So some of you will remember that about 18 months ago my (then) 4 year old daughter and I stood on the corner of one of Auckland’s major intersections and held a sign which said “Real Democracy is Free”. We did it in response to a bright green slash-sticker which said “$345 = Vote C&R” posted on billboards during the Auckland Energy Consumer Trust elections.
It’s the first time I’ve ever done anything like that and the reason I decided to do it together with Kahlei was because she was the one who drew my attention to the issue. She had noticed the different billboard signs that had been up during the election period and upon noticing the slash-stickered ones she asked me whether I would get money if I voted for those ones in particular. Children have an amazing way of seeing things that sometimes adults miss.
The signs were misleading and wrong – because they inferred that only this party would pay out the annual dividend – which was misleading and wrong. And as it turns out, when I wrote a letter of complaint to the electoral officer – he agreed with me – but said he had no powers under the relevant legislation to force C&R to remove the signs because it is considered to be a private Trust. But the thing is: the elections are public because the Trust is responsible for looking after the interests of 320,000 Auckland households and businesses based on everyday people paying for the upkeep of Vector’s network in their area when they pay their monthly power bill – yes that’s likely to possibly include you or someone you know who resides in certain parts of central/west/south Auckland).
For further background, here is the NZ Herald article written at the time.
So after receiving that response, I thought ‘well, okay then, if the electoral officer has got no power under the Act to enforce this – despite agreeing that in principle the slash-stickers should be removed – then it makes sense for me to ask Parliament to consider amending the Act. So I looked up the process for this and found that if I submitted a Parliamentary petition this matter could be brought before Select Committee. So – with 44 other signatories – I submitted my petition to Parliament requesting that the House amend the Local Electoral Act 2001 so that the Act and the protective rules within the Act apply to elections of the Auckland Energy Consumer Trust.
And what was the response? The response from the Select Committee was that my “best option may be to write to the Board of Auckland Transport to request an amendment to the Auckland Transport Election Signs Bylaw 2013.”
So I did that – back in November. And after hearing nothing for four months I sent a follow up email last week. And yesterday, I finally received this response from the Chair of Auckland Transport’s Board, which says (after apologising for not sending me a response as the email has been sitting in the ‘unsent’ folder since November) that “Auckland Transport regretfully is not able to assist you with your request for amendment of the Bylaw to require the Auckland Energy Consumer trust to comply with the Local Electoral Act 2001 and would urge you to take this up with the appropriate authority”
And who is in charge of the relevant authority? Trustees from the same party who chose to use the slash-stickers in the first place and refused to remove them when asked by the Electoral Officer when I submitted my first complaint 18 months ago (!)
Now you might wonder why on earth something like this would matter to an everyday person like me. I mean at the end of the day, what difference does it make to my life or my daughter’s life? Well the thing is, the reason I did this remains the same: public trust in democratic elections that have a significant impact on public outcomes (and in this case affect a fifth of Auckland’s population) – should never be taken for granted and must be protected.
This becomes even more important as an increasing number of people living in Western democracies are choosing to disengage with processes and systems that they feel are set up and stacked to benefit a corporate and political elite.
And if everyday people – like myself – can’t get the powers-that-be to do something as simple as make sure electoral rules are enforced – it’s hard not to see why.
Which is why I’m running for Parliament.