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Guide to local government
The big picture. Our elected representatives. Council and citizen. How councils work. Councils and the law.


Editorial - participate    




Councils and citizens have many opportunities to work together - we can use these opportunities ourselves, and we can help others to participate. DecisionMaker Publications, the Centre for Citizenship Education, Local Government New Zealand, the Department of Internal Affairs, co-sponsoring cities, supplementary information providers, the VUW School of Government and others have joined together with the DecisionMaker writing team to provide information citizens can turn into knowledge with the aid of the DecisionMaker Guide to Local Government. Use this publication in its print, cd-rom or www.decisionmaker.co.nz form, DecisionMaker's supplementary social studies worksheets, the DecisionMaker Guide to Parliament and Government 2003 - and other sources - to help find out more.

In The big picture, the DecisionMaker Guide to Local Government looks at how local government is organised and what developments we might expect. In Our elected representatives, it tells you how to enrol to vote (as all citizens must) vote (as all citizens should) and stand for council or another local governance entity (as any citizen could). In Council and citizen, the Guide explores some of the ways in which councils reach out to hear the voices of the people they serve. How councils work describes some of the many important ways that councils affect our communities, and how we can have a say in what they do. In Councils and the law, we look at council's role in making regulations and implementing national legislation; as well as how the Officers of Parliament - the Ombudsmen, Auditor-general and Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment - provide checks and balances for local government, as they do for central government.

We hope you will take this book as a starting point for further action: show others how democracy works in New Zealand; recognise the diversity of people and of practice; borrow good ideas and adapt them for your own communities; hold the right people accountable for the right issue; consider how local government should develop over the coming years.

Go to the Department of Internal Affairs website to see a summary of some of the articles in this book translated by the Office of Ethnic Affairs into Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), Samoan and Korean.

Our publishing goals:

  • the media should see themselves as major participants in maintaining the relevance of Parliament for the people
  • civics education should be introduced into the school curriculum
  • the public must take responsibility for participation.

From the recommendations of the former Speakers' 1998 report Restoring public confidence in Parliament.

“Just as we expect our democracy to work for us, we have to work for our democracy. This means taking part in the decision-making process. This means voting, participating in public life ...”.
Governor-General Dame Silvia Cartwright in the Foreword to the DecisionMaker Guide to Parliament 2003


In 2001 Sandra Lee, former Minister of Local Government, responsible for taking the Local Government Bill through Parliamentary process to become Local Government Act 2002, said

If I were to be limited to a single word of explanation it would be “empowerment”. We are looking to give local authorities the statutory power to respond to the demands of their communities. And giving to communities the capacity to hold their councils accountable for the actions taken on their behalf. The new legislation will also be about partnerships. Again you are only too aware that the relationship between central government and local government was strained for many years.


Chris Carter, who became Minister of Local Government, said before LGA 2002 was passed,

Rather than hindering local authorities as the current Act does, the Local Government Bill seeks to provide for greater flexibility and certainty, and allows councils to respond effectively to the changing needs of their communities.

At the same time, the Bill will provide ratepayers and electors with a greater capacity to involve themselves fully in the decision-making processes. The balance between empowerment and accountability is critical.

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