Infrastructure, funding, regional development and civic participation will be priorities for 2018, while the four wellbeings could be reinstated.
The Hon Nanaia Mahuta, Minister for Local Government.
E nga mana, e nga reo, tatou katoa – Tena koutou.
As the new Minister of Local Government this is an opportunity to foreshadow my approach to some complex and challenging issues facing the sector. The critical leadership required at this time means that central and local government must work together to deliver gains to the people we represent.
As some readers may be aware, I was responsible for this portfolio in the fifth Labour government. Building a strong relationship that is open, founded on trust and committed to working through issues in a constructive manner will continue to characterise our next steps.
While working together is a natural inclination for many, in a central and local government context it’s about partnership.
One of the opportunities for engagement I am particularly looking forward to is this year’s annual Central Government and Local Government Forum, to be hosted by the Prime Minister. The Forum will allow both ministers and local body representatives to have an open discussion on how to work together on key issues affecting our communities.
As Minister, my priorities include focusing on three waters infrastructure; funding and financing local government; developing our regions; and improving civic participation. I am also considering how to proceed in respect of the Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Bill 2016 that is currently before Parliament. I have asked officials for advice on how to incorporate the four wellbeings within that.
High-quality infrastructure is essential to a number of priorities important to the government. These include providing sufficient affordable housing; regional development; high-quality fresh water; managing the impacts of climate change; consumer protection; and maintaining Crown relationships with iwi Maori. These priorities focus on the need to respond effectively to current and urgent needs, and ensure that solutions are enduring and sustainable in the light of emerging issues and trends.
We are also committed to achieving a zero-carbon economy by 2050, and acknowledge that our transition to this economic platform will require a strong partnership between central and local government.
I wish to acknowledge Local Government New Zealand’s (LGNZ) work on the three waters. I also recognise that the final report of the Government Inquiry into Havelock North Drinking Water has recommendations on how we collectively manage our water systems. My officials are leading government’s work on three waters infrastructure and I look forward to working closely with local government as we progress it this year.
Funding and financing of local government
I am aware that some councils are facing challenges due to demographic change. This includes ageing or declining populations which effectively reduce rating bases, but also high levels of population growth and tourism putting pressure on resources. We are aware of the need to ensure there is capacity to be able to increase housing, so we can accommodate population growth. The sector is facing a few challenges and trying to find a way to address these issues while keeping services affordable for our communities.
As you all know, we are committed to holding a public inquiry, “A decade after Shand” to investigate the drivers of local government costs and its revenue base. The government recognises the importance of these issues to the sustainability of local government and looks forward to working in partnership with the sector so we can effectively deliver on our communities’ expectations.
Developing our regions
Building strong regions and primary industries is one of the government’s key priorities. We are committed to providing a $1 billion per annum Regional Development Fund to help revitalise provincial growth. This will cover significant new investment in regional rail, a significant tree planting programme and other large-scale capital projects.
We are also committed to relocating some government functions into the regions. I intend to work closely with the Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Economic Development to support the implementation of these initiatives. This will help give a much-needed boost to the growth and viability of our regions, supporting stronger, more resilient regional economies.
We also recognise that our government’s objective to explore the potential of housing partnerships with the sector will support a response to regional growth aspirations but also ensure better, more affordable, housing options.
Improving civic participation
Technological change has altered the way people want to engage, particularly our younger people. This change has included the growth in diverse modes of community participation such as social media, online petitions and citizen panels.
My aim is to get more people participating as interested and engaged citizens. We need to think creatively about how to encourage our communities to participate. The use of new technologies, and adapting to the way communication is changing, will help us promote engagement and participation.
I have noticed that many councils are already rising to the challenge and experimenting with new approaches. High civic participation reinforces a more connected community and society as a whole. We need to continue public education so the next generation is confident that by exercising their democratic right, democracy continues to work towards a greater good.
Finally, I wish to acknowledge LGNZ and the Society of Local Government Managers (SOLGM) for their leadership in the sector. LGNZ’s Excellence Programme and SOLGM’s Leadership and Excellence Awards are a great opportunity to showcase talent, innovation and celebrate success in the local government sector.
I wish you all a successful and productive year. I look forward to working with the local government sector in 2018 as we strive to support participatory democracy, leading to strong communities and prosperous regions.
This article was first published in the Perspectives 2018 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine.