Local body reforms 'will stifle democracy'

GRANT ROBERTSON: The Government was removing democracy at a local level across New Zealand.
JONATHAN CAMERON/Taranaki Daily News
GRANT ROBERTSON: The Government was removing democracy at a local level across New Zealand.

The Government's local body reforms will take away the rights of residents to have a say in the way their councils operate and force amalgamations, Labour claims.

The controversial Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Bill scraped through its first reading in Parliament last night by just 61 votes to 59 with the support of the Government's partners ACT and United Future.

The legislation will make it easier for local councils to merge and limits the areas they can operate in.

Labour's deputy leader Grant Robertson said the Government was removing democracy at a local level across New Zealand.

It wanted to turn local councils into corporate-like boards, "rather than it being part of democracy, something that local people have a say in," he told Parliament.

The Bill effectively said amalgamations were on the way.

"You will get them no matter what. Some amalgamations maybe a very good idea but local people deserve the right to a say."

The Government had made a big deal about local councils' spending being out of control, Robertson said.

"The Department of Internal Affairs says there is no clear quantitative evidence to suggest the Local Government Act 2002 has resulted a proliferation of new activities or that local government is undertaking a wider group of functions."

It was a case of flower shows were in but V8 races were out, he said.

ACT leader John Banks said the former Labour government's Local Government Act 2002 was a "failed experiment with the powers of general competence".

It had led to rising expectations which councils could not meet and an increasingly expensive, ineffective and bureaucratic consultation processes which had resulted in rising rates and debt.

The Bill would remove councils' "impossibly broad and meaningless" duty to enhance residents' cultural, economic, environmental and social well being, he said.

"If passed, it will be a win for ratepayers."

Local Government Minister David Carter today said the Bill didn't lessen democracy.

"What we are trying to do is streamline the way councils can reorganise, at the moment it is very, very difficult for amalgamations to occur," he told Radio New Zealand.

Central government would not be forcing councils to merge.

Carter last night told Parliament the Bill was the first phase of the Government's "Better Local Government" reforms which would force local authorities to operate more efficiently and effectively by doing "things that only they can do".

New Zealand's 78 local authorities were an important part of the economy; making up 4 per cent of GDP, spending $7.5 billion of public money a year and managing $100 billion worth of public assets.

DAVID CARTER: "What we are trying to do is streamline the way councils can reorganise."
JOHN BISSET/Timaru Herald
DAVID CARTER: "What we are trying to do is streamline the way councils can reorganise."