'The cost of democracy' - Kiwi ratepayers to fork out up to $400k to replace newly elected MPs

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It's the ignored cost of political ambition in New Zealand, but almost $400,000 will be spent in the next few months on by-elections to replace local government politicians.

Prime Minister John Key and wife Bronagh look on during the National Party Bus Trip at Pak N Save Lincoln North - he said the job of PM had brought costs and benefits to his family.

Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule said the resignation of PM John Key last year "created an opportunity" for him to run as an MP in 2017.

Source: Getty

Four first time MPs who were elected in the September 23 general election, plus one unsuccessful candidate, will have to vacate their seats on council boards throughout the country.

All were elected barely a year ago in the September 2016 local government elections.

But one Auckland politics academic says it's the "cost of democracy" and a good sign for the health of New Zealand government that politicians aspire for higher office.

"I would say by-elections are a sign of a sign of a healthy democracy," Massey University's Andy Asquith says.

"Because people aspire to serve in what is seen as a more important democratic environment.

"By-elections are an occupational hazard of local government, people come, people go, and people go for all sorts of reasons."

Two by-elections will be needed in Auckland to replace Denise Lee and Simeon Brown at a cost of $228,000 all up.

A by-election for Wellington City Councillor Paul Eagle will cost $51,000.

And, by-elections for both Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule, and Hastings District Councillor Adrienne Pierce together will cost $100,000 - $120,000.

Some of the now government politicians told I NEWS they had no plans to run in the general election until the unexpected resignation of sitting MPs.

"When I ran for council I had no idea that Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga (Maungakiekie MP) would announce his retirement a few months later," former Auckland Councillor Ms Lee says.

"I regret the cost of the by-election and had I known Sam's intentions I more than likely would not have run for Council."

Former Hastings Mr Yule said he asked sitting MP Craig Foss if he was contesting the 2017 General Election for National and Mr Foss confirmed to him he was.

But in December 2016, Mr Foss nevertheless announced he would quit politics at the 2017 general election. 

Hastings District Councillor Adrienne Pierce likewise said: "I had some aspirations however there has to be a resignation to be able to stand? MP Craig Foss resigned at the end of the year. We have no control over when electorate MPs resign."

Both Mr Yule and Ms Pierce were keen to stress they decided to take unpaid leave of absence from June 30, and resigned on 30 August, to offset the cost of by-elections.

Ms Pierce says this saved Hastings District Council $85,000.

"It is not unusual by any means to see general politicians move to local government and vice versa. What would Mayor Phil Goff have cost the taxpayer?" Ms Pierce says.

Massey University's Mr Asquith, though, isn't so convinced of the candidates' motives.

"There's a lot of shoulder tapping, and they would have known, if not that electorate, then in another electorate," Mr Asquith says.

"I would have to say before then that they would have known they aspired for better and greater things."

"People don't just wake up and just suddenly think 'hmm, I think I’ll do that today'."

But they're not helped, he says, by the short New Zealand electoral cycle.

"Is that their fault, or the fact we have a ridiculously short electoral cycle in New Zealand? A three year term is a nonsense," Asquith says.

Ms Pierce agrees the electoral scheduling is a problem.

"Having reflected on this issue it is actually about how local and general elections fall," Ms Pierce says.

"They should possibly be in the same year? Local at the beginning of a year and General at the end of the year, this could lessen this very expensive process."

Mr Asquith does nevertheless see great strengths in the New Zealand democracy.

He cites the annual Democracy Index compiled report by the Economist, which in 2016 had New Zealand as the 4th strongest democracy in the world out of 167 countries.

Only 19 countries, including New Zealand, were considered a full democracy - the US was not one of them.

"It's because of the likes of Trump in the States, and the whole Brexit brigade in the UK. And they both ran campaigns, elections, completely founded on untruths," Mr Asquith says.

The list of New Zealand local government politicians who's seats require by-elections are:

- Auckland Councillor Denise Lee who won the Maungakiekie for National.

- Auckland Manurewa Local Board member Simeon Brown who won the Pakuranga for National.

- Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule who won the seat of Tukituki for National.

- Hastings District Councillor Adrienne Pierce who resigned from her council board position to run in the Palmerston North electorate but was unsuccessful.

- Wellington City Councillor Paul Eagle who won the seat of Rongotai for Labour.

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