Sunday, June 21, 2020

Clive Bibby: Communities should decide

Reports of a "sale by tender" of one of our most iconic livestock farming properties - Mangaheia Station, inland from Tolaga Bay -  is welcome news for most of us who have been nervously watching the process since it was listed for sale.

Foremost amongst the reasons for our satisfaction with the result is the fact that the property is now in the hands of two local farming families with long histories of adding value to everything they commit to.

It could have been so different!

Thankfully, the outcome can best be described as "the region having dodged a bullet!"

For the benefit of those who should be interested (which is most of us) this particular sale process had all the characteristics of a trend that is seeing our heritage and economic viability as a nation gutted while we sleep.

While it was conducted legitimately under the guise of our democratic principles that allows individuals or groups to buy and sell property within the law as it applies to sales of this type, it remains a process that needs to be reviewed in the best interests of the whole country. Because, if it isn't, next time we might not be so lucky.

Let me explain.

As this parliamentary term draws to a close, the government's influence on charting our future during the last three years is coming into focus and their performance during that time on our behalf will be judged in September when we all have a chance to review how well we think they have done in the circumstances. That is how it should be.

On Election Day, as the votes are counted, we will be able to see what the public think of this Government's performance in areas that have affected us personally.

While it is fair that our governing politicians are held to account for things that didn't proceed according to promises made, we should be mindful that there are some issues that have got out of hand where we, the people who put them there, are equally culpable and should accept some of the blame simply for licensing activities that we should have known would not work in our favour.

The classic example is the Provincial Growth Fund, a New Zealand First initiative that was partly responsible for Winston Peters being able to anoint our current Prime Minister. From a provincial perspective, particularly here in the Tairawhiti, this generous programme has been the "life support" that has meant survival during these recent tumultuous years.

Unfortunately however, that scheme has a dark side that, while difficult to identify during its initial inception, is now shown to be something akin to " full blown Aids " which although catchable only through intimacy, is potentially deadly once it gets established in the system.

I'm obviously talking about the expansion of the forestry estate that is consuming large tracts of our traditional livestock farmland which has been largely funded or assisted by the taxpayer in the form of a grant from the Provincial Growth Fund.

And of course, the Government's involvement in the expansion of the forestry industry that has decimated many rural communities, is not just reflected in the funding of these developments. It has set the climate that enables or even encourages foreign or non-farming interests to legitimately invest in our communities with the result that similar properties to Mangaheia around the country are vulnerable to this predator influence. The evidence of how this works in the marketplace can be seen in the list of underbidders when properties of this quality are put up for sale. Many of them, as in this case, are forestry interests with deep pockets.

Surely, the time has come for us to decide who and what we want to be.

"Tokoroa by the Sea" or a vibrant community with a mix of industries that peacefully coexist in an environment where we respect each other's security concerns while working together contributing in our own way to the region's strategic development.

In the meantime, add the names of our two courageous families to the cabinet list of those being considered for honours in the next round. Like Horatio at the Bridge, they have defended against incredible odds on our behalf. We should be eternally grateful.

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

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