Ruapehu Mayor Don Cameron

A district mayor says Local Government New Zealand’s annual conference has confirmed that his council is on the right track for its future – but he says reforms such as Three Waters must go ahead.

Ruapehu District Council voted in March to join Communities 4 Local Democracy (C4LD) – despite long-time Mayor Don Cameron’s advice against doing so – to oppose the Government proposal to reform drinking, wastewater and stormwater services.

Cameron said yesterday the conference in Palmerston North showed Ruapehu was heading in the right direction, as long as Three Waters changes go ahead.

“Reform is essential, where our debt attributed to Three Waters will be paid back by the [water services entity] and our further work will be properly prioritised and carried out in a timely manner without cost to council,” Cameron said.

He added that informal discussion throughout last week’s conference among council attendees was all around moving on with the reforms.

“Particularly with Local Government Minister [Nanaia] Mahuta listening to our concerns and moving to take them into account – and particularly [in terms of] joining the reforms to aid their transition so one supports the other, rather than treating [each] as a separate reform.

“There was a realisation that Three Waters reform will go ahead and the C4LD models will not feature.”

In a brief video address to the conference, Opposition leader Christopher Luxon reiterated that National would repeal and replace the Three Waters reform model.

“An alternative model was not put forward,” Cameron said.

Also top of mind was the “very real” spectre of key water services staff being seconded or headhunted from local councils by the Department of Internal Affairs.


Cameron also said the Future for Local Government Review panel told the conference the legion of reforms were an opportunity to reset the purpose of local government around the four wellbeings: social, economic, environmental and cultural wellbeing.

This would entail enabling the community to lead from the bottom up with revitalisation projects and other community-led initiatives, and partnership with Government departments to deliver directly to local communities.

He said Ruapehu District Council had anticipated the move to strengthen the role of councils in community wellbeing. A project was already under way to develop baseline data for the state of community wellbeing in the district.

“[Chief executive] Clive Manley and I started on moving toward change from a conversation we had six years ago when it became obvious this Government would move ahead on reforms.

“Ruapehu District Council has been running a project where we have consulted and spoken with our communities over the past five years and joined with [data company] Dot Loves Data to drill into the stories and data collected to really understand details, both good and bad, for each community.”

Cameron said the detailed picture emerging on local wellbeing had already allowed the council to provide information to the Ministry of Social Development in a bid for targeted help and intervention in the Ruapehu district.

Asked if the question of amalgamating councils under the review had been raised, Cameron said amalgamation was not discussed and was not part of the Government’s reform programme.

He said key takeaways from the conference were the rapid move toward governance and partnership with iwi and Māori and the rise in numbers of Young Elected Members aged 40 and under. There was a correspondingly louder voice from younger elected members, particularly around climate change and honouring Te Tiriti o Waitangi, he said.

“Co-governance was well covered. The main concern was around funding for proper training and support for new Maori Ward members. There was also a caution from the Te Maruata (Māori members network) hui of the sheer volume of work that will continue to grow for iwi/Māori.”

He said apart from a few anti-reform or anti-Government attendees, the mood of the conference was “surprisingly positive”.

“It was more about looking for opportunity in this unsettled environment.”

It was Cameron’s last LGNZ conference as Ruapehu mayor. After three terms as mayor and 21 years in local government, the 74-year-old is not seeking re-election in this October’s local body elections.

“With only two or so months left, I am focused on our Wellbeing project, the North Island Passenger rail project, and getting our housing project across the line for further social houses in Ohakune and Taumarunui.”