- Date published:
7:01 am, August 18th, 2019 - 92 comments
Categories: local body elections, local government, Politics - Tags: age, complacency, contest, diversity, ethnicity, gender equality, imbalance, Representative democracy, voter turnout
A very informative analysis showed that patriarchy is alive and well in NZ local authorities. The face of local government in NZ is white, male, and middle-aged. Since 1989, the number of female candidates and elected women has been gradually rising. However, the voter turnout has been steadily declining during this period.
The gender imbalance is not the only issue. The composition of local government does not reflect the population in terms if (voting) age or ethnicity either. All this means that we are not properly and fairly represented at local level. It also means that our local government is based on a pool of limited views and values, talent, ideas, and solutions, for example. This lack of diversity is a monoculture and these tend to be more resistant to change (cue climate change emergency) and less resilient to shocks or calamities. We are not served as well as we could and should be.
Unfortunately, local affairs receive limited attention in MSM; local reporting seems to be becoming a thing of the past, likely because of never-ending drive to cut costs. Only a few ‘newsworthy’ items can cut through the noise of the 24-hour news cycle in direct competition with international media and overseas affairs. We seem to be more interested in our central government in Wellington if MSM is to be believed. Of course, it is more ‘entertaining’ to read about what the PM or the Leader of the Opposition are up to. However, little of that affects us directly if at all.
Yet in our daily lives, we directly and indirectly experience much that is to do with local government (albeit not all can be voted for in local elections). I am not just thinking of roaming chickens and cat-sized rats infesting tranquil little suburbs. Much of the local roading network is managed by and through local government. For example, rubbish collection, noise control, potholes in the road, public transport, all sorts of bylaws, council rates, housing developments, climate change, et cetera, are largely if not solely under the control of local government.
Not only have voters switched and are switching off, candidates also seem to be suffering from increasing apathy. Some elections are anything but a contest of ideas and vote-off (run off) between high-quality candidates as some stand unopposed. So, it will be BAU and although each elected official will do their best it is hard to see how lack of competition will challenge them to be the best they can be; it breeds complacency IMO.
I should point out that not all middle-aged white males in local government are stale; some are progressive and open to change. However, they seem to be the exception that proves the rule. I see some parallels with TS, which has been struggling with finding more women or younger people to write posts here. The ones who do make a unique and invaluable contribution to this community. It is just an example of how diversity enriches and benefits us all, not just a few.
So, how can we improve things for and with local government?