Speech to the LGNZ Conference

  • Hon Nanaia Mahuta
Local Government

Speech to the LGNZ Conference


The four wellbeings

  • I first just want to draw on the theme of your conference and a saying known to my people at home “When a reed stands alone it can be easily broken:” But when we are bound together its unbreakable it’s unwavering. When we think about localism and the opportunity to draw on the strengths and talents of our community its like the many reeds bound together in terms of trying to realise a greater aspiration for their people.
  • So I am pleased to contribute to your conference on community empowerment and collaboration today. Like you, I have been thinking a lot about what smart collaboration and partnering between our two layers of government looks like, and where it can lead us.
  • In my mind community wellbeing is about connecting to the hopes and aspirations of our diverse communities, and enabling them to give voice to and act on these, will assist us all to understand and invest in what matters to people and their sense of place.
  • Earlier this year, we reintroduced the four wellbeing into legislation. Central and Local Government have an important role to support wellbeing outcomes.
  • I want to thank SOLGM and the LGNZ sector for the work you have done to devise a set of indicators and to develop a roadmap for delivering intergenerational wellbeing and prosperity.
  • A more collaborative functional relationship between central and local government is part of this roadmap, and is evolutionary in nature. It requires us to acknowledge the roles we each play in a broader, holistic wellbeing agenda, and for us to take a strengths-based approach.
  • For me, the way into this conversation is through reflecting on some of the ways in which this is already happening, and continuing to seek out and amplify how we can change peoples’ lives at the local level.  
  • The truth be told there are already great examples around the country demonstrating that by doing things a little bit differently. Engaging our communities in their aspiration for now and into the future leads to change and improves the life outcomes in our communities. But this should be the norm not the exception.
  •  These examples show us what can be achieved when central and local government collaborate and partner to deliver on locally-driven initiatives that ultimately make our communities safer, more prosperous, more resilient, and more inclusive.

The overarching challenges we face

  • But first I want to touch briefly on some of the overarching challenges we face.
  • There are serious costs and funding issues for councils, with few levers to address them other than rates increases. High-growth councils find themselves up against debt ceiling limits, and depopulation pressures constrain some others.
  • Then there are the costs of new infrastructure or of replacing old, adapting to climate change and adopting resilience measures. Tourism is a crucial earner but brings its own challenges.
  • On top of this, there are heightened community expectations and modern statutory requirements – we know that you encounter many of these issues in your working lives.
  • While it may feel this way at times, my message to you is that you are not facing these alone. Your challenges are our challenges.  There is a proverb Nāu te rourou, nāku te rourou, ka ora ai te iwi – with your food basket and my food basket the people will thrive.
  • This whakataukī talks to community, to collaboration, to a strengths-based approach, acknowledging that we all have a part to play and by working together we can all thrive.
  • When we came into Government, we asked the Productivity Commission to conduct an inquiry into local government funding and financing. A draft report has recently been released and we support its call for submissions.
  • We are investigating new avenues to support infrastructure funding and financing. We are co-ordinating an across-government response to resilience and climate change issues, with the involvement and assistance of local government.
  • Cabinet has been considering regulatory initiatives for water. The general direction of travel has been widely circulated and I’ll be making an announcement on the detail in the coming weeks. 
  • We are working with other central government agencies and counterparts in local government on partnership approaches to urban planning and development.
  • These are the woven fronds of our “food basket’’. Along with the four wellbeings, they underpin and give us a stable platform from which we can propel forward.

An Integrated Civil Defence response…

  • In March this year, I visited Tasman as the operations to combat the devastating fires were coming to an end. I saw first-hand how first responders, civil defence, local council representatives, Te Tau Ihu iwi and whānau contributed jointly in supporting the Emergency Operations Centre in Richmond. And how this generated mutual respect and support across the community.
  • I learnt how important the support of three Iwi Liaison Officers from central government was to the operation, not only in advising response leaders – including from local government – on decisions that would affect the whole community, but also bringing culturally appropriate tikanga to unify the Emergency Operations Centre and cordon shift during highly stressful events.
  • The response also integrated community navigators who had a direct relationships into the community to support whānau. 
  • Not only was this smart collaboration to achieve the priority goals of containing the fires, protecting life and property, and the region’s economic and environmental future, but it strengthened community bonds with understanding, generosity of spirit and aroha- overall a greater regard for tikanga albeit in a crisis situation.
  • When we achieve this mutual respect, the knowledge, and expertise, we find the desire of the community to contribute to the common good. Central, local government, iwi – are in a much better place to approach some of the big conversations that lie ahead of us.
  • Communities can work together to achieve their agreed priorities; Te Ao Maori concepts such as manaakitanga and kaitiakitanga can take their place at the centre of the conversation to enhance overall outcomes.
  • Some of this can be related to the whole area of social procurement.
  • A good example of this holistic approach to a community’s wellbeing is Auckland Council’s Southern Initiative – or TSI. This organisation uses a whanau-oriented community partnership approach to broker transformational social, economic and physical change in South Auckland.
  • By working with local groups, central government agencies, NGOs, and socially-minded companies, TSI is activating and championing social and community innovation in South Auckland.
  • An example of this is the Trow Group’s deconstruction and salvage work. As well as supporting good causes across Auckland and further afield in New Zealand, the company has sent more than 40 containers of good quality materials to support the Tongan rebuild that would otherwise have gone to landfill.
  • That’s a huge environmental plus. But they also have socially inclusive employment policies, placing under-employed people into employment, including Māori and Pasifika.
  • This includes 30 people in jobs across Tonga and Auckland in the salvage business. They have also worked further afield in Waikato – with Tainui, for example – to train up local people for long-term employment opportunities in Huntly.
  • TSI initiatives are now providing life-changing opportunities for new employees, and much-needed sustainable social and cultural benefits for the community.
  • Those benefits go well beyond the purely economic measurement of people-in-jobs. They lift up the whole community, enriching its social and cultural fabric.
  • But you like me when I visited TSI about this particular initiative would have been impressed about how Trow was taking people from off the streets, homeless into gainful and meaningful employment.
  • Further north, the Kai Ora Fund is an initiative designed to address high rates of diet-related disease in Northland, promote the region’s  climate, soil for growing food, and local business opportunities.
  • It’s an example of local and central government responding to local needs and joining up their resources to play an activation and enabling role in their community.
  • The Kai Ora Fund has been running since 2015 as a successful partnership between the Far North District Council and the Te Tai Tokerau Primary Health Organisation, with its success over time attracting more partners and supporters including Te Pūni Kokiri and Whangarei District Council.
  • Individual agencies recognised the opportunity to leverage off a collaborative approach. They envisaged a pathway that weaves together multiple outcomes across our wellbeing dimensions, including supporting and promoting the availability of local, healthy food. 
  • Projects must be community-led and must have an equity focus – ensuring the focus is on the most vulnerable communities. 
  • One of the projects funded in 2018 is “Native Maara Kai” at Kaikohe Intermediate School – a project to extend the school garden to include herbs, rongoa and heritage varieties such as ruruhau, kūmara and peru peru. It involves nannies and koros in the garden sharing their cultural and traditional gardening knowledge and experience with students.
  • It’s amazing to listen sometimes to hear kids who think their produce comes from Countdown because they don’t have a garden and they don’t have any knowledge of how to plant a garden.
  • This project enables the intergenerational approach to wellbeing we speak of, providing a structured and resourced way to transmit the knowledge of our cherished elders and guardians of the whenua to our younger generations.
  • As New Zealanders, biodiversity is part of our identity. Our country’s image is one of a pristine environment, part of ‘Brand Aotearoa New Zealand’.
  • But our nature is facing a crisis. The native plants and animals of Aotearoa New Zealand are in serious decline.
  • The Government is developing a proposed National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity, a national direction under the Resource Management Act.
  • This will help our councils across the country set the priorities in terms of managing indigenous biodiversity on land. When it’s done right, we’ll manage our land in a way that allows our native plants and animals to thrive.
  • You’ll have the opportunity to have your say on this proposal later this year, during public consultation.
  • People and partnerships are important in the protection and enhancement of indigenous biodiversity. These are values shown in action in Te Matau a Māui/Hawke’s Bay, where local hapū, iwi, landowners and communities – as well as the Department of Conservation and Hawke’s Bay Regional Council – are working together to restore native plants across 26,000 hectares of mainly primary productive farmland.
  • This mahi is called the Cape to City Ecological Restoration Project, and involves planting native plants and a vision to introduce kiwi and whio back into the area.
  • This is part of the Hawke’s Bay Regional Biodiversity Strategy, which incorporates Māori and community values to improve local native species populations and habitat in Hawke's Bay.
  • It shows us a positive vision for the future of biodiversity in New Zealand.

Meaningful engagement

  • I want to also mention the Chatham Islands Investment Strategy, which exemplifies how central and local government are working together and with iwi, Moriori, and the community to achieve strong community participation and wellbeing outcomes at the local level.
  • The strategy was an ambitious project that has brought clarity and a strategic approach to investment in the future wellbeing of the people of the Chatham Islands.
  • The outcomes of the Investment Strategy lean into and weave a path through all of the four wellbeing domains. These include the economic gains of a Tuuta Airport runway extension and more reliable, affordable telecommunications connectivity; alongside goals of maintaining and improving the Islands’ natural environment and implementing best-practice guidelines for sustainable farming.
  • Then there are the social imperatives, such as a Chatham Islands-led alcohol and drug harm prevention strategy and action plan; as well as strengthened support for arts, culture and heritage aspiration, and support for sports and recreation.
  • With this investment strategy, the people of the Chatham Islands now have a road map for transformational social and economic improvement – one they have played a role in creating.

In closing …

  • What I wanted to do today is reflect back examples of what I see throughout the country. Examples of partnering and collaboration, of people being empowered to shape their communities and improve their quality of life. 
  • Localism is happening and the call for action at this conference is to catch the wave and charge it up and make it the norm not the exception
  • Local government can take pride in the contribution it has made and continues to make to the wellbeing of the communities it represents.  You are changing peoples’ lives from the ground up
  • Just a little departure I was recently over in Canada and had cause to go through the same railway station a couple of times in my visit there. Each day there was a local focus group but it’s interesting one question on the board. People would just walk through the station envisaging what they wanted to see within that train station and its immediate environment. As I talked to the facilitator on both of the days it was amazing the range of inspiration that they took from how their community envisaged this public place.
  • It showed me that co design at a community level is a real test of whether we can charge up the localism aspiration
  • As much as we in central and local government are key players in this localism agenda. one of our most pressing challenges is to continue to push against old ways of working.
  • I’d like to see us challenge old assumptions about what “engaging with our communities’’ means – to turn it on its head and, activate and enable those communities at a local level. I want to see us invest in our diverse communities, and their capacity and capability to self-determine and drive what’s integral to their wellbeing.  We have technology at our fingertips that can change so much in the way young people engage with local Government and Central Government for that matter.
  • If our communities were to lead the conversation about wellbeing and partnership, what would that look like? If they were empowered to generate their own solutions to locally felt issues, what are the limits of their creativity and innovation?  If young people had a stronger voice, how would that affect decisions we make today that will impact on them and generations to come?   
  • Taking a different approach requires insight, perseverance, leadership and collaboration as together we negotiate the challenges that lie ahead.
  • We share the same goals – improving the quality of life for our people and communities. We may not yet have all the answers, but by keeping connected and maintaining relationships and dialogue, we’ll move forward together.
  • In the words of another proverb: Waiho i te toipoto, kaua i te toiroa – let us keep close together, not far apart. I wish you all the very best for the rest of what I am sure is proving a productive, engaging and successful conference.