Fireworks ban flares up as issue for Masterton

Masterton man Chris Eichbaum is bitterly disappointed Masterton District Council (MDC) did not support a remit at the Local Government NZ (LGNZ) conference this year seeking to ban the sale of fireworks.

At the conference in July a remit proposed by Auckland Council that "LGNZ works with central government to introduce legislation to ban the sale of fireworks to the general public and end their private use" passed with 64 percent support.

A post on Neighbourly on Tuesday revealed MDC did not vote in favour, which was confirmed by a council spokesman.

"How many people did they consult before making that obviously ill-informed decision," a resident wrote.

"How dare they decide it's okay to continue with this stupid and outdated activity which causes such harm."

A spokesperson for the council said the decision not to support the remit "followed a discussion by elected members, where the majority of them felt that it was not the council's role to seek to control sale of fireworks".

LGNZ will today speak to Parliament's Governance and Administration Committee on the issue.

The committee is considering three petitions seeking a ban on the sale of fireworks, one organised by Dr Eichbaum, who has already presented in person to the committee.

Dr Eichbaum, who lives in Masterton and works at the School of Government in Wellington, said his Airedale dog Milly "did it hard again" this year and had to be sedated as fireworks were continually set off around the town.

A public fireworks display in Masterton organised by the Lions was called off this year, with organisers saying they did not get enough money from council.

Dr Eichbaum said he was bitterly disappointed MDC did not vote for the remit and asked what process they went through to arrive at that position.

He said it was worrying they "would sit down and have a cup of tea and decide how they were going to vote".

"It begs the question why they voted that way and whether there was any process sitting behind it," he said.

He said they did not consult the community and he would be happy to go along to council and tell them how he felt about the issue.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said last week she would read select committee reports from the three petitions. But she said to the Wairarapa Times-Age the government was not looking to rule them out just now.

"The government is happy to look at the select committee findings as it is a good time to hear from the public again on the issue," Ms Ardern said.

Dr Eichbaum said he got the politics of the issue. The government would be accused of being fun police, but that did not change the situation for his pet.

A spokesperson for LGNZ said one of their staff would make a submission to the committee on Wednesday and the organisation was likely to favour an approach of each council taking a position on the issue, as had occurred with the issue of retail trading on certain public holidays.

Dr Eichbaum said there needed to be a national approach. If one council banned the sale of fireworks people would just go to another area to buy them.

Local authorities lack power on fireworks issue - LGNZ

Background papers produced by LGNZ said ad hoc private use of fireworks was distressing both people and animals and causing damage but territorial authorities did not have a lot of power to deal with the issue.

The issue was raised during the review of the Auckland Council's Public Safety and Nuisance Bylaw 2013 which prohibits setting off fireworks on public places.

During the review of the bylaw, Auckland Council separately resolved to request the government to introduce legislation to ban the sale of fireworks to the general public and end their private use.

But the review of Auckland Council's Public Safety and Nuisance Bylaw 2013 identified that a territorial authority had no regulatory powers to ban the retail sale of fireworks to the general public.

A territorial authority's regulatory powers in relation to fireworks are limited to prohibiting fireworks from being set off on or from a public place and addressing nuisance and safety issues that may arise from their use on other places, including on private property.

Enforcement was also challenging and resource-intensive.

Auckland Council, and potentially other territorial authorities, do not have capacity to respond to all complaints during peak times, and it is difficult to catch people in the act, LGNZ documents said. There can also be health and safety risks for compliance staff.

"A ban on the sale of fireworks through legislative reform would therefore be the most efficient and effective way of addressing issues," the document said.

Public feedback between October and December 2018 on the decision of Auckland Council to request a ban on the sale of fireworks was overwhelmingly supportive.

Feedback to Auckland Council's resolution was received from 7997 people online. Feedback showed 89 percent (7041) in support and 10 percent (837) opposed.

The argument against was that a ban would be excessively restrictive and "would end a key part of Kiwi culture and tradition".

There was an unsuccessful petition in 2015 with 32,000 signatures, including the SPCA, SAFE and the New Zealand Veterinarians Association.

A retail sale of fireworks to the general public is prohibited in every Australian jurisdiction except the Northern Territories and Tasmania where strict restrictions on the sale and use are in place.

MDC has a public places bylaw which says people can not set of fireworks in a public place without permission or near a public place in a way that does, or is likely to, create a nuisance.

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Local Democracy Reporting is a public interest news service supported by RNZ, the Newspaper Publishers' Association and NZ On Air.

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