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Newly-elected Hurunui District councillor calls for child support to attend meetings

A newly-elected district councillor plans to take her baby to meetings because the available subsidies exclude childcare.

Hurunui District councillor Julia McLean said juggling council responsibilities with caring for a 6-month-old, 4-year-old and 7-year-old put her “on the back foot from the start”.

She wrote to the Remuneration Authority asking for council expense policies to be brought into “modern times”.

As well as councillors’ salaries, the Remuneration Authority covered cellphone and internet use and mileage, but there was nothing for childcare.

McLean, 33, said it may explain why more women, especially mothers, were not involved in local body governance despite the number of decisions that affected families.

“I’ve been elected as an equal, but I’m not being treated as one.”

McLean had no immediate family in Canterbury. Her partner worked full time, Monday to Friday. While her older children were at school or covered under the 20 hours free early childcare programme, her 6-month-old and the school holidays were a problem.

She was required to attend an eight-hour council meeting every Thursday, as well as reading and preparation. She has fielded calls to sit on advisory boards.

After taking childcare costs out of her $19,000 salary, there would be little left, she said.

When she got the job, she did not expect “to become rich, but didn’t expect it to cost”.

If she could not receive an RMA reimbursement, she would take her baby to council meetings when a carer was not available.

The council needed to understand how childcare worked, McLean said.

“Council meetings don’t stop in the holidays.”

RMA chairwoman Fran Wilde said a childcare subsidy was “simply something we cannot do”.

Wilde raised her children as a solo mother and said she “totally empathises” with McLean.

There were no policies that would allow for childcare to be covered, and the policies would not be reviewed for one person.

If there was a huge demand for change, they would consider it, Wilde said.

More support needed

Newly-elected Christchurch City councillor Sara Templeton, who has three primary school-aged children, said more needed to be done to encourage woman to stand for their local councils.

However, she was not sure if the Remuneration Authority was the way to achieve it.

Before the latest election, there were fewer women in elected positions than there were in the 1980s, she said.
In Christchurch, 12 of the 40 people who put their names forward for council were woman.

“If you look across the country, there are few female candidates.”

Templeton would juggle her family life so she could meet her new council commitments. Her husband would work part time, so he could pick up their children from school.

They had family in the city they could rely on.

McLean suggested the Remuneration Authority consider the workload of each elected councillor, and reimburse them accordingly.

She said her workload would be “well over and above” what she was paid.

“I don’t see this as a great start to my three-year term.”

An OECD report found New Zealand is one of the most expensive places to raise pre-schoolers.

Julia McLean’s letter to the Remuneration Authority

October 13, 2016

An Open Letter to the Remuneration Authority

To Madam Chair, Fran Wilde,

I feel compelled to write to you as a newly elected Councillor in the Hurunui District.

I was one of six candidates who stood and was thrilled to top the polling. I’m determined to make this stunning part of New Zealand an even better place to live, I’m a mother of three, my youngest being six-months.

I am really excited about my new role but I do have one major hesitation…it seems it is going to hit me in the wallet.

I am talking about the Remuneration Authority’s unwillingness to reimburse child-care costs associated with Council business.

Why is it that the RA will reimburse cellphone and internet usage, as well as mileage for Councillors to get to and from meetings, but not assist with childcare?

Yes, we are paid ($19,158 a year) but if I take my childcare expenses out of that, there’ll be little left.

I didn’t put my hand up for this job to become rich, but I also didn’t expect it to cost me.

I wonder if this is why more women (especially mothers) are not actively involved in local body governance, despite the large number of decisions that affect families and the experience they have to offer.

I have been told my only option is to pitch my case to my fellow Councillors and get their support to have my costs met from a pool of monies that pays for politician’s salaries.

I don’t see this as a great way to start my three year term and even if they agree, the decision will need to be signed off by your authority.

I’m told that you have turned down similar applications in the past.

I put my hand up for this job in-spite of the unfairness of your Expenses Policy, and now I am asking you, as a mother who entered politics, to relook at the RA Expenses Policy and bring it into line with modern times.

I know you’ll see the value we can add to Councils and be keen to capture that experience now and in future elections.

Just a thought…

Julia McLean

_by Maddison Northcott for Stuff