Author Archives: nandorandngahuia

A completely biased and self-serving Insiders Guide to Local Elections

It is difficult to know who to vote for in local elections. Most people don’t really know what councils do. They’ve never heard half of the names before. They are confused by the council reports and plans. And that’s just the candidates.

So here is a completely self-interested and biased guide to council elections. You’re welcome.

First of all, you are voting for three completely different things: Regional councillors; District Health Board members; and the District Council mayor and councillors. The first two of those cover the whole Bay of Plenty. As we know, people from the Western Bay have the same attitude to east of Te Puke as Aucklanders have to south of the Bombays. They barely know it’s there, and kind of wish it weren’t, so getting more Eastern Bay voices on those two is important.

The tricky thing for district council elections is how to tell which candidates will do the best job. That means, firstly, figuring out which sitting councillors did a good job last time and, secondly, which new councillors might do a good job next time. Unless you spend days sitting through council meetings (and frankly who would do that if they weren’t being paid for it?) it is very hard to answer that.

You can use attendance rates. The Beacon recently published the percentage of full council meetings each WDC councillor attended. It would have been good to see those figures across all the meetings we have to attend, and how many other responsibilities each councillor has put their hand up for, but it was helpful. Of course some people have good reasons for struggling to make meetings over the past year, and it’s partly about what they do when they ARE there. Being in the room is not the same as being present.

Effective councillors need to do more than just turn up. They need to understand the machinery of council: it grinds slow (this is even more important for the mayor). They need to read the reports, ask questions about things they don’t understand or are unsure about, test ideas and recommendations from staff, propose new initiatives, engage with and advocate for a broad community of people, and make good decisions on behalf of the whole district. They need political nous. Some sitting councillors are very good at all this. One or two others are a little more….. well, let’s just say that you don’t want any councillors on stand-by mode.

Media reports of council meetings are useful in trying to understand how different councillors perform. You do have to treat them with caution though. When the media reports on debates in council, the focus is on memorable quotes rather than quality of participation. This is particularly annoying when they put a good quote in someone else’s mouth. And no, I’m not bitter about that article from May 2017.

Candidate meetings are good for evaluating new candidates, and not enough people go to them. You can get the vibe of the contenders, suss their energy, hear their broad vision (if any). It can all get a bit wishful though. I heard one candidate for WDC talking about getting the regional council to pay for something. Asking for money from the regional council is like suggesting boat ramp fees for Whakatāne fishermen. Those two fingers are not a V for Victory sign.

So what do you do? You have to weigh up all the different bits of information available to you and give it your best shot. You have to think what you are looking for in broad terms. The role of a councillor is a governance role, which means big picture thinking. Good councillors have vision and can see what is on the horizon in global, national and local terms. A good council is diverse, with a mix of genders, ethnicities, ages and experiences to inform discussion. Councillors need the ability to work with other people and debate the issues without getting personal or factionalised.

Finally, full respect to everyone who has put their name forward. Joking aside, it takes courage to put yourself up for public office. You won’t always agree with them but councillors are all there to do service for the community. Lord knows you wouldn’t do it for the pay!

(A slightly edited version of this was published in the Whakatāne Beacon 24/9/19)

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Why I am standing in local elections

Whakatāne is a spectacular place with a great community, and it’s been an honour serving on our Council since 2016. Like any community around the country we face some serious challenges – but also exciting opportunities. By becoming more sustainable, more resilient and more regenerative, we both prepare for those challenges and make the most of our opportunities. What that means locally is reducing our resource use, building our capacity to adapt to change, and enhancing natural ecosystems where ever we can.

Since my election three years ago the Whakatāne District Council (WDC) is starting to take these issues more seriously. The Climate Change Steering Committee, which I chair, is only new, but it is driving that change.

Sustainability

We know that reducing greenhouse gas emissions is vital. The Climate Change committee has measured council emissions and begun reducing them. For example, we have to earthquake strengthen the Civic Centre because it is the Civil Defence HQ in any disaster. This is a great opportunity to make it more energy efficient at the same time. I also expect to see solar PV panels on at least some of our public buildings starting this term. All of this will have long term cost savings as well as environmental benefits.

We have developed a set of Climate Change Principles to make sure all future decision-making takes climate change into account. This is about reducing emissions and preparing for the impacts of global warming. Those have been out for consultation, and the community has been overwhelmingly supportive.

We are moving towards more electric and hybrid vehicles. It is not just changing vehicles, but changing how we use them. Even more, the Active Whakatāne Strategy is about supporting people in council and the community to get out of their cars and in to other transport modes, which has environmental, health, safety, and economic benefits. That ties to disability access too. If it works for mobility scooters and wheel chairs it will work for pedestrians and others as well.

Resilience

We face big infrastructure challenges, such as the ‘three waters’ (drinking water, waste water / sewerage, and storm water). It’s big money. How we did things in the past won’t always be good enough today, so we have to do things better. Climate change adds huge pressure on top of that. Councils all across the country face these same issues and so being able to talk to Central Government is critical. It is helpful to have councillors who know their way around the Beehive and who have good relationships with key ministers.

It is not just about hard infrastructure though. Just as important for resilience is strong communities. The Edgecumbe flood demonstrated that very clearly. As well as pipes and asphalt, we need to be able to to work with communities to understand and support their aspirations and build connections. The work I have done with Whakatāne Ki Mua, with Greenprint for Whakatāne (while helped spark both Waste Zero Whakatāne, and the Food Sovereignty Network), and with Awatapu Otamakaukau Kaitiaki Trust are examples.

Collaborating with mana whenua is also important. It is about respecting local hapū and iwi. They have an intergenerational commitment to this place as kaitiaki and are important for the expertise and the resources they can bring to the table. The Whakatāne Regeneration Program is a nation-leading example of how Council can work with tangata whenua for the good of everyone.

Regenerative

Integrating nature into our solutions, such as wetlands for flood protection and water holding, is the way of the future. People talk about ‘Biophilic Design’ as a way to benefit people and nature and provide long term, low energy solutions to infrastructure problems. We need more of this kind of thinking. Council has great staff with great ideas but they need supportive political leadership who understand that we need to do things differently in the 21st century.

Becoming More Strategic

Tying it all together is the need for strategic prioritisation. The WDC is really good at leveraging money out of central government and out of funding bodies. The downside is that council can become too opportunistic. We can end up chasing the money. With the big challenges in front of us – and of course challenges are just opportunities to do things better – we have to be very disciplined about how we spend money. I don’t think this means just doing pipes and roads, the hard engineering stuff. We need to have a much more holistic understand of what helps communities thrive. But it does mean being very clear how our spending leads us towards our strategic priorities. We need to become very good at synergising activities to fulfil multiple functions where we can (permaculture thinking), and we have to be prepared to say “no” to things that may sound great and we can get some co-funding for, but which don’t lead to where we need to go.

This is a really important time in history. Council has a really important role to play. To do that it needs to have a clear strategy. Whoever you vote for, it is important to choose people who can see the big picture, who can exercise strong governance leadership, and who know how to get things done. Importantly we also need more diversity around the council table. A wider range of skills, and of life experiences, will lead to better decision-making.

Above all we need people with vision. Vote for me and make a difference.

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Ihumātao – in its own terms

The Police Commissioner needs to explain the decision last night to crank up the heat at Ihumātao. The development is on hold, discussions are taking place, the Government is trying to de-escalate. What agenda are the Police pursuing here?

The whole situation needs careful handling by the Crown. This is a site of unique significance, and the issues are not simple. In addition, it highlights a systemic injustice of the treaty settlement process: that stolen land in private hands are out of bounds. That is untenable as a long term position and has potential to unravel at any time.

On the other hand some people are comparing this to the Foreshore and Seabed. I’m a long way from the action but I find that hard to understand. F&SB was the Govt of the day passing legislation to seize potential Māori property rights across the country. Clark’s Govt pre-empted a court case to disadvantage Māori. It was a modern-day raupatu.

Ihumātao, as far as I understand, is about protecting a unique and important site from development. It was stolen a while ago and went into private Pakeha ownership. A previous National Govt ruled that privately owned land could not be part of any treaty settlement. A later National Govt fast-tracked the consent process to use it for housing. Jacinda is trying to figure out a way through the mess.

Yes Ihumātao should be protected. Yes the Crown needs to take responsibility for its role to date. Yes the Govt must grapple with the broader question of how to deal justly with important sites in private ownership (bearing in mind they haven’t hesitated to take Māori land when it served Pakeha interests). But to me this isn’t about trying to make a comparison to a very different situation.

To me the point is to recognise what Ihumātao represents in its own terms: another generation of rangatahi seeking to take up their role as protectors. Another opportunity to build activist networks and connections and grow the movement for positive change. Another significant moment in the work to decolonise ourselves.

It is also part of a broader context. Indigenous people around the world are asserting their mana, and more than that, the vital importance of indigenous values in the world today. Values far more important than money.

Many tangata whenua and tangata tiriti have supported and been inspired by Standing Rock, by Mauna Kea. Many have been angered by the revelations about “uplifts” of Māori children. At the same time we are seeing the world fraying and coming apart around us. Ihumātao is a catalyst, an opportunity to disrupt the status quo and demand something different.

If there ever was a time when we needed to speak up, it is now. If there was ever a time to make a stand for justice, for people and for the earth, it is now. Love and respect to the protectors at Ihumātao, and everywhere.

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RESPONDING TO CLIMATE CHANGE IN WHAKATĀNE

This is an amazing moment in history. Young people, sick of seeing decades of denial, procrastination and evasion on climate change from political and business leaders are taking to the streets. School children are striking from school. Youth are organising direct action movements. People are demanding action.

They need to. Local Government New Zealand has drafted a Climate Change Declaration setting out some principles and aspirations for how local government can address the challenges of climate change. It is not radical – it asks councils to promote walking and public transport, improve resource efficiency and healthy homes and support renewable energy and electric vehicles. It recognises that local government needs to work with central government and with their communities.

Some 56 councils have signed but around 24 still refuse to do so. Thames-Coromandel Mayor Sandra Goudie says that the issue is ‘politically charged’  (because politics is anathema for a politician!). Meanwhile the West Coast Regional Council is opposing the Government’s Zero Carbon bill because “the evidence proving anthropogenic climate change must be presented and proven beyond reasonable doubt”. Apparently near unanimous agreement in the international scientific community is not sufficient.

Here in Whakatāne, climate change is already real for us. The flooding in Edgecumbe last year put our vulnerability to rising sea levels and increased storms into sharp focus. We know we can expect more of that. We know that the water table in the Rangitaiki Plains – once a wetland covering some 300km2 – is rising. A number of our people live under escarpments, along the coastline or clustered around our rivers. We have no room for complacency.

edgecumbe

Like much of local government, our council has been developing scattered pieces of work over the years, adjusting our district plan to incorporate climate change related hazards, but it has been piecemeal. There have been some attempts in the past to develop a Sustainability Strategy, but that never really went very far. What the organisation needed was more leadership at a political level, more strategic governance that recognises the real threat that climate change poses for our council and for our community. That leadership is now there.

Our Mayor, Tony Bonne, gets it. He signed the Mayors Declaration as soon as he found out about it. The issues of climate change and of sustainability are now being regularly raised around the council table, and not just by me. There is, I think, a strong acceptance around the table that climate change is real, that it poses a significant threat, and that we need to address it hand in hand with our communities.

In our organisation we are taking real steps. Our new CEO, Steph O’Sullivan, has a strong background understanding of climate change, of resilience and of partnering across communities, businesses and with the Crown. We have developed a high level Climate Change Steering Group with representation from senior leadership and with myself as the political representation. We have a Climate Change Project Team that has representation from the people that will be implementing our strategies. We are developing Climate Change principles based on the LGNZ declaration but drilling down into how they apply to our district, with input from across the organisation. The key thing about those principles is that they will flow through into decision-making across the organisation so that sustainability becomes embedded into decision-making rather than remaining a clip-on.

We have begun the process of bench-marking our own emissions so that we can improve and change, by signing up to the CEMARS programme. We have also done an energy audit to see where our bulk energy use is and how we can reduce it. That has given us a number of potential places where we can save money and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. The next step is a more detailed investigation to see which of those possibilities might work in practice. This includes exploring the potential for adding solar generation to our buildings, which has highlighted that we need to address our approach to new public buildings and incorporate basic sustainable building design principles – something we have so far failed to do.

Council needs to address our own emissions, our own robustness (ability to withstand shocks), and our own resilience (ability to spring back from shocks). This is about showing leadership. Perhaps even more importantly, though, we need to be leading a deep discussion in our communities. Neither council nor government will ‘fix’ climate change. We can help or hinder but the most significant decisions will be made elsewhere. In this district, for example, the decisions around land use are critical both in terms of our emissions as a district and in terms of how we adapt to climate change. Council has an important role in making sure that people have good information when they make their own decisions about their homes, their businesses, their farms, their marae. We need community discussions that are non-judgemental, open and honest, and resourced with reliable information.

That process has begun, even though it has a long way to go. Whakatāne Ki Mua is the biggest community engagement that council has ever done, establishing a foundation for what the community wants for our communities. The GreenPrint forums have been exploring sustainability, resilience and regenerative design for our district and that has led to two community initiatives – Waste Zero and the Food Sovereignty network. A number of cool projects are being showcased during this months Sustainable Backyards which, for Whakatāne, is based out of Wharaurangi. In making that site available to Envirohub for the month, council has also committed to engaging our community around climate change, as the first step towards that deep discussion.

The horizon on climate change doesn’t stop in 2080 or 2100. The world will keep warming, oceans will keep rising, storms will keep getting stronger regardless of what we do. However we can influence how much worse it will get, for our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Imagine what our own great grandparents would say to us if we refuse to act now, when we know.

This isn’t about blame or judgement, it is about coming together to talk about how we are going to respond, collectively and individually, to this challenge. Most importantly it is about recognising climate change as an opportunity. Not for a few people to enrich themselves, but to genuinely change how we do things. We can create a future that is better than our past and present. By becoming genuinely sustainable and resilient, by building stronger community networks and looking out for each other, we can solve not just climate change but many of our other issues as well. Climate is just a symptom of a deeper problem. We have become disconnected from the rest of life and we have become disconnected from each other. The results are not just ecological but social, economic and cultural. Redesigning our way of life to put people and planet at the centre is worth doing regardless of climate change. Climate change is just the driver.

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My thoughts on 1080

I’m not pro-1080.
I don’t support banning it either.
I like to think I have a balanced approach. I think that ground control of invasive species like possums, rats and stoats is better and should be used where feasible. I also understand that it is not currently feasible in many places. This may be because of difficult access, dangerous terrain, or lack of people able and willing to do the trapping. Because those species are so destructive of our native ecosystems, I support the use of 1080 drops where ground control is not an option – at least until something better comes along.
But I am getting turned off by the behaviour of some people in the anti-1080 camp (and I say that because I don’t really see it coming much from the other side). The ones who don’t seem to care whether they are telling the truth. The ones who try to hijack every discussion and make it about 1080. Most of all, the ones getting viciously personal about anyone who disagrees with them. I know 1080 advocates who have spent their entire lives protecting native ecosystems and it makes me angry to see them being accused of hidden agendas, even more so when it is by keyboard warriors who barely step out of the house.
Not all anti-1080 people act like this. I’d be surprised if many of them didn’t feel the same way. I know plenty of people on both sides of the debate and the reality is most of them are good people who genuinely care about our land. They just disagree on this issue. That’s a good thing – it keeps us thinking. I just wish there was as much energy and focus for the real threat to our environment– intensive pastoral farming.
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Ceremonies with Life

I spent most of today at Te Kohinga Mārama marae, Waikato Uni, watching people graduate. I was there to see my brother-in-law, Enoka Murphy, receive his PhD and was really proud to stand there as part of his whānau while his Ngāti Manawa kin repped their iwi.

My experience of graduation ceremonies is limited to that marae and to US films. I couldn’t help but compare the lifeless and dull academic ceremonies depicted in the movies – perhaps briefly enlivened by someone boldly mounting the stage with bare feet or some other rebellious act of individuality – with what I experienced on the marae.

at enokas graduation

Some graduates climbed the stage to the accompaniment of a ferocious haka performed by rows of proud whānau and friends eager to celebrate the great achievement of completing a university degree. Others had a beautiful waiata, sung by a proud parent or nanny. A group of Pasifikans occupied the entire ātea, dancing to wooden drums while lei upon lei was piled around the graduate’s neck until they looked like big bird on mescaline. A huge ope of proud Ngāti Porou busted out ‘Ko wai te tekoteko’, one of my favourite waiata of all time. Some Africans (Nigerians? I wasn’t sure) clapped and sang.

Every contribution, from the enveloping waves of sound that rose from a mass of singers, to the gentle trickle of a single voice, was appreciated and applauded. No one seemed to be in too much of a hurry and so everyone had the time to do what they needed to mark out their own proud story of whānau success. The audience loved to see the different iwi represent, but there was special appreciation for the unexpected – whether a cultural offering from another country or the string sextet that offered up a few bars of music to celebrate a colleague.

One of the most poignant contributions was from a mum who stated apologetically that she couldn’t kōrero Māori or offer a waiata but she wanted to say how proud she was of her daughter, the first one in their whānau to get a university qualification. The daughter climbed the stage with her grandmother to receive her degree.

The whole thing was so beautiful, so full of life, so expressive and overflowing with emotion. So Māori. I wondered if the parallel ceremony at the Events Centre a few days before had the same feeling, but I suspect not. One of the things I really love about Aotearoa, about Māori, and about Polynesian culture is the way people do ceremony. It is powerful, fulfilling – whether talking about tangihanga / funerary rites, the pōwhiri / ceremonies of welcome or celebrating success such as a university graduation. For Pākeha who engage with the Māori world, it is in my opinion one of the most important things to learn – the importance of tikanga, of doing things right.

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