Local government in New Zealand
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New Zealand is a unitary state rather than a federation—regions are created by the authority of the central government, rather than the central government being created by the authority of the regions. Local government in New Zealand has only the powers conferred upon it by Parliament. These powers have traditionally been distinctly fewer than in some other countries. For example, police and education are run by central government, while the provision of low-cost housing is optional for local councils.
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.
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 (including Auckland Council), 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.
The early European settlers divided New Zealand into provinces. These provinces were largely autonomous, each with an elected council and an elected chief official, called a superintendent. Provinces were abolished in 1876 so that government could be centralised, for financial reasons. As a result, New Zealand has no separately represented subnational entities such as provinces, states or territories, apart from local government. The provinces are remembered in regional public holidays and sporting rivalries. Since 1876, local authorities have administered the various regions of New Zealand.
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.
- 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
- New Zealand outlying islands
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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
Administrative divisions of the Realm of New Zealand
|Sovereign states||New Zealand||Cook Islands||Niue|
|Regions||11 non-unitary regions||5 unitary regions||Chatham Islands||Outlying islands outside any regional authority
(the Kermadec Islands, Three Kings Islands, and Subantarctic Islands)
|Ross Dependency||Tokelau||15 islands||14 villages|
|Territorial authorities||13 cities and 53 districts|
|Notes||Some districts lie in more than one region||These combine the regional and the territorial authority levels in one||Special territorial authority||The outlying Solander Islands form part of the Southland Region||New Zealand's Antarctic territory||Non-self-governing territory of New Zealand||States in free association with New Zealand|