There will be four new faces around the table when the next Waitaki District Council meets for the first time later this month.
Kelli Milmine and Hana Halalele have been elected to the Oamaru ward, Peter Newton is the new Waihemo councillor and, in Ahuriri, Ross McRobie was elected unopposed .
Oamaru Mail editor Rebecca Ryan chats to Kelli, Hana and Peter about the task ahead.
Occupation: University of Otago social work lecturer, Talanga ‘a Waitaki Powerup Flexi Plus co-ordinator, Oamaru Pacific Island Community Group president
When Hana Halalele moved to Oamaru in 1985 with her mother and three siblings, there was a “handful” of other Pasifika families in the district.
Now, it is estimated the North Otago town is home to the largest population of Pacific people per capita in New Zealand.
As the Pasifika population has grown, so too have calls for more diverse representation on the Waitaki District Council and, after being approached by several members of the community, Mrs Halalele, a New Zealand born-Samoan, said the timing felt right this year.
Receiving 2543 votes to claim the sixth seat in the Oamaru ward was a “humbling experience”, she said.
“I didn’t take anything for granted. I wasn’t sure how I would go, but I’m just really humbled and privileged to have this opportunity to represent some of the voices that haven’t necessarily had a direct representation at the table – and that’s what I’m really looking forward to.”
For now, she is relishing the opportunity to serve the community and learn, but said some of her priorities included climate change, sustainability, community housing and wellbeing.
“I really want to push a diversity and inclusive strategy in all areas of governance, especially with the long-term district plan,” she said.
There are now people from 50 ethnicities in the Waitaki area and it was important the community supported and accepted those changes, she said.
“The community needs to be brought into the journey of the changing demographic and the cultural aspect of Oamaru.”
Mrs Halalele, who lives in Oamaru with husband Tai and daughters Lesieli and Toeafiafi, is also interested in promoting more communication and collaboration, and saw opportunities to engage more with central government.
She will juggle councillor responsibilities with social work lecturing at Otago University until next month, when her contract ends, and co-ordinating the launch and delivery of a new contract with the Ministry for Pacific Peoples to expand an employment services support programme to Oamaru.
Occupation: Real estate agent
Kelli Milmine has wanted to run for council since she was in her twenties.
Now aged 45, she felt the timing was right and, receiving 2685 votes, she became one of two new councillors elected to the Waitaki District Council’s six-seat Oamaru ward at the weekend.
North Otago born and bred, Mrs Milmine left Oamaru when she was 18 years old to join the Royal New Zealand Air Force – a male-dominated world that gave her a “crash course in life”.
She had several roles in the air force, including helicopter pilot, accounts clerk, recruiter, developer and planner. She also worked for the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation in Bosnia and for the United Nations in East Timor.
Mrs Milmine moved back to Oamaru in 2007 and left the military in 2012.
“At the end of the day, there was just no place like home, and no feeling like home,” she said.
“It’s a pretty special place.”
Mrs Milmine is now a managing director of One Agency in Oamaru and a presenter for 45 South Television. She lives on a lifestyle block in Oamaru with husband Darryl, an engineer for Topflite, and son Fletcher (9).
She was “absolutely flattered and honoured” to have been elected to council and looking forward to getting stuck in.
“I’m not one to spout off about stuff without knowing what I’m talking about, so I just want to get stuck in, learn how it all works and basically go from there.”
Occupation: Part-time manager and community-minded volunteer
It is a lot easier to create a Facebook page than go door-knocking, but research shows the most effective way to turn out voters is with high-quality, face-to-face conversations.
That approach paid off for Peter Newton, who estimated he knocked on 95% of doors in the Waihemo ward in his campaign for a seat on the Waitaki District Council.
And even after securing the one Waihemo ward seat with 448 votes, beating incumbent Jan Wheeler (369), Mr Newton plans to keep knocking.
“It’s been really interesting to find out what people’s aspirations and issues are,” he said.
Mr Newton moved to Palmerston eight years ago with his wife, Megan, a primary school teacher.
He quickly became involved in the “vibrant” community, through volunteering and working part-time managing the local recycling centre, but wanted to do more for the betterment of the community.
“I felt that we weren’t necessarily being heard,” he said.
Mr Newton grew up in Mosgiel and worked in Dunedin managing law firms and in IT, accounting and finance.
The father-of-two said he liked to “look at the big picture” – and was already thinking long term for the district.
“It’s our grandchildren who are going to benefit or suffer because of our decisions, and I’d rather they benefit.”
He had also been involved in the development of a community garden in Palmerston.
Mr Newton had spoken to Mrs Wheeler, who had offered to support him in the role.
He was humbled, and overwhelmed, by the support he had received.
Mr Newton promised to “stand fast on things that matter to the entire Waitaki region”.
“Yes, I’m the councillor for Waihemo, but we are looking after the entire Waitaki area and it’s how that benefits everybody – residents, farmers, businesses, clubs and societies and, of course, your visitors.”