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Government Intervention

The amendment to the 2002 Local Government Act that passed through Parliament in December 2012 has a catch-all clause that is repeated in several places, which may have appeared innocuous at the time, but which Minister for Conservation and Housing, Nick Smith appears ready to use to use to whatever extent necessary to achieve the Government's aims.

The clause  reads "the Minister may intervene if (he/she) believes, on reasonable grounds that a significant problem relating to the local authority may exist". 

It is of immense concern that this bludgeon of a clause is able to be used on apparently flimsy grounds to virtually over-ride whatever action a democratically elected council may wish to take in order to carry out its mandate. The mere threat of using the clause in the case of the Auckland housing crisis in order to expand greenfields boundaries, and thus pull the rug from under 'land-bankers', and at the same time frustrate Len Brown's well signalled policy of encouraging greater concentration is anathema enough - the same threat appears ready to be used in other situations where Nick Smith so decrees.

In a well argued NZH article on 12 June, Pauline Watson, a politics student at Auckland University raises the apt metaphor of frogs in cold water being slowly raised to boiling point unaware of the danger. One can well understand the similar situation that appears to be arising in this country where our ability to make choices to deal with local concerns is threatened by a Government, or in this case a Minister who appears authoritarian, and who is leading us towards the centralising of powers and decision making. The cancellation of elections in the case of Environment Canterbury for two terms is the most blatant manifestation of this trend, together with today's report of the likelihood of the Environment Court being merged with the District Court.

As Ms Weston points out "Those who remain untouched by this process have no reason for complacency." No matter which side of the political blanket you happen to be on, there are warnings here of which we need to take heed. Nick Smith's tendency to go for the jugular in the administration of his portfolios, and his well known impatience with those who disagree with him should give pause for considerable thought as to just where he is leading us. There are the merest hints of dictatorship evident in these moves, and they will become clearer following the October local government elections when decisions will undoubtedly be made regarding area authorities - our council will almost certainly disappear in that event, and Mayor Leach's blustering response to date has put us so totally off-side with his colleagues, that there is a distinct possibility that the outcome will be unpalatable in the extreme.

It is time for those who are concerned about these issues to caucus, and debate - it is extremely dangerous to leave our future governance to the tender mercies of one man. But even more important, it is time that everyone takes close note of what is happening within Government. There is a cabal besides Smith, including Collins (Attorney General), Adams (Conservation), and Tremain (Local Government) who have quite different response to the checks and balances that have determined the relationship between local and central government in the past.




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