While Covid-19 stalks across the globe we are, for now, insulated in our Pacific bubble. Many people are asking what next as we re-learn to trade among ourselves, while working hard to keep global supply chains open.
Maaori-owned businesses, like the one I work for, have not been immune from the impact of Covid-19. Far from it. In our own case, half ownership of a major regional shopping centre, The Base, and a trio of hotels has given us our fair share of volatility and issues to manage through the lockdown and beyond. I know it's the same with other iwi-owned businesses, particularly in the tourism sector.
These setbacks will test the resilience of our businesses and will dent, but not destroy, the power and influence of the Maaori economy. At last count, the assets of iwi-owned businesses were estimated at $9.2 billion with particular strengths in the primary industries which are continuing to thrive under the shadow of Covid, as well as property, tourism and a range of continually diversifying financial assets (TDB Advisory: 2019).
We have to look to the future. These assets are still wonderful, and we must have the vision to look through the cycle. It's not a time to talk, it's time to get on with the big decisions, to be bold in our thinking and use our endowments to tackle the infrastructure deficit so we can make our whole New Zealand economy fly.
The economic future of the country and Maori are intertwined. By working together with aligned values and goals, iwi and Government create more than just economic value. Both partners want to raise the tide for all waka – the Government brings national reach and resources and iwi have hundreds of years of understanding of the conditions in the rohe (region). Powered by respect under the umbrella of the Treaty of Waitangi we can join forces to unlock investment which hits the quadruple bottom line – people, planet, profit, purpose.
When the Government led by Prime Minister Jim Bolger embarked on historic settlements with iwi in the mid-90's it set off a chain of possibly unforeseen consequences – in effect, creating a series of regional, Maaori-owned sovereign investment funds. There have been around 80 settlements with iwi in the years following.
In the case of Waikato-Tainui we have been able to continue to invest in the region, almost in a counter-cyclical way through recessions (The Base), relative neglect of the regions by the previous Government (our hotels) and now pressing ahead with developing the 480 hectare development at Ruakura despite Covid-19.
This 'super-hub' will unlock efficiencies and environmental savings from getting cargoes off road and onto rail. It will reduce the movement of empty containers around the upper North Island and it will create many jobs.
It's a 30-plus year project to develop the entire precinct which is larger than the Auckland CBD. As Rachel Hunter used to say in the shampoo commercial – it won't happen overnight, but it will happen.
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If iwi-owned businesses have made good progress on their own, imagine how far they can go in lockstep with Government? The Government's announcement this week of its intention to build up regional centres for many functions of Government ushers in a great new opportunity for new economic activity and jobs.
In February this year TGH announced it would partner with ACC to create a new regional office in Kirikiriroa Hamilton to house up to 600 people to serve the region and New Zealand. Along with co-investment (via the PGF) and Hamilton City Council in the local roads network for Ruakura, we have the makings of a template for a new chapter of Iwi-Crown relations.
The economic health and wellbeing of current and future generations of iwi and all New Zealanders is on the line. Now is a time for looking forward in partnership and iwi has an influential and important role for us all.
Chris Joblin is CEO of Tainui Group Holdings