Government without Politics

11 Nov

Local Government in New Zealand challenges and choices, edited by Drage and Cheyne, Dunmore Press,2016

New Zealand it often seems has an overly centralised political system. A Government elected every three years, with no second chamber can it seems pretty much do what it wants. Indeed even the move to proportional representation has left a virtual majority Government from one party and none of the complex european style coalitions we were all promised.

The study of Local Government in New Zealand then is something of a challenge and choice like the book title. This wide ranging book re-inforces the role Local Government plays on peoples lives in New Zealand. Whilst local government has increased the amount it takes from local residents through rates there has been less and less direct involvement. Turnout at elections continues to plummet, and the 2016 triennial elections , which are not covered in this book have not turned this around.

Some of the writers attempt to consider this ? Why is turnout so low ? Is turnout a meaningful way of measuring political engagement ? How can democracy be kept going in between elections ?

There have been some other attempts to capture the role of Local Government in recent years but this book, as many of the authors acknowledge is an attempt to replace the last standard text on Local Government from Graham Bush in 1995. It should be noted that book was called Local Government and Politics in New Zealand. Somehow it seems we now have local government with NO politics. Whilst many of the writers grapple with the desire to see democracy and engagement through a wider sense there is also a sense that for the wider population local government doesn’t matter. its a faceless “thing” that is a regulator and a governor rather than a political body that has vision.

The challenges are clearly identified. The role of white middle aged men is one of the dominant factor, how do we get beyond this ? Maybe its electoral reform ? Maybe its finding a way to get beyond the shocking resistance to Maori representation? Maybe its recognising that politics in a non political era may refresh our views of local government?There are challenges in making the biggest transformation of local government since Graham Bush’s textbook – The super city- work. Auckland with its both physically large and structurally complex superstructure still seems afloat on an island of rates demands from its seemingly drowning resident base.

Its the choices I couldn’t really fathom. Auckland has put much of its service delivery and asset management out to Council Controlled Organisations (CCO) , they have a real executive mayor and a Maori representation model that differs from the rest of the country. CCOs get some mention but rarely do we get to feel that as CCOs become more distant from Council ( And Mayor Goff is distancing them even further ) then why would people care too much about Council ? Whose running the service ? And for what benefit ? Does the executive Mayor model need enhancing and given the public lack of appetite for Maori wards what does New Plymouth have to learn from the Independent Maori Statutory Board ? And theres more….could we uncouple local elections from the DHB, what about the process? Could local political slates make campaigns more dynamic ? My initial look at the 2016 elections shows that those incumbents standing again had nearly a 90% chance of re-election, and some Councils had 100% re-election. Are they doing that good or job or have we just given up the idea that they can ? Theres a debate to be had over electronic voting, but it will exist in a vacuum if we don’t address the point of having these elected members.

This book provides a lot to think about, but what are we going to do to make local government relevant again ?

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