Tom Fookes

Fighting Corruption

Recorded: March 5, 2012

Interested in sustainable regional planning? In this Skype interview, Dr. Tom Fookes speaks with Huey Johnson about his life's work designing plans and policies, including the New Zealand Resource Management Act (1991).

Professor Tom Fookes was a New Zealand Town Planner and the architect of New Zealand’s Resource Management Act (1991), which stands as one of the world’s finest national environmental policies and has inspired many such policies around the world. Dr. Fookes’ foremost concern has been the preservation of the social, economic and environmental conditions of a community. Dr. Fookes served as a commissioner in the New Zealand Environmental Court, was an Associate Professor in the School of Architecture and Planning, University of Auckland; and a member of the New Zealand Planning Institute. He is a former principal policy analyst in the NZ Ministry for the Environment.

Tom Fookes passed away on August 2, 2013 in his home in Aotearoa, New Zealand.

Huey Johnson: Let me ask: What you would consider your life’s work?

Tom Fookes: Well I was –start with the fact that my life’s work has been an attempt to have fair integrated consideration of decisions and policy to do with the social and economic and environmental conditions of our people, and that’s been the objectives that has emerged – I didn’t start off with that objective but it seems that the objective has emerged through what I have actually done. My greatest achievement has been the Resource Management Act because I was able to bring a lot of what some people would say – a lot of left wing – or very much a public participatory and social positions through into the legislation so that people have a clear opportunity to participate and have their voices heard in the legislation and the opportunities that follow on from that. But I’d like to think that my achievement has been to provide opportunities for the little person to be able to express their views and to influence decisions going on around them regarding planning and environment.

Huey Johnson: Have you in your career in administration have you had to deal with corruption? With people who were – I have had a lot obviously, but I always feel yours may be sweeter and cleaner

Tom Fookes: I think the answer is who hasn’t’. It is a bit of a difficulty but the answer that springs to mind is a project that I was working on in Adelaide. An impact assessment project in Adelaide, a major marine development on the coast of Adelaide which would have reclaimed a large section of a very popular local beach with a 14-meter breakwater would have been built out from the beach at right angles to the beach and a big marina placed in the lee of that breakwater and high income housing placed around the area as well.

Tom Fookes: The corruption bit comes in various ways. The main one was the people who were involved in making the decision and working on this project, including me, as making the impact assessment, were invited by the developers to go on a cruise in a big boat down the coast. The argument being, that we would gain a better appreciation of what it was all about if we could see the area from the sea rather than the land. What they were hoping was that we would see it in a huge context and think that it was not very significant. In fact from the local scale it was very significant. Anyway they turned on booze and food and wined and dined us to a great extent to the point that it could only be interpreted as a way of influencing the minds of the decision makers. I anticipated this and went to my boss and said that I didn’t want to go, and I was told that I had to go because the team had to be represented; otherwise it would look as if we were against the development. So I went, but I took photos of all the people who were there, out of a mischievous state-of-mind, and at one point one of the organizers said to me why are you taking all these photos? And I said, “Well one day I might have to prove that there was corruption and influence going on.” Imagine that that went down like a lead balloon as far as they were concerned. That was the most blatant exercise of corruption that I have seen. Otherwise the system in Australia and New Zealand tries to control corruption quite well I think, and discourage it actively.

Huey Johnson: Good. Well, there are places here if you did something like that – taking photos – you would have been dropped off the end of the boat in the middle of the night…listed as disappearing.

Tom Fookes: A message I have for people doing green legislation is that you have to ensure that people who implement it from the government people, right down to the local community, are instructed in how to approach it. What skills they need and make sure that have that skill if they are actually going to make an effective piece of legislation.