With the second highest number of district council candidates standing in the country, it’s safe to say competition is lively in the Far North local elections.
Whether it’s dissatisfaction with water supply, contention surrounding Three Waters, severely storm-damaged roads or traffic in its largest town, infrastructure has become a key point on the campaign trail for Far North District Council. With a copious amount of candidates contending in an election with multiple firsts, there’s a certain buzz surrounding Aotearoa’s northernmost local election.
Why is the Far North the best place in the world?
From the arrival of the great voyaging ancestor in the Hokianga Harbour, to the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi/ The Treaty in the Bay of Islands, the sunny Far North could easily be described as the birthplace of the country.
What is the contest?
With an estimated population of 72,600 as of June 2021, the Far North District is the northernmost territorial authority district of New Zealand – stretching from windswept North Cape and Te Rerenga Wairua, down to the Bay of Islands, the Hokianga and Kaikohe. In the 2016 elections, the Far North had a 42% voter turnout. Three-term mayor and ex-National MP John Carter is standing down in this election, so in many ways it’s a new era, and a changing tide for the local council. Opshop singer Jason Kerrison, who ran unsuccessfully in the 2019 election, is also not running for council this time around.
This time, 91 candidates (second only to Southland’s 109 standing candidates among New Zealand’s district councils) are standing for 29 spots; made up of the mayor, 10 ward councillors and 19 community board members. As part of the council’s representation review, this year will see an increase in the number of councillors from nine to 10. This election also marks the council’s first election under the STV system and sees the introduction of their district-wide Māori ward Ngā Tai o Tokerau, which councillors voted to establish last year for the district which is around 50 percent Māori. And more candidates have put their names in the ring for the ward than any other Māori ward in the country.
Who is in the race?
After just two candidates stood for mayor in the previous election, this time around nine are battling for the mayoralty – none of whom ran in the previous election. Ahipara mother and grandmother Jaqi Brown (Te Rarawa, Te Aupōuri, Ngāpuhi and Ngāti Whatua) is one of five Māori candidates standing for mayor this election. She’s spent more than two decades in local politics and has served three terms on the Te Hiku Community Board. As mayor, her priorities include fostering team relationships in council, advocating for infrastructure improvements, and developing a local voice to council table planning pathway.
Current deputy mayor Ann Court is vying for mayor in this election. Court got her start in local politics in 1996 when she was elected as a member of the Kerikeri-Paihia Community Board (equivalent to Bay of Islands/Whāngaroa ward), at the time she was the youngest-ever known community board chairperson in New Zealand. She’s remained in council ever since, and has spent two terms as deputy mayor over the last four elections. She sees transport, three water compliance and getting elected members “out of the office into the field” as priorities in her run for mayor.
A teacher by profession, Clinton Dearlove (Ngāpuhi) stood in Te Tai Tokerau in 2020 as an independent candidate and gained 216 votes. The seat was won by Labour’s Kelvin Davis. In 2014, Dearlove also contested Te Tai Tokerau as an independent while in 2011 he stood for the Mana Party in Te Tai Tonga. He’s focused on creating an environment that supports the transition to co-governance between hapū and the Crown, support and guidance for small business and the farming sector, and sees Three Waters, infrastructure and roading as concerns for everyone in the Far North.
Joshua Riley is from Texas but now lives in Ōpua. He’s one of eight “Sovereign.NZ” candidates – a group promoting conspiracy messages – who are standing, and describes himself as a father, husband, business owner and pilot. Sovereign.NZ opposes the UN Agenda 2030 (the United Nations’ sustainable development goals), the expansion of significant natural areas and outstanding natural landscape areas, Māori wards, the council’s membership in Local Government NZ, Three Waters and “central government overreach” (for example, the fluoridation of water).
As a farmer and rottweiler breeder Kevin Middleton, has experience with dogs, cattle, lamb, deer and bees – but it’s his first time dealing in council politics. His priorities are introducing better animal welfare bylaws, investing in local artisans and reducing rates for new ventures locally. Kaikohe-based John Vujcich is a current serving district councillor and grandfather, who was born and raised in Hokianga, where his parents opened Northland’s first supermarket. He has a passion for localism and has concerns about the government centralisation of services, planning and local government reform across New Zealand.
Current Bay of Islands – Whangaroa Ward Councillor Kelly Stratford (Te Kapotai, Ngāti Hine-Ngāpuhi) hails from Kawakawa, but now lives in Hāruru with her whānau. The experience of a storm blowing the roof off her house almost a decade ago inspired her shift into local politics. The ex-business owner was first voted in on the community board as part of the 2015 byelection, and again in 2018. In 2019, she was elected to local government as a councillor for the Bay of Islands-Whangaroa ward. She’s hoping to improve Three Waters infrastructure, foster communities that are self-determining, self-sufficient and prosperous and to push for improved road maintenance and capital improvements.
If 31-year old Moko Tepania (Ngāti Kahu Ki Whaingaroa/Te Rarawa) is successful in the election, he’ll be the youngest mayor of the district since the establishment of the district council. Tepania was born in Whangārei, but grew up in Hikurangi and is currently a district councillor, and the youngest councillor in the district. He was instrumental in encouraging the council to consider Māori Wards again in 2021, after a 2020 split vote meant the motion for the wards failed. As mayoral candidate, his priorities are to be a champion of the Far North in gaining funding from the government, to listen to and take action on behalf of communities and to “work to the strengths of all elected members”.
Finally, there’s mayoral hopeful Rachel Witana (Te Aupouri, Te Rarawa and Ngapuhi), who was born and raised in the Hokianga. In a press release, she described herself as a “helicopter thinking mayor” and said that she “will be seeking a rates review that provides the best value for ALL ratepayers”.
What is at stake?
The most recent annual residents survey in the Far North District found that there was a marked decline in perception of value for money regarding rates along with a decreased satisfaction with water supply, roads, footpaths and walkways. A massive 77% of residents were sceptical of council decision making.
Catching up on core infrastructure was listed as a priority in the council’s pre-election report. The report explained that, “investment in core infrastructure has not kept pace with growth,” and that “existing assets are old and not always fit for purpose.” A recent assessment by the council revealed that the cost of improving the district’s water, wastewater, stormwater and roading networks to support the zoning provisions in the Proposed District Plan would cost $660 million.
The government’s proposal to shift Three Waters infrastructure from Far North District Council, Whangārei District Council and Kaipara District Council, along with that from Auckland Council to a combined entity, will see a more regional view of service delivery arrangements for the district. Infrastructure is on the mind in a big way, with the state of roads in the district attracting local outcry recently, as State Highway 1 from Kaitaia through the Mangamuka Gorge closed last month for the second time in two years due to slips and floods caused by extreme weather – cutting residents off from main centres and schools.
A challenge noted in the report was the way in which traditional roles and functions of local government will change due to central government reform, as well as global influences, growing population, changing technology, treaty partnerships and the impacts of climate change. “It is critical that your local council can be effective in navigating these new paths,” the report said.
There are also legislative changes that will likely transform how local government is perceived, such as The Review into the Future for Local Government, the repealing of the Resource Management Act (1991) and replacing it with three proposed acts: The Natural and Built Environments Act, the Spatial Planning Act, and the Climate Adaptation Act, and of course, Three Waters. This new planning framework will eventually see a shift from district plans to a regional combined plan. “While national outcomes may be improved, this will pose challenges for our District in terms of identity and perceived loss of influence on local decision making,” the report said.
In a district with high levels of deprivation, there are ongoing issues around the community’s ability to pay for council infrastructure. “This results in an affordability struggle – we need the assets but do not have the ability to pay for them,” the report wrote.
The race in a sentence?
Lots of people running, lots of problems to fix.
The brass tacks
The Far North district council election is voted under the single transferable vote system. Voting papers should be with you by now. If not, you can cast a special vote. The last day to enrol (for a special vote) is October 7. Your vote needs to be received by midday on Saturday, October 8. Read more race briefings and other Spinoff coverage of the local elections here.