Expressions of local governance on the East Coast

In Tairāwhiti in 1862 the total Pākehā population on the East Coast (excluding the area now known as Gisborne City and the Poverty Bay Flats) was estimated to be 20, while that of Maori was around 5,000.

This report by Jane Luiten commissioned by HistoryWorks for the Crown Forestry Rental Trust written in 2009 as part of the Waitangi Tribunal investigation into historic breaches of the Treaty, refers to a resident magistrate’s recollections of Māori community governance structures that existed before the settler governments imposed their local government on local communities:

“…Every day affairs on the coast at this time were said to be arranged by runanga. [Resident Magistrate] Baker reported that:

‘Almost every village has its own, in which everything, from far country news to domestic life, is freely discussed.’

Based at Rangitukia, Baker defined existing runanga as a community, consisting of any number of persons exceeding one family:

‘Thus, within a few hundred yards of my present residence, there is a collection of some three or four huts, the inhabitants of which style themselves “Te Runanga o Pahairomiromi;” the latter being the name of the village. These, and many other similar Runangas, assume all the powers and privileges of the largest Runanga (as at present constituted), and claim to be independent… of any control by the general Runanga, if such a term may be applied to the voice of the mass of the people.’ 

So there was a strong tradition of community governance and while settler governments imposed ‘local government’ straight over the top of these tribal arrangements undermining the mana of traditional runanga, in the post­‐settlement environment we are seeing a burgeoning of sub-­tribal groups being re-­established as hapū collectives and trusts with a focus on the social, economic, cultural and environmental revitalisation and wellbeing of their tribal area.

More recently this is extending/reverting to taking back the regulatory role for activities in the rohe via mechanisms like the Joint Management Agreement between Gisborne District Council and Te Runanganui o Ngati Porou that gives hapu groups more influence and responsibility in resource management decision-making processes.

Māori Land & ‘Utilisation’ Issues

Plenty has been written by central government agencies, local government authorities, legal experts and economic development consultants on ‘unlocking the potential of Māori land. I’m definitely no expert in these matters and perhaps shouldn’t have an opinion as I will never be a Māori land owner – but my wife and tamariki are, so I like to think about what might be good for them and our descendants.
The whole notion of ‘unproductive’ Māori land is a little problematic and ironic.
Problematic because it takes a very utilitarian view of whenua, which is much more than an economic asset to be ‘utilised’ or even natural resource to be ‘managed’ or ‘protected’. Hirini Moko Mead describes it this way:
The land and the environment in which people live became the foundation of their view of the world, the centre of their universe and basis of their identity as citizens or as members of a social unit…
Land was necessary as a means of maintaining social solidarity. Land was the foundation of the social system, the base the means of giving reality to the system in the forms of residences, villages, gardens, special resource regions and so on. Continuity of the group depended every much on a home base called te wā kāinga where people could live like an extended family and actually see it on the ground as a reality.
Undoubtedly land provides a place for one to stand. This is inherent in the concept of tūrangawaewae, a place for the feet to stand; where one’s rights are not challenged, where one feels secure and at home….
The net effect of various cultural bonding mechanisms and traditional tikanga practices was to develop a relationship with the land. This relationship is about bonding to the land and having a place upon which one’s feet can be placed with confidence. The relationship is not about owning the land and being master of it, to dispose of as the owner sees fit. The land has been handed down the whakapapa line from generation to generation and the descendant fortunate enough to inherit the land does not really ‘own’ it. That person did not buy it. The land cannot be regarded as a personal asset to be traded.
(Mead, H.M. Tikanga Māori: Living By Māori Values, Huia Publishers, 2003. pp271-275)
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Legislation governing the way Māori Freehold land has been managed – since settler governments imposed British legal frameworks over most of life in Aotearoa – resulted in large tracts of Māori land being cleared for farming in the late 19th Century and many eventually having no effective administration as succession issues and urbanisation trends complicated management arrangements.
Many of those blocks left fallow for 30-50 years have started reverting to native plant cover with manuka and kanuka establishing themselves as pioneer (or seral) species that in time provide an ideal nursery for larger native trees to eventually takeover. So ironically, these ‘neglected’ land blocks are fast becoming valuable crops for the production of manuka honey, an industry experiencing exponential growth in the past ten years and on track to have a billion dollar turnover in the next five years.
The genesis of this post was when someone asked me this morning if I thought the first step to unlocking unproductive Māori land potential is improving governance of each landblock? If I had an opinion on it, I’d probably say yes and no.
Yes, I think where there is a group of shareholders already recognised by the Māori Land Court as the Responsible Trustee or Advisory Trustees for the block, then yes, they could be interested in accessing support with their governance role  – particularly planning and decision-making based on good information (getting access to the necessary ‘good information’ is another issue).
Where there isn’t that recognised group in place, or where the Māori Trustee has control of the block, there could be a service (and the government is setting up a new Māori Land Service but who knows how long establishment will take and how effective it will be) that:
  • works with any shareholders who express an interest to establish a group of owners interested in overseeing the process;
  • supports the group of engaged shareholders to contact other owners via the postal addresses held by the Māori Land Court and Te Tumu Paeroa, and via informal networks like whanau contacts and Facebook groups of various marae/hapū, to build a current database of shareholder emails that can be basis of ongoing, regular communication. Then they can start organising themselves as owners and making decisions about the land.

Just this activity of contacting shareholders and building a contact database is a huge undertaking that likely needs proper resourcing so interested shareholders can rebuild connections between whanau that may not have been physically connected to the whenua for a generation or more.

There could also be support for hapū groups to develop capability and capacity to take over land administration as Responsible Trustee from Te Tumu Paeroa to provide more active management and local accountability for decisions. Support may need to be provided to shareholders to go to the Land Court to make the changes once the hapū entities have the internal infrastructure to take on the responsibilities of administrating the land blocks in partnership with engaged shareholders.

In terms of then making ‘good decisions’ about the land use, shareholders and Responsible Trustees may be interested in accessing support to build consensus around the values they collectively hold for their whenua and systems for decision-making – particularly how the issue of share numbers may or may not determine the relative influence of shareholders in decision-making.

Locally we have recently invested in the establishment of an online platform to connect better with hapū and marae whānau, this will also be used to connect landowners in interested blocks.

Mixed Fortunes

Sunrise in the windows of an 100 year old building in Tokomaru Bay on the morning the Mixed Fortunes report was released. #metaphor

Sunrise in the windows of an 100 year old building in Tokomaru Bay on the morning the Mixed Fortunes report was released. #metaphor

Community leaders scrambling to defend the region in light of the Salvation Army report yesterday was understandable but a bit disappointing.

I’m not sure why anyone was surprised that Northland and Gisborne top the country for all the worst statistics – it’s been that way for a few generations now. Shooting the messenger – before even reading the message – shows both a lack of confidence in the region and credibility as a commentator.

If we look behind the numbers in the report it is completely understandable that Gisborne stands out – we have a very low population compared to other regions and lower average income and higher Māori population. Wellington, Auckland and even Tauranga have communities facing similar challenges to Gisborne but their regional statistics look better because they have higher proportions of the community with higher incomes and there are more employment opportunities in big centres. Māori are still recovering from the impacts of colonisation and it will take some time and better efforts from everyone before Māori health, justice, education and employment statistics are equal with the rest of the population.

Urban migration from rural communities to metropolitan centres is a global phenomenon as small family farms become marginal in the face of industrialised agri-business. Increasing profits by using machines instead of more costly human labour has been the point of business since the industrial revolution. And we wonder why we have an unemployment problem?

I think the report is really helpful and we should be thanking the Salvation Army for helping draw attention to the issues again.

A local yesterday said “the Salvation Army doesn’t know Gisborne”, those kinds of comments show that there are people in Gisborne who don’t really know Gisborne.

I was pleased to hear a couple of councillors have invited the report author to come to Gisborne for a discussion about the report findings and recommendations.

The recommendation to develop national sustainability goals to ensure the progress of all regions should also be taken up at a local level. Unfortunately there seems to be little sense of urgency within the local institutions that have the mandate and resources to influence significant change:

  • Gisborne District Council continues to excuse itself from any meaningful leadership in terms of truly sustainable development. Other councils have at least developed useful regional progress measures that help identify where more attention and resources are required to affect meaningful change.
  • Tairawhiti District Health Board seems to understand some of the issues but is hamstrung by central government priorities, high salaries for some medical staff and limited funds having to stretch further each year.
  • Eastland Community Trust and iwi authorities have limited mandates and capabilities at present but they do have ambitious vision, significant capital and opportunities to marshal additional support.
  • Activate Tairawhiti has a big mandate but no resources to do anything other than organise meetings.
  • Local offices of central government agencies are driven by their bosses in Wellington rather than local priorities.

Likewise we need a local plan to meet the challenges of an aging population, resource scarcity and rising inequality in our region. Accelerating the adoption of new technologies and social arrangements, could help but those arrangements may also require understanding our situation differently. For example the official deprivation levels in Kaiti and Ruatoria are the same but the issues are quite different – on the Coast access to quality health services may be a big challenge but families don’t need to earn a lot when they depend less on the supermarket and more on the land and sea to source food. For example, should public policy encourage more families to return to small farming?

So let’s welcome this useful piece of research, thank the authors and take the time as a community to fully appreciate the reality of the opportunities available to us as a region.

Scoring own goal can mean you’re trying to change the rules – or The Game

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Kia ora Nandor, thanks for this great post: ‘Not Voting is An Own Goal‘.

I think you make some valid points though I disagree with you on a couple of others.

For the first time, I didn’t vote this election – it was mostly for personal reasons but it got me thinking about the more public/political reasons for choosing not to vote:

  • Ignorance about the political system, the rights and responsibilities of citizens, etc. is one reason some people do not vote. They haven’t made an effort to find out, or have thought it was not something they are allowed to do because it’s just not a system or society they feel a part of in any meaningful way. (Read this excellent reflection on these issues)
  • Others just ‘can’t be bothered’, they know they probably should but can’t get motivated enough to spend 15 minutes of their time going into a polling booth. That lack of motivation has a variety of contributing factors to it which may include being new to the place or just having other more pressing personal priorities, which may include emotional or physical needs.
  • Others choose not to vote because they honestly don’t know which person or party they would want to give their vote to – they feel ill informed and unwilling to commit one way or another because they haven’t got enough information.
    Another group don’t want to vote because they don’t have confidence in any party or politician – as a society politicians are way down the bottom of professions we trust. They have heard all the promises, probably participated in elections previously and maybe been a member of a political party but have been so disappointed by the inability of any party to live up to the expectations they held that they currently can no longer bring themselves to support any party or candidate.
  • I’m not sure if it’s a different group, a subset of the last one or just the same people with a different expression for their lack of confidence, but there are people who have given up on the whole process, the ones you suggest don’t want to legitimise a rotten system and think that voting ‘just encourages the politicians’. You suggest that this decision to not vote ‘will have absolutely no impact at all’ – but I’m not so sure.

For a starter, when nearly a million eligible voters don’t exercise the right, it provokes these kinds of discussions and encourages more deliberation on the validity of the system, the legitimacy and effectiveness of representative democracy, the possibility of more effective and potentially disastrous alternatives, the level of social capital and social infrastructure in our society that means such a large proportion of the population are disenfranchised (or not) and allowing others to determine (or not) the future for the most vulnerable in our communities, etc.

Choosing not to vote, is still a vote. It may have made John Key more likely to win, but then a Labour-led alternative is not any more attractive to many of us. Concessions on RMA and welfare reform, indigenous rights, mechanisms to address inequality, state asset sales and ties to the US economy and global military industrial complex would continue to frustrate many of us who like to think we vote with a little less self-interest than the majority of our fellow citizens. Choosing not to vote is a message to say, the system is broken (no where near as much as some others) and we want to put energy into improving or replacing it.

I think there is a place for a Vote of No Confidence option on the ballot, a space for those who don’t think we should settle for the current form of government modelled on (and still linked to) the Westminster system imposed by European settlers on these islands.

There are plenty of improvements we can make to the system (I listed some toward the end of this post), and we can help create those changes with or without central government support. There are examples of this happening all the time using existing institutions and creating new processes and contexts for reducing the influence of the dominant paradigm on our families and communities.

Likewise we can build authentic alternatives for self-governance, most likely without public support and eventually these will create conflict with the dominant system if they refuse to contribute to its maintenance and self-legitimising mechanisms for survival. This is a much more costly option and is unlikely to succeed, but if it’s all too hard then we continue to meddle and tinker with a massive infrastructure that is controlled by very powerful forces that refuse to give up power while we’re running out of time to make the changes the world needs to have any chance of a decent future.
I like your point that voting doesn’t actually take much effort and provided it’s value and potential is seen for little effort and little impact it has, it’s not really so demanding that we should abstain for any good reason.

I’ll probably vote again in the future, but by not doing so this time, I’m choosing not to abdicate anything to the government and voting for myself to take more responsibility for creating the community, country and planet I want my kids to be able to contribute to.

Local Māori Governance – A Briefing Note for Community Governance Workshop for Tairāwhiti

Whakawhitirā church in the Waiapu valley (cf. 1830)

Whakawhitirā church in the Waiapu valley (cf. 1830)

I’m helping organise a workshop on Community Governance, one of the presenters is from Portland, Oregon and we are wanting to give him some background on the local context, particularly Māori in governance roles. This is my (brief) briefing note –  feedback welcome if I’ve omitted or misrepresented anything significant. 

– – –

POPULATION, GEOGRAPHY & ECONOMY

Name & Population

Tairāwhiti (“The Coast Where the Sun Shines on the Water”) or Gisborne (the name of a Colonial Secretary for the British Empire who never visited the place) is a region on the East Coast of the North Island of Aotearoa New Zealand.

The population of approximately 45,000 residents includes about 33,000 in the city of Gisborne and the remainder in rural villages and on farms. Most of the settlements are close to the coastline. The population has been declining slightly for a decade or so but the birth rate and youth population is generally higher than the national average.

Ethnic Groups

The ethnic identity of residents is fairly evenly split between Māori and Pākehā (New Zealanders of European descent) with a small proportion of Pacific Islanders (mostly Tongan & Fijian Indian), Asian (Indian & Chinese) and others.

Geography

The geographic isolation of the region makes travel to other cities and metropolitan areas a long haul by road and travel within the region can also be challenging as the terrain is often steep and prone to land slips.

Economy

The main industries in the region are based on the primary sector including farming, forestry, horticulture, viticulture and fishing. 2.2m tonnes of raw logs were exported from the port last year, and this is expected to continue growing. The increase in farm land converted to forestry has contributed to the population decline in rural communities over the last 30 years.

– – –

MĀORI COMMUNITIES

Settlement & Tribal Groups

The original inhabitants of the area are thought to have established settlements in the region between 1200 and 1400 CE. Their descendants continue to reside in the region which is home to about a dozen traditional iwi (tribes) that have been amalgamated into four main tribes: Ngāti Porou, Te Aitanga-a-Mahaki, Rongowhakaata and Ngai Tamanuhiri.

Colonisation

During the early 1800s British settlers signed a Treaty with Māori leaders in an attempt to legitimise their occupation of the islands, but almost immediately after the Treaty was signed, settler political and commercial interests started passing laws and taking action to grab as much Māori land as possible. This resulted in a series of wars around the country between British troops and tribes that resisted the invasion and alienation of their territories. Some tribes chose to side with the British forces in a continuation of traditional inter-tribal conflict. Tribes that sided with the Crown managed to retain more of their land than those who resisted and ultimately had vast areas confiscated to be held by the Crown or sold to settlers.

In Tairāwhiti there are two main tribal areas, the tribes of Turanganui-a-Kiwa (Gisborne city and to the west) lost more than a million hectares to confiscation. Ngāti Porou (an area covering 400,000 hectares north of the city and now the second largest iwi population in the country) sided with the Crown and kept the majority of their land under tribal control.

– – –

MĀORI GOVERNANCE

Tribal Governance

Most members of Tairāwhiti iwi live away from the area (e.g. Ngāti Porou have over 70,000 members but only 12,000 residing within its tribal boundaries).

The late 1980s followed 20 years of activism to recognise Māori political rights and two acts of Parliament established two tribal governance authorities, one for Ngāti Porou and one for the collective of Turanganui-a-Kiwa iwi.

Post-Settlement

In the last five years all but one of the iwi have settled claims for historic breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi (signed in 1840), the last tribe is expected to settle with the Crown later this year. Settlements include a formal apology from the Crown for a list of Treaty breaches, the return of some lands, cash compensation (in Tairāwhiti these have been between $20-200m) and the establishment of new governance relationships.

Local Government

In the case of Turanga iwi, this will include a standing committee of Gisborne District Council made up for six councillors and six iwi representatives. For Ngāti Porou it includes new protocols with various central government agencies that must consult with the iwi, and provide a first right of refusal when disposing of Crown properties, etc.

The NZ Local Government Act provides for local authorities to establish Māori wards within the Council representation system. Very few have ever taken up this option. Based on the regulatory criteria, in Tairāwhiti it would mean there could be up to five Māori seats on the Council that currently has 13 seats. Gisborne District Council has continually voted against this option arguing that it would be discriminatory or that the district would suffer as remaining general wards would be enlarged.

Pre-European Community Governance

In February 1862 the total Pākehā population on the East Coast (excluding the area now known as Gisborne City and the Poverty Bay Flats) was estimated to be 20, while that of Maori was around 5,000. A report written in 2009 as part of the Waitangi Tribunal investigation into historic breaches of the Treaty refers to a resident magistrate’s recollections of Māori community governance structure that existed before the settler government imposed new structures:

…Every day affairs on the coast at this time were said to be arranged by runanga. [Resident Magistrate] Baker reported that “Almost every village has its own, in which everything, from far country news to domestic life, is freely discussed.”

Based at Rangitukia, Baker defined existing runanga as a community, consisting of any number of persons exceeding one family:
“Thus, within a few hundred yards of my present residence, there is a collection of some three or four huts, the inhabitants of which style themselves “Te Runanga o Pahairomiromi;” the latter being the name of the village. These, and many other similar Runangas, assume all the powers and privileges of the largest Runanga (as at present constituted), and claim to be independent… of any control by the general Runanga, if such a term may be applied to the voice of the mass of the people.”

So there is a strong tradition of community governance and in the ‘post-settlement environment’ we are seeing a burgeoning of sub-tribal groups being re-established as hapū trusts with a focus on the social, economic, cultural and environmental revitalisation and wellbeing of their tribal area.

Land Trusts & Incorporations

Māori land in the 19th Century was ‘cut up’ into ‘land blocks’ that were assigned through the Native Land Court to 10-20 ‘owners’ who could convince the courts that they were descendants of traditional owners for particular blocks. This made it easier for Pākehā settlers to purchase land (often Māori had massive debts as a result of surveying costs associated with Court claims that meant they had to sell much of their land).

In the 20th Century, a leading politician from Ngāti Porou, Apirana Ngata, encouraged Māori landowners to amalgamate – under incorporations – their titles into collectively owned land blocks that had been increasingly divided over generations through succession to children. Most of these land blocks have survived and are governed by Trustees elected from all the individuals who have shares in the block and subsequently recognised by the Māori Land Court.

As successive generations increase the number of landowners in each block, the governance issues become more complex and the legislation pertaining to Māori land is currently under review in an effort to make it easier for land block owners to make decisions regarding the management of land so that efficiencies and productivity can be improved. Land blocks are usually managed as a farm, often under lease to a farmer or company utilising a number of blocks in an area – many have also planted exotic pine forests in partnership with overseas owners of the trees which typically take about 25 years to mature for harvest.

Marae

The ‘last bastion’ of Māori culture is the pā or marae, the traditional compound where a whānau (extended family) and members of the hapū (collective of whānau) would live and in more recent times, meet just for community events and special occasions. Marae reservations are usually recognised formally through a gazetted notice and Trustees appointed to govern the marae. Trustees may or may not form the marae committee, that manages the day to day affairs like bookings, maintenance and repairs, finances, etc.

Ngāti Porou has over 50 recognised marae, while some of the smaller Turanga iwi have six marae. Marae receive usually receive some income from their iwi, some from philanthropic grants and occasionally a government contract for a service such as supported employment for long-term unemployed, etc. Marae also receive income for events from participants and some have whānau members who donate regularly.

Schools

Schools have Boards of Trustees and many Māori are on these governance bodies responsible for overseeing curriculum, finances, strategic direction, student achievement, etc.

Other Entities

Māori participate in a range of mainstream and Māori entities including churches, sports clubs, community organisations that all require local, regional and national governance.

Leaving Council

VOTE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENDS

Census surprises

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chamber of Commerce Q+A

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The Gisborne Chamber of Commerce asked candidates five questions, these are my responses…

– – –

I have enjoyed first term on Council, part of that was on the Chamber Executive and I’d like to see those links strengthened a little more as I think Brian Wilson and myself acted as a useful conduit between the Council and Chamber on a number of issues.

I think I’ve been able to make intelligent, sensible and considered contributions to Council and I’ve helped raise the quality of discussion, debate and decision-making.

I’ve had a focus on increasing public involvement in planning and decisions and been a strong advocate for the city and the district as a whole.

I have listened to residents and ratepayers (even after being elected!), worked well with others (who don’t always share the same values and views) and helped make good decisions in the best interest of the region as a whole.

– – – 

1. What do you see as the GDC’s role in contributing to economic development and growth in this region?

Council has a key role in a number of areas contributing to economic development:

  1. Providing good quality infrastructure, predictable regulation & consistent planning
  2. Collecting and disseminating information that helps the community make informed decisions on the direction for the district
  3. Advocating for the district at central government – ensuring our big issues are nationally significant issues.
  4. Facilitating relationships between stakeholders to realise opportunities and achieve sustainable solutions in the best interest of the district where there are competing priorities.

Some of functions within these areas, particulatly information gathering and sharing, advocacy and relationship brokerage could be devolved to an Economic Development Agency run separate to Council. But the Mayor and Council have a critical leadership role in advocating on behalf of the region – especially on things like roading, new costs being imposed by central government legislation, etc. And political leadership can help broker mutually beneficial relationships with industry, iwi, land owners, research institutions, entrepreneurs, etc.

Council can also have procurement and banking policies that benefit the local community in different ways.

– – –

2. What is your view of the core role of council? Do you consider there are any current council activities that do not fit this role?

Under new legislation the purpose of local government is now to provide quality infrastructure, regulation & essential services. Opposition parties have pledged to revert the purpose back to promoting sustainable development and local cultural, environmental, social and economic wellbeing.

I’m not completely wedded to Council providing social housing. I have argued it could be sold to a Charitable Trust, housing cooperative or something like ECT but wouldn’t want to see them go to private ownership. I’m also open to Council not owning any or all of its commercial assets (WOF station, holiday park, farms) if there are compelling financial reasons to divest from these enterprises. We need an urgent review of Council asset ownership to identify options and the benefits of retaining or releasing these enterprises.

Tauwhareparae Farms are being well run but I’m not convinced we need to retain them. They were acquired to supplement port income and will always provide low value compared to capital committed, as the trees appreciate so will the capital value. There is no legal risk in selling them and my preference would be as Margaret Thorpe suggests to land-bank them via OTS as they are subject to Treaty claims. This will ensure we get a premium price, they are retained in local ownership and we demonstrate goodwill to the traditional owners.

– – –

3. Businesses have to live within their means, or face the consequences. What is your view with regard to GDC achieving the same discipline around keeping rates increases in check?

Significant savings have been made by previous and current CEO to trim as much as possible. More ‘savings’ could be found but that depends on what we want to give up and what quality of life we can tolerate.

I campaigned on rates rises at or below inflation and we have achieved that. The ‘razor gang’ didn’t make any significant savings. I also campaigned on getting more predictable rates system with smaller variations year on year and we are making good progress on this through the participatory rates review process.

Council league tables suggest we are now one of the most financially sustainable and we rank 26 out of 73 councils for cost of rates.

Councillors are financially conservative and understand the limits of affordability for residents, but the WMT suggests this is not the case. That massive blowout and the need to address some basic first suggest some of the fancy projects need to be reviewed while we attend to the basics first.

If the community has things they think we should stop doing or not start they have the opportunity every year and we listen to that feedback.

– – –

4. What is your position with respect to the re-opening of the Gisborne to Napier rail line?

The railway line a billion dollar public asset that is lying idle while Gisborne and Wairoa businesses scream out for it to make our products more competitive. Some people say logs will never go South on it but there are massive forests between Napier and Gisborne that will provide the anchor business for the line so that containerised seasonal produce and timber coming out and fertiliser going to Gisborne can be transported by rail instead of trucks. Coastal shipping is unlikely to ever be viable if the rail is operating.

More trucks on the road means more cost in maintenance, more congestion and more danger for other motorists – it also means more cost for local businesses and more competition from other places that have lower freight costs.

With the support of 10,000 signatures and $20,000 given by local businesses and residents, we commissioned a study that demonstrated the lack of rigor in the government’s position and the potential for a realistic business case if roads and rail were considered on a level playing field by central government.

A different government next year will reinstate the line if the local business consortium is unable to raise the funds required. Some candidates say they don’t don’t support ratepayers funding the line operation – that has never been a realistic option – but Council could be a stronger advocate for the line.

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5. If you were elected to the council, what activities or actions would you take to ensure Gisborne becomes an even better place to work, live and play?

I will keep doing what I have been:

–  all of the above, plus…

–  working with the IT sector to establish local computer hubs for young people and families with few opportunities to access IT, career pathways via the Techxpo and partnership with major NZ telcos

– advocating for more central government support for our district (transport, rail, imposed costs, renewable energy, forestry carbon credits, aquaculture, etc.) and working with iwi and other stakeholders on these issues

– leading a gang transformation project focused on employment and working with employers and support services

– review commercial assets

– keep rates at or below inflation

– continue support for better commuter cycling and walking infrastructure

– more emphasis on local housing issues – affordable, healthy housing for everyone, not provided by Council but Council facilitating government, community and private sectors working together

– continue emphasising the importance of opportunities for public input on issues like forestry harvest rules, petroleum exploration applications, legislative submissions, etc.

– continue work on Māori land issues – Council working with landowners to look at how to make the land more productive and/or revert to indigenous forest

–  continue supporting illegal dumping prevention and removal, and more ambitious waste minimisation targets.

– continue bringing diverse parts of the community together to address complex issues

– continue voluntary involvement in a wide range of community groups and local issues.

What would you do with 40 million dollars?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ask Ratepayers Before Deciding on Extra $2 Million for Theatre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are we all Placemakers?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rushed RMA Reforms Revisited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENDS

Resources:

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

Deepening Democracy

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‘The Death of Socrates’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Most Important Issue in the World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kainga Whenua changes ‘best achievement’ of current Government

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Local Government Reforms?

Some of the reforms being proposed for local government by Minister of Local Government Dr Nick Smith are to be welcomed.

For one, I think it’s great to see a review of Development Contributions. No doubt the review will find that they need to be increased so that essential services such as social housing can be part-funded when a flash new subdivision is built. New Zealand is one of the few countries that doesn’t require such a provision.

However, many of the reforms aren’t so welcome.

I raised the issue of being proactive about the pending reforms at last week’s Community Development Committee meeting and was told by council colleagues that the Minister was simply “flying a kite” and was unlikely to make any radical changes.

But some of the changes certainly seem radical to me, particularly the gutting of local government to be nothing more than an engineering department and administrative office for fast-tracking resource consents.

I encourage Gisborne residents to provide feedback through the 10-year plan consultation process on what services they want to see their council provide.

For example, does council have a role in monitoring how central government spends locally? And should we be concerned about local social and economic development issues?

If central government was so good at it, we wouldn’t have any homeless, any youth unemployed, any hungry kids, any crime.

The reality is central government does a terrible job of addressing social issues, education and health care because there is so little accountability and lack of responsiveness to local priorities. Ruatoria is not Wellington and Elgin is not Dunedin . . . one size doesn’t fit all and centralised government is the problem not the solution.

For a party that espouses the virtues of personal responsibility and local autonomy — and loved to bleat about the “nanny state” — these reforms seem more consistent with a totalitarian, centralised system of government that will increasingly dictate to communities what is best for us, and will remove local checks on central government decisions while expropriating resources from our communities.

Council spending across the country on so called “non-core services” (such as culture, recreation and sport) declined by $185 million between 2008 and 2010 to just 13.2 percent of authority spending.

From 2007-2010 rates were a stable portion of household expenditure, holding steady at 2.25 percent.

The recent Productivity Commission’s draft report on housing affordability notes that rates have been declining in relation to property values, indicating that in terms of household wealth, rates are becoming less significant.

While the government is borrowing heavily to fund it’s seven gold-plated highway projects, it’s hypocritical to be telling councils to stop wasting money.

Dr Smith has manufactured a crisis to drive through changes based on ideology, not evidence.

Māori Land & Council Rates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beyond Petroleum… for good.

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. 

Council Year One: Five Lessons Learnt

 

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

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

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

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

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

3. Councillors all care deeply about our district.

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

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

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

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

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