Census surprises

4 12 2013

IMG_2866

The Census results provide a useful set of information for anyone who cares about the future of our region.

With one in three locals now aged under 20 and half the population under 40, we need to ensure the voices of young citizens are heard clearly and that we provide decent support to help them grow as contributing members of our community. I would also be keen to hear from the three local teenagers who said they earn over $100,000 per year!

Ethnic and cultural identity figures are very interesting. The proportion of the population identifying as Māori remains about the same at 49 percent (likely to be a bit higher in reality). Many of us Pākehā seem to have some ambivalence and lack of confidence about our cultural identity. The number of local ‘European’ residents has jumped sharply, while those claiming ‘New Zealander’ as their ethnicity has dropped by over 3,000. Pacific peoples have increased by about 15 percent and other ethnic groups, including Asian, have all increased more modestly. While we may be one of least ethnically diverse regions, few others have Asian and African political leaders!

Though we do have 804 people – including the three teenagers – earning over $100,000, we have comparatively low income levels and the lowest home ownership rates in the country. We have also had a significant increase in the proportion of the population that hold a university degree. A population with higher levels of education should result in positive changes over time to income levels, home ownership and many other benefits. The key ingredient in that equation is a good match between education and employment opportunities. There is some good work being done in this space and a closer relationship between schools, employers and training providers will be critical.

With the lowest access to the internet at home, there is a great case for more public access options to information and communication technologies. The proposed neighbourhood computer hubs and better online options at schools, marae and the public library service all need significant support and investment to bridge the digital divide and enable new technology-based industries and employment opportunities to evolve quickly.

The Gisborne/Tairāwhiti region has the highest proportion of Māori language speakers in the country, with one in six of us being able to converse in Te Reo. I agree with the Chief Statistician who has called our region ‘the home of Te Reo’ – an asset we can use not only in tourism but also as a selling point for the tens of thousands of people – Māori and non-Māori – who want their children to grow up bi-lingual and in an environment where Māori traditions and values are maintained and appreciated.

All in all, I’d say the numbers suggest we are a pretty fascinating mix of awesomeness with plenty of room for improvement, but also much to be proud of.





Chamber of Commerce Q+A

21 09 2013

MyPositionFarms

 

The Gisborne Chamber of Commerce asked candidates five questions, these are my responses…

- – -

I have enjoyed first term on Council, part of that was on the Chamber Executive and I’d like to see those links strengthened a little more as I think Brian Wilson and myself acted as a useful conduit between the Council and Chamber on a number of issues.

I think I’ve been able to make intelligent, sensible and considered contributions to Council and I’ve helped raise the quality of discussion, debate and decision-making.

I’ve had a focus on increasing public involvement in planning and decisions and been a strong advocate for the city and the district as a whole.

I have listened to residents and ratepayers (even after being elected!), worked well with others (who don’t always share the same values and views) and helped make good decisions in the best interest of the region as a whole.

- – – 

1. What do you see as the GDC’s role in contributing to economic development and growth in this region?

Council has a key role in a number of areas contributing to economic development:

  1. Providing good quality infrastructure, predictable regulation & consistent planning
  2. Collecting and disseminating information that helps the community make informed decisions on the direction for the district
  3. Advocating for the district at central government – ensuring our big issues are nationally significant issues.
  4. Facilitating relationships between stakeholders to realise opportunities and achieve sustainable solutions in the best interest of the district where there are competing priorities.

Some of functions within these areas, particulatly information gathering and sharing, advocacy and relationship brokerage could be devolved to an Economic Development Agency run separate to Council. But the Mayor and Council have a critical leadership role in advocating on behalf of the region – especially on things like roading, new costs being imposed by central government legislation, etc. And political leadership can help broker mutually beneficial relationships with industry, iwi, land owners, research institutions, entrepreneurs, etc.

Council can also have procurement and banking policies that benefit the local community in different ways.

- – -

2. What is your view of the core role of council? Do you consider there are any current council activities that do not fit this role?

Under new legislation the purpose of local government is now to provide quality infrastructure, regulation & essential services. Opposition parties have pledged to revert the purpose back to promoting sustainable development and local cultural, environmental, social and economic wellbeing.

I’m not completely wedded to Council providing social housing. I have argued it could be sold to a Charitable Trust, housing cooperative or something like ECT but wouldn’t want to see them go to private ownership. I’m also open to Council not owning any or all of its commercial assets (WOF station, holiday park, farms) if there are compelling financial reasons to divest from these enterprises. We need an urgent review of Council asset ownership to identify options and the benefits of retaining or releasing these enterprises.

Tauwhareparae Farms are being well run but I’m not convinced we need to retain them. They were acquired to supplement port income and will always provide low value compared to capital committed, as the trees appreciate so will the capital value. There is no legal risk in selling them and my preference would be as Margaret Thorpe suggests to land-bank them via OTS as they are subject to Treaty claims. This will ensure we get a premium price, they are retained in local ownership and we demonstrate goodwill to the traditional owners.

- – -

3. Businesses have to live within their means, or face the consequences. What is your view with regard to GDC achieving the same discipline around keeping rates increases in check?

Significant savings have been made by previous and current CEO to trim as much as possible. More ‘savings’ could be found but that depends on what we want to give up and what quality of life we can tolerate.

I campaigned on rates rises at or below inflation and we have achieved that. The ‘razor gang’ didn’t make any significant savings. I also campaigned on getting more predictable rates system with smaller variations year on year and we are making good progress on this through the participatory rates review process.

Council league tables suggest we are now one of the most financially sustainable and we rank 26 out of 73 councils for cost of rates.

Councillors are financially conservative and understand the limits of affordability for residents, but the WMT suggests this is not the case. That massive blowout and the need to address some basic first suggest some of the fancy projects need to be reviewed while we attend to the basics first.

If the community has things they think we should stop doing or not start they have the opportunity every year and we listen to that feedback.

- – -

4. What is your position with respect to the re-opening of the Gisborne to Napier rail line?

The railway line a billion dollar public asset that is lying idle while Gisborne and Wairoa businesses scream out for it to make our products more competitive. Some people say logs will never go South on it but there are massive forests between Napier and Gisborne that will provide the anchor business for the line so that containerised seasonal produce and timber coming out and fertiliser going to Gisborne can be transported by rail instead of trucks. Coastal shipping is unlikely to ever be viable if the rail is operating.

More trucks on the road means more cost in maintenance, more congestion and more danger for other motorists – it also means more cost for local businesses and more competition from other places that have lower freight costs.

With the support of 10,000 signatures and $20,000 given by local businesses and residents, we commissioned a study that demonstrated the lack of rigor in the government’s position and the potential for a realistic business case if roads and rail were considered on a level playing field by central government.

A different government next year will reinstate the line if the local business consortium is unable to raise the funds required. Some candidates say they don’t don’t support ratepayers funding the line operation – that has never been a realistic option – but Council could be a stronger advocate for the line.

- – -

5. If you were elected to the council, what activities or actions would you take to ensure Gisborne becomes an even better place to work, live and play?

I will keep doing what I have been:

-  all of the above, plus…

-  working with the IT sector to establish local computer hubs for young people and families with few opportunities to access IT, career pathways via the Techxpo and partnership with major NZ telcos

- advocating for more central government support for our district (transport, rail, imposed costs, renewable energy, forestry carbon credits, aquaculture, etc.) and working with iwi and other stakeholders on these issues

- leading a gang transformation project focused on employment and working with employers and support services

- review commercial assets

- keep rates at or below inflation

- continue support for better commuter cycling and walking infrastructure

- more emphasis on local housing issues – affordable, healthy housing for everyone, not provided by Council but Council facilitating government, community and private sectors working together

- continue emphasising the importance of opportunities for public input on issues like forestry harvest rules, petroleum exploration applications, legislative submissions, etc.

- continue work on Māori land issues – Council working with landowners to look at how to make the land more productive and/or revert to indigenous forest

-  continue supporting illegal dumping prevention and removal, and more ambitious waste minimisation targets.

- continue bringing diverse parts of the community together to address complex issues

- continue voluntary involvement in a wide range of community groups and local issues.





My Views on a Multicultural Tairāwhiti

9 09 2013
Meeting with youth in a Nepalese village in 2007 with two young people I took over to share the experience.

Meeting with youth in a Nepalese village in 2007.

Tairāwhiti Multicultural Council sent out a list of five questions for candidates to answer for them, here are my responses…

 

1.What is your vision for Gisborne in terms of cultural diversity?

That all Gisborne people can feel proud of their unique cultural heritage and honoured for the diversity they bring to our community.

Gisborne could show other regions how to support the exchange and sharing of diverse cultural backgrounds in a way that enriches our town.

 

2. The Ten Year Plan says GDC will support the development of cultural groups in the district, what kind of support do you think GDC should provide to the Tairāwhiti Multicultural Council?

As part of GDC cultural responsiveness it could utilise the TMC to be a liaison network with community. GDC would then benefit from investing in the Council by providing administration support and resources. The Council could discuss further with GDC how it might like to have input into Council discussions.

 

3. What regular interaction do you have with groups of people from cultural backgrounds different to your own?

I have worked on aid and development programmes in Asia, Africa and the South Pacific but most of my work has been here in Gisborne and mostly within the Māori community. While I have Tongan whakapapa, my upbringing was pretty middle-class Pākehā – though I did spend a lot of time at marae, in hui and kapahaka as a child. Marrying a woman from Ngāti Porou and coming to live here has meant I have a direct family connection to mana whenua and have immersed myself in the culture of Māori communities both in Gisborne and on the Coast where we are intimately involved with a whānau marae. My wife and I have only ever spoken Te Reo Māori to our children and we’re committed to them being educated and socialised in Te Reo as well as the exposure they have everywhere to English. So we understand something of the struggle people from minority linguistic, religious and ethnic communities have to endure in this Anglo-Saxon dominated society.

I have been a founding member of the Tairāwhiti Inter-Faith Network and more recently the Tairāwhiti Multicultural Council – both are small but important networks that encourage people from diverse backgrounds to come together for the common good.

I’m regularly invited to Tongan and Pacific Island community events and recently participated in discussions around the establishment of a local consortium of Pasifika peoples focused on Whānau Ora initiatives for Tairāwhiti. I have supported migrants with immigration issues and negotiated on their behalf with immigration officials and lawyers. I have helped organise multicultural community events that bring people from diverse cultural backgrounds together in our neighbourhoods.

 

4. What, if any, common challenges are you aware of for local residents from ethnic minority groups?

Negative stereotypes are still around. Such unfair stereotyping of any group can detract from the community as a whole being able to draw from the energy and contributions a group can make.

There are still some groups over-represented in crime and educational failure and under-represented in business leadership and educational success. Initiatives like the Tongan Homework Support Programme utilising local volunteers and working with the students while the parents learn English at EIT is an exciting community-based response to do something about this situation.

Some particularly new to New Zealand arrivals can often feel isolated so strengthening community connections for those families is important. Also there needs to be support for ethnic minority groups to be able to feel that they have a home in our city and can adapt in ways that are useful to them, while also maintaining their own culture.

 

5. What are the biggest opportunities you see for attracting new immigrants and refugees to Gisborne?

As a city if we genuinely aspire towards sustainable solutions to the challenges that ethnic minorities face, this may attract their talents to our region.

There are opportunities to ask the Government to consider resettling some refugees here as they settled Burmese refugees in Nelson ten years ago. There are also a number of local businesses that rely on migrant workers – not only in low-skilled horticultural work but high tech positions like computer programming and materials technology. I met a PhD from Bangladesh who was working at Pultron and subsequently head-hunted by a company in Melbourne – he had some awesome ideas about developing composite materials from flax fibre here.

If Gisborne can show that it celebrates diversity and wants to involve ethnic groups in meaningful discussions on relevant issues – this would enhance the decision making process of GDC.

 





Are we all Placemakers?

14 05 2013

Imagell

While the Cycle and Walkways have consistently been the most popular of the Major Projects in the Council’s Ten Year Plan, the Navigations Project has been one of the least popular and most controversial. Both projects are arguably about ‘placemaking’ and economic development – cycleways focus on making the city a more attractive, healthy and liveable city, the Navigations Project is more about telling local history stories to locals and visitors.

Research recently published by an initiative called the Project for Public Spaces and promoted by the Institute of Public Governance at the University of California Berkeley has explored the links between placemaking and economic growth in communities.

The research suggests creation of great public spaces is good for the economy, but only when it’s truly community-driven, open and inclusive. The more attached to a place local people are, the higher a city or region’s economic activity: “Placemaking, in other words, is a vital part of economic development.” True placemaking involves an open process that welcomes everyone who wants in, which provides the opportunity for residents — who may or may not know each other — to share ideas and be heard.

“The end result should be a space that’s flexible enough to make room for many different communities, and encourage connections between them.” Or, the flip side:  “If Placemaking is project-led, development-led, design-led or artist-led, then it does likely lead to… a more limited set of community outcomes.”

The success of the cycle ways and inner-harbour development will depend on the level of ownership we all have in the planning and implementation of both projects.

The study also argues that communities can change governance for the better “by positioning public spaces at the heart of action-oriented community dialog, making room both physically and philosophically by re-framing citizenship as an on-going, creative collaboration between neighbors. The result is not merely vibrancy, but equity.”

Gisborne District Council has not had a great history of fostering public participation in planning and decision-making, usually opting for the minimum required. In fact the Consultation Policy adopted in 2008 specifically excluded citizen empowerment from the continuum of public involvement.

“Place Governance” on the other hand is a process by which decisions about places are made not from the top down, but by a collaborative process involving everyone. The Gisborne Fresh Water Advisory Group is a move toward this approach as it involves a wide cross-section of the community. However the FWAG falls short of real Place Governance because it is an exclusive group of organisations, meetings are not open to the public and the process is still controlled by Council.

The key actors in a Place Governance structure are not official agencies that deal with a few prescribed issues, but the people who use the area in question and are most intimately acquainted with its challenges. Officials who strive to implement this type of governance structure do so because they understand that the best solutions don’t come from within narrow disciplines, but from the points where people of different backgrounds come together.

I know some residents along the Taraheru River are concerned about how a boardwalk from Campion College to Grey Street may impact on the views, river access, tranquility and largely unspoiled riverfront they currently enjoy. While this project is on hold for the time being it will be essential for the residents, river users, iwi representatives, walkers and cyclists to work through how we can best utilise the public spaces along the river as this project proceeds. And I’m confident Council will ensure that happens.





Rushed RMA Reforms Revisited

14 03 2013

Image

A Government presentation in Gisborne yesterday on planned changes to the Resource Management Act and freshwater management provided only one side of the story according to a Gisborne District councillor.

“Of course it is the job of the Minister for the Environment and her officials to paint the proposed changes in the best light possible and they did a good job of that” said Manu Caddie. “But there are a lot of concerns about these changes in different parts of the community and the two week timeframe for providing feedback is incredibly tight.”

Mr Caddie has organised another workshop for people interested in discussing the changes in more depth at Gisborne District Council starting 6.30pm next Thursday 21 March.

“The Minister was quite upfront about trying to push these changes through quickly and while the topic may not be as sexy as the Marriage Equality Bill or Asset Sales, the long-term ramifications for the natural environment, habitat protection and community involvement in decision-making are huge.”

Mr Caddie said he is particularly concerned about planned changes to decision-making that will give central government greater powers and reduce opportunities for local control of environmental regulation.

“The RMA was one of the most progressive pieces of legislation in the world in terms of participatory democracy and local control of local issues. Limiting the opportunities for public submissions and the right to appeal a decision will reduce the diversity of information available to decision makers and the quality of decisions.”

Mr Caddie said increasing the influence of commercial interests in decision-making and reducing the level of consideration given to environmental protection may reduce ‘red tape’ for big business and property developers but also impacts on habitat protection and the health of local ecologies.

“There are a few good things in the changes that would bring some more consistency and speed up minor resource consents but there are many aspects to the proposals that will further erode the few protections currently in place for the natural environment.”

Local Māori who spoke at the meeting yesterday expressed a desire to see more co-governance arrangements for resource management, particularly decisions about waterways. Proposed changes allow Māori a range of consultation opportunities in water management processes but stop short of sharing final decision-making with iwi or hapū.

Mr Caddie said he is also available to meet with any group or individual interested in discussing the proposed changes.

ENDS

Resources:

MfE Discussion Paper: http://www.mfe.govt.nz/publications/rma/improving-our-resource-management-system.html





Deepening Democracy

4 01 2013
Image

‘The Death of Socrates’

The controversial decision of the Local Government Commission on the GDC Representation Review has provided another opportunity to look at local democracy in more depth. The status quo was preferred by a slim majority of councillors but like in 1998 the Commission took into account the law and the views of submitters and ultimately required changes in the structure of elected members.

It is great to see my rural colleagues committed to ensuring all voices in the district are heard and the ‘quiet’ residents “have their needs listened to and met.” I agree we need to ensure those groups that traditionally have not had a strong voice around the Council table are better represented and contribute to decision-making.

To this end perhaps we should be reviewing the current content and effectiveness of the GDC Consultation Policy passed by the previous Council?

That policy commits Council to “partner with the public in each aspect of a decision, including the development of alternatives and the identification of the preferred solution.” The policy says “We will look to you (citizens) for direct advice in formulating solutions and incorporate your advice into the decisions to the maximum extent possible.” My short time on Council has suggested there is much room for improvement in this regard.

The last Council specifically excluded ‘empowerment’ and putting ‘decision-making in the hands of the public’ from the spectrum of public engagement in the Consultation Policy. I guess it may come down to a philosophy of governance. Some people believe elected representatives are put into office to make decisions on behalf of the public who wish to have little input in decisions that affect them. Others of us believe our role is to encourage as much public participation in local decision-making as possible. Maybe I’ve packaged the proposals in unhelpful ways, but most of my efforts in this regard haven’t been very successful to date.

Community Boards were one example and something we could have included in the Representation Review if there was greater willingness to look at ways to improve our democratic processes locally. 42 submitters (including a number living in rural areas) argued for Community Boards through their Representation Review submissions compared to only 11 submitters who said they did not support Community Boards.

Wainui/Okitu Residents and Ratepayers Association submission specifically requested a Community Board for their community as they argued Wainui/Okitu is a community of interest as defined in the legislation. They also suggested other rural communities may benefit from community boards.

While highly effective in the overwhelming majority of districts that have Community Boards, the request for community boards was rejected by the majority of councilors.

It is encouraging to see that the majority of councilors support special treatment for some parts of the population, in this case depending on where you live or own property. As Turanga iwi have successfully demonstrated through their Treaty settlements, indigenous peoples are also entitled to special treatment in local government arrangements and it will be interesting to see how this works out under the new statutory committee to be established between Council and iwi.

Consultation Policy goals we can and will do better on include: promoting a sense of ownership of its decisions by the people of the district; providing an opportunity for meaningful input into decisions; creating an awareness of the diversity of opinion within the community; and showing leadership.

15 years after the last changes were made in representation arrangements some will say we are closer to fair representation and others will say we are not, but hopefully we can keep taking important steps toward empowered participation.





The Most Important Issue in the World

15 12 2012

OK, here’s a potentially boring but important law change that citizens should take an interest in.

Submissions on the Local Electoral Amendment Bill are due this Friday. Given the Government’s desire to have the amendments enacted for the 2013 local government elections, the consultation period has been short.

The Bill tightens the rules around anonymous donations, and basically aligns the local election requirements with those that apply to Parliamentary elections. Candidates can not accept an anonymous donation of more than $1500 and the definition of anonymous donations has been amended so that a donation is anonymous if the candidate does not know the identity of the donor, or could not be reasonably expected to know the identity of the donor – I hope John Banks supports this!

The Bill also incorporates amendments that were in a similar bill Rodney Hide introduced into Parliament just before Parliament rose for the 2011 general elections.

There is a need to minimise the undue influence of wealth in local body election campaigns and to promote transparency and accountability in relation to election financing by introducing caps on donations, limiting the use of anonymous donations and regulating third party spending.

The purpose of this Bill is to strengthen the law governing electoral financing in relation to local body elections, in order to increase transparency and accountability in relation to electoral donations, and strengthen the integrity and efficiency of the local electoral system. As a result, the hope is public confidence in local elections will increase.

Key provisions in the Bill provide for anonymous donations not to exceed $1,500 and more regulation of third party spending.

Significantly, the new legislation provides for more latitude on the application of the +/-10% of voters to councillor rule that caused some controversy during the Gisborne District Council representation review this year.

The bill also requires candidates to identify their primary place of residence because we could have a situation where someone living in Auckland is a ratepayer in Gisborne and could stand for election here.

Other suggestions not included in the bill would lower the anonymous donation amount, put a limit on the total amount that could be donated by an individual or group, a ban on donations from overseas and a pecuniary interests register for members of local authorities.

If I’d written the bill I would have included the requirement for local body candidates and elected members to disclose on a public register any position they hold within a political party. The position could be for any appointed or elected role with a registered political party. Perceived or actual conflicts of interest can exist when local issues are affected by central government changes and a local politician is in a local or national leadership role of either a party whether it is in government or opposition. I’m not suggesting this has happened in Gisborne District Council but the bill claims to be about increasing transparency. While all elected councillors swear an oath to act in the best interests of the whole district, voters should be able to know of any official position a candidate or councillor has with a political party.

Submissions close this Friday (http://tiny.cc/mh0bpw) and though very unlikely, changes may still be made at the select committee stage. I’m sure hundreds of readers care about our democracy so much they will be keen to spend the week before Christmas holidays analysing the bill and writing a submission.








Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,319 other followers