Participation in local government, particularly in elections should be looked upon as one of our great shames. With only 42% of eligible New Zealand voters bothering to cast a ballot in Council elections, we only have ourselves to blame when decisions are made that we may not approve of or support. Just why we are so apathetic when it comes to voting for the people who raise our rates, dog registrations and pool fees is as mysterious as the Bermuda Triangle. Our apathy in participating in local government processes is deeply concerning given the deep reach that Council’s have into out lives and our pockets. Recently, my 19 year old student daughter was home from her flat and the topic of the national elections came up. My wife and I were horrified when she said she wasn’t enrolled and probably wouldn’t bother to vote! What kind of monster had we raised, or had our real daughter been abducted by aliens? Understandably, there were harsh words in the Pope family, accusatory finger wagging and eventually a promise to get enrolled which she did. It’s not just young people who are apathetic about government and its processes, how often have I heard people say they won’t participate because “they won’t listen anyway.” My argument to that pearl, is that it may take a few attempts, but eventually you will prevail.
I raise our apathy about local government because the City Council is now working towards the 2021-2031 Long Term Plan and Council is beginning the process of asking what are our priorities. Similarly, Community Boards are working on those priorities in their Community Plans for presentation to Council on behalf of their communities. Its too easy for the community to allow the Board to act and speak for them, when actually Board’s need vocal people to support them. If we all don’t actively participate in this process we may miss out on seeing our community needs met or worse. With participation so important it was a great pleasure to have representatives of the three Peninsula schools at our recent Community Board meeting. Their presentations were intelligent and insightful, and they focused on a great range of topics that affect them in our Peninsula community. The Board was very impressed with their ideas and they have set a standard for the rest of the community.
(Written for The Star Community Voice, 1st October 2020)
In early May all Community Board Chairs were asked by The Star, “If you could have just one thing from your board area included in the 2020-21 Annual Plan, what would it be, and why?” In the Board’s submission to the Dunedin City Council’s 2020 Annual Plan it was clear that we needed to adjust in light of the Covid-19 pandemic and level 3&4 lock-down. Job and business losses meant that there was likely to be hardship in the community and it needed to be softened. Couple that that with the likelihood of significant power price increases due to Aurora’s management and the community were going to be placed in a very difficult financial position. As Board Chair I wrote the following reply to The Star, saying that in lieu of a 6.5% rates increase and a 3% increase in fees and charges the community needed;
” A financial breathing space from rates and fee increases to soften the effects of the Covid-19 virus for our families and businesses.”
The Otago Peninsula is now in a significantly different world, where the pandemic has irrevocably changed the business, educational and social structures of our community. The collapse of the tourism industry is devastating for the Peninsula and the Dunedin economy. As families and businesses face uncertainty over employment and viability, many face difficult decisions and tough times. It’s the Boards view that our community needs at least a 12-month period to allow people to recover mentally, financially and physically from the effects of the pandemic. This means not adding to their financial pressures, but allowing people to steadily rebuild and gain confidence in their futures. It doesn’t stop the City Council from continuing with its planned activities around infrastructure construction and maintenance, but defers some things for 12 months while we all take a breath and plan ahead.
When you live on the Otago Peninsula you are living in a rich cultural and historical landscape that extends over the many generations whose descendants are part of our community today. The Peninsula sits on a crossroads of historical people and events that defines not only our community but gives its name Otakou to the very region we live in. I’m always reminded of this at the Waitangi Day celebrations held recently at Otakou Marae. The celebrations held every three years at Otakou are an important reminder that the Treaty document was actually signed here in June, 1840 as it was taken around the country on the naval vessel H.M.S Herald for signing by other chiefs. The history of the Treaty in New Zealand has not always been a happy one and even today we still must face up to the realities of its requirements and acknowledge its place in the way we live together. Significantly, we should be reminded that it is a foundation of partnership and a pathway to lead us forward collectively and individually.
Bharatanatyam dancers from Natyaloka School of Indian Dance at Otakou Marae
One of the things I enjoy about Waitangi Day at Otakou is that I meet old acquaintances I don’t see very often, and I meet new people I have not met before. In the warm embrace of the marae the opportunity to enjoy the company of people is a highlight for me. The cultural celebrations of the many different organisations at Otakou were a wonderful addition to this year’s event. What impressed me was that many of the participants in those groups were young people, who were proud of who they were and where they come from. There is a lesson to be learned from that and a reminder that it will be those young people who will carry the mantle of partnership into the future.
The debate between the Otago Peninsula community and the Otago Regional Council over the provision of bus services for school commuters has been a long and arduous one. Recently, local parent Jason Graham and I presented a petition of nearly 1000 signatures seeking three very simple things;
A timetable change
An additional bus to create a half hourly service like the rest of the city
A minor route change that caters for all users.
Over the course of the bus argument the way in which the community has presented well researched, reasoned and pragmatic solutions has been difficult for the Regional Council to answer. Combine that with a sympathetic media and the campaign has been very effective. However, what has also been effective is the way the community removed the emotion from the debate. That has allowed a far more compelling and coherent argument to be presented. Whether that will be successful is now up for debate. The community has been united over this issue and has shown considerable resolve. I can only hope that it’s not in vain.
The announcement of the review of the Dunedin City Council Book Bus service is a pertinent reminder to all Otago Peninsula residents of the importance of local services. The review should be treated as an opportunity by the community to consider modernising the services that the Book Bus can supply. These should include WiFi, online services and wider Council customer services. Submissions close on the 27th May 2017 and can be done online or on hard-copy from clicking the link here.
The book bus in the 1970’s was decorated by children from Portobello School.
I was a little whakama (shy, nervous) about putting out an election sign in Te Reo Maori. However, living on the Peninsula and working in Dunedin has taught me to look deeply at the nature of our community and how we can support one another.Language is one of those ways, and through it we can learn a deeper understanding of the world and place we live in. I’ve been very fortunate to receive much support and guidance from many Maori people in my life, so I thought I would be brave. Nga mihi.
In the last few months we’ve seen the knotty problem of freedom camping in areas like Warrington raised by the community. Having spent the last three years on the Otago Peninsula Community Board dealing with this issue its become clear that we must act far more decisively than we have done to date. That means investment, dialogue and looking at innovative ways to control the effects of the activity on local people and local areas.
In the Peninsula example the Dunedin City Council undertook a trial of using the main street of Macandrew Bay. The result was an influx of campers in non self-contained vehicles stretching local resources to the limit. With it came significant unrest among the community and others that supported the trial. After consulting with the community the Board sought a change in the bylaw and a removal of the trial area from Macandrew Bay and this changed the problem dramatically. The bylaw also removed non self-contained vehicles off public areas onto designated areas or private motor camps. Unfortunately, in the Warrington example that change has brought about even greater pressure on the site as it becomes more popular for visitors. In my view, its time we moved away from ad hoc schemes and took a more planned approach to the issue city wide. A more comprehensive approach to the issue should:
Undertake proper research into visitor accommodation and expenditure through the University of Otago Tourism Department to have real data for decision-making and planning.
Invest in appropriate infrastructure so that we no longer have to “make do.”
Develop in partnership with the Department of Conservation or private enterprise for DoC style campsites with water, toilets and rubbish collection that can be used by campers for a nightly fee.
Have limits on the numbers at certain sites to reduce the stress on communities.
Close sites during the off-season to give the community a break from visitors.
Create jobs or contracts for the management of sites within the community for local people. No one is a better ambassador than a local person.
Resource enforcement, signage, and information properly so that everyone understands the rules.
Ensure non self-contained campers are in a designated freedom camping area or private camping ground only.
Look more deeply at the availability of land suitable for the activity.
I don’t have a golden bullet or a magic wand to solve the problem, but we must take a far more pragmatic approach to the issue.
This has been an issue that the City Council has not engaged with or supported the community. Protest over changes to food contracts have been met with deaf Council ears. The future of the hospital for the community, University of Otago Medical School and employment is a crucial issue for Dunedin. While its true that the City Council has no control over the management of healthcare in Dunedin, hospital services impact on the well-being of the city on social, economic and community levels. Its time that the Council acted in unison with the community and understood;
The impact of employment in the city through the hospital and the flow on effects of that employment on our local economy.
The importance of the hospital as a teaching and research facility for the Medical School is another area important to the city’s economy and its prestige as an educational leader both nationally and internationally.
Finally, there is the desirability of Dunedin as a place to live, work and to do business in because we have quality healthcare facilities available. All of these factors impact on the Council’s ability to manage, promote and develop Dunedin at a range of levels.
I recently attended the protest regarding the standard of food on a wet Friday afternoon outside of the Dunedin Hospital. I went because a lady from my Community Board area has been seriously ill in hospital and her family have been bringing in meals from home to help build up her strength. Her grandson plays rugby with my son so I’ve been hearing from the family about how her treatment and care has been going on the sidelines lately. To my surprise I saw her in a wheelchair wrapped in a blanket with her family at the protest. I couldn’t help but admire her for taking a stand despite the fact that she has been so dreadfully ill.
In an earlier post I wrote (The Community Compass) that one of the issues with the food problems at the hospital is that local people feel they have lost control of the decision-making process. There is a strong view in the community that the hospital is owned by the community for the community. However, In light of the removal of the SDHB Board by the current government this has become even more pronounced.
One of the biggest disappointments at Fridays protest was the absence of local City Councillors. This was not lost on the crowd who attended, especially when the Mayor of Invercargill, Tim Shadbolt spoke. While its true that the City Council has no control over the management of healthcare in Dunedin, hospital services impact on the well-being of the city on social, economic and community levels. These impacts are also part of the governance and leadership role of the Council in its management of the city. Take for example the impact of employment in the city through the hospital and the flow on effects of that employment on our local economy. The importance of the hospital as a teaching facility for the Medical School is another area important to the city’s economy and its prestige as an educational leader both nationally and internationally. Finally, there is the desirability of Dunedin as a place to live, work and to do business in because we have quality healthcare facilities available. All of these factors impact on the Council’s ability to manage, promote and develop Dunedin at a range of levels. Its time that the Council understood that and acted.
In my opinion, the food issue is a symptom of a much greater problem in healthcare, especially in the way that services are provided in regional centres like Dunedin. Healthcare services transcend political affiliations. All of us at some time in our lives will have whanau, friends and neighbours who will need treatment and care. This returns us back to the fact that this is an issue of how local people have lost the ability to manage the services they require in their own community.