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Representation guaranteed for all Aucklanders

Posted on 07 Apr 2009

Local Government Minister Hon Rodney Hide said today the Government’s decisions on the governance of Auckland would provide effective representation for all Aucklanders.

Speaking at the release of the Government’s high-level decisions on Auckland governance, Mr Hide highlighted the decision to establish 20 to 30 Community Boards across the region, each of which would be named after its local community.

The Local Government Commission will determine the exact number of boards and their boundaries, as well as the boundaries of the Auckland Council and its wards. It will report back in April 2010.

“The new system for Auckland governance is much simpler, more co-ordinated and will provide for community representation at grassroots level.The Local Boards will have prescribed roles and functions, but will not replicate the service delivery structures that will be managed by the new Auckland Council, which will replace the existing eight councils.

“The Boards will provide the ability for residents and ratepayers to influence decision making, while the Council will fulfil the functions that are most appropriately managed on a regional basis.

“Whether it be through the Mangere or Henderson Board, the Pukekohe or Papakura Board, the Waiheke or Devonport Board, local communities need to be able to manage local issues and express their identities. That is what makes Auckland special.” Reflecting their geographic position, the smaller communities of Great Barrier and Waiheke Islands will each have Local Board representation.

Mr Hide said the Government had rejected the Royal Commission’s proposal of six local councils
because it would mean unnecessary and costly duplication of service delivery, and be too large to allow effective grassroots community representation. “We now have a simpler, clearer governance structure that provides strong leadership at the regional level and community representation at the local level. This is the foundation stone upon which we will make Auckland a great place to live, and drive New Zealand’s economic growth.

“It is essential the new structure is in place in time for the local body elections in 2010. This means we have chosen to have a faster timetable than the Royal Commission was looking at.
“However I want to reassure Aucklanders that the everyday services they expect from their councils will be maintained while the changes are being made.The new structure will provide room for greater efficiencies through less duplication and waste, as well as faster progress on issues which have gone unresolved for years, such as transport.

“It is imperative that the new Auckland Council focuses on the future of Auckland and how it is going to turn Auckland into an internationally competitive city. The newly-appointed Council should not be distracted or encumbered by having to carry out an organisational restructuring. This will be the responsibility of the Establishment Board which the Government will appoint.

“The Establishment Board will work closely with existing council CEOs throughout the transition process. The councils have committed to a steering group and this will be an important and valuable contributor to the development work. It will also be vital to a smooth transition.

“We need to act decisively if we are to achieve the timetable that will allow the new structure to be established before October next year. This will allow Aucklanders to have their say on whom they want to run their region and represent their communities.”

Membership of Regulatory Taskforce announced

Posted on 01 Apr 2009

Minister for Regulatory Reform Rodney Hide today announced the membership of the Regulatory Responsibility Taskforce, which will provide independent expert advice on the Regulatory Responsibility Bill that was considered by the Parliament’s Commerce Select Committee in 2008.

The establishment of the Taskforce was included in the ACT-National confidence and supply agreement and forms part of a government-wide review to identify and remove red tape, unnecessary bureaucracy, and outdated rules and regulations. The chair is Dr Graham Scott, former Secretary of the Treasury. The other members are:

Paul Baines, Company Director
Richard Clarke QC
Jack Hodder, Chairman of the Board, Chapman Tripp
Hon David Caygill, Chair of the Electricity Commission
Dr Bryce Wilkinson, Director of Capital Economics
Dr Don Turkington, Company Director

Mr Hide says the Taskforce members are a high quality team who have a great opportunity to make law-making in New Zealand more transparent and accountable. “We need better law making and the Regulatory Responsibility Bill is designed to deliver it.”

Mr Hide says the Bill is a significant and pioneering piece of legislation, and a world-first. “It will provide a proper framework to law making that will ensure transparency and accountability, so that citizens will know how a proposed law will affect them.”

The Taskforce will report back with recommendations by the end of September.

Release of Report of the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance

Posted on 26 Mar 2009

Minister of Local Government Hon Rodney Hide invites news media to the official release of the Report of the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance in Auckland on Friday 27 March 2009.

The Commissioners, Hon Peter Salmon, Dame Margaret Bazley and David Shand, submitted their Report to the Governor General yesterday and briefed Mr Hide and officials. The Commissioners will be attending the media conference and will be available for comment.

Mr Hide says, “The Royal Commission’s Report is a series of comprehensive documents, the first of which is 800 pages long. Tomorrow the Commissioners will be briefing the Auckland Mayors on the contents of their report and then I will be releasing it publicly.

“I have begun working with Prime Minister John Key, other Ministers and officials as a matter of priority to assess the Commission’s recommendations and look forward to presenting the government’s response in the near future.”

An embargoed executive summary of the Royal Commission’s Report will be provided at the media conference and the full Report will be available on the Royal Commission’s website after 2pm.

Timing: 1.30pm – 2.30pm (Hon Rodney Hide will speak at 2pm)
Venue: Crowne Plaza, Albert Street, Auckland

Meeting The Challenges Facing Local Government Over The Next 20 Years

Posted on 20 Mar 2009

Good afternoon. I am delighted to be here.

What I would like to do today is to talk about the broad scope of the changes that are coming up, with the aim of making local government more efficient and effective, to fulfil its proper role and to meet the challenges we are facing.

I have a simple concept of what local government is. I believe it is a good idea.

But there definitely should be more of the "local" and less of the "government".

Some decisions are best made at the highest level; others are best made at the city or district level, while others are best left to communities or neighbourhoods.

That is where boards come in. Your important role is to represent and advocate for the interests of your local community.

This fits with my vision for local government, which I will talk more about in detail shortly.

But broadly, a key part of it is for local government to be much more accountable to its communities at the grassroots.

Boards are a valuable part of the system of local government. Like you I will be interested in what the Royal Commission into Auckland Governance has to say about community boards.

I will be interested in how they propose to keep a balance between the neighbourhood and the city in representation and decision making.

No doubt many people were surprised that I became Local Government Minister in the new government formed just after the election.

But they shouldn’t be. Let me tell you how it came about.

Before the election I was clear what ACT was going to do, if we were successful on election day.

We had clear policies and a clear strategic direction - to improve New Zealanders’ standard of living and the New Zealand economy so that we matched Australia by 2020.

We were successful, and then began negotiations with John Key on forming the next government.

The resulting confidence and agreement between National and ACT saw those goals adopted.

Once that was achieved, I was then asked to consider what ministerial portfolio I would like if I had the opportunity.

I immediately chose Minister of Local Government because I felt it was an area that had been neglected and was in need of reform.

We are at a critical point in local government history in New Zealand and as Minister I knew I could make a difference.

I was also aware that the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Auckland Governance was likely to have a big impact on the sector nationwide.

I am proud to now be Minister of Local Government at this time of great challenge, and I intend to be the best Local Government Minister this country’s ever had.

I sit outside Cabinet.

I chose to do so because ACT has many policy differences with National, and outside Cabinet I am free to criticise the National Party’s decisions, and where the policies differ from ACT’s.

We have a clear difference on economic policy. ACT wants bolder and better.

But being outside Cabinet does not diminish my ability to create change.

Let me explain why. One of the points set down in our agreement with National was for me to meet with John Key every month, called the Leadership Council.

We also meet informally on many other occasions to discuss matters as they come up, but this is a structured meeting with a defined purpose.

It allow us to consult on major strategic elements of the government’s programme, review progress on lifting New Zealand’s dismal rate of productivity growth, and consider new policy initiatives.

The meetings are working well.

John Key’s a busy man. Being a successful and popular Prime Minister, there are unlimited calls on his time. He can’t be everywhere at all times - so much so that I have National Ministers coming to me to ask me to raise issues with him because I have this scheduled time with him, whereas they don’t.

I know he broadly agrees with my goals for change in local government. He believes reform is needed as much as I do.

So I have a huge opportunity to make a difference in local government.

And there are major changes underway. Here is what’s happening.

I have three goals as Minister. First, I want to get costs under control.

Local government has been consuming more and more resources in a way which does not contribute to the national wealth. In fact quite the opposite.

It has been imposing unacceptable costs onto kiwi families, individuals and businesses, particularly under the previous Labour government. All of us have noticed it in our rising rates, levies and charges.

It is part of the reason why New Zealand is falling further and further behind, with too many resources being drained from the productive sectors, into the state sector - and that means both central and local government.

That’s not a good idea for a small trading nation and certainly not when we are heading into a recession. Above all, right now, we need a strong tradeables sector right now.

I often wonder why farmers keep doing what they do, given what they have to struggle with, despite the fact that they are the primary source of our wealth and prosperity.

The same could be said for businesses of every kind, in particular those dealing with construction or building of any kind.

But I realise that the costs they face are due to the obligations imposed on councils by central government.

Far too many new obligations and absurdities, with associated costs, have been passed on to local government through new legislation - and were then passed on to ratepayers, or anyone applying for a building or resource consent.

However councils themselves must bear part of the blame. They have become very risk-averse and over zealous.

In particular, the way they interpret legislation - and extend the ridiculous controls into micro areas of a project. Costs, charges and fees keep being raised way beyond what is reasonable or justifiable.

Three thousand dollars for a consent to build a ten thousand dollar Skyline garage is absurd.

The changes are coming through in stages. The big initial changes are through reforms to pieces of legislation like the Resource Management Act. The RMA changes are already underway, but more are coming.

The Building Act is also under review, and the Local Government Act is next, with its endless obligations to consult. People are being consulted to death.

These Acts are imposing incredible yet unnecessary costs, and we must do something about that.

The second thing I want is more accountability and transparency. I support the idea of local government autonomy.

But what we have is a legislated and complex planning process which makes it impossible for mayors and councillors to campaign on their vision for their city or region.

Mayors and councillors are trapped in a highly complex and regimented process laid down by central government. It’s wrong. Voters should be able to see and judge that vision, and vote accordingly.

The staff should be there to implement the vision and be held accountable. If we had more of that we would have more direction and vision at the local body level.

We don’t get it because we get caught up in the sticky, complex web of process created by central government.

Recently one councillor who’d been on a council for six years told me she had only just got to the point where she understood the processes she was part of - after six years!

At that rate the poor old taxpayer is never going to understand the process.

If you take a look at the documents needed to apply for resource consent, or when residents get their rates demand they’re frequently long-winded, badly designed and almost unreadable.

The processes for decision making are being driven by staff who’ve been there for years and the decision points that councillors can make are very few and far between.

In effect, the staff put reports and recommendations before councillors at meetings and expect them to be passed and approved as a matter of right.

What I would like to see is, come election time, voters are presented with a set of books, a clear statement of the state of the infrastructure and how things are looking like three to five years ahead, and what the costs of carrying out those promises will be.

For real accountability and transparency, the political leadership need to have a vision, with staff working to that vision - and central government leaving them alone to get on with it. That is local democracy in action.

Thirdly, I want to stop all the needless red tape.

One of the country’s huge economic problems is the burden of paperwork and petty compliance demands that businesses are struggling under.

In particular it affects medium size companies with between five and twenty five staff.

They are drowning in compliance costs and usually have a full time person, or two, spending their whole time on filling out the required documents.

But of course these costs are also being imposed on our state sector organisations - in education, welfare, health and the police force.

In Britain they’ve been successfully fighting red tape for some years now and recently I spoke to the man who’s leading the fight - Sir William Sergeant.

He targeted public sector organisations and told them they had to meet a goal of reducing compliance obligations by 30 per cent.

In the British police force that’s freed up seven million hours of police time. There’s now less form filling, and more time spent on catching crims and stopping crime.

It’s a huge gain in productivity, and that’s what we can expect here if we get the same results from our attack on bureaucracy, red tape and needless compliance costs.

And here‘s the good news - the lady who led that review is now contributing to our very own Parliament. Sir William told me Jacinda Ardern was his best researcher. Jacinda is now a Labour List MP.

It’s in no political party’s interest to see time and resources wasted filling out forms.

In the health system for example I would not be surprised if we could cut the time spent on form filling by thirty percent - and that would free up more money for more operations and medical treatment for more people.

One Lower Hutt company I visited has two and a half staff out of a total of eleven working 80 per cent of their time on filling out documents required by councils. It’s killing them, and putting everyone’s job at risk.

One of those people is the manager. Another is the engineer. They produce tailor made cable cars that go up the steep cliffs to allow easy access to houses.

Having just one person doing that work, and not two and a half, would mean a huge increase in output for the firm. And there would be no less commitment to meeting safety and environmental standards.

It’s that order of magnitude, for every firm involved in similar form filling around New Zealand. But I think there’s a much wider negative impact we need to face. The impact of the increased bureaucracy in recent years is affecting our moral code as a nation.

It’s reducing our sense of personal responsibility and making people afraid of confronting officials and defying the foolish regulations.

Our kiwi can-do attitude has turned into can’t - do, because it’s too hard. You’ll get fined or your project will be stopped if you don’t do what they say, and meet the compliance demands. So you do nothing, or bow under.

The all-too common attitude is "we can’t do anything unless someone says we can, after filling out the forms in triplicate". So the government’s now looking at all ways of reducing the red tape and unnecessary cost.

We can and we will make it a whole lot easier for the construction industry as well as for people doing work around their home.

We’re looking at regulations that only start at some sort of financial threshold - say ten thousand dollar projects and up ¬- that will mean you won’t need a consent to put in a shower in, and will have less trouble with all the rules and regulations.

But responsibility for such projects should ultimately not lie with the councils, or ratepayers.

What is needed is a mechanism to put the responsibility onto the home owner, or the contractor, where it should be.

Options for making this change are now being considered. We are also looking to streamline the onerous need for consultation set out in the Local Government Act. There is too much, far too much.

These consultations processes are also often of little interest to they majority, or are hijacked by a special interest group.

I believe we should trust councillors and community board members more. They’re elected and have a mandate to make decisions. They’re in constant contact with the community.

If you’re a councillor, board member or mayor, the consultation occurs when you’re walking down the street doing you’re shopping, or through the phone calls, letters and emails you get.

Not only is all the over-consultation unnecessary, the cost is huge. So I’m looking to streamline all of that.

It’s also clear that we have ridiculous new drinking water standards that are putting a huge cost on to rural councils and therefore the communities they serve. So they’re also under review.

Now, although I’ve talked a lot about the need for change, there are councils doing great things and I commend them for what they’re achieving. In Hastings for example, CEO Lawrence Yule tells me they were having consents going in and out and having to be re-submitted up to five times because the process was so bad.

To improve it, they sat down and found a better way by picking up the missing pieces at the beginning of the process, through comprehensive pre-lodgement checks. The system’s now much better, and consents are going through faster.

Changes like that can make a big difference, and provide much better service to the public and to consent applicants. And in Invercargill, Mayor Tim Shadbolt’s done a great job in getting the necessary consents and planning done to help a large meat company set up quickly, resulting in huge numbers of jobs and a big boost to the local economy.

It’s great to hear. But why can’t every council do the same thing? I’m looking to identify best practise standards that can be established nationally.

So if any of you have examples from your council’s processes, please let me know. I’m all for innovation and new ways of doing things.

Till now there’s been too much risk-aversion, and I’d like to see people put their heads down and just go for it. However my immediate priority in regards to local government from next month will be the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance.

We have no idea what’s in its report, or what it will recommend. But the government expects to receive it by the deadline of March 31st. Once that happens, a cabinet sub committee will consider it and decide on a response.

I’m chairing that sub committee and I intend to get our response out quickly. We’ll give it full consideration but a government is not required to implement all the recommendations in a Royal Commission report.

It’s up to the government. But what is clear is there’s need for change. That is why the last government established the Royal Commission. There’s a lot at stake because Auckland has been underperforming.

It’s our biggest city / region and contributes one third to the country’s GDP. But the quality of the infrastructure is poor, and there are festering problems that are just getting worse.

Most Aucklanders do not believe they get good value for money from their rates. The current structure is clumsy, inefficient, and the existing councils are very parochial - they’re more like city states which cannot work with each other.

The councils are responsible for a billion dollars in expenditure per year, and they control 30 billion dollars worth of assets. There’s a lot of work to do to get better results for the country as well as for the people of Auckland. It’s likely that the Royal Commission’s findings may be applicable to other parts of the country, so that gives it added importance.

Thank you very much for listening and for your patience because I realise many of you will have been in local government for many years and I’m new to it.

I believe in plain speaking and saying exactly what I’m thinking. It saves time and allows for good feedback and discussion, and the testing of ideas.

People have been very kind and respectful but I welcome feedback and if you think I’m wrong in the way I see the problems and my proposals for change, please let me know. I welcome your feedback.

Thank you.

Copyright Law Must Go

Posted on 14 Mar 2009

ACT Leader Rodney Hide said today he supports repeal of controversial section 92A of the Copyright Act and will be taking a proposal to the Ministers responsible to have the law changed.

Mr Hide says, “It’s a stupid law imposed by Labour. My view is that Section 92A is fundamentally flawed because it breaches the principles of natural justice. It makes people guilty without trial, and that is wrong.”

The section requires Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to have a policy of cutting off customers accused of copyright infringement.

Mr Hide says, “A major ISP has made it clear it won’t sign up to it, and that confirms the level of opposition”. TelstraClear has announced its decision not to support the code being drawn up for the Telecommunications Carriers Forum.

“That should be the final nail in the coffin. Overseas it is up to the copyright holder to take legal action against breaching copyright, and to prove their case. That should be what happens here.” He says the law also imposes unfair and unnecessary compliance costs on ISPs at a time when businesses are under great pressure to cut costs.

Mr Hide is also Minister for Regulatory Reform, with responsibility for getting rid of redundant, ineffective and unnecessary regulations and red tape.

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