6 Sep 2020

Councils push central government for four-year terms

9:15 am on 6 September 2020

A formal process to extend central and local government terms to four years has started.

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Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Local Government New Zealand, which is driving the bid, said it would ask the government to conduct a referendum on the proposal.

Councils around the country teamed up to support the idea, driven by Northland Regional Council.

Nelson City was among a list of councils to support the remit to the recent LGNZ annual meeting. Nelson said a four-year term would lead to better stability, while its youngest member, Rohan O'Neill-Stevens said it could lead to higher voter turnout and better decision-making.

The remit was passed with 87 percent support. An LGNZ spokesperson said it appeared it was the first time the organisation had made a bid to change the cycle.

Stuart Crosby

Stuart Crosby Photo: RNZ/ Andrew McRae

Newly elected president Stuart Crosby said there were high levels of frustration with the three-year term, and all the processes councils had to go through to make a decision.

He said three years was not enough time to get action on increasingly complex tasks.

Crosby said councils were going backwards faster than they were going forward.

"To get a decision made can take a long time, then a new council comes in and wants to review it so you take a step back before you go forward.

"That doesn't happen on every decision but on the major, big strategic decisions I've seen it happen time and time again."

A former Tauranga mayor, Crosby has been in local government for more than 30 years and remembered a time when it was relatively simple. Processes introduced by successive governments had made it increasingly complex.

"One of the real issues of course is that our decisions are generally for infrastructure that could have a 30, 50 or 100-year timeframe, so in the three-year term a new group of elected members and a new mayor may come in."

Crosby said that could mean a 30 to 50 percent change in a council, which then felt obliged to review decisions made by the previous council.

He said it was frustrating for the community which could be re-consulted again, and for staff who had to implement the decisions.

The process to change the electoral term would be very lengthy, and would take considerable analysis and consultation before any proposal could go through a legislative process.

"I think there's a lot of discussion to take place and some decisions to be made about the whole electoral cycle and the voting system, how people can vote and the actual information they get from candidates - that needs to be beefed up."