This interview was conducted over the phone due to scheduling complications. Grace Baylis contributed to questions for this interview.
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.
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 people who don’t already know you?
For me personally, I will never ever give a promise that I know I cannot deliver.
I’m a workaholic and I know that I can deliver and get the results. If I choose to do something, I will do 1000 percent; I’ll never give just a 100 percent.
So I’m putting everything in this campaign to get my message across that I want to hear people’s stories, so we can actually address the issues. I will be their voice and I’ll be advocating on their behalf to fix issues, whatever the issues might be.
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 like to come up with the solutions that I know is practical and can be cheap — I’m not an idealist.
One thing that I thought of earlier — if I’m elected, is that I’ll go around to all the local colleges and talk to the young people and ask them to get engaged. I believe the more I’m engaged the more you will be engaged.
This actually relates to everyone else who gets elected like me (MPs, Local Board members). You need to go out and engage in the schoolyard: talk to the principals, talk to the teachers and go to the classrooms and allow yourself to be accessible.
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?
3.5 percent is way, way, way too high — even the mayor’s promise from 2016 of 2.5 percent is way too high. I don’t think we have a problem with revenue, it’s the people managing the money.
I own a business and I know how to make money and spend money. The council and the mayor, I don’t think they’ve done a good job spending the money.
What would you say is your long-term vision for council investments on public transport, roads and cycleways.
On cycleways, I believe the ones we have in Auckland are not safe enough. I’ve been to China three times and I’ve heard from talking to friends, that a lot of people use cycleways there and they’re apparently very very safe.
Nothing stops us from learning from big countries like China to see how we can implement safer environments for cyclists
For public transport, I believe we need to go all-in on public-private partnerships. I’m absolutely opposed to 100% ratepayer funding of new projects because if you start doing this, the rates and taxes will just keep going up.
So we need to get the private sector involved. We just need to find those people who are willing to invest and it’s going to be a long-term investment. There’s a lot of money out there.
On City Rail Link, you’ve seen the cost balloon recently, so who’s paying that? The taxpayer; the ratepayer. So that’s why I say we need 50-50 partnerships with the private sector.
Would you do something like that for light rail perhaps? Do you support light rail in East Auckland?
Absolutely, that’s the only way. That’s the fastest way to get the funding and the fastest way to move faster on the project. I don’t want any burdens on the ratepayers.
Beyond light rail, I’m extremely a fan of monorails. I think that we could do a lot of good work around that area, especially around Te Irirangi Drive, or Pakuranga Road.
But we don’t have the leadership to move things. I’m a fan of thinking big, so it’s great to see things like AMETI and light rail happening. But I still think a lot of things can still be done.
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.
What would you vote for in order to improve road safety?
I feel like my background informs my answer here — I’ve never told anyone about my past history, but as a young person, I believed I was going to become a police officer. And, uh, eventually, I managed to pass all my policing exams and get to a scoping process in recruitment.
I did around 40 hours of scoping with police officers and with the majority of the cars which were stopped on the road. Guess what it was? Seatbelts.
Simple things we need to all follow. If you’re a bicyclist, you have a helmet. Drivers need to wear seatbelts. I believe the injury rate will drop down dramatically if people do those simple things.
So we need to make sure that we advocate, working with the police as well to pass messages across.
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?
Do you support new high-density housing developments in Howick?
The housing problem is such a big problem now — we need a system where the central government assist the young people to buy their own first homes.
But it has to be the brand new home — that can help stimulate the economy, it will create jobs and it will reduce the dependency on the houses at the moment.
I own a property management company and I have staff who are renting property around Auckland, so I know this area. This is really a central government issue — its such a mess of things, we need to sit down and talk about it about this in detail.
In terms of the council zoning of areas, there needs to be a lot of consultation with the community, especially with higher-rise buildings.
For example with Stockade Hill, there are certain things which are non-negotiable.
Last year, the Council voted to trial a pedestrianised Queen Street, so pedestrians, vehicles and cyclists would share the same space on the street.
Would you support the introduction of similar pedestrianised areas within East Auckland?
Small businesses are very important here. I would actually approach every single business owner on Queen Street and ask them if they think it’s a good idea. I have to consult, it’s not my position to dictate. If the business owners say it’ll be bad for business and we need more traffic, I’ll vote against it — but if they say it’s a fantastic idea, I’ll vote for it.
People have great ideas. But before you can implement those ideas, you need to engage with the same party that will be affected.
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?
If you’ve noticed I’m running on a ticket called East Vision. The E stands for the environment and so its a number one priority for me.
It’s a good step that they declared it an emergency. But with that comes leadership as well. So you declared an emergency, but what are you doing about it?
Planting trees is one thing but we need to work with other organisations to reduce emissions. We need to work with scientists to get the reports and we need to do a lot of things around that area.
But we need to be practical about it and we need to make sure that other stakeholders are not affected by it, because there are a lot of things involved here.
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?
WINZ already does a lot to try and support people who don’t have houses — you can walk in and they will help you if you don’t have housing.
The notion that there’s a lot of homeless people living on the streets that aren’t getting help is wrong. I don’t believe it’s a problem of homelessness, it’s a mental health issue — the people that are living on the streets. They have mental health problems. They need medical help.
You can see this on the main streets of Auckland, people using drugs or drinking alcohol. We need to address the mental health issue here first.It’s an embarrassment for me as a New Zealander to go on Queen Street and you see tourists walking around and they see these things.
Tomorrow we could address it, there needs to be leadership. The central government and the local government need to get their act together.
If you had to pick, who would you vote for mayor?
I’m undecided at this stage.
I know that neither of the candidates have really addressed my questions on homeless — I know John Tamihere and Phil Goff really well and I haven’t seen either answer what I want addressed there.
Some of them talk about selling assets, they’re talking about making Auckland a thriving city — which I want to see the latter as well. But what are you going to do for us to get there?
On voter turnout again to conclude, to any young people listening, why should they get out and vote this election?
The notion of that teenagers don’t know anything is wrong. As a teenager myself, I couldn’t wait to get out and vote and I will support with all my heart to change the voting age to 16. I would support that with all my heart 1000%.
But I think even right now, the young people have so much to offer.
We are fortunate that we live in a democracy. You might think that your voice doesn’t matter, but I’d say that your voice does matter and your questions matter — if a certain question hasn’t been answered by me or another candidate, I would encourage you to pick up the phone and call or email us and ask your questions.
You should vote because there are a lot of people that are giving their lives for the simple exercise of voting.
Transcript edited for brevity and clarity. Interview by Justin Hu. Published on 30/09/2019.
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)