Banner for Mayoral forum: Who deserves your vote? 26 Sep 2019

Credit: David Dunsheath

Mayoral forum in Wellington: Who deserves your vote? 26 Sep 2019

Mayoral Forum: Leadership qualities revealed

Max Rashbrooke, Senior-Associate, Institute for Governance and Policy Studies, Victoria University

Max Rashbrooke

Senior Associate

Institute for Governance and Policy Studies, Victoria University

This piece also appears on Max Rashbrooke’s site www.goodsociety.nz.

Claims of personal willingness and proven capabilities to deliver greater transparency and citizen participation if elected, went well beyond what the law requires.

Such claims were made by six Wellington mayoral candidates to the buzzing audience packed into the Who deserves your vote? mayoral candidates’ meeting on 26 September. Each candidate spoke not so much about their policies or the failures of other candidates, but about integrity, public participation and accountability. To their credit, each kept to this brief which resulted in responses tempered with respect.

The pressure for more openness, created by many years’ work by civil society groups, was evident. The forum provided an opportunity for attendees to learn of the community leadership qualities of each of the candidates (and each has different talents) across the political spectrum.

Candidate funding

Even ahead of the forum, some candidates had done sterling work disclosing their campaign donations in real-time, rather than after the election as the law currently requires. Conor Hill, for instance, had declared the total of his crowd-funding campaign, plus a $1,000 donation from his mother. Jenny Condie provided a similar, detailed account of her campaign donations, right down to $20 from an unnamed teacher.

Justin Lester disclosed he had one donation over $1,500, from the union E tū. Significantly, Diane Calvert, who had not previously disclosed her donations, said she had received $4,000 from a “retired person”, as part of total donations of around $12,000 – but nothing from “big developers… just normal people”.

Meanwhile, Andy Foster said he had asked his “pretty significant backers”, Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh, for permission to disclose their donation to his campaign ahead of the election – but was still waiting to hear back from them.

Citizens’ participation

The candidates discussed existing initiatives to deepen citizens’ participation in politics. Calvert and Foster both praised the plan which Makara residents were drawing up, alongside the council, to adapt to the effects of climate change. Norbert Hausberg made the case for recording more council meetings and putting them up on YouTube, while Lester noted the way that initiatives such as ‘Mayor in the Chair’ helped get politicians directly in front of residents.

Deeply democratic processes

In my role as Commentator for the forum, I have noted the new wave of democratic energy that’s sweeping the world and leading to yet more far-reaching, innovative ways of encouraging participation. Accordingly, I asked candidates whether they would implement, or at least consider implementing, two specific deeply-democratic processes:

  • Citizens’ assemblies, in which a statistically representative group of residents would be brought together to articulate a considered consensus view on an important issue; and
  • Participatory budgeting, in which the council would put up a significant proportion of its capital spending budget for residents to decide directly on priorities after deep discussion amongst themselves.

In general, the candidates were enthusiastic about inclusive processes. Condie, for instance, had already stressed the importance of a citizens’ assembly and drawing up “a people’s budget” in her opening remarks. Foster declared himself “a fan” of participatory budgeting, while Calvert pointed to existing initiatives such as the Kaka scheme used in Brooklyn. In direct response to my call for citizens’ assemblies and participatory budgeting, Lester said simply: “That’s a ‘yes’ from me, too.”

All these commitments, albeit in some cases relatively general, are extremely welcome – and can be used to hold to account those who are ultimately successful in the elections.

Our thanks

Well done to the Events Volunteer, Lexi Mills, for leading this event for Transparency International New Zealand (TINZ). We are very grateful to Tamatha Paul, President of the Victoria University of Wellington Students Association who chaired this event. This event held in the historic Old Government Building, was co-hosted by Victoria University of Wellington’s Institute of Governance and Policy Studies (IGPS).

Andy Foster at TINZ Mayoral Candidate Forum Wellington September 2019
Forum commentator, Max Rashbrooke (left), observes candidate, Andy Foster, at TINZ Mayoral Candidate Forum, Wellington September 2019

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