Editorial note: Local government in New Zealand exists within a fairly well-defined narrative. New Zealand is the most centralised nation within the OECD. Central government is by far the dominant partner in the central-local relationship and recent innovations in local government have tended towards further centralisation, such as the amalgamation into Auckland’s Super-City.
While there is, without doubt, some truth to this narrative, it is only part of the story and there is more that needs to be discussed in terms of local government and its role.
This includes recognising the genuinely innovative approaches that can be found in just about every local authority in the country, often at the community level and frequently undertaken without any great public acclaim. More thought needs to be given to the legal and constitutional foundations of local government, along with the normative debate as to what the ideal balance between central and local should be. And more attention needs to be paid to the way in which engagement and participation is fostered in local areas so that any lessons learned can be applied nationally.
Consequently we are delighted to publish this Special Issue of Policy Quarterly which addresses these issues and many more.
IGPS has long had an interest in local government. In 2015 it launched its ‘National Dialogue’ on local and community governance, which not only collected the thoughts of many of the leading commentators in the field, but also collated the latest research from around the world. We were also delighted to welcome international experts such as Tina Nabatchi and Liz Richardson to Wellington and Auckland. Promoting research and stimulating informed debate about local government is also a priority for Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ). Although local government has been providing essential public services in New Zealand for the last 175 years it is still poorly understood. This issue is a step towards filling this gap and LGNZ is pleased to acknowledge the IGPS for taking the initiative.
This issue of Policy Quarterly, therefore, reflects a long standing commitment to promoting debate and research into New Zealand local government, and we believe that the breadth and depth of the articles here offer a vital window into debates old and new.
Mike Reid’s paper on turnout which incorporates data from the recent 2016 local authority elections, is the first of a suite of papers concerned with the nature and quality of our local democracy and opportunities for participation. Following this theme Christine Cheyne addresses the possible use of e-voting; charting the discussions so far, the risks involved and what the future might hold for this form of electoral participation. Further, Jean Drage offers us a compelling argument on the Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Bill (No 2) and argues that the huge number of responses to it demonstrates that “local government’s time has come”.
Jenny Ombler, Marie Russell, and Graciela Rivera-Muñoz outline some fascinating New Zealand cases of participation not only being encouraged, but succeeding in producing a number of benefits both intended and unforeseen, while Chris Berry looks at the impact of referenda on our colleagues in Western Australia.
A number of papers examine the issue of subnational governance starting with Peter McKinlay’s introduction to the concept of community governance and discussion on some of the innovations in engagement that exist below the local level. This is followed by a paper from Jason Krupp which offers us a broader view and looks at constitutional and contractual resolutions to central-local relations, looking to see in what ways each approach could benefit the power and autonomy of local councils. On the question of how cities are governed and perform, Richard Norman addresses the evolution of Wellington over the last three decades, both in terms of its growth into digital and cultural markets but also the way in which it has been driven by New Public Management sensibilities. Grant Duncan then looks at Auckland and asks whether it is too big to fail; he asks whether or not it represents an apex in centralising forces, or whether there is still some further distance to go.
We also offer a number of papers on urbanisation and infrastructure. Frances Sullivan looks at the risks associated with infrastructure in New Zealand and offers some thoughts on strategic risk management that could be used to mitigate against them. Matt Adams and Ralph Chapman investigate the links between infrastructure costs and urban density, concluding that denser, more compact areas show in cost-efficiencies in roads and water supply. Sir Geoffrey Palmer looks at the Resource Management Act. Interestingly he lays blame for its perceived failures at the doors of both central and local governments and finishes with an important contribution on the subject of local government’s (lack of) constitutional status. Finally, the question of how infrastructure and local government as a whole should be funded is addressed in Claudia Scott’s paper on local government funding, which highlights the importance of providing councils with additional revenue options to incentivise growth.
Taken together we hope that these articles provide a stimulating set of discussions that cut to the heart of many debates happening right now in the local government sector. We also hope, more importantly, that they will provide a firm foundation upon which we can build. In a time of great uncertainty for the future of global democracy, we believe that many great ideas can be found at the local level
NB: This link is to the entire issue of Policy Quarterly November 2016. Individual articles will be posted progressively.