Friday, June 21, 2013

Gareth Hughes in Invercargill


The Green Party's energy spokesperson is the very energetic Gareth Hughes. He is no longer the youngest MP in Parliament (that honour goes to National's Jami-Lee Ross), but with his boyish grin he claims he is the youngest looking. Gareth maybe younger than most of his parliamentary colleagues but he is already into his second term as an MP and is currently the Green Party Whip. Like all of our younger MPs, Gareth's apparent youth belies an intellect and knowledge that surprises those who challenge him. He is regarded as one of the few MPs in Parliament who actually spoke knowledgeably about the issues around the Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Amendment Bill and won a lot of support from the IT community for reflecting their concerns. Gareth's strong stance against poorly regulated fracking and deep sea oil drilling has also attracted strong negative attention from those who see New Zealand's future is in the extraction of fossil fuel.

Gareth escaped the Wintery blast that hit Wellington by coming down to Invercargill yesterday to talk with people at Venture Southland about the potential of our high quality silica and speak at a public meeting about the dangers of deep sea drilling.

Venture Southland have done a lot of useful background work on what is needed to take advantage of the 99% pure silica we have and develop an industrial complex that would be comparable to our aluminium smelter in employment opportunities and economic value. They have been surprised about the lack of interest being shown by this Government and as far as I know the Green Party is the only party that has engaged with Venture Southland about it. There has already been offshore interest in investing in a silica smelter here but, as with aluminum, silica has long term economic viability but does experience market fluctuations. Timing is important when setting up. The real value of the silica will be in the added value that could be achieved through making our own high quality products like solar panels. At the moment China has monopolised the photovoltaic industry, but the quality is mixed and there is a market for a reliable brand.

Given the potential of clean energy, and the readily available resources we have, it seems bizarre that the Government is so keen to encourage the extraction of more polluting energy sources in high risk environments. Gareth's presentation provided a reality check for those who thought a gas or oil discovery in the Great South Basin would bring much riches and employment. Per dollar earned, the oil industry creates far less jobs than most other industries, and many of those will come from outside the region. The Government also extracts far less in royalties than most other countries and as consumers we would still have to pay the market rate for the extracted fuel. At the same time the risks involved in deep sea drilling are huge. It cost Maritime New Zealand and other tax payer funded agencies almost $50 million to manage the oil from the wrecked Rena and a disaster similar to the recent one in the Gulf of Mexico cost tens of billions. The Government is only demanding $10 million in insurance from companies during the most risky exploration phase, a major catastrophe would have to be largely borne by us and would be economically as well as environmentally devastating. We don't have the physical resources to contain or manage a major rig disaster and by the time the necessary equipment arrived from overseas the damage would be well advanced

The Government's recent legislation and eagerness to put up vast areas of our ocean up for tender created an interesting loophole for the Green Party. Bidders for any of the areas up for grabs do not have to prove financial viability or past experience in drilling, but only present a plan. This approach will not only attract industry cowboys but it allowed the Green Party to make our own bid. The Kiwi Bid will not be providing a plan for extraction of any resource, but propose instead to do the opposite so that our beaches and marine based industries can be protected from possible harm. While it is unlikely that the current government will accept our bid, it does provide it a clear choice of activity and allows those who join the bid to make their feelings clear. So far over 7,000 people have supported the Kiwi bid and using this link, so can you.

See the interview with Gareth on Cue TV (it starts 6:25 minutes in).

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