In this edition of Frontpage News we report on the efforts councils around the country are making to help those affected by the serious earthquakes of last week.
We also bring you the latest on local government’s approach to climate change, a call to integrate discussion around water quality and infrastructure, and thoughts on turnout at the 2016 local elections. In a new feature looking at some of the faces of local government we interview one of the country’s youngest newly elected members, West Harbour Community Board member Ryan Jones.
We also provide updates on current workstreams and share some local wins and local government stories in the media.
In this issue
- Councils pull together in wake of disaster
- Climate change major issue for local government and communities
- Holistic approach to water needed
- Local government a way to shape future
- LGNZ backs call for more responsibility for local government
- Civics education needed to boost democratic participation?
Councils around New Zealand are offering their support to the stricken Hurunui and Kaikoura districts in the wake of last week’s massive and devastating 7.8 earthquake and aftershocks.
Immediate work to evacuate tourists and provide emergency shelter and food is largely complete, and as the areas move into recovery mode longer-term support will be needed.
Already several councils have sent staff to share their expertise with the under pressure councils.
Those in the South Island with recent experience of such an upheaval have responded quickly to make resources available. Several chief executives from neighbouring councils have spent time on the ground in Kaikoura and been in regular contact with their Hurunui, Kaikoura and Marlborough counterparts about recovery plans.
Selwyn District Mayor Sam Broughton says his council has sent a bus equipped with emergency and communications resources, as well as staff, to Hurunui.
“They will access Kaikoura when they can,” he says.
“We’ll also run a welfare centre in Christchurch for those coming back. We’re in this together, we know what it’s like and we appreciated the support five or six years ago. It’s now our turn to work together to help.”
Mackenzie District Mayor Graham Smith says his council has also sent staff to Hurunui to offer some relief, and he and other Canterbury mayors will be looking at what other resources they can provide to help.
He says those in rural areas will need assistance for some time to come.
“There is some real hardship there,” he says.
“Woolsheds have had their foundations wrecked, roads are impassable and access is very difficult. These guys are just trying to carry on as normal but they need to get a lot of help.”
Further north Horowhenua Mayor Michael Feyen says the Council’s group manager for infrastructure service Gallo Saidy, a former Kaikoura resident who worked for the Kaikoura District Council, has travelled south to help assess damage to underground pipes and other core infrastructure.
“He lived and worked there for eight years and has significant knowledge about that area,” Mr Feyen says. “It’s important to assist other communities especially in times of need.”
Local Government New Zealand President Lawrence Yule says it is heartening but not unexpected to see so much help forthcoming.
“Local government is really a family and this is what families do, they help each other in times of need,” Mr Yule says.
“It is going to take a long time for some communities to recover from these events, and councils offering support through the expertise of their staff is an excellent contribution to be making.”
Individuals can contribute through the #redandblackcouncilchallenge.
Local Government New Zealand is welcoming a new report calling for greater clarity in the roles and responsibilities of local and central government in New Zealand.
Public policy think tank The New Zealand Initiative has released a report calling for changes to the Local Government Act 2002, which would put clear responsibilities and accountabilities on local government, allowing for greater innovation, increased public accountability and the creation of local solutions to local problems.
In The Local Manifesto: Restoring Local Government Accountability New Zealand Initiative Research Fellow Jason Krupp argues there is an “accountability gap” between policy makers and communities which makes it hard for people to know which sphere of government is responsible for specific services, who is driving costs, or who is setting quality standards.
To bring greater clarity the report calls for greater devolution of responsibility to local government with limited scope for central government intervention, with the aim of ensuring councils operate in an open, accountable and efficient way.
Local Government New Zealand President Lawrence Yule says the paper offers valuable recommendations for improving the performance of both local and central government in New Zealand.
“We are particularly interested in creating greater accountability and transparency around which arm of government is responsible for what,” Mr Yule says.
“The lines of responsibility need to be clearer and the Institute’s suggestions for achieving this, such as making councils fully responsible for all the services they currently provide, are worth considering. Delegating more power to councils and requiring them to fully consult their communities through mechanisms like referenda could also be useful for engaging communities in the important but often poorly understood issues they face.”
LGNZ Chief Executive Malcolm Alexander also welcomed the report.
“LGNZ’s guiding vision is ‘local democracy powering community and national success’, and proposals that will help create stronger local decision-making are welcomed and worth debating,” Mr Alexander says.
“The recent local elections showed us that we need to do something to get people more actively engaged in their community’s issues. Achieving better outcomes for our communities will require change from both local and central government, and I look forward to progressing the ideas in this report with the New Zealand Initiative, and local and central government,” Mr Alexander says.
Helping Kiwi communities understand the implications of life in a changing climate will be a major focus for Local Government New Zealand in the coming triennium and beyond.
LGNZ President Lawrence Yule says given its implications for water quantity, infrastructure investment, civil defence and land use planning, climate change will be a key priority for local government in the years ahead.
Councils and their communities will need to consider how rising sea levels and more frequent storms will impact them and the infrastructure they use.
“Most New Zealanders understand the fundamental causes and impacts of climate change, often at a global level, but many remain uninformed about the impacts that climate change could have or are unaware of how the actions of their community can help mitigate emissions,” Mr Yule says.
“Local government has a major role to play in helping us all adapt to climate change. The OECD notes that when faced with climate change impacts communities look to local government. Decisions made today about infrastructure, land use and urban development will determine the extent and impact of climate change, and a community’s vulnerability or resilience.”
To start this conversation LGNZ launched in July the 2050 Challenge discussion document, which highlights the major economic, social, cultural and environmental shifts New Zealand faces in the next 35 years, including as a result of climate change. LGNZ is now also working on climate change position paper for local government.
New and re-elected mayors have also been given a timely reminder of the important role local government has to play in addressing how New Zealand manages the implications of climate change.
Speaking during the LGNZ Mayors Induction in October, businessman, conservationist and 2016 New Zealander of the Year finalist Sir Rob Fenwick outlined the scale of the challenges that lie ahead and why councils are at the forefront of mitigating the effects of climate change.
Sir Rob said on climate change the horse has bolted and councils now need to focus on adapting and preparing communities for significant environmental changes. Much of the work preparing the country for these changes will rest with local government, particularly in identifying the strategic assets and infrastructure that are at risk from climate change, and the changes we will need to make now to local plans if we are to lessen the burden on future generations.
For a country that has a “biological economy like no other in the world” and which is thoroughly dependent on its landscapes, oceans, freshwater and fragile ecosystems, strong leadership is needed.
“We’ve never needed courageous leadership in our communities and regions as much as we do today,” Sir Rob said. “We need to work together and we need help from the research community to better predict what is going to happen where.”
Demand for water is increasing and to reflect this and other factors such as climate change Local Government New Zealand says a new approach to water policy is needed.
Industry, agriculture and particularly into the future growing urban communities are going to continue to put pressure on the systems used to deliver and manage water and the quality of our freshwater resources. Rising sea levels and greater frequency of storm events will also have an impact.
Local Government New Zealand Chief Executive Malcolm Alexander says to ensure the best outcomes are achieved it is important that the entire value chain is considered when developing water policy, from standards through to infrastructure.
Mr Alexander says discussions about water are generally divided into three broad areas – health and environmental quality standards, rights to access and use water, and the infrastructure that delivers water to users and treats wastewater and storm water.
“Each of these limbs in its own right involves the consideration of challenging policy trade-offs, but it is difficult to see how a coherent policy framework to govern all aspects of water can be achieved without considering each of the three limbs together,” Mr Alexander says.
“Decisions made in one fundamentally impact on whether outcomes can be achieved in the others.”
Local government is responsible for the bulk of New Zealand’s drinking, waste and stormwater infrastructure and Mr Alexander says there needs to be greater consideration to how water quality and quantity rules connect to infrastructure investment, affordability and funding.
“Increased environmental and drinking water standards may be a desirable outcome but such matters can’t be considered in isolation from how water infrastructure upgrades and renewals are funded,” he says.
“And in a changing climate we need to be thinking about water holistically. A good starting point in resolving questions around water quality, water allocation and the three waters infrastructure could be to bring the various discussions together. Greater integration of policy discussions, particularly the setting of standards with communities’ ability to pay for the necessary infrastructure to achieve those standards, into a coherent whole is needed and needed soon.”
Mr Alexander says there has been lot of great work done on water, for example through the creation of the National Policy Statement on Freshwater Quality and the work of the Regional Sector of LGNZ to implement that in their regions, but more work and a revised approach is needed if the country is to manage its water challenges into the future.
“In recent reports the Productivity Commission has said that where the policy process often fails is in the implementation stage. If there is one area where we cannot afford to get implementation wrong it is water policy,” Mr Alexander says.
He’s just 19 but newly elected member of the West Harbour Community Board in Dunedin’s Port Chalmers, Ryan Jones, has firm ideas on how he’d like his community to develop.
In the short term a dedicated dog park, better public transport and a fully completed cycleway to Dunedin are on the agenda. Looking at the bigger picture, the father of one is thinking about climate change and boosting engagement in local democracy.
Mr Jones says finding out in 2013 he was to become a dad gave him a different perspective on life than others in his age bracket. Although always community-minded he suddenly had the realest of reasons to think about the future, not just for himself but his soon-to-be-born son.
Three years on and part way through a Bachelor of Arts in Politics and Maori Studies at Otago University, one of the youngest people elected in the 2016 local elections says he will work to make the Port Chalmers area which has always been home even better.
That’s where the dog park and transport ideas come in.
“We have over 1000 dogs here, the highest dog registration rates in Dunedin, but no dog park. And there is a community campaign to get a cycleway project between Port Chalmers and Dunedin reinstated and fully completed by NZTA,” Mr Jones says.
Competition for the Board was tight, with 12 candidates standing for six seats. Jones says he used a combined online and traditional approach in his campaign, a strategy he says worked well. One of his aims is to bring visibility and awareness of the Board as a way to “funnel” issues to the Dunedin City Council and he plans to use similar methods to keep in touch with the community.
“I knew I had to go out and speak to as many people as possible, but being innovative and using social media also helped me get out and engage with people. People are finding Facebook a really easy way to get in touch.
“A lot of people don’t know what the Board is or what it does, I want to let people know it’s there and can be used. It’s a great way to funnel issues rather than go to council.”
Increasing youth participation in local politics is another aim and Jones is actively speaking to and encouraging his peers to get involved and consider standing for election next time around.
“People are telling me that my election has inspired them to get involved, and so did Chloe Swarbrick’s mayoral candidacy in Auckland this year. I am pleased to hear that she has put her hand up to stand for Parliament next election and I think she would give youth across New Zealand a strong progressive voice.”
Visit Ryan Jones’ Facebook page here.
Local Government New Zealand says a renewed focus on civics education should be investigated as one way of lifting engagement in democracy in New Zealand.
Other steps including a greater focus on digital technologies as a way of engaging young people, the local government sector being clearer about the important role it plays in communities and online voting could also help lift participation in our democracy.
While voter turnout in the 2016 local elections went up from 2013, at 42 per cent this was still lower than desired.
Participation in local elections has been dropping since the late 1980s and there are a number of possible reasons for this, including changes to voting that has made the process more complex and time consuming, changing values which has seen voting decline in many countries and a decline in the number of elected representatives at the same time that the population has been growing.
Local Government New Zealand President Lawrence Yule says a focus on increasing the knowledge of government across the board is required.
“Turnout in parliamentary elections is dropping at the same rate as for local government, so we seem to have a deficit of understanding about the role of both local and central government in New Zealand,” Mr Yule says.
“Much of the media coverage of the election focused on how many people would vote, with less emphasis on what local government actually does. Investment in improving the understanding of the roles and responsibilities of both local and central government should be considered as a way to ensure our democracy remains robust.
“To have turnout continue to decline poses a real risk to the way we structure our society.”
While most Western democracies have seen turnout drop since the 1980s, Denmark has managed to dodge this trend in large part by adopting a proactive strategy of civics education. The Danish model focuses on educating young people about what government is and why it is important, and could provide the foundation for a similar approach in New Zealand.
Mr Yule says there are no silver bullets to increasing participation in democracy but making an effort to help communities get a better grasp of the roles and responsibilities of local and central government would be a good step. Better use of technology is also necessary.
“In the days leading up to the election much was said and written about the potential for online voting to lift voter turnout. We live in a digital world and for young people especially we need to be able to offer this option, alongside postal voting and possibly a return to a dedicated polling day, and also use these tools on an ongoing basis.
“In 2016 we managed to halt the decline in voter turnout. We now need to embark on long-term programme of activity to keep things moving in the right direction,” Mr Yule says.
Some possible causes of low turnout
- Salience. Local government is responsible for 10.6 per cent of public expenditure, which has implications for how much decision-making power a council has.
- Taxation. On average New Zealand local government taxes consume approximately 2.5 per cent of household income whereas central government taxes consume between 30 and 40 per cent of household income – creating a bigger incentive to vote in parliamentary elections.
- Voting system. The introduction of postal voting in the early 1990s saw a boost in voter turnout. In 2016 postal voting is losing its former lustre.
Freedom camping work continues
Work to achieve better outcomes for communities where freedom camping is an issue continues from several quarters. LGNZ is working with the Responsible Camping Forum, Tourism Industry Aotearoa, the Department of Internal Affairs, MBIE and the NZ Motor Caravan Association on a range of initiatives, research and responses.
Meanwhile a trial being run by Queenstown Lakes District Council and Thames Coromandel District Council and campervan hire companies THL and Jucy to encourage those who receive infringements to pay them before leaving the country is going well and is likely to continue beyond the shoulder season. You can read more about the trial here.
Local Government Excellence programme
The first four council assessments are underway and we are now pleased to announce the addition of Albert Brantley and Debbie Birch to the Local Government Excellence Programme’s Independent Assessment Board. Mr Brantley and Ms Birch join chairman Toby Stevenson on the board to oversee the Programme. Together the trio offer many years experience in public and private enterprise in New Zealand and abroad and are the ideal people to play an important part in lifting and demonstrating the performance of local government in New Zealand.
Read our media statement about their appointments here.
Local Government Risk Agency
LGNZ is laying the foundations for an improved risk management framework for councils.
LGNZ has contracted engineering consultants Aecom to help develop a high level risk framework. This will be issued early in 2017 and will provide the sector with a common way of speaking about and applying risk assessment and management tools and concepts.
Workshops are being held during November and December with councils to provide feedback on the applicability and fit with their current practices.
This and other pieces of work such as the risk financing guide will continue to progress until there is a decision from Government both on funding of a risk agency and on the review of the 60/40 financial assistance scheme.
The 2017 annual LGNZ Conference is now in full planning mode. We have now secured many of our speakers including high calibre local and international names and the full programme will be released in the New Year.
Hosted in Auckland city, the 2017 conference will take place at SKYCITY Auckland from the afternoon of Sunday 23 July to midday Tuesday 25 July 2017. You may wish to save these dates in your calendar.
Conference registrations will open in February 2017.