Can I acknowledge the Australia & New Zealand Spinal Cord Society and the 2021 Annual Scientific Meeting organising committee, especially Dr Raj Singhal (current Medical Director of the Burwood Spinal Unit) and Maria van den Heuval (current Charge Nurse) who are the ‘Co-Conveners’ for the conference.
It is the sign of the times that this is a virtual conference.
I would have loved to have been welcoming you to Ōtautahi Christchurch and Te Pae, our brand new convention centre.
We thought that the extraordinary effort put in by our team of five million would have seen us be in a position to welcome our Australian friends from across the Tasman. Today we couldn’t even welcome our friends from Auckland in person.
So, I acknowledge you all, and hope your themes of Hope, Care, Cure in the context of spinal cord impairment in addition to the theme “Paddling our Waka together” inspires you all.
One of the reasons why I was particularly looking forward to welcoming you here is my longstanding relationship with the Burwood Spinal Unit and Alan Bean Centre.
In my former life I was a Member of Parliament, so I am very familiar with the role that the Unit plays, and I was there for the opening of the Allan Bean Research Centre in 2001. My good friend and colleague at the time Hon Ruth Dyson did the honours at the opening. She and I held Ministerial roles in Cabinet at different times in ACC and Disability Issues.
The people that we got to know over the years through this association were extraordinary leaders like Allan Bean, Alan Clarke, Angelo Anthony and Rick Acland. They were visionary and committed to their roles, as I am sure you are as well.
I looked at Ruth’s speech when the Allan Bean centre opened:
The centre’s philosophy is based on ‘the new rehabilitation’, which sees the recovery and re-inclusion of people with spinal injury and other disabilities as an educational not a medical process, one that is customer-owned and driven. Patients are responsible for their own rehabilitation, while professionals are there to service their needs.”
I recall Alan Clarke’s unwavering belief that successful rehabilitation is hard work, involves personal learning, and is the responsibility of the recovering person. It was from this that the Spinal Trust evolved its positive philosophy: “It’s great to be alive” and a vision that one day society will forsake its preoccupation with disability and better understand human diversity, with the result that no human being is regarded as “damaged” or is patronised.
Even though the Centre had to be demolished after the earthquakes, that philosophy has lived on and can be a guiding light for us all.
Since I became Mayor, we have developed a vision for our city – Ōtautahi Christchurch is a city of opportunity for all – open to new ideas, new people, new ways of doing things – a place where anything is possible.
Being a city of opportunity for all is about being welcoming and inclusive. An accessible city is by definition a welcoming city.
As they say at Burwood, we believe in a world that values human diversity, where people concentrate on the use of their abilities, not their disabilities.
In rebuilding after the earthquakes there was an opportunity to think about accessibility in this context - as something that benefits everyone. People who are disabled by a lack of care and attention to this, can be any one of us at any time in our lives.
I don’t know that we have got this fully right, but we have the right intention, and we turn our mind to this each time we design and build our civic facilities.
So, I hope that a future Mayor can welcome you to Ōtautahi Christchurch one day, and you can experience this for yourself.
Congratulations on your theme and good luck for the days ahead.
Yes, I’m counting the days.
Not that it hasn’t been a privilege to serve the city where I was born and raised. I’m extraordinarily grateful for the lifetime of opportunities my life in politics has offered, and for the privilege of sharing in the lives of the people I have been honoured to represent.
I entered Parliament in 1990. It was a last minute entry to fill a candidacy for Christchurch Central when the then Prime Minister announced he was stepping down and not running again just two months short of the general election. He finished as Prime Minister on the 4th of September 1990 and I became the MP for Christchurch Central on the 27th of October. I only realised the significance of his retirement date and what happened 20 years later when preparing for this talk.
I looked back at my valedictory speech after 23 years’ service in Parliament. I took the opportunity to thank all the people who trusted me with their personal stories over the years. It is the best way to understand the impact of government policies and practices – and the best way to advocate for change. Nothing compares to personal stories. Even as a brand new Opposition MP, Minister would listen, and changes could be made.
I talked about my time as a Minister and the different portfolios I held. I talked about the Immigration portfolio that I loved. I still get approached by people who received their residency at this time, or for whom I intervened to exercise my Ministerial discretion. There is a personal connection that transcends time.
I remember when I was first appointed as the Minister of Commerce in 2002. A consultant sent a message out with comments on the new Cabinet – he said mine was the worst appointment – a left-wing trade unionist who knew nothing about business. He sent a photo a year later eating a piece of pie with the word “humble” decorating it.
There were highlights and lowlights. The lowlight of the Commerce portfolio was the collapse of the finance companies. It highlighted the need to have a helicopter view:
I was lucky to be able to work collaboratively with the Opposition Spokesperson. I think we can achieve a lot more when we work in a collaborative way without the politics of government/opposition.
Simon Power followed me as Minister of Commerce and I took over the Chair of the Commerce Select Committee. We worked together on completing the law reform programme for financial products and providers.
If I have learned anything over the past three decades, it is that party politics have no place to play in a post-crisis environment.
Nothing prepared me for the politics of the earthquake. I am not reflecting on the political issues that led my colleague, the late Jim Anderton to run for the Mayoralty in 2010, but if the election had been held a few weeks before it was, then Jim would have been the Mayor. I believe that would have made a significant difference to the state of the city in 2013 when I became Mayor.
I often remind people that the Council inherited:
Regenerate Christchurch could have been brilliant but it wasn’t because the government set up its own urban development authority, Otākaro. The best approach would have been a single urban development authority with shares held by the Government and the Council and with them transferring over time – leaving us with a capability we still don’t have.
I believe there are lessons to be learned from our experience which means that this can never happen again:
From Welfare State to Resilient Nation is how I describe my journey of discovery.
In the nine years I have been Mayor we have had to confront floods, fires, a pandemic and the completely unimaginable horror of the March 15 terror attacks, in addition to the rebuild.
I am in awe of the capacity of communities to come together and offer support at times of crisis. I wish I had the solution as to how we make that the norm – how we live our everyday lives.
Can I acknowledge our hosts Gwangju City and UNESCO, along with fellow panellists.
I‘m sorry I can’t join you online but the time difference is too great.
I wanted to congratulate the World Human Rights Cities Forum and UNESCO for inviting us to look at our experiences of COVID-19 through the lens of racism and discrimination.
As part of any conversation about racism and discrimination, and as a nation that was colonised by the British in the 19th century, we cannot ignore the impacts of systemic racism and structural discrimination that are an integral part of the institutions of state either.
As many of you will know, for more than a decade Ōtautahi Christchurch has had to confront a range of challenges – from the devastating earthquakes of 2010/2011, through floods and fires, to the atrocity of the terrorist attack on the city’s mosques on March 15, 2019 – the year before COVID-19 hit the world.
It was the attack on the mosques that saw 51 men, women and children killed and many more traumatised by injuries and all that they saw, that laid bare where this all ends.
What kind of society have we become that enables such hatred and such fear to fester and for radicalisation to occur?
What are the solutions?
At the national remembrance service, the Prime Minister said:
“…we are not immune to the viruses of hate, of fear, of other.
We never have been. But we can be the nation that discovers the cure.
And so to each of us as we go from here, we have work to do, but do not leave the job of combatting hate to the government alone.
We each hold the power, in our words and in our actions, in our daily acts of kindness. Let that be the legacy of the 15th of March. To be the nation we believe ourselves to be.”
This was the challenge we wanted to take on as a city, and I guess my main message is that the leadership for this has to be shared with the community.
Community-led initiatives have considerable power.
A significant community initiative was to be announced just after the first anniversary of March 15, however, as we know that turned out to be the time that saw the country preparing for the first COVID lockdown.
Our experience of COVID as a city and nation has mirrored others.
COVID reinforces the socio-economic divide.
Māori and Pasifika are far more exposed to the health and socio-economic impacts of the pandemic, both in terms of health effects and employment.
And in terms of racism and discrimination, social media platforms are at once great disseminators of information – going viral can be good in this context – but also disseminators of misinformation and hate.
Proactive campaigns to resolve inequity with targeted vaccination campaigns for Maori and Pasifika receives some negative commentary on social media about getting preferential treatment.
It is easy to tap into the sentiment that someone is getting more than they should, by implying that you are missing out.
The fact that Maori and Pasifika are much more likely to die if they get the virus than someone like me, is lost.
And in the same vein, the origin of the COVID-19 virus being China, gave another overlay for many members of our Asian communities, who felt that they were being blamed for the virus.
This was called out by government, city leaders and the Human Rights Commission.
Anti-hate marches were held in the main centres, including our city, to reinforce support for our Asian communities.
However, these are reactive to a moment in time. We need a sustained commitment to end racism and discrimination.
After each of the crises we have confronted, the images that come to mind are not cities falling apart but people coming together.
We always come together in times of crisis, so why not every day.
The city has taken a leadership role in this regard.
The Christchurch Multicultural Strategy Te Rautaki Mātāwaka Rau Our Future Together was released in 2017.
It had four goals, the first three focussed on the Council as an organisation and how communities can engage in an equitable way and participate in decision-making.
We set targets and measure them, so we can see the progress we are making.
Goal 4 is not so easy to measure as it relies on active and connected communities:
Christchurch is a city of cultural vibrancy, diversity, inclusion and connection.
The community outcomes we are seeking to achieve are:
The role of the council shifts to an enabler, facilitator and partner:
It is here that we see the essence of community-led initiatives, focused on building resilience and community responsiveness.
There have been many community initiatives that I could talk about, however I wanted to focus on The Christchurch Invitation Mahia te Aroha – Maori words that reflect action and compassion.
You may recall the incredible response to the mosque attacks - it was the power of that response, which had led a small group of Muslims to come together to explore how we could use that to make real change.
They wanted the flood of support, the unity and compassion they experienced to be built into something lasting; something that we could all contribute to for the benefit of all.
The Christchurch Invitation, Mahia te Aroha, invites us all to take some simple actions in our everyday lives and make them part of who we are each and every day.
We spread peace, we share food, we reconnect with each other, and we spend time in reflection, so as to replenish our wairua, spirit, the essence of who we are as people.
Although developed from within our Muslim community this invitation is inclusive of people of all faiths or none.
At its essence is humanity – and the invitation is to us all.
I was so proud as the Mayor to see members of our community who had been through so much take the lead to offer these simple but deeply profound sentiments grounded in humanity that invite us all to a better way of being.
And the challenge we take with us, as I’m sure you all do is;
How do we keep the unity real; to be a community that stands up for and celebrates diversity, where unity is the norm, where all are treated with decency and respect no matter our gender, language, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or religious beliefs.
Where there is no room for intolerance, prejudice and racism.
Where we take on the reality of the unconscious bias that undermines our capacity to connect with all people.
Where we demolish the structural barriers that prevent people being the best that they can be.
And when we have courageous conversations about those things that stand in our way of being an inclusive community that values the true worth of diversity.
It is customary to end a contribution such as this with a whakatauki, which is a traditional Maori proverb.
Kia kotahi te hoe. Paddle as one.
Ko te wā whakawhiti. It is time for change.
I wish you well as you continue this very important discussion.
Kia ora koutou katoa.
Kia ora koutou katoa.
It is my privilege to welcome you to INTECOL Wetlands Conference and to acknowledge the International Association of Ecology, New Zealand Freshwater Sciences Society, Australian Freshwater Sciences Society, New Zealand National Wetland Trust, and Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu.
I was hoping that I would be able to welcome you to Ōtautahi Christchurch in person.
It would have been amazing to have this conference be the one to launch Te Pae our city’s new convention centre.
We thought that the extraordinary effort put in by our team of five million would have seen us be in a unique position to at least welcome our Australian friends from across the Tasman.
But it was not to be.
So let me describe that we would have been welcoming you to a venue by the spring-fed Ōtākaro/Avon River, which along with the Ōpāwaho/Heathcote River meanders through the city and flows into Ihutai the Avon Heathcote Estuary. And to the south is Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere and to the north, the Styx River and Brooklands lagoon. These all together form an integrally connected network of wetlands of international significance.
I was immensely proud when Ihutai joined an exclusive list of wetlands making up the East Asian-Australasian Flyway (EAAF) network in October 2018.
Ihutai has a vital role in supporting migratory waders and shorebirds and offers a safe haven for bar-tailed godwits, lesser knots/huahou, and other shorebirds such as the endemic South Island pied oystercatcher/ torea.
Over the last few weeks around 1000 godwits/kuaka have arrived back in the estuary after their annual non-stop 11,000-kilometre flight from Alaska.
With the estuary at our city’s front door and birds easily visible feeding and roosting at a range of sites, it’s easy for residents and visitors to enjoy and understand the estuary’s international significance.
The question kua kite te kohanga kuaka (who has seen the nest of the kuaka), tells us this has been part of the ebb and flow of our natural world for centuries.
The rivers and estuary are especially significant to Ngāi Tahu, the local iwi/Māori tribe.
The dramatic changes that have affected and still affect wetlands have strongly impacted their customary relationship with ‘wetlands’ and as places for mahinga kai.
Mātauranga Māori relates to that historic and present-day traditional knowledge, the systems of knowledge transfer and storage, and the local goals and aspirations from an indigenous perspective.
The theme for this 11th IWC has drawn on this and asks you to focus on traditional knowledge and innovative science in wetland research and management. The organisers wanted to create a programme that would enable the sharing of stories from the five continents and island countries around wetland traditional knowledge and uses.
This is intended to help the integration of traditional knowledge in western science and highlight further the importance of the world wetlands for local populations.
At the same time, and why it is so disappointing that you can’t be here, we in Christchurch have been given a once in a lifetime opportunity to recreate an environment that draws on that integration.
The Ōtākaro Avon River Corridor was created out of what was called the Residential Red Zone – where thousands of houses were bought out by the government after the earthquakes. It is four times the size of Hagley Park and stretches from the central city to the sea.
We have been discussing a co-governance model: Tōpuni: Ōtākaro Avon River Sanctuary. The word Tōpuni derives from the traditional Ngāi Tahu tikanga (custom) of persons of rangatira (chiefly) status extending their mana and protection over a person or area by placing their cloak over them or it.
It has occurred to me that instead of starting from the position of the legal and governance structures that I am used to, we can start by looking to Te Ao Maori. Tōpuni status would confirm the overlay of Ngāi Tahu values on this Sanctuary encompassing the land, the wetlands and the river.
Christchurch City is at the forefront of wetland management and has taken the challenge to restore wetlands, not just for wildlife to thrive, but for flood water storage, while also creating new recreational opportunities for people’s well-being.
Wetlands are important ecosystems that help people reconnect with Nature.
There is great community work happening in the City as illustrated by the recently formed Waterways Community Partnership.
As a city, our six values approach – ecology, landscape, recreation, cultural, heritage and drainage - means our modified and natural waterways and wetlands are so integrated into our urban form, that our residents often don’t see them as anything other than public open space.
An example are the new wetlands which are taking shape in the upper catchment of the Ōpāwaho/Heathcote River as work continues on reducing the flood risk in the area.
The wetlands will also act as a natural filter for stormwater before it flows into the Ōpāwaho/Heathcote River, which is home to koura (freshwater crayfish), kākahi (freshwater mussels) and īnanga (whitebait).
They will be planted with thousands of locally sourced native grasses, shrubs and trees to increase the city’s biodiversity and to create new habitats for native birds, fish and animals.
The planting itself brings communities together, and there is something special about watching the fruits of our labour grow over the years.
Although they have a water storage role in stormy times, it is the walking paths and green spaces that people will be able to enjoy the rest of the time.
As I am entering my last year as Mayor of our wonderful city, it will be a future Mayor who will welcome you here when our borders open.
But regardless of who that is, the values will endure, and you will see a city that has integrated its wetlands into the urban form in a way that offers protection and amenity to the people and supports the biodiversity of our environment.
And I know this as it is an inter-generational responsibility.
I read a description of Kaitiakitanga once that has always remained with me - it is more than stewardship, guardianship, preservation and protection and yet it is all of them. It recognises the relationship between everything and everybody in the natural world – with no distinction between people and their environment.
It is completely independent of ‘ownership’ in a European sense. It is seamless and all encompassing – making no distinction between moana and whenua - the sea and the land. It ensures any use is sustainable, because it is an intergenerational responsibility - past, present and future - a duty of care owed as much to our ancestors as to our children's grandchildren.
This continuum centres us now at this time with a sense of the urgency with which we must chart the course for the future.
Mō tātou, ā, mō kā uri ā muri ake nei – for us and our children after us.