This guest blog has been contributed by an external author. Opinions and positions expressed in the post are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Seed Waikato.
If you’re in any way politically engaged, it’s highly likely that lately your newsfeed has started filling up with candidates announcing their intention to run in the upcoming local government elections this October.
There are a number of candidates from diverse backgrounds (age, gender, ethnicity, income, etc.) who have announced their intention to run for Hamilton City Council. And it’s been great, seeing more diversity than ever before. However, the work’s not quite over yet.
Only ONE candidate so far under the age of 40 has announced they are standing for Waikato Regional Council. It’s been really frustrating that the youth quake (or any other kind of diversity quake) hasn’t yet reached regional councils.
To be fair, a big chunk of the reason why regional council isn’t always the most popular choice, especially for younger candidates, is that there just isn’t enough clarity about what regional council does or is responsible for. That’s why I’m going to lay it out and talk about why a young person might possibly want to run for regional (maybe even over city or district...)
First off, you could argue that a seat on the regional council has far more influence over some of the key issues facing New Zealand than any other type of council in the country. While your local authority (such as your city or district council) looks after local infrastructure and services (think parking, permits, and rubbish collection) your regional council looks after things like the quality of our land, air, and water. Check out the LGNZ website for the lowdown!
There are a number of reasons to stand for Waikato Regional Council and you should definitely consider it, especially if:
1. You’re moderately to extremely concerned about climate change
The Waikato Regional Council is one of the big wigs in addressing the impacts of climate change in our region. Not only are they responsible for managing ageing and crucial flood infrastructure which is currently keeping places like Ngātea from being under water (you’re welcome, Ngātea), they’re also responsible for helping to influence future land use choices; something pretty important given that between 2002 to 2016 there was a 35.4% increase in the amount of land being used for dairy farming (about 185,000 rugby fields worth!).
The Waikato Regional Policy Statement (Te Tauākī Kaupapa here ā-Rohe) sets the objectives, policies and methods to address the resource management issues across the region. So if addressing climate change is your jam, you definitely want to get in on this.
2. You hate traffic…
…And you’re keen to see that commuter rail to Auckland succeed. The Regional Land Transport Plan is 30 year plan developed by officials within Waikato Regional Council, NZ Transport Agency, and NZ Police. The plan covers roading maintenance and improvements, public transport services and infrastructure, walking and cycling infrastructure, road safety education and transport planning across the region and is due for a review in 2021 – so this’ll be on the table for next council (hype)!
3. You don’t want to see our native species go extinct
Did you know that some of our country’s native species are endemic to the Waikato region? We have the Archey’s frog, the Te Aroha and Moehau stag beetles, the Mercury Island tusked weta, and the Mahoenui giant weta. We also have a few unique plant species too, including Hebe pubescens, Hebe awaroa, and many plant species found in our geothermal areas are common only in the Waikato.
Isn’t this amazing? On the flip-side isn’t it also utterly terrifying that more than 200 of our native species are facing extinction? After all, to quote the great Spider-Man, with great power comes great responsibility. The greatest threat to our native species comes from introduced species such as possums, rats, and stoats. And bad news - these pests have become established in all of our mainland forests.
Many people assume that it is the Department of Conservation’s (DOC) responsibility to protect these species, however under the Resource Management Act, regional councils have the responsibility to maintain indigenous biodiversity on private land (whereas DOC have that responsibility for public land). Thanks a lot, DOC, but whoo, we get to save all the animals and plants!
4. You understand the use of 1080
Speaking of biodiversity... 1080. It’s a controversial topic that has sparked heated public debate, which isn’t always based on evidence. The giant rat plague of 2019 is real and time is running out! Without the use of 1080 we will continue to lose our native species. It’s as simple as that.
5. You want to be able to swim in or collect food from your local awa
Water is a huuuge issue for all councils at the moment. Regional councils are either directly responsible for, or have significant influence over, managing and monitoring all things H2O. Rivers, lakes, coastal areas, wetlands, rainfall monitoring, storm water, ground water, water allocation, maritime services, and catchment management... Yup, told you water was a biggie.
There are many experts working hard within councils to protect and improve our natural resources so that communities can enjoy them. One significant project Waikato Regional Council is undertaking is Healthy Rivers Wai Ora, an 80 year plan co-designed by delegates from industry, community and iwi groups to clean up waterways. The Waikato Region needs leaders with a long-term vision if we want to ensure it is it is safe to swim and take kai from our waterways for our mokopuna.
6. You want to see Te Tiriti honoured
Did you know... There are more than twenty different pieces of legislation that are relevant to how Waikato Regional Council adheres to Te Tiriti o Waitangi? Currently, Waikato Regional Council has five joint management agreements (JMAs) and one co-management agreement with Waikato River Iwi (Tūwharetoa, Maniapoto, Te Arawa, Raukawa and Waikato). These JMAs are just a start, and while Waikato Regional Council has come quite a long way in delivering on obligations of Te Tiriti, there is still significant work to be done to empower iwi Māori in true partnership - not to mention the number of new agreements to be established as more Iwi in the region enter settlement!
That’s why Waikato Regional Council needs representatives who will value, respect, and honour Te Tiriti. We need people who will be willing to go beyond basic statutory requirements and embrace the fact that Māori have a vital role to play when it comes to the economic, cultural, natural, physical and social growth of our rohē. Sound like a bit of you? Step up to it!
7. You want to get into governance but don’t feel you have enough experience
Anecdotally, it seems that the main barrier to people not wanting to stand for regional council is a perceived lack of knowledge and experience. However, if you’re looking to get into the governance space, regional council is the perfect place to start your local government career or pathway into other governance opportunities. Learning to govern is something that has to be done “on the job” and you won’t be expected to know everything straight off the bat.
Regional councillors get a pretty intensive induction which covers a lot of the essentials. Besides the induction, there is actually a fair amount of professional development available for new councillors provided by Local Government NZ (as well as other organisations). And if you ever feel lost after that, Waikato Regional Councillors have access to a team of democracy advisors and support staff who can help you understand your role.
Let’s be honest, if you’re new to governance, you should also consider the fact that Waikato Regional Council actually has a pretty low media profile and you’re probably a lot more likely to be ‘eased into’ dealing with journalists. And while we’re being cynical; a lower profile isn’t the only benefit of running for regional over city council. In the last election, four councillors for Waikato Regional Council were elected unopposed. Meanwhile, with the number of candidates already announced for Hamilton City Council competition is looking pretty stiff. If this’ll be your first rodeo, you might want to check out where you might have the best luck. As long as you’re ready, willing, and able to represent the people of that constituency there’s no reason it can’t be you!
Waikato Regional Council (along with the rest of local government) has a pretty disappointing rate of voter turnout (36.87%). A recent survey by Seed Waikato found that one of the main reasons people didn’t stand and/or vote in regional council elections was that they simply didn’t know enough. This means that the people representing our region are generally from a pretty small demographic who have some fairly strong stances on particular issues… *cough*farmers*cough*
While it’s important for the rural community to have a strong voice around the regional council table, it doesn’t always mean this voice should always be the loudest. Our region's population is set to double in the next 50 years, and along with that growth will be significant changes to who makes up the population and where and how they live. To put it bluntly, the people making the decisions about the future of our region are not necessarily the ones who are going to have to live in it.
Our region desperately needs more diverse representation.
Why shouldn’t that be you?
What makes you any less qualified or able than who is sitting around that table now?
If you’re interested, head on over to the Waikato Regional Council elections webpage to start making a change.