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Smells Like Stale Male Spirit

Written By: - Date published: 7:01 am, August 18th, 2019 - 92 comments
Categories: local body elections, local government, Politics - Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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?

92 comments on “Smells Like Stale Male Spirit”

  1. vto 1

    I thought ageism, racism and sexism were not allowed. Have the rules changed? Are candidates race age and gender are up for consideration then? 

    Or do you simply not have any info on candidates ideas and policies and so just grabbed at the front cover?

    Are there laws preventing certain ages genders and races from standing?

    Maybe the white males are the only ones who care enough and are sufficiently civic minded? Maybe young brown females are just slack and don't care?

    Who knows eh? Toss a few prejuices around eh?

    Who says the elected need to be the same age race and gender as the voters anyway? Don't know that's ever happened in history has it? 

    What a confused and incomplete post

    • Sacha 1.1

      You're expecting every post to include a full 101 of its topic? From the first google result I got, this might help:

      In prejudice people are basically defending privilege of position and thus stand to gain emotionally, culturally, socially and economically from an attitude of prejudice towards others.


    • Incognito 1.2

      Where do you see “ageism, racism and sexism”?

      The info can be found in the links provided in the post.

      AFAIK, you have to a NZ citizen aged 18 years or older without a criminal record or something like that. You don’t have to give your age, for example.

      Maybe the white males are the only ones who care enough and are sufficiently civic minded? Maybe young brown females are just slack and don't care?

      Who knows eh? Toss a few prejuices [sic] around eh?

      Is that an attempt at irony?

      What a confused and incomplete post

      You seem to have missed the point of the post, which was to stimulate debate, a starting point, to get the ball rolling. Commenters can add fresh ideas or insights and fill in gaps and correct mistakes; posts become more mature and complete thanks to high-quality comments. Your comments appear to be reflexive and reactionary instead of constructive and innovative.

      One final note, I hope you do realise that Authors here write in their spare time on topics that they care about, as ordinary citizens, not as professionals. Authors also write for a general audience. I am the first one to admit that it is not easy but at least we give it a go. Without Authors TS would be a barren place and an empty site. Thank you for your consideration.

  2. Robert Guyton 2

    Speaking as a pale, stale patriarch, snout in trough, taking the place of some more worthy young turk…at least the umbrella organisation, Local Government New Zealand, has made efforts, significant efforts, to facilitate the inclusion of people outside of the aforementioned group (pale etc.) by requiring CEO's to actively petition and advertise for a wider range of candidates come election-time. As well, they've raised the salaries for councillors, so that people other than retirees or those with fewer familial obligations can consider a term or 4 in the council chamber; it's difficult to live, especially if you have dependants, on a councillors' salary alone. Plus, the timetable is cranky and difficult to plan an otherwise busy life around, especially when that involves children. Whether that helps remains to be seen. We'll have some idea following these upcoming local body elections. Fingers crossed.

  3. Pat 3

    Its a certain 'type' that has a desire to be involved in politics be they local or national….and alongside the rare desire there are couple of important attributes that are also important, life experience, self confidence and ability…..all of which takes time to acquire, so perhaps its not surprising age at least is a factor.

    And then theres the wise adage worth remembering…anyone capable of getting themselves elected President should on no account be allowed to do the job

    • Incognito 3.1

      True, and self-selection obviously plays a major role. Then again, confidence is not always matched with competence.

  4. vto 4

    Frankly the young haven't experienced enough of the world to be let near the levers of power. Is why 'elders' have such place in most societies. Has this been considered in your post incognito? This historic fact? How does this get reconciled against your post?

    • Dukeofurl 4.1

      I agree with some of that.  In my  local board area  of Auckland the labour ticket has incredible diversity . Im happy to vote for all of those people.

      Often the older  people have incredible links to many community groups.

      Thats because they reflect Auckland and maybe  70,000 people .  Just looking at a collection of the smaller rural councils you wont  find that,  with many below 10,000 people eg Waimate in South Canterbury with 7,000.


      You would need 10 x those councils to have the same population as one Auckland community board in Auckland.

      Thats the problem with  assuming every council  is equivalent  for the population it serves , both in size and diversity.

      • Incognito 4.1.1

        The candidate ticket tends to be more diverse than the elected officials. The problem is that they don’t seem to be able to attract a plurality vote. As mentioned in the post, some contests have only one candidate standing.

    • weka 4.2

      that's an argument for not having an 18 yr old CEO. It's not an argument against *representation across age. Having an 18 year old on council will bring in perspectives just like having an 80 year old will. We need all of them.

      • Pat 4.2.1

        unless the council is to become impossibly large all that achieves is 'one' 18 year olds perspective….which may be as 'pale and white and stale' as the 60 year old they sit next to….or possibly even more so.

        The Irish were trialling (not sure if it continues) a citizens body of I believe a hundred (?) to address set issues….much like a working party or select committee….drawn at random from the community….that appears to me to be a more effective solution.

        • Sacha

          'Citizen Juries' are a great way of achieving informed decisions. At least some of our larger councils are doing similar stuff digitally.

            • Dukeofurl

              Not  all randomly chosen

               Convention members were a chairperson nominated by the government, 33 representatives chosen by political parties, and 66 randomly chosen citizens. Meeting over 15 months, it considered seven constitutional issues previously specified by the Oireachtas and two more of its own choosing.


              And some issues over ability to stick with it.
              “Of the original 99 members, 17 withdrew before the first working meeting, whose replacements immediately took over; another 11 withdrew before the final abortion meeting, whose replacements did not participate until the assembly moved on to its next topic for discussion.[14] Seven replacements joining in January 2018 were removed the following month when it emerged they were recruited via acquaintances of a Red C employee, who was then suspended, rather than via random selection.[22]

              • Pat

                so even in a citizens assembly the elite wish some measure of control….unsurprising I guess.

                Even so the concept is a good one and would IMO go a lot further in providing a true voice to the great unwashed and be far more likely to forestall the revolution (nod to Weka) than a few diverse councillors/MPs in an unreconstructed system

        • McFlock

          Diversity doesn't eliminate groupthink, but it makes it less likely.

          • Pat

            that assumes groupthink is the issue….they are after all essentially democratic institutions…a measure of diversity dosnt  address the tyranny of the majority nor the influence of vested interests

            • McFlock

              I do wonder how democratic they really are as institutions if their "representatives" are almost entirely of a very narrow demographic group.

              I wonder what the covert barriers are between other people and running or being elected.

              • Pat

                theyre democratic in that majority vote carries the motion.

                • McFlock

                  But there does seem to be a mismatch between the representatives and the people they supposedly represent.

                  • Pat

                    wouldnt disagree with that….and that is why I think a randomly selected citizens council (jury) would provide real representation of views, especially as opposed to the hope that the wider engaged community would provide a representative body through their vote.

        • Incognito

          Our local and national politics are supposed to be representative but in practice, this doesn’t mean that they are comprehensive. The current argument is that particularly local government poorly represents their people, that the level of diversity is less than optimal, and that there are no legal or institutionalised reasons as to why this cannot be remedied. This begs the question as what is, can, or should be done to achieve better representation, better voter engagement, and, consequently, better outcomes for all. Unless one would like to argue that this is as good as it gets.

          • Pat

            the level of diversity may well be less than optimal but given the process for selecting representatives (vote) and the number of positions available then I would suggest that representation by like and proportion is not achievable….that leaves disengagement and the frustration that may lead to undesirable outcomes.

            A randomly selected citizens body as the Irish have made use of is a practical and achievable option

            • Incognito

              If you scroll up a little to my response @ 9:10 PM to you, you’ll see that I agree 😉

              • Pat

                so i see….and yet you also said  @9.09 "..that particularly local government poorly represents their people, that the level of diversity is less than optimal, and that there are no legal or institutionalised reasons as to why this cannot be remedied."….which runs contrary to my assertion that representation by like and proportion is not achievable.

                confusing eh?

                • Incognito

                  Ah, yes, sorry.

                  I’d like to think that we can and must do better within the current framework. You argue that we can (and must?) only do much better if we change or expand the current framework (not quite a paradigm shift IMO). If I have this correct, I don’t think we’re necessarily disagreeing but perhaps talking about different stages of development or evolution of the local governing system.

                  • Pat

                    I thought I was being very clear….the representative system we have is incapable of delivering a representative sample of the communities they serve (that is not to say it couldnt be improved but only marginally.)…whereas the Irish method could provide valuable representative input (and free of vested interest) and it could do so tomorrow

                    • Incognito

                      Yes, you were clear. I’m not reading the comments properly at the moment, which is telling me something 😉

                      I doubt I’ll find time any time soon to delve further into the Irish idea 🙁

    • gsays 4.3

      Hi vto, you raise a good point about the elders and it is a double edged sword.

      I think it is a James A Michener quote – "shut up and listen to my 60 years experience said the old man, so we did and it turned out he had one years experience repeated sixty times".

      We live in interesting times and perhaps need a circuit breaker voice that isn't beholden to nostalgia, profit or the status quo.

    • Incognito 4.4

      That’s a brief comment but with lots of good stuff in it, thank you.

      Yes, I had considered it, but time and space constraints (the latter self-imposed) stopped me from including it in the OP.

      I had been thinking about something along the lines of the philosopher-king at local government level. Wisdom comes with age, apparently. However, I don’t think it is as clear-cut.

      It all depends on the variety and richness of experiences. Many older people I know, who are still fully active in the work force, are very set in their ways and the saying comes to mind “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. Some folks have been doing the same thing over and over again; their habits, thinking patterns, ideas and concepts of and about the rapidly changing world are engrained, fixed.

      Coincidentally, I was reading this article yesterday: https://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2019-08-17/creativity-neuroscience-your-brain/11420898. In it, they do touch on the age question and there is no (clear) answer.

      I think we need a combination of freshness, innovative new thinking and ways to solve problems, risk-taking, on the one hand, and life experience, wisdom, and risk-mitigation, on the other hand. I’d argue that we don’t have the right balance (or the balance right?) currently.

      I’d also argue that “the levers of power” is overstating it in the context of (local) government. By design, power, or decision-making and influencing rather, is usually practiced in a democratic fashion (by majority vote) with many layers of accountability, scrutiny, checks & balances, et cetera. In other words, “power” is limited and (almost) a misnomer. It is not like handing the wheel to a two-year old although “levers” is a nice metaphor. In the first link in the post, they talked about young voters and candidates below the age of 38. Is that too young? Are they to ‘hot-headed’ to make responsible decisions? I remain unconvinced this is the case; some younger people are wise beyond their years (the PM is 39). What better way to learn how to use the “levers of power” at a non-ancient or -geriatric age than ‘to have a go’ with so-called cooler heads giving advice and mentorship. Let’s not wait until you’re retired and have nine grandchildren before you should be allowed anywhere near any responsibility at local government level. It makes little sense to me.

      Personally, I don’t find it very useful to frame things in terms of inter-generational clashes. Often, it turns into identity politics and reduces issues (in)to over-simplified and/or perceived generational issues that can create problems with intersectionality (i.e. sub-populations falling between the cracks). Climate change could be such an example. The situation at Ihumātao might be another one.

      • Robert Guyton 4.4.1

        Plus no one's talking about the influence/power held/claimed by council executive/staff over that the councillors appear/profess to have.


        • Incognito

          Yes, very good point, Robert, thank you again. I only hinted at that in the OP with a few cryptic words “albeit not all can be voted for in local elections” and in my long-winded comment @ 4.4. Maybe when power is too spread out and diluted nothing gets done and we stay stuck in BAU and status quo by design – stability and continuity are good. Maybe the idea of a benevolent dictator-Mayor is something to consider …

          • Robert Guyton

            I followed up your philosopher-king note. That's a whole thread of its own, I reckon. It conflicts with the de-individualising trend though; can we hope for an individual to play that part; if it takes a village to raise a child, what does it take to raise us all above our present circumstance?

            • Incognito

              Love, selflessness & altruism, willpower, determination & sheer grit, faith, honesty, integrity, courage, empathy & compassion, intelligence, patience, curiosity, holistic thinking, wisdom, et cetera.

              Ok, I admit I’m a little flippant but the answer is the same for all burning questions that are the cause and effect of the human race. I reckon. In essence, they are existential questions, closely followed by morality, e.g. what is the right to do? Doing nothing is not the answer although it is an answer.

              Crikey, Robert, this is much more than a whole of its own; it is about life!

              I’ll make myself another mint tea to calm down now.

              • Robert Guyton

                Mint? Sounds like you could do with a hot cup of skullcap!

                A discussion on will power would be very interesting.

                How is will power developed and in what might an increase in personal willpower result?

                But another time, perhaps; it's getting late…

  5. df 5

    Get out and participate.

  6. weka 6

    Good post. I think we will see some interesting candidates this year. Not sure we are quite at a tipping point in terms of engagement, but hoping it will be better.

    Anyone concerned about water issues (lake/river) or industrial dairying, could be looking at their regional council candidates closely and voting accordingly.

    • weka 6.1

      Lol, the Smith photo. Harsh.

      • Sacha 6.1.1

        Had forgotten how badly chewed some of the Amerkin accents in that movie were until last night's screening.

        • weka

          with the Aussie to Amerkin I assumed it was intentional.

          • Sacha

            Guess it easily added a sense of otherness before Aussies were as common in the US screen industry. Unreal that it has been 20 years.

      • Robert Guyton 6.1.2

        Smith: over 50?

        • weka


        • Incognito

          At the time of the movie, the actor was well under 50. However, Weka is correct that the character is timeless. Agent Smith was an AI program in and of the Matrix. He was also a metaphor, as the whole movie was a metaphor and full of symbolism, which is why I liked it so much – I do like Philip K. Dick and how Carl Jung heavily influenced him and his works. For the current post, I used the photo of Agent Smith as another metaphor, not be taken literally as such. I was hunting for a good image and this one seemed quite appropriate – you don’t recognise yourself or your fellow Councillors in it?

          • Robert Guyton

            A council of Mr Smiths?

            Not so exciting as that, I'm sorry to say, though it feels that way sometimes. The best I can say is I'm a red-piller amongst blue. Or at least, that's how I frame it.

            • Incognito

              Good one, Robert.

              Candidates are self-selecting, of course, and there always seems to be an element of the ‘old boys’ networks’ in politics. I’d like to think that party politics plays less of a dominant role in local than national politics, but I could be wrong. Whether this is good or bad for groupthink, I don’t know either, but polarisation and tribal factions sure are present, which is why the family photo of Mr Smith is apt IMHO. BTW, the pill was a placebo.

              • Robert Guyton

                Powerful stuff, that placebo.

                • Incognito

                  Yeah, nah. It’s all in the mind, not in the pill or any paraphernalia for that matter; it’s about the choices we make and what we believe in. Much happens at the sub-conscious level and when it reaches the surface of our consciousness we experience that eureka moment (or déjà vu). IMHO. But we’re going OT.

                  • Robert Guyton

                    Placebo though, requires an outside agency to administer something to the client/patient/person and how that is done is a powerful determinant for the effectiveness of the placebo, wrapped up as they are in promise, expectation, theatre and the rest of it. Sugar too. Red is best.

                    • Incognito

                      All correct, of course. Some people are administered hypnosis and suggestions to help them with addictions or phobias. In some cases, it is very effective. Auto-suggestion, self-hypnosis, meditation, mindfulness, et cetera, can have powerful effects, transformational even.

                      How did we get to this? It belongs in your post on how to get there IMO 😉

                    • Robert Guyton

                      Well, I'm getting there by being a regional councillor, proving that there's hope for us all!

              • weka

                As far as I can tell small town NZ is still run by the old boys network. Not as much or as bad, but it's still there.

                • Incognito

                  Personally, I don’t have much experience with the old boy’s networks. School BOTs can be particularly bad.

                • Stuart Munro.

                  I'm not certain about that. I can recall an incident on Stewart Island where the ladies of the town dealt to visiting naval forces decisively without male assistance. And years ago in Timaru, When I was flying through for MAF with more luggage than any reasonable person ever carries, some fool disrespected the fiftyish lady on the ticket counter. The ground crew, without prompting, patiently explained to him that the plane was overweight, and that he'd have to wait for the next flight – meanwhile our hundreds of kilos of gear was loaded without difficulty. Soft power is a big thing in some small towns.

                  • weka

                    of course. Women have power. That the old boys network still runs things just tells us that power is shared unevenly. Imagine how fast things would change if women had access to the institutional power still currently denied them.

                    (btw, there are women operating within the old boys network, but neoliberalism lets women in where they play the game right).

                    • Stuart Munro.

                      Maybe Vicki Buck could give some guidance – the most popular Christchurch mayor ever as far as I can tell – approval was 90% at one point.

                    • weka

                      how many of her colleagues are women?

                      Is she part of the old boys network?

  7. Dukeofurl 7


    The data visualisation is  not comparing apples with apples.

    The compare ALL the councillors with ALL the population, when it should adjust the  number of councillors with  the population they represent.

    The reality is rural NZ is  older, where  a disproportionate  number of councillors represent smaller rural areas.

  8. cleangreen 8

    Todays local government are full of "Hollow people" who play the same game of saying first ‘what you want to hear’

    Then as soon as they are elected to the 'public cash trough' they turn into right wing zealots.

    And after several years stealing from us they go into another national party election as a candidate. I have sen this for the last 5 elections.

  9. weka 9

    I think it's worth pointing out that the call for diversity isn't a call to not have any wealthy, older, able-bodied white men in power. There's a general sense of inclusiveness. But people's patience isn't infinite, and the longer the patriarchy resists change, the more people are going to be inclined to remove power by whatever means necessary, and maybe have a period of time of rebalancing. Mostly it's still about wanting those men to learn how to *share power, and the sooner that happens the better for everyone.

  10. Dukeofurl 10

    Just looked at a few councils for places Ive lived 

    Napier: 12 councillors plus mayor .  6 are women incl Acting Mayor


    Rotorua:  10 councillors plus mayor. 4 incl mayor are women.


    Hastings: 13 councillors plus mayor. 7 women incl mayor


    Palmerston North : Mayor +15 councillors 7 are women.

    A few other of  the small rural councils  seem to have a near  gender balance as well.

    Could it be that the regional Councils are the ones heavily skewed to men. They would involve travelling further to meetings and the  RC cover more technical areas   than local councils

  11. Cricklewood 11

    I'm not sure what to make of articles like this, I feel  they make the assumption that given the choice (and if they vote) people will vote for someone in a similar demographic to  themselves.

    Maybe I'm an outlier, but personally I vote on ideas age race or gender of the candidate dont come into it at all. 

    If anything I find the story divisive. I do whole heartedly agree that we should make it easier and financially viable for young people or those  with families to stand for election. Free childcare etc would be a great start.

    • Incognito 11.1

      No, that assumption was not made. In fact, that assumption is challenged in both the post as well as in the first link provided. For example:

      But it's not necessarily the case that older people vote exclusively for older candidates, or that Pākehā vote exclusively for Pākehā candidates.

      For one thing, the proportion of voters younger than 38 is significantly higher than the proportion of elected members younger than 38. This might mean that young candidates get little to no support from anyone older than 38, and thus are unable to command a plurality of votes; but it seems more likely that there are simply fewer candidates in that age cohort to vote for.

      Although, to be fair, that piece also did mention in-group bias.

      I wrote the post in relatively short time and late at night and wanted to keep it short. My intention was to stimulate thinking and debate, not to stuff my opinion down people’s throats. In this sense, you were not supposed to make anything of the post as such, just to do your own thinking.

      If anything I find the story divisive.

      Really? Care to elaborate? I really tried to argue for a more inclusive and representative local government and about the only thing you took from the post was that it was divisive!? I’m most intrigued!

      • Cricklewood 11.1.1

        Apologies was referring to the stuff article should have made that clearer… 

        • Incognito

          All good, but I’m still puzzled; I didn’t find it divisive but informative. I would not have included it otherwise.

  12. David Mac 12

    I think we get the representation we ask for. We get what we deserve.

    We deserve Chloe Swarbrick, a fresh young voice that has surprised many NZers. What a mature and measured handling of a hot potato like legalising weed she is delivering. 

    The Greens bring merit, it's a garden that encourages Chloes to flourish. I can see how people like Chloe would struggle to be inspired to share a floor dominated by archetypal councilors. 

    • Robert Guyton 12.1

      She'd find it … icky!

    • Incognito 12.2

      I think we get the representation we ask for. We get what we deserve.

      Although I don’t disagree, when I hear this sentiment expressed in various forms, it always feels slightly fatalistic to me, as if we have no other choice. That’s the whole point of the post, if we are not satisfied with the current situation, we can change it. In fact, most things are self-inflicted or social constructs and can be undone, reversed, fixed, repaired, corrected or whatever, if we choose to. Elections are all about choice albeit somewhat limited. Sorry, this is not personal, just a general ‘rant’.

  13. Obtrectator 14

    One trouble I've always had with local body elections is differentiating one candidate from another.  They all seem to want to run a more inclusive council while keeping rates (or rates increases) below a certain level and being committed to the area/region/town.  None of them actually say how these laudable objectives are going to be achieved.  Often enough, once the votes are counted and the feet are safely under the council table, they aren't achieved.  And the few genuine stand-outs tend to find themselves branded as trouble-makers, excluded from meaningful roles and ruthlessly criticised at every opportunity.

    • Robert Guyton 14.1

      Here's what I said, Obtrector, in the Southland Times:

      "Message to all candidates for local body elections; billboards are boring!

      Hard-working Southlanders, especially those living in Invercargill, have to drive past our uninspiring faces and irritating slogans for weeks on end and are generally too polite to take a black-marker to them to express their annoyance. Let’s all do something different this time around; entertain and amuse those whose votes we are chasing, with creative billboards, fun billboards, the likes of which have never been seen before! I’m happy start the ball rolling; I’ve still got my original billboards that show a younger me with a dark, clipped and tidy beard. Now that I’m 9 years down the councillor track, my beard is full and as white as a summer cloud. I’m going to up-date my billboards by glueing-on a fluffy, lamb’s-wool beard that would make Father Christmas proud! How about the rest of you? Have you any creative bones in your bodies? Let’s do the voting public a favour and make campaigning fun for a change!"

      I don't know if that helps alleviate your frustrations, but it did mine (a little)

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