Rodney Hide plans, as Local Government minister, to insist that councils hold a binding referendum before they engage in “non-core activities” that invariably lose ratepayers’ shirts.
You know the sort of thing. Building shopping malls. Backing a Beckham soccer game. Promoting ‘My Fair Lady.’ Electing Dick Hubbard.
Sounds seductive, doesn’t it. Having a vote on which particular black holes council throws your rates.
But just because a majority votes to attack the wallets of a minority, it still doesn’t make it right – particularly when under the current system non-resident ratepayers who are paying for it all don’t get to vote, but non-ratepaying residents do. (Talk about taxation without representation!) And since very few people even bother to vote on council elections now, let alone if there were one election a week, how easy would it be to hijack such a vote?
No, I’ve got a better idea, Rodney. Why not simply prohibit councils from engaging in “non-core activities” altogether?
It wouldn’t be that hard – simply remove the “power of general competence” that Sandra Lee’s disgraceful 2002 Local Government Act granted them by overturning that Act. Given the complete and demonstrated incompetence of local government the concept is an obvious oxymoron , and its imposition ultimately violates the constitutional principles of Westminster government
The chief architect of our Westminster system of government, John Locke, called the granting of a "power of general competence" beyond “non-core activities” the exercise of power beyond right – although he put it slightly differently:
As usurpation is the exercise of power [said Locke], which anybody can have a right to; so tyranny is the exercise of power beyond right, which nobody can have a right to.
The principle says nothing at all about referenda. It doesn’t say “which nobody has a right to unless enough people send in a postal ballot.”
There’s nothing heinous about restricting the activities of local government by law. All political power should be subject to legal control – delineating what powers governments have a statutory right to, and prohibiting other actions for which it has no right.
In fact that’s been a basic principle of the Westminster system for centuries – like all our traditional constitutional protections, one observed more in the breach than the observance: that citizens may do anything they wish unless prohibited by law, whereas governments may do nothing at all unless empowered by law.
This long-established constitutional safeguard was overturned by Sandra Lee in the 2002 Local Government Act, and should now be set upright again by this minister.
“Aw, wouldn’t it be luvverly!”
NB: I understand that Rodney’s advisory board is having trouble defining what “core activities” might look like. Since it’s impossible to be so descriptive – and the more that’s written the more loopholes you produce, here’s some simple suggestions to do the job that’s needed. Anything here you’d object to?
- Eliminate the ability of non-ratepayers to vote in all local body elections;
- Reintroduce non-resident ratepayer vote;
- An immediate and permanent cap on the ratings levels of councils at existing monetary levels;
- Require that the 25% of councils each year that tax ratepayers at the highest level per ratepayer be required to reduce rates to the level of the lowest council;
- Require the abolition of all general rates differentials (e.g. higher rates for commercial properties vs. residential), with the current lowest general rating category applying across the board;
- Eliminate targeted rates in favour of direct user charges;
- Eliminate local authority petrol and diesel tax;
- Immediately prohibit all councils entering into any new commercial or non-commercial venture of any kind, and require that all existing trading activities of councils (including roads) be transferred to Local Authority Trading Enterprises;
- Prohibit ratepayer funding for any activities of any Local Authority Trading Enterprise;
- Prohibit new council borrowing. Existing debt repayments will only be able to be made from existing revenue sources, including privatisation;
- Prohibit councils making bylaws that interfere with individual freedoms and private property rights;
- Require that all councils when acting under their statutory obligations under the Resource Management Act, fully respect all private property rights;
Yes, that would severely curtail the revenue streams of local government, and drastically restrict council’s non-core activities. But isn’t that the point?