We have many amazing women running in our local elections this year, but so often our regional councils are left out. We spoke to Jennifer Nickel, who is running for Waikato Regional Council, about what her priorities are, shared water services and how being a new mum is affecting her campaign.
Tell us about yourself!
I am someone who loves finding new ways of doing things – especially if better for the environment or wellbeing – then giving them a go and sharing that knowledge with others. Connecting ideas and people is what I thrive on and I believe that would serve me well in local government to represent various views.
I grew up in Whangamata and was fortunate to get to attend St Peters School in Cambridge for my final school years before undertaking a Bachelor and Masters(tech) degree in Science at the University of Waikato. For several years I worked in cancer research, then retrained in sustainability and landed an environmental role at the Fonterra Te Rapa manufacturing site. I moved on to the Morrinsville and Waitoa sites eventually and always gave it my all to improve environmental performance.
Currently I am on maternity leave, which provided me with some reflection and to seriously contemplate standing for Waikato Regional Council. I realized I had some really relevant skills and experiences to contribute and as the campaign goes on I want it more and more.
What skills and experiences would you bring to the Waikato Regional Council?
As an Environmental Manager I got to participate on manufacturing site leadership teams, manage staff and budgets, strategically plan for infrastructure and implement capital projects, learn best practice environmental management systems, how to prepare for and respond to emergencies, and experienced the operational challenges of running large industrial wastewater treatment plants with river discharges as well as get to know what’s important to local communities and councils.
What are the top 3 priorities for you to address if elected?
- Value our environment more in decision making. The data makes it abundantly clear that we can do much better when it comes to our waterways, biodiversity and our carbon footprints in particular.
- Supporting further collaboration to provide affordable services and facilities to enable our wellbeing. The region can only be its best if everyone is doing well within it and if we look after people they will look after each other too.
- Reviewing how Waikato Regional Council interacts with the community so more people are enticed to participate in decisions.
What number one change will you be pushing for environmentally?
That the Waikato Regional Council takes a leadership role in regards to climate action for the region; not restricted to its own organizational footprint but to have a confident overview of what activities will lower or increase that footprint and to facilitate the collaborations required to make low-carbon living easier for individuals and organisations. I want them to be in the space between all of our ideas and initiatives.
Recently, some of the mayoral candidates spoke about shared water services, is this something you support?
So Hamilton City Council (and Waipa & Waikato District Councils) are water users just like any business. Infrastructure-wise they are just a much larger version of the manufacturing sites I worked on. Therefore it is entirely up to them how they want to structure themselves to provide the most cost effective high-quality water to their residents.
Waikato Regional Council’s role is to protect the source of that water (e.g. the Waikato River for the Hamilton’s water supply). Personally, I would advocate for whatever model will result in water being used responsibly and no matter how they structure themselves I would just want their employees to be well trained and to follow all of the rules of their resource consents in order to protect the river.
How would you propose Waikato Regional Council interacts more with the community?
Waikato Regional Council does some amazing things in the region but when I tell these stories to people they are often surprised, which gives me the impression that the reach of their storytelling isn’t going far enough. There is a big opportunity to bring people in via more use of social media and quickly digestible information. I propose to cut down the word count and get more interaction with younger generations online.
Has being a new mother affected your campaign at all?
When most strategic campaign tasks are limited to be done during naptimes it can be a challenge to get everything done that you want to do in order to get your name out there but fortunately I’ve also been able to make good use of the baby-carrier to attend many events and coffee-chats. It’s quite the conversation starter and it has always added value to the interaction – I’ve only had positive comments so far. Often the conversation is about how to benefit future generations and when you’ve got one literally strapped to you at the time that comes across as fairly genuine and it motivates me a lot.
What would you say to other mothers who are hesitant to run in their local elections?
I have been really surprised at the amount of support out there from organisations like Seed Waikato, individuals interested in local politics and even other candidates. It is not something many people choose to do and putting yourself out there does make you a bit vulnerable but if you have the ambition and can see a path based on your own lifestyle and circumstances then go for it… and then let the people decide.