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Relationships built on respect, inclusion

Opinion Piece

They say that after a wedding comes the marriage, because after you say “I do” the work begins to build a relationship based on mutual respect and love. A marriage covenant in my view is a very sacred relationship.

This week in council we have a formal meeting with local iwi Te Aitanga a Hauiti. Signing a Memorandum of Understanding gives a deeper meaning to partnership and I believe strengthens the relationship between council and tangata whenua. For iwi and hapu in Tairawhiti there is a desire to see the council make a commitment to being better Te Tiriti partners, and to consider what this partnership looks like as an action and not just words.

Relationships are only effective when communication is effective.

As part of council's role we make commitments to build positive relationships with our ratepayers, a multitude of groups, industries and of course central government.

In a guide about engagement between local and central government, Prime Minister Ardern says “an effective partnership between central and local government is crucial to inform the many decisions that affect New Zealanders, and to ensure they are implemented well.”

Strengthening the engagement between our two levels of government is vital if we are to reflect the diversity of our regions, and work together on responses that best reflect the needs of all our communities.

It's interesting that central government recognises this relationship isn't one-size-fits-all, as we are all unique regions with differing needs.

So the frustration often with our central government relationship is how the MPs and officials prioritise issues, using process and policies to control the relationship. The power imbalance creates tension and annoyance, especially when we chose to live, work and play in our part of paradise and the directions are sent from Wellington. Of course, in all relationships one main disagreement is who has control over the purse strings, and for councils most debates are around the ongoing matter of infrastructure investment.

One key infrastructure we constantly discuss is our roading network maintenance and resilience programmes. A frustration is the constant reporting from our transport agency Waka Kotahi that work on parts of the network will be held up due to technical land issues. We have parts of the network that some of my fellow councillors raise time and time again, only to be told by the transport agency there will be delays.

These are not new issues. In fact, our region's roading has required huge investment because of our particular geology. Funds should have been set in place when central government proposed we plant pine trees for economic prosperity and as an alternative to pastoral farming that can better hold the soil in place.

Relationships also work best when people are honest and look out for those who are vulnerable and hurting.

I've had a number of ratepayers ask about the perceived incestuous relationship council has with the port company. The relationship is based on historical agreements and past decisions that continue to impact our present and future. Deals have been done over decades by a relatively small, tight-knit group of influential individuals and organisations who think they know what is best for the region.

Sadly, for many in our region the benefits haven't been equitably distributed, and we still see huge disparities and poverty-related issues that are entrenched intergenerationally.

Relationships need all parties to participate, equality between those involved, and they take work and long-term commitment to putting others first. Let's ensure this region is known for healthy relationships built on respect and inclusion.

Meredith Akuhata-Brown