In The Lion’s Den: A Greenie Goes To The Chamber Of Commerce


This week, the Otaqo Chamber of Commerce and the Otago Daily Times held their triennial Mayoral Forum at the Otago Museum. Oddly, given that it was largely targeted at the business community, it took place in the afternoon, before an audience of just 60-70 people. Most were either at work, or had no idea that it was happening. All candidates were asked to introduce themselves, and then respond to a series of set questions. Upon arrival, ODT Editor Murray Kirkness had decided that would take too long, and they would just ask one before going to the floor. Community concerns about stray cats are important, but so are ideas around greater regional co-operation and Council priorities. To that end, here are my responses in full to the discussion questions we were originally set. 


What are the key issues facing the district?

The key issues we are all facing at the moment are about employment, our environment, and engagement. I want you to have more of a say, more often, in shaping Dunedin for the future.

Working together to fight job losses, and to fight for our community in the face of government restructuring, is certainly important. Waikato mayors said this week they wouldn’t fight the AgResearch restructure, which could be a golden opportunity for the Dunedin lobby. It’s even more important that we create our own opportunities. Dunedin has an international reputation for its wildlife and for its creativity. Success breeds success, and we need to do a better job of selling the Dunedin story as  a future-focused international city of ideas.

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Reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, through initiatives like the DCC’s Energy Plan and Transport Strategy, are urgent. Man made climate change is real, it is happening, and it requires all of us to change our consumption habits to slow it down to safe levels. It is a big challenge, but it could be an even bigger opportunity. Investment New Zealand estimates we could create a high-value, low-carbon export economy worth $150 billion by 2025. PriceWaterhousecoopers have said that the renewable energy sector in New Zealand could be worth $22 billion a year. Green Energy creates four times more jobs than oil does. We’re crazy if we don’t get a piece of it.

I’m standing for office because I want their to be a Dunedin left for my grandchildren to enjoy the same way I have. I refuse to bury my head in the sand and leave it for someone else to clean up. This is short-sighted and selfish thinking, and our mokopuna deserve better.

How will you lead a push for jobs and economic development in the region?

It’s important that we continue to take advantage of our international relationships – Project Shanghai is of strategic importance to the business community, and I am pleased to see cultural ties with Edinburgh strengthening in anticipation of Scotland’s hosting of the Commonwealth Games, and their indepedendence vote. We need to take advantage of other international opportunities, where they present themselves, and I think there is scope for us to take advantage of the natural links between economic development and tourism here.

Co-ordinated by the DCC, with support of the Chamber of Commerce and local businesses, I want to set up a Dunedin shop in Brasil, to take the brand international. NomD, Tanya Carlson, A Company of Strangers on the racks, work by Dunedin painters and sculptors on the wall, Dunedin music playing on the stereo, Emerson’s and Mazagran on tap behind the counter. Every sale comes with a sales pitch for Dunedin as a tourist destination.

The Brasilian economy is booming, and the market for high value designer goods is huge. It is now the world’s largest perfume market, for example. There are more than 11 million people in Sao Paulo, and with the Football World Cup in 2014, and the Olympics in 2016, there will be hundreds of millions of people from around the world we can expose to the Dunedin brand. Brasilian tourists already flock to Australia, and there is a strong community in Queenstown, we just need to work as a region to get them to make one more step and arrive in Dunedin. This is just one example of the ways we can expand our high value export market and our tourism market at the same time.

What are your goals and what should the priorities be for the Council?

My priority focus for the next Council will be on Jobs, Homes and Transport. I want us to spend more Council money locally. We need to figure out where the areas are that we aren’t spending locally and figure out why. If it is simply a marginal difference in tendering, we should be looking at raising the threshold for our current procurement policy to kick in. If it is for goods and services that aren’t available in Dunedin, we need to ask why they don’t exist and whether we could do anything to encourage them to be established here. There is a security angle to this: If we are cut off from other parts of the country, be it by natural disaster or otherwise, will Dunedin be at risk if they can’t access these?

We need to protect and preserve our two wildlife industries, our $100m a year natural wildlife industry, and creative wildlife, too. Our arts community has huge potential in reviving our struggling CBD, and attracting talent to live here.  We urgently need a strategy to retain graduates in Dunedin and to encourage our graduates to return to Dunedin.We need to celebrate the work we do that is strong and special. Success breeds success! We’re not especially good at selling the Dunedin story and we have so many reasons to be proud of the work we do.

We need warm and healthy homes, and can do this by designing a Warrant of Fitness scheme for rentals, expanding the scope of the Warm Dunedin scheme for homeowners, and co-ordinating between funding bodies, social agencies, community groups and volunteers for healthy home improvements where they’re needed most.

Our bus service is broken, so let’s fix it by making it cheaper and more efficient, and do a better job of telling people how it works.  I want to make the Octagon our car free town centre. This will be great for our community and good for business, too.

Finally, I’m committed to making it possible for more people to ride bikes, and making sure the money we spent on bike lanes gets us the greatest return in terms of growing that percentage. We need to finish the Port – Portobello cycle way, and start a protected cycle way for all ages and abilities from the Botanic Garden to St Clair Beach. Let’s make Dunedin New Zealand’s most accessible city. Some of these are long term projects, and require external funding that may require a change of government to be fully realised, but we shoiuldn’t let current finances restrain our long term ambition.

Voters are concerned about the level of council spending. How will you keep rates down while retaining essential services?

It is always a difficult balance of repaying debt and maintaining the quality of life that makes Dunedin such a great place to live, work and play in. There’s no point fixating on paying off the debt if we’re left with a city that nobody wants.

We need to look closely at how the DCC money is spent and what people get for it. How is our  community funding divided up and have we got that right?  What are our spending priorities for economic development and tourism balance, and are we taking advantage of the natural overlaps in these areas?

There is always talk of cutting spending, when I don’t think we have done enough to raise Council revenue outside of rates, and I’m talking mainly about the performance of our council companies. Forestry isn’t a booming industry right now, but City Forests could be carving out a market for renewable energy out of the scraps the logs leave behind. I have serious doubts that DVML have maximised the potential of the stadium we have bought for them. I don’t know about you but I’m a little more ambitious than Girls of Gridiron.

How would you work with other councils to achieve growth in the region?

The current Council has set a precedent for regional co-operation in terms of fighting for concerns that affect us, which is something that we could certainly build on, but I’d like to see more strategic co-operation in terms of tourism especially.

The Queenstown Lakes District offer a very different visitor experience to Dunedin, and I think we should be trying to focus on building a relationship that is more complementary than competitive. Dunedin needs access to international flight connections, for business and for tourism, and the lobby for this would be stronger if it were coordinated across councils in this part of the world.

Across the country, I think we could be more active in working together not neccarily with other councils, but at a council institutional level. Co-operation and collaboration between Museums and Art Galleries, for example, which would split the costs of world class exhibitions and make it more affordable for all parties concerned.

Working together can be constructive, but I am wary of government tendencies towards merging councils with very different concerns and constituencies as a cost cutting measure, and hoping for the best. At the other end of the spectrum, regionalism is also a destructive tendency, and I would make sure that any local parochialism didn’t spill over into anti-Christchurch or anti-Auckland sentiment. Again, it’s a balancing act between what we do for ourselves and what we can do with others, without picking counter-productive fights along the way.


  1. Thanks for posting this, Aaron. I am one of the many Dunedinites who had no idea this event was taking place and would have been unable to leave my workplace to attend even if I had. It’s refreshing to hear someone with such enthusiasm for our great wee city and the beautiful environment that cradles it. As for concrete policies – go for it and fix the damn bus network! It is under utilised because it is poorly organised, unreliable and the lesser-used routes are served by fleets that are tired, noisy and polluting.

    Kia kaha.

  2. Again, I second your call for a car-free Octagon. This is already a beautiful walking and sitting space on a calm, sunny day. With no cars, and some thoughtful design to remove the wind tunnel effects of George St and Princes Sts, it could be even better.

    As a relative newcomer to Ōtepoti (I moved down about a year and a half ago), another thing I feel we’re really lacking is a suite of council-owned indoor spaces dedicated to participatory democracy. I reckon lots more people in our communities groups would do the voluntary work to create large-scale public meetings and discussions if they didn’t have to underwrite the costly fees for the larger indoor venues, or risk poor weather in an outdoor venue like the Octagon. The people of Ōtepoti have paid for a stadium, why can’t they use it for public meetings during off-peak times when it’s not generally being used by commercial events?

  3. There is no regular bus service to the Edgar centre. Hundreds of kids play sports and train every day of the week and they can’t catch a bus there unless they walk from Andy Bay road . What about a bus on a loop run from the uni, through the centre of town, up Smith St for the central city high schools, past Kings and Queens, then to the Edgar. I have to drive my kids there 2 or 3 times a week, there should be a bus every 10 or 15 minutes right to the door.

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