It is a relatively new notion that elected representatives must go to their communities again and again to ‘consult’ them about they think of this plan or that plan, this budget or that budget, this vision or that idea. It is also a very expensive notion and one that has the potential to do more harm to democracy than almost any other. In New Zealand, successive amendments to the 1989 legislation built on its basic philosophical direction of providing for public participation in local government.
The reality is there’s only so far those elected can take notice of the diverse opinions of their communities until they are forced to make some real decisions based on all the facts. So, there’s always someone who is going to be disappointed. Accusations of ‘not listening’ or ‘paying lip service’ are hurled at the politicians and no-one is really satisfied. Least of all those rate payers and tax payers who quietly get on with their lives.
What has happened is that a HUGE industry has grown up around the consultation game and this in turn has led to whole departments of council staff and whole businesses of professional consultants getting in on the act and eating up large amounts of rate payers’ and tax payers’ dollars. Their costs are blitzed only by the glossy consultation brochures they produce.
After years of this charade it is not surprising that far from ‘engaging’ communities to ‘have their say’ the whole thing is one big voter turn-off (except for those professional whingers and moaners who have designed their lives around it).
Why? - Because nobody still believes for one second that anything they say will be listened to by the powers that be.
Consultation has become a ‘dirty word’. Council questionnaires are of dubious quality, would not stand scrutiny by any professional, unbiased survey organisation and are now designed to be part of Council’s spin machine.
As a latest example of this, I refer to the Whaleoil blog.
AUCKLAND COUNCIL’S DODGY SURVEY DELIVERING AS EXPECTED
The Auckland Council’s farcical and illegal survey is now in full PR spin mode as the boffins try to tell the story that Aucklanders want tolls.
Motorway tolls are gaining far more support from Aucklanders than lifting rates and fuel taxes to fill a $12 billion transport funding gap over 30 years.
A snapshot Auckland Council has given the Herald of public feedback received in consultations over its 10-year budget also shows more than twice as much support for a $10.3 billion enhanced transport programme than for a stripped-down $6.9 billion version it warns will be the Super City’s lot if it cannot raise extra money.
The consultations began on January 23 and remain open for submissions until March 16.
Tolls have been backed by 51 per cent of 3418 responses received so far to a council mailout, and 17 per cent have indicated part support.
With a population of over 1.5 million to receive just 3418 responses is laughable. It is only 0.22% of a percent. Len Brown will no doubt claim this as an endorsement.
There weren’t any choices on the form. Nobody could choose ‘nothing’ so it’s a narrowly focussed and deliberate set of questions to answer anyway.
But that said the survey is also unlawful. It contained no analysis of each alternative with costings for example. That is required under the Local Government Act.
I raised this issue myself some weeks back.
It is one heck of a power struggle brewing between Auckland Council and the Government. I suspect it is going to get worse.