21 July 2022

Media release: Bold changes signalled for local government

Attendees of the Local Government Conference in Palmerston North were given a glimpse of the thinking into the future for local government today. The independent review panel members, Jim Palmer (chair) and Penny Hulse shared the key issues that will be included in the Panel’s draft report due for release in mid-October.

Media release: Bold changes signalled for local government

They outlined a need for major changes across local and central government but emphasised the importance of keeping the “local” in Local Government, speaking of the complexity of challenges such as climate change and the need for collaboration in order to tackle “gnarly challenges”.

“There is a need to also strengthen the role and involvement of iwi, hapū and Māori with Te Tiriti more explicitly stated within the system of Local Government,” Palmer said.

Changes to strengthen local democracy will be among the Panel’s recommendations, highlighting the need to attract and support greater diversity of representation, and to see communities play a more active role in decisions through the use of deliberative and representative democracy processes. Lowering the voting age to 16 years and a longer term were among a range of other recommendations likely to be in the draft report.

The Panel identified the need to address funding constraints with major changes considered necessary. While supporting rating as the key tool, other mechanisms including new revenue generation, Government co-investment and a war-chest for climate change were options.

The Panel were clear that there is a need to rethink the design of systems and structure. “We have heard that in order for the sector to be fit for the future we need to rethink the system and structure that supports local government.” Their draft report will propose some design principles and provide examples of models to generate discussion and feedback.

The Review comes on the heels of reforms in Three Waters and resource management but is not to be confused with a reform programme. The final report due in June 2023 will make recommendations to Government.

A workshop followed the conference presentation with other panel members, Brendan Boyle, Gael Surgenor and Antoine Coffin involved and earlier this week, the Panel attended the Te Maruata (Māori elected members) hui and hosted a workshop to discuss their thinking.

The Panel acknowledged “greenshoots” of collaboration, partnership and community innovation, and urged councils not to wait for reforms. “If we are to have thriving and prosperous communities and have a system of local governance and government that we are proud to leave as a legacy to our children and their children, then change needs to start now.”

Read Jim and Penny's full speech to the LGNZ conference here.