A Dark Day for the District

Maungahaumi

A decision by Gisborne District Council to give the green light to Canadian company TAG Oil for an exploratory well to be drilled west of Gisborne city has been condemned by an RMA Commissioner.

Manu Caddie, who is also a Gisborne District Councillor, says he is supporting an application for a judicial review of the decision based on the public interest test, cumulative effects and the way potential cultural impacts have been handled in the assessment phase.

“Two thousand local residents signed a petition last year requesting any application to drill in the district be publicly notified. All they want is a chance to look into the application and make submissions if they have concerns.”

The Council’s Regional Policy Statement and Combined Regional and District Plan are largely silent on drilling activities and the Council has agreed to review the plan once the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment issues her report on fracking later this year.

“The PCE in her interim report on fracking raised a number of real concerns about drilling on the East Coast and the lack of regulation in the petroleum industry as a whole” said Mr Caddie. “Until those concerns are addressed the public should have the right to examine applications and comment on them.”

“An industry representative said just last week that they have nothing to hide, so why are they afraid to give our community the opportunity to be part of the decision-making process.”

Mr Caddie said he understood the company had threatened to leave the district if the application was publicly notified and comments from vested interests meant staff felt pressure to let the application go through non-notified. “I’m sure everyone will deny that is the case, but this is what staff have told me.”

Mr Caddie said it was a sad day for the district and democracy. “The petition of 2,000 citizens must be the largest set of submissions Council has received on a single issue and it is bitterly disappointing that a simple request to have the opportunity to make comments at a public hearing – for or against the proposal – has been seen as less important than the desire of the company to rush into drilling.

Mr Caddie said he believed Council had good grounds to notify the application – while the risk of significant immediate pollution may be limited to a well explosion like the one that happened in the United States last month or limited contamination of land and streams, the cumulative effects of the activity should be taken into account at each stage and the RMA allows for public notification when the risk may be small but the potential effects significant if something goes wrong.

“There is scant information in the application on the process for rehabilitating the site while industry publications suggest at least half of all wells corrode within 30 years allowing fugitive emissions of gas and oil, long after they have ceased production. The area is around known fault lines and aquifers, who knows what impact drilling into those could have.”

The documentation provided with the Council decision suggests one or two individuals within local iwi had signed off on behalf of the tribe with no evidence of hui-a-iwi to provide a mandate or majority of iwi members’ endorsement.

“Iwi and hapū have a right under Te Tiriti o Waitangi, New Zealand law and international agreements to make free, prior and informed decisions on activities that impact on their traditional lands, waterways and air space. From the information supplied I can’t see evidence of that happening in this situation and a number of iwi members have expressed extreme frustration with the process used by the company to consult with iwi.“

Mr Caddie said central government should provide much more support and resources to iwi and hapū that are faced with extractive industries moving into their area.

“Around the world we have seen indigenous peoples welcome industries that make grand promises then leave after ruining the environment local peoples have depended on for generations. It is a familiar story we are seeing played out in our own backyard.”

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Gisborne District Council: Decision Documents

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CONTACT: Manu Caddie – Tel. 0274202957 / Email: manu@ahi.co.nz

 

Challenging Child Abuse Statistics

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A new Child Poverty Action Group report has ranked the regions around the country on their child abuse statistics While Tairāwhiti is not amongst the highest areas we’re not near the bottom either. Being somewhere in the middle is positive considering our high proportion of young people and low socioeconomic status.

The data presented in the paper suggests that higher rates of child abuse are associated with socioeconomic deprivation rather than what age or ethnic group you belong to.

We will be contacting the authors to understand more about how they defined ‘substantiated’ as there a number of levels within the CYF system that could have been used as the measure.

I agree with the authors when they suggest even a cursory examination of the New Zealand data such as that presented in the report suggests that dealing effectively with child abuse will entail paying a great deal more attention to socioeconomic deprivation than has been the case so far. While the Government’s White Paper identified deprivation as a risk factor in child abuse, it failed to propose any measures to address it – on the contrary it sought to trivialise the role of income poverty by introducing “different sort[s] of poverty – poverty of affection, poverty of protection, poverty of expectation, poverty of educational stimulation, poverty of positive role models” (p.26). The White Paper focused on ‘benefit dependency’ as a risk factor for ‘vulnerable children’, however the analysis in the CPAG report suggests that may not be a useful approach.

And basically they are saying it’s not because a child is Māori or Pasifika that makes them more likely to be abused or neglected, it’s to do with socio-economic deprivation and ‘ethnic clustering’ in the social stratifications: “It is clear from the census data that low incomes and the effects of poverty tend to be clustered in certain areas and that Māori and Pacific people are disproportionately over-represented in these areas.”

Ethnic stratification exists in New Zealand, and while for Māori and Asian communities it is static or improving, for Pacific peoples it is getting worse.

The report says “There has been extensive research on the impact of ethnic segregation overseas but almost nothing in New Zealand. Ethnic stratification and ethnic clustering have not officially been identified as issues requiring attention in New Zealand and so are not measured by any central or local government agency. Yet the disproportionately high rates of child abuse among Māori across the country suggest that this aspect needs to be considered, especially as ethnic clustering is so closely associated with socioeconomic deprivation.”

It is impossible to disentangle ethnicity, poverty, poor health, overcrowded housing, and lack of access to employment and services from one another.

I have been asking for Council to report on these inequality issues within our region and it is on the staff work programme to do so. These are the kinds of things we can do something about locally instead of just saying it is a central government responsibility. Central government is part of the problem and locally we can do much more to address these issues than big bureaucracies can.

Walking For Jonathan

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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

Community Appeal for the family of Amandeep Singh

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People wishing to help the family of Amandeep Singh are able to make donations through a special appeal on behalf of Gisborne residents.

“We understand his family are not wealthy and want to show them that the Gisborne community is upset with what has happened” said organiser Manu Caddie.

“Gisborne people are very disturbed by this situation and I’m sure many residents will want to show their love and concern to his family in India.”

Ka Pai Kaiti Trust has agreed to administer the donations and pass them on to the family.

Contributions can, from Tuesday, be dropped into the front counter at Gisborne District Council in Fitzherbert Street, can be deposited into the Kiwibank account of Ka Pai Kaiti Trust (reference: SINGH) or may be posted to Ka Pai Kaiti Trust, PO Box 698, Gisborne 4010 with a note that it is for the family of Mr Singh. Donations can also be deposited into the Ka Pai Kaiti Trust bank account: 38-9001-0219689-00 (Kiwibank). Reference: SINGH.

Councillor welcomes interim report

Gisborne District Councillor Manu Caddie has welcomed the interim report on fracking by the Commissioner for the Environment.

Mr Caddie said he was pleased Commissioner Dr Jan Wright had repeated a number of concerns raised by local residents. “Many ordinary people have raised these same issues and been dismissed and belittled, not only by the industry and politicians but also by local critics who think they know better.”

The report says a list of questions ‘need to be asked and answered’ in relation to the specifics of the East Coast situation. “The report’s revelation of previously secret legal advice to Taranaki Regional Council suggests councils would be in violation of the Resource Management Act if plans continued to omit rules related to discharge of fracking reiterates the need for an urgent review of the Combined Regional and District Plan for Gisborne” said Mr Caddie.

“This should be enough for the Minister to reconsider his proposal to accelerate petroleum development on the East Coast” said Mr Caddie. “Let’s take it slowly and see what happens with the permit areas that have already been granted to the Canadian companies. The PCE makes it clear that oil rushes are not good for the host communities.”

Mr Caddie said he is satisfied with Dr Wright’s assessment that the environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing may be managed at an acceptable level of risk and appreciates that the PCE is reserving the right to call for a moratorium once she has completed her investigation into regulations.

“Not knowing who is responsible for well integrity seems like a pretty fundamental problem already identified by the PCE and the kind of ambiguity we saw contribute to the Deepwater Horizon and Pike River disasters.”

Mr Caddie said the PCE and government seemed to be at odds on industry claims that everything is fine and New Zealand is a world leader in fracking regulation.

“Given the lack of confidence the PCE has in the current rules and plans, I look forward to her final report that will make recommendations to ensure we don’t see a continuation of the cowboy approach taken by at least one regional council and an over-enthusiastic central government.”

At the end of the day, local communities will decide what is appropriate for them and local regulators will rely on these kind of ‘expert’ reports to inform local decisions. For this reason Mr Caddie is disappointed many of the issues explored in the report seem to end half way through the investigation – the section on well construction and completion is a good example of this. “I have spoken to the PCE staff who say further evidence and analysis of the issues will be included in the final report as this was all they could do to date.”

Mr Caddie said the ‘contribution to climate change’ section clearly needs more work. “The PCE says climate change is the biggest issue facing the world then implies we don’t need to be concerned if New Zealand exports all fossil fuels because they won’t impact on our greenhouse gas emissions.”

The report quotes a range of studies, experts and news reports but neglects to provide a systematic assessment on the validity of competing claims. For example the PCE quotes a recent Cornell University report suggesting fracking produces more greenhouse gas than coal and cites criticism of that study but provides no suggestion on what the most likely emissions scenario is.

Vulnerable children strategy misses opportunity

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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

Studying the Study

 

I was pleased to hear about the various pieces of work to be included in the study initiated by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment on the likely impacts of petroleum exploration and production on the East Coast.

Ramping up fossil fuel production in New Zealand is the number one priority in the Energy Strategy of the current Government. We should not be surprised therefore that the Terms of Reference for the East Coast study will deliver results focused on the potential economic benefits for the country and the region. It is a shame they are not going to have the analysis peer-reviewed or use global scientific experts to assess the environmental risks.

Ministry officials have told me the assessments of the likelihood and impact of potential environmental risks associated each scenario (high, medium, low production levels) would be included but only at a very high level. Localised environmental risks such as hydrocarbon and toxic chemical leaks into the air, water and soil are of concern to many landowners and residents. There are also the global impacts of continuing to make cheap fossil fuels available while we know they are contributing to catastrophic climate change – no study is able to justify what has become an indefensible situation we are all responsible for.

While the oil industry argues the foreign exchange earnings from their products help pay for our schools and hospitals, they also need to acknowledge the intergenerational injustice the industry is causing. The Government has no transition plan to renewable energy and no strategy to reign in greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. Carbon emissions of each production scenario are not included in the MBIE study.

All of the analysis on the national and local economic impacts of petroleum production has been outsourced to NZIER, the organisation that recently suggested climate change should be considered New Zealand’s “least important environmental issue”. Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment described the analysis in a 2009 report by NZIER as “muddled and superficial”, “too superficial to lead to well-reasoned priorities” and “fundamentally flawed”.

BERL last month published an economic study for Southland that demonstrated the benefits of alternative industries for the region would outweigh the jobs and income from fossil fuel extraction. That is the kind of study we should have to sit alongside the MBIE project.

MBIE staff assure me that labour estimates in the report should be able to quantify the types of jobs the industry would require under each scenario and the likelihood of local people being employed in those roles.

The economic analysis should also include assessments of the likely impacts on existing businesses from land use changes, pollution, regional brand impacts, though MBIE say this is only going to be at a very high level. Federated Farmers and Hort NZ seem relaxed about the potential impact of thousands of oil and gas wells, tens of thousands more truck movements each year and the storage and disposal of toxic waste. Farmers and growers I have spoken to sit across the continuum, some are strongly opposed to the oil industry establishing itself here, others are quite open to the idea.

The capacity and expertise required by consenting authorities on exploration and production issues are outside the scope of the MBIE study but of real concern to many locals. Councils and central government should be able to work toward agreement on what resourcing is appropriate for government to provide given the royalties flow back to central government but local authorities have to do all the regulation and manage community expectations and concerns.

The MBIE study should be interesting reading alongside the PCE report on fracking due in the same month and the research Professor Caroline Saunders has been working on for Gisborne District Council that looks at the positive and negative impacts on provincial communities when an oil boom hits town.