18 September 2013
The visit to parliament this week by Dunedin leaders to push for the retention of the Invermay agricultural research centre in Otago raises the wider issue of what is now referred to as localism in some quarters.
The problem is that while everyone seems in favour of decentralisation, devolution, regional development, or call it what you like, the reality is that since the early 1990s successive governments, beginning with National’s local government reforms in 1991, have centralised more and more activity at the expense of local communities. (I was the last Minister of Regional Development, and I surrendered that portfolio in 1990!)
So perhaps it is little wonder that there seems to be not much interest in the forthcoming local body elections, and mounting cynicism that regional government is even worth it anymore.
And, all that will do over time is add to a growing sense of individual and collective frustration and disempowerment. In time, that will affect the quality of local government, and lead to more Invermay type situations occurring.
UnitedFuture is strongly committed to the localist agenda. One size does not fit all in this regard. But this does not mean local and regional government malfeasance and failed performance is tolerable.
So what needs to change is the pervasive view that New Zealand is the same from one end to the other. We are not – we are a series of diverse regional communities, with differing capabilities and experiences. We need, both from a government perspective and a community and wider economic development focus, to be enabling those communities to take more responsibility for their own actions and priorities, with central government in a supporting, not dictating, role.
That means central and local government working together in a new partnership of equals to achieve regional potential, and welding that together into the overall national interest. It means flattening out the top down approach of the last couple of decades, and recognising that both central and local government have equally important but quite distinct role to play.
It may be too late to inspire more interest in this year’s local elections, but such an approach over time has the capacity to invigorate our regions, and stop the need for delegations like the Dunedin one to make the time honoured trudge to Parliament in often vain attempts to save regional ventures like Invermay.