Watch live: New Zealand local government on racism and gender discrimination in politics
- New survey data reveals 49.5% of elected local government members experienced racism or gender discrimination while in office
- 43% experienced other forms of harassment, prejudice, threats or derogatory behavior
- Almost a quarter of mayors and councilors surveyed do not know how to report harassment or discrimination
- Investigation comes as public servants face growing wave of harassment, abuse and discrimination
Almost half of elected members of local governments have experienced racism, gender discrimination or other forms of harmful behavior in the course of their work.
The new Local Government of New Zealand (LGNZ) survey also found that of 105 people surveyed across 56 local authorities, 43 per cent had experienced other forms of harassment, prejudice, threats or derogatory behavior since joining active. .
Almost a quarter of respondents said they did not know how to report harassment or discrimination.
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Less than a third said they felt connected to other elected members at their workplace.
It comes amid an increase in personal attacks on people in public-facing positions, women and people from diverse communities bearing the brunt of discrimination.
Councilors in Wellington and Christchurch have denounced a culture of harassment and misogyny in local politics.
More recently, Auckland mayoral candidate Efeso Collins and his young family were nearly chased off the road by members of the public and a backlash ensued after a TV interview where the mayoral hopeful Leo Molloy used name calling and ability slurs.
LGNZ chairman Stuart Crosby said the survey results were difficult to read.
“But to change the dial, we have to start by recognizing that there is a problem and finding ways to fix it,” he said.
Crosby said local democracies around the world are also struggling with councillors, mayors and other elected members being bullied or harassed on the job.
“But that’s no excuse not to address it in our sector.”
In recent years, the number of Māori, women and elected youth around the table has increased slightly.
This type of behavior jeopardizes progress, he said.
Among current mayors, councilors and other elected members, 40.5% are women, compared to 50.4% for the general population; 13.5% are Maori (17.1% of the general population) and representation of multi-ethnic and Pacific communities remains low.
The average age of elected officials is 56 to 60 years old, with only 13.9% under 40 years old. This despite the average age of the general population which is 37.9 years.
At least two council candidates have cited racism and a lack of diversity as motivation for running in this year’s election.
Low turnout in local elections has declined over the past four decades.
In 2019, the share of eligible Kiwis who voted in local elections was just 41.7%, raising questions of democratic legitimacy. This contrasts sharply with an 82% voter turnout in the 2020 general election.
LGNZ chief executive Susan Freeman-Greene said she was concerned about some behavior and rhetoric already on display at the start of the October election campaign.
The election campaign was a powerful platform for positive change, so candidates should use it to engage with the important issues facing communities, she said.
“We know there is a more inclusive and productive way to make their voices heard.”
While survey respondents represented a small sample of all elected members of local governments, LGNZ was trying to gather additional information to better understand the scope of these issues.
Freeman-Greene said the members’ association also tries to ensure local government is a safe and inclusive environment for all elected members and new candidates.
The government recently removed the requirement to publish candidates’ residential addresses on campaign advertisements, after LGNZ raised the issue of privacy and protection with the prime minister.
Christchurch Councilor Sara Templeton approaches Netsafe after a fake social media account was used to troll her and other female politicians. (First published March 2022)
Candidates now receive a toolkit on how to campaign safely and stay safe once in office. This includes a new code of conduct and an induction program for candidates in the October elections.
On Monday, LGNZ also launched a clean and inclusive campaign guide, developed with the Human Rights Commission.
Nominations for this year’s elections opened on Friday and close at noon on August 12.