Change is a constant

22:19, May 23 2012

It is a truism to say doing things the way you have always done them will always generate the same result, unless of course the world around you has changed, writes Tracy Hicks this week.

This rule applies to individuals, businesses and organisations alike, with local government being no exception. I think it would be difficult to find someone who would seriously suggest their world hasn't changed in the past five years, let alone the past 10 years.

Being open to new ideas and service delivery methods is a prerequisite for life, but as individuals we battle with change. I am as guilty of this as anyone though often wonder why, given some of the changes I have witnessed.

I recently ticked off yet another age milestone and I don't know about you but they always cause me to be a little more reflective, as opposed to celebratory.

Local government in Southland is, in my opinion, open to change across a range of activities, which is not the case in many parts of New Zealand.

However, we do need a push from time to time and I guess that is what is currently occurring with the Government's `Better local government legislation'. It will be interesting to read the bill when it finally sees the light of day.


The general thrust of it appears to make a good deal of sense, although I am concerned about what the definition of local government's purpose might end up looking like. If the purpose is not clear and acceptable to all, then it matters not a jot how good the rules are. To me the purpose of local government, and certainly the reason I am involved, is to build capacity and capability within and around communities.

That capacity encompasses a host of sectors including infrastructure, physical environment, social, cultural and financial with the priority for each determined locally.

People must always be at the heart of any decision making, which of course is the basis of democracy. The one fear I have in any possible law change is that the balance is shifted from decisions made by, and for local communities, to a one size fits all model coming from Wellington.

I have to say that fear was somewhat allayed last week when I met the new minister of Local Government. He appears to have a much more balanced and inclusive approach than his predecessor but I guess time will tell. Change, while being one of the few constants life presents us, more often than not is challenging. This is particularly so the greyer one's hair becomes.

However, as much as I have torn out my hair at times getting to grips with computer technology, it has opened up a whole new world of information I wouldn't have had access to otherwise. Especially now that I have wrested the iPad from Robyn. While in many ways that day in May 1957 when I started at Mataura School feels like yesterday, it is actually a world removed to the one I currently inhabit. However, there is one constant that will always remain, which is the people.

The legitimacy of any government, central or local, is people support. Rightly or wrongly the majority opinion must always have favour.

The immediate challenge for all local authorities as they grapple with 10-year plans is to consider countless pages of submissions from the public and make a judgment call on what needs to happen in the best interest of the whole community, as opposed to individuals.

Determining the correct balance between personal interest and the community's interest is always a fraught one, but that's our job.

» Tracy Hicks is the Gore district mayor.

The Southland Times