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Minister's backing boosts Smith's Bill

Media Statement
For immediate release Friday, 30 July, 2004

Minister's backing boosts Smith's Bill

United Future MP Murray Smith's Member's Bill to close a Local Government Act loophole being exploited by the Hutt City Council and some South Island councils, has won praise from Local Government Minister Chris Carter who is assigning officials to study it.

Mr Smith said he was delighted with the "vote of confidence" from Mr Carter.

"My Bill would close the loophole in the Act that allows local authorities to appoint ward committee to take the placed of elected community boards," the Hutt-based MP said.

Hutt City has three community boards and four ward committees and Mr Smith, who is also Deputy Chairman of the Petone Community Board, said that they all get paid the same and have been delegated the same functions by the council.

However, Mr Smith said, the key features of a community board are that it is an autonomous authority separately elected by the voters of the community that it represents which has the primary task by statute of representing and advocating for its community to the territorial authority.

On the other hand, the usual distinguishing features of ward committees are that their members are appointed by the local authority instead of being elected, that their responsibilities are solely controlled by delegation (i.e. they have no statutory functions) and that they (and their members) exist at the whim of the local authority and are therefore not independent.

By exploiting the loophole in the Act, Mr Smith said, the council is, once again, showing its propensity for flouting democratic safeguards and is denying ratepayers the right to appoint their own representatives to express their concerns and to make decisions affecting their own areas.

"By appointing the ward committee members, the council affects their ability to fearlessly advocate for their communities because, if the local authority doesn't like the criticism they get by those members, they can simply not reappoint them next time."

Mr Smith believes that there is evidence that Hutt City Council has done exactly that.


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