Gigtopia

1 11 2014

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Gisborne/Tairāwhiti is fighting hard to win the Chorus Gigatown competition that ends this month. Like many around the country, I’ve been a bit cynical about the way Chorus decided to start Gigabit Ultra-Fast Broadband (UFB) rollout and the competition hasn’t helped my feelings much.

Having said that – while some of the social media and news stories almost seem to suggest that with the gig that no one will ever cry, no one will ever die in our special community should we win – I can see some real benefits if Gisborne is successful in securing the gig speed connection first.

So as Project Manager for the Tairāwhiti Technology Trust, I’ve been keeping track of #gigatowngis social media progress and helping with the top secret ‘Plan for Gig Success’ that each of the final five ‘towns’ have to prepare and will be judged on by the country and an expert panel of judges.

As you do in such situations, I’ve been doing a little online research on the topic and found a few articles of interest related to gigabit internet services, particularly the US experience to date – and more broadly, which I am most interested in, efforts to close the Digital Divide that seems to be increasing as fast as technology develops:





The Weight of Risk and the Risk of Waiting

15 10 2013

HDC Oil_Page_06

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

DOWNLOADS:





Chamber of Commerce Q+A

21 09 2013

MyPositionFarms

 

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

- – -

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

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

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

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

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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.

- – -

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.





Boom Town – Rats?

14 09 2013
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Life in a ‘Man Camp’ is not for everyone: http://www.pressherald.com/life/man-camp.html

When it comes to mining, Australia has many lessons for us. A 2009 report from the Queensland Government and Centre for Social Responsibility in Mining (CSRM) at University of Queensland showed that housing affordability often declines for people in mining towns who aren’t working in the industry.

Stats from the Real Estate Institute of Queensland (REIQ) show a close correlation between Queensland resources and property booms — median house prices in one suburb soared 65 percent in a year. Great if you’re a property investor, but if you just want an affordable home for your family you might be out of luck.

CSRM studies have documented the “two-speed economy” that follows mining “boom towns”, where people who aren’t working in the industry get a sharp shock when they realise that normal life is suddenly a lot more expensive.

A US Department of Agriculture study published last year found that in three states experiencing petroleum booms, a large increase in production caused only modest increases in local jobs and median household income and employment rose 1.5 percent on pre-boom levels.

There is a range of other peer-reviewed empirical studies on the subject (a few listed below), and I’m happy to look at evidence to the contrary.

So while some incomes will rise during an oil boom, the cost of living for everyone is likely to increase as well — meaning those on a fixed income are in fact worse off. We know that most of the high-paying jobs that go with the territory go to specialists who are brought in.

While this may not on its own be reason enough to say “no” to oil and gas exploration here, it’s important to understand the real opportunities and risks before rolling out the red carpet.

And communities aren’t the only ones thinking hard about the pros and cons. Two months ago Rabobank Group said it would no longer provide finance to anyone involved in extracting unconventional fossil fuels such as oil shales through fracking (see their Oil & Gas policy).

One of the world’s largest lenders, Rabobank is worried about the impact oil and gas production is having on people, productive agricultural land, wildlife and the climate — as well as the release of greenhouse gases and their warming of the planet.

As we are seeing in Taranaki now, there is increasing conflict in the communities affected by the expansion of oil and gas there and a perceived risk to the rural sector from residents near new developments.

A letter to Tiniroto resident John Brodie from the FMG Service Centre says:

“Our Underwriters have confirmed we exclude cover of Fracking and anything related to this activity. Fracking is outside of FMG’s preferred risk profile and is not something we would be willing to cover as we do not insure any risks relating to the mining industry.”

I agree that Gisborne refusing to welcome fossil fuels production here won’t make a serious dent in global greenhouse gas emissions. But global agreements don’t happen out of thin air — they tend to come from grassroots movements that influence local government, national legislation and eventually international diplomacy.

The people of Gisborne taking a stand would help the industry and government to think twice and take notice. But that’s a decision for our community to make, and soon. Last year 2000 locals asked for public notification of any mining resource consent yet Gisborne District Council has chosen not to do so. I think now more than ever we need a forum for the community, our government, iwi and industry to sit down and talk about what the pros and cons really mean for Tairawhiti.

- – -

REFERENCES:

http://www.csrm.uq.edu.au/publications/247-local-government-mining-companies-and-resource-development-in-regional-australia

http://apo.org.au/research/benefits-boom

http://www.regionalaustralia.org.au/research-policy/policy-issues/

http://www.cis.org.au/publications/policy-monographs/article/3309-australias-angry-mayors-how-population-growth-frustrates-local-councils

http://www.lgaq.asn.au/c/document_library/get_file?p_l_id=189033&folderId=98699&name=DLFE-9119.pdf

http://www.regions.qld.gov.au/dsdweb/v4/apps/web/content.cfm?id=16447

Weber, J. G. (2012). The effects of a natural gas boom on employment and income in Colorado, Texas, and Wyoming. Energy Economics, 34(5), 1580-1588. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.eneco.2011.11.013

Jacquet, J. 2009.  Energy Boomtowns & Natural Gas: Implications for Marcellus Shale Local Governments & Rural Communities, NERCD Rural Development Paper No. 43, January 2009, 63 pp., University Park, Pennsylvania: The Northeast Regional Centre for Rural Development, The Pennsylvania State University. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301421512006702





Moral challenge requires alternative investments

1 09 2013

SAMSUNG

Always a voice for sensible decision-making, Brian Wilson’s Opinion Piece on local petroleum exploration was no exception. Brian succinctly outlined some of the fundamental challenges we have as a community if the oil industry gets established in Gisborne and questioned any benefits the industry might bring.

The greatest challenge of course is a moral one: why would we welcome an industry that is, probably more than any other, responsible for causing catastrophic changes in our climate? What are we going to tell our grandchildren when they ask why didn’t we make the transition to renewable energy faster?

And yes, anyone suggesting we need to change and still using fossil fuels is compromised, but that’s a bit like saying Gandhi and Mandela should not have spoken English during their struggle against colonisation.

The transition to renewables will take time – it took petroleum a few decades in the early 20th Century to supersede coal as the primary fuel – but the longer we allow cheap access to fossil fuels, the longer the transition takes.

Humans have already discovered five times more oil and gas than we can consume without pushing planetary warming above the critical two degrees increase. We don’t need to find any more.

I was at a meeting with a representative from Z Energy recently where they talked about the concept of ‘permitted oil’ as opposed to ‘peak oil’. Last month Z Energy partnered with Norske Skog and others to invest over $13 million in a biomass development project in the Bay of Plenty using woodchips and sawdust to create biofuels. That kind of money is not just green-washing, they are serious about using our existing resources to reduce New Zealand’s $6 billlion/year addiction to fossil fuels and our community should be talking to them.

Scion, the forestry research institute has estimated that eight biomass plants around the country could replace ten percent of our crude oil requirements using just the current waste from the wood industry.

A recent Auckland University and Vivid Economics report commissioned a group New Zealand’s most influential business leaders, suggested that green growth may not out perform the dirty alternatives if the goal is short-term profit but a different way of measuring growth and wealth may be required.

“The benefits of green growth policies do not always show up rapidly as higher growth, and higher short-run growth should not be a necessary criterion for a good green growth policy. This is because conventional measures of growth do not measure the state of the economy’s stocks of wealth, and many valuable environmental outcomes are not traded in markets, so improvements do not appear as growth. A green account addresses these deficiencies.”

Renewable energy industries do however have a much higher job creation result for the same investment in fossil fuels, and Tairawhiti is well placed to take advantage of any shifts in the allocation of resources around the national economy during the transition period.

Gisborne District Council has committed to reviewing our policies and plans as they apply to petroleum exploration and production. As a result of public concern, our Council reportedly has the most robust process for assessing resource consent applications from this industry.

As a community we are still waiting to have a well-informed, rationale discussion on the issues and while central government has indicated a willingness to resource this, they are still rolling out more exploration permits and changing laws to reduce opportunities for public input in the decision-making process.

The local body elections will not provide the best opportunity to have this discussion but candidates should all be able to clarify their understanding of the issues.





Call for investigation into alleged human rights abuses

10 05 2013
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Opening of the Tongan language immersion unit at Kaiti School, 2012

Gisborne District Councillor Manu Caddie is calling for an investigation into alleged human rights abuses by Immigration New Zealand in Gisborne. Mr Caddie is very concerned about reports that two Tongan men being held at Gisborne Police Station have been denied access to lawyers and interpreters.

“Apparently the men are accused of being in New Zealand unlawfully and their lawyer says immigrants in Gisborne are being ‘actively discouraged’ from accessing legal counsel and interpreters.”

“These are serious accusations of human rights violations in our community by a government agency, we need an urgent and full investigation of the situation before anything happens to the men who should not be languishing in Police cells any longer than is necessary.”

Gisborne has a growing population of new immigrants, some who stay longer than their visa allows.

“My few experiences with Immigration New Zealand has suggested the agency often operates with impunity and forces people in similar circumstances to be deported so they cannot apply for the right to return for at least five years. These are hardworking people who contribute to the local economy, who have children in local schools and are often church leaders and positive, contributing members of our community.”

“The Tongan community is a vibrant part of the Gisborne population and it is important they have access to the support required. The Pacific island Community Trust does a good job of providing information to our Pasifika community but have very few resources to serve the rapidly expanding multicultural communities.”

Mr Caddie, who is of Tongan descent himself, says he understands there are approximately 2,500 Tongans now living in Gisborne, many work in low paid employment such as forestry and seasonal field work.

“I have just returned from the United States where undocumented workers is a massive issue across the country but the US government is finding constructive ways to address the challenges rather than use the dawn raids and deportation that still seem popular here. New Zealand needs to mature in the way we deal with new and ‘illegal’ immigrants as these families usually bring a work ethic and civic pride that seems to be missing in many Kiwis.”

ENDS

Radio Australia article: http://www.radioaustralia.net.au/international/radio/program/pacific-beat/nz-immigration-accused-of-denying-rights-to-overstayers/1128512





Regional Economic Development

30 04 2013

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A Gisborne District Councillor says the government is picking winners and industries other than oil and gas would grow the regional economy if similar public funds were committed to other parts of the economy.

Manu Caddie would prefer to see government support for developing industries on the East Coast such as renewable biofuels and biochemicals, internet-based small businesses, high tech food production with the associated intellectual property and what he terms ‘lifestyle relocators’.

“We could wait for a new mill to be built and employ a few hundred on minimum wage or we could get on with attracting a hundred innovative, high earning business owners that want to live in places that are vibrant and well connected but out of the rat race of the sprawling metropolitan areas. Compared to the larger centres we have very cheap commercial and residential property prices, a compact city, relaxed lifestyles and relatively unspoiled environment.”

Mr Caddie says the Government has a fundamentally flawed policy of prioritising petroleum development without any plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions let alone transition the country away from fossil fuels.

“There may well be some short-term economic gain for some members of the community if a significant amount of hydrocarbons can be extracted, but the evidence from overseas is that in mining boomtowns the economic benefits accrue to a certain part of the population while others are worse off and inequalities increase.”

“The region has not had a properly informed debate on the costs and benefits of mining here. There has been no independent analysis and advice on our situation and what the alternatives could be that would deliver more sustainable employment and environmental benefits. If the Government wants to pick winners then at least make it evidence-based instead of ideological. Environmentally sustainable mining is an oxymoron and given the scientific evidence on the impacts of fossil fuel consumption, the issue really is a moral question more than anything else.”

Mr Caddie says he agrees with Steven Joyce and Meng Foon that education needs even more attention.

“This is as much about families and students getting the support they need and taking responsibility as it is about the quality of teaching and approaches to formal learning. More sophiscated understanding of and flexibility around the relationships between schooling, family dynamics, employment and lifestyle choices is critical.”

“Only one in four Gisborne school leavers have NCEA Level 3 or above, nearly ten percent lower than the national average. Between half and three quarters of young people say they do not plan to continue with any form tertiary training after leaving school. A higher proportion of Gisborne young people work in agriculture, fishing, forestry and manufacturing than the national average.”

Gisborne has about 150 young offenders under 17 years. Based on 2001 estimates from PriceWaterhouseCoopers, each year offences committed by young people in Gisborne cost around $2.5 million in Police, court and sentencing costs.

“There is a significant underclass emerging that are extremely disconnected from mainstream society, community leaders, public institutions, employers and community organisations need to get a whole lot smarter about how we think about this part of the population and just focusing on economic development will not be sufficient.”








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