Efeso Collins Wants An Auckland Fit For Young People. Will He Be Our City’s Next Mayor?
By Justin Hu (he/him)
Auckland mayoral candidate Fa'anānā Efeso Collins sounds like a leader-in-waiting.
With six months left until local elections, the city’s mayoral contenders still have a countless number of debates, community events, and - ultimately - questions to answer. Collins says he’s running because the city’s “invested so much into our lives”, speaking of his Samoan and Tokelau parents who emigrated here before he was born in Ōtara in the 1970s.
Endorsed by the local Labour and Green parties, the Manukau ward councillor represents a fresh, progressive voice for the city, as well as being in the running to become Auckland’s first Pasifika mayor.
Debate spoke to the mayoral candidate to learn more about why he is running and what priorities he has for students and young people. Collins’ first policy announcement as a candidate is to make public transport fares free across all buses, trains, and ferries.
He says he supports free fares as he believes it will expand the mobility of those struggling with living costs, as well as reduce Auckland’s carbon emissions.
“My ambition is to get us out of our cars and into public transport. Given that I’ve represented Manukau for such a long time, I believe that there's a price impediment to people getting on the car.”
Collins said he also wants a “strengthened” public transport network with more reliable bus services that are running frequently across the city.
“I'm fortunate where I live since I just walk out and I know the bus is coming. I'm on a frequent bus line which is why we chose the apartment complex we're in now,” he said.
“I just walk out and I'm on a bus to Sylvia Park or Māngere that comes every 10 or 15 minutes, so I think that's what everybody needs.”
He recalls his personal experiences organising bus tickets for students when he was involved in university politics. Collins had been the president of the Auckland University Students Association in the late-1990s.
“When I was involved in student politics, I used to assist the welfare student officer and we were working out food grants, public transport grants,” he said.
“I remember being so embarrassed when I was a student having to ask for a ticket just to get me through that week, but had that service and support not been there, I would not have gone into university.
“All I'm thinking about is if we can alleviate students and young people, in particular, from those costs, then it's going to be life enhancing for them.
“You know, the last thing you wanna be doing when you're sitting at your calculus lecture is thinking ‘how the heck am I gonna get home today?’”
Collins cited research from the Helen Clark Foundation which found that around 28 percent of household incomes in disadvantaged communities are spent on transport alone.
“I think there are great things that the spare money could go to; getting a bit more food on the table, or your rental and accommodation costs.”
For Collins, he says the cost of living is one of the key barriers for people living in Auckland and is squeezing people out. That meant housing affordability is big on the councillor’s agenda if he becomes mayor.
“Our housing costs are way out of kilter with our cost of living. My own family have all gone to Australia. I’m the only one left in Auckland now, and they all moved to Australia 'cause they were getting better pay and they could afford a house,” he said.
"And that can't be the answer for Auckland, where people just get shipped off to Australia or further out because they cannot afford to stay here. We've got to arrest that reality and turn it around so people can afford to live there.”
Collins said the council should lobby the central government for stronger rights for renters and believes “regeneration at an urban level” will help fix housing supply issues.
What Collins means by the latter is more intensification - an overarching goal of many existing council plans - that will allow more apartments and smaller homes to be built around Auckland.
“Let's see what we can do as council, as we regenerate at an urban level to make sure that there's more housing units, to increase consents - so that we're building, 'cause there's a major supply issue, and then to make sure that renters have rights.”
Collins said he imagines a future where better public transport supported more intensification.
“I live in an apartment complex and I'm a believer in public transport and intensification. I think the dream that we came to New Zealand with, the quarter acre property, is an adjusted dream,” he said.
“Many of our young people aren't going to need to get a driver's licence unless it's for work because most of them will be on public transport or walking or cycling.
“We've got to understand that the world has changed and is moving on. And that means we cannot be car-dependent the way we have been for many years.”
He said more apartments and less parking would “test” some Aucklanders who had only known a car-centric city but that it would be a better change for young people looking for an affordable city to live in. Local politicians like to pay a lot of lip service to young people on issues like housing, especially when there really aren’t any downsides to saying you care about what young people think.
But when it comes to actually doing, it’s older generations who wield influence. Only 20 percent of 26-30 year olds in Auckland voted in 2019’s local elections while 61 percent of those aged 76-80 did vote. Collins seems to realise this tension when he brings up a notorious 2016 council meeting where the council’s own Youth Advisory Panel was heckled and yelled at while submitting on the city’s then-hotly debated Unitary Plan.
At the time, The Spinoff’s Hayden Donnell labelled the meeting a “satanic abomination of the democratic process” and a video of the encounter is available online. Collins uses it as an example of how young people are “drowned out” in decisions on the future of our city. “In politics, you tend to lend your ear to those who are shouting the loudest,” Collins said.
“And that's often what politics is like, but it's the gentle voices that are often on the margins that we need to make specific efforts to reach. If you look at the data - if you are younger, browner, poorer, you tend not to vote. [Meanwhile] the wealthier you are, if you've got stable housing, then you tend to vote. And there's a huge discrepancy there.
“That is not what we want for an evolving, developing city that is super diverse. We want lots of people's views represented and if you look at the challenges we have around climate change, it's the young people’s generation that are leading the charge.”
When it comes down to it, Collins says he has a “real heart” for young people and he believes they will be at the heart of many changes he could make as mayor.