I've lived in the Auckland region my whole life; North Shore City for my youth, Manukau City for a brief time earlier this decade, and Auckland City for the rest. I'm not a local government geek, but I do take a bit of an interest and (no surprises here) I'm keen for Aucklanders to be as involved as possible in their local democratic institutions.
A Super City seems somewhat inevitable at this point. I would dearly love to see a referendum on the matter, not least because I think to get buy-in to such a major overhaul of the way democracy works in the region you need to give people a vote as part of the consultation process. Starting out by enforcing a new local government model in an undemocratic model is almost setting the new structure up to fail. So often opposition to change is more about the process than the proposal itself, because the process is too fast, appears to be predetermined, and doesn't actually consult properly. People don't get to considering the proposal seriously because they are too pissed off by the poor way it has been communicated, and an understandable scepticism about the consultation.
Concerns about how the democratic representation will work for tangata whenua have predictably involved some claiming Maori want special treatment. Well yes I suppose they do. As the people of the land, the people who were here first and have historically been treated pretty crappily, they are special. They're asking for a handful of dedicated seats to recognise that specialness and to ensure Maori voices are at the council table, particularly given how crap Aucklanders are at electing Maori representatives to local government. Is giving Maori a say really so threatening that it's to be thrown out despite the Royal Commission's recommendation? Ngati Whatua Orakei are organising a hikoi around this issue. It's being supported by the Community Coalition for the Auckland Region, which has been set up "to ensure that the outcome of the restructuring promotes democracy and community well-being."
After all our current councils don't have a particularly good record on diverse representation. White faces dominate, as do those on higher incomes. Because this is a feminist blog I'm going to muse in a bit more detail specifically about the proportion of women elected to our councils, although I do think there are broader issues about representation than just the gender mix. Here goes:
- The Auckland Regional Council has 13 councillors - six are currently women (46%)
- The Auckland City council has 20 councillors in total, including the Mayor who is directly elected. Only six of the 20 are women - three elected on the centre-left ticket City Vision, two from centre-right Citizens and Ratepayers (which holds a majority on the council with 11 seats), and one independent who is a Green activist.(30%)
- Manukau has five women on it's council of 18 including the Mayor. Much more ethnic and age diversity than the other councils, as you would expect in a community that's browner and younger than the rest of New Zealand. (28%)
- Waitakere has 14 councillors plus the mayor. Six of the fifteen are women. (40%)
- North Shore has 16 on it's council, including the mayor, and eight are ladies. (50%)
- Rodney has 13 councillors, including the region's only female mayor (former Act MP Penny Webster). Including Webster, there's a total of four women. (31%)
- Franklin has a council of 13 in all, with three women on board. (23%)
- Papakura has 8 councillors and a mayor. Three of these nine are women. (33%)
I'll be heading along tonight to hear Len Brown, current Mayor of Manukau, at the Auckland Drinking Liberally. The democratic structures of New Zealand's biggest city are important enough for us to use our precious baby-sitting credits in the hope that tonight we'll be meeting with others also interested in using this opportunity to make Auckland more democratic and representative, not less.