On Friday NZ Historic Places Trust members received a letter telling them that NZHPT is to be renamed Heritage New Zealand from Monday April 14 even before the legislation which authorises the name change passes through Parliament. This represents appallingly poor process. The Bill has progressed extremely slowly since it was introduced to Parliament 2 ½ years ago.
The fate of the Trust demonstrates in one organisation the the key problems facing many of New Zealand’s public institutions. A disdain for proper process, reduced democratic and citizen engagement, low levels of funding, an emphasis on ‘efficiency and effectiveness’ and an economic growth agenda that trumps other approaches and values are all clearly present in the recent changes and the Bill before parliament.
The local groups which had been part of the Trust since its inception were got rid of by the government following the 2009 review. Attorney General Chris Finlayson said that activists for historic places would be better served by creating their own advocacy organisations. Without funding or expertise and from scratch this has been patchy at best. The government also reduced the membership of the trust’s board from 9 to 8 in 2009 and at the same time removed the three appointments made by members in favour of 100% government appointees. Thirdly an economic growth agenda has been laid over all of the work of the Trust including a requirement to assess the economic benefits when considering support to historic sites. The trust has to adopt cost benefit analysis and to endorse lower cost alternatives. The fourth issue is underfunding. The Christchurch earthquakes have clarified the enormous need for earthquake protection of older buildings. The trust has received significant funds from earthquake insurance but this has not been matched by an increase in funding from the government for existing buildings.
A popular and longstanding public institution has been devalued and 23,000 members disenfranchised in favour of a corporatized model focussed on economic rather than historical or cultural benefits’ in a way that is becoming familiar across much of the public sector.
Preliminary results of 2009 Review
Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Bill
In 2006 when in opposition Chris Finlayson spoke strongly against diluting the rights of members in the Trust but his views then are strongly contradicted by what he has overseen since.