Different boards, same problem - All lack diversity

By Te Ao with MOANA
Four wāhine Māori candidates supporting each other in the Auckland local body elections. (Near to far) Frances Smiler-Edwards, Paula Bold-Wilson, Nerrisa Henry and Kerrin Leonie.  Photo/File. 

Local bodies do not reflect the cultural diversity of the communities they represent, several local body leaders and candidates have told Te Ao with Moana. 

Frances Smiler-Edwards (Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Whare, Ngāti Manawa), a first-time candidate and old-hand behind the scenes in the Labour Party, says there is little recognition of the diverse Auckland community she has put her name forward to represent.

“The current incumbent board does not reflect the community we are today. We have a very diverse community and as you go around seeing there aren’t many full photograph hoardings up and that, this is my own opinion, that is because they do not reflect the community we have today.”

Wellington Deputy Mayor Jill Day (Ngāti Tūwharetoa) says her own council has room for improvement, particularly in its level of Māori representation. 

“I think probably in Pōneke, I haven’t seen a massive change yet. I’m hoping, I have seen more around Aotearoa, more change coming in that way, but I think we’ve still got a long way to go to make sure our councils are you know bi-culturally competent.”

Out-going Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull also acknowledges his council lacks diversity.

“I think it would be fair to say the vast majority are men, probably Pākehā, older men, and that’s probably reflected all around the country. We definitely need our councils to better reflect our communities.”

Paula Bold-Wilson (Te Arawa), an elected member of the Henderson-Massey local board in Auckland, says Māori candidates should ignore naysayers who say Māori will not support them at the ballot box.

“So I remember last time when I was standing for the first time and a woman said to me, 'you know what, you won’t get on because your people just don’t vote.' And instead of getting all upset, you know, that just motivated me to, yeah, encourage our whānau to vote because your vote does matter.”

Deputy Mayor Day says local bodies have so much influence over people's lives that it really is vital they vote.

“So it’s really important that people vote in local body elections because from the moment you get up in the morning till when you go to bed at night you’re engaged with council facilities throughout the day.

"From brushing your teeth in the morning and using the water that’s running out of your tap, flushing the toilet, maybe jumping in your car driving along the road, your rubbish will need to be collected, the parks that you maybe take your children to play their sports, play games, libraries that we go and get our books from, swimming pools.”