A few posts back I briefly outlined my thoughts on the Super-City legislation and what I think – at a broad level – should be changed before it goes through parliament and becomes law. There were basically three parts to the legislation that I thought were flawed: ‘at large’ councillors, powerless local boards and a lack of Maori seats. As time has gone by in the last week I have started to realise there are other flaws with this legislation too, and it is important that the Bill, which is critical to Auckland’s future, is properly analysed. This also gives me the opportunity to start to put together what my submission will be on the Super-City Bill will be. I shall attempt to undertake somewhat of a clause by clause analysis, although this may take more than just the one post to complete.
For a start, it is interesting to read the analysis of why the government has chosen to not go with the recommendations of the Royal Commission in relation to having 6 local councils of significant size, rather than 20-30 local boards – which is what they’ve ended up choosing.
Now some of these issues are quite valid. In particular, I was quite worried about the Royal Commission proposing no level of local government any smaller than the current councils we have. There’s a reason for the current community boards, and if they’re criticised as not doing much then I think that is only the fault of them not being allowed to do much. Not having any council to go to smaller than the current Auckland City Council (for example) would have been quite a fundamental flaw. However, some of the other reasons to seem a little dodgy – and perhaps reveal the REAL reasons why the government didn’t want the local councils. In particular, the second reason is based around trying to remove conflict between the local councils and the main Auckland Council. Whilst conflict between city councils and the ARC may be time-consuming and costly, it does often lead to better outcomes. Having one supremely large and powerful council is quite a dangerous move in my opinion, and the local boards will now be so comparatively small that they won’t really be much of a check or balance on what the Auckland Council does.
Interestingly, the wording of the bill does have concern about the potential cost of the proposed 20-30 local boards:
OK, let’s get into some of the nitty-gritty now. Part 1 of the bill is pretty boring as it just talks about the title, commencement date and interpretation. It’s not until we get to Part 2 that we actually learn much at all.
Now this is clearly a critical part of the bill, and something which I strongly disagree with. Having 8 members of the council elected at large is not a politically fair move as it will favour candidates who have a lot of financial backing (which would be necessary to fund a region-wide campaign properly). This will lead to a political bias in the 8 ‘at-large’ councillors. The other reason why I strong oppose having at large councillors is the voter confusion that it will create. Choosing 8 people from a list of perhaps 40 to 50 is not a very rigorous way of ensuring that people actually make an informed choice. I know that in existing local government elections one can eventually get tired of all the ticking they need to do and start voting randomly (especially for the DHB elections).
So I would definitely proposed that section 8(3) is altered. I also don’t know whether 20 councillors is enough for the whole of Auckland – especially as Auckland has more than 20 members of parliament. It would seem rather bizarre to have your local MP representing you more locally than your local councillor. I think that having 30 councillors would be much better, and that they should all be elected on a ward basis. This would mean that there would be 30 wards, and they could also be the local board boundaries.
Then we get on to talking about the Mayor. Now under the proposal the Mayor will have significantly greater powers than what they do currently.
Now that does seem like a heck of a lot of power. In particular, the ability of the mayor to appoint the chairperson of each committee of Council, and also to develop the LTCCP and the Annual Plan puts a lot of the Council’s power in one person. I’m not only worried about this because there’s a reasonable chance John Banks might end up mayor, I am genuinely concerned about the placement of so much power into one person. Some people have said the mayor would become the third most powerful person in the country (after the Prime Minister and the Minsiter of Finance). I am not quite sure how the section could be amended to reduce the amount of power the mayor has, while still perhaps increasing it to some extent. Suggestions are more than welcome.
The next issue is about the local boards. Although the government has stated the case quite strongly that these boards will have “real” power, it is clear that in the legislation they do not. Let’s start by having a look at what their role is stated as being:
I must say that I am struggling to see how the local boards are much more than just a lobby group. Sure, they are elected by the local area but it really seems like they have little more power than some “Save the Trees” group (not that I’m hassling Save the Trees groups at all). This is confirmed by Section 11, which details what the local boards actually are (or more specifically, what they are NOT).
Now I dont’ know as much about the Local Government Act 2002 as I should, but clearly in it Community Boards are defined and are delegated specific functions and roles to carry out. By specifying that the local boards aren’t (even) community boards, it is pretty obvious that they have been designed to be as powerless as possible, to have no real functions beyond what the Auckland Council says they can do, and to really only exist to placate those who would otherwise decry the complete loss of local democracy. I’m sorry but I’m not fooled.
More to come!