Lincoln Tan is the New Zealand Herald’s diversity, ethnic affairs and immigration senior reporter.

Is Auckland Council too white?

Auckland's diversity not reflected in local government, writes Lincoln Tan.

Auckland may be one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world but nine in 10 elected representatives on the Auckland Council are white, a study has found.

Ethnic minorities are being urged to stand as local body candidates, after AUT University research found the 23 per cent who identify as Asian had just 1 per cent representation on the council.

The study looked at how closely Auckland Council representatives reflected the population, and looked at who stood, and who was elected at the 2013 elections.

Nominations open today for the triennial local government elections, which also include local and community boards, district health boards and licensing trusts.

The study found 88 per cent, of elected representatives were European, despite just 59 per cent in the city identifying as European.

Overall, ethnic minority groups were under-represented: 6 per cent were Pacific members of a 14 per cent population, and 4 per cent Maori against a population of 11 per cent.

Report author Karen Webster said Auckland Council needs to ensure the needs of Maori and diverse communities are understood and met. "The successful growth and future prosperity of Auckland will depend on this."

The study looked at the 2013 local election to establish how closely Auckland Council representatives reflected the population.

Only Manukau and Manurewa-Papakura wards, which comprise Mangere-Otahuhu, Otara-Papatoetoe, Manurewa and Papakura local boards, deviated from European predominance.

The Mangere-Otahuhu board comprises one Nuiean and four Samoans, who were elected along with two Pakeha representatives.

At the 2013 election, 17 Asians stood across four local boards - Albert-Eden (one), Henderson-Massey (one), Howick (12) and Whau (three).

But just two were elected, one in Henderson-Massey where the Asian population was 19 per cent, and the other in Whau, which had 32 per cent Asians.

Webster said it was difficult for ethnic groups to achieve local government representation under the first-past-the-post voting system.

"Maori had consistently stood their best candidates in local elections who never won in Pakeha dominated electorates," she said.

Manukau, where two governing body representatives elected were of Pacific ethnicity, was the only ward to elect non-Europeans at the governing body level.

Webster said Pacific candidates fared better than their Asian counterparts because they had a higher profile within their community.

"I think there is a tendency for New Zealanders to think of 'Asian' as one ethnicity, when it is in fact many ethnicities," she said.

"In South Auckland, many Pacific candidates are actively involved working with their people and through their church and community organisations."

A proportional system, such as single transferable vote, would simplify the voting process and empower minority views, Webster said.

"Electoral success is dependent on participation from voters, as well as candidates putting themselves forward," Webster said.

"It is unlikely that the growing ethnic minority populations ... will achieve sufficient concentration to significantly improve their electoral representation as long as the Super City's governing body retains FPP."

Voter turnout at the 2013 election fell to 35.5 per cent from 51 per cent in 2010 before the amalgamation.

Krystal Wen, 44, originally from China has lived in New Lynn - which falls under the Whau local board area - for more than a decade, but had never voted.

The permanent resident did not know if she was enrolled to vote, and said she did not know who her elected representatives were.

"I don't understand the issues, so I think it is better that I leave it to the people who understand them to do the voting," she said in Mandarin.

Information about voter participation by social, ethnic or demographic status is confidential. However, a Statistics NZ survey found 60 per cent of recent migrants did not vote in the last election.

Language barrier, not understanding the electoral system and lack of knowledge about the candidates were contributing factors.

Sue Wood, spokeswoman for Auckland Future, a National Party backed centre-right group, said it focuses on recruiting ethnically diverse candidates and promises to field candidates that represent Auckland's diversity.

Wood said the candidates included 18 who identified with Pacific ethnicities, an Indian and one Chinese who will stand across three wards and five local boards.

City Vision, a coalition of Greens, Labour and community independents, will also have a large number of ethnic minority candidates.

The full slate has not been finalised, but there will be candidates who identify with Maori, Chinese, Indian, Pacific and European ethnicities, said spokeswoman Pippa Coom.

On Waitemata local board, where she will be standing, candidates include a Maori/Samoan, Fijian-born Chinese, an Australian, a Columbian and two New Zealand Europeans.

"Not all these tickets have been finalised but there appears to be a good mix of ethnicities that represent most communities," she said.

Coom said there was a perception that it is difficult for minority candidates to get elected in areas where the majority of voters are Pakeha.

Papakura local board member Katrina Winn said the ethnic make up of boards should be representative of people in the area.

"However, that is always dependant on whether individuals from ethnic groups decide to stand and then whether they have the support of voters," she said.

Learning to 'make most noise'

Chinese deputy chair of the Whau Local Board Susan Zhu and Business Consultant Xiaoying Fu. Photos / Supplied
Chinese deputy chair of the Whau Local Board Susan Zhu and Business Consultant Xiaoying Fu. Photos / Supplied

It doesn't pay to keep your head down, because in New Zealand those who "make the most noise" get what they want, says Auckland local body politician Susan Zhu.

Zhu, who is Chinese, is deputy chair of the Whau Local Board, and one of two Asians elected in Auckland's 2013 local government vote.

She says it is important for more people from ethnic communities to not only vote, but also stand as candidates.

"Politics is not only the glory but also about service to the community, and part of that service is to represent the needs and wants of minority communities that we belong to," Zhu said.

One in three identify as Asian in Whau and one in two as Pacific Island ethnicity.
Elected representatives on the board include a Tongan, a Samoan, an Indian, three Europeans and Zhu.

"It works well, most of the time, we learn from each other and share our understanding," she said.

Zhu, a lawyer, says she often sees issues from a Chinese perspective, but feels it is justified because the community needs a voice.

"In this country, people who make the most noise are usually the ones to get what they want," she said.

Zhu said it was not easy for Chinese candidates to win, because many in the Chinese community did not participate in elections.

Dr Xiaoying Fu, a business consultant, intends to stand as an independent for the Orakei Local Board. Fu, a scientist by training, is a board member of New Zealand Asian Leaders.

"What an Asian or ethnic representative brings is the ability to communicate in another language, and the understanding of the needs of diverse communities," said Fu, who speaks Mandarin.

"I feel that Pakeha members are also sometimes uncomfortable in dealing with residents who are not from the mainstream."

Despite having been in New Zealand for 20 years and being an Orakei local, Fu said it would be a challenge to make herself known to voters.

- NZ Herald

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