Renewed call to exit Petrobras deal after explosion

A Gisborne District Councillor has renewed his call for the government to suspend the East Coast exploration permit for Brazilian energy company Petrobras following a lethal explosion at a Petrobras refinery.

Manu Caddie says the idea that Petrobras has had a clean safety record for ten years is a complete myth.

Mr Caddie says the death of this Petrobras employee and disfigurement of his colleague follow a similar explosion at a Petrobras refinery in Argentina three years ago, a major incident in the Gulf of Mexico earlier this year as the company prepared to start the first new extraction since the Deepwater Horizon disaster and the assassination two years ago of a fisherman and ongoing intimidation of his colleagues who have been protesting against a Petrobras pipeline in Guanabara Bay, Brazil.

“This company is not a model corporate citizen and the Minister of Energy and Resources should not be allowing Petrobras to operate in New Zealand waters” says Mr Caddie.

Government officials yesterday ordered Petrobras to close down the refinery in Argentina after an explosion at the plant killed a 44 year old worker and left another 47 year old in hospital with severe burns to 15% of his body.

The refinery, located in the southern port city of Bahía Blanca, has a capacity of 31,000 barrels per day. The blast happened in a resting area when workers turned on the lights after finishing their shift.

The plant accounts for about five percent of Argentina’s total refining capacity of 627,000 BPD. The plant needs two days to gradually shut down.

Mr Caddie says the statement issued by Petrobras assuring investors that refining operations had not been affected by the explosion was another example of how little regard the company has for people over profit. The claim also seemed to be at odds with the government official statement that said the plant had to be closed until the incident was fully investigated.

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

High score in bad stuff nothing to be proud of…

A high ranking for New Zealand in the Fraser Institute survey that Acting Minister of Energy and Resources Hekia Parata has been celebrating is nothing to be proud of. If any of the news agencies had bothered to read the survey instead of reprinting her media release they would have read what questions were asked of the industry respondents and what their answers were.

Basically jurisdictions (8 of the top 10 are states of the USA) get high rankings if they have comparatively low levels of royalties and taxes being paid to government, a ‘flexible’ and unorganised labour market and a permissible regulatory regime that does not impose additional costs on the companies. A good example of the latter would be signing off a permit to drill an exploratory well with no requirement to present an Assessment of Environmental Effects, emergency response plan or other health and safety information as Minister Brownlee did for the Raukumara Basin.

New Zealand’s score was no doubt boosted by the certainty factors around the predictability of the regulatory environment, the stability of the government and judiciary and wider socio-economic indicators – we should be proud of these particular factors that also make investment that is environmentally and socially responsible here more attractive.

“Disputed land claims—the uncertainty of unresolved claims made by aboriginals, other groups, or individuals” is one of the 17 factors the survey covers and the labour market questions the ‘militancy of labour’ and ‘local hiring requirements’. In other words, petroleum investors do not like the idea of indigenous people disputing ownership rights in areas like the EEZ that have not been tested in court, do not like strong unions and want to be able to hire the cheapest labour they can from anywhere in the world.

The jurisdictions that tend to do worse in the survey rankings are those that have stronger environmental regulations, more protected wilderness areas, fairer employment legislation and a bigger cut of the profits from resource extraction actually staying with the country the resources are taken from!

Feedback from the industry representatives who completed the survey include comments like: “Excellent investment conditions but difficult geology” and the $4m taxpayer subsidy for geotechnical data provided to the petroleum industry is also noted: “Great fiscal terms, political stability, and free and full access to all geoscience data.”

In any case, as a regular publisher of dubious ‘reports’ encouraging skepticism about the contribution of human activity in climate change, the risks of smoking and problems associated with nuclear energy, the Fraser Institute can hardly be considered an independent source of research. The organisation is well known in Canada as an extreme right wing lobby group, receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars from oil companies like ExxonMobil and Koch Industries, the company fined $30 million by the EPA for its role in 300 oil spills that resulted in more than ten million litres of crude oil leaking into ponds, lakes, streams and coastal waters.

So the report is just a glossy whine from the oil and gas lobby. We already know that mining corporations wouldn’t care at all about the environment if citizens and government didn’t force them to. The fact that they’re whining about it is not news.

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.

Conservation Quorum profile

New city ward councillor Manu Caddie grew up on a farm on the edge of Tauranga where his parents bred mohair goats, raised bobby calves and had market gardens that mostly grew courgettes, capsicums and gherkins.

“My dad wasn’t a huge conservationist – he would “accidently” step on pukeko nests and battling the rushes and draining our swampy flats was a constant battle we all participated in.”

After leaving school Manu studied and then taught design at Victoria University in Wellington. He met his wife Natasha Koia in 1995 and they moved to Gisborne in 1998 to care for her grandparents.

Since living in Gisborne Manu has been active in community organising with a focus on the Kaiti area and the family are also involved with Tarsh’s marae at Makarika just south of Ruatoria.

“We’re just going through the process of sorting out how to build up there and we have meetings every month to develop the marae and surrounding area.”

The marae recently established a maara kai (community garden) with fruit and nut trees as well as seasonal vegetables. They have a WWF funded project focused on the health of the local stream and have been working with Makarika School to monitor the impact of the construction work to replace the old bridge across Makatote Stream.

The range of environmental issues Gisborne District Council deals with has been something of a revelation for Manu.

“I have a background in activism and I bring those advocacy skills to the role of councilor. I choose the important stuff to take a stand on and recognize that there is a lot at stake on many decisions Council makes. Most of us have quite unsustainable lifestyles – our district has a few people who still live in ways that have minimal impact on this finite planet but the rest of us do not.”

Manu believes conservation issues are really justice issues.

“The natural environment doesn’t get a vote and as a result we’ve seen generations of legislation, policies and practices that have led to the complete extinction of many species. Humans are slow learners with short memories and our priorities in New Zealand seem all around the wrong way.

Consumer capitalism requires continual growth in a finite system, that is unsustainable. We think because we happen to be born here or have the privilege to move to this country we can consume at a rate that will require another couple of planets if other countries decide to live like us.

In the Gisborne District we have an opportunity to transition to a sustainable economy, but at present there is very little discussion about what that would require, let alone much motivation to move in that direction. Energy issues, land use, transport, mineral extraction, waste creation and biodiversity protection are all critical to the survival of our species and many others, and our daily decisions at the personal, household and community level are determining what kind of future we offer our kids and the world they inherit – I’m not very optimistic but I have enough faith in our community to believe a better direction is achievable in my lifetime.”

Manu is a member of the Environment & Policy Committee, the Hearings (Resource Management Act) Committee, Community (& Economic) Development Committee, Regional Transport Committee as well as Civil Defence. He recently completed studies toward the qualification to become a Commissioner on RMA hearings and is eagerly awaiting results from the final assessment!

What Lies Beneath? All sides of the issue (except the govt. who don’t want to front up)

 

 

It’s a real shame that both the Acting Minister of Energy & Resources and MED / Crown Minerals declined the invitation to participate in this event on an issue that has high interest both locally and nationally…

A printable version of the poster is available here: what lies beneath (4.9mb PDF)

 

 

Response to Nick Smith’s announcement on new oceans bill

MEDIA RELEASE

2 June 2011

A vocal critic of government policy on offshore drilling in the Raukumara Basin says he cautiously welcomes the announcement that a new bill will be introduced this year to establish regulations on minerals exploration and extraction beyond the Territorial Sea.

District Councillor Manu Caddie says the proposal announced by Minister for the Environment Nick Smith is a big step in the right direction.

“I take issue with his statement that what happens beyond the 12 mile limit has less effect on local communities, a large oil or gas leak in the EEZ would have a massive impact on the Coast.”

Mr Caddie says that provided the legislation has provisions at least as robust as the Resource Management Act, he believes it is a positive development.

“It is pleasing to see that where a proposed activity spans the boundary between the territorial sea and EEZ, local government would have a joint role with the EPA in decision-making.

“The devil will be in the detail in terms of things like a substantial bond can be put in place before any drilling starts in case something goes wrong. We have seen overseas when a major spill happens the issue can be tied up in court for decades and the taxpayer foots the cleanup bill and no one is held to account. Requiring a billion dollar bond up front seems fair to me and should be easy to do for companies with a good reputation.”

Mr Caddie says he is also concerned about the process the EPA will use for determining what activities are determined to be permitted, discretionary or prohibited. “The Minister says seismic testing is likely to be permitted but we will make sure the EPA has access to evidence demonstrating the significant impact seismic testing has on some marine life during their regulation-setting decisions.”

“This proposal obviously doesn’t address the fundamental issue of fossil fuel extraction and the problems that creates for the country and the planet.”

ENDS

Rich Rates

A few years ago, billionaire Warren Buffett blasted a tax system that meant, without even trying to minimise his taxes, he paid less than half the tax rate of his secretary. He said government policy had “accentuated a disparity of wealth that hurt the economy by stifling opportunity and motivation”.

We have seen a similar situation is at work in New Zealand as Labour revenue spokesperson Stuart Nash revealed the average farmer pays only slightly more income tax than someone on the unemployment benefit and less than a couple living on the pension and since the top tax rate dropped in the mid 1980s income inequalities in this country have steadily increased.

This week Council will be deciding a recommendation from the Mayor that we ask government to increase the proportion of how much of the cost of Council services can be included in the Universal Annual General Charge. This would effectively add $100 extra to the rates demand on lower income households in much the same was as National’s income tax cuts and GST increases are shifting government costs from those who can most afford to pay their share on to the poor. While the $100 going on to the UAGC would be offset by a reduction in some other rate, the change would give benefits to the most wealthy and increase the amount paid by those living in lower value properties.

After a national consultation process involving international research, thousands of submissions and public hearings the Shand Report in 2007 actually recommended that government remove the UAGC entirely and base local authority rates on capital value alone.

Some people argue that the capital value bears no relationship to the ability of owners to pay the rates that their property values attract and therefore capital value based rating is unfair and illogical. The empirical evidence suggests otherwise.

Findings from a project co-funded by Treasury, the Foundation for Research Science & Technology and the Royal Society of New Zealand on these issues was published in 2009 by Dr Arthur Grimes and Dr Andrew Coleman from Motu Economic and Public Policy Research. Part of that research analysed the relationship between income levels and property values. The study accounted for the issues associated with farms, Māori land and other factors that could distort the figures if only urban properties were used.

The report shows that there is a strong positive relationship, at the individual household level, between capital value (CV) and household incomes and an even stronger relationship between property CV and household net worth (i.e. household wealth).

Overall, therefore, while there will certainly be some income-poor (but possibly asset-rich) households in high CV houses, this is an exception. The relationship between CV and income is strongly positive. One way to get around the problem of income-poor but asset-rich retired households living in high CV houses is to allow them to accrue their rates to their estate as provided for by Gisborne District Council’s rates postponement scheme and rural properties get rated proportionally to their proximity to services through the five Rating Differential Areas.

Average rates increases for the next financial will be well under the rate of inflation, Council’s financial sustainability and affordability recently got a ranking of 26 out of 73 local authorities and economists at BERL ranked Gisborne District Council 12th of 72 for economic performance in 2010.

So, if there is independent analysis suggesting that there is not a strong relationship between household income and capital value it would be good to see it before we suggest government lets more rates be loaded onto the households that the existing body of research suggests can least afford it.

The First Casualty is the Truth

The Minister of Energy & Resources and the Big Oil Lobby made some less than honest claims in The Gisborne Herald in response to my previous piece, so the facts are spelt out here for them.

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Fishermen protest Petrobras pipeline in Guanabara Bay

The footnotes from the mining lobbyists (including the government) yesterday were not honest.
Hekia Parata is not telling the whole story when she says “in the event of an oil spill, the polluter pays for all the costs associated with the response”.
The requirement for spill insurance for all offshore drilling operators is only up to NZ$30m. There may be unlimited liability after that but it is not ‘strict liability’ so there is no guarantee the polluter will ever pay. The New Zealand government or other entities will have to take the polluter to court to recover cleanup costs.
Anadarko is planning to drill off Canterbury before the end of the year and is currently contesting any liability for the Deepwater Horizon disaster that they had quarter ownership in. The Exxon Valdez 1989 spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska is still in court with the polluters challenging the $92 million for ongoing cleanup. While in court, it would be New Zealand taxpayers that will have to cover costs until any settlement was reached.
The 2010 Annual Report of Anadarko concedes that “the events in the Gulf of Mexico may make it increasingly difficult to obtain offshore property damage, well control and similar insurance coverage.”
The Green Party has suggested a bond should be paid by the permit holder before any drilling occurs.
The idea that Maritime NZ could adequately respond to a deepwater spill with 400 people is a joke, while they are well trained and always on-call, their expertise and equipment is designed for small inshore spills. The Gulf of Mexico incident last year required 6,000 ships and more than 40,000 emergency personnel.
A six month investigation by CBS News released last month found that, excluding the Deepwater Horizon spill, at least 128 million litres of crude oil and other potentially toxic chemicals were spilled in the US in 2010 alone. That’s triple the size of the Exxon Valdez spill. New Zealand has had its own share of smaller spills, they come with the industry, just don’t make the big headlines.
In the past 15 years, the chequered safety record of Petrobras shows it has had 282 deaths from accidents, explosions and fires, and 27 oil rig blowouts since 1980.
While the Petrobras safety record may have improved recently (if we discount any involvement in the assassination and attempts to eliminate protesting fishermen in Guanabara Bay), the reality is the Raukumara Basin is at the most extreme end of deepwater exploration in an area with large earthquakes on a regular basis.
The Gulf of Mexico had all the best equipment on hand with thousands of trained personnel and experts just a helicopter ride away. Even then, it still took three months for experts from all over the world to figure out how to cap the Gulf well, 1500m under the ocean, Raukumara is up to twice that depth.
Contrary to the information supplied by the petroleum lobbyists, the Petrobras P-36 platform did spill crude oil, and diesel fuel – 2,000 barrels in the first 24 hours alone according to the official investigation.
And who told the NZ lobbyists that “30 days after the [Guanabara Bay] accident, there was practically no impact from the spill”?! The area is still suffering more than ten years after 1.3 million litres of Petrobras oil leaked into the water. Al Jazeera did an in-depth story on the 10th anniversary in July last year and plenty of other information on the ongoing impacts is available.

Petrobras vs. the fishermen (of Guanabara Bay, Brazil)

AHOMAR fishermen protesting against Petrobras pipeline in Guanabara Bay

Gisborne District Councillor Manu Caddie says a tip off from a credible source about planned AOS raids led campaigners against drilling off the East Cape to go public. Documentation of recent Police violence against local fishermen opposing a Petrobras owned pipeline in Brazil and the 2007 AOS raids against Tuhoe had meant those opposed to the Petrobras activities in New Zealand had to take the information seriously.
Mr Caddie says he has obtained a report from Brazil that documents police violence since 2009 against members of Associação dos Homens do Mar (AHOMAR) a union of around 700 fishermen in Guanabara Bay, Rio de Janeiro.
Amnesty International has taken up the case of the fishermen after the Treasurer of their association was assassinated on 22 May 2009 in front of his wife and children. Paulo César dos Santos Souza was beaten in his home by armed men who then dragged him outside and shot Santos Souza five times in the head. A few hours earlier armed men threatened the protesting fishermen at the Petrobras pipeline worksite. According to Santos Souza’s family, before they killed him they interrogated him, asking him about documents belonging to the fishermen’s union.
Mr Caddie has been in contact with AHOMAR President Alexandre Anderson de Souza who has escaped attempts on his own life and has been warned by local Police that it is no longer safe for him to fish in the area and he should ‘stay indoors’. “We anticipate some real solidarity between the two campaigns – the fishermen of Guanabara Bay know a lot more about Petrobras than we do in New Zealand, so we look forward to supporting them and learning about their situation as they learn about ours.”
“While New Zealand does not have the extrajudicial executions and parapolicing mafia of Rio, locals here are questioning the relationships between the Executive, military, Petrobras and the Police in this campaign against deep sea drilling” said Mr Caddie. “The Government are under a huge amount of pressure on this issue and in such situations may resort to desperate measures. The statement issued last night by Police Headquarters that rumours of raids were speculation was less than reassuring – if they have no plans for AOS intervention I think they should explicitly confirm that.”
Guanabara Bay is the location of a Petrobras accident in 2000 that leaked 1.3 million litres of oil into the bay and the area has still not fully recovered from the event. Petrobras has spent more than US$200million on the cleanup and the company has not had a similar disaster since, though the Petrobras P36 platform sinking in 2001 took 11 lives and 1.5 million litres of oil being leaked into the ocean.
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San Pietro and the fight against fascism

A navy tender carrying police moves in to apprehend the tribal fishing boat San Pietro, from under the bows of the seismic survey ship Orient Explorer in traditional fishing grounds off East Cape. Saturday April 23, 2011 Photo: Greenpeace/Malcolm Pullman

San Pietro has been critical in the fight against fascism – the Italian village, where 16,000 allied casualties resulted from a pivotal battle, was key to eventually driving the Germans out of Italy after victories in the North Africa campaign.
“It is significant that San Pietro was a turning point for the allies and I believe it will be in our local struggle too” said District Councillor Manu Caddie.
“Using our own military to defend a foreign corporation and arrest and detain fishermen undertaking their customary rights in their traditional fishing grounds is a national disgrace” said Mr Caddie.
“The real criminal is the Government who issued a deep sea drilling permit with no background check on the safety and environmental history of the company, no consultation with affected communities and no assessment of environmental effects.”
Mr Caddie said the New Zealand National Party policy of auctioning off the country for mining exploration was irresponsible and would no doubt be the subject of years of litigation for groups of people who had better things to do with their precious time and resources. “Dictating what will happen in our district by opening up national parks and our coastline to transnational corporations for fossil fuel extraction shows contempt for local wellbeing and will face fierce and sustained local resistance.”

Time to Stop the Testing

One of 500 dead penguins that washed up within a few days on a beach near Sao Paulo, Brazil in 2010. Oil exploration is common in the coastal areas around Sao Paulo.

MEDIA RELEASE

25/04/2011

A Gisborne District Councillor is demanding a moratorium on seismic testing following revelations that scores of dead penguins are washing up on East Cape beaches and new international research suggests seismic testing is responsible for killing a range of sea creatures.

Manu Caddie said residents at Waihau Bay near East Cape found a dozen dead penguins yesterday within a 200 metre stretch of coastline and they would have found more if they kept walking. More carcasses were found around the coastline as far as East Cape by locals who say they have never seen so many dead birds washed ashore. “While the government may blame La Nina weather conditions for starving the penguins or suggest a storm killed them, locals haven’t noticed any major storm recently.”

“Evidence is piling up on the impact of the seismic tests both here and abroad” said Mr Caddie, who as a member of the Environment & Policy Committee of Gisborne District Council argued that seismic testing should not be considered a permitted activity in the Gisborne District given the potential harm it can cause to sea life.

“While the District Council is only responsible for the marine coastal environment out to the 12 nautical mile limit, we have a responsibility to protect that environment from the effects of activities that may occur beyond 12 miles. We also have a responsibility as stewards of the region and community leaders to advocate when central government has made a mistake.”

Mr Caddie cited recently published research from researchers at the Technical University of Catalonia in Barcelona that found the deaths of giant squid, washed up on Spanish beaches in 2001 and 2003, were caused by nearby oil and gas seismic surveys.

Environment and Conservation Organisations (ECO) of New Zealand said Spanish research into mass deaths of squid, cuttlefish and octopus showed organ damage in these creatures after just two hours exposure to low frequency noise from 50-400 hertz, or “acoustic smog”, due to oil and gas exploration and shipping.

“The scientists found that the organ that allows squid, octopus and cuttlefish to regulate their positions to balance and direct how and where they swim was damaged leaving the animals unable to move or to feed and vulnerable to predators,” ECO co-chair Barry Weeber said.

Mr Caddie said the activity of the Orient Explorer survey ship is putting all sea life is at risk with sonic booms from sonar gun arrays of up to 259dB firing into the sea floor. “Even the United States has stricter regulations on this activity than the New Zealand government. There is a federal register where the public have an opportunity to assess the proposed seismic testing activity. The applicant has to detail every piece of equipment to be used, with comprehensive information on the acoustic source specifications, the level of activity being undertaken and the estimated impacts on the marine environment.

Mr Caddie said the level of government hypocrisy was reaching new heights given the pressure New Zealand put on Russia last year to stop oil and gas companies using seismic testing in whale migration and breeding areas. “DOC guidelines specifically identify from now until October as the time of year most likely to have negative impacts on whales as they migrate.

Studies published last year by researchers from Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and the University of Zurich suggest seismic testing has a significant impact on whales, which rely on acoustic signalling for communication, orientation, locating prey and predators:

The sounds from marine exploration surveys are one of several anthropogenic noise sources that have been identified as eliciting behavioural reactions in marine mammals. Seismic surveys rely on systems that produce impulsive, high intensity sounds (190–250 dB re 1 µPa, peak to peak), with most energy below 200 Hz. The peak frequencies of these sounds overlap the acoustic signals and estimated hearing ranges of baleen whales. Such acoustic interference could reduce a whale’s ability to detect biologically relevant signals. With the increase in oil and gas prospecting surveys into deeper waters, there is sparse knowledge on the acoustic responses of baleen whales to sounds from seismic exploration.

Our results clearly show that blue whales change their calling behaviour in response to a low-medium power technology that is presumed to have minor environmental impact. Reducing an individual’s ability to detect socially relevant signals could therefore affect biologically important processes. This study suggests careful reconsideration of the potential behavioural impacts of even low source level seismic survey sounds on large whales.”

Bring it on!

As pressure grows on the Government and the industry to justify their cavalier approach to deep sea petroleum exploration they cannot seem to provide any assurances. This is encouraging as it means it will be only a matter of time before the threat of losing an election over their indefensible position will mean both major parties support a ban on deep sea exploration and extraction.

The main claims the politicians and lobbyists are clinging on to now seem to be: (a) the economic potential outweighs the risks; (b) adequate regulations will be in place before any drilling commences; and (c) any environmental or economic risks associated with their activities are born entirely by the mining companies and their insurers.

Let’s look at those claims…

  1. Economic Potential: By investing so much political and financial capital in backing big oil, the Government denies New Zealand the prosperity that would come from such investment being made in home grown clean technology. We could be world leaders in this sector but instead their plan locks us into a dangerous and polluting energy future. A more energy independent nation would make us less exposed to oil and gas price shocks. In 2009 Price Waterhouse Coopers estimated our clean technology market could be worth between 7.5 to 22 billion, representing up to 17% of the economy, while oil and gas royalties that year earned only $965m. And while the East Coast wears the risk of another oil disaster, the industry acknowledges that no jobs on the rigs are likely to go to locals. So without even taking into account the massive, potentially criminal, risk our district is being exposed to by deep sea exploration, the numbers by themselves don’t stack up.
  2. Adequate Regulation: No amount of regulation short of banning deep sea exploration will provide proper protection against another disaster. The US agency responsible for regulating deep sea exploration says it will be many years before they can establish a regime that will even minimise (let alone one that could eliminate) risks to the environment and workers. Regulators acknowledge it is a complex, highly technical and inherently risky activity they are charged with overseeing. After all the investigations and regulation strengthening, Petrobras was the first company permitted to resume deep water extraction and almost caused a second disaster last month, a riser broke away from the seabed and it would have started leaking oil if it happened a few days later. Rig inspection is obviously inadequate protection from a large earthquake or simple equipment failure as happened last month for Petrobras. The national ‘oil spill preparedness’ plan consists largely of three small vessels that are limited to inshore responses, the Gulf disaster required hundreds of vessels and we are much more isolated.
  3. User Pays for Accident: BP lost over US$100 million in value following the Deepwater Horizon accident. There is a real risk that such an event could bankrupt Petrobras and while insurers may struggle cover the financial cost of any cleanup, no money could pay for the environmental, social and cultural damage inflicted, and little, if any, compensation would be paid for the economic impact on fishing, tourism and other sectors. The containment system eventually used for the Deepwater Horizon well cannot be deployed beyond 2,500 metres and the Raukumara Basin goes beyond 3,000 metres in many places. The blowout preventers in use today remain incapable of handling a well rupture of the force of the BP blast. The containment system developed by the industry to respond to another blowout has not been tested in real-life conditions and, by the industry’s own estimate, could still allow hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil to spew before a runaway well could be capped. Hekia Parata admitted under questioning from Green party members in Parliament that there are no assessments of environmental effects or risks contained in the permit and the safety record of Petrobras was never looked at by officials prior to granting the permit.

The corporate PR advisors (what the industry calls ‘communications counsellors’) are obviously being paid too much if that is all they’ve got!

Reality check…

Whangaparāoa SH35

 

Opinion Piece: 7 April 2011

– – – – –

The Gisborne Herald Editorial on 4 April needs a reality check.

Petrobras is not a good operator, they have been responsible and roundly criticised for numerous environmental disasters and human deaths in Brazil and further afield. They are a world leader in deep water drilling, which is increasingly desperate and dangerous given the scarcity of easy oil.

Just two weeks ago Petrobras was involved in a major incident in the Gulf of Mexico. Eight days after US regulators allowed Petrobras to start deep sea extraction one of the 8000-foot long production risers fell to the sea floor after the chain connecting it to its 130 ton buoyancy can failed. There are no reports of any hydrocarbon release at this stage, however Petrobras has not yet commented on the incident. So Petrobras have had a major incident before they even start the job!

Natural gas is not a ‘clean-burning fuel’, according to the US Energy Information Administration, worldwide the burning of natural gas (which is mostly methane) produces nearly 5 billion tons of CO2 each year, which is just behind oil and coal emissions.

The Petrobras permit is not just for gas, it includes oil as well. Hekia Parata’s spin is that it is now a ‘research’ permit – that ‘research’ requires the company to drill an exploratory well unless they run away from Cape Runaway at one of the two permit surrender milestones.

Petrobras has confirmed it will be based out of the Port of Tauranga, and talking to Coasties who have worked on rigs overseas and don’t want one here, I can’t see how it will create a single job for the Gisborne district.

Major gas finds are not going to lead to cheaper electricity in New Zealand. Any petroleum extracted would no longer be New Zealand owned, the government has very clearly said it would be taken by the multinationals to sell on the international market (or possibly taken back to Brazil in the case of Petrobras).

There are no effective ‘environmental protections’ for deep sea petroleum extraction, the new practice is experimental at best and the only way to guarantee a disaster does not happen is to not let them drill. As we have seen in the Gulf last week, where the review and strengthening of regulations has been second to none, deep sea drilling is simply too unpredictable. The Raukumara Basin has an average of three tremors per day and regularly has earthquakes over 5 on the Rhicter scale, it is twice as deep as the Deepwater Horizon well that blew out last year and Taranaki wells are in only 100-150m of water so they are no way comparable.

I’m not sure what the Editor bases his claim on that ‘a majority of New Zealanders hope Petrobras strike a major gas field of East Cape’. In a poll of over 12,000 people this week only 12% said they thought fossil fuels should be a government priority for our energy future.

New Zealand certainly has become a frontier for new exploration, and a frontier in the struggle of communities that rely on their local environment for survival against corporations who rely on exploiting anything they can for their survival. The wellbeing of our district should not be put on the auction block in the interests of foreign corporations.

– – – –

GH Editorial reply 7/4/11: http://gisborneherald.co.nz/opinion/editorial/?id=22178

 

 

You Give Ludd a Bad Name…

Opponents of Petrobras drilling off East Cape have been labelled Luddites. This month is the 200th anniversary of the British Luddite protests and I appreciated Mark Engler‘s exploration in ‘Dissent‘ magazine of whether or not those demonstrators of old should really be described as anti-progress.
The Luddites did not oppose technology per se, but rather asked some important questions about the ends to which new technological discoveries were being used and who in society would benefit from them.
The original Luddites were neither opposed to technology nor inept at using it. Many were highly skilled machine operators in the textile industry. Nor was the technology they attacked particularly new.
The Luddite disturbances started when British working class families at the start of the 19th century were enduring economic upheaval and widespread unemployment. The war against Napoleon had ‘brought the hard pinch of poverty to homes where it had previously been a stranger’. Food was scarce and rapidly becoming more costly. Then, on March 11, 1811, in Nottingham, a textile manufacturing centre, British troops broke up a crowd of protesters demanding more work and better wages.
That night, angry workers smashed textile machinery in a nearby village. Similar attacks occurred nightly at first, then sporadically, and then in waves, eventually spreading across a 70-mile swath of northern England. Fearing a national movement, the government positioned thousands of soldiers to defend factories and Parliament passed a measure to make machine-breaking a capital offense.
As the Industrial Revolution began, workers naturally worried about being displaced by increasingly efficient machines. But the Luddites themselves were totally fine with machines. They confined their attacks to manufacturers who used machines in what they called “a fraudulent and deceitful manner” to get around standard labour practices. They just wanted machines that made high-quality goods and they wanted these machines to be run by workers who had gone through an apprenticeship and got paid decent wages. Those were their only concerns.
Ironically opponents of oil and gas exploration in the Raukumara Basin are calling for more investment in clean technologies like solar and electric vehicles to replace our reliance on old technology. Arguments about technology (much like those about deep sea oil and gas drilling) often come down to legitimate debates over values. I would like to see some more discussion on competing values in the current debates on mining in this country.
One of the more prominent supporters of the Luddites is poet-farmer Wendell Berry. Berry writes: “Like almost everybody else, I am hooked to the energy corporations, which I do not admire. I hope to become less hooked to them. In my work, I try to be as little hooked to them as possible. As a farmer, I do almost all of my work with horses. As a writer, I work with pencil or a pen and a piece of paper.” When branded a Luddite, Berry rises to the group’s defense. “These were people who dared to assert that there were needs and values that justly took precedence over industrialisation,” he writes; “they were people who rejected the determinism of technological innovation and economic exploitation.”
We would do well to maintain such skepticism today, Berry contends. He does not reject new inventions out of hand. He flies in airplanes, drives a car, and cuts wood with a chainsaw. But he is not willing to accept technological “advances” for their own sake. He challenges us to ask “what higher aim” each new innovation serves, and what its likely impact on our communities will be.

Local Govt Transport Congress 2011

In early February I attended the Local Government NZ Transport Congress, it was designed to determine local government transport priorities over the next three years. There were a number of interesting presentations (see three below) – Martin Mathews (CEO, Ministry of Transport) had a particularly interesting presentation focusing on upcoming challenges including peak oil and rapidly rising fuel costs, climate change and new technology – he said it was a ‘no brainer’ that these realities need to be factored into future transport planning scenarios.

The outcome of it all was LGNZ President Lawrence Yule took some leadership and decided LGNZ would establish a working group to refine LGNZ positions based on feedback coming out of the Congress. There was a strong focus on sustainable transport funding and maintenance over new build, also surprisingly for nearly all participants there was acknowledgement that in the face of rising fuel costs and reducing central government support for roading, communities might need to change their expectations and there was little call for more money and rather a focus on how to spend what is available better. There were still tensions between metro authorities focus on public transport and things like cycleways – and provincial councils focus on rural road maintenance but the divisions were apparently no where near as stark as they have been in the past. Rural councils were accepting that not every back road is going to get sealed and metro councils agreed there needed to be ongoing support for local roads that contribute a lot of value to the national economy. There was strong opposition to the Minister’s prioritising so called ‘Roads of National Significance’.

The March 2011 Quarterly Review (QR) put out by LGNZ, page 6 has a synopsis of the outcome of the Transport Congress.
Seems to a few of us who have been in touch since the Congress we helped to get some important points agreed especially the following:
– advocate for a transport network which is resilient against natural disasters, oil and energy constraints, economic impacts and societal changes;
– facilitate the development of an enduring transport ‘vision’ which has community and multi-partisan support and drives future investment choices;
These both appear to be things that regional and local authorities who care about the environment and communities need to be active in pushing because otherwise we may get things like the following outcome (which was also agreed at the forum) taking priority: ‘work to ensure transport investment matches the real needs of the economy and takes external influences into account’ (note it says economy rather than society).
The other aspect that concerns me is that there was no explicit mention, in the agreed outcomes, of land use planning being integrated with transport planning, despite it being identified at the forum.
I look forward to seeing how they come up with the working group to progress these priorities.

PRESENTATIONS:

 

Increasing Equality

The Spirit Level has some exciting implications for the Gisborne District. No surprises that in our community wealth and health inequalities are more pronounced than most other places around New Zealand. Also not surprisingly, inequalities here are largely, though not exclusively, aligned with ethnicity (Europeans/Pākeha control nearly 93% of the national net worth but only comprise 83% of the population, while Māori make up over 10% but only own 4% of the wealth) and age (young people have much higher ratio of debt to assets than older people), and to a lesser extent gender.

While the factors contributing to this situation are largely historical and circumstantial, there are things that can be done today to create a more equal community if that was something we aspired to. The Spirit Level certainly provides strong evidence as to why reducing inequalities is an important goal but there is a fundamental change in values that needs to take place if equality is something we make a community goal for Gisborne.

Massey University published research last year that showed over the past 30 years New Zealanders have drifted away from our egalitarian roots and now more people than ever do not believe equality should be a goal for our society. Commentators have linked this shift with the rise of radical political ideology of free market economics that has dominated New Zealand government policy since the mid-1980s. So now we have a more unequal society where 10% of the population own more than half of the wealth, more half the population own less than 7% of wealth and a steady trend is that a decreasing proportion of people own their home. But more importantly, less people than ever think we should be aiming for a reduction in the disparities between the haves and the have nots. As Midnight Oil sang ‘the rich are getting richer, the poor get the picture’. Another trend down is that less and less of the value produced by the country is held by New Zealanders, and a increasing proportion of the population have a decreasing net value. The Treasury technocrats who have pushed what Professor Jane Kelsey dubbed ‘The New Zealand Experiment’ have been very successful in terms of shifting our thinking as a country.

While this ideology has been espoused by some outspoken local civic and business leaders for a generation, it is pleasing to see some of have moved on and a new, hopefully more enlightened set of leaders is emerging.

Tim Jackson’s book “Prosperity Without Growth” and Michael Shuman’s “Going Local” have been influencing my thinking on economic policy and his recommendations for local and national economies are closely aligned with the thesis of The Spirit Level authors.

I am very interested in looking at how Council policies on rating for example has been used over the past ten years in a way that may have the effect of shifting more of the rates burden onto those who can least afford it. I think we should also be looking carefully at how public policies can make it easier or harder for big box retailers owned by foreigners to setup here and effectively shut down our mainstreet’s family-owned businesses.

I think a fair and active democracy requires that we try to give everyone an opportunity to make positive contributions to the community, fairness doesn’t mean we have to treat everyone the same. If people live in different circumstances then treating them differently is justified. The level of opposition to the Voter Participation Project focused on neighbourhoods that have poor election turnout was a great case in point. Either opposers have a very base understanding of what it means to be fair or they were motivated by some irrational fear or bias against trying to encourage poor people to vote in an informed manner.

While The Spirit Level has had it’s detractors and critics (largely politically motivated some claim), the authors have responded resoundingly to questions raised and a global movement is developing aimed at raising public and political awareness about the benefits of reducing the gap between the wealthy and poorest citizens within a country and community. The Equality Trust established by the authors of The Spirit Level has a guide for local groups and I would be keen to hear from anyone interested in forming a Gisborne group to look more closely at the current situation on things like wage ratios in local businesses and implications for Council policy positions that do or not include increasing equality as a goal.

Wilkinson and Pickett, The Spirit Level authors, have clearly demonstrated through peer-reviewed empirical evidence that the more equal a society is, the happier, healthier and less stressed, better educated and less likely to be a victim of crime everyone is. I’m as keen as anyone else to get beyond the ‘them’ and ‘us’ mentality that has grown with the increasing gap between rich and poor, can we find others who want to explore these opportunities?

Neighbours Day Everyday…

I met a wonderful couple this week, grandparents with huge hearts for their family and for other local families. Born into poor circumstances themselves, this couple know what it is like to really struggle. They have tragedies in their own extended family to deal with but wanted to know how they could help Kaiti kids reach their potential.

These grandparents want to connect with other people their age and younger ones to talk about how their generation can make more useful contributions to young families in Gisborne.

We talked a bit about Tairāwhiti Positive Aging Trust and other groups that support seniors to be active in wider community life. Healthy churches, marae and sports clubs are still great places for intergenerational relationships to be nurtured and life lessons passed on to younger people.

Neighbours Day this weekend is an opportunity for us to think about the people we live close to but may not feel close to. When we reestablish trust and care within our streets it has been proven to reduce crime, increase safety, school attendance, health and happiness. Every one of us should know that when we have reason to worry, celebrate or grieve, someone will notice and someone will care. Many people in our communities don’t have that support and it is so encouraging to hear when residents are willing to make an effort to be that special someone for a neighbour or family in need.

I also met with a young man this week who is concerned about neighbourhood safety and, with signatures of support from everyone in his street, has been trying to get Council to install speed inhibitors to prevent another crash that could injure or kill a child. Whether or not he succeeds with his campaign for the speed bumps or chicanes (I certainly hope he does), it is awesome to see young people taking responsibility for making their neighbourhood a safe and enjoyable place for those who live there and visit the area.

It has been heartening to see the people willing to make the effort to present their ideas and concerns to Council committees and public meetings over the last few weeks.

Submissions on the Draft Annual Plan are due by 31 March. Whether or not the local stuff you care about is mentioned in the Plan, it is an essential part of the democratic process and you can make a submission about anything you are passionate about.

In the future I’m keen to look at extending the influence residents and (direct and indirect) ratepayers have on the Council budget. Participatory budgeting is a small but energetic movement through which ordinary people directly decide how a portion of their municipal budget is spent. Pioneered in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 1990 as a democratisation strategy, the process has spread to over 1,200 cities around the world. From Cologne in Germany to Entebbe in Uganda, the concept is giving more people more control over how their tax dollars are spent locally. An interesting discovery through the models developed to date is that as residents spend time deliberating on the budget with their neighbours they start making decisions based on the collective good rather than individual interests.

Perhaps on Neighbours Day this weekend you could have a conversation about what would be the collective good for your street and the district as a whole? Oh, and please let us know what you decide.

Happy New Year

So there goes 2010, and as 2011 rolls in we see petrol going over $2.00/litre in town, which probably means $2.50 up the Coast. This year the International Energy Agency referred to Peak Oil in the past tense, saying output will never again get to the “all-time peak of 70 million barrels per day reached in 2006.” Global demand for oil is increasing exponentially and the cost of production is going up as the stuff gets harder to extract.

The good news is that while the New Zealand government has acknowledged the need to plan for life beyond cheap oil, so has a growing number of Gisborne people. Planning to adapt our lifestyles seems like a better strategy than having change forced on us.

Local residents face similar challenges if we like the lifestyle the district offers. Gisborne District Council is an entity we pay money to that ensures decent roads, safe drinking water, some agreement about who can do what where and the provision of other basic services essential to maintaining our quality of life.

There has been a lot of column space dedicated recently to complaints about rates rises for some sectors of the community and suggestions we should cut Council services or delay maintenance and replacement work.

Despite all the table thumping, the good news is that a significant proportion of ratepayers will have a reduction in their rates and the vast majority will probably have an increase of less than $2 per week.

With the Reserve Bank predicting inflation of five percent next year, we should thank staff and the former Council for ensuring the average rates rises are well below inflation. While farmers and some businesses complain about the rises, we should compare them with last year when residential property owners in the city were hardest hit and faced increases in the poorest parts of town of over 16%. So we all have to do our share and while legislation prevents rates from being used as a mechanism for wealth redistribution, if you have a multi million dollar property that is also a business, you expect to contribute a bit more than the average.

As a recent editorial pointed out, Gisborne is no longer in the highest bracket for rates in the country and while we have high levels of poverty we also have a lean Council, expensive rural roading and flood protection infrastructure to maintain in the face of decreasing central government support.

Gisborne has 360,000 hectares of grassland, 150,000 hectares of planted trees, 40,000 hectares of native bush and 9,000 hectares of horticulture.

Gisborne also has huge areas of ‘Maori land’ a lot of which is termed ‘unproductive’ (because it’s not being intensively farmed or forested) and ‘unrateable’ (because the multiple owners are either deceased or impossible to track down to recover rates from).

If a fraction of the time, passion and resources committed by councillors, staff and lobby groups to cutting Council services was redirected into developing a strategy for attracting long-term residents to the district, we could have a really effective campaign.

Part of such a strategy should focus on attracting Maori with connections to Te Tairawhiti to come home to work and build on the ancestral land everyone seems so proud of.

We also have a great opportunity to profile our community as a potential new home for the thousands of visitors here over summer. We have no traffic jams (except at New Years!), no air pollution, no crowded waves, no in-fill housing, no crass multinational strip malls… in fact, there’s not much here except a beautiful environment, laid back lifestyles and a lot of very friendly people.