Friday, June 28, 2013

Getting what we deserve - by Justin Latif

“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripples of hope, and these ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” Robert F Kennedy Jr.

I became a paid up member of a political party this month. With my $25 fee I seamlessly joined the clunking machinery of a parliamentary party. My hope is that by becoming affiliated with this particular political party, I can get more involved in the local body politics of my community and learn more about how the wheels of power work in our area.

However, after a little reading I was surprised to learn that less and less people are doing the same.

It seems membership to political parties has been in steady decline across the developed world since the 1950s and 1960s and this has been seen most dramatically in western Europe where party members now make up less than 2 per cent of the voting public in the United Kingdom, France and Ireland[1] .

In New Zealand it’s only a little better, where party memberships have dropped from around 24 per cent of voters in the 1960s and to be now sitting at just under 3 per cent of the electorate [2]

And not only has voter engagement on a membership level declined, but voting numbers have also dramatically dropped. At the last election, just over 70 per cent of 3.2 million eligible voters made it the polling booths [3]. While voter enrolment amongst our youngest cohort (18-24 years-old) sits at an abysmal 73 per cent compared to 98 per cent of those in the 40 plus age bracket [4].

As the old Russian saying goes, ‘we get the government that we deserve’, and it comes as no surprise to read that 48 per cent of the $22 billion social welfare budget is being allocated for superannuation, while spending for youth training schemes and transition programmes make up less than 1 per cent of allocated monies[5]. While it could be argued that the Governments is skewing its spending priorities towards those who vote, the main issue of concern is the overall apathy towards getting involved in the political process.

It doesn’t take a political science degree to work out that the lower rates of party membership and voter participation result in less accountability for our nation’s leaders. However, as another electoral cycle rolls around for our local body politicians, these alarming statistics should make us consider whether at 'such a time as this', we should throw our own hat into the ring. Despite the relative obscurity of the local body politician compared to his or her counter-part in the Beehive, they have incredible power and influence in the communities in which they preside. Local board members can have a huge influence on the number of liquor and gambling outlets opened in their communities. They wield discretionary budgets to organise community sports events, festivals and local infrastructure enhancements. And they also have the opportunity to use their influence and resources to improve the inter-connectedness across a community in a way few can.

With only a few months before nominations close, do give serious thought to whether your local health board, licensing trust or community board could do with your input. When more of us engage and serve in civic institutions we create the ‘ripples of hope’ which Robert F Kennedy spoke of and we can be contributors, not just bystanders, to the waves of change in our neighbourhoods.






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