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Local democracy (Localism)

LGNZ has for a number of years advocated for reforms that enable greater community say in policies that affect their lives, and greater variation in policy to better reflect the diverse nature of New Zealand’s communities, districts and regions. This work has been done under the localism banner. National Council has sought to widen this focus to include policy matters that support and complement the localism work, and that aligns with LGNZ’s strategic vision. As such, the focus of this project has been broadened to Local democracy, acknowledging that a healthy and sustainable local democratic system, and the checks and balances this entails, are inextricably linked to localism and the disaggregation of decision-making.

Localist framework

New Zealand is one of the most centralised countries in the developed world, with decision-making power highly concentrated at a central government level. In seeking to change this, one of the major hurdles is to present a credible alternative framework, and not merely a high-level strawman argument. LGNZ has sought to correct this by developing a localism framework. This work, which was started in 2018, progressed with the launch of a public discussion document in 2019, continues in the current period.

This project seeks to:

  • Provide a policy framework to gradually move decision making power out of central government and invest it in communities where appropriate. It seeks to leverage the strengths of both tiers of government to deliver better outcomes for communities, while building local government capacity and capability over time to take on more responsibility. The policy framework is being packaged in a way that any political party can adopt it wholesale as their own.

LG legislative update

There are 100 statutes that confer roles and responsibilities on local government, and the powers to execute these, ranging from infrastructure provision to dog control. Much of this is past its use-by-date, and over time, this has inhibited the efficient and effective administration of councils. Addressing these will require a partnership approach between local and central government that combines the on-the-ground experience of councils and the drafting skills of officials.

This project seeks to:

  • Partner with the Minister of Local Government and Department of Internal Affairs to identify obstructive, outdated and obsolete aspects of the statute that hinder the ability of councils to deliver on their responsibilities efficiently and cost effectively. The aim is to co-develop a legislative fix that will modernise local government legislation.

Community engagement

The Productivity Commission’s enquiry into local government funding and financing identified good community engagement as a tool with which to have meaningful discussion on challenging matters facing communities and how to pay for them. The Commission highlighted areas of good practice in New Zealand, but noted that application was not consistent.

This project seek to:

  • Identify those councils making use of leading community engagement practices and tools, and socialise this widely among the local government sector. It will include commentary on what tools should be used in different circumstances.

Electoral system reform

New Zealand local government electoral framework faces significant challenges, such as decreasing reliability of the postal system, security concerns surrounding online voting, as well as administrative challenges. The legislation at a minimum needs modernisation, but opportunities may exist to deliver more meaningful change to the future system, and maintain the integrity of the local democratic process.

This project seeks to:

  • Investigate alternative methods of voting, as well as wider system reform, such as making the Electoral Commission responsible for both local and national elections. This will include examining the checks and balances within the system to ensure they are fair, transparent and fit for purpose.
  • Consistent with present LGNZ policy, push for legislative change to have the law relating to the creation of wards be the same irrespective of the type of ward.


Reinvigorating local democracy

The case for localising power and decision-making to councils and communities.  To view the localism website click here.

Related Subjects

Localism Democratic well-being