Spare SIT this Fiscal Chastity Belt

Mar 03, 2019
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OPINION: Mayor Tim Shadbolt

The ‘orange sea’ campaign led by Carla Forbes, along with Councillor Crackett’s online initiative, my own columns and the serious research undertaken by SIT should have left Education Minister Chris Hipkins with no doubts about how Southlanders feel regarding his proposed ‘reforms’ of the tertiary sector.

From my perspective this is simply a repeat of the battles fought in 2007/2008 when the Tertiary Education Minister, Pete Hodgson rode into town to assure us everything would be ok. However, when we analysed the impact of his proposal we discovered that Invercargill would have its funding cut by up to $8 million and the other regions to suffer would be Timaru, Bay of Plenty, the West Coast, Gisborne and South Otago we became suspicious. Sure enough.

Provincial New Zealand got the slash and the big cities got the cash. Christchurch funding was increased by $3.12 million, Auckland University received an extra $18.4 million, Dunedin $11.61 million and Wellington $7.33 million. We felt that SIT were being punished because of our innovative, highly successful zero fees scheme and efficient management.

If I was the Minister of Education I would send Penny Simmonds and her team on a nationwide tour of all the tertiary institutes in New Zealand that are losing money and give them guidance on how to be a success. My lowest priority would be to confiscate all of their property, seize their $36 million of cash reserves and confine them in a fiscal chastity belt controlled by Wellington bureaucrats. Why destroy a Zero Fee Scheme that is recognised throughout New Zealand as an outstanding success.

In 2007, the support for SIT was overwhelming throughout the Southern Region. Business leaders such as Paul Hemburrow the General Manger of the Tiwai Smelter, Mark O’Connor of South Port and the Richardson Group joined forces with community funders such as the Community Trust of Southland, the Invercargill Licencing Trust, the Invercargill City Council and the Southern Institute of Technology itself.

We held public meetings, picketed Parliament, took out full pages in several New Zealand newspapers and made submissions but our opposition relied on far more than just fire and brimstone. We employed the services of Gareth Morgans Infometrics who studied the economic impact of zero fees and concluded that it would add $25 million p.a. to Invercargill’s economy.

Australian demographer and KPMC partner Bernard Salt noted Invercargill was the only local authority in Australasia to reverse a negative population trend in the last 27 years. He credited SIT with this reversal. The Zero Fees Scheme has been such a success that SIT now contributes back into the community. Sting, Steel, Sharks, the Stags, the Velodrome, Splash Palace, Kidzone, the Burt Munro Challenge, the Oyster Festival, World Shearing Championships as well as numerous other events and facilities have benefited from their generosity.

The success of SIT during 2007 raised the bar for education throughout the region. Early childhood education in Southland increased by 17.1% in the following five years. The average increase for the rest of New Zealand was 5.5%.

I’m often invited to perform as a debater, public speaker and after dinner entertainer throughout New Zealand as well as Australia, London, America and numerous countries in Asia. Whenever I mention Zero Fees I receive an enthusiastic response. It has become our brand, our identity, our iconic No 8 wire.

I’ve been part of several amalgamations based on the theory of ‘economies of scale’. I was the longest serving Mayor of Waitemata City when Auckland had 21 Mayors. That was reduced to 7 Mayors and finally to one Mayor. During my 32 years as a Mayor I have yet to witness any examples of rate reductions being attributed to ‘economies of scale’. If you live in a city where this concept has been successful please let me know about it.

Source: This opinion piece was originally published in the Southland Times and re published by arrangement with the Mayors Office and whatsoninvers.nz

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