Buses, waste management, parks, roads, civil defence and permits for that xmas hangi – just some of the powers the Gisborne District Council oversees with revenue generated through rates, investments and fees. But unlike other regions, the GDC is in the unique position of serving a population that is 45% Maori, the majority of whom are Ngati Porou. But will they vote when voting documents are posted this month? Tina Wickliffe has been crunching the numbers.
The 2016 campaign for local body elections has begun in earnest with 28 candidates vying for 14 spots in council. Some of these candidates are also amongst the 13 eyeing up a seat on the revamped Hauora Tairawhiti which is tasked with steering this district out of the health challenges associated with the highest socio-economic deprivation in the country.
These candidates have the unenviable task of convincing eligible voters in the Gisborne District to tick a box, hopefully the one by their name. But if the last election is anything to go by, they have their work cut out for them. Less than half of Gisborne’s 31,575 voters bothered to vote in the 2013 local body elections. Do the racial profile math with census and electoral commission data and it’s not hard to work out who didn’t vote – younger Natis.
If the 2016 campaign is anything to go by, who can blame them really? So far local news has been dominated by the Napier-Gisborne rail line, a new council building, councillors bickering over “pet projects”, and how the deputy mayor is appointed. Hardly a luring advertisement for younger brown people with limited understanding of what council actually does for them.
Josh Wharehinga, who has genealogical connections to Waipiro and Poroporo, entered council as a fresh faced novice in 2014 after winning a by-election following the resignation of popular councillor Manu Caddie. The father of six is seeking re-election and has a three pronged attack to rangatahi engagement.
“There needs to be education about what voting is and why it’s important. Whanau need to support rangatahi through the voting process and they need someone to vote for. That was the biggest feedback I received in my run for the 2014 by-election, a lot of people had never voted before and they voted for the first time because they knew someone who they thought was worth voting for”.
Mayoralty candidate and accountant Geoff Milner is of Reporua stock and has held numerous high level iwi and community board positions. The former Ngati Porou East Coast rugby union chief executive says it’s about connectivity.
“One way of connection is to councillors as people. Given the typical genre of councillor is that of older persons (50 plus) that makes the connection more difficult. Secondly, council has struggled to demonstrate they take young people seriously thus making young people ask themselves what’s the point? Finally, paying rates brings a tangible connection that most young people don’t experience because they are not homeowners. The sooner voting moves to online voting, the easier it will be to engage young people who are tech savvy”.
Milner is one of two Ngati Porou mayoralty candidates (Yvonne Bishop was a late entry) up against a formidable and charismatic opponent in Meng Foon who is seeking a sixth term. The te reo speaking incumbent regularly attends hui throughout Ngati Porou, lists the Joint Management Agreement of the Waiapu Catchment as a milestone of his fifth term in office, and sings his original waiata about Hikurangi maunga as if he was raised beside it. But Geoff Milner thinks whakapapa gives him the edge with Ngati Porou voters.
“In terms of Ngati Porou engagement, having a Ngati Porou person running for the mayoral office trying to make history, where there is a whakapapa connection, may also encourage young people to engage with the local body elections. The key is to exercise your vote that our tipuna fought hard for, a right that hasn’t always been conferred upon Ngati Porou in our district. Young people tend to want to make an informed decision and given the typical promotion of candidates has been by print media, billboards or meetings, changes in campaigning needs to be considered by candidates to go and meet young people where they are at and not expect them to come to meetings”.
Civic participation is considered a cornerstone of a robust democracy and the decline in engagement, particularly amongst 18-29 year olds, is a red flag for the future success of Tairawhiti communities. An improvement in the calibre of today’s candidates will improve engagement – as Councillor Wharehinga says, when the official results are announced mid October we’ll see if this year’s elections gave Ngati Porou “someone worth voting for”.
NATIS STANDING IN 2016 LOCAL ELECTIONS
Mayoralty candidates: Geoff Milner; Yvonne Bishop
Gisborne ward (nine positions available): Amber Dunn; Geoff Milner; Josh Wharehinga; Mary Liza Manuel; Shannon Dowsing;Te Aturangi Nepia-Clamp
Matakaoa – Waiapu ward (one position): Bill Burdett;
Hauora Tairawhiti (seven positions); Hiki Pihema; Josh Wharehinga; Marijke Warmenhoven
DATES TO REMEMBER
September 16th – voting documents will be sent to enrolled electors.
October 8th – Election day. Voting closes at 12pm.
October 15th – Declaration of results.
VOTER ENROLMENT INFO
- If you haven't recieved your voting papers in the mail by Wed 21 Sep contact the Gisborne District Council immediately on 06 867 2049 or you can try the electoral office on 0800 922 822.
- If you do have your voting papers please make sure you vote & post them back by Wed 5th of October, or drop your papers off by the October 8th, 12noon ( last day of voting) to the GDC offices at 39 Gladstone Rd in Gisborne or at the GDC office in Te Puia Springs.'
- Voters who haven’t enrolled can still do so at any post shop or ring the Electoral Commission on 0800 367 656.
- If you need to enrol or check your details you can also go to www.elections.org.nz/enrol
- If you pay rates on land within the Ngati Porou & Gisborne rohe, but live elsewhere you are eligible to vote. A firm, company, corporation or society paying rates on a property may also nominate one of its members or officers as a ratepayer elector (providing the nominated person resides outside of the area). Ratepayer Roll Enrolment Forms are available at all Council offices, or by phoning the electoral office on 0800 922 822.