By Anthea Yule, Hawke’s Bay farmer
Nobody mentions Phil Goff’s name anymore.
After spending 32 years in parliament for the Labour Party, he became the mayor of Auckland. He completed two terms at the helm but did not seek re-election last year. He has moved on to become the High Commissioner for New Zealand to the United Kingdom.
Wayne Brown has been in the hot seat ever since.
Imagine inheriting a $270 million budget hole, as Mayor Brown put it when discovering the discrepancy in early November.
Little did he know then, things were about to get much worse.
Cyclone Hale seriously tested emergency services and stormwater capabilities in early January.
More heavy rain fell as Aucklanders shut up shop for their long anniversary weekend. People were left wading through water. Cliffs fell. Lives were lost.
Cyclone Gabrielle moved down the country. It saved most of the force for the east coast of the North Island, destroying lives and livelihoods.
I farm in Hawke’s Bay and the destruction needs to be seen to be believed. It is going to take years for those affected to get back to where they were. Some won’t have the resources, energy or time.
You have all seen the footage. The water reached the top of two-storey houses in places. A GPS Tracker has located a harvester 4km out to sea!
The efforts of locals and volunteers who continue to help has been incredible. The initial cleaning up of the roads was done by farmers with tractors and local contractors. The use of cones was kept to a minimum, and things got done. We all just got on with it.
Things changed at the beginning of the third week. Contractors could not start work until the road control people were there. This caused delays and confusion.
We are still confused.
Who is in charge?
Hawke’s Bay is a big place.
The revenue received from the province in the last financial year placed it third in New Zealand.
When I moved here from South Canterbury in 1987, both Napier and Hastings had their own public hospital and newspaper.
Napier had the Daily Telegraph, which serviced Napier, surrounding areas and farmland north of the Tutaekuri River, right up to Wairoa.
The Hawke’s Bay Herald-Tribune went to people south of the Tutaekuri, including Hastings, Havelock North, Waipukurau, Dannevirke and surrounding areas. This was the more conservative paper of the two.
The papers combined in 1999 to make Hawke’s Bay Today.
Now Hastings has the only public hospital in the region.
The papers and hospitals might have combined, but sentiment remains very different in the two cities.
Imagine if Otago had two cities the size of Dunedin, or Waikato had two cities the size of Hamilton. Who would be lead pony?
And that is the problem.
At the last Census Hawke’s Bay had a population of 178,600.
These citizens are served by five councils. We are separated by our rivers. Rivers that have supplied our booming agricultural and horticultural sectors. In light of Cyclone Gabrielle, these rivers have been our undoing.
We have four mayors, a chairperson, 50 councillors and five chief executives. Surely enough talent.
So, I read with interest this morning a small article on page three of Hawke’s Bay Today, “Big recovery plans”. No photos were provided. The newly established Hawke’s Bay Regional Recovery Agency (RRA) has appointed an independent chair and six directors. A very talented line-up, but all career board people.
Not a true reflection of the Bay. And not enough skin in the game. The true reflection of the Bay can be found among the 50 elected representatives.
We need big-picture thinkers with vision, stamina and patience to rebuild Hawke’s Bay. The sort of people that can be found in every corner of rural New Zealand.
Not people with the ability to move on to a better opportunity, like the previous mayor of Auckland, without a backward glance.