New Zealanders Not Aware of Problems with Centralised Government, Says Economist

New Zealanders Not Aware of Problems with Centralised Government, Says Economist
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks during a press conference at Parliament in Wellington, New Zealand, on July 21, 2022. (Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
Rebecca Zhu

An expert has called for more decentralisation of New Zealand’s governing structures as the growing power of the central government in the capital city, Wellington is leaving the country unable to meet growing regional demands.

Economist Oliver Hartwich, the executive director of the New Zealand Initiative think tank, told The Epoch Times that New Zealand, already a highly centralised country, is growing more so and many of its citizens are not be aware of the problems associated with this form of government.

Recent moves to make the country further centralised include a new health system, where the 20 district health boards merged into one national health agency on July 1. Additionally, in 2020, all 16 polytechnics, the country’s vocational education and training provider, were also merged into a single entity.

One year after the merge, the polytechnic Deputy Chief Executive Merran Davis resigned, telling Newstalk ZB on July 28 that she quit her post because she had lost confidence in the organisation.
Currently on the agenda is the centralisation of water services, called the Three Waters Reform. Water services are currently managed locally by 67 councils, but if the bill is passed, they will be replaced by four new entities and governed in accordance with the “principles of the Treaty of Waitangi.”

“So even though we are already one of the most centralised countries on the planet, the current government would make it even more centralised,” Hartwich said.

Hartwich said the public has little awareness of how things could be run differently, meaning many people support the system or have an apathetic attitude.

“The public believes that everything is just as it should be because the country is too small to even have local government,” he said. “That’s not true, by the way. I don’t agree with that.”

Small Countries Can Run With ‘Decentralised’ Government

Hartwich said the concentration of the government was not a recent development but had been centralised “for probably a century.”

“For a very long time, New Zealand has been very centralised, and government has centralised it even more. So in the 1980s, for example, they merge several local government entities into larger ones.

“But basically, the picture we have today is actually one where the country is more than 90 percent centralised,” he said.

The government in Wellington accounted for over 90 percent of taxes collected in New Zealand, according to Hartwich, who noted that there are other small countries out there that do manage their country differently and are very successful.

He noted Switzerland is as an example of a comparably small nation where each local council and canton is able to levy its own taxes to address local issues.

“It would be much better if … we had strong local communities and local income taxes so the communities can actually plan for the stuff that they need. But unfortunately, the place is run like a very centralist country,” he said.

Bayfield School in Herne Bay remains closed due to the COVID lockdown in Auckland, New Zealand, on Oct. 12, 2021. (Phil Walter/Getty Images)
Bayfield School in Herne Bay remains closed due to the COVID lockdown in Auckland, New Zealand, on Oct. 12, 2021. (Phil Walter/Getty Images)

Meanwhile, Muriel Newman, director of the New Zealand Centre for Political Research, said previous governments have always understood that a decentralised approach worked better for the community.

“So what this government has done is they’ve come in, and for a variety of reasons, they’ve decided that centralisation of power and control is the better option for New Zealand,” she told The Epoch Times. “But they’ve sort of impose it on the country. We didn’t really have a proper debate about it.”

But Newman explained that local government in New Zealand has always had functions limited to water, road infrastructure, rubbish collection, and building consent.

“[Countries like the U.S. and Australia] are state-run countries, so they’ve got state governments, whereas we’ve got local government,” she said.

“In some countries, state governments run the education system or they run the health system or whatever. In New Zealand, it’s not the same. They’re run centrally.”


The education system in New Zealand is headed by the Ministry of Education that outlines what is taught at primary, secondary, and tertiary levels. Each school also has its own school board that controls the curriculum.

However, like many other Western nations, the education standard in New Zealand has deteriorated at an accelerating pace.

After the onset of COVID-19 in 2020, Chris Hipkins, the education minister, was also given the portfolio of COVID-19 response minister.

It is normal for all cabinet ministers in New Zealand to oversee multiple portfolios, but Newman said the general expectation is that ministers of large portfolios, such as health, welfare, and education, would receive additional ones that are lesser portfolios.

A recent trial of new secondary school exams revealed an alarming rate of failure, with two-thirds of students failing to reach the writing standards and one-third failing reading and numeracy standards.

Michael Johnston, an education expert for the think tank New Zealand Initiative, previously told The Epoch Times that the failure rate was not due to the difficulty of the exams but primarily caused by poor teaching standards.

However, school truancies have also become an increasingly serious issue, which accelerated during COVID-19 and has also contributed to other problems such as escalating youth crime.

“Under the previous [government], they would raise this issue and they would explain what they’re doing to try to resolve it. But for this government, that hasn’t been a priority at all,” Newman said.

The Epoch Times contacted Minister Chris Hipkins’s office for comment but did not receive a response.

A previous version of this article incorrectly quoted Oliver Hartwich. The Epoch Times regrets the error.