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8 December 2022, Postponed to 16 February

Hennessey’s Function Room

Naumai, kakemai, haeremai. Welcome to the Annual General Meeting of the Rotorua District Residents and Ratepayers, the RDRR.

Let us first acknowledge all those adversely affected by Cyclone Gabrielle, express warmest thanks to the first responders, and give our sincere condolences to the families of the five who lost their lives.

My report will focus on our Election Campaign and propose a major change in strategy for RDRR. I will also touch on our recent efforts:

  • to get answers about the housing estate proposed for 31 Ngongotaha Road,
  • to oppose the Council’s new submissions policy that enables the Mayor or Deputy Mayor and the Chief Executive to censor Council agenda items submitted by ratepayers,
  • to question the recent pay rises and other financial decisions at Council that will inevitably lead to another major rates hike in a cost-of-living crisis, and
  • prepare for another battle over co-governance because it has not yet been taken off the table by our Council or by our current Government.

Finally, after eight years of helping lead RDRR, assuming that I am returned as Chairman at this meeting, it is my intention to give the Executive Committee time to find a new leader acceptable to the membership and for me to stand down as soon as that process is completed.

Let me begin with the advice of the Campaign Team that finished its work on Wednesday 5 October, three days before Polling Day on 8 October. Let us all give warmest thanks to the Campaign Team members; endorsed candidates Mark Gould, John Chetty, Brendan Davis, Robert Lee, and Rawiri Te Kowhai, and to the support group comprising Denys Caves, and Dianne and Allan Estcourt.

In sum, although we were undermined once again by some internal treachery, and we did not get the results we wanted, RDRR’s policies were adopted by most other successful candidates. My conclusion is that while we did not win power, we exercised significant influence and we now need to hold elected members to account.

Second, I draw on the advice of the Interim Committee that has met twice since the election. It had to draw a line under some unscrupulous behaviours that destabilised the Campaign Team, but much more importantly, we identified changes in direction needed to advocate for our members’ values and interests over the next three years.

In addition to Denys Caves, Mark Gould and Dianne and Allan Estcourt staying on to serve on the Interim Committee, we have been joined by Darrell and Pauline Klante, and Raymond and Elizabeth Steiner. All are strong advocates of RDRR’s foundational values. And, when we need them, we also have volunteer and expert policy advisors available on rural matters, planning, housing, and law and order. They have been proposed as the new Committee in the agenda, in addition to any other nominations that may come from the floor. As indicated, one of our first tasks will be to manage a leadership succession process.

To go back to the campaign for a moment, let us warmly acknowledge

  • John Chetty’s team of 21 volunteers that delivered about 18,000 pamphlets on three occasions. Thank you all.
  • Allan Estcourt’s organisation of two teams, the other led by Ray Steiner, that installed 40 odd hoardings around the district, and another 20 odd panels, kept them up despite the wind, and then dismantled and stored them so they can be recycled. Great effort.
  • Dianne Estcourt’s heroic maintenance of our membership database that enables us to communicate easily with our members, associates and friends who are always quick to provide advice on key issues to make submissions. Thank you all.
  • Tracey McLeod’s extraordinary and continuing policy contributions at our Facebook page. In the last month alone, another 76 people Liked our Facebook, our posts reached 67,000 people (some more than once) and solicited 16,000 comments. Thanks a million Tracey.
  • And the endorsed candidates who made significant contributions by
    • building alliances with Saving Springfield, Restore Rotorua, Save Glenholme and so on
    • debating key issues through posts to the RDRR Facebook,
    • helping make submissions to Council on policy proposals,
    • leading some of the 11 rural and 16 city ‘Meet the RDRR Candidates’ meetings and
    • helping manage the tractor-led Three Waters protest in collaboration with the New Zealand Taxpayers Union and the Reporoa Residents and Ratepayers Association.
  • These methods worked. For example, the day after the Three Waters protest, the Council flipped 10-1 to withdraw its support for Minister Mahuta’s proposals. And she has just lost the Local Government portfolio.

Cash is the lifeblood of political campaigns. We were supported magnificently by our members, associates, and friends, to the extent they could, in very difficult times. Outstanding support came from Joe and Joanne La Grouw, the Hardy family, Leo Pol, Grahame and Sandy Hall, Jim Adams, Grahame Haggart, Richard Amery, and many others who prefer to remain anonymous. Thank you all.

Let me now turn to some “hard learning” that came out of the campaign.  The first concerns the continued viability of the Campaign Team Model. It has long been associated with

  1. strong growth in RDRR memberships from 252 in 2016 to 1,136 in 2022, and to 1,245 today, despite continuous erosion due to members leaving Rotorua
  2. sadly, RDRR’s elected councillors giving feedback to quarterly meetings atrophied as time went on,
  3. many opportunities being provided for voters to advise RDRR endorsed candidates in 11 rural and 16 city settings during the election campaigns, and
  4. RDRR’s increasingly interactive Facebook.

Simultaneously, however, the Campaign Team Model has proved less effective at attracting high quality candidates for endorsement. Taking the total number of votes attracted by endorsed candidates at the last three local elections, and dividing by the number of seats that the three campaign teams contested, shows that the average votes attracted per endorsed candidate rose from 3,657 in 2016 to 4,179 in 2019, but then fell to 3,588 this year. The perceived quality of our endorsed candidates for the 2022 election was lower than it was in 2016.

Four major causes of many that have been identified include

  1. Ageism and my focus on promoting the Campaign Team at cost to promoting myself,
  2. Vote splitting by defectors from RDRR,
  3. RDRR’s endorsed candidates being increasingly targeted by competing interest groups, incumbent elected members, and Council’s spin doctors as RDRR’s criticisms proved more and more effective, and, most unfairly,
  4. Some of the mud thrown at our endorsed candidates stuck and created damaging political stereotypes. A classic example was branding us as “male, pale and stale.” Fortunately, this sexist, racist and ageist branding backfired and the extremists who used these tactics lost their seats.

All members of the 2022 Campaign Team were invited to provide feedback on the campaign. The comments received from a majority were synthesised. They agreed that our campaign was impaired in six major ways.

  1. Significant resources were diverted into a judicial review that was thwarted at the last minute by the Auditor General. The High Court judge then awarded costs of $39,696 against the plaintiff who had been indemnified by the RDRR and personally by the Chairman.
  2. Some of the RDRR-endorsed candidates were discovered to have commitments at odds with RDRR’s foundational values.
  3. Some of the RDRR-endorsed candidates failed to deliver their agreed cash contributions.
  4. Some of the RDRR-endorsed candidates were uneven attenders at meetings and campaign events and appeared willing to “coat tail” on their colleagues’ efforts.
  5. Covid-19 required Zoom meetings because some Campaign Team refused to put vulnerable significant others at risk while others insisted that others accept their estimates if the risk. These disputes undermined team building, coordination, and the impetus of the Campaign Team.
  6. During the last three months of the campaign one RDRR-endorsed candidate, entrusted with an ‘Admin’ role of RDRR’s Facebook page alongside two others, cancelled others’ Admin status without consultation, and captured RDRR’s information systems. He censored others’ views and advanced his own. After three frustrated attempts to correct these behaviours quietly, the Campaign Team passed a Motion of No Confidence in this candidate and removed him from these roles – before the outcomes of the judicial review and the election were known. He retaliated by advising people not to vote for RDRR candidates. The Interim Committee has since endorsed this Motion of No Confidence and the actions taken by the Campaign Committee. This person’s membership has lapsed and will not be renewed.

That said, and now long behind us, the main indicator of the redundancy of the Campaign Team model is the considerable extent to which all successful mayoral and councillor candidates adopted RDRR’s policies on the most salient political issues, specifically about the homeless industry, Three Waters, the Local Bill proposing to sell reserves, the Local Bill proposing co-governance, the CBD Cycleway, and so on.

This suggests that RDRR’s quarterly meetings, email consultations of members on key issues, making submissions, and holding Council to account at RDRR’s Facebook page, were far more effective at influencing public opinion and voting behaviour than endorsing a campaign team of independent-minded candidates from RDRR intended to win an alternative majority. People voted for charismatic personalities, not for a team of reformists. We did not convince enough people that the basic problem with our local government was the quality if its administration.

The other main indicator of the redundancy of the Campaign Team model is the dramatic change that was initially evident in the new Mayor’s decision-making style.

Mayor Chadwick’s typical indifference to feedback, tight ideological control and cynical manipulation of decision-making processes required RDRR to oppose her with blunt revelations and to invent political stunts to gain the attention of the media and to keep the public informed.

Inevitably, this approach enabled the Mayor’s power bloc to develop an anti-RDRR narrative that hypocritically targeted “negativity” instead of listening to possible solutions to the problems they created.

The new Mayor Tania Tapsell and Deputy Mayor Cr Sandra Kai Fong, however, and many of the newly elected members, appeared at the outset to be inclusionary, respectful, principled, pragmatic, and open to persuasion by evidence and rational debate.

Accordingly, the Interim RDRR Committee discussed a change in strategy – that RDRR should switch from an adversarial style between elections to lobbying elected members through instant press releases, delegations, building on alliances with even more collaboration, making submissions and presenting to other interest groups to build policy on the common ground.  

In essence, the switch in strategy should be from confronting and removing a tyranny, which was achieved at the recent local election, to leveraging influence in democratic policymaking to prevent the development of a new tyranny.

A recent example of such prevention is how Justin Adams, with support from RDRR and the Free Speech Union, attacked the Council’s decision to introduce a new submissions policy. The new policy empowers the Mayor or the Deputy Mayor and the Chief Executive to censor submissions from the public. The Free Speech Union is preparing litigation on the grounds that the new submissions policy could violate the public’s right to freedom of speech.

Instead of listening to our concerns, and modifying the policy, it appears that the Mayor and Deputy Mayor have adopted the Chief Executive’s habit of gathering yet more power and defaulting to legal defences at massive cost to ratepayers.

This change also implies that, during election periods, RDRR should provide opportunities for members and the public to hear and question all candidates standing in each of the different elected members’ roles.

If this changed strategy is supported then we will need to revise our Constitution, primarily by deleting the section on Endorsements. This and six other relatively minor changes have been proposed to improve the governance and management of RDRR:

  1. Simplifying Committee processes to add, record and terminate memberships.
  2. Removing time limits to roles on the Committee because volunteer office-bearers are very hard to find, and we need to ensure continuity of RDRR’s services.
  3. Where time is of the essence, enabling the Chairperson to issue near instant Press Releases with minimal consultations.
  4. Appointing a Treasurer and a Meeting Secretary and simplifying the membership database.
  5. Preventing any repeat capture of RDRR’s information systems.
  6. Enabling the Committee to engage specialist Policy Advisors.

Please note that all these proposed changes to the Constitution were shared by email 20 days prior to this postponed AGM to enable debate and decisions today.

Finally, those of you that read the Rotorua Daily Post, or have Liked and follow the debates at our Facebook page, will be aware that RDRR mounted a public meeting on Thursday 26 January. It was to enable the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development and Council to explain what plans they have for a housing development at 31 Ngongotaha Road and answer seven other relevant questions.

Given the struggle we had in 2018 to get plans into the public domain, have them evaluated in the public interest, with the Minister of Housing eventually ruling against the proposed Special Housing Area on a flood plain, it was crucial that we, once again, provide voice to residents and ratepayers.

We attracted over 400 people to the public meeting. We heard tough questions from locals and some heart-warming verbal assurances from MHUD, their Developer, an Engineer and a senior Council official about the preliminary results of seven weeks planning. Many of our questions have yet to be answered. In sum, they promised that no homes will be built on flood-prone land, no properties upstream or downstream will be impacted, and the flood-prone land will be left to help retain flood waters. On the other hand, Waka Kotahi (NZTA) is yet to be consulted over congestion, and educational and social services are yet to be engaged in the planning.

Regarding the provision of authentic local consultations, MHUD promised to “walk the whenua” with mana whenua and to provide drop-in public meetings to present detailed plans, when they are ready. I suggest we await the details in the real hope that safe new homes can be provided, along with appropriate infrastructure and educational, social and cultural support that adds value to the Village of Ngongotaha.

Please note that RDRR is currently engaged in developing three other campaigns:

  1. Our 31 Ngongotaha Working Party is monitoring developments
  2. We have been invited to send a delegation to get an update on the Contracted Emergency Housing situation by Visions of a Helping Hand
  3. We are collaborating with Julian Batchelor’s national Stop Co-Governance campaign to organise a public meeting at the Rotorua Bowling Club on Sunday 30 April, 3-6 pm.

To conclude, the six key recommendations of my Report are that:

  1. All Members, Associates and Friends of RDRR and our Endorsed Candidates be most warmly thanked for their many generous contributions to the RDRR campaign, both in cash and in kind.
  2. The RDRR continue to serve as the voice of its members.
  3. The RDRR’s Constitution be revised to remove its Endorsement section. This will cancel the Campaign Team Model that has proved less effective at attracting candidates perceived to be of high quality, although it had significant influence in helping to remove an oppressive anti-democratic power bloc from Council.
  4. The Committee provide a new service during the 2025 local elections – Meet the Candidates events for each category of elected member.
  5. Given the widespread adoption of its policies at the 2022 local elections, that RDRR now give top priority to achieving further influence through advocacy, alliance building and holding elected members to account during the 2022-2025 term, and thereby help prevent Council from sliding back into tyrannical behaviours.
  6. Should I be re-elected Chairman this evening, that I continue in the role until such time as the Committee finds a new leader who is committed to the RDRR’s values and is widely supported by the members of RDRR.

No reira e hoa ma, kia ora tatau. Therefore my friends, thank you all.

I am happy to answer your questions and hear your feedback.

Reynold Macpherson

RDRR Chairman

8 December 2022/ 16 February 2023