The Department of Internal Affairs

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Local Government in New Zealand - Local Councils


Roles of central government agencies

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Several central government agencies are involved with the development of policy and monitoring of local government. Their roles range from strategic development and policy, regulation and monitoring, to handling complaints about the activities and operation of local government.

The Minister of Local Government

The Minister of Local Government –

  • Is responsible for core policy issues relating to the constitution, structure, accountability and funding of local government.
  • Leads the relationship between central and local government.
  • Is the territorial authority for some offshore islands.
  • Appoints members of the Local Government Commission.
  • Can appoint ministerial reviews and commissioners to act in the place of local authorities, in certain circumstances.
  • Is required to approve a variety of minor statutory matters (such as authorising changes to the purpose for which endowment land is held).

The Department of Internal Affairs assists the Minister in this work.

A number of other ministers and departments are also responsible for policy and legislation affecting local government including– environment (especially for the Resource Management Act 1991), roading and transport, public health, regional development, culture and heritage.

While the Minister of Local Government has primary responsibility for legislation concerned with the system of local government in New Zealand, and its overall efficiency and effectiveness, the Minister is not answerable for local authority decisions and cannot intervene in them.

Find out more about the Minister of Local Government.

The Department of Internal Affairs

The Department of Internal Affairs provides policy advice to the Minister of Local Government and information about local government to ministers, councils and the public.

Find out more about The Department of Internal Affairs.

Role of the Local Government Commission

The Local Government Commission is an independent statutory body established under the Local Government Act 2002. The Commission has three members who are appointed by the Minister of Local Government. Its main task is to make decisions on the structure of local government. The Commission's functions are –

  • To report on, and make recommendations to the Minister of Local Government on matters relating to local government. This may be done on the Commission's own initiative or at the request of the Minister.
  • To hear and determine appeals relating to decisions of "appointed local authorities" or "joint committees" on proposals for the alteration of boundaries of local authority districts or the transfer of functions between local authorities.
  • To consider and determine proposals for the constitution or abolition of territorial districts or regions, and proposals for the establishment of unitary authorities.
  • To consider and determine appeals and counter-objections relating to a local authority's proposals for ward or constituency boundaries, and the number of its members following a representation review.
  • To consider and determine issues relating to the constitution of communities and establishment of community boards.

Find out more about the Local Government Commission.

Office of the Controller and Auditor-General

The Controller and Auditor-General gives independent assurance over the performance and accountability of public organisations to New Zealand's Parliament.

The Controller and Auditor-General audits all types of public entities including local authorities and their subsidiaries - a total of more than 300 entities – including city, district, and regional council, and council organisations. In being the auditor of those entities, the five key concerns central to the role are –

  • Performance – have public entities undertaken activities in accordance with Parliament’s intentions, and in an effective and efficient manner?
  • Authority – have activities, resources and accountability requirements been undertaken within the authority granted by Parliament?
  • Waste – have resources been obtained and applied in an economical manner? Are taxpayer’s dollars being wasted?
  • Probity– are entities meeting Parliament’s and the public’s expectations of an appropriate standard of behaviour in the public sector?
  • Accountability – have entities given full and accurate accounts of their activities? Are governance and management arrangements suitable to address any concerns?

Find out more about the Office of the Controller and Auditor-General.

The Ombudsman

New Zealand has two Ombudsman appointed by Parliament as independent review authorities.

Their primary purpose is to inquire into complaints against New Zealand central, regional and local government organisations or agencies.

The Ombudsman will receive complaints only after -

  • You have first tried contacting the local authority directly either in person or in writing in an attempt to resolve the matter.
  • Any alternative remedies that may be available to you have been explored - e.g. you might have a right of appeal to a tribunal or other review body.

After receiving a written complaint the Ombudsman may decide grounds exist to undertake an investigation. Where a complaint proceeds to an investigation the Ombudsman will review all the circumstances and form an independent opinion based on whether the act, omission, decision or recommendation complained of –

  • Appears contrary to law.
  • Unreasonable, unjust, oppressive or improperly discriminatory.
  • Was in accordance with a rule of law or a practice that is or may be unreasonable, unjust, oppressive of improperly discriminatory.
  • Was based on a mistake of law or fact.
  • Was wrong.

If the Ombudsman believes a complaint has merit, he or she may recommend action to remedy it. The Ombudsman have no power to order a local authority to accept a recommendation made under the Ombudsman Act. However, under official information legislation there is a general duty to act on an Ombudsman recommendation unless the local authority, in full council, exercises the right of veto. Most of their recommendations are accepted. Occasionally the Ombudsman will resolve complaints informally, particularly when it is about a delay.

Find out more about the Ombudsman.

Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment

Complaints about local authority decisions on environmental issues are heard by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment.

The Commissioner has powers to investigate and make recommendations to the relevant authority about the environment. Their purpose is to –

  • Independently assess the capability, performance and effectiveness of the New Zealand system of environmental administration.
  • Provide advice and information that will maintain and improve the quality of environmental management.

Complainants may be asked to put their concern in writing. The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment makes enquiries with the relevant authorities to determine -

  • If there is any evidence the environment has been harmed, or is likely to be harmed.
  • Whether the authority is acting to stop and remedy the harm, or to prevent the threat of harm.

Find out more about the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment.

Remuneration Authority

The responsibility for setting the remuneration for a council's elected members belongs to an independent statutory body, the Remuneration Authority.

The Remuneration Authority, after setting the mayor's remuneration, sets a total remuneration pool for the remaining elected members of a council, taking into account factors such as a council's population and operating expenditure, but not the number of elected members. In consultation with the council, it allocates that pool of money to the council's elected members.

Anyone may appeal proposed remunerations to the Remuneration Authority before they are finalised.

Questions on local council's elected members remuneration should be directed to the Remuneration Authority. Their postal address is –
P O Box 10-084

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