Launch of the Booklet "An Overview of Local Government in New Zealand"

  • Christine Fletcher
Local Government

Welcome to the launching of "An Overview of Local Government in New Zealand". Thank you for coming tonight.

I believe this booklet will be a useful addition to the resources available to Members of Parliament and their staff.

It has been written specifically for us. Its overall aim is to help make it easier to access information about local government, information either contained within the booklet itself or advice for where best to go for it.

Local government is an important component of government in New Zealand and it is important that Members of Parliament in their consideration of issues have a good understanding of how local government is organised and what it is about.

The booklet should be of considerable assistance in this regard and it should also be of great help for Member's in their dealings with constituents.

Local government is probably the sector of government most members of the public have the most frequent contact with. It is, after all, local government that provides many of our basic services, and through the regulatory powers it administers has a very practical and profound affect on our lives

Local government has made great advances over the past few years in the quality of services provided and in its responsiveness to the public. However, as with any institution, it is inevitable that from time to time people perceive that things are not quite right and want to complain to someone.

Often that someone is a Member of Parliament.

As with much of what we do in our roles as MPs, situations will vary according to the circumstances. Sometimes it will be as advocate, sometimes as facilitator.

If there is something we believe to be amiss or inherently wrong with the legislative framework within which local authorities operate, it is the legitimate role of the MP to advocate for some form of remedial action.

More often, I suspect, a constituents concern will relate to a one-off situation. In such cases the MP's role may be more as a facilitator. This could involve encouraging constructive dialogue between the Council and the constituent or merely pointing the constituent in the direction of the organisation that has the specific responsibility for dealing with the issue at hand.

Obviously a good knowledge of our system of local government system is enormously helpful in such cases. The booklet contains a useful directory of local government organisations and an outline of their responsibilities. I hope Members will find that section of the booklet particularly useful.

Whatever approach we MPs take I think it is important to remember that the primary accountability at the local level is between a council and its local electors. There is, I believe, an unrealistic expectation on the part of many people that THE Government should step in and resolve problems arising between elector and council.

As MPs we clearly have a responsibility to ensure our constituents are fairly treated and fully aware of the options and avenues that are available to them in their dealing with local government.

But, while it is often tempting to wade boots 'n all into some wrangle between an elector and her or his local council, such an approach invariably distorts the true nature of this relationship, and in a cumulative way, has a corrosive impact on the development of truly representative local democracy.

We should be encouraging people to make their local authority directly accountable for its actions to them as electors and ratepayers. In the long run I believe it will be of benefit to both the constituent and the concept of local democracy.

What then of my role as Minister of Local Government - where do I fit in to all of this? Given some of the media coverage recently on issues such as the triennial review process you could be forgiven for being confused and thinking that the Local Government Commission and I are one in the same - Ian will talk more on the Commission's role in a moment.

Another topical and somewhat controversial issue that graphically illustrates the confusion around the different roles within local government areas, is the Resource Management Act and its implementation.

You will notice that the RMA is not covered in the booklet and for good reason. I am not responsible for the Act - it belongs to the Minister for the Environment, Simon Upton. Such is the complexity of local government that although local authorities are responsible for its implementation and effective working, I, as Minister of Local Government, am not, and rightly so.

So what then am I responsible for? My role as Minister is to ensure that the evolutionary process of local government rolls on in a managed and orderly fashion. That the individual units of local government have the statutory wherewithal, the tools if you like, to deliver efficient, effective services to the communities they serve.

It is also my responsibility, as Minister, to ensure that the exercise of local autonomy; the power to take often far reaching decisions on behalf of electors and ratepayers, is properly balanced by a range of robust accountability mechanisms. These mechanisms must, above all, provide for a meaningful level of involvement on the part of electors in the decision making processes of their local council. New Zealand's local government law is, by international standards, very well advance. It is my responsibility to see that it stays that way.

Lastly I want to say that this booklet is a first-up not a one-off. Local government is a changing creature. The need for information about local government will also change. What I would like MPs and their staff to do is to let my office know what their particular information needs are so that what's provided is useful and relevant. I would expect that as time goes on this booklet will be expanded and updated in keeping with our ever changing system of local government.

It is now my pleasure to hand over to Ian Lawrence, Local Government Commissioner. Ian........