10 July 2010

Whatever happened to local democracy?

Remember all of that nice talk about 'empowerment' and 'local democracy'? And, do you remember the inspirational words in the Local Government Act 2002, which states that its purpose is to provide for 'democratic and effective local government that recognises the diversity of New Zealand communities' and for 'powers for local authorities to decide which activities they undertake and the manner in which they will undertake them'?

Well, let's look at the facts: First, the biggest rearrangement of local democratic powers currently under way (the amalgamation of Auckland's councils) would probably not have been supported by a referendum of local voters. Knowing this, central government has forced it through by legislation. To the extent that Aucklanders were consulted about the amalgamation (by the Royal Commission), central government has been prepared to ignore and over-ride many of the resulting key recommendations.

Worse still, consider the sacking of Environment Canterbury, due to its internal deadlock over water rights. It seems that, on those occasions when the results of local democratic choices fail to produce the results that central government wants, then democratic process will just have to be negated, and the matter will be decided by executive decree.

Twice now, Ministers (Mallard and McCully) have tried to step in to bully Auckland's decision-makers into doing radical things to Queen's Wharf for the Rugby World Cup. Ultimatums are delivered, decisions are demanded, and, when the local people start to object and raise alternative uses for the Wharf, the Minister blames Aucklanders for not being able to get their act together. McCully was recently quoted on Radio NZ as saying that the Super City 'can't come soon enough.' What that suggests to me is that Cabinet regards the Super City Council as a puppet that will make it easier for them to ram through changes that they happen to want. Whatever Aucklanders might have wanted and decided (after lengthy debates and consultations) can be over-ridden in favour of (once again) central executive decree.

So much for local democracy!


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