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As part of the 2016 Local Government Elections TINZ hosted a series of mayoral candidate discussions. These discussions provided the candidates with the opportunity to discuss subjects including managing diversity, preventing corruption and progressing economic development strategies to harvest the benefits of New Zealand's international reputation for integrity.
On August 18, around 150 Wellington TINZ members and friends gathered to listen to six of their eight mayoral candidates' individual visions for creating and maintaining transparent, accountable and corruption-free government in New Zealand. The candidates had all been sent emails listing the three topics focused on corruption and transparency.
Master of Ceremonies, Bryce Edwards, reminded the candidates of the questions in his introduction.
Candidates said afterwards it was the most interesting event they had so far attended and they appreciated the stretch that the questions provided them.
Jo Coughlan generously attended the event even though she had another function to go to. She hadn’t appreciated that the focus of the event was solely on transparency and mainly talked about ensuring there was direct traffic routes in the city. In terms of question three, harvesting the benefits of New Zealand’s reputation, she described how Wellington’s transparency and reputation for integrity attracts good business to the capital.
Andy Foster focused on the importance of local democracy and getting the voters out. He noted that roughly 40% of voters would post in a ballot, twice as many as the 20% of Wellington who use public transport. He saw value in Wellington engaging other cities to share knowledge about reducing corruption and building economic development through a good city brand and reputation.
Nick Leggett talked about accountability and transparency where data is king. He fully addressed the question of new residents by describing immigration at attracting migrants who want to come to New Zealand to get away from corruption. In terms of council transparency, Nick wants to open the books – to share everything, noting that sunlight is the best disinfectant. In terms of leadership, Wellington should own being the capital city.
Nicola Young and Nick were two candidates who said on the evening that they could work together.
Nicola sees the opportunity for Wellington to be an education hub with transparency enabling it to promote the quickness of driving forward innovation. She noted the importance of reputation to the city, with Council needing to be sure that Wellington was above reproach in regards to integrity. Its diversity is a strength – important to nurture what we have.
Current Deputy Mayor, Justin Lester was the best researched on the transparency questions on the evening. He said that the Council and city “need to have a high moral code. Wellington city is transparent, having high standards of reporting, demonstrated by its strong Standard and Poor’s rating.
Helene Ritchie had also taken time to prepare answers to the questions. She said that she was “ready to lead a corruption free city in a corruption-free country.” Helene noted that “it is features like this that attracted innovative, creative people to come, stay and live in Wellington.
Candidates Dr Keith Johnson and Johnny Overton failed to show up to the Wellington Candidate event.
Wellington Mayoral event
By Áine Kelly-Costello
On August 31, around 50 Palmerston North City and Manawatu District residents gathered to listen to their mayoral candidates' individual visions for creating and maintaining transparent, accountable and corruption-free government in New Zealand.
Two mayoral candidates are standing for each Council, including both of the incumbents.
Grant Smith, the incumbent for Palmerston North, linked his support for the four Open Government principles with implementation strategies currently in place for these. Strategies which he noted included the presence of the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act request process to enhance accountability, and the presence of a transparency section on the City's website, which includes mayoral diaries and expenses and a gift register. He holds weekly 'Meet the Mayor' sessions, and says there is a "Digital Enablement Plan" to engage citizens further.
His challenger Ross Barber aimed to defame Smith for the fact that his previous mayoral campaign was in part funded by the Higgins family. His emotional speech concentrated on the perilous state of politics and the untrustworthy and possibly insane nature of politicians generally.
Palmerston North and Manawatu event
Margaret Kouvelis – Mayor of Manawatu
Grant Smith – Mayor of Palmerston North
Helen Worboys – contender for Mayor of Manawatu
Ross Barber – contender for Palmerston North Mayor
Nicky Hager – Moderator
The Manawatu mayoral contest, as presented by the incumbent Margaret Kouvelis and her challenger Helen Worboys, yielded a fruitful discussion.
Kouvelis focused on the need for greater democratic participation and public accountability in New Zealand, citing her recent implementation of an independent Audit Committee for the Manawatu District Council and the importance of their gift register. She noted how easy it can be for white-collar crime to go unchecked in New Zealand; New Zealanders may find the concept of cash bribes abhorrent, but some might not be averse to "supporting their mates" in a context which should be treated as a conflict of interest.
Worboys focused on the benefits of reducing corruption for communities, noting the greater public trust coming from open communication leading to people feeling more valued. She spoke to her general vision of council doing more to be transparent and accessible to the public, noting that corruption may find its way into New Zealand in part due to the rise in globalisation.
Both candidates agreed that council meetings should be open to the public, but that there was also an important role to be played by the closed workshop settings, where council members were encouraged to explore a range of viewpoints on an issue and could do so without the fear of media misinterpreting this forum.
TINZ was generously included by the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Creative Arts and Industries to co-host their event for Auckland Mayoral Candidates on 7 September.
In front of an audience of over 400, Master of Ceremonies, Dr Raymond Miller, set the themes for the discussions by an invited panel of six of the 19 Mayoral candidates for Auckland. They were:
Candidate, Mark Thomas said that the solution was to “avoid prescriptive, rules based approach” to leadership and policy. He recommended the use of planning tools, better roads and better “control” of the Council’s budget. Mark wanted greater transparency in planning as he saw it as important to connecting people and organisations to collaborate around design-led solutions.
Leading candidate, Parliamentarian Phil Goff, was more visionary, wanting to “build a city for the future, moving up and out and planning for immigration.” Phil wants more transparency around the collection and expenditure of the petrol tax, looking to pay for roading with central government-collected revenue from activities carried out in the Auckland region.
David Hay said that Auckland’s top priority is to house the homeless. His interest in transparency was over community decision-making, seeking to re-organise the Auckland Council to provide more power to community Boards where residents would be more engaged in the design of the city. He saw the STV approach to voting as engaging people more in local body decision-making.
Penny Bright described herself as the Bernie Sanders of the candidates, stating that “Auckland needs to come back to Aucklanders.” Of all the candidates across New Zealand, Penny has the most detailed corruption-fighting platform. Amongst her specific concerns are that so many council decisions are behind closed doors or made by appointed rather than elected people.
John Palino asked the audience to “visualise the satellite city.” His views are contained in a book, Vision for Auckland. When asked about ways of preventing corruption, he stated that “transparency is extremely important” and, referring to the tendering of Council projects he asked for greater transparency around the procurement (“bidding”) process. Palino also views the ratepayer as being better served if there was an independent budget office and a public citizen “report card” of Auckland financial performance.
National Party Mayoral candidate, Victoria Crone lost the audience’s support by stating that “the market can better respond to aesthetic design.” Her expertise as part of the Xero “server as a service” accounting products business underpinned her view that “Auckland can be a go ahead, compassionate, competitive place making better use of the digital environment.”
Speaking of transparency, Victoria would “open the books” to the rate payer.
For pure entertainment, the quick thinking of young candidate, 22-year-old Chloe Swarbrick stirred up everybody. Chloe hadn’t been asked to join the panel but was asked by the MC to speak at the end she sent everyone away saying "If this is an example of Gen0, then there is hope for the future of New Zealand."
Now if only Gen0 will make the effort to vote!!
Auckland Mayoral Candidate Chloe Swarbrick
While it is our responsibility, as citizens, to hold our local councillors to account, it is first and foremost the job of the Councillors, especially the Mayors, to tangibly demonstrate to us that they are always seeking to maintain and improve levels of transparency, and to educate the wider public on the LGOIMA (Local Government Official Information & Meetings Act) mechanisms for holding their local government accountable.
All candidates seemed appreciative of this and it is positive that both incumbents commented on specific steps they had taken with this framework in mind. It is to be hoped that both 2016-19 Mayors will build on this legacy.
New Zealand may have low levels of corruption comparative to other countries, but as session moderator Nicky Hager argued, any complacency will allow corruption to creep in to Local Government.
We expect all New Zealand mayors to encourage a culture of openness and proactive publication of data not only in their mayoral office but throughout all of the local governors and governing bodies guided by their vision and example.
We are also hopeful that they will keep in mind the importance of events like this one and proactively approach civil society organizations such as TINZ to benefit from the expert knowledge of best practice in this area