27 Oct 2023

Councillors elected as MPs looking for ways to avoid by-elections

10:07 am on 27 October 2023
Marlborough District councillor Jamie Arbuckle said installing the equipment was “common sense”.

New Zealand First MP Jamie Arbuckle. Photo: LDR / Maia Hart

The election might be behind us, but some people will be heading straight back to the polls as local councillors leave to become MPs.

After 13 years in local government, newly fledged New Zealand First MP Jamie Arbuckle admits feeling a little guilty about the situation he, the Marlborough District Council and the community now find themselves in - especially if a $70,000 by-election has to be held.

He would like to stay on doing both jobs as long as he can.

"At the moment [the plan] is to get to Christmas and see how that turns out."

He wanted to be there at the start of next year as the council worked on its long-term plan. If Arbuckle could sustain the workload until October or November next year, he said he could resign a bit early without triggering a by-election.

Up north in Hamilton, new National MP Ryan Hamilton is leaving the city council after five years as a councillor. He first won a council seat through a by-election when Philip Yeung died in office. He said there is irony in the fact that he will also leave through a by-election.

No caption

Ryan Hamilton. Photo: Supplied

He said it was really important people were involved with local body elections, but he understood why voters might be feeling fatigued.

"I do sympathise. It's been a local body election, then a central body election, and then a by-election; it's a lot to get your head around. But I guess that's the cost of living in a democracy."

Hamilton does wonder whether Hamilton - the city - could continue without filling his empty seat.

"We've now got two Māori ward councillors as well, so effectively with a full council you've got 15 members, including the mayor. With me gone you're down to 14, and I'd argue that is still ample."

Arbuckle thought the law should change so the next highest candidate from the last election could be offered the job.

"Instantly if I resign, then the next person would come on. To me that would be logical and I'd quite happily step aside."

He said the legislation did not currently allow that, so one of the first things he would do in Parliament is look at a member's bill to change that.

Vice-president of Local Government New Zealand and mayor of Lower Hutt, Campbell Barry, thought a different kind of law change might help things.

"Moving to four-year terms would mean that this type of situation would happen less often."

But he cautioned against going too far.

"If you were to merge local body and current government elections it would become a bit challenging."

Voters RNZ spoke to in Hamilton's electorate had mixed feelings about heading back to the polls so soon.

"I'd say I'm exhausted by it all, but I'll get in there," said one.

"Pretty over it," said another.

All the local body candidates heading off to Parliament had the same message to voters - it matters. Barry said it probably mattered more than people realised.

"Local government really touches on people's day-to-day lives and everything they do. I'd really encourage people to take the time to participate in the by-elections."

And if you are keen to participate, nominations to fill Hamilton's seat on the Hamilton City Council open at the end of November.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs