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We’re having our say on the Super City

Local Government (Auckland Law Reform) Bill Submission

We have serious concerns  regarding the third and final of the Super City Bills.  Here is our submission to the Select Committee on Auckland Governance. We will be appearing before the Committee on Wednesday 3rd March

Grey Lynn 2030’s submission to the Select Committee on Auckland Governance Legislation on the Local Government (Auckland Law Reform) Bill

1.         Submission

Grey Lynn 2030 has serious concerns regarding the Local Government (Auckland Law Reform) Bill (the “Bill).   The key issues of concern are outlined in Section 3 of this submission.  More detailed submissions setting out our opposition to specific clauses of the Bill are contained in section 4.

2.         About Grey Lynn 2030

Grey Lynn 2030 (GL2030) is a participatory community organisation aimed at facilitating and supporting focus groups working towards creating a positive, connected, sustainable, resilient community through practical action.

We take our terms of reference from the international Transition Town movement which encourages local communities to respond to current environmental and economic challenges with positive solutions that tap into the skills and innovation available in our community. There are currently 55 Transition Town groups throughout New Zealand.

GL2030 includes over 800 direct subscribers to our regular updates, monthly meetings and active focus groups promoting community gardens, traffic calming, waste reduction, regeneration of local streams and a range of innovative activities that contribute to the community. Our steering committee is run by 5 volunteers.

GL2030 is based in Grey Lynn, Auckland, encompassing the surrounding neighbourhoods that form part of the Western Bays Community Board area (including Westmere, Ponsonby, Freeman’s Bay, Herne Bay and St Mary’s Bay).

We wish to speak to the committee in person in support of this submission

3.         Why Grey Lynn 2030 opposes the Local Government (Auckland Law Reform) Bill.

As a grassroots community group we value our community voice and the opportunity to actively participate, influence and engage in local decision making. We are deeply concerned that the Bill is a direct assault on local democracy and fails to put in place a model of governance that provides for effective community participation in local government.  We are particularly concerned with the failure of the Bill to clarify the important roles the new Local Boards will fulfil or to even clarify the principles and criteria for deciding on these roles. For the Local Boards to truly engage in local democracy at a grassroots level it is vitally important that the functions are clearly defined, substantive and meaningful.

We would like to see experienced and suitable individuals on our Local Board. Candidates must therefore be able to make informed decisions about whether they have the skills, interests and time commitment required to fill the boards’ roles.

We believe that the Bill undermines democratic control of local Government in Auckland by transferring power and decision-making in many areas to unelected Ministerial appointees.  It also paves the way for the privatisation of assets that will be transferred to the Auckland Council.  The Bill introduces measures not recommended or supported by the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance.

We further oppose measures contained in the Bill for the following reasons:

  • The Minister of Local Government, rather than democratically elected local politicians, will decide what Council Controlled Organisations to establish and appoint their initial directors.
  • The new Council Controlled Organisation “Auckland Transport” will have between 6 and 8 voting directors, but only 2 of them can be elected members of the Auckland Council.  This transfers effective control of transport-related powers and functions from elected councillors to unelected Ministerial appointees.
  • Elected councillors will be prohibited from being directors of all other Council Controlled Organisations, again transferring effective control of vast areas of Auckland’s governance from elected councillors to unelected Ministerial appointees.
  • Watercare Services Limited’s water pricing will not be subject to Auckland Council policy or direction from mid-2015, and the Auckland Council will be permitted to privatise it from that date.
  • The Auckland Council will be permitted to sell strategic assets from mid-2012, meaning that privatisation plans can be completed before voters get a chance to have a say on them at the 2013  local elections.
  • The Auckland Council will have no obligation to follow the advice of the statutory board for mana whenua proposed in the Bill.
  • Two clauses in the Bill could gut the Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area Act and see Aucklanders lose control over Waitakare’s prized Centennial Park.

In addition we strongly object to the inadequate and rushed legislative process, the lack of consultation and the unnecessary stream roller of changes to Auckland’s governance driven by Rodney Hide without any consensus or mandate from the many diverse communities of Auckland.

4.         GL2030’s specific submissions to the Local Government (Auckland Law Reform) Bill

Powers of Local Boards (clause 17)

We support the principle of strong Local Boards with the ability to make decisions on local issues that will act as an effective counter-balance to the powers of the Auckland Council. We submit that the Local Boards be given significant powers, otherwise local communities will lose their voice, and result in the total centralization of power in the 20-member Auckland Council.  The Government indicated that this Bill would set out the powers and responsibilities of the local boards.  However, the Bill as proposed passes the initial allocation of powers to the Auckland Transition Authority (ATA).

We submit that more detail relating to the powers of the Local Boards is required to ensure that the boards will have the ability to control local issues.   We oppose the provision that shifts responsibility to the Transition Authority and call on the Government to clarify the powers and responsibilities of Local Boards.

We submit that Clause 17 Section 19(1A)(a) should require the allocation of decision-making responsibilities for the boards and the Council to be done in consultation with existing Auckland local authorities and community boards.

Ethnic Advisory Boards (clauses 11 and 24)

Under the Bill as proposed, the Mayor alone will control the establishment of the Pacific Peoples Advisory Panel and the Ethnic Peoples Advisory Panel.  GL2030 submits that the elected Council should have some input into this process. We also advocate for the consultation of the existing Pasifika boards in the establishment of the Pacific Peoples Advisory Panel.

Staff Transition (clause 24)

We oppose the provisions of this clause whereby the Transition Authority is not required to provide staff with their existing conditions when they are transferred to another job within the city as promised by. Rodney Hide. We submit that these protections be included in the Bill.

Council Controlled Organisations (CCOs) (clauses 24 and 45)

We oppose the provisions of these clauses that establish Council Controlled Organisations (CCOs) as being removed from the control of the elected representatives of the Auckland Council. We are not opposed to the establishment of CCOS per se however we submit that the ATA should act in a “caretaker” role in the establishment of the CCOs, leaving the elected members of the Auckland Council to fill the board positions including the positions of directors of the CCOs.

The structure as proposed, will allow Rodney Hide, and not the elected members of the Auckland Council, to have the power to decide what functions are carried out by CCOs, and the power to make the initial appointment of directors for all CCOs, including Auckland Transport which will control all transport-related powers. Important areas like the transport agency, waterfront development, economic development, tourism and events are of interest to our community and should be subject to the democratic process which will be denied under the proposed CCO model.

We oppose sections 35H and 35I of Clause 24 and supports caretaker roles for the ATA until there are elected members of the Auckland Council.

We oppose Clause 45, new section 76 which prohibits councillors from being directors of CCOs and effectively removes any possibility of elected representatives exercising any democratic control over CCOs. We support a majority of CCO board members being elected councillors.

We oppose Clause 45, new Section 45 and support the majority of Auckland Transport Board members being elected councillors. Transport, in particular, is a very important priority to our community and should not be run as a profit making enterprise. We therefore submit that the transport agency be run as an in-house business unit of the Auckland Council and that the elected representatives be held accountable for transport decisions.

We submit that the proposed (1)(b) of Clause 45 Section 37 definition of the Auckland Transport System be amended to take out of the definition things that should be done not by Auckland Transport but by the Council or, preferably, Local Boards e.g. footpaths, berms, those parts of road reserves not used as road, street vegetation, street furniture and utilities buried in or otherwise utilizing road reserve space.

In addition we submit that the objective of Auckland Transport should be expanded to include the integration of transport and land use and to provide for an energy efficient, people friendly, efficient, minimally polluting land transport system. Transport should also be obliged to contribute to the economic, environmental, cultural and social wellbeing of Auckland

We submit that Clause 45, Section 47(2) must be amended so that all of the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act must apply to all aspects of Auckland Transport and to all the other CCOs. LGOIMA already exempts commercial secrecy and personal privacy and that is the only exemption required.

Maori Representation (clause 45, new part 7)

GL2030 opposes the provisions of this clause that propose a statutory board for mana whenua and instead support the inclusion of Maori seats on the Auckland Council. The Minister of Maori Affairs approves a selection body who then select the members of the board – an undemocratic appointment process for a local government body.  The board is purely advisory and has no real power.

Ports of Auckland (clause 49)

GL2030 opposes the provisions of this clause on the grounds that our community has been very clear about its desire to see Auckland assets remain in public ownership.  We believe that this Bill opens the way for the privatisation of the Ports of Auckland by removing existing protections that require an Auckland-wide referendum before the Ports can be sold.

We oppose clause 49 as it repeals the Local Government (Auckland) Amendment Act 2004, including section 28 of that Act, which currently imposes restrictions on any proposed sale by Auckland Regional Holdings of its shareholding in the Ports of Auckland.  This will facilitate the privatisation of Ports of Auckland.   We support a savings provision to retain section 28 of the Local Government (Auckland) Amendment Act 2004.

Campaign spending limits (Schedule 3)

We oppose the proposal in Schedule 3 that pushes campaign spending limits up from $70,000 for a population over 250,000 to $100,000 + 50c for each registered voter in constituencies exceeding one million.  This would allow Super City mayoral candidates (with 960,000 voters) to spend $580,000 in the last three months.  This is a very significant increase that would benefit wealthy candidates and those with big business backing.  Limiting the ability of candidates to stand, undermines the principles of the democratic process.

We therefore support a formula based on either an amalgamation of the spending limits of the current councils, or one based on the parliamentary limits.

First Past Post (clause 60)

The Bill requires that as well as the 2010 council election, the 2013 election also be held under the First Past Post system and denies Aucklanders the democratic right under the Local Electoral Act 2001 to opt for a more proportional system. We therefore oppose clause 60.

Ward Boundaries (clause 45, new section 83)

We oppose the provisions of this clause preventing Aucklanders from making any changes to the current ward boundaries, number of ward representatives, and local board boundaries until after the 2013 election on the grounds that this is undemocratic.  We submit that our community should be able to make changes it sees as appropriate.

Watercare Provisions (clauses 65 – 74)

Grey Lynn 2030 opposes the provisions that reduce the transparency of decision-making at Watercare after June 2012 and provide that Watercare will not be subject to Auckland Council policies or directions in setting prices for water after 30 June 2015.

We submit that existing privatisation protections promised by the government still apply to Watercare.

We oppose clause 67 as the information provisions of the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987 must continue to apply to Watercare Services Limited after  30 June 2012 so that the decision-making about water services and pricing is not able to be made in secret.

We oppose clause 71 as it provides that Watercare Services Limited not be subject to Auckland Council policies or directions in setting prices for water after 30 June 2015, thereby removing water pricing from democratic oversight.

We oppose clause 72 as it  provides that no member of the Auckland Council can be a director of Watercare Services Limited – effectively removing it from any semblance of democratic oversight.

We oppose Clause 73 as it opens up the possibility of privatisation of Watercare Services Limited by the Auckland Council from 1 July 2015.

Spatial plans (clause 45)

GL2030 supports the introduction of spatial planning for Auckland under the proposed Part 6. However, we submit that the purpose of the spatial plan must be strengthened so that the planning process facilitates growth and development in a manner that is sustainable and sensitive to Auckland’s cultural, environmental and historic heritage. The proposal for a Spatial Plan must also state the time frame for setting it up.

We submit that the following provisions should be added:

  • The specific requirement that spatial planning be sustainable just as is in the Local Government Act and RMA.
  • Powers to delegate appropriate functions under the RMA and the spatial plan to the Maori board and to the Local Boards.
  • Powers with respect to the co-ordination of utilities like broadband, electric power, gas and telcos
  • A reference to recreational activities and open space in Subsection (3)(h) and these should be protected as are ecological areas in 3i.

The CCO’s must be required to give effect to the spatial plan which will undermine a coherent Auckland region. We propose that a sub clause be inserted into Section 45, Clause 66 in relation to CCOs.

Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area

We oppose the provisons of the bill that remove the Ranges Heritage Area from any protection under the proposed Spatial Plan.  Schedule 3 of the bill repeals s77 in the Local Government Act which vests ownership of Centennial Park in the Auckland Regional Council instead of simply switching the ownership to the new Auckland Council. This could open the door for nationalisation of the Park as has been advocated by National MPs, and the loss of local control.  We support the ongoing and permanent protection of the Ranges Heritage Area which was fought for by Aucklanders and submit that the ownership should be transferred to the new council.

5.         Submission Summary

The new Auckland Council is an excellent opportunity to develop strategies, policy, plans and processes for the effective service delivery of an integrated region at the same time as recognising and supporting our individual communities.

We therefore ask the Select Committee to fully consider the implications of the Bill as currently drafted that has the potential to shut the community out of local decision making and lead to the disengagement in the affairs of local government.  The Bill is an anachronism in the face of a worldwide trend for community engagement and participation through strengthened localised structures.