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Dr Muriel Newman

Local Government Activism

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There is growing concern that local government is becoming more ‘activist’. Unfortunately ratepayers are not at the heart of their motivations. Before looking at examples, let’s examine how the new Labour-led Government is dealing with some of the constraints being faced by local authorities.

Local government has long complained about a lack of funding – it’s their eternal lament. Instead of learning to live within their means, they claim that rates are no longer sufficient to cover their ever expanding operations, so they want (they say, need) access to new funding streams.

Many ratepayers are far from sympathetic. They see wasteful spending and vanity projects taking precedence over expenditure on core council services and essential local infrastructure.

In their Coalition Agreement with Labour, New Zealand First promised to address this issue through an inquiry “to investigate the drivers of local government costs and its revenue base”.

The Minister for Local Government, Nania Mahuta, announced the inquiry in May, saying that the Productivity Commission would be undertaking the review: “Local government is facing increasing costs for things like three waters, roading, housing, and tourism infrastructure as well as adapting to climate change. And some of the councils facing the biggest cost increases also have shrinking rating bases. Rates are rising faster than incomes so simply raising rates is not the solution. The Government is asking the Productivity Commission to look at how local government can fund its activities most effectively and fairly.”

The Productivity Commission has explained that the inquiry will examine the adequacy and efficiency of existing local government funding and financing frameworks to ascertain whether additional revenue-raising tools are needed. The Terms of Reference are being developed at present and the inquiry is expected to get underway in September.

No doubt one of the issues that will be addressed is whether the Government’s rating exemption should be retained, or whether they should be required to pay their fair share of rates, since visitors to Crown facilities such as hospitals and schools, along with popular Department of Conservation tourist attractions, also use local amenities and infrastructure.

The justification for the exemption is historical, dating back to 1876, rather than being based on any sound rationale or principle. A Local Government Funding Review carried out in 2015 found that of the total capital value of land in New Zealand, estimated at just over $1,087 billion, around $40 billon was non-rateable. This represented around $180million in lost rates revenue annually, with Crown-owned land making up around 45 percent of non-rateable land by value, and 97 percent by area. 

Even though New Zealand First’s funding review is about to get underway, Labour has nevertheless gone ahead and introduced a new funding stream for councils through their Local Government (Community Well-being) Amendment Bill. By restoring the right of councils to collect development contributions from property developers, the Bill will push up the cost of housing, as developers add council costs onto the price of a new home. As a result, Labour will make the problem of unaffordable housing – that they pledged to fix if they were elected to Government – even worse.

As well as enabling councils to gain extra revenue from developers, the Well-being Bill, which is expected to be fast tracked into law just as the inquiry into local government funding begins, will also unshackle local government from the need to focus on the provision of infrastructure and core services, by restoring the social, economic, environmental, and cultural well-being of communities as a core purpose.

Those well-beings, which were first introduced into local government by Helen Clark’s Labour-led Coalition in 2002, resulted in councils around the country embarking on a myriad of expensive projects that had little to do with infrastructure and core services. Some bought farms in Australia, while others tried to improve the literacy of children in their community, or reduce poverty.

National removed the wellbeing rights in 2012, replacing them with a requirement for local government to meet “the current and future needs of communities for good-quality local infrastructure, local public services, and performance of regulatory functions in a way that is most cost-effective for households and businesses.”

However, in spite of that constraint many councils have continued to try to be all things to all people, with some taking on increasingly activist roles. 

One such council is Wellington, where, last month, councillors unanimously voted for a radical plan to make Wellington the te reo Maori capital of New Zealand – despite the 2013 Census showing that Maori make up only 7 percent of the local population.

Wellington Mayor Justin Lester, who has been leading the initiative, said, “We are pushing this because it is the right thing to do. It’s the only thing to do and Wellington should be leading. New Zealand needs to embrace our unique sense of identity and … the mana of Maori culture and values, and the whakapapa of our rohe”. 

The council is already progressing their cultural agenda, by voting in favour of bilingual ward names, calling a waterfront walkway Ara Moana, renaming Frank Kitts Lagoon as the Whairepo Lagoon, and replacing the traditional fireworks display on Guy Fawkes Day, with one celebrating the Maori New Year, Matariki.

But their plan is not just to encourage te reo to be spoken around the capital, and to ensure signage and place names are bilingual – instead they intend forcing Maori culture and values into the heart of all council activities.

According to their policy document, the Council is to contribute to Maori wellbeing by “incorporating a Maori perspective in all policy work”. All service delivery functions are to “respond to the social and cultural customs and expectations of Maori customers”, and strategies are to be put in place to “identify and stimulate Maori economic, social and cultural innovation opportunities”.

The Council will need to ensure “effective Maori participation in Council’s democratic structures and decision-making processes”. All services, policies and projects will need “effective input from local iwi and the wider Maori community”, all publications and communications will require “a Maori perspective”, as will all urban design, public artworks, events and heritage.

Council staff will need to “respond more effectively to Maori”. To gain a deeper awareness of Maori cultural needs and expectations staff – and no doubt councillors – will need to undergo “training that builds capacity to work with Maori”, they will be required to promote the Council as a place where Maori want to work in order to “ensure a greater representation of Maori at all levels of the organisation”, and Maori advisers will be required to “inform and assist Council’s business unit functions and practices”.

This radical realignment of Council values and functions in favour of Maori is apparently supported by all councillors. It appears that not one of the councillors elected to represent the public interest, has stood up for the majority, who are deeply concerned that a cultural appropriation of their Council is underway.

For a region where those acknowledging Asian heritage outnumber Maori by two to one, and those of European ancestry by almost ten to one, it is difficult to understand how elected councillors could impose such a radical cultural agenda onto the council and the city, without feeling duty-bound to outline it and campaign on it, before they were elected.

However, with local government elections scheduled for next year, ratepayers will have the opportunity to encourage people with the courage to oppose such divisive cultural extremism, to stand as candidates on a platform of reversing the changes.

Wellington Council, however, is not alone in promoting activist policies. The Auckland Council’s environmental activism can be seen in its ‘zero-waste by 2040’ policy. Launched in 2012, the Council, which is now globally recognised as “one of the most innovative councils in the world for climate change action”, intends to drive “the largest transformation of waste management services in the Southern Hemisphere”, with reducing household waste a priority.

This activism and a desire for global recognition is behind the Council’s new $67 a year food waste tax, which is being introduced just as Aucklanders are being hard hit with a new regional petrol tax. In spite of many residents and ratepayers living in zero food waste households – feeding food scraps to pets or composting them – they will be forced to pay for the new kerbside recycling service that picks up food waste twice a month.

Local government’s industry body, Local Government New Zealand, is also no stranger to activism. As we have already seen, LGNZ has been driving a campaign to undermine local body democracy through a proposed law change that would prevent local communities from being able to call for a referendum if their council decides to introduce Maori wards.

The argument being used by LGNZ, that petition rights over Maori wards are discriminatory, is a lie. Petition rights were originally introduced for Maori wards because a race-based electoral roll is required, and by convention, any changes involving the electoral system – at either central or local government level – are constitutional in nature and have referendum rights attached.

To perpetuate the lie that petition rights are only there to discriminate against Maori, demonstrates a fanaticism within LGNZ that is extremely disturbing.

That fanaticism is also driving LGNZ‘s new-found obsession with man-made global warming: “Climate change poses an unprecedented level of risk to New Zealand’s natural and built environment.  Adapting to and mitigating the impacts of climate change are significant challenges and a new priority focus for councils.  Leading and championing policy to deal with the impacts of climate change is a key policy priority for LGNZ and its 78 member councils.” 

LGNZ has clearly bought into the exaggerated 100 year climate models from the United Nations, that predict massive sea level rise will flood coastal communities, even though real-life evidence shows that their models and predictions are grossly inaccurate.

This week’s NZCPR Guest Commentator, energy consultant Bryan Leyland, has looked into LGNZ’s new project and is extremely critical of their approach, saying they should not be squandering money and damaging the economy in a futile attempt to solve a problem that does not exist:

“LGNZ have embarked on a ‘Climate Change Project’ focused on adapting and mitigating ‘climate change’. When faced with a potential risk, the rational approach is to make sure that the risk is real, assess its magnitude, decide if anything needs to be done, and if so, what is the cheapest and most effective solution. 

“In spite of the fact that no one has any convincing evidence based on observations that man-made global warming is real and dangerous LGNZ have jumped to the conclusion that the risk is real, urgent action is needed and lots of our money and resources must be spent on ‘fighting climate change’. Taking an objective look at all the evidence never even crossed their minds.

“If they had looked at the evidence, they might have discovered that neither the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Royal Society of New Zealand, nor Professor Jim Renwick, can provide convincing evidence based on observations of the real world that man-made greenhouse gases cause dangerous global warming. The evidence simply does not exist. Until this evidence is discovered – if it ever is – the only rational conclusion is that man-made global warming is, in all probability, the biggest hoax in the history of the world. It is tragic that Local Government New Zealand have bought into it.” 

Despite the lack of evidence, LGNZ is jumping onto the climate change bandwagon because it suits them to do so. Activists in local government have found that scaremongering is a useful weapon that helps to drive through ideological changes – even if they are not in the best interests of the communities they serve.

With all of this in mind, surely, instead of unleashing local government and giving them more power, the Labour-led Coalition should be reining them in!


Do you believe it’s time to remove the Government’s historic rates exemption, so they can pay their fair share of local authority rates?


*Poll comments are posted below.


*All NZCPR poll results can be seen in the Archive.


Click to view x 120


Comments on Bryan Leyland article.
Climate Change is merely a route to power by the Neo Marxist Green Party.
An excellent report Bryan, on what has become the world’s greatest Government inspired con, perpetuate upon a naive populace by the simple instrument of FEAR.
Bryan has covered it very well. 
My contribution is “Why then did we sign up to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change”?. This document binds Western Countries to limit emissions at the sole expense to their standard of Living.
This is compounded by the futile childlike stupidity of our Government and political parties in believing that both China and India will conform to this agreement by 2030; when both countries are increasing their power generation by coal (mainly with huge contracts from Australia) which also has signed the Paris agreement). While at the same time, exporting huge amounts of coal from Australia; surely that is a blatant hypocrisy of the Paris Agreement to reduce all emissions.
Australia now finds itself in the position of having huge cuts in power distribution by the dismantling of existing base load coal fire power stations, and substituting it with unreliable Wind and Solar generation. 
“Refer South Australia and Victoria where the elderly are now advised to stay in bed to keep warm this winter”.
Here in N.Z. the expense and subsidising of the R & M plus the installation of Wind & Solar energy generation is far outweighed in the long term by the construction of new Hydro Generation Plants; a practice now forbidden under the Green Luddite environmental dictatorship so called “Clean Green image”. When was the last new large Hydro Project in New Zealand? Yet since that date demand for base load power is still increasing as has our population thru immigration!
President Trump rightly has seen through the charade of the Paris Agreement and the viewpoint that both China and India will join the agreement by 2030. Economically why should they even mothball these 30/ 40 lifespan plants that produce much cheaper cost coal fire generation. When the adoption of Wind & Solar will send their domestic and export costs spiralling upwards against other competitors?
This country should withdraw at once from the Paris Agreement before any more damage is done to our economy. Even Germany, home to any implausible Green environmental issue, is now in the process of building coal fired generation plants.
The question is whether we have the Politicians with the will or even the intestinal fortitude to take us out of the Paris Agreement, and displease the Bureaucrats in the U.N.? This is in serious doubt, after all it does mean “No life at the United Nations after they retire..A lot to sacrifice”!
As the late Barbara W. Tuchman stated in her book:- 
“The March of Folly”.
“Why do holders of high office so often act contrary to the way reason points and enlightened self interests suggests”?
The sprawl of the University of Otago campus is rate exempt in Dunedin. Why???? Maori land should pay rates. Not government. It will only steal more of your work and life to “compensate.” New Zealand is being wrecked by Leftists and plundered by eco-Marxist globalists. Rates is trivial in the scheme of things. fretting about the inconsequential in the face of the inevitable. Maurice
Drop the Leftist vernacular “fair share.” Define what you mean and say what you mean. Maurice
Over several decades government has a history of withdrawing funding from public services paid by taxpayers. But what do they do with this money – an expensive upgrade of parliament facitilties, with hairdryers in bathrooms CM
But not only govt. owned land but all land should be rated. No exemptions, and no reduced valuations to council owned properties, or other pet projects that council pamper to. Allan
What we need to be focusing on is giving our local body elected politicians the loud & clear message to keep to their basic core services & not engage in extravagant & excessive spending on issues that should be the domain of central government only. Rex
They will just add it to more taxes Barry
You bet, Together with all Maori land as well, Athol
The Government is financially dysfunctional as it is borrowing 4x that which it borrowed a decade ago. (17B/per yr). Its claim to be awash with cash is a lie – it is awash with DEBT. Watch the Budget next year to see the next step towards Greece! There is another GFC coming with global debt at 217% of global GDP. How is the Government going to cope when it is borrowing like there is no tomorrow – now? Frederick
Absolutely tho I know it will eventually come back to bite us. Clark
Certainly!! But fact is that even if all rates exemptions are abolished , the continuous rise in annual rates ( where I live it is about 3.5-4 % pa) will continue relentlessly. The pressure on rate payers will not end by this measure.And as far as the negative influence of the LGC unter Mahutu is concerned. It is only too obvious that this outfit has been hijacked by Maori activists who in return are starting to impinge massively on Councils. Wairarapa’s 10 year plan reveals what we can expect from this. It is said that Maoris have speaking right but no voting rights is a farce—- otherwise we would not have ideas like changing all the street signs into bilingual ones iin our town. ( to name only one of the smaller matters at hand) And this in a town which was entirely founded and built by European settlers. The land was evidently purchased —not stolen. Michael
Yes.They use the infrastructure and services,therefore should share the cost. Peter
No because the halfwits in The Dunedin and other city councils will only fund ever more crazy projects to spend it on. We have had the rates go up by 7.8 % this year to fund among other things a $20 million bridge for cyclists and pedestrians over the railway yards. As one correspondent to the Otago Daily Times pointed out the bridge over the Kawarau river with 2 car lanes cost $22 million so we must be getting a gold or silver plated one. Only one councillor voted against the 10 year plan. Our 10 year plan will cost Dunedin ratepayers another $708 per year and mike own personal will go up 50% over the next 10 years to pay for the DCC’s Stupidity Colin
If it’s taxpayer money it’s just redistribution isn’t it? And it’s not local bodies job to promote the useless Maori language (?) and “culture” so they should be using ratepayer money to improve services to everyone instead of pandering to this nonsense. Get real! Carolyn
Yes, but then Maori land owners should pay too. More importantly, Local Authorities need to be restrained from their wasteful expenditure. Fiona
NZ needs a political earthquake followed by a transformational society away from all this Maori cultural claptrap. Justin Lester & all his councilors need to move into the 21st century or be voted out. I will not be visiting Wellington again if this cultural extremism takes place nor Rotorua which promotes this bilingual mumbo-jumbo. Monica
Well overdue to change the law in this matter Clinton
Yes, but only after Councils are forced by legislation to restrict their activities to providing core services to their ratepayers – nothing else! – no more ideologically driven, money wasting, flights of fancy, catering to the “needs” of racial minorities and flawed scientific theories. If this is not put in place first, any monies derived from rates on Government land will simply be wasted – the Government will find ways of clawing it back somehow, so nothing will be gained in the long run anyway. Scott
The historic rates exemption for Government properties is a dreadful and unfair impost. If local bodies were reimbursed for even a fraction of the unpaid rates they should have had over the years they would have no problem meeting the cost of running our cities and towns %u2026 especially if they were to keep out of the dreamy feel-good extra expenses they have started coming up with! Rob
It would share the burden Neville
This Government is hell bent on destroying many New Zealanders livelihoods with their hidden agendas and greed. They form committees (another cost) to get same to agree to their own plans and we Kiwis are suffering whilst waiting with baited breath as to what it will cost us next. One cannot help but be very concerned as to how New Zealand will be when election time arrives…..will certainly be less businesses and workers now with the added Fuel Tax Most of us will certainly cut back as we decide which we can afford each week…..as all commodities will now go up in price to cover said fuel increases. plus increases to pay packets which is a vicious circle . Marilyn
Local government have been trying to implementing Government directive for some time now, remember Mayor Judd trying to establish maori wards as an example.. Councils should return to providing essential services to the community that they are meant to serve; but with Socialism so well entrenched in the two major ‘Parties’ , that ain’t going to happen. A.G.R.
The wider the rates base the better for low income earners. Churches and charities and all Maori groups should also pay rates. Graeme
But Only if they are not going to recover the money by increasing Taxes Pierre
The country is stuffed! John
Of course Karen
Why should they be exempt? Frank
We should become a one culture society, no preferences to any race Gerard
Of course. How it remains is beyond me. If Maori land is also exempt it is time that was included as well. Peter
Wellington Council have a lot to answer for. Pleased I am not a rate payer there because I would be labeled a racist for sure. Not only the Government rate exemption, but more importantly the maori rate exemption should be addressed. When asked the other week what would most advance New Zealand, my reply was, firstly, put all the greens to the sword, secondly, (amend your own comment here) Neil
Of course yes ! 1Law4all Don
And while weare at it remove the exemption for iwi land as well Kevin
And Maori need to pay their share as well. As to stoping the march of stupidity from LGNZ and also the Govt. in Wellington we really need to urgently make binding referenda the law of the country. Ronmac
Absolutely. Simon
Govt in all fairness should pay their share of rates John
If Central Government is utilising Local Authority resources that are funded and or maintained by ratepayers then they should at the very least pay the costs of providing that use. Equally as important however, is that Local Government should stick to their core business and not embark on projects based upon unproven facts. This includes an attempt to emulate Canute and halt “Climate Change”. The “new” practice of “Targeted” levies is but another way of screwing funding from a powerless ratepayer. Who commissioned the $1m study into a waterfront arena, which was never going to see the light of day for 10 years? Where is the study to show that light rail from the CBD to the Airport is going to produce a return on investment for the ratepayers? Where is the study to support the growth in Council employees over the past two or more years? Whilst Central Government should meet the costs of Local Authorities assets/resources they use, the need for this additional funding may not be as pressing if Local Government costs and waste were constrained to stay within annual inflation. Michael
You probably include all the so called charitable organisations that do not pay any tax! Bill
This would be a simpler way of providing extra funding to local bodies. Keith
This would one of the easiest ways to reduce the ever-increasing rates we have to pay. I suspect if this ever happened, that the government would increase taxes to cover these extra costs – give with one hand and take away with the other. May be a forlorn hope, but rates should be exempt from GST. It’s yet another example of a tax on what is effectively a tax. Laurence
Maori land should also be removed from exemption.. Colin
Absolutely. They bring most of the traffic into the centres. Mark
They will only increase taxation to recover the loss Robert
No – The buggers will just pass it back onto the taxpayer. It’s sort of like making Government departments, e.g. Police and hospitals pay GST. I mean, what’s the point? They just have to pay someone to claim it back, as they all seem to run at a deficit, so why bother? It just gets passed back to the taxpayer. Andy
Absolutely they should start paying their way for a change. Richard
Govt seems to have plenty to waste on nonsense? so it is needed to boost the waste . IAN
Absolutely they should pay rates. It is ridiculous that the Government has been exempted since the 1800s. The sooner the better! All historical rate exemptions should be abolished. That includes those on Maori land. Derrick
The user should always pay Peter
a big yes. Owen
Absolutely David
More than this however – Local Councils must not have Non-elected Maori members – and they must stop all this climate change nonsense that will wreck our economy and our lives hylton
It would be helpful. Dick
“Government” means taxpayer – so it will just result in a further expensive bureaucracy and money-go-round. Leave it as it is, but make sure only true public services/facilities are exempted. Iwi businesses should not qualify. Marc
They most certainly should be paying rates. Even though I know the cost of paying them will then be passed on to the other ratepayers in higher fees for anything they need a permit or permission to do, and/or rates increases. Brenda
Everybody who owns property and I don’t care who they are should pay their fair share of rates and the councils should manage them properly not squander them as many seem to do today Peter
One can add religious organisations, and Maori corporations and “charities” to the list – there are probably plenty of other organisations that enjoy exemptions for one spurious reason or another. Andrew
NZ`s going backwards and this te reo will put education back 10 to 20 years and the same amount of time to correct.. In between time our standards will have dropped, the country will be bankrupt.. All for the sake of Maori hypocrisy. Fear for my children and grand children. Will it end in civil war? Robert
This is a must Murray
A Long outdated exemption! Jim
At least not without research. Taxpayers would have to fund the cost and this could severely disadvantage some communities. Graham
Why Not they use the local bodies facilities Peter
Tax payers will foot the bill instead. Zero sum gain. Richard
Absolutely not if you are talking about multiple owned Maori land Cheryl
Then remove exemptions for Maori land. Mark
Roll on the Elections lets get the self centered bums out Brianb
No definitely not ! Some of what is emanating from the mouths of Labour politicians re Zero Carbon Reduction I honestly believe amounts to little more than orchestrated verbal flatulence. Joseph
The downside appears to be that these charges would ultimately be paid by the ratepayers. Rex
Sanatarium is a prime example. Ian
In this “user pays” society, this would only give local bodies an excuse to waste more money than they actually generate. A much more effective response would be to force local councils to live within their means and return to what the core responsibility of councils is,. If government were to pay rates on land and building that are in essence owned by the tax payers , guess where the funding would come from??? ALL OF US who pay tax.Get all the church’s to start paying rates, that would generate more revenue. Barry
And include religions Ranald
…..return the MONEY to the People…OK ! “OUR WAY OR THE HIGHWAY….” CHowes
This course of action seems like a good idea on the face of it but it could become merely a means of shuffling tax collection from local government to central government with no real gain for anybody. Kerry
Thought they did already. David
Problem is they will get it back somehow. Tim
Equal opportunity and equality means everyone pays their fair share Hilary
As long as it doesn’t involve more tax increases for the taxpayer/ratepayer. Chris
Rates are high enough as they are now it is time that some of the tax revenue was used to assist councils with general amenities. Not focused on huge building projects but things like sewage ponds and rubbish diposal Andrew
Well overdue to make fairer payments for all Kevin
And make rates payments more fairer for the rest of us. Ross
It’s time government acted as a responsible citizen, and fronted its community responsibility as citizens do. Willy
This is a no brainer – having said that one wonders where the brains have gone in Wellington with idiots such as their Mayor are trying to force the natural flow of history by being totally rascist Rob
And all other organisations that have exemptions. It should level playing field John
All should pay. What is due Richard
Just shifting the goalposts Chris
Socialism at its worst Greg
The councils should just start charging and adding penalty cost until the government is forced to change, although that will not stop councils from thinking up new ways to gouge their rate payers. Hugh
It would certainly be fair to all Terry
About time!! Don
Certainly but we all know it isn’t going to happen because all the powers at be a scared of our part Maori . Have you noticed how subtlety they have hijacked the press with continual bombardment of articles on everything Maori ? It is quite noticeable how long they are allowed to run on the website of the Herald and Stuff and if you write in on the so called open forum ,and criticise thins Maori your article is not printed . This is very dangerous how our part Maori have gained control,of the press and can vet what appears . Jock
Another option is to get rid of rates and fund council from taxes along with reducing the number of councils Michael
Absolutely they should pay rates. It is ridiculous that the Government has been exempted since the 1800s. The sooner the better! Jason
Of course the government should pay rates. All historical rate exemptions should be abolished. That includes those on Maori land.  Paul
This should have happened long ago. Some councils only have small rating bases but lots of DOC land. If DOC paid rates, it would help pay for roading and other essential infrastructure. Louisa
Of course the Government should pay rates – but I bet they won’t, even if the funding review recommends it. Glen
I wonder if the govt paying rates was a NZF policy. If so, it will be interesting to see if they stick to their guns.  Robert