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Speech: Shirley - Governance & Constitution

Hon Ken Shirley Speech To Local Government Conference

Tuesday 13th Jul 1999 Ken Shirley Media Release -- Governance & Constitution

ACT Deputy Leader Hon Ken Shirley MP Speech to: Local Government New Zealand Conference Aotea Centre, 1.00pm Tuesday 13 July 1999

Good afternoon and thank you for the opportunity to address your conference and share with you ACT's vision for local governance in new Zealand.

While being an integral part of the nation's democratic stewardship the activities and regulatory operations performed by local government have a significant impact on both local and national economic well being. That impact is not always positive.

The public sector in New Zealand has undergone dramatic change over the past 15 years with corporatisation, privatisation, provider/funder splits etc. etc.

Since the 1989 reforms councils have reduced in number from 675 to 86 and yet, surprisingly, the number of local body employees only reduced slightly from 44,200 to 39,100. One can only assume that either councils are undertaking a much wider range of activities than previously or alternatively the expected efficiencies have not been vigorously pursued - possibly a bit of both applies.

Obviously we have a spectrum of performance among councils but I was disturbed to hear from a recent Consumers Institute survey that some councils are operating at twice the efficiency of others and I only hope the ratepayers know who the laggards are.

When we look at local governance I am far from convinced that the two tier structure based on a functional split between regional and district councils is appropriate as a near universal model. I am also convinced that some of the smaller district councils should not exist. I would cite the Kawerau District Council as a classic example.

Equally I am aghast at government's propensity to create a new Hauraki Gulf Authority, apparently for the purposes of political posturing when in practice it can only replicate functions that are already clearly assigned.

Of one thing I am certain, before any further structural reviews of local government are contemplated,. We should first be very clear on the functions that are required and expected.

ACT New Zealand believes that commercial activities are best performed by the private sector, and while councils have a duty to ensure that various utility services are provided to communities, they do not have to be the operator of the service, and in most cases shouldn't be.

Obviously the future of the stalled roading reforms will have a very significant impact on both future functions and structure of local government. I commend local government New Zealand for the constructive analysis contained in your "Streets Ahead" submission.

On the issue of funding I concur that the Rating Powers Act is prescriptive, overly complex, outdated and in spite of the Number 3 Amendment has failed to keep pace with recent reforms. The continuing emphasis on property tax results in many distortions and today there are many inequities between cost and benefit.

Successive governments over decades have promised a comprehensive review of the Rating Act but we are yet to see any tangible results. ACT supports the removal of prescriptive charging powers and their replacement with charges based on actual and reasonable cost. We have openly spoken out against the inequity of Crown and Maori land being deemed non rateable.

One of the most contentious issues of local governance is the implementation and administration of the Resource Management Act. The disastrous implementation is as much the fault of central government, who having totally reordered local government structures in the late 1980's dumped this all embracing but conceptually nebulous Act on you and then said "you're on your own - it's all yours - don't look to us for help".

It is clear that the government has no intention of passing the RMA Amendment Act which has been introduced this week, before the election. After years of handwringing and consultation we are presented with a limp document containing a few procedural tinkerings while the real issues are not addressed. The red meat in need of review is contained in Sections 4, 5 and 6. The scope of the act must be narrowed and the focus sharpened confining it strictly tot he sustainable management of natural and physical resources. All those nebulous provisions relating to social including cultural, engineering should be expunged.

Section 32 requiring councils to consider alternatives to regulatory controls should be clarified and strengthened. Private property rights must be better recognised and protected and any appropriation for public good purposes must involve negotiation and compensation as appropriate.

Defining responsibilities for local government under the Treaty of Waitangi is an evolving challenge made doubly difficult when central government appears to have no coherent strategy and is drifting aimlessly while others redefine the boundaries.

ACT New Zealand acknowledges the importance of the Treaty of Waitangi that marked the beginning of constitutional government in New Zealand. We support the promote and fair settlement of legitimate grievances where the Crown has transgressed clearly established property rights that were assured under Article 2 of the Treaty.

The Treaty of Waitangi was based on good principles and put in place the right incentives. It was forward looking, offering equality between all races, the protection of property rights, and one law for all. The Treaty is something we can all be proud of.

Conversely the treaty grievance industry is backward looking driven by perverse incentives and based on the wrong principles. It is something we should all be thoroughly ashamed of. No one in their right mind could possibly believe that all 720 claims currently before the Waitangi Tribunal are justified.

We have a treaty claim for the electro-magnetic spectrum, which includes among other thins, all light and sound waves, including sunshine. We have a claim for ownership of all indigenous flora and fauna and it is interesting to note that this was the biggest single item on the legal aid bill last year, ($5650,000).

I note that Tainui is seeking an environmental pollution tax on Waikato River water users and other Iwi have parallel claims and expectations. I believe the time has come for government to legislate the bounds of Treaty of Waitangi claims and the Waitangi Tribunal's jurisdiction. Private title should not be challenged and air, water, foreshore, sunshine and radio waves should be off limits.

Today the concept of 'treaty partnership' pervades society. Politically correct institutions and bureaucracies including government departments, local bodies, universities, schools, polytechnics and hospitals all parade their cultural correctness assigning treaty partnership a top priority.

'Treaty partnership' is an invention of the 1980's. It is a Court of Appeal generated nonsense. The Treaty of Waitangi is a political document but the politicians of the mid 1980's (myself included) abrogated their responsibilities and invited short-sighted judges to rewrite history and law. A task they undertook with relish.

The single sovereignty of Article One and the conferment of full citizenship in Article Three have nothing to do with partnership. To extend a concept of mutual rights and obligations of two distinct populations in 1840 to an outright partnership between their 6th and 7th generation descendants is bizarre in the extreme.

'Partnership' is becoming codeword for split or dual sovereignty. Increasingly statutes such as the Environment Act and conservation Act are being amended to enhance the concept of share sovereignty.

The Royal Commission on Electoral Reform reporting in 1986 observed that a dual electoral system has not served Maori well, recommending that it be discontinued upon the introduction of MMP.

MMP has seen an improved representation for Maori in parliament and this could only be enhanced if the Maori vote is not longer marginalised into separate seats. This marginalisation encourages a narrow focus of both representation and accountability.

We now face a situation in the Bay of Plenty where the Regional Council is proposing separate Maori seats. A local bill is to be introduced to Parliament this year. If passed all local bodies will be placed under pressure to follow.

I will continue my vigorous opposition to this move and have in draft a Private Members Bill to preclude separate electoral rolls based on race for local body elections.

While better Maori representation is a desirable goal, apartheid policies of separate representation and accountability are not the answer. Such policies can only result in a polarisation of issues and increased social disharmony. If Maori are disadvantaged by the present electoral system then address that issue directly by introducing proportional representation. The single transferable vote (STV) method would be ideal for local government.

Having covered some of the issues confronting local government I have to conclude the challenges are huge. ACT New Zealand favours a 'bottom up' approach to government in preference to the centralised 'top down' approach recognising and appreciating the importance of local government.

I extend my very best wishes to all elected representatives and to your council staff in sharing the nation's democratic stewardship.

ENDS

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