Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Council proposals a backwards step for democracy

There'll be widespread support for the Royal Commission's recommendation to create a single unitary council for the Auckland region.

But Local Government Minister Rodney Hide was reflecting widespread concern at the launch when he questioned whether there's adequate provision for local representation in the new blueprint.

Indeed, as far as the democratic process is concerned, the proposals are a major step backwards.

For a council representing over 1 million people, the decision to concentrate the power in a mayor and 23 councillors, most of whom are elected at large, threatens to deprive whole communities of any meaningful say.

The commission puts much faith in the six lesser local councils, based on existing city boundaries that will reside beneath the Auckland Council. But they are there as advisory and delivery bodies, dependent on, and servants of, the higher authority.

This is not local democracy as we know it.

At least these local councils will be elected on a ward basis. The Auckland mayor - who will have greater executive powers that existing mayors - is to be elected at large, which means it will be a job that only the rich, or a celebrity, can aspire too.

The same goes for 10 of the powerful city councillors. A further 10 will be elected on a ward basis, while three will, controversially, be chosen by Maori alone.

So, one city, one water company, one plan, one of everything, is a recipe to applaud. Now it's up to the Government to add in the 21st century democratic structure it needs.

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