Diversity push ahead of local council elections

Source: 1News

There's a push to ensure a greater diversity of people put their hands up ahead of this year's local government elections in May.

It's generally over 60 white males who are elected to councils around the country.

Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) is this week launching a campaign to ensure councils reflect the people they represent.

LGNZ's Susan Freeman-Greene says we've got to do better: "I think generally people don't really understand the importance of local government. People don't understand that councils make crucial decisions about how we live".

Currently only 14% of councillors are under 40 years old, with the average age being 56 - 60. The majority are men, while 41% are women. There's also a lack of ethnic diversity with 14% of representatives Māori.

The campaign will encourage people to stand with community heroes from under represented communities, talking about why it's important to have a voice.

Rohan O'Neill-Stevens is a city councillor in Nelson and was elected at just 19 years old. He's by far the youngest on the council and says it comes with ups and downs. "I've only been mistaken for someone's child once or twice. But most people are super excited."

He says the issue of diversity becomes a self fulfilling prophesy.

"When you've historically had older white men and people have seen that reflected you come to the conclusion that local government is about that group of people".

Auckland Council's Democracy and Engagement Advisor Eddie Tuiavii says solving the issue will involve trying something new. "It's tailor made engagement approach rather than the bland vanilla stuff we might have done in the past, we will see those participation levels increase. "

One of the barriers for some people is the timing of meeting and the salary- which can be between $2000 and $40,000 per year depending on the size of the council.

"Our ethnic communities are very time poor so this is one of those things that just falls by the wayside or gets put in the too hard basket."

Another big issue is turnout with just 42% of people voting in the 2019 elections, something LGNZ hopes to tackle in the second part of the campaign closer to October's elections.