Last week’s outbreaks of foot in mouth, by John Key and Federated Farmers, were illuminating and obfuscating, respectively
We’ve all heard about this government’s objective to balance the environment and the economy.
Here’s what John Key said about it, last week on Radio New Zealand National. He was talking about the mining discussion paper, since released, yesterday. “It’s making sure we get that balance right [he said] which is, we care a lot about our 100% pure brand. I’m the Minister of Tourism, so obviously I care about that. We also have to make sure we don’t do anything that would damage our international reputation.”
What the Prime Minister therefore told us is that his own government’s policy is not being implemented. Because what he described is not any sort of balance between the environment and the economy. It is a solely economic-focused "balance", directed to making sure one part of the economy is not boosted at the expense of the other biggest-earning part. This is money talking, as I’ve said before.
I prattled on in that post about being open to the possibility that the scope of Schedule 4 might be revised, because there is no necessary magic in 13%, as opposed to 12 or 20. But I expected a few things in the balancing equation, to make it add up. Recognition of the environment’s intrinsic value to New Zealand, as recognised by the World Bank, not just its human exploitation value. Proof to support the assertions that some specific bits of land in Schedule 4 are “just gorse”, therefore low value. And some surety of what we would gain for our loss.
However, you could see this coming on the first day Brownlee announced his stocktake, when he refused to rule out mining any land of high conservation value, if the minerals underneath were worth enough. Those headlights in the tunnel have materialised, into a great big bulldozer. Anything is for sale in the Minister’s world, depending on the price. Gordon Campbell writes brilliantly here about the wildly speculative dollar values around these proposals. Both Key and Brownlee have confirmed in recent days that they cannot give a firm answer to such questions. Consistent with that, talk of $140 billion having failed to win people over, suddenly it’s $194 billion. Or $60 billion. Or something. But some things are beyond price.
I haven’t read the paper yet. But just like the government, I know already what my view on it will be, because they haven’t even argued their own case, according to their own policy criteria. There’s lots of other evidence that their policy-making is not very clever, or -- since it’s autumn -- that the fig leaf that covers the government’s character is about ready to drop. The mineral wealth being sought in Paparoa National Park, affecting up to 8% of that park, is coal. According to this expert advice, mining on Great Barrier Island would be illegal under the Resource Management Act and the Auckland City Council’s district plan. Though I daresay, if one can whip things in and out of Schedule 4 on a whim, the RMA and local government are paltry obstacles.
I expect my own approach to the discussion document to be quite similar to the government’s -- that is, predetermined, untroubled by too much thought. But my conclusions will be very different.
Media reported on Friday that the cubicle dairy farm proposals have been abandoned in the McKenzie Basin, although they will be pursued at a more propitious time. Only one small part of the proposals has been abandoned, although I‘m sure the applicants were delighted with the tenor of the reporting, that will have mollified and misled a lot of people.
In fact, only the effluent discharge consent applications, that had been called in by the government, have been withdrawn. The water take consents are still proceeding, and land use consents have already been granted, although they are being judicially reviewed by the Environmental Defence Society (EDS). We may know the answer quite soon: Gary Taylor from the EDS says he is seeking a priority fixture.
Meanwhile, on Morning Report, Federated Farmers dairy spokesperson Lachlan McKenzie expressed disappointment that we had not been able to debate whether open stall dairy farming is the way forward for New Zealand. The decision, he said, “should be based on good science, good economics, and good discussion about the benefits or otherwise socially to New Zealand. That debate in a constructive and efficient manner has not happened.” Richard Peacock, director of two of the applicant companies, Southdown Holdings Ltd and Williamson Holdings Ltd, said it was in the “interests of the whole industry for this debate to occur and it is going to occur”.
So I was wondering, gentlemen: is this the “debate” we were having when the McKenzie Basin land use consents proceeded without being notified? Or when the existing open stall farms, in deliberately undisclosed locations, were established without a word to anybody? Or is it the “debate” Mr McKenzie was furthering on Friday morning when, upon being asked about cubicle dairy proposals in other parts of the country, he switched to a long diatribe about whether “intensive” is the proper term for the farming method?
I know we have a dairy effluent problem in this country. I don’t expect to have it spilling into my bedroom at 6.37 am on a sleepy sunny Friday morning.