Wednesday, February 27, 2013

National Needs To "Grow Up"

Dear Sir

Eric Roy's column "Novopay mess due to Labour" (27 February) didn't impress me.

As a teacher I have heard all these excuses before:

"They started it"
"Can't remember"
"They told me to"
"They did it too"
"I can't tell you, it's a secret"

After four years, and a growing mess, isn't it about time this Government grew up and started taking responsibility!

Yours sincerely...

Mining Lignite Should Be Prohibited In Plan

The Southland District Council's mayor, Frana Cardno, is a passionate supporter of the natural environments within her jurisdiction. She has put her weight behind the save Fiordland campaign and has openly expressed concerns about lignite mining. The Government has removed the ability of the RMA to recognise climate change has also removed the four well-beings. Mayors and councils who truly want to operate in the real interests of their people and the natural environment are now hugely restricted.

Coal Action Murihiku provided a submission to the Southland District Council Plan that we hope may provide stronger protections to the local environment and support the long term health of the people. We hope our recommendations are adopted:


This submission to Southland District Council’s proposed plan is on behalf of Coal Action Murihiku (CAM), a group of Southland residents who are concerned about the adverse effects of coal and lignite mining in the region. CAM is a subgroup of the national organisation and incorporated society, Coal Action Network of Aotearoa that has around 1650 members.


The Southland District Council rightly identifies the rich resources within the geographical area it administers. In managing those resources it has a responsibility to duly consider the needs of future generations and the wider economic and environmental trends that are occurring at a national and global level.

We are seeing growing demand for food and the arable land on which it is produced as the world’s population grows and new markets are developed. Southand’s on-going potential as a major food producer needs to be protected.

The major environmental concern facing all inhabitants of this planet is climate change and this is already having a serious affect on the world’s weather patterns and sea levels. Accompanying this is the growing loss of species diversity within the living world. Climate change, mono-cultural farming methods and destruction of ecosystems through poorly managed commercial developments have contributed hugely to biodiversity loss.

In managing Southland’s resources the Southland District Council needs to ensure the sustainability of our agricultural land, the protection of our unique environments and indigenous flora and fauna and the wise use of our mineral wealth.

There is also value in our existing landscapes for both tourism and the well-being of the Southland people. Significantly altering our landscape through land use or construction must be considered carefully.

This submission largely supports the content of this proposed plan, which, we acknowledge, addresses a number of our concerns. We believe, however, that if we are going to truly protect and enhance the Southland region for future generations, some stronger protections will be necessary.

SECTION 2.2 – Biodiversity

We support the majority of this section where it establishes the importance of maintaining and protecting our indigenous biodiversity. It is especially important for the protection of our pristine World Heritage Park, Te Wahipounamu, where the unaltered environment was responsible for gaining this status. Much of this section is devoted to the protection of existing indigenous environments but we would like to have the inclusion of three additional ways of supporting biodiversity.

i)               Riparian strips. In lowland areas these strips are hugely significant as buffers in lowland areas between the natural ecosystems of rivers and streams and increasingly intensively farmed land. It should be a priority to have these strips planted appropriately to help preserve and protect the last wild areas of our Southland plains.
ii)             Road verges. These areas are largely managed by the council and there is potential to develop a biodiversity within them that is both attractive for road users and has the kind of environment that may support our wider economy, especially agriculture. While the focus in most of the plan’s biodiversity section is on indigenous biodiversity this may not necessarily be the focus for road verges where a range of plantings may support insects such as pollinators or provide food for native birds.
iii)            Contemporary farming increasingly promotes industrial and monocultural farming practices (especially dairying). Encouraging mixed farming will ensure more sustainable farming methods, put less stress on the land and increase biodiversity. 

SECTION 2.8  - Waste, Hazardous Substances and Contaminated land

Rule HAZS.4 - Prohibited Activities (a new section)

Given that the medical practitioners have identified health risks from the mining of coal and the fact that carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels is the the main contributor to climate change, we would like any new coal and lignite mining specifically listed as a prohibited activity.

Southland should also learn from the experiences of coal mining in the Hunter Valley and Queensland in Australia where numerous communities have been destroyed and irreparable harm has been caused to the agricultural future of the areas mined.

The areas in Southland where the largest lignite reserves have been discovered are beneath some of our most productive farmland. The value of the soil for food production is far more important over time than the short-term value of the lignite.

Burning lignite and coal contributes to ocean acidification through the reaction of carbon dioxide with seawater. The effects of lignite mining causing ocean acidification are contrary to part 2 of the RMA as it damages the life supporting capacity of the ocean, damages the significant habitats of indigeous fauna such as marine reserves, damages the capacity of the oceans to provide food for people and can cause associated economic effects on marine food industries.

Southland fresh water is a precious commodity and supports natural environments, industry and people. Any frackingcarried out in Southland would involve the use of large volumes of water, the introduction of potentially harmful substances and the risk of damage damage to aquifers. We would like to see fracking specifically named as a discretionary activity so that these effects are subject to strict controls and monitoring.

SECTION 2.9 – Energy, Minerals and infrastructure

There is no specific mention of coal and lignite, as there was in the old plan, and no reference to gas extraction. Given the recent proposals to access lignite and the exploratory licenses in Northern Southland (in relation to coal seam gas and fracking) it is important that these are identified in the new plan.

In the report on fracking by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (2012), Dr Wright states:

“However I have significant concerns about how fragmented and complicated the regulatory environment for fracking is and about how these rules are being applied. If fracking is not done well it can have significant environmental impacts including polluting water and triggering earthquakes. I am also concerned that regulation may be too light-handed, particularly if fracking opens the door to a large-scale and widespread oil and gas boom with a lot of different companies involved.”

Given the rapid growth of the industry the council will need to be fully prepared for the regulatory responsibility and monitoring of future fracking developments.

The following content was in old plan and should be re-included:

For discretionary activity applications must include full assessments of effects including CO2 emissions and other potential impacts on climate/atmospheric conditions, description of all alternative energy production methods considered and alternative sites.

Council lists a wide array of matters to be considered – Part 2, impacts on communities and infrastructure and services, ecosystem and habitats, amenity values (including visual and noise), HSE, central government policy on greenhouse gas emission, potential loss of/irreversible damage to landscape and landforms, the sustainability of the energy source and energy production method, the need for the facility, the benefit to the District, and on-going effect on climate change, land instability, list of a particular landscape, disturbance of vegetation.”

While there is some economic value in the fossil fuel deposits found throughout Southland it is important that the council is able to consider the value more sustainable, low carbon industries will provide for the region as identified in the BERL report  “A View to the South: Potential low carbon growth opportunities for the Southern Region economy”.

Coal Action Murihiku would be grateful if this submission receives due consideration and we would like the opportunity to speak to it.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Irrational Support For a Failing Government

I got a response to my letter,  published in the Southland Times, in defence of the Government:

D Kennedy treats us to his usual mixture of fantasy at best and downright distortion of the truth at worst.

He seems to give the electorate no credit for being able to judge which political party is to be trusted when it comes to opinion polls or, indeed, the general election.

National's manifesto made no secret of the fact that a partial privatisation of certain state owned enterprises would be part of its plans.

No surprises there then.

Furthermore, if we added binding citizens' referenda to MMP, as Mr Kennedy and the rest of the Green Party would like, the country would grind to a halt.


I thought it was A C Clarke who was promoting a fantasy (of a responsible National led Government). I also find it interesting that when National supporters respond to factually based arguments they accuse us of distortion and lies, but never specify what they are.

I decided to throw some more facts into the debate:

Dear Sir

A C Clarke's letter (26 February) reflected a flawed understanding of what constitutes good governance and I wish to provide some facts to dissuade him from his own fantasy.

National has pushed on with the partial sale of our energy companies despite the fact that:
  • 47% of the vote in 2011 was not a clear mandate to progress the sales.
  • 75-85% of people polled on the issue during the election campaign were opposed.
  • The sales are not supported by independent economic advisors.
  • The Treasury advised the Government, last december, against the mass selling of the companies.
  • Out of 1430 select committee submissions to enabling legislation, 1421 were against.
  • The signatures needed for the referendum will have been collected well within the year provided.
National has ignored informed advice and dismissed the wishes of most New Zealanders to access quick money to cover the costs of their own economic mismanagement. Democracy shouldn't end after an election and running roughshod over our select committee process is not democratic.

I agree that the constant use of referenda is not practical but in this case it is necessary to stop this nonsense and ensure that my children can benefit from the full value of these state assets well into the future.

Yours sincerely...

Post Script: It has been pointed out that my original use of the term "blind support" is an unfortunate slight on those who have a disability. I apologise for any offence caused. "Irrational" is a much more appropriate description anyway.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Ralph Hotere 1931-2013

Ralph Hotere, like McCahon, will always be regarded as one of New Zealand's most significant and iconic artists. He continually pushed the boundaries of artistic endeavour, used art to challenge political thinking and created works of beauty out of black. Black is not normally regarded as a colour by artists but with Hotere it gained vibrancy and significance as a colour and a means of expression.

Here in the Deep South we have a many examples of Hotere's work to remember him by, both at the Anderson Park Art Gallery (where I am on the governing committee) and at the Eastern Southland Gallery where they have a significant collection of 60 of his graphic works and paintings.

"Window in Spain" 
One of several works by Hotere in the Anderson Park Collection.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Solid Energy Abandons Lignite Developments

Solid Energy Chairman Mark Ford confirmed on National Radio this morning (Friday 22 Feb) that they are dropping the lignite projects in Southland. This was welcomed by all of us who have fought a long campaign against a very aggressive company with our limited financial resources. While international markets played a significant part in this decision, it does seem odd that they would invest $29 million in the pilot briquetting plant when they had no buyers for the product and it provided few jobs.

Don Elder has become another statistic in a line of Government appointed CEO's who have been found wanting in their governance. We have found with the dire financial situation of Solid Energy how the governance culture that National has encouraged, has serious flaws. This company paid huge salaries and bonuses to its CEO and managers while treating those who worked on the coalface of the industry with some disdain. Governance decisions in the company were based on an ideology that was from a past era of fossil fuel dominance and ignored the global shift to more sustainable ways of operating. In attempting to access the lignite in Southland, Solid Energy also ignored the Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Jan Wright, whose report strongly advised against mining this low value energy source.

The National Government sought to model our economy on Australia's, where coal had provided considerable wealth, and ignored the fact that the industry was unsustainable and had a limited life. John Key's experience as money trader has limited his vision to always going for quick profits and lining your pockets while you can. This boom and bust philosophy only works for those on the top who ensure that they retain the money made during the profitable times then get out quickly when things turn to custard. Don Elder abandoned the sinking ship he had captained with his bonuses in his pockets leaving staff and workers to make what they can of the wreck that remains.

Southland has been lucky that the Solid Energy ship sank before it was able to berth in our region. We could have ended up like the many destroyed rural communities in Australia and the US, where coal mining has not only permanently damaged the local environment but destroyed local communities as well. Our region can now concentrate on developing a more sustainable future along the lines recommended by the BERL report.

Hunter Valley, Australia

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Why Do We Tolerate Shonky Governance?

Someone recently remarked to me that they hadn't seen one of my letters in the Southland Times for a while so I decided to rectify that...

Dear sir

When Prime Minister John Key and his Government continue to have support in polls it suggests to me that New Zealanders have become used to accepting declining ethical standards in politics.

Good process and honesty are no longer expectations under this Government and it is either short memories or tolerance that have allowed the following to occur:

  • Numerous findings from our Ombudsmen and Auditor General that good process hasn't been followed in school closures and the Sky City deal.
  • Lack of accountability for incompetence and dishonesty when poorly performing Ministers remain in their positions.
  • Blaming the public service for poor performance while at the same time creating the problems with huge budget cuts.
  • Claiming that they want to support those in need while at the same time giving tax cuts to the rich and increasing funding to private schools.
  • Outsourcing contracts at the expense of New Zealand businesses and workers.
  • Trying to change the Official Information Act to hide the truth behind such matters as the shonky Hobbit deal.
  • Stopping environmental reporting rather than properly address the degradation of our rivers. 

One of the Green Party's four principles is 'appropriate decision-making' and this involves strong democratic process and proper consultation with those affected by any decision. The most obvious issue that has ignored good process is the sale of our Power Companies. Despite polls during the last election showing 75-80% of people were opposed; independent economic advice expressing concern; over 90% of submissions to the select committee opposing enabling legislation and Maori taking legal action, the Government still claims they have a mandate to continue.

I am hopeful that the overwhelming support for a referendum on the sale of our state assets will allow a return of true democratic process and a reining in of a Government that refuses to listen to the people who put it there.

Lies and Deception Leading Education and School Closures

The latest Listener and educationalist Kelvin Smythe have highlighted an interesting phenomena with two of our widely used assessment systems. Children who have been identified by experienced teachers as struggling writers are now getting results above expectations in STAR and e-ASSTle assessments. While schools and teachers should welcome such good results in an atmosphere of competition, as professionals they create some discomfort when our broader assessments and judgments say the results should be otherwise.

There are a lot of conspiracy theories suggesting Government influence to boost scores so that their education changes appear to be producing positive results. There are also suggestions that they are developing an online national assessment system (PaCT) that will allow the simplification and centralisation of assessment data. Synchronising the three assessments would make logical sense but the process to do this appears artificial and political rather than being based on research and evidence. There is also the concern that it may mean the development of a national testing regime that will have disastrous consequences on teaching and learning.

NZCER operates independently from the Government and when they were contacted they denied any collusion with the Government over the changes to the STAR assessment system, but they did admit that they hadn't communicated them well with teachers.

It is concerning when all evidence in schools is actually pointing to declining achievement with many low decile children (mainly due to growing levels of poverty than poor teaching), that testing will now show the opposite . This will only support the Government's agenda and send us even more on a damaging trajectory. The Government is determined that it can cut funding and support from the sector and improve outcomes by just demanding that teachers should work harder.

ERO's latest review of Mathematics teaching and achievement for years 4-8 reveals many teachers are struggling with teaching those with higher needs. This was identified by principals in Invercargill some time ago and resource teachers were employed at a local level to provided support and guidance for teachers. While similar resources are provided nationally for literacy it is not so for Mathematics.What this Government doesn't realise is that you can't bully teachers to perform, if skills and knowledge are lacking it is professional support that is needed. Teachers are not motivated by competition or threats, they genuinely want to do the right thing for their children and if support is provided they will take it on board.

In Cathy Wylie's recent book, Vital Connections, Why we need more than self managed schools, she refers to Treasury's 1980s briefing papers that informed Tomorrow's Schools:

"Fundamental to this analysis was the premise that human behaviour is primarily self-interested. Government institutions and the relations between them therefore had to be designed to appeal to self-interest, offering decision-making freedom, but also to guard against it, through the separation of roles and the casting of relations as contracts with with specified measures of performance. 'Provider capture' was the term used to suggest that officials' and professionals' knowledge about the development of policy and delivery of services was warped by such self interest."

Luckily this flawed perception of how educators operate was softened somewhat through the development of the Picot Report but we are seeing a shift back to this thinking under this National led Government. According to them teachers and their unions are only motivated through self interest, so collaboration is impossible and consultation will only complicate the implementation of their agenda.

Despite Rodney Hide's claim that education unions are the maddest and baddest of all, it couldn't be further from the truth. Primary teachers and support staff rarely take industrial action and concern for their children and communities generally come before self interest and it was because of this attitude that the planned strike action in Christchurch didn't happen. When teachers and schools had time to consider their decision to strike made the previous year they decided that they would rather be supporting their communities after Parata's announcement than inconveniencing them through industrial action.

The after-school rally that was organised as an alternative, however, was well supported and demonstrated the strong feelings against the Government and its Education Minister. Although some schools were spared by Parata, poor process continues. Many of the schools that were previously flagged for closure were told that there would be a process over three years but in the final announcement this promise has been forgotten and all closures will take effect at the end of this year. This is an intolerably short time and a cruel about turn for those schools and families that had worked around the Minister's assurances.

What we have learned over the past four years of this National led Government deliberately uses lies, misinformation and bullying to get their way and Christchurch is experiencing all of these. To use Rodney Hide's words, when it comes to education, this Government is the maddest and baddest of all!

Around 1000 people marched to the Christchurch Ministry of Education Offices to deliver a vote of no confidence in Minister Parata.

Monday, February 18, 2013

National Park or National Disgrace!

The Save Manapouri campaign (1959-1972) was probably the first major environmental campaign that New Zealand experienced. It was essentially a protest about the destruction of one of our most beautiful  lakes through raising the water level by 30 metres to support a power station. The campaign was successful in saving the natural beauty of the lake but the power station went ahead and the Waiau River lost much of its flow.

Under this National led Government we have seen a return to the destructive environmental policies of yesteryear and a responding resurgence of environmental activism. While our lowland rivers are under attack from intensive farming, most New Zealanders feel proud that our remaining wild places still appear to be untouched by human interference and provide the images that support our clean green brand. This was most noticeably realised when thousands marched across the country to protest about the Government's intention to open up our most protected areas for mining.

While the Government have now excluded schedule 4 land from exploration and mining they are attempting to open all other conservation areas. They have changed the purpose of DoC from a primarily conservation role to encouraging the commercial use of the conservation estate. Many people don't realize that the Conservation Minister (Dr Nick Smith) now has to work with the Minister of Energy and Resources (Simon Bridges) regarding the extraction of minerals in our conservation areas and conservation is regarded as a minor portfolio in their caucus. Also proposed changes to legislation will potentially allow the government to change the status of schedule 4 land and therefore remove any previous protections. If this National led Government don't get their own way through more obvious means they always have a backdoor approach to advance unpopular policies.

Saving the Denniston Plateau from opencast coal mining is the current focus for those who wish to protect our remaining natural areas but there are other plans in process that have largely slipped under the radar. The proposed Fiordland tunnel and monorail will impact hugely on our World Heritage park if they are allowed to go ahead and a strong campaign (Save Fiordland) has already been launched to stop these private schemes on public land.

Green Party MP, Eugenie Sage, has been actively supporting the Save Fiordland campaign to the extent that she has walked the route of the proposed monorail and has helped make an excellent Green Party Video to highlight the issues of the Tunnel. These schemes will create a worrying precedent if they are successful because they will remove the status of DoCs management plans when future commercial schemes in our parks are being considered. In the past these management plans could not be ignored and there is now the potential to make them aspirational only and very contestable.

For something as important as this it is interesting that Labour has been largely absent from the issue and the Blue Greens have turned a blind eye. It is only the Green Party that has drawn a line in the sand and Eugenie Sage is standing firmly on it.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Turei Takes on Education Again.

National's determined attack on education over the last four years has created a demoralised sector that has little energy left apart from protecting children and students from the worst of the changes. The little remaining energy is totally sucked up in dealing with the Novapay debacle. It is estimated that around $12 million is owed to schools who have been supporting underpaid staff and it has cost $8 million in staff overtime in trying to sort out the many problems.

The Green Party focused on child poverty as one of our three campaigns during the last election and while this is still as important as ever, saving our public education system is also becoming a priority. For many children suffering from poverty or inadequate living conditions, schools provide a valuable respite and a stable and caring environment. It is too risky to place children in the likes of Charter Schools (in the care of unregistered teachers) or limiting children's potential through National Standards.

Catherine Delahunty has been the Green's spokesperson for the last three years and has earned the respect of the education sector for the energy and passion she has put into the role but with increasing concerns about the damage being caused to the system under this National led Government extra Green fire power has been called in. Co-leader Metiria Turei has been the Greens education spokesperson before and now she returns with Catherine in a supporting role.

Already Metiria has had Hekia Parata on the ropes and resorting to talking around the questions and needing assistance from the new Speaker. As Parata is becoming increasingly isolated, and is obviously ignoring all advice, there is much interest in her announcement regarding the Christchurch schools. This will be a test to see how much she is prepared to move to accommodate the wishes of the Christchurch communities or whether her single minded arrogance and National Party agenda will dominate again.

Whatever happens Parata now has two strong Green women watching her every move and asking the hard questions. The Education Minister will be wishing she had resigned when she had the chance.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Green's Policy Conference in Invercargill

Invercargill Workingmen's Club (a great venue)

The 2013 South Island Green's Policy Conference, held at Invercargill's Working Men's Club was a huge success. The party alternates between a national policy conference and spilt North and South Island conferences. Splitting the conference every other year enables us to have conferences in outlying regions. This enables greater member participation and provides a real boost for local Greens when a large number of our MPs spend time in one place.

11 of our 14 MP's were in Invercargill over the weekend and most spent time outside the conference talking to local people and organisations. I spent time with Jan Logie (ex Invercargill) as she talked to people in the Southland Beneficiaries and Community Rights Centre regarding pending legislative changes that were going to further erode the support available to those in greatest need. I was also able to have discussions with David Clendon about a future Invercargill meeting for small businesses. David is keen to talk about the Green Party's ideas around making businesses sustainable and resilient through their energy use, maintaining employees through to developing a market for a product. The Greens are fully aware that we don't have all the good ideas and listening to what is happening in the real world is an important part of finding the best solutions.

Our policy conferences are an important part of our policy revision and development process. Unlike other parties we are averse to letting our leaders or MPs make up policy on the hoof. This never works and no policy ever operates in isolation from others. A spur of the moment policy statement may have serious ramifications in unintended areas if due diligence isn't applied to its development. Our Policy Committee has the same status as our parliamentary caucus in our organisation and our MP's are bound to the policy as it is printed. This can create difficulties when it ties them to a particular standpoint when new evidence comes to light but as our policies are under constant review, changes can be made. Our MPs can be frustrated with delays but any changes to policy must have some rigour applied to the process.  The strength is that all our MPs are able to comment on policy outside their portfolios because the information is readily available. This is something that you rarely see with National and Labour who allow their leaders and Ministers dictate and make up policy as they wish and this often occurs purely to gain voter support. Unless new evidence comes to hand a thoroughly researched and member developed policy should stand unaltered.

One of the most interesting discussions at the conference was around what should determine policy and there was general acceptance that policies are generally designed to solve an existing issue. The importance and extent of a problem can only really be defined through evidence and data and the solution is developed based on our Party's principles and values. The weighting given to the principles can vary across the membership and this generally provides the points of difference in any policy discussion (should the emphasis be environmental, social or economic). Obviously political elements come to play and if a policy is to be achievable it has to be palatable to other parties and the public. What we don't do is create policy just because it would be popular.

Evidence should be an important part of policy, but research or data needs to be considered in context and with caution. It is easy to cherry pick data and spin its meaning (National and climate change deniers are particularly adept at this), and much research is paid for by those with a vested interest. If the evidence and argument isn't robust it would be easy for others to pick holes in our policy and we would lose credibility. It should also be noted that the scrutiny applied to the Greens is far greater than that applied to the current Government, otherwise they wouldn't have been re-elected or maintain their current level of popularity.

In our discussions around the relevance of the ETS we also talked about the importance of forming alliances and improving relationships with businesses who share our concerns around climate and the management of carbon. We looked at a number of systems to limit the use of carbon in operation around the world and saw that a carbon tax was being increasingly supported. Such a tax is predictable, provides certainty for business planning and the money raised can be used to directly support the transition so that businesses do not overly suffer and employment is maintained.

The face to face conference has huge value when an hour and a half with a group of 8-20 people, with a common policy interest, can achieve as much as an email group can do in a year or more. The facilitation of discussion is very important and we tend to find the most satisfying workshops for participants are the ones that are well managed and all voices are heard. It amazes me how people can come to a policy conference, with a long held and passionately supported view, and change their mind when presented with opposing arguments and have to justify their own. Part of the strength of the discussion groups was the calibre of those who took part, we had MPs, those who worked in fields being discussed, academics and members who just have an interest in the policy. It is important that any policy should meet the standards of academia but be understood by lay people.

We held a number of workshops over the weekend in a range of policy areas and it will be interesting to see if North Island conference comes to similar conclusions as we did. One of our national policy convenors told me that, in his experience, there was generally little difference between the conferences in terms of the consensus reached in each workshop.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Waitangi Day Thoughts.

This Waitangi Day I didn't attend an official hui as I did last year, but I spent some of the time reading some history that documented the early contacts between Maori and Europeans in Murihiku.

One of the earliest European accounts I have is from the journals of John Boultbee, who travelled around the south coast of New Zealand in 1827. He spent time living with local Maori and even describes a meeting with Tuhawaiki who was later to be a signatory of the Treaty of Waitangi. Tuhawaiki learned his English from the sealers and whalers he came into contact with and as a result it was laden with expletives, hence his nickname "Bloody Jack". When he converted to Christianity and came into contact with more educated Europeans he was apparently embarrassed by the language he had used.

Boultbee describes the generosity and kindness he was shown by the Maori of 'Ruaboka' (Ruapuki Island) and when he was later picked up by a sealing ship he made the following observation:

"When I was on board a few hours, I felt sorry at having left my friends, who though they were savages, had something pleasing and prepossessing in their manner, whereas the white wretches I now was amongst were ignorant, disagreeable and selfish."

Maori suffered greatly from their first contact with Pakeha and southern Maori were no different. With no immunity to STIs, measles, influenza and typhus they lost 50% of their population in the first 20 years or so.

In 1840 the first European missionary, the Reverend James Watkin, arrived in the south and to his surprise he found that Maori preachers had preceded him. Watkin was in demand for lessons in writing, as literacy was seen as vital to Maori if they were to fully engage with the growing number of Pakeha settlers.

The 1840s to 1860s were called the golden age of Maori enterprise. Tuhawaiki had his own whaling business and employed Pakeha as whalers and book keepers. Maori provided potatoes and wheat  to early settlers, they owned multiple flour mills around the country and their many ships transported food to the largest settlements and even to Australia. This economic strength died shortly afterwards as European land grabs removed the most arable land from Maori and they could no longer compete with the settlers. Maori found that they couldn't even access capital to improve their remaining land because banks would only lend on properties that had individual title and this cleverly excluded tribal land. Maori couldn't afford to update the technology in their flour mills or repair their ships.

In Murihiku, The Southland Story, historian Bill Dacker explains how almost all the land in the South Island was taken from the Maori by dubious means:

"Actions of Crown representatives were determined by racist doctrine - Maori should be left with only enough land for their immediate sustenance, forcing them to work for Pakeha for wages to ensure that the 'savage' became 'civilised' and could never be landlord or boss over Pakeha."

"...Maori protests began immediately. Expediency and racist assumptions determined Government responses - the protests could be ignored because southern Maori were, militarily, powerless 'savages' degraded by contact Europeans, doomed to die out anyway."

Over the next hundred years Maori became the workers who dominated shearing gangs and worked in the freezing works that produced wool and meat that made New Zealand a wealthy nation. In many places Maori were treated like 2nd class citizens in their own country. In Monty Soutar's book The Price of Citizenship he relates how the soldiers in the Maori Battlalion's C Company were able to drink in Gisborne's pubs for the first time on their return from fighting heroically in World War 2, hence the title.

It is interesting to hear the familiar arguments, from those who have no appreciation of history, complaining bitterly about the Treaty Settlements and the 'greedy' Maori who always have their hands out for more money. When you consider the value of the land taken and how Maori were deliberately shut out of the New Zealand economy for over a hundred years, the settlements are token gestures at best. In 1997 the southern most iwi, Ngai Tahu received $170 million (in todays dollars it equates to $283 million) and it has been the largest settlement so far. Five of the settlements have been for well less than the annual salary of some of our CEOs.

If you divide the total of all settlements by the population of Maori it comes out to around $1,400 a person, and even if you adjust this for inflation we are still looking at a little over $2,000 each. Recently the Government was prepared to spend $3.8 million to bail out an exclusive private school (despite advice against it), an amount bigger than seven of the Treaty settlements. This represented spending $9,000 per student for them to continue receiving a privileged education and I haven't seen the same generosity given to any Kura Kaupapa. This makes me wonder if anything has really changed.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Labour/Green Relationship

Robert Winter is a thoughtful and informed, Labour Party supporting blogger whose opinions I respect and when he describes some potential barriers to a future coalition with the Greens I pay attention.

In response to a post from Eddie on The Standard blog, Robert identifies four areas that he thinks reflect some of the thinking within the Labour Party in relation to a possible coalition with the Greens:
  1. The Greens may challenge the ambitions and career pathways for Labour high fliers.
  2. The more right-wing elements within Labour find Green policies too radical.
  3. The Greens are the "new kids on the block" who are having ideas above their station and demonstrating a level of "upstartism".
  4. Both Labour and the Greens are moving at a glacial rate to develop ways to work together.

Before I respond to Robert's points I would like to say that I think the major stumbling block to the relationship is history. Robert also refers to history but only in reference to the fact that there should be some recognition or respect given to the institution that has been around the longest (Labour is New Zealand's oldest existing political party). However the fact that an institution has existed for a long time doesn't necessarily establish its relevance today. 

Labour's history and foundation is based on early 20th Century socialism and unionism, while the Greens have developed initially from the amalgamation of the environmental and progressive social movements of the 60's and 70's (The Values Party) and more recently from sustainable economic thinking. I understand that Labour are still trying to bring their historic structures into the 21st century and have a number of philosophical factions to pull together (including still some from their Neoliberal Douglas era).

The Green Party has a holistic approach to governance (approaching economics through both social and environmental lenses) and systems and structures that are inclusive and reflect new thinking. Possibly due to its size, the Green Party is also more flexible and proactive in dealing with a changing political environment.

The Labour Party tends to use a silo approach to policy rather than taking broader views that integrate areas of policy. In the last election the Greens campaigned on three key themes (rivers, jobs, children) while Labour did policy announcements that focussed on narrow issues like asset sales and a capital gains tax.

The Greens have principles developed from the Values Manifestos of the 70s that are still regarded as iconic documents (especially the 1975 manifesto Beyond Tomorrow).  While the Values Party struggled in the political arena (it was ahead of its time but lacked political pragmatism), its view of the world shifted thinking for all who were involved in politics at the time. Even now Beyond Tomorrow is seen as a foundation document for Greens globally and is still found in the bookshelves of progressive political thinkers. 

The Green Party's principles are philosophical overviews that provide guidance to the party's operations as well as policy development. The Green Party also has vision statements, value statements, mission statements, success criteria and long term goals for internal operations as well as the work of the party and this means the party is very clear about its direction. As an institution the Green Party functions using contemporary management models that many successful organisations and businesses use. The inclusive, consensus approach to developing all of these principles and statements generally ensures that both the parliamentary caucus and the membership sing from the same song sheet.

Labour’s principles appear reasonable and do cover similar themes to the Greens, but they read more like a list of human rights rather than a blue print for governance. What does "Democratic Socialist" really mean? Even Wikipedia struggles to define the term, and states "...groups of scholars have radically different definitions".  I also can't find anything on the Labour Party website that clearly describes its political philosophy or broad priorities and the Party relies on its leadership to articulate and define what these are. This puts a huge weight onto the shoulders of David Shearer who is expected to provide the vision that the rest of the Party will follow. When the likes of David Cunliffe attempts to fill the void with a vision of his own, it is seen as a leadership challenge. Despite the size of the Labour Party it relies too heavily on the abilities of its leadership rather than a widely understood political philosophy and established policy and the National Party are easily able to exploit this weakness.

Labour struggles with how it engages its members in both policy development and internal governance. It has given up an attempt to involve the membership in developing policy through their website and is currently attempting to involve the membership in electing the Party's leader (currently the responsibility of their caucus). Even elections for electorate candidates are not as democratic as National's, with electorate committees able to overrule a majority vote from the electorate membership. The way Labour has managed criticism from writers in The Standard Blog demonstrates there must be limited internal systems to allow members to debate and question the party's direction and operations. 

At this point I will attempt to address the coalition barriers mentioned by Robert:
  1. As stated above, Labour is a personality rather than a philosophically driven party and obviously personal ambition will be a major influence on any coalition discussions rather than policy.
  2. Labour does not have such a clearly defined philosophical base as the Greens and there are possibly many still in the Party who support the 1980's dalliance with Neoliberal economics. Shane Jones, once actively touted as a future Labour leader openly attacks Green policy in a manner that would be more in keeping with a National MP. The fact that the Party allows him to do this without censure points to a weakness in an important area of policy and an absence of strategy.
  3. Regarding the Greens as "new boys on the block" is nonsensical when you think that the party has been around for over forty years (if you include the Values Party it emerged from) and we have had 22 MPs represent us since 1996. The Labour Party first became the Government only 16 years after its formation. The fact that the Greens have largely led the CIR asset sale campaign and the manufacturing inquiry is not "upstartism" but just doing what politically needs to be done while Labour is distracted by an internal review.
  4. The perception of a glacial learning process to a working relationship is more to do with the fact that Labour is not yet ready to engage. It is still trying work out what it really stands for and how it should operate in a truly MMP environment. I feel that the Greens are ready and prepared to start discussions around a potential governing coalition and, because we don't have a prescriptive constitution like most nations, the nature of the relationship could be quite new and innovative.