In December the Local Government Commission (LGC) issued a Draft Proposal for Reorganisation of Local Government in Northland. It recommended a unitary authority be created by merging the Far North District Council (FNDC), Whangarei District Council (WDC), Kaipara District Council (KDC) and Northland Regional Council (NRC). Since then the people of Northland have turned out to have their say. 1850 people made submissions, 165 (9%) were for and 1685 (91%) against.
Last week the Local Government Commission (LGC) held the last of their hearings about the proposed reform of local councils in Northland. In a democracy (where one assumes public opinion counts) one would expect 91% against to be the end of the matter. Not so, unfortunately. I have no doubt the three member panel will disregard the overwhelming opposition and continue with their amalgamation recommendation. Well, they are going to have a fight on their hands.
The three member panel consists of Basil Morrison (chairman), Anne Carter, and Grant Kirby. Mr Morrison was not slow in coming forward about his local government credentials. He quite comprehensively informed submitters about his depth of experience on local councils, and as a member of the Conservation Board and other august and influential organisations. During the morning session I attended, he did not mention some of his other positions. He is currently a member of the Waitangi Tribunal and the New Zealand Geographic Board, and is a past President of Local Government New Zealand and Chair of the Commonwealth Local Government Forum.
The experience of his fellow panel members are also interesting. Anne Carter was the Deputy Secretary, Local Government and Community at the Department of Internal Affairs and had previously worked at Te Puni Kokiri and the Office of the Auditor General.
Grant Kirby is a local government consultant, working mainly as a project director on local government related projects in the Auckland Region. Mr Kirby’s views on amalgamation are well known. In 2006 he wrote an article in the NZ Herald promoting the Auckland amalgamation (archive reference 10394836).
One could not have picked a better panel to recommend bigger council’s and stronger representation of iwi interests within councils. In my opinion there is no question this is the LGC’s agenda. That is clearly evident when one compares the LGC’s recommendations for Northland and the Hawke’s Bay, which is also under review.
When I attempted to show the similarities chairman Morrison ruled the comparison irrelevant and with ever increasing decibels prevented me from doing so.
The comparison is very relevant because the similarities are staggering. I can only conclude the two reports were written by the same hand and mind, despite the two regions being unique. Both said the amalgamation would allow the regions to speak with a region wide voice. Both would have nine councillors and a Maori Board. Both reports were word for word when saying communities, “…would be empowered to make decisions on matters that directly affect those local communities” and said the whole regional “approach coupled with the region wide-tier of community boards would meet the purpose and principles of good local government.”
And so it is throughout the two reports.
It is not unreasonable to expect those seeking public opinion to come with an open mind and a closed mouth. After delivering my submission I came away with the impression that the three member LGC panel arrived in the North with a closed mind, and an open mouth.
In reply to another submitter Basil Morrison said, “If there is not demonstrable community support for amalgamation they would pack up and go home”. On the face of it one could take that to mean if the public don’t want amalgamation then it will not be imposed upon them. That of course is not the case. His comments are political weasel words. On 14 March the Northern Advocate reported Mr Morrison as saying “demonstrable support”, “…doesn't mean 51 per cent, it doesn't mean the majority, it means support has to be demonstrated [for it]."
Unfortunately we live in a democracy where some of the privileged few who make decisions think all views are not created equal – they think their view is more informed and therefore of more value.