Collaboration is hard work, and worth it


Last week’s announcement from Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta endorsing the Three Waters governance working group’s recommendations is a stunning example of collaboration — unprecedented in my experience — where central government imperatives and bottom lines became entwined with local government practical application and experience.

Combine that with iwi/Maori cultural and historic values for the environment and, finally, we have collaborative consensus. I am not saying the process has been perfect. But maybe if we have the courage to consider change, there is the genuine ability to take a step from the expectation of things being done in the traditional English manner to something that better defines us as a nation, with consideration that includes an amalgam of values and principles.

To my eternal shame there have been times in my life that I have introduced ancillary rigour to my thought process around co› governance, but the privilege of being mayor has also demanded a recalibration, if I ever was going to be able to represent our district in the wider local government family. Put simply, many of the discussions Iam subjected to locally would not exist in virtually any other part of New Zealand, and we need to consider what truly defines us, not only as a nation but as individuals, because the world is evolving at a faster pace than many are prepared to accept.

There are a few examples that gave me pause for thought. For example, my ignorance in the past to the cultural significance of a rahui being placed on a river, where if it was a September full moon I might have just tried to continue whitebaiting; or the time a good friend of mine, the mayor of the Chatham Islands, was reduced to tears trying to get through my thick head that the Islands’ treaty settlement wasn’t about money, it was about the terrible historical carnage his descendants endured. I didn’t have a clue about the history of the islands and, truth be known, I don’t have much of a clue on the history of my own island. It certainly isn’t the sanitised version we were given at school.

There are examples of councils building sewerage plants on wahi tapu sites, or a sailor naming ahill after the dog that was sitting beside him as they sailed past, and to this day that hill is still most referred to by the dog’s name rather than the name given to it for a millennium by the tangata whenua of the region.

Three Waters reform has been smothered in misinformation and racial disharmony, and it has forestalled our ability to have the challenging discussions with our communities, to balance the imperfect alternatives placed in front of us, or consigning our most vulnerable to incessant and unsustainable rate rises.

The next stage of the reforms process will have the working group that I chair, the Rural Supplies Technical Working Group, presenting their recommendations to the minister. The simplest thing for a politician to do is sit on the sidelines and feed into the scaremongering and political meddling that has dogged these reforms, but to fight for the best outcomes for farmers’ business structure, and our community’s health and wellbeing, is to fight from the inside, constructively committing your energies to enshrining practical working solutions to a package that we cannot afford to get wrong.

The next few weeks will be defining for the Three Waters reforms. They can influence and impact our back pocket, and the world we pass on to our children. Consequently it deserves our clinical consideration. Onwards and upwards.