Consultation must be inclusive – HB Today Talking Point

I find Hawke’s Bay Regional Council’s response to Don’t Frack the Bay’s concerns about the make up of the Future Energy workshop to be quite revealing (Energy workshop exclusion dismays 6/5/15). The workshop is the first step in HBRC’s $200,000 consultation with the citizens of Hawke’s Bay to develop a strategy about future energy use. DFTB welcomed this initiative which thankfully comes at a time when the immediate future of the oil & gas industry is on hold following the withdraw of TAG Oil from the East Coast. We have a golden opportunity to have a robust discussion about how we all see the future and develop a workable strategy for all without having the immediate pressure of the oil & gas industry hanging over our heads.

However we are told by HBRC that the only people capable of undertaking “initial scoping” are territorial local authorities and corporate business. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to realise that the initial scoping is a vital first step in the process because it frames any future discussion around this issue. The make up of the invitees is so lop sided that the outcome is inevitable – a continuation of the status-quo. What’s the point of going through this process if this is the case? As we asked HBRC, where is Maori representation? Where is the representation from our youth, who have a vested interest in the future? Who is representing the discussion around a not unrelated topic, Climate Change? Who is representing those most effected by energy issues, those in lower socio-economic situations? Who is representing farming without the use fossil fuel based fertilisers?

Claiming that the workshop is only about developing a high level energy strategy is great, that’s as it should be. But to restrict the make up of the workshop members implies that the above groups who have not been invited to be in the tent are incapable of thinking in this space. That I find insulting. DFTB for example have members who have years of energy industry experience with qualifications to match.

A genuine consultative process should be as inclusive as possible right from the very beginning when “we don’t have anything to focus on”. DFTB does not believe that HBRC is being genuine about this process, something that they have gained an unfortunate reputation for. As an aside DFTB never asked to be invited, HBRC have done so only because we raised questions. We also never suggested that the Future Energy strategy was only about fracking, but inviting NZ Petroleum & Minerals to the table is great cause for concern. We have also asked HBRC who made the decision about who to invite and surprise surprise have received no response.

Speaking personally, the sad thing about all this is that HBRC isn’t the only local authority guilty of misunderstanding what genuine consultation means.  I believe this to be a real handbrake on true democracy. I don’t think this is deliberate, it’s just that the definition of consultation used by our local authorities revolves around box ticking exercises to meet a statutory obligation. I think it is time the definition of consultation was revisited. It doesn’t need a law change, it needs a change in thinking. We need to step away from consultation being seen as a bureaucratic process to it being seen as an inclusive process. When we ask ourselves why people don’t have any interest in voting in local body elections perhaps part of the problem is that they don’t feel that can actually influence anything. We need to change that.

Published 10/5/15

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