We have a new government. The nation has voted for change, and there will be some. National has promised some radical reforms in the first 100 days in office.
In this article I want to focus on what this might mean for Hastings and Hawke’s Bay in my capacity as Mayor. I will also cover the issues that will arise for Local Government nationally in my role as President of Local Government New Zealand.
The strong support for National in the region and dramatically increased majorities for MP’s Craig Foss and Chris Tremain are partially due to the national swing, but not completely. These two hard working MP’s have championed the causes of Hawke’s Bay in a unified and effective way. In my view, the public have relished the team approach they have offered.
All of this said, if you read any amount of world and New Zealand economic data, you will realise we are in for a very challenging time. Unemployment in the US is the highest for fourteen years and is tipped to reach 7.1% in the UK. In Hawke’s Bay unemployment rose dramatically last month and building consents nationally were the lowest since the late 1980’s.
It is clear that the new Government are not underestimating the challenges. Nor should we. The residential property market is very slow, many older people have lost life savings in finance companies and confidence is falling. The National-led government will focus on private enterprise and increasing economic activity. This is what they stand for.
So what does it mean for the people of Hawke’s Bay. National has promised to intervene in two key issues.
- Firstly, the development of the airport is seen by them as a part of our critical infrastructure. They have offered complete support to the corporatisation process and longer term to possible changes in its ownership. Like me, they see it as a major economic driver for the region.
- Government will reappoint some of the former sacked District Health Board members to work alongside the current Commissioner in the running of the region’s health services.
More broadly, however, I expect some changes around local government. National will adopt a “less is more” approach. Less intervention and a streamlining of bureaucracy.
- In the first 100 days they have promised to propose significant changes to the Resource Management Act. It is likely they will impose strict timelines on processing of consent applications. They will attempt to remove layers of red tape from these processes.
- They are likely to use “call-in” provisions to avoid time delays in significant national RMA decisions. This effectively allows the Minister responsible to send such applications directly to the Environment Court without the usual Council hearing processes.
- There will be a major review of water management. Water is likely to have a value placed on it to allow trading in a market-type structure. Certain water bodies may have allocated priority uses in the national interest. Some rivers may have hydro priority and some recreational priority.
- A major infrastructure review including roading, water, wastewater and broadband. Councils are the most significant investors in these areas. A Minister of infrastructure will be appointed.
- A capping of civil servant numbers.
- A more flexible approach to climate change and Kyoto. It is likely the ETS will be modified to balance the macro economic needs of the country.
Of these the most significant is the development of a Minister of infrastructure. For too long we have stumbled along without any clear national framework. Councils are expected to complete and have audited, long term asset management plans for infrastructure. We do this, yet our Central Government spend does not operate under the same rules.
A significant part of my national role in the next few months will revolve around this area. While most people worry about the economy, health and education, the daily functioning of our society revolves around a first class level of infrastructure.
In summary, there will be some significant changes. I will be looking from a Council perspective towards some long term infrastructure planning; an end to the passing of legislation which adds an extra financial burden to ratepayers; a reduction in the amount of government led bureaucracy. I will also be watching to make sure our environment is enhanced and protected.
John Key would also do well to foster the Maori Party and all the gains that have been made around the Treaty.
We may be heading into difficult economic times, but I do like what I hear from John Key so far. In his victory speech he said: “We all need to work together in the common good of the nation.” I couldn’t agree more. We have led the way in this region and long may it continue.