Over $5,000 already donated in 24hrs!

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East Coast rail supporters are trying to raise $10,000 by Tuesday to have the KiwiRail report independently peer reviewed by one of NZs most respected independent economic analysis companies.
 
“Of course it should be KiwiRail and/or the Government that pays for such a review but we don’t want to wait another six months for that to happen” said Gisborne District Councillor and Rail Action Group member Manu Caddie. After sending an appeal last night, Mr Caddie said about $3,000 has already been pledged and he is hoping Gisborne, Wairoa and Hawkes Bay residents will help reach the goal.
 
“It seems like a lot of money to find in a short time, but expert analysis is expensive and we believe an independent review of Kiwirail’s figures and conclusions will be the best way to force the Government to relook at the situation and the Government has ignored overwhelming public support so far.”
 
Mr Caddie said he has been working with a group of analysts who believe the numbers, process and conclusions in the KiwiRail report do not stack up. “We want to double check these alternative conclusions with a reputable independent organisation providing robust economic analysis and we want the people to have access to an accurate assessment.”
 
Instead of focusing on adding a few passing lanes to the highway, Mr Caddie believes pressure needs to remain on ensuring rail is retained because products from Gisborne and Wairoa region are going to become less competitive if the efficiencies of rail freight are not available for local producers.
 
The Tairawhiti Environment Centre is holding funds for the Rail Report Review. 
 
If anyone wants to make a donation towards the report review, they can make a bank deposit at ANZ or online, the account number for donations is 01-0641-0058800-00.  Cash or a cheque can be sent to PO Box 1376, Gisborne 4040 (cheques should be made out to Tairawhiti Environment Centre, but enclosing a note that the donation is for the Rail Report Review). Tairawhiti Environment Centre is a charitable entity, so donors should include their name and address, so they can be sent a tax deductible receipt.
 
More information is available at: www.rail.org.nz

Studying the Study

 

I was pleased to hear about the various pieces of work to be included in the study initiated by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment on the likely impacts of petroleum exploration and production on the East Coast.

Ramping up fossil fuel production in New Zealand is the number one priority in the Energy Strategy of the current Government. We should not be surprised therefore that the Terms of Reference for the East Coast study will deliver results focused on the potential economic benefits for the country and the region. It is a shame they are not going to have the analysis peer-reviewed or use global scientific experts to assess the environmental risks.

Ministry officials have told me the assessments of the likelihood and impact of potential environmental risks associated each scenario (high, medium, low production levels) would be included but only at a very high level. Localised environmental risks such as hydrocarbon and toxic chemical leaks into the air, water and soil are of concern to many landowners and residents. There are also the global impacts of continuing to make cheap fossil fuels available while we know they are contributing to catastrophic climate change – no study is able to justify what has become an indefensible situation we are all responsible for.

While the oil industry argues the foreign exchange earnings from their products help pay for our schools and hospitals, they also need to acknowledge the intergenerational injustice the industry is causing. The Government has no transition plan to renewable energy and no strategy to reign in greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. Carbon emissions of each production scenario are not included in the MBIE study.

All of the analysis on the national and local economic impacts of petroleum production has been outsourced to NZIER, the organisation that recently suggested climate change should be considered New Zealand’s “least important environmental issue”. Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment described the analysis in a 2009 report by NZIER as “muddled and superficial”, “too superficial to lead to well-reasoned priorities” and “fundamentally flawed”.

BERL last month published an economic study for Southland that demonstrated the benefits of alternative industries for the region would outweigh the jobs and income from fossil fuel extraction. That is the kind of study we should have to sit alongside the MBIE project.

MBIE staff assure me that labour estimates in the report should be able to quantify the types of jobs the industry would require under each scenario and the likelihood of local people being employed in those roles.

The economic analysis should also include assessments of the likely impacts on existing businesses from land use changes, pollution, regional brand impacts, though MBIE say this is only going to be at a very high level. Federated Farmers and Hort NZ seem relaxed about the potential impact of thousands of oil and gas wells, tens of thousands more truck movements each year and the storage and disposal of toxic waste. Farmers and growers I have spoken to sit across the continuum, some are strongly opposed to the oil industry establishing itself here, others are quite open to the idea.

The capacity and expertise required by consenting authorities on exploration and production issues are outside the scope of the MBIE study but of real concern to many locals. Councils and central government should be able to work toward agreement on what resourcing is appropriate for government to provide given the royalties flow back to central government but local authorities have to do all the regulation and manage community expectations and concerns.

The MBIE study should be interesting reading alongside the PCE report on fracking due in the same month and the research Professor Caroline Saunders has been working on for Gisborne District Council that looks at the positive and negative impacts on provincial communities when an oil boom hits town.

Turbo-Charging Tairāwhiti Technology Take-Up

Lytton High School students demonstrating Auto-CAD to Ilminster Intermediate students at Tairāwhiti Techxpo 2012.

I recently visited two initiatives in Auckland to look at what they are doing with young people and technology. At Point England School in Glen Innes students all have their own NetBook, each family pays $3.50 per week for the child to have their own device for school and home work. At Clubhouse 274 in Otara I visited the Community Technology Centre where students go after school to use high-end equipment they can’t access at home and many were working on commercial projects.

Recently a number of local people and projects have converged to progress some exciting technology opportunities for the district that are already having positive social and economic outcomes, but more support is urgently required.

Tairawhiti Techxpo was a great day last week that provided a solid foundation for a bigger and better event next year. Thanks to the schools that participated, we had hundreds of young people get a taste of employment and career opportunities in the Information and Communication Technology sectors of robotics, hardware, networking, software, app development, entertainment, aerospace, imaging, animation and computer-aided-design industries.

Thanks must also go to the generous sponsors including Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, EIT Tairāwhiti, Eastland Community Trust and the small businesses and individuals that contributed on the day and through the event organising.

One of the Techxpo keynote speakers from Wellington joined the monthly Gizzy Geeks meeting in the evening. Nathalie Whitaker is a net entrepreneur and is keen to move to Gisborne with a number of her colleagues, the lifestyle, surf and clean environment are what attract them. Something that would make Tairawhiti even more appealing to these IT entrepreneurs is for Gisborne to have a bunch of competent geeks who can do the technical programming work that sits behind the software products Nathalie and her friends develop.

What the Techxpo highlighted was that our high schools are now growing such talent locally. Lytton High School had a large contingent of IT experts and Gisborne Girls’ High School and Campion College were also very well represented in the demonstrations provided by students. Other schools have already booked a spot for next year to showcase the skills and products being developed through cutting-edge teaching and learning.

A number of Gisborne school students are now making and selling smartphone apps internationally – this is a $40billion global market with over 10 billion downloads last year alone.

The Rangitawaea Nati Awards next week is an annual fixture that encourages and recognises IT talent in Ngati Porou schools, another fabulous showcase of skills and creativity grown in our region and reaching out to the world.

The Techxpo, the Gizzy Geeks group, the Nati Awards and the new Tairāwhiti Computer Hub Trust have proved a fertile ground for collaboration between technology specialists and a number of exciting new business opportunities are emerging from the relationships built around particular skills, interests and networks.

And where does all this sit in terms of regional economic development planning? It is dismissed in the Regional Economic Development Strategy (2009) as an unlikely prospect and rendered invisible in the subsequent Economic Development Action Plan. Perhaps this absence is not a big issue considering the Action Plan has been largely ignored from the day it was produced.

What is important is that the IT sector is recognised as a cornerstone of every local business and that it is factored into the priorities of entities like the Eastland Community Trust and Gisborne District Council that have a focus on supporting sustainable economic development. While public entities ‘don’t pick winners’, they do provide limitations and opportunities for the expansion of particular industries.

We need to look urgently at what infrastructure beyond Ultrafast Broadband will enable a fledgling IT sector to quickly become a serious economic driver for our local communities. Neighbourhood computer hubs, low-cost residential wi-fi and a commercial programming academy seem sensible ideas to explore.

Government Cuts Gisborne Roading Funds

A three year road funding commitment for the Gisborne District has been compared to the washouts plaguing the region at present.

“With more than $400,000 per year cut from the roading programe, this announcement leaves some big potholes in our road maintenance budget” said Regional Transport Committee member Manu Caddie.

Mr Caddie says the Government has cut funding to the region and ratepayers could end up footing more of the bill to maintain local roads.

“There is little in this package to ‘bolster’ Gisborne’s economy – while road maintenance and repair costs are going through the roof and ratepayers are struggling to make ends meet the District doesn’t even to get to keep what it had, we are getting less than last year!”

Mr Caddie pointed to a study presented to the Regional Transport Committee early this month that showed there was little if any economic benefit to be expected from increasing truck sizes on Gisborne roads.

Mr Caddie said while the Regional Transport Committee ended up supporting the funding bid to NZTA it did so largely because Gisborne District Council was told the amount put forward was the maximum the region had any chance of securing under current Government policy.

“It is good to see cycling and walkways made the cut but if you read the fine print, they are only going to be funded if the major project to allow bigger logging trucks to run from Tolaga Bay through the city to Matawhero costs no more than is budgeted for.”

“Regional roads are essential to the economic wellbeing of the District and the country, which is why our Regional Transport Committee is joining other provincial roading authorities and councils to call on the National-led government to drop its commitment to the seven Roads of National Significance. A few roads in the big centres are sucking so much money that the Government has not only taken funds off the regions but is borrowing more overseas to pay for them.”

Government needs to explain East Coast rail job losses

Councillor and Regional Transport Committee member Manu Caddie says the Government needs to explain leaked documents purporting to show job losses on the East Coast.

New Zealand First MP Brendan Horan has said the documents suggest the Government has decided to mothball the damaged Napier to Gisborne line.

Kiwirail Chief Executive Jim Quinn told the Gisborne Regional Transport Committee in May that a decision on the future of the line would be made a matter of weeks.

“Following the presentation of 1,000 signed postcards and 10,000 petition signatures the Government has obviously wanted to make sure it has some positive spin on the situation before Kiwirail announces the closure. The people responsible need to stop fluffing around and give Gisborne businesses certainty one way or the other.”

“New Zealand businesses, particularly provincial exporters benefit from rail. Road users benefit from rail. It is unfortunate Eastland Port has selfishly undermined local support for retaining the rail.” The Gisborne Chamber of Commerce, Federated Farmers, local transport companies and forestry owners have all backed strong public support for the rail to be retained.

“This is a billion dollar public asset that is being taken away from us. Businesses demonstrated with little help from Kiwirail that there is enough local product to make the line viable in the short-term let alone as fuel prices and road maintenance costs increase” says Mr Caddie.

“This is happening at the same time as the Government spent $8 million on public relations to sell its seven Roads of National Significance, allows NZTA to borrow to cover the costs of new highways close to the major metropolitan centres and makes us share the costs of that borrowing, cuts subsidies for Council roads, takes back income from regional fuel tax and relegates our local roading priorities to the bottom of the list.”

Mr Caddie says Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee needs to be more honest about the situation. The Minister yesterday said that 29 per cent of roading funds will be spent on new and improved state highways, mostly the Roads of National Significance and 26 per cent will be spent on maintenance operations and renewal of local roads.

“What Mr Borwnlee neglected to say is that we have 94,000 km of roads in New Zealand, and it’s only 12 percent of that is state highway. The costs of maintaining local roads would be significantly less if more freight was using rail in and out of Gisborne and Wairoa.”

“The National Government is wasting billions of dollars on a few big motorway projects that would never be able to pay their own way as standalone commercial projects. But it won’t invest in getting our rail line operating after poor maintenance let it wash away.”

“Most countries are now investing substantially in their rail networks because of the obvious economic benefits, especially as oil prices are expected to double in the next decade.”

Subsidies & Spinners

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Oil lobbyist David Robinson in a recent column said we should let the public make up their own minds: “we can argue back and forth, back and forth using hand-picked examples of why each point of view is right. But that’s not helping anyone.” Of course he included with this statement with a few hand-picked examples.

I guess I do have personal ideology as Mr Robinson claims but I don’t agree it should be ‘put aside’ – it’s an ideology that favours all of the relevant information being made available to the public so we can make free, prior and informed decisions. Any opposition I have has developed since looking beyond the industry PR spin ($185m worth of lobbying in the US alone last year) and trying to take seriously the science related to human use of petroleum and its impact on the planet.

Beyond the climate implications, it seems useful to refer to people with direct experience of the industry, like Caleb Behn who acknowledges the income that can be derived from oil. Weighing these benefits with the negative social, cultural, economic and environmental impacts in his homelands, Caleb is strongly opposed and warns others to look carefully at the situation in British Columbia and Alberta.

The farmer speaking in Gisborne this week is in no way ‘philosophically opposed to the oil and gas industry’ – if Mr Robinson had read her story in The Washington Post he would have seen that Ms. Vargson and her husband used to maintain a herd of dairy cattle but got out of that business because of methane getting into their well water, a fact confirmed by the state regulators. The couple now work at other jobs and worry their son won’t be able to farm there either. Ms. Vargson permitted drilling of a gas well in the pasture behind her home, but the experience has raised serious doubts. Drilling “can be done safely,” she said. “I believe that the technology is there.” But she added: “I believe that for the most part the industry takes a lot of shortcuts.”

The Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE) and UK Royal Society’s fracking report probably hasn’t been widely promoted because it omits some key facts: the RAE’s ex-President is Lord Browne, Chairman of Cuadrilla, the UK’s leading fracker. Lord Browne was head of the RAE until last year and owns 30% of Cuadrilla.

The RAE is also part funded by the oil and gas industry. In the last three years the RAE has taken £601,000 from oil companies with links to fracking. The same organisation has awarded cash prizes to BP engineers for their work in hydraulic fracturing.

The influence of the oil and gas industry on the RAE has not decreased with Lord Browne’s departure. His successor – Sir John Parker – is closely connected to the fracking industry. Before taking over at the RAE, Parker headed Anglo American with their fracking interests in in South Africa. Parker is a gas man through and through – some of his previous positions include non-executive director at British Gas, Chairman of National Grid Transco (gas distribution) and non-executive of BG Group (which has coal bed methane interests in Scotland).

Mr Robinson says renewables are too expensive, I agree. If it wasn’t for the one trillion dollars of annual public subsidies awarded to the fossil fuel industries and permissive legislation that allows continued access to relatively cheap fossil fuels, renewable technology would be affordable to most of us.

It was great to hear Rod Drury this week talking about how his software company may soon overtake Fonterra as New Zealand’s largest business. IT entrepreneurs are keen to move to Gisborne for the lifestyle and environment it currently offers. Some locals have been in contact with a biochemicals company in California that has huge potential and is interested in establishing a demonstration plant on the East Coast. These seem like far more sensible opportunities for our community to encourage than the dirty business of oil.

What is the Purpose of Local Government?

The Local Government Act Amendment Bill has had its first reading in Parliament. One of the key parts of the bill is redefining the reason local government exists. Should councils be focused on priorities that local people agree on, or should they be just another branch of central government?

The basis of the proposed changes seems largely ideological rather than driven by a particular problem. Council debt, losses on tourist initiatives and rates rises above the rate of inflation have been the subject of regular media releases from central government. A very small number of councils have made mistakes and local government is partly responsible for the traction these stories get in the news. We’re not always great at helping the public understand the balancing act between local expectations, affordability and the existing regulatory frameworks council has to operate within.

Most councils seem to share concerns about the lack of evidence upon which the draft legislation is based and about the implications of working under legislation that hasn’t been well thought out. Similar reservation were expressed by the officials who submitted a statement along with the draft legislation and said they could find no evidence to support most of content of the bill. This lack of confidence was reinforced this week in the unanimous rejection of the proposed change of purpose at a meeting of all local government authorities.

Three separate public inquiries have concluded that the sector has not significantly expanded the scope of its activities since 2002. When pushed, the Prime Minister would not exclude things like social housing, swimming pools, libraries or tourism promotion from falling within the proposed new purposes. So the general feeling is that the current purpose is fine – the uncertainty created in the proposed new purposes would open up a can of worms in terms of legal challenges and that there was no problem that will be solved with the proposed change.

As has been suggested locally, I would be open to a social housing trust taking over Council housing if it had the experience and could prove it could do as good or better job than Gisborne District Council currently does as a landlord. Such a move would need to ensure the housing is provided to those who most need it, particularly as central government is similarly messing with the provision of social housing and has been criticized by its own Productivity Commission for having no clear plan or rationale for the changes.

I don’t think we should hold on to purely commercial assets if they aren’t consistently providing a return on investment better than what we’d get if we used the capital to pay off debt and reduce interest payments. As far as I can tell, the first asset to divest the Council of should be the farms. I struggle to understand why some people believe Council must maintain ownership of the farms while we pay millions in interest on debt. How ‘pragmatic’ is that?

The reality is the proposed change of purpose would not result in Council stopping anything it currently does, but it would give more fuel to fire of the ideologues who argue local government should take no interest in the wellbeing of our communities beyond roads and rubbish. A change of purpose would waste staff time defending the participatory planning processes that result in more enduring decisions than if we think councillors or staff know best. I also suspect it would undermine opportunities for Council, as the one fully democratically elected local entity, to have some influence on how our taxes and rates are spent to help meet the needs and aspirations of our communities.

Oil Industry Needs to Face Facts

This article originally appeared as an Opinion Piece in The Dominion Post on 10 May 2012.

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BP & Anadarko’s Deepwater Horizon rig going down, April 2010

Oil industry representative David Robinson’s Opinion Piece on Tuesday said it’s time for the truth about oil drilling. It promised facts but provided only rhetoric. Mr Robinson says there have been no ‘major incidents’ in oil production in New Zealand, which is simply not true. The following incidents, all undeniably major, are examples of facts the oil industry tries to keep to itself.

In 2007 the Umuroa facility, operated by Norway’s Prosafe and Australian company AWE, spilt 23 tons of crude oil off the Taranaki coast. The spill affected nearly 15 kilometres of coastline, took 232 days to clean up and resulted in a successful court prosecution.

In 2010 Austrian oil giant OMV accepted responsibility for a large spill from the Maari field that saw oil washing up on Kapiti Coast. The Rena disaster revealed just how ill equipped authorities are to contain anything beyond a minor inshore spill under perfect weather conditions.

The offshore wells in Taranaki are at depths of no more than 150 metres, the Raukumara Basin off East Cape where Petrobras has been given a permit to drill is up to 3,100m deep and the BP exploratory well that blew out in the Gulf of Mexico for three months in 2010 was at a depth of only 1,500m. Anadarko (one of the DeepWater Horizon companies) has plans to drill off the coast of Taranaki and Otago in up to 3,000m of water.

In 2009 the Montara spill off the west coast of Australia resulted in the equivalent of one Rena sized disaster every day for 74 days in a row. Why would New Zealand be immune from such risks?

Over the past 15 years 282 fatalities among Petrobras staff and contract workers have been documented in accidents at oil rigs and refineries. Petrobras has suffered 27 rig blowouts since 1980 and was the first company allowed to drill at depth in the Gulf of Mexico after the BP disaster. Just before oil was due to start flowing a production riser broke away, if it had happened a few days later there could have been a repeat of the Deepwater Horizon disaster less than a year later.

Claims that a recent GNS report on earthquakes and fracking in Taranaki suggest there is no credible link, overlook the fact pointed out by seismology expert Michael Hasting that the GNS seismic detectors are not calibrated for nor close enough to fracking operations to determine any relationship. GNS should also acknowledge they are contracted to the industry when they comment on overseas reports citing evidence of a direct link.

If the industry is committed as Mr Robinson says to proper public consultation then they should agree to all resource consent applications for mining activities being subject to full notification.

The industry asks the public to trust them on their record in Taranaki. But with only 40 wells drilled, no independent scientific studies, sparse regulation and minimal monitoring, we need to consider the overseas evidence.

Professor Avner Vengosh from Duke University has led some of the most comprehensive studies on water quality related to fracking and found a direct link between water contamination and hydro-fracking. Professor Karlis Muehlenbachs at the University of Alberta cites the industry’s own publications that show up to 60% of well casings will fail within 20 years of construction. The list of peer-reviewed independent studies showing problems with the practice is growing but there are still huge gaps in knowledge about health and environmental impacts in particular.

This week it has been revealed that Germany is following France, Bulgaria and a number of other jurisdictions in Canada, USA and Australia with an indefinite ban on hydraulic fracturing.

New Zealand has too much to lose if large-scale petroleum extraction goes ahead. Our economy depends on quality food production, processing and exporting – why put it all on the line for a few years of income from petroleum exports? When consumers learn that Taranaki farmers are being paid by the oil industry to use their farms to absorb highly toxic fracking waste, our milk and meat will quickly lose its wholesome appeal. But our own health aside – how will our export markets react to the news that New Zealand milk products may derive from Taranaki cows grazed on land that has fracking waste spread over it?

Taranaki farmer spreading drilling waste across paddocks before planting grass and grazing cows on it. [Source: Taranaki Regional Council monitoring report]

Mr Robinson said it’s time we had a reasonable conversation about the future of the oil and gas industry in New Zealand. Let’s just make sure the conversation is based on the full facts.

What’s in a name?

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet.”

– Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

In this scene Juliet insists that a name is an artificial and meaningless convention, that she loves the person and asks Romeo to reject his family name and instead be “new baptised” as Juliet’s lover.

Of course we know names are important, and the motivation for either lover to discard their family name was in part the conflict associated with the political struggle between their families.

The contest between place names around the world has usually been about political and cultural power. Of course these days it doesn’t have to be just one or the other name that is officially sanctioned.

Māori brought names from other places in Polynesia and bestowed those on physical features of these islands, and as settlement expanded the places were named and renamed according to significant people, events and stories associated with the location.

Early Europeans displaced most of the original Māori names with their own, although many original names have survived, mostly in the “North Island”. But similar to Māori, European settlers (re)named places after the areas, people and events that were special to them.

The Royal Geographical Society of London was responsible for approving place names until 1894 when authority was given to the New Zealand Governor-General. In 1946 the New Zealand Geographic Board (NZGB) was established and given power to change or implement Māori and English names.

Anyone can propose a geographical name to the board, who consult local Māori and allow public submissions before determining if the name should be made official.

The NZGB encourages the use of original Māori names and has given some places official double names. For example either Mount Taranaki or Mount Egmont can be used, and dual names can be approved where both names should be used together for example Matiu / Somes Island. In 1998, as a result of the settling of the Ngai Tahu Treaty claim, the county’s tallest mountain, officially became Aoraki / Mount Cook.

The NZGB can alter the local authority names for a district or region over which a territorial authority or regional council has jurisdiction. Only local authorities can propose alterations to their district and region names.

I floated the idea of the Gisborne District Council name change at the Community Development Committee last week and had a few supporters around the table, but I doubt the majority of my colleagues are ready to entertain the idea just yet. There would need to be a strong, coherent and consistent message from a wide cross section of the public for any Council to lead that process.

I suspect changing Poverty Bay should be a bit easier – while we all have some emotional connection to its use in organisation names, the bay and the flats, it is a branding nightmare for the region that has to be sorted out.

Dame Anne Salmond notes that Captain James Cook was told the name of the bay was Oneroa, meaning ‘sweeping sandy beaches’, which makes sense and subject to sufficient local support, would be much easier to utilise in promoting our beautiful location to prospective visitors, migrants and investors.

Many locals would prefer Māori names that have more historical and cultural significance than Gisborne. Similarly, while the Colonial Secretary Mr Gisborne may never visited the place named in his honour, the name ‘Gisborne’ now has a lot of meaning and emotional attachment for many people with connections here.

I’m confident we can keep the sweetness of both the rose and the kumara by having two official names.

Māori Land & Council Rates

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!

2012 Projects

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Some of the stuff I’m focused on this year…
  1. Gang Transformation Project via GDC, Police, schools, churches, sports clubs and residents associations
  2. Representation Review: ensuring the fairest electoral structure for Tairāwhiti via GDC
  3. Regional Housing Needs Assessment via GDC
  4. Keeping Kids Safe Project via Te Ora Hou Aotearoa
  5. Neighbourhood Resource Centres via HNZC, Ka Pai Kaiti Trust & Te Ora Hou
  6. Computer Clubhouse for Waikirikiri School
  7. Gisborne-Napier railway retention via Gisborne Rail Action Group
  8. Cycleways & Walkways via GDC Ten Year Plan, NZTA, Cycling Advisory Group, etc.
  9. Māori Land & Rates via GDC Māori Land Working Group with TPK, etc.
  10. Central Government better linked into local priorities via Whānau Ora, MSD, etc.
  11. Pēnu Marae – new wharepaku and wharenui roof hopefully
  12. Rere Rockslide – stream quality monitoring and restoration project
  13. Economic Development projects – biofuels and biochemistry projects, regional skills development and entrepreneurs recruitment campaign

Playing Russian Roulette with the Select Committee

 

A Gisborne District Councillor has told the Select Committee considering a bill that would regulate the Exclusive Economic Zone that the government was playing Russian Roulette with coastal communities.

Manu Caddie, one of 129 submitters on the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf Bill, was speaking to the Local Government and Environment Select Committee today when he explained that oiled debris from the Rena was now washing up on Gisborne city beaches and a “one pager” of rules for EEZ exploration applications was grossly insufficient.

Mr Caddie said the Bill does not provide details on what the new regulations will be, resources to clean up anything but a minor spill are non-existent and the public should have input on the detail of rules governing exploration and extraction in the EEZ.

“If the Interim Impact Assessment Guidelines become the requirements within the EEZ Act then they omit detailed baseline sampling of the current state of the area where the activity is proposed” said Mr Caddie. “How can contamination be proven if no baseline sampling is provided beforehand? The wording at present is very vague and should be more prescriptive.

Mr Caddie also pointed out that an oil slick is no respecter of jurisdiction and will not stay within the EEZ.

“Local councils and iwi authorities should be given a veto power if there is enough local concern and support for such a position.”

Mr Caddie stressed that the proposed timeframes between when an application is received, must be notified, submissions made and hearings/decisions is far too short.

“Companies could work on an application for many years and communities will have less than three weeks to read, analyse and respond to complex technical reports, Impact Assessments, financial calculations and other application details – so the timeframes should be more like 3-6 months for submissions.”

In response to a question from Labour List MP Moana Mackey, Mr Caddie said he was very concerned about the imbalance in resources.  Mining companies have “bottomless pockets” compared to the councils and communities that will be affected by an application according to Mr Caddie who represents the Gisborne City Ward and is on the committee of a marae near Ruatoria. “The Government needs to provide public resources and expertise, such as university and CRIs, to councils, iwi and communities that wish to make submissions on an EEZ application” said Mr Caddie.

“All the best practice in the world will not be able to ensure deep sea drilling doesn’t go wrong – the Government is playing Russian Roulette with our coastal area. Rena, Montara and Deepwater Horizon have proven there does not exist the technology or resources to contain anything but a minor spill very close to shore under perfect marine conditions.”

Mr Caddie suggested if the Committee had read the report by the National Commission on the Deepwater Horizon disaster they would know it had identified serious systemic problems within the petroleum exploration industry that have still not been addressed. Many of the same companies involved with the Deepwater Horizon spill are active in the burgeoning New Zealand exploration industry.

Mr Caddie said the safety record of applicants needs to be considered carefully and pointed out that Brazilian oil giant Petrobras has had two significant oil spills since November and two workers killed and a number seriously injured in the last six months alone. One of the spills has seen the companies involved taken to court by local authorities for $11billion. BP is in court this month trying to limit their liability to $30-40b and otherwise could face $100b.

Green MP Gareth Hughes asked Mr Caddie if a climate change clause should be included and Mr Caddie agreed with that the suggestion that climate change impacts should be considered for all applications under the proposed legislation.

A Turning Tide?

It seems the tide is turning.

The Dominon Post reports that over 300 people participated in a protest on Wednesday in Napier organised by local farmers to coincide with the Apache presentation to the Hawkes Bay Regional Council. Concerned residents in Hawkes Bay have a long and growing list of questions they would like answered by the companies and councils involved. Until satisfactory assurances are provided by independent experts, these citizens and ratepayers are saying they don’t want fracking to happen in their region.

Yesterday I received a copy of the letter from the Christchurch City Council dated 16 January 2012 to the Minister of Energy and Resources requesting a moratorium on fracking until an independent inquiry is completed into the practice. The resolution in the Council was passed 10 votes (including Mayor Bob Parker) to 2.

In the last month more jurisdictions around the world including a number of local authorities in Ireland and the country of Bulgaria have joined France, South Africa, New York State and dozens of smaller authorities across North America in establishing a moratorium or banning fracking completely. Many of these decisions have been endorsed by the local chambers of commerce, medical boards, oil and gas commissions and water catchment boards.

The Labour Party has this week suggested Parliament instigates a ‘robust inquiry’ into the practice in New Zealand – either by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment or the Environmental Protection Agency. Unlike the recent report on fracking released by Taranaki Regional Council, the Terms of Reference for such a study would need wide agreement from experts across a range of disciplines and be at arms length from the legislators, regulators and industry.

Agitating &/or Appeasing Apache?

Alex Ferguson from Apache Corporation yesterday said the company did not offer to pay for an “all-expenses trip” to North America for staff from councils in New Zealand. He also said “It is an unfortunate and not a very welcoming situation that someone decided to give this sort of distorted information to be published.”

This doesn’t seem to be the understanding of council staff who negotiated the arrangement and wrote in their report that is on the public agenda for our meeting this week: “TAG Oil and Apache Corporation… have suggested council staff travel to [British Columbia]… Apache Corporation have offered to pay external costs…”

Mr Ferguson implies I made contact with the Sunday Star Times, in fact it was the reporter that initiated contact and asked questions that I responded to based on what was in the publicly available report to Council.

I take no responsibility for how the reporter chose to frame the situation – I think he was misleading but, as Mr Ferguson acknowledges, the situation risks such interpretation which was why I made sure the reporter knew that Apache is not in charge of the itinerary. While Mr Ferguson may commute from Canada on a monthly basis, overseas travel by public servants in NZ is always viewed with particular interest by New Zealanders.

Mr Ferguson confirms TAG has drilled at Tangamatai near Whangara. Of special interest to me is that the resource consent permits the use of the product “Drill-Pro” and allow for four wells to be drilled but the TAG Oil Annual Report 2011 says they have drilled eight stratigraphic wells on the site.

I understand more drilling this week is planned at the Tangamatai property based on what I was told by someone close to the drillers, but perhaps it simply the drilling for the 700-800 explosive charges to be detonated as part of their seismic survey work near Whatatutu.

To their credit Apache Corporation has demonstrated a commitment to meeting with local residents and trying to answer the many questions presented. The proposed trip to Canada would be useful and I have full confidence in GDC staff who are competent professionals with the highest levels of integrity.

Yesterday I was pleased to receive a copy of the letter from the Christchurch City Council dated 16 January 2012 to the Minister of Energy and Resources requesting a moratorium on fracking until an independent inquiry is completed into the practice. I hear a protest has been organised by farmers in Hawkes Bay to coincide with the Apache presentation to the Hawkes Bay Regional Council this week. This month a number of jurisdictions around the world have banned fracking completely. It seems the tipping point may be close.

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.

Councillor welcomes CCC decision to request govt moratorium on fracking

Gisborne District Councillor Manu Caddie is welcoming news that the Christchurch City Council yesterday agreed to call on the government to put a moratorium in place until a full independent inquiry has been conducted.

Mr Caddie said it was encouraging to see the first local authority take a precautionary approach on the issue given the lack of knowledge about the practice in New Zealand.

“Glaring gaps in a report released last month by the Taranaki Regional Council that was supposed to reassure the public on the safety of fracking simply reinforced growing concerns about the practice” said Mr Caddie.

Recent reports from the United States Geological Survey[1] and a fracking company in the UK that confirm the link between earthquakes and hydraulic fracturing have raised serious concerns about the practice worldwide.

“The TRC report provides no independent scientific evidence on the safety of the practice in relation to seismic activity, nor does it provide information on the rate of well casing failures and provides little detail on waste management and disposal options” said Mr Caddie.

Mr Caddie said he is waiting to hear back from the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment who is considering requests to undertake an independent inquiry into fracking.

“We need that inquiry to also consider the bigger picture questions of how oil and gas compare to coal in terms of greenhouse gas emissions as there are conflicting reports[2] on which fossil fuels contribute more to climate change.”

Mr Caddie said he hopes the Christchurch City Council decision will put pressure on the government to put a moratorium in place similar to what South Africa has at present – or it could follow France and ban the practice outright in favour of renewable energy sources.

“Apache Corporation claims France banned fracking to protect its nuclear industry but the French government has suggested it may no longer source electricity from nuclear power as early as 2040″ [3] said Mr Caddie.

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.

Fracking bans go global…

In June this year France became the first country to ban the controversial oil and gas mining practice of hydraulic fracking. Under the new law, companies with exploration permits had two months to declare whether they intended to use hydraulic fracturing – if they did, their permits were to be revoked.

The government of South Africa has extended a ban on fracking for another six months while the Minister of Mineral Resources waits on a report from the heads of government departments responsible for trade, science and minerals to be rewritten.

In Australia the New South Wales Governement recently extended  a ban on fracking to the end of the year. A further ban on toxic chemicals will be in place when the moratorium is lifted.

Across North America local municipalities have been taking action to ban fracking. In the state of Pennsylvania alone more than 100 townships have passed ordinances to restrict or ban mining, particularly fracking activities, within their jurisdiction. Thus far municipality-adopted fracking bans are in places such as Buffalo, New York; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Morgantown and Westover, West Virginia.

In June the New York State Assembly extended an existing ban on fracking for another year. The New Jersey State legislature passed a bill to permanently ban fracking earlier this year but the Governor vetoed that decision and restricted the ban to one more year.

In the case of Morgantown, the ban stonewalled Northeast Natural Energy, LLC’s fracking operations just outside city limits. In June, Northeast sued the municipality, seeking tens of millions of dollars for the unlawful taking of its property rights without just compensation and last month a judge upheld the company’s claims and reversed the local council decision. The court decision is expected to be appealed.

Should Gisborne District Council or any other local authority decide, after widespread consultation with its residents, to change our District Plan rules and put a hold or ban on fracking within our district, can we expect similar litigation from foreign corporations keen to exploit our natural resources for their profit?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is studying the impact of fracking and last Tuesday submitted a draft of its study to the agency’s Science Advisory Board for review. Initial findings from the study are expected to be made public by the end of 2012. No such study has been commissioned in New Zealand yet and a growing number of people I have been speaking believe we should access to a similar report before allowing any fracking-related activity in the Gisborne District.