Full Environment Canterbury democracy 'a step backwards' - Ngai Tahu

Water rights protest outside Environment Canterbury in 2010, after the Government sacked elected regional councillors ...

Water rights protest outside Environment Canterbury in 2010, after the Government sacked elected regional councillors and replaced them with commissioners.

Restoring full democratic elections would be a "step backwards" for Canterbury, Ngai Tahu says.

The South Island iwi's view was among those given at 11-hour select committee hearing on Wednesday, where the Government was grilled about its control of Environment Canterbury (ECan).

Eight MPs heard public submissions on the Environment Canterbury (Transitional Governance Arrangements) Bill, which would introduce a mixture of elected councillors and government appointed commissioners from 2016.

The proposed bill provides for, but does not guarantee, a return to full democratic elections in 2019 – six years later than originally expected.

Ngai Tahu emerged as one of the few groups at the hearing supporting the bill.

It was one of several groups, including Canterbury councils, that asked for government intervention in 2010. The changes resulted in the elected councillors losing their seats.

"The proposal to return to a fully democratically elected model does not provide sufficient recognition towards the Treaty partnership," its submission says.

"It is considered that the proposal would be a step backwards for Canterbury as a number of other regions have moved towards equitable representation for iwi at a governance level."

The iwi supported continuing the mixed model after the 2019 elections, proposing to incorporate three Ngai Tahu appointed commissioners alongside three appointed by the Government.

In the submission, it expressed a desire to continue its improved relationship with the commissioners and to increase Ngai Tahu representation.

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Labour's environment spokeswoman, Wigram MP Megan Woods, said Ngai Tahu was doing what it should do as an organisation to try and ensure it gets the best representation for itself.

She believed a full democratically-elected council should be put in place at the 2016 elections.

"Maori representation on local bodies is a whole separate conversation that needs to be carried out."

Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel, submitting on behalf of the city council, had harsh words for the Government's approach to the principles of local government.

The council's written submission described the actions as "extraordinarily arrogant" and said Canterbury "deserved more than the rushed, superficial review that has led to the bill currently being reported on".

Dalziel told the panel there was little justification for the regional council to have control of public transport and air monitoring, and its continued ownership of those functions was holding the city back.

"We cannot realise our potential when we have no say as a city, other than through the region, where our buses go and what type of buses we want to run," she said

"We have a dream of electrifying all of our buses . . . we'd like to have them running next week. The system doesn't work and if we want to have our city back on its feet again, and public transport to be a big part of how we move people around, than we've got to do something about it."

Of Canterbury's 10 mayors, Dalziel was the only one to oppose the proposed legislation.

The New Zealand Law Society also weighed in with a damning submission, accusing the Government of failing to justify its intervention into the region's governance.

"This is not just a slight erosion – this is a significant erosion of the rule of law and the way we're accustomed to doing things," Austin Forbes QC said.

Suspending democracy was only justifiable in "exceptional circumstances" and the Government had provided little justification for doing so in this case, he said.

"It is not sufficient simply to allude to a hypothetical risk that [ECan's] work may 'stall or lose direction'. If this argument was to be accepted there would never be a return to democracy."

The select committee is expected to return its report in February.

 - Stuff

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