Democracy gets a Hiding

Over the weekend Green Co-Leader Russel Norman uncovered an obscure Cabinet paper (PDF) that I suspect Local Government Minister Rodney Hide would have liked to slip by without public attention.

Here’s a few choice quotes from it:

I propose to link the second Government priority area – reduce bureaucracy and focus on frontline services – with the concerns I have about growth in rates and council funding decisions… While there is no formal definition of core services for local government, I would expect there to be general acceptance that it includes transport services (roading, footpaths, public transport); water services (water supply, sewage treatment, stormwater and flood protection); and public health and safety services (refuse collection and regulation of nuisances).

Um, what about parks, libraries, community services, galleries, theatres, recreational facilities, leisure and cultural activities Rodney? Or don’t they count in the narrow world of the Act Party?

[Transparency and accountability mechanisms] also include the requirement to consult the public on some decisions – notably decisions to contract major council services to the private sector or to sell shares in a port or airport company. The transparency principle has resulted in much more information being disclosed, but arguably without sufficient attention being paid to its relevance or usefulness.

Translation: Contracting out services and selling assets are too important to consult the public about, because they probably won’t agree.

Different groups have expressed various concerns to me about the present process. These include: …

  • that overconsultation is causing “submission fatigue” for ratepayers;
  • that the community outcomes process is being used to extend councils’ roles beyond core services; and
  • that consultation processes are unduly increasing the influence of pressure groups.

Translation: The wrong people are making too many submissions because the majority of submissions oppose my agenda. Community groups that have come together over local issues must have their influence reduced, because there is a “silent majority” that I’m confident really backs cutting and/or contracting out and/or privatisation of local government services (even though the Act Party got only 3.65% of the vote at the last General Election and was the only Parliamentary party that campaigned on these policies).

I do not propose to publish a public discussion document… Once legislation is introduced into the House, the public will be able to comment during the select committee stage. However, I intend to undertake some targeted consultation with specific local government and non-local government stakeholders once proposal are developed.

Translation: So I’m asking Cabinet to let me ram it through with as little public consultation as possible, but I will talk with a few of my mates in big business so it looks good and I can rely on them to put out supportive media statements if this all looks like turning to crap.

This is the Margaret Thatcher/ Roger Douglas modus operandi all over again. Consult people as little as possible and silence the opposing voices to your programme. Ram legislation through Parliament as quickly as possible, in the hope that it will be a done deal before most people realise what is happening.

We’ve been Rogered once by the bulldozer of the far right. It’s happening again, and it’s time for us to all stand up and fight it with whatever means we have available.

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