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A recent conversation about a Unitary Explanation

From Cr. Doug Owens Log – Star date 18/07/2014

A recent conversation about a Unitary Explanation


Nick Smith’s unitary model does not seem to determine matters in any manner differently from the one we discussed previously. That is, to the extent he is using the term “unitary model” correctly.

I assume he (Nick) is simply referring to the position in constitutional law in NZ, the UK, Australia and Canada which is, that Government is said to be unitary and we inherit this from the UK Westminster system.

Our so called “Unitary System” technically means that legally, parliament has all the power in the land – i.e. that Local Government does not exist, independent of parliament, but is created by legislation passed by parliament

We have had a unitary system since the Glorious Revolution of 1688, considered a turning point in the development of parliamentary democracy and civil liberties, when parliament asserted its ultimate authority of the Monarchy or the executive – indeed everything.

So the system is unitary, there is a parliament and parliament legislates. That’s fine.

But this does not solve or answer the problem or question about how best to legislate for the design of local and regional government in a unitary system?

The fact NZ as a unitary system does not determine the optimal nature and extent of the decentralisation of powers and functions or the appropriate competence and nature of different levels of government.

Nor can this question of the optimal nature and extent of the decentralisation of powers and functions be avoided.

Different designs have different consequences.

We should therefore evaluate the consequences of different rules on nature and the extent of the decentralisation of powers and functions and not simply assert we have a unitary model.

It’s like saying we have legs, but not answering the question about how we should use them!

Unitary only means that Parliament can change the rules as it wishes and abolish local government if it wishes. It does not mean that it ought to.

Unitary Government may be the best baseline or starting point so at least the people or someone can improve things, over time!

However, the objective should be to maximise the well-being of New Zealander’s.

The aim should be to design a system that maximises the well-being of New Zealander’s.

This is the outcome that drives the optimal design of local/regional/central government powers and functions and not the fact that, the underlying system is unitary.

In conclusion, the fact that our political system is unitary does not imply that there should be only one level of Government.


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