If I were a budding politician, looking for a range of issues that would attract comment and debate, I would not need to go to far past all things environment. Get the debate right and you could attract wide community support. Get it wrong and you could attract wide condemnation.

Maybe that is why many politicians choose to stay away from this type of fray. They leave the community to exhaust itself in frustrated attempts to rectify what they perceive is wrong. And then the politician appears with the arguments clearly spelt out to offer solutions for the majority .

Issues like global warming, whale harvesting, nuclear protests, Waihopai domes, coal and mineral mining, oil exploration, water exploitation, pollution in its many forms, remain the obvious target for environmental outrage. The recent 40,000 citizen protest in Auckland will certainly test the resolve of Government to follow through their plans to mine on schedule 4 lands managed by DOC.

However there are less obvious environmental issues that deserve the attention of both community and politicians. Issues like visual or odour pollution, structures, signage or vagrants on the streets or, dare I say it, the community probation centre, or Tukituki river. So the issues are many, the solutions varied.

Environmental issues in our region recently have been the wind farm on Maungaharuru, and the Northern Arterial Road (NAR). Both issues had the support of councils and businesses. They did not have the support of Maori, who argued on the grounds of cultural protection (Kaitiakitanga) and Maori values. Maori took their case all the way to the Privy Council seeking resolution.

The Maori voice in environmental issues is a strong voice. Maori are able to argue strongly against projects which impact on the landscape, drawing from their cultural base of knowledge and understanding. Often technical arguments are easily countered as experts are engaged and the technical issues are identified and disposed. Advocates of big projects now engage Maori consultants to dispute the validity of cultural redress. Inevitably this approach sets the consultant up for cross examination by Maori … firstly concerning their whakapapa or genealogy, then their ability to understand the particular issue if they are not from the area. My observation is that this approach is seen for what it is … a poor attempt to claim an understanding of Maori thinking.

Maori have always asked for consultation. But as understood by Maori, consultation should occur when the idea is still forming. Not when it has been born, growing and someone remembers that they need to include the Maori perspective.

To be fair, I think that some progress has been made, and perhaps a case can be made that Maori themselves are not stepping up to the mark. Maori reject consultation as a final hurdle. They embrace consultation from the outset. If this pathway is seen as the norm, I am confident that Maori perspectives will be available a lot earlier and last minute pressure points can be avoided.

Environmental issues in general require leadership, not followership. Leadership, which has the trust and support of its constituents, pursues outcomes that care for and protect the environment and support the economic needs of society. So often the reverse occurs. The rhetoric serves to polarise the community and reduces issues to economy versus environment.

There is a need to understand environmental issues from a Maori perspective. Maori are by nature conservationists. Their culture has processes to protect and monitor the use of the environment, and have had these in place from the beginning.

There is also a need to understand the political nature of environment issues; that nature will inevitably lead to people polarising themselves around those for or against the issue. At this point often the politician becomes engaged. There is the need to understand the means of voicing concerns. Often this in the form of street marches and protest. This provides a face for protest and allows governments to see the forces being rallied for or against. This is an absolute right of a democratic society.

Environmental issues are indeed the food of the future … the place where politicians will stand or fall. Everything has an environmental component.

So if I were a budding politician, I guess I might want to go eat somewhere else. Or maybe I would take the issue by the scuff of the neck and see it through to its conclusion. Recently I think that we might be seeing the emergence of this type of politician. Come on Flaxmere!

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1 Comment

  1. What has been said in this article is not just relevant to Maori – it is relevant to the whole community. Initial public consultation should begin with sounding out the idea and listening to what the public have to offer. There is an enormous resource within the community, many people with high levels of knowledge and expertise, and often ideas from this source can contribute to better final outcomes for projects. The public also need to be informed of the reasons, the advantages and the disadvantages of proposed projects so they are able to agree or disagree with decisions after being well informed before the money is spent. When the public are informed on proposals they are either already decided on by councils behind closed doors or information given out is highly manipulated emotively towards public acceptance as was the case of the Regional Sports Park. Perhaps listening to the people prior to building the Clive sewage plant would have resulted in a plant that actually worked. HPUDS has been an example of good pre consultation although contributers appear to have been handpicked. The most recent case is the HBRC Holding Company proposal which is an extremely important decision for the future of our region but which almost slipped under the public the radar. The efforts some of us have made to have the case presented to the public have been listened to albeit very late in the piece, but the consequence of fair and balanced presentation in the past week has resulted in ordinary members of the public gaining a reasonably good understanding of the structure of such a company and the risks as well as the positives and the outcome will most likely be public support. Well done Alan, Andrew and Phil. Next time though how about this process commencing at the start! Councils are after all people elected by the people to manage the assets which belong to the people. This is what democracy is supposed to be about.

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