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Democracy under attack in Hawke’s Bay, Nats’ vote at risk

Written By: - Date published: 8:01 am, November 27th, 2013 - 42 comments
Categories: local government - Tags:

I heard Duncan Garner on the radio the other day mocking Napierites’ opposition to being forced into a Hawke’s Bay-wide super-council. ‘Why should there be 2 mayors within 21km of each other?’ he asked. Nah. The question is: ‘why not?’ If they want to keep own having their own council, that they pay for, why should someone else get to take it away? It didn’t used to be possible. National made it possible.

See, it used to be that, if councils or the Local Government Commission (a branch of central government) got it into their heads that councils should amalgamate, then the people of each council in question got to vote and if they were opposed, their council wouldn’t be amalgamated.

In 1999, there was a vote on amalgamating Napier and Hastings Councils – Napierites voted against it, so it didn’t happen. A year later, the people of Christchurch voted against amalgamating with Banks Peninsula.

They didn’t want amalgamation. If they wanted to keep having their own council, that they paid for, then fair enough.

Until National came along and changed the law so that there isn’t an automatic referendum on mergers and communities can be forced into amalgamation with their neighbours even if they vote against it.

Delocalising local government is a big part of National’s agenda. Why? Because local governments that are actually local tend to represent local interests and that may mean that a business doesn’t get its resource consent to pollute the local river, or mine a special local place. But make those councils bigger, less local, and two things happen. First, it becomes much more expensive to run for mayor or councilor, meaning you need business donations. Second, the communities you have to represent to win become much more varied, tending towards ‘moderate’ (ie business-friendly) councils.

(You can also see this delocalising agenda in the EPA ans its ‘project of national significance’ process)

Hawke’s Bay is a great example. Urbanites tend to oppose it (they dominate in Napier whereas Hastings and Central Hawke’s Bay Councils are dominated by farming interests), as do many down-stream farmers in Napier Council area. Currently, those opponents have a voice. A single council for the whole of Hawke’s Bay will be dominated by the rural interests.

The usual bullshit, unevidenced arguments about having ‘one voice’ and ‘stronger growth’ with a single super-council. The truth is, it’s about weakening local democracy in favour of dominate business interests. In Hawke’s Bay, that’s farming interests.

But it’s not just Napierites who oppose amalgamation. All the region’s mayors, except Hastings’ Lawrence Yule, are opposed.

Now, Garner says ‘look at the Auckland Supercity, nobody would want to go back to what we had before’. Hmm, ask the people of Papakura, Franklin, and Rodney about that. They used to have their own councils, representing their own interests. The new council just sees them as hinterland for the city to sprawl into… when it remembers them at all.

Labour’s Stuart Nash is already running a strong campaign against amalgamation in Napier. The vote is going to happen late next year, right on top of the general election. National could find itself losing not just the Napier electorate seat but a lot of crucial party votes throughout the region if it insists on forcing the councils to merge even if it isn’t supported by the people of each council.

Will National really be so stupid to gift all those votes to Labour?

I reckon they might.


42 comments on “Democracy under attack in Hawke’s Bay, Nats’ vote at risk”

  1. Molly 1

    Agree with your take on the political reasons.

    Joel Cayford, a planning lecturer/consultant in Auckland recently posted on the financial costs of amalgamation, – including a reference to a University of Auckland study in 2003. Worth the read.

    • karol 1.1

      Thanks for the link, Molly.


      I quietly cheered when David Wilson argued that there was little being done by Auckland Council about social development, and a lot for economic development – this was in the context of comments about ATEED.

      And the economic development has not done anything much for those on low incomes.

      We increasingly have an Auckland with the well off in the central areas, with easiest access to a lot of the cultural and social facilities. meanwhile the less well off are increasingly relegated to the margins of the city, with all the extra costs and hassles of an inadequate (public) transport system.

      With some exceptions re the development of hubs in places like New Lynn, Mangere, etc, the supershitty has result in increasing centralisation, and accompanying diminished of local consultation and democracy.

  2. Te Reo Putake 2

    Driving around the bay last week it was heartening to see all the Nash/no to amalgamation hoardings up. In effect, the Nats have given Labour an extra nine months of campaigning and a solid issue to campaign on. No wonder Tremain jumped; better a retirement with some dignity than being turfed out.

    • alwyn 2.1

      No, No. You must not say that Nash is campaigning with his signs.
      There was a story in the Dom/Post yesterday which included the fact that there were complaints about the signs because he did not have a resource consent.
      Nash said, in the story, that he denied he was electioneering and believed the complaints were politically motivated. The latter part is very likely true. If you believe the bit that he was not electioneering I have a bridge that I can sell you.
      Still we must believe him of course and you must not suggest the alternative. That would be to imply the Nash was a liar, wouldn’t it?

  3. Phil 3

    Don’t forget about the recent rejection by the locals of amalgamation in the Nelson /Tasman district. In spite of Nick Smith’s support and a right wing business mayor, Demecio.

    • JK 3.1

      Phil – can you give me some links please to info about the rejection by locals in Nelson/Tasman of amalgamation : we need that sort of info up here in the north, where we also are facing forced amalgamation of a huge geographic district of four councils.

  4. Sanctuary 4

    Even that half wit over in Hastings Lawrence Yule has declared himself “dismayed” at the proposal for just ten members for the new council. He wanted at least 16-18. What a dupe he is.

    Only a bunch of centralised bureaucrats (and ignorant morons like Garner with their usual contempt of history) would dream of amalgamating Napier and Hastings. the two cities have a mutual antipathy that stretches way back past the resentment Hasting felt when the Labour goverrnment paid off the crippling earthquake related debts of (the Labour seat) Napier, while leaving the National seat of Hastings to pay it’s debts to Napiers belief Hasting deliberately stabbed them in the back when Napier hospital was closed. The two cities have distinct cultures. As a member of long standing Napier family I can vouch that a proposal for a forced amalgamation will be fought tooth and nail all the way. The current mayor of Napier, Bill Dalton, was an obscure light blue stockbroker who won almost solely on a strong anti-amalgamation platform. National has gifted Napier to Labour over this issue, mark my words.

    • alwyn 4.1

      “Mutual Antipathy”. Yes that is, if anything, an understatement. I also come from Napier and the dislike of one city for the other had to be seen to be believed.
      When the Rugby Union concentrated, back in the ’50s, on McLean Park in Napier Hastings developed an alternative ground and demanded half the games. At one point when the Airport was being developed on almost useless land at Westshore Hastings was demanding that it be sited halfway between the cities. This was going to be at Pakowhai, on what is probably the richest horticultural land in New Zealand. When they settled on a single hospital at Hastings the screams in a scorned Napier had to be seen to be believed.
      At the moment, of course Hastings is slightly bigger and would be dominant. The chances of an amicable merger are nil.
      I wouldn’t bet on National necessarily going ahead with the merger of course, so the gifting to Labour may not happen.

      • Sanctuary 4.1.1

        To add – back in the sixties, Hawke’s Bay was offered the chance to build a university. The site now occupied by EIT was meant to be the compromise location, but Hastings reneged on the deal and pushed for a site in Hastings. The result was Palmerston North’s Massey was developed into a university instead.

        Hasting people are like Orcs – not a good one amongst them.

  5. Lanthanide 5

    Yes, in 1999 there was a vote and the outcome was not to merge the CHCH and Banks Peninsula Councils.

    But it happened in 2006 anyway. I’ve just done a brief bit of googling and can’t find anything authoritative, but my BF said that effectively the Banks Peninsula Council voted themselves out of existence, forcing the CHCH council to take on administration of the area.

    Glad to hear if anyone has more information on what actually happened in 2006 (March 6, if anyone is looking to google).

  6. Colonial Viper 6

    Auckland used to have a stack of mayors within a 21km radius. Wellington still does. What is Garner talking about?

    • ghostwhowalksnz 6.1

      It is only 15km from Carterton to Masterton.

      Two mayors there too !

      As usual Garner is just spouting nonsense

      • RedLogix 6.1.1

        Yeah .. and it’s about time Carterton paid for and ran it’s own train into Wellington eh?

        The entire Wairarapa barely has 44,000 people … 10,000 households. They should have merged into a single Council back in the last round of amalgamation 25 years ago.

        I’ve no problem with each town in the region having it’s own democratic entity to represent it’s interests, but the idea that 10,000 households can effectively pay for all the modern local govt functions required in this day and age … across such a very large land area … is nuts.

        • Francis

          It’s up to the residents of the towns involved. If they’re willing to pay the little bit extra to have a smaller area of governance, so be it. Not like we loose anything through them doing so.

    • Tracey 6.2


      Super cities make it easier for government and their CCO appointed patsies to ram through economic advantages for the few…

      So much for central government wanting local government to do its thing and let them do theirs.

  7. Tiger Mountain 7

    Far North could also go the amalgamation rejection way if the available binding referendum is requested by voters and held. Arch capitalist developer and two term, now ex Mayor Wayne Brown turned a long running feud with the Northland Regional Council into a pet plan for two Northland Unitary Authorities. One Brown to rule them all so to speak. Except he got far more than his parochialism desired.

    The local government commission preferred recommendation was for one authority uniting four district councils including in debt Kaipara into one UA for whole of Northland, HQ in Whangarei, while acknowledging other options such as ‘enhanced status quo’. A good kick in the nuts for certain torys hopefully.

  8. vto 8

    Localising democracy is certainly better for the people and worse for business. The fascists are so transparent.

    The problem with small Councils (Banks Peninsula as it was, Westland, for example) is they simply struggle with resources to attend to the huge swathe of obligations that get dumped on them by central government. For example, court action over large scale resource consents – it is ridiculous to expect a few hundred people who pay the rates to underwrite these sorts of obligations.

    There must be a way of maintaining the absolutely essential democratic representation and separate Councils, while combining resources to attend to various of those ridiculous obligations, such as doggie control and chipping, processing of various resource, building etc consents, roading and sewer and other infrastructure.

    But whatever is done, it is most important that one does not listen to the vested interests, such as the National Party. They will lie and distort to achieve their political purposes, which is entirely different to what is in the best interests of the community and the people.

    • RedLogix 8.1

      +1 vto.

      The problem with small Councils (Banks Peninsula as it was, Westland, for example) is they simply struggle with resources to attend to the huge swathe of obligations that get dumped on them by central government.

      Absolutely. And a lot of these obligations are important, someone has to do them. If they were not being done by a local organisation they would be subsumed back into central govt one way or another. Which do you think people would prefer?

      But crucially these small councils struggle to attract and retain the specialist capabilities and caliber of people they really need to function well.

      There must be a way of maintaining the absolutely essential democratic representation and separate Councils, while combining resources to attend to various of those ridiculous obligations, such as doggie control and chipping, processing of various resource, building etc consents, roading and sewer and other infrastructure.

      Infrastructure such as water, public transport, waste management, pest control (the possums really don’t care whose podunk borough they’re in), environmental management … are essentially regional functions. These are not activities that typically impact local democracy all that much and are far more effectively undertaken by large scale organisations.

      We already have them … they are called Regional Councils.

      At the same time there is every reason to retain local democracy at whatever scale people want. I don’t care if it’s right down to a micro-scale at a suburb or even street level. That’s the level where people understand and care about issues that impact them personally. All politics is essentially local.

      We already have these … the are variously called Councils and Wards.

      The core reason why all this is a fuckup is that we have failed to separate out the two groups of functions properly and allocated the correct responsibilities and authorities to each. Specifically we totally fail to intelligently integrate the activities of Central, Regional and Local government … instead they fight like dogs over scraps of bloody meat.

      Personally I’d like to see some significant element of indirect election, from layer to layer. For instance 50% of the Regional Council gets elected by Local Council members … and radically … 50% of Parliament is elected out of the Regional Councils.

  9. Rich 9

    Why should there be 2 mayors within 21km of each other?

    Because there are two cities 21km apart?

    NZ is quite a small place. If all we cared about was financial efficiency, we could abolish local government and have a Ministry of Local Services to do everything. It’d administer less people than many world cities.

    The reason we have local government is that people don’t want that – they want to have control over local issues at a local level.

    • Colonial Viper 9.1

      “financial efficiency” = lost jobs, lost wages

      • Tracey 9.1.1

        A. “financial efficiency” = slogan
        B..redistribution of ratepayers money to small number of corporate entities including the entity paid a million bucks to outline the financial efficiencies = outcome

        By the time the public realise B, they have already approved (or had imposed) A.

    • gobsmacked 9.2

      ‘Why should there be 2 mayors within 21km of each other?’

      Duncan Garner translated: “I know absolutely nothing about the world. I have never heard of the hundreds of examples of this, in dozens of countries. I know about Me, Me and Me. Anywhere else on the planet – don’t know, don’t give a shit”.

      It is spectacular ignorance, a joke if it was a talkback caller or internet ranter, but … from a “current affairs host”? A former “political editor”? Stupidity squared.

      • Tracey 9.2.1

        Duncan garner translated

        I think it’s a great idea and even though I don’t live there, never have and never will, I will make stuff up to make it seem I have based my view on something real.

    • repateet 9.3

      Yes, get rid of local government. Then the logical conclusion of the bullshit cry I’ve heard here in Northland, to the same one this morning from Hawke’s Bay about a ‘single voice’ will be achieved.

      They want a single voice. The single voice of John Key having listened to the Bill English and Steven Joyce voices in the ear.

      We’ve had the single voice of National MPs in Northland for eternity and been treated like crap.

  10. Rogue Trooper 10

    hmmm, a storm is brewing. As Sanctuary alludes, the character of the two main cities contrast, hence why as a person raised in Napier until the age of 20, I returned at 38 to settle in Hastings. While I would rather live rurally (no car though) the choice of Hastings is a pragmatic one; all essential services well-provided (sans RWSS), and Hastings will receive cases of windfalls from amalgamation.

  11. ghostrider888 11

    As Devil’s Advocate, let them tear the tar out of each other, can only benefit the flowing of Red.

  12. Crunchtime 12


  13. Paul 13

    This was on radio this morning, with the RNZ presenters clearly favouring the pro-merger argument.

  14. adam 14

    Ask anybody in west Auckland and they will give you at least 2 reasons why the super city is crap. Most will probably give you more – Duncan lives in lala land – ohhh forgot he works for media works so he’s a complete self absorbed bugger is our Duncan.

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