The first election for a national government in New Zealand took place on 14 July 1853 at Russell. It was for the Bay of Islands parliamentary seat, and the successful candidate was Hugh Carleton. Over the years the north made few ripples on the political scene, with three notable exceptions:
- Gordon Coates won the Kaipara seat in 1911 and held it till his death in 1943. He was prime minister from 1925 to 1928, and for periods he held the portfolios of justice, post and telegraphs, railways, public works and native affairs.
- Vernon Cracknell, a Kerikeri accountant, won Hobson (formerly Bay of Islands) in 1966, to become Social Credit’s first MP, for one brief term.
- Matiu Rata, Labour MP for the Northern Māori electorate from 1963, was minister of Māori Affairs and Lands from 1972 to 1975. In 1980 he resigned and set up a new party, Mana Motuhake.
In the 2010s Northland had two electoral districts – Northland and Whāngārei – each with one representative. Direct representation for Māori on a separate Māori electoral roll allowed one seat for Te Tai Tokerau, an electoral district that covered Northland and took in part of Auckland.
Education and health
Education and health are funded in whole or part by central government. Northland Polytechnic, based at Whāngārei but with several campuses throughout Northland, is the main tertiary institution. There are also a number of private training institutions. Many people who live in isolated areas do not have ready access to tertiary education, but in 2015 there were 151 primary, intermediate and secondary schools.
Health care is provided by four hospitals, general practitioners and a number of other providers. Free medical care for the impoverished district of Hokianga (established in 1941 under the Hokianga Special Medical Area) was threatened when health services were restructured in the early 1990s. However, the community took action, setting up the Hokianga Health Enterprise Trust to retain the services.
Early local government
For a long time Northland was known as North Auckland. Under the provincial government of 1852 to 1876 it was part of a wider Auckland province. Subsequently smaller territorial authorities emerged, and in 1964 there were seven counties, four boroughs and three town districts.
Hounded for money
From the 1870s, some northern local authorities required that dogs be registered and issued with a collar at a cost of 2s. 6d. each. The Māhurehure people of Waimā in the Hokianga refused to pay the dog tax, and descended on Rāwene on 1 May 1898 armed for battle. An over-anxious government dispatched a warship, two steamers, over 120 armed men, two field guns and two rapid-fire guns. The protesters were arrested, tried, and the leaders jailed at Mt Eden prison, Auckland.
Since the local government boundaries were redefined in 1989, the Northland Regional Council has had responsibility for regional issues such as water resources, erosion control, and roading. Based in Whāngārei, it administers 12,600 square kilometres (1.26 million hectares) of land area and some 12,000 square kilometres of coastal waters, which extend 22 kilometres (12 nautical miles) offshore.
There are three district councils, each responsible for local administration – the Far North (based at Kaikohe), Kaipara (based at Dargaville), and Whāngārei. There are also a number of community boards in each district.
The social and economic disparities across Northland, as well as its geography and scattered population base, have influenced the finances and activities of local councils. The region’s proportion of non-rateable properties such as Crown-owned land, reserves and state forests, has also affected the operation of councils. A budget blowout on a sewerage scheme in Mangawhai made the Kaipara District Council the most indebted in the country – $4,395 for every person in the district – and locals in Mangawhai began a rates strike in protest at the Council’s actions. Between 2012 and 2016, government-appointed commissioners managed the Council.