We come to praise Nick Smith. For now. [updated]
I never thought I’d write to praise Nick Smith rather than bury him. Neither did Liberty Scott.
But here you go.
It’s a first.
Because Nick Smith intends to muzzle councils.
Not just chronically over-spending councils haemorrhaging debt; not just over-stretched councils over-excited about meddling in other peoples’ business; not just councils flush with over-aggrandisement on truckloads of other people’s money; but all councils in the country who, he says, he intends to confine to doing only what councils should be doing.
Now if you were to list the differences between what Nick and I think councils should be doing you would have a very long list indeed.
So I hang my enthusiasm for his pronouncement not on words like “castrate,” “emasculate” and “tie up”–i.e., the sort of words I would be using as minister to describe my intentions for councils’ powers—but on the more temperate words being used like “confine,” restrict” and “roll back” (still far more energetic than anything else said by this government in its four year reign) and his stated intention to end the failed decade-long experiment of granting councils the legal “power of general competence.”
The reforms, dubbed “Better Local Government” effectively remove what has been widely known as the “power of general competence” granted to local councils in [Sandra Lee’s] 2002 reform of the Local Government Act, which made them responsible for “social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being.”
Instead, councils will be given legal responsibility to provide “good quality local infrastructure, public services and regulatory functions at the least possible cost to households and business.”
This ill-named “power of general competence” (clearly an oxymoron when it comes to councils in any case) was always going to end badly because, as many of us said at the time, it overturned the centuries-long principle of that citizens may do anything they like except what is explicitly prohibited by law, whereas agents of government may do only what is explicitly allowed by law. This is what it means to have the rule of laws, not men—a principle overturned by Sandra Lee’s 2002 reforms with the resulting encroachment by cockroaches on things they should never have contemplated.
So bravo then to Nick Smith (words I never thought I’d write) for doing what urgently needed to be done, and should have been done years ago. (One still wonders why, rather than reining in every bureaucracy in the country by doing what Nick promises to do, as local government minister Rodney Hide instead committed all his energy and every part of his party’s dwindling political capital into super-sizing Auckland’s bureaucracy. There’s a story there still to be told.)
But it’s not all good news. The minister still talks about “super” mayors and “super” bureaucracies, twin illusions you would think the reality of Len Brown and his dysfunctional merry-makers should surely have punctured by now.
And he maintains his enthusiasm for the disaster that is the Resource Management Act, which has single-handedly reduced property rights while raising housing prices.
So something to celebrate. But it’s still early days.
PS: Feel free to let us know what Nick Smith is trying to demonstrate in the picture above. Answers on a postcard please.
UPDATE: Yes, this is still the same old Nick Smith, of course. A person with a fully-equipped battery of political antennae who as minister of ACC was happy to write a “reference” for a friend who just happened to be involved in a messy ACC claim—fully aware of the effect of such a letter from such a minister on those considering the claim, even though he now suggests otherwise.