Tuesday, 20 March 2012

We come to praise Nick Smith. For now. [updated]

imageI never thought I’d write to praise Nick Smith rather than bury him. Neither did Liberty Scott.

But here you go.

It’s a first.

Because Nick Smith intends to muzzle councils.

Not just chronically over-spending councils haemorrhaging debt; not just over-stretched councils over-excited about meddling in other peoples’ business; not just councils flush with over-aggrandisement on truckloads of other people’s money; but all councils in the country who, he says, he intends to confine to doing only what councils should be doing.

Now if you were to list the differences between what Nick and I think councils should be doing you would have a very long list indeed.

So I hang my enthusiasm for his pronouncement not on words like “castrate,” “emasculate” and “tie up”–i.e., the sort of words I would be using as minister to describe my intentions for councils’ powers—but on the more temperate words being used like “confine,” restrict” and “roll back” (still far more energetic than anything else said by this government in its four year reign) and his stated intention to end the failed decade-long experiment of granting councils the legal “power of general competence.”

The reforms, dubbed “Better Local Government” effectively remove what has been widely known as the “power of general competence” granted to local councils in [Sandra Lee’s] 2002 reform of the Local Government Act, which made them responsible for “social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being.”
    Instead, councils will be given legal responsibility to provide “good quality local infrastructure, public services and regulatory functions at the least possible cost to households and business.”

This ill-named “power of general competence” (clearly an oxymoron when it comes to councils in any case) was always going to end badly because, as many of us said at the time, it overturned the centuries-long principle of  that citizens may do anything they like except what is explicitly prohibited by law, whereas agents of government may do only what is explicitly allowed by law.  This is what it means to have the rule of laws, not men—a principle overturned by Sandra Lee’s 2002 reforms with the resulting encroachment by cockroaches on things they should never have contemplated.

So bravo then to Nick Smith (words I never thought I’d write) for doing what urgently needed to be done, and should have been done years ago. (One still wonders why, rather than reining in every bureaucracy in the country by doing what Nick promises to do, as local government minister Rodney Hide instead committed all his energy and every part of his party’s dwindling political capital into super-sizing Auckland’s bureaucracy.  There’s a story there still to be told.)

But it’s not all good news.  The minister still talks about “super” mayors and “super” bureaucracies, twin illusions you would think the reality of Len Brown and his dysfunctional merry-makers should surely have punctured by now.

And he maintains his enthusiasm for the disaster that is the Resource Management Act, which has single-handedly reduced property rights while raising housing prices.

So something to celebrate. But it’s still early days.

PS: Feel free to let us know what Nick Smith is trying to demonstrate in the picture above. Answers on a postcard please.

UPDATE:  Yes, this is still the same old Nick Smith, of course.  A person with a fully-equipped battery of political antennae who as minister of ACC was happy to write a “reference” for a friend who just happened to be involved in a messy ACC claim—fully aware of the effect of such a letter from such a minister on those considering the claim, even though he now suggests otherwise.


  1. Regarding the quoted section:

    The Local Government Act 2002 will be amended to replace references to the ‘social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being of communities’ (the four well beings) with a new purpose for councils of ‘providing good quality local infrastructure, public services and regulatory functions at the least possible cost to households and business.’

    Imagine if central government applied that to themselves. Then, finally, we really would be getting closer to the proper role of government.

  2. "public services". Easy to use that to justify anything.

  3. We all agree that local government in New Zealand has got way out of control and is overdue for a legislative kneecapping, but this Government has done nothing that has resulted in a net increase in freedom and these changes will be no different.

  4. Why don't central govt get back to core services themselves? They prefer to cut frontline police and nurses, yet maintain a PC sexist relic like the ministry of womans affairs! Gosh, we really do need that lot now don't we!

  5. Of course we don't need either a ministry of women's' affairs nor more (or indeed any) frontline police or nurses.

    But I'd rather have MoWA - it's much, much less expensive.

    Anyone who cares about their family will have private provision for their healthcare; anyone who cares about their property will have private provision for its protection --- that's just commonsense.

  6. Anon...that's nice and I agree....but until we are allowed to keep and spend our own money on those things we are in a bind trying to make that happen...

  7. I agree some of your ideas.Good post.Keep sharing.

  8. All rather naive. I think this sums up the sheer arrogance of local council and they will get away with it too:


    "wasne natici" (The successful captcha after 4 times)

  9. Trimming down of Local government Activities to the "nuts and Bolts" of work that is highly visible (roads, rubbish, infrastructure like water and sewage management and so on), ought to mean less politicians to contemplate what when, who, and how to get these things done. I can see my rate take will definately decrese next year since the wider "four wellbeings and waterfront beautification, resurfacing of the bowling club patch, and thousands spent on feasibility studies for art in the parks, costs of propping up Art Galleries and Museum plans, are to be left to "the marketplace". Yay - a rates decrease! (Hmmm - really?) This just looks like a way to take the same amount of money from the ratepayers (which includes rent-payers), and provide more structures....whilst taking no leadership responsibilities for the health and welfare of the people in the cities that we inhabit. Oh well, I guess the community organisations who do help people - will have to source more and more funds via applications to pokie and other gambling Societies! There seems to be plenty of cash in the pot, spent by those who are addicted, those with family and generational social problems, the lonely elderly and other's feeling down on their luck. Will Council's still be the liquor liciensing authority, the granter of consents for pokie/class 4 gambling venues? If so, what responsibility do we want these elected leaders to take to consider and protect the health of the population at large? If not - how much will it cost to make all the necessary subsequent amendments to The Liquor License related Acts and the Gambling Act and other Acts of Parliament that will be affected by the changes to the LGAct? Have any of the "unintended consequences' and harmful impacts of the National Governments intentions to dump the Four Wellbeings, been thought through? People who make decisions for others without recognising their own gender strongholds and privileged positions, contribute to an unhealthy future society and bring more stress to the local ordinary folk in the community.....we have seen via Christchurch earthquake aftermath, how people take refuge in addictive behaviours when they are under stress....I think Local governments are just now getting to the place of realistically using the four wellbeings to the communities advantage. Leave it in place for another five years - then think about alterations. Jenna Nold - Tauranga.


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