A journey of reform, that is what’s on
Instead of the usual “What's on in council” I think the question is “What's council on?” — the answer, “a journey of reform”. Which suits me as I've been singing “a change gonna come” since being elected.
We are in interesting times as a country regarding our democracy; not since 1994 have we had a single-party government. The issue for this single-party government, as it governs, is that it keeps in check its power; as Spider-Man says, “With great power comes great responsibility” and we definitely do not need a despotic political system.
The power imbalance between central and local government is often an issue, causing much frustration, confusion and annoyance. With these reforms comes an opportunity to build trust, understand the limits to local government's responsiveness and accountability, and better align unilateral decisions at a central government level that match our local government's plans, funding capacity, needs and aspirations.
Our Prime Minister did speak about being a “transformative government”; perhaps she meant “reformative”. Over the coming months, council will discuss the three waters reform, RMA reform and the future of local government reform. We also have the health reform work in the mix.
The local government system is now 30 years old and one of the key focuses at last week's Local Government NZ conference was looking at the now and the future of local government.
We heard from the review panel appointed by Minister for Local Government, Hon Nanaia Mahuta, who has asked the panel to consider what local government does, how it does it, and how it pays for it.
From there, they will explore what the future of local government looks like, including roles, functions and partnership, representation and governance, funding and financing.
It's important that citizens get involved in these conversations and ensure local democracy has a strong voice in shaping a future that is based on shared local values, and empowered by local knowledge.
With the representation review, we get the chance to throw the net wider, bring more matauranga Maori into the council deliberations, and ensure an even more local voice is afforded a right to speak.
The announcement of the three waters reform has caused some real concerns amongst councils. More investment is required in water infrastructure to meet the environmental and public health aspirations of our communities.
The Government has estimated that dealing with 30 years of systemic failure will require an investment of up to $185 billion over the next 30 years. This would be extremely challenging for councils to fund on their own. Climate change will only exacerbate this challenge.
Plans to repeal and replace the RMA with three Acts are welcome: the Natural and Built Environments Act to provide for land use and environmental regulation (this would be the primary replacement for the RMA); The Strategic Planning Act to integrate with other legislation relevant to development (it requires long-term regional spatial strategies); and the Climate Change Adaptation Act to address complex issues associated with managed retreat and funding and financing adaptation.
Minister for the Environment Hon David Parker says, “The new laws will improve the natural environment, enable more development within environmental limits, provide an effective role for Maori, and improve housing supply and affordability.”
As a team of 5 million, I believe we can do democracy better. I support civics education and believe we need to be more politically literate. As we discuss these reforms, it is important we engage our communities and motivate participation, inspire innovation and welcome a broader debate that allows our change process to be very well informed.