‘Consultation’ has become something of a dirty word amongst those who take the time to participate in council and government engagement processes. There is a definite sense of jadedness shared by many environmental and social advocates, that their contributions are not genuinely taken on board and it’s merely a box-ticking exercise.
And yet, most agree that to effect change, engaging with councils and legislation and influencing policy is work that has to be done.
One of the problems is the very structures of power, which are formed and informed by western, neoliberal assumptions. Unless we challenge the paradigm itself, then consultation remains an add-on, and voices outside the rigid BAU frame (business
as usual) remain unheard. The other problem is the way the role of local government has been socially positioned.
As a society, “we’ve managed to somehow frame councils as boring and not important, and presented the work they do as very dry in a way that makes
it seem not worth engaging with,” notes Heather Bosselmann (see profile). And yet what happens here matters, she says, impacts the very fabric of our lives. Perhaps if more of us claim the civic space, the juice, then we can redefine the terms of the relationship, make councils (and consultation) work with us – “it cuts both ways”.
In part two of our series on environmental advocacy, we profile three advocates who are working at the interface of policy and legislative frameworks for transformative change, from their respective positions within iwi, business and council.
Te taiao is central to the very notion of living as Māori, part of whakapapa, and in Ngaio Tiuka’s role as director of environment and natural resources for Ngāti Kahungunu Iwi Incorporated (accountable to some 85,000 iwi members, 90 marae and generations to come), he’s “advocating for tangata whenua in Kahungunu to be tangata whenua”, as is their right.
With so many moving pieces, from the mountains to the sea, it’s a massive job: the new wastewater treatment scheme in Wairoa, whack-a-mole water storage scenarios in CHB, numerous river management plans, river and marine dredging, gravel extraction, mining of our ground water (Heretaunga aquifer), 3 Waters and RMA changes.
“There’s a lot of sifting through the bullshit to be honest. We’re constantly being lobbied and told what’s good for us and how our values will be catered for.”
He is not afraid to say what needs to be said, and he’s resolute, which doesn’t always make him popular, but “the habitat and cultural survival of Ngāti Kahungunu outweighs any popularity contest”.
He’s been accused by some of wanting to ruin the region’s economy, for saying it’s “time to put the lid on the lolly jar” – too much water is being taken. Ngāti Kahungunu “want hard environmental and cultural limits and targets, solid bottom lines, with hands-on management of land use and activities to avoid pollution, rather than mitigation and costly schemes. We don’t have that.”
Instead, we have cases like Bridge Pā, where in summer the stream where kids once swam and people fished, dries up, stagnates, and communities lose access to drinking water while surrounding irrigators continue apace. The iwi has supported whānau and hapū to undertake their own monitoring of the situation. As it has invested in research, such as Te Whakaheke o te Wai – a 5-year project combining flow source and pathway data, geology, a range of science disciplines modelling and mātauranga-a-iwi/hapū.
Ngaio, who has come to view council stakeholder engagement processes with a cynical eye, says “Tangata whenua need equity and space to think amongst and for ourselves first; this is a crucial step before co-design, co-governance or co-management”, and advises, “We can co-exist but not when tangata whenua are treated as an after-thought and inconvenience.”
With TANK, for example, “we’ve had 10 years of talking openly about our values, goals and concerns, the receding waters, the dropping water table, yet water use is increasing. The status quo has been more than enabled; securing irrigation has become the priority. We should be prioritising and safe-guarding our waters, their mauri, their mana, their actual existence, and phasing out over-allocation and over-abstraction. Instead measuring over-allocation is being phased out, it’s sly and illogical. You can’t monitor what you don’t measure.”
He finds hope, however, with new legislation and policy such as Te Mana o Te Wai (putting water and ecosystems first). And in his optimism that more Māori and communities are becoming better informed, and that through their increased participation and reclamation of processes, the mahi will continue – there is no other choice.
Heather Bosselmann has taken up the brand-new climate change role on Napier City Council (official title: senior policy analyst – climate resilience), as councils around the country move towards the thorny question of how to adapt to the climate crisis.
It’s not just science, says Heather, a former family lawyer, “it’s also about how we run our society and the values that we hold.” While climate mitigation is straight-forward in the sense that we know what we have to do, she says, adaptation requires big conversations.
“We talk about things like the circular economy, for example, we bandy it around, but a true circular economy is transformational – huge change. So, if that’s where we are going, how does that society look? Who and what are we protecting? And what are we letting go?”
The Napier floods in 2020 “were a really clear indicator of what the future looks like” and one of the risks highlighted then is the issues of inequity within the system – those that will be most affected are often those that are already struggling. “I am keen
to be addressing that inequity, to be front-footing it, ideally.”
While individual change is important from a ‘believing you can make a difference’ perspective, says Heather, and should be encouraged for the positive cycle it creates, there is no value in punishing or judging people who don’t have the capacity, energy, or wherewithal. Impetus has to come from government to make it easier for people, for ultimately, it’s those in power who can make that change.
“And when we’re making changes (as a government or council), we have to be really conscious of who is going to bear the burden of this the most.”
In terms of the most effective locus for action, Heather recommends waste and public transport as the big areas: key touch-points that impact everyone in their daily lives and where the value in making changes can be readily understood.
“It’s great that there are subsidies on electric cars, but EVs are only part of the solution.”
In the end, we’re going to need a strong, joined-up regional public transport network, says Heather, separate cycle-ways in streets – so that the majority, not just the privileged, can make the move off fossil fuels.
There is a mandate building for taking climate action, she believes, but “while I know people care, we don’t have that yet. If people want things to change, they need to be reflecting back to Council”.
Heather is passionate about forging relationships and pathways of con- nection and engagement; she sees her role as ambassadorial as much as pol- icy-focused and has been networking with her peers around the country and Hawke’s Bay. She sees opportunity for councils in sharing power, with Māori (honouring the Treaty being a bare minimum), with people, and in being open for ideas and collaboration – with community organisations, with business; “absolutely, there’s space for additional knowledge and skill”.
“Climate change requires such extraordinary change that we need to work together, finding solutions that are different to the way we’ve been doing things up til now.”
So, what’s the better eco-choice: beer in aluminium cans or glass bottles?
It’s a question Dominic Salmon can’t generically answer, he says, because it’s complex and contextual with too many variables to consider. We sift the variables, and while I conclude that from where we sit, refillable glass flagons from Brave brewery across
the road is best option, it’s a different answer for a company exporting their product or for a consumer in Auckland where kerbside glass is comingled.
And it’s these contextual complexities Dominic works with across industry and councils to come up with outcomes for products and process that are environmentally, socially and economically viable. He’s business development manager – sustainability for 3R Group (specialists in the design of product design stewardship programmes), which also sees him educating industry players and writing submissions on the government’s new Waste Strategy and Waste Act legislation “to ensure we can influence the conversation positively” – in itself “a big body of work”.
To tackle waste collectively, he says, we need to change the level of awareness about what we buy and use, looking at choice of packaging and materials through the lens of their whole life-cycle, which comes down to clear messaging and workable regulations. And for industry, looking for the value and opportunity in waste, and, “where sustainability is attainable, taking it to the next level”. Such as harvesting post-juiced orange skins for enzymes and fragrance.
Ultimately, “It’s about doing more with less” and asking the questions that have needled Dominic from an early age: “Why are we chucking that away and what more could we do with it?”
He tries to live what he preaches (“you have to have substance behind what you say”): proudly operating a worm farm, cycling to work, growing food and swapping produce with his neighbours, getting milk in refillable glass bottles, planting trees, donating to conservation charities, observing and enjoying time in nature.
But he believes change also happens at the level of these personal choices, as communities seek meaningful solutions, and that it’s a case of going back to basics: “looking back to the future”. He sees initiatives like Hawke’s Bay’s Magic Beans group on Facebook (a platform for the neighbourly sharing and exchange of gardening resources) as a brilliant example of localised, positive solutions, while there is growing consumer demand for refill options, such as Swap-a-crate beer and Again Again cups for coffee, and for innovations that reinspire old school ways of doing.
“There’s been a massive shift towards positive behaviour change over the last two decades, it’s really exciting. Sustainability is becoming more mainstream as opposed to being a Helen Clark, 2008, word. That word by itself was too big to understand.
But now you realise it’s how you get around, how you wash, how you drink, how you grow things – every aspect of your life has an impact on the environment. So just choose something and make a start.”
How to get involved in shaping policy
Start with waste and transport issues, as these are points of daily contact for everyone so getting change happening here has broad impact. Get serious about local government, engage – translate the activism that happens at a central government level to your councils and local body electorates. Meet with a councillor, tell them what you think, share your ideas, get together with like-minded others, help build a mandate for strong action. Take the time to look at and submit on your council’s long- term plans.
The Local Government Position Statement on Climate Change can be found at www.lgnz.co.nz
Adopt a local stream – observe, monitor, document what’s happening over time, species counts, water levels, take photos. We need to build evidence to fight for the rights of water, we can’t rely on councils to do that for us.
Hold Regional Council to account and push for substantive change. Be sharp to the raft of proposals and schemes for water security being brought to the table – listen out for ‘weasel’ words and measures. Become au fait with the government’s new freshwater legislation: environment.govt. nz/what-government-is-doing/ areas-of-work/freshwater/work-programme/
For more on freshwater issues in Hawke’s Bay and ways to take action, see Action Station’s webinar Returning to the River: Te Mana o te Wai Te Mātau a Maui (October 2021), on YouTube: www.youtube.com/watch?v=yUkxPWe3mi0
Head to the Hawke’s Bay Environment Centre to learn about recycling and repurposing options for various materials and what to avoid, and other innovative ways for minimising waste. Contact supermarkets and companies to push for better product stewardship. If you have a business, visit 3r.co.nz. If you’re in Hastings District, sign up for the council’s waste minimisation e-newsletter.
Have your say on the government’s proposals for ‘transforming recycling’ (public consultation runs to 8 May 2022) – there are a series of webinar presentations on this too, if you want to learn more. Also keep an eye out for the government’s new waste strategy, which is set to go before Cabinet by June: environment.govt.nz/what-government-is-doing/areas-of-work/waste/
Photos: Jack Warren