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.
Councillor Sharon Stewart said she was unable to make it to an interview in person or over the phone due to scheduling conflicts. Answers were instead given over email and have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Every election cycle, we hear the exact same phrases from candidates who say they’re trusted community members who will stand up for this area.
What do you believe differentiates your candidacy, for the young people who don’t already know you? Why should they vote for you?
My experience in both the Manukau City and Auckland Council shows my track record of fighting for the interests of Howick. I’ve never been afraid to confront the issues that come before the Council.
In my role as Chairperson of Civil Defence, I’m very aware of the issue of climate change and its effect in the Howick Ward — I’ve worked tirelessly over the years on stormwater and flooding issues. Being able to deal with all races and ages, I have been involved in many multi-cultural issues over the years.
Youth voter turnout is low in Auckland, as it is around the world, and especially in local elections like the one you’re running in.
What would you do to increase voter turnout among young Aucklanders?
I believe it may be time to trial an online option to go along with the postal vote as many people don’t post letters anymore.
Also we could have proper polling booths with drop off boxes like general elections, because the current system is very unclear — many people struggle to find a post office box.
The governing body has voted to make public transport free for all under-16s on weekends — this has now gone into effect. There have been calls to make extend this to secondary and tertiary students.
Do you think public transport should be free for under-16s?
Would you extend this to all secondary and tertiary students?
I’m not completely against free public transport for under 16s and students, but it’s not really free since someone still has to pay for it.
However any move to get students into public transport or walking/cycling are to be encouraged, since that noticeably reduces congestion.
The Auckland Council’s governing body voted unanimously to declare a climate emergency.
How urgent do you think climate change is? What course of action do you think the council should take?
Action is definitely needed but at a measured pace with sensible measures so as not to completely disrupt the economy.
Council is moving in the right direction with tree planting and better transport, but we should be looking at more radical solutions for disposing waste. Possibly power stations powered by waste like they do in Scandinavia. Lobbying central government to get rid of plastic bottles would be high on my list for the environment.
What is your long-term vision for council investments in roads, cycleways, and public transport? Do you believe Auckland has been too car-focused in the past 40 years?
90 percent of journeys are still by car because it’s much easier to get to where you.
For example, to get to the business area near the airport, you have to catch at least four modes of public transport and walk a bit. Not really an option for many people living in Howick, Pakuranga or Botany. I would like to see express buses going to business hubs like these.
We need to be building on the current bus network to make it go where people work, and to also introduce more park and rides areas. On the latter, for example in Botany when the Eastern Busway is finished.
On the train network, I support Rail to the Airport by extending the current line. It seems the proposed light rail down Dominion Road is floundering — the logistics of building it without destroying local businesses seems hard, and it’s completely unsound economically. The Labour Party and the Super Fund who were supposedly going to fund it have gone very quiet on it.
I support cycleways for recreational use and on new roads where they can be fitted without disrupting traffic. My observation is that most current cycleways, which are merely green paint on the roads, are disjointed, unsafe and hardly used at all.
The road death toll in Auckland has been steadily increasing: between 2014 and 2017, there was a 70% increase in deaths and serious injuries on Auckland’s roads. Just last week, Auckland Transport adopted ‘Vision Zero’, a goal of zero deaths or serious injuries by 2050.
How serious do you believe this issue is?
What would you vote for in order to improve road safety?
I support several things:
1. drug testing of drivers to go along with the alcohol testing currently in place.
2. zero tolerance of mobile phones and other distracting devices.
3. better training of drivers in drivers licence testing.
4. setting speed limits at more appropriate rates for certain area.
5. getting older less safe cars off the road.
I believe that encouraging public transport can help, and also driverless cars/buses are not far away and those will revolutionize transport
Owning a house seems impossible for young Aucklanders, as real wages remain too low for ever-rising house prices.
What do you believe is the solution to our housing crisis? If any infrastructure issues can be mitigated, do you support more intensification and high-density housing developments in Howick?
The biggest problem is the price of land which has been forced up by the restrictions placed on the city boundaries over the last 40 years, the current Unitary Plan has identified areas for growth but it has not really solved the problem.
I only support further intensification in our area if transport and stormwater issues are resolved first. We have historical problems with stormwater and wastewater which makes me very risk-averse as poor development from my experience often results in adverse effects for neighbours and the environment.
Obviously, I have been adverse to high-rises in Howick Village and the Stockade Hill area. Along with Dick Quax and the Ratepayer Association, we managed to force a plan change for Stockade Hill, but there’s still work to do.
Last year, the Council voted to trial a pedestrianised Queen Street, so pedestrians, vehicles and cyclists would share the same space on the street.
Are you supportive of the push by some urban designers for further pedestrianisation and would you support trialling pedestrianised areas within East Auckland?
I would like to wait to see how the trial goes on Queens Street, because these can be adverse effects on business.
As far as any in our area it is up to the Local Board members to liaise with the community on any changes.
Current Mayor Phil Goff openly supports increasing rates by 3.5% annually to fund infrastructure projects to keep up with population growth.
Do you believe that rate increases of that level are necessary? Or if they are, are they high enough?
We would all like to have no rate increases but that’s not possible with all the infrastructure spending required in Auckland.
I do believe that all the mayors so far, have failed on the promises of the supercity when it was set up to bring in more efficiency none of which seemed to have happened.
I am sure a very robust review by an outside team would save large amounts of operational expenditure which would help limit rate rises. I would like to see a review of the City set up urgently. I much preferred it before Auckland Council, when councillors would collectively have far more say in how the city was run and the budget would be done line-by-line.
Last year, a Council report estimated the number of Auckland homeless could be nearly equal Timaru’s population by 2021 — around 27,000 people.
Do you think more can be done by the Council, outside of central government, to address poverty and homelessness?
If so, what initiatives would you support or propose?
Housing for the homeless is mainly a central government issue but the Council has provided money towards the City Mission for a new building on Hobson Street. That will be a big help to those in need in the CBD.
New Zealand is in the midst of a mental health crisis, one which especially affects youth. Last year, NZ’s suicide rate increased by 17%. To tackle this, the government recently announced their Suicide Prevention Strategy.
What action do you think Council can take, in conjunction with government efforts, to help solve this epidemic?
Again this is really a central Government issue.
The council can do its best to ensure its staff are safe and well while at work and the councillors are continually reviewing this.
It is a serious problem and looking after workmates is a good start so I encourage all businesses to be more aware of mental health.
If you had to pick, who would you vote for mayor?
If I had to pick it would be Sir Barry Curtis. I’d say he’s one of the greatest mayors in the Auckland area’s history but unfortunately, he is not standing.
To any young people listening, why should they get out and vote this election?
If you care about your future then get out and vote; it’s as simple as that. It’s easy to complain about how bad things are, but if 70 percent of people don’t vote, then nothing will change — so get out and vote.
Questions by Grace Baylis and Justin Hu. Published on 05/10/2019. Header image courtesy Auckland Council.
Learn more about the upcoming local elections:
Stuff: Auckland local body elections: How to vote, what you are voting on and key dates
The Collegian: What’s at stake for East Auckland in the local elections?
NZ Herald, opinion (Simon Wilson): The reinvention of Auckland – Why the council election matters (Pressreader)