By Dave Cull, President, Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ).
Communities need to see their decisions result in action.
It was pleasing to see Central Hawkes’ Bay District Council get its Local Alcohol Policy over the line last month, giving effect to its community’s voice after a three-year battle and becoming the first council in the Hawkes’ Bay to adopt a Local Alcohol Policy.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against alcohol. Like many Kiwis, I enjoy a drink on the weekend.
However, I am concerned about the effect on democracy when a community identifies an issue, consults together to develop a solution, decides on one, and then finds their council is unable to implement that solution because it is side-lined for years by centrally-imposed appeal processes.
Whether a community wants alcohol available for longer or shorter periods should be up to them, based on their local situation, not judicial policy makers in Wellington.
In this case, the design of the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Policy means Local Alcohol Policies are easily appealed by deep-pocketed liquor retailers, as identified by the Health Promotion Agency. Commercial interests often trump community concerns about alcohol harm.
IT SHOULDN’T BE SO DIFFICULT FOR COMMUNITIES TO
FORGE THEIR OWN PATHS.
Not only are there the negative effects of not having a particular policy in place over the intervening years, but, perhaps more importantly, there is a significant amount of faith lost in local government by the community. What is the point in having an extensive, collaborative, centrally-required consultation when there isn’t the ability to enact it?
LGNZ made a submission on the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Amendment Bill earlier this year, saying as much, which you can find at lgnz.co.nz/submissions.
Central Hawkes’ Bay’s win will hopefully go some way to showing that change can happen but it shouldn’t be so difficult for communities to forge their own paths.
Of further concern, LGNZ has recently made a submission on another central government policy, the Gambling Harm Strategy, which presents a similar situation.
Councils are again required to extensively consult with communities on Class 4 Gaming, but once a consensus is reached on action, councils have very little power to make effective changes, in this case on the quantity and location of gaming machines.
LGNZ’s submission highlighted that the requirement from central government to consult with our communities provides none of the tangible policy teeth required to actually effect change, and that change is often drastically needed.
The solution is localism. We need decentralised funding and policy development to give effect to the unique needs of our communities, encourage political involvement and build an engaged democratic society.
If we want citizens who engage not only with local government, but central government too, we need an appropriate and enabling relationship between the policy-makers in central government and the local government developers of the regulations.
As outlined in both submissions, it is hugely important that citizens can not only make their voices heard but also have the ability as a collective to implement change through their local policies. This is not just paying lip service to the idea of localism but providing citizens with the real power and capability to build communities of which they can be proud.
This article was first published in the November 2018 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine.