Strong reaction against ECan sacking

It was standing room only at a public meeting organised by the Green party in Christchurch last night to protest the government’s sacking of Environment Canterbury.

100 people who couldn’t get into the meeting held an impromptu meeting outside. The meeting hadn’t even been advertised in the media—who knows how many would have turned up if it had!

It’s and indication of just how riled people are at the way the government has sacked their democratically elected Regional Council on trumped up charges, before a single member of the public had been allowed to have their say.

They were even more furious when I pointed out that was no legal basis for sacking the Council. Nick Smith was forced to concede in Parliament that there was no justification for getting rid of the Council under any existing law. That’s why the government had to draft a new law to make its illegal act legal—and why it rammed it through Parliament under urgency and did not even allow submissions or a normal select committee process.

Everyone realises that the government got rid of ECan for exactly the same reason that Commodore Bainimarama got rid of democracy in Fiji—because they saw it as an obstacle to their plans—in their case, to fast track irrigation and dairying in Canterbury.

The new Commissioners will be accountable to Cabinet, not to the people of Canterbury. They will take their orders from Cabinet, not from the people of Canterbury. Cabinet will give these hand picked, unaccountable and unelected Commissioners their terms of reference, and will be able to change them any time, by executive fiat. And they will be able to fire any Commissioner who doesn’t carry out their instructions.

What has happened to ECan is not only an outrageous attack on democracy, its also a very dangerous precedent. Now that the government has got rid of eight Councils in Auckland, and one in Canterbury, many New Zealanders are wondering nervously which Council will get the chop next, on spurious and trumped up charges, next.

Here is a link to the speech I gave last night to the meeting.

If the government can get away with destroying a democratic institution because it doesn’t like their policies, then they can get away with anything. We must fight back.

If you’ve got any ideas how we can fight back I’d be interested to hear them, please comment below or send me an email here.

41 Comments Posted

  1. This is all a bit sad really. At today’s final and funereal meeting of the elected ECan, Cr Rik Tindall attempted to move that an election be held in November of this year. But ECan Chair Alec Neill ruled it out of order, saying:

    …even if the motion was endorsed there was no ability to enforce it because legislation suspending elections had already been passed.

    It seems that Neill hasn’t even read the new legislation properly. It states:

    22 2010 election for members of ECan must not be held
    (1) The triennial general election of members of ECan that would otherwise be held on the second Saturday in October 2010 (the 2010 election) must not be held and to that extent section 10(2) of the Local Electoral Act 2001 does not apply.
    (2) A notice given by an electoral officer in respect of the 2010 election under section 52 of the Local Electoral Act 2001 is of no force or effect.
    (3) If a notice referred to in subsection (2) has been given before the commencement of this section, the electoral officer must as soon as practicable give public notice that the 2010 election will not be held.

    Nothing there about prohibiting an election in November 2010 or at any time other than the second Saturday in October 2010.

    Or maybe Neill, who is a former National MP, was doing the bidding of his mates by interpreting it in a way that seems clear from the wording of the section is incorrect.

  2. The Government wanted to dilute water-conservation orders and boost irrigation in Canterbury months before the Creech investigation recommended sacking Environment Canterbury (ECan) councillors, newly released documents show.

    Legislation that will see the 14 councillors replaced by Government-appointed commissioners on May 1 also gives the commissioners extra powers to make decisions on water-conservation orders (WCOs).

    Papers released under the Official Information Act show that Agriculture Minister David Carter and Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) officials were considering how to take more water from Canterbury rivers six months ago.

  3. “The crisis”, wrote the Italian socialist, Antonio Gramsci, “consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”

    He quotes in the following essay.

  4. Tim Smith:

    [Tim] Smith has pleaded guilty to 21 charges brought by ECan, whose councillors were sacked by [his brother] Nick Smith and Local Government Minister Rodney Hide last month.

    Tim Smith and his company will be sentenced on the ECan charges, and another 12 charges brought by the city council over fencing and bund issues, in June.

    Smith was last week fined $16,000 on charges brought by the city council for failing to have a building consent for a relocatable site shed, which he said was stored temporarily at the company’s 10-hectare Christchurch yard.

    The ECan prosecution followed a police-accompanied inspection at the company’s Harewood yard last June, around the same time as Nick Smith was calling ECan “hopeless” in Parliament.

    Tim Smith said he used more colourful language.

    “I told them their organisation was bloody hopeless and they were all useless bastards who should be sacked,” he said.

    “I also told them that with some luck my brother and Rodney Hide would do something about it.

    Not a good look, as Double Dipton would say.

  5. dbuckley says: “I wonder how many of the people who are now wining about lack of democracy are the same people who a few months back were wining about the uselessness of ECan.”

    The only people who are likely to be ‘wining’ (and dining)about the sacking of a democratically elected council are those who have been ‘whining’ about E-can doing their job (including Nick Smith’s brother?)

  6. Funny.

    Sacking ECan is the best thing that has happened for years.

    I wonder how many of the people who are now wining about lack of democracy are the same people who a few months back were wining about the uselessness of ECan.

    They got what they wanted.


    To Idiot?/Savant I have just e-mailed Sue Kedgley bringing her attention to your website.

    The National government have made a huge tactical mistake! Simon Upton (Nat) drafted the Resourse Management Act, so they will now appear to be undermining their own legislation and hence dividing their own ranks.

    Should the E-Can councillors ignore Savants course the National government could be undermined by their own efficiency; Let me explain.

    The commissioners will no doubt be very efficient in dealing out water concents to all and sundry to those farmers who want it all and want it now.

    The forward stampede of ‘progress’ will appear to have the upper hand and dairy farmers will no doubt produce record amounts of milk exports to China which could improve the balance of payments for a while.

    This however will have a disastrous effect on the environment. The water table will drop drastically below the aquifer intakes and even water in christchurch will run out and the water it will get will be very polluted.

    Lake Ellesmere will begin to dry up and life in it will die and it already is dying. Like the Aral Sea (former USSR)

    These were the problems that the conservationists on E-Can were trying to anticipate and rectify.

    Therefore it is not a solution that can be rectified with a rubber stamp!!!

  8. Writes Sue K:—

    The new Commissioners will be accountable to Cabinet, not to the people of Canterbury. They will take their orders from Cabinet, not from the people of Canterbury. Cabinet will give these hand picked, unaccountable and unelected Commissioners their terms of reference, and will be able to change them any time, by executive fiat. And they will be able to fire any Commissioner who doesn’t carry out their instructions.

    Comparable and contrastable is utterance from one of the elected Mayors* who consented this whole process [ * I understand him to have been unopposed last time around ]. In the Hurunui News this day this fellow sincerely declared at the start of his final paragraph:—

    Democracy in my view comes with an overwhelming responsibility for accountability.

    New to me. Who knew..?

    But heh, those three big words sure look something. Don’t they?

    Rattled being one of them. Even to the point of his near conclusion that an earlier than 2013 Election — “restoring the democratic model” — is in his view the government’s total commitment.

    I’d like to add a couple of things here rather than further comments. First congrats to jingyang, my own feelings exactly.

    Second, having once tried email idiot savant and failing I’m taking opportunity to ask him withdraw a silliness of his earlier this week in saying that Obama was the same as Bush on a climate change aid. For his information the withdrawn $3mn to Bolivia would have gone through the State Dept. And, given Morales et al determinations to a Peoples Movement self-generating their own solutions in respect of Mother Earth – (qv upcoming large Latin American meetings next week I understand) – US aid could well have been perceived against the grain.

  9. Bushbasher states
    “And NZ unitary authorities already exist, notably Marlborough just next door”.

    Is Marlborough a positive example? There are huge tracts of monoculture pine forests and vineyards. Shelter trees have been removed; noisy frost protection installed; huge numbers of treated timber posts leaching chemicals into the soil; huge demands for water and a glut of grapes.

  10. Dumping ECan is of course a constitutional outrage. But it may just accelerate the inevitable restructuring, and for the better.

    One unitary authority for Canterbury would still be bound by the RMA to deliver sustainable development outcomes. And NZ unitary authorities already exist, notably Marlborough just next door.

    But even more notably, the unitary Auckland SuperCity will soon dominate NZ local government.

    Within a few months, one territorial authority will cover 1.5m people, while the other 2.5m are governed by 70-odd TA’s ranging in size down to 5k population.

    The shark and the minnows? Or the elephant and the ants?

  11. Worth a thought – it would certainly give the Canterbury junta a headache or two.

    Or, they could simply call a special general election under s8 Local Electoral Act. The Ecan Act only cancels the regular 2010 elections (and it is quite specific about this, even giving the date). It doesn’t cancel anything else. And if an election is held and new councillors take office, the dictatorship automatically expires.

    ECan should do this. They should fight for the democratic rights of the people they represent. Anything less is chickenshit.

  12. Any moves to abolish Regional Councils are short sighted.

    The imperatives of District and City Councils are to service and grow their rating bases.
    Regional Councils are charged with maintaining the qualities of soil, water and air.

    When a Unitary Authority has both responsibilities the drive for development takes precedence.

    This leads to more productive land being rezoned for urban sprawl and weakened management of water and air quality.

    Experience shows there needs to be ‘arm’s-length’ separation between these responsibilities.

    Regional Councils provide the opportunity for this.

  13. @idiot/savant
    I suppose it’s which constitutional theorists you follow and yes their are some conventions but have a look around some of the laws and you’ll see what they can and cannot do as well…

    I have a sneaky suspicion that labour wouldn’t undo it once it has been done personally,

  14. Government actions in abolishing the Canterbury Regional Council are outrageous and anti-democratic.

    During the 2009 NZ Community Board Conference in Christchurch, John Key and Rodney Hide extolled the need to keep local governance as close to the individual as possible.

    Subsequent actions in Canterbury (and Auckland) take governance away from the individual.

    Canterbury residents are right to be concerned.

    There can be no taxation without representation.

  15. Idiot/Savant, while you are correct that there is no provision in the Local Government Act or the Environment Canterbury (Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water Management) Act under which Cantabrians can petition to restore ECan elections, I think this might be worth exploring:

    Sections 25 and 45 of the Environment Canterbury (Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water Management) Act provide that certain provisions of the Local Government Act do not apply to ECan, but section 24, 25 and Schedule 3, which deal with local government reorganisation, are not among those. That possibly leaves the way open for Cantabrians to petition for a reorganisation proposal under Clause(1)(2)(d) of Schedule 3, the required number of petitioners being 10% of the electors of the affected region or regions.

    I’m not sure whether a proposal to simply abolish ECan (as constituted under the Local Government (Canterbury Region) Reorganisation Order 1989 and constrained from holding elections under the Environment Canterbury (Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water Management) Act) and replace it with an elected regional council with the same boudaries would constitute a valid reorganisation proposal – but certainly if there were to be boundary changes proposed, however minor, it would.

    A valid reorganisation proposal supported by 10% of Canterbury electors would kick into play the provisions of Schedule 3 of the Local Government Act. It is a tortuous process, but what would emerge at the end, if it were to be successful, including being supported by a 50% majority of Canterbury electors in a poll, would be a new elected regional council.

    Worth a thought – it would certainly give the Canterbury junta a headache or two.

  16. McTap, Kokako, etc: There is no ability to petition for an early election. We’re basically stuck with the Parliament we’ve got until 2011 (technically January 2012), unless John Key decides to call one earlier (which could be forced if he loses the confidence of the House i.e. if ACT and the Maori Party both abandon him. but I don’t see that happening)

    stephensmikm: There is no law saying the GG has to follow advice. It is a constitutional convention, and stronger for it. Laws, after all, can be changed under urgency by the whim of politicians…

    The GG has no ability to act independently. Their job is to go to garden parties and sign whatever is put in front of them. Political decision making is left to people who have a mandate – that is, people who are elected. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have a democracy, but a dictatorship.

    When elected politicians make decisions we don’t like, the proper solution is not to not go crying for a dictator, but to de-elect the pricks. And hopefully, that is exactly what we will do to National in 2011.

  17. If I lived In Canterbury, I’d be writing “No taxation without Representation” on my next ECan rates demand, and delaying my payment as long as I legally could.

    Perhaps someone would like to make a stamp with this one and set up in the Square offering to stamp rates demands?

    I think that would work for the supercity too…if the elected Auckland council has control over only 30% of the money…only pay 30% of the rates it demands.

  18. Well…If there aren’t any in the Central city, The University or in the Riccarton area malls …. The problem I find is that its more of a lack of balance with his blog, that by not following up other people’s concepts I couldn’t feel justified by his answered. It’d be great to see him as
    being almost a counter to that of people like Mr WOBH and CH and resultantly its just a paragraph that I cannot find out the total facts about (though yes I imagine It’d be nice not to have to deal with this sort of thing or the hell on Kiwiblog) 😀

    Oh @ jeremy Harris, They would GG’s tend to want to more than Her Majesty 🙂
    His/her choice I guess though..

  19. stephen – perhaps you need to get off campus more often.

    Idiot/savant is a star. Disallowing comments is unique amongst the bloggers I refer to and in his case, it’s a positive thing, imo, he’s thereby untroubled by trolling and other entanglements and free to get on with the job of exposing lies, misdirections and other disgraceful behaviours.

  20. @greenfly
    I believe that was the meeting I mentioned before , though since I have noticed one small a5 poster relating to it in the corner of the Uni Library 🙂

    Ps, I follow the Blog quite a lot, slightly funny how the guy comments on everyone elses but doesn’t let anyone comment on his but I shouldn’t complain since I don’t have the energy to set up one 😛

  21. The GG wouldn’t intervene ever then, they never do, in fact I once read someone’s piece who demonstrated that if the UK parliament passed a bill to execute the Queen she’d have to sign off on it, how ridiculous is that..!

  22. A GG is unbiased as so far that they accept the majority of the people ie, any referendum, any law , any parliamentary thing

    they’d only intervene where it was really bad like a Bill for torture , to extend parliament in a non war period etc

  23. Its the law – democracy at the national level unfortuantely, otherwise many Maori petitions would have been adressed alot sooner back in the days before proper Treaty consideration.
    If the GG could act unadvised in non extreme circumstances it would jepardise the system of governmentm, same under a non elective republic – the rule is the same in Aussie and Canada and the other 13 or so Commonwelath realms and a few commonwelath republics, local government gives way to National governemnt (in this case rather literally..) 🙂

    and this could not be considered an extreme circumstance that would threaten NZ

  24. How is that democratic ?? 8-(

    I thought the point of the GG was that they were the Queen’s unbiased rep ?

  25. @ Kokako

    You also have to remember if it requires the GG’s approval then He will have to take advice from either (or two of I can’t remember exactly) Rodney Hide, John Key, Nick smith or Mr Finlayson

  26. Agree with McTap – force an early election while the Govt is in strong disfavour with the electorate and before it can get its weasel words in order. It’s acting like a dictatorship with these anti-democratic actions sanctioned by the majority it commands and the company it keeps. A pity the Maori Party remains loyal to the Nats despite the lack of guardianship the Nats practice.

    Presumably the requirement for an early election is 10% of the electorate calling on a petition to the GovGen ? The last poll re the mining in NPs suggested 50% of the electorate at least, disagreed with the proposal and was it something like 20% of National voters ?? Seize the day !

  27. stephensmikm, you obviously don’t live in the caves in the wild parts of Akaroa where the Canterbury Liberation Army have been in training to overthrow the dictatorial regime and restore democracy.

    I understand David Carter is the first target.

    Before the fall, when they wrote it on the wall, when there wasn’t even any Hollywood; they heard the call and they wrote it on the wall, for you and me and we understood.

    (The Caves of Altamira, Steely Dan, 1976)

  28. Nah, Caves don’t have central heating 😛
    I was walking through the Central city yesterday and there was no one, the only protest sign at the uni I saw today was the Youth Health centre closure.

  29. @greenfly

    I’m not, I’m a Cantabrian, I haven’t seen anyone protesting it at all actually except that one thing last night or before

  30. Cantabrians aren’t going to wait til 2011, stephensmikm.

    I doubt they’ll wait til October 2010.

    They’ve been shafted by National.

    They’re not liking it.

  31. How will Cantabrians react when local body election time arrives in October and they alone, of all the regions in New Zealand ARE NOT GIVEN THE CHANCE TO VOTE FOR THEIR COUNCIL???

    I’d be spitting !

  32. Would waiting till 2011 or for a Labour Govt make a clear statement that the erosion of democracy will not be tolerated?

  33. How many signatures do you need to force an election? 10%? I think this lot will have aggravated at least 10% of voters already.

    Lets kick em out! even just as a warning for future govts not to act so undemocratically.

    Kick em out!

  34. As I have commented under another post, we are rapidly seeing our democratic institutions being devolved into the power and control of a select few. The Listener does an annual assessment of the most influentual NZrs, it will be interesting to see who they are at the end of next year.

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