Younger people urged to vote

By Alexandra Newlove

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Whangarei's youngest-ever councillor Aaron Edwards says sometimes all it takes is a bit of encouragement to get a great council candidate to step forward.
Whangarei's youngest-ever councillor Aaron Edwards says sometimes all it takes is a bit of encouragement to get a great council candidate to step forward.

Mention the upcoming local body elections to anyone under 30 and you're likely to be met with blank stares and people who suddenly remember they're late for work.

But moves are afoot to generate more interest in October's triennial local authority elections with the "True Locals" campaign from Northland's four councils - aimed at voters under 45 and getting a candidate pool that "matches the diversity of the community".

In 2013 voter turnout sat at 33 per cent in Kaipara, 48 per cent in Whangarei, and 49 per cent in the Far North, with much lower rates among young people and Maori.

Church pastor Mike de Vetter is among the community leaders encouraging people to vote - and to stand - in the elections.
Church pastor Mike de Vetter is among the community leaders encouraging people to vote - and to stand - in the elections.

Aaron Edwards was 25 when he was elected as the youngest-ever Whangarei District councillor in 2010 and said the experience of working in an organisation dominated by an older demographic was "challenging".

"There was a lot of the other councillors sitting round trying to tell you how it is.

"I think that's really toxic. It would be better to be in that role and be receptive," he said of the former council.

He encouraged a more diverse cohort to "get round the table".

"If you're not in the room to raise that point, it won't get heard and if it doesn't get heard, you know nothing is going to change. If you leave it to the same people - you get the same thing."

Northland councils have previously addressed a lack of diversity among councillors through non-elected advisory groups representing Maori, young people, the disabled and elderly.

Stu Bell was the youngest person currently sitting on WDC and he the turned 49 this week.
"I'm 'the baby' at nearly 50. That's a bit sad, isn't it?" he said.

Thirty-three-year-old Willow Jean Prime gave a younger Maori voice in the Far North while the all-male Northland Regional Council members were primarily in their 50s and 60s.

The Northern Advocate approached younger people out and about in Whangarei yesterday for their thoughts on why local government was seen as an older person's game.

The majority said they had nothing to say on the matter, but those who did speak cited confusion about what councils actually do and not knowing enough about candidates.

The True Locals Campaign will be broadcast online and via social media, as well as through local papers and radio.

Through it, community leaders will encourage others to step up as well as shoulder tap people they thought could do a good job.

See localelections.co.nz.

Candidate nominations for local boards, district councils, the regional council and district health board open on July 15 and close on August 12.

- Northern Advocate

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