Life as an MP is not all work. I spent last weekend on the Chatham Islands playing rugby for the Parliamentary Rugby team. (Yes we paid our own travel and accommodation!) Life’s not all play either as we took some time to meet with the District Councillors about the many issues that challenge those on the island. These include the cost of electricity being up at 93 cents per unit; the wharf deteriorating due to poor workmanship and needing replacement ($6m); the airstrip needing lengthening and strengthening ($3.m); the need for a breakwater so ships can birth, unload, and reload without having to ‘stand off’ awaiting calm weather – which at $10,000 per day for 60-90 days per year is quite significant ($7-10m).
93c per unit of electricity is rather steep. I understand two wind turbines will be added to the diesel generators at some stage.
The lack of a long and strong airstrip means planes are limited by capacity so freight is expensive and so is tourism. Vegetables are expensive – $6 per cabbage – but obviously fish and meat are cheap.
Now a simple response can be “well the islanders choose to live there so why should we bother?” But this is a little simplistic given the Chathams are recognised as part of New Zealand and not a foreign country.
New Zealanders are not expected to pay for their electricity generation or taxed for freight costs in the same way Chatham Islanders do. Although there are costs to living rurally in New Zealand, many of the costs Islanders incur are not replicated here.
The compelling argument the Chatham Islanders make is the huge contribution they make to the New Zealand economy, as the Islands are in New Zealand territorial waters. The most lucrative fishing is on the Chatham Rise and this must contribute tens of millions in tax take alone. The exploitation of the wealth of this small community has resulted in very little being contributed to the infrastructure on the island and big dollars for New Zealand.
Chester has a fair point I reckon. Their value in terms of fisheries must be immense.