While Parliament is elected to deal with issues relevant to New Zealand and its people as a nation, local government enables democratic local decision-making.
Local government makes decisions about local issues and services, having regard to local needs and priorities.
This recognises that not all communities are the same, nor do they have the same issues.
There are 78 local authorities representing all areas of New Zealand.
- 11 Regional Councils
- 12 City Councils (which are largely urban)
- 54 District Councils
- 1 Auckland Council, (which amalgamated 8 former councils on 1 November 2010)
Auckland Council, as well as the city and district councils, are collectively referred to as "territorial authorities" - there are 67 in total.
Six of the territorial authorities, (including Auckland, 1 City and 4 District Councils), also have the powers of a regional council - these are sometimes referred to as “unitary authorities”.
New Zealand has 108 regional councillors, 716 territorial authority councillors, 149 Auckland local board members and 67 mayors. Local government also employs nearly 23,000 staff.
Local government and external territories - a history
The early European settlers divided New Zealand into provinces, which had a degree of autonomy. Because of financial pressures and the desire to consolidate railways, education, land sales and other policies, government was centralised and the provinces were abolished in 1876. As a result, New Zealand now has no separately represented subnational entities. The provinces are remembered in regional public holidays and sporting rivalries.
Since 1876, various councils have administered local areas under legislation determined by the central government. In 1989, the government reorganised local government into the current two-tier structure of regional councils and territorial authorities. The 249 municipalities that existed in 1975 have now been consolidated into 11 regional councils and 54 Distrcit councils.
The regional councils' role is to regulate "the natural environment with particular emphasis on resource management", while city councils are responsible for sewage, water, local roads, building consents and other local matters. Five of the territorial councils are unitary authorities and also act as regional councils. The territorial authorities consist of 12 city councils, 54 district councils, and the Chatham Islands Council. While officially the Chatham Islands Council is not a unitary authority, it undertakes many functions of a regional council.
The Realm of New Zealand is one of 16 realms within the commonwealth and comprises New Zealand, Tokelau, the Ross Dependency, the Cook Islands and Niue. The Cook Islands and Niue are self-governing states in free association with New Zealand. The New Zealand Parliament cannot pass legislation for these countries, but with their consent can act on behalf of them in foreign affairs and defence. Tokelau is a non-self-governing territory that uses the New Zealand flag and anthem, but is administered by a council of three elders (one from each Tokelauan atoll).
The Ross Dependency is New Zealand's territorial claim in Antarctica, where it operates the Scott Base research facility. New Zealand citizenship law treats all parts of the realm equally, so most people born in New Zealand, the Cook Islands, Niue, Tokelau and the Ross Dependency before 2006 are New Zealand citizens. Further conditions apply for those born from 2006 onwards.