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Call For Local Government Minster To Expand Local Democracy, Not Erode It

A former member of the Whangarei District Council is calling on the Minister of Local Government to expand the right of the public to petition a council to hold a binding poll (referendum).

Frank Newman's call for local democracy to be expanded comes at a time when the Minister is considering removing petition rights.

The Local Electoral Act 2001 provides two cases where electors may requisition a binding poll if more than 5% of electors petition a council to do so. Both are designed to protect the community at large from unwelcome changes to the voting system.

Section 29 allows petition rights where a council changes the way representatives are elected using the FPP or STV voting systems.

And section 19ZB provides petition rights when councils create Maori wards and introduce the Maori electoral roll, again, changing the way that representatives are elected.

But Frank Newman believes petition rights could be used to further enhance local democracy.

"I am calling on the Minister of Local Government to expand the right for the public to petition their council to include a ‘general’ right in the Local Electoral Act.

“Democracy would be enhanced if voters had an opportunity to challenge unpopular council decisions that are not in the best interest of the community, or show no confidence in a council where it becomes dysfunctional or is captured by vested interest groups who are acting in their own best interests, rather than the community as a whole.

"Strengthening the petition rights, not reducing them as some propose, would improve our democracy and provide a remedy that would address an increasingly dysfunctional local government sector and poor voter turnout at election time."

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