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Local government is yet another long standing institution that Labour feels needs a Treaty-based reboot

In brief

  • This is another grandiose ideological change proposed by Labour, very akin to 3 Waters. 
  • The draft review has a lot of nice words, like “wellness”, but these are hard to convert into practical steps that local governments can action. 
  • Is co-governance really the driving force?

Commission and scope

In 2021, an independent review was commissioned by Nanaia Mahuta in her capacity as Minister for Local Government, and supported by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

The review is currently in the third and final stage, which is formal consultation and final reporting. The resulting draft report is broad and acknowledges it suggests “significant constitutional change”, particularly pertaining to the “relationships between central and local government and local government and citizens”.

The review pushes for central government policy that provides a legal obligation for councils to “force incorporation of tikanga” in council systems. It may be sold as an innocuous cultural gesture, but when one drills down on the details, it once again looks like another way to remove the core democratic tenet of “one person one vote”. Further, it wishes to ensure only people who are indoctrinated into the Labour view of the Treaty can serve as the non Māori representatives by having some sort of screening based on Te Tiriti.

These dots are not very hard to connect, but is it legal?

Co-governance of essential government services seems to be the go to move for Labour, whether under Jacinda or Hipkins. It can take many forms but now, in addition to Three Waters and the health reforms, it extends to flood relief and the replacement for the Resource Management Act.

The control structure suggested for local government is very similar to the contentious control elements of Three Waters. But Three Waters is a management structure, albeit very convoluted and opaque for a utility. Local government is supposed to be democratically elected. Can the constitutional aspiration of co-governance in local government even be achieved with a simple majority at Parliament? Or do the higher levels pertaining to entrenchment (75% or a 50% public referendum) apply? Something like the co governance as envisioned in the report was recently tried with the Rotorua District Council Representative Arrangements Bill. The Attorney General rejected it as discriminatory.

With enhanced co-governance rights, where does that leave everyone else?

At its core the new approach to local government is seeking to give enhanced rights to Māori. But is everyone else a “second class citizen”? And is this exacerbated in communities with very small Māori populations?


Public consultation closed at the end of February, with the final report due in June 2023.

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