Thursday, October 3, 2013

Half a day in the life of a councillor (retiring)

  • Signwaving at the Peachgrove/Ruakura intersection at morning"rush hour"  to find traffic flowing freely thanks to the ring road and school holidays.
  • To a playground working group with plans for consultation with the community to include inviting those interested on a bus trip around the city.  Helpful to have our playground maintenance guru, Reg on the working group bringing first hand knowledge of our playgrounds.  
  • A short meeting with our Waste Minimisation Officer to pass on the offer of the Tzu Chi Foundation to help with recycling education and awareness: part of their concern for the planet.
  • On to the opening of the Runanga's kaumatua housing in Frankton with Tariana Turia doing the honours. Great to see the delight of the new tenants and the standard of the units.
  • Called in to Te Whare o Te Ata, Fairfield community house to find they now have classes in Te Reo, Spanish, Japanese and Mandarin and a new drop in after school programme for reading to kids (thanks to our library staff for help with books) and a new Chinese seniors computer class.  Frank, Bruce and Michelle -  take a bow!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Key choice for voters

Dr Patrick Barrett, senior lecturer in political science at University of Waikato,  analyses the choice between First Past the Post and Single Transferable Voting:

The appearance of Single Transferable Vote (STV) signs around Hamilton has given me cause to revisit the textbooks on electoral systems.  I needed more information, without which casting a vote would be similar to my experience in previous council elections when, I confess, I have voted with little knowledge about what candidates have stood for and their likely impact if elected.

The First Past the Post system (FPP) system is familiar.  It gives us a separate vote for each seat to be filled in our electorate or ward.  Those with the largest numbers of votes make it on to the council.  But how does STV work?

The name of the system of voting, Single Transferable Vote, tells us a number of things.  We get a single vote and that vote is transferable.  Under STV, we get to rank all of the candidates in our order of preference - 1,2,3, and so on.  If the person we rank as the most preferred candidate gains sufficient votes and does not need our vote, our next preference is counted.  Similarly, if our preferred candidate has so few votes as to have no chance of being elected, then our  vote is transferred to our next preference. Under STV, the voter, according to the STV Taskforce, is effectively saying something like:

"The candidate I most wish to see represent me on the council is Joe Bloggs.   If Joe wins so many votes that he doesn't need my vote to be elected, then my vote is to be transferred to Bill Smith to help him get sufficient votes to be elected.  But if Joe has so few votes that he can't possibly be elected, my vote is to be transferred to Bill."

STV is known as a more sophisticated system, better suited to the type of multi-member wards we have in city council elections.  Its sophistication, though, is both its virtue and its shortcoming.  Supporters accept it is more complex than FPP, but argue that you do not need to know the detail of how votes are counted and preferences allocated to gain the benefits from it. It's a bit like not needing to know how the microprocessors in computers work to get the benefit of using them.

Arguments in favour of STV emphasise its fairness and its potential to effectively represent the preference of voters.  There are fewer wasted votes and those elected are more likely to have the support of a majority of voters.  We would be more able to identify someone on the council we have helped to elect.

Arguments against STV emphasise its complexity in requiring voters to rank candidates, count votes and allocate preferences.

Arguments in favour of FPP emphasise its simplicity and familiarity. It is well understood and there is a degree of public confidence in it.  It has an uncomplicated method of counting votes and results are known speedily.

But FPP is more likely to lead to councils that do not have the support of the majority in the community. Those elected might have a relatively small proportion of the vote and it is more likely that representation is denied to quite a substantial number of voters.

In the end, our evaluation of the merits of FPP and STV comes down to the value we place on things like fairness, the potential of the system to represent the distinctive personality of our community, and our view on the capacity of the system to allow us to elect candidates that best represent our interests.

A number of excellent information sources are available, such as which has a link to a great animated display explaining vote counting under STV. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Inspiring women

In three days last week I heard three remarkable women:  New Zealanders Helen Clark and Helen Anderson, and Canadian Ingrid Mattson.

Dr Ingrid Mattson was raised a Catholic and became a Muslim in her twenties.  A lecturer in Islamic Studies she was, remarkably, president of the Islamic Society of North America for four years post 9/11.  At this challenging time this diminutive, white woman was speaking for the North American Muslim community.

With her background she is well placed to speak on gender and leadership in the Islamic world and she applauded the local Wowma  programme which is successfully developing the leadership skills of young Muslim women in Hamilton. 

She also spoke of the range of Islamic communities across the world with their widely varying cultural practices and the resulting complexities of identity.

She has experienced the shift from being part of the dominant group to being recognisably one of a minority group.  She encouraged Muslims, who are a minority group in this country, to build bridges of understanding with the wider community.  She emphasised the importance of neighbourliness and contributing generously to the place where one lives. 

Informed by a deep scholarly knowledge of the Koran, she spoke with a quietly compelling voice for moderation and inclusiveness.  

Thursday, July 18, 2013

If what most people need is a good listening to, how well do your local politicians listen?

2013 local elections
At the local body elections in October we will choose our elected representatives for the next three years to help shape the communities we live in.  There is still time to consider standing for  council, to encourage others to do so and  to support them.  

Community led approach
The challenge for councils and councillors is to engage meaningfully with their diverse  communities and to value their  contribution.  The city of Seattle does so in practical terms through their successful matching funds programme.  Importantly,  the city requires an inclusive approach in neighbourhood projects and fosters local leadership.  This partnership approach,  giving the community a real voice at the  table,  involves a change of mindset from traditional service delivery.

Assessing candidates
It can be challenging to vote wisely when  faced with a long list of candidates many of whom we may not know .  

Serious candidates welcome invitations to meetings.  If successful they will then  already have an understanding of the contribution a group is making.  This is also an opportunity to assess their experience, skills and commitment.  What would they bring to council?  How well connected are they to their local community ?  Who is supporting or endorsing them?  Would they contribute to a more representative council? 

Social media
Although there is no substitute for face to face conversations , increasingly candidates are using social media to connect with voters.  In Hamilton,  one candidate gives a weekly campaign update on her website, posts regularly  to her Facebook page and links to her blog posts.  Whereas  candidates are restricted to 150 words in the official candidates’ booklet,  her blogs,  written over a period of time on a variety of topics,  give an in-depth insight into her thinking and values.   (

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Naomi Kumar

to truly belong

Michael King in  “ Being pakeha now” recalls  living for a time in Papua New Guinea and  the shock of finding himself for the first time in his life part of a tiny, white obvious minority among a vast black majority.  Something, he wrote, that every European should experience.     I agree.   

My own moment of epiphany was many years ago on the South Side of Chicago where for the first time  I was entirely surrounded by Black Americans.  I returned to my privileged life in the majority culture but have never forgotten the experience of standing out in a crowd in this way.

Hamilton’s cultural diversity was plain to see at Council’s citizenship ceremonies yesterday when we welcomed almost 100 new citizens.  Naomi Kumar represented the Youth Council at the morning ceremony.  She recently won the national Race Unity speech contest in which she told of the everyday experience of being on the margins, of being the newcomer,  not always directly discriminated against but not fully included either.  Her dream is that it will be different for her children.  They will truly belong. 

Listen to her speak:


Monday, April 22, 2013

It is time

 “In the future I envision,  we are not defined by ethnicity.  We are enriched by it, certainly.  But it is never a measure of our value as individuals.”  

These wise words were part of Hillcrest High School’s Naomi Kumar’s winning speech at the national Race Unity competition. 

We could equally well say that we should not be defined solely by our sexuality.  It is part of us certainly but it is never a measure of our value as individuals. 

The Marriage Amendment Bill  which passed last week legalised same sex marriage but had important broader benefits.   

·         The conscience vote in parliament and publicity on the issue gave greater visibility to those who are often marginalised and discriminated against.  Their personal stories, sometimes bravely told,  gave us a greater understanding of their everyday reality and experience and the need for change.
·         A strength of the campaign was the involvement of young people across the political spectrum.  For many it was their first engagement with the political process. 
·         Locally,  the Legalise Love group campaigned with commitment, style and energy along with  savvy use of social media.  They showed us it is possible to campaign for a serious issue and have some fun along the way.  Importantly,   their group included people across the sexuality spectrum. This made their advocacy powerful and compelling. 

As a result of the campaign and passing of the Marriage Amendment Bill,  people in the gay and lesbian community are now better able to stand tall in our community.   It is time.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

in the poo

My first balloon flight ended in a farm paddock just south of the city.   The quantity of manure on the paddock was such that we needed to lay out large squares of plastic before we could deflate and pack the balloon. I haven't seen so much manure outside of a cowshed yard.  It was a graphic reminder of the reality of increasing cow numbers.

We are only now beginning to understand the extent to which intensive stocking degrades the soil whereas the pollution of waterways from dairy farm run-off is obvious.  We welcome the economic benefit  from intensive dairying  but it comes  at an  environmental cost and could be ultimately unsustainable.  

This is a recurrent theme in global and national conversations.  I will be interested in the results of the Waikato  Regional Council’s recent survey on attitudes to balancing economic and environmental  considerations.   

In 2006 Lord Nicholas Stern warned of the effect of global warming on the world economy.  The main conclusion of the Stern Report was that the benefits of strong, early action on climate change would far outweigh the costs of not acting.     In February of this year he said that he had under-estimated the risks in view of the rise of global temperatures.   Scientists are predicting more extreme weather events as a result of climate change and  in this summer in New Zealand we have experienced an unprecedented  nation-wide drought which could become the norm.

Nationally, the government proposes in the latest RMA reforms  to elevate economic benefit above environmental considerations;  the discussion paper on Freshwater reforms, while having some positive aspects, does not address the shortcomings of the ‘first in first served’ approach and even includes the option of balloting for freshwater allocation. The Commission for the Environment describes the current ETS regime as a farce.  The Minister of Housing and Conservation speaks of ‘jobs not environment’ ,  has cut Department of Conservation staff numbers and in chasing the holy grail of housing affordability fails to factor in the overall costs of urban sprawl. 

 A group of prominent New Zealanders, Wise Response,  has called for a cross-party approach to address the issues we face more responsibly    (see    and On the Brink  (Peta Carey)  NZ Listener 13 April )   Massey University’s Vice Chancellor, Steve Maharey  in Defining  NZ  2050  (Jan. 2013)  writes  ‘now is the time to arrive at a common vision of the sort of place we want New Zealand to be and to set to work on making it a reality.’   To do so may involve some politically unpalatable decisions in the short term but prove responsible in the long term. 

On a more positive note, locally,  it was encouraging to see that the Waikato Times of 23 March with eight articles on environmental topics,  most substantial.   And to hear John Innes from Landcare delight the large Pechakucha audience at the Summer Gardens Festival on the topic of birds and their predators.

The city’s Sustainable Hamilton Strategy speaks of changing the way we live for a better future.  We will do so through working together and showing leadership to improve our natural and built environment and reducing our impact on the environment through a whole raft of actions. The Action Plan to implement the strategy is possibly ambitious, necessarily multi-faceted and relies on ongoing commitment of Council and our partners to do so.   Establishing an external panel to monitor how we are doing will give us an independent view on how we are tracking in a way that we might struggle to do ourselves. 

Council  is undertaking to take a more considered approach to sustainability through its own Sustainability Plan.   

We have now notified the Proposed District Plan which has many  inter-related sustainability aspects especially around land use, water, energy, design, hazards  and transport.   In addition to regulation , incentives and education are important components of the approach taken in the Proposed District Plan. 

There is much to do.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Judy McDonald responds

As coordinator of Living Streets Hamilton, I'd like to note that absolutely NOBODY funds Living Streets Hamilton.  We are a voluntary body: there used to be some small government funding of the parent organisation, Living Streets Aotearoa, but that was stopped by the policies of the present National government, whose focus is on road-building rather than sustainable transport of any form.

I cannot imagine how a bunch of locals who would like to encourage walking for fitness, fun and environmentally positive effects could be in any way likely to achieve global domination.  It would be wonderful if we could, mind you, but it's not on our agenda.  At the moment we'd be happy with safe walking routes to the CBD and around the suburbs, and we're trying to organise our next set of Sunday afternoon strolls to introduce people to the more picturesque parts of Hamilton.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

From worm farms to world domination

Last year at the Long Term Plan hearings two submitters asked Council to stop funding pedestrian advocacy group, Living Streets.  They saw this group as part of a UN international conspiracy for world domination, views apparently sourced from the US Republican Tea Party and Fox News.   For the record, Council does not fund Living Streets which recently organised Sunday afternoon walks which attracted hundreds of people.

It was disappointing to have a recent article in the "Waikato Times" on Council's sustainability initiatives treat the submitter's views as credible and to be asked, as chair of Council's sustainability working group,  if I am part of the conspiracy they see.  If I were, I doubt that I would admit to it. If I am unwittingly so, I am clearly a dupe of dark forces beyond my ken.

I welcome robust discussion on the environmental and sustainability issues we face and am glad to debate the challenges and options we face.   We live in a world with increasing numbers of people consuming more of our finite resources.  These are global issues where business as usual or blind optimism seem an inadequate response. We should take a long term view rather than operate on short-term self interest.  

Local government needs to be part of changing the way we live so that we all might have a better future.  

Councillor profile

Daphne is in her third term on Council.

A deputation of civic leaders (and a large cheque) have persuaded her not to stand for Council again at the next election.

An arts advocate, she is solely responsible for the expensive pile of tasteless metal junk masquerading as public art in Garden Place.

She has been responsible for numerous hare-brained and ill-fated schemes ostensibly advancing the cause of sustainable transport which are yet to bring any identifiable benefit to the city.

Air brushing and extensive plastic surgery have failed to mask her advancing years and mental decline.  At best well intentioned but generally regarded as inept, ineffective and ill-suited to political life, she will no doubt continue her incoherent rants on social media  -  once she remembers the password.

Daphne comes from a large and exemplary family, none of whom wish to be named in view of her murky past, dodgy dealings and excessive use of poorly-chosen, randomly-selected, cliche-ridden hyphenated language which she would be well-advised to avoid like the plague.