How will local body taxes solve council spending escalation?

Local body rates have already been climbing well ahead of inflation. They are predicted to rise another 50% over the next ten years in the major cities.

So local bodies are looking at other ways of getting revenue. That doesn’t solve the escalation in spending, but I guess it makes it easier for mayors and councillors to divert from broken rates rise promises.

In the weekend Local Government New Zealand

Substantial review of local government funding welcome and needed

Local Government New Zealand is pleased with the terms of reference for the Productivity Commissions’ forthcoming inquiry into local government funding and finance which were launched by Minister of Finance Hon Grant Robertson at its annual conference in Christchurch this afternoon.

LGNZ President Dave Cull says that the current way of funding local government doesn’t provide the means to invest for growth and development, particularly given the diverse challenges facing communities.

“Our regions, cities and districts shouldn’t be entirely dependent on central government to resolve the complex issues that we are now facing – it is essential that we empower local authorities with access to funding and financing tools to make a difference,“ says Mr Cull.

Local government has been calling for a significant review of local government funding since 2015 when LGNZ first released its Local Government Funding Review and 10-Point plan: Incentivising economic growth and strong local communities.  The review found that the heavy reliance on property rates to fund local services and infrastructure failed to incentivise councils to invest for growth, which is necessary to provide the additional income to deal with issues such as infrastructure improvements and the pressures from climate change, extreme weather events and the impact of tourists on infrastructure.

“Local government is critical to the overall wellbeing of New Zealand’s communities and the way in which councils are funded influences their approach to new investment.  If the only funding sources are property based taxes then the ability and incentive to fund long term growth investment is limited.”

So local bodies want more alternatives to property based rates. Auckland City Council has already got approval for a fuel surtax, and other local bodies are considering having one too. How long will it be before just about everyone pays a local body fuel tax?

Mayors and councils are struggling to keep rates rises below eye watering levels.

LGNZ President Dave Cull’s own Dunedin council has big plans – rates wise. See 7.84% rates rise “a normal part of the cycle and 60% rates rise proposed.

And this is level of planned rates rise is common.

Stuff – Rate rises continually outstrip incomes and inflation – do they need an overhaul?

Analysis by Stuff found that over the coming decade ratepayer bills in five main cities will, on average, increase by 50 per cent.

As well as everyday council expenses, these increases will contribute to major projects – for example, $253 million for a new stadium in Christchurch and $311m for pest and disease control in Auckland.

Exact comparisons are difficult because of variations in the way rates are calculated, what they include and when rating valuations of properties are carried out. But indicative figures provided by the councils for average house prices suggest Hamilton and Christchurch ratepayers will see bills surge by around 53 per cent by 2028, and those in Wellington by 48 per cent.

Auckland rates will rise 38 per cent, and Dunedin by 59 per cent.

Rates for 2018/19 rose across the board on July 1, from 2.5 per cent in Auckland to 5.5 per cent in Christchurch and 9.7 per cent in Hamilton, against a backdrop of 1.1 per cent inflation.

But it is likely to be worse.

TEN-YEAR RATING FORECASTS ARE ‘BEST CASE SCENARIO’

Gough has an ominous warning, at least for Christchurch – that the annual increases outlined in the long-term plans are far from fixed in stone.

“Every year we do an annual plan, and I have never seen one where the rating increase is less than what’s projected.

What seems to happen is councils warning of a large rates rise, finalising a slightly less large rise and claiming that is a reduction.

Cull believes there is an over-reliance on property rates to fill the coffers, the 60 per cent of council income they provide far exceeding that of other developed countries, and that putting them up year after year in the face of sluggish wage rises is not sustainable.

He is a proponent of local taxes as an alternative funding tool – sales taxes, GST, a local income tax or the like.

That makes taxes even more complicated, and will presumably end up with variations between different councils and regions.

But all this focus on alternatives for raising local body revenue misses a fairly large point – why is expenditure going up so much?

It sounds like 50% rates increases are inevitable and mayors just want to disguise where their revenue comes from.

Broken rates rises promises make for embarrassing election campaign fodder.

Alternatives to rates should certainly be considered, but I wish as much effort was put into containing expenditure.

A plethora of regional taxes may help mayors and councillors, but it will still cost us all one way or another – probably more given the costs of administering a complexity of taxes.

Back to the Stuff headline: Rate rises continually outstrip incomes and inflation – do they need an overhaul?

What about ‘Spending rises continually outstrip incomes and inflation’?

Mayors divided on regional fuel tax

Dave Cull, Dunedin mayor and also president of Local Government New Zealand, has suggested that a regional fuel tax ”might” be something that could be used outside Auckland, both other Otago mayors have different ideas on raising more money.

ODT: Regional fuel tax might work: Cull

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull says a fuel tax such as that proposed for Auckland may be something that could raise money for infrastructure in Dunedin, but mayors in the rest of the region have not supported the idea.

Mr Cull pointed to the Port Chalmers cycle/walkway as one project a regional fuel tax could help pay for.

He said such a tax was appropriate for funding transportation infrastructure, but other mechanisms would be more appropriate for other needs.

”Across the country there are instances where there are transportation infrastructure needs, and there’s even money within the NZ Transport Agency available, but there’s not sufficient resource in the local body to match the funding, so nothing happens.”

The cycle/walkway to Port Chalmers was an example where a lack of resources was the problem.

”That would be a candidate for that sort of funding.”

”It’s about all road users contributing to make the whole system safer and more efficient.”

It seems to be more about trying to find ways of funding projects without having to keep raising rates so much.

The amount of money spent on cycleways and the disruption to traffic is already a contentious issue in Dunedin. Hundreds of car parks in or near the CBD have been removed or are planned to be removed to make way for cycle lanes on streets, including on both main streets running right through the city.

There is low usage of the cycle lanes. I was talking to someone yesterday who was parked for half an hour on state highway one during the busiest traffic time of day, and they saw three cyclists. I daily drive on streets where all car parks have been converted to cycle lanes that are only occasionally used by cyclists, most days I see none.

I think that fuel is already quite a bit more expensive down here. Slapping a tax on it to fund pet council projects would likely be very unpopular.

Other mayors in the area want more money other than from rate hikes but not from a fuel tax.

Queenstown Lakes Mayor Jim Boult…

…said the fuel tax might work for Auckland but not for Queenstown, which had 5million visitor nights and just 16,000 ratepayers.

”Large numbers of people fly in here on aeroplanes, arriving on tour coaches, so their ability to contribute to our economy is limited through a petrol tax.”

Instead, he wanted a visitor levy, something he had said before ”constantly”.

Central Otago Mayor Tim Cadogan…

…said the area’s fuel was already more expensive than Auckland’s, so he did not support a fuel tax.

Paying for expensive infrastructure was a problem.

The planned Cromwell wastewater treatment plant had a budget of $10 million and the Lake Dunstan water supply project would cost up to $17 million.

”We’ve got 20,000 people living here; that’s pretty tough.”

Using a fuel tax to pay fore waste water treatment and water supply would be ridiculous. Cromwell is increasingly popular for tourists, and also operates as a satellite town for Queenstown and Wanaka. It is also the centre of a thriving wine region.

Clutha Mayor Bryan Cadogan…

…said local government ”needs something”, but he did not support a fuel tax.

The issue Clutha had was paying for infrastructure related to its tourism industry, which was ”not as advanced as most”.

The area had a declining and ageing population and the council could not keep going back to them for more money.

”It just seems so simple to put a tax on for tourists when they come in. We need it, and we need it now.”

Clutha District includes the Catlins area that is increasingly popular for tourists (for good reason, it’s a great area to visit).

However all these areas have different situations and needs.

Fuel is already taxed heavily in New Zealand:

  • 59.524 cents – National Land Transport Fund
  • 6 cents – ACC Motor Vehicle Account
  • 0.66 cents – Local Authorities Fuel Tax
  • 0.3 cents – Petroleum or Engine Fuels Monitoring Levy
  • 9.9726 cents GST on the above taxes

We pay a total of 26 cents GST on $2 of petrol (diesel is taxed differently).

Just under a half of the cost of fuel is tax already.

From the AA:

It is now government policy for all of the petrol excise tax motorists pay to be directed to the National Land Transport Fund for investment back into New Zealand’s road and transport system. The AA lobbied hard on behalf of motorists for many years to have all the taxes devoted to road building and maintenance, road safety education and enforcement, and subsidies for public transport.

Previously, about 19 cents per litre of the tax motorists paid on petrol was diverted by the government to non-road and transport related projects.

For far too long there has been significant under-investment in the nation’s road and transport network, and tax diversion has been unfair and at the expense of motorists.

Motorists must not be selectively taxed or treated as an easy source of tax revenue to pay for projects that would be more fairly funded by other sources such as rates or general taxation.

We don’t support regional petrol levies that unfairly target motorists to subsidise the transport decisions of others. The future funding of public transport must not be another tax on motorists added to current taxes and charges, but has to be independently justified in terms of defined benefits to motorists.

Back to Cull:

On the Government’s commitment to reviewing local government costs and revenue, Mr Cull said LGNZ had been saying the revenue stream from rating property was not sustainable.

Perhaps it is extravagant spending wishes of councils that is unsustainable.

One could cynically suggest that mayors and councillors want to divert attention from them raising rates far more than inflation.

Our fuel is already taxed heavily. Perhaps mayors need to look more at user pays – but that’s never likely to happen for cyclists.

There’s a good case for some cycleways. A recently partly built harbour side cycleway here in Dunedin is popular and well used – mostly recreationally. One problem is the escalating cost of extending this all the way to Port Chalmers – estimates have over doubled.

Were initial estimates hopeless, or do rules and regulations and ideal requirements blow out the costs? There are suggestions that cycleway construction is lucrative because councils pay whatever it takes. The Dunedin Council wasted half a million dollars on a poorly designed cycleway that had to be redesigned and is still hardly used.

Getting sensible mayors, councillors and planners may be more important than finding ways to hide how much we are increasingly taxed and rated.

Talking of rates – they are about $2000 a year for an average house in Dunedin – how does that compare to elsewhere?

Dirty local body politics?

A story of ‘political skulduggery’ in Marlborough from Stuff: Marlborough councillors brand Whale Oil leak ‘despicable’

Political skulduggery has again rocked the council chamber in Marlborough as lawyers are called in to investigate a secret recording of a committee meeting leaked to a right-wing blog. 

The leak to Whale Oil could see heads roll at the council, as councillors who attended the meeting are made to front up on Monday.

A recording of a tense behind closed doors discussion about the cash-strapped ASB Theatre was published on the blog site on Friday.

Council chief executive Mark Wheeler said if a councillor had leaked the public-excluded discussion he or she could be asked to resign. 

The committee meeting took place in April. 

Councillor Peter Jerram said the leak was “absolutely orchestrated” and smacked of “dirty politics” emerging in Marlborough. 

“Party politics are definitely involved. But worse than that, it’s gutter politics.” 

Marlborough Mayor Alistair Sowman said the post was a clear attack on mayoral frontrunner Leggett, after a “very successful” attack on Sowman himself. 

Whale Oil involved in local body politics in Marlborough might seem a bit odd, they don’t usually do much about the provinces and most will have no idea who the current mayor of Marlborough is and who the candidates are.

But Whale Oil has had a number of posts on Marlborough local body politics over the last few months. Why? The Stuff article has a hint.

Political strategist Simon Lusk, who has links to Whale Oil, spoke at a local government seminar in Marlborough earlier this year attended by several council candidates. 

Lusk said at the time fighting for transparency was meaningless unless candidates opposed bad news being hidden in publicly excluded council meetings.

Lusk did not confirm or deny whether he was involved when contacted on Saturday. 

He was told information had come through on the blog’s tip line, he said. 

Why Lusk or Whale Oil might have such an interest in Marlborough local body politics is anyone’s guess.

There’s an unusual number of posts on Marlborough issues at Whale Oil going back to about June. No other regions have had this much attention so they stood out.

I never took much notice of the Marlborough posts apart from noticing they were there, they seemed local and not very interesting.

But what we have now is a story of wider interest:

  • a secret recording of a closed Marlborough District Council meeting in April
  • details of the recording published on Whale Oil in September, on the day that local body election voting papers are sent out
  • council chief executive Mark Wheeler said if a councillor had leaked the public-excluded discussion he or she could be asked to resign

Being asked to resign three weeks before the election closes might be horse bolted timing.

What if the leaker is a candidate for the election? Their name is already printed on the ballot and posted to voters, but it could affect votes.

The Marlborough Express (Stuff) has followed up with Marlborough council announces investigation into Whale Oil leak ahead of final meeting

A secret recording of a private council meeting has triggered an investigation into all councillors and staff who were at the meeting. 

The investigation will require everyone at the behind closed doors discussion in Marlborough to sign a statutory declaration saying they were not behind the recording or it being leaked to a right-wing blog. 

It is a criminal offence to knowingly make a false declaration.

They are taking it very seriously.

Meanwhile Whale Oil had a string of posts on it yesterday too.

As predicted yesterday the Marlborough Express has written an attack piece on me. They didn’t even call for comment.

After we busted John Leggett and the Marlborough Express tried to ignore the story there still remain a number of unanswered questions that I am sure the ratepayers of Marlborough wants answers to.

The Marlbourgh Express doesn’t seem to know the first rule of politics. Explaining is losing.

That’s funny considering the number of posts explaining everything.

Locals don’t dare speak out because their lives will be made hell.  Local news doesn’t dare speak up because their commercial viability is under threat if they speak up against their biggest advertisers.

More explaining. They could be important issues for people in Marlborough, but that’s local stuff that most people are unlikely to be interested in.

So they act like they are violated, scream “Whaleoil” and hope that voters will forget what it is really all about.

What an utter waste of rate payers’ money to try and figure out who helped the truth get to the public.

Stop screaming my name, and start taking responsibility for your own words and actions.

That’s more interesting, to me anyway.

A secret recording was taken of a closed door council meeting and supplied to a media outlet and published during an election campaign.

The recording is a serious matter. If it was a councillor they could be asked to resign. If it was a staff member  I expect it would potentially be a sackable offence.

But Cameron Slater and Whale Oil don’t think that how the information was obtained matters, or is excusable as the story they want to tell is what is important.

Nicky Hager thought something similar when he published Dirty Politics.

Another thing that puzzles me about this – how much influence would Whale Oil have on the Marlborough election?

Most people are barely or not interested in local body elections. Most Marlborough voters are unlikely to read Whale Oil.

I’m baffled as to why Whale Oil is giving so much coverage over several months for a relatively low interest issue that can hardly be attracting many clicks or much advertising to the blog.

It will be interesting to see whether Whale Oil sees their whistle blowing coverage of sufficient importance and interest to continue their coverage after the election.

Local body election – voting papers

My voting papers arrived for the local body elections today. I suppose I had better spend some time shifting through eleven mayoral candidates and over forty council candidates.

The standout for me is the lack of strong choices who stand a chance, especially for mayor. I think the encumbent is likely to win by default but I expect with less votes than last time.

The Auckland and Wellington mayoralties are the only ones getting much media attention nationally, and Auckland seems pretty much a done deal for Phil Goff anyway, with no challengers looking like getting close. That’s a shame but if you don’t have stand out candidates to vote for then the only well known name is likely to win.

Christchurch must be a done deal for Leanne Dalziel because that is getting no attention.

Wellington looks to be a real contest though, especially between Coughlan, Lester and Leggett. Unfortunately party politics has become a major factor there, but i don’t care who wins.

I’ll do my best to make an informed choice in the Dunedin election but enthusiasm (mine) is as lacking as the quality of choices.

It’s sort of weird. I was right in the middle of the campaign last time and now struggle to give a stuff.

But hey – we should all do our bit for democracy and vote.

Councillor critical of bureaucracy and politicisation

A long serving councillor has announced that he won’t stand again this year, but has blasted growing council bureaucracy, and the politicisation of councils.

His criticisms apply across the country.

ODT: Council role loses lustre for some

Long-serving Dunedin city councillor John Bezett has fired parting shots at the growing bureaucracy and politicisation of the council, yesterday announcing his intention to stand down at the coming election.

Cr Bezett, who in ending a 30-year involvement in local body politics, said the role was no longer “fun”.

He bemoaned the increasingly-obvious political ideologies of some councillors, the intensified bureaucracy of local government and the workload of councillors.

“It’s got quite political. It’s something that I just don’t like at all. If you are a Dunedin city councillor, I think you should be looking after the city and not have an allegiance to a political party.”

Labour considered becoming openly involved in local Dunedin politics but backed off. The Greens are promoting a mayoral candidate – see Green candidate proposes local currency – along with  very Green sounding policies. The council is already quite green leaning, with cycleways and anti-oil priorities.

He also took aim at the expectations of central government which had increased the workload of councillors.

“There seems to be an endless commitment to submit on the select committee work they are doing in central government.

“There’s endless consultation and I find for someone to be an effective councillor they have to be totally involved in that and I can’t because I haven’t got the time. Not only that, but I don’t want to be totally involved … the role has changed and there’s no fun in it anymore.

“I have had a really good run and I have thoroughly enjoyed it but the fun has gone out of it for me and I’m going to go do other things,” he said.

He advised anyone considering standing for council to be prepared to treat it as a full-time job.

“Today, to be an effective councillor, I think you have to be a full-time councillor and I have never wanted to be a full-time councillor.”

So there’s a need for professional councillors but not for career politicians.

And ‘the people’ are becoming increasingly fed up with bureaucracy. It is justifiably blamed for being a significant factor in the current housing problems.

The NIMBYs have become adept at manipulating bureaucracy to stifle development.

And the career politicians have become adept at misusing democracy to push their party policies, claiming they have majority support through manipulation of consulting processes.

The best way of combating bureaucracy and politicisation  is for strong independent candidates to stand, but council is not a very attractive option for successful people.

Online voting trial ruled out

A planned trial of online voting in this year’s local body elections has been dumped.

Eight councils had been interested in trying online voting but Internal Affairs Minister Louise Upston has kicked it for touch, saying there is not enough time. It has been considered for years so I don’t know how time has now become a factor.

NZ Herald: Online voting not on the cards this year

The Government has pulled the pin on a trial of online voting in this year’s local body elections, saying it could not guarantee the security of the system in time.

Internal Affairs Minister Louise Upston announced the plan for some councils to trial online voting would not go ahead because time was running out for councils to prove voting system addressed concerns about security and vote integrity.

“Due to timing restrictions, preparations for the proposed trial have not yet met the legislative requirements and cannot guarantee public confidence in the election results.” She said security testing was planned but had not yet taken place. “Without seeing the results of testing we cannot be confident the systems are secure enough and the trial could not be authorised.”

Eight councils were interested in trialling online voting — Selwyn, Wellington, Porirua, Masterton, Rotorua, Matamata-Piako, Palmerston North and Whanganui.

Ms Upston said those councils which had signed up for the trial would be disappointed. However, the time pressures involved would increase the risks of any trial. “Maintaining public confidence and understanding of local electoral processes is more important than trialling online voting this year.”

The Government was open to looking a proposals for online voting in the future.

I doubt if it would be trialled in a General Election, so that’s another three years to wait until the next local body elections, unless it is tried in a referendum.

The Government first agreed to allow councils to trial online voting in December 2014 after a working party found online voting was feasible. It set out requirements to councils for a trial in November last year. That included full testing of the system, including testing to ensure votes could not be interfered with as well as an independent review. That work was to be done by June, but Ms Upston said it was clear that could not happen.

It’s difficult getting public interest in local body elections and online voting was seen as a way of improving that.

Online voting sounds good in theory but the practicalities are more of a problem.

Labour moves into local body politics

The Labour Party are at least looking in to becoming more closely involved in local body politics.

It’s impossible to avoid questions about Phil Goff’s bid to become Auckland mayor while remaining a Labour MP.

Further to this the Taxpayers’ Union has raised the issue of whether Labour is using taxpayer funds set up an Auckland office “to co-ordinate the local government and General Election campaigns” – see REVEALED: SPEAKER’S WARNING TO LABOUR ON TAXPAYER FUNDED CAMPAIGNING

The concerns raised with the Speaker came after an email was sent by Paul Chalmers, the Project Manager at Labour House, to Labour’s Auckland supporters detailing how Andrew Little had opened an Auckland office that will be “the centre of the Labour and progressive movement in Auckland and the place to co-ordinate the local government and General Election campaigns.”

“It appears that Andrew Little and his MPs are pooling together taxpayer resources to open a campaign office in central Auckland for the Party and Phil Goff’s campaign for the Auckland mayoralty,” says Taxpayers’ Union Executive Director, Jordan Williams.

The Speaker has confirmed that the Parliamentary Service will be monitoring Mr Little’s spending and has written to him setting out the rules for taxpayer funded out-of-Parliament offices.

Mr Williams says, “We’ve expressed concern before that Mr Goff intends to be paid as an MP in Wellington, while he is campaigning for a new job in Auckland. This letter from the Speaker suggests that he too is concerned with MP’s taxpayer funded resources being misused for political purposes in Auckland.”

The original email, and the correspondence between the Speaker and the Taxpayers’ Union is available here.

But it’s not just in Auckland that Labour are looking at local body campaigns.

Palmerston North:

Party politics enters Palmerston North City Council election campaign

Party politics could be about to become a feature of the Palmerston North City Council.

The Labour Party is seeking to endorse councillor candidates at October’s local body elections.

Palmerston North MP Iain Lees-Galloway and Labour electorate committee chairwoman Lorna Johnson said the prospect had been considered for some time.

Lees-Galloway said the abolition of wards in 2013 had made it inevitable that many potential candidates would need support to campaign across the whole city.

“We think it will help get more diversity on the council.

“We want to add to the council, not dominate it.”

Why is an MP involved?

And Dunedin:

Councillors split over Labour ticket prospect

Councillors have divided into camps over the prospect of more party politics inside the Dunedin City Council.

Some city councillors welcomed the prospect when contacted by the Otago Daily Timesyesterday, saying any initiative that helped quality candidates to step forward should be encouraged.

But others warned any councillor elected under a national political party’s banner risked being beholden to Wellington, ahead of the city’s electors and ratepayers.

The divergent views came after it was confirmed the Labour Party was considering a “Local Labour” ticket to promote candidates for DCC council seats, and possibly the mayoralty, in October’s local body elections.

Cr Andrew Noone said he would not object to the initiative if constituents were calling for it, but “I feel it’s being driven not by the local community”.

The test would be whether Labour-aligned councillors made decisions based on evidence and advice from council staff, “or whether they do it on the basis of Labour Party policy”.

Other councillors welcomed the initiative, including Cr David Benson-Pope – a former Labour-aligned councillor and Cabinet minister – who said he was considering joining the ticket after running as an independent in 2013.

Not surprising to see Benson-Pope keen on a Labour ticket.

Is Labour looking at a more prominent involvement in local body politics elsewhere in the country?

 

 

Nats proxy to contest Auckland mayoralty?

The Auckland local body elections have moved a step closer to being merged with national politics with the formation of Auckland Future to help the centre right contest the elections next year. It is closely linked with the National Party.

They will support a mayoral candidate “if, and when, a winnable candidate emerges”.

It seems almost certain that Phil Goff will stand for the mayoralty, giving his bid a strong Labour connection.

Bernard Orsman reports in NZ Herald – Nats back new Auckland ticket.

 Party figures drive centre-right platform created out of dissatisfaction with state of Super City

National Party figures are behind a new ticket, Auckland Future, being set up to wrestle for control of the Super City at next year’s local body elections.

Sources have linked National Party president Peter Goodfellow, former presidents Sue Wood and Michelle Boag, and Auckland-based ministers Nikki Kaye and Paul Goldsmith to the plan.

It is understood the National Party is prepared to contribute resources and fundraising skills to the ticket while keeping the National brand away from the Super City arena.

Prime Minister John Key was one of about 80 people at a fundraising event for the new ticket on October 14 at the Geyser Building in Parnell.

The ticket is the latest attempt by the centre-right to win control of the council after two poor campaigns and the failure of the Communities & Residents ticket, formerly Citizens & Ratepayers (C&R), to gain traction.

C&R president Karen Sherry, when asked if C&R could merge with Auckland Future, said “that’s a discussion that needs to be had” but added “sometimes competition can be healthy”.

Ms Kaye, MP for Auckland Central, said she wanted to ensure a strong voice around reducing rates and bureaucracy.

“There has to be change. It [the council] has been pretty fragmented and I’m very interested for a new entity to emerge.”

Campaign and fundraising experience should give this a major boost and the people involved and endorsing it give this an unmistakable National tinge. It looks like the Auckland mayoralty in particular will look closely related to national politics.

Joe Davis, a Browns Bay business consultant and National Party volunteer chairing Auckland Future, said the organisation was incorporated in September.

He said there had been a lot of conversation across the centre-right, including the National Party, about wanting to see Auckland run well, and with a vision.

“There is real widespread dissatisfaction with the current state of Auckland,” Mr Davis said.

“The city is too big and too important to have councillors voting in an ad hoc manner on key issues.”

Mr Davis said Auckland Future would field a ticket of councillors with a strong policy platform so voters would know what they were voting for.

He said the ticket did not have any candidates lined up and would embrace a mayoral candidate “if, and when, a winnable candidate emerges”.

So they aren’t saying specifically that they will support a mayoral candidate but one could presume that’s a major aim.

The Auckland mayor is seen as one of the most important elected officials in the country. The Prime Minister isn’t even elected as such, their party is elected with it’s leader becoming Prime Minister.

There may be good arguments both for and against national politics mixing more with local politics.

One benefit could be that the centre right in Auckland come up with a serious contender for the mayoralty. Last election Len Brown didn’t have much credible competition.

Phil Goff may stick with his proposal to remain an MP until/unless elected mayor. Campaigning for local body elections while a sitting MP is a major merge of national/local politics on it’s own, with the taxpayer funding his campaign time.

The Bryce Edwards Effect?

Dunedin based national political commentator Bryce Edwards wrote a very disparaging column about the dismal turnout in local body elections in the NZ Herald – Dr Bryce Edwards: Cancel the elections and start again?

Authorities keep telling us of our duty to vote in the local government elections. They haven’t made a very compelling case, and so far the public have responded to this hectoring with an electoral shrug of the shoulders. Voter turnout across the country looks to be the lowest in living memory. Perhaps that’s a good thing. It sends a very strong message that the system is broken.

Why should voters take the election seriously when the authorities themselves don’t?

Edwards suggested that boycotts and a non-vote of no confidence might be appropriate.

In other countries there would be calls for boycotts. In fact there’s probably a case for cancelling this election and starting again.

We’re always being patronised with the cliché that “if you don’t vote you can’t complain”. That’s never made sense, but for this current dysfunctional election, it’s perhaps more the case that “if you do choose to vote, then you’re complicit in propping up this broken system”.

That was on Sunday. Here is a chart of voter returns for Dunedin.

Note the timing of a dramatic upsurge in votes – about the time the weekend’s voting will have made it’s way through the post to the vote counters.

Voting returns Oct 10Sunday was 6-Oct.

Could that be called The Bryce Edwards Effect?

Edwards favours political party involvement in local body elections, he prefers presidential style national politics to strong local political action. I’m much more in favour of localism and have been promoting local involvement and engagement.

At the same time Edwards was suggesting voting boycotts I posted Why vote? (5-Oct) and Dunedin needs growth and positive change – vote for it! (6-Oct) and Time to vote for Your Dunedin (7-Oct) and Effective Dunedin protest vote (8-Oct).

Note when the voting surge happened.

Did either of us affect the voter surge? I doubt it, but I’m an opportunist for making points.

I’m going to have to prove my case for far better local democracy and doing democracy better in Dunedin during the coming local body term. I’m up for it.

Dunedin lags lacklustre voting in the south

Voting returns are significantly down around the country, but Dunedin is worse than most. Voters are not inspired to take part in the most important of democratic processes, the election.

Southern voting returns as at last night (8 October) compared to a similar time last election:

2010 2013
Dunedin 36.3% 22.8%
Central Otago 45.0% 34.3%
Clutha 42.8% 35.4%
Lakes 33.0% 25.4%
Waitaki 38.7% 38.0%
Invercargill 46.1% 33.0%
Southland 31.7% 32.9%
Gore 39.9% 30.7%

Why is voting so much lower this election? And why is it worse than most in Dunedin?

There seems to be a resounding lack of interest in local body elections. There have been many opportunities for the public to assess candidates at forums but most of these have been poorly attended.

There are no contentious issues that have motivated public interest.

The current mayor and council have diminishing levels of public satisfaction (2013 DCC survey).

There is no obvious strong contender for the mayoralty despite lukewarm support for a mediocre incumbent mayor.

Local media coverage has been balanced but largely uncontentious:

  • Candidate coverage has been reasonably fair but has failed to highlight significant differences or contentious issues.
  • Incumbents milk news coverage but this has been mostly bad or discouraging news.

National media coverage has been uninspiring, limited and very selective.

I have personally tried to promote and provoke social media interest and discussion but response has been very modest.

It’s too late to rev up the current election. It will be up to the incoming mayor and council to make sure they are seen as far more relevant in the lives of Dunedin people – that means engaging much more effectively.

Ironically doing exactly this has been a key part of my campaigning, but the people aren’t listening and the media have not been interested in reporting or examining this.

The bad news is that this election is more of a lottery than usual. Far too few people are interested enough to vote, and many of those voting base their decision on very superficial reasons.One woman rang me and told me they are voting for me because I was dressed more smartly than the incumbent on local television (I wore a tie). Another person said they wouldn’t be voting for me because I was “too nice” for the job.

The good news is that the campaign has provided an opportunity for very fruitful networking and I have a list of people who are interested in establishing a strong group outside council to promote the interests of the people in council. Depending on results there could also be some councillors who are prepared to push far better engagement from the inside as well.

This may help boost public interest in the next election. It could start a revolution in doing democracy – that is my aim.

It’s obvious that the public and the media will take a lot of convincing. I’m up for it.