Published: 23 July 2017
LGNZ President Lawrence Yule's opening address to the 2017 LGNZ Conference
Ladies and gentlemen, Your Excellencies, The Right Honourable Dame Patsy Reddy and Sir David Gascoigne, Prime Minister Rt Hon Bill English, Ministers, members of parliament and particularly our Members, New Zealand’s 78 local governments.
Kia ora and welcome to the 2017 Local Government New Zealand conference. It is wonderful to be with you all here in Auckland.
An especially warm welcome to our newest members who are here today, those elected in October last year – welcome to your first LGNZ conference.
I would also like to express our gratitude to our host Mayor Hon Phil Goff, Auckland Council and the city for your warm welcome. It is wonderful to be here in Auckland.
The theme of this year’s conference is creating pathways to 2050: liveable places and loveable spaces.
Local government plays a major role in creating communities that are well resourced and provide the necessities of life.
Think the water we drink, the transport infrastructure we use to get about and the clean environments that are so important to us all - as well as the things that make living somewhere a pleasure - like the parks, libraries, playgrounds and events that add richness to society and bring people together.
When people decide where they are going to live they consider a whole plethora of criteria.
People look for places that meet a range of their needs – it might be a thriving arts scene or easy access to the outdoors – and local government has a role to play in making these things available.
Looking ahead to 2050 there are many changes and challenges councils and communities will have to plan for.
At our 2016 conference in Dunedin we launched the 2050 Challenge, a document which outlined what some of these major shifts will be.
Population growth, urbanisation, an ageing population, new technology, climate change and social inequality were identified as areas where we can expect to see considerable shifts.
This work was led by our Young Elected Members committee and it has made an invaluable contribution to our ongoing strategy for this triennium and beyond.
Put simply, the future New Zealand is going to look quite different to the past and even the present.
So we need to look clearly at where we want to be as a nation and as communities, for our economies and the environment, in the years to come and to chart a course for how we are going to get there.
This conference is about continuing the conversations we need to be having to ensure our communities will be best placed to thrive in this dynamic future.
It is beholden upon every council and our partners in central government, industry and communities around the country, whether in big cities like Auckland or our smaller rural areas, to take a long term view to achieving successful outcomes for all of us.
How we adapt to these changes and what they will mean to our different communities will require some innovative thinking.
We must be prepared to consider doing things in different ways and be open to innovation and new ideas.
We need to challenge ourselves and our colleagues in central government to take a different approach to planning our future.
That is what conferences like these are for – the sharing of ideas and the gaining of knowledge.
I urge all of our members and other delegates to make the most of this occasion to soak up as much as you can from the range of excellent speakers we have with us.
I will speak in greater detail soon about our 2017 election manifesto, LGNZ’s plan for a prosperous and vibrant New Zealand, and the policies and direction we believe the incoming government needs to put in place.
But first I would like to speak briefly about the local government sector and how it is travelling.
This is my last conference as LGNZ president and in my nine years in the role I have made many opening addresses. It is with mixed feelings that I deliver this one.
In the last nearly 10 years there have been some significant changes and developments in local government.
When I took on the role of President of LGNZ the organisation had a different focus and a tendency to concentrate on what we could now consider to be lower level issues – the microchipping of dogs springs to mind as an example of one issue we put a lot of energy into.
Since then and in the last three years in particular we have re-focused our attentions onto the much bigger picture issues that New Zealand communities face, now and into the future.
These include big ticket issues like:infrastructure funding;
And our own performance and reputation, which we have undertaken to demonstrate and lift through the CouncilMARK local government excellence programme.
The emphasis on these areas is paying off.
Eighteen councils have gone through the excellence programme in its first year.
We have seen a number of gains in the last year, including but not limited to commitments from the Government to:
We have promoted the need for strategies to create a coherent and consistent policy framework for the management of all water in New Zealand, whether it’s our freshwater resources or the infrastructure used for stormwater, waste water and drinking water.
And climate change has been identified as one of the biggest strategic priorities for local government. I will go into our climate change work in greater depth shortly.
So we are most definitely showing leadership on the big issues that New Zealand faces.
That’s not to say we don’t still focus on issues like cat control and plastic bags, because these things are important to our communities.
But as a sector we are increasingly playing our part in the national policy debates, making our voice heard, flying the flag for strong local democracy and championing the incredible talent and expertise we have around the country, from Cape Reinga to Bluff.
Our EXCELLENCE Awards finalists are a testament to this.
Our relationships with Parliament, from those in Government and those in opposition, are growing in strength.
We all share the same goal of a prosperous and vibrant New Zealand so it is vital that we work together.
The relationship will not always be smooth between local government and its various stakeholders, but we have respect and we are continually working towards stronger relationships with all our key partners.
Today we launch our manifesto and Local Government Position Statement on Climate Change.
Manifesto - LGNZ’s plan for a prosperous and vibrant New Zealand
Shortly New Zealanders will decide on the future direction of this country.
We head into the September election with a number of significant issues on the agenda, many of which are directly linked with the work of local government – housing, freshwater and regional economies for instance.
In our view, for councils to achieve the maximum for their communities, there are some areas an incoming government will need to address, often in collaboration with those of us in local government.
To highlight these, today we formally release the LGNZ election manifesto, LGNZ’s plan for a prosperous and vibrant New Zealand, which sets out our vision for local government and the steps for achieving that vision.
There are five key areas in the manifesto, which reflect LGNZ’s strategic priorities.
Across these spheres there is a range of issues and improvements we think could lift the outcomes for our communities.
Running throughout the manifesto is a key theme of infrastructure, and especially how it is funded.
In our view New Zealand’s infrastructure is at a crossroads and needs to be a key focus in the upcoming election.
Our roads, water pipes and sewage treatment plants are the bedrock of our communities, environment and economies, and we are at a point now where we need to take some significant decisions about how we ensure we continue to enjoy the benefits of our vital infrastructure.
Local government provides key infrastructure to our communities but the ability to continue to provide this essential infrastructure is being challenged.
Factors like the impact of extreme weather events exceeding current infrastructure capacity, a growing population and the cost of providing the necessary infrastructure for those people, and future infrastructure renewal demands all bring challenges.
New Zealand needs the incoming government to ensure that councils have the resources and the capacity to meet the infrastructure needs of their communities.
Specifically this means access to a broad range of funding options to meet current and future needs in areas like water provision, transport and housing.
As I said earlier we need to be open to new ways of doing things are needed, and we think in the case of local government funding a continued reliance on property rates New Zealand needs to change.
We have made this point about funding regularly in recent years, and it is pleasing to see some additional tools starting to come through.
Risk and resilience
Recent events like the Kaikoura earthquake and the Edgecumbe flooding further put the spotlight on the need to improve our readiness for hazardous events to reduce community and economic risks.
Natural hazards and climate change impacts also pose an unprecedented threat to our natural and built environment.
We urge an incoming government to commit to a collaborative approach and urgent action to manage the risks posed to New Zealand communities from extreme weather and seismic events.
It is vital that we are prepared to address potential risks, and this means better emergency preparedness.
Our manifesto reiterates the need for a Government-supported Local Government Risk Agency to increase local capacity and develop a consistent standard of risk management.
We ask that the incoming government makes the establishment of an Agency a priority.
Local government is committed to working to increase awareness and understanding of the need to prepare for risk and build resilience within our communities, and especially the threats posed by climate change impacts.
This work needs to be done with active central government input, and together central and local government should lead a national discussion on the importance of understanding risk and building resilience.
The quality of our water is and will continue to be a defining issue for the foreseeable future.
Both urban and rural communities will need to consider how they work towards cleaner water, led by and in partnership with local government.
Water is a perennial and vexed issue but is now becoming urgent for New Zealand’s future.
It is one that will require a multi-party response, involving local and central government, communities and industries – we all have a role to play.
Current policy is disjointed and we are advocating the creation of a coherent and integrated framework for the management and allocation of New Zealand’s water resources.
Getting to this point will require an incoming Government to do several things.
Alongside water quality, local government has identified responding to and managing the impacts climate change as a key strategic priority.
It is time to up the ante on climate change, and I will speak more about this in a moment.
For New Zealand to prosper it needs healthy communities and healthy communities need good homes.
In New Zealand some of our housing is of poor quality, with many living in rental accommodation that is damp, cold and mouldy.
There are major social and economic impacts stemming from poor housing, including people’s ability to participate in school, work and in the community generally.
Our cities, districts and regions suffer as a result of housing that literally makes people sick.
We are calling on an incoming government to implement a stronger policy and regulatory framework for improving the standard of rental housing.
This is of interest to local government for a number of reasons, including our responsibilities around building safety and planning.
It’s also the right thing to do.
Local government is also a large scale provider of social housing, owning over 11,000 social housing units, but current policies prevent councils from playing an ongoing role in this important work.
A policy framework that recognises the roles of councils and makes them eligible to utilise income related rents is needed.
The final key point in the manifesto relates to our regional economies.
Although the New Zealand economy continues to expand, some parts of the country are benefitting less than others from that growth.
The current legislative framework under which councils work does not help.
Many of the challenges outlined in the 2050 challenge work I spoke about earlier apply here, including the impact of technology on work, and ageing and contracting populations.
We think a system that incentivises council investment in growth could help turn the tide, especially in regional New Zealand.
Allowing councils to capture “value uplift” in their areas, allowing for the creation of special economic zones to attract investment in specific locations, and a collaborative and innovative approach with councils when developing economic policy and strategy at national and local levels.
Finally, empowering and strengthening local democracy lies at the heart of this manifesto.
We call it localism, or the principal of subsidiarity which argues that decisions should be made as closely as possible by those they will impact.
Local democracy gives councils the mandate to make and implement decisions for their communities.
If New Zealand is to prosper, we need to make use of the talent and the great ideas that exist in our communities – Wellington does not have all the answers.
It is time to reassess New Zealand’s status as one of the most centralised states in the OECD.
You can find copies of the full manifesto, and an abbreviated version, at the back of the room.
Local Government Position Statement on Climate Change
I mentioned before I would speak more on climate change, which is perhaps the most significant issue we face and is an area that LGNZ’s National Council has prioritised.
Following that directive, we are today launching the new Local Government Position Statement on Climate Change, and a 2017 climate change declaration signed by 39 mayors from around the country.
You can find copies of the Statement at the back of the room, along with the manifesto.
Climate change will affect us all during our lifetimes, if it is not already.
Local government’s vision for New Zealand in 2050 is a vibrant country, enjoying environmental, social, cultural and economic prosperity.
Adapting to and mitigating where possible the effects of climate change is a massive, massive challenge for all of us – local authorities, central government, communities and businesses.
And how we respond will determine how well we are able to achieve our goals.
This is clearly an area of high concern.
The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Dr Jan Wright is due to release the last report of her tenure this week, and fittingly it will be on climate change.
The Productivity Commission is working to identify how New Zealand can maximise the opportunities and minimise the costs and risks of transitioning to a lower net-emissions economy, and will be releasing the issues paper for that investigation this month.
And a Technical Advisory Group on climate change adaptation has been formed to provide advice on options for adapting to the effects of climate change.
From our standpoint action on climate change requires coherent, consistent and joint action across central and local government.
For our part city, district, regional and unitary councils will do our bit and utilise the full range of skills and capabilities we hold to better understand all the consequences and opportunities of climate change.
We will advocate for and support collaborative efforts within the sector to improve the effectiveness of land use, service delivery and planning.
And we will build in the effects of climate change as part of an all hazards assessment to inform decision making.
There is much more local government can and will do which is outlined in the statement.
In the coming years many of our communities will turn to their councils for support.
But this is a problem of national scale, in need of a joined-up, national response. In our view we need to see more from central government on climate change.
We need to make sure Kiwis have a better understanding of what is coming, and the role we all need to play to be ready for it.
To do this we are calling on an incoming government to lead a campaign to make New Zealanders aware of the opportunities and risks of climate change, and the opportunities for communities to contribute to reducing emissions.
We need effective policies that support councils, the private sector and community action in response to climate change.
For this we seek a clear mandate under the Local Government Act to consider how decisions affect climate change outcomes.
We need clarity on who bears the fiscal responsibility for adaptation actions.
We seek a clear statement from central government on responsibilities, for all levels, for adaptation actions including fiscal responsibility.
And we need central and local government to work together to develop a joint response to climate change including a clear pathway to a low carbon economy.
Climate change is far bigger than what we are equipped to deal with now, and it will take a concerted effort from all parties to build the necessary resilience.
It’s not too late to do this, but as the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Dr Jan Wright commented recently, on climate change we need to do more, and we need to do it faster.
Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank a few people in particular for their support over the last nine years.
I would like to thank all mayors and chairs, elected members and council staff and all Vice Presidents for their loyal and wonderful support.
I would like to thank my council for enabling me to conduct this role.
The staff at LGNZ is professional, knowledgeable and dedicated and I thank them for their hard work.
I want to particularly acknowledge the work of CEO Malcolm Alexander and the change he and the team have implemented in the last five years.
Along with our members we are now focussing on what matters with a strong vision, a clear strategy and runs on the board.
On that note, ladies and gentlemen, I declare the conference open and wish you all the best for the next two days and beyond.