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Is democracy departing New Zealand?

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We often focus on issues of freedom of speech and democracy in communities elsewhere in the world but what happens when there is a real threat to democracy in your own country?

The Auckland region comprises 1.4M people, one third of NZ's population and much diversity - Maori, Caucasians, Pacific Islanders, Chinese, South Africans, Iranians, Indians etc etc. Most people live in the metropolitan part of the region, but a large area is rural. There are huge tracts of estuaries and coastline which suport very small communities.

In New Zealand we take freedom of speech, democracy and interacting with our government leaders for granted. Indeed, former Prime Minister Helen Clark and present Prime Minister, John Key are known for their friendly personalities which enable to talk and interact with everyday people at community halls, agricultural expos and a range of other places and events.

However, the abiilty for people from Auckland to have a voice on planning and issues affecting their neighbourhoods is about to be silenced. The national government is proposing to reform Auckland's local government, abolishing the existing 7 local councils (each with their own local elected representatives) and creating one Auckland council with 23 elected representatives to plan and govern all the communities. i.e 23 councillors for 1.4 million people!

A Royal Commission which provided recommendations to the NZ government has vitually been ignored. A key recommendation from the Commission was for three Maori (NZ's indigenous people) representatives and this has been deleted from the Government's proposal.

Legislation is being drafted to be in place by the elections in October 2010. At this stage, the legislation will essentially reduce the power of communities by reducing their opportunities to direct their own planning and development. No doubt if this is implemented in Auckland a similar model will be rolled out all over New Zealand.

If you are interested in reading more go to www.royalcommission.govt.nz or email me!

Comments

aliĝngix's picture

Hmm...

What is the currant action on this? I don't like it any more than you do, especially if they start excluded certain peoples.
Thanks for sharing information. I can understand having a focused opion, but you need to the people's thoughts to fully work with them to plan everything out.

suzanne's picture

Democracy in NZ

I'm sorry for the very late reply but this issue is totally consuming. There have been marches in Auckland on this matter with the most recent being a hikoi from east, west, north and south meeting at the bottom of Queen Street and marching up Queen Street to the Auckland City government offices and Aotea Square. I took part with Maori and one other councillor from our district. It was a very positive and peaceful protest with speeches and bands afterwards (Smashmouth, Herbs, Sons of Zion and King Kapisi).
One piece of legislation has already been rushed through parliament under urgency, allowing a transition board to oversee the existing councils for the next year. The next piece of legislation will set up the ward areas and structure of the new supercouncil with local boards. Only two weeks is available for submissions to the select commitee - normally at least 4 weeks. A poll across Auckland has shown that most people are very unhappy with the rushed decision-making on this and they do not want the supercity.
However, change is needed and combining some of the metro councils into one may be sensible but it is the next tier of community representation that needs to be well-thought out.
Otherwise I fear NZers will have less and less say about what happens to them at a local level. This change in local government, was applied to Auckland will no doubt be rolled out across NZ. NZers by nature will not accept this without a fight, although I fear they may leave their fight too late with the typical "she'll be right, mate" attitude.

JaniceW's picture

Thank you for sharing this

Suzanne, this is alarming and surprising news to me. I have always held NZ in high esteem for its respect for the voices of its people so it is distressing to hear that they are assuming that one council can possibly speak for all the districts in Auckland with its great diversity. Having lived in New York, I do not feel that numbers alone discount this as a viable solution (23 councillors for 1.4 million people) but it is the fact that the Maori people will no longer have a determined number of representatives on the council and that recommendations by the Royal Commission are being ignored that disturb me. In so many other countries, we have seen that where indigenous people lose their voice, they increasingly become marginalized. I am hoping that Aucklanders will see the folly of this decision and will rise up in vast numbers to protest this proposal, as the decision will directly impact their future and ability to have their voices heard. Keep us posted.....

suzanne's picture

Democracy in NZ

Thanks Janice, and sorry for the late reply. As councillors we are heavily involved in this issue especially as our district is trying to form a model for the rural component of the Auckland region. I agree that numbers are not the key issue but in NZ I think we still very much operate on a face to face, hands on approach to things and people struggle with being distanced from proposals for change. This has been demonstrated by the feeling about the last government which was that we were becoming a "nanny state". You are quite right about the Maori representation. We cannot move forward as a nation if Maori are not formally recognised by Maori seats at the national and local levels. It is clearly part of the the Treaty of Waitangi that NZ should be governed equally by Maori and the Crown. Many Nzers still don't understand this concept or choose not to because they are fearful of it. Surely it can only make us a better nation if we take this step?

PS The more I read World Pulse and people's many views and life stories the more I LOVE this site and it really inspires me to implement some of the actions that I have thought about over the years. What an amazing community we have here!

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