Our pregnant Prime Minister may have impressed the Queen and Hillary Clinton, but it was the Minister of Local Government Nanaia Mahuta who charmed the crowd at the recent SOLGM Excellence Awards.
It was interesting to see a room packed with senior local government officials offer spontaneous applause to the new minister when she confirmed her already-signalled intent to return the four well-beings to the Local Government Act 2002 – even if none of the speakers on the night seemed quite able to remember all four at once.
It cannot be assumed that the change of government was universally welcomed in the relatively-prosperous circles of this particular audience. But the evidence, on the part of the minister, of genuine interest in the sector played like a breath of fresh air after the passing parade of ministers keeping the seat warm in recent years.
There is also scope for a more holistic approach to local government given her other portfolios as Minister of Maori Development and Associate Minister of the Environment.
Like it or not, this government is focusing on local government with an interested and determined minister who appears to have the support of her Cabinet colleagues.
The focus is not just on efficiency and network infrastructure. While all our recent governments may have been centrist, there is a clear distinction between the economic focus of the last government, and the renewed interest in the social, cultural and environmental climate of the present one.
The Local Government (Community Well-being) Amendment Bill will reinstate the quadruple bottom line of the social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being of communities as a central tenet of the Local Government Act, as well as the concept of a sustainable development approach.
“This government is focusing on local government with an interested and determined minister.”
The emphasis on core services in the Act will disappear, as will the restrictive provisions placed on development contributions for community infrastructure in the 2014 amendment to the Act.
There is also a practical hand up for local authorities struggling to bring forward NZTA funding for critical transport without compromising the ability to collect development contributions for transport, in the form of amendments to section 200 (the double-dipping provision) of the Act.
This is not to suggest that there will not be an emphasis on infrastructure as well during the term of the current government.
The Three Waters Infrastructure Review is well underway. And priority is being given to regional infrastructure, urban development and growth, and affordable housing.
The problems of the ‘super city’ have not been ignored either, with the surprise announcement that the government is keen to make an immediate start on two new rail projects in Auckland – not only the much-discussed CBD to Airport line, but also a line from the CBD along the North-Western motorway (seriously! Is there room?) to Westgate and then Kumeu.
Nor has the less sexy side of local government been neglected. The Local Electoral Matters Bill addresses the design, trial and analysis of new voting methods for local elections so that it will be easier to trial electronic and online voting.
Also of interest to local government and before Parliament now is the Privacy Bill that aims to repeal and replace the Privacy Act 1993.
The world of information technology has changed out of sight in the 25 years the Bill has been in force. And while new provisions, such as the mandatory reporting of privacy breaches, will impose additional compliance costs on local government, no one can deny that today’s technology makes it more important than ever to consider such issues.
Finally, here is a tip. Netflix is currently screening the second series of the excellent drama Marseille, in which a haggard Gerard Depardieu plays the recently-deposed mayor of France’s second biggest city. Check it out if you want to see just how cutthroat local politics can be.
This article was first published in the June 2018 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine.