Almost half of elected local government members have experienced racism, gender discrimination or other forms of harmful behaviour in the course of their work.
The new Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) survey also found of the 105 respondents across 56 local authorities, 43% experienced other forms of harassment, prejudice, threatening or derogatory behaviour since taking public office. .
Close to a quarter of respondents said they were not sure how to report harassment or discrimination.
Less than a third said they felt connected with other elected members in their workplace.
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This comes amid a rise in personal attacks levelled at those in public-facing positions, with women and those from diverse communities bearing the brunt of the discrimination.
Wellington and Christchurch councillors have blown the whistle on a culture of harassment and misogyny in local politics.
More recently, Auckland mayoral candidate Efeso Collins and his young family were nearly run off the road by members of the public and a backlash ensued after a TV interview where mayoral hopeful Leo Molloy used slurs and ableist insults.
LGNZ president Stuart Crosby said the survey results made for tough reading.
“But to shift the dial, we need to start with acknowledging that there is a problem and find ways to address it,” he said.
Crosby said local democracies around the world were also grappling with councillors, mayors and other elected members being bullied or harassed on the job.
“But that is not an excuse not to address it in our sector.”
In recent years, there had been a small uptick in the number of Māori, women and young elected members around the table.
This type of behaviour put progress at risk, he said.
Of the current mayors, councillors and other elected members 40.5% are women, compared to 50.4% of the general population; 13.5% are Māori (17.1% of general population) and representation of multi-ethnic and Pacific communities remains low.
The average age of elected members is 56-60, with only 13.9% under the age of 40. This is despite the average age of the general population sitting at 37.9 years.
At least two council candidates have cited racism and a lack of diversity as motivation for running in this year’s election.
Low voter turnout at local government elections has decreased during the past four decades.
In 2019, the portion of eligible Kiwis who voted in local government elections was just 41.7%, which raised issues of democratic legitimacy. This sat in stark contrast to an 82% turnout at the 2020 general elections.
LGNZ chief executive Susan Freeman-Greene said she was concerned by some behaviour and rhetoric already on show in the early stages of campaigning for October’s elections.
The campaign trail was a powerful platform for positive change, so candidates should be using it to engage with the important issues facing communities, she said.
“We know there’s a more inclusive and productive way to get their voice heard.”
While the survey’s respondents represented a small sample of all elected local government members, LGNZ was trying to gather further insights to better understand the scope of these issues.
Freeman-Greene said the membership association was also trying to ensure local government was a safe and inclusive environment for all elected members and new candidates.
The Government recently removed the requirement for candidates’ residential addresses to be published on campaign advertising, after LGNZ raised the issue of privacy and protection with the prime minister.
Candidates are now provided with a toolkit on how to run a safe campaign and remain safe once in office. This includes a new code of conduct and induction programme for those successful in October’s election.
On Monday, LGNZ also launched a clean and inclusive campaigning guide, developed with the Human Rights Commission.
Nominations for this year’s elections opened on Friday and close at noon on August 12.