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Author/Moderator - William (Bill) Barclay 

 

Associate Member NZ Media Council.   

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Monday
Apr012019

Mayor Right On Spot Tomorrow Morning

This morning's radio interview on RNZ by Kate Gudesrll puts Mayor Sandra right on the spot in regard to the motion she has proposed for tomorrow's Council meeting that in effect rejects signing of the Local Government New Zealand Climate Change Declaration.

Listen, and understand to the utter frustration expressed so eloquently by young Thames High School students Helena Mayer and Lillian Balfour, who along with others attempted to speak with the Mayor last week on the issue, but who was "too busy." 

It is time the Eastern cabal on the Council, who have blindly supported the Mayor to date took another look at where they stand - are they to remain in this indefensible position gathering further scorn and derision, or they prepared to 'take her on,' and 'take her out' on this issue? We will know tomorrow.

 

 

 

Sunday
Mar312019

Time to Reflect!

I have avoided any comment, or involvement with the events of Friday 15 March. What else is there really to say – so many commentators clearly consider that they have something to add that makes sense whereas I have nothing to add that makes any sense.

But I can’t escape that easily, having already made reference to the 'underbelly' of right-wing racist groups and individuals who have quietly enjoyed succor and even association within our midst. These people are but a symptom of what is a deep-seated and hidden  malady. When it was obvious, we have often ignored, or walked around it, and diminished its importance, or even poisonous effect.

Now we are faced with a painful analysis on both a national basis that will inevitably bring about a confrontation between authority, and those who will defend their gun rights to the last, and within our own personal sphere – a challenge that may be even more painful.

It behooves everyone – particularly those who seek to record events and opinions to just hold-horses, and reflect on the immediate, and long-term effects of free-form musings, no matter however well intentioned.

I was reminded of this this week when I read another Pattrick Smellie Stuff article drawing attention to “Facebook’s Intolerable Insult To New Zealand After Mosque Shootings.” It is not so much the apparent willful refusal of Facebook, (and others) to accept responsibility, that no-one can deny, but his opportunistic shot across the bows of the Anti-1080 movement as part of the pro-gun lobby .

It is not as if those of us who are determinedly pro-1080 have any desire to see the no doubt well-intentioned contrary views promoted, but to deliberately conflate them with what occurred on 15 March is self-defeating, and wrong. 1080, fluoride, mangroves – they are all issues that inspire passion, and are worthy of reasoned debate – not vilification, and the kind of ‘guilt by association’ that Pattrick Smellie has indulged in while attempting to corral all the groups that he suggests now warrant surveillance.

Here is the quote from his article:

"Yet even as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was making her first comments on gun reform last Saturday morning, people travelling to the Womad music festival in New Plymouth were confronted by a bridge in the city festooned not only with anti-1080 signs, but also with placards carrying web addresses for the alt-right QAnon movement.

This is the far-right rumour mill that peddles a claim that Hillary Clinton was part of a global paedophile ring, that philanthropist George Soros, who is Jewish, is part of a plot with Barack Obama to stage a coup against United States President Donald Trump, and that North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un is a CIA plant.

In QAnon’s world, special counsel Robert Mueller is secretly investigating all this on Trump’s behalf. The Rothschilds are in on it too, according to this common-or-garden variety anti-Semitic nincompoopery.

QAnon, which has had no presence in New Zealand but has traction as a pro-Trump vehicle in the US, dismisses attacks such as last Friday’s as “false-flag” incidents organised by the Clinton/Soros/Obama cabal."

For this experienced journalist to draw these conclusions from a “reported” sighting of the signs is irresponsible, and unprofessional. Without photographic evidence proving their existence, and their supposed linkage, the report is meaningless, and his conclusions likewise. The story should have been spiked by any responsible editor.

I don’t carry any brief for what I have referred to in the past as anti-1080 ‘nutters,’ and In particular, I regard their Nelson lawyer – Sue Grey’s promoting of their dubious claims in social media live streams as a legitimate means to liberate thousands of multiplied posts as deplorable, and dangerous. (RNZ Morning Report interview) But that does not warrant the blanket of suspicion being thrown by Pattrick Smellie in this article, and elsewhere over the entire movement that has many committed followers with honestly held, and utterly non-violent beliefs.  

Everyone just needs to ‘cool it,’ and approach the forthcoming Royal Commission with an element of common sense, and justice if the beating heart of this democracy is to be preserved. .

 

 

Friday
Mar292019

Climate Change Declaration  

Despite earlier predictions of imminent change, our Mayor continues to stubbornly resist any attempt to have our Council sign the Local Government Leaders Climate Change Declaration.

Mayor Sandra sticks to her guns despite all the criticism that has been levelled on the matter that is fully explained in a paper that that she will present to Council on Tuesday 2 April.

Here is the content of the proposed Declaration, now signed by nearly 60 councils:

“We have come together, as a group of Mayors and Chairs representing local government from across New Zealand to:

  1.  acknowledge the importance and urgent need to address climate change for the benefit of current and future generations;
  2.  give our support to the New Zealand Government for developing and implementing, in collaboration with councils, communities and businesses, an ambitious transition plan toward a low carbon and resilient New Zealand;
  3.  encourage Government to be more ambitious with climate change mitigation measures;
  4.  outline key commitments our councils will take in responding to the opportunities and risks posed by climate change; and                                                                                                                           5. recommend important guiding principles for responding to climate change.”

Here is the response of our Mayor in coming to her recommendation that Council not sign the Declaration.

"In my view the Declaration is a potentially binding document as it commits the Council to developing and implementing ‘ambitious plan’. The term ‘commit’ means ‘to pledge to a cause or a course of action’. Council’s reputation, and that of individual elected members, is at risk if we do not uphold all the initiatives promoted by future governments. Without a legal opinion there is no way to prove there is no commitment and obtaining a legal opinion is an unnecessary expense in this instance given we are clearly working in accord with the objective of the declaration. A paper by Jack Hodder QC presented at the recent Rural and Provincial Sector meeting in Wellington noted that there has been many climate change litigation cases around the world and recent New Zealand negligent cases (asbestosis and kiwifruit pollen (still underway)) give credence to the possibility of legal challenge.

The initiatives described in the declaration and Local Government have not yet been canvassed and therefore have unknown financial consequences. In fulfilling our fiduciary responsibilities the Council has to follow the decision-making provisions of the Local Government Act 2002. These provisions include:

  • Identifying all reasonably practicable options;
  • Assessing the advantages and disadvantages of different options;
  • Taking into account Maori culture and traditions if it is a significant decision regarding land and water
  • Considering the appropriate level of engagement with our communities based on significance of each decision."

The actual recommendation is couched in the following manner:

That the Council:

  1. Receives the ‘Local Government Leaders’ Climate Change Declaration’ report, dated 19 March 2019.
  2. Continues to take action, following robust decision-making processes, in response to climate change for our communities.

Disappointing, but anyone who knows our Mayor, and the manner in which she operates will hardly be surprised. The highlighted use of the word commit - one that appears nowhere in the document, and one which LGNZ Chair Steve Cull denies, together with the references to the LGA are indeed an irrelevant ‘red-herring’ when seen in the light of the negating of any commitment.  

It remains up to Council to either accept, or amend the recommendation on Tuesday in order to adopt the Declaration. At this point, I can see only three West Coast members supporting such a reversal, and I suspect that Mayor Sandra has already clalled a Workshop in order to canvass, and tie down the East Coast support. The motion is right at the end of the Order Paper, to ensure minimal local public presence.

Our Council will likely continue to be derided for its backward and ignorant stance on a critically important issue.

 

Monday
Mar182019

Climate Change Litigation Risk

In the last few days, Local Government NZ released and distributed an opinion prepared by Jack Hodder QC at their request, to all mayors, members and staff, that describes the level of risk being incurred by councils to similar litigation as recently instigated elsewhere in the World,

It is hardly surprising that Mr Hodder's opinion warns of far greater risk than has possibly been appreciated at council level here - a risk that our Council would do well to take into account when deciding whether to follow our Mayor's lead, and her demonstrated scepticism as to its existence, and likely effects.

It may well be required at some point in the future to prove that it has taken all reasonable steps to deal with what is now established science, and despite our Mayor's stated inability to understand it, to implement appropriate counter measures, and in particular, restrictions on developments and protection of existing infrastructure.

What should concern us in particular is the following key conclusion: (Note - I do not have an URL link - only a PDL which I can forward if you require.)

"Current local government litigation risk mostly relates to decisions to limit development (short-term judicial review).  In the future it seems likely to extend to the consequences of allowing development and failing to implement adaptation measures. "

Here is greater detail from the Opinion that is immediately relevant to our situation right here in Thames-Coromandel :

"1.1 Local government is required to plan and act to meet the current and future needs of local, district and regional communities. This in turn requires prudent stewardship of resources and good quality risk management.

1.2 Those objectives have always been challenging. But now the challenges have been compounded by the strengthening of the consensus on the imminent impacts from significant climate change reflecting human activities.

1.3 This short report assumes the correctness of that consensus, and addresses the legal dimension of those compounded risks for local authorities. It seeks to explain that the combination of, first, climate change concerns, and, second, common law systems such as ours, has already created serious litigation risks for governmental agencies, including local government – ie, risks of damages awards.

and

7.5 The strengthening consensus on anthropogenic climate change and its adverse consequences indicates issues which in some cases will materialise only over decades. And there are many interests in play: owners and users of private assets; those undertaking local use changes and developments; insurers; publicly owned assets; central government and taxpayers; local government and ratepayers.

7.6 If major climate litigation, involving large monetary claims, does occur in future years, it will involve an ad hoc inquiry into fault and apportionment of responsibility for any one or more of thousands of exercises of statutory powers, or alleged failures to exercise such powers.

7.7 This will almost inevitably feature the distortions of hindsight:
In the way in which litigation proceeds, the conduct of the parties is seen through the prism of hindsight. A foreseeable risk has eventuated, and harm has resulted. The particular risk becomes the focus of attention. But at the time of the allegedly tortious conduct, there may have been no reason to single it out from a number of adverse contingencies, or to attach to it the significance it later assumed.
The obvious unpredictability of this adds further complexity to the nature of climate litigation risk.

7.8 In the face of such risks, with impact on most and perhaps all parts of any country, the idea of national standards and solutions seems obvious. In New Zealand, appropriate legislation also seems obvious. We have a long history of public welfare legislation backed by taxpayer funding, and our legislation does trump the common law (including by enacting immunities or limitation defences against litigation risks).

7,9 I will not venture into details of the shape of “appropriate” legislation. But I suggest that some refined and expanded version of the EQC system justifies serious investigation. At a conceptual level, that would involve expansion of the range of “natural hazards” covered by a protective legislative scheme. And the ultimate backstop would be the Crown and its general taxation powers.

7.10 The political and economic ramifications and difficulty of handling the risks which climate litigation would bring – and reflect – may also deserve the label “super wicked”. But it seems to me that doing nothing requires a surprising level of bravery.

JE Hodder QC

7 March 2019"

 

 

 

Monday
Mar182019

Australian Exported Terrorism, Is Us!

Having returned to New Zealand after twenty five years working for the Australian Government in various roles, we were often questioned  as to why, when everyone at the time appeared to moving in the other direction? I think many of our friends will recall that our answer was quite simple - the ingrained and pervasive racism that permeated every aspect of Australian life - a casual, accepted, inherited and defended racism that transcended guilt, made our decision relatively simple.

We decided to leave it behind, and return to a country where the same or similar existed in a far more diluted, if barely tolerable  form. Hence our lack of real surprise when we heard of the origins of the main perpetrator on Friday - Grafton on the Northern NSW coast is one the epicentres of the attitudes that are so well explained in this article, by Chris Graham on his website - Newmatilda.com,

For additional comment by Waleed Ali - a prominent Australian journalist on their Project program, go to this Facebook page. It is as frightening as it is disturbing,, and bears out my heading to this post.

Graham is a former Walkley journalism award winner - the top Australian awards in this field. It is seldom that I have seen such self-awareness displayed in this particular area by any Australian journalist - most appear in denial, or incapable of admitting that Australian attitudes are in any way unusual - Trump has inspired complacency, by comparison.  How often have we heard? :

"It is all very well for you Kiwis to claim the morl  high ground - you don't have boats heading your way, or the abject historical Aboriginal condition to deal with."

My eight year fight during the nineties and beyond, right to Cabinet level, for adequate Federal government resources to deal with Aboriginal health conditions in the Northern Territory, left me exhausted, and despondent. I was fobbed off at every level by the sickening and patronising futility - "Don't waste your time, or ours, son!" that had prevailed for the 100 years since Federation, with first prime minister Barton's declaration that only white Europeans qualified as Australians. I won't expand on the words he actually used to describe the others! Don't imagine that much has changed.

Every other aspect of Friday's events has been reported at length elsewhere, and my reference to the above article is the only contribution I intend to make. But anyone who thinks that the philosophies, that drove Tarrant, albeit less obvious, are absent here should think again. Anyone who is in denial as to whether they have heard similar sentiments casually expressed here to many of those in parts of his manifesto, and as graphically described in Graham's article, are kidding themselves.

Kia kaha!

 

 

Friday
Mar082019

'Climate Change' - Agree, or Disagree? - that is the Question

It is interesting that the writers who put the Stuff article together yesterday on  the reaction of councils throughout the country to the 'Climate Declaration'  found difficulty in establishing whether it is the prerogative of the Mayor, or the councils to make that decision. 

Our Mayor Sandra has taken it on herself to state that she has no intention of signing it, and one can only presume that she has the support of her Council in taking that position - or has she? Rex Simpson appears to have deserted the fold, and will no doubt vote in favour of signing the Declaration on 2 April. I am sure that he will be joined at least by Sally Christie, and Strat Peters. Based on the performance on 19 February, that will be it, and the East Coast group appears likely to bloc vote with the Mayor.

Our Council will join the following (see StuffI article) in taking this position, :

Manawatu District,

Hamilton,

Hurunui,

Waitaki,

West Coast Regional Council, and

Westland.

Not marvellous company I would have thought - quite the contrary. Several other mayors equivocated when put on the spot - none of those actually opted out as above.

It is really disturbing when people elected to these positions claim 'ignorance,' "lack of scientific knowledge," and other specious excuses for failing to sign a perfectly simple declaration designed to show unity amongst local government in regard to accepting that climate change  is a fact of life, and seeking greater central government input into co-ordinating reaction to the problem on a country-wide basis.

That is basically all that was involved, but the range of embarrassed foot-tapping, and side-stepping to avoid taking a firm position beggars belief. That we, being one the most seriously affected districts, certainly amongst the 'No' group, are being led in this manner, is both disgraceful, and dangerous.

 

 

 

Friday
Feb222019

Why Was The TCDC Resource Consent Granted?

Denis Tegg's splendid review  of the situation surrounding the Richmond Villas Resource Consent, published today was 'book-ended with some very serious comments that are worth repeating here:

"How Come TCDC has Granted a Resource Consent for the Apartments? 

If TCDC has concluded that the land is subject to coastal flooding how come it recently granted a resource consent for the new 72 unit three-story apartment complex on the site?  The answer – which I will cover in more detail in a subsequent article is that TCDC –

  • indulged in abysmal decision-making by disregarding the threat of coastal flooding,
  • ignored high-level planning instruments such as the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement,
  • misinterpreted the Resource Management Act and
  • did not insist on up-to-date coastal hazard assessments –

All of which went unchallenged because the resource consent was considered without public notification."

Why, you may well ask?

I believe that there may well have been political pressure applied to push both this and the Whitianga Waterwsays applications through before the new Ministry for the Environment guidelines were officially required to be applied. I believe that percieved economic benefits, rather than any nefarious, or corrupt   motive may have informed this action.

There is simply no other reason why such significant developments could have been dealt with in this manner. The dates when our Council was provided with the 'draft' guidelines (April 2017), and when the consents were granted (July 2017), prove conclusively this to be the case. To claim that the impending guidelines did not need to be applied until 'formal' notification (November 2017) and adoption by Council (February 2018)  is spurious, and disingenuous in the extreme. 

In view of the potential liability now incurred by our Council, regardless of its claim of immunity, it is this aspect of its operation that is worthy of investigation by the Auditor General. It simply cannot be allowed to continue to resist imposed climate change parameters in this manner, and at our risk.     

 

 

Thursday
Feb212019

Council Workshops - 'A Blight On Democracy'

Readers will note that I have highlighted an interesting sentence in the 'Follow-On' to previous post.

It relates to the fact that our Council decided to 'Workshop' a discussion about the Climate Change Declaration after the closure of the 19 February meeting.

It is now 'par for the course' to adopt this device to hide any discussion that may become contentious ior embarrassing. It is used now to a far greater extent than any previous Council, though Leach was rather partial to its use - he did after all have a great deal to hide.

It is a device that is deplored by the Local Government Commission, and represents a total abrogation of the democratic right of every ratepayer to know what is going on behind the closed doors of our Council. I make a point of sitting through meetings until the "Public Excluded section when agendered items must fall within the defined limits of the Local Government Meetings Act, and generally do.

But workshops are another matter, and are entirely at the discretion of the Mayor. They are supposed to be used only for the purpose of allowing staff to expand on matters more fully that would be convenient in a formal meeting - not for hiding dissent simply for the sake of creating the impression that all is 'sweetness and light' on our Council.

Rate-payers are entitled to know the actual position of each of their councillors or every subject on which our Council is required to make make decisions. It is why I attend - to report on debate, not decisions that have already been made elsewhere which is the case as things stand. If they think that 'batting heads' is best behind closed doors, they are sadly mistaken, and in breach of the rules and conventions. It incidentally gives a totally false impression of the manner in which our Mayor performs in debate.

They may think it best to hide away in this manner, but the Climate Change Declaration is the perfect example of an issue that should have been discussed in Tuesday in open forum - April is too late, and gives the impression that they are simply reacting to adverse public reaction.

 

 

 

Wednesday
Feb202019

Mayor 'Flushed Out' On Climate Change (At Last!)

It seems that Radio NZ's Kate Gudsell is by no means finished with this District. Following her expose on the Richmond Villas debacle yesterday, she has finally 'flushed out' our Mayor on her long suspected climate change-denier position in an excellent interview on this morning's Morning Report. And don't let the refusal to answer Kate's direct and repeated questions on the subject as adequate cover - it is barely more than thin shade for a firmly held belief.
 

This follows a splendid Public Forum session at Council yesterday when the same group of concerned citizens (about 30) who turned up in December turned up again in Public Forum. They were there on both occasions to request that our Council join with nearly every other council in signing a Declaration on Climate Change that was designed to put pressure on Government to more comprehensively accept its responsibility to work with Councils to deal with the inevitable effects of climate change. To Sandra this is nothing more than a "meaningless political gesture."

And based on yesterday's performance, our entire Council sits stolidly behind rejection of any such gestures, at least for now, and until they can guage any adverse community reaction. While not expressing any views that may 'paint them into a corner' on the issue, it was nevertheless made  perfectly clear that they remain steadfastly 'sceptical.' I believe that its members consider that they represent precisely the views of the majority of the undoubtedly very conservative, and demographically elderly constituency, that votes! In other words, they appear to believe that their best chance of re-election lies in  maintaining this position.

They may well be right, but the irony of only being joined in this position by the bucholic backwater of South Island's West Coast Council appears lost on them. This was abundantly clear during yesterday's meeting when the delegation's submission was accorded  scant attention and even less respect by our Mayor - the matter was not even on the agenda - the December submission was simply ignored, as will apparently this one. The one thing they share with the West Coast councillors is that they are all elderly, white and male (with one exception!).

On the other hand, that remarkably well-informed and impassioned promoter of the contrary view - Alistair Brickell who was also inspired to turn up, was listened to avidly, and apparently uncritically. His colourful graphs and charts were waved during his incoherent presentation, and the questioning from members appeared to reflect their sympathies for his weary, and increasingly isolated position.. I was left in thrall at just what this indicated about the leadership provided by our Council.

Mayor Sandra continues to laud the employment of our new Coastal Engineer - Jan Vanderliet, and 'coastal studies' as the 'be-all and end'all' in this morning's interview as if these  meet all our obligations to combat the effects of climate change. Meanwhile, another presser today announces the expenditure of futher millions of ratepayer dollars on 'stage two' of the Whitianga Town Centre Renewal Project - probably the most 'Canute-like,' and foolhardy venture this Council has ever undertaken.

I trust that repetition of the content of Sandra's interview with Kate Gudsell will continue to be analysed right up until the Election, sufficient to encourage appropriate candidates to oppose Sandra, along with all the other craven crew who claim to represent us, now. 2019 will surely be our last and best chance to effect change for our future.

 

Tuesday
Feb192019

A Remarkable Turnaround By Council

The remarkable action by the District Council to place a inundation warning on the title of the Richmond Villas title in December as revealed in today's RNZ News is mind-boggling to say the least.

The fact that village owner Colin Parker claims that the letter notifying this change was not received is almost beyond belief. Notwithstanding, he was well aware, as we all were of the danger of proceeding when the consent was issued in late 2017 when the Government had made it perfectly clear that revised guidelines were 'on the way'  that would almost certainly obviate any chance of approval being granted by Council.

What is disturbing is that it appears clear that Council rushed through several applications in October 2017, including the one from Whitianga Waterways,  in what appeared at the time to be a deliberate attempt to avoid having to apply the anticipated changes to the guidelines. This disgraceful state of affairs appears likely to now come under close examination - hopefully by the Auditor General.

Mr Parker's building at Richmond Village appears to be on an expedited construction curve over the last few months with an August completion by all reports. It seems likely that all his buyers will need to be given the opportunity to withdraw in the light of this late breaking information. The potentially inevitable result will be extremely expensive litigation against the Council - a prospect to which I have drawn attention on several occasions in the past - just do a search to see those posts.

This is a developing story, and I will update it as further information becomes available.

 

Sunday
Feb172019

Same Council, But For How Long?

The only remaining question that may (or may not!) be answered at Tuesday's meeting relates to the intent of sitting members to stand again. I have heard conflicting stories (not unusual!) about just about everyone around the table. All I can say with certainty is that Sandra will stand again, and aims to blow any opposition 'out of the water.'

Sandra is no tyro, and probably will, by consistently cultivating her 'base,' and ensuring that there is minimal challenge to her rule at the Council table. Only McLean provides any level of resistance, and he is usually batted away with disdain to the square leg boundary.

But councillors are another 'kettle of fish.' I have heard so many rumours about Strat that I have given up. He was adamant about standing a year ago, then around Christmas, he was standing down, and going back to Chairing the Board - a God-given right apparently, to enable Diane to take a three year break before standing for Mayor - faint hope!

Then he announced a week or two ago that he is "going back on Council - under pressure from the environmentalists." These permutations are 'par for the course,' so don't hold your breath. Strat has a very high opinion of his achievements, including the Jack McLean Centre, Queen St toilets, and the the Thames Urban Development Project - more consultants have apparently been appointed - when will it ever end? Strat claims to be the 'torch- carrier' for the 'environment lobby,' but I have seen little evidence of this at Council.

Rumours of 'standing down' have surrounded Jan Bartley, Murray McLean, Rex Simpson  and Tony Fox. Now it appears that all intend to stand again - all excepting Jan Bartley that is, who is clearly 'on the outer,' and who will certainly be challenged.

One outsider mulling his chances of giving the Thames group 'a run for their money' is Russell Skeet - a thoroughly public spirited candidate (and regulat commenter pn my posts!), well versed in every aspect of council affairs, and who in my view would make a thoroughly solid alternative to the current lot.

Sally Christie, appears unassailable with a substantial majority (400) from 2016, but questions remain as to her ability to give justice to to both her role on the Council, and on the Waikato District Health Board. Rex Simpson, who scrapped in by 19 votes has contributed little, and is certainly someone who should be challenged.   

I will comment on others as time goes on.  Anyone with information about potential candidates, announced or otherwise, is welcome to contact me direct at billbarc@slingshot.co.nz

 

 

 

Sunday
Feb172019

New Year - Same Council

The new year is under way, and I am getting ready for the first Council meeting on Tuesday when there apears nothing controversial on the agenda - generally a sign that the 'secret' workshops have been active. It does appear likely that the 30 or so 'concerned citizrns' who turned up at the last meeting of 2018 to protest the failure of our Council to sign up to the Local Government Declaration on Climate Change will once again be present in Public Forum.

Our Council is probably the only one likely to be affected that has failed to sign, and that reflects the prevailing sentiment of this Goudie led group of what can only be described at the very least as 'climate sceptics.' The group of Thames residents who are outraged by this resistance in the face of mounting evidence, and need for greater allocation of resources to dealing with the matter will seek to find out just what Council has decided to do as the result of their previous submission. The Declaration is toothless of course, but it does send a message to Government, and our Council should be part of it.

They are unlikely to get any change out of Sandra, and there is certainly nothing on the agenda on which they can hang their pleas. Such is life in this small town. Either they organise to tip this crew out at the election, or they are wasting their time. Should the current Vanuatu 'cyclone' turn in this direction and provide a repeat of the 5 January 2018 spring tide and NNW event, we will probably escape any effects from the 4.3m tide on 24 February. Keeping fingers crossed appears to be the order of the day for this Council.

'Freedom Camping' (now there lies a favourite gripe of our Mayor!), is likely to come under some discussion after today's article in Stuff. Catching an offender with her pants down at Waikawau must have given great satisfaction to the NZMCA member, and the $400 fine resulting from the well captured photo, some degree of angst for the offender, but it does highlight just how ridiculous is the entire legislation, and resulting by-laws that are simply laughable in the face of determined avoidance, both by the perpetrators, and the caravan hirers.

Th ultimate insult to our intelligence lies in the $250 bond that hiring companies are apparently returing to hirers who avoid using the on-board toilet facilities, and return their vehicle in pristine condition.

 

 

 

Friday
Feb012019

Whitianga Waterways Are At It Again!

It only seems like yesterday that our Council was prevailed on to approve the last WW sub-division that stretched the rules regarding sea-level rise to breaking-point, and now they are at it again - this time it is Stage 12 of their development.

Read Denis Tegg's excellent summary right here to see just how complete a victory this would be for the Hopper forces, and which at the same time, if approved, will certainly place our Council, and its rate-payers at substantial risk when the inevitable inundation occurs at some point in te future.

Hopefully, wiser heads will prevail as this application goes in front of a commissioner in due course - it is up to our planners to put the full analysis in front of such a hearing, and they simply cannot ignore the Government advice on the matter - it is directly relevant even if the Hopper forces choose to ignore it, and claim otherwise. 

Some may choose to claim that the advice does not apply to the proposed Thames Sports Complex because the word "Avoid" does mean "Not allow" in the context of "non-habitable " development (yes, that is the argument being used by Council supporters to refute Denis's claim!), it certainly cannot be used in the context of the Whitianga Waterways Stage 12 "residential" development.

Let us see which pocket the ball lands in on this one - whichever, litigation seems likely as Waterways will undoubtedly claim that they have '"prior rights" having already 'paid' devlopment contributions on their entire property through their "permanently confidential" agreement dating back to the Chris Lux 1998/2004 Council.

As we now know, this resulted in an almost redundant 'Sports Complex' in lieu of contributions, that incidentally enabled Waterways to dispose of their dredgings at little or no cost.  Council will need some quick foot-work (and very clever environmental lawyers) to get around this one. And based on  our knowledge to date, we would have to question just how determined it is to restrict development in accordance with the December 2017 Ministry Guidelinesfor Category A projects (which this is!), allowing for 1.88m of sea-level rise.

Waterways claim in their document that "We considere the proposal is consistent with the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement" could not be further from the truth, but I sense a massive claim for compensation may be in the offing if they cannot get what they want.

 

Wednesday
Jan232019

Our Council Features in AG Inquiry On Stormwater 

The Auditor General has undertaken an inquiry specifically in the administration of stormwater  throughout the country by picking on three councils for an 'in-depth' examination of their practices. The three were Dundein City, Porirua and Thames Coromandel, and it was pubished last mointh. Find it at the Auditor General Webite here.

The AG has drawn attention to historic under-investment in stormwater in particular, which has "identified a level of urgency" in this regard. 

What is reemarkable is that the AG has now pointed out practices concerning the use of depreciation reserves to which I drew attention several years ago. - even writing at the time to the AG about what was happening here in TCDC. This related specifically to the manner which mandated reserves were beinh used for purposes related to the acquiring of new assets, and ignoring 'renewal' of existing stormwater iand other infrastructure.

This prectice commenced under Leach in order to enable the funding of his 'pet' projects, resulted in the run-down of depreciation reserves from over $100m to around $8m - succeefully hidden within accounts until after the deparrture of Hammond and Baker et al, and resulting in the famous back-down in last year's Ten Year Plan wherein the decision was taken to reverse this policy forthwith in order to rebuild reserves - this from my November post on the subject that included yhe following Council paper extract:

"Depreciation Reserves

We have removed the ability to fund new assets from the depreciation reserves to ensure the depreciation reserves can recover and build up for the renewals that are forecast into the future."

My comment at the time regartding this disgraceful state of affairs has now been vindicated:
 

"Steve Baker stubbornly maintained that that it was perfectly acceptable even though logic told anyone with any knowledge of Council finances that this was not the case. If depreciation reserves cannot be preserved for the purpose of replacing the assets for which depreciation had been deducted, it defies the very purpose of depreciation, and perpetually postpones liability, while cushioning councillors from electoral disapproval having to substitute real rate increases in order to satisfy their desire for extravagant pet projects." 

Perhaps the 'powers that be' at the Council became aware of the criticism about to be aimed in their direction by the Auditor General when this new 'supplementary' policy was mooted in November long after the draft plan was pubished 

What the AG identified was the extraordinary and unacceptable shortfall in expenditure on renewals required to bring stormwater (and other) infrastructure up to standard - a relatively deplorable state of affairs where our Council only spent 36% of the planned capital expenture on stormwater between 2014 and 2017 - far less that the other other two councils, and well below the national average, but totally understandable in the light of the run-down in reserves over the same period.

Remarkably, the AG draws attention to the massive shortfall in expenditure without relating it to the run-down in the legally mandated reserves. And remember - our Council is far more prone to flooding, road, bridge, and slip damage than almost any other - this makes it even more reprehinsible for Thames Coromandel rate-payers to have been placed at risk in this manner. It really does put the Leach/Hammond administration in context.

I can well remember drawing attention to the shortfall in stormwater expenditure in 2014 that followed Leach's direct intervention to ensure that he had funding for all his other pet projects, and he was aided and abetted by the confused coterie of councillors at the table, and staff who were quite incapable of exercising the necessary control over what was arguably illegal expenditure.

The sudden interest of the AG in water matters is pointer in the direction of the soon to be revealed  desire of the Labour Government to move to consolidate administration of the "Three Waters"  throughout the country. The AG Report is just the first 'shot across the bows' - Minister Nanaia Mahuta has already indicated her utter disdain for the manner which these essential functions have been performed in the past nationally, and undoubtedly the axe is about to fall.

Councils will then need to amalgamate in order to survive. These changes may or may not be front and centre before the LG elections later this year, but they will happen. Interesting times indeed!

 

 

 

Wednesday
Jan232019

Whangamata Unhappy With Mangrove Bill Changes

A meeting last night of 130 locals, called by Scott Simpson, and attended by our Mayor Sandra Goudie, roundly condemmed the new provisions of the Mangrove Bill as reported back by the Select Committee.

It is probably superfluous to say tht this response was reflected in the positions taken by Scott and Sandra - 'spitting chips' may better desribe it. 

That is hardly surprising - go to my 15 November post here to get the full picture.

The meeting resolved to reject the bill as it is currently written, and to wait out the present Government in the hope that they can in due course  persuade the alternative to revert to the the bill as originally proposed by the Council.

I think they will find that circumstances have changed as well, and that it will suffer the same fate.

But you have to give them marks for consistency, and trying - very trying!

 

 

Tuesday
Jan152019

Revealing 'Newsroom' Story Features Steve Ruru

Southland District Council Chief Executive, and ex TCDC  CEO- Steve Ruru features in a David Williams Newsroom story  today, that delves deeply into the strange set of relationships built up between controversial Chinese businessman Zhang Yikun and it appears, dozens of central and local government politicians - mostly of the National variety. 

In particular, the Chair of the Southland DC, Gary Tong appears to have become a particular target who has received travel largesse, and promotion 'well beyond his station' (he is officially described as a "Provincial Governor" in the Chinese press) in China, apparently for the purpose of establishing an influence bridgehead for the Chinese Government at that end of the country. Read the story to get the full flavour of the extraordinary lengths to which key Chinese figures here, including Zhang have been identified  for what appears to be a part of a "Belt and Road"  initiative.

The Jamie Lee-Ross story appears merely a notable incident amongst many in which Zhang has been involved. But this is by no means confined to National as evidenced by the $100,000 National donation story, but involves the Labour government as well - it having awarded Zhang an 'Order of Merit' in the Queens Birthday honours last year.  Andrew Little and ex-Minister Phil Goff appear prominent in the list of those in Zhang's orbit.

The matter involving Ruru I find of particular interest relates to the manner in which he attempted to provide a buffer between Mr Tong and David Williams who was well into his enquiries, and following up leads about a memorandum between the Southland DC and Shantou City (a thriving 5m population city on the south-east China coast) that appeared to establish a form of 'sister city' relationship, denied by both Tong and Ruru at the outset, but that is explained in the following manner:

"The email about the memorandum was “just a discussion and at a very early stage”, Ruru tells Newsroom. “Nothing further was discussed with me or the councillors and nothing further has happened.” If the process goes further, Ruru says, “then it will be discussed before any signing at council”.

But Tong signed the agreement on the council’s behalf in China. In a statement by the Shantou Foreign Affairs and Overseas Chinese Affairs Bureau, trumpeting the signing, the ceremony was attended by various municipal party officials – and, of course, Zhang.

A focus of the “Memorandum of Understanding on Strengthening Friendly Exchanges and Cooperation”, according to a translation of the press statement, is “marine life and seafood development” as well as “marine tourism”. Tong was quoted as saying the two regions could broadly cooperate in “marine fisheries, agriculture, forestry, animal husbandry and tourism”.

Given the earlier comment “nothing further has happened”, Newsroom asked Ruru to clarify. Louise Pagan, the council’s communications manager, replied: “Chief executive Steve Ruru does not want to make any further comment.”

Clearly, Ruru is not exactly sure what it is that Tong has entered into on behalf of his Council - staggering!  

There appears no doubt that the Chinese Government is targeting this country in a number of ways, and the list of former National ministers  on the boards of Chinese banks and companies here is a fair indication of just how determined it is to ensure that its tentacles remain extensive, and deep.

The targeting of a 'back-blocks' mayor may seem anomalous by comparison, but fully consistent nevertheless of what can be expected when 'road-blocks' appear in relationships with central government, and that would appear to bethe case with the current cooling at that level. Labour is smarting, and not even Winnie's long-standing and much-vaunted love-affair with Beijing is bearing fruit at the moment.

Mayor Tong is a perfectly adequate substitute in the meantime, and he appears to have the full support of what appears an equally naive coterie of councillors. Ruru just needs to 'get up to speed.' 

 

 

 

Tuesday
Jan082019

Welcome Bob Henderson - President FAI

Not many people know this, but we have living amongst us someone who is extremely prominent in the world of aviation, and whose achievements have been little recognised here in the media, or anywhere else.

That person is Bob Henderson, recently elected President of the Federation Aeronautique Internationale - based in Lausanne, Switzerland. The FAI is the governing body for all aviation sports throughout the World, much as the Olympic Games organisation oversees olympic sports.

Each sport has its own organisation - gliding, ballooning, microlights, parachuting and a dozen others, and all recognise the role of the FAI in this regard. The reason why we seldom hear of its activities is that most of these sports are concentrated in Europe and the US, and their championship events equally seldom make it to this part of the World.

The World Gliding Championships were an exception - brought to Omarama in the McKenzie Valley many years ago, but unlikely to return due to the extraordinary cost, not to say the reluctance of the top pilots to leave familiar surroundings. Bob was one of the group of five responsible for getting that event here at that time as chairman of the Gliding NZ, and was instrumental in its administration. 

Bob's background is as an Air New Zealand pilot at the highest level, and as an aviation psychologist - a role in which he has had a distinguished career.

Bob and his wife Eileen - also a psychologist in the human resources area, have between them built a beautiful new home in the Kauaeranga Valley - overlooking the river, and are determined to enjoy the local ambience, in between fulfilling Bob's international obligations in his newly appointed role - one that is widely recognised and respected within the aviation community - in Europe in particular.

 

 

 

Saturday
Jan052019

Council Under Increasing Pressure on Climate Change

Read this article from Stuff  yesterday by Charlie Mitchell to see just how isolated our Council has become in relation to its climate change and rising sea level response.

This is one of the best summary's of the situation (including excellent photographs) as it applies directly to this District  that you will read, and it points directly to the attempts being made by our Council to 'control the message.'

Interestingly, it fails to nail our Mayor as the instigator - but it does point the finger at our CEO - Rob Williams in the following passage:

"There are lingering questions about the new pool project, too. After deciding to pursue a facility at the site by the airfield, the council told its regional counterpart, the Waikato Regional Council, what it was thinking. Through a no surprises policy, staff from both councils drafted the regional council's response, which would effectively support the district council's plans.

The emails, obtained by Stuff, include a telling exchange: A draft of the letter was edited to remove references to climate change, at the behest of the district council.

One management-level district council staffer, responding to a draft version of the letter, wrote: "I don't think [name redacted] will like the reference to 'climate change strategy'," they wrote.

"Is there a term 'we' would prefer they use?" 

"The name, redacted by the district council but released on request by the regional council, was "Rob" - presumably the district council's chief executive, Rob Williams, the intended recipient of the letter. (The council, in a statement, confirmed it was referring to Williams).

There was further discussion about requested changes, before the letter was finalised and sent, largely untouched from its draft version except in two significant ways: The reference to "climate change strategy" was removed, as requested, and replaced with the term "adaptation strategy"; and a second reference to "climate change" risk was removed and replaced with "inundation" risk. A third reference to "impacts of projected climate change" remained in the final version.

The council says the references to "climate change" were removed because the term was too broad, and encompassed issues like mitigation and increased bush fire risk, alongside sea level rise.

"We preferred to be specific in our correspondence with Waikato Regional Council and so deleted the references to climate change in preference of more specific terminology about the issues at hand," a spokeswoman said."

The real (and generally unspoken) dilemma as outlined by Mitchell is based on the relative social dynamics splitting the District - the 'elphant in the room' ever since 2009 when the cost of the $100m Eastern Seaboard wastewater scheme was applied equally across the District at the insistence of the then Eastern majority on the Council.

The utter inequity of this policy change encapsulated as the "three waters policy," was enacted through a divisive and classical piece of political chicanery by the then CEO Steve Ruru, and Mayor Phillippa Barriball, and is now being repeated as reported in this article to the decided advantage of the relatively wealthy Eastern half of the District.

Mitchell has nailed this discrepancy perfectly in his article highlighting the differences created by the differeing demands of erosion and inundation on the eastern side, threatening multi-million dollar real estate, and the storm/tide damage on the western side affecting property representing a fraction of the value.

The claims on Council resources from the Eastern side are already mounting, and the potential danger from storm/tsunami events to recently approved development of the Whitianga Town Centre, and the outrageous Hopper Marina development are building a potential avalanche of claims against our Council. Likewise the Richmond Village development in Thames.

Meanwhile, tiny but effective self-help undertakings are underway on the western side to deal with their problems - at Tararu in particular, and in the absence of any Council action or even recognition of any responsibility - and that represents the very words of our Mayor. Paradoxically, the powerful Eastern elite appear relatively successful in pleading their case for Council action.

The article is a first rate, and worthy of being circulated to every resident of this District, remembering that everyone occupying property above the line of any possibility of inundation is likely to be highly resistant to rates being used for the purpose of rescuing those owning at-risk property, regardless of  which coast.

What remains a fact is that power on both Councils (TCDC and WRC) remains firmly in the hands a a relatively wealthy elderly elite - unlikely to change anytime soon. On the other hand, and in relation to the swimming pool issue, rejection of the necessary resource consent appears most likely regardless of the views of the Councils.

Like it, or lump it, Denis Tegg's analysis of the planning law relating to 'avoid' meaning 'not allow,' where sea-level rise is predicted to inundate property (including swimming pools!) within the foreseeable future appears well founded, and an impossible hurdle for our overly optimistic Council to climb over. Its stated reliance on bunds simply does not constitute a sustainable argument when it appears determined to spend $20m of our rates - one an independent commissioner would be very unwise to countenance.

 

 

 

Sunday
Dec302018

TCDC Roundly Criticised By Environment Court (Again!)

 

I had signed off for the year, but the Environment Court published its decision on 27 December regarding the DOC appeal against the TCDC rejection of its earlier appeal against the "weak" provisions in the District Plan regarding kauri dieback disease, and "as as they relate to rural, conservation and rural lifestyle land." DOC described the provisions as "toothless."

You won't find the TCDC PR machine rushing into print on this decision - if it does, it will surely be a 'watered-down' version of the proceedings. For Allison Smith's full story in the Coastal News - go here!

TCDC had as usual, sided with the Fed's, and the Landowners Association fronted by Dirk Sieling and his family who sought to have the earthworks provisions retained as "voluntary" without even rudimentary oversight of the potential spread of infected soil through earthworks.

This comes on top of another recent Court rebuke over the coastal setback provisions of the Plan. The absence of provisions in the District Plan that may inconvenience, or restrict the rights of landowners, but which satisfy the most elementary scientific requirements has now met with repeated, and quite unusual rebukes from the bench of the Environment Court.

Principal Environment Court Judge LJ Newbold made his position quite clear in his ruling on this occasion. He leaves no stone unturned in his instruction to the Council to "consult with the parties on processes that should be undertaken, and report as soon as possible to the Court." He expressed "real concern that to date their has been mainly 'talk' and not enough 'do.'" He also noted "the lack of what effective voluntary mechanisms might exist," and "the apparent lack of any proposal for monitoiring in any event."

It is interesting to note that DOC was joined in its appeal by the Waihi Gold Company, and by Waikato Regional Council. TCDC has argued "the practicality of of monitoring and enforcement," and "the unintended consequences like landowners chopping down trees to avoid regulation." It also argued an "administrative burden from having to find and notify every person with an interest in land." -  Rejected by the Court.

Judge Newbold pointed out that the Court was often guided by the preferences of a respondent council, but not on this occasion. Can I suggest that this Council's reticence in regard to implementing any provisions that either inconvenience it, or have any relation 'climate change' will eventually b ecome a major election issue - quite unlike any before. It can't come soon enough in my book! We need new blood prepared to take on these new issues by challenging the tired old dinosaurs around the Council table, along with entrenched bureaucracy.

Have a happy New Year! I will be back later in the month.

 

 

 

Saturday
Dec222018

Have a Happy Christmas and Wonderful New Year

THis blog has been relatively quiet this year - I have reached the stage where I only take on issues which I think are important, and my meagre intervention may possibly make a difference.

I will make just a couple of predictions about our Council for the next year with elections coming up:

First, I think that Tony Breljevich will toss in his hat against Sandra Goudie, and that is a good thing! My only reservation about Tony is his visceral opposition to fluoridation of the Thames water supply - thet won't win him many votes, but he should be held to the grinder to extract an underaking that he  keep his hands out of our affairs in this regard.

Tony has been champing at the bit for some time now, and i think he has spotted his best chance now that Sandra has shown her extremely weak stance on climate change and sea-level rise. Sandra has always been a sceptic, and has shown extremely bad leadership in this area with a compliant Council willing to follow along in her wake.

Tony is by no means exemplary in this area - he and others should have stood up to Sandra in a far more consistent manner, but he has shown that he is firmly in the opposite camp to Sandra. I feel that he would take measures to ensure that our Council was in the vanguard with others in standing up to an equally weak central Government that appears terrified of the fiscal consequences of providing a  financial 'back-stop' to councils that are simply not capable of protecting, compensating, and in the end, sponsoring 'withdrawal.'

Thames-Coromandel has demonstrated a lackadaisical, belated and inadequate response to date. and remarkably, and despite claims to the contrary, has only reacted in the main to the constant badgering by lawyer Denis Tegg, who has by far the best understanding of what lies ahead, tedious or otherwise. 

Sandra's barely concealed contempt for Denis, and refusal to accept some of the basic concepts that he has repeatedly explained to Council in Public Forum will forever mark her Council. no matter how successful it has been in other areas of its mandate.

Sandra appears substantially confident that by keeping dissent under cover, (have you heard that before?),and ensuring by way of the maintenance of a well-oiled public relations machine, that she will waltz back into office without any difficulty. So if Tony is to challenge her, he will need to to get his A into G , and get a move on. I say that because his public profile is just about zero at this end of the District.

In other words, he should announce his candidature as soon as possible, and begin working to make himself better known all around the District. There are a huge number of voters who feel patronised by Sandra, and who are simply waiting for another qualified and viable candidate to whom they can attach their loyalty. It would advantage him to be first into the ring!

God forbid that Sandra simply 'sleep-walks' her way through the process through attending every possible opening and event.

My second prediction is that Murray McLean and Jan Bartley will pack up their kit-bags and disappear into the sunset. They have both done enough for their respective wards, and it is time for some new blood to come through - they surely must understand that.

There are others who have done little to justify their seats at the table, but most appear too enamoured with the role they play to consider retirement. It is remarkable how 'baby-boomers' (and older- the so called 'silent generation'!) consider they and they alone have the capability of running the show.  Our Council is mainly comprised of same - tired, but entitled old 'time-servers' - sad, really!

Those are my predictions for 2019. Have a good one!

 

 

 

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