Local Elections Candidate Interviews: Tony Oosten - Raglan Community Board


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 Tony Oosten.


"When you hear that we're having sessions in the community, please engage - and it doesn't have to be there at the session, just drop us a line. All of our email addresses are online. We're very approachable," he said.


(Listen to the full interview below:)

Aaron: So Tony, you are an existing community board member and you're looking to come back.

Tony Oosten: For my third term.

Aaron: For your third term. So you obviously feel like it's been worth it.

Tony Oosten: Over the two terms already, I can see the changes that have happened. The first term was really about reinvigorating the relationship with the council, moving from an adversarial, really focused on potholes and the minutia - the small things - to actually working together and being more of a governance role, in terms of holding the council to their own standards and procedures and holding them to account, for what they're meant to be delivering to our ratepayers and to our town.

Aaron: So even though it says Waikato District Council Raglan Community Board on the label, you see the community board as representing the community toward the council.

Tony Oosten: Oh totally. You read the Local Government Act and in that, community boards are meant to be the voice of the community back to the council.

Aaron: Okay.

Tony Oosten: In the past, we used to be our own council. You had the Raglan County Council. And so people like me, on the community board, would have been your actual council and you would have been able to talk directly to them. The council and county council would have engaged contractors to repair roads and repair stuff. So by amalgamation that got removed away from the small communities and that's why community boards were put in. That's a key thing of community boards is to demand the authority, the empowerment to actually take control a bit more from the council to make sure stuff is happening in your community.

Aaron: But you guys can't dictate to them. You don't have any power on that.

Tony Oosten: No, that's the problem. So that's why you have to use their own systems and procedures and documentation, because it's all there to actually hold them accountable to what the government and the Local Government Act requires from them.

Aaron: So you've got to do a lot of reading in this role.

Tony Oosten: Oh, big time. You know, people think, "Oh, it's just the two or three hour meeting that we have once a month," there is a lot of time to prepare before it, to ask the right questions and to make sure that the staff and council are moving forward in areas that we want to. Actually this last term, we've expanded it a bit more so that we have made submissions on behalf of Raglan under the community board letterhead to the central government to write policies and that like the Freedom Camping Act.

Aaron: Yeah, that's a very relevant round here.

Tony Oosten: Exactly. Because we wanted our voice, (as a community that is impacted) to be heard directly by the central government. We didn't want it watered down or modified.

Aaron: That's the exact phrase, 'watered down' was the exact phrase that was in my head before you said that - so we certainly all feel it here.

Tony Oosten: We still have a goal that we get the different departments of the council to come to our meeting and have deep dive sessions with them because we still don't really know what the planning department have and plan - no pun intended - for their vision of Raglan.

Aaron: Did their planning department have one? Because I worked with them.

Tony Oosten: Well, that's the problem. We can't seem to get it out of them, you know, where do they see infill housing going in? Where do they see high-rise and high-density housing going and where do they see Raglan expanding out to?  I really expect them to, and you need to know that, so that you're not approving different consenting requests in a hodgepodge manner.

Aaron: Look I want to get into all these details but I also want to do the bit about your story and the stuff that's happened in your life that you think is relevant to being on the community board.

Tony Oosten: So, bred and born in Rotorua and then went to university, did chemical engineering, worked in the pulp and paper industry in New Zealand over at Kawerau and then in Malaysia and then ten years in Canada. That's how I became a Caniwi.

Aaron: Is that what you call it?.

Tony Oosten: Yeah, I have dual citizenship and I've just come back from two months over there, we purchased a cabin in - bad timing - 2020, and so we've been locked out of the cabin for two years.

Aaron: You couldn't go and see it.

Tony Oosten: Couldn't go see it. So we've Just come back and it was really good. Then basically out of the doom and gloom of the pulp and paper industry, which was a true commodity, we were making newsprint which is for newspapers, and people don't read newspapers anymore.

Aaron: I just got told by the Chronicle that they're having to source their paper from overseas.

Tony Oosten: The mill in Kawerau has shut down.

Aaron: Which is ridiculous in New Zealand.

Tony Oosten: I know. I know. But anyway, we also made the paper for telephone directories and people don't use telephone directories anymore. So true sunlight dying industry and the choice was either sell my soul to the oil and gas industry and move to Alberta where it's plus 40 in summer and you have these biting flies to -40 in winter. Or lifeboat back to New Zealand and we chose the lifeboat back to New Zealand and I chose that I needed a company that is going to be around and I currently work for Fonterra in the sustainability role, my task is to decarbonise Fonterra's emissions.

Aaron: It's easy when you say it quickly.

Tony Oosten: You say it very quickly and it's very, very, very hard. And in that role, 50% of my time is spent in Wellington engaging with government departments and industry groups to ensure that, and I really go into it as a New Zealand Inc - you know what is good for New Zealand, not specifically what is good for Fonterra. We need everybody to transition away from fossil fuels as fast as possible. But the big thing that we have right now is resources - people, there's not enough electricians, there's not enough construction people, engineers.

Aaron: Where did they all go, Tony? Nobody can answer this question.

Tony Oosten: Well, they really didn't go anywhere. A fair chunk went overseas and that but it's that big sucking sound of the whole globe looking for these resources. 

Aaron: Before COVID-19 we had enough people, now we haven't.

Tony Oosten: It's about what is your steady state. Like our boiler manufacturers, we're making maybe one boiler a year now to do decarbonisation, to switch to biomass boilers or electric electric boilers and that they're having to do like five boilers a year. It takes nearly 40 people to build over 18 months, design and build a new boiler. And that's the problem - the ramp up.

Aaron: So that's a microcosm of every industry probably at the moment.

Tony Oosten: Exactly. Every industry.

Aaron: So back to the community boards, the current chairperson is leaving. The deputy chairperson, Dennis, I said to him, "Would you like to be the chairperson?" He said, "No”, he doesn't want a bar of that and that maybe you would be. That's what he said on the radio.

Tony Oosten: Yes and I heard that and I gave him the gears about that.

Aaron: So are you going to be?

Tony Oosten: No.

Aaron: Would you put yourself forward for that?

Tony Oosten: No. Unfortunately, as I said, it's not just the meetings. You need to be going to the infrastructure meetings over in Ngāruawāhia. There's a lot of separate things and the way the Raglan Community Board is run where we're doing projects and that, you need to be able to attend those meetings and have workshops, and reach out to different groups in the community.

Aaron: You haven't got the time?

Tony Oosten: I've got a full time job with Fonterra and you know, I fit the community board meetings around that and they're very good at letting me do that. But you know, the chair unfortunately it really is a role, it is a job.

Aaron: Who does that leave? I think there's going to be... normally there's a fight over who becomes the chair. But I feel like it's going to be a fight over who doesn't become the chair.

Tony Oosten: But every single time that has been the first question is: "Who can dedicate the time?" Bob was really good, being able to dedicate his time to go over and participate in the workshops, the meetings, regular meetings, to ensure that our voice was heard directly at those meetings to back up Lisa and then Gabrielle had that opportunity.

Aaron: I mean, she cited busy-ness as one of the reasons she's stepping down.

Tony Oosten: Yeah, because she has a full time job at Raglan Naturally.

Aaron: And a family...Two full time jobs.

Tony Oosten: Yeah, exactly. So we'll see who gets re-elected and then who can dedicate the time to it.

Aaron: Well, that hasn't cleared that up, but we'll move on anyway [laughs]. All the mayoral candidates are talking about delegating powers to community boards. Do you think that's a good idea?

Tony Oosten: I think it's an excellent idea. As I said, there is no difference between us, the current community board (or the future Raglan Community Board) and the Raglan County Council or the actual councillors, we're all human beings. We've all got the same different skills to bring to the table. It really isn't that they're any better or different from us. So bring it on. If a councillor around the council table can drive spending of ratepayers money in the correct fashion, then why can't a community board do that?

Aaron: So people are talking of course - we've heard quite a few of these discussions - and they're saying a lot of it will depend on the capability of the community board. And you've talked about having time limits for you and a lot of the board members. So does it need staff? Like Thames Coromandel District Council. They have a town manager, they went about it properly. I'm wondering if we're going to get a half and a half thing where there is more power to the community board, but no extra capacity to deal with it. And that might not be very good.

Tony Oosten: No. And again, the councillors don't actually do the actual work of the delegation. Councillors are a governance structure and the community board has a governance structure. We're already paying for the resources in the staff of the council. An example would be contracting of ground's upkeep in Raglan. As it currently happens, the council manages that and engages and provides papers to the councillors to say, "Hey, this is where we're going, we're going out to tender," and all of that. So instead, provide that to the community board and allow the community board to have the input and the say, around how the grounds are to be kept. And we kind of did push really hard to make sure that the money stayed in Raglan. We used to have City Care doing all of our work, which was owned by another council.

Aaron: It's one of the more bizarre things that’s happened.

Tony Oosten: And thankfully we now have Raglan Lawns doing it and that's an example of; okay, we didn't have the delegated authority, but we fear thumped the table and say "We've got a good company here that can expand," because they needed to expand to actually do the task.

Aaron: And it was really good to see a discussion about what they called social procurement. I didn't really understand the phrase. But basically, Raglan Lawns and Xtreme Zero Waste are really good examples.

Tony Oosten: Exactly. And here at the hall, using Stendy...

Aaron: …because you're on the hall committee.

Tony Oosten: On the hall committee as well yeah. And so it's constant pressure against the council. It's very easy for staff just to say, "Oh, we'll get the council trades contractors to do that."

Aaron: Which means driving from Hamilton.

Tony Oosten: Which means driving. You're paying for that and the dollars are leaving Raglan. And so you have to say, "Oh no, we have a contractor, they're in the system, they're there," met all of the requirements - because that is one of the hurdles. It's a good hurdle and a bad hurdle is that we still have to have them meet the health and safety and financial requirements, commercial requirements of the council.

Aaron: So they've got to have their paperwork in order.

Tony Oosten: They've got to have their paperwork in order. Yeah.

Aaron: Yeah, I know this is a challenge.

Tony Oosten: It is a challenge. But you just work through you say, "Hey, these are some of the vendors in Raglan. Let's, as a community board, or a hall committee, or Papahua Park Committee, work through getting them approved so that they can just step in and tender for projects and win awards.

Aaron: I know there's also things like preferred contractor status like Xtreme has because you can't do a competitive tender, there's no one else that does what they do so they have to work.

Tony Oosten: But you really have to watch it. Like I've heard of how Waste Management came into the other Waikato District communities and that they don't have the level of recycling and waste diversion.

Aaron: No, they're not wired for that. It's not in their DNA really.

Tony Oosten: Well it also costs more and it's more labour intensive and more staff is more headaches. And so big corporations don't actually like that. They have a stake in the landfill. So they get over $150 a tonne for every tonne that goes through the landfill. They're not interested in green waste diversion because they want that waste to go into their landfill, be turned into methane, and then they run it through a generator. So you've paid for it to go into the landfill and then they're making energy, electricity off the back end, selling it as a profit.

Aaron: So you pay to give them the fuel that they use. They've done well. So you work for a big bureaucracy and you've worked for some other big bureaucracies because Fonterra is huge. Sometimes people describe New Zealand as being Fonterra's company town. So that's just given an indication - you're smiling, you're not the PR guy, so we won't worry about that [laughs]. But the reason I'm talking about bureaucracies is people are always complaining that councils aren't responsive enough and that people really slag councils off, but there generally is a consensus that they are not well enough organised to serve the community. That's what the community is saying. Are we expecting too much from a bureaucracy with councils? This is what I want to know.

Tony Oosten: We are.

Aaron: Because everyone everywhere is complaining.

Tony Oosten: Yes. Yeah, we are. Even as a community board embedded in the community, tasked with representing the community, it is really hard to get the community to engage. The problem I have is - and the council has a consultation document standard and - it says we will consult on this and various levels of consultation and we constantly butt up against them. We say, "Well, why did you not consult?" And they say, "Oh, it wasn't a big enough issue."

Aaron: But how do they know?

Tony Oosten: Exactly. If they don't consult and consultation takes time and you know, pre-planning, that's the biggest issue that is driving the unhappiness of council. It's not the bureaucracy. It's just that it's hard to engage with them. That's why we wanted the department managers to come to our meetings, because it's hard for us to engage with the staff that are making the decisions, to get our messaging across. It's hard for us to consult and engage as a community board directly. 

Think about the average person on the street, how hard it is to get their voice heard. That is one message I really want Raglan to take away is; when you hear that we're having sessions in the community, please engage - and it doesn't have to be there at the session. Just drop us a line. All of our email addresses are online. We're very approachable. Hey, I'm even in the phone book, you know?

Aaron: Right. Such as it is?

Tony Oosten: Yeah, such as it is.

Aaron: Well, in fact, the Raglan phone book is quite handy. It's a little thing and you can flick through it really quickly. Not like the old white pages. Can you use technology maybe? Are people going to come up with some kind of voting system - or not a strict voting system - but some way of using technology to get input?

Tony Oosten: Yeah, I wish there was. We have a lot of smart people in the community. I used to be on Facebook and on the Raglan noticeboard because that was key to helping to engage with the community. But over the last two years, I just had to remove myself because it just became so toxic.

Aaron: You're not the first person to say that.

Tony Oosten: And it has disconnected me from what people are saying, even though it could be an echo chamber. It is really hard. 

Having young people on the community board like Kiri and that, we need to figure out how to use new technology to engage with the community. We've used our website as a community board, we've really done a lot of work on refreshing our website and making our website be the the place where people can go and find out about the People and Places project or the wharf project. You know, we've done some mission forms through there, but we can't leave behind our older generation in the community that don't use computers.

Aaron: Well no, you have to go out on all the different media forms.

Tony Oosten: Exactly. There's so many. We still use the Chronicle to reach out to people. You get the Chronicle in your letterbox. Please have a leaf through and make sure you're not missing out on anything. It's not like the old Granny Herald and that - it truly is connected to our community. Take a few minutes to read it.

Aaron: Everyone's talking about housing. Tony, can you fix housing from the community board?

Tony Oosten: No. Anybody who says they can, you know it is...

Aaron: No, no one has been that forthright yet.

Tony Oosten: No, thankfully. But it's coming back to that planning discussion. I see it as the community board's role to engage with both the council, the regional council. It's a bit disappointing to hear the Regional Council go, "Oh, we have nothing to do with housing." Well, you do have an impact on the RMA and Resource Management Act, which is a key part of if you want to develop a block of land for tiny homes and that. Look, I look back at it and go back in the thirties, the depression and that Kaingaroa Forest was planted as a make-work project. Back when I was at school, we used to go to the Rainbow Mountain, a Waiotapu camp and all of the little cabins that we slept in, as kids at school camp, they were single men cabins and and so the government of the time, built all of these single men camps throughout New Zealand to house men that were working on planting the forests. And we're reaping the benefits of those forests. So all this pushback against tiny homes and that I think is totally false. You know, is it the developers getting in there and saying, "No, we want that land for expensive houses?"

Aaron: I think it's just inertia. Like I had this experience and I'll bore the listeners with it again, where there are about three of us trying to submit to the council district plan (which is just about done with now) and it was about the Raglan urban environment. A lot of it was like, keeping the character. But then, as time wore on, the housing crisis became more apparent, and we tried to get the word affordable in and Whāingaroa Raglan Affordable Housing Project tried to get the word affordable in there. And we actually went through a process that feels like a farce now. We spent hours on Zoom and staff wrote up sections for the district plan. And then at the last minute, they all got pulled out by higher-up staff members and the commissioners never saw it  (they took it out on the belief that the commissioners would have rejected it). So that was annoying.

Tony Oosten: But that's an example of how we need to engage with the staff. The staff are making decisions on our behalf without actually consulting with us or engaging with us. And that is the frustration that I have, is that staff are not representing the communities.

Aaron: The staff member we were working with was, but she had the rug pulled out from under her.

Tony Oosten: Exactly. So that's why it's important to remove the grey and get stuff in writing, and you're doing the right thing by trying to get it into the district plan because that becomes their Bible and it makes it really hard for them to draw outside the lines.

Aaron: Tony, we are out of time.

Tony Oosten: Thank you very much, Aaron.

Aaron: Next interviews here. Do you want to give us your spiel? Do you have a spiel about why people should vote for you? I'm making everyone answer the question.

Tony Oosten: I do not have a spiel.

Aaron: Make up one on the spot. Why should people vote for you?

Tony Oosten: No, I won't. [laughs]

Aaron: New Zealanders are so hard to deal with.

Tony Oosten: I'm sitting on the fence because as a community board member, I therefore am sitting on the hall committee (representing the community board on the hall committee) and I'm sitting on the Raglan Naturally Trust and in that role I'm their treasurer. So both of those roles (and I'm currently chair of the Hall Committee) both of those roles take quite a bit of time. So it's kind of like, if I don't get voted in, I will have more personal time.

Aaron: Well folks, it's up to you I guess whether Tony deserves a break or not but I don't think so [laughs].

Tony Oosten: [laughs] Yeah and please people talk to 20 people, and not about the candidates, but just getting out there and voting. Your vote is your voice. Select the council, the mayor, the community board that you want.

Aaron: And I guess from the perspective of the politicians over the hill, if we have a big turnout on our vote here, then they have got to pay attention to that.

Tony Oosten: Yeah, every year that we have more people voting percentage wise, it puts more weight on what we're saying at the table.

Aaron: I had a message coming through from someone, “Many of the staff are genuinely committed to their community,” and in fact, that's what I wanted to say earlier is that the staff who live here, (just because of the fact that they live here and understand the community) do a better job for our community. And there's something in that - I think we should invite all the staff to live here.

Tony Oosten: Yes, exactly. No broad generalisations. As I say, we need to get the procedures and the governance locked down so that there is no ambiguity.

Aaron: All right, Tony, thanks for coming in this morning.

Tony Oosten: Thanks a lot, Aaron.