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Revitalising democracy: LGNZ President Dave Cull’s opening address to the 2018 LGNZ Conference

Kia ora tatou and welcome to the 2018 Local Government New Zealand conference.  

Tena koutou katoa e hui hui mai nei

Ki nga mate - haere, haere, haere atu ra

E nga mana, e nga reo, e rau rangatira ma. Tena koutou

E nga iwi, tena koutou, tena koutou tena tatou katoa

Ministers Hon Grant Robertson, Hon Dr Megan Woods, Hon Eugenie Sage, members of parliament Hon Jacqui Dean and Lawrence Yule, former LGNZ President, delegates, central government officials, LGNZ partners and particularly our members, New Zealand’s 78 local governments. 

Kia ora tatou and welcome to the 2018 Local Government New Zealand conference.  It is wonderful to be with you all here in Christchurch.  Our gratitude goes out to our host Mayor Hon Lianne Dalziel and the city for your warm welcome.

Thank you too Minister for your opening remarks and we agree on:

  • the strong importance of local and central government partnership on the economic, environmental, social and cultural well-being of New Zealanders;
  • working together to address the country’s needs, common priorities and agreed of work agreed around housing, water, climate change and regional development;
  • and we are pleased with the Government’s commitment to look at a new approach to local government funding.

On behalf of LGNZ a huge thank you to our sponsors, partners and delegates who have made this conference possible.

Conference theme

The theme of this year’s conference is firmly focused on the future: Future-proofing for a prosperous and vibrant New Zealand.

The theme follows on from LGNZ’s manifesto for a prosperous and vibrant New Zealand, launched at our annual conference last July, outlined LGNZ’s vision and policy to enable local government to deliver leadership, services, infrastructure and governance. An important document, our manifesto drives our policy and positions us as the leaders of progress for this country.

We have five strategic policy themes: infrastructure and funding, risk and resilience, environment, social issues and economic development and a strong collective voice with a vision for strong local democracy and successful communities.

The past year

My first year in the President’s role has been focused on engaging with the members, and building new advocacy inroads and relationships with the Government.

The 2017 general election provided a significant opportunity to assertively advocate for that progress with the leaders of our biggest political parties. Extensive lobbying across the political spectrum put us on the front foot to work with the new Government, and pleasingly a range of our manifesto positions were taken up in Government coalition talks and agreements. This underscores the strength of our positions and priorities.

Regular meetings with the Prime Minister are underway, and we now have good working relationships with the Local Government, Climate Change, Finance and Tourism Ministers partnering together on the issues that matter most.

And the Central and Local Government Forum, held in May, served further to solidify alignment between central and local government on many issues.  There was respectful and future focused conversation between Ministers and National Council on four agreed areas of focus – water, climate change, regional development and housing.

Good early wins included the introduction of the Well-beings Amendment Bill and the Local Electoral Matters Bill to support trials of online voting in the 2019 local authority elections, agreement to undertake a comprehensive review of local government funding and, meanwhile, increased funding support for land transport and likely changes to tourism infrastructure funding. The endorsement of local government’s role in social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being outcomes is particularly pleasing and I would like to pay particular appreciation to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Local Government Hon Nanaia Mahuta for that.

LGNZ’s key policies

In late 2017 the LGNZ National Council embarked upon a national roadshow visiting all 78 members.  The roadshow confirmed our strategic policy priorities and identified the extent of issues and also set the direction of our four main projects; Water 2050, Climate Change, Housing 2030 and Localism.  For example the roadshow identified that supply, affordability and quality of housing is a national issue.  I will speak in greater detail soon about our Localism policy project, Revitalising democracy: going local, and the discussion we believe the country needs to have.

The need for more effective funding and financing tools for infrastructure was a key message from our councils, and has been marked as a priority workstream. In particular we have continued to work closely with the Government on the three waters, and we will be working to ensure policy development around the regulation and provision of water services and associated funding streams is fit for purpose for our communities.

LGNZ will continue to advocate on the issues that matter to our members and their communities, guided by our strategic advocacy principles of leadership, best value and performance for our communities and localism.

The coming year holds further opportunities for our communities; opportunities to future-proof our infrastructure, adapt to the impacts of climate change, properly fund our tourism infrastructure, create stronger regional economies, address our housing needs and deliver communities that are vibrant and prosperous.

I firmly believe that the best way forward is to embrace the challenges as opportunities. We live in a more and more rapidly changing world. The only organisations that will succeed are those that understand that reality and respond nimbly and positively.

On that note, today we launch our localism policy project. 

Local Government position statement on localism

Local government is calling for a shift in the way public decisions are made in New Zealand by seeking a commitment to localism.  Instead of relying on central government to decide what is good for our communities it is time to empower councils and communities themselves to make such decisions.

The current process reflects the imbalance of power and authority that exists between central and local government.  Balance needs to be restored so that both local and central government contributes equally to the governance of New Zealand in an integrated way according to its unique strengths and competence.

The urgent need to properly empower councils is reinforced by the fact that decentralised countries tend to have higher levels of prosperity than centralised ones.

Today I am pleased to announce a proactive programme designed to rebalance power and authority between our two spheres of government, local and central – LGNZ’s Localism project in partnership with The New Zealand Initiative and Dr Oliver Hartwich – Revitalising democracy: going local.  It is no longer a secret that we are the most fiscally centralised country in the developed world and this needs to change.

We’re calling for an active programme of devolution and decentralisation.

For New Zealand and its communities to prosper for the long term we need to build on the knowledge, vitality and entrepreneurial spirit of our communities.  “One size fits all policies” dictated by central government no longer work in the more diverse and challenging world we find ourselves in – we need to localise and the funding must follow.

This is the goal of LGNZ’s localism project which many of you will be aware of through our Business Plan and which is now formally underway.  Based on the work of a reference group that we are convening over the next few months, the key elements of this programme will be a  Localism Symposium in early 2019, the release of a discussion paper at LGNZ Conference 2019 and the publication of a Localism Agenda in early 2020; the year of the general election. 

Information on the Localism project and why we are undertaking it is available at the back of the room for you to take away.


Finally, I will take this opportunity to thank a few people for their support over the last year. 

Thanks to all mayors and chairs, elected members and council staff for the tireless work they do in their communities. 

Thanks to my LGNZ National Council colleagues and especially Vice President Stuart Crosby for their work and support.

Thanks to my own council – the councillors, my CEO and her executive team for enabling me to conduct this role.

And particular acknowledgment of the work of the staff at LGNZ and EquiP for their professionalism, knowledge and dedication.

Along with our members we are now focussing on what matters, with a strong vision, a clear strategy and runs on the board.


On that note, I declare the conference open and wish you all the best for the next two days and beyond.

Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā tātou katoa