Thursday, April 02, 2009

A referendum on the supercity

There seems to be a consensus emerging across the blogs that the Royal Commission's proposal for Auckland - and particularly for at-large election - is undemocratic and needs to be changed. Hopefully that reflects a wider feeling in society as well, which will see the plan modified in a more democratic direction. But while we're arguing about the nitty gritty of who gets how many councillors, the big question has been ignored: do Aucklanders actually want this "SuperCity"?

Local government belongs to the people. And these sorts of massive changes to local government - to levels of representation, to its powers and duties, and to its relationship with central government - are significant enough that they require popular approval. They should not be foisted upon the people of Auckland by central government whether they want it or not - instead, Aucklanders should actually be asked about it.

Once the government has decided upon its model, it should ask Aucklanders in a series of local body referendums. In order to implement the changes, it should require not just a majority across the region, but a majority in each local authority. It is not tenable for the people of Rodney to be forced into a supercity they do not want by the votes of people in Auckland City, not for the people of North Shore to be stripped of their local government by the votes of the people of Waitakere. Joining should be voluntary - and depending on which local bodies join, the supercity may still be able to go ahead (Rodney and Franklin for example could easily become their own unitary authorities). But if the people of Auckland - or the people of one if its major components - don't want it, the plan should not proceed. It's their local government, after all.