First Look at the Future for Local Government

Topics covered in this article: RMA & Local Government

Jemma Hollis

Senior Solicitor

Senior Solicitor

Phone: +64 7 927 0528

Bachelor of Laws Hons (1st class); Bachelor of Science


A draft report reviewing the future for local government was presented to the Minister of Local Government and released to the public on 28 October 2022 (RFLG), and is currently open for submissions. The report, He mata whāriki, he matawhanui, outlines current issues and makes recommendations that aim to create a community-focussed and citizen-centred local governance system in Aotearoa.

The RFLG proposes five key shifts in the way that local government operates.

Strengthened local democracy

Citizen participation in local democracy is declining and there is little community trust in the democratic process. In order to re-engage the community, the review proposes a number of measures, including:

  • That central government undertakes a review of the legislation to adopt Single Transferrable Vote as the voting method for council elections; lower the voting age to 16 for local body elections; provide for a 4-year local electoral term, to bolster community confidence in local government’s promises for change; and to amend the CE’s employment provisions to match the wider public sector.
  • a review of the criteria for setting elected member remuneration, to recognise the increasing complexity of the role and enable a more diverse range of people to consider standing for election. The review will be undertaken by local government in conjunction with central government and the Remuneration Authority.
  • the retention of Māori wards and constituencies. Māori wards were not designed to provide for a Tiriti-based partnership.  However, and it is recommended that a process be developed which allows a number of appointments to be made on a both a Tiriti and capability basis.

The development of authentic relationships with hapū / iwi and Māori

Current relationships between Councils and iwi / hapū are identified as being variable. To create strong, authentic relationships the review proposes:

  • a new legislative framework for Tiriti-related provisions in the Local Government Act, to explicitly recognise te ao Māori values, developed by central government.
  • a partnership framework between councils and hapū / iwi be implemented, with the aim of creating meaningful involvement in local governance for all groups within an authority’s territorial boundaries. The partnership framework will fill the gaps in existing arrangements between councils and Māori.
  • a central government transitional fund, to subsidise the cost of building both Māori and council capability for a Tiriti-based partnership.

A stronger focus on wellbeing

The report notes that local government has traditionally focussed on delivering services and infrastructure in a cost effective way. A new ‘local-first’ approach is proposed in order to move to a more holistic system that centres around community wellbeing. Under this approach, roles and functions would be allocated to the lowest level of government possible, and guided by te ao Māori values.

Genuine partnership between local and central government

Current levels of trust between local and central government are cited as being low. Collaborative inter-authority systems are fragile and reliant on individuals, and need to become more systemic to improve co-operation. A co-investment approach, involving alignment between central and local government for the planning and funding of projects, will assist with facilitating collaboration and enable better delivery of wellbeing outcomes for the community.

More equitable and sustainable funding

The current funding arrangements for local government are cited as being unsustainable. Decisions on regulatory interventions are made without consideration of the funding impacts for local government, meaning mandates go unfunded. Proposed measures to improve funding arrangements are:

  • The co-investment approach, and a system where local and central government co-fund an agreed set of outcomes and objectives.
  • ending the passing of unfunded mandates to local government.
  • That central government expands its regulatory impact statement assessments to include impacts on local government.
  • the retention of rating, but simplification of the rating model; and a review of relevant legislation to enable councils to introduce new funding mechanisms.
  • the establishment of an intergenerational fund to tackle the challenge of climate change, with application of the fund requiring appropriate regional and local decision-making input.

Next steps

You can read the Future for Local Government report here. Submissions are open until 28th of February 2023, with the review panel’s final report due by mid-2023.

If you would like to find out more or need help with your submission, please contact one of the members of our Local Government team.



Latest Update: 22 December 2022

Written by:  Jemma Hollis, Solicitor and Esther Barry, Law Clerk

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