you think may be interested.

View the archive of columns at http://www.act.org.nz/action/murielnewman.html

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