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PM Speech To Local Government Conference

Rt Hon Helen Clark
Prime Minister

Local Government Conference

Christchurch Convention Centre

4.00 pm
Tuesday 11 July 2000

Thank you for the invitation to address the conference today.

Almost exactly one year ago I came to address this conference as Leader of the Opposition.

I said then that I came to offer a positive vision for the future of local government under a new government.

I noted that local government had been subjected to ever more restrictive legislation and had come under serious attack from those who view government in any form negatively.

I made it clear that the new government would see local government as complementary to central government, and would seek to work closely with local government on the many issues which require our joint input.

I suggested that a regular forum be established between central and local government to identify the policy issues needing debate and further work and to develop a longer term coherent strategy for local government.

It would have been understandable if at the time your delegates viewed what I said as just another set of promises to be broken.

After all, New Zealanders had been through many years of parties promising one thing before an election and doing another afterwards!

We had become a somewhat cynical and disillusioned people, who hardly dared to believe that things might ever change.

That’s why the 1999 election had to be different. If it had delivered more of the unacceptable same, I believe that the level of participation in our democratic system would have continued to decline.

That’s also why Labour developed its core pledges and policies carefully to ensure that we kept our word. We aimed to lead a government which was stable, predictable, and kept its word. Now that we are leading the government those aspirations are more important to us than ever.

Keeping our word on working closely with local government has taken a high priority, because our partnership with you is one of our top priorities.

Early this year your officials and our officials began work on setting up the Central and Local Government Forum.

We came together in March, with your executive members and our ministers. The meeting was jointly chaired by Louise Rosson and me. We listened to each other, and we identified the range of issues to which as a group we wanted to give early priority. Those areas, as you know, spanned economic development, social cohesion, the environment, roading and transport, reworking local government legislation, and a Treaty of Waitangi framework for local government.

Since that Forum in March there has been a tremendous amount of interaction between central and local government. The strong lead being given to the new relationship by me as Prime Minister and by all other ministers means that our officials have a mandate to work co-operatively with Local Government New Zealand and its representatives.

There is a very heavy policy agenda under way, which will no doubt place strain on our mutual resources. In the last budget, Sandra Lee secured an extra one million dollars for the local government section of the Department of Internal Affairs to assist her with the rewrite of the Local Government Act and the Local Elections and Polls Act, the Funding Powers Review, and other ongoing policy and legislation reviews.

In this area, as in others, we found on coming to office that the public service had suffered from a decline in capacity to develop core policy successfully.

I am pleased to see at this conference a very good turn-out from ministers with whom and with whose departments Local Government New Zealand is working most closely. I know that all those ministers who have come – Jim Anderton, Steve Maharey, Sandra Lee, Marian Hobbs, Mark Gosche, and Judith Tizard – share my commitment to making our partnership work.

I want to emphasis today that the concept of partnership is central to the way in which our new government seeks to work.

The challenges facing New Zealand cannot be met by government action alone. Governments need effective partnerships throughout the community if we are to guarantee our people a sustainable future.

In aiming for that sustainable future, we accept the principle of the “triple bottom line” – of ensuring that our development measures up in economic, social, and environmental terms.

To achieve sustainable economic development, central government needs to work alongside business, local government and its enterprise agencies, education and research institutions, communities, and Maori.

To achieve sustainable social development, central government needs partnership with the wide range of non-governmental organisations, with local government which interfaces closely with community organisations, and with Maori.

To sustain our environment, we need commitment and input from local government, communities, business, Maori, scientists, and environmentalists.

In earlier times, central government tended to assume it could operate on its own without nurturing such broader relationships. In more recent times it tended to push the responsibility for economic and social development away and disclaim any proactive role.

Now, our third way government is seeking a new role, built around that concept of partnership, acknowledging the limitations of government, but also accepting the responsibility of leading, facilitating, enabling, brokering, and funding where appropriate to get results.

In an age of globalisation government is not redundant, but its role is different. It is no longer productive to attempt to erect a wall around one’s economy when the world increasingly revolves around the free movement of people, goods, services, and capital. But it is productive for government to use every bit of leverage it has to ensure a place in that global economy for our goods and services and our people so that we can prosper in this new world and not be left behind.

We need New Zealand Incorporated working together to maximise the benefits for us all. And the strengths of local government are very much part of that New Zealand Incorporated.

The government’s new Regional Partnerships Programme to be administered through Industry New Zealand will enable the enterprise agencies backed by local government to be supported in developing local growth strategies.

We know that many regions and localities have ideas for growth strategies which have not been able to be developed fully because of funding constraints. The new funding is designed to see more of those strategies come to fruition and enable local leadership of local economic development to come to the fore.

Local and regional initiatives will complement the government’s action at the national level to generate economic renewal through higher levels of education and skills training, and more investment in science and research and in our infrastructure.

Our vision for the future of New Zealand is for a sustainably growing economy, capable of producing ever more sophisticated goods and services which can guarantee us higher standards of living across the board. That stronger new economy should also be able to support stronger public services, sustain our environment, and help us build the strong creative identity through our arts and culture which will mark us out as a unique nation with a high quality of life.

Local government has an interest in and a contribution to make in one way or another in all these areas.

I want particularly today to applaud the contribution which so many councils are making to arts, culture, and heritage. Your combined investment far exceeds that of central government as you support art galleries, museums, and heritage properties.

In the past perhaps these activities were supported for their intrinsic benefits. In my personal view, a town or city comes of age when it has an art gallery. But I suggest that today your investments in arts, culture, and heritage should also be seen as important investments in your local economy and as centrepieces of your local tourism strategies.

I am sure that many regions have the potential like Nelson to market together a fine gallery, a flourishing arts and crafts community, vineyards, restaurants and cafes, and a unique natural environment.

And now a word on the environment – an area where joint leadership between central and local government is crucial.

The government has set a target for ratification of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change by mid-2002: the ten year anniversary of the original Rio conference on the environment.

That means that New Zealand must stabilise its greenhouse gas emissions at 1990 levels, on average, over the period 2008-2012. That might sound a long time off. Unfortunately it is not. Meeting our international obligations represents a huge challenge.

For a start, we need to reduce vehicle emissions. To do that, we need to encourage public transport and ensure that our roads are effectively designed and managed.

Already in this year’s budget the government has signalled its commitment to public transport by removing the caps on the passenger transport service grant and capital funding for alternatives to roading.

The more local authorities can encourage people to use public transport, the greater the financial support from government will be and the less car congestion and subsequent pollution there will be.

Mark Gosche, Minister of Transport, has already addressed one of your workshops this morning on his plans for further reviewing the way public transport and roading are funded and managed. I know that he wants the full involvement of local government in that process.

Central and local government working together can also make a difference to New Zealand’s energy efficiency where our record is poor.

In May, the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act passed with strong support from the government, and the new authority was given a $3m boost in funding.

I am delighted to hear that already the EECA is working closely with local authorities. Improving our energy efficiency is critical to achieving our Kyoto targets.

Another environmental issue to which we both need to give priority is waste management.

An extra one million dollars a year is now going into policy work in this area. Our aim is to have all waste management working on a full cost recovery basis and all landfills meeting high standards by 2010.

Again I am very pleased to see that the Ministry for the Environment and LGNZ have already held a joint workshop to establish a collaborative approach to priorities for waste minimisation.

Water issues are important too.

Understanding the extent of contamination in our water will help in developing health and environmental guidelines in water. By the end of this year, the Ministry for the Environment, together with the Ministries of Health and Agriculture, expect to have completed a research programme into the levels of disease-causing organisms in our waterways.

Effective partnership will be needed to improve water quality, with central and local government, agricultural, horticultural and forestry land users all involved.

Protecting our biodiversity is another environmental issue where partnership is crucial.

We have affirmed the biodiversity strategy and committed resources of $187m over the next five years – now we must build on partnerships between government, local bodies, tangata whenua and land owners to protect and restore threatened biodiversity.

At the Central and Local Government Forum in March, local government was very keen to see issues of social cohesion and community development on the agenda.

I know that your desire to see these issues discussed did not spring from a general desire to take on more work and responsibility in the area! Indeed one of the features of the central-local government relationship in the recent past has been the dumping of responsibility onto local government without also devolving the means of funding.

Local government, however, has a very real and legitimate interest in the overall health of its communities. Many of you have advocated for economic and social policies which would deliver better results for your communities – and so you should.

This new government is very conscious of the gaps which have developed in communities, between rich and poor, urban and rural, and Maori and Pacific peoples and other New Zealanders. We are spending, and we are trying new initiatives, to reduce those gaps.

The rise in New Zealand Superannuation, the regional development programme, the income-related state house rentals, the rise in the minimum wage, and the extra investments in health and education are all part of a drive to address disadvantage.

With respect to Maori and Pacific peoples, we are working to support their building their capacity to strategise and deliver better services for their own communities. New Zealand’s efforts at mainstreaming services on a “one size fits all” basis does not have a good record of success.

Many local authorities have played very important roles in building social cohesion and in community development. In turn we hope that our efforts will be better co-ordinated with yours. Under Steve Maharey’s leadership, the regional commissioners at the Department of Work and Income will be expected to work very closely with the localities and regions they serve. And the District Health Boards to be elected next year will co-ordinate health policy and provision locally within the national strategy and framework set by central government.

When I spoke at this Conference last year, I spoke of the need for a new Local Government Act which would be less prescriptive and more enabling.

I know that Local Government New Zealand supports a rewrite of the Act and that there is considerable interest in how a power of general or local competence might be defined for local government.

We identified this as an issue on which we should work jointly when we met in the Forum in March. Since then you have written to the Minister of Local Government, she has kept her officials busy, and she has addressed you on the review of this and other local government legislation at the Conference yesterday.

I repeat: a new act which better enables local government to meet the needs of its communities is a high priority for the government, and is in line with our positive approach towards the role local government can play.

I believe that the new relationship between central and local government has got off to a good start.

Our Forum is due to meet again in November to review the progress we have made on our big work programme. Because many of the issues have been neglected or side-tracked for so long, it is almost impossible to make fast enough progress now. But we are doing our best. I can assure you that there is no shortage of goodwill on our part to making the relationship work – and I am sure there is none on yours.

It goes without saying that we may not always agree! But where the basic relationship is strong, the odd disagreement is not a catastrophe. And I must say that I have been impressed by how close our views on so many issues are. The fact that this government has dumped the last government’s proposals to disempower local government under the Resource Management Act and to inflict far reaching change in roading and other areas without agreement illustrates that.

Thank you for your willingness to work with us in the interests of all our communities. I wish you a productive conference and look forward to meeting your representatives again at the November meeting of the Central-Local Government Forum.

© Scoop Media

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