Following on from the restaurant analogy used by Jason Krupp, I think it would be important to remember that the Council being the chef would only be allowed to follow certain recipes regardless of what the community wanted to order; we would be limited to using certain utensils prescribed by law and we would only be able to charge people for their meal an amount that was based on the value of their property, no matter what they ordered. I will come back to that.
I found a speech I gave 10 years ago when I was Minister of Commerce.
I said that if someone was designing this country from scratch, they could not create a more inefficient model for providing the economic and social infrastructure required for just over 4 million people in relation to our landmass – I referenced Mike Moore’s famous line that ‘Singapore is the same size as Lake Taupo – think about it’.
I was speaking back then of the disproportionate impact of transaction and compliance costs on SMEs of the multiple layers of regulatory frameworks.
Fast forward ten years and having read this report, it feels like ‘déjà vu, all over again’.
My entry into local government from over 20 years in central government three years ago, offers a unique perspective. But even more significantly, then role that central government has been playing in Christchurch over the past 6 years has been unique as well.
The decision to establish a government department to run the post-disaster recovery of a city was without precedent, (both locally and internationally).
How central government, local government and the community interact in these post-disaster environments is core critical, and I took great comfort from the Minister’s comments yesterday when he said in this particular instance: "the problem is the person who calls the shots on that is based in Christchurch, the issue is in Waiau and the national headquarters is in Wellington, and you just think 'this is just not the way to work'."
There were a number of things he thought could be enhanced with a reconsideration of some of the reporting lines and some of the decision points.
And in many respects that is what this report is all about. The real question is not what's wrong with local government; it's what's wrong with the division of government power in New Zealand. Who is best placed to make the decision; who is best placed to implement the decision once made and how will that be funded? These are three separate questions and one does not necessarily follow from the other.
I thought that the most useful contribution I could make to this discussion would be to comment on the new architecture we have developed in the Greater Christchurch area in the wake of the expiration of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act and the demise of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, CERA.
The government and the Council have essentially established a joint venture regeneration organisation, Regenerate Christchurch, accountable through a statement of intent to both the Council and the government. We have access to a special regeneration planning framework which replaces objections, hearings and general appeals with community engagement, a prescribed ministerial decision-making framework and very limited appeals.
I am hoping we help set a precedent for a new era in land-use management that engages the community in the process from start to finish.
We’ve established an arms-length development company, Development Christchurch Ltd (DCL) which is a wholly owned subsidiary of our holdings company Christchurch City Holdings Ltd (CCHL).
The government has established Otakaro Ltd to provide the necessary project management to complete the large scale anchor projects that remain and manage the divestment of the Crown’s interests in land acquired since the earthquakes.
We’ve established a community housing charitable trust with a range of social housing partners, primarily to become eligible for the Income Related Rental Subsidy, but I truly think this is a much better model for service delivery to vulnerable tenants and communities than the council could deliver on its own.
I have said on several occasions that we would welcome central government transferring its Christchurch Housing NZ housing to the Trust as well, which would help resolve the main disadvantage of the split between managing the housing (HNZ) from allocating tenancies (MSD).
This would give us the ability to build real communities and really get to know the residents to bring in the kind of wrap-around support many need for a period of their lives. And with the regeneration planning processes we have now, we could fast track changes that would significantly enhance the quality of life for these residents and build new houses in what would become mixed developments blending social, affordable and market housing options.
So in many respects, this report could not be more timely.
Central government silos were always the toughest nut to crack when I was in government – it seemed to me that there was little capacity to obtain funding for one department’s budget, when the benefits would be savings to another department – sometimes years down the track.
If we were to truly break down those silos, would we not start to think about where the difference can be made; and would that not lead us to contemplate funding through the taxpayer base and delivering through local government? And if the benefits are inter-generational, that’s fundamental to how we plan.
This report has reminded me of the absurdity of central government setting all our rules that they don’t oblige themselves to follow, (particularly when it comes to prescriptive consultation that isn’t in anyway meaningful) and the nonsense of our local council fundraising being limited to a property tax when we deliver to a set of national standards that are to the benefit of NZ Inc. And don't get me started on the tax upon the tax that GST on rates represents.
The report refers to water standards as an example. But let’s take the decision announced by government that they will transfer the fluoridation of the drinking water supply decision to the local DHB and leave the funding of the decision to the councils.
Councils don’t have funding – they can only raise money from their ratepayers. I think that if the government wants to make the decision – they should share the cost across the taxpaying base. In Christchurch, we don’t have a single point to fluoridate our water supply. The cost-benefit ratio is quite different for us.
If the government wants us to fluoridate, then the government should pay - at least their fair share.
It does feel like some of the decisions that are being devolved to us, because central government doesn’t want to cop the flak for making the hard calls. But unless they do, we can't make effective decisions - Local Alcohol Plans were meant to be a local adjunct to a more regulated market.
I totally agree that Regulatory Impact statements should be required to spell out the hidden costs to local government.
Christchurch has just hosted the first Singularity University Summit to be held in Australasia.
In welcoming Singularity University to the city, I said that we in Christchurch wanted to be at the forefront of the innovation and creativity required to take advantage of the exponential leap in technologies the Summit challenged us to contemplate.
Not from a position of defensiveness or fear, but rather with a real sense of optimism for a future that we can co-create for ourselves.
I used that word co-create deliberately.
Co-creation brings with it the sense that we are in this together; a recognition that neither governments nor councils can take on these challenges for our communities. Representative democracy simply won’t cut the mustard when we don’t know what lies ahead.
We need a participatory democracy with active citizenship – something that has the added advantage of providing an antidote to the blame game that seems to drive reporting in an increasingly populist media and the un-moderated environment of social media. If we are making the decisions ourselves, it’s hard to blame the government.
Participatory budgeting is one component of what we intend to implement – the report suggests referenda and citizens’ juries. The latter is very much on our radar, but referenda need to be carefully scrutinised given the significant influence of paid advertising on the outcome.
Finishing on the circumstances we are confronted with now in light of the recent earthquakes, perhaps it is time to think of devolution and subsidiarity in the context of mitigating the risk of having all our country's capacity centralised in one place and not distributed in a way that would ensure resilience.
So thank you for the report and indeed the whole series. We are very keen in Christchurch to take the debate forward and look forward to the opportunity to do so. Here is a link to the NZ intiative's report on restoring local government accountability. it talks about active citizenship and what it means: https://nzinitiative.org.nz/insights/reports/the-local-manifesto-restoring-local-government-accountability/