They say a week’s a long time in politics, and the same could also be said of campaigning. The week never ends in quite the way you might have expected at the beginning. And sometimes that can be a very good thing, as this week has proven.
I woke on Monday morning to see the news media filled with the reflection and commentary on the National Party’s conference at the weekend, much of it detailing the posturing and flapping from a party desperate to recover from a dreadful start to its second term. And this was no more evident than the Prime Minister’s “bring it on” to all those who are neatly unpicking the Government’s economic case for asset sales, and the expansion of oil, gas and coal mining.
And I couldn’t help be reminded that the last time I heard these words they were being clumsily spluttered by the US President George W Bush. National’s spin doctors must be facing desperate times as the veneer of their personable leader starts to lose its shine.
But so it was, National’s senior MPs took to the floor under the instruction of choirmaster Key, each to play their part in delivering their economic harmony – with a chorus trilling that you’re either with them or against them. All those who dare to question their flawed economic policies were beneath contempt. Indeed, Steven Joyce declared that the greatest risk for New Zealand was halting “economic opportunities because of a small vocal minority that hates change and hates progress”. And something tells me he was referring to Greenpeace.
The thing is that the Government have run out of ideas – they lack the ambition and the necessary vision that New Zealand deserves. The cupboard’s bare and the only thing that they have to offer is a half-baked and financially incompetent policy to partially privatise the assets that have been built up over generations, and an out of date fossil fuel vision from yesteryear. Hardly the qualifications needed to lead a country in to the 21st Century.
So they have gone on the attack, creating a smokescreen, almost a mythology, around their opponents’ proposals, in the vain effort to mask their own economic mismanagement.
Green groups are not opposed to change – well, except climate change, we’re not too keen on that – or opposed to progress. Quite the opposite. We’re all for it. Just ask the 142,000 Kiwi’s who supported the petition handed in at Parliament this week calling for a cleaner, smarter future for New Zealand. And they are not alone.
Business leaders, captains of industry, global institutions and progressive world governments are all calling for an action plan to green our economies. And with good reason. There are enormous benefits to raising our game and capitalising on the NZ$6 trillion potential global market for green business. That means more jobs and opportunities for New Zealanders. It means progress.
Doing this will require a change in mindset and aspiration, as well as an honest debate on the sort of future we all want for our country. This is one thing that Energy Minister Phil Heatley should have considered before rejecting the concerns of over a hundred thousand Kiwis, and accusing people of scaremongering.
The opposition to deep water drilling is based on the very real risks and technical challenges of exploring for oil at depths up to twice that at which the Deepwater Horizon well was operating in when it exploded and sank, with catastrophic economic and environmental consequences. So far the Deepwater Horizon disaster has cost the United States economy $US40 billion; it forced the authorities to close off an area twice the size of the North Island to fishing.
The fact that the very same companies responsible for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill are looking to explore off our coastlines should give cause for concern.
What the Government consistently fails to mention is that its economic growth strategy is built largely around the prospect of drilling for oil at depths of up to 3 kilometres, which presents technical challenges that New Zealand has had no experience with (he deepest operating wells in the Taranaki Basin are at 120 metres). What’s more, this country could never match the resources that were deployed in the attempt to clean up the Deepwater Horizon spill, as the Rena disaster laid bare.
As a colleague of mine quipped, deep water drilling for oil in New Zealand is like playing Russian roulette with five chambers loaded.
And it was this legitimate and well-founded concern that compelled Elvis Teddy, a member of the East Cape iwi Te Whanau a Apanui, to make a stand and defend his customary waters from these reckless plans.
Last year, the Government ordered the Navy and the Police to arrest Elvis for sailing his fishing boat, the San Pietro, in front of the ship carrying out a seismic survey on behalf of the Brazilian oil giant Petrobras. Yesterday, at Tauranga District Court, Justice Treston threw out the charges against Elvis, saying that the authorities had no jurisdiction beyond the 12 nautical mile limit. The Crown’s case collapsed. The authorities, acting in the interests of an overseas oil giant, had overstepped the mark in order to shut down the protests of its concerned citizens.
To me, the way the Government acted to kowtow to international oil giants, has led to a shoot first and ask the hard questions later mentality that has become an emblem of its economic thinking. There is no plan for tomorrow. The drill-it, mine-it, sell-it mantra that pervades the corridors of government is about the short-term boom and bust approach to the economy, and screw the consequences. This approach will only serve to corrode our ability to build a more sustainable, resilient future.
It is no longer about finding a ‘balance’ between economic growth and environmental damage. We need the Government to understand that the two are intertwined.
For me, it’s all about change. It’s all about progress. And this week it feels like we’re on to something.