Bid to amend diversity at council tables

Ensuring elected bodies are representative of the communities they serve will be a focus ahead of this year’s local government elections.

Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) and Taituara-Local Government Professionals Aotearoa will launch the Vote 2022 campaign this month to increase diversity on elected council and boards, in an effort to increase participation and engagement.

While diversity was increasing, councils nationwide skewed towards older Pakeha men, a trend even more pronounced in Southern councils.

Councillors in the South say they are trying to encourage more diverse candidates to stand, but it can feel like an uphill battle.

LGNZ chief executive Susan Freeman-Greene said the campaign was about recognising there was a place for everyone in local government.

"I think it’s a principle in today’s world that communities deserve to be represented by people that represent them, and look like them, and feel like them, so I think that from a principle perspective it’s a really important piece of mahi that we don’t lose sight of."

Voter participation was about 41% of eligible voters, and that was not enough, she said.

After the 2019 elections, an LGNZ survey of elected members found the average age was between 56 and 60 years old, and the cohort was 60% male and 40% female.

The number of members who identified as Maori was 13.5%.

There were some changes from the previous election, such as the number of members under the age of 40 almost doubling.

There are also issues to grapple with around increasing engagement with Maori and Pasifika communities.

Dunedin City councillor Marie Laufiso said she would not have put herself forward as a candidate of her own volition, she was asked to stand.

She believed Maori and Pasifika would generally take the same view.

"For anyone else who was thinking about standing, you have to have a really strong whanau support structure in place and you really have to speak from your experience and understand that you aren’t going to achieve everything.

"Lots of young people, especially young Maori have said to us ‘I don’t even pay attention to DCC’.

"They’re too busy to pay attention to politics, ‘that’s just something the Pakeha do’, that kind of thing."

Council staff were working to engage with the community and inform them about the council’s work, she said.

Local government elections take place in October.

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