Dr X is in the house! Asian newcomers to local body elections

From Voices, 3:30 pm on 19 September 2016

Are Auckland's local boards too pale and stale? If so, that may be about to change. A group of Asian New Zealanders are vying for representation on the Auckland council.

“We are all ratepayers; everyone has the right to have a say. Connecting our communities is my slogan” - Dr Xiaoying Fu, NZAL.

As the sun gleams through the stained glass windows of Saint Heliers Church and Community Centre in the Orakei ward, local body candidate 'Dr X' (Dr Xiaoying Fu) nods and listens to Wangxin, a recent migrant from Beijing and resident of Mission Bay. His eight year old son stands next to him, shyly watching a group of children from the neighbourhood at play.

Relief is evident on Wangxin’s face as he chats with Xiaoying in Mandarin, the second most popular language spoken in the Orakei ward next to English.

Xiaoying translates their conversation: “Wangxin wants to get his son involved in the activities for children at the community centre, he’s also wants to volunteer at the centre and he wants to integrate.” Wangxin adds it’s just great to have someone who understands what it’s like to be a new migrant, someone who “walks the talk.”

As upcoming local body elections heat up across the country, with a strong focus on housing, the economy and transport, questions from our ethnic communities are often lost amidst the cut and thrust. According to the 2013 census, almost two-thirds (65.1 percent) of people who identified with at least one Asian ethnic group lived in the Auckland region and yet right now, ethnic representation at local governance level is still only around one percent.

So are Auckland's local boards too pale and stale? If so, it may be about to change.

'Dr X' and a group of outspoken Asian newcomers could provide a remedy in the run-up to the triennial local government elections. Regardless of affiliations they’re happy to work together, have deep connections with their electorates and they understand the needs of new migrants.

Xiaoying’s currently a business consultant working for herself, on the board of New Zealand Asian Leaders Network and a former executive member of Hong Kong New Zealand Business Association. She came from China in 1996 and both her boys were born here.

She’s standing as an Independent but she’s part of a group of prominent Asian New Zealanders who are getting vocal. “How can we leverage the huge human resources? Connecting people, once you connect people you help the community.” She sees herself as a bridge between mainstream Pakeha and the new Asian community, a Kiwi who really understands new migrants like Wangxin and his child.

In the heart of the CBD in the high-rise office of the New Zealand Asian Leaders Network Xiaoying has gathered some of the newcomers to explain for Voices why they should be elected to their local electorates.

Working together, Dr Xiaoying Fu, Howie Yin, Susan Zhu, Stella Chan

Working together, Dr Xiaoying Fu, Howie Yin, Susan Zhu, Stella Chan Photo: RNZ / Lynda Chanwai-Earle

Former West Auckland cop Howie Yin has been in the country about 15 years and is standing in the Whau ward for a team called 'Community First'. Issues in his area? “Lots of boy racers, a lot of kids. So speeding is an issue. And then there’s communication, setting up a community centre so people can liaise with each other.”

Independent candidate and lawyer Stella Chan has lived and worked in NZ the last 30 years; she’s with Auckland Future in the Waitemata ward. “Traffic or transport is important," she says, "because I work every day in the central city and at the moment traffic is chaotic. The public transport is not good enough [to make people want to use it].”

Affiliated with Labour and also in the race for the Whau Local Board, lawyer Susan Zhu is no newcomer, but she is outspoken: “The most important priorities for Auckland is affordable housing and public transport. We have a very diverse community, over 80,000 residents and close to 34% of Asian. In general people’s income levels are not high and so there are a lot of poverty and socio economic issues in our area.”

The other candidates nod in agreement with Susan. “This current situation is not ideal," she continues. "People are looking for a driveway to live in while they sleep inside their cars. This is not a developed, first class country, this is not Auckland. A roof over the head is essential. We can’t be proud to say we are one of the most liveable cities if we don’t get the housing sorted.”

“Another important issue is community safety. Our migrant communities get targeted and attacked on a daily basis. Firstly I acknowledge our police officers working really hard at the frontline but they do deserve more resources. Auckland’s population is growing, but there’s no more resource spending to match the growing population. We need more police, more resources and more focus on community safety. Other issues flow on from community safety.”

Their solutions?

Pointing to the recent $300 million joint central and local government investment in rebuilding New Lynn, Susan is positive. “The rail track went underground so we freed up the land and built a wonderful town centre. New Lynn is a great example to show the future of Auckland in terms of density housing and providing more local jobs.”

Driving through Orakei Ward

Driving through Orakei Ward Photo: RNZ / Lynda Chanwai-Earle

Back in Orakei, I'm with Xiaoying as she drives around the area checking on her billboards. As we pull up to the curb between Remuera and Meadowbank she shares her visions as an independent candidate for the local board.

“We should come out, not only representing Asian people but also representing the whole of people living in my area. Orakei covers a very big area. We [Orakei ward] are the largest rate payer area for here.”

Stella would agree, “I think it’s very important that in every level of governance that there is diversity, because the board is representing the people behind them.”

Minister Stewart supports Xiaoying as candidate, St Heliers Community Centre

Minister Stewart supports Xiaoying as candidate, St Heliers Community Centre Photo: RNZ / Lynda Chanwai-Earle

And what about the electorate?

Back at the community centre, Minister Pauline Stewart believes its time that her local board had more ethnic representation. “If they’re [Asians are] living here, their commitment is huge. In the past there was resistance to Asian people in leadership but has moved. This would be one of the last areas where you have “establishment thinking” but they want a change and they’re inviting this involvement. I think there’ll be wide support for Xiaoying here in the Orakei local board, but we need the Asian residents to vote, to meet their candidates.”