Second reading speech on the Local Government BillLocal Government
SECOND READING SPEECH
LOCAL GOVERNMENT BILL
Hon Chris Carter
Mr Speaker, I move that the Local Government Bill be now read a second time.
The return of this Bill to the House represents another step towards completion of this Government's three-pronged commitment to modernize and enhance our system of local democracy.
First Local Electoral legislation was overhauled, then rating legislation, and now we are overhauling the Local Government Act.
I want to acknowledge the leadership demonstrated by the previous Minister of Local Government, the Hon Sandra Lee, in developing and guiding this Bill through to the Select Committee stages.
Her commitment to local democracy is reflected in the legislation that this Government is now completing.
I also want to specifically acknowledge the current and previous Local Government and Environment Committee for all their work on this Bill. Thank you for your efforts.
Mr Speaker, a new Local Government Act is long over due.
The current law is cumbersome, contradictory and out of date.
On the one hand, it gives councils broader powers than they have ever really used.
On the other, it contains numerous prescriptive aspects that have created legal uncertainties, administrative inefficiencies and an insatiable need for almost constant amendment by this House.
For example, the Act provides a specific power for councils to require armbands on boatmen and grocers.
The Government thinks it is time unnecessary prescriptions were abandoned and we concentrated on a more important and meaningful future for local government.
At the heart of this new Bill is the concept of local government as grassroots democracy.
We believe locally elected people should be able to make and implement decisions that directly affect their community.
They are better placed than anyone else to do so. Certainly better placed than the National Party or the Act Party.
For this reason, the Bill proposes general powers for city, district and regional councils.
This won't give councils “unbridled power” as suggested by some commentators.
But it will bestow on communities the flexibility to act for themselves.
The Government's intention is to shift the focus from whether a council "can" resolve an issue to whether it "should" resolve an issue.
Expressing the empowerment of councils in a general way clarifies many of the powers that are already embedded among the prescriptions of the current Act.
Mr Speaker, local authorities in New Zealand have grown up. They are more professional than ever before. Community expectations of their council have leapt ahead of legislation.
The Bill recognizes this. It bestows on councils a modern purpose – the promotion of the social, cultural, economic and environmental well-being of their community.
The Bill will require councils to spend more time on longer-term planning, and on understanding the outcomes that local communities desire.
For anyone with concerns, I can assure you that this Bill balances the flexibility it gives councils with strong checks on their activities.
Consultation, reporting, transparency and accountability requirements are all enhanced.
Local people will have more understandable information about council proposals. They will learn about those proposals sooner, and they will have more opportunity to talk to their local council about them.
Furthermore, local people will be entitled to an explanation of the reasons for council decisions, and to reports on what has been achieved by their council.
In this way, the Bill seeks to enhance community participation.
But Mr Speaker, it does so in another way as well.
The Government has provided options for communities to increase "electoral participation" and equitable representation.
Single Transferable Vote is now available under the Local Electoral Act.
In addition, this Bill provides communities with the option of adopting separate Maori wards or constituencies.
The Government has not said communities have to adopt a Maori ward but nor has it said communities cannot adopt one.
Mr Speaker, this Bill has been subject to extensive consultation and public debate.
Members of the Select Committee listened to views on the Bill from over 200 groups, organisations and individuals from all over New Zealand.
The Committee received almost 400 submissions during the year it was considering the Bill.
Even before this, the Government had undertaken extensive consultation with over 65 meetings and 650 submissions on the discussion document that led to the Bill's contents.
Throughout the preparation of the Bill, officials have worked closely with representatives from the local government sector.
This input has provided an important practical perspective in the evolution of new provisions that will result in better legislation to everyone’s benefit.
I would like to thank Local Government New Zealand in particular. Its assistance with this Bill is a fine example of the partnership that now exists between central and local government.
Mr Speaker, this Bill was subject to robust debate at the select committee, right up until the last minute.
It is the better for this debate, and I welcome the enhanced Bill the Committee has reported back.
The consultation requirements in the Bill have been refined to improve the opportunity for local people to have a say and minimise costs for councils.
The Government notes that the Committee, following strong representation from local government, business and the public, has also decided to ensure that the non-resident ratepayer franchise is restored.
While use of this right has steadily declined over the years, it is hoped that the publicity surrounding this issue will prompt more people to exercise their right to vote in local government elections.
The Government is also pleased that the Committee has introduced a review period for the new legislation.
The Bill has been subject to considerable debate, much of it fuelled by misinformation or a misrepresentation of the facts.
The new provisions promoted by United Future are a significant enhancement.
Requiring the Local Government Commission to review the effectiveness of the legislation by 2007, will give comfort to those concerned about possible misuse of the general powers given to local government.
Local government will also have the opportunity to demonstrate that it is performing well under the new legislation.
Mr Speaker, the Government is committed to the successful implementation of this legislation.
Programmes for the public and the local government sector are proposed to ensure that people know what this Bill is about and what their opportunities and responsibilities will be.
Mr Speaker, the Local Government Bill is a key legislative priority for local government.
It needs to be enacted as soon as possible so that local authorities have sufficient time to prepare for the full introduction of its provisions.