The wrong decision

September 7th, 2012 at 1:26 pm by David Farrar

The Government has announced:

Commissioners will continue to govern Environment Canterbury after the 2013 local authority elections, Local Government Minister David Carter and Environment Minister Amy Adams announced today.

“In the interests of Canterbury’s progress, and to protect the gains the Commissioners have made, the Government has decided the best option is to continue with the current governance arrangement,” Mr Carter said.

A Bill amending the Environment Canterbury (Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water Management) Act 2010, to extend Commissioner governance until the 2016 local authority elections, with a ministerial review in 2014, will be tabled in Parliament today.

This is the wrong decision, in my opinion. I do not believe “They are doing a good job” is adequate justification for treating Canterbury different to the rest of NZ, and carrying on with appointed Commissioners.

My views are:

  • The original decision to sack the Environment Canterbury Council was absolutely justified, and necessary. The Council had proven incompetent over many years, and it is to the Govt’s credit they had the balls to step in. A very unhealthy culture had led to a dysfunctional Council with both governance and staff issues.
  • The Commissioners have done a very good job. They have made more progress in a couple of years than the elected Council had in a decade. They have worked really well at balancing the interests of competing stakeholders in a fair way.
  • However that is not a good enough reason to not have the elections, as originally promised in late 2013. The Commissioners work in changing the culture and the processes should allow a new elected Council to carry on their work.
  • If the Government was looking at a restructure of regional and district councils, then that would be an acceptable reason not to have elections for a body which might disappear or be merged in the near future. But this has not been cited as a reason.
  • The Canterbury earthquakes do absolutely mean that you have had to make some decisions more centrally. CERA and the CCDU have done overall very good jobs in restoring Christchurch. There is no way the Christchurch City Council could possibly have done it by themselves.
  • However ECan was sacked because they were incompetent, not because of the earthquake. And their responsibilities do not have, as far as I can see, much bearing on the rebuilding of Christchurch.

Ultimately the decision made by Government seems to be based on “The Commissioners are doing a better job than what a new elected Council may do”. Now this may be right, but it is not a reason to not have elections. If you appointed me Commissioner of Wellington City Council, I reckon I’d do a better job than the elected Council. But that is not a reason to not have WCC elections.

If the Government wants to propose no regional council elections at all, and that all regional councils should be appointed (either by Government or territorial authorities), then that is a debate you can have. For example, I do not believe DHBs should be elected as they dilute accountability of central Government.

But I do not see any principled reason to continue with appointed Commissioners in Canterbury. The earthquake is a red herring when it comes to the regional council.

The Government did the right thing in sacking the Council and appointing Commissioners. They have done a very good job. But they made a pledge to bring back an elected Council by end of 2013, and they should honour that pledge. The case for change has not been made.

Incidentally I wonder if has the numbers to pass their proposed bill in the House. I would not take for granted that ACT and United Future would vote for it.

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26 Responses to “The wrong decision”

  1. slightlyright (93 comments) says:

    If anything prehaps it is a model for other councils to follow the ECAN lead, Otago being a case in point of Regional Councils being little more than empire building elephants, driven by CEO’s (Otagos 20 years!) who have a good time on the public’s dollar, Environment South to its credit has done an okay job of keeping a very limited focus (despite Tim’s howls for money) but when one looks at these things do they really justify a 12 plus person council why no a mix of appointments and elections (max 6) and bringing in professional independent commissioners for consent hearings! (guarantee that would have a positive impact on the appeal rate.

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  2. MH (668 comments) says:

    In a big in house shake up in the Mana Party Hone has decided not to seek ownership of the tremors. Where is the Chch Maori equivalent of the Auckland Council in all this? Are there no carpetbaggers prepared to go South anymore?

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  3. scrubone (3,074 comments) says:

    Seems like they were unwilling to change the status quo. That’s a concern really.

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  4. IHStewart (388 comments) says:

    It is an appalling decision. Perhaps one of the lawyers who frequent this blog could tell us if the people of Christchurch have any legal remedy available to challenge the ” now ” dictatorship inflicted on them.

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  5. Goon (13 comments) says:

    Bollocks – it is the right decision. Since the comissioners have been appointed more progress has been made (at least in terms of water) than during the previous 10-15 years.

    The ‘EPA’ mode works much better having people appointed for their particular skills rather than prerequisites of being loudmouth, opinionated and self-serving as seemed to be the main attributes of previous elected representatives. In my opinion this model or some variant should be adopted (either all appointed comissioners or a mix of appointed and political numpties) for all Regional Councils. Fine to have muppets deciding how often busses should run or what day the rubbish is picked up at TA’s but for many issues regional councils deal with you need at least a modicum of intellegence which, having worked in and around RC’s for 20 years, is not one of the major attributes of elected councillors (there are exceptions of course). All too often their decision making is based on preconceptions or whatever will get them re-elected again rather than on the relative merits of any particular issue.

    So yeah….while democracy is all nice and aspirational, it doesn’t always work best in practice……although to be fair, the action taken at ECan certainly made a number of other RC’s pull heads in and make much more effort to sort their shit out

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  6. barry (1,317 comments) says:

    Complete crap.

    The commissioners have done a very good job and based on that performance in any other situation of course youd keep them on.

    Canterbury has shown in recent years that they very often leave common sense outside the room when they have meeting. The CCC is a mess and doenst know what to do next, the peter Ellis case demonstrated just how much lunacy is just below the surface and the previous performance of EC was just appalling. The endless mouting on about the Cathedral show even again that common sense is seriously lacking.
    Who in their right mind thinks they would do any better next time around. The same people with all the old ‘old boy connections’ and vested interests would fuck it all up again.

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  7. backster (2,105 comments) says:

    I also think the Ecan example should be emulated for all the other so called democratic bureaucracies throughout the country. The Local Body elections are little more than a farce as inept people try to reach agreement of resolving issues that few of them understand.

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  8. flipper (3,751 comments) says:

    If the Government is right then that is a bloody good reason to get rid of 99% of the hundreds of idiotic “local Government” entities. They have become a cancer that is eating the heart out of productive New Zealand. We are a nation of 4.4 million – not 44million or more million!

    Ergo, I think you are wrong DPF.

    You have taken the announcement at face value.

    What is really being said is that Local Government per se NZ is a disaster, and it is better to leave it in the hands of “qualified ” appointees (apart, that is, from the ex Psych nurse, who gets appointments only because she retains her dictatorial “nurse knows best” attitude) rather than risk red mellon idiots. Just look at Wellington.

    Moreover, look north for confirmation – Kapiti using trash to claim 1800 houses will be inundated, Horizons killing off farming and silly red len trying to get his 30 year unitary plan exempted from legal challenge. One could go on!.

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  9. flipper (3,751 comments) says:

    Transpose per se and NZ in above, please

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  10. inanga (1 comment) says:

    Who needs a democracy when we have a nice small number of helpful people in charge in Chch?
    How many more elements of democracy there need to be removed before it is truly a full Marshall law?

    The present commissioners have done a good job, and presumably created a period of stability for the staff to get beyond the stalemates they had before. But for how much longer will it be convenient to run Canterbury as a fiefdom? and how tempting is it to keep it this way, with limited rights of appeal on resource consents for water, when there are so many more farms that need to be irrigated?
    At what point will people realise that power corrupts and absolute power does so absolutely? Annoying as democracy is, it does provide checks and balances, and a variety of points of view. This is not a step in the right direction.

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  11. GPids (18 comments) says:

    I suspect the decision may be due to ECan’s Land and Water Plan recently being notified and the various deadlines around getting that in place and the desire not to be faced with any delays that could result from councillors potentially bickering with each other.

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  12. Richard Hurst (774 comments) says:

    By 2016 most if not all of the pompous wind bags, busy bodies, nutters and incompetent gravy train porkers that made up the former EC Council will have been out of the picture for too long to stand again. A fresh start free of them can then be made. That is the reason why the current arrangement will continue till then. And of course the commissioners are doing a good job. (compared to the former councilors anyway)

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  13. Luke Mutton (247 comments) says:

    Yes, the commissioners have done a “good job”, but only, and I repeat only, because when the government appointed the commissioners they ALSO made other law changes that made the job far easier, changes the ECAN had requested but were denied.

    The word “dysfunctional” is often bandied about by those who wanted ECAN out of their way, but ECAN, just like any other authority, can only be as functional as the law allows.

    And mark my words – this is the first step in the takeover of Selwyn and Waimakariri by the Christchurch city council. Key will give it to them. Sideshow Bob wants it because Christchurch is bleeding ratepayers to Selwyn ans Waimakariri, but I do not see any advantages to the residents of Rangiora, Ashley, Cust, Oxford, Darfield, Woodend etc. They will be net losers.

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  14. PaulL (5,964 comments) says:

    Agree DPF – the quality of those voted in is not an argument to get rid of elections. It’s an argument for better people to stand, and for better campaigns to allow people to make sensible choices, and more than all that for sensible people to get off their arse and vote.

    I’d say there is a strong argument that the National party are doing a better job in central govt than Labour look to be capable of – they can’t even organise their own party let alone a whole country. Ergo, it could make sense to just skip the next National election, there seems no particular reason to have it. Same logic, why isn’t that also an OK decision?

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  15. Pongo (371 comments) says:

    It’s a complete transformation in performance and it is incredible the difference commissioners have made. I reckon they should role out the model nationwide.

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  16. MT_Tinman (3,033 comments) says:

    Fantastic decision that will see Canterbury continue to move ahead of all the other joke-led outfits.

    The new Canterbury model resembles, closely, the Pom model where councils are controlled by the Government hold the purse strings.

    Long may it continue!

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  17. MT_Tinman (3,033 comments) says:

    PaulL (4,776) Says:
    September 7th, 2012 at 5:53 pm
    Agree DPF – the quality of those voted in is not an argument to get rid of elections.

    Actually, yes, it is.

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  18. hj (6,602 comments) says:

    The problem is that opposing anti irrigation groups lacked a holistic approach being liberal towards government spending and population growth, and opposing irrigation when dairying is our best shot.

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  19. hj (6,602 comments) says:

    Wait till they nobble town planners and the RMA so the little people don’t get in the way of developers.

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  20. PaulL (5,964 comments) says:

    hj: I’d love that. I was looking at buying some land down south. 100 acres. But apparently it wouldn’t come with a right to build a house on it – that would need resource consent, and apparently they mostly get blocked in that particular location. Seems crazy to me – cannot build one house on 100 acres. Not like we’re talking high density living here. So yes, the RMA needs some reform.

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  21. hj (6,602 comments) says:

    So yes, the RMA needs some reform.

    Just as long as it isn’t all in one direction.

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  22. RF (1,318 comments) says:

    Sorry DPF but we need to keep some sanity in place rather than troughers. Dame Margaret and her team are right on the ball.

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  23. somewhatthoughtful (455 comments) says:

    Bahaha, the authoritarian right shows its true colours!

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  24. GJKiwi (179 comments) says:

    to RF, MT_Tinman. You obviously missed your history lessons. Let us remove one pillar of democracy at a time. That is what dictators the world over do. Yes, sometimes countries function better under dictatorships in some ways, but at what cost. One of the main reasons that ECan failed to meet its targets under the RMA was because of the very effective opposition to many resource requests. Not everybody wanted to let farmers drain the North Canterbury rivers to produce white gold. So, David Carter and his vested interests in North Canterbury can now ride roughshod over our rights to make our own decisions, and elect our own officials. You wait until they take away your rights. Oh, let’s see, let’s remove the right to free education and free health care. And RF, who said that David Caygill and Maggie Bazley aren’t eating from the trough? And what about David Carter and his family’s farming interests in North Canterbury? Aren’t they slurping from the trough as well?

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  25. Paulus (2,540 comments) says:

    Sounds like a good decision – to allow the left Greenies back into the picture seems daft as the Commissioner are doing a good job which is not yet finished.
    Compare what they have achieved, over the previous 16 years of obfuscation and Greenpeace crap, doing nothing for New Zealand.
    Governments Govern – we only hear where they should do blah blah blah – here they have actually done something positive.

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  26. somewhatthoughtful (455 comments) says:

    Paulus, if you want to live in a dictatorship fuck off and move to one.

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