Is your council fairly and effectively representing the community? In 2018, 57 councils are required to review their representation arrangements to apply at the next local authority elections in 2019. Other councils may also decide to do a review. In the first of a series of three articles, Gavin Beattie of the Local Government Commission sets out considerations and first steps in this process for strengthening local democracy.
Every six years councils in New Zealand are required by law to review their representation arrangements. This is to ensure each council continues to provide fair and effective representation for individuals and communities. Representation that provides an effective voice for individuals and communities in the matters affecting them, strengthens local democracy and helps maintain confidence in local government.
The representation review process can be seen as three discrete stages: developing an initial proposal; considering submissions and agreeing a final proposal; and managing the appeals and referrals processes. In this article we address the first stage relating to the initial proposal.
What is a representation review?
A representation review is the process for a council to review the number of councillors it has and how they are to be elected. For cities and districts, councillors can be elected ‘at large’ (across the whole area), by wards, or by a mix of the two.
The review must also involve consideration of community boards. For regions, constituencies are mandatory so the review involves the number of councillors, and the number and size of the constituencies.
In Auckland, in addition to decisions about wards, the review will include consideration of the number of members on local boards and how they are to be elected.
Which councils should be doing a review?
Councils must conduct a review every six years. A review is also mandatory if Maori wards or constituencies are being introduced for the first time. This year Auckland Council will undertake its first review and Environment Canterbury must also conduct a review.
Factors which may prompt other councils to consider undertaking a review this year include significant population changes impacting on communities of interest, or a change in the electoral system eg, from first past the post (FPP) to single transferable vote (STV).
A city or district council may also be considering changes to governance arrangements and particularly the potential role of community boards.
Councils which undertook a review for 2016 can consider minor boundary alterations this time around without carrying out a full representation review but must refer their proposal to the Commission.
What do councils need to consider?
Councils always need to keep in mind the principle of fair and effective representation for individuals and communities. This requires consideration of three key factors:
- identification of communities of interest;
- effective representation for these communities of interest; and
- fair representation of electors – based on the ‘±10 percent rule’ for constituencies, wards and subdivisions of community board areas, though exceptions may be approved by the Commission.
Territorial authorities, whether they have community boards or not, must also consider the need for boards in order to help achieve fair and effective representation.
If a council has not conducted a fundamental review for some years, it is encouraged to begin its review with a ‘clean sheet’ rather than by simply looking at adjusting existing arrangements. This should include consideration of preliminary consultation and the canvassing of a range of possible options.
Councils should also consider the use of an independent panel in the process to get some outside perspectives.
What is the timing for an initial proposal?
Councils can resolve their initial proposal (and then give public notice) any time after March 1, 2018. The deadline for public notice of the proposal is September 8, 2018.
The second and third in this series of three articles by Gavin Beattie of the Local Government Commission will be published in the July and October issues of NZ Local Government Magazine.
This article was first published in the March 2018 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine.