When Local Leads
For centralisation to work, we need localism to flourish first.
Centralisation vs localism: it’s a constant policy debate in our country. Centralisation can offer particular efficiencies: fewer decision makers, a hierarchy, and accountability. But it can also produce bureaucracy, middle management overload and… gasp… waste. On the other hand, locally-created solutions can really help the areas they’re constructed in. There’s self-knowledge, an understanding of relationships, and a deep awareness of the problem being solved. Unfortunately, partiality and lack of resources can also hamstring local solutions.
What’s best? What’s certain is that for centralisation to work, we need localism to flourish first.
Consider the recent response of one local community who, with their volunteer firefighters cut off from central command in Wellington, decided to evacuate their entire settlement at 2am. Their commander, who knew the area, saw the rising river, knew how much rainfall it could take, and made the call. They woke the whole settlement up and evacuated all 600 people safely to higher ground, where they looked after them for the next 24 hours. The district manager said their actions undoubtedly saved lives and were “using their initiative and helping where they could.”
There are also the actions of the small West Auckland community of Karekare. Tired of waiting for the government to respond and clean up their town, they started doing it themselves. Both roads in and out had been closed, and they decided that instead of making more complaints that would fall on deaf ears, they would fix it themselves—getting chainsaws and diggers to clear roads and replace powerlines. That’s the local spirit at work.
“Local assemblies of citizens constitute the strength of free nations.”
Alexis de Tocqueville once said, “Local assemblies of citizens constitute the strength of free nations.” This strength has been on display in our local-led response to the flooding.
It doesn’t always work the other way around. Contrast the central response to the recent floods in and around Gisborne/Hawkes Bay areas, post Cyclone Gabrielle. Reports were circulating that roadworkers had guns pulled on them and gangs were threatening people. Asked about this at a press conference, the Prime Minister said, “Any suggestion that things are out of control is just wrong and amplifying those kinds of rumours isn’t helpful, and it doesn’t help the police to do their jobs.”
Unfortunately, it turns out that the incidents had happened; a group of roadworkers had guns pulled on them twice. They had reported the incidents to the police correctly.
Sadly, in apologising, Prime Minister Hipkins attempted to deflect blame away from himself to the police saying, “The information that I had from the police, at that point, was clearly incorrect.” He continued saying he regretted that the intel from the police was incorrect.
Police Commissioner Andrew Coster supported this view, but the fact is that those in power in Wellington can’t make decisions if they don’t get the correct information.
Without good local input, the central government falls down.
The policy debate will continue. With all the bad news about rebuilding, and as we continue the discussion, let’s keep these examples in mind. Without good local input, the central government falls down. Initiative and agency are crucial to fixing what nature (or we) break. As we consider rebuilding post-Gabrielle, let’s not give them away readily.go back