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Flavell - Local Government Law Reform Bill

Local Government Law Reform Bill; Second Reading

Te Ururoa Flavell;

Spokesperson for Local Government Maori Party

Thursday 15 June 2006

Recently across the Tasman, the Liberal Party’s comments about Aboriginals, migrants, asylum seekers, and the people on board the Tampa were described as ‘dog whistling’. Prime Minister Howard was accused of

“pitching a political message to a group of voters that other voters do not necessarily hear”.

On these shores, that same accusation was levelled at Dr Don Brash - his Orewa speech representing a similar type of dog whistling - catering to those who are pre-disposed to prejudice about the treaty industry and race based policies.

And now, in this House, over these last few months, we have been witness to a curious form of dog-whistling, drawing on the emotive appeal of our most vulnerable, namley the children.

The Maori Party will always speak up, for and on behalf of the best interests of our tamariki.

We are devastated with the statistics which reveal that in the seven year period from 1995 to 2002, 2736 visits were made to public hospitals as a result of dog bites - the biggest majority of victims being children under ten.

Such figures should not be news to anyone here. The media has capitalised on the public fascination factor with the typecast villains of bull mastiffs, American Pit bulls, bull terrier cross, Staffordshire cross, and German shepherds, taking centre stage for their vicious mauling of innocent children.

In this context we absolutely accept the select committee’s recommendation that dogs classified as menacing or dangerous should be implanted with a microchip.

We were particularly impressed with the submission from the Gore District Council, which described the heavy burden this Bill places on dog owners and local authorities. The Gore District Council urged us to limit the micro chipping law to dogs that have been classified as dangerous or menacing, and to exempt rural working dogs from the micro-chipping requirement. It is a position that we wouls support.

New Zealanders have had enough of the puncture wounds, the grazed faces, the stitches and tears that flood our screens.

But this peculiar form of dog-whistling that has accompanied the microchipping debate, should not cloud our judgement to the mixture inherent in this omnibus bill.

Because once the dogs are called off, there’s a huge amount of other legislation to consider in this Bill:

- the Rates Rebate Act 1973;

- the Litter Act 1979;

- the Local Electoral Act 2001;

- the Local Government Act 1974 and 2002;

- the Local Government (Rating) Act 2002;

- the Auckland War Memorial Museum Act 1996 and

- the Land Transport Act 1998.

And in fact we note with some irony, that despite such a width range of issues, submissions also raised even more issues for consideration. Things like waste management and levies, about fairness and justice in establishing constituencies and wards.

Getting back to the point of the Bill, we were pleased to see a sensible recommendation from the select committee regarding the long-term council community plans as it applies to the Local Government Act 2002.

The select committee suggested that no long-term council community plan for the period 2006-2016 can be rendered invalid on the grounds that it doesn’t comply with any amendments made by this Bill.

That is a good thing. A long-term vision allowed to progresseed.

Madame Speaker It was, however, disappointing to see National’s comments that they believe the costs to audit these long term plans are too high for the added value they bring to the community.

The Maori Party has been extremely interested in the local government results of the 2004/05 audits recently released by the Controller and Auditor-General.

A key focus of these audits was that ratepayers have, to a large extent, focused on the consultation and decision-making processes of local government.

A key concern in the 2004/05 report was that twelve local authorities had not complied with the requirement to make their summary report available by the statutory timeframe, and indeed were urged to lift their game, and inform their communities promptly.

The Maori Party has been raising the fact that there are significant issues with regional/local authorities and their relationships with mana whenua for quite some time, and we had thought this Bill would provide a chance to focus on this.

As recently however, as last night, we had yet another example of the discriminatory effects of Council actions - or in this case inaction - being revealed through the Gisborne District Council (Alfred Cox Park) Validation Bill. A call for validation of illegal actions without so much as a 45 cent postage stamp being invested in consulting with the mana whenua, Rongowhakaata.

This Bill, while making broad changes to improve the effectiveness of regulatory tools, does nothing to address the status of council-tangata whenua relationships - or to solidify obligations for councils to recognise mana whenua status. And in this respect we are greatly disappointed.

Madame Speaker The Select Committee inserts a new section 356A into the Local Government Act 1974. The new section empowers local councils to remove any abandoned vehicle when the vehicle has no current evidence of vehicle inspection and no current licence label.

The Maori Party is acutely aware that motor vehicle traffic crashes are a leading cause of injury mortality and hospitalisation among Maori, particularly young Maori.

Professor Mason Durie has commented that the effect of injury to rangatahi is accentuated by the loss of the benefits that can flow from competent, healthy and skilled whanau members; and that is a long term cost we can ill afford.

Yet, there has been little research identifying factors associated with crashes involving Maori; and an associated urgency in having available comprehensive crash data on safety measures, such as occupant protection and driver-licence status.

Until that information is available, we believe the recommendation to remove abandoned vehicles or impounding a vehicle simply because it doesn’t have a current vehicle inspection or licence, or both, is overly heavy-handed.

It also bears little compassion for the fact that about twenty percent of Maori are below the poverty line, situated in the bottom income bracket. In other words, the Maori poverty rate is over fifty percent more than the non-Maori.

On this day, International Justice for Cleaners Day, it is particularly timely to be considering the context of poverty, as we consider the below poverty wages earned by cleaners around the country. Pay rates that keep them trapped in cycles of poverty.

What for example are the rates of pay for the people who clean our Offices here in Parliament? Are these workers trapped?

Keeping up to date with licensing requirements is virtually impossible when it comes to battling with income, employment, education, and health disparities.

There is also a potential issue under section 27 of the Bill of Rights, the right to natural justice, in that car owners cannot be heard prior to their vehicle being seized.

Section 25(c) of the Bill of Rights Act also gives everyone who is charged with an offence the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law. The Maori Party believes the right to natural justice, and the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, are important principles of justice, and require far more consideration than the Select Committee - or the Bill - have given.

Madame Speaker, there is no denying that the Local Government Law Reform Bill is a right dog’s breakfast.

The Maori Party will agree to dangerous, menacing and intimidating dogs being microchipped in the interests of our children and their safe wellbeing. But our preference would have been for such beasts to be muzzled or restrained - simply micro chipping dogs will never prevent the savage dog attacks we have seen profiled in these last few years.

But there are other great concerns that we have about this Bill. The decision to remove abandoned vehicles without giving owners right of reply. The complete and utter denial of the importance of consultation with mana whenua.

The Maori Party will not fall into line with the dog whistling this Parliament has been subjected to, pitching a political message to a group of voters that other voters do not necessarily hear”.

We want to vote in the interests of all New Zealanders, to really consider the impact of this Bill - as with any - in how it achieves genuine progress for Aotearoa.

Such a move requires that we will vote against this Bill.


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