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Understanding local government challenges in New Zealand

Wenesday, October 12, 2016

Associate Professor Christine Cheyne with her new book on local government.

Understanding local government challenges in New Zealand

A mixed voter turnout in the local body elections, which saw a slight rise in polling in the cities compensate for a poorer response in the regions, is partly being explained by potential voters saying there is a lack of information about the process.

Now a new book co-edited by Associate Professor Christine Cheyne from the School of People, Environment and Planning at Massey University, may also help shed light on the challenges faced by local government, and why people should get involved.

Local Government in New Zealand: Challenges and Choices is a “one stop information shop” on local government, and follows on from the 1995 book written by Graham Bush, Local Government and Politics in New Zealand.

“We’ve written short, informative chapters in plain English, and the book is designed to dip in and out of – it doesn’t need to be read from start to finish,” Dr Cheyne says. “People struggle to understand the system and the process, but it’s very important to make your views and your voice heard.”

Co-edited by adjunct senior lecturer at Lincoln University Dr Jean Drage, the book now reflects more of New Zealand’s diversity, including chapters on local government and Māori, the impact of climate change, and the unique super city model in Auckland.

“There’s a lack of engagement in local body politics and people say they just don’t know enough about local government,” Dr Cheyne says.

“The election process can be confusing because of the mix of first past the post and single transferrable voting in the same election.

Figures from Local Government New Zealand show that overall national turnout in the elections decided last week reached 41.8 per cent; up slightly on 41.3 per cent in 2013, but that there was a drop in voter response in rural and provincial areas.

“There is also confusion between district councils and regional councils and sometimes the lines of responsibility are blurred. It’s not until something happens – like the Havelock North water crisis – that people start to pay more attention.”

Dr Cheyne says the current legislation shaping local government is also far from perfect and further change is needed.

“We need more robust, stronger legislation around local government. In this book, we try to provoke debate on how to improve the framework – we’re a diverse community and councils should reflect that diversity. We inherited the United Kingdom’s system and evolved it, but there are challenges around Māori representation, and local government has to evolve so that it serves communities better. People do need to think about it and not just take it for granted.”

The book launch will be held at Bennett’s Bookshop on the Manawatū campus on October 12 at 4 pm.

Local Government in New Zealand: Challenges and Choices is published by Dunmore Publishing at a RRP of $47.99 and is available now from their website.

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