John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Carter needs to get things moving on reforms

David Carter . Photo / Richard Robinson
David Carter . Photo / Richard Robinson

Nick Smith's masterplan for reforming local government certainly got under way with a hiss and a roar typical of that politician - and then just as quickly came to an abrupt halt.

Within two days of announcing the broad thrust of his very major reform of the sector, he was gone from the Local Government portfolio and from the Cabinet. Nearly two weeks later it has fallen on David Carter to pick up and run with what was already an incredibly tight timetable for reform.

While largely unseen, Carter has been rock solid as Primary Industries minister.

He is no slouch when it comes to reform. He is in the midst of ensuring greater competition in the domestic milk market, but doing so without weakening Fonterra's value to farmer shareholders or hampering its ability to compete in international markets.

Smith wanted to get local body reform legislation passed by October - driven in part by wanting some council amalgamations completed in time for the local elections in October next year.

Smith's reforms are designed to stem rate rises by limiting council to providing only basic services and obliging local bodies to live within "fiscal caps".

Smith's plan would also see the introduction of more mechanisms to allow central government to intervene to help "under-performing" councils, rather than resorting to the only option available - sacking the whole council.

Smith is said to not have had much time for discussion documents. His preference - first apparent when he became ACC minister in 2008 - has been to paint things as being at crisis point in order to soften up people for major change.

While Carter has inherited a blueprint for change, much of the detail still has to be worked through, however.

Carter is the kind of minister who likes to get all his ducks in a row before proceeding.

He knows he is under pressure to get things moving, however. One reason why the Cabinet gave Smith leeway was that ministers believe the public is fed up with constant above-the-current-rate-of- inflation local body rate rises; that the public feels it is local government's turn to bite the bullet in lean times. Pushing local government reform is a popular policy - and National could do with a lot more of those right now.

- NZ Herald

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John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

Herald political correspondent John Armstrong has been covering politics at a national level for nearly 30 years. Based in the Press Gallery at Parliament in Wellington, John has worked for the Herald since 1987. John was named Best Columnist at the 2013 Canon Media Awards and was a previous winner of Qantas media awards as best political columnist. Prior to joining the Herald, John worked at Parliament for the New Zealand Press Association. A graduate of Canterbury University's journalism school, John began his career in journalism in 1981 on the Christchurch Star. John has a Masters of Arts degree in political science from Canterbury.

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