Head to head - Julie Hardaker and Robin Ratcliffe

First in an occasional series of well-known Waikato people in conversation.

Julie Hardaker and Robin Ratcliffe have several things in common. Both were married before they were out of their teens and both started businesses in their early 20s, but Hardaker is now the mayor of Hamilton City, while Ratcliffe's Modern Transport Engineers is a major manufacturer, with millions of dollars in export sales. The Waikato Times invited them to discuss the issues facing the city from their different perspectives. Alistair Bone pulled out some (edited) highlights. 


Julie Hardaker: "I've watched your house grow [Ratcliffe is building an architect-designed house next to Fairfield Bridge] and I think it looks spectacular. You said it's a legacy for your family and part of the iconic landscape of Hamilton. I thought that was nice."

Robin Ratcliffe: "Well, you can't take it with you. I'm still looking for a hearse with a tow bar. The house should be good for at least 100 to 200 years."


RR: "Hamilton is the pick of all places [to live] that I know globally."

JH: "Do you think we undersell ourselves? In my job you get to see the whole picture. There are so many great things here, but we don't tell the stories loudly enough."

RR: "I brought my family up here because it was safe and it could deliver the things that I needed. If I had gone to live in America or Europe, in terms of business, I could have been 100 or 500 times bigger."


RR: "In the 1960s, we could swim in the river, but now we can't. The fertiliser going on farms is a problem and we really should help farmers solve this problem with us. One of the things we could do is get rid of half of the Resource Management Act [RMA]."

JH: "The Government is already working on changes to the RMA to make it a lot easier for business. I know that there is a lot of work being done by the River Authority on cleaning up the river."

RR: "We need to put the tools in the hands of the people who can effect change and those people are the farmers."

JH: "The strength of our economy and the Waikato's place in New Zealand is off the back of dairy [farming]. It's about how you get that balance. It's important that we maintain productivity in our farmlands, but I also think the environment is very important."

RR: "I can't see why it can't happen faster. We got it in a good state and we're not leaving it in a good state, so we really need to get onto the problem."

JH: "The river is the No 1 thing for me. I have spent the last two years dealing with the foundations: financial management, systems and processes - all of that stuff - but the aspiration is about the planning of the city and about the river. I absolutely get that.

"Auckland and Wellington have a waterfront plan. Even Tauranga's got one. So I'm pleased that we've started on the journey of having one for ourselves."


RR: "There is one big thing - that's to have people live close to where they work. There are people from Hamilton travelling to Auckland every day, which is ridiculous."

JH: "Hamilton got off to a slow start with recycling, but now we do pretty well in that space. At the tip, the recycling part of the business has grown exponentially over the last five to eight years."


RR: "We are extremely busy in Australia, something like nine months of work. We've currently got an overseas customer who's looking at an order for 750 trailers over the next three years."

JH: "Within the city, we're a service centre, but the next [big economic factor] is manufacturing, and when you break that down, we're a winner in the high-value exporting. The health sector is another one. It's not the Government contribution, which is huge, but all the spinoff that's starting to develop because of the hospital and what it's doing."


RR: "I've got one property on the boulevard that I'm paying $36,000 in rates for. It's two acres [8000 square metres] and we're parking trucks on it. It's just stupid."

JH: "That's the difference between land value and capital value rating. That's a big debate that still needs to be heard."

RR: "We've got one rating system that applies across the city. Maybe you've got to break it up and have three of four. Maybe manufacturing needs to have a different rating system from retail."


JH: "I think councils have two roles. First, they have to create a city that people want to live in. Second, they have to create a city that people want to do business in.

"A good example was the council being instrumental in getting the Novotel and Ibis going when there were no hotels of that type in the city."

RR: "Everyone said they wouldn't work, but they do work."

JH: "It was a strategic investment and a good investment. But there comes a time when it is no longer the right investment. There has got to be a purpose and a reason [to own property]. At the moment, the council is looking at all the stuff they own - they seem to own lots of stuff."

RR: "There's an old saying: ‘Once you own it, you have to look after it'."

JH: "That's part of the analysis you have to do when you go into these investments. What's the whole of life commitment? I'm big on that kind of analysis, which is probably something new for this council."


JH: "The Government makes legislation and [the council] often have to implement it. There are layers and layers and layers of plans and rules and regulations and legislation. Is that the way we want to live? I don't think so. Sometimes you have to loosen up and allow a bit of flexibility."

RR: "We can keep on making rules, but the problem is no-one knows what they are."

JH: "Well, speak to the Government, because a whole load more is coming."

RR: "How can anyone understand the miles of laws we've got in this country?"

JH: "I can't, and I'm a lawyer."


RR: "Younger people [who don't go on to further training after school] are going to find it increasingly difficult to get employment."

JH: "A lot of kids will do a course that does not align with what business needs. One thing I know about young people is that they have a different outlook on how they want their lives to be, compared with you and me and our generation."

RR: "They have lost a lot of basic skills. We are mollycoddling our children to an extent that it will become a problem. They will suffer from anxiety and things like that because they won't be able to cope."

JH: "I take a different view. They are certainly clued up about the way the future is going to be. They are far more lateral in their thinking, they challenge boundaries and rules and they are looking for difference. I like that. My generation in many respects has been confined to the rules and the framework, whereas I look at the younger generation and I think, ‘You've got it right'. You get through school, you challenge, you think, you've got ideas . . . you go overseas and have some great experiences."

RR: "They are a lot later developing."

JH: "I think that's OK."

RR: "I was married at 17 and in business at 23."

JH: "I was married at 19 and in business at 23. There are some scary parallels here."

Got an idea for a conversation you'd like to hear? Email features editor Deborah Sloan, deborah.sloan@waikatotimes.co.nz

Waikato Times