Formerly New Zealand's High Commissioner to the Cook Islands and MP for the Northland Electorate of New Zealand.


Moving forward together

Thursday 16 April 2015

No silver bullets

It's not every day that the world's largest and oldest high IQ society seeks my opinion, so I was intrigued when Mensa recently asked me to provide 'thoughtful input' on the subject of local politics for its magazine. What is the biggest challenge of being a mayor of your area, was the first question. What is the most important thing that residents of your area could do to improve it and what is the biggest project in the future for your area? These aren't difficult questions to answer. Perhaps I expected a more penetrating inquisition from our nation's greatest minds. Maybe I hoped the questions would reveal dazzling insights honed by a superior knowledge of political history, economics, law, geography and sociology. But there were no silver bullets; just three simple questions. Yet they are good questions. Here are some of the points I plan to make in my response.

Maintaining vital infrastructure scattered across a large, sparsely-populated and relatively poor district is arguably our biggest challenge, given that we rely on a small rating base and dwindling Government subsidies to fund this work. We are proposing a significant programme of capital works over the next 10 years to catch up on deferred maintenance, but have prioritised these works and asked ratepayers to tell us what is affordable to minimise hardship for households.

We are also working hard to gain the confidence and trust of the communities we are here to serve. This means being open and honest with residents and ratepayers, listening to them and ultimately allowing their wishes to guide our decision making. This approach is already working for us. We have had constructive discussions with communities about our Proposed Long Term Plan. The challenge is to extend this style of open communication to all our communities and stakeholders, including Maori who make up more than 40% of our population.

How can residents help us to address these challenges? Engage with us more and get more involved in your community. Paihia is a great example of what a community can achieve if it works together. Also, recognise that there are no silver bullets and be realistic and sensible about what we can afford as a District.

What is the biggest project in the Far North for the future? Developing a shared vision and action plan that puts the District on a path to a future where Maori and Non-Maori work together to achieve common goals, infrastructure is fit for purpose and affordable, young people can get a job without leaving the district, our natural environment is protected and the Far North is a place that people want to live and work in, as well as visit.


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