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Diversity lacking among Auckland councillors

An ongoing study led by Dr Karen Webster at Auckland University of Technology (AUT) reveals incremental change in the descriptive representation of Aucklanders at local government. Analysis of who stood across three electoral cycles (2013, 2016, 2019) demonstrates a downward trend in the proportion of European and male candidates, from 84 to 71 percent and 64 to 58 percent in that order.

In this year’s Auckland local elections, Māori candidates doubled to 10 percent. While 11 percent of Auckland’s population identify as Māori, they comprised just five percent of candidates in the previous local elections. There was also an increase in Asian candidates, from eight to nine percent (compared to 23 percent of Auckland’s population), but Pacific candidates dropped by a third, from 13 to eight percent (compared to 15 percent of Aucklanders).

Dr Webster says it is encouraging to see more Māori candidates standing. This may be a move from Māori to strengthen their role in governance alongside the influence of the Māori Statutory Board.

However, one has to ask whether Pacific people feel that their voices have been heard on council, and whether facilities and services in their communities have improved, she says.

Auckland Council consists of a mayor, the governing body (20 councillors elected from 13 wards), and 149 members of 21 local boards, who make decisions on matters local to their communities.

Women’s representation at the ward level has more or less stagnated at around 35 percent of elected councillors (compared to 51 percent of Aucklanders). However, there is an upward trend in the proportion of women standing for Auckland local government, from 36 to 42 percent, across the three electoral cycles. And, women gained critical mass on local boards, winning more than half of the seats and half of the leadership positions in the last local elections.

This year, the rate of women standing as councillors increased, from 30 to 35 percent. But there appears to be an early disadvantage at the local board level, with women candidates down 62 to 43 percent.

Only four local boards have a higher proportion of candidates who are women – Albert-Eden (72 percent), Great Barrier (57 percent), Maungakiekie-Tamaki (56) and Waitemata (55). The lowest are Franklin (32 percent), Howick (27 percent) and Orakei (27 percent).

“These findings emphasis the need to overcome the barriers faced by women and ethnic minority groups contesting seats across large amalgamated Auckland electoral boundaries,” says Dr Webster.

“The representation gap is not surprising, but there is a glimmer of hope that Auckland is taking small steps forward to becoming more descriptively representative of its super diverse population.”

The challenge will be keeping pace with the region’s changing demographic, she says.

By 2038, it is estimated that Auckland’s population will be European (48 percent), Asian (35 percent), Pacific (17 percent) and Māori (12 percent).


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