ADVOCATE COLUMN 2nd WEEK MARCH 2016
The timetable has been set for this year’s local government elections with the key dates being, 17 August as the date candidates names will be published by electoral officers, 16-21 September when voting papers delivered to households and voting closing on 8 October. To a large part of our community this will be of little or no interest. Over the last few electoral cycles, the voter turnout for local body elections throughout New Zealand has been in decline. In many cases less than half the eligible voters actually bother to turn up at the polls. Of more concern than the low numbers is the fact that at the last elections it was estimated that over half those who did vote were over 55 years of age.
There may be many reasons for low participation in local body politics, but since local councils play an important role in shaping our communities it is unfortunate that a large proportion of our communities decide not to have a say in how these councils are formed. Young voters may not participate as they could feel it lacks any relevance to their day-to-day lives. This lack of relevancy may arise from the fact that we have an extended education phase in New Zealand, that they may not be participating in the labour market or that they do not own their own homes. All these things imply that local government is less likely to directly impact on the individual.
Local government has achieved some fantastic things in Northland over the last few years and there is real evidence of them working more collaboratively with each other to the benefit of all Northlanders. It would be great to see a higher participation from all parts of our community in ensuring that the community is appropriately represented at a governance level. This will require candidates to undertake meaningful engagement with potential voters and to convey to these people how the process is relevant to them.
It is no longer good enough to have an ever decreasing percentage of our population determining this outcome. So I for one will be really interested in how this year’s candidates address the challenge of being more relevant to a large percentage of our community, how will they listen to them, how will they convey their vision to them and how do they know that theirs is a vision shared by their potential constituents.