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LOCAL GOVERNMENT., Issue 8009, 11 September 1889
To say that the report ,o| the Local Government Committee is unsatisfactory is but to feebly describe its demerits. It certainly lays down certain lines to be folio wed,, but it gives no indication whatever as to how the proposed changes are to be effected. “ Decentralisation” is a cheap war cry for an election platform; and it does not say much for the genius or capacity of the Committee .that they were unable to supplement ihat Jphrase with more detailed proposals than are to be found in the report. As we read it, however, it does not at alLfuggest the restoration of anything'approximating to the restoration of provincial government. On the cont^ry,'the proposals bear the aspect of recommending that the Oolpny should be divided into a number of local government districts, to be constituted by the amalgamation of four or more counties having unity of interest and possessing larger powers, exercising more extensive functions, and endowed with larger and more assured finances than the present local bodies now possess. Where there are counties, they would remain as they now are, with the exception of having the main roads and bridges handed over to the local district councils; where road boards still reign supreme, they also would be suffered to exist; but the continuance of the two bodies will not be permitted in any such local district. This is as it should be. As at present constituted, the functions of the county councils are so limited that they can only be. regarded as road boards on a large scale. In this Island the tendency has been to merge these boards in the councils, to the manifest economical working of the system. But in the North the contrary prevails, and county councils and road boards exist together, with the result of endless confusion. Even in Canterbury there is one county which continues refractory, and will not put the Counties Act into force. One result of ,this has been that a main bridge over' a very dangerous river has gone to ruin, and is now closed, because the Road Board within whose jurisdiction it is have not, and cannot, raise the funds to put it in repair. This is a sample of the reductio ad absurdum of local government on too small a scale. The aim of the Committee—reading between the lines of their report —is to put an end to this sort of thihg by the constitution of larger local bodies, certainly not by the restoration of provincial councils. That is a dream of the past, never to be renewed. Certain it is that our country cousins, having once -tasted the pleasures and realised the benefits of real local government, will never consent to bend again to the yoke of provincial government. What they want is simply greater powers over more extended areas; and this conceded, they may fairly be entrusted with many of the functions that are now vested in the General Government. What these functions should be the Committee refrain from stating, which is a mistake. But probably, as they desire to have the Committee reconstituted next session, they will then further enlighten us on this and other points. In the meantime it is well to refrain from suggesting what those functions should be; but there are some things which occur to us as coming strictly within the scope of local government—as, for instance, the ! dispensing of charitable aid, the control of hospitals, the duties now discharged by land boards and education boards, and, in fact, all matters which dealt with at Wellington and elsewhere—which could be more satisfactorily dealt with in such local districts as appear to be contemplated by the Committee. The object mostly to be kept in view is to free the Parliament from the eternal grabbing of votes for roads and bridges and all matters of strictly local import, and to restrict Parliament to its primary duty of legislation, and the protection of the general interests of the country. If this could be secured' the gain to the Colony would be enormous, both financially and from a legislative point of view. But so long as the merits of a member are gauged by his capacity for getting a big share of the public funds for local works, there never will be a Parliament in New Zealand deserving the name.
This leads up to the question of finance, which must .be the supreme test of any scheme of local government. If the General Government are relieved of any considerable portion of the work which now devolves on them, they must part with some portion of their present revenue. It is idle to suppose that local bodies would consent to undertake increased duties, involving increased expenditure, whilstleavingthe whole of the revenue in the hands of the General Government, Here, then, the Committee will have to make such proposals as will commehd'themselves to the country and the Parliament, ontheir deliberations will not bear fruit. There seems to be no reason why such an arrangement could not be made. In fact, it would be a very simple bargain. The local district councils undertaking to relieve the General Government of certain duties would require an equivalent in revenue, and both would be gainers by the change. As to the . exclusion of the four large cities, it may be said that these have already municipal functions sufficient for all purposes; and we take it that the citizens would scarcely care to be troubled, about the affairs of the Taieri,' or Tuapeka, or Mamptoto, or to have representatives
from those districts interfering in City affairs. And the one would include the other if a scheme of general finance were imported into the discussion. Let all the boroughs everywhere continue to manage their own business. They are not included in the counties even now, and there is no sufficient reason why they should be incorporated and swallowed up in any scheme of local government, such as seems to be seething in the minds of the Committee.
LOCAL GOVERNMENT., Issue 8009, 11 September 1889
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