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Can get bitter or get learning

by 12 Apr 2008Regional governance0 comments

From Auckland Regional Council Website

New Dawn: The royal commission could herald a fresh new approach to the region’s needs—thinking both bigger and smaller than the present boundaries. Image Cimino Cole 12 April 2008

Mahurangi ActionThen known as Friends of the Mahurangi’s submission to the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance could be its one opportunity to have its say on the subject.

Or not. It all depends on what the government does with the commission’s recommendations, after they are delivered on 1 December.

The government has no mandate to impose local government reform, although it might claim—post 1 December—that the royal commission has provided it with one. This leaves Mahurangi ActionThen known as Friends of the Mahurangi with two options:

  1. assume the worst—that until 22 April is the only opportunity to participate—and state categorically what is good for the Mahurangi
  2. assume that the inquiry is just that—an exploration of options for the governance of the Auckland region.

The Mahurangi ActionThen known as Friends of the Mahurangi executive is discussing taking the second option. The society is not sufficiently well informed to be able to state absolutely that amalgamation should or should not occur, or that the regional council should be strengthened or weakened—not even the commissioners are in that position. And if Mahurangi ActionThen known as Friends of the Mahurangi was to take such a position, members with fixed contrary positions would be aggrieved, as would those with open minds who plan to have the benefit of reading the royal commission’s report before forming their view. This would allow the submission to concentrate on:

  • discussing the needs of the Mahurangi catchment and its community
  • seeking the commission’s help to better understand the needs of the region and the options for meeting these needs, as indicated from earlier experience in Aotearoa and from experience elsewhere
  • stating the importance of there being a democratic process to decide what changes to the Auckland region’s governance are to be adopted.

Regarding this last point, Brian Dollery of the University of New England’s School of Economics, in Alternatives to Amalgamation in Australian Local Government: Lessons from the New Zealand Experience, warns against forced amalgamation because the financial benefit, if any, is miniscule and that better economies can be made through the sharing of services—and not just roading and the three waters, accounting and geographic information systems can also be shared. He further states:

In effect, the old community political structures and local sentiments never died with the amalgamation process, but were simply transformed into community boards or community committees. As a consequence, old animosities generated by the bitterness surrounding forced amalgamation often surfaced and subsequently poisoned relationships between new council organizations and the old community structures.

Lessons from catchment management worldwide indicates that the elevated sediment accumulation rate in the Mahurangi can adequately be addressed only through a long-term, holistic approach. This can only happen if the community owns, what might be called, the Mahurangi Initiative. Such community ownership would benefit from there being a community structure to represent Warkworth and the Mahurangi catchment—Warkworth, until 1989, was politically autonomous. Similar needs exist throughout the region, to restore what was lost in the 1989 forced amalgamations.

The health of the region depends on the localities being healthy. The southern boundaries of Rodney are recent, expedient and neglectful of communities of interest—small wonder Helensville, and the west of Rodney generally, is ambivalent about the Ōrewa-based council.

Rather than being whipped into a lather, by distasteful council advertising, over the supposed risk of Rodney being ‘swallowed up’, the Mahurangi catchment community can more contructively concentrate on examining options for local structures that would better facilitate a healthy community.

And healthy harbour.


Further readingHas the Queensland Government Policy Reversal on Local Government Amalgamation been Satisfactorily Justified? School of Economics and Centre for Local Government, University of New England

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