Editorial: The people must have their say

By Andrew Austin

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No matter what your views on amalgamation, the democratic process should be allowed to run its course.

The case for merging of Napier and Hastings has its merits, but the way the National Government has gone about trying to get its Local Government Reform Bill through cannot be supported.

Amalgamation is an important debate and one that has been going on for a while without getting very far. There needs to be movement, but that movement must not be at the expense of the democratic process.

Better Hawke's Bay's argument in support of amalgamation is that it will improve local government performance. In a presentation to the Local Government Select committee, Better Hawke's Bay representative Brian Martin said the current multi-body structure of four territorial authorities and a regional council generated inefficiencies, opportunity costs, mediocre outcomes and "diluted and often conflicted leadership on important strategic issues".

Many would support this statement, but this does not mean it is okay for the central government to ram its reforms through.

Napier Mayor Barbara Arnott is particularly irritated by the Government's stance, having being told by Local Government Minister David Carter that the reform bill was going to be passed as is.

Mrs Arnott feels, and rightly so, that this made a mockery of the select committee hearing process and that it was a waste of ratepayers' money for her to have flown to Wellington to address the committee.

Mrs Arnott is, of course, opposed to amalgamation and says the problem with the local government reforms is a new voting system to determine if neighbouring councils should merge. The reform proposes a 50 per cent approval vote across a region where amalgamation is proposed. The existing rule requires that each city or district has to achieve 50 per cent approval in each area.

Whatever the pros and cons of the issue are, the National Government seems to be paying lip service to the democratic system of public hearings.

This is not the first time John Key or one of his ministers has indicated that even though they were prepared to have public discussions, a decision had already been made on an issue. Think national standards and asset sales.

Brushing aside the public's right to have an input can come across as arrogant and autocratic.

This region needs to find the best possible local government model. That means that we need to be able to have a proper debate. We are a democracy, after all.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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