How can local government in Aotearoa become more diverse?

Source: 1News

Greater mentorship and support are needed to help increase the representation of people with disabilities in local government, according to one advocate.

Nick Ruane’s comments come after research from Local Government New Zealand shows that representation among mayors, councillors and elected members is becoming more diverse but there is still a long way to go.

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For example, 40.5% of people filling these roles are women, despite them making up over half of the population.

For Māori, that number is 13.5%.

Just over 30% of councils responded that disabled people are "at the table" when significant decisions are made in a Local Authority Survey on Accessibility, published in 2020.

And just 13% reported that disabled people are employed in areas of leadership.

Ruane told Breakfast that much more support is needed to encourage people with disabilities to want to even be considered for a role in local government.

“There are a lot of barriers around inaccessible meeting venues, the financial cost of even running a campaign, are really significant,” says Ruane.

“We really need encouragement. We really need mentorship and support to put ourselves forward."

Ruane says while New Zealand has made “great strides forward” in the past 10 years or so around representation, there is still a long way to go.

Meanwhile, the first non-Pākehā mayor of the Kapiti Coast says visibility is key to achieving greater diversity and dismantling stereotypes.

K Gurunathan, who is Malaysian-Indian and says he has been stereotyped in the past, is urging people to get involved in their local communities as “familiarity reduces ignorance and fear.”

The mayor cities his 16-year career as a local journalist as having helped with this and says being brave enough to get involved can also help others too.

“By people putting their hands up and standing and breaking barriers, you then create a window of opportunity for others to say I too can do that.”