Beyond Petroleum… for good.

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.

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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. 

Sightseeing Canadian Fracking

Apache said they planned to sell about $1b worth of assets in Canada last year to free up finances required for other activities.

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The Sunday Star Times and Stuff ran an article today that was quite incorrect in it’s main point [now corrected on the Stuff vesion]. It’s not councillors that are going – just one staff member each from three councils, which is what I told the SST reporter via my original email:
“Council staff from the three East Coast councils are planning a trip to Canada to visit Apache operations from 3-13th February, Apache is paying the costs of this trip. The delegation is able to set their own agenda so we’re trying to set up some meetings with environmentalists, First Nations representatives and regulators who may be different to the ones Apache organises.”
I’m not sure why the reporter decided to say it is councillors going.
Anyway, I trust our council staff member who is planning to go and report back – we can suggest contacts for the delegation to meet with so some of these might be worthwhile:

The delegation plan to visit Calgary, Victoria and Fort St John in British Columbia – so let us know urgently if there are any other contacts that may be good to meet with in these areas.

We can also send any questions on to Apache Corp. representative Alex Ferguson who has said the company will answer as best they can.

Council Year One: Five Lessons Learnt

 

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

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.

Right wing efforts to influence MMP decision

Murray Ball's Electoral Reform Coalition ad, Otago Daily Times, Friday 5 November 1993

Jordan Williams’ letter to the editor promoting the SM electoral system is deceptive. It claims that SM is a compromise between the extremes of the old First Past the Post system and MMP. But SM is basically another version of first past the post, with nearly all the bad points of that system. The votes of voters living in ‘safe’ seats would again be worthless while a few people in ‘marginal’ electorate would have great power over who became government. People who voted for smaller parties would be cheated, for instance only getting three MPs for 10% of the vote (when the fair share would be about 12).

But the trickiest thing about William’s letter is he knows that, if New Zealanders vote out MMP, his SM system will not replace it. All the polls show that if MMP goes it will be replaced by First Past the Post. SM, besides having such an embarrassingly bad name, is a political trick to get people voting against MMP and ending up with the worst possible system for democracy.

So, let’s introduce Jordan Williams better. He is the same Jordan Williams who was in the news earlier this year stage-managing Don Brash’s leadership coup when Brash took over the ACT Party. Leading supporters of SM besides Williams have been Brash himself, Ruth Richardson and the Business Roundtable. As we saw in a recent Gisborne Herald article, they were joined by the right-wing lobby group, Maxim Institute. SM is being pushed by a small faction of New Zealand politics. For the rest of us, the fairest and most democratic way to elect governments is still MMP.

If MMP is retained this year, there will still be a full review of the system to see if it can be improved further.

Māori Representation

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.

MMP for stability

‘Thinking about the system we use for voting in elections – MMP. How easy do you think it is for people like you to understand MMP? (5 point scale)’ Consistently more people think that MMP is easy to understand than think that it is difficult. - NZ Electoral Commission

Richard Edmunds (The Gisborne Herald, 31 October) claims that most New Zealanders oppose MMP and that a different electoral system would be more democratic. A few facts are needed.

There is no groundswell of opinion demanding a new electoral system. In fact, the only politician campaigning against MMP is ACT leader Don Brash. The anti-MMP campaign is being run by the same two men who ran Brash’s campaign to become ACT party leader. They are being supported by Ruth Richardson (also ACT Party affiliated). All these people are welcome to try, of course, but this is hardly mainstream New Zealand.

Another fact: opinion polls show that if MMP is rejected, then New Zealand will return to first past the post. Other options such as PV and SM are not well understood and don’t stand a chance. This would truly be back to the dark ages, where a party with thirty-something percent of the votes could become government.
So, Richard Edmunds is wrong. Most New Zealanders are intelligent, sensible people who value stable government, a strong economy and a Parliament that represents the whole country. I expect they will vote to continue with MMP.

Welcome Home…

Gisborne District councillor Manu Caddie says he is frustrated with the way Housing New Zealand is neglecting properties and treating tenants in his neighbourhood.

“I have counted a dozen empty homes in our area while Housing NZ say they have a waiting list. The corporation have made it clear they want to sell homes in our area and they are retreating into very narrow criteria for eligibility.”

“It is a vicious cycle of landlord neglect reducing the appeal of the area which leads to less tenants and more empty houses” said Mr Caddie who helped re-establish the Tairawhiti Housing Advisory Group focused on social housing issues.

Mr Caddie has been working with the national social housing organisation Community Housing Aotearoa on a housing needs assessment project for the district.

The Minister of Housing recently scrapped a number of social housing initiatives and established a Social Housing Unit focused on shifting Housing NZ tenants to properties owned and managed by private organisations.

Mr Caddie says he is concerned about a number of tenants who have lived in the same state house for three generations and are now likely to be moved on. When Minister Heatley met with the Tairawhiti Housing Advisory Group earlier in the year he explained his intention to start means testing long-term tenants with a view to getting out all but those in the most extreme need. “That might make sense in Auckland where the demand is greater but local Housing NZ staff have said we have very few families in housing crisis so the logic doesn’t stack up at a local level.”

Mr Caddie believes recent examples of homeless local families that made it into the media are just a fraction of similar cases that go unreported. “Our country has a looming housing crisis and we are not prepared for it. The statistics are very scary and the government response quite inadequate. We need 70,000 new homes not 1,400 – and the social housing sector will not be able to generate the income the government expects it to by passing over responsibility to private organisations.”

Mr Caddie knows of one situation where a disabled tenant asked for a ramp to be installed at their Housing NZ property of over 30 years only to be told that it was not an option and they would need to look at shifting to a different property. “So for $500 or whatever a wooden ramp costs, the Corporation will disconnect that family from all the memories and sense of belonging associated with that home?!” asked Mr Caddie.

“The corporation is obviously trying to move tenants out of properties in Gisborne so they can be sold and the proceeds used to build part of a new house in Auckland. If they supported their tenants into home ownership or gave priority to first home buyers we could live with that – but selling them to property speculators and absentee landlords does nothing for building a healthy neighbourhood with residents who have enough invested to stick around” said Mr Caddie. “We’re also looking at options for locals to own any properties disposed of by Housing NZ.”

Mr Caddie is asking around the neighbourhood to find out who was involved in the theft.

Fishermen rubbish Petrobras claims of regular meetings

Alexandre Anderson after being shot in the leg by gunmen connected to Petrobras and its contractors

Following the Petrobras response to recent deaths of workers published on 30 August I contacted the fishermen of  Guanabara Bay to check the company claim that:

“Petrobras maintains regular dialogue with the fishing communities in Guanabara Bay, holding monthly meetings to address issues related to the quality of life of those involved.”

Members of Associação Homens do Mar da Baía de Guanabara (AHOMAR) a union of around 700 fishermen and their families provided the following comments in response to the Petrobras claims of regular meetings.

President of AHOMAR, Alexandre Anderson, says “There is no dialogue between Petrobras and the fishing communities affected by it. Instead we only see threats and violence. Today we are victims of a new modality that Petrobras and major contractors has been promoting in Rio de Janeiro, which is the practice of “social exclusion”!

Mr Anderson also suggests Petrobras provides no compensation for the damage it causes, uses physical and psychological threats against local opposition and does not respect the laws of the country.

Amnesty International has taken up the case of the fishermen after the Treasurer of their association was assassinated in 2009 in front of his wife and children. Paulo César dos Santos Souza was beaten in his home in Magé by armed men who then dragged him outside and shot him five times in the head. A few hours earlier armed men threatened the protesting fishermen at the Petrobras pipeline worksite. Before they killed Santos Souza they interrogated him, asking him about documents belonging to AHOMAR.

Alexandre Anderson himself has escaped eight attempts on his life and has been hit by gunfire but has survived to date. Two of the gunmen have been caught and at least one admitted his connection to Petrobras and its contractors. Mr Anderson claims that often the gunmen are off-duty Police as the work pays well and even where there is an investigation very rarely is anyone prosecuted.

Mr Anderson told me this week, “We will resist until the last fisherman since we have no alternative but to fight for our rights even if it takes our lives.”

Maicon Alexandre contradicts Petrobras claims of monthly meetings with fishermen in Guanabara Bay: “With Petrobras there is no dialogue! The company does not respect the traditional fishing communities and Petrobras excludes our communities! Petrobras is criminal, we have no dialogue with it! The only dialogue from Petrobras are threats.”

Daize Menezes, the wife of a fisherman, said: “There is no dialogue by Petrobras. The dialogue is only threats, gunmen, bombs, helicopters, fear and death. There are socially and environmentally responsible companies but Petrobras is not one of them.”

If Petrobras have them, perhaps they can provide us with more details on their “regular dialogue” including copies of minutes including dates, locations, people present, issues discussed and outcomes achieved from the monthly meetings they claim take place between their company and the fishermen of Guanabara Bay.

There are some 50 areas of conflict between Petrobras and indigenous  communities in Brazil and the connections between these communities and East Coast communities are strengthening every day.

Nah man, STV is better…

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

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

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.

GDC & Māori Representation

I’m presenting a short talk during a session on Local Government & Māori Representation at the 2011 Diversity Forum hosted by the NZ Human Rights Commission.

I’ll put the presentation up when its finished – a reference I’ve used is this extract from a 2009 report by historian Jane Luiten on the establishment and disestablishment of the Tangata Whenua Standing Committee:

GDC and Tangata Whenua Standing Committee

 

Councillor skeptical of new government relationship agreement


Gisborne District Councillor is not convinced a new document being signed around the country is worth the paper it is written on.

Manu Caddie says the Kia Tūtahi Relationship Accord may be a step backwards compared to a previous agreement signed by the Labour-led government in 2001.

According to Mr Caddie the Accord being signed in Gisborne today has removed any concrete commitments about consultation, involvement in policy development and resourcing for communities replacing the previous document with very high level ‘principles’ which may mean very little in practice” says Mr Caddie. “At this time we need to have greater clarity about central government’s commitment to support the priorities of local communities, not vague platitudes that have taken 18 months to progress with no specific agreements on the most important aspects of the relationship.

The 2001 agreement was criticised as not concrete enough by both the Office of the Community & Voluntary Sector’s own review and the Association of Non-Governmental Organisations independent review. The Kia Tūtahi Relationship Accord was supposed to be response to that but instead it has gone backwards.

Mr Caddie says the Accord has also fudged who the agreement is with. The original 2001 agreement was focused on the relationship between the Crown and non-governmental community organisations but the new Accord is with “the communities of Aotearoa New Zealand”.

Mr Caddie participated in early stages of the Accord development process but says many individuals and organisations in the community sector became disillusioned with the process and are very disappointed with the document as it stands.

ENDS

 

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Links:

– More detailed assessment of the document short-comings (written for draft but issues still stand in final document approved by Cabinet last month)

– Facebook page encouraging people not to sign Accord

Rites of passage research identifies keys for healthy, prosperous communities

What life lessons did previous generations of young people need to learn before they became adults? Could these rites of passage provide some answers to the multiple challenges facing young Maori today? These two questions were the foundation for a three year national project led by Gisborne researcher Manu Caddie and a team of youth workers from around the country.

Youth workers from Christchurch, Wellington, Whanganui, Whangarei and Tairawhiti interviewed Maori elders in their community with a focus on their experiences as children and adolescents. The interviews were filmed and key messages from the stories compiled into a written summary.

On Sunday night, 6pm at the Dome Cinema in Gisborne, the findings from the project will be released at a public screening of “Hei Tikitiki” a new DVD featuring highlights from more than 30 interviews. A 90 page report summarising the research findings will be available along with copies of the DVD.

The project received financial support from the Lottery Community Sector Research Fund and was based on a proposal Mr Caddie prepared for Te Ora Hou Aotearoa in 2008. Te Ora Hou is a national network of faith-based Maori youth and community development organisations established in 1976. “Te Ora Hou youth workers have contact with hundreds of young people and families every week, we decided this research was essential to do if we wanted to assist with healthy transitions into adulthood” said Mr Caddie. “The 21st yard glass, passing exams and making babies are modern day rites of passage but there are some fundamental life lessons that aren’t being taught to young people, in fact advertising, entertainment media and consumer culture promote the exact opposite of values previous generations were required to accept before being considered responsible adults.”

“It’s been a fairly drawn out process, some of the people interviewed have since passed away, so the footage we have of their stories is very significant to their families” said Mr Caddie. “It was a really special inter-generational experience for the young people and youth workers to interview their elders. I would like to see an on-going project established in Gisborne where we support young people to record the stories and reflections of our elderly. The way society is structured now we tend to segregate the age groups and the wisdom of older people is lost if they do not have the opportunity to share it with the younger generations coming through.”

Anthropology has for at least the last 200 years looked at the purpose of rites of passage within cultures. “A rite of passage deals with entering a new stage of life, maturation in physical, social and sexual status and membership of a new group” said Mr Caddie. The researchers  important theme running through much of the literature is that rites of passage do not exist for the benefit of the individual participating in the process but for the benefit of the community and culture to which the person belongs.”

Most of the interviewees had grown up in communities and a time where Te Reo was the dominant language and tikanga Māori was still the dominant culture. A few had direct experience of traditional institutions like the whare wananga or were mentored by tohunga and kuia born in the 19th Century who ensured certain processes and rituals were in place for the child and adolescents.

Many of the interviewees felt that their experience of rites of passage was more a general process of development rather than an explicit event or an intentional set of lessons that the teachers and learners were consciously participating in.

Interviewees identified a range of experiences more closely assigned with western or contemporary rites of passage including leaving home, first job and working to support parents and siblings, getting a mortgage, general educational advancement including Māori trade training schemes, personal rites of passage, legal marriage, being given or taking responsibility for housework and farm work, choosing own clothing, fashion as a symbol of independence and enlisting in the military.

Common themes that emerged about the purpose and outcomes from experiences that they considered rites of passage include the intergenerational transmission of:

–        Maramatanga / essential values: manaakitanga (hospitality), respect for and valuing the guidance of elders, strong work ethic, personal integrity, contribution to the wellbeing of the whole community, respect and care for the natural environment and other creatures, etc.

–        Mātauranga / essential knowledge: whakapapa (genealogy and how different whānau, hapū and iwi are connected), wahi tapu (sacred places), wahi kai (food sources), battle-sites, astrology, astronomy and patterns of natural phenomenon that guide certain activities, roles and responsibilities of particular whānau within the hapū, cross-cultural comparisons, etc.

–        Mahitanga / essential skills: cultivating food, hunting and collecting food, preparing and storing food, communication skills (whaikōrero/karanga/kōrero/karakia) and hosting skills, house building, martial arts, creative arts and crafts, caring for the natural environment, etc.

Less intentional lessons were also learnt through some experiences such as the importance of alcohol in whānau life, the gendered nature of work, the cyclical nature of violence, etc.

All of the interviewees were able to provide examples of what they considered rites of passage. These were all personal experiences from their childhood and adolescence, in some cases pre-birth and for a few there were experiences they had in late adulthood – a few spoke of practices common in their community that they were aware of in their lifetime or their parents life.

Only a few interviewees were able to share stories of how they participated in particular rituals, institutions or events that would adhere to the famous three stage (separation, transition, and reincorporation) rites of passage. However nearly all of the experiences shared were consistent with the idea of rites of passages being markers of transition from one state of being to another, of being directed by and for the benefit of the wider community and of being essential for the intergenerational transmission of cultural values and community knowledge.

The interviewees stories validate the claim of other recent research that the rite of passage process not only guides the individual’s transition to a new status, but, equally important, it creates public events that celebrate the transition and reaffirm community values, which inform and guide expectations for behaviours essential for the group’s survival.

Mr Caddie said he hopes the project will provide a useful resource for anyone interested in positive youth development, social progress and how we pass on values and knowledge between generations. While the project focused on Maori experiences, Mr Caddie believes the principles and lessons learnt can be applied across any cultural group.

“While government advisors and think-tanks like the New Zealand Institute have identified the real social and economic crisis New Zealand young people find themselves in, we think there are some solutions emerging from the stories of our old people and we need to think about how those experiences might be translated into a contemporary context. There are implications from this research for employment, enterprise, mental health, parenting, education and crime prevention. That’s the next piece of work to be done as we consider the learnings from this report for a broad range of social, cultural and economic issues.”

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Full research report available online from 1 August 2011 at: www.teorahou.org.nz

WAI262 Report ‘Insulting’

Maori men and women congregate outside the Rotorua courthouse on election day in 1908.

A Gisborne District Councillor says the WAI262 Report is tokenistic and very disappointing. “This report was expected to provide clarity on property rights for Māori, but instead presents a series of schizophrenic findings and recommendations” said Manu Caddie, who is a member of the Gisborne District Council RMA Hearings Committee and the Environment & Policy Committee.

While the report suggests Māori do not have ownership of indigenous flora, fauna and knowledge – the Tribunal found that Māori have ‘kaitiaki obligations’ that should be protected in law.

“The recommendations relating to establishing better mechanisms for iwi and hapū to have input on resource management planning and decision-making are tokenistic and insulting.”

“Article Two of the Treaty clearly says Māori have “undisturbed and exclusive possession of the land, estates and forests” until such time as they choose to relinquish such possession. Through the 20 something years of this claim, Māori have argued they never surrendered their rights to indigenous resources but this report has found otherwise.”

“The Crown set up and controls the Tribunal funding, appointments and its procedures. The Tribunal has effectively denigrated Māori to associated people who have “important knowledge” with entitlement to a “reasonable degree of protection” over flora and fauna. The report found that the Crown “either deliberately or through neglect, has largely supported one of New Zealand’s two founding cultures at the expense of the other” but goes on to recommend a whole lot of mechanisms whereby the Crown can acquire and control Māori intellectual resources not already under its control.”

Mr Caddie, who recently became an accredited decision-maker under Section 39 of the RMA , does support the Tribunal findings that, for the RMA regime to more effectively support kaitiaki relationships, engagement between tangata whenua and local authorities needed to become compulsory, formal, and proactive.

The report recommends the development of a system allowing kaitiaki priorities for the environment to be integrated into local authority decision-making. This system should be built around enhanced ‘iwi resource management plans’ setting out iwi policies and priorities for managing the environment within their tribal areas. These plans should be negotiated with local authorities and, once finalised, should bind local authority decision-making just as regional policy statements, regional plans, and district plans do. For this system to work, the report suggests the Crown will need to provide resources to allow iwi to obtain scientific, legal and other expertise necessary for the development of their plans.

“The Tribunal found that Māori communities do not have the capacity to overcome the obstacles to their effective participation in the RMA system because there are no reliable and sufficient sources of assistance available to Māori.”

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The Place Where Talent Chooses to Reside

Presentations in Gisborne this week from two very successful New Zealanders provided clear challenges for us all to support a new direction for our district.

Sir Paul Callaghan undermined conventional thinking that has suggested primary commodities, tourism, wine or even farming can be the economic saviours of the district and nation.

Professor Callaghan made two critical points that as a district we must come to terms with.

The first was to expose the complete myth that we are an egalitarian society. Income disparities have been growing exponentially and we are one of the least equal countries in the OECD. That is a problem not only for the poor but for everyone because countries with greater inequality have worse health, education and crime problems and lower productivity than more equal countries.

The second crucial fact we must acknowledge is that the country has reached the limits of exploiting our natural environment. Resource management decisions have built the wealth of the country but also polluted most low-lying waterways, native species are disappearing forever and we can’t intensify farming to earn our way to a prosperous future.

Professor Callaghan is committed to raising productivity to a level that means the country can afford world leading health care, education and environmental protections. But his message was very clear on this – we have to preserve our natural environment and biodiversity both for its own sake and if we want to attract and retain talent. As he said recently “Talent will goes where talent chooses. And, by and large, talent likes to live where lifestyle is best. The reason is simple. These sorts of businesses can be anywhere. Their markets are entirely overseas, their major component is knowledge and their cost of transport to customers is negligible.”

We heard how Ian Taylor had ideas and opportunities that could have taken him to live in lots of great places around the world, but he wanted to live in Dunedin and raise a family there. The entrepreneurs, scientists and cultural creatives that innovate and develop world-leading products now choose places that are about the lifestyle they want not the physical proximity to markets or research facilities.

There are some basics of course: clean water, reliable electricity, broadband and transport options, decent schools, participatory democracy and a vibrant cultural life all seem pretty important. In our situation some more investment in Information Communication Technology infrastructure, start-up support and greater clarity on regional development goals wouldn’t go amiss. Overall Gisborne is well positioned and already attracting talented people who choose to live in this place – close to the beach, close to marae, without traffic jams, urban sprawl and fear of neighbours.

As Professor Callaghan says, smart firms will locate where their smartest employees want to live. They may not choose large cities. There are small town examples already and there is no reason why Gisborne, Tolaga Bay or Mautuke shouldn’t be locations for high value export manufacturers. Broadband and FedEx can deliver their products to customers anywhere in the world, as fast as from Auckland, Shanghai or London.

So knowledge-based talent can be based anywhere, we can be the place of choice if we are committed to reducing income inequality (not just raising incomes), truly protecting the environment (instead of the popular ‘balancing act’ rhetoric) and continuing with the basics (quality infrastructure and public services) we already have.

Are we ready to step up to the challenge?

It was encouraging to see the level of interest last week in the report ‘Improving the Transition’ produced by the Prime Minister’s chief science advisor Peter Gluckman last week.

The report challenged successive governments ad hoc approach to addressing serious issues for young people in our country. It was particularly critical about the lack of evidential base for government funded services, a lack of evaluation and monitoring and the failure to invest in the early years. Professor Gluckman also pointed out that solutions to serious problems are going to take many electoral cycles.

In 2001 the Ministry of Justice published a report that suggested early intervention was most effective but also least accurate in identifying where resources should be targeted. The report concluded that spending smaller amounts on more young parents and their children was ultimately a better investment than trying to address the expensive options available to reduce youth offending or locking up adults.

The last Labour-led governments put serious money to initiatives like Family Start focused on the families of pre-school children, support services for teenage parents and social workers in primary schools. The effectiveness of these initiatives seems to be mixed and the evaluations were rarely made public.

The current government has committed around $100million for new services for young offenders plus tens of millions more toward Whanau Ora and the Community Response Fund. The funding for youth offending was based on pre-election promises of boot camps that contradicted all the international and New Zealand literature suggesting those approaches either don’t have any significant effect or actually increase offending. Whanau Ora and the Community Response Fund are based on noble sentiments around devolving decision-making to the community level, though both are still too amorphous to determine at this stage whether they will contribute to the transformational changes necessary in our communities.

Massive cuts to youth health services, early childhood education and support services along with recently announced funding cuts and restructuring of family violence prevention services were not prefaced by any report on their effectiveness, rather election year political priorities seem to outweigh any evidential imperatives.

With the government using their level of borrowing to justify their inability to undertake any substantial new investments (other than more than ten billion on new Roads of National Significance), they should have a clearer commitment to evidence-based and cost-effective service provision.

I look forward to seeing the recommendations that the Office of the Prime Minister comes up with from Professor Gluckman’s report (which had 11 recommendations of its own). Hopefully the proposals are followed by an action plan to address not just woefully underfunded youth mental health services but the more systemic issues relating to the politicization of public policy development, local priority-setting and accountability and the overall quality of relationships between the range of stakeholders in social development.

The Gisborne Herald Editorial last week asked whether our country is prepared to step up to the challenges identified by Professor Gluckman. My response would be that I doubt the report will be enough to make much difference to the lack of courage we have seen to date. The most significant opportunity for alcohol law reform in a generation seems to have passed us by as the government adopted none of the most effective options promoted by the Law Commission and similarly the key proposals in a Law Commission report last month on the Review of Misuse of Drugs Act seemed to have no support from any of the political parties.

At a local level I’m encouraged by the increasing community commitment to positive child and youth development and in this we can hopefully lead the country.