I’m sick of hearing about the pros and cons amalgamation. Does banging on about the so called issues actually change any minds? Personally I’m not sure. What I would like to discuss is something Mayor Yule keeps on raising – the Bay’s poor economic, social, and environmental indicators.
ABHB seems to be arguing that the poor state of these indicators have been caused by a broken and inefficient governance structure. But is this really the case? If we look back in history Hawke’s Bay has had really strong economic, social, and environmental indicators with essentially the same governance structure as we have now. So what’s changed.
To my mind, since the 1980s there have been two things which have detrimentally changed the way in which Hawke’s Bay Inc operates. The first has been a technological revolution, the other has been the rise of the neo-liberal agenda.
The introduction of computer technology has seen many jobs decimated. Historically jobs made redundant by technology being replaced with jobs created by the new technology. However with computers I don’t think this has been the case. Efficiency has in many cases been driven by centralisation. When I was first transferred to the BNZ in Waipukurau there were 14 staff. Now (I think) there are 5. This has been a common experience in many organisations.
So what happens to our communities when we lose highly paid, capable people? Where do we get the sports club and board of trustee treasurers and secretaries from? I believe we loose the sense of ourselves. We loose the sense that we are living in vibrant, prosperous, and resilient communities and instead we are all looking over our shoulders. Looking after ourselves so to speak. Our political leaders make comments such as “will the last person left turn the lights out”. Instead they should be offering hope, and viable alternatives which change the way things are done. Something is wrong when we are told that the solution is to do more of the same and hope it works.
This leads me to the neo-liberal agenda. We have been sold the message over the last 30 years that trickle down works and that the market will provide. This has lead to us believing solutions will come from being ‘bigger’. In the past we used to have multiple stock and station agents. Williams & Kettle and Hawke’s Bay Farmers were local institutions. All profits earned were circulated amongst the community and Head Offices were locally based. They knew their farming customers very well and deals were done on a hand shake. I wonder if this is the case now, and if we really are better off?
Our fixation on GDP is of course a fiction. Simon Kuznets, the economist who developed GDP stated “The welfare of a nation can scarcely be inferred from a measurement of national income.” So we are measuring the wrong thing. The other day a guy from MBIE gave a presentation I was at and said that offshore oil exploration will increase Hawke’s Bay GDP by $230m. But aren’t offshore wells drilled by ships owned and crewed by foreigners? I asked how much of this money would actually be spent in Hawke’s Bay. He responded very little. So how much value is there really for Hawkes Bay in this promise of increased GDP?
We could also ask if trickle down is working so well, why does the 1% continue to rapidly grow their wealth and the rest get left behind? There have always been those who will be successful in business. Some people just have a natural inclination for it. Sir James Wattie could be described as such. Sir James was very much a localist. He supported his growers and his workers. I’ve heard many stories about how he used to walk the factory floor everyday. Does Heinz have the same attitude? Do we even know who owns Heinz?
When capital becomes centralised in places such Auckland, Melbourne, or New York how much connection does that capital have with the community where it comes from? Recently one of the banks announced their staff were going to have a community day. How magnanimous. Did they stop charging interest to their Hawke’s Bay customers for the day? They don’t even stop for Christmas Day. When a foreign owned corporation takes $500m in profits out of our economy every six months are we really better off?
So to my mind the question should not be one of should we amalgamate. It should be: should we continue down the same path regardless of our governance structure? Being an amateur mathematician I often turn to mathematicians for some answers. Stephen Hawking said “We are in danger of destroying ourselves by our greed and stupidity. We cannot remain looking inwards at ourselves on a small and increasingly polluted and overcrowded planet.” Albert Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Are we both stupid and insane to expect change to come simply from a change in governance structure. I think so. What about you?