Formerly New Zealand's High Commissioner to the Cook Islands and MP for the Northland Electorate of New Zealand.


Moving forward together

Thursday 20 September 2018

The importance of relationship building

Next month Councillor Sally Macauley and I will travel to China for a series of meetings with Chinese officials, business leaders and potential investors in the Far North. We will be joined on the eight-day trip by Andy Nock, chief executive of the Council's commercial arm, Far North Holdings Limited. Since the Council agreed to this trip in October, a number of residents have questioned the need to foster investment links with China.

I'm glad these questions are being asked. It means our community is concerned about the district's development and wants to be informed. Without doubt, this is an important issue and we owe it to future generations to make well-informed, transparent decisions that focus on what is best for the whole district.

Private foreign investment from around the world is already occurring in New Zealand and China has emerged as a major player. That investment is regulated by the Overseas Investment Office under the Overseas Investment Act (2005) and, as a Council, we have no control over who invests or acquires land in our district. That said; a core aim of the Council is to be an enabler of economic development. That leaves us with a simple choice: engage with investors as best we can, or watch from the sidelines.

While we don't decide who buys land or invests in our district, all investors are subject to local statutes and bylaws. For example, development proposals will likely require consents under the Resource Management Act, just as any locally-owned development would. And often, you get to have your say on this development where consent applications must be publicly notified.

In that case, why fly Councillors to China? Building meaningful relationships is crucial for any long term partnership wherever you are from. This is particularly important when dealing with investors from China and we have already done considerable work in this area. The Council has a long-standing sister city relationship with the Chinese province of Liaoning and we will devote two days to renewing these links.

We also have a Memorandum of Intent with Tus-Holdings, the business arm of Tsinghua University in Beijing. Tus-Holdings wants to invest in tourism and geothermal energy projects, and to establish a fund encouraging innovative projects in tourism, technology, film and the environment. Last November, Deputy Mayor Tania McInnes and Councillor John Vujcich travelled to Beijing to outline our vision to Tus-Holdings and to identify 'win-win' opportunities that will increase incomes in the Far North.

Without doubt, a 'win' for the Far North means protecting our environment and the ideals we hold dear. Our Memorandum of Intent with TUS-Holdings specifies that Treaty of Waitangi principles must be honoured in future dealings. Gaining that concession required building a level of understanding and respect you don't get via email or Skype. We achieved that through face-to-face contacts and by building a relationship, not by watching from the sidelines.



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