At 22 Josh Chandulal-Mackay is Whanganui’s youngest councillor.
He’s a self-described political junkie with parliamentary ambitions, runs the local Labour Party campaign team and is a pro-monarchist serving on the executive of Monarchy New Zealand.
He talks to Zaryd Wilson.
How have your first months on council been?
Well I had a fairly good understanding of what council processes were like, what standing orders were like and that sort of thing because I’d been on the youth committee for six years. The actual bureaucracy and all that kind of thing wasn’t a shock for me.
I guess the biggest challenge has been the time management. The fact that there’s no set routine any week. You’ll be at a meeting one morning and then a function in the evening and have 100-page agenda to read the following the day and at the same time you’ve got to navigate all your other commitments.
I think just the sheer volume of work that we’ve got to do is the most challenging part of it. But also the most enjoyable. I couldn’t be more complimentary of how it has been so far. I’ve really enjoyed it.
Did you enjoy the campaign last year?
Yeah, I loved it. Loved it. I mean I call myself a political junkie and political campaigns are the bread and butter of politics to some extent in terms of actually getting elected in the first place.
I love door-knocking, I love to be at public meetings. I probably lost a lot of weight, which probably wasn’t ideal, in terms of walking hundreds of kilometres doing flier deliveries and that kind of thing.
It exceeded my expectations overwhelmingly, it was quite a shock actually. I set myself a target of 6000 votes. That’s where I thought I needed to be to be elected and that actually ended up being a few hundred too short so to exceed that by 1500 was quite humbling.
The first full year starts now. What do you want to get done?
The big thing that I campaigned on was urban planning and design.
So council has formulated a draft of the town centre regeneration strategy which hasn’t actually been adopted formally by council yet.
But that draft cost about $250,000 to formulate in the first place so I think it would be a real shame to spend that money on what is a fairly comprehensive master plan and then not put some hard sums of money to making it happen.
Of course, this will be a long-term thing, but I’ve seen some things in that plan that are easily achievable over the next three years. So personally, that will be my core focus.
I campaigned on consultation and being active in the community and that sort of thing. I don’t view council and as standard job, I think that it requires actually showing a sort of next tier commitment to the community as well.
I try to go to every event that I can but of course it’s impossible to get to everything.
What was the idea behind the solidarity with Muslims and refugees rally you organised earlier this month and what can be achieved from Whanganui?
Well, in my mind the emphasis was not on putting pressure on Donald Trump to change because, 150 people in Whanganui, really? Sure, it contributes to a larger movement but that wasn’t my aim.
This was about showing those communities that we reject what Donald Trump is doing. My idea was that these communities need to know that they’re not in isolation right now, that the majority of people don’t actually subscribe to the views that Donald Trump is putting forward and so that was the primary motivation by it.
I think strength in numbers across the country showed New Zealand’s Muslim community that New Zealand rejects this kind of bigotry.
You call yourself a political junkie – do you remember when you first became interested in politics?
I’ve always been interested but through primary school and secondary school it was more of something I observed from that side and that kind of thing.
It was in university when I really started to become engaged. In my second year of uni, that was 2014, it was an election year and I knew at the start of the year that I wanted to get really involved in the campaign. I was majoring in politics.
And at that stage I didn’t have any clear affiliations and I knew that whatever happened that it was going to be an all or nothing type thing.
So I knew that whatever party I decided on it was going to be all-out, join as a member, volunteer on the campaign, and see where it went from there.
I spent the first six months of the year analysing policy, going to meetings and being quite methodical about it.
I remember my flatmates and I sat around the table a couple of times, got out the laptops and we’d research policies on political party websites and that kind of thing.
In June I decided that Labour was where I sat, just in terms of the breadth of their policies and the fact that it’s been a party that have implemented significant reform since it came into existence. It was that kind of, I suppose, reformative proactivity on behalf of the party that drove me to join it.
And from that point on I volunteered for Iain Lees-Galloway over in Palmy, I volunteered for Hamish (McDouall) here and from that point on I’ve just become more and more involved.
But your interest must go back further than 2014?
One of the, I suppose, more quirky political positions that I hold is being a supporter of the Monarchy in New Zealand. That’s been something that I’ve been interested in for well over half my life.
I remember when I was ten I did a research project on the British Monarchy, particularly Tudor/Stuart England, that kind of thing. So, that’s always been there.
Back in school I became interest in USA politics. In my final year of school, it was the Presidential election between Obama and Mitt Romney. And I remember – this wasn’t just me, it was most of my year group – we’d all come back to our common room, we’d turn on the TV and watch the debates.
I suppose that set me up quite well for majoring in politics the following year in university and that just translated into where I am now.
Tell me a bit more about this monarchy thing? That’s different.
Where do I begin?
Because support for it is falling.
Yeah. I think it’d be silly to deny that.
So, I believe that the head of state is a separate branch of government from the executive or from the judiciary. That’s set in stone constitutionally.
And because of that I believe it needs to be separate from politics and the only way that you can achieve that is by having a head of state that is not elected.
Say in Ireland for instance, they have a President who is elected but is above politics, who doesn’t implement policy or pass legislation. But the issue is that they still need to campaign for an election, they still need to appeal to a certain sector of the population and therefore they divide prior to even getting into that position.
I also believe the state is a continuing entity that exists regardless of which government is in power and as of that I think the head of state needs to be an embodiment of that system; to show continuity, to show stability and that sort of thing.
And you can’t achieve that if you have an arbitrarily elected head of state who chops and changes every three years. That’s the key thing.
And also, if you look at the most egalitarian states around the world, the top ten, ironically many of them are monarchies. You look at the Nordic states; Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway. They’re all monarchies.
I understand the suggestion that the idea of monarchy is not necessarily egalitarian but the irony is that monarchies – or constitutional monarchies – are generally the more egalitarian ones.
It’s pretty difficult to be able to justify being born into a positon of power though.
It is, yeah. But again, it comes down to what you perceive to be important and I would absolutely agree that someone who is born into a position of power but then had an ability to influence legislation like the autocratic monarchies in places like Saudi Arabia is a terrible thing and is counter-productive to a progressive society.
But in terms of a constitutional monarchy in New Zealand where the Queen as the head of state doesn’t have the ability to influence policy then actually I think it provides a point of stability.
I always emphasise the distinction between being a monarchist and royalist. Being a monarchist is somebody who supports the monarchy because they support the system. Being a royalist is someone that fan girls over Will and Kate and that sort of thing.
I think another thing I will add as well is even though the monarchy is something people perceive as being perhaps regressive and not keeping up with the times, I think that the monarchy has indicated time and time against it can adapt with society as well. That’s why the Queen’s been so successful.
Parliament passed a law and they did over in the UK as well that a male will no longer take precedent over the female.
And you sort of think ‘well gee about time, 2013, it should’ve happened years ago’ and I agree but it shows this is a system of recognising social change and responding to it. I mean, the Queen started paying income tax in [the 1990s].
It’s also nice for us that we share a head of state with 15 other nations and in a time in politics where it’s really divisive, where you’ve got states constantly butting heads with one another, we’ve kind of got an inherent unity with 15 other states around the world because we share the same head of state.
Speaking of this time in politics, what do you make of it?
I think there are a helluva lot of problems. I think the US political system is possibly the most disastrous in the Western world. It’s the prevalence of money in politics, of corporates, the fact that Hillary Clinton can lose and election by winning by 3million votes. I mean, things like that you think, gee, that’s a flawed system.
That fact that a president appoints the Supreme Court judges so the president can actually tilt the Supreme Court in his or her favour according to their political ideology. This is meant to be a system of checks and balances, yet the President is appointing the main check on the President.
Locally, what this election for council made me realise is that even at the lowest possible level – a district council election – there’s still massive inequities in the system. I mean, I spent about $5500 on my campaign. I received about $2500 in donation from my parents and the rest I funded myself. I could not have run the campaign if I didn’t have the security to gamble $5000 for an outcome that was by no means guaranteed.
On top of that, hoarding locations and that kind of thing; it’s all about connections, it’s about who you know.
You could be the most competent candidate in the world but because you didn’t have financial backing and you didn’t have local connections you would not get elected because you weren’t able to run as an effective campaign as someone who may be a lesser candidate but had more advantages in terms of how they could run their campaign.
I could go further than that as well. You look around the council table you’ve got a council that is full of – and this is me included – white middle to upper class councillors and a lot of business owners. I have a casual job at my dad’s investment company Craigs Investment Partners and that gives me a bit of money on the side, so that gives me the flexibility to be able to do this.
But if you’re a wage earner working a 40-hour week, you don’t have the flexibility to go and run for council. So, it’s a system full of inequities even at the lowest level. I mean, I don’t know how to correct that but I think it’s worth highlighting because it restricts a massive portion of the population from being to participate.
Did you consider running to be the Labour candidate in Whanganui this year?
I was asked at the end of 2015 if I would consider running for Labour in an unwinnable seat this year.
I turned that down in the end because I decided to run for council.
In the last couple of years I’ve tossed up 2017 and whether I’d throw my hat in the ring but quite frankly I didn’t feel I was ready.
I’m leader of the campaign committee at the moment and the high likelihood is that I will be campaign manager. And as campaign manager I can really sink my teeth into running a really good campaign in Whanganui.
That’s where I plan on being this year, behind the scenes and supporting whoever the candidate is as well. We really want to turn Whanganui red, we want a Labour MP so that’s my absolute goal at this point.
You want a bit more experience before you have a shot?
Yeah, I mean, obviously today on the front page of the paper we’ve seen that there are two candidates and because of that I don’t want to start speculating on when I might run in future because that I think might do a disservice to the candidates that have put themselves forward and as I said my primary motivation is to have a Labour Whanganui MP and ideally at the end of this year it’ll be one of those two.
But you definitely have national political ambitions?
With Labour? Are they going to be strong again?
You go back 15 years now when Bill English last led the National party in an election. They polled 21 per cent. Labour polled 25 in 2014. Within six years National was in Government again – from 21 per cent up to 40-something.
Obviously, the Green party is growing and I think the memorandum of understanding between Labour and the Greens is a reflection of the important part that the Green’s will play in any future Labour-led government but I think that as I said right at the start, over the course of history Labour’s been that party that has reformed society, you know, Social Security Act, state housing, superannuation, Kiwisaver, interest-free student loans, nuclear free New Zealand, all of that.
And the 80s economic reforms…
And then the 80s, so yeah, even reform that sort of split the party internally. So it’s been all over history and I think even in the last couple of years Labour’s demonstrated that it’s still not fallen away from those reformative roots.
The future of work commission, looking at the way the economy’s changing, looking at the nature of work, that kind of thing.
That’s been the emphasis of the party the last couple of years and I think that once people start seeing that again, or taking notice of it – I think it’s been publicised enough personally – I think they’ll see a credible government in waiting.
The other thing you’ve become involved in recently is the working party looking at the impact of the pending canonisation of Suzanne Aubert. Tell me about that.
So, I’m a Catholic, was raised a Catholic. And (mayor) Hamish (McDouall) recognised that when I was elected to council and he asked me to be involved in the working party that basically scopes out what the opportunities are for Whanganui if Mother Aubert is canonised. And that’s in terms of the number of pilgrims we’d have coming up the river and traveling to Jerusalem.
It’s about making sure we have the infrastructure in place that will provide for people to spend a lengthy amount of time up there, working with Horizons on flood mitigation, that kind of thing.
Is it going to happen?
Yep. I mean I couldn’t give you a timeline. These things are decided over in Rome, or a lot of people would say it’s decided up there, but she has been declared venerable. That means that she’s well and truly on the path to canonisation. But it could be years, we’re not talking in the next six months.
And what could it do for Whanganui?
Well because she would be New Zealand’s first Saint and you would see an influx of people into the district to go up and pay tribute to where she worked for sixteen years up at Jerusalem where she established the Sisters of Compassion so it would have a massive economic impact on the community.
Those people wouldn’t just be going up the river they’d be coming into the city as well.