Red Alert

Archive for the ‘environment’ Category

What we don’t know

Posted by on January 14th, 2013


Phil Twyford Hillary Trail day 1

Phil Twyford, Simon Randall and Ngarimu Blair setting off on the Hillary Trail

Walking the first leg of the Hillary Trail today between Arataki Visitor Centre and Huia, I was struck by how little we know about Phytophthera taxon agathis, the pathogen that is killing kauri trees.

I can recite what we don’t know: we don’t know where it came from, we don’t know when it arrived, we don’t know exactly how it kills trees and we don’t know how to fight it.

A group of half a dozen scientists have been working on the disease for the past few years with funding support from government. A handful of scientists trying to deal with a largely unknown organism that is wiping out one of New Zealand’s most iconic species.

Most of the paltry $6 million spent over the last five years went on putting up signs and encouraging trampers to scrub the bottom of their boots, which is important to do, but if this was a biosecurity threat to our kiwifruit or pine plantations (PSA or painted apple moth) then you can bet ten times that amount would have been invested in the science.

Only science has any chance of saving the kauri.

It is important that we try to understand the disease, and what we can do about it. Plant pathologists like Ian Horner and Ellena Hough were out today in the bush above Huia monitoring whether kauri infected with PTA respond to having phosphite injected into their trunks.

Horner and Hough have day jobs with Plant and Food trying to save the kiwifruit industry from PSA. Saving kauri is a sideline for them, and today they are testing whether the phosphite they injected into 50-100 year old sick kauri a year ago has had any positive effect. It is an approach that works well with avocado trees infected with a similar pathogen to the one that is plaguing kauri.

Early results are inconclusive, but Horner concedes that even in the best case scenario, injecting phosphite is not a fix. Any beneficial effect would be temporary, only as long as the phosphite remained in the tree’s system. It might help save an iconic tree, or one treasured by a private landowner, but it is not going to save our forests.

The research must go on. The Government’s lack of commitment to extending the funding for the kauri dieback work beyond mid-2014 puts a question mark over this vital work. It is only a few million dollars a year. The survival of kauri as a species is at stake.

It has been a great start to the Hillary Trail. We had a send off from friends, park rangers and residents of the Waitakeres, with a karakia by kaumatua Fred Holloway. Thanks to my co-walkers Ngarimu Blair of Ngati Whatua, Ross Duder of Friends of Regional Parks and Simon Randall local body politician who did his Masters on Phytophtheras in the Waitakere Ranges.

Tomorrow we walk to Whatipu.

Hillary Trail send off

Send-off at Arataki

Ian Horner

Scientist Ian Horner injecting phosphite into kauri at Huia

Does Tane Mahuta need to keel over and die?

Posted by on January 14th, 2013

Over the next six days I am walking the Hillary Trail, 70 km through Auckland’s Waitakere Ranges. I have wanted to do it for a long time but it is more than just a summer tramp. I am doing it now to raise awareness of the disease that is killing one of our most cherished species, the kauri.

The killer is PTA phytophthora taxon agathis a.k.a. kauri dieback.  Eleven percent of the kauri in the Waitakeres are dead or dying because of it, although the number is probably much higher because the disease has a long incubation period with no symptoms. The disease is spreading and the trees in the Waipoua and Trounson parks in Northland are so badly infected the proposal for a kauri national park in the north has been scuppered.

Scientists I have spoken to say that unless progress is made managing or stopping the disease then it is not too much of a stretch to say the species could be extinct within decades.

Which makes it all the more remarkable that there is a big question mark over continued funding for this work.

The scientific research, and the public awareness programme which encourages walkers to scrub and spray their boots at stations on the tracks, has cost about $6 million over the last five years. That funding runs out mid-2014, and the Ministry of Primary Industries who funded most of it, now say they will not take another budget bid to Cabinet. (See TV3’s report here.)

So do they want Councils to fund it? Should we run a cake stall? I am staggered the Government would spend $85 million fighting painted apple moth because it was a threat to pine trees but can’t find a few million bucks to save the kauri.

Does Tane Mahuta need to keel over and die before they take this disease seriously?

As I walk the Hillary Trail over the next few days with scientists and researchers and park rangers who are working on this crisis, I expect it will be bitter sweet. The Hillary Trail is a spectacular walk but instead of stopping to admire the stunning kauri that are a feature of the Waitakeres, we are likely to be stopping to examine dead and dying kauri, and checking the extent of the disease’s spread.

I will be posting updates here and on facebook and twitter, and doing everything I can to highlight the need for the Government to commit the funding needed to continue the scientific research and management of the disease.

Our generation doesn’t want the kauri to die out on our watch, does it?

RMA Reforms: The Chainsaw Massacre Part II

Posted by on December 9th, 2012

A curious thing happened last week. The government introduced to Parliament the first of two pieces of legislation to “reform” the Resource Management Act. That isn’t itself curious, what is, is that the Minister responsible, Amy Adams has not even put out a media release about the Bill.

Hard to fathom why, but if it is because she is ashamed, then she has every right to be. While there is innocuous and even possibly useful changes in the Bill, it gives a number of signals of the government’s on-going desire to centralise power away from communities, reduce public input and tip the scales away from sustainable development. You can read more about Labour’s concerns here. and here.

Nothing exemplifies National’s approach better than the proposal to change the rules around what Councils can do to protect trees. This might not sound like a huge issue, but it has a lot of history, and National is buying a fight that is as wrong as it is silly.

Essentially what the Bill proposes is that a tree protection rule in a council plan can only apply to a particular tree that is specifically identified in the plan, or a grove of trees that are located on the same or adjacent allotments. The effect of this is that Councils will not be able to protect species or types of trees. The inverse of course is that if a specific tree is not protected then it could be felled. Whatever a bureaucratic nightmare will ensue.

The history here is that the government tried to make similar changes in their 2009 RMA reforms. The good people of Waitakere took a case to the Environment Court that created a definition of “groups of trees” that saw blanket protection possible for bush clad areas. Greg Presland has a good description of the situation and a link to the Environment Court judgement, here.

The law change proposed this last week is directly aimed at overturning the Court decision. But more than that it is a further attempt (alongside the Local Government Act and other aspects of this Bill) to take away from communities the right to make decisions about how they wish their communities to look and feel. And for no good reason at all.

I am sure this will re-ignite the debate about the protection of trees, especially in West Auckland. From Labour’s point of view we will strongly oppose this provision. Trees are a vital part of our environment, in rural and urban settings. Moreover we have to call time on a government that is systematically reducing the power of communities to decide their own future.

Red Cross takes up anti-nuke agenda

Posted by on November 5th, 2012

Last Saturday I spoke at the Australian Red Cross conference in Adelaide called “Towards Eliminating Nuclear Weapons”. You can read my speech here.

It is a wonderful thing that the International Red Cross movement has chosen to take up and advance the nuclear non-proliferation agenda. Here is an organisation with well over a century’s history and experience in every modern theatre of war you can imagine, bringing its substantial reputation and credibility to the advancement of peace, on the grounds of humanitarianism. They are wading into the mixed international political agenda on grounds which are entirely irrefutable.

This is the first century of human existence when people have had the ability to destroy ourselves globally. This is the first century which has begun with nuclear weapons as a fact of life. The imperative to advance non-nuclear proliferation and the reduction of nuclear weapons to zero is greater now than it has ever been. Listening to one of the speakers talk about the impact of even a limited regional nuclear conflagration on the atmosphere, environment and crop production was enough to scare you witless.

We launched the NZ Red Cross branch of the campaign “Make nuclear weapons the target” earlier this year in Parliament. I was pleased to see so many young people getting in on this campaign. It is about their future after all. Try #targetnuclearweapons for starters.

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We borrow the world from our children

Posted by on October 25th, 2012

I was reminded today of an ancient proverb:

We do not inherit our world from our parents, we borrow it from our children.

That’s a sound philosophy for any Parliamentarian but, sadly, I doubt many of the MPs on the National side of the House will agree with it.

I very rarely talk about my family in Parliament. I do my best to protect my kids from the vicissitudes of politics because they didn’t chose my job and they miss out on enough with me being in Wellington so often. Today, though, I was thinking about my sons and about their future children.

I know that, if things keep going as they are, then one day my sons will ask “Dad, why didn’t you do more to stop them from destroying our planet?”

National’s Climate Change Response (Emissions Trading and Other Matters) Bill is very dishonestly named. It’s the National Party’s latest attempt to gut the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) by giving special exemptions to their traditional backers and fundraisers. It’s an attempt to force everyone who sees through National’s spin to give a multi-billion dollar subsidy to people who don’t give a stuff about the next generation of New Zealanders.

Climate change is a scientific fact. It’s not a philosophy, it’s not a political statement. The overwhelming majority of climate scientists around the world say our climate is dangerously changing and humans are contributing to that change. Those who deny the scientific reality are often uninformed, in the pocket of Big Pollution, or lost in the conspiratorial fringe twilight.

Or they’re National Party MPs.

The last Labour Government’s ETS was world leading, moderate, but broad-based. It was a model the rest of the world were looking to as a way to smooth the necessary transition to a low-carbon future. National have already destroyed most of the gains that were made, and today’s children will surely pay the price for their recklessness – just as we’re all paying for National’s recklessness in abolishing Labour’s superannuation scheme in the 1970s.

This latest National environmental vandalism puts New Zealand squarely in the group of climate science denying countries. It’s a 100% Pure Disgrace.

National’s support partner, the Māori Party, are refusing to back National’s latest attack on science, so John Key and his mates are relying on the single vote of Peter Dunne to wreck the Emissions Trading Scheme.

Labour wants the Bill withdrawn, of course. But, as National won’t do that, we’ve put forward amendments, including:

  1. Ensuring the ETS is an all-sectors all-gasses scheme, so everyone plays an equal part in the solution.
  2. Bringing agriculture into the ETS in 2015, as scheduled, so a huge advantage isn’t given to the minority of dirty farmers who’ve done nothing to prepare for this long-established deadline.
  3. Restricting international units to 50% so that New Zealand Units are preferred over international ones, thus protecting our forestry industry.
  4. Make the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) publish annually the amount industries charge their customers for carbon.

National aren’t having a bar of any of it. As I type National MPs are sitting in our Parliament cravenly doing the bidding of their funders in Big Pollution. They genuinely seem to think if they can only get this Bill through then climate change will be history!

When Labour comes to government we will put good science and innovation at the core of our environmental and economic policies. We will put in place policies that support a future that is clean, green and clever.

Gossip from the Beehive

Posted by on September 27th, 2012

National is trying to get Dotcom and large job losses off the headlines.

Amy Adams, with her Minister for the Environment hat on, was called to an emergency meeting yesterday evening with Steven Joyce and others to discuss pushing through the proposed Bathhurst mine on the west coast, and making other changes to the RMA.

Bereft of policies to deal with our overvalued exchange rates and aware of rising discontent on export job losses and record numbers going to Australia, they are desperate to get out of the headlights.

Having lost ingloriously on their earlier plans to mine National Parks, they turned to selling SOEs as the major part of their economic plan for this term. Now the wheels have fallen off that, its back to mining.

Mining has a proper place outside  National Parks and other schedule 4 areas. It of course raises environmental issues under the RMA and mineral legislation that can only be dealt with on a case by case basis. This has long been Labour’s policy, and despite Steven Joyce’s attempts to misrepresent it, still is. 

Because of  their woes, National is trying to blame others.

Rumour has it they discussed  empowering legislation to either override normal rules or speed up the process for the Bathhurst mine.  

I don’t know where they ended with that, but it has led to the proposal to limit resource consent process times to six months for major projects. Given that mining has gone off the boil (in part because of an inflated NZ dollar), this change will do little to improve the economy.

Once again, National’s economic plan can be seen to be inadequate. They have put off limits pro-growth tax reform, universal workplace savings and changes to monetary policy under the Reserve Bank, all steps that exporters say would help them export and create jobs.

As they lurch from scandle to bungle – tea tapes, ACC, John Key’s electorate chairman on NZ on Air/the Broadcasting Commission interfering politically, pokie machines for convention centres, the budget centre piece (larger class sizes to improve student outcomes!), Banks’ campaign donations, Dotcom, SOE sales derailed – they are losing the confidence of the country.


Hibakusha and a nuclear-free convention

Posted by on August 9th, 2012

When I taught English a lifetime ago, I used to teach John Hersey’s “Hiroshima”. This week I met two hibakusha (survivors of the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki) in person for the first time in my life. It was very affecting. She was 80; he was 73.  She is Shigeko Sasamori and he is Michi Hirata. They were inspiring. If you want to see some pictures of their visit, go to Mary Wareham’s flickr page . Thanks to Mary for those pics. To hear their stories is to go back to my 5th form English class and revisit why it was a good idea that Hersey’s work was part of the curriculum. It is still  a good idea.

 Today is the anniversary of the Nagasaki bomb. The Hiroshima bomb was dropped on 6 August 1945. On Sunday of this week (Aug 5), Grant Robertson and I attended the annual commemoration of the dropping of those bombs on Japan in 1945. At the commemoration, students from Heretaunga College spoke about why they, who have only ever been told stories and read stuff, are ardently in favour of a nuclear-free world. They were inspiring too.

Next week, Parliament will receive a report from the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee – an all-party report, with no minority report – proposing that New Zealand join with other like-minded countries to advance a convention prohibiting the development, stockpiling, transfer and use of nuclear weapons. This is in response to a petition from Edwina Hughes on behalf of the Peace Movement Aoteaora.  Officials advised us against it, as something which would not be supported by the major powers.  Sure, that might be so. Should that stop us from aiming for the stars? The committee said no. Officials said that about cluster munitions at the time, and we got a treaty on that. This could just be the start of the next step towards a nuclear-free world. Too idealistic? God (or someone) protect us from politicians without ideals. You can read the report here. I await the government’s response in 90 days.

Happy anniversary.





I seek leave to make a personal explanation …..

Posted by on July 30th, 2012

I see I am getting a bit of gyp from critics in the blogosphere whose latest fantasy is that I lack an environmental ethic.

Their mistake is they think that a healthy environment stands in opposition to a healthy economy.

I don’t rise to the bait too often, but on this occasion I will bite and lay out my record.

Some of these critics should do their homework.

I am 52 years of age. I tramp, ski, and swim in rivers and the sea. I have been fighting for environmental causes most of my life.

As a lawyer I fought for conservation orders that now protect many of the south island’s rivers including the Mataura, the Buller, the Ahuriri, the Greenstone, the Dart, the Lochy, the von, and the Kawarau. 

I am still active in river protection. This year I am appearing pro-bono as an expert witness on energy policy in support of the Fish and Game application to protect the Nevis river from damming.

As Minister of Energy I halted the decline in renewable electricity as a % of total generation, set an objective of 90% renewables by 2025 and put in place a myriad of initiatives to achieve that end. That objective has survived the change to National, and good progress is being made towards it. Together with Jeanette Fitzsimons, I also promulgated the most ambitious energy efficiency and conservation strategy we had ever had, and played a strong hand in the design and funding of the insulation retrofit programme that National continued with.

As Minister of Energy I added substantially to the lands protected from mining by extending schedule 4 protection to all parts of national parks not then protected, including Kahurangi.

As Minister of Land Information I revamped tenure review, helped form a number of conservation parks, including the Otiake Park in the Hawkduns, stopped tenure review around lakes and rebalanced the relationship between the Crown and lessees. National has reversed some of those changes.

As Acting Minister for the Environment I unblocked the national policy statement on freshwater quality. Trevor Mallard continued this work culminating in the very good NPS proposed by Judge Shepherd et al, which was then neutered by National.

As Minister of Climate Change I successfully legislated to price greenhouse gases in all sectors of the economy covering the 6 main gases covered by the Kyoto protocol. New Zealand remains the only country in the world to have achieved that. I was named Environmentalist of the year in 2008 by the Listener for that and other initiatives.
Changes by National and a loss of momentum internationally collapsing the price of carbon have undermined it, but the architecture remains sound. It is Labour’s policy to bring agriculture in to the ETS.

While in government I read about set nets causing the deaths of Hector’s and Maui dolphins. After confirming with Chris Carter that this was intend a serious problem I approached Helen Clark who, with Jim Anderton’s help, vastly expanded the areas where set nets were banned.

I have had high profile run-ins with proponents of lignite developments, including Solid Energy’s Don Elder.
As Labour’s then spokesperson for conservation, I helped lead Labour’s successful campaign against National’s plans to allow mining in schedule 4 National parks, Coromandel, Great Barrier Island etc. For those with a sense of humour, my Christmas interchange with Gerry Brownlee on the issue, in which Gerry starred, remains the most watched clip from parliament.

I have spoken often on the need to better protect our albatross and petrels from being killed as by-catch. Similarly, I am a defender of lowland wetlands against reclamation, and against degradation caused by intensification of nearby land use.

I have been a defender of the RMA, while wanting to improve its reputation by addressing some of its arcane and hard to defend processes.

I am happy to stand on my record on environmental matters.

Which is why it annoyed me to be told I am out to lunch on mining issues.

Having a clean environment means making sure we use our natural resources responsibly. It doesn’t mean we stop using all of them.

That’s why, outside of schedule 4 areas, mining applications can and should be considered case by case.

As I said when interviewed, there is legitimate public concern about deep sea drilling arising from the Gulf of Mexico catastrophe and the limitations of New Zealand’s response to the Rena shipwreck. We must ensure that world’s best practice is followed and that the safety devices needed in the event of mishap are available and can be deployed. Even then, it may be that the deepest of wells are too risky and ought not to proceed.

In terms of lignite, I reiterated that Labour believes its use as an energy source using current technology is a dirty greenhouse gas intensive practice. We are also unconvinced it is economic, especially if environmental consequences are included, and have said government money should be  spent on renewables instead.

Our position on developments in the EEZ is that RMA type principles should apply. We sit between the Greens (who would ban most development activities) and National, whose EEZ legislation, while initially supported by the Greens, is inadequate.

We can develop our resources responsibly and make responsible decisions for our future – and a sustainable economy requires it.

For the benefit of Mr Trotter

Posted by on July 13th, 2012

For almost 20 years Chris Trotter has been tying to put me in an ideological box. It started at Otago University when he christened me a “reluctant radical” because as OUSA President I didn’t, according to Chris, seize what he considered was the moment for students in Dunedin to rise up against the police in the wake of a stoush following a protest against massive fee increases. I didn’t see the moment the same way and I preferred to focus on the issue of the need for more equitable access to education. I could debate with Chris the level of radicalism I did bring to student politics (leading dozens of street protests, occupying all bar one of the university registry buildings, aligning with other protest groups etc) but that’s in the past.

Fast forward nearly twenty years, and Chris is at it again in a column published today. Fair enough, he is a commentator. But his out of context characterization of my recent environment speech needs a response.

He chooses to lift out a phrase from the speech about my view that we need to avoid “uncompromising dogma” in some aspects of environmental policies to somehow be my political catch-cry and extrapolates this in a several paragraph bound to a belief that “business as usual” is the way forward in my political universe. I reject that.

In the speech the statement about ‘uncompromising dogma’ relates to the importance of using evidence and science to back up our environmental policies. I use a particular example of the issue for some green businesses that there is some inside the lab genetic modification that is being unnecessarily limited by our current laws. (Current laws I played a part in creating I might add). Sticking to these rules without evidence and standing in the way of safe science that will promote green growth is to me, uncompromising dogma.

Chris then makes a quantum leap that would make Roger Douglas proud, and says this serves as a ‘brutal warning’ to the Greens about what is required if they want a “spot at the Cabinet table”. What absolute nonsense. What it is, is my opinion. It might challenge some people in the Greens, but I am not in the business of issuing warnings or threats to my friends in the Greens.

Leaping onward, and having blithely ignored the several paragraphs in the speech devoted to National’s appalling stewardship of our environment, Chris comes to the view that I accept a “business as usual” approach to the environment. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact a whole section of the speech is devoted to why the way we have treated the planet for so many generations can not go on, and the importance of a global response. The whole point of the event that David Cunliffe and I organised was to discuss the importance of taking a different approach that draws together the environment and economic development.

I have had a fair bit of feedback about the speech, and I welcome more. A few negative or questioning comments, but far and away many more people appreciating that Labour is taking environmental issues seriously, agreement that as a country and world we do need to do things differently, and excitement that we are going to use evidence and science and that we will make the economy and environment work together. That’s where I am focused, whatever box Chris wants to try to put me in.

When being green doesn’t mean stopping stuff

Posted by on July 8th, 2012

Being an environmentalist is not just about stopping stuff. Which is why the Greens are wrong about one aspect of the recently announced proposals for RMA reform if this RNZ story is correct.

Eugenie Sage is quoted saying that adding urban development alongside values such as natural character and the protection of fauna and flora would “mean the environment gets traded away for economic gain”.

Wrong. In our cities it is not a matter of trading off the environment against economic gain. Building great urban environments is the best way to get prosperous cities.

The development of our cities, and the building of great urban environments has been sadly neglected under the Resource Management Act. The Act’s architects designed it to protect our coast and our rivers but they didn’t give much thought to the built environment. Of the seven matters of national importance in the Act only one has a direct bearing on cities and that is the protection of historic heritage.

By focusing on (often adverse) effects of development, it loses sight of the big picture and the public good. For instance, a neighbour of a planned block of flats gets the right to object to the loss of a view or sunlight, but the Act doesn’t properly take into account the public good benefits of affordable housing enjoyed by future residents, nor the importance of urban intensification.

Our cities need more developments, not fewer. Better developments, fewer mediocre ones. And sadly the RMA doesn’t do much to incentivise good urban design, or promote central government policy priorities like affordable housing. (Imagine for a moment that affordable housing was a central government policy priority.)

There are things in the advisory group’s recommendations that are worth opposing. Grant has set out Labour’s concerns about the weakening of environmental protection. But raising the status of urban development in the RMA is not one of them.

In fact the advisory group’s proposal is too timid. National doesn’t seem to have made any progress on the recommendations of the Technical Advisory Group that reported two years ago on urban issues and the RMA. Some of its recommendations were pretty useful. For a start, a National Policy Statement on the Built Environment would be a help.

Our cities need the sparkle of Wellington’s waterfront and the bold engineering of Auckland’s City Rail Link.   They need ambitious, high quality developments that deliver thousands of affordable homes, jobs and public transport. There is a big reform agenda waiting to be developed on urban development. Making the RMA more relevant and helpful to our cities is a good place to start.

Ten ideas for the Government

Posted by on June 26th, 2012

Yesterday the Government released a list of ten “ambitious targets”, and despite ballooning debt, declining exports and slow job growth, there were no new ideas.

In question time today, Bill English confirmed they have no targets for making superannuation affordable, no targets for wage growth, no targets to grow the economy and no targets to reduce overseas debt.

It is just the latest laundry list of vague ideas with no meaningful milestones or policies to achieve real outcomes. It is simply a stunt designed to take the attention off the unpopular asset sales plan and the Government’s botched attempt to increase class sizes.

This list exposes National for once again tinkering around the edges instead of making the tough decisions needed to create a long-term, prosperous future for New Zealand.

While the Government is wishing for rainbows at the end of every street, it has little credibility when it is not dealing with the big issues we are facing as a country.

Here is an example of 10 key issues that National is not addressing:

·         Job creation

·         Economic growth

·         Reducing overseas debt

·         Securing superannuation for the future

·         Reforming our tax system

·         Investing in research and development

·         Supporting our exporters

·         Cleaning up the environment

·         Being tougher on foreign ownership of our land

·         Giving Kiwis a reason to stay in New Zealand

Those are just my first ideas at some “ambitious targets” the Government isn’t trying to address. I’m sure the erudite readers of this blog will have plenty of ideas of their own, please leave them in the comments. I’d love to hear them!

Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

Posted by on March 5th, 2012

Tariana Turia has accused Fonterra of dumping milk into the Manawatu River.

I was concerned when I read her press release so I contacted Fonterra to see what was going on. The odd thing is, the idea of calling Fonterra hadn’t occurred to Tariana. Nor does it seem she had spoken to Horizons Regional Council. In fact, as best as I can tell, she hadn’t done a thing to substantiate her claims before she issued her press release.

This is totally irresponsible from a Government Minister.

No doubt it took Nick Smith by surprise. Tariana’s accusation is completely at odds with the positive announcement over the weekend of funding for the river clean up project and the Government’s intention to work closely with local government and industry.

As a representative of the Manawatu region, she should be trying to be positive about her region’s reputation.

If the claims are true, Fonterra absolutely should be held to account. But where are the facts and why on earth was her first action to issue a press release?

Simon says step up John

Posted by on November 9th, 2011

Link here to OIAs to John Key and Steven Joyce asking about correspondence from and to the member for Tauranga. Vital pars below.

Copies of all email correspondence received by you, your staff or officials working in your ministerial office from Simon Bridges where Mr Bridges expressed concerns about your response to the Rena disaster, how it was being managed or calling on you to step in or otherwise involve yourself.

Copies of all email replies from you or your office to Mr Bridges regarding his concerns, including any expressing a view that the Prime Minister needed to be kept out of such correspondence in order to keep him clean or out of the matter.

Auckland Rail Link Poster

Posted by on November 1st, 2011

Auckland Rail Link

Unfortunately we have run out of these great posters already. Considering a reprint but in the interim you can go to here to download or even donate to help print some more.

Foreign Affairs = more than trade

Posted by on October 21st, 2011

You could be forgiven for thinking that our only interest in other countries under this government, is how much money we can make out of them.

Yesterday, at an NZIIA seminar at Victoria University, I released our Foreign Affairs policy. MurrayMcCully had given the opening speech and every country or region he mentioned was couched in terms of our Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with them, an emerging FTA with them, the desirability of an FTA or other bilateral economic agreement with them and how well we were doing because of them.

Don’t get me wrong – I am a great supporter of FTAs as long as we don’t concede our sovereignty and they can be negotiated in a more open way which engages the non-government sector as well. But for Labour, Foreign Affairs is also about peace, security, conflict resolution, disarmament, multilateralism, human rights, climate change, environmental protection and restoration, disaster relief, good governance and democratic representation, and most importantly, people to people exchanges and relationships.

Without a viable and secure planet, all the global supply chains you can think of count for nothing.

Our independent foreign policy is a source of great pride for us. It has been most enhanced in our history by great Labour Prime Ministers: Peter Fraser, Norman Kirk, David Lange and Helen Clark. We will build on that tradition.

We will bring human rights and a commitment to multilateral international decision-making back to the fore again. They have been languishing on the back burner under the National government.

Have a look at the policy – comments are welcomed.

Oh – and for those who wonder why there is no mention of Afghanistan – that is simply because our position on that is well known, has been well reported and has been the same since late 2005. In case you have missed it (!) : Labour would not have sent the fourth rotation of SAS troops back to Afghanistan. The SAS should no longer be deployed there. A Labour government will bring them home. We will progressively withdraw our Provincial Reconstruction Team as well, in an exit strategy worked out in consultation with other forces with whom we are working in Bamyan. The fight can only be won in Afghanistan if the government there wins the hearts and minds of the people. That hasn’t happened. Time to come home.

brilliant 30 second answer for a slow john

Posted by on October 17th, 2011

Well done John Pagani.

Why was maritime nz still looking for bloody pumps this weekend ?

Posted by on October 17th, 2011
  • Has DPMC been tasked with coordinating the Government’s response to the MV Rena disaster to ensure that all government agencies involved are focusing their efforts on delivering the most effective response; if so, what were the dates and times of each of the meetings held for these purposes and which departments were involved?
  • When did he first become aware that it was likely that the owners of the MV Rena were unlikely to have enough insurance cover to reimburse all of the costs that taxpayers will incur as a result of the MV Rena disaster?
  • What concerns, if any, have officials raised with him about potential difficulties that may limit his Government’s ability to recover costs for the MV Rena disaster due to the ship’s Liberian registration?
  • On what date did his officials first become aware that it was likely that the MV Rena would break up on the Astrolabe Reef?
  • On what date was he first told that it was likely that the MV Rena would break up on the Astrolabe Reef?
  • Has he sought advice from his Minister of Transport about the concerns raised in the Thompson Clarke Shipping “Review of New Zealand’s Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response Capability” report which showed that the Oil Pollution Levy was bringing in $1m less annually than was being spent by the Oil Spill Response team; if so, what advice did he receive about the actions the Minister was taking to rectify the funding deficit?
  • Has he sought advice from his Minister of Transport about concerns raised in the Thompson Clarke Shipping “Review of New Zealand’s Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response Capability” report that the understanding officials from several Ministries and Departments had about their role in responding to an oil spill differed in some cases from those stated in Maritime NZ’s 2006 Strategy?
  • Has he read reports showing that “the view of MPRS [Marine Pollution Response Services] staff is that a greater level of NRT [National Response Team] training is required, particularly at the management level, including incident management team level,” if so, has he sought advice from his Minister of Transport about what steps were taken before the MV Rena disaster to address these concerns?
  • Has he asked his Minister of Transport why offers of assistance from New Zealand company, Lancer Industries Ltd, to provide oil recovery barges that could have been used to off load oil from the MV Rena during the calm days immediately following its collision with the Astrolabe Reef were refused; if so, what did he learn?
  • Was he aware when he defended the Government’s slow response to the MV Rena disaster by saying, “”But this is a very difficult and complex situation and there are a limited number of people around the world that you ultimately have to mobilise to New Zealand to ensure that you can ultimately start a recovery operation,” that Maritime NZ’s website advised that “Maritime New Zealand maintains a response capability of sufficient size to counter an oil spill of 3,500 tonnes… If the scale of an incident is beyond the nation’s domestic capability, arrangements are in place to secure overseas assistance”?
  • Did he believe it was necessary to wait until the “limited number of people around the world that you ultimately have to mobilise to New Zealand to ensure that you can ultimately start a recovery operation” were mobilised, because he had been informed that key personnel within Maritime NZ’s oil spill response operations were vacant at the time that MV Rena collided with the Astrolabe Reef?
  • Have any of the overseas people who have come to New Zealand to assist with the MV Rena disaster previously worked for Maritime NZ; if so when did they leave their positions at Maritime NZ?
  • Did Maritime NZ have a policy of not replacing people who left the agency during the time its management and funding were under review; if so, were any positions that were responsible for assisting with oil spills vacant at the time of the MV Rena collided with the Astrolabe Reef; if so, what were those positions and how long were they vacant?
  • Has Maritime NZ delayed the purchase of any equipment or supplies needed to respond to an oil spill due to the budget uncertainty resulting from the Government’s efficiency reviews of the agency; if so, what equipment or supplies were not purchased?
  • Does he stand by his comment that his government’s agencies are able to pump 50 tonnes of oil from the vessel per hour?
  • Was his agency spending time this last weekend looking for pumps and if so why did it take so bloody long?
  • Does he know that decent pumps are available in the construction industry all over NZ?

I would have loved to ask these questions in parliament but it isn’t sitting this week.

Boock hits spinning Key for six

Posted by on October 13th, 2011

Richard Boock has a wonderful ability to make us think and laugh at the same time. His latest piece is a classic

Disaster Tourism? I know, fair enough; it does sound quite bad. But we’ve got to look at the positives. John Key reckons the maritime emergency off Tauranga would be much worse if Labour were in power. He’d had that on good authority, apparently. Someone told him that, if there were to be a change of government, the next oil slick would be far more widespread, the crude more toxic and the weather more extreme. Kiwis would probably die.

Even so, Tourism NZ’s “100% Pure” campaign is in tatters. A Twitter pal was suggesting some new slogans the other day. “Come to New Zealand – Wash a Penguin”, was a favourite. “New Zealand – Where Endangered Species Become Extinct”, also polled well. I could see her point, too. It worked in Chernobyl, after all. Tourism there is (almost) bringing the place back to life. What genius; being able to rape the countryside and profit from it as well. Talk about a win-win.

Say what you like about Key’s National-led government but its ability to see the cost of everything and the value of nothing remains undiminished. “There’s Always A Silver Lining” should be on its coat of arms. Four days of inaction while the Rena’s oil was salvageable. Declining offers of expert assistance. Using dodgy and possibly more toxic chemicals than the crude oil as a dispersant. Treating the locals like idiots. Haven’t we heard all this before?

Ah well, we can’t say they haven’t been consistent. When it comes to the importance of the environment, the Nats have always placed it well down their list of priorities. Unless it can be flogged off, that is. Hence the Prime Minister on breakfast TV yesterday desperately claiming that the Rena disaster wouldn’t highlight concerns over his government’s deep sea oil exploration programme. Don’t know about you, but I think he may have jumped the gun there a bit.

Fyfe on clean, green … and joining the ETS

Posted by on September 17th, 2011

Rob Fyfe, Air NZ’s CEO, gave a fascinating interview with Katheryn Ryan yesterday. He’s a member of Pure Advantage – the group that was set up a few months ago with people like Stephen Tindall, Phillip Mills and others to enhance our clean, green image and make money out of it. He is considering Air NZ voluntarily entering the ETS at 2013 despite a recent report recommending we delay until 2015.

What does he say?
He was affected by a British journalist saying to him she’d love to come to NZ but couldn’t bring herself to go as it was like going “to a Greenpeace rally in a hummer”.
“We need to show leadership [on clean, green issues] rather than align ourselves with every other country.”
“We as a country … have to make a decision”.
“Air NZ has reduced its fuel burn by 13%. “70% of international visitors coming to NZ do care and would prefer to fly on airline that is making an impact.”
“People come to NZ because we are clean and green, not for the shopping. So brand and perception has enormous value.
“We take our environment for granted … as a nation we think in short term-ism. People see the cost and not the long term value.
“Political cycles make for short term thinking, therefore business needs to take a lead.

In other words, clean and green is very good for business. Pity other businesses and farmers don’t feel the same as Fyfe does and that he has so little faith in government.

Smart Transport- Day Two

Posted by on August 20th, 2011

Posting from day two of the Labour/ Green co-hosted Smart Transport event in Wellington. Focus today is on groups working regionally or nationally on specific campaign issues.

Couple of stand out issues. Almost everyone has noted the difficulty they have had engaging with Steven Joyce on issues. Anyone who has observed his response to any suggestion of alternatives to roading projects will not be surprised by that. But secondly, so much of what is being discussed here is about providing people with genuine choice when the government is instead focused on entrenching the use of cars, and ignoring that it is becoming less and less affordable (not to mention the environmental, urban design, and quality of life issues.) Case in point- the CBD rail link!

And a final word to one group in particular- Rob George from the campaign for better transport in Hamilton is who driving a huge campaign for Waikato trains. Hard slog, but you wouldn’t find a more passionate campaigner. Now he just needs some political will behind him…..