The law of unintended consequences

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    The dotterel at Whakanewha are thriving, and so too the pied stilt and oystercatchers. Prowling cats and stoats have come a cropper in the surrounding network of traps, and the clutches of speckled, sandy eggs have become fledglings. In the case of the eight hatched dotterel chicks and three remaining eggs, this is a cause of celebration for a species that’s under serious threat.

    But just the other side of the mesh fence, there’s another battle going on. The booming rabbit population, having overrun supplies of its regular dietary plants, has turned instead on the juvenile stalklings of native plants – even to the extent of chowing down on kānuka, something park ranger Natasha Beletzky says is a first in her experience.

    I cannot say for sure that there’s a direct consequence between the concerted efforts to rid Waiheke of predators such as wild cats and stoats and the now serious threat to vegetation and crops posed by the explosion in the numbers of one of the species of their prey, but there is at the very least a correlation. And in the constant whack-a-mole world of conservation, it would be hoped that those about to embark on a targeted stoat eradication project would have attempted to predict not only their positive effects on a native bird population but also the potential negative effects on an introduced rabbit population.

    In governance there are seldom “right” answers and those writing the rule books must always deal with the unintended consequences of their decision-making. The only weapons in their armoury capable of tilting against these accidental effects are foresight and oversight.

    Next Wednesday marks the start of the new year – indeed a new decade – for Waiheke’s local board meetings and a chance for us all to play our own parts in limiting these unintended consequences by offering our varied levels of knowledge, expertise and oversight to a democratic process that affects us all.

    At that first meeting of 2020, there are already two cases in which island residents want to state their cases against the unintended consequences of decisions already made about how Waiheke operates. They come from vastly different parts of our community, but show perfectly the level of input required to help our society tick.

    The first is from Colin Beardon, who, at the time of writing, had not been granted leave to speak at the meeting, but is keen to counter a proposal to spend $10,000 on a coordinator to promote the arts on Waiheke with his own plan to spend the money on an emerging artist’s award.

    The island has deservedly gained a reputation for its creativity but one of the unintended consequences of how we fund much of that creativity via the local board is that the lion’s share goes to Artworks. The community theatre is, by any estimation, a magnificent resource for the island and one of the real jewels in Waiheke’s crown, but, by Mr Beardon’s reckoning, this model is overly centralised and means the wider arts community is left to scrap over only 11 percent of potential funds. And that includes our chronically underfunded art gallery, too.

    “While some of these artists use Artworks, many do not, and have their own groups and societies, their sheds, halls, shops and galleries, and these get little recognition and even less support. Over the past few years we have suffered many losses – Kaleidoscope, Tivoli Bookshop, Otherworld Productions, the Playwrights Festivals and Grow Your Own Productions have all recently closed,” Mr Beardon says.
    “The diversity that organisations like these provided was good for our community and good for the arts, it gave artists the freedom to express without having to appeal to some central business model.
    “Centralisation is not the answer. By proposing the Emerging Artists Award I want to give the board the opportunity to re-assert their faith in local artists and their future.”

    The second individual is Sasha Krueger of Easy Transport, who will impress on the local board the effects on his business caused by this summer’s Matiatia traffic trial. That this trial is still intended to run until April is causing consternation among many of those who have been hit hard in the pocket and suffered stress and aggravation as the result of unforeseen consequences. Even last week, wardens were still adapting the trial to accommodate ongoing complaints from the public over a lack of drop-off space while queues of taxis continued to back up around the bottom carpark – surely neither of these repercussions were intended?

    The merits of both Mr Beardon and Mr Krueger’s commentary come from their expertise in their fields and the members of the local board would do well to take them seriously. But greater merit is to be found in the fact that both individuals are willing to take their cases to the local board in the first place. We have an island packed with experts, entrepreneurs and innovators, capable of offering precisely the foresight and oversight required to help the local board function to its greatest potential – and to iron out the wrinkles of unintended consequences. • James Belfield

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