Oh Waiheke

The final breakdown of elections results confirmed I won in Waitematā (city centre and central suburbs) but unfortunately it was a very different picture on Waiheke.  I wrote the following for the Waiheke Gulf News (published on 1 December 2022) to set the record straight on a number of the election issues.   It is also an opportunity to give thanks for the privilege of serving the Gulf Islands for the 2019-2022 term

It was a privilege to represent Waitematā and Gulf for a term as Councillor.  I’ve appreciated the relationships I was able to develop in the community even though covid restrictions limited the amount of time I’d like to have spent on Waiheke over the last three years. There are so many people doing great things to support the well-being and resilience of the island (and make it a fun place too!).

It was also a pleasure to work with your local board to progress a range of issues including ferry fare equity, restoration of the Hauraki Gulf and stopping the proliferation of heli-pads. Another term just wasn’t to be unfortunately. But that is the reality of politics and the result of a very low turnout in local government elections.

However, I would like to take this opportunity to set the record on a number of claims that were made during the election campaign that were not correct and may have misled locals (the quotes are from Mike Lee’s election material) .

  • There have never been “plans to hand over control of the Hauraki Gulf to a non- elected ‘co-governed’ authority or similar non-democratic entity” this is a complete misrepresentation of the Hauraki Gulf Forum’s advocacy position adopted in March 2022. The Forum’s goal is to be the lead advocate for the Gulf to help turnaround its decline.
  • There were also no “related plans to break up our regional park network”.   There have never been plans to break up regional parks or transfer control away from Auckland Council. The final Regional Parks Management Plan signed off in September 2022 was welcomed for strengthening collaboration between regional parks and the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park

  • Another often repeated claim was that “council spending and debt is out of control”.  Since the election council’s budget hole has widened from what was projected as a result of the ongoing impact from rising inflation and interest rates, which is leading to costs rising faster than revenues. Last term Deputy Mayor Desley Simpson, led the finance committee ensuring  the budget was managed prudently and responsibly to retain an AA credit rating.

There will no doubt need to be difficult choices council has to make on the options available to respond to the budget situation.  Wayne Brown has put public transport sceptic and former Minister Maurice Williamson in charge of the “razor gang” – the new Expenditure Control and Procurement Committee. Under the old Auckland City Council a razor gang sold off pensioner housing and airport shares and cut services in response to a claimed “fiscal emergency” so close scrutiny will be needed of the Mayor’s proposed budget for 23/24 when it is announced in December.

Another concern is what happens to the Hauraki Gulf Forum when it meets for the first time in February.  Under co-governance leadership the Forum has been able to achieve a great deal over the last 2 years including expanding marine protected areas and working with community groups on planting waterways. Anti co-governance aligned groups who attacked me over a sustained period will be seeking to reverse the progress made with the help of the reactionary councillors re-appointed to the Forum.

Regardless,  I remain hopeful as I think the local government election 2022 will end up being a turning point that actually ends up strengthening the Hauraki Gulf Forum (especially the debate for co-governance) and the Super City in the best interests of Waiheke and Tāmaki Makaurau.

I plan to remain close to the Gulf Islands as my role may have changed but the work for the community and the environment continues.

A few photos from my time serving Waiheke Island 2019- 2022

Thanks to Sue for sending me this letter which unfortunately the editor of the Gulf News wouldn’t publish in full.   Posted here with permission.

Editor Gulf News

3rd December 2022

Kia ora Editor,

I would like to thank Pippa Coom, the previous Gulf Councillor, for her work and her responsiveness to island concerns and her unprecedented attendance at island events (biking from her home to the ferry and back again) including evening events.  I, also, applaud her letter in last week’s Gulf News.  I was bitterly disappointed by the campaign of Trumpian style misinformation about the Gulf Forum promulgated by certain island public figures.  I have followed the Gulf Forum for many years and when the independent review (contracted to the Environmental Defence Society) re the governance of the Forum, written by Raewyn Peart and Brooke Cox, was publicly released in February 2019 I read it carefully.  Part of the review looked into why the Forum seemed to have no teeth to stop the health decline of the Gulf (Tikapa moana).  Their clear recommendations helped the succeeding Board and co-chairs of the Forum to create a more efficient and effective body.  Pippa has set the record straight.  I did send a copy of the Peart and Cox review to the Gulf News following the publishing of misinformation but this email and its attachment was never acknowledged.   This disappoints me.

ngā mihi,

Sue Fitchett

Transformational change for the Hauraki Gulf

The Hauraki Gulf Forum voted on 28 February (11:7) in support of an advocacy position for updating and strengthening the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Act.  

For what should have been a relatively straight forward decision Forum members were subjected in advance to a well funded misinformation campaign objecting to the Forum’s advocacy for a refresh in composition to enable the Forum to advocate for the Gulf under a Treaty partnership model (co-goverance).

Here are my speaking notes from the meeting in support:

In speaking in support of the motion before us and the recommended advocacy position for updating and strengthening the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Act I would like to first reflect on the two years since I came on to the Forum.  I’ve been fortunate to experience the Forum under co-governance leadership that has put us in a strong position to advocate on behalf of the Gulf,  Hauraki Gulf Tīkapa Moana  Te Moananui-ā-Toi that we all know to be under immense pressure and in a dire state. I’m fortunate to have only experienced a forum that is focused on clear goals, makes decisions largely by consensus and  with co-chairs mandated to take every opportunity to push for improvements for the Hauraki Gulf .

Our co-chairs report that you have just received highlights the progress we have made together as a forum.  As we have stated in the report our co-governance leadership model has been influential factor in our shared progress.  It has also now brought us to a logical next step of what change could look like after 22 years of the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Act.   Even with the benefit of a well-functioning forum change is necessary. As Attachment A notes at para 18, in recent years the Forum has pushed to the edge of its powers and has done what it can with the current Act to make it as effective as possible.

We are really fortunate that we have Dr Graeme Campbell, the original drafter of the Act, guiding us on this next step.  As Dr Campbell has advised forum members “The time is now ripe to make changes to the Act that will guide the necessary actions of every institution that makes up the Forum. It is timely to review the membership and the mechanisms that will facilitate action. This is not a new idea, and was always anticipated by the drafters of the Act.”

The forum members have come under immense pressure in undertaking, what I think, should be a relatively simple and logical task landing on an advocacy position for updating the Act.  I think this is the first time I’ve had my name on a full-page ad in the NZ Herald ahead of a decision.  This may also be the first time members have experienced such an intense misformation campaign.  I say “misinformation “ deliberately because the communications that have provoked a deluge of emails and petitioners have not accurately represented what is before the Forum today.  For example the email out from Auckland Ratepayers Alliance had the heading “Democratic control of the Hauraki Gulf & Regional Parks is about to be lost” and opened with the line “Aucklanders’ ability to freely use and enjoy the Hauraki Gulf is at risk.   This is because the Hauraki Gulf Forum, a consultative and advocacy body established under the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Act, is about to vote to remove elected councillors and in their place establish an iwi controlled model.”

I am sure members were able to see though this non sequitur of sentences that are mutually exclusive, but I think it is important to put it on public record for those listening in who may have misunderstood the role of the Forum and the decision before us and who may have been deliberately misled.   We can not be both an advocacy body AND about to take control over the Hauraki Gulf! (or Auckland’s Regional Parks for that matter)

As members I would like us to focus on what is actually in the report and the information we know to be true to inform our decision making.  I ask that we also hold in mind our governance statement committing us to operate in partnership under the Treaty of Waitangi including the principles under the act and to integrate and respect Te Ao Maori and other world views.

We also have the benefit of drawing on three reviews about the Act over the last seven years. The most recent review in 2016 concluded “The current governance model for the Hauraki Gulf Forum is not effective, and consequently, the opportunity for that independent, influential and effective leadership is not being realised.” I thank those members who have waited patiently for the Forum to have the courage to take this next step in respect of advocating for the necessary changes to the Act.

Thanks to our Executive Officer Alex who has guided our work through what has been an iterative process that has landed on, what I consider, to be a clearly articulated advocacy position. Every member of the forum has had the opportunity to identify issues, contribute options and suggest alternatives.

What is proposed is about being able to BETTER advocate for the Hauraki Gulf.   In summary the main recommendations are to:

  • Introduce a long-term Statutory Vision and Strategy for the Gulf – to raise the importance of the Gulf in relevant decision-making; and
  • refresh the Forum – to enable us to be an even better advocate for the Gulf under a Treaty partnership model

Despite claims to the contrary it is NOT proposed to change the management, ownership or control or access to the Hauraki Gulf.  The report clearly spells this out.

The recommendation under b) then asks that we take our updated ADVOCACY position to relevant ministers to discuss.   As has been highlighted throughout the process it is just an advocacy position and it sits with parliament to reform the act and consult with the public on any proposal.   That discussion will ONLY start with the resolution of the Forum. And if not unanimous we will make that clear to ministers and be transparent to members on the steps we are taking.

We’ve also been asked (by the Gulf Forum Group) to consult before making this decision. This is another tactic to kick this important decision down the road which unfortunately happened after previous recommendations.  It also misunderstands the role of the Forum.  To quote Dr Campbell again “The Forum is framed as a meeting place for those who make decisions affecting the life sustaining capacity of the Gulf. The individuals do not (in this case) represent people, they represent institutions, a government agency, a local authority, an Iwi/hapu.   Those institutions have a legal Treaty/statutory right to make decisions that affect the life supporting capacity of the Gulf/Islands/ catchments of Hauraki. The job of the Forum is to achieve, or to contribute to achieving three things  – purpose of the Act, Treaty obligations, and integration of objectives across agencies“.  Or as the Brady report put it in 2015 the Forum should “act as a political peer group, and provide leadership and oversight to promote the objectives of the Act”.  Unfortunately, some members and the Gulf Users Group seem to be unaware of this expectation and are raising “consulation” direct with the public as a false flag  (something the forum has never done in 22 years before a big decision).

Finally in recommending this motion to members I refer to the Forum’s recent public poll showing overwhelming support for doing more to protect and restore the Gulf, with huge numbers also in favour of the use of indigenous practices like rāhui.  Today’s positive decision is long overdue. The Hauraki Gulf  Tīkapa Moana  Te Moananui-ā-Toi is in a degraded state, suffering from impacts off the land and at sea.

There can be no member around this table (or should I say virtually on zoom!) who truly believes the status quo is adequate.  We now have a clear position on what change can look like.    I strongly commend the motion to members.