New Zealand Labour Party minority view

by | 6 Sep 2009 | Regional governance | 0 comments

Ban-Ki-moon-in-Antartica

Ban Ki-Moon: (en route to Antarctica) ‘social cohesion is essential to addressing the threat of climate change. When societies rally together in recognition that this is a challenge that no sector can take on alone—that is when we see real progress.’ photograph United Nations

Introduction

The need to reform Auckland’s governance structures is obvious; the many problems that beleaguer the region are universally discussed and widely agreed. That in part was why the previous Labour Government established the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance.

However, as much as this process was about resolving the governance stalemate and formulating a response to the myriad of problems, it was more importantly about ensuring Auckland’s future as an internationally competitive city and region.

If New Zealand is to grow and prosper, then Auckland’s growth and prosperity is central. As the Royal Commission points out:

Auckland is New Zealand’s only city of scale and is New Zealand’s main gateway to the world. The region is now home to more than a third of the population and is forecast to have a population of two million people by 2050. Because of its scale, Auckland’s success and New Zealand’s success go hand in hand. As a large, outward-looking city, Auckland can and should contribute more to national prosperity and productivity than it does now.

It is this need for Auckland to succeed and its social, cultural, and economic centrality to New Zealand that lends this bill its significance.

This bill is also about ensuring a durable solution; a structure that works for Aucklanders; a structure that preserves local control over local issues while allowing coordinated planning at the regional level is paramount. To that end Labour has always agreed on the importance of a unitary authority–one council, one mayor, one plan.

However it is both the manner in which the Government has carried out its reform agenda and significant portions of the substantive agenda itself that generate our concern.

Process concerns

There can be no doubting that the issues about Auckland’s future governance are complex. The Royal Commission conducted a careful and thorough investigation, receiving 3,500 submissions over 18 months. In less than two weeks the Government produced its plan, containing some important deviations from the recommendations.

The public were denied an opportunity to comment on both the Royal Commission’s final report and the Government’s proposal in its entirety.

The legislative process has been similarly rushed, disjunctive and inadequate.

That the Local Government (Tāmaki Makaurau Reorganisation) Act was passed under urgency without allowing the public to comment on key aspects of the structure was disappointing.

Similarly, the removal through the Local Government (Tāmaki Makaurau Reorganisation) Act of Aucklanders’ right to a referendum was concerning. These reforms amount to a fundamental constitutional change to our system of government, in a territory that is home to one-third of the nation’s population. The Auckland public are entitled to a say on these critical reforms.

Further, that important detail will only be passed after the broad structure is put in place denies the public the ability to comment on the structure in its entirety. Potential structural problems may be more difficult to fix if only identified later in the detailed bill. Dealing with this bill through a compressed select committee process further compounds Labour’s disappointment.

Broadly, the brief policy development period and legislative process have not been conducive to getting this bill right.

Areas of agreement As mentioned above, Labour agrees that a unitary authority model is the most appropriate—one council, one mayor, one plan.

We also welcome changes to the powers of the local boards that will enable them to

  • fund community initiatives and promote social cohesion at a local level
  • make decisions on local services and place-shaping that reflect character and preferences of local community:
    • prioritising local services (parks and reserves, pools)
    • prioritising funding for amenity values (trees, local street furniture)
    • determining how services are provided (e.g. charging policy for pools)
    • determining the level of support and funding for social, environmental and cultural initiatives
  • provide input into regional decisions e.g. LTCCPs, district plans, regional transport strategies, dog control, and gambling licensing.

Ensuring that the local boards are able to address local concerns has been an ongoing concern for Labour.

Labour welcomes the change that ensures all councillors will be elected from wards. Aucklanders have been overwhelmingly of the view that at-large councillors would not have been sufficiently accountable, and this has been reflected in submissions to the committee, opinion polls, and public commentary. A councillor elected at-large would have an unmanageably large constituency of around 850,000 people. We had serious reservations concerning the fairness of at-large seats and these changes will guard against the risk that council seats will only go to those who can afford to campaign across such a large constituency. We noted that in the past, before Auckland City had wards, the eastern suburbs were heavily represented, while the west and the south missed out.

Labour’s main concerns

Below outlines the major areas of concern for the Labour members of the Auckland Governance Legislation Committee.

Maori representation

Labour believes there should be Maori seats on the new Auckland Council. Like Parliament itself and the Bay of Plenty Regional Council, these seats should be allocated on the basis of the number of Maori on the Maori roll.

We are also advocating for 25 general seats on the new Auckland Council—the National/Act plan for only 20 seats would lead to the bizarre situation where there would be fewer councillors in Auckland than there are MPs. This is hardly local government.

Under Labour’s plan there would be at least two Maori seats in Auckland.

But it could be more. The number of Maori seats will depend on how many Maori there are on the Maori roll in the Auckland region.

The region itself still hasn’t been defined, and won’t be until 1 March 2010. Much will depend on the final boundaries. Also Maori are a young population, so demographics are in their favour. Labour will also be introducing further amendments to ensure statutory recognition of mana whenua in Auckland Council.

Local boards: size and number

The Royal Commission proposed six councils roughly modelled on the existing councils. The Government announced 20–30. We have argued for fewer boards than proposed by the Government to enable them to be large enough to be viable and influential, at the same time as being small enough to represent community interests. In particular, preservation of a community of interest is a key factor in so far as some parts of the city have an established community of interest (parts of Manukau and Waitakere, for example) and should not be chopped up into small pieces in order to meet the 20–30 target.

And as the Royal Commission argued, a smaller number will be less costly and less disruptive. Labour prefers giving the Local Government Commission a range of 14–20 to work with. Labour supports Waiheke Island and Great Barrier Island each having their own board on the grounds that as isolated rural communities they each have a clearly established community of interest.

Wards

The bill proposes single-member wards for Rodney and Franklin and that the Local Government Commission is given the flexibility to establish multi-member wards, or a mix of single- and multi-member wards for the other 18 seats, to recognise that the relevant communities of interest will vary greatly in size. We advocate that multi-member wards should be limited to two members per ward and exclude the possibility of wards that could have such a large number of members that it produces, in effect, at large elections. We believe that the proposed Rodney and Franklin wards must also conform to the same plus or minus 10 percent population formula to ensure they do not upset the proportionality that ensures the system is fair across the city.

Number of councillors

The bill proposes 20 councillors on the Auckland Council. This will produce wards of approximately 49,000 voters, and population of 70,000. We believe this ratio is too high for local government. It will make it difficult for candidates to campaign effectively, and undermine accessibility and accountability of councillors. For that reason we propose a council of 25 members.

Mayoral powers

The overall package of mayoral powers in the bill creates an unbalanced relationship between the mayor and councillors. It would amount to a significant break with the norms of local government in New Zealand. The submissions process clearly revealed Aucklanders are not comfortable with an executive mayor and favour a more collegial and collaborative leadership model. The mayor will still only have one vote. To be successful the mayor will have to work collaboratively with a majority of councillors to get things done. In the event of a stand-off between a mayor and a majority on the Council, a mayor who used the proposed new powers to determine the committee structure and appoint committee chairs and the deputy mayor, would risk exacerbating potential conflict. Labour advocates that the mayor nominate the deputy mayor and committee chairs but that those positions are elected by Council. We accept that the mayor needs to have an adequately resourced office in order to ensure the role is supported by independent policy advice and is not entirely dependent on the chief executive and council staff. We also accept that Commentary Local Government (Auckland Council) Bill 25 the mayor is empowered to lead the development of the draft plan and budget.

Voting system

The bill proposes First Past the Post to be used to elect the mayor, councillors, and local board members in spite of many submissions to the select committee that preferential voting would deliver fairer, more representative results. Labour advocates the use of Single Transferable Vote for the election of the mayor, councillors, and board members. We believe that by ensuring candidates win on majorities, and that fewer votes are wasted, that this would deliver more legitimacy and is likely to lead to increased voter participation.

Preferential voting, for instance STV, also delivers more diverse representation. If the Government decides not to include Maori seats on the Council this becomes even more urgent, but it is also important to encourage candidates from other ethnic minorities including Pasifika and Asian, as well as other important interest groups like youth and the disabled. The majority report rejects preferential voting on the grounds that unfamiliarity might confuse voters and depress turnout. Labour believes that this prospect could be minimised by ensuring the same voting system is used at all levels, and investing in voter education.

Pacific and Asian advisory boards

The Royal Commission’s report provided profiles for Pacific and Asian people in Auckland and identified the challenges they faced in terms of housing, health, wages, education and skills development, transportation, and socio-economic issues. Labour notes that when there is improvement in the lives of Pacific and other ethnic groups, that there is also an improvement in statistics for the rest of New Zealand generally. The Royal Commission acknowledged that engagement with Pacific and Asian communities was critical to improving governance relationships and improving strategies aimed at increasing socio-economic productivity goals. The establishment of advisory panels for Pacific and ethnic or Asian communities is therefore recommended.

This is an area that is not addressed in the Government’s current legislation.

Labour supports the establishment of Pacific and Asian advisory bodies. We believe they should be given a statutory purpose with direct links into the Auckland Council to ensure that they are recognised and required to meet with the entire council on a regular basis.

We received submissions from the existing Pacific Island Advisory Boards from Manukau, Waitakere, Auckland, and North Shore city councils, and other Pacific organisations, and other ethnic organisations and individuals on this issue. They advocated strongly, firstly for dedicated Maori seats, and then secondly, that the current legislation include the enabling of Pacific and Asian participation in the Auckland Council. Labour believes that the establishment of a new Auckland Council is a prime opportunity to develop a structure that is inclusive of people, and which will reflect the diversity of key sectors, namely Maori, Pacific and Asian people.

Youth engagement

The Royal Commission pointed out that under-25s make up 37 percent of Auckland’s population. Labour believes that the new Auckland Council must strive to engage with the city’s youth, both to ensure policies meet the needs of young people and because of the imperative to increase youth participation in the political process.

Labour supports the establishment of representative youth structures.

Northern and southern boundaries

The bill proposes to partition Rodney District Council with the southern part joining Auckland and the northern part joining Kaipara District Council. Labour opposes this and supports the Royal Commission’s recommendations that all of Rodney be included in the new Auckland Council. The Royal Commission argued persuasively that the regional boundary must be far enough from the metropolitan urban limit to ensure that non-conforming development does not leap-frog the limit to an area beyond the planning restrictions, thus defeating the purpose of the urban limit. Labour believes that Auckland’s regional parks should stay within Auckland, and that transferring Auckland’s prized northern beaches to the Kaipara District Council would be unlikely to afford them the protection from development they need.

In the south the bill proposes to partition Franklin with the north joining Auckland and the southern part joining Waikato District Council.

This would mean that valuable Auckland assets such as the Mangatangi and Mangatawhiri dams, as well as Hunua and other regional parks would be outside the Auckland boundaries. Labour believes these should remain within Auckland, and advocates for the southern boundary to be pushed south to the Waikato River in line with the Royal Commission’s recommendation.

Privatisation

Nothing in this bill protects the approximately $28 billion in assets that will transfer to the Auckland Council. The Local Government Act 2002 provides limited protection for a number of assets including assets relating to the provision of water services, parks and reserves, and property vested in a local authority in trust or as an endowment.

We believe more statutory protection is needed to cover a wider pool of assets. New Zealand has had ample experience of key infrastructure assets ending up in the hands of foreign owners, resulting in profits heading offshore. These assets should be kept in public hands for the public good.

Staff transition

This is a critical area that has not been addressed in this bill. More than 6000 local government workers in Auckland are uncertain about their jobs. They deserve to be given assurances of fairness and certainty sooner rather than later. Indeed, the Royal Commission identified the importance of “the need to provide certainty for council staff”.

Of particular note is the example set by Queensland. Last year the number of councils was reduced from 157 to 73. During that transition it was guaranteed that no council staff below the level of chief executive would lose their jobs for a period of 3 years. A code of practice was drawn up that was jointly agreed to by all parties, including the workers and their representatives. Queensland recognised the importance of providing certainty to staff and the contribution toward achieving the goal of improving local government that workers could make.

Labour believes provisions should be inserted in the bill to guarantee fairness, guard against forced redundancies, and set out an approach designed to maximise the skills and capability of the workforce of the new Auckland Council.

Monitoring and accountability

Labour advocates the adoption of the performance auditor recommended by the Royal Commission. This would deal with the water monopoly as well as the other enterprises of the new Council. Given that the new water monopoly will be put in place shortly after the passage of this bill, we believe there is a good case for including a mechanism for monitoring and/or a complaints agency.

Social issues board

The Government has ignored one of the key recommendations of the Royal Commission. Labour advocates inclusion of the Royal Commission’s recommendations in this bill.

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