All societies with organised government carry out some of the tasks of government at a local level, for the benefit of the local population. In New Zealand these tasks are paid for by different forms of rating (charges based on the value of individual properties), subsidies from central government, income from trading, and user charges such as fees for the use of public swimming pools.
In 2022 New Zealand has 11 regional councils, which focus on regional environmental issues, including:
- management of fresh water, coastal waters and air quality
- plant and animal pests
- river management, flood control and erosion
- harbour navigation and safety, marine pollution and oil spills.
The regional councils are also responsible for land-transport planning and civil-defence preparedness within their regions.
There are 67 territorial authorities – 12 city councils, 54 district councils and one unitary authority, Auckland Council, which functions as both a regional and territorial authority. Five of the city or district councils – Nelson City Council and the Gisborne, Tasman, Marlborough and Chatham Islands district councils – also function as both regional and territorial authorities and are also termed unitary authorities.
Territorial authorities deal with day-to-day issues, such as:
- community development
- environmental health and safety
- roading and transport, sewerage, water and stormwater
- recreation and culture
- resource management.
District health boards
District health boards were established in their current form in 2001, with responsibility for providing or purchasing government-funded health services for specific geographical areas. In 2022 there are 20 district health boards, each governed by a board of seven members elected by the public, and up to four appointed by the minister of health.
Voting for local government
Elections for New Zealand local authorities are held every three years, on the second Saturday in October. As with general elections, all citizens and permanent residents of New Zealand aged 18 and over are eligible to vote. Ratepayers are entitled to vote in the area where they live and also – if applicable – in another area where they pay rates. Voting in local-government elections is by postal ballot.
Elections are not held on the infrequent occasions when the minister of local government has appointed commissioners to run the local authority temporarily because the elected members have been ‘unable or unwilling to effectively address … a significant problem relating to the local authority’. In the 21st century, commissioners have been appointed to Kaipara District Council, Environment Canterbury (Canterbury Regional Council) and Tauranga City Council.
Local-government voting systems
In 2019 two different voting systems were used in the local-government elections. District health boards and 11 local authorities used the single transferable vote (STV) system. Under this system, each voter has one vote and ranks candidates in order of preference. The remaining local authorities used the first-past-the-post (FPP) system, in which each voter has one vote and the candidate with the highest number of votes is the winner.
Māori representation in local government
Although there have been distinguished exceptions, such as Mākere Rangiātea (Ralph) Love, who became mayor of Petone (near Wellington) in 1965, Māori have generally played little part in New Zealand’s local and regional government. The Local Government Electoral Amendment Act 2002 empowered local authorities to take measure to improve Māori representation. In 2004 Bay of Plenty Regional Council introduced Māori seats, whose candidates are elected by Māori voters. When Auckland Council was established in 2010 it included a nine-member Māori advisory board.
In 2021, the provision for referendums on the creation of Māori seats was removed. As a result, voting for 52 new seats in 27 local authorities was to be restricted to people registered on the Māori electoral roll in 2022.