Under the Local Electoral Act 2001 Councils throughout New Zealand must review their electoral representation arrangements at least every six years. The review includes names of wards and local boards, ward boundaries, the number of elected local board members, and more.

The review must also examine whether the ratio of population to elected members in a ward varies by more than ten per cent from the Auckland average.   A Joint Governance Working Party, chaired by Waitemata Local Board member Richard Northey, made initial proposals that were consulted on in 2018.  The Local Government Commission upheld Auckland Council’s proposed changes that are now going to be put in place for the 2019 local government election. 

In this long read Puketapapa Local Board member David Holm looks at the changes and the implications. 

REPRESENTATION ON AUCKLAND COUNCIL’S GOVERNING BODY – HOW FAIR?

In April, the Local Government Commission, the organisation set up to determine governing arrangements for New Zealand’s local bodies, announced its determination for arrangements for Auckland to apply at the October 2019 elections. The term “representation review” may sound dull, but it is about the fundamental democratic principles that votes should have equal value and that geographical communities of interest should have voices at the council table. These principles are applied carefully when parliamentary electorates are adjusted so that each electorate MP represents no more than 5% above and no less than 5% below the average population per seat. These are adjusted after every census, meaning that access to your local MP should be similar regardless of where you live.

When Rodney Hide set up Auckland Council in 2010 the decision was made to limit the number of councillors to 20. Unlike for Parliament, where the number of electorates is adjusted when the North Island population increases faster than the fixed South Island number by reducing the number of list MPs, this means that in Auckland population growth, which is much more rapid than most of the country, results in ever growing numbers to be served by councillors. An example of how Aucklanders are, as a result, being treated as second class citizens is by comparing the representation of Hamilton on the Waikato Regional Council with that of the Albert Eden Puketapapa ward now determined for Auckland Council from October. Hamilton’s population of 140,900 gives them four regional councillors. Albert Eden Puketapapa has 177,800 people and only two councillors.

The new government attempted to change the law which sets up this straitjacket and allow Auckland to have more councillors as its population grows. However, New Zealand First would not agree to this despite requests from Auckland’s governing body, apparently on the grounds of cost. The Local Government Commission’s April report also said that this restrictive law should be reviewed.

Auckland Council was required to set up a working party to review ward boundaries to adjust for uneven population growth in the city since the wards were established for the 2010, 2013 and 2016 elections. The population figures for this (based on 2017 estimates) revealed very big variations mostly caused by residential development in the Central Business District. If there was no change, the councillor for the Waitemata and Gulf ward (based on Waitemata, Waiheke and Great Barrier Local Boards) would have responsibility for 119,000 people. Their representative would have one vote, the same as for the representative for Rodney Ward which had only 64,300 people. In other words a vote in Rodney would have almost double the weight of one in Waitemata and Gulf.

The working party faced a very difficult task made more difficult by a preference for keeping ward boundaries lined up with local board boundaries which are fixed by the law. They decided not to alter the Rodney ward, breaching the guideline for the population of a ward to not be more than 10% below the average for the city. With 64,300 people, it is 22.4% below.

The final successful proposal made no alteration to ward boundaries outside the isthmus which has five local boards. Waitemata and Gulf’s population was therefore reduced by moving Newmarket, Parnell, Eden Terrace and most of Grafton into neighbouring wards and making other adjustments. The four isthmus wards now all have populations significantly over the average of 82,860 people per councillor. Waitemata and Gulf now has a population of 97,100, 51% more than Rodney. Orakei now has 96,000 and Maungakiekie-Tamaki 91,500. Two member Albert-Eden-Puketapapa has 177,800. These excesses are unlikely to be reduced by future population growth as inner city apartment developments continue and big intensification projects by Housing New Zealand further boost the isthmus population.          

The inequalities in representation caused by this are compounded when looking at the populations of two member wards. These are used in quite a few New Zealand local bodies but are actually detrimental to the principle of communities of interest as they disadvantage minority groups. The community of interest principle is applied for our parliament where all electorates have one MP looking after around 60,000 people. In this review this principle has been applied to Rodney and Franklin wards.

The under representation of the isthmus population on the council at this year’s election is partly mitigated by having one member wards for Waitemata and Gulf, Orakei and Maungakiekie-Tamaki. In 2010, the latter two were proposed to be part of a two member ward. However on appeal it was recognised that there was little community of interest between the residents of Remuera and the Eastern Bays and those in Glen Innes, Mt. Wellington and Onehunga so the ward was split.

The largest ward for the 2019 election is Albert-Eden-Puketapapa with 177,800 population in 2017 and likely to be over 200,000 by the 2022 election. The two councillors elected will be representing three times the number of people represented by the average MP. Yes, there are two of them but even if they can agree on sharing the tasks, they have far less resources than electorate MPs. They are based in Albert Street in the Central City. People from the Albert – Eden-Puketapapa Ward wanting to discuss a regional issue have just two representatives. If they want to discuss a national issue they have four electorate MPs – Jacinda Ardern, Michael Wood, David Seymour and Peeni Henare (Tamaki Makarau) plus list MPs David Parker, Julie Anne Genter, Chloe Swarbrick, Melissa Lee, Parmjeet Parma and Paul Goldsmith available nearby.

Another practical effect of this huge ward is that the costs of campaigning compared with one member wards are multiplied. Fewer people can afford to mount an effective campaign, limiting how many will be willing to stand.

Once elected, the Albert-Eden-Puketapapa councillors can expect extra workloads compared to one member ward councillors. This is especially the case in a multi ethnic community where both will receive many invitations to meetings and events which they cannot share.

The Puketapapa Local Board told the representation review that they believed that fair representation under the limits of the law would best be achieved by having 20 one member wards with similar sized populations not restricted by local board boundaries. My appeal against the final Council Proposal pointed out that the 177,800 population ward could not cater for communities of interest and should be split. Property value information showed wide discrepancies between the likely interests of residents of the Epsom Grammar Zone and Point Chevalier from those in Owairaka, Wesley and Roskill South. Major housing developments are having much more impact on the latter group as will public transport initiatives.  

The Local Government Commission Report stated that I had made “a strong case” for splitting the ward but that this was difficult under the current legislation, which does not provide fair representation for Auckland. They also suggested that the Council should be open to a further review in time for the 2022 election as suggested by Working Party chair Richard Northey and myself.

Further reading 

Our Auckland – ward changes will affect some voters in October local elections and link to maps