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Local government in New Zealand facts for kids

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New Zealand is a unitary state rather than a federation—regions are created by the authority of the central government, rather than the central government being created by the authority of the regions. Local government in New Zealand has only the powers conferred upon it by Parliament. These powers have traditionally been distinctly fewer than in some other countries. For example, police and education are run by central government, while the provision of low-cost housing is optional for local councils.

As defined in the Local Government Act 2002, the purpose of local government is:

  • to enable democratic local decision-making and action by, and on behalf of, communities; and
  • to meet the current and future needs of communities for good-quality local infrastructure, local public services and performance of regulatory functions in a way that is most cost-effective for households and businesses.

As of 2017 there are seventy-eight local authorities (regions, cities and districts) representing all areas of New Zealand.


New Zealand has two tiers of local government. The top tier consists of regional councils, of which there are eleven. The second tier consists of territorial authorities, of which there are sixty-seven. The territorial authorities comprise thirteen city councils (including Auckland Council), fifty-three district councils and Chatham Islands Council. Five territorial authorities are also unitary authorities, which perform the functions of a regional council in addition to those of a territorial authority. Most territorial authorities are wholly within one region, but there are a few that cross regional boundaries. In each territorial authority there are commonly several community boards, which form the lowest and weakest arm of local government. The outlying Chatham Islands have a council with its own special legislation, constituted with powers similar to those of a unitary authority.

Each of the regions and territorial authorities is governed by a council, which is directly elected by the residents of that region, district or city. Each council may use a system chosen by the outgoing council (after public consultation), either the bloc vote (viz. first past the post in multi-member constituencies) or single transferable vote.

The external boundaries of an authority can be changed by an Order in Council or notices in the New Zealand Gazette.


See also: History of New Zealand

The early European settlers divided New Zealand into provinces. These were abolished in 1876 so that government could be centralised, for financial reasons. As a result, New Zealand has no separately represented subnational entities such as provinces, states or territories, apart from local government. The provinces are remembered in regional public holidays and sporting rivalries. Since 1876, local authorities have administered the various regions of New Zealand.

In the 1989 reforms, the central government completely reorganised local government, implementing the current two-tier structure of regions and territorial authorities constituted under the Local Government Act 2002. The Resource Management Act 1991 replaced the Town and Country Planning Act as the main planning legislation for local government.

Auckland Council is the newest local authority. It was created on 1 November 2010, combining the functions of the existing regional council and the region's seven previous city and district councils into one "super-city". It brings the number of unitary authorities in New Zealand to five.

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