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Local Government Commission - Update 19 September 2013

This edition of the Local Government Commission newsletter marks Suffrage Day, the 120th anniversary of Royal Assent for the Electoral Act. The 1893 Act made New Zealand the first self-governing country where all women could vote in parliamentary elections. 

Female ratepayers had been able to vote in local authority elections since 1876. A brief history of the 1876 Municipal Corporations Act is included in this newsletter, which also provides an update on forthcoming amendments to the Local Government Act 2002.

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REORGANISATION PROPOSALS

Northland

During August the Commissioners Basil Morrison and Anne Carter spent a week travelling throughout Northland. They held a series of public meetings to discuss proposals to reorganise the Far North, Whangarei and Kaipara District Councils and the Northland Regional Council. Almost 300 residents and ratepayers attended eleven meetings in ten centres to ask questions and discuss the process. The Editor of the Northland Age in Kaitaia attended one of the meetings and later wrote:

Everything that has been said so far suggests that the Far North, and Northland, can have faith in the LGC of 2013 to leave no stone unturned in doing its job with an open mind and a determination to reach a conclusion that its members genuinely believe will be best for the region. Whether or not Northland agrees will be up to Northland, and that's the way it should be.

The Commission hopes to decide whether to issue a draft proposal after the October triennial elections and before Christmas. If a draft proposal is released the public will then be invited to make submissions.

Hawke’s Bay

In the second week of September the Commissioners Basil Morrison, Anne Carter and Grant Kirby spent a week travelling throughout Hawke’s Bay. They held public meetings in Wairoa, Hastings, Napier, Waipawa and Waipukurau. In addition, they met stakeholders representing business groups, iwi/hapu, the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board and the proposed Ruataniwha water storage scheme.

Around 450 people were involved in the meetings. The Commissioners discussed the proposals to reorganise the Wairoa, Hastings and Central Hawke’s Bay District Councils, the Napier City Council and the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council. As in the Northland case, the Commission hopes to decide whether to issue a draft proposal after the October triennial elections and before Christmas.

Wairarapa and Wellington

During September the Commission met a variety of groups and individuals affected by the proposed reorganisation of the nine councils in the wider Wellington region. The original applications were received from the three district councils in the Wairarapa and from the Greater Wellington Regional Council. Nineteen responses were received after the call for alternative applications. A summary of the alternative applications is listed on the Commission’s website.

In addition to meetings with the alternative applicants, the Commission has scheduled meetings with community and ratepayer groups from Kapiti, Porirua, Wellington City, the Hutt Valley and the Wairarapa. It has also met business groups, iwi/hapu, government agencies, local members of Parliament, farmers, Grey Power, airport, rail and port companies.

LEGISLATION

New powers for Local Government Commission

The Local Government Minister Chris Tremain announced at the LGNZ Conference in July that amendments to the Local Government Act 2002 would be introduced before the end of this year.

In early September the Minister released four Cabinet papers which provide background to the forthcoming bill. They deal with: local boards outside Auckland; efficient delivery and governance of local authority services; development contributions; and improving infrastructure and asset management.

Two of the Cabinet papers deal with additional powers for the Local Government Commission and are summarised below. All four Cabinet papers are available here on the Internal Affairs ‘Better Local Government’ website.

Background

The first phase of legislative change in the Better Local Government programme was completed with the passage of the Local Government Amendment Act in December 2012. Among other changes, it introduced a new process for reorganising local government. As a result, the Local Government Commission is now considering applications to reorganise councils in Northland, Hawkes Bay and Wellington/Wairarapa.

The applications received so far affect 22 local authorities with an estimated population of more than 786,000 people.

Next Steps

The Government has made decisions about a further set of reforms. Another Amendment Bill will be introduced shortly. It will enable the Local Government Commission to:

  • establish local boards as part of new unitary authorities, and in existing unitary authorities; and
  • create council-controlled organisations and joint committees as part of a reorganisation scheme.

Local Boards outside Auckland

The 2012 reforms enabled the Auckland local boards model to be copied but only for an urban unitary authority with a population of more than 400,000. This population limit effectively made local boards unavailable as an option for Northland and Hawkes Bay. Local boards share governance with a council’s governing body (i.e. mayor and councillors), and each has complementary responsibilities, guaranteed by legislation.

The 2013 Amendment Bill will enable the local boards ‘two-tier’ governance model throughout the country. Further, it will enable local boards to be established in only one part of a district. This recognises circumstances where some services and facilities overseen by local boards are not provided in some rural areas. Other arrangements, such as community boards or area sub-committees, would continue to be an option for providing a local voice in those areas.

There would also be flexibility around local board planning, funding and accountability processes. These would be determined initially by the Commission through the reorganisation process and could later be varied later by agreement between the council and local boards.

Efficient delivery and governance of local authority services

The Commission will have further tools in addition to the new local boards, where it believes there can be efficiencies of scale in the management and delivery of some services and facilities.

The legislation will encourage and facilitate shared services, joint delivery, collaboration between local authorities and the transfer of responsibilities from territorial authorities to regional councils.

The Bill will:

  • strengthen the legislative principles relating to local authorities to provide greater encouragement to collaborate and cooperate;
  • enable the Local Government Commission to create council-controlled organisations, including jointly-owned ones, and joint committees as part of a reorganisation scheme;
  • provide for greater transparency, clarity and accountability in contracting for delivery of services by council-controlled organisations;
  • broaden the scope of the triennial agreement between councils within each region;
  • provide a clearer mandate for joint committees;
  • improve provisions relating to the transfer of responsibilities from territorial authorities to regional councils; and
  • clarify that the Local Government Commission can, through the reorganisation process, provide for a regional council to exercise powers and responsibilities conferred on territorial authorities.

WOMEN IN LOCAL GOVERNMENT – A BRIEF HISTORY

To mark the 120th anniversary of Suffrage Day, this newsletter reproduces the following information from Te Ara, the digital encyclopaedia of New Zealand.

The Municipal Corporations Act 1876 gave the vote to all property owners, male and female and provided a single nationwide system of government for town and city councils. The mayor was elected directly by the ratepayers instead of by the council, general elections were held every three years, and each ratepayer could have up to five votes, according to the value of their property. This law made no distinction between male and female property owners, thus giving women the vote in local body elections 18 years before they achieved full suffrage in parliamentary elections.

Elizabeth Yates became the first woman mayor in the British Empire when she was elected mayor of the Auckland borough of Onehunga in 1893. Four male councillors and the town clerk immediately resigned in protest. Her election made news worldwide and Onehunga became an international tourist attraction. Yates had a stormy term in office and was defeated after a year. One local paper wrote, ‘The glory hath departed Onehunga.’ No other woman was elected mayor in New Zealand until 1957, when Annie Huggan became mayor of Petone.

In the decades before women could vote in local authority and parliamentary elections, they took part in electing school committees, liquor licensing, hospital and charitable-aid boards. Although some hesitated to take on a public position, others jumped at the opportunity. In the first school committee elections, in the late 1870s, a Mrs Walker became chairman of the Selwyn district committee. Others followed.