Local Elections Candidate Interviews: Fred Lichtwark - Waikato Councillor - Waikato Regional Council


As part of the Morning Show's coverage of the 2022 Local Elections, Aaron will be interviewing candidates standing for positions on the Raglan Community Board as well as the Waikato District and Regional Councils. Below is a transcript of Aaron's interview with Fred Lichtwark.


"There are a few more councillors that have an environmental focus, a few more but still not a majority. Until we get that majority, our environment's going to lose," he said.


(Listen to the full interview below:)


Aaron: Fred Lichtwark, our current regional councillor, and running for Waikato Regional Council again. Welcome to the studio Fred.

Fred Lichtwark: Kia ora Aaron. Kia ora Whāingaroa Raglan.

Aaron: I thought we'd deal with the controversial stuff first and then get on with the business after that. There's been a couple of things that's extended over the term. There's the stuff with Russ Rimmington and he's dropped his legal action but he's still running again. You're running again and I guess putting all that aside, all the who said what and all that, can you guys work together next term - is a question people I think will want to know?

Fred Lichtwark: No.

Aaron: Oh, okay. Really?

Fred Lichtwark: Yeah. And I guess why I feel this place is a little daunting is because it was what I said through this radio station that ended up potentially being evidence in a high court decision.

Aaron: That was the first time that's ever happened to anything we've ever done.

Fred Lichtwark: Actually it's one of the first times this has ever happened in New Zealand where a councillor has been challenged on his transparency views. And it has become -  was going to become - a benchmark on what was considered predetermination.

Aaron: Which is a thing that most people didn't even know existed, the idea that you're not supposed to make up your mind before you go into the council meeting with your vote.

Fred Lichtwark: Well, it's not just making up your mind. It's things like in this interview, you might say something like, "What do you think about the new train that's going to be from the wharf to Hamilton?"

Aaron: Which is not happening folks - it's hypothetical.

Fred Lichtwark: No, and I say, "Absolutely. That's a great idea. I'd vote for that." Yeah, well, I've just predetermined my position. Therefore, I would not be allowed to vote on that particular issue because I've already shown my cards. I have to have an open mind right through to the day that we vote. So you'll never catch me saying I'm going to vote for that.

Or having a strong opinion about any particular issue. So you've got to make it quite clear that, for this, I will give you my view, but that does not necessarily represent the regional council's view.

Or whether or not at the end of the day, when it comes to the vote, I will maintain that view that I've just expressed now.

Aaron: I wasn't aware of that - I'm interviewing people all the time in local body politics -  I wasn't aware that it was an issue. I think most people, the constituents, would view that as unhelpful. We want to know.

Fred Lichtwark: Totally.

Aaron: We actually want to know where the councillors stand on the issues.

Fred Lichtwark: Totally, and I get in trouble for doing that, for being transparent. This is the power struggle, the political games that some councillors play and it's the slippery pole of politics. They want to be a leader. They want to be a Donald Trump. They want to lead, they want to rule. A bit like all the signs that you see up and down or all over the country, the more signs that are placed, the more there seems to be, the more desire to be a ruler to have that power game. Not everybody is like that. Generally it seems to be that it's this power game and that's not me. I'm there to vote for what's right, mostly about environmental issues. That's why I stood for regional council, because regional councils manage our natural resources. I sort of weighed off the topic a bit. Carry on. 

Aaron: You're saying you can't work with Russ? 

Fred Litchwark: Well, I’d have to.

Aaron: Well, one or both of you might not get re-elected of course and it would cease to be an issue. There are six standing for his ward.

Fred Lichtwark: Yeah. So the chances are: he may get back in. But again, he's standing on a platform that is quite really misleading. The platform he's standing on is that he's opposed to three waters. Well a regulatory authority, a regional council, has no mandate and no jurisdiction over three waters.

Aaron: No, it's the district council that does that.

Fred Lichtwark: So why would you have regional councillors standing on a platform pretending they have an influence over that topic? 

Aaron: Well I guess if we've been truly accurate that the regional council does process the resource consent application for things like sewage works and stuff like that.

Fred Lichtwark: Exactly. All it is is the name at the top of the consent. No influence on who does the job.

Aaron: You're not spending the money, which is where the power is.

Fred Lichtwark: We don't dictate the contractor. We don't say who the contractor is, whether that be WDC and providing a sewerage service, or whether it's Watercare. We're a regulatory authority, full stop.

Aaron: Alright so let's say you're both back in. Is that an issue and do you have to work together?

Fred Lichtwark: Well you have to have the majority support of council. So there's 14 councillors and I have to have eight people on my side for a vote to go through to support what I stand for.

Aaron: Are you saying he's going to oppose everything you stand for?

Fred Lichtwark: Well, he kind of has, regardless.

Aaron: I should ask you the question. Are you going to oppose everything he stands for? 

Fred Lichtwark: No. If things line up, then I'm not doing it for an ego trip. I'm not there to be a power ruler, or to pity or take spite. I'm there for the right reason. That is, if we're voting for the right thing that I consider right for our constituents - then I'll support it. Most definitely, and I do that regularly.

Aaron: Now, the other thing that preceded this was that you were barred from certain access to certain parts of the council or being on the council. I can't remember the details, but that was not based on Russell Rimmington necessarily, but based on complaints?

Fred Lichtwark: It was actually.

Aaron: But there were other people within the council who made complaints about you. Do you want to reply to that or is there stuff that you've learned along the way that you might do differently, that kind of thing?

Fred Lichtwark: Well, first off, not one of the complaints was founded on evidence. There were complaints and a lot of the  complaints were made for vindictive reasons in my opinion. Again, the slippery slope of politics. 

Aaron, I can write a letter and complain about you, for no reason, but it's logged as a complaint. And if you dig down and you looked at the complaints and the reasons that were laid, you would see that "Really? Was that justified?" But it is logged as a complaint. We actually had an independent investigator look at the complaints and the council hired that guy, a gentleman from Auckland, to investigate these complaints because it was - actually - quite a slur on my reputation. And it was discovered that the complaints like Russ Rimmington had made had no founding evidence.

Aaron: But what about the staff?

Fred Lichtwark: The staff? There is one person, one staff complaint. Her job was in democracy services - that was loading the complaints. And I said to her, "Well, you know, you're loading these things as a complaint. When do I get an opportunity for natural justice?" And she broke down. She cried because she was so upset about how the system was set up that she couldn't actually defend me, she couldn't do anything about it. So she was incredibly upset. It wasn't a complaint about me as such. It was about the system. And this is where the media will actually take it out of context to get a good news story.


Editor's note: For clarification and background around the complaints, please read this article.

Aaron: You've gone through that process now and the stress of it, are there things you think you might do differently anyway?

Fred Lichtwark: After six years, (and this is the end of my second triennium) of course I've learnt how to be a politician and that is to really work constructively with your colleagues. You don't have a personal opinion, you have to keep all of that locked up and work with other people for the good of the constituents. So yes, I've learnt how to manage  people better and it's not about me. Initially I think I struggled with being a strong person, and wanting something, even though I know it's right for us - not having the buy-in with the other politicians. Where I really struggled was the fact that I have achieved so much (without giving myself a fat head) but as a councillor, (with Whāingaroa Harbour Care, a Green Ribbon Award in 2002, New Zealand Landcare Ambassador and a whole lot of other acknowledgements from government in the work that I'm doing) working with communities really did put me quite head and shoulders - when it comes to achievements within the environment - above the rest. I don't use plastic boards. The previous two years I never actually went out beyond the community to rally support.

I got voted in on achievement and I said that to the councillors. I didn't buy a vote. A lot of councillors spend tens of thousands of dollars on self promotion. "I want to be this. Vote for me." I did nothing. 

I spent 100 bucks on one ad in the Chronicle. No, I didn't, I had to declare $100 for the ad in the Chronicle. It was actually put in for free. The farmers from the area paid for my nomination fees, so I did it because I was asked to do it. I'm not there because I'm crazy about being a leader. It's not a nice job, actually, it's quite difficult. But through those six years I've learned how to do it and now I've had six years of training. It would be a waste not to do the third term and it would be my final term. I believe that you should not be in politics for any longer than three trienniums. It's about democracy and good democracy is to roll it over and have new people involved.

Aaron: Okay. Stuff we talked about three years ago was: “Were we getting people who represent a conservative rural vote on the regional council or people with environmental motivations on the council?” Do you think there was a move further in the direction of an environmental focus between the previous three years and the three years we're just finishing now? I'm just curious to know that really.

Fred Lichtwark: There are a few more councillors that have an environmental focus, a few more but still not a majority. Until we get that majority, our environment's going to lose. It's mostly about the economy. What people don't understand is that having a healthy environment will mean you'll end up with a healthy economy. You can't put the economy ahead of the environment. And we've learnt that in Raglan in Whāingaroa, when our harbour was full of crap, you couldn't catch fish and the farming was dismal. 

There was gorse and ragwort through the paddocks. We looked after the waterways, put in riparian fencing and planting and we improved the paddocks, the weeds were eliminated, stock weren't drowning in the rivers, there was no crap getting into the harbour, stocking rates on the land improved, healthier animals and productivity improved on the land and then the harbour improved. What happens? You catch more fish and more people want to be here. You can swim in the water where previously it was polluted and now look at what's happened to Raglan. We almost need to go chuck mud back in the river.

Aaron: That's right. 

Fred Lichtwark: [laughs] To slow the growth.

Aaron: I think there's some people probably contemplating that as we speak. For folks who don't know, the Waikato region is all the way across to the Kaimais, up to Auckland, down as far as Ruapehu you were saying - the whole region. Is it called a ward?

Fred Lichtwark: A constituency.

Aaron: Constituency. We're in the Waikato constituency which is actually the same boundary as the Waikato District council isn't it?

Fred Lichtwark: Correct.

Aaron: So you and Pamela Storey are the current councillors. There's two councillors for this ward and four ran last time. This is my background to this question; four ran last time and we appeared to get the two most environmentally friendly councillors out of the four. I can't remember one of them. But you've actually said you're not working well with the other councillor from this area. 

Fred Lichtwark: No. The previous councillor, Jenny Hayman. We worked very well together. She was from Port Waikato.

Aaron: I actually spoke to her yesterday. She did confirm that. 

Fred Lichtwark: And it's really important. It's critical actually that you work really constructively with your other constituent councillors. We've got to work as a team for the sake of your constituents. You are two votes for your Waikato constituency and if you're not working together and you're not communicating, then you are really letting your constituents down. 

Unfortunately I have tried multiple times to work with my co-councillor and she absolutely refuses to work with me. She works with Russ Rimmington, who has been rolled as chair and another councillor from Matamata-Piako who has left the council. So the support from our constituent councillor, or my other constituent councillor, hasn't got the support of the majority of council.

Aaron: Is there enough of a difference to sway votes?

Fred Lichtwark: Well, I have to pick up another supporter from another constituency, another councillor, to make up for that person that isn't supporting me within our own area. For example, the Karioi Project, the great work that they are doing. I didn't get support for them to get that additional funding and that's huge to me. That was such a let down and there's been other areas where...

Aaron: So was that a close vote?

Fred Lichtwark: Yes.

Aaron: Are there lots of close votes in this council?

Fred Lichtwark: Oh there are!

Aaron: Given that there's clearly been a split in the council. Well, from the outside it looks like there's been a split in the council. Is that reflected in the voting patterns?

Fred Lichtwark: Not really. Look, the media give the impression that there's a split in the council. The council, as far as getting our work done, hasn't been hindered. Although you would read that I've been isolated from the committees and that's not true either. I get all the agendas. It was up to the chair of the committee, if they decided they did not want my participation, then they had the right to exclude me. So that was my punishment.

The only councillors that excluded me from participating were Russ Rimmington and Pamela Storey.

Aaron: Who's your co-councillor for the constituency.

Fred Lichtwark: And that was just disastrous. The other councillors from Matamata-Piako attended the table and there wasn't an issue. When it came to workshops, I was excluded from most of the workshops because Pamela chaired the workshops as well - so she didn't want me there - which was a huge disadvantage to the constituents. However, the CEO, Chris McLay and staff worked with me in parallel and put on separate workshops where I had the luxury of having five or six staff on my own and was able to go into real detail about coastal plans and issues. I actually had a bigger advantage by doing that than if I was one of 14 councillors and had only 5 minutes to chat. So it ended up better

Aaron: Okay, the irony.

Fred Lichtwark: Yeah, the irony.

Aaron: There's so many big issues with the regional council. What's something that you want to see happen in the next three years that's significant?

Fred Lichtwark: Climate change.

Aaron: Oh, climate change is going to happen, Fred.

Fred Lichtwark: And it's going to be significant and what councils have the ability to make change?

Aaron: Well, every council has the ability to do something.

Fred Lichtwark: Natural resources are managed mostly by the regional council. You're quite correct. All councils, everybody - including yourself - we all have a role in this change.

Aaron: There's something we can all do.

Fred Lichtwark: But when it comes to rules and regulations, the regional council, under the regional plan here, for example; with a new subdivision, we can make rules in the regional plan that say we have to have bike paths, bike roads from that subdivision to town that is funded by the developer. And if we put that in our regional plan, then all the territorial authorities have to abide by that rule.

Aaron: So the regional plan, is that done on a ten yearly basis like the Waikato District Council's district plan, which is a ten year plan?.

Fred Lichtwark: No, it's done annually. Regional plans, they are reviewed and we are constantly amending.

Aaron: I think the district councils are going to go that way anyway because the recent district plan took about four years to change - and they're still going.

Fred Lichtwark: So with land use activities, you see how we can absolutely influence climate change - so that's just transport.

Aaron: So you gave an example of that creating bike paths.

Fred Lichtwark: Farming you could say that, "You must counter your CO2 production by putting in wood lots." That's just an example. See, we could do that as a land use activity. Solar panels, we could say, "Right, there is no consent required and you can put them on these particular areas." We could do that. We can make it easier for wind farms without having rigorous resource consent. There are a number of things the regional council could do to head off climate change.

Aaron: Have these things been discussed?

Fred Lichtwark: Absolutely. But we haven't got a majority of environmentally sensitive councillors at the stage we have had, Russ was a climate denier, he was the chair of regional council, he was a denier up until three years ago and he still queries it. There's other councillors there that absolutely questioned climate change. Well if you've got a majority of those people you can't make headway.

Aaron: No, I can see that. Anyone could see that. Could that change at this election?

Fred Lichtwark: Absolutely. It could.

Aaron: Every election, there's a younger generation coming through that is more concerned about climate change than the older generation.

Fred Lichtwark: And unfortunately, we haven't got a lot of young councillors standing and it's the younger vote that matters.

Aaron: And most people don't even know the regional council exists.

Fred Lichtwark: No, they don't. They don't realise the powerful position the regional council has in actually heading off climate change.

Aaron: To be fair to the media and you and Russ Rimmington, for all the controversy, at least some people actually know the regional council exists now.

Fred Lichtwark: Exactly.

Aaron: I don't know whether that's good or bad, but it has happened.

Fred Lichtwark: Do you know why it has been below the radar? It's because we have the ability to make change, to make substantial change. When you have a majority of farmers (and these are not what I consider good farmers in council) stifling that change because they can see it could potentially cost them to mitigate their effects. People make money out of using the environment and making a lot more money if they're not accounting for the damage being done to the environment, they're taking more than they're giving back. Does that make sense? I'm trying without pinpointing. But if you've got a majority of people and Pamela's a dairy farmer, Russ is a dairy farmer, Vercoe is a dairy farmer, Stu Husband is a dairy farmer. You list off all the councillors that are in there and you work out why they are so opposed to doing more environmentally sustainable work and then you work it out.

Aaron: It's turned into a cultural war of environmentalists versus farmers and people kind of come in behind.

Fred Lichtwark: No I disagree with you Aaron.

Aaron: I think there's an element of it and I think some people just come in behind the team. You're not having any of that? 

Fred Lichtwark: Not having a bar of it. Eighty percent of our farmers are great farmers. You look at the farmers in Raglan, they've all done riparian fencing and planting - they are great farmers. They improve our whole image, they improve our market and they are doing the right thing. They are good farmers. They are so busy being good farmers that they've got no time to stand to be a politician. They're doing their core business. So it's unfortunate the regional council, or any council, is not considered a real job. We don't get paid a full salary. It's a part time job. 

Aaron: What is the going salary? Is it like a part-time job or something? 

Fred Lichtwark: Yeah it is. You can't live on the salary that we get as a councillor. That's just below the minimum wage in a lot of cases. It depends on the hours that you put in.

Aaron: If you do 20 hours...

Fred Lichtwark: Yeah, 20 hours, it's about that. But we don't. I do 40, 50 hours a week. And it is a real job - to do it justice. You want to see the agendas that we get to read? There's 1200 pages.

Aaron: No, I don't. I don't want to see it. [laughs]

Fred Lichtwark: You don't want to see it.

Aaron: Because I know what agendas are like. No, it is a frightening level of information that comes through both councils, regional and district councils.

Fred Lichtwark: I talk with councillors, we've got to communicate. I'm on the phone talking with my East Coast councillor about the coastal plan and what we think about where a marine reserve should be or what constituents have issues with about this and that and we're constantly talking. So we are making good decisions for our constituents and our region. There is a lot of time, although it's mostly talk, it does end up as action on the ground somewhere. It's all about the voters and getting the young people to vote.

Aaron: So what do you think has been achieved? I think we've just got a couple of minutes. What was achieved over the last 3 years? From your hands?

Fred Lichtwark: From my hands, I'm on the Climate Change Committee and we have moved a long way ahead through this triennial to now put ideas forward to the next triennium, on the regulatory regional plan to head off climate change. The coastal plan - oh boy - we've put a hell of a lot of effort into the coastal plan, but it's still a draft. The council is like the Titanic. It takes a hell of a lot of time for it to even adjust its position, its course. But the coastal plan, there's been a lot of work done there and you know with my experience in commercial fishing, being a fishery officer and doing the restoration work, I'm one of the few councillors that have actually been able to add a heck of a lot of value. 

What I consider, as what's good for the region and the people, is to improve our resources. I'm a heavy resource user. I love fishing, I like whitebait fritters, I love mussels. But I don't want to restrict our abilities to take and enjoy these things. The trick is to build the resource and I know how to do that. That's some of the stuff that I'm incorporating into our council in the way that we're moving forward. Water quality, flood pumps. My God, you would not believe the amount of land that we have now below sea level.

Aaron: So we're talking mostly up in the Hauraki Plains?

Fred Lichtwark: And Waikato, around Port Waikato, the side of Port Waikato. There's flood banks there at high tide there's 38 square kilometres that are below sea level.

Aaron: Is this sustainable in the long term to keep using this land?

Fred Lichtwark: No, it's not.

Aaron: So what do we do? Do we spend all this money?

Fred Lichtwark: This is the work that we've got to think about. We're now canvassing the government for funds, for retreat. You can't have stranded assets, literally, these people that are living below sea level; farms, houses, what are we going to do? Just let them flood and cop the loss? No, we don't. Our role is to be strong advocates to the regional council and look at managed retreat. 

Aaron: To the central government?

Fred Lichtwark: Absolutely. You look at the Thames Coromandel area, there's close to 800 kilometres, 600 something kilometres square, kilometres below sea level. That's a huge amount of land, most of our productive farmland is actually below sea level.

Aaron: There's hundreds of pumps I understand over there.

Fred Lichtwark: Well there's pumps that are pumping up into canals that pump up into a river canal before it discharges out. They are actually way below sea level. Ngatea - if that flooded - little town of Ngatea, it would be an island in the middle of a sea.

Aaron: Right, we've got that it is a huge thing. We're kind of out of time. My next interview is crossing the road now. We've been talking to Fred, regional councillor, running for regional council again, and good luck.. although I don't mean it like that [laughs].

Fred Lichtwark: Well, I do. [laughs] Why am I doing it again? I'm doing it for good reasons, but thank you.

Aaron: Thanks for coming in and good luck with the campaign. We'll be seeing you on Sunday at the Meet the Candidates.

Fred Lichtwark: Yeah, I hope we actually get some interest in this town and people turn up because I've been to a few others and you end up with six people in the audience and there's eight councillors. It's just....

Aaron: No we had more last time, three years ago we had about 50 people which is better.

Fred Lichtwark: Oh that's great. GO RAGLAN!


If you're an enrolled voter in the Waikato district, you'll get a voting information pack in the mail from Friday 16 September 2022.You will have until 12 noon on Saturday 8 October 2022 to vote. If you are sending your vote via post, please ensure that you have allowed enough time for your vote to be received by the due date. You. can also drop off your vote to: 

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7 Bow Street, Raglan 3225
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