I had the privilege of knowing and working with Owen over many years, but since establishing the New Zealand Centre for Political Research in 2005, we had a particularly close association. Owen frequently provided expert commentaries for our weekly newsletter and this blog, and was extremely generous with his time, advice, and expertise.
A few years ago Owen and I spent six months working closely together on a joint fundraiser for his Centre for Resource Management Studies and the NZCPR. We were breaking new ground with the venture, but one couldn’t have asked for a better ‘partner’. He was fun to work with, and with his huge network of acquaintances, made the project a great success.
Owen was intensely passionate about his work and the causes he was advocating. He was extremely knowledgeable about the issues and his depth of understanding and wisdom set him apart. On top of that he was a true gentleman with an extraordinarily wide range of interests and a remarkable depth of expertise in them all! He continually surprised me when during conversation he would recount an experience from what seemed to be an unlimited reservoir of experiences that revealed his many dimensions.
Owen’s major concern was the detrimental impact planning law was having on New Zealand families, communities and the nation in general. He understood the stress families had to endure when local government restricted freedom and private property rights by imposing ridiculous constraints and unreasonable costs. He, better than anyone else, fought for improved outcomes, especially through the reform of the Local Government Act and the Resource Management Act.
He gave willingly to communities under pressure from rising rates and charges, and unnecessarily restrictive council practices. He tirelessly campaigned against “Smart Growth” and other popularist planning policies that are constraining land supply and increasing housing costs; and against local government policies that are holding back innovation and enterprise.
Owen and I were in the final stages of planning the launch of a major campaign for Local Government Reform, with Owen taking the lead role. Despite poor health, Owen showed the resolve and commitment that demonstrated the strength of his character and his belief that tomorrow can be better than today when good people unite.
His untimely passing has taken us all by surprise. His presence was such that we all expected him to be around forever to enjoy the success that will inevitably come when law-makers eventually catch up with Owen’s vision and appreciate - although probably without admission - that he was right all along.
We all need to continue fighting his causes – he would have wanted that. His work and inspiration was too important a legacy for us not to do so. Fortunately the clarity of his thinking and writing was such that the direction he would want us to go in is well signaled.
Through all the complexities of the debate, Owen’s desire was pure and simple: He wanted families to enjoy their private property free of interference and without the cost burden of “we know best” planners. He concluded that “small is beautiful” and believed the future of local government is small councils closely connected and responsible to their local communities.
Owen McShane was a great New Zealander and the country will be poorer for his loss. Our deepest sympathy goes out to his family and friends.
Shakespeare said it best:
His life was gentle, and the elements
So mixed in him that Nature might stand up
And say to all the world, “This was a man!”
Farewell Owen, leader, scholar, teacher and friend.March 7, 2012