Monday, August 26, 2019

Clive Bibby: Change is coming - We don't need others to tell us what it looks like!

In a recent anniversary copy of the Listener, the Editor referred to some dramatic events in this country's history that literally changed things for ever. 

My favourite included a reference to a hostile and condescending reception that the then Finance Minister, Walter Nash received in 1939 when visiting Britain to renegotiate the nation's loans. The interesting part of this story wasn't just the arrogance displayed by our political mentors but how quickly their attitude changed when, within days of Nash's return home and the subsequent joint declaration of war against Nazi Germany, the Poms agreed to buy our entire exports of meat and dairy products. The editorial goes on to say that WW2 probably saved New Zealand.

The purpose of today's column is to examine the parallel situations between that incident in 1939 and local community positions throughout this country today who are facing probably even bigger threats - both economic and climatic - to their survival.

Interestingly the arrogance displayed by our English cousins in 1939 has its counterpart in the form of today's Gisborne District Council who are doing a pretty good job of convincing us common folk that everything necessary is being done to keep us safe Oh yeah!

GDC says it has a plan. Really!

OK! If that is true, are we not entitled to be shown what sort of plan it is and the parts of Council's entire responsibilities it covers. You might be surprised to discover that everything is not quite what it might seem. I believe the consequences of any incomplete strategies should naturally concern us all.

I hasten to add - this is simply a personal view of where things stand. If you have a different one then l encourage you to say so. We need a serious nation wide debate on this issue because it is critical to our survival.

It is also important to note that the points l make here relating to my own region apply equally to Councils across the country.


I have always thought that Council's published annual plan deals with the smaller stuff mainly related to maintenance of utilities and things like roading infrastructure which need to be budgeted and paid for out of rates revenue.

Other micro annual expenditure and even some bigger development projects have been financed from term loans or "one off" revenue from Shane Jones' PGF or similar grants from the ECT.

So, where do ratepayers look for a plan showing Council's intentions (ideas) for large development projects - the sort of programmes that are going to mean the difference between survival and future prosperity and a wipe out.

It would appear that there isn't one! - at least not one relating to the Tairawhiti regional infrastructure. The excuse is that all macro expenditure has to be budgeted for and Council policy doesn't allow even the idea of major future spending to be included in the LTP without cost estimates attached.

What a ridiculous situation - even irresponsible if allowed to continue.

We elect councillors with the prime responsibility of keeping us safe then sanction policies that prohibit them from collecting ideas of ways that might help them do it. Sadly my personal experience tells me that, because of these acknowledged limitations, Council's current consultation process is a farce.

To be fair though, perhaps l misunderstand what Council means by the term - a Spatial Plan. Are we simply at cross purposes here or is Council guilty of knowingly being disingenuous.

My understanding is that any Spatial plan worthy of the name should include both Council's Short Term and Long Term Plans (until the year 2050) for economic and social development of the whole Tairawhiti region all rolled up into one.

Surely, in the absence of any explanation to the contrary, we must accept that the above is a fair interpretation of the term "an updated Spatial Plan"

If that is the case, how does Council explain the whopping big hole where ideas for restructuring the agricultural sector of the economy should be?

Presumably an effective plan would need to include the development of completely new systems of production on different areas of the regional landscape where they would be less vulnerable to the negative effects of climate change.

We might also ask - where are the plans for dealing with the known problems affecting our forestry sector that are inflicting unnecessary pain and structural damage on the communities supporting that part of the economy?

What we do see are examples of well researched proposals that have the capacity to transform that industry being parked up outside the Spatial plan for want of a seconder - probably rejected because the ideas drew objections on cultural grounds or from special interest groups.

It is in these circumstances that an effective Spatial plan should take precedence over all other considerations and projects that have the capacity to make a real difference are given Council's total backing. It shouldn't be filled up with "feel good" options that will have little impact on the challenges ahead.

Being accepted into the plan on merit should be the only criteria used by the funders when determining whether they want to see a development proposal succeed. Nor should the prospects of re-election be allowed to derail projects that have the potential to benefit a majority of the community. Yet current attitudes of some councillors appear to suggest that they view democracy as a relic of a bygone era.

There is no question that change is coming but it is over to the voters to decide what form it takes. Perhaps that is as it should be.

Clive Bibby is a commentator, consultant, farmer and community leader, who lives in Tolaga Bay.

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