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Keeping the Local in Local Government

Keeping the Local in Local Government

Rt Hon Winston Peters
New Zealand First Leader
9 September 2014

Local Democracy Coalition Public Meeting
Tuesday 9 September, 7pm
Expressions Arts & Entertainment Centre, 838 Fergusson Drive, Upper Hutt

There has been much controversy about the possible amalgamation of local councils throughout New Zealand.

Wellington and the Hutt is one of the areas concerned.

Let me share how New Zealand First sees the important issue of local government amalgamation.

First consider the two words “local” and “government”.

Taken separately, we all know what they mean but when they are used together, as part of a political expression, they are losing their sense of meaning.

This is because, in our view, local government has disconnected through a combination of resentful apathy and an agenda of aggrandisement.

Many New Zealanders can recall 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 strong connections with their communities.

Councillors were usually mature individuals who had run local businesses and were altruistic about giving something back to their community.

They were not just in it for the money or to be celebrities!

They were in touch with the people who did not hesitate to ring them – usually to complain!

Now after numerous amalgamations, so called reforms and local government restructuring we have a structure that spews out forests of reports, analyses, plans and excuses.

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The current obsession with amalgamation is causing even more disconnection.

We have had the example of the so called super city of Auckland.

Auckland is well on the way to becoming a state within a state and, in many respects, more dysfunctional than the clutter of local bodies that were forced into this shotgun wedding.

Remember there was no grassroots demand for a super city.

It was imposed on the people by the dysfunctional leader of a dysfunctional political party.

Let me remind you who that leader was – one John Banks, from the ACT party. A party that has little backing from the people of New Zealand, a party that stands for the colonisation of New Zealand by overseas interests. It’s new leader is as dysfunctional as its past. He makes no sense at all. He’s even claiming that we don’t own our country. One looney leader followed by another.

The people were never asked.

The people did not get a vote on a matter of fundamental importance to them.
They just had the amalgamation dropped on them from above.

On the way to establishing the super city the National Government imported, at the request of the Māori Party, the concept of a statutory, non-elected Māori body on the Auckland Super City.

The idea that you can have people on a council who were never elected goes against all sense of democracy, representation and public service.

This occurred under the ageist of a political party that just three elections ago campaigned on the slogan Kiwi not Iwi.

So, today on the Auckland Council, with rights to sanction all manner of applications to the Super City, is a body purporting to represent 19 iwi in Auckland. That number, of course, will again be received by astonishment from people who understand the early Auckland tribal set up.

The body’s operations are financed by the ratepayers, both Maori and non Maori, but the ratepayers have no say who their appointed representatives are.

Accordingly, instead of New Zealand working towards a single franchise at the central government level, something the Royal Commission on our electoral system said would be possible over time under MMP, we have a new establishment that is not even electorate, franchised based on the Auckland Super City, and it won’t stop there.

Already, using Auckland as a precedent, there are demands to have similar non elected representatives on all local bodies in this country.

Put succinctly, separatism is coming to a council near you. That’s, of course, if you stand by and do nothing.

Throughout New Zealand there have been numerous mayors, regional chairpersons and councillors who have been elected on their merits, regardless of race.

Gisborne has a standout mayor with a Chinese background in Meng Foon. Dunedin has had two former mayors, one of Indian and the other of Chinese extraction. And my brother was the Northern Regional Council chairman. One of our candidates in this election is the present Mayor of Carterton, Ron Mark.

Amalgamation did not happen in Auckland as a result of consultation with the people, it was imposed upon them by central government and the discredited Rodney Hide of perk buster, then perk taker, fame.

Now are we going to have a replay of that scenario in the Wellington region?

Have the people of the Wellington region really been fully consulted on possible local body reorganisation?

This is what we believe.

Local government must take the people with it.

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 deciding behind closed doors the future democratic state of Wellington local bodies is abhorrent to us.

New Zealand First says it’s time to put a capital “L” back into local government.

The attitude of “them and us” has to change.

So New Zealand First’s position is clear.
Local government amalgamations should only happen with the support of the communities involved.

There is a word for that of course – democracy! And it is as important for local government as it is for central government.

This venue tonight is very close to the centre of government in New Zealand. However it would be a fair bet that many of you think that central government is not listening to you.

It is certain that many of you treasure the proximity of your local government representatives, because it brings you a certain confidence in ease of contact with them.

As in all decisions there are swings and roundabouts to consider, like greater efficiencies, better service and transparent fair rating. If you look at Auckland Super City none of those things have happened. Much was promised, little delivered, like a bad used car salesman, plenty of pre-cars sales talk - no after sales service.

Now there are some things that need to be said of the election campaign we are in.

Based on long experience it is now apparent that New Zealand is in the throes of a campaign like nothing it has ever experienced before.

The level of acrimony and animosity is ugly – it detracts from the real issues and it does not bode well for this country’s future.

Much of the responsibility can be laid directly at the Prime Minister’s office.

The exposure of thousands of emails has lifted the lid on the whole unseemly campaign being orchestrated from the ninth floor of the Beehive.

Involved as well was the Taxpayers’ Union and one Jordan Williams, a self-appointed spokesperson with a Zeplin-like ego which is going to take on some serious ballast.

If you have seen the tenor of his communications you would be absolutely disgusted even if you are not a woman.

Cleaning this all up goes well beyond party politics. Something has gone seriously wrong with the New Zealand body politic.

This is one instance where just moving on, as the Prime Minister would like, will leave a festering sore untreated for a long time.

That’s why we were the first to call for a full-scale Commission of Inquiry with the power, the right person and comprehensive terms of reference to get at the whole truth.

A constrained, limited inquiry into Judith Collins and her office simply does not cut it.

If the Prime Minister is correct when he says he has nothing to hide then he would welcome such a commission so that allegations against his office can be refuted. Anything less points to a cover up. The public is entitled to know what the ninth floor of the Beehive was doing.

Sound transparent democracy is as important at the central government level as at the local government level.

It’s common sense.


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