3 Oct 2016

On the door knock: young Indian and ground-breaking

From Voices, 3:30 pm on 3 October 2016

"Hi there, I'm Shail Kaushal, candidate for the Puketepapa Local Board, Mount Roskill. You know elections are coming up? Have you heard about what we're doing in Roskill? We're bringing light rail to Dominion Road. Trams, like Melbourne."

The woman answering the door replies. "Fantastic, I've been there, my parents live in Melbourne." Shail Kaushal offers his card and the woman breaks into a broad grin; "You're a handsome man, very handsome indeed!"

Like father, like son, 22 year old Shail is on a door knock campaign in the heart of Mt Roskill in Auckland during local body elections. He’s supported by his dad Sunny Kaushal, the only Indian in 98 years of Labour Party history to have ever contested as a list MP from an electorate. Politics runs in the family, Shail was a youth MP at just sixteen and was nineteen during his first campaign three years ago and credits his career choice to role models in his life; his father and former MP Dr Rajen Prasad QSO.

The changing face of candidates

Auckland's the most diverse city in the country with Maori, Pacific and Asian making up more than half the population and yet Asian representation in local governance still only around 1%. These elections the lack of ethnic representation at local governance but that’s changing with twice as many Asian candidates standing in the 2016 elections compared with in 2013.

"Good governance reflects diversity in society" Dr Karen Webster, AUT

Senior Lecturer at Auckland University of Technology, Dr  Karen Webster has been crunching numbers on this year’s campaign. AUT's research found a notable increase in the number of Asian and Pacific Aucklanders putting themselves forward for local representation. "In 2013, 17 Asian candidates stood (approximately 3.4% of all candidates). This time around around 36 Asians stood (about 8% of candidates)."

Research findings asked who stood and who was elected in the 2013 elections and compared these to the current 2016 elections. Dr Webster explains how the system adversely affects candidates from ethnic communities. "Last elections only 2 of the 17 [Asian] were elected. The challenge is for a candidate to be elected their support needs to be within the same electoral boundary as they're standing in, and for many of our diverse candidates (that's Maori, Pacific and Asian) their support is more across the Auckland isthmus."

Conclusions that Auckland Council elective representatives were predominantly European came as no surprise, with the exception being Manukau Ward where two members elected to council in 2013 were Pacific people and at local board level 3/4 of the candidates were Maori and Pacific and more than half the local board members elected were Pacific. "What is significant is seeing twice as many Asians and Pacifika people stand for positions in council and local boards. It shows that people have some faith in the system, they're prepared to put themselves forward."

On the door knock

Back on the door knock and Shail’s campaign manager Michael Wood (current Puketapapa Local Board Member on Auckland Council) explains the most effective way to get to the voters onside. "Door knocking is about getting face-to-face interaction with voters. There's a lot of data about what is an effective campaign, particularly in the United States, but if you really want to encourage a voter to vote, the most effective thing you can do is talk to them face-to-face."

"If you look at Auckland it has changed hugely in the last 30 years, but the make-up of our representatives hasn't changed at local government level. We've got to have local boards and people around the council table that begin to represent the Auckland of 2016 and Shail can be a really important part of that." Michael Wood, Auckland Council.

We're treading a stretch of road in the heart of Mt Roskill when a bright red, sporty vehicle pulls up. Phil Goff joins his campaign team. "We need to get more young people [like Shail] participating in local government elections, both as candidates and getting out and voting. The future of our city is going to effect those young people more than any of the rest of us. The decisions we make today are the decisions they are going to have to live with for the next 20, 30 or 40 years. Get out there and have a go."

Goff acknowledges the need for diversity in governance. "We've got good representation in parliament of Pakeha, Maori and Pacifika but we really need to have strong representation of Chinese, Indian, Korean, Filipino ... they'll make a big contribution and we want to see them in parliament."

The changing face of the electoral system

But Dr Webster sees problems with the current First Past the Post (FPP) electoral system in Auckland, which explains why ethnic communities were grossly underrepresented and why minority candidates may yet fail to be elected even when there is widespread support for them.

"As long as Auckland council sticks with FPP, many people's votes are going to be wasted. Ranking candidates would result in more diverse representation. A change to the Single Transferable Vote (STV) would simplify the voting process, because we already use it to elect politicians and district health board representatives. At the next electoral review , we should encourage councillors to choose STV."

"For governance to be relevant, people must participate. We need to encourage more women and ethnically diverse candidates to stand for our local council and boards."

"What may happen if they don't get voted in, is that credibility in the system will go, and that's when we really need a call for STV (Single Transferable Vote), to have a system where by more peoples preferences can contribute to the outcomes of the elections."

Sunny Kaushal adds that as a migrant their desire is to want to give back to their adoptive country, "You know the time comes, you feel - okay, New Zealand has given us a lot. Now it's time to give back. And that's where it starts, thinking how we can make a difference to the local communities here. There are different ways, this way is more constructive. We can stand for the people, we can take up their issues, we can take it to the concerned authorities."

So it's about stepping forward? Shail agrees."Absolutely, it's about doing your bit to help your fellow man out. That's what I grew up with, watching dad in action."

Dr Webster adds that migrant communities probably don't realise how much of a role they could play in changing our electoral system, potentially from FPP to STV.

"Councils need to reflect the diversity in their community, without doing that we can't hope to remain relevant to the diverse communities that we serve."