Time For Better Central And Local Government
Time For Better Central And Local Government
Rodney Hide Sunday, 30 July 2006 Speeches - Local Government
Speech to ACT Auckland Regional Conference, Squid Row, Auckland, Sunday 30 July 2006.
Ten years ago, ACT was elected to Parliament.
We campaigned on a vision, on a set of values, and a handful of books.
Our genesis was in the Backbone Club, and in those who stood up to Muldoon.
We were sparked to life by the introduction of MMP.
We were sent to Parliament by tens of thousands of Kiwis who wanted to finish the business of free market reforms.
People who wanted choice in healthcare and education. Independence from government. Relief from taxes and equality before the law.
That is ACT's whakapapa, our ancestry, our lineage.
That is our history. Our future is what lies before us.
Our principles - individual freedom, choice and personal responsibility - will not change. Neither will our vision of a prosperous country, where everyone has the opportunity to succeed to their full potential.
But to survive, we must change. We must adapt. We must evolve.
Always we must think - and act - for the long term. And always we must hold fast to our commitment to a free and prosperous New Zealand.
We must be not just a party of ideas, but a party of enduring ideas. We must be a voice for change and a reason for hope.
We need to look at what we will leave to the next generation.
We should aim to deliver three things - a prosperous economy, a strong society, and a quality of life that is the envy of the world.
That means doing the best for our natural environment - keeping New Zealand a beautiful country that everyone can enjoy.
It means trusting people - because the more we trust people, the stronger they become.
And it means getting government out of our lives, and out of our pockets.
Smaller, smarter government isn't just good for politicians in Wellington. Local government too should set priorities and live within a budget.
Limiting the growth of government gives politicians greater immunity to lobbyists and interest groups.
It lets public servants work in the public interest, not the special interest.
It makes politicians more honest and more accountable.
It lets Kiwis see the choice that we're confronted with every time we vote.
Families and businesses have to live within their means. Politicians and Councillors should too.
Over the last three years, Wellington City Council's rates take has increased by 20%.
Christchurch City Council's rose 19%, and Hamilton City Council's, 15%.
Auckland's residential rates are set to climb 13.8% this year.
These increases are causing real hurt.
That's why I wrote a Bill to limit increases in local body rates.
It's not the ACT way to sit on the sidelines whinging and moaning. Our way is to do something about it. We are doing something practical to fix problems, on behalf of all New Zealanders.
The Bill I took to Parliament this week would limit increases to 2% above the rate of inflation, or 4% above inflation over any three years.
Imagine the difference my Bill would have made if it had been law these past few years.
The huge hike in rates is Parliament's responsibility. Parliament can't duck it. It's Parliament that gives councils the power to raise rates. Parliament must ensure that power is exercised responsibly.
National, the Maori Party and United Future have promised me their support when the Bill is voted on next month. Only New Zealand First stands in the way of allowing public submissions at Select Committee.
Winston's worried about the limits it would place on councils.
He's right about the limits. He's wrong to be worried.
Libraries and swimming pools would continue to open. Community services need not be cut back.
Councils could expand as New Zealand grows. But they would have to live within a budget. Just like everyone else.
Of course, some things should be cut - like the pet projects, junkets and personal monuments.
But who should decide which ventures are worthwhile? ACT thinks that's up to the people who fund them.
Those are our principles of freedom and choice in action.
My Bill caps rates, but allows the Minister of Local Government to grant exemptions for projects with public support.
Exemptions will be published, so everyone can know how their money is being spent.
United Future's Gordon Copeland said the power my Bill gives the Minister is Muldoonist.
I've come to agree with him.
It should be up to ratepayers - not the Minister. It's the ratepayers who are going to have to pay for the increase. It's their consent that should be sought.
Local councils should have to get the support of ratepayers through a referendum to break the spending cap. That would be true power to the people.
I will move that amendment if I get the chance.
What's wrong with letting people have their say? Let's require our elected politicians to justify to ratepayers their spending plans.
Legal limits to local government are common overseas.
Sydney and London both limit the speed at which local government grows.
Many American States have local government spending limits.
And some councils here are voluntarily responsible.
Wellington's Hutt City Council has a strategy to keep rates within just half a percent of inflation.
Capping rates increases would have no real affect on Hutt City, but would make a world of difference to the people being made to pay for big-spending, fast-growing local government.
The people in Auckland City. In Rodney District. In Northland, and in Franklin.
Because for many people, rates are an ever-increasing spiral.
And what happens when people can't afford to pay?
I was contacted by Roger Beauchamp - a pensioner, living in Plimmerton.
He was billed $2800 for rates this year.
That's almost twice the $1600 that Helen Clark pays.
His council expects pensioners to pay almost twice as much as the Prime Minister.
And if he can't, he's been told he should move out of the family home.
The Sheriff of Nottingham wasn't that harsh.
But our government now sits idly by while pensioners are forced out of their homes and declares the result to be democracy in action!
Ratepayers are not cash cows. They should not be squeezed until the pips squeak.
My first aim is to get my Bill sent to select committee. That would allow ratepayers to have their say to Parliament. It would also give the people involved in local government a chance to explain themselves to Parliament.
It's up to New Zealand First whether New Zealanders will get to have that say. Their vote is the critical one.
If New Zealand First vote against the Bill, against ratepayers, they will kill the chance for public submissions.
Winston Peters could make the decision for you - more rates, more government, and less accountability.
The question for Winston Peters is what is it to be: once again the baubles of office - or is he going to put New Zealanders first and let them have their say?
It's a big test for New Zealand First.
But whatever they decide, ACT sticks to its principles.
We never give up.
And we won't give up on ratepayers.
If my Bill is voted down, I will work on another.
Among all the lobbying and ego of politics, sometimes MPs need public feedback to remind us of what's really important.
The most important thing of all is people.
Ratepayers will not let big government - in the beehive, or in the council chamber - push them around forever.
We have almost a month to convince New Zealand First to change their mind.
Regardless, this debate will continue in the community.
Because there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.
And the idea ACT is promoting is a simple one. We are not proposing to cut government expenditure. We are proposing simply that the rate of increase be limited.
And we are not saying that politicians can't increase rates and expenditure beyond the cap - just that they need the people's consent to do so.
That's the way to prosperity and smaller government - giving people a genuine say in what their rates should be and what government should spend.
We need more transparency and accountability. And that's what my Bill to cap rate increases does.
It is time for better government. Better central and local government.
Rates will be an issue at next year's local government elections, and the idea of rate caps won't go away.
But the power of ACT's ideas spans more than one Bill, or one election.
Putting limits on politicians would change the relationship between government and the governed.
We will put people back in control, and put politics in its place.
We will remind people in power that they can't abuse the trust Kiwis have placed in them.
Because that's ACT's ultimate vision - a more free and prosperous country, with government limited to its core functions, where everyone can give it a go.