Axing ECan elections 'undemocratic'

RACHEL YOUNG
Last updated 05:00 09/11/2012

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Axing Environment Canterbury elections until at least 2016 is a breach of the Government's commitment to democracy, New Zealand's Human Rights Commission says.

Chief human rights commissioner David Rutherford yesterday hit out at the Government for introducing the Environment Canterbury (Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water Management) Bill, during a Local Government and Environment Select Committee meeting.

The bill will allow Government-appointed commissioners to run the regional body until at least the 2016 elections.

"Our view continues to be that the undemocratic way in which the original legislation was introduced, and its continuance, is simply wrong from a human rights perspective."

In September, Local Government Minister David Carter and Environment Minister Amy Adams said ECan elections would not be held until 2016 at the earliest, despite an earlier Government promise to hold regional council elections next year.

Government-appointed commissioners have been in charge of ECan since democratically elected councillors were sacked in 2010.

Rutherford said the bill breached some of the international human rights commitments the Government had made.

His submission states: "The commission considers that no good reason has been provided for extending the present legislation. The lack of public consultation about content - or the continuing need for legislation - is an abuse of the democratic process and does not reflect the real needs of Cantabrians (and could even do real harm).

"In our view the present legislation has the potential to further exacerbate the resentment that has arisen in Canterbury as result of autocratic decision-making."

He said Cantabrians needed to be involved in decision-making to mitigate the sense of powerlessness that followed a natural disaster. "In a situation such as this where the local communities are already traumatised by measures introduced in response to the earthquakes, extending this legislation effectively perpetuates the problems . . . and reinforces the inability of those directly affected to contribute in a meaningful fashion to legislation that affects them personally."

The Labour MP for Wigram, Megan Woods, said Rutherford's submissions highlighted the "democratic and human rights abuses" in Canterbury.

"There is no justification for cancelling elections. As ratepayers, Canterbury residents deserve a say in who represents them and makes decisions on their behalf."

Environment Canterbury commissioners and Local Government Minister David Carter declined to comment last night.

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The committee will hear further submissions on the bill in Christchurch on November 15.

The committee has received 91 submissions on the bill.

Representatives from the Human Rights Commission, Environment and Conservation Organisations of New Zealand and New Zealand Fish and Game Council spoke yesterday.

- The Press

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