Friday, September 17, 2010

Canterbury Enabling Act enables privatisation

On Tuesday, Parliament unanimously passed the Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Act, giving Minister for Earthquake Recovery Gerry Brownlee absolute dictatorial power to change any law he wants. Brownlee is one of the last Ministers I'd trust with such power, and he's already committed his first abuse, in the form of the Canterbury Earthquake (Local Government Act 2002) Order 2010. The order exempts the Canterbury Regional Council, Christchurch City Council, Selwyn District Council, and Waimakariri District Council from the decision-making and consultation provisions of the Local Government Act - which means they don't have to identify alternatives and weigh costs, benefits and impacts, or consider whether a decision is inconsistent with their long-term plans, or consult the community. They can just make a decision and bulldoze it through. Bob Parker must be creaming his pants.

But that's not all. The order also exempts those local authorities from sections 88 and 97 of the Local Government Act. The first requires the authority to use a special consultative procedure if they wish to change the mode of delivery of council services. The second requires them to use that procedure if they wish to no longer provide significant services, or transfer the ownership of strategic assets. Together, the exemption means that those councils can privatise local assets without any form of consultation. To turn that into a concrete example, Gerry Brownlee just gave Bob Parker the power to privatise Christchurch's buses without consultation.

This is exactly what people were worried about when the Canterbury Enabling Act was passed. Not the extreme examples, which served primarily to demonstrate the absurd breadth and overreach of this constitutional outrage, but the little things, all bulldozed through in the name of "earthquake recovery". And it took them all of one day to demonstrate that those fears were justified.

Thanks, Labour and Green MPs. I hope you're happy now.

Update: Retitled, to avoid burying the lead.

And correction... I failed to notice the exemption of s97(1)(b), which specifically covers asset transfers. So Bob will have to consult if he wants to sell the buses. But he can still privatise services by contracting them out - and that's bad enough.