28 Aug 2019

New Plymouth District Council seats: 'We need a good mix to make good decisions'

11:46 am on 28 August 2019

A former New Plymouth mayor who campaigned for a Māori ward on the council is sceptical that a new voting system being used this year will return a more diverse group of councillors.

New Plymouth Mayor Andrew Judd

Andrew Judd Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Andrew Judd believes the "tyranny of the majority" will still carry the day under the single transferable vote (STV) formula.

But perhaps equally concerning is that so few voters seem to understand how STV works and may inadvertently spoil their ballot.

Including the mayor there are 15 seats around council in New Plymouth.

Māori - who make up 15 percent of the population - are not represented at all.

Women hold just two seats despite outnumbering in men in the district.

Middle-aged Pākehā males fill 12 seats while one councillor has European-Chinese heritage.

Mr Judd tried to introduce a Māori ward while mayor last term.

The idea was shot down in a citizens-initiated referendum and he did not seek re-election.

He had little confidence STV would change the makeup of the council even though five councillors were stepping down.

"Because the same people who rank their numbers are the same group that perhaps dominates so it's just a voting system.

"And what I would call the tyranny of the majority dominates so you're not guaranteeing fair representation 'cause how can it?

"Representation from my perspective is actually set seats around the table."

Under single transferable vote people rank their favoured candidates.

When a candidate reaches a specified quota of votes they are elected and any surplus votes go to the voters' second preferences.

If no candidate makes the quota in the second round the lowest scoring candidate is dropped and their votes are distributed to voters' next preference.

This process is repeated until all the seats are filled

Among the 39 people vying for council in New Plymouth are 12 women and seven Māori or Pasifika candidates.

Mr Judd was hopeful that would lead to new faces at the council table.

"It's representative democracy and that's made up of all the sum of all of its parts and there is diversity and that's great.

"Women, youth, Māori, non-Māori. You know new people to the district, seniors, all of that.

"Men, you know, middle-aged men like myself. We need a good mix to make good decisions because we all live here."

Joanne Kuvarji

Joanne Kuvarji Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Joanne Kuvarji is one of six people chasing the mayoralty.

A community worker, entrepreneur and mother of 14, Ms Kuvarji is of Māori and Indian decent.

She said voters had the chance to make a change.

"I think there is a lot of room for some diversity [on council] at the moment. Luckily with the candidates that are running this year, there's an opportunity for our community to be able to vote [for] somebody that's going to reflect their views and what's important to them."

Dinnie Moeahu

Dinnie Moeahu Photo: Supplied

Council aspirant Dinnie Moeahu has whakapapa ties with a number of Taranaki iwi.

A recent Citizens' Award winner he was among the first to challenge maverick councillor Murray Chong over comments he made about funding te reo Māori initiatives - a language Mr Chong described as being on life-support.

Mr Moeahu said he had no qualms about sitting at the council table with Mr Chong if elected.

"It doesn't bother me at all cause what it comes down to is that it is not about me or how I see it and it's not about Mr Chong and how he feels. What it is about is delivering for our community."

He was excited about the range of candidates standing this year.

"So here's a chance where you've got some amazing candidates coming in. Fresh and current who have the opportunity to really dive in and get some more engagement based on some of the decisions that the New Plymouth District Council has made.

"I'm just excited to be part of that process and I feel like it's anyone's game."

Anneka Carlson is a former police officer

Anneka Carlson Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Anneka Carlson is a former police officer and businesswoman.

She's also the youngest candidate at 31.

Ms Carlson hoped voters were ready to give the fresh faces a chance.

"You know not just vote for the straight white old males, but be like I'm going to give these young people a shot. I'm going to give Māori, Asian whatever you are gay, straight a shot and see what they've got.

"And then next time around if they did nothing and were useless well you go back to the stale, old, white male."

Of more concern to Ms Carlson was that STV remained a mystery to most - her included.

"I really don't have a clue how it works and everybody I've spoken to has no idea either. Council hasn't really told us how it is all going to work and what we should be saying to people."

And out on the streets, few people were any wiser about the new system.

Phil Brown was in the dark.

"Never heard of it. Single Transferable Vote? No, I don't know what you're talking about."

Katie was in the same boat.

"I wouldn't have a clue to be honest."

Ross meanwhile was on the right track.

"Well, it's depending on the number of votes that someone gets and so on... I don't know the details down to the nitty-gritty, but basically, that's how it is yeah."

The citizens of New Plymouth have a little over six weeks to get up to speed on STV before the local body elections on 12 October.

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