Peters: Local Democracy Coalition Political Panel
Rt Hon Winston Peters
New Zealand First Leader
4 June 2014
Coalition Political Panel
Wednesday 4 June, 2.45pm
Tawa Room, Brentwood Hotel, 16 Kemp Street, Kilbirnie, Wellington
Put the ‘Local’ Back Into ‘Local Government’
For the next few minutes please consider the two words ‘local’ and ‘government’.
Taken separately, we all know what these words mean but together, as part of a political expression and put in the local government context, somehow a sense of meaning has been lost.
Why? Because local government has been disconnected through a combination of resentful antipathy and an agenda of aggrandisement.
Many New Zealanders will remember the borough councils, the county councils and the city councils that served local communities for many years.
That was a time when the local councils had some connection with their communities.
Councillors were usually mature individuals who had run local businesses or organisations and were altruistic about giving something back.
They were not in it for the money.
They were in touch with the people who did not hesitate to ring them – usually to complain!
Perhaps more importantly, because of their geographic proximity, local communities felt that they knew them.
Fast forward a few decades and numerous amalgamations and so called reforms and local government is now an industry that spews out forests of reports, analyses, plans and excuses.
The current obsession with amalgamation is causing even more disconnection.
The so called Super City of Auckland has become a state within a state and more dysfunctional than the clutter of local bodies that were forced into this shotgun wedding.
Remember there was no grassroots support for a Super City.
It was imposed on the people by the dysfunctional leader of a dysfunctional political party.
But as important, the Prime Minister had, prior to the legislation bringing the Super City into effect, already made public his support for the concept.
Of equal importance, the people who came to comprise the Super City were never asked.
They did not get a vote.
They had this system imposed on them from above.
It was the very antithesis of local government democracy.
If you recall, the proponents of the Auckland Super City promised that the amalgamation, even though it was to be imposed without a vote, would bring rates down.
There are hundreds of thousands of Aucklanders that fell for that puffery and are now paying increased rates and regretting their naiveté.
And every day now, they are being subjected to central government propaganda that says that the only reason we have a housing crisis in Auckland is becauselocal government is failing to provide the supply of housing to match the demand.
That is an egregious, self-serving, central government fiction.
It enables central government to keep increasing demand whilst blaming local government for failing to meet supply.
Here is the point. Local government must take the people with it.
Why? Because it is theirs! They paid for it and are still paying for it.
They have the right to decide and the thought of a group of people machinating behind closed doors the future democratic state of Wellington local bodies is abhorrent!
But this modern National Government has never shown much understanding, appreciation or respect for the conventions, practices and institutions that underpin our democracy.
Local government is a fundamental element of our democracy and needs to be recognised as such.
Take the residents of Upper Hutt – why should they be sucked into a Wellington Super City if they see no value in it?
Will they get the chance to be properly informed on all aspects to this?
Will they get to learn both sides of the debate?
Will they then get the chance to make an informed vote on this?
We do not witness a clamour for amalgamation among ordinary citizens and ratepayers of the greater Wellington area.
In reality, is amalgamation actually about fulfilling the dreams of certain ambitious politicians rather than meeting genuine needs of residents?
Because, for example, how many people in Lower Hutt are actually demanding a super city? Are there any?
And what about Wairarapa?
There is a natural boundary called the Rimutakas.
There is no close community of interest between Wairarapa and Wellington.
They’ve even got their own rugby team - and they want to keep it that way.
Perhaps there is a case for a greater Wairarapa Council – but that should be for the people of Wairarapa to decide.
This, after all is a freedom issue and the people should be free to choose.
The leaders of local government have a chance to show some leadership.
New Zealand First says it’s time to put the ‘local’ back into local government.
The attitude of ‘them and us’ has to change.
Keith Holyoake used to say when in doubt trust the people.
We urge you to ‘trust the people’.
And we urge you to accept their choice, whatever their choice may be.