Does Online Voting Really Fix The Local Elections Turnout Problem?

Another important local body election is close to being done, and another mediocre voter turnout suggests a big divide between interest and effort.

Amazingly enough, votes in Hamilton managed to surpass the totals achieved in the last three local body elections. Such an outcome looked unlikely earlier in the week with many commentators slamming the low turnout, not just in Hamilton, but around the country.

Before you go celebrating, however, consider putting the wine back on the shelf for another occasion. Voter turnout in local body elections has a big problem, and it’s not easily solved.

You’d suspect that the same people who don’t bother to go to the polls this week will be the same that wouldn’t have a great answer if you were to ask about the pressing matters in the local political scene.

Key case in point, do they simply not care about what’s going on locally? Or, at the very least, do they think that it’s somehow less important than what’s happening nationally?

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to assume that both outcomes are likely in play. It could also be a case of pure and utter laziness, and if that is the case, candidates deserve a hell of a lot better.

What’s inherently striking is that the line-up of candidates for both council and mayor this year has been diverse; arguably more diverse than ever before. However, striking that it may be, this was to be expected given how accessible entry into politics has become via the ability to reach large masses of people through social media.

Take young-gun Louise Hutt in her candidacy for Mayor of Hamilton as a great example, I sat up and took notice when she implemented a bot via messenger on her official campaign page. Such a thing might seem simple and unimportant but it provides a level of interactivity, utilizing modern technology, that many senior politicians would never consider nor have the technical know-how to integrate into a campaign.

Speaking of diversity and the modern-minded politician; how about Tim Young and his fight for a seat on council? Not only is Young passionate about climate change and how society needs to keep the pace with technology, but he also gives a political presence to Hamilton’s not so small disabled community, something he appears to embrace yet not have it front and centre.

These are just two of the names that appealed to me and not the least of which was because of how they were attempting to engage in that online social space, building on top of an already solid local effort in the Waikato.

Yet, it all feels like a fleeting success at best, with a serious discussion needing to be had quickly in the aftermath.

Voter turnout in 2019, whilst it ended up being more compared to last time, remains at a level that suggests many local voters don’t place the same importance on the various issues being campaigned for.

Or, you might counter, it could be simply a matter of the basically un-informed and ignorant believing that local politics doesn’t mean enough to go out and make the effort. Take that at face value, because it’s likely true at this moment in time, and then tell that to them when they have to pay their rates bill each year.

What goes on locally actually does have an impact, and a significant one at that.

Yet many of those same would-be local voters will be quick to line-up and cast their decision in 2020, when New Zealand chooses whether to legalize cannabis or not (just one example) and decide whether Labour continues its reign or National takes back over.

Yes, we are talking about Central Government in this instance, but it’s an important footnote because that’s where far more attention seems to be placed. Having online voting ability (or not having it) won’t cause the outcome in 2020 to swing one way over another, all it will likely do is further increase the gap between local government voters and central government voters.

For that I say, yes, we need to implement the ability for New Zealanders to cast their vote online.

Start by doing it in 2020 for the big one, and then try again in 2022 when the next local elections occur. Let’s see if the number of voters in the local body elections increases or not.

If we get that higher voter turnout, then great, but to what next if we don’t? Nobody wants the divide to increase, but it’s time for a serious discussion as to why it’s become the case.

City Councillor fears for lack of community vibe around Peacocke build

Hamilton City Councillor Paula Southgate says that communities need to be built around the new housing areas in the Peacocke and Rotokauri areas in order to make the infrastructure deal a real success.

Farmland in Hamilton’s southern boundaries will be turned into residential housing after the city received a $272m loan from Government as part of the Housing Infrastructure Fund. It means a further 3700 houses in the next ten years, but crucially, growth in the south of the city.

But expansion isn’t going to be the ‘silver bullet’ for many of Hamilton’s ratepayers.

City councillor Paula Southgate says the work around creating flourishing communities in these areas should be high on the priority list.

“I’m a strong advocate for building a better city, not just a bigger city, because bigger is not always better.”

Concerns have arisen from ratepayers as to the actual number of dollars being spent on housing builds in Peakcocke. Numbers revealed by the Waikato Times on Tuesday suggested that very little, if any, of the money was being spent on anything other than infrastructure.

A new bridge across the Waikato River plus a serious expansion of Wairere Drive takes up $56.5m alone.

“The question to be asked is, how do we fund our new housing areas and how do we fund the city. That includes the existing facilities and services. We need to make sure we provide for ratepayers, both current and incoming, so we need to make sure these housing areas actually have real communities.”

It is the role of the City Council to provide infrastructure that opens up opportunities for housing before developers can begin work.

Southgate says that there is no point in borrowing all the money from Government if the city cannot use it in a useful way.

Decisions will be made in the coming weeks when Council sits down to discuss its Ten Year Plan. Hamilton is already under pressure to provide answers over the future of several community facilities. Southgate is cautious that a lack of development for community services will face similar issues in Peacocke as to what is currently being seen in the north of the city.

The ‘silver bullet’ Southgate talks about on her Facebook page isn’t easily found, but Southgate is adamant that different alternatives

“I just don’t believe that building a very large new subdivision is going to immediately address house prices and availability”.

More on this will be discussed during a full interview with Southgate this Friday on Free FM.

Sport Waikato boss confident in new strategy

Sport Waikato boss Matthew Cooper is confident that a new region wide strategy is the best way to get more people in the region fit and active, as well as improving capability within sport, recreation and physically activity in the Waikato region.

Moving Waikato 2025 is a new strategy aimed at addressing the dropping numbers of participation in sport and recreational activity in the Waikato.

According to the numbers, 54% of Waikato Adults (age 16 +) met the national physical activity guidelines in 2007. In 2016, that figure sat at 45%, and the overall cost of inactivity on the New Zealand health system is significant and rising.

Another problem for Sport Waikato is the region’s growing population. By 2030, population in the Waikato is expected to be 470,000, an increase of 16%.

Future proofing and provision of facilities in partnership with regional authorities is important for Sport Waikato, so that future populations can play and compete in sport.

“Back in 2014 we had a meeting with Sport New Zealand and we spoke a lot about what we’ve done but there wasn’t a lot about what we are going to do in the future”, Sport Waikato’s CEO Matthew Cooper said.

Lifestyles are changing and people don’t have as much time as they used to. In the past ten years alone, society’s mode of operation has changed more than it did in the previous century. This change is for a variety of reasons; not the least of which is the advances in technology and a greater shift toward online connectivity.

To counter this, Sport Waikato facilitated the development of the Moving Waikato 2025 Strategy in partnership with stakeholders.

“People are realising that if they can get out there and have a workout, they don’t need to only sign up to a club and pay annual subscriptions, informal options are also real and available”. Cooper said.

The plan focuses on three strategic priorities. The key areas of focus to grow participation in sport and recreational activity are Young People, Women and Girls, Maori, Rural Communities, and Aged Populations.

The slogan for the Moving Waikato 2025 strategy is ‘Together We Achieve More’ and encourages “Doing the work for the betterment of the people”.

The other two strategic priorities aligns to Building Communities (growing capability in the sector) and providing Regional Leadership.  A deliberate focus on partnerships to leverage and achieve more wins. But it goes deeper than that too.

Cooper believes that the landscape of sports for young people has changed rapidly, and potentially is creating a negative impact on young aspiring Waikato athletes/citizens of the future.

“Early specialisation has crept into schools, right down to the 12 and 13 year olds, that is wrong”, Cooper said. “There are some alarming stats that show those kids who specialised early don’t go on to continue playing sport once they leave high school. Cooper added.

Numbers show that only a small percentage of young teenage boys and girls in New Zealand schools will go on to play professional sport. The challenge for Sport Waikato, and other entities around the country, is to not only find a channel for this small portion of athletes to excel but also a variety of formal and informal options for the majority to increase participation numbers.

Sport Waikato will work alongside, sport, recreation, tertiary, education, health, local iwi, and local government to implement Moving Waikato 2025 over the next ten years.


Hamilton mayor Andrew King indifferent on disabled community

Hamilton mayor Andrew King. Photo: Newsday

Hamilton mayor Andrew King hasn’t had much to do with disability over the course of his life.

Disability advocates and group organisations will have to go to the council’s Community Committee to have their voices heard by the mayor.

Elected in October last year, King himself hasn’t spoken a lot about disability until this point.

“I don’t have a lot to do with people with disabilities so I don’t know”, the mayor said.

During the campaign; candidates for Hamilton mayor spoke to the Disabled Persons Assembly (DPA) about access and disability. That night, King spoke of his first job where he was in contact with a tetraplegic man. That was on the campaign trail back in August 2016.

This week, King was asked if he would have discussions with the city’s disability community about their views on access issues and community inclusion. King’s response may alarm some in Hamilton’s disabled community; he was adamant that such conversations wouldn’t be a part of his mayoral responsibilities.

“No, I don’t need to know”, King said, “if there was a need then yes I would, but I don’t believe there is a real reason for me to get involved”, King added.

At the Hamilton City council, there are three social committees that cover community, infrastructure and growth, plus a finance committee. King believes that disability issues belong in with the community committee. King does sit on the community committee meetings but says he’d be hesitant to have a discussion with the council’s own Access Advisory Group.

The Access Advisory Group is a key part of disability advocacy at the Hamilton City Council. Together with the group, the council has a Disability Policy that promises to ensure that council services, activities, and facilities will be responsive to the needs of disabled people. King says he doesn’t have contact with the Access Advisory Group.

“The community committee is where those discussions would be appropriate” King said, “it’s not something I am prepared to take on without support from the full committee”, King added.

In June 2016, the council released its Disability Policy alongside an Action Plan that focuses on five core goals. The council also has a Disability Advisor that sits on the Community Committee.

Hamilton’s 2016 – 2019 Disability Action Plan Won’t Help Some

Three new projects have been included in the Hamilton City Council’s Disability Action Plan for 2016-2017, but some of the bigger issues and needed improvements have been missed.

Without doubt, Public Transport and Accessibility is one of the biggest areas of concern for people with disabilities, not just in Hamilton, but throughout the country.

It is hard for the Hamilton City Council to ensure that all buildings around the city are accessible because apart from official Council-run buildings, like the Library or Swimming Pools for example, because the responsibility of making other buildings fully accessible falls on the property owners, not the Council. Continue reading Hamilton’s 2016 – 2019 Disability Action Plan Won’t Help Some