Category Archives: Local body politics

To Thine Own Self Be True

(Profile piece on me by Jenny Michie in local Plenty magazine August 2017)

Nandor Tanczos may well have one of the most mispronounced names in the country. Certainly in my head he’s always been Nandor Tandor but I know that’s not right, so while his dog and my dog establish sprawling space at the café where we meet, I need to establish the correct way to say his name.

It’s two syllables – first one is Tahnt – rhymes with aunt. Second is zosh. So Tahnt-zosh. My first name is said Naan-dor with a long ‘a’ like the bread” he explains with a smile. I suspect he’s had this conversation before. And with that outa the way and our respective hounds equally sorted, we can begin.

Nandor Tanczos is an immigrant; his father was a refugee from the 1956 Hungarian uprising and his Cape Coloured mother left South Africa as it was constructing the brutal racial segregation that was Apartheid. Respectively his parents were a refrigeration engineer and a Home Economics teacher/entrepreneur, so we can assume education and hard work were important family values. They found sanctuary in England, where Nandor and his brother were born, and in 1974 the family immigrated to New Zealand.

Being an early and avid reader, young Nandor had great expectations of coming to a land where Maori culture was dominant. His visions of living in a raupō whare and wearing a puipui to a country school were dashed somewhat when the family moved to Takapuna on Auckland’s North Shore. A wonderful place to grow up, digging for pipi on the beach and working in the local dairy for milkshakes and peanut slabs, but not a multicultural experience.

However, those early days as a new migrant gave Nandor both empathy for others, especially second-generation immigrants, and started his own path of self-discovery.

My whole life has been a journey of recreating an identity and sense of belonging, in a way”.

At 14 he spent a year in Hungary with his grandparents. The complete immersion and living under a communist regime had a profound influence on the teenager from Takapuna and fuelled a desire to become a journalist. The family relocated back to England when he finished school and he promptly enrolled in a journalism course in the North of England. Only to drop out towards the end of it.

The reason I wanted to be a journalist was to be a fearless defender of the truth – after a while I realised that was an unlikely career outcome”.

Then followed a complete immersion of another sort. In Thatcher’s Britain there was much to protest and this he did. During the year-long Miners’ Strike the government froze the union’s strike fund; Nandor was on the ground and collected money for the workers, though he was physically prevented from entering mining villages in the North. “That was the first time I’d ever seen the police used so explicitly as a political force. What I saw in Britain was the police used to destroy a movement.”

He was also involved in the anti-nuclear movement and lived on the road; campaigning for peace.

Coming back to New Zealand in 1985 Nandor was keen to continue his studies to understand the world and make it a better place. During his last year at Waikato University he had a Road to Damascus experience with his discovery of Rastafari. “It wasn’t that I became a Rastafari, it’s just that when I discovered who and what Rastafari was, I realised that’s exactly what I was already.”

We of a slightly older generation have known Nandor (in the way that one ever really knows a public figure) since 1999 when he entered Parliament as the dreadlock-wearing, skate-boarding, civil rights and hemp-promoting young Rastafarian List MP for the Green Party. I was working in Parliament at the time and he was a far cry from the usual crop of MPs, both in looks and attitude.

Nandor did in fact introduce a bill to allow hemp production, which was then illegal (it’s a great source of nutrition as well as cloth and the traditional hemp rope) but the Labour-led government of the time decided it was such a good idea “We’re going to think of it ourselves”. They voted his bill down and introduced their own legislation which effectively did the same thing (but not as effectively he says).

Nevertheless, it is still an issue that Nandor is passionate about, but not in the way many people would think.

We’ve taken pastoral farming to an extreme,” he says. “There’s a whole lot of places where we’re trying to grow dairy cows and it’s just not good land use – such as the Canterbury Plains. Our number one environmental issue – and this is true around the world – is pastoral farming. Hemp production, whilst not a magic bullet, is part of the solution of creating mosaics of productive use; that is exploiting the specific niches and microclimates that are in our landscapes instead of this paint-roller effect where we say we’re just going to grow grass everywhere and put cows on it.”

This is in fact permaculture. Nandor’s pet project, which brings us back to how he came to be here in the Bay of Plenty some years after leaving Parliament, which was his ‘home’ for almost nine years (he left after realizing if he stayed any longer, he wouldn’t want to leave, so comfortable is that particular golden cage).

Nandor’s wife is from Murupara and the family moved to the Bay several years ago. But even without his wife’s roots to the Bay, Nandor has long held a torch for this place.

Lots of sunshine, it’s beautiful, it’s got some of the richest history in the country, both Māori and Pākeha; it’s one of the earliest places for Maori settlement and it’s a stronghold of te reo Maori – people are still growing up here as native speakers. And we’ve got this amazing geology. The earth moves, it’s so alive!”

They intend to stay. Nandor says he feels more at home here than anywhere else in the country, partly because it’s so welcoming. “There’s loads of beautiful places but in a lot of smaller centres you get the feeling that if you weren’t born and bred there you’re never quite going to belong.”

Last year Nandor was elected to the Whakatane District Council. After so many years in Parliament, why enter local government? “There’s so many amazing things going on here but I felt there was a disconnection, things aren’t quite integrated together.” And this is where his passion about permaculture comes into play. The essence of which is to link things together to create beneficial relationships.

I see the potential for this area to be leader in sustainability, in resilience, in regenerative economic and community development and so I felt like I had a useful perspective to bring to the politics of the place.”

So in two year’s time what is a job well done on Council going to look like? “Apart from competently doing the basic work, the day to day stuff that needs to be done well to keep things moving, there’s a few things that I want to see some progress on.”

One of them is the Awatapu Reserve, a lagoon formed by the diversion of the Whakatane River in the 1950s. The original area is called Otamakaokao and a group of locals has started a kaitiaki group and is engaging with the community and council to restore the mauri of the area. “The water is really degraded because it was cut off from the river, so it’s dying. So we’ve got this project to bring it back to life and I’d like to see some real progress on this – it’s about ecological restoration, about community development and also about food security. I want to see a management plan for the reserve which is grounded in what the community wants.”

Another marker of success would be real progress towards solar power, where we are seeing solar panels on public buildings and some kind of process for helping households into solar hot water.”

Here Nandor sets me right on the Council consent fees for solar panels. I thought there was a hefty fee but in fact there are no consent fees for putting solar panels on your house. “A proposal came to council to start charging fees for solar, but Council decided not to do that. Actually the Mayor was very strong on it. But I’d like to see more done. Whakatane is regularly the sunshine capital and yet there’s barely any solar power here. I’ve got a 3 point solar plan for the District and I want to make progress on that.”

The third area where he’d like to see progress is in the creative sector, and he really sees the creative industries as a cornerstone in the economic development of the area.

Creative workers bring their own work with them; when they work in that sector, they often work primarily online and we’ve got UF broadband here. You can do what you do and live in the most beautiful part of the country. So at the minimum we need a clear strategy in place as to how we are going support the creative sector in this District.”

I’m a huge fan of this idea. I’ve long thought Whakatane should be to the North Island what Nelson is to the South – a natural home for the creative arts.

Nandor wraps up the interview by bringing us back to permaculture.

Most people apply permaculture to land use, around small holdings and lifestyle blocks, but what I teach is social permaculture.” And it is important to recall here that he’s got a postgraduate diploma in management and sustainability from Waikato University and is working on a thesis around applying permaculture design to economic development.

The great model of sustainability is nature itself. So we need to look at what are the characteristics of natural systems and how we can apply that to our own economic systems. And when you start to do that, it’s a very fruitful way of looking at things.”

Despite not being able to sensibly pronounce his name, I’ve kept an eye on Nandor Tanczos for over 20 years. He was an interesting man in Parliament and he is now an interesting man here in the Bay of Plenty, with tangible goals to improve the area and the people in it. What I didn’t realize then but do now is that he also possesses a quality that I’m valuing more and more the older I get. It seems the wise advice Polonius gave to his son Laertes in Hamlet – “To thine own self be true” – embodies the man sitting across from me.

Plus, he’s got a dog. Need I say more?

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Youth Offending in the Eastern Bay

I heard some really interesting news on Wednesday. I was representing the District Council at a meeting of the Youth Offending Team, and the Police Youth Aid Officer was talking about offending rates in the Eastern Bay of Plenty.

To give some quick background, the Youth Offending Team is a monthly forum where different agencies working with young people can get together and share what they are up to. Not everyone can make each month of course, but we had people from Oranga Tamariki, REAP, Voyagers, Tūwharetoa Ki Kawerau Hauora, Manna Support, Te Pou Oranga o Whakatōhea and others. It was a really interesting and informative meeting that covered a lot of ground.

One of the things I almost always hear in these kinds of forums are cases of really successful schemes that got funded for a pilot, proved their effectiveness and then struggle for enough on-going funding to work properly. This time it was REAP’s Manaaki Programme, designed to support kids to stay in school. Being disconnected from school can be a real blow to some young people as it can disconnect them from friends, adult support and opportunities. It was great to see different agencies offering advice about where pūtea could be found to support this important initiative.

I was also pleased to hear about a mobile playgroup that is starting up and will be focussed on Awatapu to start. Lots of comments made at the Awatapu community day a few weeks ago highlighted the need for more facilities for childrens, so this should provide a useful service in the area.

But the really interesting news for me came when Tom Brooks started talking about offending rates. Apparently youth offending rates across the country are sinking rapidly, except among young Māori. Youth offending by Māori is going up across the country – but in the Eastern Bay it is going down. Similarly the high teenage pregnancy rates in Kawerau and Opōtiki have plummeted. This is a great story and one that I have not heard before.

“What has caused that?” I asked. In reply I was told that the police are being less precious and are taking a more responsive approach through Problem Oriented Policing (look it up). I heard about the police working with iwi, such as through the Hui-ā-Whānau that Tūhoe is championing. I heard about agencies working with the whole family, including siblings, rather than just focussing on “problem” children. I heard about less reliance on courts to solve problems. Most of all I heard about the community looking for its own solutions and coming up with the goods.

To me this was a reminder that we live in a really resilient, grounded and innovative community here in the Eastern Bay, and that we have a lot going on that other areas on the country can learn from. It was great to be part of the YOT and I look forward to more.

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Risk and Responsibility – some thoughts on Matatā

A couple of weeks ago I voted against a Whakatāne District Council decision to try to force Matatā residents in the Awatarariki fanhead from their homes. I was the sole voice against, but to me it was a step too far.

The issue goes back to 2005, when a debris flow destroyed 27 homes and put the future of the township into question. Many residents were opposed to leaving then and the WDC spent millions exploring engineering solutions to safeguard the town. In 2012 it came to the conclusion that protecting residents against another debris flow is practically impossible.

Since then the focus has been on moving people out of the danger zone. The WDC has been working on a ‘voluntary retreat’ package intended to buy out affected residents at a fair price, if we can get Central Government and the Regional Council to chip in. Most residents have indicated that they are willing to at least entertain the idea, but a small number are adamant that they do not want to leave. They just want to be left alone. It is these people that the vote was aimed at.

Because of the risk of loss of life when the next debris flow happens, the WDC wants to change its own District Plan to stop any new building in the danger zone. It does not have the power, however, to move the people already living there. Only the Bay of Plenty Regional Council can do that, with a change to the Regional Water and Land Plan.

WDC has been asking BOPRC to do that at the same time as the changes to the District Plan. Both councils have legal obligations to minimise risk and this is seen as a way for them to do that. The BOPRC, however, seems unwilling or unable to make a decision either way. Because of this, the District Council is looking at making a private plan change to the Regional Plan. If it goes through, people in the danger zone will have to leave their homes.

I can’t help wondering what level of force the council will be prepared to use to make this happen.

To be clear – I support a District Plan change to stop any new building in the danger zone. I support a voluntary retreat package – although I am very worried about the cost. It will be a big bill that will benefit a small number of people and our rates bills are already high.

But I do not support evicting people from their homes because we think they are at risk. People make lawful choices every day to do far more dangerous things than living in Matatā. As long as people are fully informed, I do not believe it is the role of the Council to decide their risks for them.

I write this not to criticise other councillors, who voted as they did for good reasons: genuine concern for residents, as well as an awareness that councils have a legal responsibility to do everything in their power to mitigate or remove threats to life. But by changing the District Plan, I believe, the WDC has done that.

There is often a tension between the regulation of public safety and people’s right to make choices over their own lives. In going beyond its own area of responsibility in this instance, I believe that the WDC has tipped the balance too far.

Published in the Whakatane Beacon 11/7/17

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Profiting from water should trigger fee

There is something about the idea of taking our purest water, putting it into plastic bottles and shipping it overseas that just doesn’t seem right. Even less when the bottling company pays nothing for the water. The final straw is when it isn’t even a NZ company.

This has become a big issue in our district, among other places. The local owners of Otakiri Springs, which takes water of exceptional quality from the Otākiri aquifer, have decided to sell to Nongfu Spring Natural Mineral Water. Some locals, including neighbouring property owner and councillor Mike van der Boom, are objecting. The mayor, Tony Bonne, has welcomed it, saying it will provide jobs for the district. The issue reflects a growing national conflict around water rights and raises a number of questions that are worth exploring in more depth.

Otakiri Springs currently has a consent to take 1200 m3 (1,200,000 L) of water per day specifically for bottling. One report has Nongfu wanting to expand that to 5000m3. It costs them $2003 per year for administration costs on the consent, but they pay nothing for the actual water. The potential turnover with the current consent is in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

To put it in context, a random survey of water consents on the Rangitaiki Plains shows that there are dairy farms with much bigger daily allocations than 1200 m3. Dairy farming covers 80% of the plains and at least 10% of the plains is under irrigation. Like the water bottlers, farmers pay consent administration costs but nothing for the water that they use.

Is farming a better use than drinking? The water bottling takes a litre of water, puts it in a plastic bottle and ships it overseas. Dairying, on the other hand, takes close to 1000L of water to make 1L milk, although most of that is not from irrigation. One estimate suggests that across NZ as a whole about 160L of irrigation water go into each L of milk – although it varies from region to region. Ironically most of that milk is dried into powder and exported.

Water bottling has some serious environmental impacts, mostly from the waste from single use plastic bottles. Milk also comes in disposable containers – either plastic bottles or non-recyclable tetrapacks – but has some added environmental problems. Pastoral farming, as a whole, and dairy farming, in particular, is probably the most significant cause of New Zealand’s most serious environmental problems, from climate change to water degradation to soil loss.

Just this January a permanent warning has gone up not to eat pipi from the Waiotahe estuary due to contamination from local dairy farms. While many farmers are trying their best to reduce their environmental impacts, the sheer scale of dairy farming and the increasing intensification (often associated with irrigation) overwhelms these individual efforts.

On the other hand, dairy farming has more significant economic benefits than water bottling. The dairy industry supports a whole load of spin-off businesses that feed money through the local economy. Dairy farms also provide local jobs. Nongfu claims there will be 50 jobs in the bottling plant but it is hard to take that seriously. 50 jobs building the plant, maybe, but once it is up and running no doubt it will be an automated operation with a skeleton crew to oversee and maintain it. There is very little in the way of a supporting industry sector around water bottling.

Probably one of the things that concerns most people, and is the spark for the current debate, is the foreign ownership. Once Otakiri Springs is sold, all the profits will all be siphoned off-shore. This is also true for the increasing number of dairy farms owned off-shore. I do not believe that it is wise to allow New Zealand’s most precious resources – our land and our water – to be owned by overseas interests. I do not oppose all overseas investment, which can bring substantial benefits in terms of new capital, technology transfer and economic diversification. It is an argument for some limits.

The second major issue is the free use of our best water. It is a fallacy to say, as the Government does, that water is owned by no one. Water is owned by everyone, including the non-human users of it. It is a common wealth and should be treated as such, by making sure that anyone who makes a profit from water pays a resource rental back to the community. The rate would be fairly low, but high quality water, for example from the Otakiri aquifer, should attract a higher charge than non-potable water from shallow aquifers.

A resource rental has two benefits. Firstly it puts a price on commercial use of water. This drives more efficient use, in terms of water conservation and also in terms of shifting to higher value uses. There is little reason to use water efficiently when you pay nothing for it.

Secondly, a resource rental generates a fund that can be used in a variety of ways. It could off-set rates, to compensate for the new costs. Alternatively, it could be used to fund the management and restoration of our waterways, administered by a community organisation comprising mana whenua, commercial users, recreational users and environmentalists.

There is not much that can be done about any of this by the local council. The Regional Council deals with water consents and their hands are more or less tied by national legislation. To resolve it will take courage and leadership from the Government. I am not holding my breath.

(Published in the Whakatane Beacon 10 March 2017)

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Whakatane Social Sector Forum proposal

PRESS RELEASE 12/9/2016

Nāndor launches Social Sector Forum idea for Whakatāne

Nāndor Tānczos today launched the third of his ‘great ideas for Whakatāne’, this time focused on community development.

“There are some awesome social sector organisations around Whakatāne, but there is no regular forum for them all to share what they do with each other and talk about how they can work more effectively together. This lack of coordination makes it hard for organisations to create the synergy that comes from strategic coordination”.

“By supporting the different social agencies working in Whakatāne to get together on a regular basis, to share information and coordinate their services, council could do something useful for the community sector without spending a lot of money” said Nāndor.

The idea for the Social Sector Forum came out of discussions with a number of people working in the community, who described the difficulty of any single agency pulling such an initiative together. Yet just as the Halo Project has drawn a number of environmental organisations together around some common themes, the social agencies could benefit from taking a more coordinated approach guided by a broad common vision. The Council is in a prime position to take that role.

“It is not council’s role to do community work. It is a council role to support the community to be its best. This kind of social infrastructure is just as important as roads, drains and pipes but would cost almost nothing – just a venue and some facilitation.” he said

“Having a healthy, connected community is in everyone’s interests. Helping to support that is an investment in our future, in terms of making Whakatāne a more attractive place to visit and to live, increasing social cohesion, building resilience, and reducing crime. Once again Whakatāne has an opportunity to show leadership to the whole country with some fresh thinking and some political leadership”.

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Four Point Solar Plan for Whakatane

Press Release 21/7/2016

Nandor Tanczos today officially confirmed that he is standing for Whakatane District Council with the launch of a Solar Plan for Whakatane.

The four point plan makes use of one of Whakatane District’s biggest natural assets to boost economic activity and cut costs for households and the council.

“We talk alot about Whakatane being the sunshine capital, but we do almost nothing with that” said Nandor.

“We can use the energy of the sun to drive business activity, grow jobs and improve community well-being. It is this kind of ‘bright green’ thinking that will ensure a more prosperous future for Whakatane.”

The four part plan is to:

1. Work with other agencies (eg Eastern Bay Energy Trust, the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority, ethical financial institutions etc) to create a revolving credit fund to pay for solar hot water installations in low to medium income households. The loan will be paid off from all or part of the savings on the household power bill. Once the loan is repaid, all savings will go to the household.

2. Install solar photovoltaic panels and/or solar hot water on public buildings, where these will result in net savings to council. In addition, invest in energy efficiency and conservation measures to cut costs and reduce carbon emissions.

3. Work with local education providers and solar businesses to create a centre of solar excellence in Whakatane District. This will equip locals for sustainable jobs, boost local education providers and drive solar innovation as a catalyst for local business opportunity.

4. Establish a bi-annual solar and kinetic sculpture competition and symposium, working with engineers, electricians and artists to create public art. This has the potential to become an international event, adding to Whakatane’s attraction as a tourist destination and fostering Whakatane’s reputation as a creative place to live and work.

The four part solar plan makes use of the natural cycles of the sun to maximise benefits for different kinds of users. Because the sun shines during the day, when most people are out of the house, solar hot water is a great way for households to store solar energy without having to invest in expensive battery banks. For most commercial and public buildings, however, electricity is being used at the same time as their photovoltaic solar panels are generating it. This means that big battery banks are not needed.

“Being the sunshine capital of NZ is nice, but it is no real achievement. Becoming a solar centre, as a step towards building a diverse and sustainable economy, would be showing leadership to the whole country” said Nandor.

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