A week of exciting opportunities…

I thought about setting up a bed in the corner of the Council chambers last week – four days straight in there with extra reading in the evenings meant I enjoyed the long weekend!

It was awesome to hear from such a cross section of our community. A lot of submitters both urban and rural are concerned about environmental issues like erosion control, flood protection and waste management. We received huge support from both urban and rural folk for improved cycle-ways and walkways in the city, as a result we’ve agreed to bring those projects forward a couple of years.

I find the whole central government planning and funding regime for transport quite appalling – there is no integrated transport planning process and regional priorities get sidelined if they don’t match national priorities. So we’re doing a study of the impact of heavy vehicles in the city and looking for solutions that don’t include scenarios involving rail – go figure. Taxpayers are forking out the ridiculous sum of $14 billion for a few gold-plated Roads of Significance to National while State Highway 35 is falling off the hillside in numerous places with no money to fix the dropouts or build better routes.

This is an exciting week for Tairāwhiti as the Transit of Venus events see world-leading thinkers and doers grace our shores following Captain Cook’s crew.

Cook was a world-leading explorer with a remarkable story of innovation and adaptability that we can still learn much from. His time in this part of the country was a mixed bag to say the least and while locals still grapple with the legacy he left, it is important to acknowledge the constructive engagement and mutual discoveries that emerged during his visit.

It has been encouraging to see local young people wrestling with the name Cook assigned to Poverty Bay and I’ve been impressed with the number of people who have contacted me over the past month about adding another official name.

Dame Anne Salmond has pointed to Cook’s journals that suggest his Tahitian guide Tupaia was told the name for the bay was Oneroa. Local iwi know the land as Turanganui-a-Kiwa, Tūranga-a-Mua, Tūranga Ararau, Tūranga Makaurau and Tūranga Tangata.

I don’t think we need to toss out the name Poverty Bay – it is part of the story of this place and is as much a part of the local community as Kaiti Hill, Rere Rockslide and Meng’s cooking.

It would however be helpful to have another official name that we can use for promoting the area and acknowledging it had a name well before Europeans arrived here. Plenty of places around New Zealand now have two official names.

If anyone is really keen to progress the issue please get in touch as I’d like to get us together to make it happen sooner rather than later.

Hoping Hēkia’s here to help


I appreciated the opportunity that Minister of Education Hekia Parata provided last week for local school Board of Trustees and Principals to meet with her.

The Minister has been passionate about the benefits of education for a long time and it is exciting to see someone born on the Coast in such a senior position again.

I was excited to hear about developments in governance coming out of the Christchurch situation. Ten years ago the Kiwa Education Partnership discussed a campus-based approach to schooling in Gisborne but it doesn’t seem to have eventuated. Cluster governance makes sense when we think about a village raising a child and a seamless transition between early childhood education, primary and secondary schooling.

It was somewhat reassuring to hear the Minister say she doesn’t see any need to link performance-based pay to National Standards. One of the big fears in low decile schools is that such a policy could see highly skilled teachers moving to schools where more students have participated in quality early childhood education and have better access to support for their learning. Advice from Treasury officials also reject pay based on test scores.

Ministry of Education research shows that students from poorer communities generally have slower progress than their peers – the level of material resources available to families, health problems, substance abuse and conflict, all have a deep impact on the ability of students to attend school and learn. If pay is based on the rate of progression, this may also disadvantage teachers and communities where progression is slower because of external influences.

High student expectations from parents and teachers is essential and building strong partnerships between home and school is one of the most important things we can do.

Class sizes do have a major impact on student achievement and the secondary teachers current collective agreement limits class size to no more than 26 students. While it may save money to squeeze more kids into each class, we should expect learning to be compromised.

Though it seems to go against the whole basis of the National Standards her government pushed through in their last term, I was pleased to hear the Minister acknowledge that one size doesn’t fit all and progression in learning and achievement levels should be ‘flexible’.

It was also reassuring to hear the Minister sees inequality as a major issue that the country needs to address – both in terms of educational achievement and socio-economic status. Of course we are yet to see what the plan is for addressing the growing inequalities, fuelled in part by some massive tax cuts for those of us who least need them while future generations are being burdened with government loans from China.

Schools are not solely responsible for addressing every issue facing kids – neither is central government, nor parents or the wider community. But together each stakeholder has an important part to play in pulling together the pieces of the puzzle.

Beginning a ‘conversation’ on what the goals should be and how as a community and country we can achieve them is an admirable and pragmatic approach for any new Minister. I hope the commitment to a mutually meaningful dialogue is genuine and key stakeholders all have a real opportunity to shape the direction of education in New Zealand. Tough choices have to be made all the time by those wielding power in public but including all of the people most affected by decisions in the process is essential for good results to be achieved and enduring.

Manu Caddie is Chairperson of a school Board of Trustees but these views do not necessarily reflect those of the school staff, whānau or BOT.

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.

What’s in a name?

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

By any other name would smell as sweet.”

– Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Transforming Power of Love, Hope & Faith

A number of New Zealand studies suggest that more than half of people leaving gangs are assisted through the process by involvement with a church or faith community.

Taking Matthew 25 seriously, many church communities also provide an essential support for those coming out of prison who have few resources or support people.

Criminologist Professor John Pitts speaking at a gang prevention conference organised by church leaders in the UK said:

“The value of faith community involvement in gang initiatives is that church members are local, they are often connected with the young people and families experiencing these problems, they have made a personal commitment to helping and they are likely to be around for much longer than the professionals – and continuity is very important in this kind of work.”


He added:

“However good intentions and commitment aren’t enough. This is complex and sometimes dangerous work, and we need to find ways in which statutory and voluntary agencies can work with faith groups to provide high quality training and ongoing support.”

A new gang transformation initiative supported by Safe Tairawhiti, Gisborne District Council, NZ Police, schools and residents associations also needs local churches involved.

We hope to learn from the success of faith-based groups like Sam Chapman’s Awhi Community Development organization in South Auckland, Prison Fellowship NZ and Wesley Community Action in Porirua that have been working with gang leaders over the past few years.

While many of his contemporaries thought the best approach to beating the Romans was to meet violence with violence, Jesus advocated a more creative engagement. Designed to help people mature and move on from the ‘might is right’ paradigm, Jesus used the restorative power of love, hope and faith to transform both oppressive and marginalised communities. Perhaps we can too?

Council Year One: Five Lessons Learnt

 

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

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

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

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

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

3. Councillors all care deeply about our district.

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

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

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

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

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

East Coast, Ikaroa-Rāwhiti & Waiariki Polling Places Analysis

A review of the polling places results courtesy of the Electoral Commission website suggests what many of us suspect – inland rural communities tend to vote for parties like National and ACT while neighbourhoods with a higher proportion of Māori and coastal communities prefer the Green Party and Labour. Wainui is an interesting situation, the Greens did extremely well (21%), Labour quite poorly (12%) and National slightly higher (58%) than what they got across the rest of the country.  This is a significant change from the last election where there was much higher support in Wainui for National than Labour or Greens.

Results in the East Coast electorate polling places are as follows.

ACT got less than 1% of the party vote and did best in small rural communities like Whangara, Waimana, Whatatutu, Patutahi, Matawai but also had some support in Wainui and Riverdale.

The Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party received less than half of one percent in East Coast but did best in Tolaga Bay, Waimana, Muriwai, Opotiki and Kawerau.

The new Conservative Party got just over 3% and did best in Manawahe, Woodlands (Opotiki), Whatatutu, Muriwai, Kawerau, Edgecumbe, Waimana and Matata.

The Green Party’s best polling places were Omaio, Kutarere, Omarumutu, Wainui (21%), Hicks Bay and five Gisborne city polling places all (12-15%) retruned higher than the national average Green support.

Labour did worst in places like Waimana, Raukokore, Warenga-a-Kuri, Matawai, Tiniroto, Ormond, Rere, Thornton, Makauri, Whangara and Wainui, and best in places like Ruatoki, Waikirikiri, Kaiti, Whatatutu, Elgin and Ruatoria.

Mana, NZ First and the Māori Party did well in the coastal communities like Tikitiki, Te Kaha, Te Araroa, Cape Runaway, Ruatoria and Torere and generally did worst in the places National did best in.

National did best in the places Labour did worst like Rere (82%), Thornton (79%), Makauri (71%) Makaraka, Waerenga-a-Kuri, Tiniroto and Ormond and worst in Kaiti, Ruatoki, Te Araroa, Torere, Omaio, Ruatoria, Elgin and Tikitiki.

United Future got less than 1% of the electorate party votes and had a mixed bag with 11% of the 57 votes in Waimana and their next best result was 2.7% in Waerenga-a-Kuri and Te Araroa.

The Ikaroa-Rawhiti polling places that overlap with East Coast electorate had fairly similar results and a similar trend noticeable between inland rural communities, coastal communities and the urban centres.

ALCP did best in Makauri, Makaraka and Matawai but got no votes in more than half of the polling places in the Gisborne District.

The Greens got no Ikaroa-Rawhiti votes in Rere, Kotemaori or Tutira but did best in Hicks Bay, Whangara and Gisborne city – more than half of the Gisborne and Wairoa polling places recorded greater than the national average for the Greens.

Wairoa, Kaiti, Te Puia Springs and Tolaga Bay voters were the strongest supporters for Labour Party, and only Waerenga-a-Kuri and Makauri recorded counts lower than the country-wide party vote for Labour.

Mana did best in Muriwai, Ruatoria, Hicks Bay & Te Araroa and recorded no votes in 10 polling places, mostly inland rural communities like Ormond, Tiniroto and Matawai.

The Māori Party had the strongest support in Nuhaka, Tokomaru Bay, Muriwai and Tikitiki and no votes in Tutira and Makauri.

The National Party achieved 6% of the vote in Ikaroa-Rawhiti and did best in polling places of Makauri (31%), Rere, Wainui and Ormond (17%) and worst in places like Hicks Bay, Kaiti, Muriwai and Patutahi where they received either no votes or no more than 2%.

NZ First did best in Makauri (25%), Patutahi (16%), Tuai (15%) and Tutira (14%) but had not votes in places like Rere, Whangara and Tiniroto.

In Waiariki, the Green Party did best in Opotiki, Te Kaha and Omaio and the National Party got no more than three votes in half of the 180 polling places. The highest proportion of party votes for National was 14% in Ngongataha. Labour did best in the urban centres like Rotorua, Kawerau, Whakatane and Opotiki.

Overall the patterns seem to reflect similar trends over recent elections from what I can tell. The big surprise was the Green Party trebled their vote from the last election in Ikaroa-Rawhiti. Another interesting development was the stronger than the national average support for the Conservative candidate, which probably reflects Gisborne residents familiarity with Kathy as a District Councillor. New Zealand First also scored higher than the national average in the East Coast electorate even though the candidate seemed to have a very low profile and did little campaigning.

NZ business leaders for low-carbon economy and against deep sea oil drilling

Rob Morrison returned to New Zealand after retiring as the Chairman and Chief Executive of Hong Kong-based brokerage, investment banking and private equity group CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets and this year was appointed Chairman of Kiwibank.

Recently Mr Morrison suggested the potential worth of the global low carbon economy is around six trillion dollars. He also highlighted New Zealand’s dismal economic slide over the past two decades, not to mention the growing gap between New Zealand’s 100% Pure brand and reality.

Mr Morrison said the past is not an accurate guide to a successful future for New Zealand and we can’t rely on doing things the way we have done in the past if we want to ensure New Zealand has a prosperous future.

He described the National-led government’s recently released energy policy prioritising fossil fuel production as “based on the premise that we can have our cake and eat it too.” Instead of drilling offshore for oil, we should explore alternatives, he said.

New Zealand’s slogan is 100% Pure. Not sort of, not maybe. We better make damn sure we are 100% Pure, Morrison said, or our exports could go down the gurgler.

Morrison suggested the shift towards a low carbon economy in places like China is being driven by energy requirements, pollution, environmental degradation and population concerns.

By looking after our environment and pursuing a low carbon economy, we invest in skills, technology and Intellectual Property that will be worth plenty in the global market.

It’s not just Mr Morrison saying this stuff – he has joined an impressive list of his business peers in The Pure Advantage Trust including Chris Liddell (recently Vice Chair of General Motors), Geoff Ross (Founder, 42 Below Ltd), Sir George Fistonich (Founder, Villa Maria Estate), Jeremy Moon (Managing Director, Icebreaker), Joan Withers (Chair, Mighty River Power & Auckland International Airport), Justine Smyth (Deputy Chair, NZ Post), Lloyd Morrison (Executive Chairman, H.R.L. Morrison & Co.), Sir Paul Callaghan (New Zealander of the Year), Phillip Mills (2004 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year), Rob Fyfe (CEO, Air New Zealand) and Sir Stephen Tindall (Founder, The Warehouse).

Phillip Mills believes our leaders need listen to the results of the 3 News Reid Research poll that rated the environment as the number one issue among voters and to become far more aspirational. Mr Mills said “The time for change is now and we call on New Zealand’s politicians to show bold leadership.

He said there are few countries on Earth that have the opportunities and advantages that we do. We need to diversify from our commodity export-based economic strategy.

There is little doubt that our farmers will benefit from increasing global demand for protein, but relying too heavily on this leaves us vulnerable to the threat of lower cost competition and the swings and roundabouts of a global economy likely to become increasingly volatile.

New Zealand’s environmental credentials and economic prosperity can be simultaneously improved through a strategy whereby government commits to R&D, investment incentives and the development of a workforce skilled in the jobs required for low-carbon industry.

Pure Advantage recently commissioned a group of world-leading economists to review New Zealand’s green growth opportunities and make recommendations as to how we can build a greener, wealthier nation. They plan to release the group’s findings early next year.

I am looking forward to seeing how aligned East Coast voter decisions are with the vision and priorities being espoused by this group of leading entrepreneurs and successful exporters.

Right wing efforts to influence MMP decision

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

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

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

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

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

Māori Representation

At the risk of being called a sore loser, I think it’s useful to outline in more detail than the couple of lines possible in a newspaper story why I support the establishment of Māori wards for Gisborne District Council.

While the majority of Gisborne District councilors rejected the option last month, it is exciting to see that both Waikato Regional Council and Nelson City Council (unanimously) have followed Bay of Plenty Regional Council and chosen to establish Māori wards.

There seem to be two or three main reasons people don’t like the idea of Māori wards for Gisborne District Council.

The first is the suggestion that Māori wards will mean less representation for rural residents. The argument goes that the wards will be so large it will be hard for elected members to get around. By all accounts, BOP Regional Council’s very successful Māori wards arrangement has at least one ward larger than the whole Gisborne District. Our GDC staff proposal was to have two or three Māori wards, thereby keeping the ward sizes small enough.

In addition, the proposal would mean that rural residents have twice as many councilors responsible for their area as there would be two not one councilor covering every rural area. This would result in  more choice of councilors to contact and twice as much representation for both Māori and general electors. There is also a strong argument for what is currently Matakaoa ward to be considered isolated which would mean at least two general wards on the coast and one Māori.

Another criticism of Māori wards is that it doesn’t guarantee people with mana whenua (ancestral connections) to the area would be elected. The last census showed however that 90% of Māori residing in the district have affiliations with at least one iwi within Gisborne District Council boundaries and if Tūhoe and Te Whānau-a-Apanui are included it rises to around 99%.

So, it is highly unlikely that anyone standing for a Māori seat would not be connected to local iwi and boundaries for wards have been suggested as running along the Waimata River that usually demarcates the boundary between Ngāti Porou and Turanga iwi.

One of my main concerns with the GDC decision was that Māori in particular, but also the wider public, had not been properly consulted on the intention to reject Māori wards. Under the Local Government Act there are some pretty clear rules for ensuring proper consultation on these kinds of decisions. A number of Māori groups were informed that Council intended to make a decision but the information exchange was minimal. Māori certainly had little, if any, opportunity to take the proposals back to their communities to discuss and have input on the final decision.

Of course, really motivated residents could organise another petition and collect the necessary 1,517 valid voter signatures by the end of February.  I’m not sure however that enough people think this issue is a priority to give up their summer holidays for. As the saying goes, we get the government we deserve and I can live with that if others don’t think it is a priority.

A final argument is that Māori wards are divisive, unfair and even racist. Of course over the last 40 years much progress has been made at a national level in recognising the special status of Maori as indigenous peoples. International acknowledgment of the value of protecting the unique cultures of human civilization has enabled national legislation and policies designed to ensure indigenous peoples maintain customs, language and some semblance of control over natural resources. These have been required as for hundreds of years settler societies have imposed majoritarian systems of decision-making and resource allocation. These settler systems have usually overlooked or dismissed the interests of indigenous peoples who by design, tradition or choice have remained on the margins of local governance systems.

MMP for stability

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

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

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

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

Nah man, STV is better…

In his defence of the status quo on 7 September a fellow Councillor suggests he would like to have access to more information on the case for STV as the preferred voting system.

Mike Reid who presented information to Council works for Local Government New Zealand, not the Society of Local Government Managers. His presentation was not “biased”, it presented the facts on the statutory process for representation reviews and the various options available to all councils. Some councilors took issue with the legislative requirements and chose to criticise the presentation but Mr Reid was simply delivering the message we all need to hear so we properly understand the process and spectrum of options available.

My colleague asked for more evidence on the benefits of the Single Transferrable Vote, I suggest a good starting point for anyone interested is the 2007 reportImproving the Representativeness of Councillors: An International Literature Review” by Rao, N., Grayson, L. & Young, K. The paper documents how STV has contributed to improving the participation of women, young people and ethnic minorities in local government leadership but cautions that changing the voting system is only one of many factors contributing to more representative governance. And considering all the evidence, the authors recommend the UK adopt a proportional voting system for local government to replace First Past the Post.

Another useful source of evidence on the benefits of STV is ‘Empowerment or encumbrance? Exercising the STV option for local authority elections in New Zealand’ by Massey University Professor Christine Cheyne and Associate Professor Margie Comrie (2005). The authors conclude:

STV has the potential to make our local authorities more representative of the communities you serve. It increases the likelihood that those communities within our society that feel isolated and marginalised from mainstream political life will have the opportunity for direct participation. That can only enrich the nature of political life in this country and strengthen the foundations of our democratic institutions.”

My colleague claims that STV wouldn’t be used in rural wards because “STV relies on more than one person to be elected and so our rural wards, which are represented by one person, would continue to be FPP”. I’m not sure where this idea is coming from as the Wellington mayoral race last year is just one example of STV working in an electorate with only one elected representative. Celia Wade-Brown won the election in the final round of the instant runoff count. She was ranked ahead of Kerry Prendergast on a significant number of ballots from the four trailing candidates after they were eliminated, which allowed her to overcome Prendergast’s lead after the first round of counting. The electorate got the Mayor that was most preferred.

One of Mr Reid’s most interesting revelations during his presentation to Council was that many councils have used independent panels drawn from respected local residents to make recommendations on representation arrangements. It sounds like this would be a useful way to avoid any claims of a conflict of interest or self-preservation and such a panel would no doubt deliver recommendations as robust as anything we councillors might come up with.

STV does have serious limitations and weaknesses, but if the outcomes of what the voting system delivers is most important then the people who have studied it more than most us all seem to conclude that at a local government level STV is superior to FPP.

Representation Review 2011 – STV vs FPP

The decision last week by 11 of my colleagues to support First Past the Post as the electoral system Gisborne District Council intends to use in 2013 was disappointing for me for a number of reasons.

There seemed to be a number of councilors who believed STV is some kind of threat to rural wards. Someone who should have known better said Wairoa had done away with its wards after switching to STV and now only one rural councilor remained there. But according to the Department of Internal Affairs, Wairoa District Council uses FPP and always has. Anyway, Council chooses the make up of the wards, the voting system has nothing to do with it.

A growing number of people seem motivated to collect the 1,517 signatures of eligible electors required to ensure the public have their say through an official poll on whether or not to change to STV. This means the decision last week is likely to cost the Council around $60,000 to administer the poll.

STV is a fairer and more democratic system. According to the official guidelines from the Society of Local Government Managers (SOLGM), the main advantage of STV is that it produces better outcomes than FPP. While Gisborne elections have had much higher numbers of invalids for STV than FPP, SOLGM and the Local Government Commission say most of the confusion is from having different systems on the same voting paper. Evidence gathered from comparing the results of STV against FPP elections has found that STV achieves
“broad proportionality in multi-member wards/constituencies
; majority outcomes in single-member elections; more equitable minority representation
; and a reduction in the number of wasted votes.” Why would we not want all of those outcomes?

I don’t give much weight to precedence from reviews undertaken by GDC in years gone by. We have got the responsibility and opportunity to review the situation now and whatever people decided previously is of little consequence to this decision. Similarly just because the majority of other councils still use FPP, I don’t see that as a reason we should – its pretty clear that those who have used STV get a Council that is more representative of their community in terms of age, gender and ethnicity, again I suspect other councils like the status quo that delivered them the power.

I agree with claims that more voters feel comfortable with FPP but that is a self-perpetuating cycle, if we don’t try the alternative (for both Council and DHB) then we as voters won’t make the effort to understand STV.

Yes STV is a more complex voting process and it does take longer to work out who won, so if a simple, easy to understand voting system is most important then FPP is the best option. However if we believe the most accurate system is preferable in terms of electing the people most preferred by the voters, then STV is far superior.

FPP is a bit like using a sledgehammer to open an egg, it gets the job done quickly and simply, but the results are not as good as if we use a more sophisticated approach such as an egg cup, a knife and a teaspoon.

To avoid any chance of a perceived conflict of interest in these important decisions around representation arrangements, the idea of an independent panel to draft a proposal has some real merit. Any volunteers?!

Hasta la Victoria Siempre

Socialism made the headlines locally and at a national level last week. The Prime Minister explained his admission that a socialist streak runs through New Zealanders by acknowledging he too holds socialist ideals. And an aspiring Mayoral candidate blamed socialists on Gisborne District Council for the increase in his rates demand, which he thinks is a form of wealth tax. Of course he failed to mention his properties are collectively worth many millions of dollars and the proportion of his rates to property value is less than one tenth of what the vast majority of us contribute.

As Noam Chomsky has pointed out, “the term socialist has been so evacuated of content over the last century that it’s hard even to use in any sensible way. The Soviet Union was called a socialist society by the two major propaganda powers in the world at the time. The west called the Soviet Union socialist to defame it by association with the miserable tyranny and the Soviets called it socialism to benefit from the moral appeal that true socialism had among large parts of the general world population.” But the Soviet Union was about as remote from socialism as you can imagine. The core notion of traditional socialism is that working people have to be in control of production and communities have to be in control of their own lives. The Soviet Union was the exact opposite of local control, the working people were virtual slaves. Chomsky suggests the collapse of the Soviet Union was in fact a great victory for socialism.

There are attempts today to describe a detailed vision of a socialist future and some of the most extensive and detailed are examples like Participatory Economics and the moves toward an extension of democracy to the industrial sphere through worker-owned cooperatives.

Philosopher and educationalist John Dewey’s main work concentrated on democracy and he pointed out that as long as we have industrial feudalism – that is, private power controlling production and commerce – our democracy will be very limited, we have to move to what he called industrial democracy if we hope to have democracy of any significance.

The way for individuals to realise the democracy “in their own hearts” was through community. As Dewey wrote, “it is through association that man has acquired his individuality and it is through association that he exercises it. The theory which sets the individual over against society, of necessity contradicts itself.”

Dewey believed that direct participation in a democracy would foster an unexpected talent for thoughtful deliberation in ordinary citizens. “We lie in the lap of an immense intelligence,” he said. The difficulty was to unleash this intelligence, which remained dormant until “it possesses the local community as its medium.” In The Public and its Problems — Dewey’s only work of formal political philosophy — he outlined an elaborate program of truly participatory democracy, one built around face-to-face interactions in “neighborly communities.”

The idea that people should be in control of their own destiny and lives including the institutions within which they work and the communities within which they live is traditional socialism.

So when the label socialist gets used pejoratively by people who should know better, I hope John Key is correct, that New Zealanders do all have a socialist streak and we are proud of that commitment to local, egalitarian democracy that protects us from the tyranny of both big government and big business.

GDC & Māori Representation

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

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

GDC and Tangata Whenua Standing Committee

 

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.”

– – – – –

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!

Are we ready to step up to the challenge?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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