Reaction to Auckland mayoral candidate Leo Molloy's "performance" on Guy Williams' NZ Today show last week highlighted the challenge of choosing candidates. Who you vote for, or let win by doing nothing, can make a difference.
However, most people won't vote in October; local election voter turnout was just 42 per cent in 2019, down from 55 per cent in 1998.
Voting is going backwards, orange man isn't pulling his weight, and it would seem central government doesn't consider 40 per cent participation in local government elections a significant enough problem to accelerate reform of how we elect our local bodies. I wrote about this very issue in 2019 here.
We've got big needs in Auckland, like sorting out Queen St and out-of-control Auckland Transport, big infrastructure considerations like a harbour crossing and ongoing housing, transport and climate change challenges.
A new mayor and effective council could make an amazing difference. Currently, whoever gets elected mayor is unlikely to represent anything like a majority due to the spread of candidates, yet needs to be able to galvanise the rest of the council.
Let's be real, voter turnout is likely to remain low (or lower yet) until there's reform to make it more relevant to people, and make it easier and clearer who and what you are electing.
For instance, in marketing, brands package meaning; with clearer political "brand" identification, voters have a shorthand for the sort of elected representation they are voting for. In Auckland and other regions we have odd "brands" for the parties, such as Communities & Residents (National-ish), City Vision (Labour-ish), Future West (Labour & Greens). Faced with a sea of candidates for less well-known "parties", little wonder voters find electing councils so hard.
I've been reflecting on my own dabble in getting elected in 2019, call it a research project if you like.
In 2019 I stood at the local elections to the Portage Licensing Trust, one of two legacy West Auckland bodies that have the exclusive right to tavern licences and retailing alcohol for West Auckland. Anyone who knows me will attest that like many admen I enjoy a good lunch, and a nice bar, but I was constantly frustrated that I couldn't enjoy the latter near my home in Titirangi.
I was persuaded to stand representing the West Auckland Licensing Trusts Action Group (WALTAG), a pressure group seeking an end to the monopoly on alcohol sales in West Auckland, held by "The Trusts". My pitch was as a businessman, an adman, bringing a different perspective and change under the WALTAG banner (yes, I know, another non traditional grouping but at least a single issue unambiguous one).
I became one of those people putting up billboards on roadsides, mounting Facebook discussions, and delivering leaflets. A legacy of this is a new cordless electric drill, a sledgehammer, and a pile of spare posts. Mitre 10 did really well out of my candidacy.
Imagine my surprise when I – narrowly – won, inadvertently unseating the then longstanding president of Portage Licensing Trust in the process. Change was already occurring with that initial consequence.
I was aware as I attended my first monthly meeting that I was probably seen as some sort of crazy anarchist, hell-bent on tearing the Trusts apart. My experience since being elected is that we've made progress as a publicly elected board, we've worked together with healthy discussions. Is it "perfect" yet? No, I really want better bars and social life in West Auckland and we've not got that yet. But more has been achieved than I expected from attending my first monthly meeting.
Around NZ, we elected some pretty dysfunctional councils in 2019, not least Tauranga, Invercargill and Wellington. Groups who control millions in public money. Many on these councils were probably elected by habit and name recognition, not on clear evidence of ability or results. Yet we live in an information age where an empowered electorate could vote with access to all sorts of stats on candidates – voting record, number of terms, affiliation, "results", CV, party affiliations. We should be able to vote online or in person. The voting deadline, in marketing terms, could be made "more urgent".
We are lucky to live in a safe, open democratic society but we should never take these blessings for granted. While we wait for reform, if we don't pay attention, if we don't participate, we've no right to complain when things are a mess, never change, or we elect people that can't either deliver or work together.
- Ben Goodale is CEO of strategic marketing agency Quantum Jump, a passionate Aucklander and lover of a good lunch and a fine rosé.