A timely provocation for us all to consider

Whaowhia te kete matauranga (fill the basket of knowledge). . . Central Otago District Mayor Tim Cadogan strives to use te reo Maori where he can and continues to expand his vocabulary. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

The Future for Local Government Panel released its draft report late last month.

It has been labelled by its authors a ‘‘provocation’’, and for many it will be, but that’s OK because fixing a problem is going to mean change, and change is something a lot of people seem to get upset about without thinking.

So let’s do some thinking before rushing in to an immediate stance of ‘‘No’’.

That thinking needs to start with ‘‘What is the problem we are trying to solve’’.

That problem is the way local government is run in New Zealand is no longer fit for purpose.

That might sound an odd thing for a mayor to say, but I stand by it.

The system put in place more than 30 years ago is failing in many ways.

It is failing to engage the public (more than 50% of eligible people in Central Otago didn’t bother voting at the last election), it is failing to represent the diversity of our communities, the rating model fails to deliver sustainable or fair results, and it is failing to do the basics well or adequately in many cases.

If you don’t believe me about that last statement, consider this.

In 2020/2021, 40,000 Kiwis had to boil their tap water, with 27 permanent and 56 temporary boil water notices put in place across the country.

In 2020, New Zealand’s wastewater systems overflowed or blocked more than 3000 times; in 2019 almost a quarter of wastewater treatment plants were operating on expired consents; and every year, 35,000 New Zealanders get sick from water that doesn’t meet international standards for clean drinking water.

And that’s just in the Three Waters space.

Local government is being asked to do too much without, in many cases, the ability, the resources, the money or the will of their communities to do so.

So, the Future for Local Government Panel has issued its draft report, its provocation, as a way of guiding the conversation towards a better future.

The questions and recommendations within the draft report come under five categories where the panel believes significant shifts are required:

Strengthened local democracy

Authentic relationships with hapu, iwi and Maori

A focus on wellbeing

Genuine partnership between central and local government

More equitable funding

I haven’t read the full report yet so will no doubt have more to say on what it means for Central Otago.

I will, however, encourage people to go online and have a read of it, have a think about what it says and could mean, and to think about putting in their own submission. These close on February 28.