Changes to Auckland’s governance have polarised MPs and seen thousands marching in the streets, but the Government is defending the way it has gone about things.
Associate minister of local government John Carter says the process is “democracy at its best” but others have their doubts.
Green MP Sue Kedgley says the Government has “shrunk local democracy without consulting with one single Aucklander”.
A 2007 Royal Commission into Auckland’s Governance was charged with finding solutions to the shortcomings of Auckland’s fractured system of local government.
The commission released its report and restructuring recommendations in March.
The commission addressed two broad systematic problems – weak and fragmented regional governance and poor community engagement.
The Government has subsequently passed the Local Government (Tamaki Makaurau Reorganisation) Act 2009 under urgency.
It was the first of three pieces of legislation to reform Auckland’s local government.
The second bill, Local Government (Auckland Council) Bill, is before the house after being introduced on May 13.
However, the changes sought through these bills differ substantially to those recommended by the commission.
Carter says the Government does not believe the commission got it totally right.
“Some things we looked at and accepted, other we rejected,” he told Te Waha Nui.
Senior politics lecturer at AUT University Dr Evan Poata-Smith says although the commission’s report is not binding there is still an expectation that the Government accept it in its entirety.
He says the commission is the closest thing New Zealand has to the apolitical “public servant”.
The commissioners are “officially unaligned” and professional.
The commission spent more than a year consulting with what it regards as a “wide cross-section” of Auckland residents, along with various groups and organisations before producing its report.
Kedgley says the Government has thrown the Royal Commission report in the bin after cherry-picking the parts of it that suit its agenda without any public consultation.
But Carter says that is “absolute nonsense” and “political rhetoric” to suggest Aucklanders will not get a say.
“Everything is on the table apart from there being one [unitary] authority,” says Carter.
He says Aucklanders will have the opportunity to make submissions at the select committee stages for all the bills, except the first one already passed under urgency.
The Government is genuinely listening and urges people to make submissions so their voices can be heard, he says.
“The more information we get, the better the decisions we can make.
“I can’t assure you everything will be accepted but we can accommodate a lot that reflects the views of the community,” he says.
But Poata-Smith says it is the Government’s calls for submissions that are political rhetoric.
“I think it’s public relations spin.
“For all intents and purposes the decisions have already been made,” he says.
He says although the Government says it is listening this does not mean it will change its mind on issues such as Māori representation through guaranteed seats.
“Sometimes perceptions are more important than reality.”
What the public says is likely to have no real affect because the most important aspect, the parameters, have already been set, says Poata-Smith.
The select committee process is simply “fait accompli”.
He says New Zealand’s political system is based on convention and technically nothing is illegal provided it has the mandate of the majority of the house.
The precedent has been set to ignore select committee recommendations with other bills in Parliament’s history.
The expectation to accept select committee recommendations fall under the convention of a gentlemen’s agreement, similarly to the Royal Commission’s report, says Poata-Smith. �