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Elected Member Experiences Survey: Bad behaviour threatens progress, must be called out

A new survey of elected members in local government has found that nearly half of respondents have experienced racism, gender discrimination, or other forms of harmful behaviour while doing their job in public office.  

“The purpose of the survey was to better understand the experiences that elected officials face at work and touched on topics such as diversity, inclusion, bullying and harassment,” says LGNZ President Stuart Crosby.   

“In recent years, we’ve seen a small uptick in the number of Māori, women and young elected members around the table.   

“We need our councils to reflect the diversity in our communities and this type of behaviour puts the progress we’ve begun to make at risk,” Stuart Crosby said.   

“Local government is full of hard-working, community-minded people, but ultimately, we’re all responsible for making sure our workplaces and communities are safe spaces where everyone gets the chance to contribute,” says LGNZ Chief Executive Susan Freeman-Greene.  

“Many candidates have already started their campaigning for this year’s local body election. I am, however, concerned about some of the behaviour and rhetoric even in these early stages.   

“The campaign trail is a powerful platform for positive change, so we really want candidates to use it to engage with the important issues facing our communities. We know there’s a more inclusive and productive way to get their voice heard.   

“LGNZ is working hard to make sure local government is a safe and inclusive environment for all elected members and new candidates.  

“The government has recently removed the requirement for residential addresses to be published on campaign advertising. LGNZ raised this issue with the Prime Minister so it’s great to see the Government’s moved swiftly on this issue.   

“This goes a long way to making candidates feel more protected when they put their hand up. We’re also providing candidates the tools they need to run a safe campaign and elected members to do their job once they take office.   

“This includes a new code of conduct and a refreshed induction programme following October’s election.   

“We’re also launching a clean campaigning guide today that’s been developed in partnership with the Human Rights Commission. It lays out inclusive guidelines for those running.  

“On top of that we’ve seen fantastic engagement in our ‘Make a Stand’ Zoom series, which is open to aspiring candidates as well as existing elected members and covers off everything you need to know to run an effective campaign,” Susan Freeman-Greene said.   

“The survey results make 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,” Stuart Crosby said.  

105 anonymous responses were received from across 56 local authorities. Key findings include:  

  • 5% of respondents experienced racism, gender discrimination in their role
  • 43% of respondents experienced other harassment, prejudiced, threatening or derogatory behaviours in their role
  • Close to a quarter of respondents are not sure how to report instances of harassment and/or discrimination
  • Less than a third of respondents felt connected with other elected members in their workplace.

 “Local democracies across the globe are grappling with issues around councillors, mayors and other elected members being bullied or harassed on the job. It’s not an issue exclusive to New Zealand or even just our sector. But that is not an excuse not to address it in our sector,” Stuart Crosby said. 

 Nominations for 2022 local body elections opened on Friday 15 July, and close at noon 12 August. For a full rundown on what it takes to stand in your local elections, you can check out the 2022 Candidate Guide here.