Celebration and Despair
At a personal level I have got much to celebrate, I have been selected as the Green Party candidate for Invercargill and I have had a steady stream of support for our local campaign. A number of people who I haven't heard from since the last election have been getting in contact and are offering their services again. We also have a wonderful French wwoofer who has brought order back to my wild and neglected vege garden and I have been enjoying delicious cooking smells as she prepares this evening's meal.
The despair comes from a series of recent news items that epitomises this John Key led government's approach to governance.
1) Oil exploration consents will be non notifiable, which means that the public will have no involvement in the approval process. While the consents will be considered under "discretionary" activity rather than "permitted" the Environmental Protection Agency will now be the sole environmental watchdog for future consents. While the government claims that environmental controls over oil and gas exploration are much stronger than under previous governments we also need to consider the fact that we have never had drilling in our waters at such great depths before. Taranaki drilling occurs at a depth of 100 meters while the drilling in the Great South Basin will be at a depth of 1,500 metres or over. The EPA hardly provided much reassurance recently (regarding due diligence) when they signed off Anadarko's response plan by only looking at the summary.
The preferential support and subsidies that the oil industry gets from the New Zealand government are extraordinary. They introduced a bill in December that extends the tax exemption for non-resident oil rig and seismic vessel operators (worth around $5 million a year) and have provided them with $25 million worth of free seismic surveys.
Combine all of the above with the legislation to limit protests at sea and we have high levels of corporate welfare and heavy handed limits to democratic process.
2) Pike River is continuing to cause grief for the families of the deceased miners. It is fairly clear from a recently revealed letter from Whittall's lawyer that he was able to buy his way out of a conviction. Anyone who has read Rebecca Macfie's thoroughly researched book on the disaster will know that it was Whittall's leadership that was the constant thread throughout the development of this highly flawed mine. To claim that it would have been difficult to achieve a conviction against Whittall defies belief and even if a few of the 25 charges were made to stick it would have brought some sense of closure for the families. I'm sure that the $100,000 or so that each family would have received from the $3.4 million that was offered would have been given up if the main person responsible had been convicted for his part in the deaths.
It is clear with this Government that those in CEO roles should have greater advantages and protections than ordinary citizens, especially as regards the fossil fuel industry. While Don Elder was not immediately responsible for the deaths of many miners, his inept management of Solid Energy saw many mining families seriously affected when mines were closed and jobs lost with little warning. Elder received no disciplinary action for the $400,000 million debt incurred from the company's collapse and instead he was allowed to go on gardening leave while still receiving his $1.3 million salary.
3) New Zealand's involvement in the Five Eyes surveillance alliance has been under scrutiny since it was revealed that it had been spying illegally against Kim Dotcom and number of other New Zealand citizens. Again there appears to be little that we can do to ensure the agency operates transparently and within the law, we have assurances that this has to occur but no way of knowing if it really will. There is also the very real concern that US influence may be over-riding the sovereignty we should have over our own spies, especially if the GCSB refuse to divulge whether they receive funding from the NSA, (like occurred with the British spy agency). Not only can't our spies accurately report details that involve single digits, but yet another Edward Snowden leak revealed that our spies have been trained in a variety of dirty tricks to entrap targets.
At least the three protesters who damaged the Waihopai spy base in 2008 had their damages action dropped, we now know much more about the spy base activities and few people will see justice being served if the actioned had continued.