Leaving Council


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.


Gisborne Communities Population Changes

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Source: Statistics NZ (Census 2013)

The Riverdale increase can largely be attributed to the subdivision and retirement complexes that have been developed in that are since 2006. The Ruatoria increase is interesting as the other significant increases are all in more affluent parts of the district while most of the high deprivation areas have remained static or declined slightly. 

Reflections on Tuol Sleng (S-21)


Miria outside ‘Building B’

I’m sure millions of important words have been written about Tuol Sleng, the notorious prison of the Khmer Rouge that is now a museum commemorating the horrors that took place there and across Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. I think it’s important for me to record some of my reflections, if only for my own sake, but others may care to add their own comments.

The night before we visited Tuol Sleng, our family shared a meal with a couple from New Zealand who live and work in the slums of Phnom Penh. Craig and Nay both grew up in Auckland but Nay was born in Cambodia during the civil war, her father was killed after the Khmer Rouge came to power in 1975 and Nay’s mother fled with her children first to a refugee camp on the border with Thailand and eventually they were supported by a Presbyterian church in Manurewa to come to New Zealand.

I remember my mother being involved with our Methodist church in Tauranga that was supporting refugees fleeing conflict in South East Asia in the late 70s and it was impressive to meet someone like Nay who has chosen to leave the comforts of life in New Zealand to come back with her own children to live and work with poor children in Cambodia.

I asked Craig if there had been a national or local reconciliation process to help heal the country – it seems not much has happened in that space. School textbooks only recently started including any reference to the conflict of the 1970s and it seems most of the younger generation born after the conflict has little knowledge about what happened in the communities of their parents and grandparents during that time.


Miria looking over the climbing frame converted to gallows and dunking pots to ‘Building A’.

We took our 11 year old daughter to Tuol Sleng, I wanted her to know a bit about what happened, even if she didn’t really understand why it happened. Growing up in New Zealand, most children are thankfully protected from the worst excesses of human violence – of course we benefit in many ways from the violence done against the poor in places like Cambodia, but it’s not something we are exposed to other than through television news, documentaries, books and works of fiction (of course Jean Baudrillard would say its all fiction for us).

Her grandparents were a bit reticent about us taking Miria to a place where such horrific acts were committed and commemorated by stark photographs and displays of torture tools and testimonies. I told myself that Miria is mature enough to visit such places – after all, the sites are often not as immediately confronting, but we have plenty of places of mass execution and brutality around Aotearoa that children are encouraged to visit and learn from. It was a calculated risk but I think it was the right decision to take her.

One of the real tragedies of Tuol Sleng is its original purpose as a high school built in the 1950s – seeing how classrooms and children’s play equipment were perversely converted into places of imprisonment and tools of torture must break the heart of most visitors. The heaviness of the place overtook me before I even entered a building – the place has been left largely as the Vietnamese soldiers found it in January 1979 and first thing you see are the fourteen graves of the final victims found bolted to torture racks inside Building A.


In ‘Building B’ haunting photos taken by the captors of thousands of victims stare back at visitors from display boards. I felt obligated to look each one of them in the eye as we passed through room after room – many looked like they were in their early teens, children were also brought to S-21 but most were not photographed in the formal portraits imposed on older victims. Some faces were battered and bruised, many looked petrified while others were expressionless – either they didn’t know what was going to happen to them, or seem to have a resignation and calm about their fate that must have come from a place most of us will not know.

Paintings by an inmate of the torture and killing techniques line the walls of classrooms and present a graphic depiction of how the senseless violence was inflicted on people who usually had no idea what the crime was they were accused of. Inmates at prisons similar to Tuol Sleng all over the country were tortured until they confessed whatever the Khmer Rouge wanted them to say, which inevitably led to a conclusion of guilt as an enemy of the revolution and execution at one of the many ‘killing fields’ that became mass graves across Cambodia.

Miria asked the inevitable questions about the motivations of the Khmer Rouge, the failure of their version of radical Communism and establishment of Capitalism and inequality since the demise of the regime from 1979. She didn’t seem traumatised by the experience and was certainly engaged by the gravity of the place, the unforgettable images of victims and particularly by the written narratives of both survivors and those who perished.

The perennial question of how could otherwise ‘good’ people do such terrible things to others has been asked and answered for many similar contexts.


It is important that these memorials to 20th Century genocide in Cambodia, Rwanda and Europe exist. Such memorials to atrocities often provide important opportunities for the families of victims to get information on what happened to their loved ones – the Khmer Rouge left all the documentation on their victims. The faces of many Khmer Rouge leaders have been scratched out on the displays but the families and decedents of victims come from across the country and around the world to S-21 as part of their healing.

Most of the visitors to Tuol Sleng are foreign tourists and the $2 entry fee for foreigners seems a wasted opportunity to raise desperately needed funds to develop the facilities as the custodians have a stated goal of returning the former high school to a proper place of learning that can develop more educative resources about what happened there and during the 1970s in Cambodia. I think most foreigners would pay at least $50 for the opportunity to visit Tuol Sleng.

The ethics of genocide tourism are interesting, I’m sure plenty has been written about this popular practice that could be considered a privileged kind of voyeurism that revictimises the Cambodian men, women and children who suffered under the Khmer Rouge. On the other side of the argument, the descendants of survivors and victims want more people to know what happened in the hope that there will be some justice for those who have suffered and an perhaps opportunity for reconciliation when the truth however painful is acknowledged rather than ignored.

There were a range of other personal experiences and reflections for each of us – that won’t be shared in this format – needless to say the visit will inform our lifelong learning about the problems and power of evil, ideology, propaganda, ignorance, apathy, memory and forgetting.

A radical Christmas message


As the city recovers from a few crazy days leading up to the New Year and more laid back visitors settle around the district for January, Christmas probably seems a distant memory. Still, I think it’s worth taking a moment to pause and reflect on what that ‘holiday’ has become.

Perhaps Christmas is now closer to its origins as the week long Roman festival of Saturnalia. There was widespread intoxication; going from house to house while singing naked; rape and other sexual license; ‪each Roman community selected a victim who was forced to indulge in physical pleasures throughout the week.  At the festival’s conclusion on December 25th, Roman authorities believed they were destroying the forces of darkness by brutally murdering this innocent man or woman. Even after Christian leaders co-opted the festival in the 4th Century and made the final day a celebration of Jesus’ birth, they found it hard to change the way the event was observed. The origins of Santa Claus are even more bizarre.

Today New Zealand observes Christmas largely as a commercial opportunity and family time with a minority retaining any Christian connection.

Faith communities – usually in church congregations – continue to try and make Christmas about more than an obligation to buy things for people who don’t actually need any more stuff.

‘Glory to God, peace on (and with the?) Earth and goodwill to all people’ was the first Christmas message and still seems relevant today and year round.

Of course making such a vision reality would see a radical shift in relationships between families, communities and countries. Resources would be used and distributed very differently.

For most of us it’s probably more convenient to leave that particular message out of Christmas, but I like to imagine what would happen if we all took it seriously.

Fracking for Virginity


Priceless that the Taranaki Chamber of Commerce representative claims a happy co-existence between fracking and farming on the day Chinese news media report concerns about the impact of the petroleum industry on dairy production in Taranaki. I guess carrying milk in a truck previously used to cart contaminated fracking waste doesn’t go down so well with consumers after other recent Fonterra health scares.
In an age of 400 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere, the oil industry line of ‘working towards a greener economy’ while exploring for more fossil fuels is like f***king for virginity.
The local landowner Councillor Akuhata-Brown made reference to has, like many other individuals and companies, made a large amount of money and created a lot of jobs in the green economy. So the choice is not between a high standard of living and the environment as Mr Chaudhari and his ilk claim, rather the question is what kind of economy do we want – cleaner, sustainable and more stable economic development or a volatile boom and bust race to burn the planet?
With a few central government policy tweaks that made polluters pay and rewarded renewables, the economy would shift very quickly to a resilient situation that built rather than undermined the reputation of New Zealand and our products.
The National Party scrapped regulations like the requirement to include a portion of renewables in all fuel sold, gutted an already weak ETS and continues to ignore the scientific and economic imperatives necessitating a just and enduring transition away from fossil fuels. While it is understandable most political parties focus on the short-term, voters next year should insist all political party manifestos commit to a plan that weans the country off fossil fuels production and consumption by 2050.

Census surprises


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.

Perfect timing for PCE freshwater report


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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