A call for a shift in the way public decisions are made in New Zealand has been met with some cynicism by Tauranga Mayor Greg Brownless.
Local Government New Zealand and The New Zealand Initiative, a public policy think tank and business membership organisation, say instead of relying on central government to decide what is good for our communities, it is time to empower councils and communities themselves to make such decisions.
The two groups used the recent LGNZ conference to launch a ‘Localism’ project, with a draft discussion paper to review the evidence to be prepared later this year and launched at the 2019 LGNZ conference.
LGNZ president Dave Cull says New Zealand needs to restore the balance between local and central government.
“Both tiers of government must work together, each contributing what they do best,” says Dave.
“Centralised countries tend to be less wealthy and have lower standards of living. New Zealand is among the most centralised countries in the world.
“We should not expect central government in Wellington to be the best decision-maker for every local problem. Communities often know best what they need.”
But Greg Brownless says local decision-making is all very well, but there needs to be the necessary funding to go with it.
“For example, the government is responsible for social welfare issues, but more and more we’re being faced with the problem of homelessness and begging on our streets,” says Greg.
“I feel this sort of stuff is being pushed on us without the accompanying funding.
“I’m happy to try to solve those problems, but I would like the government to fund that because traditionally that is what they have done.”
Another example cited is the funding of security cameras. “We receive no contribution to that yet they are used to solve crime in many cases,” he adds.
Greg says rates are not a sustainable way for councils to solve these sorts of problems in the future.
“Without the associated funding streams, why would we want to take on more and more responsibilities of central government?” he asks.
“If every single council needs to reinvent the wheel then that’s not good either. There are certain things government is there for – diplomacy, health and environmental issues for example.”
Devolving the decision-making on Easter trading is a recent example of localism, says Greg.
“That was forced onto us because the government of the day didn’t have the fortitude to make a decision. I get a little bit cynical about it.”