My Mayoral opponent Phil Goff and I visited Warkworth in the far north of Auckland (Rodney) recently. We spoke about our different plans to empower local communities and give more power to local boards, and of course about Auckland’s housing crisis.
Mr Goff talked about lobbying the government to reduce immigration as a way of dealing with Auckland’s housing issues.
I was disappointed to hear this.
My wife Wendy Lai emigrated with her family from Singapore 35 years ago.
They, together with the more than 520,000 or 40% of Aucklanders who were not born in New Zealand, now form a rich part of Auckland’s culture.
Our two New Zealand-Chinese sons and all the many other Kiwi multi-ethnic children that have resulted, make our region even richer.
At the Auckland Town Hall last week, I helped preside over the swearing in of 420 new New Zealand citizens, who came from 51 different countries.
Citizenship ceremonies have been one of the real highlights of my time as an elected member of the Auckland Council.
I do not want to see the numbers attending these ceremonies drop because Auckland is no longer welcoming new migrants.
So I did not speak in Warkworth about trying to limit this strength of Auckland.
It is not something that the Mayor of Auckland controls in any case.
But I did speak about how we can make the voice of our many and varied communities stronger.
The recent Reputation Survey that the Auckland Council undertook said that only 15% of us are satisfied with the Council.
People in the more rural areas of Rodney say that they are very unhappy.
The Rodney ward rates Auckland Council only 36/100 on reputation – the lowest of all – and considered the Council ‘weak.’
The Council’s overall reputation average is only 45 which is called ‘average.’
But I know this concern is also spread among a number of our ethnic communities.
Some of these communities feel disconnected from the Council and they do not have their voices heard strongly enough in housing, community, safety and other policies.
I do not believe that the current Mayor’s special ethnic advisory panel approach has worked well enough to address this and I will change that if you elect me Mayor.
I spoke about this recently at a mayoral debate at the Multicultural New Zealand annual conference chaired by Indian Newslink Editor.
The Council needs to build stronger relationships with the existing community groups and ethnic community associations that already do a good job.
I also encouraged people at the conference to think about standing for Auckland Council either as ward councillors or as local board members. Nominations open from Friday, July 15. All the information you need is contained on Council’s ironically named website: www.showyourlove.co.nz
I want to see more of our diverse communities represented on the Auckland Council. This is the best way to make the changes you want to happen.
But as Mayor, I will strengthen local boards by giving them more transport powers, move funding from lower-ranked regional priorities into higher prioritised community projects and I will establish formal relationships with existing strong community groups or help form new ones.
In my own Council ward, we have established five new resident associations to ensure that all our ten suburbs are covered.
I have found that by collaborating more effectively with Auckland’s communities, we can address our housing and other challenges more effectively.
I want to strengthen this role and not reduce it.
Mark Thomas is a Mayoral candidate for Auckland City.