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The Nation: Lisa Owen interviews Ricky Houghton

On The Nation: Lisa Owen interviews Ricky Houghton

Te Horowai Trust Chief Executive Ricky Houghton is calling for the government to incentivise companies to move to Northland. He says there should be tax breaks for any company willing to move to places like Kaitaia.
Ricky Houghton says he’s saving the government millions with the social services he offers, and for every dollar he saves, he’d like to get 50 cents back to reinvest.

Houghton is also calling for more funding from Corrections, to house men who have been removed from their family homes and would otherwise go to jail.

Lisa Owen: Welcome back to the regions special. The Nation is coming to you from Kaitaia today. Ricky Houghton is a well-known community leader in the far north. Just before the election, he said that any incoming government needed to declare a state of emergency here. He joins me now. Ricky, why did you say that? Why did you say that you need a state of emergency? What did you think would happen?
Ricky Houghton: Yeah, kia ora. I asked the government to declare a state of emergency because this community is in crisis. All the services are on overload. The key services have downsized, centralised outside the region. In terms of compliance — health, housing, justice, welfare, employment and training — there is nothing. The women from the far north now are going to prison at some of the most alarming rates ahead of men. We need help, and I’ve asked the government in the hope to declare a state of emergency, so all the compliance, all the regulatory allow the communities to take control and care of the problems that we see every day, to fix them our way.
Do you think it helps to have—? I mean, that’s a pretty severe move — to declare something a state of emergency. Do you think to have a label like that will fire people up, get some action?
I think what it will do is the government, to date, has ignored. When you look at this community, up to 85% of this community here is on some form of benefit. 37% are on single parent, and the average income is $21,000. If that doesn’t mean something is going wrong up here, then nothing will.
Well, you say— you name those welfare statistics, and you have said that welfare is killing Maori. So what is the alternative?
What will kick-start economic prosperity for these families is real jobs. And, so our solutions aren’t going to come out of a hole in the wall in the middle of Kaitaia. They’re not going to come out of Wellington, but nor should they. We believe that we can solve our problem. It’s not a government problem. It’s not an outside of Kaitaia problem. It’s all of our problem, and the sooner we all realise that and start taking ownership and responsibility for it, we’ll be able to fix it.
So, at the moment, one of the things under discussions is benefit sanctions, right? They’re controversial. Do you think that we should ditch benefit sanctions altogether, or do you think there is some kind of obligation that comes with receiving a benefit?
No, there will be some sort of public outcry and civil disobedience if you completely abandon any sort of benefit support, but there’s no rationale for the benefit allocations up in the far north. I’ll give you an example. A $300,000 mortgage in the far north is treated differently to a $300,000 mortgage in Auckland. Just in Kaitaia itself, a housing subsidy— a mortgage subsidy in Auckland will get you $175. In Kaitaia, it will get you about 40. So the utility prices in Kaitaia are the highest in the country. A unit of power in Kaitaia’s 33c. In Auckland, it’s 18c. So you have the most underserved and under resourced community resourcing the people outside the far north. It’s unfair.
You said that people here need real jobs.
So is planting trees a real job? I mean, Shane Jones has been saying that they’re going to plant a billion trees a year. Is that good work?
So, planting trees is one solution. There’s no silver bullet. I think it’s going to need a combination. I’ll give you another example. The green-lipped mussel industry is a $2.5 billion industry right through the country through Coromandel, Marlborough. The spat that begets that industry comes off Ninety Mile. That resource is stripped out of here. The far north is raped from any dividend from it.
So you’re not paid anything for that?
We’re not getting any royalties for it, no. Should we? Yeah, I think we should. Do I think that in terms of trees— planting trees — yeah, that’s one form. I also think that 75% of all Maori is under the age of 30. I think that down Lambton Quay, there’s three or four Crown call centres. I suggest why don’t we move those call centres from Lambton Quay, move them to the middle of Kaitaia, give young Maori an opportunity to answer the phones up here in the far north for their different ministries and kick-start some economic prosperity and training. Why couldn’t we give some New Zealand companies the opportunity to come to the far north, give them some tax breaks for up to 25 years, train a generation.
Okay, well, the government is currently— well, it’s about to have a tax review, right?
It’s pulling together a board to do a tax review. Is that what you would say to them — give businesses company tax breaks to come to Kaitaia.
And into the far north.
Yeah, for 25 years. If you were to say— You see, we’re one generation off Maori, Pasifika and Chinese being the major taxpayers from 2050 onwards. Now, if you say a generation is 15 years, say, let’s get some companies up here, kick-start some economic prosperity, give them a tax break and get them going.
So if they undertake to stay here for 25 years and do business here for 25 years — give them a significant tax break.
The other thing you have suggest is that for every dollar you save by providing social services up here that the government should give this community back 50c.
Yeah, so what happens is that — I’ll give you an example. The government has a number of surplus fat within the services that it provides — it’s got three welfare benefit systems, it’s got ACC payments, it’s got a student allowance payment system, it’s got a WINZ payment system. If we’re being asked to downsize and flatten out our structures in terms of service delivery from a provider sense, so should the government. And what I’m saying to the government is, ‘Hey, for every service that we provide — costs you nothing.’ I’ve given it to the— I’ve sent it to Treasury. I’ve sent it to ministries, and I’ve told them there that we will not provide— we will not charge the government one cent, but—
For the social services you provide?
For the services we provide. But what we do ask the government for is for every dollar that we save the government, how’s about going fifty-fifty?
So how would you measure that?
Well, yeah, so how you measure that is currently what happens is that the government’s created a big conveyor belt that everybody— all these ministries feed off, so when somebody gets into trouble, they hop on a conveyor belt, and they start going along it. Everybody has a feed off them. What we’re saying to the government is the accommodation, for example, that we’ve provided, instead of men going to prison, we say, ‘Keep the family together. Don’t put that man who’s had some disruption with his family. Let him come down and live with us. We’ll send him off to work. Keep mum and the kids in their beds, and he can go to work.’
So this is providing housing for prisoners who are wearing electronic monitoring bracelets rather than going to prison. You’re providing that up here. So should the government invest more money in doing that? We’ve got a burgeoning prison population. This is one way to keep them out. Does there need to be more funding in that area?
Yeah. There definitely needs— We would like to be funded for that. We would like to say to the government, ‘Hey—’
Do you get one penny for that?
We don’t get any corrections funding whatsoever for it. But it is a service that our community has told us we desperately need to keep our families together, to keep our men in employment and to avoid them going to prison rather than getting them post-prison. But getting back to this dollar, it’s called Not One Cent More, the paper, and essentially, what we’re saying to the government is ‘Allow us an opportunity to show you what we can do.’ And how do you measure it? That was one of your questions. We could say to them there are— We find a measuring point that everybody agrees on. So generally when people come into our service, we say, ‘How many times have the police been called?’ ‘Five.’ ‘How many times has Mum been in refuge?’ ‘Five.’ ‘How many food parcels have you needed?’ ‘Four.’ ‘How many times have kids been kept home from school because they had nothing to eat?’ ’10.’ ‘How many times have you been in crisis?’ So we have all these measuring points. Then what we do is three months later, we say to them, ‘How many times have the police been called?’ ‘None.’ 100% success. ‘How many food parcels have you needed?’ ‘Two.’ 50% success.
So that’s when you get your money back?
That’s how we get my money back. For every cent that we save the government, for every dollar, we’re saying to the government, ‘We will prove to you, evidence-based proof, that we have saved the government money.
So does the Prime Minister have your paper, Ricky, on this?
Does the Prime Minister have your proposal on this?
Prime Minister Ardern? No, she doesn’t. But I hope—
The ministries do.
I hope to meet with the Prime Minister. I hope to meet with Carmel. I hope to meet with all the ministers to say, ‘Hey, nothing ventured, nothing gained. Give me a go. Give me a go. It’s not going to cost you anything to invest in me.’
Ricky Houghton, great to talk to you. Thanks for joining us this morning.
Thank you.

Transcript provided by Able. www.able.co.nz

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