Local government in New Zealand
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New Zealand has a unitary system of government in which the authority of the central government defines sub-national entities. Local government in New Zealand has only the powers conferred upon it by the New Zealand Parliament.
As defined in the Local Government Act 2002, the purpose of local government is:
- to enable democratic local decision-making and action by, and on behalf of, communities; and
- to meet the current and future needs of communities for good-quality local infrastructure, local public services and performance of regulatory functions in a way that is most cost-effective for households and businesses.
The model of local government introduced after New Zealand became a British colony in 1840 had nothing in common with the tribal system practised by Māori. The New Zealand Constitution Act 1852, a British Act of Parliament, established six provinces in New Zealand—Auckland, New Plymouth (later to be renamed Taranaki), Wellington, Nelson, Canterbury, and Otago—based on the six original planned settlements. These provinces were largely autonomous; each had an elected council and an elected chief official, called a superintendent. The New Provinces Act 1858 allowed for the creation of Hawke's Bay, Marlborough, Southland (abolished 1870) and Westland provinces, established between 1858 and 1873.
The Constitution Act also allowed the creation of municipal corporations, or local governments, within provinces. Municipal corporations could be overruled by the province in which they were located. One of the first municipal corporations established was the Wellington City Corporation, created in 1870.
The provinces have broken down because of their coming into conflict with the colonial government on many points, and especially on points of finance. Their doom was only a question of time, when it became obvious that they could not raise their own revenue; that they had to look to the general government to supply deficiencies; and that they could not borrow without the colony becoming liable.
The provinces were abolished in 1876 so that government could be centralised, for financial reasons. Provincial councils were dependent on central government for revenue, and all except Otago and Canterbury were in financial difficulties at the time of their abolition. Since then, Parliament has been the single and supreme source of power—local authorities are created by Parliament and can be abolished by it. The provinces are remembered in regional public holidays and sporting rivalries.
From 1876 onwards, local authorities have distributed functions varying according to the local arrangement. A system of counties similar to other countries' systems was instituted, lasting with little change (except mergers and other localised boundary adjustments) until 1989. In the 1989 reforms, the central government completely reorganised local government, implementing the current two-tier structure of regions and territorial authorities constituted under the Local Government Act 2002. The Resource Management Act 1991 replaced the Town and Country Planning Act as the main planning legislation for local government.
Auckland Council is the newest local authority. It was created on 1 November 2010, combining the functions of the existing regional council and the region's seven previous city and district councils into one "super-city". It brings the number of unitary authorities in New Zealand to five.
New Zealand has two tiers of local government. The top tier consists of regional councils, of which there are eleven. The second tier consists of territorial authorities, of which there are sixty-seven. The territorial authorities comprise thirteen city councils, fifty-three district councils and Chatham Islands Council. Five territorial authorities are also unitary authorities, which perform the functions of a regional council in addition to those of a territorial authority. Most territorial authorities are wholly within one region, but there are a few that cross regional boundaries. In each territorial authority there are commonly several community boards, which form the lowest and weakest arm of local government. The outlying Chatham Islands have a council with its own special legislation, constituted with powers similar to those of a unitary authority.
Each of the regions and territorial authorities is governed by a council, which is directly elected by the residents of that region, district or city. Each council may use a system chosen by the outgoing council (after public consultation), either the bloc vote (viz. first past the post in multi-member constituencies) or single transferable vote.
Local government jurisdictions
Regional councils all use a constituency system for elections, and the elected members elect one of their number to be chairperson. Regional councils are funded through rates, subsidies from central government, income from trading, and user charges for certain public services. Councils set their own levels of rates, though the mechanism for collecting it usually involves channelling through the territorial authority collection system. Regional council duties include:
- environmental management, particularly air and water quality and catchment control under the Resource Management Act 1991.
- regional aspects of civil defence.
- transportation planning and contracting of subsidised public passenger transport.
Cities and districts
The territorial authorities consist of thirteen city councils, fifty-three district councils and one special council for the Chatham Islands. A city is defined in the Local Government Act 2002 as an urban area with 50,000 residents. A district council serves a combination of rural and urban communities. Each generally has a ward system of election, but an additional councillor is the mayor, who is elected at large and chairs the council. They too set their own levels of rates. Territorial authorities manage the most direct government services, such as water supply and sanitation, public transport, libraries, museums and recreational facilities.
The territorial authorities may delegate powers to local community boards. The boundaries of community boards may be reviewed before each triennial local government election; this is provided for in the Local Electoral Act 2001. These boards, instituted at the behest of either local citizens or territorial authorities, advocate community views but cannot levy taxes, appoint staff, or own property.
District health boards
New Zealand's health sector was restructured several times during the 20th century. The most recent restructuring occurred in 2001, with new legislation creating twenty-one district health boards (DHBs). These boards are responsible for the oversight of health and disability services within their communities. Seven members of each district health board are directly elected by residents of their area using the single transferable vote system. In addition, the Minister of Health may appoint up to four members. There are currently twenty DHBs.
Māori wards and constituencies
The Local Electoral Act 2001's Section 19Z introduced provisions allowing territorial authorities and regional councils to introduce Māori wards in cities and districts and constituencies in regions for electoral purposes. These wards and constituencies are modeled after the Māori electorates in the New Zealand Parliament and are open to those registered on the Māori electoral roll. Māori wards and constituencies can be established through three different processes:
- A council may resolve to establish Māori wards or constituencies. If so, a poll on the issue must be held if 5 percent of the electors of the city, district or region request it.
- A council may decide to hold a poll on whether or not there should be Māori wards or constituencies.
- A poll on whether there should be Māori wards or constituencies must be held if requested by a petition signed by 5 percent of the electors of the city, district or region.
The results of these polls are binding for at least two local body elections.
History of Māori wards
In 2001, the Fifth Labour Government introduced the Bay of Plenty Regional Council (Maori Constituency Empowering) Act 2001, which created a Māori ward on Environment Bay of Plenty. Three Māori wards were also established on the Bay of Plenty Regional Council called Kohi Maori, Mauao Maori (which covers Tauranga and Western Bay of Plenty), and Okurei Maori. While this legislation was supported by the Labour, Alliance, and Green parties, it was opposed by the opposition National Party, New Zealand First leader Winston Peters, and the libertarian ACT Party.
In 2014, the Mayor of New Plymouth Andrew Judd proposed introducing a Māori ward in the New Plymouth District Council. The Council's division was defeated in a 2015 referendum by a margin of 83% to 17% triggered by a 4,000 signature petition organised by local resident Hugh Johnson. A local backlash led Judd not to run for a second term during the 2016 local body elections In April 2016, Māori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell presented a petition to the New Zealand Parliament on behalf of Judd advocating the establishment of mandatory Māori wards on every district council in New Zealand.
In late June 2017, Green Member of Parliament (MP) Marama Davidson tried to introduce a member's bill to amend the Local Electoral Act 2001 to establish Māori wards and constituencies while bypassing the requirement for polls. This bill was defeated during its first reading. In late October 2017, the Palmerston North City Council voted to establish a Māori ward. The following month, four other local government bodies—the Kaikōura District Council, the Whakatane District Council, the Manawatu District Council, and the Western Bay of Plenty District Councils—also voted in favour of introducing special Māori wards. This was welcomed by the Labour Minister for Local Government Nanaia Mahuta.
In response, the lobby group Hobson's Pledge organized several petitions in Palmerston North and those districts to call for local referendums on the matter of introducing Māori wards and constituencies; taking advantage of the referendum clause in the 2001 Local Electoral Act. Between later April and mid–May 2018, local referendums were held in Palmerston North and the four districts to decide if their councils should have Māori wards. During those referendums, Māori wards were rejected by voters in Palmerston North (68.8%), Western Bay of Plenty (78.2%), Whakatāne (56.4%), Manawatu (77%), and Kaikōura (55%) on 19 May 2018; with the average voter turnout in those polls being about 40%.
The rejection of Māori wards was welcomed by Hobson's Pledge leader and former National Party leader Don Brash and conservative broadcaster Mike Hosking. By contrast, the referendum results were met with dismay by Whakatāne Mayor Tony Bonne and several Māori leaders including Labour MPs Willie Jackson and Tamati Coffey, former Māori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell, Bay of Plenty resident and activist Toni Boynton, and left-wing advocacy group ActionStation national director Laura O'Connell Rapira. In response, ActionStation organised a petition calling on Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta to amend the Local Electoral Act's provisions on Māori wards.
- Local Government New Zealand, represents the interests of local government bodies
- New Zealand Local Government, a monthly trade magazine published since 1964
- New Zealand local government and human rights
- Realm of New Zealand, including associated states and dependencies
- New Zealand outlying islands
- Local Government Act 1974
- Local Government Act 2002
- Community Board (New Zealand)
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- Local Councils – Official website (maintained by the Department of Internal Affairs)
- Envirolink – a regional council driven funding scheme
- Relevant legislation – legislation.govt.nz
|Countries||New Zealand||Cook Islands||Niue|
|Regions||11 non-unitary regions||5 unitary regions||Chatham Islands||Kermadec Islands
NZ Subantarctic Islands
Three Kings Islands
|Tokelau||Ross Dependency||15 islands||14 villages|
|Territorial authorities||11 cities and 50 districts||2 cities and 3 districts|
|Notes||Seven districts lie in more than one region||These combine the regional and the territorial authority levels in one||Special territorial authority||New Zealand outlying islands outside any regional authority (the outlying Solander Islands form a part of the Southland Region)||Dependent territory of New Zealand||New Zealand's Antarctic dependency||States in free association with New Zealand|