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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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. “
In the bigger scheme of things, Aotearoa - New Zealand is still a magical place. A country of authenticity, cultural richness and in many places, a backyard like no other. We live in a time however, where our future is uncertain. Our current path – our legacy, is questionable and without intervention and a clear vision for where we wish to go, we are destined to follow the path of a world currently on a tipping point.
On returning from Beijing last November, I shared the idea that we needed to get smarter in our approach to attracting and managing inwards investments. Over the last few months a concept has developed in my thinking and this I have shared with a number of influential people. The feedback has been nothing but positive. The idea is around developing a proactive local policy and partnerships that not only celebrate and care for our people and our place, but importantly, create a legacy that ensures we leave our backyard in a better place for our future kaitiaki.
The aim is to develop a framework that proactively promotes and manages inwards investment (internationally and domestically) that sees the Far North grow and develop in line with the expectations of our district vision; He Whenua Rangatira – A District of Sustainable Prosperity and Wellbeing.
Simply put, we really do need to get smart! Develop a way forward that identifies and enables sustainable and innovative methods that support an environment (people and place) of respect, authenticity and prosperity.
The motivation behind this is that currently foreign inward investment is managed by the OIO (and other government agencies). Local Government has little if any influence on this decision. I believe we can better manage this at the onset by being clear and proactive. Recognising that any investment relationship needs to be mutually beneficial, the framework would aim to provide clarity and support for potential investors to understand the opportunities and the support networks and the terms in which these can be taken advantage of. Noting that such a framework would naturally identify areas that are not supported for investment.
In a nutshell, the approach would be five fold. Address landownership models – focusing on partnership, lease and other relationships rather than foreign ownership. Two, promote robust investment opportunities that focus on industry we wish to encourage (e.g. tourism, aquaculture, horticulture, forestry, marine, farming, energy and manufacturing). Three, identify and legislate areas within the District Plan that promote and enable specific industry development. Four, identify and strengthen key relationships that benefit our communities/district, investors and government. Such as investigating developing Public - Private Partnerships that sustain investment and mutual returns and five, develop processes that support efficiency and cost effectiveness for industry development.
The concept is currently sitting with two ministers. I plan to continue to advocate and work towards progressing the idea into a feasible case over the next few months.
During my speech to an audience of approximately 100 Chinese business leaders in Beijing last Thursday, I highlighted that ‘our focus is not only on improving the life styles of our people today, but ensuring we leave a legacy we can be proud of for the generations to follow.’
Recognising that ‘doing business’ with the Chinese evokes highly emotive and strong arguments for and against, I believe it is naive to dismiss the potential presented. China is a growing superpower and burying our heads in the sand will be to our detriment. We need to grow understanding and build strong relationships to help ensure any developments in the Far North are appropriate and sustainable. No matter the investor.
The trip to China has given me great insight. I have returned more learned. And recognising the real opportunities, I have also quickly come to the conclusion that we need to be very smart and very clear on the investment we are looking for. We need to clearly articulate where foreign investment can take place and what form this might be in. We need to be clear about what development we want to encourage and what we clearly don’t. This is a district conversation.
As we know, affordability is a real issue here in the Far North and a growing one. We do need to think outside the box and we do need to attract investment. There is real opportunity out of China. However, we need that big plan. A clear, strategic long-term plan that is owned by the people.
One of the things you have to truly admire about the Chinese is their long term-vision, that is clearly articulated. They know where they want to go. And we in turn must be clear on where we want to go, at a district and national level.
We spent some time with Tus-Holdings, the Council’s Memorandum of Intent partner, a subsidiary of Tsinghua University, the most prestigious in China. All the conversations were high level and included an introduction to some of the activities their companies undertake. One of the activities was an incubator business programme for recent graduates.
The second part of our journey was hosted by Government leaders. This saw a half-day presentation to business leaders and sowing seeds around commercial opportunities. Being only the first visit since the signing, there was no detailed discussion around the process moving forward and no agreements were signed by our Council. It was a trip focused on growing understanding and building relationships.
I am incredibly grateful to have had this opportunity. We were treated with great respect and their hospitality was second to none. I now hold stronger insights, which I intend to grow. This can only assist me in better serving a district I love. It is, and always has been, my desire to see the Far North flourish, to look after our people and our place for now and future generations.
Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena tatou katoa
Greetings once, greetings twice, greetings thrice to all that have gathered here today.
It is a great honour to be here today. My colleagues and I feel very humbled.
I bring you the warmest greetings today from our Mayor John Carter, who sends his sincere apologies.
I want to firstly say a massive thank you – kia ora! This is truly an auspicious occasion!
A very special thank you to Mr Liang for his most generous hosting and support. We are truly grateful.
I want to acknowledge the deep and long history that the people of New Zealand have with the people of this amazing country, China.
I love New Zealand and am completely in love with our Far North district. It is my home and a truly magical place. One that we are very proud of and cherish greatly.
We have a beautiful, strong and generous people and a wonderful backyard that we like to call ‘our place’.
The Far North is located right at the top of New Zealand. With 7,324 km2 of land area, we are one of the biggest districts in the North Island. We boast a sub-tropical climate, with our seasons being the opposite to yours. Our summer daytime maximum temperatures ranging from 22 up to 30 degrees. We average around 2,000 sunshine hours annually.
We have approximately 42 communities and around 62,000 residents. Almost 50% identify with Maori heritage.
Our key industries currently are mainly primary (such as forestry, horticulture and agriculture). We also have a very buoyant tourism industry, with many people coming to enjoy our beautiful, unspoilt surrounds.
We recognise the immense importance of education and supporting our young people to be well equipped for an ever changing tomorrow.
Our culture and our history is of significant importance and is something we celebrate and cherish greatly.
We have a vision for the Far North, which is He Whenua Rangatira – A district of sustainable prosperity and well-being.
We have a clear purpose. Our strategic intent is to create:
We recognise that to achieve success, we must work together, for a better tomorrow. Our focus is not only on improving the life styles of our people today but ensuring we leave a legacy we can be proud of for the generations to follow.
We view wealth and prosperity holistically i.e. healthy minds, healthy hearts, healthy spirit, healthy environment.
We recognise the importance of building mutually strong relationships, ones built on integrity, respect and openness.
We acknowledge that there must be a high level of trust - that our interactions must be undertaken with complete transparency and wisdom.
Our district has amazing potential. We are committed to serving to the best of our abilities.
Helping build a prosperous future for our people, while ensuring we look after our incredible environment for today and future generations.
I finish in once again, saying kia ora - thank you. Thank you for the time. Thank you for welcoming us into your ‘place’ and making us feel so welcome.
We are deeply appreciative and grateful.
There is a perception that government involvement is ‘doing it to us’. When it comes to central government social investment, intervention or whatever you might like to call it, it’s fair to say we have just about tried every national approach available in terms of making in-roads into our negative statistics. Sadly they have not improved.
There are many arguments about why this is the case. None of which I am going to go into today, simply because it is what it is. However, we are at the forefront of a new time and I am somewhat excited by this. Because we have an opportunity to really take charge of our destiny. I can only assume that the new government will be looking for ground-breaking approaches to break the cycle. The challenge for us will be finding common ground – a united approach across the district. There is some fantastic work already being undertaken and some incredible people leading the charge. The difficulty is that there is often not clear connection between the activities, the ability to share knowledge and combine approaches.
It is my belief that, if we are to make the most of the opportunity before us, we will need to step up with a united voice and clearly own and define our journey. We will need to be brave and be empowered to trail blaze some different approaches. This must be owned and lead by the very people that carry the mandate – the leaders of our communities.
The role of government, whether national or local, is to serve and support the wellbeing of our people and our place. I have no doubt that many of the products and services that have been tried over the years have been undertaken with the best of intentions. However, they have often lacked one common element – local leadership and direction.
To be fair, I have seen lack of local leadership, the indifference, in-fighting, egos and other actions that take away the power of the people. I have also experienced those that have been brave enough to step up and then get pulled down by the nay-sayers and small-mindedness that does not see past the perceived personalities.
So, what will we do to make the real change needed to be our potential? Will we sit back and continue to allow things to happen to us or is there a desire to step up and take our future into our hands? I certainly know there is commitment at a community level. However, when it comes to working with central government, we need to also have a district/regional approach. This requires strong and trusting collaboration. It requires the removal of ‘hats’. It requires a joint effort from a bunch of people determined to make a change.
This is about stepping into our power as a people. No blame, no shame. Owning, celebrating and driving a better future for all of us. The opportunity is knocking.
Although central government leadership is yet to be defined, one thing is for certain. Far North District Councillor Willow-Jean Prime is now a Member of Parliament. I sincerely and wholeheartedly congratulate her. Willow-Jean is a strong advocate for Northland and has a clear understanding of the challenges and the potential. I will, however, miss her (a lot) at our council table. Her professional, fair approach and articulate argument were a real strength, one that she is respected for.
Her resignation will see the commencement of a by-election for the Bay of Islands-Whangaroa Ward. I would like to offer some advice for both prospective candidates and also for those of you voting in this ward (which I hope will be a large majority).
Local government is complicated. It is heavily legislative, carries high expectations from its constituents (as it should) and is quite ‘old-fashioned’ in its approach. Councillors, although elected at a ward level, are sworn in to serve their district. This is a governance role – like a director on a board. I need to emphasise this. You are a decision-maker. Governance means setting policy and direction and not undertaking or getting involved in the operations. Many elected members from across New Zealand fail to recognise and understand the importance of this, which can cause much frustration and unnecessary conflict.
Some other highly-useful approaches include big-picture thinking, being proactive and solution-focused, having patience and choosing one’s battles. Skills needed include having a clear understanding of one’s role as an elected member and the responsibility that comes with this, noting the Far North District Council’s combined operating and capital expenditure in 2017/18 is $186.3 million and, no, this is not nearly enough to achieve all that needs to be done.
Prospective candidates should also know the difference between advocacy and enquiry and be able to articulate their argument clearly, as well as listen and actually hear what is being said. Finally, debate the topic and not the person and, most importantly, recognise that you are part of a team and hold one vote out of ten.
Some will also say you need to have a thick skin. While I understand the importance of not taking things personally – and this isn’t always easy – I also recognise the absolute need for empathy. One needs to be a little hardened to life as a politician, but still be able to genuinely connect to what is truly important – our people and our place.
For those of you voting, it is a wonderful thing to really like the person, but it is more important that you vote for someone that will bring tangible value to the table. They need to have the skills and expertise to provide leadership that will serve our district now and into the future.
The rewards of serving one’s district are immense. Those with a heart to make a difference and a vision for a better tomorrow should be encouraged. And if you don’t have patience now, you will soon develop some if you wish to succeed 😉.