Should we have 18 years as a term limit for local government

July 16th, 2016 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

New Zealand’s longest-serving councillor is on track to notch up half a century in public office – provided voters give him the tick once again this year.

Grey District Council deputy mayor Doug Truman, 76, was first elected to a local authority in 1968, and plans to run for another three-year term in October’s local body elections.

His 48 years in office to date make him by far the country’s longest-serving councillor, according to information compiled by the Taxpayers’ Union.

I’m a believer that you go in to achieve a few things, and then give someone else a go.

Taxpayers’ Union researcher Matthew Rhodes said the figures showed turnover at councils varied greatly. The longest-serving councillor on Westland District Council had been there for only seven years.

“Whilst we all recognise the need for organisations to have long-standing personnel with institutional knowledge, we think these figures suggest that it is timely to look at implementing term limits at local councils.

“If you’ve been on a council for six terms – 18 years –  and you haven’t yet achieved what you set out to, it seems unlikely that you will do it by staying on council for another 18 years.”

I agree.


Wellington City Council – Helene Ritchie (30 years) 
Kapiti Coast District Council – Diane Ammundsen (30 years)
Porirua City Council – John Burke (30 years)
Hutt City Council – Margaret Cousins (30 years) 
Hastings District Council – Lawrence Yule, Cynthia Bowers (21 years)
Greater Wellington Regional Council – Chris Laidlaw, Sandra Greig (18 years)
Napier City Council – Mark Herbert (18 years)
Hawke’s Bay Regional Council – Christine Scott (15 years)
Upper Hutt City Council – John Gwilliam (12 years)


Gagging Councillors

June 22nd, 2016 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Changes to Nelson City Council’s Code of Conduct has the potential to gag councillors and turn them into spin doctors for the council, according to a researcher.

Massey University researcher Catherine Strong says a paper she published in 2014 found 10 councils from around the country had inserted phrases to state elected members could not criticise council, its policy, or actions.

Strong says Nelson has also re-worded its code in November, 2014.

The changes were similar to those made by councils she had studied for her paper, which she found had the potential to “fetter” free speech. 

Nelson City Council’s reworded code 5.10 currently states: “Elected members public statements expressing their opinion on matters before the Council shall not criticise the conduct of the Council, other elected members or officers of the Council.”

What nonsense. They’re trying to say a Councillor can’t criticise the Mayor. This would be like Parliament having a Standing Order saying MPs can’t criticise the Prime Minister. Any Council with such a provision in its code should scrap it.

Karl du Fresne on democracy

June 11th, 2016 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Karl du Fresne writes:

I’ve always thought democracy is a pretty good sort of system. Not perfect, of course, but as Winston Churchill said: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

In other words, it’s the best we’ve got until somebody comes up with something better.

Well, it seems someone has. In Masterton, of all places.

You probably thought, like me, that democracy works because it gives us the right to choose our representatives and to get rid of them if we don’t like them.

But Masterton District Council has decided that’s flawed, or at least not appropriate for Masterton. The council wants to improve democracy by appointing iwi representatives with voting rights to two of its standing committees.

Yes, you read that correctly. They would be appointed, not elected. But like elected councillors they would have the right to vote on matters affecting the rest of us.

Whatever this is, it is not democracy. It’s something else for which we don’t yet have a term.

Perhaps we could call it part-democracy or near-democracy or almost-democracy until someone comes up with something better.


I don’t want to sound alarmist. The appointment of iwi representatives to two council committees isn’t likely to be the end of the world.

The genuine councillors – the ones actually elected by the people of Masterton – would still be in the majority. And it’s possible that iwi representatives would make a sincere attempt to make decisions in the best interests of the entire community. But that’s hardly the point. 

Democracy is a package deal. It doesn’t come with optional extras that you discard if they don’t happen to suit you. And the danger is that once you start subverting democratic principles, even with the best of intentions, anything becomes possible.

So very well said.

If there’s no longer a rigid rule that the people who make decisions on our behalf must be elected by us and accountable to us, reformers will soon find other ways to “improve” the system – all in the interests of fairness, of course.

This is how democracy gets undermined – by inches and by degrees. Ultimately someone might decide that voting is a clumsy and inconvenient process and that democracy would be much more efficient if we got rid of it altogether. It’s happened in plenty of other places.

Sadly it has.

Is it possible that 100 years hence, queues of international visitors will line up outside Masterton Town Hall to gaze admiringly at a plaque that says: “Masterton – the Place Where They Fixed Democracy”? Somehow I doubt it.

I understand the worthy intent behind what the Masterton council is doing. In an ideal world there would be more Maori in local government. But it’s fanciful to interpret the Treaty of Waitangi as imposing an obligation on councils to provide seats for unelected iwi representatives.

You can be fully supportive of having more Maori involved in local government, but also think this is a terrible idea.

Speaking but not voting rights

May 9th, 2016 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

A Wairarapa council has approved the appointment of unelected iwi representatives, with voting rights, to its standing committees.

Masterton District Council voted on Wednesday to appoint representatives from Wairarapa’s two iwi, Kahungunu ki Wairarapa and Rangitane o Wairarapa, each with speaking and voting rights, to its policy and finance, and audit and risk, committees.

They also have speaking rights at full council meetings, which ratify the recommendations from the two standing committees.

I think it can be a good thing to have Iwi representatives as non-voting members of appropriate Council committees, or even of the Council. It can be an effective way to make sure they are consulted. I think Iwi do have special interests in certain areas of natural resources.

But I am totally against voting rights. Doing so undermines democracy. You should not have unelected people voting which means a majority vote may only be achieved because of them.

Yes elections are a distraction – but a good one

May 1st, 2016 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Things are going so well for Opotiki, the district’s mayor claims they don’t need an election.

Mayor John Forbes has suggested Opotiki not take part in local body elections, although when asked if that should be for voters to decide, he said “democracy is incredibly important”.

Forbes said the elections risked distracting the council during a critical phase in the district’s development. Adding, elections often meant important work was placed on the back-burner. 

“I strongly believe in democracy, I think it’s really, really important,” Forbes said. “But there’s also an old adage: If something isn’t broke don’t fix it, and the council’s functioning very well.”

John Key probably thinks the Government is functioning very well also, but he doesn’t advocate no elections as they are a distraction.

He said the councillors were doing a “good job”, and if they weren’t he wouldn’t be suggesting an unopposed election.

“I’ve got a council working really well, so lets just carry on working hard on what’s good for our district.

“If I didn’t think we were doing that, I would say we [council] should all put our hands up, either stand down or ask the community to elect again.”

Forbes believed a council being re-elected unopposed had not happened anywhere else in New Zealand.

“I can’t think of any other councils who would want to do what I’m suggesting here. But we’re a small community, who know our council very well.

“When I talk to other mayors from around the country, a lot of them would like some change on their councils. A lot of mayors stand down because they feel they have had enough or not as good at the job as someone else might be.

It’s good the Mayor is so pleased with his Council. That is rare. Also good that they think things are going so well. But their perspective may not be shared by all – hence the point of elections.

Compulsory local Government Maori wards an awful idea

April 14th, 2016 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The Maori Party is calling for a “long overdue” law change to establish Maori wards on every district council in New Zealand.

Co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell will present a petition to Parliament at the urging of New Plymouth mayor Andrew Judd, who championed the creation of a Maori ward in his city – a move blocked by a public vote last year.

Under existing legislation, councils can choose to establish Maori wards. However, if 5 per cent of voters sign a petition opposed to such a move, the decision then goes to a binding referendum.

Maori representation on local government has been a heated issue at times, with parties divided at the last general election.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said Maori wards were separatist – a stance backed by the Act and Conservative parties – while National and Labour were not opposed to councils establishing Maori wards if they wished.

I’m with Winston on this one. I think it is appropriate local authorities recognise local Iwi have a particular status with regards to certain natural resources in their area. But I don’t think having separate wards and councillors on the basis of one’s ancestry is a good thing.

No amalgamation for Hawke’s Bay

September 16th, 2015 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Hawke’s Bay voters have overwhelmingly rejected plans to amalgamate the region’s five councils into a single body that would have become the country’s fourth-largest local authority.

The Local Government Commission’s proposal to create a single Hawke’s Bay Council was opposed by about two-thirds of voters who took part in a binding poll that closed at noon on Tuesday.

Electoral officer Warwick Lampp said that, with about 97 per cent of the vote counted on Tuesday afternoon, 66.2 per cent were against the amalgamation proposal, and 33.5 per cent were in favour.

This is not a surprise, but is disappointing. Napier and Hastings are just 20 kms away from each other, but the traditional rivalries were too much to overcome.

Polling had shown that while voters in Hastings were in favour, there was strong opposition in Napier, and the rural areas.

Wellington, Northland no, Hawke’s Bay yes

June 9th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Local Government Commission has said:

The Local Government Commission has made decisions on the next steps for three local government reorganisation proposals.

The Commission has decided not to proceed with its draft proposals for single councils in Northland and Wellington. Instead the Commission will return to those communities to work with them and seek to develop other options to address the challenges those regions face.  The Commission has issued a final proposal for reorganising Hawke’s Bay’s local government.

I think amalgamation and reform would have been good in all those regions. However it was apparent that opposition in Northland and Wellington was so intense (mainly whipped up by local body politicians worried they would lose their job) that any amalgamation was bound to fail in a referendum.

The out of control spending by the Auckland Council has also I think scared people off amalgamation.

The decision for Hawke’s Bay is:

That proposal is to establish a single new council for Hawke’s Bay, called Hawke’s Bay Council, with five local boards sharing decision making and representing the interests of the region’s varied communities.  If implemented, it will replace the Napier City, Wairoa District, Hastings District and Central Hawke’s Bay District, and Hawke’s Bay Regional Councils.  This final proposal has been issued following an extensive process.

This will proceed unless 10% of a current Council’s population call for a referendum. This is inevitable, so I expect a referendum between September and December this year.

PM says no to new Council taxes

February 3rd, 2015 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

John Key has dismissed a push for councils to be able to broaden the way they raise money, saying major changes are not on the government’s agenda.

Today Local Government New Zealand released a funding review paper, claiming a need to address the gap between spending and revenue.

Pointing to pressures from an ageing population as well as local pressures created by tourism and nationally significant projects, the paper mooted revenue gathering including from local taxes and cost sharing with central government.

“The goal is not to increase the overall tax burden for New Zealand, but rather to determine whether a different mix of funding options for local government might deliver better outcomes for the country,” LGNZ president Lawrence Yule said.

According to LGNZ, councils spent about 10.5 per cent of all public expenditure, but raised only 8.3 per cent of the revenue.

The answer to me is to reduce spending to match revenue.

If I had confidence that different funding mechanisms would be used to reduce the level of rates, then I’d support Councils having the ability to use a broader range of measures such as a local GST. However I’m almost certain that we’d end up with rates remaining just as high as they currently are, and have local taxes piled on top of that.

If any new local taxes were subject to approval by referendum, then that could be a goer.

One Council proposed for Wellington Region

December 5th, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Local Government Commission announced:

The most significant reforms of a generation are proposed for councils in the Wellington region, under a draft proposal released by the Local Government Commission. Public submissions are now being sought, with a deadline of 2 March 2015.

A new unitary authority, the Greater Wellington Council, is proposed. It would take over the functions of the existing nine councils: Masterton District Council; Carterton District Council; South Wairarapa District Council; Upper Hutt City Council; Hutt City Council; Wellington City Council; Porirua City Council; Kapiti Coast District Council, and the Greater Wellington Regional Council.

The new council would have a shared decision-making structure. Power would be shared between the governing body (a mayor and 21 councillors) and 60 members of local boards. The mayor would be elected by voters of greater Wellington. Councillors and local board members would be elected from eight defined geographic areas.

The current nine Councils have nine mayors (incl WRC), 95 Councillors and 57 community board members.

The proposed structure would see eight local boards:

  • Wairarapa (10 members)
  • Upper Hutt (6)
  • Lower Hutt (10)
  • Kapiti Coast (9)
  • Porirua-Tawa (7)
  • Ohariu (6)
  • Lampton (6)
  • Rongotai (6)

The local boards would be more powerful than the ones in Auckland:

The Commission expects Wellington local boards to have greater power than Auckland local boards. This includes approving management plans for most local recreation, cultural, and sporting facilities,and a significant role in community development and promotion. For example, it includes local parks and reserves, recreational and community facilities, arts and cultural facilities and libraries. It also includes local community and cultural events, decisions about public spaces such as town centres and main streets, and grants to local groups. The Commission also expects local boards to have responsibility for local transport infrastructure, waste and recycling facilities, and local economic development initiatives

I think the proposed structure is a significant improvement over the status quo. However it will be bitterly opposed by some incumbent politicians and Mayors as they of course would lose their positions. If the proposal goes forward, it is likely there will be a referendum, and I don’t think there is a great desire for change – so it could well be lost. That is a pity though.

The Local Government Commission have no vested interest except what they think will best serve the residents of the region. They’ve look at all the pros and cons, and have recommended this model. My hope is the debate will be on those pros and cons.

Wellington does suffer from a lack of leadership. You have to get agreement from all nine Councils for things to happen.

The Dom Post editorial is in favour:

On balance, it’s a good call for Wellington to get the super-city treatment, as proposed by the Local Government Commission.

The inclusion of Wairarapa’s three councils, however, remains unconvincing, and should be reversed. …

But no-one should pretend that the boards will be some kind of boon for grass-roots democracy.

On the contrary, this is a move to concentrate decision-making powers for the region. The crucial funding and regulatory decisions will happen centrally. That’s the point of the exercise, and it’s why it is worthwhile.

The best reason for a merger is that it will give the city a louder, more consistent national voice. Wellington is treading water while Christchurch and Auckland, for different reasons, dominate central government attention.

The region needs leadership that can lobby powerfully for it. It also needs a coherent vision for how it will remain energetic and attractive in the coming decades. That is a task better suited to one mayor and 21 councillors instead of the current tangle of local, often headbutting chiefs.

I’m quite relaxed on whether or not the Wairarapa councils are included. Many of the home owners there work or live in Wellington so there are strong connections, but if they want their own Council, I’m fine with the Wellingtion Region just including Wellington, Hutt, Porirua and Kapiti.

Leggett on Wellington local government

December 3rd, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Porirua Mayor Nick Leggett writes in the Dom Post:

Having nine councils and countless government agencies pulling in different directions, I’m not surprised it took seven decades to get Transmission Gully started.

While we wouldn’t want to live anywhere else, people I talk to in Porirua and throughout the region share my concern that Wellington is lagging behind. We can be stronger as a region by working together.

Tomorrow, the Local Government Commission will reveal its plans for the region, which I hope include the creation of one unitary council to cover Wellington City, Porirua, the Hutt Valley and the Kapiti Coast. It’s been 25 years since the last shakeup of local government in Wellington.

My hope is the commission offers people a clear choice: do we keep plugging away with nine separate councils and 321 operative plans, or do we unite behind a single council to tackle big regional challenges alongside local boards that ensure democracy at the community level?

We know we don’t need a super-city. We’re only one third the size of Auckland. But the way we do things now is not making the most of our strengths so as to insulate ourselves against our weaknesses.

At the moment, local councils are either too small to fund and manage the major infrastructure projects or too unwieldy to deliver local services. We don’t need to choose between local democracy and effective regional decision-making. We need to give local people more tools and resources to shape their communities, while tackling major challenges like water, public transport and economic development at a regional level.

For Wellington to live up to its awesome potential as a place to live, work and raise a family, we need to do a better job of aligning resources and capability to the public policy challenges we face.

There’s reason to believe the status quo is letting us down.


I agree the status quo is flawed. Like Nick, I think one Council for the Region, and local boards for each community would be a better model.

I agree with Lianne on smaller wards

September 12th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Press reports:

The existing representation arrangements in Christchurch are flawed and need to be changed before the next local body elections, Mayor Lianne Dalziel says. …

Currently Christchurch is divided into six wards, each of which is represented by two elected councillors and one community board.

Banks Peninsula is represented by one councillor and two community boards.

But Dalziel is not convinced the existing ward system groups communities together appropriately.

She thinks there would be more opportunities to get communities involved in decision-making if the wards were smaller and better reflected communities of interest. 

”Maybe we could have more wards and one councillor per ward,” she said, acknowledging that such a move could lead to a slightly bigger-sized council.

I don’t think you should have a bigger Council, but I do think single member wards is better for voters. With two or three person wards you often have up to 20 candidates to choose or rank, and it becomes somewhat blind luck. A smaller single member ward will be easier for voters (like in parliamentary elections) where you only have to pick one candidate out of a relatively small number.

Live-streaming Council meetings

June 16th, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

A trial proved a ratings flop, but the Wellington City Council is pressing ahead with plans to live stream its meetings.

The council spent about $5000 on a live broadcast of October’s inauguration ceremony for the new council on YouTube, with hopes of getting viewers “in the thousands”. As of yesterday, the video clip had gathered 782 views. …

Last year, the cost of live streaming all full council meetings was put at about $30,000 a year.

Deputy Mayor Justin Lester said he did not share Ritchie’s concerns.

“I don’t know what she’s on about really. People have been asking for this for a long time.”

Taupo District was the first council to start broadcasting meetings in 2010.

In 2012 it had an average of 15 viewers per meeting.

In principle this is a good thing to do – allowing people to see their elected representatives debating issues and making decisions.

In Canada many local authorities have their meetings covered on a local channel, and quite a few people actually watch them.

However it looks like the demand is not enough to justify the expense. 15 viewers per meeting for Taupo tells us something, and many of them may be bots!

InternetNZ used to record its meetings, as it wanted to show how transparent they were. So every meeting would be miked up with a dozen mikes, recording equipment and the like. A review a few years back found that the only people who had ever accessed the audio files were staff (off memory), and so it was dropped.

The Ratepayers Report

June 11th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

This morning Fairfax and the Taxpayers Union have launched the Ratepayers Report. Union staff have spent months collating the data from 67 city and district councils, with Fairfax staff checking the data, writing stories on it, and producing the online league tables.

You can see in ranked order the 67 councils stats for:

  • Average rates bill (Western Bay of Plenty $3,274 to Mackenzie $1,101)
  • Staaf numbers (Auckland 5,956 to Kaikoura 22)
  • Staff earning over $100,000 (Auckland 811 to four Councils on 2)
  • CEO salary (Auckland $620,000 to Waimate $166,000)
  • Mayoral salary (Auckland $247,229 to Kaikoura $51,050)
  • Council Revenue/ratepayer (Wellington $5,904 to Opotiki $2,197)
  • Group Revenue/ratepayer (Chch $10,368 to Opotiki $2,197)
  • Debt/ratepayer (Auckland $15,858, Dunedin $15,093 to Central Otago $327)

Stuff has published a number of stories, based on the report.

One can use the data to create your own league tables. For example I’m interested in the ratio of the CEO’s salary to the Mayor’s salary. The highest is Westland where the CEO gets paid 4.9 times as much as the Mayor and the lowest is in Christchurch where they get 1.7 times as much only.

One can also calculate what proportion of staff earn over $100,000. The three highest are Chathams (2/9), Westland (6/37) and Christchurch (302/1936). In Christchurch one in 6.3 staff are paid over $100,000, in Wellington one in 6.8 and in Auckland one in 7.3. At the other end only one in 25 staff at Napier City Council get over $100,000.

Special mention to Larry Mitchell, whose work in this area was the inspiration for the Ratepayers Report.

It is hoped that the Ratepayers Report will be an annual publication so people can see changes in their local councils over time, and use the data at election time to praise or criticise Mayors, councillors and candidates. Ultimately the aim is more informed ratepayers, where they can see key financial info at a glance.

2014 NZ Council Financial Sustainability League Table

May 20th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Larry Mitchell has published his 2014 Council Financial Sustainability  League Table. The key summary from his analysis is:

Best in Class
Clutha District Council
Southland District Council and
Rangitikei District Council

Worst in Class
Kaipara District Council
Kawerau District Council
Horowhenua District Council

Highly Commended
Stratford District Council
Selwyn District Council
Wellington City Council
Marlborough (Unitary) District Council

The number of Councils in each category are:

  • 5/5 – 7
  • 4/5 – 18
  • 3/5 – 19
  • 2/5 – 15
  • 1/5 – 8

Ratepayers who fund one of the Councils at the bottom of the table should be asking hard questions to their elected representatives.

Stopping the double dippers

March 4th, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

MP Maggie Barry is labelling a Shore politician’s claims she is trying to remove him from office as “ridiculous”.

But Devonport-Takapuna Local Board member Grant Gillon says it’s no conspiracy theory.

Ms Barry, National MP for North Shore, had her bill to stop people serving on two or more Auckland local boards drawn from the member’s bill ballot.

Very sensible. You can’t be the MP for Wellington Central and say the MP for Mana. Your job is to represent one locality.

Among the few politicians this would affect is Mr Gillon who serves on both Devonport-Takapuna and Kaipatiki local boards.

Mr Gillon believes it’s motivated by his support for stopping housing at Bayswater Marina and opposition to closing Takapuna Beach Holiday Park to make way for a national sailing centre.

“There can be no other reason why the local MP considers removing me from office as the most important issue for the North Shore in an election year.”

He says the bill is poorly drafted and will force at least six costly by-elections across Auckland.

There is an SOP with the bill to clarify it is not retrospective. There will be no by-elections. The issue is whether politicians such as Gillon should be allowed to serve on two or more local boards concurrently.

Ms Barry says double dipping opens up the “real potential for conflicts of interest”.

“This has allowed local board power to be concentrated in the hands of a few people, many of whom don’t even live in the area they represent.”

The idea of local boards is that they are, well local.

Submission to the 2013 local authority elections inquiry

December 17th, 2013 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar


 About the Submitter

  1. This submission is made by David Farrar in a personal capacity. I would like to appear before the Committee to speak to my submission.

Management of Elections

  1. I submitted to the 2010 inquiry that the Government should be asked to look into the pros and cons of making the Electoral Commission responsible for local authority elections.
  2. My views have firmed up since then, and I now strongly believe that it is highly desirable that the Electoral Commission be placed in charge of local authority elections, acting as a legal and organization backstop to local returning officers.
  3. It is inevitable that there would be considerable cost savings from having one entity run the 90+ local elections, than having it done by 67 territorial authorities. The extra cost to the Electoral Commission could be funded by a levy on local bodies proportional to their population. This would save ratepayers money overall.
  4. The more important reason to place the Electoral Commission in charge is integrity and consistency of electoral law. 67 different returning officers may make many different rulings on how they interpret the Act. They have no ability to deal with complaints on law breaches short of referring them to the Police who have shown little interest in such things. Having the Electoral Commission in charge would mean consistency rules and decisions, and specialized legal resource that can be used to decide which alleged breaches should go to the Police.
  5. The other important issue is that local returning officers are generally staff members of their local Councils. They spend 33 out of 36 months having to work with Councillors in a “subservient” relationship and then three months as the arbiter of the election. That place them in an invidious position where they can damage their long-term working relationship by unfavourable interpretation to Councillors who are candidates.
  6. This problem is not just theoretical. I have spoken to a number of Mayors who have told me their returning officers have been bullied by Councillors who are candidates, and the results are confusing and inconsistent rulings which aim to appease a Councillor who can make their job difficult outside election time.
  7. I discussed the issue of having the Electoral Commission responsible for local authority elections with a conference of re-elected Mayors at a LGNZ conference. While there was no formal vote, there seemed to be very strong support from most Mayors there for having the Electoral Commission in charge of local authority elections. I think such a move would gain support from most local authorities, and even many local returning officers.
  8. With possible use of e-voting in the future, it makes even more sense to consider a central authority for local elections.
  9. A further advantage to having a central authority is that election results could be displayed on one central website, rather than the 67 different sites currently out there.
  10. A final point in favour of having the Electoral Commission in charge is it would make it easier for those on the unpublished roll to vote in local elections. I found out from one Mayor that if someone is on the unpublished rolls, then they do not get posted voting papers as the Electoral Commission isn’t authorized to share unpublished roll details with local authorities. That means those on the unpublished roll (such as domestic abuse victims, police officers) have to ring up, get authenticated and have a special set of ballot papers sent to them. Of course very few go to such lengths. If the Electoral Commission had overall authority they could post out ballot papers directly to those on the unpublished roll.

More informed voting

  1. I propose that ballot papers be required to be in random order so that no candidate gets an advantage based on their surname. There is considerable research showing ballot order affects votes, and we saw some candidates changing surnames in order to try and game the system.
  2. I also believe people would make better decisions (and have higher turnout) if there were fewer candidates to choose from or rank. A law change directing the Local Government Commission to implement single member wards (as Parliament has), unless there are strong reasons not to, would be beneficial.


  1. I’m pleased to see progress has been made on this issue since I submitted on it in 2011, and that the Government plans to trial this no later than 2016.
  2. An option to vote electronically is just that – an option. It is not proposed that it replaces postal voting –just to complement it. It will not be a silver bullet for low voting turnout, but it should make some impact as it makes it easier for those who want to vote, to do so.

Thank you for considering this submission. I would like to make an oral submission in support, and look forward to appearing.


David Farrar

Hawke’s Bay amalgamation

November 27th, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Five councils could become one in Hawke’s Bay – despite resistance from all but one mayor.

Mayors generally do not want to lose their jobs.

The Local Government Commission revealed yesterday a recommendation to create a single Hawke’s Bay Council for the region, encompassing the city, district and regional councils into a unitary authority, in a decision being watched by other areas investigating council mergers.

There would be one council, one mayor and one voice, chairman Basil Morrison said. It would stop rivalry and lack of co-operation between local authorities, which were holding back development in the region, he said.

The rivalry and infighting is massive. Napier and Hastings especially have this weird fetish of trying to have as little to do with each other as possible, despite being close to each other than some suburbs in Auckland.

Combining Napier, Hastings, Wairoa, Central Hawke’s Bay and the regional council could save up to $10 million a year, he said.

Not a small amount for a region of 150,000.

Mr Dalton was confident the “ridiculous notion” could be defeated. “Thinking people right across Hawke’s Bay will rise up and reject this arrogant suggestion,” he said. “Regardless of whether the administration centre goes to Napier or Hastings, there will be massive job losses. Surrounding businesses will suffer and I’m sure many will be forced to close their doors.”

Mr Dalton thinks the more jobs you have funded by ratepayers the better it is for businesses. It obviously does not occur to him that if businesses have lower rates, that is great for them.

But I doubt reform will happen. Napier residents are too against it.

One Council for Northland?

November 15th, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Local Government Commission has announced:

The need for a single voice for Northland and for local communities to keep their special identities is reflected in a new model of local government proposed for the region.

The Local Government Commission has released its draft proposal for reorganisation in Northland, following applications by local authorities and extensive consultation since February. The highlights are:

• One council and one mayor to speak with a region-wide voice for Northland.

• A second tier of boards to represent diverse local communities.

• The name of the new local authority to be Northland Council.

• It replaces the Far North District Council, Whangarei District Council, Kaipara District Council and Northland Regional Council. The new council would be a unitary authority, combining the functions of the district councils and the regional council.

• Northland Council would have nine councillors elected from seven wards. The mayor would be elected by all Northland voters.

• Northland Council would have seven community boards with 42 elected members. The seven council wards and seven community boards would share the same boundaries.

• The proposed names of the wards and community boards are: Te Hiku (far north), Hokianga-Kaikohe (north-west), Coastal North (north-east), Coastal Central (east), Whangarei (south-east), Coastal South (south-east), and Kaipara (south-west). These names are open to public submission.

Many of the current Northland local authorities have had serious problems. The amalgamation proposal looks a pretty sensible way forward.

The full proposal is here.


Labour wants taxpayer funding for local body candidates!!!

October 15th, 2013 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

NewstalkZB reports:

Cold water’s being poured on a potentially controversial way to boost voter turnout at local body elections

Labour’s Sua William Sio is suggesting they be state funded and that candidates get taxpayer support for their campaigns.

He believes it could increase voter participation and improve ethnic representation.

Local Government Minister Chris Tremain indicates it’s not on the Government’s “to do” list.

Oh my God. Imagine it. If Labour get in and introduce taxpayer funding of local body candidate’s campaigns. They generally advocate $2 a vote so Penny Bright gets $20,000 from the taxpayer for her campaign. John Minto gets a bit less. Len Brown picks up $300,000. Celia Wade-Brown pockets $50,000 or so.

Labour never stops trying to find ways for the taxpayer to fund their party and their candidates.

14 seats to vote for is too many

October 15th, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The ODT report:

The Dunedin City Council will consider switching to a single city-wide ward and giving community boards more powers after some voters complained of being disenfranchised, Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull says.

Mr Cull told the Otago Daily Times yesterday he had heard directly from up to 30 people, mainly in the Waikouaiti Coast-Chalmers ward, upset at being unable to vote for city councillors in this year’s election.

”They really resent not having a say on the whole of council, when the vast bulk of the population do.”

Wait a second. What do they mean that they didn’t get a vote? Is there some law saying that people who live in that area have to pay rates but don’t get a vote? Are the good people of Waikouaiti like the people of DC (who don’t get to vote for Congressional representation)?

Mr Cull was commenting after voters in the Waikouaiti Coast-Chalmers ward were left with no say on who would represent them for the next three years.

Incumbent Cr Andrew Noone was elected unopposed for the ward’s only seat, leaving voters in the ward able only to influence the races for the Dunedin mayoralty and Chalmers Community Board.

That’s totally different. They didn’t get a vote because no one stood. You fix that by having someone stand, not by abolishing wards.

As a result, he was ”really sympathetic” to the idea of one city-wide ward, and expected a proposal for change would be considered by the incoming council.

Such a change would allow all voters to vote for all 14 city councillors, he said.

I think that will lead to inferior decision making by voters. It is hard enough to identify three or four people worth supporting in a ward. Having to select 14 out of say 40 or so candidates will just lead to more people not voting.

I think Councils should go the other way – single Councillor wards. You vote for one Councillor for your local area, just as you vote for one MP. That way you are picking say one person out of three or four (which means you an properly research your choices) that the blind luck of 14 out of 40. or so.

The low turnout

October 14th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports on the turnouts being as low as 33% in some major cities:

Left-wing commentator Bryce Edwards said while there generally wasn’t a link between turnout at local body and general elections, both had seen participation fall over time.

The weekend’s low turnout was probably a result of it being a “business as usual election” with “really not much on the line and very little to inspire everyone”. …

Right-wing commentator David Farrar said there was a general downward trend in voter participation worldwide.

He agreed a lack of big political issues had contributed to turnout being low.

But postal voting had also been a significant factor. He knew “half a dozen people” who had forgotten to send off their ballot papers and had to race to the council offices to cast a last-minute vote.

“They have no relationship with a post office . . . and I think each year it’s going to get much worse with postal voting because the postal system is becoming less relevant.”

The Government has agreed to trial internet voting at the next election but Mr Farrar said it was not being implemented fast enough or widely enough.

The Government has agreed to a trial for 2016, and I appreciate the efforts of Chris Tremain in getting this agreed to.

I’ve been involved with this issue since after the 2010 elections where I raised it at the select committee review of the election. I’ve met several Ministers over the issue, and various Mayors and people in Local Government NZ. A huge amount of work has gone on behind the scenes to make e-voting an option for future local body elections (just an option, not to replace postal).  In fact all that is really needed from central Government is some regulations to be passed by Cabinet.

However the Department of Internal Affairs has been incredibly resistant to change, from what I have observed. If it were not for them, we could have been trialing e-voting in 2013.

A trial in 2016 is better than no trial at all. However the massively low turnouts should ring a warning bell that the status quo is not acceptable. Postal voting is a dying technology.

What would be good to see is a sense of priority given to a trial. It is almost inevitable that at next year’s general election some local body people will get elected to Parliament and we will probably have some local body by-elections. It would be highly desirable to trial e-voting at those by-elections so that in 2016 (while still a trial) there is wide-spread use of e-voting in a significant number of local body elections.

I see that Chris Tremain is looking at fast-tracking the trial. That will be an excellent thing if he does.

The challenges ahead for the big city Mayors

October 14th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar


Len Brown won 48% of the vote compared to 32% for John Palino. Stephen Berry a libertarian candidate came third with 4.0% and 13,500 votes. Penny Bright was 4th on 3.4% and 11,619 votes ahead of John Minto on 11,436. The fact Minto got less votes than Penny is somewhat telling!

So Brown has a pretty strong mandate. Palino did pretty well for someone with no previous political experience. Would have been interesting if Maurice Williamson had stood.

Len’s biggest challenge will be his Council. The centre-right picked up a seat in Waitakere and Maungakiekie-Tamaki. However that may be compensated by a loss in Whau which has a 48 seat margin for now. Brown generally could get his policies through in his first term. He also managed a pretty good relationship with the Government, and got them to agree to eventually fund the City Rail Loop. But the loss of Northey on Council is a blow, and if Brewer starts to articulate an alternate strategy, he will be the person in watch in 2016.

Other challenges will be around implementing the Housing Accord, keeping future rates increases down, the unitary plan and political management of issues such as berms which can crop up.


Julia Hardaker is the first Mayor to win re-election in around 20 years. She got 42% of the vote, ahead of Ewen Wilson on 34% – so a healthy 8% margin.

There are no big policy issues for Hamilton (now that the public have settled the fluoride debate) and Hardaker has been competent as improving the performance of the Council, and showing fiscal responsibility.

Her Council has changed a bit and a couple of sensible people got elected to it. The two hard core lefties of Gallagher and Macpherson will continue to undermine, as will Ewan Wilson who has already declared that he is standing again against Hardaker in 2016. It says something that he has said he is standing regardless of how well she performs in the next three years.

Hardaker needs to not worry too much about the troublemakers and continue to focus on improving the Council’s performance. However good sound management only gets you so far in politics, so she also needs to consider whether there are a couple of initiatives that she can champion to get people behind.


Celia Wade-Brown got 38% of first preferences and won by 4.4% against John Morrison. She is rather fortunate to get re-elected considering the high level of discontent over the Council’s performance. A lack-lustre campaign by Morrison helped her considerably.

The Council composition (including her) is now Green 4, Labour 2, Centrists 5, Leftists 1, Righties 3. The left has seven clear votes out of 15 and others like Justin Lester who often vote left. If her political management improves she should be able to actually get some policy wins through Council. The Green caucus of four Councillors could prove quite potent – but they may provoke a backlash if they turn the Council into a roadblock for development.

Losing Morrison and Pepperell off the Council is a boon for her (for quite different reasons). Her first challenge is to appoint a Deputy Mayor and allocate Council committee chairs. Can she get Council working relatively cohesively?


As expected Lianne Dalziel won easily, with 72% to 23% for Paul Lonsdale. She has a huge mandate, but not an unconditional one in that she had no major opponent.

Dalziel also has a supportive Council with Labour winning six out of 13 Council seats. Vicki Buck is former Labour so Dalziel should be able to get almost everything she wants through her Council unless she stuffs up badly.

Her major challenges are related. They are to restore confidence in the competence of the Council so that the thought of it taking over full governance of the city after 2015 doesn’t cause resident to wake up screaming with nightmares. The consenting fiasco shows there is a long way to go. The other challenge is her relationship with the Government, especially Gerry Brownlee. If she drives the Council towards competence, then it should be relatively easy for the Government to start to transfer functions back to it in a year or two. If however Dalziel doesn’t sort out her own backyard and just attacks the Government (as many of her Councillors will want her to do), then the relationship is likely to be hugely abrasive.

The Wellington election results

October 13th, 2013 at 2:24 pm by David Farrar



This is how the vote went for the WCC Mayoral election, on the provisional results.

  1. Celia Wade-Brown won 38% of the first preferences to 34% for John Morrison
  2. Jack Yan picked up the biggest slice of Karuna Muthu’s first preferences
  3. John Morrison picked up the biggest slice of Rob Goulden’s preferences
  4. Nicola Young’s support split three ways – 30% to Wade-Brown and Yan and 40% to Morrison.
  5. At this point there is only 3% in it and Yan has 18%.
  6. But Yan’s votes go 55% Wade-Brown and 45% Morrison giving her a 4.4% margin

Of interest 4,363 voters did not fully rank all preferences and hence did not get a say in the final decision between Morrison and Wade-Brown. This is a larger number that the margin of 2,284. Now they presumably made a conscious decision that they thought both candidates were equally undesirable (which is a perfectly appropriate view to have), but it does show the importance of ranking all preferences if you do want as full a say as possible.

Local election results

October 12th, 2013 at 12:11 pm by David Farrar

An open thread for people to post results of the local body elections as they come in, and comment on them. I’ll try and update the main post as significant results are known.

UPDATE1: Len Brown re-elected in Auckland. Julia Hardaker re-elected in Hamilton. John Carter beats Wayne Brown in Far North. Lianne Dalziel elected in Christchurch.

UPDATE2: Hamilton has voted 68% to 32% in favour of retaining fluoride in their water supply. A good victory for science. Christchurch City Council leaning left. Hamilton City Council has had some sensible moderates get elected. Auckland Council has seen Denise Krum beat Richard Northey but not yet clear how overall balance of Council looks.

UPDATE3: A huge margin for John Carter. He got 8,500 votes compared to 2,500 for incumbent Wayne Brown.

UPDATE4: Annette Main beats Michael Laws in Wanganui. Nick Leggett in Porirua doubles his majority and challenger (and Deputy Mayor) Liz Kelly loses her seat.

UPDATE 5: Celia Wade-Brown has retained the Wellington Mayoralty.