By Moana Ellis, Local Democracy Journalist
A district mayor said New Zealand’s Aotearoa local government sector is ready to embark on a future that includes more young members, Maori and action on climate change.
Whanganui Mayor Hamish McDouall said the ongoing Local Government of New Zealand (LGNZ) annual conference in Palmerston North had “thrown our heads into the future”.
McDouall, the deputy chairman of LGNZ, said yesterday the hot topics were the changing face of elected members, partnership with Maori and climate change.
“The clear message is about the future. The future will change. It’s about involving young people and embracing hapū and iwi.
“With subsequent generation birth rates significantly higher for Maori than for Pākehā, co-governance arrangements and that sort of thing just needs to be in place.
“What’s exciting today is that you can tell the local government wants change, ready for change.”
The sector could not ignore the climate change crisis, McDouall said.
Climate deniers ‘on the wrong planet’
“If there’s a climate change denier out there, you’re on the wrong planet. Local government must become more active and take bold decisions.
“Any decision we make proactively now will make adaptation less difficult in 10 years. We just have to do things now.
“I have climate change skeptics on my board, but anyone coming into local government should understand that this is the crisis for the rest of our lives.”
The third burning issue in the conference was scoring, McDouall said.
“Rates don’t work as a financing tool on their own – that’s why Three Waters is happening, because we just can’t afford it.”
Thirty-five councils across the country will have Maori wards in local elections this year, 32 of them for the first time.
The Te Maruata collective “delighted”
Bonita Bigham, chair of the Te Maruata Area Maori Collective, said the network was delighted to welcome more than 50 new Maori members to the area in October.
Te Maruata spent a day together before the main conference started on Wednesday.
“We were delighted – really delighted – for the first time to have at least six Maori mayoral candidates in the room,” Bigham said.
But she said it was clear the council environment was not supportive of Maori elected officials. Results of a survey of elected members released by LGNZ this week found that half of those surveyed had experienced racism, gender discrimination and other harmful behaviour.
“So [on Tuesday] we have launched Te Āhuru Mōwai, a tuakana-teina initiative that will allow Maori members of any council to call on our collective strength and experience for guidance and support,” said Bigham.
In its chairman’s speech, Stuart Crosby said local councils need to build relationships and partnerships with all sectors of the community, including tangata whenua.
“It’s no longer about power and control. It’s all about partnership. We cannot serve our communities and do justice to our work if we do not partner with mana whenua.
Most diverse sector
Far North District Councilor Moko Tepania, co-chairman of LGNZ’s Youth Elected Network (YEM), told the conference that YEMs represent the most diverse sector of local government.
“It gives an indication of how local government will be different in the future compared to today and the past,” he said.
Tepania, 31, is a candidate for mayor of the Far North in the October elections. If he succeeds, he will be the youngest mayor in the Far North. He was elected Kaikohe-Hokianga ward councilor in the last local government election in 2019.
Ruapehu District’s youngest councilor, Elijah Pue, is also a candidate for mayor. At 28, he too would be the youngest mayor ever elected in his constituency if successful. He was elected representative of the Waimarino-Waiouru ward in 2019.
Pue said yesterday that co-governance and partnership were being discussed openly and frankly.
“How do we embody the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi in a way that enables councils to focus on community well-being, as well as partnerships and relationships for the betterment of our mokopuna?
“We want meaningful change in our communities. Our perspective no longer needs to be for a 10-year long-term plan, but rather for a thousand-year generational perspective.
“We need forward-looking leadership that doesn’t dwell on the past. We need younger, browner, more forward-looking leadership that puts our grandchildren, born or unborn, at the forefront of our decisions.
Another Ruapehu mayoral candidate, Councilor Adie Doyle, said the key idea of the conference was that young people and Maori would have a greater contribution to local government.
“That’s just the way the demographics go. The importance of partnerships and collaboration – some call it co-governance – is a key takeaway.
“These lectures are designed to challenge your way of thinking. You may come away with a different perspective.
“I support the principle of partnerships, but they need to be fit for purpose, and not all partnerships need to be equal – it’s about working together for the benefit of both parties. It is to solve problems.
YEM co-chair Lan Pham – the highest-ranking candidate elected to the Canterbury Regional Environment Council in 2016 – said the key imperative for the network of elected members aged 40 or under was a transformational approach to the Environmental Protection.
“Every major transformation didn’t happen by chance, it was designed. We think it’s time for this level of change to happen again.
Decide on next steps
Horizons Regional Council Chairperson Rachel Keedwell told the conference that it was crucial for local government to focus on YEM’s vision and decide on next steps as a matter of urgency.
“We need to start putting them in place now and focus on the legacy we leave rather than whether we’re going to be re-elected,” Keedwell said.
“We are moving too slowly for the scale of the crises that await us. I could be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task ahead of us: biodiversity, pollution, water quality, so many crises at once.
“We focused on the economy rather than the environment. That’s how we got here. We live beyond the capacity of the earth. We live on credit and that credit is borrowed from the next generation.
The four-day conference is attended by a record number of over 600 mayors, presidents, councillors, community council members and stakeholders who hear from the Prime Minister and other ministers, the opposition and sector leaders on policy areas and issues that impact local councils and communities.
The conference ends today.
Local Democracy Reporting is public interest journalism funded by NZ on Air. Asia Pacific Report is an LDR partner.