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.