Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Below is the draft of my submission on the Local Government (Auckland Council) Bill, which I'll be emailing away before Friday. Since I don't live in Auckland, I'm not sure how much right I have to comment on the structure of their local government, so I have confined my comments to the proposed electoral system.

  • I oppose parts of the Local Government (Auckland Council) Bill, and ask that it be passed with amendments.
  • My concerns focus on three areas: the size of the council, use of at-large voting, and Māori representation. While I also have concerns about the use of the undemocratic FPP voting system, I recognize that that is properly a decision for the people of Auckland.

    Size of the council

  • The bill sets the size of the council at 20 members. This is approximately one elected representative per 65,000 residents – a worse ratio than for parliamentary representation. While there are additional local boards, their powerlessness means the entire burden of representing Auckland will fall on these 20 people. The result will be distant and unaccountable local government.
  • A local authority is not a corporation, and its council is not a board of directors. Its primary purpose is to be a representative body, elected by and accountable to voters, and responsive to their interests. This requires that councilors be easily accessible, rather than remote figures.
  • Recommendation: the size of the council should be increased, perhaps as much as doubled, to allow proper representation of voters.

    At-large voting

  • The bill presently provides for 12 members of the Auckland Council to be elected from wards and 8 to be elected at-large from across the entire city.
  • This sort of at-large voting, known as the multi-member block vote, is known for systematically producing undemocratic outcomes. According to the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance’s handbook on Electoral System Design, the system “tends to exaggerate most of the disadvantages of FPTP, in particular its disproportionality”. It consistently and reliably transforms narrow pluralities into sweeping majorities, while ensuring that minorities receive no representation whatsoever. It is an electoral system designed to produce undemocratic outcomes.
  • In addition, at-large voting may produce a large slate of candidates, similar to that seen in some DHB elections today. Such competitions will disproportionately favour candidates with name recognition, such as incumbents and celebrities. While this is an issue under every electoral system, at-large voting across such a wide geographic area will magnify it to an absurd degree.
  • Finally, while many may stand, the costs of running an effective campaign across the entire Auckland region are likely to be prohibitive. The result will be to disproportionately favour wealthy candidates. Again, while this is a potential issue in every electoral system, it is particularly pressing in this case.
  • Recommendation: there should be no at-large election, and individual candidates should be elected from wards.

    Māori representation

  • The bill makes no provision for Māori representation, and ignores the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance’s recommendation for specific Māori seats.
  • The size of the council and proposed electoral system will almost certainly result in Māori being poorly represented on the Auckland Council, if they are represented at all. In a city where the Treaty partner makes up 11 percent of the population, that is simply untenable.
  • The New Zealand Parliament currently has Māori seats to recognize the mana of the tangata whenua and ensure there is a Māori voice in our highest representative body. That institution should be mirrored in the Auckland Council.
  • Recommendation: the bill should provide for parallel Māori wards, according to the numbers on the Māori electoral roll, to recognize the mana of the tangata whenua and provide a guaranteed voice.
  • I do not wish to make an oral submission to the Committee.