Story: Otago region

Page 13. Government and politics

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Otago Association and Otago province

In 1853 Otago province, with a council and superintendent, took over most roles from the Otago Association. It covered all of the South Island south of the Waitaki River. James Macandrew, a keen booster of the province, was elected superintendent in 1860, but was dismissed for bankruptcy a year later.

Southland, between the Mataura and Waiau rivers, seceded from Otago province in 1861 and returned in 1870, but its rapid development set it on a separate course.

With the returns from gold falling, Otago electors turned to Macandrew again in 1867, and he remained superintendent until the abolition of the provinces in 1876.

Dunedin people were angry at the loss of provincial government, but people in the outlying districts were not – they expected at least as good a deal from the central (colonial) government.

National politicians

From the 1870s Dunedin and Otago produced a stream of politicians who achieved national prominence, notably Julius Vogel and Robert Stout, as well as the lesser-known James Allen and William Downie Stewart. A range of labour leaders had their roots in the city’s vigorous working-class life, including John Millar, leader of the 1890 national maritime strike.

In 1981 Michael Cullen was elected as Labour MP for St Kilda; he went on to be deputy prime minister in the fifth Labour government from 2002 to 2008.

City politics

Between 1904 and 1916, Dunedin city incorporated many suburbs and embarked on a number of infrastructure initiatives, notably the Waipori hydroelectric scheme.

From the 1960s to the 1980s Dunedin’s mayors were well-established civic or business figures like Jim Barnes and Cliff Skeggs, a leader of the ‘tartan mafia’ business network. Sukhi Turner and Peter Chin, Dunedin mayors in the 1990s and early 2000s, were distinctive for their ethnicity – Turner is an Indian Sikh, and Chin is Chinese. Warren Cooper, Queenstown mayor in both the 1970s and 1990s (and a member of Parliament from 1975 to 1996), was another promoter and developer, often in the face of vigorous opposition.

Parliamentary politics

In the 2010s Dunedin had two parliamentary electorates, both usually held by the Labour Party. The rest of Otago was covered by two electorates, Clutha–Southland and Waitaki, usually National Party strongholds. The whole of Otago lay within the Māori electorate of Te Tai Tonga.

Regional council

The Otago regional council took over the responsibilities of a number of catchment (river) boards in 1989. Within the region Queenstown Lakes district council took in most of the former Lake County, Central Otago district most of the former Vincent and Maniototo counties, and Clutha district the former Clutha, Bruce and Tuapeka counties. Ōamaru, Waitaki and Waihemo counties became Waitaki district. The areas around Dunedin were incorporated in Dunedin city. It is the nation’s largest city in terms of area, stretching as far as the Rock and Pillar Range, some 60 kilometres from central Dunedin as the crow flies.

How to cite this page:

Malcolm McKinnon, 'Otago region - Government and politics', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 23 July 2024)

Story by Malcolm McKinnon, published 8 May 2009, updated 1 May 2015