Sunday, April 28, 2013

Electricity Supply, Jane Clifton is Right.

I have been very critical of Jane Clifton in the past, especially her determined effort not to give any attention to the Green Party in her columns. I am impressed, however, with her most recent offering "Power Politics" in the latest Listener.  Clifton has written a balanced and largely accurate overview of our current situation regarding our power supply, the dynamics within the industry and possible solutions. Probably without realising it, she even supports a core element of the Green's last election campaign.

Clifton rightly blames both National and Labour Governments for turning a blind eye to the failure of the Bradford model because they were, "...only too happy to hook out strapping dividends from the companies, effectively an extra tax on power consumers". She goes on to describe National's current stance as, "...trying, straight-facedly, to argue that New Zealanders haven't been overcharged. If you were to inspect their hands you'd find incipient arthritis of the knuckles from all the behind the back finger crossing"

There has been no incentive within the system to encourage competitive pricing, "For twenty years, the pricing mechanism has been based on a spot market, which enshrines not the cheapest but the most expensively generated electricity at any given time". It is because of this fact that both Labour and the Greens independently came up with the same solution to enable consumers to purchase the cheapest generated electricity instead.

National and Labour's past attempts to introduce greater competition by opening up the industry to more private companies has ignored the fact that the demand for electricity has not been increasing and ongoing profits can't be based on growing demand. The outsourcing of much of our manufacturing and our high dollar may even contribute to a drop in demand. Hanging above of all of this is the potential demise of the Tiwai aluminium smelter and the sudden influx of supply that this would cause.

The argument, that we need to put aside considerable sums to fund new generation schemes, just isn't logical as any future increase in demand could probably be managed for some time by just increasing efficiencies. It is not in the best interests of any power company, new or existing, to challenge the current pricing system.  Again to quote Clifton, "There could hardly be a clearer market signal for cheaper power, yet no one, be they friend or foe of the current system, is predicting a price decrease or even a levelling-off anytime soon".

Where I do disagree with Clifton is her assertion that, "Few of us can generate our own power...". There was a time when many communities were actually self sufficient and provided cheap power to themselves,  Dunedin was a good example. Also, around the world people are able to generate their own electricity and pour the surplus into the national grid for profit or credit. The only reason that this is not happening in New Zealand is because power companies' profits are currently determined by our dependence, not our independence, when there is an abundant supply. Under this regime there are no incentives to save electricity or be more efficient either.

Clifton does warn both Government and the Opposition to be careful of potentially damaging rhetoric in the power debate but calls National's approach "histrionics" and explains, "'s not Albanian to restore the national grid to the status of a public utility. Our electricty system is an irreducible natural monopoly and it's fair to say that we've had 20 years to prove to ourselves that we can't figure out how to make it anything else."

Surprisingly Clifton referred to the Greens' view that, rather than selling off our power companies to generate greater income, we could actually use their expertise and human resources to expand into other related businesses, "Their real growth potential lies overseas, where their expertise in areas like geothermal development could be making us useful foreign exchange". Clifton rightly castigates the Government for flawed economic thinking, "Yet the Government's plan was not to optimize this growth potential by reinvesting float money in the companies, or to even retire debt, but to spend it on schools and hospitals. This is pure politics and almost nothing to do with sound business or economic strategy."

While Clifton is still reluctant to acknowledge the Green Party, or our policies, she has written something that strongly supports our case. To continue supporting the market model in the hope that they will eventually start dropping prices is possible, according to Clifton, "but only after they patented electrically rechargeable jet packs for the pork industry".

Friday, April 26, 2013

Crutch Kicking a Crippled Education Profession

My wife is a GP and they are described as "Specialists in General Practice". This is not a fancy way of puffing up their importance, but recognition for needing a broad understanding of medicine and managing the health needs of a range of people. It is not a failure nor an issue of competence when they have to refer a patient to a specialist with a specific area of expertise. A general practitioner cannot be expected to know everything when diagnosis and treatment becomes more complex.

It is the same with teaching. Classroom teachers are classroom specialists, they have broad curriculum knowledge but can hardly be expected to have a degree related to each of the eight Learning Areas. Classroom teachers may also have children in their class with high learning needs, major disabilities or severe behaviour problems but can't be expected to be knowledgeable or experienced in managing all possibilities. Like GPs, teachers need specialist support and timely professional development if they are going to successfully manage the more extreme scenarios that could confront them in a rapidly changing world.

Teaching in New Zealand does not have the status that it does in Finland, where there are around 6,000 applicants for every 600 training positions. Our teachers are well regarded internationally but our teachers aren't chosen from the same elite field and this government does not value teacher education in the same way (ie. the 80% cap on the number of qualified teachers that will be funded in each early childhood centre and support for learning on the job and one year training courses). While our teachers generally do an excellent job of teaching the majority of children in their classes, many may not have the skills, knowledge or expertise in meeting the needs of those who may require more specialized support.

The Education Ministry's own research found that the most effective way of extending the knowledge and skills of teachers is to have direct contact with skilled practitioners who actually spend time in the classroom with the teacher. It is far easier for a facilitator to assess a teacher's needs after observing them in their own environment and useful for a teacher to have individualised support. This was recognised with the provision of an advisory service for all the Learning Areas and using skilled facilitators when the Numeracy Programme was first introduced.

This National Led Government have sacked the majority of our advisors and now any support for schools is designed to meet the Government's narrow goals rather than the needs of teachers or children. The Government even chose to punish schools who didn't comply with their National Standards' agenda by withdrawing the remaining professional support. There is also a reluctance to fund any successful programme that relies on specialist facilitators and the latest to be axed is Te Kotahitanga.

The Government's approach to building the capacity and performance of our teaching profession is to cut funding to specialist support and tell teachers to work harder. Education Minister Hekia Parata is demanding greater efforts and improved outcomes while at the same time kicking away the crutches that provide valuable support to an increasingly crippled profession.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Anzac Day Reflections 2013

This Anzac Day I happened to be in Hampden while returning from a family tramp in the Abel Tasman. There didn't appear to be a dawn parade but I walked to the Hampden cenotaph anyway and contemplated the lists of lost soldiers from the Great Wars. There were almost twenty lost from this small seaside community in World War 1.

This was the place where my maternal grandfather retired from farming. He had been a sergeant in WW1 and was gassed. I have a photo of him convalescing in England. My grandfather is lying in a wheeled bed and is surrounded by wounded soldiers, some holding crutches. I have seen many monuments from communities the size of Hampden (or smaller) and realize that my grandfather was actually one of the lucky ones.

While war is terrible, and causes great grief for many families, there are some positive elements to having to endure great adversity. Women in both wars had to take on what were traditionally male roles and this helped bring about greater equality and generally raised male understandings of what women could do. Although there is still some way to go, and there continues to be inequality in how we regard jobs dominated by women, the wars did break down barriers that had constrained them in the past.

Wars also brought communities together for a single cause and to share grief. This has also occurred in Christchurch during the earthquakes when neighbours began to lookout for each other and communities rallied in a way not experienced before.

Sadly it also took the Second World War to bring Maori and Pakeha closer after Maori had suffered many years of persecution and the denial of basic rights in their own country. The Maori Battalion brought new respect for Maori even though they had proven to be extremely clever fighters during the land wars. Monty Soutar describes the huge cost that Maori had to pay to gain citizenship in his book about C Company.

It is unfortunate that it takes such terrible events to cause us to better value each other.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Electricity Joint Solution

Despite assurances from this Government that they have taken control of electricity price rises, my experience is different. Even after installing a solar hot water system to our house I haven't seen a dramatic change in our power bill because the cost of power continues to rise.

The Minister for Energy, Simon Bridges, claims that in a competitive market customers can shop around to get a better deal but he obviously hasn't suffered the hassles involved in changing from one provider to another. He also can't expect elderly people to continually negotiate the internet to review and compare power prices.

Consumers have had to pay 19% more for electricty while under this John Key led Government, around $300 extra for each household. Power bills in New Zealand have also increased by 70% over the last 20 years, well above the rate of inflation. The competitve model hasn't worked and although we have abundant sources of cheap energy, and a small population, our electricity costs have increased far faster than most OECD countries.

The Green and Labour Parties have independently arrived at the same solution. Both agree that a single purchaser of power will give certainty to consumers and moderate the profit driven focus of our power companies. This same approach is used successfully by Pharmac to keep drug costs down and is used to manage power prices in many countries including the US and Canada.

Joyce's attempt to liken the approach to something from North Korea and for Whale Oil's Cameron Slater to compare it to Stalinist control is hysterical stuff. It is interesting that neither tried to debate the ideas but chose to use scaremongering instead.

Affordable electricity is important for both households and businesses and after twenty years of suffering a failed experiment it's about time we applied some common sense.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Marriage Bill Displayed Parliament at its Best

I listened (until a late hour) to all the speeches to the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill. I was impressed by many who I wouldn't normally support, such as John Banks, who presented reasoned, rational arguments. I was impressed by almost all speakers from all sides of the house and even those who spoke against the bill. I appreciated the way that Jonathan Young graciously accepted that he was in the minority. I was moved by the references to those who had pioneered the way to this day and had endured some appalling treatment in doing so. This was Parliament at its best.

If only we could remember this moment where party politics were forgotten and MPs voted according to their conscience and their core values. Where  economic considerations and restrictive budgets were set aside and the focus was purely on what was just and fair. It is wonderful that this process was used to give our GBLTI community the equality, justice and recognition they have dreamed of for eons.

I just wish that this example of how our political system could operate could be transferred to other issues. Some of these are:
  1. The right of a child to be properly supported and cared for and not have to experience poverty.
  2. The protection of our environment for future generations.
  3. The valuing of female dominated jobs that involve caring for our most vulnerable through fair pay and working conditions.
  4. The protection of our indigenous species and biodiversity for future generations.
  5. The rights of refugees to get support and protection from other nations.
  6. The right of families to be able to live in warm, healthy homes.
  7. The equal right to a quality education.
  8. The right to financial support when it is really needed without judgement or persecution.
  9. The right to question and protest decisions that may have a negative impact on people and the environment without persecution.
  10. The right to the necessities of life (food, shelter, heating, communication...) in an economic environment doesn't take advantage of those needs to increase profits unreasonably and restrict access to those who are economically disadvantaged.
  11. The right to legal support to ensure just and fair outcomes. 
  12. The right to exist within an economy that is sustainable and equitable
Just imagine the different outcomes to budgets and legislation... 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Lapdogs and Cronyism

Blogger Ele Ludemann has expressed concern at the opposition from the "left-wing sisterhood" to the recent appointments of Dame Susan Devoy and National MP Dr Jackie Blue to important commissioner roles. In her post, So much for supporting women, she states: "These women can't see past their left-wing bias to celebrate the success of another woman."

I am a male teacher in a profession dominated by women and even though I would like to have more male colleagues, it is actually the ability of the teacher to do the job rather than gender that is most important. While I still desperately want to see greater gender balance in our profession, because it will deliver greater quality to our system, all teachers still need to be good teachers. We need to attract more able men into teaching by making it a more attractive profession rather than just giving preference to male applicants who want to train.

In the case of Dame Susan and Dr Jackie Blue, while both are women, neither of them have particular qualifications or a proven history in the areas where they will now have a leadership role. Susan Devoy has made public statements that demonstrates an ignorance of our Treaty history and has upset groups that she will need to work with in a constructive manner. She has not got a strong record of diplomacy when managing difficult situations.

Dr Jackie Blue is respected for her work in the health sector but she has a limited experience in industrial matters and the broader aspects of human rights. She has voted in support of legislation that has eroded the status of women and her Government has overseen the levels of female participation in leadership roles in our country drop considerably.

In appointing Dr Blue to this role it has also removed another woman from the male dominant National Party caucus (her replacement will most likely be a male). National will now have 14 female MPs compared to 60 male MPs, over four times as many men than women. One would have to wonder why the party doesn't attract strong female candidates.

Labour has the about the same number of female MPs despite having almost half the total number of MPs, while the Greens have more females than males and New Zealand First has a 50% split.

Most Governments make appointments that will support their interests and philosophical approach, but they generally ensure their appointees have a reasonable degree of competence and intellectual independence. We now have a Speaker who is barely managing the role and is blatantly favouring the Government, a race relations commissioner who has a limited race relations background and is unlikely to question racially divisive policy and an  equal opportunities commissioner who has supported legislation that has negatively discriminated against women and minority groups.

With report after report showing that this Government ignores proper process we are now seeing important public watchdogs being reduced to lapdogs.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

GCSB, John Key and Don Quixote

Prime Minister John Key is nothing more than a suit wearing Don Quixote fighting against imagined threats and enemies. He paints a dire picture of security threats in New Zealand involving the construction of weapons of mass destruction, cyber attacks and espionage. Consequently he wants to give the GCSB the legal capacity to spy on New Zealand citizens and residents. I claim to have no detailed knowledge of the day to day business of our spy agencies, nor the real value of the work that they are involved with, but I do feel that there is enough evidence to cast doubt on giving further powers to a such dysfunctional institutions (if we accept the findings of the Ketteridge report).

John Key himself operates in a business and political world where the end justifies the means and good process is something you only have to do when people are watching. It is a world where there is corporate jostling for increased market shares and governments scrambling for positions of influence through their relationships with larger powers. I am sure that Key's large diplomatic protection squad is more about creating an inflated sense of importance than providing personal security (the only incident that we have been made aware of involved a mentally unstable man who made some random death threats).

I think the Prime Minister's reference to weapons of mass destruction (WMD) should be regarded in the context of how the term was used by both the British and US Governments to justify the invasion of Iraq and the wider "War on Terror". The threat actually didn't exist but it allowed the setting aside of basic human rights so that certain nations could advance their military and commercial interests. If you read between the lines the real reason behind the need for spying in New Zealand is more about protecting commercial interests than a military threat. It is probably also about larger corporate interests than supporting local small and medium sized businesses.

I can think of two examples of what would probably encompass some of the SIS and GCSB activity in New Zealand. The most obvious is the Kim Dotcom affair that involved the interests of the hugely powerful US film industry. Kim Dotcom's file sharing business was probably not illegal and it has been revealed that he was actually cooperating with authorities in uncovering the misuse of his Megaupload site. Even though the American film industry is extremely profitable, they were still determined to ensure that all income streams were protected. For New Zealand to cooperate in dealing with Kim Dotcom was obviously seen as another way of ensuring Hollywood's support for our own film industry. The rights of Dotcom as a resident were considered insignificant compared to the financial implications of his activities.

Kim Dotcom re-enacts raid for the launch of his new website

The second example is related to myself and my involvement with Coal Action Network Aotearoa and our local group Coal Action Murihiku.  It has recently been revealed that Solid Energy spent $205,053 on security advice and much of that would have been related to activities that I was directly involved with. Solid Energy refused to talk with any of us directly about our objections to their planned lignite  developments and employed Thompson and Clark to investigate and monitor our activities instead. We have run two festivals and education forums in the Southland region and both times it was obvious that were were being spied on. Our personal vehicles were often followed and a security company linked to Thompson and Clark (ProVision) were flown into Southland to protect the existing mine and briquetting plant. None of our local members have a history of radical activism and the lengths Solid Energy went to, in protecting their assets, seemed extravagant. Surely a local security firm would have sufficed, especially when the company was trying to convince the local community that they wanted to create employment opportunities in the area.

It does appear that there is a growing culture that sees the rights of business as trumping the rights of ordinary citizens. To question or protest against the social and environmental consequences of business activity (especially when it is related to the extraction of fossil fuels) is being increasingly seen as illegal and legislation to support that end is being progressed. Much of our internal spying and state supported subterfuge has targeted environmentalists and Nicky Hager & Bob Burton documented the extent that this occurred in the past in their 1999 book Secrets and Lies. Despite the passage of time, the behaviour of the SOE, Solid Energy, seems no different from the state owned forest industry in the 90s.

There has always been a greater focus on internal security than threats from offshore and this became evident when it was revealed that the SIS spent 51 years spying on Keith Locke (from when he was 11 years old) and still kept his file alive when he was an MP. While our spies were concentrating on ideologically based internal threats they completely missed the infiltration of the French spies that led to the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior. It was the New Zealand Police that discovered the existence of the spies, not the SIS.

Both the Tuhoe raids and the arrest of Kim Dotcom revealed that while we have well trained armed offender and anti terror squads, they are underemployed. We are a small, relatively peaceful nation and real terrorist activity is unlikely to occur. Consequently when there is even a whiff of terrorism these squads are released so that they can justify their existence and put their training into action. In reality Tame Iti's activities could have been sorted by a phone call (as he suggested) and Kim Dotcom could have been arrested (if it were legal) by the local policeman who had a cup of tea with him the previous day.  There is a danger that without the proper oversight of the operations of our spy agencies and specialist police squads then similar situations may actually become more common. In a country the size of New Zealand, with low levels of corruption, we should be able to settle most of our differences using open communication and proper consultation before needing to bug people and fly in with armed squads in flak jackets. Most nations that commonly resort to this sort of behaviour tend to have authoritarian or totalitarian regimes.

The Greens and Labour are correct in asking for an independent inquiry into the work and purposes of our spy agencies. If the people of New Zealand are to allow themselves to be spied on, it is important that there is some transparency around the purposes of any espionage and to re-establish our individual rights as citizens. Will any future spying be about defending New Zealanders from potential terrorist attacks and defending our trading interests or will it be about supporting corporate profits? Also who will provide oversight of these agencies and what real powers will they have to manage them? New Zealanders need to know what our national security really involves and feel comfortable with how that security is managed.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Green Credibility Rises As National's Plummets

The National led Government's credibility is leaking out as rapidly as the private information that is flowing from our government departments. National Ministers now spend much of their time trying to distance themselves from poor decisions and endless privacy breeches. It is becoming obvious that most of the Government's solutions to our nation's problems have been ill-conceived and will be unsustainable:
  • Spending $12 billion on motorways will not reduce traffic congestion in central Auckland.
  • Mining coal in National parks will not lead to great prosperity.
  • Forcing people out of benefits and into low paid, casual work will not lift families out of poverty.
  • Turning our education system into one based on data collection and business models won't serve the needs of our most vulnerable learners.
  • Opening our country to overseas corporates so that even more profits and dividends leave our shores will not provide us with economic resilience. 
  • Spying on private citizens to support corporate interests is too authoritarian.

Aucklanders want to live in a modern, vibrant city that has the same transport choices as those overseas. The Greens support of Aucklands own transport plan and greater spending on rail was enthusiastically received.

New Zealanders do not want to see Schedule 4 land being mined or Don Elder being rewarded for supporting the Government's costly coal addiction. New Zealanders want a real clean green future, not one that is maintained by hiding environmental degradation.

New Zealanders are alarmed about our levels of child poverty and the refusal of the Government to measure the problem or have a plan to deal with the causes of our shocking child welfare statistics. The Green's focus on solving child poverty is making sense to more people. Paula Bennett may be pushing more people off benefits but Family incomes are dropping and food parcel numbers are growing.

The thousands who rallied around the country last Saturday in support of our education system demonstrated huge opposition to the Government's agenda. The education system has been badly affected by the poor implementation of National Standards, league tables, and Novopay. The Government's plans to introduce Charter Schools and more funding for private schools is causing widespread concern.  The Government has already given private schools an extra $35 million and bailed out Wanganui Collegiate ($3.9 million) against advice. Providing more money to support our most privileged students rather than our less privileged is unconscionable. Making Co-leader Metiria Turei a spokesperson for education demonstrates the level of importance it has for the Party.

We are seeing billions of dollars worth of profits and dividends leaving our country to overseas owners and shareholders and this is not helping our current account deficit. The Green Party's plan to strengthen our New Zealand owned banks to compete with the big four Australian ones is gaining support and so is the demand to limit land and company sales to overseas buyers. David Clendon's  efforts to provide more support for our small and medium sized enterprises is being well received around the country. A broader and more sustainable approach is needed to strengthen our economy rather than putting all our eggs into the dairying and mining baskets and continually outsourcing.

Russel Norman's request for a proper independent inquiry into our secret services (GCSB and SIS) is being supported by academics and political commentators. While these agencies may still need to exist in some form the basis for their existence needs to have greater transparency and the level of oversight needs to be stronger.

While the National led Government is struggling to justify its plans and actions, the Greens are strongly positioning themselves as credible and visionary leaders.  

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Marching in Invercargill to Support Our Kids and Our Schools

We had a well supported march in Invercargill today in support of our schools and children. The sun shone, the bagpiper played, cars tooted, people shouted support from the footpaths and we had some spirited chanting. We ended up in Wachner Place for a brief speech and a free sausage.

My speech:

Kia ora koutou

Thank you everyone for your strong support for our wonderful quality public education system.

In terms of education in Invercargill, we have a lot to be proud of. Thanks to the support of our communities and fundholders we have school facilities that rival the best in the country and we have teachers and school support staff who are passionate about doing the best they can for our children.

We are marching today because we want a Government that will respect and listen to our education professionals, our parents and our communities. We object strongly to the introduction of policies that will remove and damage what has made our education system one of the best in the world.

We say NO to the introduction of systems from countries ranked beneath us with no mandate, no evidence and no planning.

We say NO to the flawed systems supported by the Global Education Reform Movement commonly known as GERM!

We say NO to publicly funded, profit focused Charter Schools that will allow unregistered teachers in front of children. Children do best when their teachers are well trained and professional.

We say NO to performance pay based on narrow achievement criteria. Children do best in schools where teachers work together, not compete against each other.

We say NO to league tables based on flawed standards that aren’t actually standards, aren’t national and aren’t fair on children. We want schools to work together not compete against each other.

We say NO to narrow one size fits all systems that don’t recognize that children are all different and have individual needs. We want an education system that delivers to all children.

We say NO to unnecessary, nationally driven data collection, this Government does not have a good record in confidentiality or using data appropriately.

We say NO to funding cuts for advisors and special education. Our vulnerable children need specialised support and our teachers and support staff need proper professional development.

We say NO to the introduction of systems like Novopay without a trial and with pre-identified flaws. When a Government is prepared to treat those who work in schools with such casual disrespect they obviously don’t value what we do for children or value education.

We say NO to the terrible treatment of Christchurch Communities where their voices and needs were ignored in favour of the GERM agenda. Schools are an imported part of any community and to rip them apart without proper consultation has been destructive to communities that have already suffered enough.

We say YES to collaboration, we say YES to proper consultation, we say YES to child focused teaching and learning and we say YES to properly valuing the work of our support staff and teachers. We have a great education system and we don’t want to lose it!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Greenies, Watermelons and Communists

A letter in the Southland Times reflected what I hear a number of people saying, but it was so extreme that I wondered if it was intended as satire.  I wrote a reply anyway.

The original letter:

Following the comments about lead shot, it is obvious that many of your readers are unaware of the politics involved in the matter.

What has happened over the past 10 to 15 years is that the Greenies have slowly but surely infiltrated organisations such as the Department of Conservation, Forest and Bird, and Fish and Game.

It has come to the stage now where they run the whole show.They have done it fairly and squarely, all legal and above board.

However, the Government has now realised what is going on and has placed Dr Nick Smith in charge of the situation. He is a very intelligent and capable man, is working his way through and will put the situation right. He has culled some of the problematic areas, but still has to slash his way through a fair bit more to get it right.

I say, ''Godspeed, Nick. Get on with it.''

C Williams

My reply:

I was highly entertained by C Williams' letter (April 10) regarding "Greenies" infiltrating DoC, Forest and Bird and Fish and Game to stop people from using lead shot. I tried to think about who these people actually were and had difficulty distinguishing them from health officials, conservationists, environmentalists or scientists. I also wondered if they were the "watermelons" I often hear about, this group who pretend to be green but are really secret communists who plan to destroy our economy.

I guess, as C Williams states, the only way to deal with this threat is to get rid of as many people who could be Greenies as possible and remove their power. That would explain the hundreds of people sacked from DoC and other departments and the many changes to legislation related to environmental protection.

My only concern about these drastic efforts to get rid of this nasty (but obviously mythical) group is that it may have some unintended consequences...our natural environments actually aren't looking too good.

Yours sincerely...

Shell in Southland

I attended Shell's invitation only meeting in Invercargill a day after their protestor disrupted one in Dunedin. Police were standing outside, but the guests here were more restrained and one attendee made a point of saying to Shell's exploration manager, Rolund Spuij, that he was welcome in Invercargill. 

Communications Manager Victoria Dias, Environmental Planner Phil Weymss and Eploration Manager Rolund Spuij

I actually have no problem with the actions of the protestors in Dunedin, while I don't think it is always the way we should engage with others it does send a clear message to Shell that there are people here who are aware of their real environmental record (the symbolic elephant in the room) and that they are being watched. While Shell may indeed have one of the better current safety and environmental records of the major oil companies, they are actually just one of the least damaging of a particularly environmentally disastrous industry. Like most profit driven entities, money will always come first and the amount of damage inflicted on local environments and communities, through the course of their business, is generally determined by what the people will tolerate or what they can get away with.

Third world countries have been particularly badly treated by the oil industry and protective measures, cleanups and compensation after major accidents varies greatly depending on the international status and influence of the people concerned. Shell's record in Nigeria is worse than appalling and the company still refuses to be accountable for the deaths and environmental devastation that it has caused. Shell has also been caught out by revelations that its drilling operations in the fragile Arctic were far from safe when equipment and planning fell well short of what would be necessary in that environment (Lucy Lawless was right). Shell has also been pulled up for obvious greenwashing and making ridiculous claims about the sustainability of their activities. When dealing with Shell we need to remember that we are dealing with a powerful oil company with a chequered history and huge resources and polished PR.

The devastation Shell has caused in Nigeria will take at least 30 years to manage and cost billions.

Shell's Canadian tar sand operations

It is with this background information in mind that I attended the presentation from Shell. If I had not known about the reality of the company's operations I would have been blown away by the apparent environmental awareness being displayed. We were also told that the company was a very experienced deep sea driller and that 1400 metres was a mid range depth for them and the conditions expected in the Great South basin were within their capabilities, given Shell's approach to its Arctic activities I wasn't reassured. 

The Government is very keen to have the oil industry active in our country and, despite the obvious risks that the industry provides, have gone out of their way to minimise scrutiny and protests. If Lucy Lawless were to repeat her rig climbing protest, after the proposed legislation becomes law, she could be subject to a $100,000 fine or imprisonment. I haven't seen any sign of legislation to strengthen the regulations around who is responsible for a major oil or gas leak or to increase the minimal budget given to Maritime NZ. This questioning from Metiria Turei in 2011 exposes the reality of our preparedness for a major maritime disaster:

2. METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green) to the Acting Minister of Energy and Resources: What emergency response, safety, and environmental protection provisions, if any, were included in the permit granted to Anadarko Petroleum Corporation to undertake deep-water oil exploration and drilling in the Canterbury Basin?
Hon HEKIA PARATA (Acting Minister of Energy and Resources) : Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. Under the permit granted to Anadarko, it may drill one exploratory well. Before it does so, however, it must develop a discharge management plan that must be approved by the director of Maritime New Zealand.
Metiria Turei: Who will have responsibility for containment and clean-up if there is a catastrophic oil leak in the exploratory well that Anadarko plans to drill in waters 1,500 metres deep off the Canterbury coast?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Maritime New Zealand.
Metiria Turei: Will the Government require a substantial bond from Anadarko as an insurance against the possibility of a catastrophic oil leak, which would cost New Zealand taxpayers billions of dollars to clean up?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: If Anadarko is to drill an exploratory well, it must provide a discharge management plan to Maritime New Zealand. That is the process the Government observes.
Metiria Turei: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was not about a discharge permit; it was specific and clear: will the Government require a substantial bond to cover the financial liability?
Mr SPEAKER: I think the member raises a fair point. It was a straight question, and I think it does deserve an answer as to whether the Government would require a bond. It may not be appropriate to answer the question, but it was a straight question.
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Under the process of the stage that Anadarko is at, if Anadarko is to drill an exploratory well, it must prepare a discharge management plan. The plan does not include a bond. 
Shell actually had some excellent information about the importance of developing sustainable and clean energy sources but the reality is that although this is an element of their business, it is only a small fraction of what they do and essentially a green front to their real activities. While Governments like New Zealand continue to make it easy for companies to profit from fossil fuels, they will continue to devote most of their energy to extracting this highly damaging and polluting resource. Once extracted, the oil or gas belongs to the company and although we will gain from some employment and royalties and tax (below OECD average), the rights to sell and distribute the resource and all profits would belong to Shell.  While our Government, our mayor and many in Invercargill have welcomed Shell into our midst I can think of many other industries that I would rather develop and support. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

John Key Is No Prime Minister

An honorable Prime Minister respects the position.

A competent Prime Minister would remember important details regarding the country's security and important appointments that they were involved with.

A compassionate Prime Minister wouldn't do deals that negatively impacts on some communities or sections of our society for financial gain.

A fair and just Prime Minister would not favour the already wealthy above others.

A visionary Prime Minister would support decisions and policy that will be sustainable in the long term.

A diplomatic Prime Minister would not make flippant comments on the world stage.

A respectful Prime Minister will address others respectfully, even if he/she disagrees with what they say.

A peaceful Prime Minister would not lead our country into unnecessary wars.

An astute Prime Minister would follow good process.

A morally aware Prime Minister would expect high ethical standards from his/her Ministers.

An informed Prime Minister wouldn't dismiss the work of our most respected scientists.

A humble Prime Minister wouldn't demand special treatment.

A culturally aware Prime Minister would recognize tangata whenua on important occasions.

An environmentally aware Prime Minister would appreciate our natural heritage.

A loyal Prime Minister would support local businesses and invest locally.

An honest Prime Minister would tell the truth.

A rational Prime Minister wouldn't criticise journalists for doing their job.

A mature Prime Minister behaves accordingly and sets a good example to young people.

A socially aware Prime Minister doesn't put down communities insensitively.

An upfront Prime Minister would have nothing to hide.

A decent Prime Minister wouldn't spread misinformation or statements that he is not able to verify.

John Key is no Prime Minister!