The LGNZ conspiracy against local democracy – An open letter to the government and public

Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) has attracted attention to itself recently by writing an open letter to the three party leaders of the Ardern coalition government, Jacinda Ardern, Winston Peters and James Shaw (see Appendix 1).  The letter calls for sections 19ZA to 19ZG of the Local Electoral Act 2001 (LEA, see Appendix 1) to be abolished.  These sections relate to the rules for binding polls of electors concerning establishment of Maori wards and Maori constituencies respectively in territorial authorities and regional councils.  They are embedded in sections 19Z to 19ZI of the LEA and linked to its Schedule 1A, which specifies the formulae for deciding how many Maori ward/constituency representatives there should be for a given local government.  Maori wards/constituencies in local government are the effective equivalent of the race-based Maori seats found in Parliament.

Who is LGNZ?

On its website LGNZ claims to be “the strong voice for great local government”.  It elaborates that, “We are governed by our National Council, made up of 15 elected members throughout New Zealand.  Our purpose is to deliver our sector’s Vision: ‘Local democracy powering community and national success’.  We represent the national interests of councils in New Zealand and lead best practice in the local government sector.  We provide advocacy and policy services, business support, advice and training to our members to assist them to build successful communities throughout New Zealand.”

The 18 rather than 15 elected members of the LGNZ National Council for the 2016 to 2019 triennium are: president and Dunedin mayor Dave Cull, vice president and Bay of Plenty regional councillor Stuart Crosby, Auckland city mayor Phil Goff, Wellington city mayor Justin Lester, Christchurch city mayor Lianne Dalziell, Bay of Plenty regional chair Doug Leeder, Nelson city mayor Rachel Reese, Matamata-Piako district mayor Jan Barnes, Waitomo district mayor Brian Hannah, Far North district mayor John Carter, Auckland city councillor Penny Hulse, Ruapehu district mayor Don Cameron, Upper Hutt city mayor Wayne Guppy, Tasman district mayor Richard Kempthorne, Gore district mayor Tracy Hicks, South Taranaki district councillor Bonita Bigham, Waitaki district deputy mayor Melanie Tavendale, and Waitemata local board chair Pippa Coom.

The LGNZ letter to the leaders of the Ardern government must be squared with the organisation’s avowed principles, particularly “best practice” leadership of local democracy in “successful communities”, not least because in demanding abolition of sections 19ZA to 19ZG of the LEA, LGNZ is advocating a significant and far-reaching change that will affect the existing legislated political rights of all local government electors – including Maori – throughout New Zealand.  LGNZ president Dave Cull signed the open letter, but with LGNZ conspicuously promoting the missive on its website we may reasonably assume that all the other 17 members of the National Council stand behind the letter’s proposals and are therefore directly politically accountable for them, including to their electors in the local governments they represent.  This accountability can be brought home to current members of LGNZ’s National Council at the 2019 triennial local government elections.  In its open letter, LGNZ claims to be speaking for “our members, the 78 local authorities of New Zealand”.   The government is thus being asked to believe that the entirety of LGNZ’s membership unanimously supports the letter’s demands and is therefore politically accountable for them without exception.

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