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Source: New Zealand Government

LGNZ Rural and Provincial Sector Speech | Beehive.govt.nz

 

Introduction

  • Thank you for the invitation to speak to you today.
  • This is the first opportunity I’ve had to speak to an LGNZ meeting since the local elections, and I’m delighted to see the fresh faces of newly elected mayors.
  • To returning mayors here today, as well as chief executives, thank you for the commitment and dedication you’ve shown towards your communities throughout the year.
  • As you’ll be aware, I have a busy programme of work in the local government space, and I’d also like to take the opportunity to thank you and your councils for your input into the various workstreams.
  • That input, and our ongoing conversation, are essential and invaluable as we seek to ensure the responsiveness of local government to the wellbeing of communities now and into the future. 
  • Today I’d like to take stock of where we’re at and where we’re going with some of my key priorities in the local government portfolio. I’ll also touch on work underway in my Associate Environment portfolio.
  • Later today, you’ll also hear from my ministerial colleagues the Hon David Parker, Hon Damien O’Conner, and Hon Eugenie Sage about their priorities and connections to local government and the rural and provincial sectors.
  • I trust this will provide an insightful overview of the range of cross-government initiatives relevant to local government. 
  • But first, let me update you on a programme of key importance to local and central government – the Three Waters Review.
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  • Three Waters Review
  • When we were elected into government back in October 2017, it was clear that a decisive response to the Havelock North Drinking Water Inquiry was needed to ensure public safety.
  • As I’ve always said – clean, safe drinking water must be a fundamental right for all communities.
  • And I’m very pleased that, with the assistance of local government, extensive progress has been made. In line with the recommendations of the Inquiry, and with significant contributions from local government, we have agreed to put into place:
    • a new and strengthened drinking water regulatory regime to ensure all communities receive safe drinking water;
    • a new drinking water regulator, as an independent Crown entity, to work with local government, iwi/Māori, and other suppliers to administer the new regulatory system; and
    • Targeted reforms to the regulation of wastewater and stormwater, including greater central oversight and guidance to improve environmental outcomes.
  • We are well underway in implementing these decisions.
  • An Establishment Unit has been set up within the Department of Internal Affairs, with initial work underway to design and stand-up the new regulator. We’re aiming to have the regulator ready to go live in about 18 months. 
  • At the same time, my officials are drafting two Bills to legislate for the new regime.
  • We’re aiming to introduce the first bill – the ‘Water Services Regulator Bill’ – into the House by the end of the year.
  • The second ‘Water Services Bill’, which will enact the new regulatory framework, won’t be far behind.
  • I’d like to acknowledge the expert input and support from local government staff and elected representatives this year as we’ve developed these regulatory proposals.
  • In particular, I acknowledge the input from mayors and chief executives from the Rural/Provincial Sector councils into the reference groups that informed the regulatory reforms.
  • My officials commented on the quality of input they received from these reference groups, helping them to fully refine the proposals.
  • There were other contributions, and I’d especially like to mention Mayor Rowley and the Waimate District Council who were especially supportive in making issues of rural drinking water supplies very real for me and officials.
  • We acknowledge that it will be challenging for some councils and drinking water suppliers to comply with their regulatory obligations.
  • This will be managed by allowing for guidance from the regulator and time to achieve compliance.
  • As members of rural/provincial councils, you’ll be aware that there are wider funding and capability issues associated with New Zealand’s water services arrangements – especially for smaller councils and communities with limited funding bases.
  • The Government is actively working with local government on a solution to these wider challenges. In particular, the question of how water services are funded and whether we need greater sharing of costs and revenues across communities.
  • We want to work with the sector to support greater use of shared service delivery arrangements.
  • To help remove financial barriers for councils considering voluntary change, we’ve already agreed to consider co-investing with local government, on a case-by-case basis, the costs of investigating collaboration on water services.
  • I’m pleased to see that there are a number of collaborative discussions already underway, including councils in the Hawke’s Bay, Waikato, West Coast, Canterbury, Manawatu-Wanganui and others.
  • Next month, Cabinet will consider advice on supporting the local government sector to make the step-change needed to ensure all communities benefit from safe, affordable, reliable and culturally acceptable three waters services.
  • How to fund these critical services is at the heart of this work.
  • Further work will progress into 2020 and beyond, and we look forward to your continued input and support.
  • Community wellbeing
  • Another area of vital importance and continued involvement from local government is our community wellbeing workstream.
  • In August 2019, I wrote to you announcing a work programme that builds on the reinstatement of the four wellbeings in the purpose of the Local Government Act.
  • We know that councils never stopped prioritising the wellbeing of their communities. But I’m interested in whether more can be achieved by focusing on some key aspects of local governance.
  • Specific objectives to be explored as part of the ‘Working with Local Government on Community Wellbeing’ programme include:
    • more inclusive community participation in local government;
    • aiming for more meaningful council relationships with Māori;
    • capturing the more specific wellbeing priorities of our local communities; and
    • better collaboration across central and local government and iwi/hapū in responding to those priorities.
  • We’ve recently convened working groups with experienced and innovative local government practitioners to explore what initiatives would help to promote a wellbeing approach in local governance.
  • I’ve greatly appreciated the role LGNZ and SOLGM have played in helping to convene these working groups, which are yielding rich conversations about the objectives I set out in my August Cabinet Paper.  
  • Alongside these workshops, we’ll also have conversations with Te Pae Urungi, iwi and Māori organisations.
  • We want to arrive at options that broaden and accelerate the uptake of innovative practices. We also want to have better, more evidence-based conversations about how we are tracking.
  • A challenge for central government is how to be prepared to come to the table as a partner invested in the outcome of this work. We also need to be prepared to be influenced in terms of how it delivers services according to the priorities identified by communities.  
  • Next year, I look forward to holding a conversation with chairs and mayors about initiatives that central and local government could progress to ensure a richer, more collaborative and community-based wellbeing approach.
  • Community resilience
  • A key part of protecting the wellbeing of our communities is ensuring that we plan for the growing risks from natural hazards.
  • Only by working together can we achieve the changes needed to respond to the very real challenges facing communities throughout New Zealand.
  • Central and local government are working together to develop a joint Community Resilience Work Programme, to strengthen community resilience in the face of natural hazards and the effects of climate change.
  • In addition to working at the system level, we’re also working directly with councils. This includes working with some councils to manage natural hazards at Kaikōura, Matatā and Franz Josef.
  • This is a great example of local and central government co-designing policy in response to a challenge of intergenerational importance.
  • At the same time, we’re developing a strategy to support iwi/Māori participation in the joint work programme, including where Māori priorities and existing initiatives align and support responses. 
  • The programme will now look at flood management as a working example of managing and mitigating a natural hazard. This will involve progress in three priority areas:
    • data-driven decision-making to understand and manage risk;
    • regulatory systems to support proactive and flexible decision-making and risk management; and
    • a framework for considering potential changes to roles, responsibilities and funding arrangements.
  • Later next year, Cabinet will be considering a proposed framework to guide the role of central government in strengthening community resilience.
  • This will involve consideration of how central and local government can better integrate planning and risk management approaches in the face of a changing environment.
  • I look forward to continuing the conversation with you on this vitally important work.  
  • Inquiry into local government funding and financing
  • As we advance this ambitious local government work programme, we are mindful of growing costs and pressures facing the sector.   
  • That’s why, in 2018, this Government engaged the Productivity Commission to undertake an inquiry into the costs and revenue of local government.
  • The recommendations of this inquiry are intended to contribute towards our decision-making, so that New Zealanders can benefit from a fiscally-strong local government now and into the future.
  • Informed by your submissions and input, we’re expecting the Productivity Commission’s final report at the end of this month.
  • Many of you will be aware that officials are already gathering their own evidence – and talking with the local government sector and stakeholders up and down the country – to understand the challenges and opportunities around local government affordability.
  • This will position the Government to offer an informed and constructive response to the Productivity Commission’s findings. 
  • I expect our response will be supported by the programmes we already have underway, and which are already looking at ways to respond to and alleviate cost pressures in the sector.
  • One of these is the work on Infrastructure Funding and Financing and enabling new Special Purpose Vehicles for the provision of growth infrastructure. I expect the results of this policy work to be announced and available in the next month. Again, this has been a real collaborative effort with the High Growth Councils so thank you.
  • National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity
  • I’d like to finish by updating you on a key priority for me in my Associate Environment portfolio – the development of a National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity.
  • We need clear, strong direction at the national level to help halt the decline of biodiversity and start to restore what has been lost.
  • We also need certainty in the system, so that councils and landowners know what needs to be protected, and how land can be developed or used.  
  • The proposed National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity provides this vital direction.
  • It will be an important tool for improving biodiversity management across the country, particularly on private land where many of our threatened species, habitats, and ecosystems are found.
  • A draft of this National Policy Statement was developed by the stakeholder-led Biodiversity Collaborative Group.
  • The Policy Statement has momentum in the form of support from the Group, and alignment with other National Direction work such as the National Policy Statement for Urban Development and the Essential Freshwater package.
  • Based on best practice, and in line with the Collaborative Group’s recommendations, the proposed Policy Statement would require councils to consistently identify and manage Significant Natural Areas. Councils would also be required to work with tangata whenua and consider te ao Māori in biodiversity management.
  • In addition, it would require management of other important indigenous biodiversity outside of Significant Natural Areas, including highly mobile fauna and taonga.
  • There would also be a requirement for councils to promote restoration and enhancement. Some ecosystems in New Zealand have suffered so much loss that this is the only way they can be maintained.
  • Pending Cabinet approval soon, public consultation on the proposed National Policy Statement will run into next year, with public meetings being held in early 2020. Officials are planning to undertake detailed testing with a small number of councils during this time.
  • I encourage you to get involved in this testing, so that the Policy Statement can be refined, and implementation support can be developed.
  • Conclusion
  • To sum up, the scope of this Government’s programme of reform reflects the vital importance of local government – and the work that you all do day-to-day – to the wellbeing of New Zealanders.
  • We are committed to a strong, robust local government sector, focused on wellbeing. To achieve this, we need an effective partnership between central and local government, and iwi/Māori, guided by the aspirations of our local communities.
  • I thank you, once again, for the willingness with which you and your councils have, this year, extended your time and expertise towards these important programmes.
  • I look forward to working with you over the coming term.

MIL OSI