On the job: Engaging with local government

While for some, the topic of unions summons an image of “old men shouting about communism”, Ministry of Health statistician Ruby Grant is praising the PSA for embracing younger workers.

Grant was one of a hundred PSA members who attended a gathering of Wellington’s mayoral candidates at the PSA office on August 15.

Candidates for Wellington mayor speak to PSA members

Candidates for Wellington mayor speak to PSA members

The event was organised as part of the PSA’s work on the local body elections, to allow Wellington members to hear what candidates had to say on the issues that PSA members care about.

Justin Lester, Jo Coughlan, Helene Ritchie, Keith Johnson, Nicola Young, Andy Foster and Nick Leggett each delivered a two-minute pitch outlining their election promises and answered off the record questions from the audience.

Grant attended the session because of an interest in local politics – particularly surrounding issues such as rental housing quality and affordability, and public transport.

“I’ve rented all my life,” she says, “and, like most people, will probably be renting all my life.”

Justin Lester was a surprise for Grant.

“He was pretty onto it in terms of his responses to the housing questions. They were well thought out but not too polished. His answers felt honest...not just a random throwaway policy line.

Nicola Young, on the other hand, appeared “disingenuous”.

“In the past she has stated that she disagreed with warrant of fitness policies for rental properties but at this meeting she was for them.”

Grant went into the session without a favourite but now has an inkling of who she will be voting for come October.

“I was originally just going to vote for Celia because I think she’s great but she pulled out. Part of the reason I went was to figure out who to vote for.

“I wasn’t expecting to be impressed by Justin Lester but I think I’m going to vote for him.”

While Grant takes her mayoral pick seriously, she also admits local body politics can be a maze when it comes to influence.

“It’s often hard to believe local politics does matter. Mayors don’t actually have that much power. They still have to work within the confines of the council. It doesn’t really matter who the next mayor is, but who is on the council.”

The session lasted for around an hour and a diverse and full crowd attended, both young and old. There was a healthy mix of heckling and some slightly-irritating quips from old members along the lines of: “remember that sign you had 12 years ago”.

“It’s cool the PSA is doing stuff like this,” says Grant.

“I’ve been working in government for a couple of years now but I only joined PSA about half a year ago. It can feel a bit idealistic.

That’s why I like it when they do things I can engage with and things that can reach out to potential members.” 

By Jess McAllen