Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

On the government’s environmental credibility problems in Canterbury, and attacks on Police

February 23rd, 2010


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Reportedly, Ronald Reagan’s aides would go into in panic mode whenever the avuncular President started to ad lib a few additional points of clarification. The aim may have been candour, but the remarks tended to give a terrifying glimpse into the abyss behind the mask. Something similar occurs whenever Prime Minister John Key tries to project a brisk sense of I’m-in-charge. As he told yesterday’s press conference, he wants to see more irrigation in Canterbury. The problem, as he sees it, is water storage. Others could sort out the details, but more irrigation on the Canterbury plains is his expectation.

The problem with that approach, as someone pointed out, is that the main water catchments involved – such as the Hurunui River – have protection orders on them. Was he saying these should be revoked? What he wanted to see, Key repeated, was more irrigation in Canterbury. The unspoken inference was: by any means necessary. By any means (of course) that were environmentally sustainable – which is proving to be a very elastic concept in this government’s hands. Like some pesky NGO, the eco-system will just have to be brought into line with profit opportunities, that’s all. If it ever got the vote, the environment would never vote National anyway.

The result of this mindset? Whenever a conflict looms between economic growth and sound environmental management, the take charge guys say: get it done. Mining on conservation land? Simply assert that low impact mining won’t be a problem. The downside impact of more irrigation, more dairying on other water users in Canterbury, and on water quality? Only losers lose sleep over such things. (If it needs cleaning up, someone can make a buck doing it later) Positive, take charge guys simply say it will be sustainable – such a useful word – and get on with it.

The profile of this particular irrigation issue had been raised last week by a review of Environment Canterbury conducted by a government appointed panel headed by former National deputy Prime Minister Wyatt Creech. The panel recommended taking water management away entirely from the elected representatives of Environment Canterbury, sacking its council and not restoring the vote until 2013 – which is only one year before Frank Bainimarama plans to restore democracy in Fiji. Control would be vested in a government-appointed board. Like that village in Vietnam, the only efficient way of saving democracy in Canterbury is to destroy it.

Someday, a future historian will ponder the irony of how the Key government won power by railing against Big Brother – and then responded to every alleged inefficiency in the system by centralizing power, at the expense of grassroots decision-making. Well, environmental problems in general – and the problems of dirty dairying in Canterbury– cannot be managed by simply denying they exist, or asserting they are compatible with growth. Such problems are the legacy of a previous generation of can do, take charge guys refusing to take responsibility for the pollution they cause. Greens Co-Leader Russel Norman has pointed out the credibility problems of any panel reviewing water management that is headed by Wyatt Creech

“First, the Government appointed Creech, a director of Open Country Cheese, which has been successfully prosecuted and fined tens of thousands of dollars for contaminating farmland and rivers, to pass judgement on the organisation charged with stopping dirty dairying in Canterbury.

“Then John Key hinted cryptically in his opening speech to Parliament that the Government would ‘remove particular regulatory roadblocks to water storage and irrigation in Canterbury’.

“Now this review recommends taking all water decision-making in Canterbury away from elected representatives. Putting the pieces together it starts to look like things are about to get easier for big irrigators in Canterbury, even though water resources in the region and stressed are overstretched as it is.

“If the Government cares about Canterbury’s water resources, it should ensure that there is a moratorium on new water storage and irrigation projects in the region before any of these recommendations are implemented.

A moratorium? That’s not what decisive people do. Further damage to an already maxi-stressed water resource in Canterbury? Mining in national parks? Only defeatists wring their hands about the damage this could cause to our $18 billion a year tourism industry, and to the natural heritage of future generations. In essence, Key is dialling back his government’s duty of environmental protection by at least 15 years, to the happy, sappy days of denial. Lets be clear about this government’s resolve. Whatever is good for foreign mining or big dairying, is good for the country. And if you try to challenge that notion at the ballot box, we’ll crush you.

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Copping a Strike

To date, the government’s main response to crime has been to issue a press release, and raise the legal penalties As if deterrence worked. As if people committing crime stand in the pub car park and weigh the cost/benefits before doing the crime. No matter either that the Chief Justice pointed out last year that this approach is not sustainable, either socially or financially. Nor does this approach in any way recognize that as income disparities increase in this country, those on the front lines who enforce authority within that system are bound to be viewed with increasing levels of resentment.

The Three Strikes legislation is yet another failed American policy imported here – the Act Party must get these policies in a job lot – and one of its main problems is that it centralizes power. Police, vested with the discretion about laying charges, could pick and choose which offenders they could put away for a very long time, under the Three Strikes provisions. One can imagine how this power may be wielded during the interrogation process. But then, centre right governments have never worried about Big Brother when it is wearing a uniform.

That problem could now be compounded by moves to make any attack whatsoever on a Police officer into a Three Strikes offence. And who makes the initial decision as to whether such an offence has been committed? The Police. No one wants to minimize attacks upon Police officers. Yet by the same token, no one wants to maximize the considerable powers they already have, and the potential for abuse.

In this case, it could well make the job of being a Police officer far more dangerous. If an offender on the two strikes cusp gets engaged in conflict with a Police officer, might that not motivate the offender to kill the Police officer, and thus try to escape being banged up for the penalties virtually inevitable under the Three Strikes legislation?

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    1. 11 Responses to “On the government’s environmental credibility problems in Canterbury, and attacks on Police”

    2. By Neil on Feb 23, 2010 | Reply

      “As if people committing crime stand in the pub car park and weigh the cost/benefits before doing the crime.”

      “If an offender on the two strikes cusp gets engaged in conflict with a Police officer, might that not motivate the offender to kill the Police officer, and thus try to escape being banged up for the penalties virtually inevitable under the Three Strikes legislation?”

      and besides, killing a police officer is going ot lead to a lesser sentance than an assault?

    3. By stuart munro on Feb 23, 2010 | Reply

      I think you slightly miss the point of ACTs 3 strikes policy, which is to fill the prisons with people who can be gainfully employed making personalized number plates for ACT party members. The brilliance of this policy is somewhat tempered by the gloomy prospects for oil, which is likely to significantly decrease overall demand for number plates… but perhaps offenders are then to be retrained as rickshaw pullers.

    4. By Bob on Feb 23, 2010 | Reply

      @Neil
      Its 3 assaults = same sentence for murdering a police office.

      This is a discredited US policy- as Stuart pointed out its only great for upping profits for private prisons.

      Yet again the govt just can’t wait.
      Can’t wait to push through under urgency as
      the only data they have is in opposition to this type of anti-social policy.

    5. By dcnbwz on Feb 23, 2010 | Reply

      thanks again Gordon for some great reporting. You’re really showing up the mainstream media and asking important questions that no one else seems capable of asking or wanting to listen to, at least sensibly.

    6. By Joe Blow on Feb 24, 2010 | Reply

      1. The Government and the Environment

      It’s great that you’re finally coming out on the mining issue Gordon. I saw Q+A recently with Holmes and Doug Gordon fuming at Russell Norman in an ‘interview’. I think Russell did well under the circumstances but he could have done better. He could have met Holmes’ rant about mining creating jobs by pointing out that the recent rise in unemployment is not due to lack of access to resources for mining but to the global financial crisis and he comes off too young and cocky to the votes that count (not mine). Still what really rankled was Holmes saying to the panel afterwards that the issue was so “absolute” like this was some kind of crime. Russell and the Greens (and Goff if he wasn’t trying to be goofy like Key) should be hammering the point that unlike other policy decisions this one is irreversible. You can’t put conservation land back the way it was after it’s been mined no matter how ‘low impact’ mining is. After mining, conservation land ceases to be conserved for future generations to enjoy in its pristine state. The whole point is that this issue is absolute… Holmes needs a bullet…

      http://tvnz.co.nz/q-and-a-news/q-panel-response-russell-norman-doug-gordon-interview-3364072

      2. Three Strikes

      I’m still a bit confused about this law. I think it is that if a person is convicted of three serious criminal offences that the judge has to throw the book at them, so assault on a police officer hopefully won’t make the grade. It will most likely be murder, rape and other sexual offences, and home invasion etc. Still we’ll have to wait and see what they actually get through the House… filling prisons is what they’re proposing – filling prisons that the ACT party doesn’t want to pay taxes to pay for. The irony…

    7. By Jason on Feb 24, 2010 | Reply

      Joe Blow, #2. There’s not even a slippery slope, it’s a cliff.

      From Act’s release on Tues 19th:”The strike offences are listed. As a general rule the list comprises all the major violent and sexual offences that have a maximum penalty of seven years or more…. ‘Three Strikes’ deliberately escalates the punishment for repeat violent offenders. Most offenders won’t want to risk a second strike. Repeat offenders will be locked up without parole and for maximum sentences. The result will be a safer New Zealand”

      Cf. Martin Kay’s DP piece ‘Police assault could be ’3 strikes’ offence’ Yesterday

      “A spokesman for Police Minister Judith Collins said she was investigating whether to include assaulting police in the three strikes bill presently before Parliament, one of several options being considered after a rise in attacks.

      Prime Minister John Key said the Government was determined to act after three separate assaults at the weekend.”

    8. By Josie on Feb 24, 2010 | Reply

      Thanks for some great analysis Gordon, I think you’ve summed up John Key and this govt very accurately. Your comments on Canterbury could just as easily be applied to what’s about to be inflicted on Auckland with the supercity and I’m sure that this is not the limit of the Nat’s ‘can do’ activities.

    9. By RobertM on Feb 24, 2010 | Reply

      Its a bit like the whaling, maybe Rudd’s issued a deadline and maybe he hasn’t. Maybe Smiths going to scrap Ecan and maybe he isn’t. The reality is that National got its largest vote in the Mid and South Canterbury electorates and the Nats have to deliver because it really isn’t Nat vote there. Is Ecan incompetent or are get rich quick potential dairy farmers? Isn’t the reality we can’t compete as a bulk milk producer and a few more undesirable conversions in Canterbury aren’t going to make much difference to our overall production. Surely the future milk capitals will be the Southern Cone nations of Latin America. Rather than ruining our rivers and fisheries wouldn’t a ban on furthur conversions be desirable, plus some more water for crops and lamb farming, leaving most of the water for future potential population needs. Really the Smith Creech report is a case of naked greed like Dairy farming any payoff will be short term and will just delay the day the government and people have to face reality.given climatic and social factors the white gold is unlikely to change the face of Chrsitchurch because whats good for cows isn’t for people.

    10. By Steve Markham on Feb 24, 2010 | Reply

      The water security and stressed water resource issues for Canterbury yet to resolve, are nationally significant because of the national scale of the resources and of the irrigation demand for the water in Canterbury. It’s worth considering that this outcome has some resonance in other regions, those with drier climates and land to irrigate. Only today the government has released the recommended national policy statement for freshwater management, which finds that water management plans and consents for taking water need to be upgraded around the country to cover:
      # managing demand and the integrity of water body values(both for abstraction and for their undisturbed state) to avoid or “phase out” over-allocation
      # safeguarding water bodies from the adverse effects of water contamination (such as from dairying in Canterbury and other regions).
      This follows 22 years since there was an operational oversight by government for water management as carried out at regional level. Over that time the Ministry for the Environment has failed to develop the operational capacity in Wellington to keep pace with the work and results of regional councils and today relies utterly on them for operational knowledge. The current attempt by the government to review freshwater management is the third over this period. No changes to law or national policy resulted from the first two attempts. The government sponsored Land & Water Forum could deliver an improved recipe for freshwater management to serve more than Canterbury, but without obvious Government knowledge of the issues, or an accommodation between water demand interests (production business)and the water conservation interests (many including the consuming and recreating public) then there is little possibility of this. Campbell’s piece focusses on the likely stakes for Canterbury; these are relevant around the country. It’s one of very few reflective media pieces on the government-economy-environment cluster concerning fresh water, since Simon Upton demanded some 18 months ago in an “I have seen the light” fit way after time, some national policy discourse for water management, that at least seems to understand the stakes, if not the solution pathways. Here the soothsayers give ominous signals of their preferred solutions. For Canterbury these are close to intractable under current law and policy settings. More focus on these from the ether please.

    11. By Beth on Feb 24, 2010 | Reply

      Inappropriate irrigation and farming in Canterbury, mining in National Parks must be what John Key means by “catching up with Australia”.

    12. By Joe Blow on Feb 24, 2010 | Reply

      @ Jason

      Well that is depressing that they are even considering doing that. Still assault on an officer is max 6 months OR a $4000 fine (s 10 Summary Offences Act) so any criminal that thinks it is better to get the full penalty for murder as opposed to 6 months kind of deserves the book to be thrown at them for being a dumb arse.

      I’m not advocating the three strikes law but we have to come up with better arguments than that to make Hide and his ‘law and order’ rant look silly. In my opinion, the weakness of the ‘lock them up and throw away the key’ answer to crime is the better criticism, specially from people that don’t want to pay for prisons…

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