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Looking ahead to local body elections this October, LGNZ President Lawrence Yule urges New Zealanders to get more involved - whether as candidates or citizens - to shape their community's future.
LOCAL elections turnout in New Zealand has been declining since the 1980s and has been less than 50% since 1998. New Zealand is not alone in this - declining voter turnout is an international trend.
However, the challenges of the coming decades make it more important than ever before for Kiwis to participate in this year's local elections.
Local voter turnout varies significantly across different age groups and geographic areas but, overall, not enough New Zealanders are participating in the local government process - by having their say on the issues that matter, by voting or by standing for office.
LGNZ's Vote16 campaign, running until the October 8 polling date, aims to lift voter numbers above 50% nationally for the first time since 1998. Advocating for stronger local democracy is one of LGNZ's seven key policy priorities.
Strengthening local democracy involves supporting decision-making abilities at the community level through locally and democratically elected representatives, including identifying ways to make it easier for Kiwis to get out and vote.
An example of this is the plan to offer an online voting option in 2016. Eight councils are set to take part.
Delivering value to our communities
Local government's aim is to deliver top-quality value to New Zealand communities while shaping those communities into places in which all Kiwis want to live, work and play.
What is also clear from the results of the New Zealand Local Government Survey released in 2015 is that local government has a real opportunity to improve its engagement with communities and businesses across New Zealand on the infrastructure, services and local issues that matter most to our communities.
Research tells us it is the visible, tangible services that matter most to communities.
As well as reporting and engaging on overall management and finances, communities want to know more about the specific issues that matter to them, whether it is clean rivers, vibrant places to raise their families, efficient transport infrastructure, or strong local economies, so they can decide how well their council and its councillors will deliver on their campaign promises.
With this information in mind, it is our aim to expand engagement with our communities on these local issues and others - all key to building stronger, more resilient communities.
Ultimately, how well local government performs affects how well communities, citizens and businesses prosper, both now and into the future.
Shaping our future
Local government in New Zealand faces major challenges, from economic, environmental and climate change issues to major infrastructure development, all in the face of rapid demographic change.
More than ever before, we need elected representatives with the abilities and diversity of skills to meet these challenges.
Our citizens also need representatives who understand the particular issues and opportunities their communities face each day and who have the passion to make our cities, towns and regions the best they can be.
It is communities that produce such people and communities which nominate and elect them. Encouraging talented, committed people to stand for office and voting in your local elections are the most powerful ways you can influence positive outcomes in your community.
Having your say about the issues that matter to you
Research also shows us there is a significant number of citizens who are interested in the local government process but don't vote, or, who want to vote but say it is too hard to find the information they need to make an informed decision.
LGNZ's Vote16 campaign will address these issues, ensuring voters have access to the information they need about candidates standing in their community and about the voting process, including when, where and how they can vote.
I urge New Zealanders to discuss the issues that are important to them - whether its infrastructure, local economies, our green spaces, or others - and find out how they can get involved and have their say in how to shape the future they want.
This is important at any time, but even more so now in election year. By choosing to stand in your community or by voting this October, you ensure the right decisions are being made about the issues that matter to you. You will have a direct role in shaping the future of your community.
-By Laurence Yule