While New South Wales is currently undergoing a process of considering metropolitan council amalgamations, Western Australia has recently reached the unsuccessful conclusion of a similar process – which ended with a number of overwhelming ‘no’ votes in local referendums and an abandonment of the process in February 2015. New Zealand, which already has much larger councils than in most of Australia, is also currently considering a number of council mergers.
While I was focused on the state elections in Queensland and New South Wales, I overlooked the conclusion of this amalgamation process. I had posted about the process when the draft boundaries were first released in 2013, when the WA government was proposing to roughly halve the 30 councils covering Perth.
Referendums were held in five council areas in February 2015, and in all five an overwhelming majority of voters voted against council amalgamations, and shortly after this the plan was dropped by the WA government.
While the broad plans have been abandoned, the government is still planning to make small changes to the City of Perth’s boundaries, taking in parts of the cities of Nedlands and Subiaco.
Meanwhile, the ongoing process of council amalgamations in New Zealand has continued proceeding, with a number of merger proposals considered recently.
New Zealand went through a major round of council amalgamations in 1989, which could be considered to have achieved the goals set by conservative governments for local councils in Sydney and Perth more recently.
As an example, in the Auckland area nine councils were merged to form the City of Auckland. Before they themselves were amalgamated in 2010, the four councils covering the Auckland urban area had populations ranging from 200,000 to 450,000. Similar patterns can be seen in Wellington and Christchurch, with the main city centre councils covering much larger parts of the urban area than in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth or Adelaide.
In recent years, the conservative government in New Zealand has set more ambitious goals for merger.
In 2010, all seven local district councils, and the regional council, in the Auckland region, were merged to form a new Auckland Council “super-city”. This super-city covers the entire urban area, along with some rural fringe areas, and has a population of about 1.5 million.
Outside Auckland, New Zealand is governed by two levels of local government – local districts and regions. The Wellington region covers the entire Wellington urban area including the Hutt Valley, but also stretches about 140km up the east coast of the North Island, taking in Carterton and Masterton.
Until earlier this month, a proposal from the NZ Local Government Commission to merge all nine councils in this area into a “super-city” were being pursued, despite the fact that the council would cover a much larger area than the area covered by Wellington’s urban area, effectively ending the idea of a council specifically representing urban Wellington by rolling it in with other towns.
On 9 June, the Commission dropped their plan to merge all of Wellington Region’s councils, as well as a plan to merge the three councils covering the Northland peninsula to the north of Auckland.
The Commission is still pursuing a proposal to make major reforms to councils in the Hawke’s Bay region on the east coast of the North Island, which would involve a merger of the Napier City Council and the three large rural councils nearby: Central Hawke’s Bay, Hastings and Wairoa.
There are groups campaigning for the amalgamation and against it. If the merger goes ahead, the merged council would have a population of over 150,000. If a petition from a certain proportion of one of the local councils is submitted calling for a poll, it will be held later in 2015 to decide whether to proceed with amalgamation.
You can download Google Earth maps of New Zealand’s local districts and regions here.