“You guys”? Choice, bro

My heart went out to him. There he was – a North American with a smart suit and tie and a Powerpoint presentation (from 1’45” in the video here), trying to make nice at a Northland hui where establishing some form of beach-head in public opinion against oil exploration was the objective.

He was never going to get anywhere. And we wondered afterwards if getting anywhere was ever the intention. It had all the hallmarks of a box-ticking exercise.

As this representative from New Zealand Petroleum & Minerals ploughed on into his Powerpoint, laying down the timetable for oil exploration to begin, there were no ‘if’s. No ‘depending on what you nice folk tell us’. No qualifications at all. Not even a tiny nod to the conditionality implicit in the word ‘consultation’.

The result was inevitable – he was sent packing. And one subsequent speaker at the hui captured the general vibe of the exercise nicely: “They’re going to leave this hui and they’re going to go back down to Wellington and say they’ve consulted with the iwi up here… there’s a boat already coming, so we shouldn’t be listening to these fellas… . These fellas are telling us what they’re going to do. What we should do is kick them out…  they just want to come here and talk about what they’re going to do.”

There are things you can do to make sure that when you’re thrown out on your ear it’s with at least a faint whiff of mana.

Iwi consultation in New Zealand can be frustrating, time-consuming and expensive. And Northland consultations are notorious for being even more so. But for any organisation serious about the process and the efficiencies effective engagement and community cooperation can bring, there’s a way to do it.

With an issue as highly politicised as mining and minerals exploration, any organisation attempting iwi consultation in Northland needs to be prepared to take a slap to the side of the head. It’s never going to be a cake-walk and a drubbing is almost certainly on the cards. But there are things you can do to make sure your voice is at least heard, and that when you’re thrown out on your ear it’s with perhaps a faint whiff of mana.

Pitching up in a suit and tie, with a Powerpoint and a foreign accent, and addressing the hui as “you guys”, doesn’t rank up there in the recommended tactics.

I’m sure New Zealand Petroleum & Minerals’ Brad Ilg (the guy in the suit and tie) has conducted many hundreds of such consultation meetings. So have they all been conducted with such a transparent lack of empathy? If so, no wonder public resistance to mineral exploration and exploitation has been allowed to grow to the levels it has.

No wonder public cynicism towards the consultation process is reaching the stage where pressure is growing to legislate on making it more meaningful.

At least New Zealand Petroleum & Minerals recognises its shortcomings in this area. This from its website:

“We recognise our relationships with iwi and hapū are evolving, and hope that our processes and agreements, both formal and informal, will continue to build healthy, enduring relationships.”

Yeah, nah.

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