It’s local election time and although most Macleans students can’t vote just yet, the decisions being made at the Auckland Council’s Governing Body will ultimately affect each and every one of us.
The governing body is made up of 20 councillors and they decide on how often your bus comes, how often your recycling is collected and ultimately the future of Auckland itself.
The two councillors for the Howick Ward will be the voice for all 130,000 people who live in East Auckland — a population equal to the size to Dunedin.
Despite that, the minority of us who can vote… don’t. Youth turnout consistently lags far behind that of people aged 65+.
A quarter of nonvoters identified lack of information about candidates as the primary reason as to why they didn’t vote in the last local elections.
That’s why The Collegian has extended an interview invitation to all the candidates running for East Auckland’s two spots on the governing body — all have gotten back to us with something. We hope this will positively contribute to the information available as voting begins today in local elections around New Zealand.
First up: Damian Light
In every election cycle we hear roughly the same phrases and slogans from candidates who say they’re trusted community members who will stand up for the ward.
What differentiates you from the others?
I think the thing that probably makes me different from the other candidates standing is I’ve got quite a bit of business experience. I’ve been working full time for large organizations and I’ve also been involved in my community, so I’ve got a lot of experience with local organisations and I’m committed to the community.
I’ve never had a job in politics, but I’ve been in and around politics so I understand how that works. I’m also an independent so I’m not attached to any political party.
It’s good to have experience, but I also think some fresh ideas and fresh thinking is as important — and you can have the best of both since your vote goes towards two councillors in Howick.
So youth voter turnout is incredibly low in Auckland and around the world — what would you do to increase voter engagement amongst young people?
I think the biggest problem is just disengagement in general. It’s the notion that nobody listens and nothing happens anyway — which is quite frustrating. As a voter myself, I find that frustrating when I see it happening.
So I think the key is making it relevant to people and getting people to understand that voting is important since council makes so many important decisions.
I think a big part of it is engaging with the community and going to them instead of them coming to you. The old-fashioned public meeting kinda thing is basically dead; nobody goes to those anymore. So being available online is important for me.
The Auckland Council’s Governing Body voted unanimously to declare a climate emergency.
We have two questions for you: first how serious do you think climate change is, second what actions do you think the council should be taking?
Climate change is the greatest challenge that we face, as a country as a city, but also as a planet.
The emergency declaration was good but that was something that should’ve been done years ago. We need to get onto the problem now.
Forty percent of Auckland City’s emissions is transport; so that should be our first focus. It’s great that the electric trains are already carbon neutral, but the buses aren’t except for a few test ones. Meanwhile Wellington City already has 10 electric buses in service.
It’s crazy that we’re not only using diesel buses but also actually purchasing them. So immediately we should stop that and start buying electric buses which also has the side effect of reducing air pollution. In general, enabling more public transport will help the problem, but having people choose other options like cycling / walking is going to be even better for the environment.
Even if we make every effort and we do and we can. There’s still going to be a rise in sea level with some extreme weather events, so I think the council needs to start thinking about how we prepare for that.
The governing body has voted to make public transport free for under-16s on weekends and this has now gone into effect. Do you support this and support extending the policy to include all secondary and tertiary students?
I think it’s a really good move and actually relatively small cost in the grand scheme of AT. I definitely think that enabling under 15s to travel is good, but it should be under 18s and all tertiary students as well.
Continuing on the transport theme, what is your long-term vision for council investments in roads, cycleways, and public transport — as a whole?
Transport is one of my big passions it’s one of the reasons I’m running.
I’d like to see a lot more investment in cycling — it’s actually extremely cheap to maintain, because a bike doesn’t do anywhere near as much wear and tear on a cycleway as vehicles would on a road.
With public transport in general (buses, trains, ferries), we need to invest more heavily in. We’ve spent a lot of money on roads, but we’re at 1.7 million people and we’re gonna have a lot more.
So we can’t just keep building more roads. It simply doesn’t fit unless we’re going to start demolishing houses and putting up 10-lane highways. But they’ve done that overseas and it doesn’t work.
In the cities where they’ve invested in transport methods other than cars; it’s better for health, better for the environment and also better for people as well — a much nicer environment than 10-lane highways.
Some people say that they still have a car because there’s no buses that come close to them, and therefore they need a vehicle. That’s fine at the moment since you have no other options. But my vision is that we eventually end up with a transport system where people can make a choice that suits them at the time.
You shouldn’t be restricted by cost and it should be a choice that everyone can make to use cheap, affordable and reliable public transport.
So you touched on a safety briefly, the road toll in Auckland has steadily been increasing, between 2014 and 2017, there was a 70% increase in deaths and serious injuries in Auckland. What specific policies do you think we need to improve road safety?
There’s a couple of things we need to do. One of them is investing in safety features. Another is reducing the speed limits where it’s appropriate, and AT has a project on the way at the moment which does just that.
Some of its been a bit controversial, but broadly I think some of those are the right decisions. Especially reducing speed limits around schools.
I’d also like to see more protected cycleways which are physically separated from the road, which is good for both cyclists and pedestrians.
The current mayor Phil Goff supports increasing rates by 3.5% annually to fund infrastructure projects, etc.
In your campaign, you’ve said you want to cut back on reckless rates increases but what does it actually mean and where are you going to fund lots of the policies in lieu of this?
I’m not opposed to a —— 3.5% is quite high, but I’m saying no rate rises for the sake of it.
There is a lot of waste at Council which could get reduced and if we do that, then the rates wouldn’t need to go up as much. I’m not opposed to rates rises, but they shouldn’t be the default option.
Councillors are actually part of the reason why we have waste. Like the Wynyard Tram on the waterfront costs $6 million a year but it doesn’t work and it’s a horrendous waste of money but it’s the councillors who brought it back. So a ludicrous waste there.
Last year, a Council report estimated the number of Auckland homeless could be equal to Timaru’s population by 2021 — so you could have 27,000 homeless.
Do you think more can be done by the Council, outside of central government, to address poverty and homelessness — and what would this look like?
The government’s needs to have a bigger kind of strategic plan, but the council can definitely get in there and do some things. The Housing First program by the government has been really good and its worked.
But I think we need to be conscious of things like the regional fuel tax and the cost of public transport, because that does tend to hurt those in poverty more.
So not only if we make public transport more affordable, but if we make it a more reliable and realistic option, as compared to running a car, it’ll help everyone as well as assisting people in poverty.
So New Zealand is in the midst of a mental health crisis, one which especially affects youth and to tackle this, the government recently announced a suicide prevention strategy. In a similar vein, what action do you think council can take outside or in conjunction with central government to address the issue here in Auckland.
The reasons for people committing suicide or self-harm or feeling in that space varies quite wildly. But it tends to be disconnection and isolation, so one of the things that council can do is create spaces for people to be able to meet and connect
It might be sports and other community facilities, but having you know other opportunities for people to meet their local community is a good one.
Also in general, making connections is one thing that council can do better than the central government because it’s closer to the people. It can make those connections and have an understanding of how community groups can be connected with funding and resources dedicated by central government.
Owning a house seems impossible for us, as young Aucklanders, with real wages remaining too low and house prices … rapidly multiply.
What do you think is the solution for the housing crisis, do you think more higher-density houses in Howick are part of the solution?
Broadly yes to intensification — I don’t support an endless sprawl of Auckland; Hamilton certainly doesn’t want us turn up on their backdoor. It takes up really good farmland and also just makes it more expensive for everyone since council has to build the infrastructure to support new houses far out.
So we can’t just keep expanding, we need to be thinking about becoming more compact than going out. The caveat to that though is that we can’t just go around and start putting apartment blocks everywhere and particularly in places like Howick where our water infrastructure particularly isn’t good.
If you had to pick, who would you vote for mayor and why?
Phil Goff’s a safe pair of hands, he’s going to continue doing his thing. But I don’t know if that is enough. Definitely not John Tamihere though. He’s promising some big things, a lot of which is never going to happen, like the 18-lane bridge.
There are some others which are interesting, but none have the experience. I think it’s quite telling that none of the councillors are running for mayor – they’ve all seen how hard it is and how much work it is and they don’t want it.
So I genuinely don’t know who I would vote for.
To any young people listening, why should they absolutely get out and vote this election.
This election in particular is important because to me it feels like Auckland is at a little bit of a tipping point. We’re starting to invest in public transport, safety, fixing the environment, the climate change declaration — but there’s obviously a bunch of people who are not thrilled by all of that and it could pull us backwards.
I mean there’s some people running who don’t even believe that climate change is real. You don’t want them making decisions.
It would be good if we get the right people in who will get on with fixing what needs to be fixed.
So always vote but particularly this one because it feels like a particularly important tipping point for the city.
Transcript edited for brevity and clarity. Interview by Grace Baylis and Justin Hu. Published on 20/09/2019. Header image courtesy Damian Light
Learn more about the upcoming local elections:
Stuff: Auckland local body elections: How to vote, what you are voting on and key dates
NZ Herald, opinion (Simon Wilson): The reinvention of Auckland – Why the council election matters (Pressreader)