Local Government Magazine
LG Magazine

Lessons from yesterday and questions for tomorrow

By Alan Titchall, managing editor, Contrafed Publishing.

Many thanks and season’s wishes to our readers, contributors and advertisers. We have pulled through a very tough, disruptive year together, and the year ahead will be challenging.

One thing is for certain, LG magazine will be published as usual, in partnership with our advertisers, to bring you more quality local government content and independent discussion over sector issues, projects, regulations and innovations that relate directly to your jobs and careers.

Looking back on the past year reminds me of a poem by Robert Burns explaining to a field mouse he inadvertently ploughed up that she is not alone; The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men, Gang aft agley.

In other words, we can only plan so much in an unpredictable world, but we can best plan for certainty where it has been proven by history and hopefully the wee mouse remembered to keep her nests out of the furrows.

And our country has a very long and certain history of weather and seismic-related natural disasters recorded by the likes of tsunami-flattened ancient forests, and buckled landscapes. For a history of seismic-related disasters, past and future, read my article on page 34.

Our tempestuous weather has been recorded by Europeans since 1642, when Abel Tasman spent the first European Christmas Downunder sheltered from a bitter north-westerly storm off d’Urville Island, at the edge of the Marlborough Sounds.

In other words, if you are naive enough to consent dwellings and other infrastructure in the face of natural coastal erosion, on a natural floodplain, on a faultline, in the middle of unmanaged dry shrub and tussock, or anywhere else vulnerable to the harsh elements that have weathered and moulded this young geological country for the past 45 million years – you are inviting disaster (and insurance rejection).

And you shouldn’t need the threat of a ‘climate’ Armageddon to convince you of that. Our climate and geology has always been the major challenge in the development of our country (just ask a farmer or a contractor), and will continue to be so, zero carbon or not.

The 2021 year and the old normal

We hear a lot about the ‘new normal’ post-lockdown but, facemasks, hand-sanitising and black budgets aside, most challenges that will dominate our political landscape for the next decade were in place long before the pandemic.

They go back to the birth of the nation and a legacy left by the British dividing New Zealand into huge independent provinces, each with a Superintendent and a Provincial Council. They lasted almost a quarter of a century before being abolished by parliament in 1876. There were many reasons for this, but a major one was financial control. Some provinces were financially ‘embarrassed’ and central government had to take over, or guarantee, their liabilities over their borrowings for local public works. By the time the Government’s own national public works schemes were planned, based on heavy overseas borrowing using land as collateral, the Provinces had become redundant. However, it left a protracted political debate between ‘centralists’, favouring a strong central government and ‘provincialists’, favouring strong regional governments.

An area of contention in this debate has been the social and financial responsibility loaded by central governments onto the shoulders of local authorities beyond their basic roles.

Since 1989, and the amalgamation that radically reduced the number of local authorities, more ‘State’ responsibilities have been dumped onto local authorities without any change to the way they are funded.

From the burden of hosting summer tourist swarms to the pending cost of the National Policy Statement for Freshwater and other environmental reform, this financial burden has blown out of control. The obvious answer, is more central funding but with funding comes control, and the old argument between centralism and localism.

While we work out a future model for local government, there’s another elephant in the discussion tent – the simmering theme of ‘dual governance’. This is another legacy from colonial days and won’t go away. There’s been numerous attempts over our past to have some form of separate representation since the Maori Representation Act of 1867. The idea of separate wards and even provinces have been mooted and forgotten, and continue today under the Local Government Act with its obligation for representation to reflect the local community (should Auckland make room at the council table for its largest ethnic majority – Asians – as in the 2018 census they now make up 28.2 percent of the city’s population?).

The trend since the 1970s has been a gradual, soft ‘ratification’ of the Treaty of Waitangi, an historic document that was never incorporated into law. Even today, it is incorporated in few pieces of legislation through recognition of the ‘principles’ of that treaty. In the November 2020 issue of LG magazine, Paul Roger from Adderley Head, wrote an article on the future reform of the Resource Management Act with reference to a review recommending elevating the treaty ‘principles’ obligations.

If this becomes an option for future legislation then those principles will need concrete definitions to make them workable and enforceable. The original treaty was a simple document with parts becoming redundant very quickly. For instance, an important (for the British) part of Article Two was providing a the Crown a monopoly over Maori land purchases. While this was effective in taking control over further European settlement and funding the new colonial administration it was modified by ‘pre-exemption waivers’ a few years later until the idea became untenable. There was also the issue of the many tribes who declined to sign the British treaty who were simply legally ‘placed’ under the Crown’s authority in 1842. Which raises the question – is the ‘treaty’ of 1840 a suitable document/medium for future power sharing? We have come a long, long way since the British set up a fledging colony here.

Another issue is the ‘definition’ of Maori and Maoritanga after 200 years of acculturation. The government’s definition is “anyone” with Maori ‘descent’. However, for political governance purposes it really means the Crown-recognised iwi and hapu mapped around the country who hold separate mana whenua over their individual rohe.

So, a number of ‘identification’ and power issues to resolve in the future before we can define the final ‘Aotearoa’ – if that is possible in a world where The best laid schemes are subject to uncertainty and a non-partisan plough (or a bloody good shake)?

Meanwhile, I hope, as a fourth generation Kiwi of mixed cultures, that we continue to develop our nation on what we all have in common, and have got this far in common, and not on what has and can divide us.

Finally, a news item by Matt Shand written for Stuff covering the resignation of Tauranga mayor Tenby Powell.

“Powell decided to resign on November 17 as the Review and Observer Team was tabled to council only to be delayed by a procedural motion. The report team was commissioned by chief executive Marty Grenfel after a spate of childish name-calling, point-scoring and a raft of code of conduct complaints plagued councillors.

“The report highlighted that councillors had little understanding of their role in governance, had a historic inability and unwillingness to make decisions and demonstrated no self-awareness for their part in the dysfunctional environment and its issues lay in the legacy of historic decisions made.

“In response, some councillors referred to potential grammatical errors in the report, questioned lexicon choices, argued for a glossary to determine what ‘dysfunction’ meant, disagreed with the findings as errors of fact and eventually, six voted for a procedural motion to delay the discussion of the report by four additional days.”

 How could anyone say local government isn’t anything but fascinating?

 

 

Footnote

Maori electorates

Currently there are seven dedicated ‘Maori’ electorates based on the number of people who enrol on the Maori electorate roll.

Maori electoratal candidates do not have to be of Maori decent and can be of any ethnicity.  Voters on the Maori electrical roll must declare they are of Maori descent.

Of the current seven Maori electorate representatives, all are party affiliated. Six represent the Labour Party and one the Maori Party. The Maori electorates also come under the MMP party vote system, which provides for other party MPs depending on their total vote share.

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