Recently Metro Magazine published an interesting, albeit it somewhat messy piece by former Waitakere City Mayor Bob Harvey asking if Auckland should become a city-state. The basis for it is similar to many of the conversations we’ve had, that Auckland’s population, growth and economy are almost completely different to what’s found elsewhere in New Zealand. As such, it requires completely different thinking. Yet because Auckland is so different, many from outside the city, including those in government agencies, simply struggle to understand the magnitude of it.

Its population and economy are simply growing faster than the rest of New Zealand’s, and indications are that growth is accelerating. Since 2011, according to the Auckland Growth Monitor published by Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (Ateed), “Auckland’s GDP has grown at an average annual rate of 3.4 per cent, and between 2015 and 2016 grew by 3.9 per cent”. In the rest of New Zealand GDP grew at a steady 2.5 per cent, rising only to 2.7 per cent in 2015 and 2016.

Auckland is forecast to have two million residents by 2033, and by 2045 it will be home to 40 per cent of the national population. We are set apart, and probably have been since Hobson anchored in the Waitemata in 1840. It just took a century to become evident.

Auckland occupies less than two per cent of New Zealand’s landmass, but 34 per cent of the population already live here. The region takes half of all migrants to New Zealand, and has accommodated a population the size of Wellington in just the past decade, 45,000 people in 2016 alone. Some 39 per cent of Aucklanders were born overseas (foreign-born citizens make up only 18 per cent of the rest of New Zealand), making the city the fourth most ethnically diverse in the world. Aucklanders are also in general slightly younger, better educated and higher paid than other New Zealanders.

Along with an increasing percentage of the national population, Auckland has a greater proportion of working-age adults than the national average.

Over a third of New Zealand businesses, and two-thirds of the nation’s top 200 technology firms, are based in Auckland. More than 100 multinational companies have their Asia-Pacific headquarters here. The region already generates 37 per cent of the nation’s gross domestic product. The trends outlined above would indicate this is likely to increase.

He even references an article here on the blog from Peter in 2015 that looked at how much Auckland gets as a share of government funding. That post highlighted that overall, Auckland gets just 31% of government funding, noting:

From Auckland’s perspective, the nation, already taking more from us than we get from them, will take more and more in the future. At the same time, we will become more despised and distrusted, and Wellington bureaucracy will increasingly seek to constrain us even though we hold all the real power.

Never mind how the Zealots view Auckland. It’s more important that Auckland today sees itself as monolithic and bound by traffic and council, both of which seem to spend too much time getting nowhere fast. It needs to free itself and start seriously becoming a global player.

The piece frequently references the late Owen McShane a lot which is interesting as many of his ideas were to create the antithesis of a modern city. For those that don’t know the name, he was an outspoken figure about housing and transport, wanting to see Auckland sprawl in every direction, backed up by more and more motorways.

Over the years we’ve seen the impacts of the city and government butting heads, primarily on transport and housing. One of my observations over the years was that even National more often than not would eventually come around to agree to Auckland’s view on issues. Whether it be on the Unitary Plan and the need for density, or on transport with projects like the City Rail Link and ATAP, Auckland was making the right calls sooner. How much sooner would the City Rail Link and now Light Rail, have been started if we hadn’t had to endure years of delays. That council and government are currently in strong alignment doesn’t mean the position will always stay that way.

It’s not entirely clear if Harvey is suggesting that Auckland become its own nation, like Singapore, or just have more autonomy than it does currently. Personally, I’m not convinced of the case for the former. For one thing, it would likely mean the city needing to replicate most, if not all of the government institutions. That would be neither a quick, easy or cheap job. However, having more autonomy in some policy areas, backed up by some guaranteed funding could allow for critical projects to get over the line and sooner. In some ways we’re heading a little down that path already with the regional fuel tax.

What do you think, should we consider making Auckland a city-state, should the city get more autonomy, or should we just leave things as they are?

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61 comments

  1. The idea of a seperate city state is arrant nonsense. Why not then an independent South Island, a Tuhoe Nation, the United Tribes of Northland and the Peoples Republic of Otago? However, a different governance model with more autonomy and access to revenue makes a great deal of sense – and not just in Auckland.

    For all the complaints about excessive parish pump local government, New Zealand is an extraodinarily centralised state for a democracy, especially when compared to local council-city council-state-federal model of somewhere like Parramatta/Sydney/NSW/Australia. Almost all governance power sits with a small, unicameral parliament dominated by a cabinet of around 20 people. While local government is increasingly burdened with the cost and responsibility of enforcing the diktat of the central authority there is no provision for provincial governments capable of having, say, independent housing initiatives or some say in health or education. Partly this is due to local government being deliberately crippled by central government control of revenue.

    Money is power, and the Wellington based politcal and bureaucratic elites know that keeping a jackboot on the revenue windpipe is all that stands between them and slding into a growing irrelevance, especially (mostly?) vis-a-vis Auckland.

    My view is Auckland has outgrown the current NZ local government model. The city needs a new governance model based on the federal model with access to revenue that will allow to it to fund independent transport, housing and possibly even health and education policies. How the funding works would have to be nutted out, but the days of Auckland being held to ransom by several hundred Wellington based politicians, technocrats and bureaucrats must come to an end.

    1. That money is far better spent subsiding Wellingtonians telling other Wellingtonians how cool Wellington is. It’s Wellington’s primary export.

    2. One clarification – City of Parramatta and City of Sydney are both local governments of separate areas and sit at the same level. There is no overall council for Sydney, the next level up after the local councils is State Government.

      Otherwise I completely agree with you.

  2. Yes, Auckland should have more autonomy to raise its own revenue. NZ has one of the highest rates of centralized national spending of any developed nation. No way should we go to a true ‘city state’, but in a way this is moot as cities are more important than they ever have been, large ones becoming more important than their host nations in economic respects.
    Unfortunately there is little protection for local governance in NZ. If you need a reason for an NZ constitution, enshrining the rights of local authorities should be one, take Canterbury Regional Council as an example of local democracy being eroded.

  3. It’s a common trend, Vancouver has little in common with most of Canada, New York isn’t remotely representative of the USA, London is entirely foreign compared with the rest of England.

    I love our city, I also love New Zealand, but when I cross the Bombay’s it’s like I’m visiting another country. I’m an Aucklander first, a New Zealander a distant second.

    I’m totally over the city being held back by back country farmers who don’t understand it, to be fair I’m sure the same applies in the opposite direction

    Republic of Auckland? Yeah, bring it on.

    1. The problem with separate nations is they always seem to end up going to war with each other. Even more likely if one of the nations is actually split in two by the other.

      1. Yes, an irredentist war to build a Greater Auckland. Auckland Province stretched to the 39th parallel…

        NZ has a history of devolved political power with its colonial provinces. So, why did NZ abolish them? (I missed that lesson in NZ History).

  4. I honestly don’t think council would spend the money any better because there is little opposition holding them to account unlike central government. Local government is even less democratic with fewer people voting.

    Of course I also think Aucklanders should have a greater say on how those taxes are spent.

    1. One of the reasons people don’t vote for councils is they don’t hold a lot of clout. I suspect if they had a bigger say on how money was spend people would be much more likely to vote.

  5. Auckland now dominates NZ as many Australian capital cities dominate their states but without the corresponding state government powers. Interestingly in Queensland the tropical north often mutters about “secession from Brisbane” in the same way some South Islanders mutter about jafas.

    1. Slightly different in that Auckland makes up less the 50 % of NZ’s population where as most of the Australian state capitals make up much more than 50 % of the state’s population, Hobart being the exception. So the balance of power is a bit different.

  6. Auckland is welcome to become its own self-governing republic. Of course, you’d have to generate your own electricity too, or buy it from your southern neighbour, at greatly increased prices…

      1. Doesn’t matter. Supply and demand. If you want it, you have to pay the price we ask. We can always let the water run down to the sea instead. Auckland has Zero power generation ability of its own…

        1. Do you seriously think the shareholders of those power companies would be willing to let the water flow out to sea? A significant proportion of their ownership would remain in Auckland.

          1. Do you seriously think a split from NZ by Auckland would not go unpunished by the Mainland? Nationalisation of key assets would be an immediate first step, so sell your power shares now Jezza !

        2. Haha which power company are you going to convince to not sell to Auckland? Can see contact energy shares now after that announcement!

    1. We do generate our own power, we just happened to build it down south paid for by the north. If you want to charge us for it then you will need to pay back the capital cost. Same goes for the roads.

  7. Auckland is nothing without the rest of New Zealand.

    Much of Auckland exists running the financial and management services for the tourism and farming industries that work throughout the rest of the country. If Auckland separated from the rest of the country it could expect those services to drift away over time to centers in ‘New New Zealand’ proper – Hamilton, Wellington, and Christchurch. Without those, what of value does Auckland actually produce? There are a couple of software companies but you can’t run an economy for 1.5 million people off those.

    Finally I am kind of disgusted by these attitudes that “Auckland contributes more, we should go it alone”. It’s like these rich folks who want to go live on a libertarian paradise so they don’t have to pay taxes to support the rest of society. It lacks humanity, compassion, and an understanding of the reality I outlined above that we’re all in this together.

    1. That’s fine, but Auckland has been underwriting the rest of the country’s infrastructure at our own expense. Plenty of hands out when a disaster strikes, but everyone has short memories when Auckland dares to ask for its own badly needed and delayed infrastructure. Time to collect some debts. With force if need be.

      1. I agree Auckland should have some more autonomy, perhaps an ability to pass bylaws relating to rental rules and other areas and raise its own taxes the way it wants.

        But I have to disagree with the premise. Auckland’s getting massive investment – the CRL, Dominion road LR, half of the kiwibuild houses. No one’s objecting to that (except the National Party, I suppose, but they’re the opposition now!) and when you take those into account, updating that 31% figure, I’m sure Auckland is getting about its fair share relative to its proportion of population.

          1. “Time to collect some debts. With force if need be.”

            Are you deliberately trying to channel Trump and come across as a complete tosser? Because that’s the way it appears, with silly statements like that.

          2. A lecture on saying stupid things from someone who seriously compared Auckland to a cancerous growth literally a mousewheel down the page?

      2. Our expense? If you take a step back it just looks like the taxes from NZers paying for stuff in NZ. We’re a nation and should act like one.

    2. I agree we are all one country. I suspect some of the attitude comes in response from the incorrect assertion that the rest of the country pays for Auckland, which simply isn’t true and never has been.

    3. I think Aucklander’s are a little frustrated with government forcing small town solutions on a bigger city. Probably easier to fix this problem than to ‘go it alone’. I doubt there will be too many issues while Twyford is transport and housing minister…

    4. I don’t think anyone is suggesting Auckland provides more so should go out on there own. Just showing the GDP figures, population figures etc. All those show the underinvestment Auckland has and the article is suggesting that decisions are being made about this funding by people who don’t understand big city needs.

      In the end you can’t argue that Auckland provides more than their fare share when the figures are shown.

      In terms of what Auckland produces, and I’m assuming you are talking about products rather than services, then we got agriculture, produce, timber, fisheries, manufacturing. But Auckland produce a lot of services, entertainment, education and tourism.

  8. “Auckland is forecast to have two million residents by 2033, and by 2045 it will be home to 40 per cent of the national population.”

    With those increases, Auckland will get more and more political power as electorate boundaries are moved and new electorates are created. There will be no need for Auckland to ‘secede’ since it will gain more and more political and economic power. The more likely event is that the rest of NZ will decide to secede from Auckland. And who would blame them?

        1. Thanks Damian. Just putting it out there – to a lot of the rest of NZ, the city of Auckland is indeed just like a cancer. Not a nice thing at all, and they’re not envious of Aucklanders either.

          I’ll leave it there….

          1. Cool. Pay us back for your shit that you can’t fund off your own population base and we’ll be on our way.

  9. If Auckland does get more autonomy, we would need to change how officials are elected. First past the post sucks.

  10. STOP: I think we are getting too much Public transport money at the cost of hard working tax payers. OK so lets slow down the debate and get more ideas and opinion. 1.) A EASY solution to traffic issues is to liberalize employment laws and regulations and also town planning laws. With no cost to anyone. ??

        1. I think that is already allowed. It has been allowed for years. We have very few Prohibited Activities in Auckland. Although some knob did make subdividing a minor dwelling unit on less than the standard section size prohibited rather than non-complying.

          1. true but unfortunately plans in Auckland are generally written so that non-complying activities are prohibitively expensive and risky to gain consent for, hence no one really bothers.

          2. Miffy, I thought it was pretty clear that I was using the active version of allow, rather than the passive version. Apartments being non-complying or discretionary means that they aren’t banned and technically allowed. I am suggesting that we change planning rules so explicitly allow developments to give developers confidence in applying for consent.

            Basically THAB zoning should mean that if you apply to build a 6 storey (or less) apartment building that meets HIRB, setback, coverage, parking requirement, and has access only onto a collector route (or lower), then there should be no way the council can refuse consent.

            We have something similar for duplexes in Hamilton. If you have a site over 400m2 anywhere in the city and can build a duplex that meets a checklist of rules, then council must give consent.

            I think council’s could do better by providing some guidance on this. A single page for each zoning/development type with a checklist of the rules that you had to meet. It would, reduce the cost to develop as you wouldn’t need as much input from planners, and there would be far better confidence in achieving the outcome. It would make it a lot easier for property owners to understand what zoning allows next to them as well.

  11. Devolution often occurs as a country gets bigger although there are notable exceptions such as the US. Therefore, further devolution for Auckland and other areas are a good thing – as a general rule the further a person is away from the outcomes the less concerned he or she is with those outcomes.

    I don’t think there is any need or desire for Auckland to be an independent country but more decisions made here rather than at the national level. In fact, given that Auckland will be 40% of the country it will be better for the rest of NZ too. However, it needs to be real devolution and not just the Auckland Council carrying out central government policies. Auckland needs to make those policies.

  12. A pretty lightweight article to be frank. City states are something from the days before the industrial revolution.

  13. Here’s a crazy idea – the fact Auckland dominates one third of the news time at 6 o’clock pisses off more people than the cash it takes from central government.

    If National news devoted a 10 minute segment just to Auckland and aired that only in Auckland, and a 10 minute segment for “not auckland” that airs everywhere else, that’d do more to lower the temperature and cool resentment on both sides than any kind of legal autonomy.

    1. Haha, can’t tell if you’re joking or not but there’s something to what you’re saying. It annoys me how the Blues get double the news time as any of the other super rugby teams, even though all 5 NZ teams do exactly the same things – same number of games, same trainings, same injuries etc. It alwasy seems like they’re desperately clutching at straws to report some story about Blues players visiting low decile schools or something.

      1. While we are talking about TVOne News have you ever wondered about the link between the inordinate time TVOne devotes to Boxing and the level of domestic violence in this country? Maybe now the Joseph Parker hype bubble has burst TVOne can allocate some time to real reporting on issues like the ones this blog promotes.

  14. A city-state? No. Autonomy to make more localised decisions, with secure funding streams and accountability to central government – sure. But not just for Auckland. I’m sure the same could be said in Christchurch, Tauranga and Dunedin. It’s all relative.

    The conversation doesn’t need to be about Auckland versus New Zealand. At the end of the day, I don’t think average Joe Kiwi gives a sh*t about this parochial crap.

    1. “I don’t think average Joe Kiwi gives a sh*t about this parochial crap”

      Most people don’t. At least; not until an inferiority complex is stoked by something like the sports media.

    2. Agree more autonomy to make more localised decisions -with local areas having secure funding streams -for all regions not just Auckland.

  15. I think going forward it’s probably not a problem as Auckland will hold more voting power in general elections, look already with the new government. The problem has been 9 years of the National Party by and large a more rural old school party. The previous struggle to get anything done has mainly stemmed from this as Matt L even says in the post. Perhaps they have only come around to agreeing with things slowly due to political obediency. The new coalition may look very pro-Auckland or bit city but really it’s doing a great job of both the big city things and also provisional NZ too if you ask me.

    re the News, lol yes perhaps one channel could do Auckland only and the other more general or we could have a special weekly rural and or provincial news hour (probably already do I’m thinking having checked).

  16. What if AT and NZTA were combined into one organisation within the city boundaries? How much duplication is there? Can economies of scale be made?

  17. Thanks for the credit..I thought it was smarter than you think and lets face it Auckland has already left New Zealand years ago ! Bob harvey

  18. The only thing that might entice me to vote for Auxit is the tarring, feathering and exile of that single-issue, anti-tram, monomaniac Ross Boswell.

  19. Thank you, “A New Zealander”. That’s what we are.
    We are part of a democracy and we have representatives in Parliament. Those representatives need to decide what is best for all NZr’s.
    What really concerns me about our “Auckland Democracy” is the lack of it. The “Super City” model has taken the local out of local government by making the electorates larger than our central Govt so there is not a representative to say 30,000 electors. We are heading to a situation where there is a very limited range of people able to stand successfully for Council. The trend is for the election of those individuals with the most dosh and/or the party line being adopted.
    The model was dreamed up by the Business Round table initially (Hyde only saw to its implementation) as a means of taking over Local Government.
    I have no idea how we will regain a suitable spread of of community representatives, but it does hearten me that we have had the first 2 mayors who did not fit the Business Round table model.

  20. What a fun conversation I missed. I just wonder if we’re debating models of democracy while the corporations laugh…

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