Democratic participation

Elected representation

The diversity of elected representation in Auckland is disappointing with few Māori and Pacific Islands members on Auckland Council and the 21 local boards, a small number only of ethnic councillors or board members, and not many female directors of council-controlled organisations (CCOs). While voter turnout was higher in 2010 at 51 percent, almost half of Aucklanders eligible to vote in the local authority elections did not exercise their fundamental democratic right to vote.

“For the citizens of Auckland local boards will be an important gateway into the work of local government in the region.”
Rodney Hide, 2010.

Women comprise 40 percent of Auckland Councillors and 39 percent of the members of local boards are women.

Auckland Council has 40 percent women’s representation with eight out of 20 councillors and 39 percent female representation in the 21 local boards. Nine local boards are chaired by women and eight have deputy chairs who are female. Two local boards have women as both chair and deputy chair. Women represented 33 percent of the candidates for local boards, 140 females put themselves forward, and they were proportionately more successful than men.29

By comparison with 12 other New Zealand cities which recorded the lowest number of elected women candidates (52) since the 1989 restructuring of local government, Auckland is faring better in terms of women’s representation at the two levels of governance.30

There were a number of other local authorities with a greater female representation than Auckland Council in terms of elected representation, including Wellington City Council and Christchurch City Councils, at the last elections in 2010. Five councils achieved 50 percent or above female representation of councillors. Auckland remains ahead of the overall national percentage of women as elected representatives in local government (including mayors, regional, city and district councillors) which was around 28.3 percent in 2012.

The female representation in the seven substantive council-controlled organisations (CCOs) of Auckland Council continues to be of concern to women’s groups such as the Women’s Health Action and to the New Zealand Human Rights Commission.31 In March 2013 it was 29 percent with 15 women out of 51 board appointments. There are no women chairing any of the seven CCOs, while four have female deputy chairs.

The Council’s CCOs provide many of the services that usually form the core activities of local authorities in New Zealand, including roading, public transport, water and wastewater, economic development, tourism and events and regional facilities. Substantive CCOs deliver services and activities that are funded by more than 35 percent of the Council’s total rates, and these CCOs also manage $25 billion of assets owned for the benefit of the public, which makes up 70 percent of the Council’s consolidated total assets.

Table 2:

Women’s representation: Auckland Council 2013

Representative Total No. No. of women % women
Mayor 1
Council 20 8 40%
Local boards 148 58 39%
CCO appointments 51 15 29%
Chief Executive 1
Senior management 8 4 50%

In the 2010 Auckland Council governing body and local board elections the proportions of women candidates and female councillors/mayors were similar to those in the 2007 elections.

Table 3:
Representation of women in Auckland elections, 2007–2010

  Auckland Regional
Council 2007
Auckland area
TAs 2007
Auckland Council
Women council/
governing body candidates        
13 101 32
32% 30% 32%
Women councillors           6 36 8
46% 37% 40%
Women community/
local board candidates          
- 123 147
- 39% 39%
Women board members - 55 58

Incumbency is a strong feature of the Auckland Council, despite its newness,and three-quarters of the councillors elected to the Auckland Council governing body in the 2010 elections were members of former Auckland area councils,including many well-known female local body personalities. Incumbents who were members of former Auckland area community boards, also represented more than half, 57 percent, of Auckland local board members elected in 2010.

There are few Māori elected representatives on Auckland Council and approximately five percent only on local boards.

There is one Māori council member, one who identifies as having Māori heritage and one who identifies as Pacific/Māori elected to Auckland Council. A tiny number of Māori are members of local boards, approximately five percent, with one female Māori local board chair. Given that at the 2006 Census more than130,000 of Auckland’s population of 1.3 million people, 10 percent, identified as Māori, the level of Māori representation is of concern.

While the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance, the precursor to Auckland’s local governance reforms, recommended three Māori members,two elected by voters on the Māori Electoral Roll and a representative from a proposed Mana Whenua Forum, the recommendation was not included in the eventual Auckland governance legislation. Instead an Independent Māori Statutory Board (IMSB) was established through the enactment of the Local Government (Auckland Council) Amendment Act 2010 and is without precedent in central or local government. The board membership comprises seven manawhenua group representatives and two mataawaka representatives appointed by an iwi selection body. It has a statutory role to provide leadership and direction to Auckland Council to make decisions, perform functions and exercise powers by:

  • Promoting the cultural, economic, environmental and social issues that are significant to Māori in Auckland; and
  • Ensuring that the Council complies with statutory provisions that refer to the Treaty of Waitangi.

The Office of the Auditor-General‘s report in 2012 states that the relationship between the IMSB and the Council is “generally working, with everyone trying their best.”32 The report states the IMSB is challenging the Council to improve its decision-making to be responsive and effective for Māori.

There are several elected representatives of Pacific heritage, approximately 10 percent, on Auckland Council.

By comparison with Māori, Pacific Islanders have better local body representation in Auckland. Two councillors have Pacific heritage, 10 percent of elected council representation, excluding the Mayor, and at least one local board, Mangere-Otahuhu, has a majority of Pacific elected representatives with four of seven members. Pacific Islanders represented 14.4 percent, 177,936, of the Auckland region population at the 2006 Census. Population estimates from Statistics New Zealand indicate a slight increase for Pacific Islanders to 17percent in 2012. The settlement pattern of migrants from the Pacific Islandssees the greatest concentration in Manukau City around the suburbs of Otara, Manukau and Mangere, as well as in Auckland City in Otahuhu and Glen Innes.According to ethnicity by local board in 2006, 50 percent of people living in Mangere-Otahuhu were Pacific and 46 percent living in Otara-Papatoetoe were Pacific, which has the potential to influence representation at a local level.

“Pacific communities desperately need voices and policies that address the acute and serious issues confronted by Pacific communities”
Uesifili Unasa, NZ Herald, July 2013

There are no reliable data on ethnic candidates and elected representatives but what information is available shows ethnic peoples’ representation is very low.

Auckland is the most ethnically diverse region in the country with over 150 ethnic identities and more than 120 languages listed in the last census.33 Identification of ethnicity of elected representatives in Auckland is difficult because it is based on self-identification and is often not sufficiently disaggregated in official data sets. However, there appears to be no ethnic peoples’ representation on Auckland Council. There also appears to be a tiny number only of ethnic candidates on local boards. To meet the needs of ethnic peoples, the Auckland Council established in 2010 an Ethnic Peoples Advisory Panel (EPAP) which defines its constituency in the tradition of the Office of Ethnic Affairs: “People whose culture and traditions distinguish themselves from the majority of people in New Zealand, i.e., those who are not of Māori, New Zealand European/Pākehā or Pacific Island heritage”. Census data in 2006indicated that 18.9 percent of Auckland region’s population was Asian and 1.5 percent was Middle Eastern/Latin American/African. Local board areas with high Asian populations include Puketapa, 40 percent, Howick, 32 percent, and Whau, 31 percent.

Voter turnout

The voter turnout for the Auckland Council elections in 2010 was 51 percent.

The voter turnout at 51 percent for Auckland Council was second only to the 52.2 percent turnout for Christchurch City Council in 2010.34

It was higher than the 38.5 percent overall turnout for seven Auckland Territorial authorities in 2007, and compares to the 49.1 percent turnout for all territorial authorities in 2010. Voter turnout in Auckland Council elections reflects heightened public interest in local government activity in Auckland, and the high profile mayoralty contest. Enrolled non-resident ratepayer electors in Auckland had a 97 percent turnout in the 2010 Auckland Council election. Non-resident ratepayer turnout is consistently higher than residential voter turnout and the Department of Internal Affairs says this is “likely to be because ratepayer electors must take specific steps to confirm their enrolment, which is likely to be a strong intention to exercise their vote”. The September Canterbury earthquake is credited for increasing the voter turnout overall as well, 52.2 percent in Christchurch compared to 42 percent in 2007.

The voter turnout for Auckland Council at a little over 50 percent is, of course, a glass half empty/half full scenario, given that it represents almost every second person of the 1.4 million eligible Auckland voters not exercising a vote. Political participation is declining particularly amongst young people.35

In 2010 there was media debate questioning whether the local body elections may represent a turning point in the steady decline of voter turnout since the 1989 restructuring of local government. Turnout peaked in 1989 with 56 percent voter turnout for regional councils and 65 percent for district councils. The general decrease in turnout between 1989 and 2007 was relatively consistent across all types of local body elections including DHBs and Trusts.

Support for democracy

Auckland residents report a slightly lower level of satisfaction with the operation of local government in their region compared to residents in other New Zealand cities. A higher proportion of Aucklanders are interested in further opportunities for participation.36

The percentage of Aucklanders who agree that they have a good understanding of how Council made decisions has declined in recent years from 46 percent in 2008 to 27 percent.

Just 34 percent of Aucklanders agree they have confidence that Council decisions are in their best interests. This is lower than for the other urban areas and also lower than 2008.37

Over a third, at 36 percent, see the public as having some/large influence over Council decision-making which is less than other major cities. Over 58 percent of Aucklanders want more say in their city decision-making, again slightly above other cities. Reported levels of satisfaction with advice and support for elected representatives provided by Council officers have slightly improved from 2011 to 2012. However, they are some way from the target of 70 percent set by Auckland Council. Services that provide support for democracy are important in providing an inclusive governance system for Auckland.

Information on council activities needs to be freely available to Auckland residents so they can be well-informed about services and activities available to them. The Council provides information through a range of media, including online, print, through call centres and in physical service centres. Measures of Auckland region’s residents’ satisfaction with the availability of information to them, and how well they feel they can access information, has not yet become available in consistent form through the Auckland Council.

However, in the Peoples’ Panel survey on communicating with Council, questions were asked about information availability on website, call centre and face-to-face visits to the Council. The responses to this survey indicated that information availability could be significantly improved.

Residents who had interacted with the Council were surveyed and a total of 64 percent of the respondents (n=1663) indicated that they were satisfied or very satisfied with their last contact with Council. Suggestions made for improvement in Council services included having more knowledgeable staff in the call centre, Council staff being more direct, and providing accurate and complete information, and for records to be updated so information does not have to be repeated. Making processing less complicated and bureaucratic, and improving the website so that information was more accessible, and up to date were other suggestions.38

“Local boards will be pivotal if communities are to have a say in their future, rather than being part of a one-size-fits-all prescription”
Editorial, NZ Herald, July, 2013.

29. Data compiled by AUT research team from publicly available information.
30. Department of Internal Affairs (2010). Local Authorities Election Statistics, p.61. Retrieved from
31. New Zealand Human Rights Commission. (2012). New Zealand Census of Women’s Participation. Retrieved from
32. Office of the Auditor-General. (2012). Auckland Council: Transition and emerging challenges Wellington: Office of the Auditor-General.
33. Auckland Council. (2013). Ethnicity and Migration in Auckland. Auckland: Auckland Council Community and Cultural Strategy Group.
34. Department of Internal Affairs (2010). Local Authorities Election Statistics. (See endnote 30).
35. Catt, H. (2005). Now or never. Children and young people as citizens: Participation, provision and protection. 6th Child and Family Policy Conference, University of Otago, Dunedin, July.
36. ACNielsen. (2013a) (see endnote 7). Although there are difficulties in comparing 2010 and 2012 data from this survey because of their changed methodology this seems unlikely to be merely a ‘methodical effect’.
37. The most frequently mentioned reason for the lack of confidence that Council decision making was in the best interest of the city/district is that respondents “do not like specific decisions, or outcomes of the decisions the Council has made” (51 percent). This was followed by “do not agree in general with decisions the Council has made” (30 percent), “unhappy with rates/rating structure” (5 percent), and “not looking after all areas/suburbs/too much emphasis on central area” (5 percent).
38. Auckland Council (2011). Communicating with Council—customer experience survey. Auckland: Auckland Council, pp.20–22.

City of Auckland map

City of Auckland map