Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) today released its 2020 General Election Manifesto, taking a different tack to the policy wish-list traditionally seen at this part of the election cycle. Instead, the local government peak body is reaching past the politicians, urging voters to think about how much say they want to have in the major decisions that affect their lives before giving any party their tick.
LGNZ President Stuart Crosby said there is greater appreciation than ever before that New Zealanders get the best outcomes when top down policymaking meets bottom up operational experience. This is particularly so as the generational challenges in the form of population growth, climate change, housing shortages and infrastructure deficits get more challenging in the post-Covid-19 environment.
However, all too often politicians only focus on the central government part of the equation when launching their policies ahead of the general election, which is what is delivered on the other side of an election, making for a frustrated public and incoming central government.
“Nobody knows communities better than those living in them, which is why they need to be given a stronger voice in the policy development process,” said Mr Crosby. “This is particularly important in the post-Covid-19 environment, when we need every idea on the table to jumpstart our economy and make real progress on the challenges facing our nation.”
“In our view the only way to do this is to insist on being included in the process up front, not through bolt-on consultation at the end. That’s why we’re urging voters of all stripes to back policies that give them more say in the critical decisions that affect their lives.”
Getting the right balance between local and central decision-making is what LGNZ defines as ‘democratic wellbeing’.
New Zealand is one of the most centralised countries in the OECD, with central government accounting for 88% of public expenditure, against an OECD average of just 46%. OECD research shows that decentralised countries are wealthier on the whole than centralised countries.
“It’s really important that New Zealand gets the democratic wellbeing balance right. We want a culture and society where all New Zealanders are part of our policy solutions, not just a select group in the beehive that make promises that they can’t keep,” concluded Mr Crosby.
“This recognises that in some cases we do want a highly centralised action, such as the excellent response we’ve seen to the Covid-19 pandemic. But there are all manner of areas where we could improve the public services we deliver, and the wellbeing outcomes they produce, by involving local voices more, be they individuals, communities, or iwi.”
Local Government New Zealand’s 2020 General Election Manifesto identified four broad areas where more balanced decision making is needed. These include:
Housing: To assist with the delivery of high quality housing, at volume, communities (though local government) need a fit-for-purpose planning system that enables affordable housing outcomes and place making.
Transport: For our transport systems to successful communities need national policy direction that sets strategic direction, but which enables flexibility to cater for New Zealand’s diverse geography, populations and transport needs.
Local democracy: For councils to fulfil their local and regional governance roles they need good central government policy stewardship, and to establish an enduring partnership that reflects the complementary roles each sphere of government plays.
Environment: Successfully delivering positive environmental outcomes requires a partnership between central and local government built on policy stewardship (ongoing reform not step change), practical implementation plans, and careful consideration of the costs and benefits.
Climate change: To address New Zealand’s climate change challenge, LGNZ is calling for parties to develop policies that include a legal framework that enables councils and communities to confidently address risks associated with climate change and adaptation decision-making and establish a Local Government Risk Agency, to collectively address the natural hazard risks that councils face, and enable best practice for councils.
The LGNZ 2020 General Election Manifesto can be found here.