Why I’m the People’s Choice

The People’s Choice is the left-leaning political grouping, organised locally for local people. It is not the specifically aligned to the Labour Party, but includes candidates who are members of the Labour Party (and other left-aligned political parties).

I chose to run under the People’s Choice banner for a number of reasons:

  1. The People’s Choice policies align with my own views on how Council should engage with community, youth, iwi; and its approach to housing, transport, and the environment
  2. Having the support of a collective has been invaluable to me as an aspiring politician – I have had amazing encouragement and mentoring from my team. I am not sure how I would have navigated the whole process without my buddies there to help me along the way – particularly my running mates Glenn Livingstone (current Burwood Councillor) and Greg Sugrue (newbie candidate for Burwood like me)
  3. I went through a rigorous selection process for People’s Choice, as did my fellow candidates – we were put through our paces, and as a result we have a group of high-quality candidates who know their stuff, and know how to engage with their communities
  4. I am a member of the Labour Party, and I want to be really clear about that as a candidate – Labour’s values are my values

As the campaign has progressed, my opponents have specifically called out that they are “independent” and I am not, which in their minds makes them better candidates. But let’s work through the logic of that argument.

My politics are clear – you can go to the People’s Choice website and see what my policies on the various important local issues are. This doesn’t mean that I would blindly follow these policies without consideration for what is best for my Ward. They are a framework of principles that I can use to make good decisions, not a prescriptive list of “musts” to be rigidly adhered to.

The other argument I’ve heard from my opponents is that “politics should be kept out of the Community Board”. This baffles me. I am standing for political office, via an election. This is the definition of politics. I can only assume that what my opponents really mean is that central and local government politics should be kept separate. But the reality is that most candidates are aligned to a political party – we all vote in central government elections (I assume so anyway!). And I also know that some are members of other political parties. I just chose to be more upfront about my politics.

What surprises me the most is that my opponents have spent as much time complaining about the People’s Choice as they have explaining their own policies. To my opponents running for Community Board I say – read the People’s Choice policies and tell me (and your community) which of these you disagree with and why. Then we can talk.

Don’t just go home, go home and do something!

I’m sitting in the Hamish Hay Theatre listening to a 12 year old asking me to take action on the climate crisis. It reminds me of something.

In 1982 when I was 10 years old, I wrote a letter to the Mayor of Christchurch asking him to step in and help with the nuclear arms crisis. The possibility of global nuclear war kept me awake at night. But rather than just worrying about it, I chose the highest political authority could think of and asked for Hamish Hay’s help.

There is a lot of talk at the moment of the role of children as activists in the global climate crisis. People marvel at their precociousness, and they truly are inspiring. But there is an element of surprise in why children are getting involved in these issues. I’m not surprised. If we take time to educate our kids about what’s going in the world around them, many of them are ready and willing to wade into the debate, and to do something about the issues we are facing.

As a child, I remember feeling frustrated that I couldn’t do more. Writing letters, painting protest banners and marching in the street was the most I could do. I was a kid, it was the 80s and no one was listening to me. Now I am an adult and I have the power to do more. You can read my last blog post about one of the things I’m doing to reduce my ecological footprint.

Tonight, I realise there is one more thing that I can do to help – empower the children around me to be informed and actively involved in the issues and their solutions. Watch out grandkids, I feel a lecture coming on!

Plastic-free July

Sometimes I think about all the plastic items I have used and thrown away – how most of them still exist and will still be around for hundreds of years to come. All those toys, take away containers, shampoo bottles, toothbrushes, disposable forks, plastic bags. Just my own personal pile of used-and-not-recycled plastic must be a mountain by now! It weighs on my mind.

I’ve been trying to reduce my use of plastic as much as I can. Last year I tried my best to do plastic-free July and realised just how many of my everyday items are plastic, or wrapped in plastic. It’s really hard to eat a variety of food without buying plastics – it pretty much just leaves fresh fruits and veggies or bulk bin items. Since then, I’ve aimed to reduce my incidental plastic use, particularly for single-use items like water bottles, take away containers and cutlery, coffee cups etc. I’ve started carrying around a take away coffee cup and my own utensils. When I know I’m going somewhere that only has take away food options, I try and remember to bring my own container.

I’ve also been considering my packaging more carefully when supermarket shopping. I’ve been using the bulk bins and refill station at New World in Durham Street. I figure a small changes are better than nothing.

This year for plastic-free July I’ve decided to target a specific plastic product category – toiletries. I’ve taken an inventory of all my products that come in plastic and have considered how I can reduce the amount of plastic I consume. Here’s my summary of everything I use and some notes about what I intend to change.

Shampoo and conditioner
The Body Shop shampoo and conditioner bottles I’m using are almost empty, so I’ve purchased shampoo and conditioner bars from Ethique. I’ve talked to a few people who use these products and they rave about them, so I’m dipping my toe by buying small bars of shampoo and conditioner. It’s also a real plus that all their products are vegan, ethically sourced and cruelty-free.

Body wash
I have a full bottle of the current Body Shop wash that I use, so once that’s all gone (and the bottle recycled) I will consider purchasing a wash bar. I’ll see how the shampoo and conditioner goes. I have some concerns about how well they travel, and I shower at the gym 3-4 days a week, so my toiletries need to be portable. Again, Ethique has a really nice range…

Face wash and moisturiser
I’ve got very oily skin (this is the secret of my youthful complexion!), and I’ve finally found a face wash and a moisturiser with SPF that work for me, so I am loathe to change these. These plastic-encased items are in the too-hard basket for now.

I’ve decided this one can go. What is it even for? I’ve never really known, but used it for years. I’ll see what happens when I ditch it.

Body moisturiser
I probably don’t really need this either if I’m honest. I think it’s just a habit. I’m going to give this one a miss too and see what happens. If my skin doesn’t cope, then maybe I will consider the Ethique moisture bar. This one sounds yum.

Toothbrush and toothpaste
As a kid, I remember having tooth powder (thanks hippy mother). I don’t know where it came from, and I’ve never seen it anywhere since. So I googled…Did you know that you can buy tooth tablets? Me either, but you can. I liked the look of the ones that Lush sell, but they come in a plastic bottles! The ones from Eco Easy come in cardboard packaging, but I don’t know if you can buy them locally (trying to avoid the air miles!). I reckon I might find a good solution at Piko for my toothpaste, and I know they sell bamboo toothbrushes too.

The one I use comes in a glass bottle so I am going to stick with it for now. If the Ethique experiment goes well, this will probably be the next target for a bar option.

I’ve really enjoyed doing the research and planning for this activity. I’ve learned a lot about the different plastic-free alternatives out there, including the fact that some of them are cheaper and (I hope!) better than what I currently use.

Some companies clearly put a lot of effort into creating plastic-free packaging. Lush has a whole section on its website dedicated to package-free products. They sell lipstick refills. Who knew!

I was pretty disappointed when I did my inventory and realised that all of my beloved Body Shop products are plastic-wrapped. There is no mention of plastic-free packaging on their website. I was surprise that they weren’t on the cutting edge of this plastic-free movement, so I did a bit of googling. I found out that Body Shop intends to reduce its plastic use 70% by 2020. This Metro article has the details.

And apparently you can make plastic out of pollution nowadays. Two birds, one stone…

Have you thought about what small contribution you might make to save us from a world awash with plastic?

Never one to sit idle…

Somehow I decided earlier this year that I wasn’t quite busy enough, so along with starting a new job, I put my hand up as a candidate for our local community board. It was officially announced in the local paper today.

So…why did I do it? and what does this mean? Let me explain.

Stephen and I purchased our home in Dallington in February 2011, the day after the earthquake that changed everything – so not the best of timing. Living in Dallington after the earthquakes was really hard. In the days and weeks afterward, people rallied. But as weeks turned into months and years it felt like nothing would change. After the red zone was announced, it was heartbreaking to watch our community being dismantled one home at a time. A breaking point for me was driving over the Dallington bridge one day and realising that the newly paved road no longer had driveway gaps for the houses that were slowly being removed.

It took me a some time to get my head above water, to look around and think about what I could do to help my community – it just seemed too big and overwhelming. Where to start? The issues seemed big, but the solutions might start with me and my neighbours – I wanted to follow the principle of “think global, act local”. So I got as local as I could, and joined the Dallington Residents Association. One of its objectives is to advocate for residents of Dallington, so the committee has put a lot of effort into understanding what our community’s needs are. In the two years since I’ve been Chair, we’ve run events, workshops, information sessions and drop in days – all to gather ideas from the community about what their big ideas and big issues are. It’s been a hugely rewarding role – I’ve met a lot of really great people and have a renewed love for the place I live.

I’ve also developed an appreciation for some of the big issues we face. Our people are feeling the loss of community assets – our schools and church, but we’ve also gained the beautiful asset of our red zone, and people have some big ideas about this. Annette, a member of the residents association committee lived in Dallington all her life before the earthquakes. Her grandmother grew up in Dallington, and so did her mother. Up until the clearances, Annette was living on the land passed down from her grandmother and mother. She was devastated to be forced to leave, and still comes back almost every day to tend the her former family garden. Last year, Annette and I applied to the land owner (LINZ) to take over this piece of land so that Annette can be recognised as the custodian of it. LINZ recently approved our Glenarm Gardens transitional project. It was a small thing that I did – submit an application and sign a contract, but it is huge for Annette – she’s been given back some of what she lost.

Something else that’s come up from listening to the community is that we don’t have a community meeting space. So we’ve joined with groups from Avondale and Burwood to form the Riverside Community Network and collectively we’ve been working on how we can get a community centre for our people. Working with people across the whole Burwood Ward has helped me better understand the needs of the wider East Christchurch. I love where I live and I want to see it thrive.

So that’s the why. Here’s the what…

Dallington sits within the Burwood Ward, and is represented by the Coastal-Burwood Community Board. The Board is made up of six elected members – two city Councillors (one each for Burwood and Coastal) and four community representatives (two each for Burwood and Coastal). The community board members are elected by the community to represent its interests, and to advocate for our community needs with the Christchurch City Council.

The Dallington Residents Association has worked closely with the elected members for Burwood to make sure they know about the things that matter to us. So I’ve been able to see up close how this system works, and how I can contribute to the decision-making that happens at the Board.

Here’s the thing. The current Burwood community board representative is not a local, and hasn’t been for a long time. I think that’s not good enough. It has been by walking, running, driving, shopping, living in my community that I have truly understood it. I’ve been through the same trials and tribulations as everyone around me, and I know how I can best be of service to them.

The election is in October. My job between now and then is to listen the needs of the Ward, and to introduce myself to them so that they understand why they would want to vote for me.

That bloody lake again

Last night I stayed up past midnight (very late for me!) watching the Governance and Administration Select Committee submissions from East Lake Trust and Regenerate Christchurch on the issue of the inclusion of a flat water facility (technical speak for a massive rowing lake) in the Otakaro-Avon River Corridor Regeneration Plan. You can watch that HERE.

The background to this hearing is long and convoluted, but the short version is that when Regenerate Christchurch was first established by Gerry Brownlee at the closure of CERA, East Lake Trust was encouraged to believe that a 2km lake would be a likely contender for inclusion in the Regeneration Plan. In the two years following, it became clear that this wasn’t going to happen, and they were not happy. The hearing is the outcome of the ongoing fight they’ve been having.

Here’s my take. I can understand the argument that some are making, which goes something like this:

The lake is good for east Christchurch – it provides a regeneration opportunity that we desperately need. It’s good for rowing. The community want it. There is only a moderate risk that it won’t be swimmable. It will only cost about $160 million dollars to build, and only take three years.

I don’t agree with any of this. I can see that there is a potential economic benefit to the lake, but I think the bad outweighs the good by a long way. If economics was the main driver for our decision making, then we should pave over Hagley Park, and close all our libraries. But from where I stand, it looks like the ecological and social benefits of NOT building a lake vastly outweigh the economic ones of having it there. I am not sure most people truly understand how big the proposed lake is, and the impact the lake will have on the people of East Christchurch. And not just my little suburb of Dallington. The proposed lake would close New Brighton Road, which is a main through-route from the Inner East to New Brighton. This would be hugely detrimental to communities that are already struggling with the loss of large parts of their suburb, and just beginning to adjust to having a green zone right through the middle of them. A gigantic lake is only going to exacerbate already existing issues of social isolation and feelings of being cut off from the rest of Christchurch.

Just to understand the scale of what is being proposed, here is my very crude attempt to fit the proposed 2.2km lake into Hagley Park – it’s a green space most people in Christchurch can bring to their minds eye.

The blue blob is HUGE! I get the impression that a lot of people in Christchurch think of the Red Zone as a vast empty space that they can do anything with, and forget that it’s surrounded by communities that need to live with whatever is built. Not to mention that the lake proposal would necessitate the removal of MORE housing in Dallington to accommodate it. If you lived in Merivale, how would you feel about this? It would be massively impactful, as will this proposed lake for the east.

Why has no one asked if there has been a social impact assessment to go with the ecological and economic ones? Why is social benefit not given the same weight as other benefits? I am skeptical of those that argue that the lake will be beneficial for the east – that’s what we were told when they closed our local high schools and moved them. It hasn’t worked out well for us – we now have NO schools in Dallington. It was a sneaky trick, and I suspect this would be too.

And don’t even get me started on the idea that a small group of rowing enthusiasts can waste many thousands of dollars of public money arguing about this, and casually note that the lake will “only” cost $160 million, give or take 10%. Putting aside the estimate of $200m+ from Regenerate Christchurch, do we really want to spend this much on ANOTHER sporting facility for our city. We have Metro sports, we already have a rowing lake, and now we need another one? Can we rebuild our lost social housing first? The Christchurch City Council has run out of money to replace the housing stock that was lost in the earthquake, much of it in east Christchurch. I would like us to focus on the basics before we build more monuments.

And finally, if you’ve made it this far through the rant, Garry Moore recently posted about this in his Tuesday Club – he sums up the issue quite well I think:

During the week I made a submission to the Christchurch City Council’s Annual Plan. I sat through Annual Plans and Long-Term Plans 15 times as a Councillor, and then as Mayor. I always enjoyed the exercise. It goes like this; the staff produce a budget which more or less is around what the Council table finds acceptable; then submissions are called for; then every person/group come to the table and ask for the earth, without suggesting what should be replaced to pay for their excessive demands; then the Council finds that the staff have discovered additional costs which were not known when the budget was proposed; then prima donna Councillors play to whoever they think would be impressed with their excellent understanding of finances, adding items to the budget and standing strong that they would not support any rates increases which are above the rate of inflation; then the horse trading begins, and somehow the rates increase is around what was announced in the first place.
As I sat at the end of the table on Friday I wondered if we have the wrong process, and that the exercise is a complete waste of time. The Council politely listens to all sorts of decent people who care about the City and the groups they work with, and for. People are not challenged to see where their demands fit into the grand scheme of things. They are not asked to consider that there might be other groups with a better call on the resources of the City. Instead they present in good faith what they expect, and then get disappointed when nothing arrives in the mail confirming that they have got everything they demand.
I’ll give an example. One group before me was the East Lakes Trust. This group want us to fund a lake for them to enjoy rowing, at our expense. I have heard the most preposterous claims from these guys. “It will enable schools like Aranui to participate in rowing” etc.  Yeh right. Look who these low decile schools are up against. Christ College, St Andrews, Villa Maria, St Bedes. All schools with bottomless pits of money. I listened, when they presented their case to the Tuesday Club, to one of their prominent promoters (
where are these guys when a group want to promote sporting facilities at Aranui, or Hornby?) advocating that the course could be built “within existing Council resources”. I rang up a Council engineer I trusted, and asked him was this possible. His response was not polite but he suggested that some of the major infrastructure of the City passes through the area where this lot propose us to construct their play pool. The cost of shifting it would be eye watering. It took one phone call to find a major hole in the East Lake Trust’s argument. Regenerate Christchurch did an excellent job in sinking this proposal. Despite this, here were these guys in front of the elected reps last Friday pleading for more public welfare for their expensive sport which already has two world class rowing courses in the South Island.

Ethical fashion

I posted a summary of a Tearfund’s third annual ethical fashion report on Facebook a couple of weeks ago and got some interesting responses. Some people were understandably defensive about their favourite F-scoring brands.

It’s hard to be an aware and ethical consumer – there is so much to consider, so much information to take in. You almost need to be a specialist in supply chain management as well as an expert in global politics. And that’s not even considering the environmental aspects of fashion. For each item I purchase, I need to consider the materials it’s made from, where the individual parts have come from, where and how it was assembled, how it got here. It’s impossibly overwhelming!

When I first started teaching global sociology in the early 00s, it seemed as simple as avoiding products from China and buying New Zealand made. Now I know it’s not as simple as this – it is possible to buy ethically-made products from China (setting aside the issue of purchasing items that have come from an undemocratic nation), and not all New Zealand brands are ethical in their practices.

Recently, I’ve made a concerted effort to consume LESS fashion. Every time I look at an item of clothing I think I need, I take the time to consider this more carefully – do I already have one? Can I get by without it? Is it replacing something that is perfectly fine? My main strategy is to wait – I usually find that after 2-3 weeks of considering a purchase, I decide I don’t need it after all. Another strategy is to avoid poorly/cheaply made items in favour of buying better quality stuff that will last longer. This works best in conjunction with the first strategy … no point in buying things that will last years and then replacing them anyway next season!

Here’s the thing … if you know me, you know I like buying stuff – I love gadgets! And shoes! And nice knitwear! Let’s not pretend that I don’t love to buy new season Lululemon every year (luckily they score an overall A- from Tearfund). I’m not even close to being a perfect, ethical consumer. But I like to think that I can try to be better, so that the people who make my Lulu yoga tights get to have a better life.

I don’t want to give up and I think that small things I can do will make a difference, so here’s what I am committing to:
* Consuming less
* Buying better quality items so they last longer
* Worrying less about fashion and more about what will keep me warm / cool / dry / comfortable
* Keeping what I have for longer
* Being aware of ethical clothing producers, and choosing them ahead of the easy / cheaper options
* Avoiding single-use plastics
* Recycling as much as I can
* Not consuming anything from the dairy or beef industry

Do you think it’s enough for each of us to pick a few things that they can do differently and stick with that? Or are we just wasting our time?

The depressing truth of living between the fault line and the deep blue sea

I attended the Tuesday Club this week to hear Melissa Heath talk about the current state of insurance and re-insurance in New Zealand. She had some sobering facts and figures for us about the impact of the earthquakes and on our ability to obtain and retain insurance. According to Melissa, we are living in an incredibly high-risk environment – the Alpine fault could crack at any time, we are at constant risk of major weather events, sea-level rise, and Tsunamis. I’m not sure how she gets through the day with all this in her head!

I’ve posted the video of Melissa’s talk below. It’s depressing, but in my view, essential information for anyone who lives near a fault line or coastline (i.e. everyone in New Zealand).

You can read more about Melissa at her company website Residential Risk Assessment.

One month in…

I’ve survived my first month at Pegasus Health – four weeks and four days to be precise.

I’m finally starting to understand what people around me are on about, and am able to be helpful here and there. It’s a really challenging role and I am loving it. I’m not one to live life in the slow lane – the work is a good mix of busy-ness, but with some time to think and absorb what’s going on.

One thing I have reflected on is how much more pleasant my work environment is from my last role. I don’t mean the view out the window – the people and the culture of the place is just vastly different. I am starting to see the nuances of the relationships between my workmates, and while they don’t always get along, there is a good-natured camaraderie amongst them.

This is in stark contrast to the previous place – the last few months at RC feel like being in the middle of a vipers nest. Some of us who have left recently (and some that are still there) have been on the receiving end of the consequences of speaking out against decisions made by higher ups – usually a stern talking to or in some cases, a strongly worded letter of warning. When I left RC, I pointed out (and it was acknowledged) that staff morale was extremely low. Smart and capable people were not to get anything done because the bosses didn’t trust them to talk to anyone outside the organisation or to make decisions for themselves. The justification for this is that they were “keeping us safe”. Safe from what I am not sure. It was extremely frustrating.

To be honest, I hadn’t realised how hard it was to work at RC until I left. The first year was really great, and then as the best and brightest walked away, it became really unpleasant.

So I am delighted to find myself working somewhere that allows people to get on with the job – each person is trusted to do their job well and, amazingly [sarcasm], they do! People work hard, they have a laugh, they stop for lunch, and actually talk to each other. It’s a vibrant place. I love that there are hot savouries to celebrate something most weeks and a constant supply of lollies and coffee to keep everyone going. Each of the last 24 days has flown by. Long may it continue!

Onward and upward

In my Year Ahead post, I alluded to the fact that Stephen and I were both looking to change things up a bit in our work lives. I can happily report that this has now happened. A few weeks ago, Stephen stepped up into a much more senior role within Gough Group. It means that he’s much busier and more stressed, but I can see that he’s also really loving the challenge.

And on Friday last week, I said goodbye to my colleagues at Regenerate Christchurch and moved on to a new role at Pegasus Health. There were lots of reasons for wanting to make this change – the main one being that the organisation has significantly shifted its focus since I arrived. Most of the people I was working with on delivering regeneration planning have now left, the work we were doing has wrapped up, and the future work programme for the organisation has not yet landed. It seemed like a good time to exit. Added to this, the Council recently voted to reconsider its funding of RC, with a proposal to cut its financial contribution by 75%. Based on the work we’ve completed and the likely work ahead, this seems entirely reasonable. And lastly, it has become increasingly clear to me that the voluntary work I do in my community with the Dallington Residents Association, coupled with my future plans, are incompatible with my work at RC. I have regularly found myself in potential conflict of interest situations which mean that I am not able to fully contribute to conversations taking place at work and in my community. And if you know me, you’ll know how much that bothers me. I like to have an opinion about everything, and I am always happy to share it!

So my time was up at RC and it was time to move on. 

It’s Day 2 in my current role as a Senior Project Manager at Pegasus Health. So far it’s been busy and confusing – to be expected. But the people seem hardworking, and the work looks like it will be really interesting. It’s a new role and still being defined, so there will be scope for me to make it my own, which is just what I like. I’ll report back on how it’s going once I’m less confused!

A Splendid Torch

Sometimes when I’m running around like a mad thing trying to figure out how I can fit in all the meetings and catch ups with people, I pause and wonder what the heck I’m doing. I spend hours each week doing volunteer work for various organisations. Why?

This is why…

This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.
I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.
I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no “brief candle” for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.

George Bernard Shaw – A Splendid Torch

Do you think this desire to be useful in service is something that is becoming less valued nowadays?