Local Government Act 2002 becoming convoluted

As we approach the end of the third term of this Government, it is important to look back at how the legislation defining local government in New Zealand has changed. Since 2008, a number of changes have been made that significantly alter how local councils operate and the obligations that they are expected to meet. As many of these changes have flown under the radar many New Zealanders are not aware that they even happened.

To understand how the Local Government Act 2002 came to be in its current state, we need to look at prior legislation. One of these prior Acts of Parliament is the Local Government Act 1974, which among other things made provision for the establishment of District Councils, Regional Councils, Unitary Authorities,

Prior to the 2002 Act being passed by Parliament, the 1974 legislation was quite prescriptive in terms of what councils were permitted to do. The newer legislation gave councils the flexibility to choose activities and how they are undertaken, viewed as relating to general competence and applicable in equal terms to both regional councils and territorial authorities. Since then these changes have been amended by the Local Government Amendment Act, 2010. This was prompted by public perceptions that there were councils over reaching their prescribed mandate to spend money on activities and items that are not permitted in the Local Government Act.

One such case was Kaipara District Council which in the end was found to have not breached the Act, after a dispute over the Mangawhai waste water scheme. The Auditor General agreed to pay out $5.4 million in settling the dispute.

Another is Westland District Council, which has been found wanting over repairs to infrastructure damaged by flooding in 2016. W.D.C. have had a long, drawn out and at times messy public dispute with key council managers and the Chief Executive, which have led to some high profile resignations. Although it is not clear if the Act was breached, given that a cake decorating firm with no prior knowledge of waste water was involved in a multi-million dollar contract, I think it is safe to say something went wrong.

In acknowledging the 1974 Local Government Act and the 2002 Local Government Act, it is important to briefly acknowledge the 1989 Local Government Amendment Act. This Act acknowledged that the increasingly complex, convoluted and potentially dysfunctional L.G.A. 1974 needed a significant overhaul. To that end it dismantled or merged 850 separate bodies into 86. Of those 850 there had been 249 municipalities and the other 601 were catchment boards, drainage boards and harbour boards. The current configuration includes 13 regional councils and 73 territorial authorities (City and District Councils).

In 2012 there were changes made that repealed Sections 91 and 92, which pertain to the processes for identifying community outcomes and obligations to report against said community outcomes. This essentially meant councils were no longer obligated to indicate how they were progressing in terms of creating healthy integrated communities, compared with the outcomes identified in council planning papers. In the same year, the powers of the Minister were significantly increased (s257-259) so as to permit the appointment of a Crown Observer, Crown Manager, a Commision or even calling of general elections of a council in place of one thought to be incapable of performing its statutory obligations.

I fear that if too many more Amendment Acts are passed that the Local Government Act 2002 will be too convoluted to remain in existence, thereby becoming obsolete.

Metiria’s Gamble

It was a bold thing to do. When Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei admitted that she had lied to Work and Income New Zealand about her housing arrangements whilst collecting the Domestic Purposes Benefit, she knew full well it was putting putting her in a minefield.

In some respects I admire her honesty. She could have said nothing and left New Zealand, the authorities and the Green Party delegates assembled none the wiser.

In other respects though there is a degree of cynicism about her admission. In doing so, she had another goal in mind other than living up to her statement that an M.P. has to be honest. That goal was to give an example – and a very risky one – of a person struggling with the D.P.B. and making a choice to not be honest with Work and Income New Zealand.

I have had my own struggles with Work and Income. But the whole time I have been transparent with them, however much I might have been tempted to lob a verbal grenade across the desk. My association with Work and Income started back in 2000 when my parents decided to check out what legal assistance a 19 year old with permanent hypertension.

It is not to say that I have got on with W.I.N.Z. or the Ministry of Social Development at large – I have not. In August 2011 after 2 months on the unemployment benefit post 22 February 2011, I started studying for a Certificate of Business Administration (about 25 hours per week)and notified W.I.N.Z. Without telling me, despite asking, how to change my support, they cut the benefit and I only found out when I went to buy lunch one day and my EFTPOS card was declined – I had gone into overdraft because I was withdrawing money that I did not know that I didn’t have. After an argument with W.I.N.Z and another with Ministry of Social Development they put me on a student allowance, which – shock, horror – was actually worth $30 LESS per week than the unemployment benefit. I finished the C.B.A. and went back on the unemployment benefit just before Christmas 2011. For the two years I played a relentless game of cat and mouse – them trying to find a way of getting me off the benefit, and me staying one step ahead of them. It is not that I did not want to work – I was desperate to work, but the job market in post-earthquake Christchurch had essentially collapsed unless you were prepared to work in construction or hospitality, neither of which I thought I was capable of doing. When I finally got a job, it was no thanks to W.I.N.Z. and totally because of my own perseverance and a gentleman at Avis Budget Group being impressed by my ability to tough out a job.

But back to Metiria. She was admittedly between a rock and a hard place. She had bills to pay. She was certain her support would be cut if she told them the truth, which would have complicated her life considerably with her university degree and having to raise a daughter on top of expenses.

I don’t think there was any malicious intent in what she did then – or in admitting her past actions – but at the same time this is the kind of activity that has given National its licence to wage war on beneficiaries. And yes, she should pay back the money anyway.

My voting quandary

This election will not be like any other. For the first time ever, the New Zealand voting populace are not happy with National or Labour winning the election and some quarters are starting to talk about what just 12-24 months ago might have been seen as unthinkable.

For the first time ever a New Zealand First victory is not off the cards – a victory in which the party not only decides who is in Government, but manages to get multiple significant ministerial portfolios.

This time the call for change is not exclusively  along blue or red lines, that prefer to tinker around the edges. The people want real change, not for the few, but for the many. It depends on your interpretation of change. I see three options:

  • For the status quo – if you think that constitutes change – vote National
  • For piecemeal change that is done in baby steps, but has been thought about in cohesion with other policies vote Labour
  • For significant policies that can be generally interconnected with others to create change that has meaningful effect even if there are teething issues – which happen with most large scale policy announcements – vote New Zealand First

Perhaps that will mean giving ones party vote to New Zealand First. However much that might repulse you, the only way the mainstream parties of National and Labour are going to get the message that people want meaningful change that does not just work for the privileged few, is to vote for New Zealand First.

So far the policies announced by Mr Peters have been quite exciting. He will give us a binding referendum on whether or not the Maori seats should continue to exist. He will give New Zealand a binding referendum on whether to reduce Parliament to 100 seats – a referendum in 1999 asked the same question, but was not binding despite 80% of votiers (myself included)voting in favour of a 99 seat Parliament.

In addition to these policies, the New Zealand First tertiary education policy was unveiled in 2016 at the party’s annual convention in Dunedin. Despite critics pointing out the expense, it should be noted the planned expenditure is only about $500 million more than the current expenditure on tertiary education.

This leaves me in an almighty quandary.

The New Zealand First policy platform, which drew me to the party in the first place, is in as fine condition as it has ever been.

The Members of Parliament that it currently has are not a bad bunch, inside and outside of Parliament. Hard working in their portfolio’s and for the most part (Brendan Horan aside)free of damaging controversy, they have contributed to the growth of the party.

So, why am I in a quandary? Three reasons really:

  1. Shane Jones. Although he was found to not have committed any wrong doing, to have him put in as a candidate when he has not spent any time in the party learning its inner mechanics, meeting the electorate members who put time and money into the party has many seeing foul
  2. The Board. A President who shuts down any contentious conversation, does not return phone calls or e-mails and ignores the agenda at convention by bypassing entire sections – is this who the party really wants running the show?
  3. Winston. I want to vote New Zealand First, but I cannot tolerate another three year of National being in the Beehive in any form. Mr Peters is well known for doing deals with the largest party where Parliament is hung, as we saw in 1996. This time I really want to see Labour in office.

I am not going to decide who to vote for until election day. It will depend on what happens in the next nine weeks and whether or not the candidates do anything daft.

Nine weeks to decide on a solution to my quandary.

A.C.T.: an annoyingly useful party

A political contact sometime ago when I was first getting into political parties and their politics once said to me when I asked him why he was an A.C.T. member, “It’s the party of liberty and freedom”.

That was one Rick Giles, who famously went on to say during an interview that the case against climate change existing was so compelling that no further explanation was needed. Mr Giles has since disappeared from sight on the political front. But the party he represented in that interview is still around, coming to the end of its second term as a one person band.

A.C.T. is a party that on one hand I would love to see fling itself head first into political oblivion, thereby forcing the right fringe of New Zealand politics to reorganize itself and seek a fresh mandate to exist. On the other hand, it serves a very – annoyingly – useful purpose in that it is a clear beacon for those on the right. Some of those people have not been entirely clean – David Garrett, who introduced the “Three Strikes” legislation omitted to tell A.C.T. or Parliament he had committed passport fraud using the identity of a dead baby and was forced to resign in disgrace.

Its current leader David Seymour will probably take Epsom on 23 September 2017. This will not be because New Zealanders necessarily like him – his party barely scored 1% of the party vote at the last election and would have suffered complete electoral oblivion save for Epsom voters and a deal with National for them to not actively campaign in that electorate. It will perhaps be because Mr Seymour door knocked every single house in the electorate – something probably no other candidate in any electorate anywhere in the country could claim to have done.

Mr Seymour perhaps deserves a bit of credit. His Bill of Parliament to permit voluntary euthanasia has been drawn from the ballot. He is to his credit one of the few Members of Parliament actively working to address the issue, and I was personally pleased when it was drawn.

Euthanasia aside though, there is nothing at all from my perspective to like about the A.C.T. Party. It would repeal the Resource Management Act if it could get the numbers in Parliament. It has shown scant regard for socio-economic well being of low income earners, middle New Zealand and minorities. A.C.T. supported the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement and has an almost blind belief that everything New Zealand does should be based on what happens in the United States – that we are somehow incapable of making New Zealand laws for New Zealand and New Zealanders.

I don’t expect that it will ever be more than right wing bit party. But as long as Epsom wants an A.C.T. member to be their M.P., and he can find a cause or two to rally his party around, I cannot see A.C.T. leaving Parliament either – which for the purpose of knowing where the right wing fringe are, might not be a bad thing.


A three way race for the centre left

There is a race going on at the moment. It is for the highest honour – that of the right to govern the nation. Did we say it was going to be a treat for the centre left or a centre right Government? Only if you win. Right now there are three distinct forces at work in the centre-left of New Zealand politics.

The left: The Greens

The “I think I am left, but I don’t know” left: Labour

The CENTRE: New Zealand First

The race for the centre-left of New Zealand politics is on. Yet somehow it seems strangely well stitched up. And even if everything goes to plan in this race, we need to remember it is part of a much bigger race: the race to win the 2017 N.Z. General Election.

That is the question. What is Labour going to do. Are they going to announce a winner such as nationalizing the energy sector again – something I would support or a long term blue print for the provision of biofuel and electric cars, reducing our petroleum use; the banning of waste products in return for significant investment in reuse of waste stream products. Maybe they will go one step further and tell 4th year students at university doing Hons study that provided they spend X years here, their fees are paid for.

Who would be brave enough to do that?

Well, actually, Labour would. They have already given undergrads years 1-3 free, so why now year 4? An Honours student when I was at University of Canterbury in 2005 was pretty much assured a job on the spot when they finished their qualification. It would give those in research areas where there are a dearth of researchers, hope that they will be able to afford the necessary study to become what they want.

But the problem is that this has become a complex market in terms of prospective employees. Too many lives as risk. Labour need remind people that a couple of years ago it introduced solid policy on getting people to start reinvesting in industries currently looking rather afraid and lonely,  not sure of what form the next Government will take and no prepared to wait any longer to find out.

So, what do the three parties in the race have to do with it? Well, everything.

The Greens, the hip party fielding some candidates that will surprise people, is the preferred coalition partner of many for Labour. Unfortunately it is at war with New Zealand First.

Labour are the mainstream party who want to govern, but whom seem to be doomed to a fourth term on the opposition bench. They are also the same party that had to watch former National Prime Minister Keith Holyoake spend four consecutive terms – the only peacetime Prime Minister to have achieved this – in office. Not again they say.

I actually agree,but to change this is probably to change the Government.

Aside from defining the centre left, they are the ones who will receive the support of the public, thoroughly disgruntled with National as they most probably are. The Greens and Labour one, might have expected would automatically surge because they have seen a well oiled Labour Party at work.

But all is not kosher. The Greens and New Zealand First are at war again – and as much as it disgusts me – both of these parties should be above this nonsense when the country is at stake

If you are from New Zealand, please do not read anything into any of my post about the election. Get out there and vote for whom YOU want to govern cometh 23 September – it is votes, that will be counted at the ballot box, not the number of negative articles about Labour.