Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ), an organisation that purportedly represents the interests of local authorities (and by extension local communities), appears to have changed its prime allegiance from local authorities to central government.
The LGNZ website claims it provides the vision and voice for local democracy. But there is evidence in several areas, most starkly highlighted in the Three Waters fiasco, that this is not the case. Last year, LGNZ signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Government to support, endorse and promote the Three Waters Reform Programme, including a promise to not directly oppose making the reforms mandatory. This is despite most councils vociferously rejecting the Government’s Water Services Entities proposals.
The LGNZ mission statement includes advocating on behalf of their members, and in this case they have not done so. Susan Freeman-Greene, the chief executive of LGNZ says: "That's created some strained relationships with some of our councils who are opposed to the reform and haven't been happy with our approach”.
Has LGNZ been ‘bought’?
LGNZ is funded primarily by council membership fees (therefore by ratepayers) and now increasingly by central government - the LGNZ 21/22 Annual Report notes that $2.2 million of the organisations $9.9 million in income for the year was derived from the Department of Internal Affairs for Three Waters-related work.
LGNZ promotes Māori as the “traditional governors” of New Zealand
Three Waters reform is not the only area where LGNZ actively promotes central government policies. Our newly elected councils have been instructed by LGNZ that iwi and hapū are more than just stakeholders. In its August 2022 guide to councillors, LGNZ promotes the radical notion that iwi and hapū have inherited authority, stating that:
“Iwi and Hapū have a mandate based on their role as the indigenous governors of the land. This is quite different from the ‘stakeholder’ status given to many local organisations kaunihera (council) works with.”
“It is incumbent on local authorities to work with relevant iwi and hapū to determine how best to recognise their status”.
The LGNZ guide also suggests other initiatives that can be included in standing orders to recognise the mandate of mana whenua, such as inviting mana whenua organisations to appoint representatives on kaunihera (council) committees and working parties. (p.7).
Revealingly, LGNZ is strongly supportive of the Review into the Future for Local Government recently released report (see DA newsletter article – ‘A recipe for ‘differentiated citizenship’), saying that many of the recommendations put forward by LGNZ in their submission on the future for local government have been included in the draft report. For instance, the LGNZ submission includes the following passages:
“LGNZ supports a shift to a system of local government that gives effect to the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi – a shift we’re expecting through the Three Waters and Resource Management reforms. The Future for Local Government Review is an opportunity to design and legislate a Treaty partnership that enables tino rangatiratanga and co-governance”.
“Māori ward seats alone aren’t sufficient to enable self-determination, shared authority, and prosperity. Regardless of the models or structures adopted, it is crucial that mana whenua themselves can determine the type of representation and role they desire”.
(LGNZ strongly advocated for the removal of the democratic right of citizens to petition for a binding elector poll to either establish or disestablish Māori wards. This law change came into force last year).
What you can do
Ask your mayor and ward councillor/s for their opinion on the anti-democratic recommendations made in the August 2022 guide to LGNZ standing orders, particularly that iwi and hapū have a mandate based on their role as the indigenous governors of the land, and that it is incumbent on local authorities to work with relevant iwi and hapū to determine how best to recognise their status.
LGNZ has to go! If you agree that LGNZ is no longer championing local democracy and is not working in the best interests of local communities, ask your ward councillor and your mayor to advocate for the council to withdraw its membership from the organisation.