Local Government New Zealand Conference

11.07.11

E ngā mana, e ngā reo,
e ngā maunga, e ngā awaawa,
e ngā pātaka o ngā taonga tuku iho,
te whare e tu nei, tēnā koe
te whāea Papatūānuku e takato nei, tēnā koe
tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.

Prime Minister John Key, iwi representatives, Minister Hide, President Lawrence Yule, Mayors, Councillors, staff. Welcome to Wellington!

Wellington's a capital at the edge of the world, a unique meeting place for seafaring cultures, where waka landings led settlement, innovation in refrigeration led trade and now unseen but pervasive digital networks connect us to the rest of the world.

A quarter of the people living here weren't born here - including the 34th Mayor of Wellington. I vividly remember flying in, seeing wooden houses with roofs of every colour perched on hills, the wild oceans surrounding us - and then the cranes of the eighties' skyline once we'd landed and come to town.

This city is not a planned and relatively soulless capital like Brasilia, Canberra or even New Delhi's colonial layout. Nor is it a medieval treasure, preserved within encircling 60s motorways as are many European capitals.

Wellington is a paradox as one of the youngest capitals, smallest capitals, definitely the southernmost capital but with ambitions to be a world-leading city in arts, in digital creative developments, a fair trade city, a peace city that led the nuclear-free status of our country almost 30 years ago.

Central government inhabits our centre but perhaps it occasionally fails to draw its Beehive blinds and look out to the new city that's developed.

Our economy is increasingly diversified. The financial traders, global accountants, artists, fashion designers, software engineers, film effects gurus, actors, sound engineers, professors, architects and consultants, technical draughtspeople and project managers know we must focus on a much bigger market than 200,000 in the capital, 400,000 in the region nor even or 4.2 million in the country - the size of a modest city in many parts of the world!

Wellington's and indeed New Zealand's market must grow overseas if we are to be able to trade in computers and coffee, attract talent and make genuine progress addressing social exclusion and environmental imperatives - and make our mark internationally. While GDP is only part of economic prosperity - and standards of living, happiness and genuine progress are all far wider, it's still instructive to note that tourism jobs earn on average about a third of the value of a knowledge worker in a Lambton Quay office. We could multiply digital exports by orders of magnitude with minimal environmental impact whereas doubling dairy or trebling tourism or quadrupling lignite exports come with significant issues to manage.

We won't grow sustainably by bickering over events or funding between the main cities of New Zealand nor by creating false dichotomies between rural productivity and city development.

I don't see the supercity of Auckland and the essential Christchurch rebuild as antithetical to a healthy capital at all. Auckland's experiment has begun and I wish Mayor Len Brown all the best in creating a heart north of the Bombay Hills.

Recently I had a tour of the red zone of Christchurch and it is a devastated city centre. It was a sobering experience both as a human being and as a Mayor - and we do try to be both! While some of the charm such as New Regent Street remains and the Cathedral will be rebuilt, what kind of city will it be? I wish Mayor Bob Parker and all Cantabrians the best for a terrifically difficult rebuild and we mustn't begrudge them the resources needed to plan and rebuild. As this conference is focused on the future let's reflect on the challenges faced by CERA, Christchurch City Council, Environment Canterbury and the district councils in the region.

They have an enormous task and deserve all the support and aroha we can all give them. I'd like to thank all the Council staff and volunteers from round the country that helped and are still helping since the earthquakes- search and rescue, building inspections, sewage and water reconnection and all the welfare management in Canterbury and for the evacuees and troubled tourists.

It has been a pleasure to work in a collaborative way with both regional and metro Mayors and learn much from them. To save our ratepayers from wasting money, there are definitely services we should provide once nationally, perhaps GIS or journey planning software, some best delivered at a regional level and some very locally. I look forward to much conversation about appropriate and accountable governance.

NZ Inc requires us to work together. Just as sharing resources for RWC 2011 will make that event a success, so will working out our comparative advantages. We can still be thoroughly competitive on the sports fields!

Today we all face a number of mega trends - a mobile talent pool, ageing populations, the need for scale, and competition for scarce resources including energy. Ecological pressures and financial constraints figure largely in some of our thoughts though they are not as influential as I'd like yet. These megatrends form a background to our Wellington draft Strategic Plan - "Towards 2040."

I believe the key is to make Wellington "a city where talent wants to live" to quote Sir Paul Callaghan. from our research people choose to live here because it's compact, walkable, efficient to do business but most of all because of the quality of life - our natural surroundings and cultural events. People who came to work for Weta Digital for three months and have settled here say that they value their children being able to walk safely to school. We have a big city buzz in an incredibly accessible city. No wonder Lonely Planet already describes us as The Coolest Little capital in the world!

Wellington 2040 is by no means the first vision of the city since Maui fished it out of the ocean.

As a new councillor in the 90s, I was part of the Council under Mayor Fran Wilde that framed the District Plan to set urban limits, creating the Outer Town belt. We also decided there should be no minimum parking requirements for the central city - which transformed the CBD! We debated whether the waterfront heritage buildings should stay - and you might be surprised who voted to demolish some - fortunately they were in the minority.

During Mayor Mark Blumsky's leadership we formed Our City Our Future as a plan to work collaboratively with other city stakeholders to address social, cultural environmental and economic wellbeing - a precursor to these requirements being included as our statutory duty in the Local Govt Act 2002. One of the aims was to be recognised as the Arts Capital of New Zealand. That was also when Council led the optic fibre network creation that's proved vital to our connections with the world.

Mayor Kerry Prendergast's visits to North America and readings of Richard Florida's books helped shape her support for Creative City - Innovation Capital that well fits a liberal city and a focus on promoting our arts scene - again an evolution from Mayor Lawrence's initiation of the International Arts Festival in 1986. I'd also like to acknowledge the huge amount of work Kerry did for LGNZ as well as Wellington. The current financial assistance package for weathertight homes owes much to her commitment.

Next week I make my first official visit to China and Japan - including our sister cities Beijing Xiamen and Sakai. Definitely an area to work closely with central an local government. Mayor Belich agreed the first sister city relationship with Xiamen in 1987.

So the future evolves from today and from the work that has gone before.

Thirty years ago few knew about climate change, there was no World Wide Web; there were neither mobile phones nor Xboxes. Who knows what the future may bring. However, I'm sure it will be true that as we live our lives more digitally and as we live in denser surroundings, we will still need to replenish our contact with the natural world and as our families are dispersed through the world we will still need to connect worldwide.

I wish you all the best for a successful and productive conference - I look forward to seeing the ideas and joining in the conversation about local government's future focus. My special thanks to all organising this conference.

Let's look forward positively to the future of New Zealand and our part in making this country more resilient, more successful and more beautiful. In other words, a better place to live work and play. Kia kaha!

The speech delivered may vary from this text.