26 Sep 2016

Minority groups held back by FPP, researcher says

10:16 pm on 26 September 2016
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Photo: RNZ

Despite making up 23 percent of Auckland's population, Asian communities have just three elected representatives in local government - one percent of the 170 local body seats.

At the 2013 local body elections, 18 candidates from Chinese and Indian backgrounds ran, but only one was voted into the Henderson-Massey local board, and two were voted into the Whau local board.

AUT researcher Karen Webster said ethnic communities were grossly underrepresented because of the way the electoral system worked.

"We're using First Past the Post (FPP) electoral system here in Auckland, and as long as the council sticks with FPP, many people's votes are going to be wasted."

Dr Webster said FPP acted as a barrier for minority candidates, whether they were from non-Pākehā backgrounds, or were women.

"Where candidates are ranked, as with the proportional system, everybody's vote counts, whereas at the moment only those that vote for the favoured candidates, only their views are counted in the final result.

"We use proportional representation in our national elections because it's recognised to represent much more fairly voter preferences."

Auckland's Avondale Market creates a tent city on a bright sunny day

Avondale markets represent Auckland's diverse make-up. Photo: RNZ / Catherine Hutton

She said nowhere was this a bigger issue than in Howick, where a third of residents were Asian but none held seats on either the local board, or the ward.

Julie Zhu is running for a seat on the Howick Ward at this year's election, and said she supported the Single Transferable Vote (STV) electoral system as a better alternative.

"For example, in a situation with Chlöe Swarbrick, Phil Goff and Vic Crone, who are running for mayor, if you voted for Chlöe and she was first out of the competition between those three, you could have Phil Goff as your next vote, and then your vote would go to Phil, as opposed to Vic."

That would mean minority groups would have more cumulative votes for their candidates, and a higher chance of getting one of them elected.

Ms Zhu said by changing the way people could vote, they could be empowered to be more involved.

"There's a lot of apathy at the moment where people think 'why should I vote, my vote won't make a difference', and people just don't really understand what the point is.

"Especially with young people, we need to engage our youth and bring them in to the realm of politics and make them think that politics is for us and it can be relatable."

Susan Zhu is the current deputy chair of Whau, and has been on the board since 2003. She was one of the three Asian candidates elected in 2013.

"We have a very diverse team, members of Samoan, Tongan, Chinese and Indian backgrounds, so it's easy for us to communicate with our communities," she said.

"Auckland has become more and more diverse, our community are all colours, people from different areas with different religious backgrounds and cultural backgrounds."

She said that was not the case for other areas of Auckland that didn't have adequate representation.

"For other local boards, if they don't have members who have a direct connection with these communities, it's quite hard to really include people's views from different corners of our society."

Susan Zhu said many new migrants still faced a lot of barriers with local politics, but that was slowly changing.

That was shown in the recent focus on burglaries, spurred by action from Chinese and Indian communities.

"They have used all the channels to voice their concerns, and we received quite a quick response from central government politicians and the Prime Minister."

She said as a result, the Police Minister Judith Collins was prompted to act, rolling out a promise that all burglary cases would soon be attended by police officers.

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