Saturday, December 2, 2023

Rural women strong in elections

Avatar photo
Rural women along the eastern North Island have become a force to be reckoned with in the wake of election results.
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Long-time rural journalist Kate Taylor put her hat in the ring for the first time and came away with a massive 2100 votes for a seat on Central Hawke’s Bay District Council. 

The results came over a particularly fortunate week for Taylor who was also awarded the Rural Women Champion Award.

A rural journalist for 30 years and a Farmers Weekly contributor, Taylor hopes to better communicate the differences between national, district and regional policies as they affect rural communities. 

She acknowledged the misunderstandings that can arise when local government is tasked with delivering policies set at a national level.

“I think, though, here in Hawke’s Bay farmers have already been doing a lot to meet water standards under the Tukituki Plan Change. 

“However, there are concerns about the need to have consent to farm when a catchment is over its limit. 

“You can have one farmer meeting all the regulations while the one next door is not but all farmers in that catchment will have to have a consent to farm.”

She is conscious rural areas in Hawke’s Bay fork out significant sums in rates.

“While there has to be a public-good element there also has to be a balance for those ratepayers.”

Overall, however, she is keen to see the council continue on its path with a level of consultation with ratepayers she describes as excellent.

“One of our mayor Alex Walker’s most successful achievements so far has been Project Thrive and we want to see it continue.”  

Thrive aims to balance regional economic growth with environmental well-being and lifestyle quality.

Taylor welcomes the growing pool of women involved in local body politics and said she is looking forward to the day when their prominence is not even a talking point. 

After the latest round of council elections 30% of the 63 council mayors are women, up from 19% last time.

Tararua Mayor Tracey Collis is one of those, gaining a second term with an overwhelming majority with 4831 votes putting her 4541 votes ahead of her nearest contender. 

Collis heads up a female-dominated council with six women and two men. Her district also enjoyed one of the highest voter turnouts in the country at 51%, compared to the national average of 41.4%. 

Rural regions reported significantly higher turnout this year at 56.8%, up from 49.8% in 2018.

Collis has been outspoken about the issues her district faces around increased forest plantings.

Meantime, further north up the east coast some prominent farming women have gained seats on the Gisborne District Council. 

Farmer and environmental consultant Kerry Worsnop says her key priority is to advocate strongly through the council to central government on the costs policy is putting on farming ratepayers.

“The costs of policies like the water package are high. 

“These are coming to councils like ours already struggling with infrastructure costs and don’t have the resources to divert to compliance costs.”

She believes the increased number of women on rural councils reflects a specific, collective decision made by women with knowledge of these areas and often already working in this space.

Joining her on Gisborne council is Federated Farmers Gisborne-Wairoa president Sandra Faulkner. Faulkner owns Wairakaia Station at Muriwai with husband Rob.

The Manawatu-Wanganui Regional Council (Horizons), straddles the lower North Island taking in both east and west coast areas. Emma Clarke, co-owner of 240ha Woodhaven Gardens near Levin, a major horticultural operation, has also been elected.

Like Worsnop, Clarke’s decision to stand was driven by a concern about compliance measures and the lack of voice given to horticulturists in the One Plan.

“We got the raw end of the plan over the last nine years. When they allocated nitrogen they really only considered dairy farms with horticulture only being 1% of land area.” 

She said the plan is now out of step with national policy and fundamentally flawed.

The election results mean Whakatane, Opotiki, Gisborne, Hastings, Central Hawke’s Bay and Tararua all have women for mayor.

People are also reading