Josh Chandulal-Mackay has a passion for Whanganui and he's a bit keen on politics too. Logan Tutty fired 10 questions at the Whanganui district councillor to find out what makes him tick.
Where did your passion for politics start and how old were you when you realised this is what you wanted to do?
My parents encouraged the discussion of difficult issues as I grew up, we were a very opinionated household, and I'm sure that had an impact. I grew up during the Michael Laws mayoralty and the divisive nature of local politics struck me during this time. I joined the council's Youth Committee in 2007 and remained a member until I left for university to study psychology/politics. Initially I wanted to be a geriatric psychologist and it was during university that my focus shifted to politics.
Who are some of your political idols throughout the years?
I don't have idols – but Barack Obama was the first politician I really took notice of, I was 13 years old when he was elected president. I admired his ongoing commitment to raising the tone of politics, and his pursuit of healthcare reform in a heavily divided - and flawed - political system. The integrity, decency and dedication to structural change from politicians like Bernie Sanders also has to be mentioned. Here in Whanganui, the people who've had the most impact on me aren't "politicians" per se, but those involved in iwi activism. People like Mariana Waitai who is as tough as anything and speaks so eloquently about why upholding Te Tiriti is so integral to the welbeing of local Māori.
From what I understand, you have a passion for American politics. What do you make of what's going on in the USA?
There's a lot to unpack here. Sadly, the US political system seems to be nearing a point of complete failure. One of the key reasons for this seems to be the engrained cultural notion of freedom and individualism at all costs. It's almost impossible to reconcile unimpeded freedom with a co-ordinated public response to Covid-19. In New Zealand, most us were happy to give up a significant amount of individual freedom for the sake of the community at-large. It seems that while individualism is the main driver of political decision-making in America, that effective government will be impossible. There's also this tendency for many Americans to view their constitution as some sort of untouchable sacred document. We've seen the consequences of this through successive mass shootings which result in a message of "thoughts and prayers" and then back to the same system that prioritises the individual right to own a firearm over the rights of children not to be massacred in their classrooms.
What are some of the biggest issues you want to focus on in the coming years?
Where do I begin? Increasing civic participation, celebrating multiculturalism and supporting the aspirations of Māori. I'd like to see us addressing our housing shortage and establishing a youth hub which is a physical, multipurpose space where young people can go as a place of leisure, fun, safety, and support; council is consulting on a similar proposal as part of our Long Term Plan. Local government politicians have low public approval across New Zealand at the moment and all of us have to play our part in repairing that.
The Whanganui District Council is considering adding the "h" to the Royal Wanganui Opera House - can you talk about how this came about and what the decision means for the future?
I realised last year that the Opera House used the incorrect spelling of Whanganui and raised this with the mayor and council property manager with the hope of initiating a change to include the "h". Staff made inquiries as to whether or not we'd need approval from the Queen to enact the change given that we gained approval to use the title "Royal" in 1999. It has since been confirmed that approval is not required and so the alteration now comes to council for a decision. A decision to alter the spelling would mean that the Opera House uses "Whanganui" in its name which aligns with the official spelling of the district.
What do you love about Whanganui?
I have great memories from growing up here. I love the sense of community that comes from being able to wander down the main street and nearly always bump into someone you know. I enjoy the river and the parks and reserves. There's always some sort of event on whether it be Vintage Weekend, a fundraiser event, a wine and food festival or even just a weekday quiz night. It's quirky, arty, historical and picturesque – no wonder so many people are moving here.
You are hosting a dinner party with three guests, dead or alive, who are you inviting over?
Queen Elizabeth II – nearly 70 years in public life is sure to produce some fascinating conversations. Nelson Mandela – what a legacy he had. George W Bush – someone with a more controversial legacy who wouldn't upset the dinner table dynamics too much either.
Who are some of your favourite musicians and why?
Elton John is my favourite musician – I have a large abstract portrait of him in my living room. His songs bring an element of nostalgia and you can actually feel something when listening to them, unlike much of the noise masquerading as music that gets released today. My other favourites are bands like Coldplay, Snow Patrol and REM.
Where/what do you see yourself doing in 10 years' time?
I've got two big goals and both involve remaining in Whanganui. I haven't been shy about discussing my aspirations for the Whanganui mayoralty in future and when a vacancy opens up I'm sure I'll throw my hat in the ring. I'd also like to develop an interactive civics education package for schools and youth groups, with the aim of increasing long-term civic participation.
If the borders were to open tomorrow, where would be the first place you would travel?
London. I was last there in 2007 and I've wanted to go back ever since. A close second would be Florence. I studied art history in school and my favourite Renaissance piece by Piero della Francesca is housed there – I'd love to see it in person.