Local Government Act 2002
By about 2000 many of the operations of local authorities had become businesses. Many of their functions, such as running ports, airports and trading enterprises, were removed from the direct influence of the voting public. To counter this loss of democratic control, and encourage greater participation in local body decision-making, the Local Government Act 2002 required local authorities to draw up and publicise long-term community plans, outlining in detail where they were heading, how they would fund their activities, and the rules and processes they would apply. This forced councils to pay greater attention to the needs and preferences of their citizens, while giving community members the information they needed to participate actively in local democracy.
Georgina Beyer became the world’s first openly transsexual mayor when she was elected mayor of Carterton in Wairarapa, north of Wellington, in 1995. She later became the MP for Wairarapa.
The Local Government Act 2002 also aimed ‘to enable democratic local decision-making and action by, and on behalf of, communities’. Any group of local residents could apply to their city or district council to set up a community board. In practice, this happened most often when small local authorities, such as the Wellington boroughs of Makara and Tawa, were to be absorbed by a larger body such as the Wellington City Council. The functions of these community boards varied, but generally they represented the interests of their communities, and considered and reported on matters referred to them by the territorial authority. In 2011 there were 143 community boards around the country.
From radical to mayor
Local-body politics have provided some of New Zealand’s most memorable political figures. Tim Shadbolt, a former student radical, became mayor of Waitematā City in 1983 while working as a concreting contractor. He celebrated the win by towing his concrete mixer behind the mayoral car. In 1993 Shadbolt became mayor of Invercargill. Defeated in 1995, he was re-elected in 1998 and was still in office in 2020.
In 2010 a new regional authority was established to administer the Auckland region. The Auckland Council merged the Auckland Regional Council with six territorial authorities, covering a region with over 1.4 million people. This ‘super-city’ combined the powers and functions of a regional authority for issues concerning its entire area. Council-controlled organisations operated many of the major infrastructure services formerly provided by the various local authorities, including public transport, water supply, economic development, the operation of major facilities, the inner city and waterfront, and the council’s commercial property portfolio.