We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children. So says a famous proverb. I have being contemplating, of late, local government’s role in this vision. The proverb encourages those of us with influence to look beyond our own day-to-day activity, to consider and make decisions that will be of lasting benefit for our children to come.
One only needs to turn on the TV or read the news to know that too many decisions have not been made with the best intentions. We live in a time of instant gratification, lack of connection, we take and we pollute. Many search for hope and too many lack bold ambitions for their own future let alone someone else’s.
I believe, and I know, many others do too, that this needs to change and soon. And the only way it is going to change is if we all commit to it – well a lot of us anyway. It will require us to get really smart in the way we make decisions. And it will require us to be collaborative. It will mean that we need to clearly know where we want to be in 100, 50 years and then work back from there.
I see local government as having two key areas of activity – civic responsibilities and local leadership and advocacy. The first is core business (and legislative) of providing safe, good-quality local infrastructure, local public services and regulatory functions in the most cost-effective way - always a challenge here in the north. It is the second that will come into play as we look to become smarter in the way we invest, enable and serve.
We need to be thinking cleverly about climate impacts, business development (that bring jobs), community well-being and we need to be acting in a way that will serve the best interests of not just our people and place today, but for the generations that will follow. What sort of investment do we want to attract? Where are we going to get best value in our infrastructure spending and not just tangible value, but the non-tangible – the part that supports healthy, strong and engaged communities. How do we best serve our district for the greater good, with a limited budget, a huge area and massive disparities?
I don’t yet know all the answers to these big questions. What I do know is we have started the work and we want you to be involved as we look to evolve our Sustainable District Strategy over the next 18 months. It’s all part of a bigger discussion being held across many other groups and organisations, across New Zealand and the rest of the world.
If you need some inspiration as to why this is important, then look to your children, your grandchildren and think of their grandchildren to come. Dwell for just a moment on a world you want them to live in, when they are your age.
Motivating isn’t it?
We are living in a time where conversations around climate change and becoming carbon neutral are big topics on the agenda - which they need to be. I had the privilege of supporting the recent launch of the Carbon Neutral Trust last week. This mahi is an offshoot of very credible Vision Kerikeri, which aims to see Kerikeri become the first carbon neutral community in New Zealand.
Run by volunteers, the trust has developed a very cool calculator that gives you a general idea of how much carbon your household is using and tips on how to mitigate your use (turns out eating red meat is a big carbon user). What I love about this initiative is that it is developed by the community for the community.
Some would suggest that New Zealand is in a pretty good place, with lots of trees etc and thus lots of opportunity to sequester carbon. However, we should not rest on our laurels hoping that someone else is going to solve the problem - and it is a problem for us. If we all do our bit to reduce our carbon footprint, we really can make a difference for a more prosperous tomorrow. Full details here https://www.carbonneutraltrust.org.nz/.
I want to conclude by saying a few thank yous, this being my last column for the year. It has been a really, crazy busy year with lots and lots happening. I have had the privilege of attending and supporting many different events and activities. These always completely hearten me, lift me up and remind me that, for all the challenges we face, there are so many reasons to stay positive and focused.
So, thank you to my colleagues around the council table. I immensely appreciate your dedication and commitment to seeing our district become a better place. Thank you to our staff. It is not always an easy role and I want to acknowledge your commitment also to our people and our place.
A massive thank you to all of you, the beautiful people who make the Far North so special. There are so many of you doing incredible mahi, often humbly and without any fanfare. You are our local heros and a big part of our district’s success. Truly amazing!
And finally a big hug to my whanau, especially my beautiful girl, Jesse, who takes life in her stride. She is a constant inspiration to me and I am grateful every day to have her in my life. And thus, I offer you and your friends and families my sincere wishes for a peaceful and safe holiday season. I know lots of you will be working hard to keep our holiday-makers happy. Thank you for this. And for those of you who get to put your feet up for a bit, enjoy! Be encouraged to reflect and be grateful for our very wonderful piece of paradise. Arohanui.
Dr David Wilson, myself, Deputy Leader - NZ First, Fletcher Tabuteau & Bill Shepherd, EDNZ Conference 2018. Photo credit: Sue Shepherd.
‘Economic development is a public health outcome’, so said Ben Lucas at the NZ Economic Development Conference I attended last week. He said that the biggest impact on health is being in (good) work - health is wealth, so to speak.
I found the statement quite profound. Encouragingly, another take-away, which supports this thinking, was the call that economic and social policy needs to be integrated. Yahoo! I have been saying this for years. I do not believe that one can function without the other, i.e. a strong, cohesive social foundation, leads to strong, sustainable economic activity. In other words – an integrated approach rather than a siloed one.
The conference theme was all about inclusive growth. Wikipedia tells us that Inclusive Growth is a concept that advances equitable opportunities for economic participants during economic growth with benefits incurred by every section of society. This concept expands upon traditional economic growth models to include focus on the quality of health, human capital, environmental quality, social protection and food security.
Overall, a wonderful goal. We could most certainly do with a more inclusive approach to prosperity. However, I do take issue with the constant use of the word ‘growth’ and raised this at the conference. The Wikipedia description above says ‘during’ economic growth. What happens when we aren’t growing? As many places in our district and country are not.
One of the more sobering but important presentations was from a representative from the Maxium Institute – talking about decline (or de-growth). Noting that regional development strategies need to be comprehensive and include both growth and decline policies at the same time to be successful. Moving from a bigger, better, faster, cheaper approach to smaller, better, healthier and more sustainable thinking.
When you consider that of the 11 regional well-being indicators, Northland is bottom in four (access to services, community, income and education), it is a sharp reminder that we need to have some big community discussions - on many levels - and they won’t necessarily be easy ones. As an example, rates are already seen as unaffordable in many areas and the growing demands for better services only puts further pressure on.
The Local Government Think Tank presenter suggested that success for New Zealand communities requires a ‘whole of government’ approach focused on both economic and social outcomes ...’ I would suggest that success for communities requires a whole of community approach, with government (local and central) part of the equation.
I found the conference last week highly valuable and I am encouraged by the movement of thinking to a more inclusive approach. However, I am reminded of Kate Raworth’s words in my last column, who asked the question, “how do we thrive, whether or not we grow”. An exciting challenge/opportunity to address moving forward.
Instead of economies that need to grow - whether or not they make us thrive - we need economies that “make us thrive, whether or not they grow”, quotes Kate Raworth in her book Doughnut Economics.
It’s a slow read – mainly due to the amount of new thinking it is promoting in me. This new thinking includes how her approach could be applied to growing prosperity for our people and our place here in the Far North. And this is what excites me. When I consider the amount of resource that has been poured into the district over the decades it’s fair to say that not a lot has changed (noting youth unemployment is the lowest it has been for years). If anything, the divide between the haves and have nots appears to have widened.
For a long time now, I have felt frustration at the lack of fresh thinking (often caught up in legislative requirements). Recognising W. L. Bateman’s quote, “if you keep on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep on getting what you’ve always got”, I absolutely believe that our district is ripe for a bit of a fresh approach – maybe a radical one if we’re brave.
This will only come about if we work collaboratively, i. e. recognise that we are all in this together. We will also need a clear purpose to work towards. Asking the question, what does thriving actually look like on the ground? What does this mean for ALL of us?
And I love the idea of working out what it means to thrive without having to grow. Or at the very least growing in a planned, proactive way. One that sees any new development supporting and aligning with the best interests of our district. It will also raise the question of when is enough enough?
The Far North has the opportunity to come together and lead by example, which will mean challenging a lot of the status quo. Imagine that, rather than being known for a lot of the negatives, we become trail blazers in a more aligned approach that looks to see both our people and our place really flourish.
I absolutely recognise that this won’t happen overnight. However, unless we make the commitment to back ourselves and bring about a more balanced approach to prosperity, moving from a take, take, take, what’s-in-it-for- me model to a more holistic approach and the balance of giving and receiving, then nothing is likely to change much. And the reality is – we actually can’t afford to continue as we are.
We have major issues with our waterways and our flora and fauna is well under threat. Too many people, especially our young, have no aspirations and way too many of us lack any sense of value. So the question remains, what does thriving actually look like on the ground, and importantly, how do we bring this about?
Anyone keen on a coffee?
Sitting here watching the sun rise in one of my favourite spaces – Mahinepua. The crazy reds and oranges as it reaches up to the morning sky and skips out over the water. Kisses my face and opens my heart to a new day, the magic of life. Lifting my spirit, it reminds me of how incredible Aotearoa still is and how much I want to ensure it stays this way.
We have work to do.
I have just begun reading ‘Doughnut Economics’, Kate Raworth the author. It has already got my mind pushing its boundaries around how we can achieve better outcomes for our district. And a quote by Buckminster Fuller grabs my attention. ‘You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.’
This comes on the back of some really insightful conversations I have had over the last month, attending different workshops and community gatherings. One such conversation was with a gentleman from Queenstown who was full of praise and potential for the Far North. He tells me we need to manage our development and ensure we look after our backyard, growing in a way that is sustainable and prepares us for times to come. This will require some brave conversations.
In December 2017, Treasury released the ‘Living Standards Framework’. Our current Government is looking at a ‘well-being’ budget in 2019. There will be some challenges in how this is successfully achieved. However, it offers a fresh approach to thinking about how we measure prosperity. It has long been argued that GDP does not provide a balanced definition of success. I recently read that many economists concede that the GDP measure is a poor proxy for prosperity. GDP tells us little about how prosperity is distributed across groups in the population; and not much about environment degradation that may have occurred as collateral damage in achieving the stated GDP.
The Far North is still a very beautiful place. But we should not fool ourselves that it will remain so if we sit back and allow things to just happen. What is clearly required is some big decisions made collaboratively around who we are and where we want to go. Once these decisions are made, we need to stick to them and not be sucked in by the quick buck. Cutting through what’s in it for me and focusing on what’s in it for us. Our legacy for those that will follow.
The Far North District Council is currently developing a Sustainable District Strategy. This is a big picture ideal of where we want to go, sitting under our vision He Whenua Rangatira: A District of Sustainable Prosperity and Well-being. It is going to provoke some thinking and encourage debate. It will hopefully challenge some of our outdated approaches and look for more viable ways that support a better tomorrow for our people and our place. Amen to that.
Who wants to unlock the power of community - unlock innovation to thrive?
Having recently returned from the annual Local Government NZ conference I am again feeling uplifted and inspired. One of the real highlights was the launch of the Localism Project. The aim to bring government back to the people (we are one of the most centralised countries in the world). A bold and exciting project jointly led by LGNZ and The New Zealand Initiative.
The call is for a shift in the way public decisions are made in New Zealand. One of the aims is to strengthen self-governance at our local level, i.e. reinvigorating our local democracy through devolution and decentralisation.
I am right behind it and you should be too. Why? Political Scientist, Simon Parker says ”…bring power closer to the ordinary people, partly by vesting more of it in local institutions that voters can really influence, but also engaging citizens themselves more in everything from healthcare to house building. A call for decentralisation is a demand for a different way of doing government.”
I have always believed and advocated that local government is here to serve and that the power will always be with the people. I believe that local government plays a vital role, one that should never be lost. However, I also recognise that we have become burdened with ‘process’, legislative or otherwise and I have for many years now known there will be much better ways to serve and support our communities to shine. Much better ways to truly lead and empower.
What excites me is this notion is shared by others and is now gaining momentum that potentially could see some major shifts. A platform for better decision-making and action that truly invigorates.
And if you need a more tangible argument, consider this: Our Government spends 88 per cent of public expenditure, compared to 54 per cent in the United States and just 13 in Switzerland. Consider that we are a district of 52 identified communities, the biggest in the North Island. We have 2,508 kilometres of roads, 1,650 of which are unsealed. We have 196 km of footpaths, 2,949 manholes, eight potable water schemes, 336kms of sewer pipe, 38 community buildings and the list goes on. In the 2018/19 financial year we are budgeting to spend around $114 million of which around $90 million comes from rates. We have less than 40,000 ratepayers and no, not everyone pays their rates. Consider again that for every dollar of rates, 19 cents is spent on roading. When you think of the amount of tax we pay through road user charges alone, it’s fair to say that it’s just unfair and becoming increasingly unaffordable.
So, yep it’s big picture and yep, it won’t happen overnight. But, without a doubt, the call for more effective local governance is building momentum. And it needs to.
In awe. That was me on Saturday night as I absorbed the remarkableness of the human spirit. Hospice Mid-North hosted Battle of the Ballroom. The night was completely fabulous. The room was packed, the energy was electric and the show mind-blowingly fantastic. However, that was not what had me in awe. It was the journey, the personal growth that I saw in my fellow dancers, the incredible commitment of the team and the remarkable dedication of a humble group of beautiful volunteers.
The reason, I surmise, is that we all had a common purpose we were completely committed to. Our focus was to raise funds and awareness of the work of Hospice through a creative medium that would be highly- entertaining. Twelve weeks ago, 16 locals, all of whom were complete amateurs of ballroom, took on the challenge of creating a dance. I don’t think any of us quite appreciated what we had got ourselves into; the work that would be required – literally blood, sweat and tears for some – the time commitment and the resource. We all individually carried the cost of costumes and other resources.
There were personalities that would test our patience, moves that would stretch our physical limits, but mostly, the strength and courage required to step out onto the dance floor and be on show in front of 500 people. There was a real fear here for a number of us.
And this is where the emotion wells up. To sit and observe the bravery of these everyday locals, to watch them perform and really, truly put on a show like no other was breath-taking. I was completely in awe of the beauty, resilience and sheer determination of these people. I could physically see the journey they had undertaken, the mental battles they had overcome to be a star on the night. In short, they personified what it is to give back to their community in a very real and vulnerable way.
I want to take a moment to celebrate our dance teachers – freakin’ amazing – our hair and make-up artists, the runners, the waiters and bar staff, the caterers, the set-up and break-down crew and all the others that made the day such a success. Most of these people were volunteers.
I also want to thank and celebrate our earth angels – the Hospice team. There are only 14 paid employees at Hospice Mid-North; the rest of the team are volunteers. They cover a geographical area that represents a population of about 40,000. They need to raise around $700,000 every year to be effective (45% of their funding comes from the Northland District Heath Board). Go to http://www.hospicemn.org.nz for more information.
This has been a life-changing journey for me. I have grown and overcome. Importantly though, I have connected with a beautiful bunch of fabulous people that I now call my friends and I am completely grateful for this.
Life certainly is busy at the moment and in a very good way. Some of my recent highlights include finding myself sitting between our Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and the Minister of Local Government, Hon. Nanaia Mahuta at Foundation North’s strategic plan launch. It’s fair to say I made the most of the opportunity! I shared with Minister Mahuta my idea around developing a foreign investment framework and we had a general discussion around local government performance. It was insightful and encouraging.
Foundation North provides community grants of around $40 million every year. Their review has seen more of a focus on community funding and innovation funding, including strengthening social cohesion and addressing inequalities.
On Friday, I was out and about in my pink shirt for pink shirt day - a drive to raise awareness about bullying. Bullying was something I experienced first-hand as a young person - very character building. I was pleasantly surprised to bump into our local fire and emergency team all dressed in pink and enjoying a pink-themed morning tea. Fab! It was a timely reminder that bullying doesn’t just happen for our young people. Adults are too often subject to this demoralising attack. Kindness is one of the answers – not always easy, remembering that the bully often has their own issues going on.
As a member on the Northland Conversation Board, it was a real pleasure to witness the release of a young female kiwi on Sunday that had been caught in a leg-hold trap. Fortunately, her leg was not broken and she was found before it was too late and rehomed. An excellent reminder that these traps should not be set on the ground.
Other highlights include my regular tango lessons for the Hospice Mid-North’s grand Battle of the Ballroom fundraiser in June. It’s an honour to be able to support such an important cause. I also had numerous meetings talking about fruit in schools and public places. I must say the feedback here has been tremendous. I am in the process of raising some funds to help buy the trees, so if you can help, we have a givealittle page.
I have decided to give up sugar and processed foods for a while. I am already experiencing benefits including weight loss and a clearer head. I recently attended a screening of He Oranga Pumau, featuring a powerful Hokianga wahine, Tanya Filia and her journey using natural Maori remedies to combat an aggressive brain tumour. She makes a clear point about sugar being a cancer feeder. They are taking the documentary to the Beehive to call for changes that will be better for all New Zealanders and their families who are facing terminal diagnosis.
Of course, there’s lots of council business going on, including our Long Term Plan deliberations. It’s been a good month and I have a feeling it’s going to continue. Nga mihi.
So, I am looking for a little help. Those that know me will know I am a huge fan of community empowerment. Communities taking charge of their destiny, with organisations like the Far North District Council coming alongside to support.
A few months back, I decided I needed to do some doing and support a couple of projects personally (i.e. not ‘council’ projects). The main drivers were to do something that helps grow community spirit. I also wanted to look back at the end of the year and feel like I had actually achieved something that I could physically see. So, I put the call out for community ideas to support. I received about 95 individual ideas – very encouraging! It was then the hard task of choosing one (there was some criteria, including being able to achieve the goal this year.) The outcome was that three were chosen.
Two of the projects involve fruit. I am currently supporting Danielle Dawson in Kerikeri who is keen to take the rejected fruit from commercial orchards and get this distributed into our schools. I really love this idea for two reasons. First, it will help address the wastage of good fruit that is not ‘sellable/exportable’. Two, it promotes healthy minds and healthy bodies, by providing young people, whose families are on tight budgets, with nutrients and energy to help them get through the day. Initial investigations are progressing well and we hope to see some action within the next few months.
The second project is planting fruit trees and vines in public places. This idea was suggested by Chrystal Popata from Kaitaia. Many of us remember as children being able to pick fruit along the side of the road as we were heading to school. Or, in my case, riding over Constitution Hill in Russell, to pick grapes growing wild on the side of the road. It was quite the hike!
The aim of ‘People Eat Fresh’ is to reintroduce this concept in strategic locations across the Far North. And this is where I need some help. Firstly, we will need communities/people to identify where they might like some trees planted. I’m keen to be a little strategic on this one, because to manage it going forward we need to ensure the trees are in appropriate places and not scattered all over the place. Secondly, we need volunteers to help plant them, and thirdly (and quite importantly) people to look after them as they grow and hopefully prosper. I am thinking there will be retired people, schools and hopefully some organisations that work in this field that are open to taking this on.
Oh and I am looking to raise some cash to help pay for the trees… If you have ideas, locations, offers of help, then please email me at email@example.com with your thoughts. I am looking forward to getting my hands dirty, alongside our communities, on this one.
This very moment is important. We are at a cusp. Our current government is delivering on promises (thank you!) and we are seeing real investment in projects that will be catalysts for positive change. Projects that will grow confidence, encourage other investors but most importantly, celebrate and uplift our communities.
The mid north particularly is currently enjoying some real wins. From Te Hononga in Kawakawa to Manea in the Hokianga, we are seeing some long-held community dreams starting to become a reality. I attended the blessing of the Te Hononga grounds last week. This is a community-led initiative that will provide a real point of difference as the gateway to the Bay of Islands and the wider Far North.
I need to acknowledge the leadership and work of Far North Holdings Ltd. FNHL is a CCTO, a vehicle the Council uses for its commercial activities. It is 100 per cent owned by the Council, thus the ratepayer, and is focused on commercial activities that provide a return (and not just in a money sense) for the district. They are accountable to the Council and work to a Statement of Intent. It is because of the work and credibility of this company that our district has benefited from early investment from the Provincial Growth Fund. I am extremely grateful for this.
Feedback on this fabulous investment has been interesting, from elation to disapproval. With a district of 52 identified communities and extreme living conditions – illegal housing with a long drop to multi-million dollar estates – I am not sure that some people fully appreciate the many challenges the area faces. The investment offered will see work undertaken that would not have happened otherwise without real cost to the ratepayer, and we are already challenged to balance affordability with basic and necessary services.
Timing of these investments puts our current review of the Long Term Plan in clear focus. I cannot emphasis enough the importance of people providing feedback on the draft plan. It is highly valued and does shape the decisions made.
Encouraging prosperity is a multi-string approach. It requires vision and action. It requires leadership and buy-in. It also requires hope, belief and a willingness to work together … in big doses. And this is where our main challenge lies. For without commonality and a desire to see beyond ourselves to a better tomorrow, we will continue to flounder.
In January 2015, I sent an open letter to elected officials across Northland (you can read it on my website). I share these comments once again – but as a call to all leaders, whether formally recognised or not: “What we must seek to do, as all leaders must, is to unite and encourage – to provide hope. To listen, to serve and to make decisions that seek to grow and protect our homeland in the most appropriate way possible. For the decisions we make today will form ripples that will continue to flow in the centuries to come. “