Perfect timing for PCE freshwater report

21 11 2013

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A report on freshwater management released today by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment was exquisite timing given the release this month of two important regulatory documents according to District Councillor Manu Caddie.

A proposed National Objectives Framework (NOF) for Freshwater by the Ministry for the Environment is currently being consulted on and has received mixed responses from freshwater experts so far. The NOF, for the first time ever, sets absolute bottom lines for freshwater quality to protect ecosystems and human health. Some scientific commentators have said it is good that these bottom lines have been established, while others have criticised the proposed acceptable levels as too low and questioned the decision to exclude macroinvertebrates (small living critters in freshwater systems) as a measure of stream health as recommended by the expert panel advising the process.

A local Freshwater Advisory Group discussion document on the development of a regional Freshwater Plan will also be released by Gisborne District Council for consultation this month with a proposal for collaborative planning in the Waipaoa catchment.

“Irrigation demand is expected to increase dramatically over the next 30 years and establishing consensus amongst stakeholders and users while protecting the life sustaining qualities of waterways is going to be really important” said Mr Caddie.

Mr Caddie said the PCE report paints a fairly positive picture of the Gisborne region in terms of water quality improvements from tree planting and hillsides reverting to indigenous bush.

“While Dr Wright’s report will have most implications for the regions that have seen massive dairy intensification, there are some good news stories in terms of the comparatively low levels of nitrogen and phosphorous in our waterways – in fact according to the report.”

“Gisborne is the only region predicted to have these nutrients decrease in our water, largely as a result of the farm conversions to forestry. Large areas of steep land have been, and are predicted to continue to be, converted to forestry. As a result, nitrogen and phosphorus loads in the Waiapu catchment are predicted to decrease by 10% and 2% respectively below 1996 levels by 2020.”

The report notes the productivity of sheep/beef farming has improved by about 20% over the last twenty years. This increase may be more attributable to efficiency gains such as advances in animal genetics than to increased fertiliser inputs. The productivity of plantation pine forestry has not significantly changed in the last two decades. The report suggests Government plans to double the value of primary exports by 2025 should not be at the expense of the environment.

ENDS





The Weight of Risk and the Risk of Waiting

15 10 2013

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A paper I presented at the Oil & Gas Symposium, Hastings District Council, 11 October 2013.

DOWNLOADS:





Chamber of Commerce Q+A

21 09 2013

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 position? 20% of commuter trips by cycle by 2020

23 08 2013

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Yeah, Waikanae is not a commuter cycle route (well, probably half a dozen cyclists a day) but the point is we need to invest in commuter cycling infrastructure, get some baseline data on where we are at now and develop a concrete plan to see substantial mode change by 2020.





Kaiti to Wainui Cycleway Gets Green Light

20 08 2013

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News that work on the Kaiti to Wainui cycleway can now proceed has been welcomed by cycling advocates.

Councillor Manu Caddie said he was very pleased that after 20 years a cycleway and walkway had finally found enough political support to get prioritised in the roading programme.

“It is really shameful that the project’s staunchest supporter Muriel Jones died before her dream was realised” said Mr Caddie. “There are a few people who have worked for a long time to see this happen and who never gave up – Richard Coates, Kathy Sheldrake and Phil Evans have carried the torch the last leg and the people of Gisborne have supported cycleway development with huge volumes of submissions over recent years.”

Mr Caddie said it was time for Gisborne to take the next step and develop a much bolder vision for commuter cycling corridors throughout the city.

“We need to make this a cycling centric city – while logging truck size and numbers are going to keep increasing the trade off has to be serious investment in safe routes for cyclists and pedestrians” said Mr Caddie.

“Painted lines are a token gesture, we need dedicated cycleways that make it quick and easy for cyclists to get around this flat, small city with a great climate. Anyone standing for election in the city ward needs to get their heads around how we will be improving the transit experience for cyclists and walkers.”

Mr Caddie said the bulk of Council funds spent to date on cycling and walkways had gone into the recreational infrastructure but he wanted to see more attention paid to routes around the city for commuters.

“People should not have to fear for their lives when they ride a bike. Gisborne used to have 20,000 cyclists in the 1960s, we can get back to those sort of numbers relatively quickly if the infrastructure makes it easier rather than harder to leave the car at home for the majority of city residents.”

Funds for the Kaiti to Wainui cycleway will come from Regional Roading Funds after an assessment of costs to improve roads for heavy vehicles between Tolaga Bay and Matawhero found that only $1.5 million of $9 million available will need to be used for that project. The cycleway is the second highest priority project in the regional roading programme and an application to NZTA will be submitted in the next month and construction is expected to be completed this financial year.

The project had been set to proceed three years ago but changes to the NZTA funding priorities set by the Minister of Transport meant further delays as cycleways are now considered a low priority by central government. The current Government Policy Statement for transport commits 50 times more on seven new highways than the total budget for cycling and walking infrastructure.

Mr Caddie said he expected a few supporters of the cycleway to attend the Regional Transport Committee meeting at Lawson Field Theatre on Thursday afternoon where a paper noting the news is on the agenda.





Walking For Jonathan

15 04 2013

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I expect we are all inspired and impressed with the feat Robert Hunter accomplished last week. Walking all the way from Hicks Bay to Gisborne demonstrated how passionate he is to ensure people who use marijuana know they risk mental illness as a result.

Robert says all along the way he heard numerous stories of heartbreak from family and friends of those affected by their use of marijuana. Robert’s son Jonathan was introduced to marijuana by friends and was one of many who develop psychotic symptoms when they use the drug a lot. It is marijuana use that his parents hold mostly responsible for Jonathan’s tragic suicide and it is the link between marijuana and psychosis they are campaigning about.

While Tairawhiti District Health Board and other local organisations no doubt receive thousands of taxpayer dollars for public health promotion every year, this simple act of love, Robert walking the length of our district in memory of his son, has generated more discussion on the issues in one week than anything else in recent memory.

We have to wonder where the community leaders are who will also speak out about the culture of acceptance. Is it the Tairawhiti District Health Board members and health professionals who are paid to promote wellbeing that are leading real change? Is it youth workers, counsellors, educators, police officers, probation officers and social workers that see the results of drugs in families and the effects on children? Is it local iwi leaders, sports stars, business people or other respected locals who have taken up the cause and helped communities rethink our addictions to marijuana, alcohol and other drugs?

Significant parts of our district accept drug abuse as part of the local culture, recognising its contribution to the local economy and passing on the habits from one generation to another. Few members of these communities are brave enough to challenge the dominant drug culture as it can literally result in attacks, ridicule or exclusion from the people and place they belong to.

For other parts of our community marijuana is an unfamiliar addiction, something that has only been picked up by a younger generation. But for this reason it can affect a family even more so and the inexplicable pain of having a child or grandchild take their own life is something no one should have to experience.

Research on the links between marijuana use and mental illness will benefit from this campaign, what we also need are decent support and treatment services appropriate for the range of individuals and families affected in our community. Next week there is a free two day training workshop for people interested in using a simple tool called ‘Smashed and Stoned’ that helps young people reflect on how and why they use drugs including marijuana, cigarettes and alcohol. I have found it very effective with teenagers and encourage others willing to be part of the solution to use it. Contact Bev Thomas at Turanga Health or Tim Marshall at Family Works to find out more.

It really was great to see so much support for his simple message as Robert passed through each settlement and a good turn out for the last leg into town. As Robert and Coralie have said, if the walk is able to spare just one family the pain of losing a family member, then the effort will have been worthwhile. Let’s hope it is the catalyst for sustained positive change in our community that will help many families.

Read more at: www.facebook.com/WalkingForJonathan





Dealing with Our Crap

1 04 2013

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Thanks so much to Tami Gooch and Sam Tamanui for organising the Kopututea beach clean-up. Thanks also to the businesses that generously donated equipment, food and time.

Special thanks to the more than 200 Gisborne people, especially the young people, who spent a few hours of Good Friday cleaning up the mess caused by some irresponsible individuals.

Illegal dumping suggests some of us are not prepared to deal properly with stuff after we have finished with it. I don’t accept the excuse that transfer station fees are too expensive; if we can afford to buy or use something, we need to take responsibility for the whole life cycle of the item.

The bulk of the crap we picked up (and there was quite a few bags of dog poo as well as a whole dog) were small deposits of household waste that would easily fit in a black rubbish bag to be collected from the curb with the orange stickers provided by council.

In addition to the two over-filled skip bins, we delivered a trailer and carload of recycling to the transfer station — this is, of course, free to dispose of every week as the recycling truck drives past every home.

There was a fair amount of biodegradable waste, including garden waste (could make compost or drop to the green waste facility) and a number of animal parts (use the offal pit on the farm the animal came from).

It’s a beautiful stretch of coastline, let’s all respect it and keep it clean!





Vulnerable children strategy misses opportunity

11 10 2012

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Government plans to better support children at risk of abuse have a range of good ideas but miss some important opportunities to reduce reliance on agencies according to a group using volunteers to improve child safety.

“The white paper strategy is almost exclusively focused on professionals and agencies – both government and non-government. We think they have missed a critical piece of the puzzle, which is utilising the healthy, caring adults in communities and neighbourhoods that children are being raised in. It takes a village to raise a child and healthy villages raise healthy children” said Manu Caddie the project manager for Tiakina o Tatou Tamariki, a neighbourhood project focused on keeping children safe in two suburbs of Gisborne and Whanganui.

“We have seen how adults within neighbourhoods can develop their skills and grow their commitment to supporting vulnerable families, including parents and children. Everyone can agree that kids should be safe, and providing opportunities for neighbours to get to know and trust each other reduces isolation and risk.”

Mr Caddie said some of the measures in the Government white paper released today sound ‘big brother’ and intrusive but there are a group of adults who should not have children in their care.

“It’s disappointing that most of the measures seem to give more power to the state and professionals, I guess we would have liked to see more focus on Government supporting neighbourhoods and communities to become healthy, trusting and well connected” said Mr Caddie.

“The Vulnerable Kids Information System to identify risks prior to birth may be useful, because it’s quite possible to see the train crash coming, but combined with the recently announced Government sterilisation of beneficiaries, there is a risk you are heading down a pathway to eugenics”.

A database of at-risk children could be a very powerful tool in child abuse prevention, but Mr Caddie points to existing national databases of at-risk children and wonders how successful these have been.

“We know for all the good work Child, Youth & Family do, their extensive national database that tracks children and families still contains many, many children who are being mistreated.”

Mr Caddie said he hoped parents would be supported to access the information agencies held about the families as professionals can misuse their power, even when they think they are helping.

Mr Caddie said Te Ora Hou Aotearoa, the organisation he works for supports the white paper proposal for a national education campaign to identify signs of abuse, but would also like to see a campaign focused on keeping kids safe and cared for.

Tiakina o Tatou Tamariki involves ‘Community Animators’ mobilising neighbourhood residents and other volunteers to build trusting, supportive relationships within communities with a focus on keeping children safe and healthy. The three year project is privately funded and a recent evaluation suggested it is demonstrating value for money as an investment in the prevention of child maltreatment.

Te Ora Hou is a national network of faith-based Māori and Pacific youth and community development organisations established in 1976. Te Ora Hou supports volunteers to mentor children and young people as well providing a range of educational and developmental opportunities for children and parents including teen parenting initiatives, early childhood centres, alternative education programmes and rehabilitation services for young offenders.

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More information:

www.teorahou.org.nz

Tel. 0274202957





What is the Purpose of Local Government?

19 07 2012

The Local Government Act Amendment Bill has had its first reading in Parliament. One of the key parts of the bill is redefining the reason local government exists. Should councils be focused on priorities that local people agree on, or should they be just another branch of central government?

The basis of the proposed changes seems largely ideological rather than driven by a particular problem. Council debt, losses on tourist initiatives and rates rises above the rate of inflation have been the subject of regular media releases from central government. A very small number of councils have made mistakes and local government is partly responsible for the traction these stories get in the news. We’re not always great at helping the public understand the balancing act between local expectations, affordability and the existing regulatory frameworks council has to operate within.

Most councils seem to share concerns about the lack of evidence upon which the draft legislation is based and about the implications of working under legislation that hasn’t been well thought out. Similar reservation were expressed by the officials who submitted a statement along with the draft legislation and said they could find no evidence to support most of content of the bill. This lack of confidence was reinforced this week in the unanimous rejection of the proposed change of purpose at a meeting of all local government authorities.

Three separate public inquiries have concluded that the sector has not significantly expanded the scope of its activities since 2002. When pushed, the Prime Minister would not exclude things like social housing, swimming pools, libraries or tourism promotion from falling within the proposed new purposes. So the general feeling is that the current purpose is fine – the uncertainty created in the proposed new purposes would open up a can of worms in terms of legal challenges and that there was no problem that will be solved with the proposed change.

As has been suggested locally, I would be open to a social housing trust taking over Council housing if it had the experience and could prove it could do as good or better job than Gisborne District Council currently does as a landlord. Such a move would need to ensure the housing is provided to those who most need it, particularly as central government is similarly messing with the provision of social housing and has been criticized by its own Productivity Commission for having no clear plan or rationale for the changes.

I don’t think we should hold on to purely commercial assets if they aren’t consistently providing a return on investment better than what we’d get if we used the capital to pay off debt and reduce interest payments. As far as I can tell, the first asset to divest the Council of should be the farms. I struggle to understand why some people believe Council must maintain ownership of the farms while we pay millions in interest on debt. How ‘pragmatic’ is that?

The reality is the proposed change of purpose would not result in Council stopping anything it currently does, but it would give more fuel to fire of the ideologues who argue local government should take no interest in the wellbeing of our communities beyond roads and rubbish. A change of purpose would waste staff time defending the participatory planning processes that result in more enduring decisions than if we think councillors or staff know best. I also suspect it would undermine opportunities for Council, as the one fully democratically elected local entity, to have some influence on how our taxes and rates are spent to help meet the needs and aspirations of our communities.





Ten Year Plan accelerates cycleways

24 06 2012

It was very pleasing to see Council agree to bring forward the planned cycling and walkways in the Ten Year Plan.

Since we established the Cycling Advisory Group in 2009 with the support of the late Muriel Jones, the group has had ongoing input into Council engineering and road safety activities.

Annual submissions from many residents and feedback in surveys and community consultation has shown overwhelming support for Gisborne to be a more cycle-centric city.

I campaigned on cycling and walking infrastructure and it feels like I’ve been able to see some tangible progress in my first time. We’ve also made alternatives to the private motor car a top priority in the roading programme, so that is exciting.

Gisborne people want to be safe cycling and while the volume of logs on trucks is due to treble in next few years, we are working hard to minimise the number that need to come through the city.

Cycling makes sense for the economy, for health and for the environment. We have the whole package in Gisborne – good weather, flat terrain and a compact city. Research shows that as more people cycle it gets safer, so it’s great to see more and more people committed to cycling as much as possible.

It’s also exciting to hear that new cycle touring routes are being developed in the district – these are the tourists that move slowly through our communities, connecting with people and places as they go – some great opportunities for cycling-related businesses to develop over time.

Residents that may be affected by new cycleway projects should be reassured that they will have every opportunity to be informed about and have input into decisions around the planning, design and construction of new cycling and walkways. They may not agree with every decision and while public reserves are for everyone to enjoy we also need to consider the impacts on residents living close to the cycleways and walking tracks.





Oil Industry Needs to Face Facts

10 05 2012

This article originally appeared as an Opinion Piece in The Dominion Post on 10 May 2012.

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BP & Anadarko’s Deepwater Horizon rig going down, April 2010

Oil industry representative David Robinson’s Opinion Piece on Tuesday said it’s time for the truth about oil drilling. It promised facts but provided only rhetoric. Mr Robinson says there have been no ‘major incidents’ in oil production in New Zealand, which is simply not true. The following incidents, all undeniably major, are examples of facts the oil industry tries to keep to itself.

In 2007 the Umuroa facility, operated by Norway’s Prosafe and Australian company AWE, spilt 23 tons of crude oil off the Taranaki coast. The spill affected nearly 15 kilometres of coastline, took 232 days to clean up and resulted in a successful court prosecution.

In 2010 Austrian oil giant OMV accepted responsibility for a large spill from the Maari field that saw oil washing up on Kapiti Coast. The Rena disaster revealed just how ill equipped authorities are to contain anything beyond a minor inshore spill under perfect weather conditions.

The offshore wells in Taranaki are at depths of no more than 150 metres, the Raukumara Basin off East Cape where Petrobras has been given a permit to drill is up to 3,100m deep and the BP exploratory well that blew out in the Gulf of Mexico for three months in 2010 was at a depth of only 1,500m. Anadarko (one of the DeepWater Horizon companies) has plans to drill off the coast of Taranaki and Otago in up to 3,000m of water.

In 2009 the Montara spill off the west coast of Australia resulted in the equivalent of one Rena sized disaster every day for 74 days in a row. Why would New Zealand be immune from such risks?

Over the past 15 years 282 fatalities among Petrobras staff and contract workers have been documented in accidents at oil rigs and refineries. Petrobras has suffered 27 rig blowouts since 1980 and was the first company allowed to drill at depth in the Gulf of Mexico after the BP disaster. Just before oil was due to start flowing a production riser broke away, if it had happened a few days later there could have been a repeat of the Deepwater Horizon disaster less than a year later.

Claims that a recent GNS report on earthquakes and fracking in Taranaki suggest there is no credible link, overlook the fact pointed out by seismology expert Michael Hasting that the GNS seismic detectors are not calibrated for nor close enough to fracking operations to determine any relationship. GNS should also acknowledge they are contracted to the industry when they comment on overseas reports citing evidence of a direct link.

If the industry is committed as Mr Robinson says to proper public consultation then they should agree to all resource consent applications for mining activities being subject to full notification.

The industry asks the public to trust them on their record in Taranaki. But with only 40 wells drilled, no independent scientific studies, sparse regulation and minimal monitoring, we need to consider the overseas evidence.

Professor Avner Vengosh from Duke University has led some of the most comprehensive studies on water quality related to fracking and found a direct link between water contamination and hydro-fracking. Professor Karlis Muehlenbachs at the University of Alberta cites the industry’s own publications that show up to 60% of well casings will fail within 20 years of construction. The list of peer-reviewed independent studies showing problems with the practice is growing but there are still huge gaps in knowledge about health and environmental impacts in particular.

This week it has been revealed that Germany is following France, Bulgaria and a number of other jurisdictions in Canada, USA and Australia with an indefinite ban on hydraulic fracturing.

New Zealand has too much to lose if large-scale petroleum extraction goes ahead. Our economy depends on quality food production, processing and exporting – why put it all on the line for a few years of income from petroleum exports? When consumers learn that Taranaki farmers are being paid by the oil industry to use their farms to absorb highly toxic fracking waste, our milk and meat will quickly lose its wholesome appeal. But our own health aside – how will our export markets react to the news that New Zealand milk products may derive from Taranaki cows grazed on land that has fracking waste spread over it?

Taranaki farmer spreading drilling waste across paddocks before planting grass and grazing cows on it. [Source: Taranaki Regional Council monitoring report]

Mr Robinson said it’s time we had a reasonable conversation about the future of the oil and gas industry in New Zealand. Let’s just make sure the conversation is based on the full facts.





Tairāwhiti families encouraged to go Screen-Free for the week

29 04 2012

International Screen-Free Week starts today and Gisborne families are being encouraged to think about taking a break from technology.

Head Librarian Pene Walsh says: “Over 20,000 Gisborne people can’t be wrong. The members of HB Williams Memorial Library have increased their book borrowing by 20% over the same time last year. Surely that must mean their screen-time has shrunk by 20%.

Even though it is easier than ever to goggle at the telly, google on the computer, txt and tweet, fiddle about on Facebook or game the night away, when you add all that time up I reckon you’d be amazed and maybe feel there is a teeny bit more to life.

In our house all screentime is counted together so we choose and when time’s up, it is up.

Just ask Councillor Manu Caddie’s whanau – they have agreed to stop watching TV or going on the internet in the evenings – good on them, why don’t we join him for Screenfree week and try some ‘faceface’ time and visit one of our 200 friends or even try a bit of ‘bookbook’ time – yep, actually read one!

I for one will be reading several of the 120 children’s books entered in the LIANZA Children’s Book Awards and getting off my backside to visit my old neglected friend – yoga.”

Father of two and Gisborne District Councillor Manu Caddie said his family had recently put away the TV permanently and this week were having a break from the internet at home and it may stay that way.

“Most Kiwi families have television at home now, some screens are really dominant – both in the sheer physical size and the time its on all hours of the day and night.

Our kids love using the computer but some of the stuff is so compelling they forget about playing outside. We live in paradise and I want to make sure the kids get to enjoy their environment, use their imagination to create and not be completely sucked in by multinational corporations forcing brands down their throats.”

Screen-Free Week (www.screenfree.org) is an international project of the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood and this year runs from 30 April to 6 May. Since 1996, millions of children and their families have participated in Screen-Free Week (formerly TV Turnoff). Each year, thousands of parents, teachers, librarians, youth workers and clergy organise Screen-Free Weeks in their communities.

New Zealand research has found links between watching too much TV in childhood and later problems, including obesity, high cholesterol, poor fitness, smoking, short attention span, poor concentration – and lower rates of school and university qualifications.

One of the researchers, Dr Bob Hancox, said the educational effects of television viewing could not be explained by intelligence or socio-economic factors.

“It’s not just that children with little natural ability decided to watch more television. Children of all levels of intelligence did worse if they watched a lot of television.

“Similarly, the association between watching television and poor achievement was not because heavy television viewers had poor socio-economic backgrounds.

“There is extraordinarily strong evidence now that [screen] media have a major impact on children and adolescents. It’s not surprising because they spend many hours a day with media, of which television is the most important.”





Youth health package just scratches surface

22 04 2012

One of the unforeseen knock on impacts of mass lay offs, benefit restrictions and high youth unemployment brought on by the privatisation agenda of the late 80s and early 90s was a tripling of New Zealand suicide rates in the 1990s.

So Martyn Bradbury suggests the $62 million for youth mental health announcement earlier this month is like taking an aspirin for a gunshot wound.

It’s a win, albeit a small one for Sir Peter Gluckman, someone who has constantly called for Key to take the plight of New Zealand youth seriously.

As someone who has called for youth workers in high schools for a decade it is pleasing to see a select few of the poorest schools will now get this support, but it is a drop in the bucket compared to the needs.

All the initiatives like additional school nurses, anti-bullying programmes, parenting information services and a little top up for the few youth one stop shops that have survived sound great but barely scratch the surface in terms of the challenges facing at-risk young people.

Of course the government cannot fund everything, especially now they are borrowing so heavily to cover the tax cuts no one really needed.

Taxes have been described as ‘the national expression of corporal love’ – and it is fascinating to look at what has happened over the past twenty five years since top tax rates started reducing. Income inequality in New Zealand increased faster than in any other OECD country. Most of the increase was due to larger rises in overall incomes for the top 20% of income earners. Incomes for the bottom 20% actually decreased over the two decades from the mid-1980s.

British academics Professor Richard Wilkinson and Professor Kate Pickett use ten key indicators mapped against income inequality measures to compile an Index of Health and Social Problems. New Zealand features as or amongst the worst on most of the indicators.

The damage being done to the next generation living in deepening poverty will exact a terrible price on our communities. It is good to see some acknowledgement of the need to invest in the health and wellbeing of young people, but this token gesture is far from what is really needed.





Local Government Reforms?

20 03 2012

Some of the reforms being proposed for local government by Minister of Local Government Dr Nick Smith are to be welcomed.

For one, I think it’s great to see a review of Development Contributions. No doubt the review will find that they need to be increased so that essential services such as social housing can be part-funded when a flash new subdivision is built. New Zealand is one of the few countries that doesn’t require such a provision.

However, many of the reforms aren’t so welcome.

I raised the issue of being proactive about the pending reforms at last week’s Community Development Committee meeting and was told by council colleagues that the Minister was simply “flying a kite” and was unlikely to make any radical changes.

But some of the changes certainly seem radical to me, particularly the gutting of local government to be nothing more than an engineering department and administrative office for fast-tracking resource consents.

I encourage Gisborne residents to provide feedback through the 10-year plan consultation process on what services they want to see their council provide.

For example, does council have a role in monitoring how central government spends locally? And should we be concerned about local social and economic development issues?

If central government was so good at it, we wouldn’t have any homeless, any youth unemployed, any hungry kids, any crime.

The reality is central government does a terrible job of addressing social issues, education and health care because there is so little accountability and lack of responsiveness to local priorities. Ruatoria is not Wellington and Elgin is not Dunedin . . . one size doesn’t fit all and centralised government is the problem not the solution.

For a party that espouses the virtues of personal responsibility and local autonomy — and loved to bleat about the “nanny state” — these reforms seem more consistent with a totalitarian, centralised system of government that will increasingly dictate to communities what is best for us, and will remove local checks on central government decisions while expropriating resources from our communities.

Council spending across the country on so called “non-core services” (such as culture, recreation and sport) declined by $185 million between 2008 and 2010 to just 13.2 percent of authority spending.

From 2007-2010 rates were a stable portion of household expenditure, holding steady at 2.25 percent.

The recent Productivity Commission’s draft report on housing affordability notes that rates have been declining in relation to property values, indicating that in terms of household wealth, rates are becoming less significant.

While the government is borrowing heavily to fund it’s seven gold-plated highway projects, it’s hypocritical to be telling councils to stop wasting money.

Dr Smith has manufactured a crisis to drive through changes based on ideology, not evidence.





2012 Projects

26 02 2012
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Some of the stuff I’m focused on this year…
  1. Gang Transformation Project via GDC, Police, schools, churches, sports clubs and residents associations
  2. Representation Review: ensuring the fairest electoral structure for Tairāwhiti via GDC
  3. Regional Housing Needs Assessment via GDC
  4. Keeping Kids Safe Project via Te Ora Hou Aotearoa
  5. Neighbourhood Resource Centres via HNZC, Ka Pai Kaiti Trust & Te Ora Hou
  6. Computer Clubhouse for Waikirikiri School
  7. Gisborne-Napier railway retention via Gisborne Rail Action Group
  8. Cycleways & Walkways via GDC Ten Year Plan, NZTA, Cycling Advisory Group, etc.
  9. Māori Land & Rates via GDC Māori Land Working Group with TPK, etc.
  10. Central Government better linked into local priorities via Whānau Ora, MSD, etc.
  11. Pēnu Marae – new wharepaku and wharenui roof hopefully
  12. Rere Rockslide – stream quality monitoring and restoration project
  13. Economic Development projects – biofuels and biochemistry projects, regional skills development and entrepreneurs recruitment campaign




Tairāwhiti tops the country for sexual health diseases… again.

26 02 2012

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According to latest laboratory testing results, one in ten teenagers in the Gisborne district is infected with a Sexually Transmitted Disease.

Tairawhiti is consistently the worst performing District Health Board in quarterly lab reports produced by Environmental Science & Research, the Crown Research Institute for health sciences.

“This is not just a blip in the numbers or a case of regularly ranking in the top 10, we are the worst district every quarter” said Manu Caddie who prepared a youth health services plan for Tairawhiti DHB in 2008. Most of the plan was shelved after the 2008 election and the subsequent shift in national health priorities.

“It is not surprising given STI prevention does not feature in the TDH Annual Plan, youth health in general was dropped off the priority list of the previous government and the last national sexual health strategy is over ten years old” said Mr Caddie.

Mr Caddie says sexual health education is obviously not effective for a high proportion of local young people.

“Teenagers are saturated with sexually explicit ‘entertainment’ on a daily basis and we now have a culture where early sexual activity is the norm rather than an exception.”

Mr Caddie says that while he has heard from pharmacists of a Rhythm & Vines attendee returning three times in two days for the ‘morning after pill’, the statistics demonstrate it is local young people who are continually compromising their reproductive health.

“In many ways it is perfectly natural for teenagers to be having sex, but the risk of catching a disease is clearly higher here than anywhere else in the country.”

“During the development of the Youth Health Plan we found that more than half the work of local school-based doctors and nurses was providing contraception and advice on sexual and reproductive health. We have just over 100 births to teenagers every year and a similar number of abortions – I know of a 12 year old who already had two abortions.”

Mr Caddie said his reading of the data suggests that Chlamydia rates in Tairawhiti have trebled since 2007 and Gonorrhoea cases have jumped from around 30 cases per year between 2004-2007 to 167 in 2010.

“We can attribute these dramatic increases to better awareness and more regular check-ups, but the rates of positive tests from clinic visits are continually increasing which suggests a real crisis and publicly funded messages that are not registering with those most at risk.”

Mr Caddie said he would like to see an outcomes evaluation of the 2008 TDH document Sexual Health of Tairawhiti Strategy and a clear plan of how TDH with the support of other stakeholders intends to turn the curve. “Family members, school teachers, churches, sports clubs and businesses can all make valuable contributions to youth health – it’s about young people taking more responsibility for themselves and all of us protecting future generations.”





Creating a Cycling-Centric City

22 02 2012

The Regional Transport Committee last week had a lively debate on whether one of the top three goals for the district transport programme should include encouraging alternatives to the private motor vehicle. In the end we agreed encouraging alternative transport options is important and agreed that promoting cycling, walking and public transport is a priority.

Private cars use approximately 60% of all fuel consumed by road transport, New Zealand imports and burns through more than $20million of fuel per day!

A 2009 report by the Ministry of Transport suggests we spend a lot more time in the car and less time spent walking and cycling than we did 20 years ago. Gisborne drivers travel less distance than any other region in the country and Gisborne cyclists spend longer on our bikes each week than any other region.

In the mid-nineties there were about 15,000 motor vehicles crossing the Gladstone Road bridge each day, I suspect the volume might be slightly higher than that now. Around the country only 1% of people travel to work by bicycle, while 94% travel in a private motor vehicle. And only 5% of students – or one quarter of those that cycled when I left school 20 years ago – now cycle to high school.

In 2004 the Gisborne District Council signed up to the ‘Walking and Cycling Strategy for the Gisborne District’.

The vision of the strategy is that:

‘Gisborne District is a walking and cycling friendly region. Walking and cycling are safe, convenient, enjoyable and popular forms of transport and leisure that contribute to community, well-being and tourism.’

Targets for how the effectiveness of the strategy were to be measured have never been added to the empty boxes in document, though some general goals such as 10% of students walking or cycling to school by 2015 and an increase by 10% of commuters travelling to work by walking or cycling by 2015 are goals we now have only three years left to achieve. It is time to review the Strategy.

An iconic project included in the Strategy and championed by people like the late Murial Jones, Kathy Sheldrake, Phil Evans and Richard Coates is the Wainui-Sponge Bay cycleway. This project is designed to make it safer for commuter cyclists coming from Wainui and recreational cyclists from the city to get in and out on, particularly given the rapid increase in heavy vehicles on State Highway 35. We expect a funding decision on this project within the next month.

The Gisborne Cycling Advisory Group was established a couple of years ago and has made some great contributions to cycle route planning in both the urban and rural areas. Focused largely on commuter and tourist cyclists, the group meets monthly and is open to anyone keen on advocating for cycling infrastructure and encouraging the public to cycle more.

As a recent Australian report on the economic benefits of cycling reveals, bicycle travel cuts millions off the national waist line and bottom line. Inactivity is now a major cause of health problems and cycling provides a practical, sustainable and cheap opportunity to help get more Kiwis active and drive down the cost of health care.

Of course the more cyclists there are, the safer it becomes – and while we may be seeing a national trend away from commuter cycling, most Gisborne city residents have few excuses not to cycle or walk to work. The city is relatively compact, very flat, enjoys a good climate and has an ever increasing number of cycleways. It has been great to see so many people on bikes this summer, how can we encourage even more to make the move?





A Turning Tide?

26 01 2012

It seems the tide is turning.

The Dominon Post reports that over 300 people participated in a protest on Wednesday in Napier organised by local farmers to coincide with the Apache presentation to the Hawkes Bay Regional Council. Concerned residents in Hawkes Bay have a long and growing list of questions they would like answered by the companies and councils involved. Until satisfactory assurances are provided by independent experts, these citizens and ratepayers are saying they don’t want fracking to happen in their region.

Yesterday I received a copy of the letter from the Christchurch City Council dated 16 January 2012 to the Minister of Energy and Resources requesting a moratorium on fracking until an independent inquiry is completed into the practice. The resolution in the Council was passed 10 votes (including Mayor Bob Parker) to 2.

In the last month more jurisdictions around the world including a number of local authorities in Ireland and the country of Bulgaria have joined France, South Africa, New York State and dozens of smaller authorities across North America in establishing a moratorium or banning fracking completely. Many of these decisions have been endorsed by the local chambers of commerce, medical boards, oil and gas commissions and water catchment boards.

The Labour Party has this week suggested Parliament instigates a ‘robust inquiry’ into the practice in New Zealand – either by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment or the Environmental Protection Agency. Unlike the recent report on fracking released by Taranaki Regional Council, the Terms of Reference for such a study would need wide agreement from experts across a range of disciplines and be at arms length from the legislators, regulators and industry.





Welcome Home…

27 09 2011

Gisborne District councillor Manu Caddie says he is frustrated with the way Housing New Zealand is neglecting properties and treating tenants in his neighbourhood.

“I have counted a dozen empty homes in our area while Housing NZ say they have a waiting list. The corporation have made it clear they want to sell homes in our area and they are retreating into very narrow criteria for eligibility.”

“It is a vicious cycle of landlord neglect reducing the appeal of the area which leads to less tenants and more empty houses” said Mr Caddie who helped re-establish the Tairawhiti Housing Advisory Group focused on social housing issues.

Mr Caddie has been working with the national social housing organisation Community Housing Aotearoa on a housing needs assessment project for the district.

The Minister of Housing recently scrapped a number of social housing initiatives and established a Social Housing Unit focused on shifting Housing NZ tenants to properties owned and managed by private organisations.

Mr Caddie says he is concerned about a number of tenants who have lived in the same state house for three generations and are now likely to be moved on. When Minister Heatley met with the Tairawhiti Housing Advisory Group earlier in the year he explained his intention to start means testing long-term tenants with a view to getting out all but those in the most extreme need. “That might make sense in Auckland where the demand is greater but local Housing NZ staff have said we have very few families in housing crisis so the logic doesn’t stack up at a local level.”

Mr Caddie believes recent examples of homeless local families that made it into the media are just a fraction of similar cases that go unreported. “Our country has a looming housing crisis and we are not prepared for it. The statistics are very scary and the government response quite inadequate. We need 70,000 new homes not 1,400 – and the social housing sector will not be able to generate the income the government expects it to by passing over responsibility to private organisations.”

Mr Caddie knows of one situation where a disabled tenant asked for a ramp to be installed at their Housing NZ property of over 30 years only to be told that it was not an option and they would need to look at shifting to a different property. “So for $500 or whatever a wooden ramp costs, the Corporation will disconnect that family from all the memories and sense of belonging associated with that home?!” asked Mr Caddie.

“The corporation is obviously trying to move tenants out of properties in Gisborne so they can be sold and the proceeds used to build part of a new house in Auckland. If they supported their tenants into home ownership or gave priority to first home buyers we could live with that – but selling them to property speculators and absentee landlords does nothing for building a healthy neighbourhood with residents who have enough invested to stick around” said Mr Caddie. “We’re also looking at options for locals to own any properties disposed of by Housing NZ.”

Mr Caddie is asking around the neighbourhood to find out who was involved in the theft.




Fracking bans go global…

23 09 2011

In June this year France became the first country to ban the controversial oil and gas mining practice of hydraulic fracking. Under the new law, companies with exploration permits had two months to declare whether they intended to use hydraulic fracturing – if they did, their permits were to be revoked.

The government of South Africa has extended a ban on fracking for another six months while the Minister of Mineral Resources waits on a report from the heads of government departments responsible for trade, science and minerals to be rewritten.

In Australia the New South Wales Governement recently extended  a ban on fracking to the end of the year. A further ban on toxic chemicals will be in place when the moratorium is lifted.

Across North America local municipalities have been taking action to ban fracking. In the state of Pennsylvania alone more than 100 townships have passed ordinances to restrict or ban mining, particularly fracking activities, within their jurisdiction. Thus far municipality-adopted fracking bans are in places such as Buffalo, New York; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Morgantown and Westover, West Virginia.

In June the New York State Assembly extended an existing ban on fracking for another year. The New Jersey State legislature passed a bill to permanently ban fracking earlier this year but the Governor vetoed that decision and restricted the ban to one more year.

In the case of Morgantown, the ban stonewalled Northeast Natural Energy, LLC’s fracking operations just outside city limits. In June, Northeast sued the municipality, seeking tens of millions of dollars for the unlawful taking of its property rights without just compensation and last month a judge upheld the company’s claims and reversed the local council decision. The court decision is expected to be appealed.

Should Gisborne District Council or any other local authority decide, after widespread consultation with its residents, to change our District Plan rules and put a hold or ban on fracking within our district, can we expect similar litigation from foreign corporations keen to exploit our natural resources for their profit?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is studying the impact of fracking and last Tuesday submitted a draft of its study to the agency’s Science Advisory Board for review. Initial findings from the study are expected to be made public by the end of 2012. No such study has been commissioned in New Zealand yet and a growing number of people I have been speaking believe we should access to a similar report before allowing any fracking-related activity in the Gisborne District.








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