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West Coast economy

A moment of despair

As the local establishment repeatedly demonstrate a lack of vision, living on the Coast can occasionally lead to despair. A lot of the debate, discussion – conversation is the latest term – has not taken place, so there is a going back to the beginning, and having been through the process years ago, it can feel tiresome.

Take the issue of support for the arts. Despite the arts being useless (not providing food or shelter), people have always created. It’s as basic as language. Once we moved past tribal or village life and more hierarchical and then capitalist relations took hold, and as the arts are labour intensive and considered a public good, the necessity of patronage, particularly public patronage became accepted. The debate around that patronage has been complex, circling around issues of privilege and excellence, mass participation and democratic purpose. Of late relationship to tourism and trade generated a creative industries concept and the community arts model has always been present, as has the therapeutic impulse. And then there’s Maori art and Pasifika art…

After advocacy for regional funding took place, Creative NZ has introduced a regional arts fund and I intuited that a coherent regional strategy would assist applications from the Coast. However, the CNZ model has a requirement to have contributions from regional stakeholders, in order to add value.

This creates a problem on the Coast for there is a sparse corporate sector, and councils are small and stretched. However there is an economic development body and this body should become the significant stakeholder. And I’m not talking about a big contribution: five to ten thousand dollars a year would possibly bring in forty to fifty thousand dollars. All good, gather a network of local artists, write a strategy and approach the body with what seems like a win-win situation – only to find they have little idea what I’m talking about.

– Writer in residence? What are the outcomes of that? A summer Shakespeare? A story telling tour of small towns? Where are the jobs? We’re on about the real world…

– But-

– There’s this proposal to barge shingle to Auckland. Some American company are looking at garnet mining. We’ve got a number of small business proposals. And we run entrepreneurial workshops.

– Don’t you see that stories generate stories and that the economy is simply a story? How do you quantify the knowledge that there’s a well known writer come to town to write a book? How do you quantify that there’s some actors coming to join locals to rehearse Hamlet and that you can then go and see the play and people will come from elsewhere? How do you quantify the outcome of listening to a story about a local inspirational teacher in the 1930s? How do you quantify a community film project which gives young people opportunities to be on a crew?

– Sorry, all too vague. That shingle project will generate 4 jobs.

– This is so dumb.

– I don’t like your tone. You won’t get anywhere with a tone like that.

It’s like negotiating with Jesuits. They only listen to themselves and a narrow ideology of clichés, whereas the activist has to listen, analyse what is being heard and then focus on an image, nurturing that image, seeking resonance with the wider community. The activist is operating from within a creative model, not perpetuating a bureaucratic, quasi religious order.

The despair comes then from this realisation of probable impasse. But to despair for too long or too often is poisonous. What to do becomes the question? It is of course what the Zapatista understood early on and they came to the conclusion that a parallel system was the only answer.

Conservation Estate Part 2

For the Coast to argue coherently with Forest and Bird et al, we need to do some research into the environmental movement, which has its own historical trajectory and its differing ideologies. The National Park/Forest and Bird position has its origins in the 19th century and remains urban based and middle class. There is an obvious need to have wilderness areas for threatened species, an obvious need to acknowledge the realities of climate change, but socially, the conservation position remains mainly about people living in the cities who want to have recreational access to pristine wilderness to recharge their batteries. That originating need has become global and is tied in with tourism.

However, in the latter part of last century, the position was challenged by the environmental justice movement, for poorer  and indigenous communities become sacrifice zones: both in terms of areas to dump toxic waste, but also as areas from which those who traditionally inhabited them, are expelled in the interests of conservation. Coasters can’t argue an indigenous role but certainly people have lived in these communities for a century and a half.

From the environmental justice movement comes the concept of the extractive reserve. Despite an area being primarily reserve, the people who traditionally live in the area also have the right to earn a living, to have access to health and education and so on. This requires some extraction, and tourism needs to be considered an extractive industry. But under what criteria does extraction take place? This should be the real debate. Are the jobs for local people? Where do the profits go? Who owns the enterprise? How is it controlled?? Who’s making the decisions? What are the workers paid? How damaging is it environmentally? Is it sustainable?

Such criteria would, I believe, quickly cancel the multinational, could even challenge the local franchise holding capitalist.

To explore such criteria produces some interesting results: Westpower’s Waitaha Power Scheme receives full marks: sustainable, environmentally sensitive, locally owned and controlled with profits distributed equitably. Westland Milk is owned and controlled locally with profits distributed on the Coast. Westfleet Seafoods however, provide jobs but demanded a gifting of local equity as the price of building a processing plant, are owned by Maori , Japanese and Nelson fishing interests and are now seeking state patronage via the Regional Growth Fund. Oceana Gold? Provided jobs but how many were local? Where did the profit go? The equity? Now they’ve left. Compare with a local goldminer pottering along year after year.

There are other issues. Many Coasters have a subsistence component to their livelihood – wood gathering, hunting and fishing. Is that being allowed? I gather that hunting and firewood gathering are becoming more difficult now that Ngai Tahu have taken over the forests. There’s the traditional concept of the commons at play here and some obvious ironies.

It becomes an interesting exercise to really begin to argue for access to conservation estate from criteria which it would be difficult to dismiss. And from it might come the seeds of a sustainable local economy and culture.

P1040820

If only…

 

The Minister of Conservation  is bringing in a ban on mining on conservation estate. An immediate reaction from the extractivists on the Coast, with the mayors promising to write in protest to the Minister and to the PM. I was feeling cheeky enough to knock off a draft for them.

Draft of letter to Eugenie Sage from the West Coast Mayors

Dear Minister

First of all, congratulations. We look forward to working with the new government.

With regard to the proposed ban on new mining on conservation land we make the following submission:

In the past we would be beating out breasts, bewailing our lot and cursing environmentalists, but we realise we have now entered the 21st century. We therefore agree with you that mining has always been a volatile, environmentally damaging and precarious industry. In the history of the Coast it has provided a period of stability for a mere twenty years (from 1940 to 1960). At the moment, while coal remains in the doldrums, there are a myriad small gold mining operations, but they come and go with regularity, with often a receiver involved in the going.

Nevertheless, mining jobs are well paid and the new policy will eventually lead to job losses.

We therefore invite you and your government to make real the proposal to introduce a just transition for the workers involved. This would require:

  • researching and developing sustainable industry on the Coast;
  • supporting the workers as they retrain for the jobs created or being created (this support approximating the level of salary previously earned);
  • establishing a vocational guidance and support office which could also service other Coast workers;
  • looking at other economic models such as co-operatives;
  • involving unions (and therefore the workers themselves) in this process.

The search for sustainable industries in this region is difficult but we would reinforce the already identified engineering capability; would suggest the other uses for coal (fibre, foam and filter) that Stephensons have targeted in their resource consent application for Te Kuha, be followed through to the establishing of processing facilities (while this could be expensive in terms of capital, it would be no more expensive than establishing a coal mine); follow up the horticultural opportunities identified in the previous government’s report, as well as  pursuing opportunities in tourism. We look forward to the outsourcing of government services to the regions. To allay the low wage syndrome characteristic of service industries we would encourage the lifting of the minimum wage to $20 an hour as quickly as is possible and would offer our region as a region eminently suitable for a trialling of the Universal Basic Income.

The previous government’s idea of establishing a minerals institute is not useful as even a quick look at past investigations shows there is nothing of sufficient magnitude in the raw earth field of minerals for commercial mining to be feasible.

Finally, we would appreciate government assistance in researching the way in which money leaks out of the region and ways in which it might circulate here instead.

We would appreciate the opportunity to sit down with you and other ministers to discuss how the above programme could be implemented.

Yours sincerely

Etc.

 

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