I was asked to write about the government’s recently released Hector’s and Maui Dolphin Threat Management Plan (Dolphin TMP). Before I do that, stay with me for a short but necessary detour down the rabbit hole that is Wellington policy.

According to Psychologytoday.com, well-being is the experience of health, happiness, and prosperity. It includes having good mental health, high life satisfaction, and a sense of meaning or purpose.

The government likes all these words. Many government media releases and policy papers are now not complete without a liberal sprinkling of “well-being”. We have the Local Government (Community Well-being) Amendment Bill, a Child and Youth Well-being Strategy, and have even had The Well-being Budget. This is all laudable stuff.

So why does the government care so little about the well-being of fishers and their families?

The content of the Dolphin TMP was a surprise to many. The seafood industry has devoted a great deal of time, effort and money to reducing risks to these marine mammals and will continue to do so. Yet the content of the TMP sought not to build on those efforts, or to assist with increasing the speed and efficacy of that work. Rather, what’s proposed in the Dolphin TMP is simply to close down vast areas of the coast to fishing and forget about the fishers, their families, the processing facilities and the wider communities they support.

The consultation paper dispassionately states that hundreds of fishers will be affected (many wiped out) and hundreds of millions of dollars will be lost from regional economies. There is no discussion of the human impacts, compensation, or transitional assistance.

Similarly, there is no proper recognition of the impact these measures would have on Maori and the Deed of Settlement. Any mention of the Crown’s partnership with Maori is largely confined to process, protocol and engagement; important but not sufficient if Settlement assets are being extinguished.

After seeing the consultation paper, many within industry alerted MPI to their concerns about what was proposed in the TMP, and the human cost. These are people, not numbers in a spreadsheet.

MPI has since woken up to the reality of what they have unleashed. They have made some effort to support those most affected which is a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, this is all a bit of an after-thought and too late to mitigate the immediate personal cost. MPI’s website now contains a page about Support for Fishers to “give help and advice with health, well-being, and making business decisions.” Among the information provided are links to Work and Income NZ, Job Seeker Support, information through IRD for business making a loss, and Lifeline.  

Shortly after being elected, the Prime Minister told Radio NZ the following: “I also want this government to feel different, I want people to feel that it's open, that it's listening and that it's going to bring kindness back.”

Well this sure feels different, and if this is governing with kindness we still have a long way to go.