Leaving Council

10 04 2014

VOTE

City ward councillor Manu Caddie has resigned from Gisborne District Council.

Mr Caddie said he arrived at the decision after some significant soul searching following a recent family trip to Asia and discussion with family and close friends.

“Recently I have taken time to reflect on my priorities and I need to make some changes. I should have made this decision before the last election and I am sorry for the inconvenience and extra cost that my resignation will mean for the Council and ratepayers.”

Mr Caddie said it has been a privilege to serve the Gisborne community as a District Councillor since 2010.

“Being on Council has been a highlight of my working life. The opportunity to help shape the future of our district is a serious responsibility and requires people who have the time and energy to devote to the task. Unfortunately I am unable to do this at present.”

Mr Caddie will continue involvement with a small number of community initiatives and a new organisation.

Mr Caddie’s resignation will mean a by-election must be held by early July for a new city ward councillor.

ENDS





Census surprises

4 12 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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.

- – – 

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.

- – -

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.





What would you do with 40 million dollars?

29 08 2013

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The possible sale of the Tauwhareparae farms should be part of a review of all council owned property says City Ward district councillor Manu Caddie who is making it part of his election policy for the October local government elections.

While he is not committed to a sale at present he feels the financial returns from the farms do not justify the capital investment they represent. One possible solution would be  to have the Office of Treaty Settlements buy them on behalf of the traditional Maori owners.

Mr Caddie is frustrated that a promised review of the council’s business units has not yet happened, mostly because of staffing issues following the departure of the chief financial officer and the delay in finding a replacement until after the rest of the staffing restructure was completed.

“Philosophically I have no problem with the council owning commercial entities provided they have either a strong income earning capacity or provide some other significant social, cultural or environmental benefit,” he said..

“I have complete confidence in the governance, management and operations of the farms, they are in the top ten performing units in the district and I believe those responsible for maximising profits from them are doing a good job of getting the best out of them. I also agree with Hilton Collier that there are opportunities for innovation and value-adding along the supply chain that the directors could focus more resources on.

“However, the financial returns provided by the farms do not justify the capital investment they represent.

“I disagree with the assessment that the return on investment has been over 15 percent for the last ten years. Including the land value in the ROI is dishonest accounting as it is not realised until the asset is actually sold and land values can go down as easily as they go up, though admittedly it is less fickle than some other investment options.

“If we took the actual dividends paid, and perhaps even a portion of the capital reinvestment retained, it seems term deposits and even conservative options like Government bonds would have delivered millions more to offset income that the council otherwise derives from our rates.

“Some sectors of the community have a strong emotional attachment – our rural councillors have tended to favour retention of the farms no matter what, though I have heard a number of farmers are keen to see council ownership reviewed as soon as possible.

“The farm directors and managers over the years have been responsible stewards of the land by committing significant Overlay 3A areas to reforestation, though I would like to know more about the biodiversity offsetting proposed that would allow them to clear a substantial Protected Management Area of indigenous vegetation that will take some time to replicate elsewhere.

“The farms have significance for local Māori and competing Treaty claims on the land meant that they were left out of settlements to date. So there is an option here that would take the risk out of the valuation price not being realised if the property went to market as the Office of Treaty Settlements would be obliged to purchase for no less than the latest registered valuation.

“That option would guarantee that the farms will be retained in local ownership rather than being snapped up by an absentee owner. It would also provide a significant gesture of goodwill from the people of Gisborne to the traditional ‘owners’ of the area and combined with other investment capital from Treaty settlements could pursue some of the innovation potential.

“So, at this stage I’m not saying I am committed to the sale but I am very motivated to have a thorough and independent review of council retaining ownership.

“We should not let politicians get in the way of the facts! I think we need to have a good long look at the likely scenarios should we decide to sell or retain the farms and what protections can be put in place to ensure councillors don’t just squander any proceeds on popular projects that could diminish rather than enhance the overall financial position of council,” said Mr Caddie.





Ask Ratepayers Before Deciding on Extra $2 Million for Theatre

28 08 2013

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Expecting ratepayers to fork out an extra $2.1 million dollars for the War Memorial Theatre without asking if they support the decision is unacceptable according to District Councillor Manu Caddie.

Mr Caddie was responding to news that the War Memorial Theatre upgrade will cost $9.6m instead the $7.17m budgeted and approved in Council’s Ten Year Plan.

Staff and some councillors are recommending an extra $2.1million is borrowed because debt is lower than forecast and the expense is ‘therefore affordable’ and ‘not luxurious’.

“I beg to differ. Spending an extra $2million of ratepayers money really needs to go to them before a decision is made” said Mr Caddie.

“The community was told 70 percent of the Theatre funds would come from external sources, now it looks like that could drop to closer to 50 percent and $4.25m worth of rates would be used to make up the difference.”

“The Theatre is a important part of our civic infrastructure and used by many parts of the community, but it now has a much higher price tag than the $6.8m estimated in 2011 and the $7.2m approved in the Ten Year Plan last year.”

Mr Caddie says he could be agreeable to upping the Council contribution to 33 percent which would require $1,050,000 of loan funds, but still believes it would require a special consultative procedure if the decision was to be made before the next Ten Year Plan.

“We couldn’t find even $15,000 for the Skate Park, a Council-owned asset that is used by more people in one weekend than the War Memorial Theatre sees in a month, so I really can’t stomach committing over $2million without proper public consultation.”

“While the loan swaps we are locked into may mean there are advantages in spending on bringing projects forward, we really need to get some sense of the cost for replacing Council administration buildings before rushing into unplanned spending.”

Mr Caddie says Council should go back to the organisations that have granted funds for the project so far.

“First we need to explain that the project has cost a huge amount more than the best estimates we got in 2011 and see if they are willing to add up to 25 percent to their grant to help cover the difference. If that is not an option then we need to explain it may take require longer than expected to secure the funds. The project is not planned to be completed until 2016 so we have some time still.”

Mr Caddie said he is impressed with the external funds secured by Council staff and the War Memorial Theatre Trust and would be willing to help find the additional funds required from external sources.

The matter will be debated by Council at their meeting next Thursday 5 September.





Are we all Placemakers?

14 05 2013

Imagell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Rushed RMA Reforms Revisited

14 03 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENDS

Resources:

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





Deepening Democracy

4 01 2013
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‘The Death of Socrates’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





The Most Important Issue in the World

15 12 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Kainga Whenua changes ‘best achievement’ of current Government

13 10 2012

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Making it easier for whanau to build on multiply-owned Māori is probably the best achievement of the current government to date says Gisborne District Councillor Manu Caddie.

Changes in eligibility criteria and an increase in the amount Kiwibank will loan under the Kainga Whenua scheme were announced yesterday by Māori Party co-leader and Associate Minister of Housing Tariana Turia.

“If anything can make a difference to unlocking the potential of Māori land on the East Coast then this will” said Mr Caddie.

Mr Caddie said the changes that will allow non-resident shareholders to be guarantors for a loan, lifting the restriction from only first home buyers and raising the income threshold will make it easier for people earning more money, who can afford to service a mortgage, to look at returning to their traditional lands.

Mr Caddie said rates arrears on Māori land in the northern part of Gisborne District were spiraling out of control and this kind of policy would make it much easier for families to return to the land and make it even more productive than it had been 100 years ago.

“With the opportunities technology offers to work anywhere, the idea of living on tribal lands and trading globally is going to be very appealing to more families.”

Mr Caddie has been critical of the Kainga Whenua scheme in the past because the restrictive criteria had severely limited its uptake. “These are the changes we have been calling for and it is great to see both the Maori Party and National Party have been listening.”

Mr Caddie said a presentation on the new criteria would be on the agenda of the Tairawhiti Housing Advisory Group meeting at Council on 24th October.

The fund will now be open to Maori Land Trusts, whanau or hapu groups who wish to build on Maori land and to all individual borrowers assessed as able to service a mortgage, not just first home buyers.

The income cap for borrowers has been raised from $85,000 to $120,000 for one borrower and up to $160,000 for two or more borrowers.

Loans can also now be used for home improvements, repairs and maintenance.

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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.





Māori Land & Council Rates

2 03 2012

By the end of last year, Gisborne District Council was owed about $3.5m in overdue rates on Maori land. Council recently agreed to the establishment of a working group to focus on the issues relating to Maori land and rates.

As it turns out, central government also has a group working on the issues, as have many governments before the current one. In fact 80 years ago Sir Apirana Ngata and the Prime Minister, George Forbes, established a joint committee to inquire into the question of unpaid rates on Māori land. The committee found significant areas of land had no rateable value and recommended local authorities to remove such areas from valuation rolls. The committee visited a number of the development schemes on Māori land that Ngata had initiated and the members were impressed with the productivity gains generated off these blocks.

These schemes assisted in a wide range of successful cooperatives operating on the East Coast, enabled Māori to retain ownership and created thousands of jobs.

The Waitangi Tribunal suggests that rates “were initially introduced as a tool of local government to meet its own infrastructure needs and those of settlers, rather than in response to what Māori may have wanted.”

Before 1893 the law did not allow Māori land to be sold to cover rating debts and central government reimbursed local authorities for unpaid rates on Māori land (that it turns out had been grossly overvalued). From 1910, nearly all Māori land became rateable unless held under customary title. In 1924, responsibility for rates recovery was shifted to the Māori Land Court. From then on, if arrears accrued against the land, it could be the subject of a charging order by the court, and placed in receivership or trust for lease or sale.

From 1950 to 1970, new legislation extended the powers of the court to force the development of ‘unproductive’ Māori land that had not been able to pay rates. The Waitangi Tribunal has found that a major effect of legislation introduced during this period seems to have been to boost the use of receivership as a means of rates enforcement.

The whole concept of local government rates has its philosophical origin in European legal theory that all land is ultimately held by the Crown. However, in New Zealand the question has persistently arisen in the development of rating law as to whether land not held by the Crown, but rather held by Maori in customary tenure, should be subject to rates. Council’s Whenua Rahui policy recognises this issue to some degree.

Since the 2007 Local Government Rates Inquiry there has been a shift and valuations for rating purposes make some small concession for the complexities of Māori land tenure and specify this on rates demands.

Dr Api Mahuika has advocated establishment of a Ngāti Porou local government district – some of my colleagues might support this proposal given the high cost of maintaining roads across such a large area and the large proportion of unpaid rates coming from the northern part of the district. Of course such a proposal is unlikely to be within the scope of our working group but it seems a similar emphasis on self-determination is the basis of the Tuhoe position on Te Urewera, as it was for Gandhi before Britain quit India. There are myriad examples of semi-autonomous governance arrangements around the world, so hopefully these local questions eventually get the full consideration they deserve.

The new Council working group will meet next month to determine the Terms of Reference and will no doubt welcome key stakeholders in the discussions and potential solutions. Watch this space!





Beyond Petroleum… for good.

24 01 2012

2012 Investor Summit on Climate Risk and Energy Solutions

We have much to thank the oil industry for – that source of energy has enabled humans to achieve all sorts of things that people living 100 years ago would never have dreamed about. I love the fact that I can take my family on holiday to Tauranga and complete the trip in four hours instead of the week or two it would take by horse (if the weather was fine!), I love the medicines, food, clothing and technology that uses cheap oil and gas in their production and distribution processes.

I also know that future generations are going to look back on us in disbelief that we burnt good oil so quickly and carelessly. In light of the overwhelming evidence (well canvased in The Gisborne Herald letters page!) on human caused climate change and peak oil, ‘responsible extraction of fossil fuels’ is quickly becoming an oxymoron.

This is a conscience issue for me, based on the current scientific consensus about the causes of accelerating climate change, I feel I must have some tangible commitment to an urgent transition away from our reliance on fossil fuel toward renewable energy sources.

I currently own a hybrid car that alternates between petrol and electric propulsion. Recently I looked at buying a fully electric car but I could not afford it without adding 40% to our mortgage! I couldn’t help but think that the cost of that electric vehicle, which had been converted from petrol, would be much cheaper if it was more expensive to produce and consume fossil fuels here and overseas. Economies of scale mean that when more people do more of something we usually find cheaper ways to do it.

A recent OECD report estimates New Zealand taxpayers give fossil fuel users around $70 million each year from the public purse. If that is not bad enough, the same report suggests Norway – the country our government suggests we emulate – subsidises fossil fuels to the tune of over $1.8billion per annum. Recent editorials in this newspaper have claimed supporters of investment in renewable energy are proposing subsidies that would be an exercise in ‘government directed disaster’ – I imagine $1.8 billion could be considered a fair amount of government direction.

‎While the government says it is committed to reductions in carbon emissions, it has made fossil fuel production a key part of the national economic development plan. The 2011 Energy Strategy says the goal is to make this country a “highly attractive” global destination for petroleum exploration and production companies.

The Listener’s latest editorial claims “The current infatuation with the oil and gas sector runs the risk that the necessary investment in and support for new forms of renewable energy will be diminished. Of particular concern is that although the Government is rolling out the red carpet to international exploration companies, the enormous potential gains to be made from greater energy efficiency are going begging.”

Last week over 450 global investors controlling tens of trillions of dollars from four continents gathered at the UN for the biannual Investor Summit on Climate Risk & Energy Solutions.

“Climate change is certain to be a major factor in investments for the foreseeable future—perhaps the biggest investment factor of our lifetimes,” said Kevin Parker, global head of Deutsche Asset Management – this bank alone is worth US$4 trillion dollars.

The NYC summit presented a number of notable achievements including a record $260 billion invested in clean energy in 2011 and over one trillion dollars in the past six years. There was a 36% increase in solar power investments alone (reaching US$136.6 billion) in 2011. The highly successful but recently scrapped US Treasury Grant Program paid out around $9.6b over 30 months and leveraged nearly $23 billion in private sector investment for 22,000 projects in every state across a dozen clean energy industries. Investors signed onto an action plan calling for greater private investment in low-carbon technologies and tougher scrutiny of climate risks across their portfolios.

The world is moving towards renewables driven by the inescapable logic of clean energy. Gisborne may have an opportunity to tie ourselves to an outdated, dirty and what many believe irrational industry in its twilight years, or we could, with the support of central government and private investors, be a region that was bold enough to not only recognise the need for sustainable change but actually lead and prosper from it.

- – – – – -

NOTE: The original post suggested Norway subsidised the fossil fuel industry to the tune of $100b, this was a miscalculation using an online currency conversion tool. The figures are from this OECD report: www.oecd.org/dataoecd/55/5/48786631.pdf 

The lower tax rate on diesel provides a benefit of 3,510 million Krone = NZ$664m, the rest of the 2010 figures seem to come out at about 2,053 million Krone = NZ$426m – so close to $1.8b. Thanks to Wayne for pointing out the error, I obviously wasn’t using my currency calculator correctly when I did the original sum. I guess my argument still stands even if it is not quite as compelling! The taxpayer subsidies in Norway do not seem to be decreasing overall, are five times the state subsidies for renewables and most are either static or increasing annually, the only subsidies that decreased in 2010 appear to be the government assistance for seismic testing in the exploration for fossil fuels. 




Council Year One: Five Lessons Learnt

30 12 2011

 

So, now I’ve had my first full year in Council, I think I’ve learnt at least five useful lessons:

1. Council is about much more than roads, rates and rubbish.

My background before Council was largely in community organising, education and social issues. Since being on Council a large part of my time has been dedicated to environmental issues. A common definition of sustainable development is ‘activity that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’ Different understandings within Council and the wider community of what constitutes the needs of the present and future generations predictably mean we often disagree on what the priorities should be, what are acceptable activities to allow in our district and how resources should be allocated to ensure current and future wellbeing, not only of people but also the natural environment. Economic issues do consume much of our time in Council, particularly how much we expect residents and property owners to cough up to maintain a healthy environment, decent infrastructure and an attractive community, but I have been surprised at the range of environmental issues we have to consider as a unitary authority.

2. Council staff provide great value for the money we pay them.

Most of my pre-Council experience had been fairly positive with staff in the Community Development Unit and a few councillors. Over the course of the year I’ve been blown away by the skills, knowledge and dedication of GDC staff across the organisation. We have excellent managers working long hours and their staff are true public servants in the best sense of the term. The expertise amongst our staff consistently impresses me and while we may not pay as much as many other local authorities GDC has certainly been able to attract and retain some of the best talent in the sector.

3. Councillors all care deeply about our district.

While I’ve got priorities and views that are the polar opposite to a number of my colleagues on many issues, I have come to appreciate that each one of them is passionate about the wellbeing of our district and each brings a unique perspective and set of skills and experience to the Council table. I greatly appreciate those that have been on Council longer than I have and I think the newbies bring some fresh perspectives.

4. Economic, social, environmental and cultural concerns seem to be in conflict more than they are complimentary.

There is much made of the interdependence of economic and social development, some say a healthy economy will result in an improved social profile while others believe social investment will create more productive workers. When we add the complexities of safeguarding the little that remains of wildlife habitats, the challenges of climate change, quality soil retention, freshwater management and coastal protections, the social and economic trade-offs get even more complicated. And when the cultural values, traditions and assumptions of our district’s residents get added to the mix it makes for a really exciting and often difficult matrix for decision-makers to navigate.

5. There is often more heat than light in debates about local issues.

What has really surprised me as someone who likes to see evidence rather than theatrics is the number of claims made about things like rates affordability, Council services inefficiency and ‘red tape’. I will listen carefully to members of the public and Council colleagues who produce actual examples and verified situations to substantiate their claims, but it seems far more common for the loudest voices to muscle their way in with sweeping generalisations that when the surface is scratched just don’t hold their ground.





East Coast, Ikaroa-Rāwhiti & Waiariki Polling Places Analysis

29 11 2011

A review of the polling places results courtesy of the Electoral Commission website suggests what many of us suspect – inland rural communities tend to vote for parties like National and ACT while neighbourhoods with a higher proportion of Māori and coastal communities prefer the Green Party and Labour. Wainui is an interesting situation, the Greens did extremely well (21%), Labour quite poorly (12%) and National slightly higher (58%) than what they got across the rest of the country.  This is a significant change from the last election where there was much higher support in Wainui for National than Labour or Greens.

Results in the East Coast electorate polling places are as follows.

ACT got less than 1% of the party vote and did best in small rural communities like Whangara, Waimana, Whatatutu, Patutahi, Matawai but also had some support in Wainui and Riverdale.

The Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party received less than half of one percent in East Coast but did best in Tolaga Bay, Waimana, Muriwai, Opotiki and Kawerau.

The new Conservative Party got just over 3% and did best in Manawahe, Woodlands (Opotiki), Whatatutu, Muriwai, Kawerau, Edgecumbe, Waimana and Matata.

The Green Party’s best polling places were Omaio, Kutarere, Omarumutu, Wainui (21%), Hicks Bay and five Gisborne city polling places all (12-15%) retruned higher than the national average Green support.

Labour did worst in places like Waimana, Raukokore, Warenga-a-Kuri, Matawai, Tiniroto, Ormond, Rere, Thornton, Makauri, Whangara and Wainui, and best in places like Ruatoki, Waikirikiri, Kaiti, Whatatutu, Elgin and Ruatoria.

Mana, NZ First and the Māori Party did well in the coastal communities like Tikitiki, Te Kaha, Te Araroa, Cape Runaway, Ruatoria and Torere and generally did worst in the places National did best in.

National did best in the places Labour did worst like Rere (82%), Thornton (79%), Makauri (71%) Makaraka, Waerenga-a-Kuri, Tiniroto and Ormond and worst in Kaiti, Ruatoki, Te Araroa, Torere, Omaio, Ruatoria, Elgin and Tikitiki.

United Future got less than 1% of the electorate party votes and had a mixed bag with 11% of the 57 votes in Waimana and their next best result was 2.7% in Waerenga-a-Kuri and Te Araroa.

The Ikaroa-Rawhiti polling places that overlap with East Coast electorate had fairly similar results and a similar trend noticeable between inland rural communities, coastal communities and the urban centres.

ALCP did best in Makauri, Makaraka and Matawai but got no votes in more than half of the polling places in the Gisborne District.

The Greens got no Ikaroa-Rawhiti votes in Rere, Kotemaori or Tutira but did best in Hicks Bay, Whangara and Gisborne city – more than half of the Gisborne and Wairoa polling places recorded greater than the national average for the Greens.

Wairoa, Kaiti, Te Puia Springs and Tolaga Bay voters were the strongest supporters for Labour Party, and only Waerenga-a-Kuri and Makauri recorded counts lower than the country-wide party vote for Labour.

Mana did best in Muriwai, Ruatoria, Hicks Bay & Te Araroa and recorded no votes in 10 polling places, mostly inland rural communities like Ormond, Tiniroto and Matawai.

The Māori Party had the strongest support in Nuhaka, Tokomaru Bay, Muriwai and Tikitiki and no votes in Tutira and Makauri.

The National Party achieved 6% of the vote in Ikaroa-Rawhiti and did best in polling places of Makauri (31%), Rere, Wainui and Ormond (17%) and worst in places like Hicks Bay, Kaiti, Muriwai and Patutahi where they received either no votes or no more than 2%.

NZ First did best in Makauri (25%), Patutahi (16%), Tuai (15%) and Tutira (14%) but had not votes in places like Rere, Whangara and Tiniroto.

In Waiariki, the Green Party did best in Opotiki, Te Kaha and Omaio and the National Party got no more than three votes in half of the 180 polling places. The highest proportion of party votes for National was 14% in Ngongataha. Labour did best in the urban centres like Rotorua, Kawerau, Whakatane and Opotiki.

Overall the patterns seem to reflect similar trends over recent elections from what I can tell. The big surprise was the Green Party trebled their vote from the last election in Ikaroa-Rawhiti. Another interesting development was the stronger than the national average support for the Conservative candidate, which probably reflects Gisborne residents familiarity with Kathy as a District Councillor. New Zealand First also scored higher than the national average in the East Coast electorate even though the candidate seemed to have a very low profile and did little campaigning.





Māori Representation

7 11 2011

At the risk of being called a sore loser, I think it’s useful to outline in more detail than the couple of lines possible in a newspaper story why I support the establishment of Māori wards for Gisborne District Council.

While the majority of Gisborne District councilors rejected the option last month, it is exciting to see that both Waikato Regional Council and Nelson City Council (unanimously) have followed Bay of Plenty Regional Council and chosen to establish Māori wards.

There seem to be two or three main reasons people don’t like the idea of Māori wards for Gisborne District Council.

The first is the suggestion that Māori wards will mean less representation for rural residents. The argument goes that the wards will be so large it will be hard for elected members to get around. By all accounts, BOP Regional Council’s very successful Māori wards arrangement has at least one ward larger than the whole Gisborne District. Our GDC staff proposal was to have two or three Māori wards, thereby keeping the ward sizes small enough.

In addition, the proposal would mean that rural residents have twice as many councilors responsible for their area as there would be two not one councilor covering every rural area. This would result in  more choice of councilors to contact and twice as much representation for both Māori and general electors. There is also a strong argument for what is currently Matakaoa ward to be considered isolated which would mean at least two general wards on the coast and one Māori.

Another criticism of Māori wards is that it doesn’t guarantee people with mana whenua (ancestral connections) to the area would be elected. The last census showed however that 90% of Māori residing in the district have affiliations with at least one iwi within Gisborne District Council boundaries and if Tūhoe and Te Whānau-a-Apanui are included it rises to around 99%.

So, it is highly unlikely that anyone standing for a Māori seat would not be connected to local iwi and boundaries for wards have been suggested as running along the Waimata River that usually demarcates the boundary between Ngāti Porou and Turanga iwi.

One of my main concerns with the GDC decision was that Māori in particular, but also the wider public, had not been properly consulted on the intention to reject Māori wards. Under the Local Government Act there are some pretty clear rules for ensuring proper consultation on these kinds of decisions. A number of Māori groups were informed that Council intended to make a decision but the information exchange was minimal. Māori certainly had little, if any, opportunity to take the proposals back to their communities to discuss and have input on the final decision.

Of course, really motivated residents could organise another petition and collect the necessary 1,517 valid voter signatures by the end of February.  I’m not sure however that enough people think this issue is a priority to give up their summer holidays for. As the saying goes, we get the government we deserve and I can live with that if others don’t think it is a priority.

A final argument is that Māori wards are divisive, unfair and even racist. Of course over the last 40 years much progress has been made at a national level in recognising the special status of Maori as indigenous peoples. International acknowledgment of the value of protecting the unique cultures of human civilization has enabled national legislation and policies designed to ensure indigenous peoples maintain customs, language and some semblance of control over natural resources. These have been required as for hundreds of years settler societies have imposed majoritarian systems of decision-making and resource allocation. These settler systems have usually overlooked or dismissed the interests of indigenous peoples who by design, tradition or choice have remained on the margins of local governance systems.





Nah man, STV is better…

8 09 2011

In his defence of the status quo on 7 September a fellow Councillor suggests he would like to have access to more information on the case for STV as the preferred voting system.

Mike Reid who presented information to Council works for Local Government New Zealand, not the Society of Local Government Managers. His presentation was not “biased”, it presented the facts on the statutory process for representation reviews and the various options available to all councils. Some councilors took issue with the legislative requirements and chose to criticise the presentation but Mr Reid was simply delivering the message we all need to hear so we properly understand the process and spectrum of options available.

My colleague asked for more evidence on the benefits of the Single Transferrable Vote, I suggest a good starting point for anyone interested is the 2007 reportImproving the Representativeness of Councillors: An International Literature Review” by Rao, N., Grayson, L. & Young, K. The paper documents how STV has contributed to improving the participation of women, young people and ethnic minorities in local government leadership but cautions that changing the voting system is only one of many factors contributing to more representative governance. And considering all the evidence, the authors recommend the UK adopt a proportional voting system for local government to replace First Past the Post.

Another useful source of evidence on the benefits of STV is ‘Empowerment or encumbrance? Exercising the STV option for local authority elections in New Zealand’ by Massey University Professor Christine Cheyne and Associate Professor Margie Comrie (2005). The authors conclude:

STV has the potential to make our local authorities more representative of the communities you serve. It increases the likelihood that those communities within our society that feel isolated and marginalised from mainstream political life will have the opportunity for direct participation. That can only enrich the nature of political life in this country and strengthen the foundations of our democratic institutions.”

My colleague claims that STV wouldn’t be used in rural wards because “STV relies on more than one person to be elected and so our rural wards, which are represented by one person, would continue to be FPP”. I’m not sure where this idea is coming from as the Wellington mayoral race last year is just one example of STV working in an electorate with only one elected representative. Celia Wade-Brown won the election in the final round of the instant runoff count. She was ranked ahead of Kerry Prendergast on a significant number of ballots from the four trailing candidates after they were eliminated, which allowed her to overcome Prendergast’s lead after the first round of counting. The electorate got the Mayor that was most preferred.

One of Mr Reid’s most interesting revelations during his presentation to Council was that many councils have used independent panels drawn from respected local residents to make recommendations on representation arrangements. It sounds like this would be a useful way to avoid any claims of a conflict of interest or self-preservation and such a panel would no doubt deliver recommendations as robust as anything we councillors might come up with.

STV does have serious limitations and weaknesses, but if the outcomes of what the voting system delivers is most important then the people who have studied it more than most us all seem to conclude that at a local government level STV is superior to FPP.





Representation Review 2011 – STV vs FPP

1 09 2011

The decision last week by 11 of my colleagues to support First Past the Post as the electoral system Gisborne District Council intends to use in 2013 was disappointing for me for a number of reasons.

There seemed to be a number of councilors who believed STV is some kind of threat to rural wards. Someone who should have known better said Wairoa had done away with its wards after switching to STV and now only one rural councilor remained there. But according to the Department of Internal Affairs, Wairoa District Council uses FPP and always has. Anyway, Council chooses the make up of the wards, the voting system has nothing to do with it.

A growing number of people seem motivated to collect the 1,517 signatures of eligible electors required to ensure the public have their say through an official poll on whether or not to change to STV. This means the decision last week is likely to cost the Council around $60,000 to administer the poll.

STV is a fairer and more democratic system. According to the official guidelines from the Society of Local Government Managers (SOLGM), the main advantage of STV is that it produces better outcomes than FPP. While Gisborne elections have had much higher numbers of invalids for STV than FPP, SOLGM and the Local Government Commission say most of the confusion is from having different systems on the same voting paper. Evidence gathered from comparing the results of STV against FPP elections has found that STV achieves
“broad proportionality in multi-member wards/constituencies
; majority outcomes in single-member elections; more equitable minority representation
; and a reduction in the number of wasted votes.” Why would we not want all of those outcomes?

I don’t give much weight to precedence from reviews undertaken by GDC in years gone by. We have got the responsibility and opportunity to review the situation now and whatever people decided previously is of little consequence to this decision. Similarly just because the majority of other councils still use FPP, I don’t see that as a reason we should – its pretty clear that those who have used STV get a Council that is more representative of their community in terms of age, gender and ethnicity, again I suspect other councils like the status quo that delivered them the power.

I agree with claims that more voters feel comfortable with FPP but that is a self-perpetuating cycle, if we don’t try the alternative (for both Council and DHB) then we as voters won’t make the effort to understand STV.

Yes STV is a more complex voting process and it does take longer to work out who won, so if a simple, easy to understand voting system is most important then FPP is the best option. However if we believe the most accurate system is preferable in terms of electing the people most preferred by the voters, then STV is far superior.

FPP is a bit like using a sledgehammer to open an egg, it gets the job done quickly and simply, but the results are not as good as if we use a more sophisticated approach such as an egg cup, a knife and a teaspoon.

To avoid any chance of a perceived conflict of interest in these important decisions around representation arrangements, the idea of an independent panel to draft a proposal has some real merit. Any volunteers?!





Hasta la Victoria Siempre

30 08 2011

Socialism made the headlines locally and at a national level last week. The Prime Minister explained his admission that a socialist streak runs through New Zealanders by acknowledging he too holds socialist ideals. And an aspiring Mayoral candidate blamed socialists on Gisborne District Council for the increase in his rates demand, which he thinks is a form of wealth tax. Of course he failed to mention his properties are collectively worth many millions of dollars and the proportion of his rates to property value is less than one tenth of what the vast majority of us contribute.

As Noam Chomsky has pointed out, “the term socialist has been so evacuated of content over the last century that it’s hard even to use in any sensible way. The Soviet Union was called a socialist society by the two major propaganda powers in the world at the time. The west called the Soviet Union socialist to defame it by association with the miserable tyranny and the Soviets called it socialism to benefit from the moral appeal that true socialism had among large parts of the general world population.” But the Soviet Union was about as remote from socialism as you can imagine. The core notion of traditional socialism is that working people have to be in control of production and communities have to be in control of their own lives. The Soviet Union was the exact opposite of local control, the working people were virtual slaves. Chomsky suggests the collapse of the Soviet Union was in fact a great victory for socialism.

There are attempts today to describe a detailed vision of a socialist future and some of the most extensive and detailed are examples like Participatory Economics and the moves toward an extension of democracy to the industrial sphere through worker-owned cooperatives.

Philosopher and educationalist John Dewey’s main work concentrated on democracy and he pointed out that as long as we have industrial feudalism – that is, private power controlling production and commerce – our democracy will be very limited, we have to move to what he called industrial democracy if we hope to have democracy of any significance.

The way for individuals to realise the democracy “in their own hearts” was through community. As Dewey wrote, “it is through association that man has acquired his individuality and it is through association that he exercises it. The theory which sets the individual over against society, of necessity contradicts itself.”

Dewey believed that direct participation in a democracy would foster an unexpected talent for thoughtful deliberation in ordinary citizens. “We lie in the lap of an immense intelligence,” he said. The difficulty was to unleash this intelligence, which remained dormant until “it possesses the local community as its medium.” In The Public and its Problems — Dewey’s only work of formal political philosophy — he outlined an elaborate program of truly participatory democracy, one built around face-to-face interactions in “neighborly communities.”

The idea that people should be in control of their own destiny and lives including the institutions within which they work and the communities within which they live is traditional socialism.

So when the label socialist gets used pejoratively by people who should know better, I hope John Key is correct, that New Zealanders do all have a socialist streak and we are proud of that commitment to local, egalitarian democracy that protects us from the tyranny of both big government and big business.








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