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 2011 New Zealand had 11 regional councils, which focused on regional environmental issues, including:
- management of fresh water, coastal waters and air
- plant and animal pests
- river management, flood control and erosion
- harbour navigation and safety, marine pollution and oil spills.
The regional councils also had responsibility for land-transport planning and civil-defence preparedness within their regions.
In 2011 there were 67 territorial authorities – 12 city councils, 54 district councils and one unitary authority, Auckland Council, which functioned 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 functioned as both regional and territorial authorities and were also termed unitary authorities.
These territorial authorities dealt 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 (2012) form in 2001, with responsibility for providing or purchasing government-funded health services for specific geographical areas. In 2011 there were 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 all 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.
Local-government voting systems
In 2011 two different voting systems were used in local-government elections. District health boards and several 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.