One of my supporters Tweeted to say I was the only candidate at Vote.co.nz who has bothered to reply to citizens’ questions. It’s good for me, but sad to see my opponents so disengaged. I was also surprised to see that only three of us have bothered to register for the website this time, despite its reasonably high traffic in each election.
We each get notifications of these questions via email. I receive over 300 emails a day, which I gather is just slightly below what the current mayor gets. I take the questions seriously because they are often about things that I have failed to cover in my manifesto in sufficient depth. I don’t wish citizens to conclude that I haven’t given them a lot of thought, too, especially since I’ve had my manifesto out for such a long time—months before anyone else decided they had policies they could share.
Here are a few for your interest.
Mr Vasquez asks:
What will you do to ensure a racially tolerant, diverse and peaceful Wellington City?
Recently, we saw on the news the appalling racial tirade against a Pakistani-born taxi driver. While everyone seemed to rebuke the actions of Mr Shuttleworth, I found that Ms Devoy’s response was weak and non-committal. This is the excerpt of her response that I found very disturbing: “Freedom of expression and freedom of speech allows us to be as offensive as we like without being able to do anything…” Really?? Are we now supposed to condone this type of behaviour and just shrug our shoulders? New Zealand law prohibits this type of behaviour as detailed in the Human Rights Act 1993. In the UK, Australia and US, ‘Hate speech’ is punishable by imprisonment.
I would like to know what your views are on this issue, and how you yourself would have responded. Also, what can you offer to do as Mayor of Wellington to ensure we remain a racially tolerant, diverse and peaceful society?
My reply: As probably the only candidate who has been a victim of racism in our own city, I would have been firmer, because I can speak from the heart about such matters more sincerely. I don’t consider intoxication to be an excuse and that Mr Shuttleworth needs to get to the root cause of just why he acted in this way. I believe the incident to have been inappropriate and would have said so, assuming I had been asked for comment. I did not condone, for instance, the Paul Henry attacks on Indians on television (and was public about it). Sadly, we are faced with a great deal of casual racism where minorities have to come forth and say, ‘Hey, I heard that, and I’m not thrilled by it.’ This can only change by people seeing more from different communities serve in public roles, and this is one of the many reasons I have chosen to stand.
However, the decision to charge Mr Shuttleworth had to come from the police or, if it was a breach of the Human Rights Act, then from the Human Rights Commission, and I do not believe I would have interfered with their decision.
One of my policies from day one, since I announced them in April, is to promote unity. A mayor has to live by example. This means engaging with all sectors of our community, regardless of class or ethnic origin, and giving everyone the equal opportunity to have a voice and to have access to me.
Marcus asks: ‘What will you do to make Wellington a more child friendly city?’
My reply: When I said I would reach out to all sectors of our community, I meant children as well. Too often they are ignored because politicians don’t see value in non-voters. As for me, I’ve put my hand up because at some stage, I’d like to start a family here, and I’ve retained my connections with St Mark’s and Scots College, where I was educated, running the alumni association of the former and serving on the Old Boys’ Association of the latter.
The best way to find out how a city can be more child-friendly is not to ask an adult, but to ask children. That means allowing them access to the mayor. I’ve actually been living this through social media over the last six years, where I have been able to hear from teens. As to even younger groups, I can foresee visiting schools—which I have done regularly as well.
One of the reasons I’ve put so much effort into innovation and creativity is that I want our city’s youngest minds to have the right stimuli. At libraries and some public sites, I would love to see small workstations that can keep children entertained with educational programs, especially as they can be acquired for low cost and help alleviate the cuts in library funding.
I’ve seen how the Shakespeare Globe Centre here in Wellington promotes theatre, again targeting youth (albeit a slightly older group), and our city should continue providing funding to such bodies that encourage creativity.
We need to invest in physical education with the cuts to these programmes in a lot of schools. Wellington should have set activities that lead to the physical health of our youth and that means encouraging volunteers and allowing kids easy access to community and sport centres. These programmes can be child-created online, with parental supervision, so it’s kids creating for kids.
Essentially, if we don’t hear from children today, then how can we claim to create a city for our future? We need them to know they are being listened to, so that they don’t have the same cynicism about local government that many of us adults possess. Treat children as valuable members of society and not talk down to them, and they will step up to the mark.
Peter asks: ‘What’s your position on fluoridation of water?’
Peter, I support ongoing fluoridation. One of my friends has a son with a congenital heart defect, so fluoride helps him for a start, to avoid dental infections that can bring on myocarditis. A few of my friends are against fluoridation, and I admire their conviction, but I have to look at what the academic research says (especially as a candidate who says we need to work with our tertiary institutions more closely). Since I contribute to academic journals myself and am on the editorial board of one, I know the processes, and I take peer review seriously.
Claire asks: ‘What’s your position on cycling as a mode of transport in Wellington, and how would you support (or not) an increase in the number of people riding for transport and the safety of the mode?’
Thanks to my work overseas, especially in København and Stockholm, I support cycling, for the obvious health and environmental benefits. One of my policies in both elections was the idea of a market weekend, where we close off the central city to traffic in the summer, apeing what we do for the movie premières. This would allow people to enjoy Wellington in a friendly, enjoyable environment. Cyclists would be encouraged. Longer-term, this would allow us to see how we could manage greater pedestrianization for our city, in line with what is happening in western Europe, and such a setting would encourage cycling as a more acceptable mode of transport.
Safety has to come about through road-use education and I accept it is hairy for cyclists out there. Putting money into driver education, and working with the police to target difficult motorists, would be on the agenda. In theory, I would like to get eDrive involved, too, as an excellent virtual reality simulator to help with driver observation, but as it is a company that I have an involvement with, I would have to recuse myself from taking part in that decision.
Patrick asks: ‘What are your policies on climate change?’
I applaud the city for establishing a target for a low-carbon, eco-conscious future but we need to move toward it actively. In 2003, I began working with the United Nations Environment Programme on one of our businesses, and the same year, I was one of the authors of an early Carbon Neutral business book, Beyond Branding (back when people were asking, ‘What is carbon-neutral and why should I care?’). My policy of working with the C40 is to share best-practice ideas on managing climate change, while my policy on transparency covers our need to disclose, manage and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption. That way we know which areas need addressing, and set an example. By having greater engagement—something I have been doing anyway in my businesses—we will share this knowledge with others in the city, and encourage all Wellingtonians, especially businesses, to adopt these best practices. Solar energy is also another area in which I want to make real advances, and I am already working with businesses to see what solutions can be cost-effectively promoted to Wellingtonians, beyond what current energy providers can do. I believe, due to the limited size of the industry at present, there is huge growth potential here, which will be good for the environment as well as jobs—I’m already excited about what new innovations will stem from Wellington-created solutions that we can license to others and export.