The arrival of the letters with electoral-enrolment details to be confirmed or amended this week was a timely reminder that the 2017 General Election is less than three months away and it should remind us that one treasure we usually take for granted is our clean, honest and open electoral system.

Unlike most democratic jurisdictions, it's difficult to recall even the slightest whiff of electoral wrongdoing or corruption in this country, as good electoral law, which has traditionally attracted support across the political spectrum, has been administered by a succession of solid and able Electoral Commission staff.

For many years, elections and particularly general elections were central to my life, but now I have the luxury of commentating from the sidelines I have become of connoisseur of these events, which come in many, sometimes unexpected, flavours.

I've developed a wish list for this year's poll and I'd hope to see at least some of these aspirations come true.

Advertisement

I'd like to see an election around issues and policy.

It's hard to remember any issue getting discussed at any except the most superficial level in the 2104 election.

The whole campaign period, when we were supposed to be earnestly debating the great issues of the day, was dominated by Nicky Hager's Dirty Politics book and the antics of Kim Dotcom and his pop-up party.

The various allegations in Hager's book ultimately went nowhere but they obscured and diluted any sensible debate about what ought to have been real issues.

Just last week a while the political news was dominated by the Todd Barclay scandal disastrous statistics emerged showing plummeting rates of home-ownership amongst Maori and Pacifica families as owning a house became a fading dream for far too many people.

Hardly anyone noticed, but this is the sharp end of the housing crisis.

My wish number one would be for housing to become a major election issue.
Wish number two would be for some sensible discussion around growing poverty and homelessness.

As we celebrate Team New Zealand's success at the ultimate rich man's sport and the sight of a few Kiwi millionaires behind a superbly talented team beating an only slightly less gifted group backed by a billionaire, it's a strange irony that Hawke's Bay Today leads a debate about beggars in the streets of Napier.

Three years ago I served as a commissioner representing Auckland Transport on a committee reviewing the Auckland Council by-laws around begging.

Because some of the commissioners had taken the trouble to talk to some Auckland beggars to discover exactly how and why they'd reached rock bottom we had the benefit of real-life stories.

Begging in Auckland often takes the form of windscreen washers who take advantage of the chronic traffic congestion and offer their services in return for a few coins.

I recall the story of one family who took to windscreen washing when the sole earner lost her job and faced a "stand-down" period before any benefit money became available.

Having spent their emergency benefit voucher on food, the coins they made from their street work went to pay for electricity and a prescription for an asthmatic.

This is a wealthy and civilised country and societies like ours should not tolerate poverty and homelessness.

We haven't done so in the past and we should not do so in the 21st century.

We might get some way towards abolishing poverty and getting people into their own homes if my wish number three, a much higher level of participation in the election, came true.

In 2014, nearly a quarter of people who did get on to the electoral roll failed to vote.

Heavily overrepresented in this group were Maori, Pacifica and young people, also often the victims of poverty and the house crisis.

These people turn out to vote in such reduced numbers compared with middle-class Pakeha, it's little wonder governments can largely afford to ignore their plight.

My wish No 4 is that our politicians avoid any talk of tax cuts until some gaping holes in government spending are filled.

The health budget hasn't kept up with our growing, ageing population and mental-heath services, at least, need a serious upgrade.

We have the highest youth suicide rate in the developed world, according to the OECD, and this is New Zealand's shame.

In a normal week, two teenagers and two children will kill themselves.

"If suicide was a contagious disease," Stephen Bell, of Youthline, has said, "the country would have demanded action."

Stories in the press make it clear that this horror is too often a failure of mental-health services.

So that's the election I'd like to see, but given the recent fascination with the hapless Todd Barclay's demise, I think it's more likely we'll see a reprise of 2014.

Mike Williams grew up in Hawke's Bay. He is CEO of the NZ Howard League and a former Labour Party president. All opinions are his and not those of Hawke's Bay Today.