Early rumblings in 2019 local government elections


The first rumbles of the 2019 local government elections are starting to reverberate through the political landscape of New Zealand local government. Although the main campaign period is some months away, it has not stopped several notable local politicians from announcing they are standing Mayor.

In Auckland, former Labour Member of Parliament John Tamihere has announced his intention to stand against incumbent Mayor of Auckland and one time Minister of Justice, Phil Goff. Mr Tamihere proposes to open up the council finances to Aucklanders so that they are able to better see where their rate payer dollars are going.

Further south in Christchurch, incumbent Mayor Lianne Dalziel has announced that she will stand for a third term in office. Ms Dalziel secured the mayoralty in 2013 after much of the Christchurch City Council was voted out following a controversy – and disaster ridden – second term by the then Mayor Bob Parker. During her tenure, Councillor Raf Manji has rebalanced the council books which showed serious flaws, including considerably under-estimating the value of Christchurch’s assets when filing a claim with the insurance companies over earthquake damage.

Also possibly standing for Mayor is Councillor Jamie Gough, linked to businessman Anthony Gough who was one of the major private players in the dividing up of C.B.D. land. Mr Gough’s decision to announce a possible stand was in part informed by the growth of council projects that amount to unnecessary expenditure, but also a need to rein in rates.

However, since then, a tendency by the council to embark on projects that do have necessarily have sufficient or appropriate rate payer support, has resulted in much criticism being laid. They include a current plan to redesign Riccarton Road to have a traffic island with green space down the middle, unnecessary arts installations around the city including random steel sculptures set in the middle of the Avon River. Also planned is what I call an arty farty design around the perimeter of Cathedral Square which in my opinion do nothing for it.

Worryingly for some districts where the population base is quite tiny, a person can stand for council and get in simply because in their ward there might not be anyone else standing. Such a situation to me suggests two things:

  1. Local Government politics are simply not worth most peoples time
  2. Perhaps these small districts whose population base in some cases is only a few thousand should be looking at being dissolved into their neighbouring districts

In other councils such as Westland District Council, which has been rocked by scandal, rate payers will be looking forward to enacting a change of guard. The W.D.C., which in 2016 was made to admit that it had hired a company that bakes cakes to do work on a waste treatment plant in Franz Josef, that due hiring processes had not been followed. All of this which resulted in multiple high profile departures

Watch this space as we move further into 2019 and other potential candidates put their hands up to be a on a local board, council or even mayor.

 

Lake Wakatipu e-coli scare symptomatic of bigger problem


A few days ago there was a report about the dying aquatic ecosystem in Lake Wakatipu, which is the water playground of Queenstown, the lake whose waters the steamer T.S.S. Earnslaw travels laden with tourists seeking a farming experience and the lake which feeds the Kawarau River. Whilst all might have seemed fine to tourists, Queenstown locals are aware of a growing problem with the fresh water quality.

In late 2017, just before Christmas, Otago Regional Council announced tests were being done for E-Coli, after it was found in Frankton Bay, which is very popular with tourists and locals as Queenstown’s water front. In March 2018 further concerns were raised about E-coli in Lake Wakatipu after high levels were again found. Now, days after a damning report into the state of the Lake Wakatipu ecosystem was released, there is another E-coli alert. Before we look at the critical factors in fresh water quality, it is important to know the role of E-coli.

E-coli is an important bacteria in ones intestine as it helps produce Vitamin K and prevent colonisation by disease causing bacteria. However it has two strains that are problematic to humans, called STEC and VTEC. The latter is not so common as STEC, which causes the vast majority of E-coli related health alerts in New Zealand. Most STEC cases in New Zealand stem from instances of people being in farm environments, drinking untreated water or consuming unpasteurized milk.

E-coli is just one problem afflicting Lake Wakatipu though.

It is important to note a host of other sources including:

  1. freedom campers,
  2. a major increase in tourism,
  3. industrial area run off that has not been adequately treated and
  4. a possibly unsustainable growth in the population around Queenstown.

Queenstown’s infrastructure struggles to handle the fluctuations from Summer to Winter in population and the resultant demands placed on it. The rate payer base are often business and property owners as many locals find it too difficult to live in a town where rent sometimes swallows their entire pay, and where many of the day to day population are transient people who are on work visas and will only be around for a few weeks to a few months before moving on. All of this limits Queenstown’s choices for infrastructure that can cope. Whilst Queenstown struggles to afford appropriate infrastructure, pollutants will continue entering the lake from sources that should be better contained.

Freedom campers are generally people looking to travel New Zealand whilst spending as little time as possible in official camping grounds. They often park in places where camping is not permitted and do not always dispose of rubbish properly.

The rapid growth of tourism in New Zealand over the last few years has become unsustainable in many respects. From a huge growth in the rental car industry and the associated increase in rental vehicles on the road, through to problems with rubbish, demands on infrastructure and a reluctance among politicians to introduce fiscal or other measures to address the problem, all of these factors are combining to cause a major headache.

With Queenstown’s growth, associated light industry has been established to support the town’s economy. However with that growth industry there does not appear to have been a matching growth in efforts to contain “grey water”, which is a nick name for storm water and industrial runoff. This winds up in streams, of which Queenstown has several nicely landscaped ones running through the town, which wind up in Lake Wakatipu.

But the biggest problem facing Lake Wakatipu might actually be Queenstown itself. Constrained as it is by its geographical features, Queenstown is spreading into side valleys and along Lake Wakatipu. In an attempt to keep the town from stagnating new developments are popping up in all directions. Nearby locations such as Arrowtown and Wanaka are becoming dormitory suburbs of Queenstown. With this growth comes an increase in artificial land cover that acts as a surface to collect pollutants; an ever more constrained infrastructure network, to say nothing of more tourists as the towns reputation grows.

Good for the economy. Crap for the environment, which ultimately as one of Queenstown’s biggest draw cards, might be crap for the economy.

Do you see a nasty cycle here?

The job vacancy problem in New Zealand’s rural districts


Meet Ashburton, population 20,000 and about 80 kilometres southwest of Christchurch on State Highway 1. Ashburton is a rural service town for a largely rural district that extends from the Pacific coast to the Southern Alps, from the Rakaia River to the Rangitata River.

Ashburton District has a problem. It is critically short on workers. So short in fact that there are about 500 known employment vacancies at the time of writing this. Many of the vacancies are in Ashburton township, but also in its hinterland on farms where farmers need farmhands or in smaller towns such as Hinds, Methven and Rakaia.

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing Ashburton District is the public perception of the town and the district. To many it is just a town to stop off and fill the petrol tank up, get a bite and take off again. 20,000 people living in a town that is almost exclusively geared towards the rural sector does not entice most urbanites to leave their comfortable fortresses and venture into rural mid Canterbury. With the only major tourist attractions being the ski field at Mount Hutt and the Lord of the Rings set tours that go to where Edoras was built on a glaciated outcrop

It is not to say that there is necessarily anything bad about Ashburton. It is a pleasant enough town with nice gardens and the Ashburton River immediately south of the town. The Rakaia River is only 20 minutes driving away and one can be up Mount Hutt in just over an hour. But what if fishing, skiing and Lord of the Rings are not your thing?

One thing that Ashburton is likely to have working in its favour is relatively cheap housing. It is far enough away from Christchurch to not be influenced by the Christchurch rental market.

Ashburton is not alone in having this problem. Clutha District Council in Otago has an even bigger employment crisis. It currently has around 800 known employment vacancies.

In the case of Clutha District, it too is a predominantly rural farming district. But rather than one or two large towns, it has several smaller towns scattered throughout. The major attractions that can be offered in Clutha District are the Catlins, which is a nice scenic coastal area in the southeastern most corner of the South Island. During winter the lakes and reservoirs inland from Dunedin host curling competitions on their frozen surfaces.

Both districts have a problem in that they are seen as being “on the way” to somewhere else. In the case of Ashburton District, it could be “on the way” to the Mackenzie Basin, to Christchurch or Timaru. In the case of Clutha District, it could be “on the way” to Dunedin, Queenstown or Invercargill.

Neither seem to have seriously advertized their staffing shortages. And how much effort did they put into giving incentives for people living in larger towns to move into these rural districts. They are not simply going to walk away from their current lives without a job and clear incentives to move, such as assistance with accommodation and getting established, as well as adequate pay. Both Districts could advertise the relatively low cost of living, the out door attractions. Both despite being rural districts are within easy day driving distance of larger populated areas (Christchurch for Ashburton District and Dunedin for Clutha District).

Perhaps when these issues are addressed, there might be hope of Ashburton and Clutha sorting out their employment issues.

8 years since first Canterbury quake; Insurance still fiddling and farting


530,000 Cantabrians went to sleep on the night of 03-04 September 2010 thinking tomorrow would be just another day. Probably not a single person thought about the fault lines lurking underneath the alluvial gravel plains that Canterbury and Christchurch sit on. But many, many people will remember that freight train like rumble coming through the night, the frantic staggering to the doorway as the house began to shake.

When the shaking stopped about a minute later, it was immediately obvious a major earthquake had hit. The power was out, as was water and sewerage. A steady stream of aftershocks continued bolting through in the remaining hours of darkness and into the day, the days, the weeks and months.

Within days aftershocks of a human kind had started. Completely overwhelmed by the magnitude of the disaster that had befallen them, E.Q.C. had the rabbit in a headlight look – frozen, not knowing what to do and completely unable to assist customers. With every big aftershock a new claim would have to be lodged. With each one, new reports and inspections would be needed. New case managers would need to be assigned or reassigned.

Whilst there were initially 240,539 claims needing to be solved, of which 240,021 have been, 8 years of putting ones life on hold whilst waiting for a Government agency to get its act together is quite shocking. But that was the case of one lady in Christchurch on the consumer affairs programme Fair Go last night.

8 years, many more earthquakes later and it is now obvious that E.Q.C. actually DOES know what they are supposed to be doing. They just do not want to. For reasons only understood by their bureaucracy it is somehow not in their interests to wrap up the remaining several thousand Christchurch earthquake claims that should have been wrapped up by my guess not later than the start of 2015.

Imagine that.

Let us be honest. Earthquake Commission, and the major insurance companies have no intention whatsoever of finalizing the remaining claims and New Zealanders should stop deluding themselves into thinking otherwise.

90 days or see you in court, is what I say the Government should tell them. During that time they should prepare the necessary legal documents for the court, and on the 91st, these should be served.

There is no excuse for any of the on going delays. There is only so many times a report can be written without covering material covered in previous reports. There is only so many times an inspection can be done before the inspectors see that they are looking at things they have already sighted. There is only so many times anyone trying to get to the bottom of this should ever have to put up with bureaucracy before they have a case to make against the officials in question.

That time has long since come for E.Q.C. and the insurance companies.

South Island being short changed by Government


“Everybody south of the Bombay Hills” is a common reference to everyone not living in Auckland. It is generally used in the context of political commentary on Government decisions where New Zealanders not living in Auckland are likely to come distant second in Government funding or policy announcements.

The recent announcement by Minister of Transport Phil Twyford that billions of dollars are to be spent on Auckland and other North Island transport projects was a rude jolt for many in the South Island. Whilst an announcement on funding for the Southern Motorway was made for Christchurch, there was precious little else for the South Island to be happy with. It broke a promise that Labour made to spend $100 million on trains for Christchurch. It ignored the West Coast, Otago, Nelson, Marlborough and Southland completely.

But worst of all it sent a message to people south of Cook Strait that they are not important.

Yet people wonder why the South Island is getting so frustrated. Much of the power that is generated in the South Island goes to the North Island This has been the case for years and I am assured by a friend in the know that the Police keep a permanent watch on the Cook Strait cable to make sure no one interferes with it.

I am not so surprised by the resentment. It has been around for years and at times has gotten strong enough as to give rise to small political parties that have the vision of separating the South Island or at least making much more effort to include South Island interests on the Government agenda. It has given rise to internet based groups that have – among other things looked at alternative flag designs for the South Island.

Richard Prosser, former New Zealand First list Member of Parliament might have seemed a lone wolf in the mist when he advocated for South Island separatism before entering Parliament. However he was not the first. Nor the last. In 1999 the South Island Party stood at the General Election and got 2,622 votes. Not many, but the fact that it became a verified party with 500+ paying members suggests that such sentiment is capable of becoming more organized. The South Island Party disbanded and another party that replaced it never got enough paying members to be verified as a legitimate party.

Still, one cannot help but wonder what it would take for South Island nationalism to start creeping back into the fringes of New Zealand politics. How many more policy and budget announcements that short change the 1.1 million New Zealanders south of Cook Strait could be tolerated?

The answer might not be as many as people think.