It’s been just over a month since the election which saw both Jennifer Nickel and Sarah Thomson elected to council for the first time. I invited them into the Free FM studio (in what we hope is a regular thing) to hear about how they’ve found the first month on the job… what’s induction like and what roles have they been given?
Jen is chair of the Climate action committee at the Waikato Regional Council and Sarah is deputy of the Environment committee at Hamilton City Council. These are both new committees – set up due to calls during the election for these issues to be a priority. They talk about the opportunities to work together and what is on the cards for 2020.
Listen to my interview with Jennifer during the election period here or my interview with Sarah on Free Choice here if you want to know more about their background and priorities if elected.
Hannah Huggan is a local climate activist who I met in July after she (and other students) presented to Hamilton City Council on why they should declare a climate emergency. The HCC decided they knew better, and didn’t – but it hasn’t deterred Hannah and other Student Enviroleaders from mobilising both other students and Hamiltonians to take action on climate, through climate strikes and next in a Day of Climate Action.
We talked about why she is motivated to ‘do something’ about our climate emergency; the actions she’s been involved in to date – and what next…
In this podcast I share some NEW tracks – “Take me from here” from Rubita from her upcoming album “Distinctive Thrill” and “Kanikani kiwi” a track off the new album “Awa” by Maciek Hrybowicz. #localmusic
I also share “Green Room Scuffle” – a cover of a Glass Shards song, by Camoria – whose album I’m calling “Best album from the Tron in 2019”. Just saying… have a listen if you don’t believe me. #localmusic
Well if that wasn’t a disruption to the status quo I don’t know what is. With such a big shake up to our elected council let’s look at the winners and losers. To start with, the winners were women and those who wanted a better gender balance around the council table. Regular readers will know this is something I’ve been working behind the scenes on for over a year, so it’s been hugely satisfying for that mahi to come to fruition. In 2016 we had eight female candidates stand for council with only three elected. Fast forward to 2019 – there were sixteen women campaigning and six (possibly seven) elected. That’s phenomenal. A mihi to the YWCA of Hamilton who did some great work in that space too. The millenials are celebrating! In 2016 we had no councillors under 35, and now we have two (possibly three). I was fortunate to have been involved with Seed Waikato who have championed the work to support candidates and get more people enrolled to vote – ka pai to mahi e hoa maa. The decreased average age of the council is great for representation and advocacy for issues young people care about. Another winner was the environment and those pushing hard for climate action. This is a far more progressive council than we’ve seen in the past with many campaigning for cycleways, restorative planting / green spaces and public transport. Finally, democracy wins. Yes our voter turnout is still far too low, but a 5% increase, and being the highest since 2004 is certainly something to celebrate. The losers? I’ll keep it short. The candidates who pushed for keeping rates down with no other platforms or vision… Climate change deniers, racists and anti-vaxxers. This election result is off the chart! Thank you Hamilton.
Well that’s a wrap. Another election pretty much done and dusted and thankfully without the huge disappointment experienced in 2016 – in terms of participation and diversity.
If you haven’t been keeping up… Paula Southgate is our new Mayor elect beating incumbent Andrew King. She’ll be joined in the council chamber by…
East Ward Mark Bunting Kesh Naidoo-Rauf Maxine van Oosten Margaret Forsyth Ryan Hamilton Rob Pascoe
West Ward Angela O’Leary Martin Gallagher Geoff Taylor Sarah Thomson Dave Macpherson Ewan Wilson
Those following the voter returns for the weeks leading to election day know we were tracking to beat turnout for 2016 and 2013, and with special votes still to be counted we’re at 38.78% a 5 % increase. The highest turnout since 2004. Still painfully low but an encouraging increase nonetheless.
I’m celebrating – improved gender balance in our elected council, going from three women to six.
I’m celebrating because in 2016, none of our councillors were under 40, this time we have two – and an overall younger council.
I’m celebrating – councillors elected who advocated for the environment, climate action and cycleways.
I’m celebrating because we unseated four incumbents, which is basically unheard of – we traditionally like the status quo. Consequently we got rid of climate change deniers / racists and an anti-vaxxer.
We get the final final final results on Thursday – I’ll post again then. I’m still keeping my fingers crossed for Louise Hutt to take the sixth seat for the West.
Ae, e hoa. This is another opinion piece encouraging you to vote in the local elections. But, stick around – I’m not going to tell you to vote because it’s ‘your civic duty‘ or because people have literally – literally, died for this democratic right. I’m not going to use those reasons because to be honest, they didn’t work for me.
I’m also not going to tell you to vote because what local government does impacts on our day to day life; from clean water to your tap, how you get around the city, the parks and community facilities in your neighbourhood to how much your rates bill is as a result.
FInally, I’m not going to pretend that the sky will fall in if certain people are elected, or not elected. We elect a mayor and twelve councillors across the city, who have equal votes – so by nature of it – nothing drastic will happen because they need a majority. In fact, local government is painfully slow and conservative – probably more due to the ties and requirements of central government than anything else- but it means ‘things tick by’ regardless of who we vote for.
So, why bother? Well, I bother – by way of voting last week, and spending the last three years committed to sharing information and encouragement to you via Politics in the Tron because I’m rethinking the role of local government and how we use it to get what we want. I want you to join me in this movement.
I want us to use local government to get more for our city. How so? Vote for the candidates who are talking about the issues you care about. Then, stick with them… support those candidates / elected councillors to get those issues across the line with their peers. Here’s an easy example…
We all care about the climate emergency right? (Okay, so we have at least three Hamilton City Councillors who still don’t get it – so I’ll rephrase). Most of us care about the climate emergency and damage to papatuuaanuku. We know that one of the biggest things we can do (right after having one less kid) is to address our obsession with cars. At a getting around town level, this inevitably leads to cycle-ways.
Choose candidates who bang on about cycleways. Easy. You wouldn’t choose a candidate who continually talks about ‘loving their car’ because they are clearly stuck in 2005 and aren’t looking to what our climate / environment needs; and aren’t considering the impact of congestion as our population grows, or heck even our increasing obesity rates which require us to get more active.
After finding out which candidates care about that issue; vote for them. Then, keep an eye on the local news, heck be proactive and message them and ask them to keep you (in fact all residents) up to date with when decisions are being made about cycleways. (I think Councillors are really bad at asking us for support on issues sometimes, but this might change if enough of us try to change things).
Funding decisions are usually during the 10 year plan or annual plan but you’d be surprised how often it pops up during the rest of the term. Once you know a decision is about to be made, get involved. Ask the councillor what they need and mobilise others to support you.
Look, I’m not so completely out of touch, that I think everyone has the time or inclination to get involved in these sorts of decisions, what I’m trying to highlight is that we can get more of what we want, and less of what we don’t – if we choose candidates who look or sound like us, and if we pay attention to the issues we care about throughout the three year term.
This includes, asking questions – or ‘holding the buggers to account’ if they vote differently to what they said they would. Accountability is a huge part of a better system.
So, this was a longer post than I expected – and I may not have articulated it well, but what I’m trying to say is – we can get more for the city we love if we choose the candidates who ‘care about what we care about’ and support them once elected. We need less of the ‘us and them’.
If you don’t like ‘them’… don’t vote for them … vote for someone else. There are a heap of new candidates standing this year who deserve your vote.
If that envelope is still on your kitchen table – here are some links to help you choose and vote.
In 2019, legislation was passed which put the people back into council business. Until then, we’d become familiar with hearing council’s role was pipes, roads and rubbish. Local government must now “promote the social, economic, environmental, and cultural well-being of communities”. That might mean more funding for arts, or community organisations. It might mean making sure any decisions made consider the four well-beings. Regardless, I wanted to highlight an issue that is important for youth and how council has a role to play in addressing it.
If you ask young people what is important to them, climate and mental health will be at the top of the list. So, what role does our city council play in addressing mental health? It’s here that we consider the second of the two options outlined above, no-one is suggesting council fund mental health initiatives, but they can make sure that all decisions made consider what we know to be good for mental health. That means make sure that we protect and restore green spaces and make getting around the city safer and easier. Nature and physical activity are good for mental health. Councils can support community wellbeing by funding and promoting community work, events and organisations. Connectivity, a sense of belonging and identity are good for mental health. Finally, affordable housing – can be enabled by council by coming up with innovative solutions like the community land trust, or making sure developers offer “affordable” options. Financial pressure impacts on mental health. Council has a role to play in promoting wellbeing, I hope that we use this election to make sure that candidates know that this is a priority for not just youth, but all of us.
We’ve been asked what the political priorities for youth are in this year’s local election. I could give you a long list of what I think the issues facing Hamilton are but it feels a bit wrong me telling you what you what ‘the priorities are’ or what you should care about. We’re all different, and what you want for the city will be different to what I want. So I’m going to focus on what we can do to improve participation to give more people a voice to say what they want for themselves. But then I’m going to talk about how local government can play a role improving mental health to show how councils could be relevant.
In October 2016 –the voter turnout in Hamilton went from 38 to 34% the lowest of all cities in NZ. We saw the election of 12 councillors and a Mayor who looked nothing like the majority of Hamiltonians, certainly not me. There’s nothing wrong with the make up of our current council if you are a male, over 50 with a Eurocentric viewpoint – but like I said that isn’t most of us so it is a problem. No councillors under 40. No Maori or Pasifika. Only three women. Many were long term politicians or professionals so far removed from trying to live on the $20-30,000 per year many young people live on.
It’s a problem because even with the best of their intentions they won’t represent as well as we could ourselves. We have different viewpoints on the purpose of life, what’s best for our family, how we want to live and what’s important to us. That’s the crux of why we need as many people as possible influencing decision making through voting every three years and participating at any opportunity along the way. It’s time they made that easier.
As a result of that low turnout and lack of diversity I founded Politics in the Tron a way to get more people political – by informing Hamiltonians about the issues and players in council; providing a hub for discussion and encouraging participation. Ultimately it comes from a place of loving Hamilton but recognising it would be even better if more of us were involved in shaping it.
But I and Politics in the Tron are just one cog in the wheel. To increase engagement, we need to support the candidates putting their hand up, they will rouse the public’s interest and inspire us to get involved and vote. We’ve seen that with youth and with women in this election so far. We can also mobilise based on issues – like climate.
The student enviroleaders and
you’ll hear from Hannah soon, are a really great example, of a group who
identified an issue, learnt about council processes, found communities to
support the issue – and followed the slow process through.
Unfortunately it also
highlighted examples of what happens when young people do take concerns to
councillors who are older – we heard patronising comments who called our
leaders kids, used words like hysterical, brainwashed – but even worse, a
comment along the lines of ‘well done for participating’ but ‘we know better
and aren’t going to give you what you asked for’. What I would like to know is if over 1000
businessmen signed a petition, filled the gallery and presented compelling
reasons why this decision is best for the majority – would councillors have
agreed and voted for what they were asking?
Time for a change I think.
If the average age of a Hamiltonian is 32, I think it’s time we saw the average age of elected members drop this year there’s no lack of credible candidates. Head to Seed Waikato’s website for more information about those candidates specifically.
When I think about what is important to us – politics aside – two things stand out Climate change and mental health. Councils need to a better job at showing us how decisions made impact on the issues we care about.
Most councillors would probably say mental health is a role for central government but physical health, housing affordability, sense of belonging and connection all impact on mental health and are all decisions that run past a councillor. As I go through them briefly now I hope that it might help to show that local government can be relevant and it is worth voting.
I don’t know about you but when I’m active, walking and biking around – I feel good. We know physical activity is good for our well-being so it makes sense to make sure that Hamilton has good, consistent, safe cycleways, footpaths and green spaces. Making it easier and safer to exercise is good for mental health.
For good mental health we also want to feel connected with our communities however we choose to define them; connecting is easier when the hubs like community organisations or neighbourhood houses are well supported, like the new pan pasifika hub being built for our city – a great decision. Community organisations play a crucial role in bringing people together enabling information sharing and looking after the isolated or the most vulnerable. Connection and belonging is good for our mental health.
Arts and culture are good for our mental health. Your jam might be visual arts, theatre, dance, or music. But here’s an example of what happens when your councillors are old and out of touch… The decision to buy and demolish Victoria street buildings might have seemed like a great idea to a council who wanted to make the Victoria on the River park bigger – but what they failed to do is realise that one of those buildings included Nivara Lounge, which is arguably the most important live music venue in our city today. It not only provides an inclusive venue for live musicians to perform, but also provides a space for members of our community to come together each month – for Sunday jazz, comedy clubs, hip hop nights etc. etc. So while Nivara Lounge isn’t funded by council – the council make decisions which impact on the ability of venues like this to exist. Music and arts are good for our mental health – so we need a council that understands the local scene.
When you bring up affordable housing many – usually the rates control waka will tell you it’s a central govt thing – completely ignoring what is in council’s power to do and what might be best done locally. For example, the council have recently voted to put $2 million into a community land trust –so there will be houses available in Hamilton which has the land value taken out of the cost. When a developer comes to council with a plan, council can specify how much of their development project has to be “affordable” housing – while that’s a loose word on the free market, it does provide an opportunity for slightly cheaper than average houses to be on the market. Councils can do more to create affordable housing options by changing the district plan so that we see high rise apartments. Cost of living is impacting on our mental health. Councils need supported to try as many tools as possible to address that.
I’ve shared some ideas today on how decisions council make every day impact on the city we live in, and that if we want a higher youth turnout they and we need to do a better job at making what councils do relatable.
We’re looking at priorities for youth in the upcoming election, I think we should focus on informing and encouraging people to participate and I know that if we can relate everything council does to mental health and climate that we will see that youthquake we’re all after. We need help growing Politics in the Tron so that we all get more political in a space that is comfortable – so join me www.politicsinthetron.co.nz.