Local Elections Candidate Interviews: Pamela Storey - 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 Pamela Storey.


"It's unfortunate that it seems you're either a farmer or you're an environmentalist. I guess I don't see that dichotomy being that way... I don't see them as mutually exclusive at all.," she said.

(Listen to the full interview below:)


Aaron: You've had one term on the regional council.

Pamela Storey: I have, yes. Coming to the end of my first triennium.

Aaron: Obviously you want to come back. We've just had a conversation off the air about how we're going to talk about this interview because there's things to talk about. Let's go with the controversial stuff first to get that out of the way.

Pamela Storey: Well, how about before we get into things, I would just like to set the record straight on one particular area, because I know that it's something that is near and dear to this community. And that was with regards to a funding decision that was made back in July 2020. With regards to Arocha and their fantastic work that they do out here.

Aaron: The Karioi Project?

Pamela Storey: Yeah. So back in June, oh no sorry - it was July 2020. There was a funding application that was heard by the then Community Restoration Committee. I was a member of that committee and Councillor Lichtwark was the chair of the committee at that time. Arocha had put forward a funding application to our Natural Heritage Fund. Now there was some concern at that time, when that funding application was heard, that there was insufficient funds in the Natural Heritage Fund to fully support the project. Now as a member of the committee at the time, I really pushed the committee to take the time to fully consider what our options were that would enable us to fully support Arocha. However, Councillor Lichtwark, who was the chair at that time, chose to push through a motion that funded them at 50%. While I would have loved to have seen the committee take the full opportunity to explore our options, once the chair puts through a motion, unfortunately, that then is the decision of the committee. And so, like I say, I would have loved to have seen us have the opportunity to see the great work that they have done, and are accomplishing out there, fully supported. But I feel as though there might have been a little misinformation that's been going on.

Aaron: So this was discussed in the interview with Fred earlier this week.

Pamela Storey: Yeah, and that is publicly minuted so it's on the website.

Aaron: So you're saying you wanted to have more discussion before making a decision.

Pamela Storey: And explore the options. Whenever we have funds available, inevitably they are oversubscribed.

Aaron: Yes, I know. Because as someone who applies for funds, I know that that's always the case.

Pamela Storey: Yeah and you do find yourself in challenging decision making processes. I just wanted to make sure we took the time. But unfortunately, once the chair puts through a motion to fund it at 50%, that's the decision.

Aaron: So the Karioi Project should apply again presumably in the future - that would be most welcome?

Pamela Storey: Absolutely.

Aaron: So unfortunately all our regional council interviews are getting a little bit diverted by having to talk about the stuff that's gone to the national media. I know nationally, it kind of looked like a Russ Rimmington versus Fred Lichtwark thing. But you're kind of being dragged into it, well everyone's been dragged into it. So you were one person who voted to retain Russ Rimmington as the chair. Some people might criticise that, or some people have criticised that as we know because we had Fred's interview the other day. Do you want to have your say about that and why you made that decision?

Pamela Storey: I suppose the comment I would make about that is; that it came before council in May. So that came before the council five months out from an election.  And I'd love the opportunity later in this interview to talk about the various decisions that are in front of the council. There are significant decisions we're trying to make, outside of the politics of council, and I feel that's where our energy and our resources should be going towards. So I was not supportive of a fundamental change in leadership of the regional council five months out of an election campaign. I felt that our energy and our resources should be going into the work that was ahead of the council itself. So I certainly didn't support that change.

Aaron: Does that imply that you support Russ Rimmington in all things, is a question people might be wondering? Maybe it's a silly question, but let's put it on the table and just answer it.

Pamela Storey: In voting against that motion, that was me saying (as a council) we need to be focusing on the work in front of us, and not get distracted - distracting the staff, utilising resources and preventing really fundamental projects that were on the go from being completed because of a distraction. That wasn't something I was going to support. It's unfortunate because whenever you have a change in leadership of an organisation, it is inherently disruptive. It distracts people. For instance, one of the key pieces of work that we've been undertaking through the Strategy and Policy Committee, which is the committee I chair, has been the Coastal Plan, and that was on track to be wrapped up in this triennium. But unfortunately, because of all of the distraction, that's not going to happen until the next triennium. That's unfortunate because the Coastal Plan is something that hadn't been reviewed in over 20 years. It's a critical piece of work. I would have loved to have seen our time, energy and resources go into delivering that piece of work as opposed to the other.

Aaron: Do you have thoughts about the whole three waters debate or do we just say that's kind of irrelevant to the regional council since the regional council doesn't run the three waters?

Pamela Storey: Right. Well, the regional council does have an official position on that. That was decided back in September of last year. Really that focused around the consultation and the communication, the conversations that we were having (that central government really was having) with our communities. Because any time you're looking at a shift (a fundamental shift), in the way we organise or do things or manage our assets or our resources, I think that those are conversations we need to have transparently and with integrity, with our communities so that we can all go on that transition. The official position of the regional council, that was supported by councillors, was that those conversations needed to happen.

At that time we didn't we didn't have a decision from Cabinet with regards to our flood infrastructure, our drainage infrastructure, and whether or not that was going to be considered part of the stormwater aspect of three waters. That Cabinet decision has been made and it's been deemed to be external to the three waters issue. So at this stage, three waters has very little to do with the regional council.

Aaron: So the regional council's actual position was to slow down.

Pamela Storey: Well slow down in terms of; let's have a thorough informed debate with all of our communities so that everybody is across the proposal so that they fully understand it and they understand what it's going to mean for them.

Aaron: Okay.

Pamela Storey: But like I say, after the Cabinet decision, (and that came subsequent to that September position of regional council) that further extricated the assets that the regional council is responsible for: the flood infrastructure, the drainage network that is  - has set that outside of that three waters process.

Aaron: The other issue we have to talk about is, Fred Lichtwark said that there's problems with you two working together. Do you want to comment on that?

Pamela Storey: I suppose that the only comment that I would make is that I can work with anyone Aaron, but I think that in any organisation, there's a standard of behaviour that should be expected. And particularly, a standard of behaviour that should be role modelled from anyone in a leadership position, anyone in a governance position. When behaviour isn't aligned with that standard that has been agreed and set by an organisation, then people need to be held to account. I suppose as far as going forward, like I say, I can work with anyone, but I absolutely will be someone that if I see a behaviour that is bullying or harassment or threatening, then I'm going to call that out. That's whether that was directed at a staff member or a member of the public or a fellow councillor. I'm certainly going to call that out regardless of who's involved.

Aaron: I guess we can say that Fred was held to account because he got stood down from certain aspects of the role, which I don't understand all the details, but things did happen. Is there anything else you want to say ?

Pamela Storey: I think we should focus on the great work that has come out of council over the last three years and what I've certainly been excited and happy to be a part of.

Aaron: I also like the candidates just to say a little bit about themselves. Normally we do that at the start.  We'll call this the start and you can tell us a little bit about yourself. So people know your background.

Pamela Storey: Sure. Well if you haven't picked up on the accent, I'm not originally from New Zealand. I'm from the US in Seattle but have lived in New Zealand and here in the Waikato for the last 26 years actually. I'm a dairy farmer in Te Hoe, which is….

Aaron: Near Orini. Orini is north of Hamilton folks.

Pamela Storey: Absolutely. I'm an absolute proud dairy farmer and food producer here in the Waikato, but I also have been involved in a number of other organisations and things. I used to work for WEL Networks many years ago. Actually when I was driving out here this morning it always gives me great pleasure to drive past the wind farm because I actually did the original landowner's agreement because my background is actually electrical engineering. 

Pamela Storey: I also have been involved in a number of nonprofits.

Aaron: Such as?

Pamela Storey: The (previously named) Huntly Energy Efficiency Trust, so I was the executive chair of that and we insulated over 7000 low income homes across the Waikato region. More recently I was chair of GoEco for ten years. That's an environmental organisation based out of Hamilton, but really proud to have delivered Kaivolution, the first food rescue service here in the Waikato region.

Aaron: I think they were coming out here at one point. All sorts of things changed after the virus arrived - projects like that. So you've been involved with some environmental projects, but also with farming, I say ‘but’ because that's what happens in most people's heads  and in this country at the moment. Do you want to address that too?

Pamela Storey: Yeah, that's unfortunate. It's unfortunate that it seems you're either a farmer or you're an environmentalist. I guess I don't see that dichotomy being that way. I think we're seeing more and more of that in our society, where we say; you're either this or you're that. I don't see them as mutually exclusive at all. On our dairy farm in Te Hoe, we have put tremendous effort into environmental initiatives since we've been involved in dairy farming. My husband is a fourth generation dairy farmer. We've certainly put considerable time, energy and capital into that. We've retired over ten hectares of land that was on an erosion prone slope. We've planted that out and that's just about minimising the flow of sediment into freshwater. We're in the middle of a project where we're retiring a further three hectares along Mangatea Stream and planting that out and turning it into a beautiful natural corridor up into the bush. I was asked recently, "What's your favourite part of the Waikato?" and I have to say it's my farm. Because just the other day I was looking out and multiple pairs of kereru were flying around and the noise of the tui was deafening and yeah it's a beautiful place.

Aaron: So you've got a bit of riparian management going on.

Pamela Storey: Absolutely. We had our first farm environmental plan back in 2015. That was really about allowing us to take stock of what we had done and also to plan ahead as to what further steps we wanted. All of our streams have been fenced off and planted up for quite some time. Well most of the farmers that I'm involved with go to great lengths to do the right thing by the environment. I think that when you consider fantastic farmers like Stu Muir up in Aka Aka - what he's been able to accomplish and Chris Falconer at Waerenga doing brilliant work -  both as food producers of healthy nutritious food but also ensuring that they're looking after the land that they are occupying.

Aaron: So we had a plan change in the last few years about riparian management and fencing off streams, and the version I've heard was that conservative forces got the fencing position and the distance between the stream and the fence narrowed down to a point where it was too small.

Pamela Storey: So I think the plan you're referring to is plan change one.

Aaron: Yes.

Pamela Storey: So that is currently before the courts so I don't want to go into too much detail.

Aaron: Oh yeah you guys won't talk to me when it's before the courts, I know.

Pamela Storey: [Laughs] But what I would say is that I know that considerable time, energy and resource has gone into getting plan change one to where it is at this point. Following on from plan change one, we've seen the national policy statement for fresh water and the national environment, environmental standards for freshwater come out. And interestingly enough, there was significant modelling in those national policy statement national environmental standards that was taken from the work that came out of plan change one. So in some respects the Waikato and Waipa catchments are ahead of what is now our obligation to deliver across the entire region with regards to fresh water.

Aaron: So my understanding is that the fences need to be there and there needs to be more space so you can get proper growth of proper riparian management. Is that where we're going?

Pamela Storey: Oh, certainly.

Aaron: Are you even allowed to say that's what you want to see?

Pamela Storey: Well that is what is spelled out in the national policy statement for freshwater now. So those distances are articulated within that national policy statement. Once a national policy statement is in place, regional councils are obligated to give effect to those.

Aaron: So is there any need to go to court on it then?

Pamela Storey: Well, it is in the middle of a process.

Aaron: Okay. So it's just there. Who sent it to the environmental court?

Pamela Storey: Once the plan was notified, I want to say that was March of 2020, then there were appeals filed in front of the court and there's a variety of groups.

Aaron: Interested parties we call them? Okay. It feels like most farmers want to do the right thing, that there's a conservative element within farming that doesn't, and that the conservative element holds quite a bit of power. Federated Farmers from outside appear to be like an activist group out there organising protests against the Labour government in general and things like that.

Pamela Storey: I think, Aaron, there's a number of groups out there and we don't want to confuse one with the other in terms of farmers' willingness to engage. From my perspective, I've been a part of the Dairy Environmental Leaders Forum for a number of years, that is a group of farmers who take an active role in this space and encourage other farmers to engage as well. I think in any industry, there is a spectrum. In any industry, there's going to be those who may have practices that we may not be in favour of. And we should absolutely do whatever is within our power to hold those people to account if their actions are contrary to what our communities and what our industry wants to see. But like I say, you're going to get that spectrum in any industry. The vast majority of farmers that I interact with are actively engaged in the environmental space and are taking the steps to really respond to not only what our local communities are asking of us as food producers, (so that we have our licence to farm) but also in response to what our overseas markets are asking for and what consumers are asking for.

Aaron: From the other side of things, are farmers being asked or are going to be asked to do more than they can financially handle in terms of making changes?

Pamela Storey: I think that it's the cumulative effect that's creating some tension. Of course, we're not just looking at changes around the distance of fencing and things like that. It's much broader than that. 

Aaron: Well, that's just one issue.

Pamela Storey: It is. I think that farmers, alongside a number of industries, alongside local governments, are facing an absolute avalanche of regulatory reform. Whenever we have multiple levels of reform across really fundamental issues, it can create lots of anxiety and tension and can really challenge our ability to not only process that change and bring it into effect into our businesses, but can at times challenge us financially.

It's been interesting. I think when you look back on farming and how it's transitioned, how a much smaller farm, for example; in terms of my in-laws; when they were farming a much smaller farm, it supported many more families and many more employees and many more individuals. There's been a real transition in that. You have fewer fewer people working in a farming business and yet trying to cover all of the regulations, all of the legal requirements, that it can be resource intensive. I think that with any change process, whether it's in farming or any other change process that we're going through as a society and as a community, that we need to be cognisant of the speed at which we're asking people to make those changes. And I know everybody wants change overnight.

Aaron: The contradiction is that climate change scientists are demanding that or stating that it has to happen quickly. I mean, my belief is that if this really is this big a deal, then the government should be funding farmers to do it regardless. A lot of people would be like, well, they make their own profits but I think, if it’s this big a deal, it doesn't matter how it happens. It just has to happen.

Pamela Storey: And let's expand that even beyond farming Aaron, because if immediate change is what we're asking, not just from agriculture and food producers, but also in terms of, let's say, our coastal communities are dealing with inundation. We've got some significant issues that are going to take significant resources in order to make this shift in a timely manner. As a society, if that is the shift we want and that is the pace of change we want, then I do believe that there is a role for central governments in supporting that shift.

Aaron: So with the regional council I'm getting the story that we've got environmentalists versus farmers - I don't want to say it like that - just that the voting breakdown on the regional council is too conservative to do what we need to do to deal with environmental issues. Have you got any comments about that? I don't have a lot of details to present as evidence. I'm just getting that perception.

Pamela Storey: I don't think that you could classify all councillors in those sort of simplistic terms.

Aaron: I'm aware it's simplistic [laughs].

Pamela Storey: [laughs] I think that you know, as with any of the decisions that are made around the regional council table, you've got councillors that represent a variety of communities of interest. I mean the regional council covers an enormous area and the councillors that sit around that table will have a variety of views and those are informed by the communities that they represent. Collectively we try to make the best decisions for the entire region and there's always going to be differences of opinions. That's the nature of politics. I think that's how we get good decisions, if we have good, robust debate.

Aaron: But do you think we need to be moving faster?

Pamela Storey: Do I think we need to be moving faster in terms of...

Aaron: To deal with environmental issues and climate change?

Pamela Storey: It depends on what it is, what the decision is that you want to consider moving faster on. For instance, if you want to think of it in terms of, say, adaptation, should we be moving faster and having constructive conversations with our communities about what that looks like and what that means and what their appetite for shift is? I think that those are important conversations to have because I don't necessarily believe that 14 councillors are the best ones to dictate to the community. I think that 14 councillors need to encourage the processes that allow the conversations to be had. One of the things that we've been doing through the Strategy and Policy Committee over the last three years…

Aaron: Is this the one you're the chair of?

Pamela Storey: Yes. It’s the development of a sustainable infrastructure decision making framework. Because the reality is, the Regional Council has significant structures out there, flood infrastructure in particular, that with climate change is going to be challenged.

Aaron: So we're talking about the low lying areas, particularly in the Hauraki Plains area, but also I understand around the Port Waikato area as well.

Pamela Storey: Well, any of the communities that are currently being protected by flood banks, flood infrastructure. If we are looking at how we maintain those structures going forward in the face of climate change, we're looking at significant investment decisions. So with the development of the sustainable infrastructure decision making framework, that's around being able to look at an investment decision and saying, okay, if we're going to adapt this flood bank, to rising sea levels or greater storm activity, this is what that's going to take capital wise. Let's consider that alongside the economic activity that protects, let's consider that alongside the cultural implications, whether it's protecting a place of significance, also, let's consider it in terms of impact on community. Much of our flood infrastructure is not just protecting productive land. It's also protecting significant communities;  rest homes, schools, you know, places.

Aaron: Where people live - so it's complex.

Aaron: I'm sorry. I'm mindful that we've got our next interview here now and this is incredibly detailed stuff and none of it is simple. Just before we go, I guess because we haven't talked about what you've done in the last three years or what you want to continue doing. Can you quickly list some things that you've been involved with over the last three years?

Pamela Storey: As the chair of Strategy and Policy, one of the things that we do through that committee is the submission process. As we were talking about earlier, councils right now, communities, are faced with an avalanche of regulatory change. In the face of that, it's really important that the Waikato perspective of those proposals is being conveyed in the Wellington space. So as the Chair of Strategy and Policy, I have led the council through 122 submission processes, 65 of those to the central government alone. So I feel very proud of the way that I have led the council through ensuring that the Waikato perspective is shared clearly and articulately with the central government. I've also been able to represent the region twice in front of the select committee to ensure that the impact of these proposals on the Waikato region itself is clearly conveyed and I think that's really important and that's something that I would love to see continue on. I suppose alongside that there's some considerable pieces of work that have come through Strategy and Policy, including the Coastal Plan, the Regional Pest Management Plan, the Regional Biodiversity Strategy, the Sustainable Infrastructure Decision Making Framework, Water Security Strategy, there's been significant work. It doesn't always make the headlines - funny.

Aaron: Regional council is very rarely in the headlines except for the stuff we talked about at the start of the interview.

Pamela Storey: That's unfortunate because the decisions are significant and they affect every single one of us on a daily basis.

Aaron: Every single regional councillor would agree with you about that. I've had those conversations. Thank you for coming in, Pamela.

Pamela Storey: Absolutely. It was my pleasure.

Aaron: Good luck with your campaign.

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