16 July, 2012
Local Government New Zealand Conference 2012
It’s a pleasure to be here in Queenstown to speak with you all today about the Better Local Government reform programme.
I’d like to explain what we are aiming to achieve, where we have got to so far, and where to next.
Better Local Government is another aspect of the Government’s agenda to build a more competitive and productive economy. Put more simply, it’s about making things better for our families, our communities and our society. I’ve visited and met with enough councils to know that you work hard and have the interests of your communities at heart.
As you will hear from the Prime Minister, the current economic environment is not without its challenges.
Over the past four years we have seen central government impose on itself extreme fiscal constraints in a bid to strengthen our economy.
With central government having made progress, the logical question arises - can we ask local government to do the same? The short answer to that question is yes.
Councils must play their part in creating an environment conducive to sustained economic growth.
As Minister of Local Government my role is to ensure we have the policy settings right to enable councils to do just that.
The Better Local Government programme aims to focus local authorities on operating more efficiently and effectively, by concentrating on doing the things that only they can do – and do well.
I know we have the expertise here in this room that can make that happen and I’m counting on your wisdom and advice to help get it right.
One of the key messages I’d like to get across today is that we will achieve better results if we work together on the reforms, but acknowledge the direction the Government has embarked on.
The relationship between central and local government should never be about "us" and "them"
It is about a partnership.
We may not always agree, but that’s the nature of politics.
So let’s work together to get the reform and the legislation right.
The Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Bill is now at Select Committee. This process will allow us to look at constructive ideas to improve the legislation.
I encourage you all to make the most of the opportunity to make your voices heard before the submission process closes on 26 July.
We have an opportunity before us to make lasting change. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for me to see this legislation through Parliament. It is a once in at least a decade opportunity for you to assist in this process.
I want this to be a programme that reaps lasting rewards for all New Zealanders.
Having been in the role of Minister for the last three months, the diversity of councils is something that is very obvious to me. The legislation must reflect this.
The reforms in this Bill are not a "one size fits all" approach, because this won’t work.
On the one hand we have high growth districts like here in Queenstown, focused on tourism with a total visitor spend of over $1 billion each year and a population set to increase by 2.2 per cent every year. It has a land area of over 8,000 square kilometres – its infrastructure and facilities needs are high.
So, too, Tauranga City - with a population of 114,000 and rising, but a land area by comparison of 175 square kilometres.
And not far from here you have the district of Gore – with a land area seven times as large as Tauranga City, but with a declining population of only 12,000 and a much smaller budget.
Each of these local authorities has its own distinct challenges and opportunities.
So while we are proposing a more focused purpose statement in the Bill, it will not remove local decision-making. While we are promoting more streamlined reorganisation procedures, any changes must be community driven.
Finally, I strongly believe that more could be done to promote your own worth, and therefore your ability to get community buy-in to your agendas. I know your value; the challenge is to make sure your communities do too.
So, as you will hear from the Prime Minister this morning, we’ve made a strong start to the reform process. I want to build on this in the second phase. I am expecting Phase Two of the reform programme to be informed by other reviews that are underway, into resource management, building and land transport legislation, as well as planning requirements. I am looking forward to your sector’s involvement.
There is much to be done between now and the end of 2013 when we aim to complete the reform programme.
I’m counting on your advice and I’m buoyed by your support.
I look forward to meeting and talking with many more of you as the reforms progress.