Self-Helping Ourselves – As Communities


I cried this morning when I heard that another child in our community took her own life last night. That’s the fourth young person in the last year and this precious child is only a year older than our own daughter. Of course in small communities, every child is our own. These reflections and potential actions are my small way to help make sure this tragedy isn’t in vain.

Like many young people in our society, I had suicidal thoughts as a 16 year old. A girl that I liked decided she preferred someone else – I decided the world was ending and thought about how I could stop the hurt I was feeling. I don’t recall exactly what stopped me from going through with my preferred option but shortly afterwards I had a sort of spiritual rebirthing experience that gave me a new outlook on life and my place in the world, I think that helped a lot.

Over my twenty years in youth development work, the government has had numerous youth suicide prevention plans and strategies. One of the most recent initiatives, the Prime Minister’s Youth Mental Health Project came out of a major report produced for John Key by his chief science advisor, Sir Peter Gluckman. From the report’s recommendations some new government-funded services were rolled out – few of them reaching as far as Ruatoria.

So, while there is a lot of useful evidence and some published resources available in print and online, it seems the best chance we have is self-helping ourselves – as whole communities rather than as individuals.

There is a range of things I think we can do to improve the situation for our rangatahi:

  1. Specific support in the home and at school to build their emotional intelligence and healthy cognition: helping young people understand their feelings better and correct unhelpful and untrue thoughts;
  2. More information and encouragement for young people to support each other in helpful ways with the challenges of everyday life and in tough times.
  3. Authentic and helpful expressions of care from adults: Every young person needs adults in their life they can trust and talk to about complicated things, and often these adults won’t be their parents. They can be relatives or neighbours, coaches or employers… and unlike new government regulations, they don’t need to be vetted, qualified or certified to provide genuine care.
  4. Better information for adults: Parents, uncles, aunties, neighbours, coaches, teachers, employers and grandparents need better information about how to raise healthy young people in a fairly sick society. There is heaps of useful guidance for the universal foundations of positive youth development – and some good information on approaches that work best for specific genders, cultures and other groups.

I’m keen to put some more energy into all the above, in the hope our community may be spared another loss like we have experienced today. 

Anyone keen to help or got better suggestions? 

Now is a time to grieve and to make some commitments.


More Bureaucracy = Less Community

Four years ago the Government produced the Green Paper for Vulnerable Children. Nearly 10,000 submissions were made on the Green Paper and in response, the Government released the White Paper for Vulnerable Children with the Children’s Action Plan in October 2012.

I helped write a submission on the Green Paper and was pleased to see some of the suggestions we made got a nod in the White Paper – particularly around focusing on villages and neighbourhoods as the most significant sites to invest in for child protection. The big disappointment was that – despite all the evidence on why focusing on the community is the best approach to keep kids safe – few of these ideas made it into the White Paper and only one initiative (working with a handful of existing providers of volunteer-based mentoring programmes) seems to have any resourcing in the Action Plan.

Communities have a role to play in stepping up to support children, their families and wha-nau, so they can succeed and look after themselves.

Research shows us that a strong community around a child, family or wha-nau plays a critical means of building resilience and supporting vulnerable families earlier. Some of our most vulnerable communities are well known, such as refugee and migrant groups, and some specific rural and urban neighbourhoods.

There are good examples of promising community initiatives where communities generate solutions to better connect and support vulnerable children, families, wha-nau, hapu- and iwi to succeed. However, many communities still need more leadership, information and guidance to play their role in better supporting vulnerable children, and their families and wha-nau.

Stronger communities can also be achieved through local government providing strategic leadership to support communities coming up with solutions for their most vulnerable children, and their families and whanau.

(source: Green Paper for Vulnerable Children, 2011)

What did make it into the Action Plan and has been funded is business as usual responses – more professionals, more administrators, more agency-centric approaches to issues that can’t be solved by paying more people to look harder for children at risk and work with families to prepare safety plans and run more checks on other professionals.

Still from the campaign video produced by Gisborne film-maker Josh O'Neill

Still from the campaign video produced by Gisborne film-maker Josh O’Neill

I just received a response to my Official Information Act request asking how much has been spent on the new Children’s Teams – a new iteration of Strengthening Families, only families are less involved in the decision-making. It turns out nearly $5 million has been spent to date so that “trained people in the community refer children to local professionals who work with families/whanau to help and support the child.”

The rhetoric is lovely, but looking behind the warm, fluffy titles, the reality is more bureaucracy and a less caring community. ‘Children at the centre of what we do’ sounds great, but it really means families are less empowered, professional ‘carers’ are given more powers and responsibilities, more ‘systems’ are required to manage the professionals and more administrators paid to administer the systems. Paying people to support social development is fine, but the emphasis and focus is all wrong. When you read what the government means by ‘child centred’ it turns out to be all about more people being paid to manage problems – they even call the people writing plans for ‘vulnerable’ children the ‘Lead Professionals’.

‘Working Together, Sharing Responsibility’ sounds interesting, but turns out to be about professionals being organised by a new level of bureaucracy under the Children’s Teams banner and a national hotline for people with concerns about children (in other words, rebranding the 0508 FAMILY phone line that CYF has used for more than 15 years).

Since the 1980s the emphasis for government-funded social development in New Zealand has been on ‘professionalising the (social work) workforce’, and commercialising community organisations so they run more like businesses – with strategic plans full of mission statements, business plans and a ‘customer’ or ‘client’ focus. Ironically the Puao-Te-Ata-Tu inspired 1989 Children, Young Persons and Their Families Act had a strong focus on community, whānau, hapū and iwi leadership in the care and protection of children – instead the trend has been consistently toward increasing the role of agents of the state, whether they are Child Youth & Family staff or ‘community’ organisations carrying out the work that the Ministry of Social Development or more recently Whānau Ora Commissioning agencies want them to do on behalf of the state.

The other major plank of the Action Plan is legislation requiring anyone who works with children to undergo Police-vetting, yet another exercise in over-regulation and bureaucracy – especially when you consider who does the abusing of children – recent studies have suggested the figures for those who reported having been victimised sexually before the age of 15 years are something like: 11% is by a stranger, 30% by a male relative (other than child’s father or stepfather), 16% by a neighbour or acquaintance, 13% by the father or stepfather and 15% by another known person – a proportion of these will be the paid or volunteer adults in a childcare, school, sports, community or youth work context. So, I’ve asked for information on how much government money is being spent on establishing and implementing this new regulation – that won’t include all the extra time required by all the agencies and organisations that now have to get their workers checked.

So from my perspective, some of the initiatives being rolled out through the Action Plan are totally the wrong way to go, others may have some merit but the main point is that nothing of significance is being put into helping shift the culture of our neighbourhoods and villages where families and children live, work and play everyday.

Investment needs to be at the street level, not at a city or regional level that trusting relationships are nurtured and the forces against that are great – from the increasing individualism of consumer culture to the disempowering reliance on paid professionals to solve problems that must be addressed by families and neighbourhoods if they are to have any chance of enduring change.

DIY Decolonisation


Nigel Brown “I am Pakeha”, 2008, oil on board

My good friend Dr Damian Skinner presented these reflections at a little conference on the Treaty of Waitangi yesterday. He doesn’t do social media but said I could share the text, I’m interested to see what others think about his suggestion we urgently need a Pākehā conversation…

Treaty on the Ground – Summary Notes by Dr Damian Skinner

I wanted to begin by talking about some of the connections I have professionally and personally with the TOW, as a way of identifying the various meanings of that phrase that have been circulating in this conference over the last two days.

When I work here at the Auckland War Memorial Museum, I am employed by an institution that is subject to an Act of Parliament that mentions the TOW. I brush up against formal policy documents like He Korahi Māori, which develop strategies for reflecting the TOW in the museum’s daily activities. I work in a context that has been shaped by a history of museums and cultural institutions grappling with the changing expectations of Māori when it comes to taonga, a history we might call the ‘Te Māori’ effect, and which is also affected by the principles articulated by the Waitangi Tribunal. I also think the TOW is present in more personal, less institutionally sanctioned experiences, like a twenty minute conversation I had near the start of my time here, with a Pākehā colleague, in bad te reo Māori, about whether the tūpuna in the Māori natural history galleries mind us taking food in sealed containers through their space, on our way to the staff room.

As an art historian working outside the Auckland Museum, I brush up against the TOW whenever I encounter and talk about the politicization of cultural dynamics, where claims about, for example, artistic designs and who owns them can’t be easily separated from claims to other resources, in part because of the Waitangi Tribunal process. And then there is the more direct impact of Tribunal report, especially the Wai 262 claim, which was brought up in the discussion yesterday. This came at the same time that I was thinking through the problems of writing a book about whare whakairo, meeting houses, and for me it crystalised the problem of academic ambitions divorced from communities and the descendants of the taonga I wanted to write about.

As a DIY promoter of Pākehā decolonization, I have a contract with the Gisborne Kindergarten Association to work with ECE teachers to address the question of how a Pākehā organization can serve Māori kids and their whānau – and exactly what a Pākehā organization (in a good, decolonized sense) might be. (No one really seems to know.) In this work, I encounter the TOW as an historical event, but more importantly as a history of thinking and negotiating between Māori and Pākehā, as a name for the principles that have been developed by the Waitangi Tribunal. These principles, and the history that sit behind them, act as a trigger to challenge Pākehā privilege. It is the mention of the TOW in various educational policies discussed by Te Kawehau Hoskins this morning, and in the formal documents of the Gisborne Kindergarten Association, that makes this a necessary process, even if not every Pākehā teacher initially sees its relevance or urgency.

Finally, at home, I can see the TOW at work in conversations about whether the kids are Māori and Pākehā, or Māori with Pākehā whakapapa (that one ended with a furious argument about blood quantum in US law); what it means to pursue decolonization in your domestic environment (don’t wash the tea towels with the undies); the necessity of Pākehā to support te reo Māori (still in decline, as Michael Dreaver noted); how local councils behave, and how they continue to actively resist the aspirations of Māori (there used to be a local body councillor); how ECE operates, and fails the needs of Māori children, and the difference between the kōhanga reo movement and puna reo movement (there is a Māori ECE teacher); how art history operates and art historians behave, and what it can possibly mean for a Pākehā art historian to say he is committed to the TOW and continue to write about Māori art (that’s me); and finally in all the endless tensions and domestic politics of a Pākehā living with a Māori whānau in a predominantly Māori community that, being mostly state housing for the labour requirements of the local freezing works and Wattie’s cannery, is a geographic and social reminder of the legacy of TOW breaches that, in a little over 50 years turned Māori land into Pākehā land. (It used to be called Tūranganui-a-Kiwa, and now it is called Gisborne.)

I would say all of these things come under the umbrella of the TOW. They make up the totality of what I mean when I say on my CV that I am committed to the Treaty, and to working out what it means to be a Pākehā partner in the Treaty process. I see many speakers over the last two days talking about an equally wide range of subjects; to tackle this diversity is exactly what we must mean when we say Treaty on the Ground. The TOW isn’t primarily, for me, a process of redress between the Crown and Māori for historical and contemporary breaches of the TOW, but rather it is a short hand for a decolonization process in which the task is to challenge the invisibility and power of Pākehā privilege. At first, when I realized this was a disconnect in this conference – there seemed too much focus on the TOW as a Crown thing, and not enough of what people were doing with it on the ground – I wondered if we shouldn’t discard the phrase TOW to get to these other dimensions. But after a lunch time discussion with my esteemed colleague on this panel, and another esteemed colleague at the Auckland Museum, I remembered that holding onto the idea of the TOW connects us to history – to a signing in 1840, but also to a history of breaches, of Pākehā behaving badly, of principles generated at a specific moment in time, from certain social and political conditions. And in turn this guarantees the urgency and irrevocability of the process. To decolonize successfully, Pākehā need two things: a patient Māori to explain how things really are, and a reason to look at history. The TOW brings both to the table.

I have really enjoyed the way in which this conference has evoked the texture of the period 1970 to 1990, as each speaker has contributed to the building up of a pattern of life that includes events, people, places and landscapes, language, ideas and values – even down to details of social life, such as what people wore, ate and did. The richness of this representation has been inspiring, and productive. To take a small personal example, Kim Workman’s comment that a spectacle of biculturalism led to the proliferation of Māori art in corporate foyers. I have written about some of these artists, but I have never identified the government’s shallow commitment to the baubles of biculturalism as one of the conditions of their practices.

But this also raises the question of Pākehā in this process, something that I think became spectacularly visible with Michael Dreaver’s talk – partly because suddenly there was an actual Pākehā to question (instead of a faceless entity called the Crown, or equally shadowy government Ministers), but also because I got to see a Pākehā practice, a Pākehā way of acting, a parallel to Māori ways of living the Treaty that have been discussed and presented over the last two days.

There isn’t a lot of room for Pākehā like me in the TOW if we’re talking a negotiation between the Crown and Māori. Obviously the Crown represents me, and the Crown’s actions have privileged me and my family. I believe that a big part of decolonization is linking your own history to the breaches of the TOW – tracking your personal connection to a process in which Aotearoa starts off as Māori land and ends up as New Zealand, a quarter-acre paradise for Pākehā. Overall, I have been struck by the lack of Pākehā actors in this conference. There are Māori, and there is the government. Māori initiated the challenge that disrupted settler indigeneity in the 1970s and 1980s, but some Pākehā have also, in different ways, lived a history of taking the TOW seriously, wrestling with its implications privately and publicly. I don’t think Pākehā can expect a pat on the head and a gold star for our contribution. There’s no A for effort here. But we need to find a way to challenge the idea that the TOW is a Māori issue, or the idea that biculturalism, its flawed and fascinating fruit, is a Māori problem. All the cultural institutions I’ve ever encountered are filled with Māori staff who run the cultural sensitivity training and who are responsible for articulating what biculturalism means. This just lets Pākehā off the hook. The Treaty on the Ground is going to require Pākehā to step up and shrug off the invisibility cloak of whiteness. As April Bennett said to a question from the audience this morning about Pākehā in all this, kia kaha e hoa mā. Go forth and gather together the resources that already exist, the people who are already committed, and start making a Pākehā conversation happen. As I was told once, around the dinner table, the biggest problem facing Māori is Pākehā. So what are we going to do about that?

Inside Out Resources


I went to see the Disney/Pixar film Inside-Out with my nine year old son and his mates the other night.

I’ve made these little resources to help us explore some of the concepts in the film with our kids.

Let me know what you think.

Download: InsideOut Resources

Psychologist Nigel’s review of “Inside Out”:

Quite simply… it’s genius. This is, in my humble opinion, one of the cleverest things Disney Pixar have ever made. It’s funny, engaging, sad, joyful, intelligent, and loads of other things as well.

The psychologist in me found it utterly compelling because they’ve very cleverly taken some very complex stuff and made it accessible and engaging for a wide range of ages. The theories underpinning the movie are sound, but the genius is how they’ve taken all that somewhat dry research and turned it into such a fantastic storyIf you have kids who are having a struggle with something in their life, or have struggled with something, or may at some point in the future struggle with something, then this is a must see.

I took my 15 and 12 year old along, and they both enjoyed it. Indeed my 15 year old said that it would have been really helpful for him when he was a little guy struggling with moving town and changing schools and all that stuff.

If you can see this with your kids, you absolutely should. If you can’t afford to see it at the movies then wait till it’s released on DVD and see it then.

I’d predict this movie is going to achieve a special kind of status. It’s more than just a movie… it’s something else entirely.

This is, no contest, the best animated film I’ve ever seen. You’ll watch this with your kids, and then you’ll talk about their emotional life afterwards. Trust me, you will.

How amazing is that?


Innovative Sexual Abuse Campaign Hailed a Success

Still from the campaign video produced by Gisborne film-maker Josh O'Neill

Still from the campaign video produced by Gisborne film-maker Josh O’Neill

A locally designed, produced and distributed sexual violence prevention campaign has been hailed a success based on feedback from a survey of Gisborne residents.

Te Ora Hou Te Tairāwhiti commissioned research in 2013 to identify local parents attitudes and activity around protecting their children from sexual violence. The findings from dozens of interviews and focus groups helped inform the design of a campaign across multiple media targeting local caregivers.

A series of radio advertisements, a websitesocial media resources and a provocative video produced by Gisborne film-maker Josh O’Neill were developed. The ads and video were used over six months to communicate key messages about knowing where children are, who they are with and how to talk to them about keeping safe. Nearly 20,000 Facebook users were reached with the video that has been played over 7,000 times – mostly by Gisborne residents.

A street survey of 100 random residents has been completed and the campaign developers are pleased with the findings.

Survey feedback was from a broad age range, with the largest group of respondents in the 30 something bracket. 62 respondents identified as Māori, 49 as European New Zealander, Pākehā or Kiwi, 11 as Pacific Islanders and four as Asian. Approximately three quarters of respondents were female.

Just over a quarter of respondents had seen the video online and 38% remembered hearing the radio ads. One in five had seen the campaign Facebook page and 15% had visited the campaign website.

For those that had seen or heard any of the campaign material (54/100 individuals), the campaign affirmed existing attitudes, beliefs and behaviours for about three quarters of respondents. 

A quarter of those who had seen or heard the campaign material said it motivated them enough that they raised the issues or a concerning situation with someone and the same number said they took action such as offering support to others or checking on a vulnerable child as a result of the campaign messages.

15% said their attitudes or beliefs about sexual abuse and neglect of children changed as a result of the campaign material.

Many respondents said they felt ‘angry’, ‘sad’, ‘sick’ and ‘afraid’ for the children in these situations after watching the video and hearing the ads. Some felt there needed to be much more sharing of similar messages:

“…so people are more aware and don’t sweep it under the carpet.” 

Many had personal experiences as victims or close friends and family who had been in similar situations:

“It made me relive my experience as a child.”

“I will be aware more for others and family as well around my future children.”

Other felt more determined to protect their children and others.

There was relief expressed that the message was being promoted on the airwaves and online:

“I feel relieved that there is now a source for public awareness.”

Some respondents shared ideas for getting the messages out further:

“Send information packs into the homes, fridge magnets. Get invites to marae meetings, school trustees meetings, just any area of the community that engage family. Big posters everywhere. Billboards maybe.”

“I think this is great and we need more ads of this sort. And more involvement from other child organisations also.”

“Hopefully this local campaign isn’t just a one off and it can be continued.”

A small number of respondents who had not seen the material were triggered by the video and were offered support and information on local helping services.

Project manager Manu Caddie said the survey sample was statistically significant and could be considered a snapshot of the wider population.

“That means more than 17,000 local adults have heard or seen the material and it has stuck with them enough to recall the messages” said Mr Caddie. “It means over 4,000 people are likely to have intervened in a situation to prevent sexual abuse or neglect as a direct result of this campaign.”

An economist commissioned in 2012 by Te Ora Hou to estimate the value for money in action to protect children found that preventing a single case of child abuse results in a saving of at least $20,000 to the public purse, let alone all the positive personal benefits for the child and their family of being spared the trauma and suffering of sexual violence and abuse.

“So even if only one per cent of the 4,000 people who did something as a result of the campaign actually prevented an incident of sexual violence or physical abuse, that’s a potential saving of $800,000.”

Mr Caddie said the campaign had been well supported by local media including The Gisborne Herald and iwi radio stations. He also paid tribute to former Gisborne woman and Te Ora Hou project manager Justine Crawford who led much of the campaign development work.

“A couple of radio stations are still running the ads after payment for them had finished because they know the message is so important” said Mr Caddie.

The Ministry of Social Development provided $38,000 in total for the initial research, local media campaign and evaluation with the proviso that if it was effective in Gisborne the material and approach may be used nationally.

“We think MSD has got real value for money and with the Cabinet paper leaked last week showing plans for a greater emphasis on child protection, we hope there are lessons learnt from this project that can be used in other communities.”

Mr Caddie said part of the motivation for the campaign was the paucity of information and social marketing targeting parents. “We know most children go in and out of extreme vulnerability at different stages in their early years, so any social marketing needs to reach the whole community and if we can prevent more violence and chronic neglect then we’ll have a safer, healthier community with less problems later in life.”

While the Budget last week announced significant increases in funding for the Childrens Teams, Mr Caddie said he is skeptical of continued emphasis on the child and family in isolation from their community. “It takes a village to raise a child and we think more resources need to be going into changing attitudes in behaviours within communities where vulnerable children live rather than pouring money into more professionals which is really ‘agency-centric’ rather than child, family or community centred.”

A report released last week by Treasury showed strong support for an approach to tackling difficult issues called Community-Led Development with less emphasis on paid professionals and more power given to residents in specific areas deciding what they will do to make the community safer and healthier for everyone.

“Whanau Ora has potential” said Mr Caddie, “but like Childrens Team’s, the new budget announcement sounds like the lion’s share of money will be going to employing more community-based social work positions working with individual families instead of seeing the community as the client.”

Te Ora Hou, established in the 1970s as a faith-based Māori community and youth development organisation, is involved with Community-Led Development projects in Whangarei, Gisborne, Hastings, Whanganui, Wellington and Christchurch.

– – –

The Peter & Paul Budget 2015


Mother of four, Kaiti resident and Community Animator, Annette Toupili being interviewed about Budget 2015 for One News on Cambridge Tce.

I probably wouldn’t have paid much attention to Budget 2015, but One News asked for some commentary for some reason, so I did have a look at the headlines and some of the detail. Of course government budgets are usually very short on detail – often the officials responsible have no idea what the politicians are thinking in an announcement so it takes quite a few weeks, sometimes months, before the specifics are made clear. The Budget largely seems like robbing Peter to pay Pauline. Cuts in some places, increases in others. I guess that’s what budgets usually do and governments are mostly in government to reprioritise the tax spend. I’ll start with the two highlights for me:

  1. Funding for Regional Research Institutes – probably a bit self-serving, but I like anything local and the idea that we could get a research institute established in Tairāwhiti is hugely appealing. I suspect such an entity would have a strong focus on environmental, economic and cultural development opportunities and activities. Our friends and colleagues Tui Aroha Warmenhoven and Pia Pohatu have been encouraged by Professor Linda T Smith to establish an internationally significant research entity on the Coast – and with co-investment from both central government and Eastland Community Trust I think we could create something quite exciting.
  2. Childcare Assistance rate for low income families will increase from $4 an hour to $5 an hour for up to 50 hours of childcare a week per child. This is good news as I know many whānau on low incomes have struggled with the limited support available to date – this is much better.

The most disappointing announcements:

  1. No announcement for anything designed to stimulate job development in provincial NZ. The is an announcement about offering multinational companies $1m to invest anywhere in NZ, but I doubt this is going to help Tairāwhiti at all.
  2. Establishing a $3,000 WINZ incentive for beneficiaries to relocate to other regions around NZ. This won’t help Gisborne at all, it will just take more whānau who want to be here away to other places – increasing urbanisation and gutting the provinces further.
  3. Cutting the $1000 kickstarter for Kiwisaver – I’m glad I signed up our kids but taking away the incentive for others to start saving might save $500million now but what’s the longterm implications when even fewer people have retirement savings in 50 years time?

An extra $25 a week after tax more in benefit for families with children is helpful, the first real benefit increase since I was born. The $12.50 before tax per week extra Working for Families for families not on benefit but earning $36,000 pa or less is not significant enough to be helpful. Some very low income families will get $24.50 extra a week, gee thanks. Most sole parents and partners of beneficiaries will have to be available for part time work once their youngest child turns three, rather than 5 years old as it is now – and all beneficiaries with part time work obligations will be expected to find work for 20 hours a week, rather than 15 hours as now. Not much use if there is no work but you have to prove you’re trying hard to find it. Student Allowance rates for families with children will increase $25 a week – nice but long overdue and not particularly significant.  Beneficiaries receiving Sole Parent Support will have to reapply for their benefit every year as people receiving JobSeeker support already do. I’m not sure what the rationale for that is.  $8 million to help vulnerable students participate more in education or training and lift achievement – sounds impressive but won’t go very far across the country. More funding for CYF could probably have been used better by communities being empowered to care for ourselves instead of handing child protection over to the professionals. Likewise the big funding going into Children’s Teams is quite misdirected in my humble opinion – the community should be the client rather than an individual child – seems we haven’t learnt much since the Family Homes of the 70s. More money for the military. No need to comment. The child poverty campaigns seem not totally scathing of the Budget initiatives but not hugely excited either. Will be interesting to see others reactions – seems a mixed bag with a few surprises – like the tourist tax increase – but nothing that’s really going to change much of significance?

Mixed Fortunes

Sunrise in the windows of an 100 year old building in Tokomaru Bay on the morning the Mixed Fortunes report was released. #metaphor

Sunrise in the windows of an 100 year old building in Tokomaru Bay on the morning the Mixed Fortunes report was released. #metaphor

Community leaders scrambling to defend the region in light of the Salvation Army report yesterday was understandable but a bit disappointing.

I’m not sure why anyone was surprised that Northland and Gisborne top the country for all the worst statistics – it’s been that way for a few generations now. Shooting the messenger – before even reading the message – shows both a lack of confidence in the region and credibility as a commentator.

If we look behind the numbers in the report it is completely understandable that Gisborne stands out – we have a very low population compared to other regions and lower average income and higher Māori population. Wellington, Auckland and even Tauranga have communities facing similar challenges to Gisborne but their regional statistics look better because they have higher proportions of the community with higher incomes and there are more employment opportunities in big centres. Māori are still recovering from the impacts of colonisation and it will take some time and better efforts from everyone before Māori health, justice, education and employment statistics are equal with the rest of the population.

Urban migration from rural communities to metropolitan centres is a global phenomenon as small family farms become marginal in the face of industrialised agri-business. Increasing profits by using machines instead of more costly human labour has been the point of business since the industrial revolution. And we wonder why we have an unemployment problem?

I think the report is really helpful and we should be thanking the Salvation Army for helping draw attention to the issues again.

A local yesterday said “the Salvation Army doesn’t know Gisborne”, those kinds of comments show that there are people in Gisborne who don’t really know Gisborne.

I was pleased to hear a couple of councillors have invited the report author to come to Gisborne for a discussion about the report findings and recommendations.

The recommendation to develop national sustainability goals to ensure the progress of all regions should also be taken up at a local level. Unfortunately there seems to be little sense of urgency within the local institutions that have the mandate and resources to influence significant change:

  • Gisborne District Council continues to excuse itself from any meaningful leadership in terms of truly sustainable development. Other councils have at least developed useful regional progress measures that help identify where more attention and resources are required to affect meaningful change.
  • Tairawhiti District Health Board seems to understand some of the issues but is hamstrung by central government priorities, high salaries for some medical staff and limited funds having to stretch further each year.
  • Eastland Community Trust and iwi authorities have limited mandates and capabilities at present but they do have ambitious vision, significant capital and opportunities to marshal additional support.
  • Activate Tairawhiti has a big mandate but no resources to do anything other than organise meetings.
  • Local offices of central government agencies are driven by their bosses in Wellington rather than local priorities.

Likewise we need a local plan to meet the challenges of an aging population, resource scarcity and rising inequality in our region. Accelerating the adoption of new technologies and social arrangements, could help but those arrangements may also require understanding our situation differently. For example the official deprivation levels in Kaiti and Ruatoria are the same but the issues are quite different – on the Coast access to quality health services may be a big challenge but families don’t need to earn a lot when they depend less on the supermarket and more on the land and sea to source food. For example, should public policy encourage more families to return to small farming?

So let’s welcome this useful piece of research, thank the authors and take the time as a community to fully appreciate the reality of the opportunities available to us as a region.