OPINION: The development of the Auckland super-city has changed the pattern of local government in New Zealand. We now need to examine what these developments mean for the Wellington region, writes Sir Geoffrey Palmer.
MANY people think local government is a bore and as a result they tend to ignore it. However, regardless of what we think, local government is important. It is the government closest to us and it delivers services vital to our survival and quality of life.
Public apathy towards local government is reflected in voter turnout.
In the 2010 local elections, turnout in the Wellington region ranged from 39 per cent to 57 per cent. This was despite the fact that it is easy to vote, and there is postal voting.
Healthy democratic government requires an engaged public. Low turnout robs local government of its legitimacy and its importance. Further, it weakens accountability.
The Wellington region is home to nearly half a million people. It has a strong and diverse culture, and a highly mobile population that moves within the region for work and recreation.
The region has many units of local government: city councils for Wellington, Porirua, Hutt and Upper Hutt; district councils for Kapiti Coast, Masterton, Carterton, and South Wairarapa; and the Greater Wellington Regional Council.
That is more than Auckland had before the new Auckland super-city was created, and Auckland has extensive rural areas and a much greater combined population.
The development of the Auckland super-city has changed the pattern of local government in New Zealand.
We now need to examine what these developments mean for the Wellington region, and whether changes should be made here. However, one size does not fit all and we should not copy Auckland for the sake of it.
In the Wellington region, the proposition of local government change is fuelled by three things: the changes in Auckland's local governance arrangements; economic decline in the Wellington region because of the recession and downsizing of the public service; and the Government's policy on local government and proposed legislative reform.
The Wellington Region Local Government Review Panel has been set up by the Greater Wellington Regional Council and the Porirua City Council to make recommendations on the future of local government in the region.
It is expected that this advice will feed into the central Government's consultation process. Other councils in the region are conducting their own consultations.
I chair the panel that includes Sue Driver, Sir Wira Gardiner and Bryan Jackson. We four have no axe to grind. We simply aim to do the best we can for the people who live in the Wellington region.
We think that it would be far better for the region's communities to work together and achieve consensus and broad agreement regarding the future of the region.
Without this, there will be incoherence and inaction. Bickering would likely result in something being imposed (which is what happened in Auckland).
So there are big issues at stake and we hope the issues paper the panel published last week will produce genuine consultation and debate.
The key issues we are seeking engagement on are whether there is a need to make changes, and if so, what combination of changes would best allow the Wellington region to address the strategic issues it faces while avoiding unnecessary costs, or change for change's sake.
The panel is also very interested in your views on:
- How can local government improve voter turnout?
- How can local government achieve better value for ratepayers?
- The panel thinks the principles of local democracy, effectiveness and efficiency are the right ones. Do you agree? Why?
- Do councils in the Wellington region do a good job at both the local and regional level?
- Does the region need stronger regional leadership?
- Does the Wellington region need a unified vision and strategic direction? Why?
- Does the rates system need changing in the region?
- Would there be an advantage in a single rating system?
- How can local government be made more efficient?
- What role should council organisations have in future governance arrangements?
- How should the functions of local government be delivered?
- What are the optimal structures for delivering those functions?
We encourage you to read our paper at http://wellingtonreviewpanel.org.nz and have your say.
Sir Geoffrey Palmer is chairman of the Wellington Region Local Government Review, an independent panel established by the the Porirua City and Greater Wellington Regional councils to investigate local government reform in the Wellington region. It is due to report back to those councils with a recommended option in late October.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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