Shortage of council candidates in many areas ahead of elections

7:55 pm on 6 August 2022

Local councils throughout the country are putting a call out for candidates amid a dearth of nominations.

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Photo: RNZ

The deadline for candidate nominations is midday next Friday 12 August, and voting runs from 16 September to 8 October.

But a week out from the cut-off for candidate applications many councils were still without the bare minimum of candidates needed to fill their vacancies.

Greater Wellington Regional Council had only received one nomination to fill five vacancies for its Pōneke constituency.

Otago Regional Council only had two candidates for the six seats of its Dunedin constituency and five for all 12 seats.

Environment Southland was in a similar spot with five nominations for its 12 seats.

Many district and city councils were also lacking nominations.

Queenstown Lakes District Council had only received six nominations for its 11 council seats, Central Otago District Council five, Rotorua Lakes Council the same and Nelson City Council had only received two.

It was a pattern mirrored in many places throughout the country.

Local Government New Zealand president Stuart Crosby said there were several factors putting candidates off, including the ugly rhetoric directed at elected officials in recent years.

Tauranga Mayor Stuart Crosby

Local Government New Zealand president Stuart Crosby Photo: RNZ / Joanne O'Brien

"At Local Government New Zealand we're doing whatever we can to make elected members - both current and future - safe. To that end we've had some success in changing the Electoral Act, so they don't have to put their home address on advertising, and there's the new digital harm legislation that's coming forward too that can hopefully help suppress some of the more negative elements we see in social media.

"It's certainly not about limiting freedom of speech, but when there are threats - personal threats - that's going beyond what I think most people would suggest is freedom of speech. That at times can come into local government, particularly when we're going through so much change in terms of government policy. Be it three waters, resource management reform, etc. - these are particularly challenging times and there's a lot of angst in the community which can manifest itself through to elected members."

Remuneration was another factor that put off candidates, particularly from young and diverse communities in rural and provincial areas, Crosby said.

He hoped that was an area the government would look at when discussing any local government reform as he was aware of many young first-term councillors throughout the country who were not seeking re-election, which was a loss to their communities.

But regardless of the pitfalls, it was an important job and people needed to put their hand up, Crosby said.

Local government consultant Peter McKinlay, of McKinlay Douglas, said the nature of the job was putting many candidates off, particularly well-qualified ones.

The job had become more onerous and less desirable, especially for those mid-career, he said.

"Firstly, there's a great deal of pressure on local government at the moment coming from central government, and what has happened is that a number of the reforms under discussion have created a great deal of uncertainty about the role itself.

"You've then got a number of other factors coming through. One is the growing compliance requirements imposed on councils, for example the various requirements around long-term plans . . . which are both very burdensome and significantly limit decision-making opportunities open to elected members. When you start looking closely at the compliance requirements it starts to make the job look more like ticking complicated boxes than making strategic decisions for your community.

"Another factor is the nature of the job itself. There's been no serious attention paid to how councils function as genuinely governing bodies since the reforms of the late 1980s. The job has changed dramatically in terms of scale and complexity, but nobody has asked the question: 'What is necessary to underpin good governance?' And at the moment, arguably, the governance arrangements for most councils are - for reasons outside the control of councils themselves - quite dysfunctional.

"So that overall, if you looked at the job and asked the question: 'Is this really what we want to do?' increasingly you'll actually say no."

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