Hamilton ratepayers are stumping up $15,000 for a mayoral debate to be hosted by Newshub anchor Mike McRoberts.

But Hamilton City Council won't reveal exactly how much of the budget is being spent on the celebrity speaker - because it has signed a non-disclosure agreement with him.

McRoberts also refused to comment to the Herald about what he was being paid, claiming it was arranged through an agent and was a confidential figure.

The event will be held on September 11 at Claudelands Event Centre and will feature all eight mayoral candidates.


The move for council to organise a public meet-the-candidate event is controversial after some councils, including Palmerston North City Council, were advised by their electoral officers not to, in order to make sure staff were politically neutral.

Hamilton Council CEO Richard Briggs said it was disappointing more councils weren't hosting public candidate meetings in an attempt to get voters more engaged. Photo / File
Hamilton Council CEO Richard Briggs said it was disappointing more councils weren't hosting public candidate meetings in an attempt to get voters more engaged. Photo / File

Hamilton City Council chief executive Richard Briggs was disappointed it was one of the only councils hosting a candidate event and said the aim was to try to address the city's dismal voter turnout by better engaging the community.

At the last election, Hamilton had the lowest voter turnout of all New Zealand metropolitan centres with just over 30 per cent of eligible voters and the fourth lowest of all councils. Its turnout fell well below the national average of 42 per cent.

"Overall, interest in what we do is low despite the impact council has on the everyday lives of every single person in this city," Briggs said.

"I'm very happy to ramp up the stakes a bit with election activities if that encourages people to be better informed and hopefully, vote."

The $15,000 for the event - which equates to 14 cents for every eligible voter - is being drawn from the council's existing budgets.

"We have a very limited budget and we spend a lot of time working out how to get the best bang for our buck.

"There is a number of debates happening in the city and I am fully supportive of those, but they focus on the identified popular candidates who have a high chance of winning, and not all of the candidates," he said.


"So as a representative of the council I wanted to do a debate that brings all of the mayoral candidates in, make it equitable, and provide an opportunity for candidates for council seats to put their views forward too.

"I think that's a pretty good investment given decisions councillors and the mayor will make over the next three years will impact our city for a very long time."

Council refused to provide a breakdown of the costs because it had entered into a commercial contract with McRoberts preventing it from saying what his cost was.

The Herald understands McRoberts has a clause built into his contract in which he performs some events for free.

However, the council said it "chose to pay" McRoberts as "we wanted to keep this an independent non-biased debate".

"He is a professional and very well respected news reader, but also facilitator and MC in his own right, and we think it is a great way of encouraging people to engage - having someone of his calibre and skill actually stimulating a really robust debate and providing information to the community," Briggs said.

It was also critical to have an independent MC, who didn't work for the council.

The talent agency which represents McRoberts declined to comment on his fee for hosting this debate.

As well as the MC fee, the $15,000 will also cover equipment hire, display materials for the Your Neighbourhood event, security for before and after the event, livestreaming, advertising and promotion costs, tea and coffee for the candidate cafe, copies of the pre-election report and event signage.

"The key part includes the set up, the time leading into it, advertising, as well as ensuring that we meet any costs associated with the MC as well," Briggs said.

The mayoral debate would give voters the opportunity to see all the mayoral candidates in one place and hear directly what they have to say, Briggs said.

Candidates will be asked a series of questions by McRoberts relating to challenges outlined in the pre-election report.

"We wanted a moderator with a presence, who was non-partisan and able to make it an interesting hour and a half."

Between 4pm and 6.30pm there will be a Candidate Cafe where all 41 candidates have been invited so the members of the public can meet them.

The event has been tagged on to one of council's Your Neighbourhood events where council staff go into different communities to discuss local issues.

Hamilton City Council communications and engagement manager Natalie Palmer said the event was part of the council's wider strategy to better engage the community including getting more people involved in the election.

Election Services managing director Dale Ofsoske, who is also Hamilton City Council's electoral officer, said it was up to individual councils to decide whether to hold events. Councils did not usually get involved leaving it to community groups or organisations to manage, he said.

The eight mayoral candidates are James Casson, Jack Gielen, Louise Hutt, Andrew King, Lisa Lewis, Angela O'Leary, Paula Southgate, and Mike West.