Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta has recognised the sector’s anxiety about the scale and pace of its ambitious reform programme.
By Moana Ellis, Local Democracy Reporter
“Seems like a heck of a lot,” Mahuta told the final day of the annual local government conference in Palmerston North.
“I’ve heard the comments: too much happening too fast, need to slow down. But if we slow down too much, nothing will happen for a number of years.”
On Saturday she acknowledged the mayors who left the conference to return to communities hit by wild weather.
“We are not experiencing those 1-in-100-year events that were forecast 10 or 20 years ago. It is happening more frequently – and it is taking a toll in many of our communities. We do need to act.”
The reform programme covers climate change adaptation, resource management, water services, biodiversity, waste minimisation, freshwater standards, implementing treaty settlements in natural resource areas, and local electoral reform to diversify councils.
“While I acknowledge there is anxiety around the breadth of reform, central government and [local government] have recognised that we need to find that way of working together. We can’t do this by ourselves.”
Local government was no longer a portfolio ministers could “travel through”, she said.
“Local Government has become a portfolio that must be in Cabinet, with a level of certainty around the leadership and direction of changes that so critically impact what you do going into the future.”
Diverse representation was needed to change up the conversation in both central and local government decision-making, the Minister said.
“Whether you are of the gold-card, youth or youth-adjacent vintage, there is a need to acknowledge the growing diversity and change of mindset required for the future.
“We need a combination of it all – hindsight, insight and foresight – to come to the table to provide the leadership to respond to these complex challenges.
“Now’s the time for the type of leadership that will enable a different conversation.”
Earlier in the week, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern acknowledged the pressure the sector is under but said the reforms have needed attention for a long time and are not quick fixes.
“This is a tough ask of local government, I know. I understand that together the speed and scale of change on so many fronts plus the demands of service delivery here and now make this a uniquely challenging time.”
Ardern told the conference Three Waters reforms would move forward.
“The status quo would condemn whole communities to unaffordable rate burdens, particularly on rural and provincial ratepayers.”
Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air