John Armstrong on politics

John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Hide's reform legacy hard to spot

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Rodney Hide. Photo / NZPA
Rodney Hide. Photo / NZPA

They say there is nothing quite as former as a former politician. Just ask Rodney Hide.

The long-serving Act MP was Minister of Local Government in National's first term. But you would be hard pressed to know it reading the document released yesterday which outlines National's sweeping reforms for the sector.

The pending changes are pretty radical - and very much in Hide's spirit.

The one-time Epsom MP raised eyebrows when he took the local government portfolio in 2008 as part of Act's support agreement with National.

In the wake of his implementation of the Auckland Super City proposal, he mounted a lone crusade trying to instil greater fiscal discipline into councils' spending which has been fuelled by average rate rises of close to 7 per cent each year of the last decade compared with 3.9 per cent a year over the previous 10 years.

Hide gets just one mention in National's reform document - and that is only to say a wide-ranging review of local government he initiated has been superseded by the Government's new programme.

Amazingly, there is no mention of Hide's 2010 legislation, which amended the 2002 Local Government Act to ensure councils focused on "core services" and operated within a defined "fiscal envelope".

It was not until very late in yesterday's press conference that John Key and Local Government Minister Nick Smith acknowledged Hide's contribution - and then only in response to questions mentioning him.

Governing parties are notoriously reluctant to give even cursory acknowledgement to the initiatives of their junior partners, let alone any kudos.

Apart from the politically delicate amalgamations in Auckland, National largely left Hide to his own devices during his three years in the job, giving him precious few words of encouragement for his efforts.

It seemed that if he succeeded, it was all well and good and the Government as a whole could claim the credit. If he failed, it would be on his and Act's heads.

Act has not changed. It is National which has, though perhaps only temporarily.

It seems ever more reform-driven across ever more areas of government - and may remain so until Key and company batten down the hatches again in election year in 2014.

- NZ Herald

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