Far North citizens are asking questions of candidates in the general election thanks to a community initiative. “We’ve just created a place where people can express their concerns. We only wish we’d started earlier,” said organiser John Kenderline. Photo / Noel Garcia
“What is your big question for candidates in the October election?”
A group of Far North citizens appears to have hit a nerve by posing this question and taking the public’s responses.
The initiative to foster engagement in the democratic process well ahead of the October 14 general election began last month when a desk with a large roll of newsprint was set up at Kaitāia’s EcoCentre for anyone to write down questions for Northland and Te Tai Tokerau candidates standing for Parliament.
For the past few weeks, the desk has been at the Kaitāia Saturday markets and currently resides at Commerce Street’s Kawhe Hub on weekdays – with the shop giving a free coffee to the person with the best question received each week.
As of this week, more than 60 questions had been submitted.
One of the initiative’s organisers, John Kenderline, said widespread disillusionment was apparent to him.
“Everywhere I Iook and everybody I talk to, people are concerned.
“They see systems collapsing. They see things are not working.”
Kenderline said the initiative originated from the realisation that, despite realising things needed to change, “so many people waited until the day before they voted to even think about it”.
“So I thought maybe we needed to get people stirred up and thinking early – thinking about their concerns regarding our local area, and what it is they really expect from the candidates.
“We wanted people to put challenges out there. Challenges for the electorate and challenges for the candidates.
“I’m old and I don’t have kids or grandkids; I’ve got nothing to lose. But I’m intrigued about what will happen to the rest of the world.”
Kenderline said the group was “very pleased with the public’s reaction”.
“It seems to have struck a nerve in Kaitāia for those who feel unrepresented.”
“It seems to be providing a platform for a lot of people not represented by any specific organisation, but possibly belonging to many different ones as diverse as a rugby club, library or school board.
“It seems to be a place where anyone can express themselves with a fair degree of certainty that it will get to the politicians.”
According to a report from Elections NZ, 83.49 per cent of enrolled voters in the Northland electorate – or 45,604 people – voted in the 2020 general election.
The report noted the total number of voters was slightly lower than in official results due to disallowed votes, dual votes and clerical errors made in marking the master roll.
In the Māori electorate of Te Tai Tokerau, 28,029 people (or 69.52 per cent of enrolled voters) cast a valid vote.
Kenderline also said the initiative had grown and was recently shared with Transition Towns Bay of Islands. “The path they take will be totally up to them.”
Thus far, the effort had incurred no costs – with support received from market organisers who gave space to the community operation and Far North Reap looking at what they could do to support the group in hosting a ‘meet the candidates’ event.
Kenderline expressed disappointment at past ‘meet the candidates’ events, where he said it appeared they could just “turn up, trot out the party line, fob off a few questions from the audience and call it a job done”.
Towards the end of fostering meaningful engagement with their electorate, nine candidates had been invited to a ‘meet the candidates’ evening planned for September.
They were Kelvin Davis, Maki Herbert, Willow-Jean Prime, Shane Jones, Matt King, Mariameno Kapa-Kingi, Huhana Lyndon, Grant McCallum and Reina Tuai Penney.
“We have had a positive response from them all.”
Kenderline said all questions received would be presented to the candidates in advance of the event.
“It’ll be people talking to people. Not somebody up here talking to everybody down there.
“And if we’re all there thinking and challenging each other, perhaps we can arrive at some answers.
“I don’t have all the answers, that’s for sure.
“But I don’t think they do either.”
The “meet the candidates” evening is set for Thursday, September 21 at Far North Reap’s Kauri Room on Puckey Ave in Kaitāia. Its rough format will begin with mixing from 5pm, then candidates’ presentations from 6 to 8pm, followed by refreshments and more mixing.
Although the Māori Electoral Option for the 2023 general election has closed, Māori who are enrolling for the first time can still choose either the Māori roll or the General roll. Those seeking to change rolls can next do so after the election. Anyone seeking election information or wishing to enrol can do so at: vote.nz.