Our Vice President elect Monique Davidson spoke at the Future for Local Government final report launch event on 21 June 2023 at the Wharewaka Function Centre in Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington. We would like to share Monique's speech and a recording of the launch for those who missed it.

Watch a recording of the launch.

Tēnā tātou kua tae mai nei i tēnei rā.

Ko tēnei taku mihi ki ngā mana whenua o te rohe nei

Ka mihi hoki au ki ngā tohu o te rohe nei

Tae noa ki te whānau kaunihera katoa o te motu

Kei te mihi, kei te mihi, kei te mihi.

Ko Tararua te maunga te rū nei taku ngākau

Ko Ōhau te awa e mahea nei āku māharahara

Nō Horowhenua ahau

E mihi ana ki ngā tohu o nehe, o Horowhenua e noho au.

Ko Monique Davidson

Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā tātou katoa.

I would like to acknowledge mana whenua, Jim and his fellow Panel members, Stuart and LGNZ, leaders in local and central government, and distinguished guests.

I’m Monique Davidson, Chief Executive of Horowhenua District Council and here today as Vice-President elect on the Taituarā Board, representing the 1000s of professionals who like me work in local government, because we believe in the power of communities, the power of place-based leadership, community led decision making and partnerships at place.

First though I would like to extend sincere apologies from our current President - Sanchia Jacobs. Sanchia is unable to be with us today due to her current work commitments with the Hawkes Bay Recovery Authority – a project that is incredibly important to the communities of the Hawke's Bay.

I also know Jo Miller, President elect for the Board is absolutely gutted she can’t be here with us today.

At the launch of the review in April 2021, on behalf of Taituarā, Jo painted a picture of era scale change on a par with the Industrial revolution and emphasised the critical role local government has in enabling our communities to make necessary transitions to the future in a way that protects and enhances their wellbeing and reduces inequity. She would have very much liked to be here to welcome the findings and 17 recommendations of the Panel’s final report.

On behalf of Taituarā and local government professionals in Aotearoa, I’d like to thank the Panel for the inclusive and extensive engagement it has undertaken since 2021, the boldness it has shown in its final report, and its unwavering commitment to communities and the creation of world-leading local government here in Aotearoa.

The challenges Jo mentioned in 2021 have not gone away. If anything - they have become greater. Last year Treasury’s Wellbeing Report highlighted that our current generation of younger people fare worse than older people - with the real possibility that for the first time in history the next generation won’t be better off.

This year we have seen unprecedented weather events, the declaration of another national state of emergency, and many communities devastated. There is also a cost-of-living crisis and now the nation has formally entered a recession. There are big capability gaps within local government, many reforms underway, and many councils are stretched.

These challenges can’t be solved by yesterday’s thinking – transformation of the system is needed. We must focus on ora – on intergenerational wellbeing and equity – like we have never done before.

The Panel has painted the burning platform for change. 'He piki tūranga, he piki kōkutu' provides roadmap to do things differently. When I read its 17 recommendations – particularly alongside the 20 recommendations in the Productivity Commission’s final report “A fair chance for all” – there can be no doubt that wellbeing must be the shared purpose of local and central government.

The Panel’s vision – a revitalised local government system centred on a Tiriti-based partnership with Māori, strengthened inclusive democracy and intergenerational wellbeing entrenched as the core purpose of local government - is Taituarā’s vision too. And it’s great to see the Panel’s recommendations reflect our recommendations to it.

Councils already play a vital role in the building of strong, healthy, and prosperous communities. They are place-makers, anchor institutions, and convenors of the system. Earlier this month we celebrated the 2023 Taituarā Local Government Excellence Awards, showcasing some of the best work of councils and the efforts and skills of long standing and emerging leaders in local government.

It is no coincidence that the supreme award is usually taken out by councils involved in visionary wellbeing projects that improve equity in partnership with communities – for example this year’s winner Hutt City Council’s housing project Takai Here Tāngata.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Every day we see the power of community based leadership across local government.

Back in the day …. That is some 13 years ago when I first started working in local government, roads, rates and rubbish was a frequent phrase you would often hear.

It soon dawned on me that I had arrived in a sector so broad in its mandate and with responsibilities so connected to community influence, impact, and decision making that I soon realised what profound opportunities local government provides to make a real difference to the lives of people.

These days I often hear about “the Council” reminding those people around me that Council isn’t some faceless organisation, with a capital “C”, Council not only serves community, it is community. Made up of real people who choose to contribute to a broader purpose than just simply a job.

The Council I know is not just about roads, rates and rubbish – it is about enabling what matters for the people we serve.

I want to share with you a recent note I received from one of our Mayors' Taskforce for Jobs staff member at Horowhenua District Council

“Sometimes the days are long but the reward is worth it. This week I brought a young person their first ever properly fitted bra so their first interview outfit looked on point, and she felt good about herself. Not just a CV or a bag of tools but the power of confidence”

Just sit with that for a moment ……That’s the Council I know.

With increased, sustainable funding from central government and co-investment in wellbeing outcomes, effective stewardship, and a dedicated focus on the central–local government relationship, we know that partnerships, community empowerment and wellbeing will all be improved.

The Panel has presented a burning platform for change. The challenges our communities face today and over the next 30 years require central and local government to do things differently.

We must start the process now. Local government leaders must rise to the challenge the Panel has set us – to lead the reform process with our communities.

And while we call on central government to play its part by working in a collaborative way to move these recommendations forward, we don’t have time to wait. More importantly our communities can’t afford for us to wait. The big challenges they face – responding to climate change, inequality and social inclusion – require transformative change to happen now.

But this is not tinkering around the edges – it is a fundamental reset of the system. Future structures need to be locally designed with communities in partnership with Māori. The process must build trust and confidence in local government, meet local needs and aspirations for intergenerational wellbeing and enable local government to meet the challenges of tomorrow. We must think and act differently.

If we want to see a thriving future for the communities we collectively serve, then we have to prioritise making a transition to the new system. This is not about politics. We need to put the Panel’s solid platform and roadmap for transition into action. Local government needs to step up and lead the change.

It starts with you, it starts with me, it starts with all of us.

This is a challenging and inspiring time for the professional staff of local government. Taituarā are mid-way through a strategic reset to re-energize the organisation and support our members as they go through unprecedented change. As part of this reset, we are actively considering how we can contribute to better stewardship and raise the capability of local government staff to drive the change with the urgency and skill our communities deserve.

Ora - people thriving in place - is mission critical for both central and local government because everyone doing well matters.

We thank the Panel for their great work and while there will be differences in opinion on particular recommendations, we urge the Government and all parties to support the Panel’s roadmap and enable system change.

There is much mahi to do. Let’s seize the chance 'He piki tūranga, he piki kōkutu' provides to define our new future that so that all of our places and all of our people thrive.

Ko te pae tawhiti, whāia kia tata,

Ko te pae tata, whakamaua kia tina.

Seek to bring distant horizons closer,

Sustain and maintain those that have arrived.

Nō reira e ngā iwi, ngā tangata, nō ngā hau e wha,

tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.