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Environment : What are your views on a clean green NZ? Labour Leadership Q&A #1

Posted by on September 10th, 2013

14 Questions for 2014

Leadership Election Virtual Hustings Meeting – Question 1

Environment – What are your views on a clean green NZ?

Explanatory Note: From September 10th to 14th 2013 as part of the official selection process for a new leader the New Zealand Labour Party is holding a “Virtual Hustings Meeting” hosted by Red Alert and organised by Scoop Amplifier. Over the past 7 days questions were solicited from eligible voters in the election. The questions and answers are now being posted as a set of 14 posts at the Red Alert Labour Party Blog starting today (Tuesday 10th September), till Friday 13th September. At Red Alert all-comers are welcome to discuss the answers in the comment section of the blog. The candidates are expected to participate in these discussions at times over the five days till Saturday 14th September.


Question : What are your views on a clean green NZ? Allied to this, what are your views on our one pure gold asset “water” and protecting our waterways?

Submitted by : Heather Mannix, Christchurch


Answer from Shane Jones

Our clean green status cannot be taken for granted. As each generation passes our effects on the environment remain. I am a big supporter of replanting blighted landscape in native cover.

A key to improving our status is recovery work as well as robust legislation.

Dirty rivers and soil loss, siltation, are major concerns to me. Water is a valuable resource and I support water storage. The sale of our power companies may lead to private water ownership. Water is part of the public estate. I do not agree with the privatisation of water.


Answer from Grant Robertson

Clean, green New Zealand cannot just be a brand. We must accept that there is no real economic development without protecting and enhancing our environment. They are two sides of the same coin, and we cannot afford to see them as being in some eternal struggle.

We have the potential to develop clean technology and renewable energy generation that can lead the world. Our environment has an intrinsic value that we must support. This means a focus on water and air quality in particular through better use of national environment standards, and emission standards.

We need to take the recommendations of the Land and Water Forum, and develop them further, including resource rentals for major users. The voluntary accords around effluent run-off have had some benefit, but we must do better in protecting our waterways, and if that requires regulation by local and central government then I will back that.


Answer From David Cunliffe

Sustainability is a core Labour value. We must ensure that we protect our environment for future generations. Our environment has intrinsic value in its own right; our bush and beaches, rivers and seas, sustain us all. The environment is central to the health of the New Zealand economy, with most of New Zealand’s export dollars come from living things. We must protect and nurture this source of our wealth and heritage.

We will not be immune from the environmental mega trends facing our planet; particularly global climate change and fossil fuel depletion. We must prepare for these by developing renewable technology, water management, and being active in international climate negotiations.

Clean-tech is an area where New Zealand also has the potential to be out the front leading. But it is an area where New Zealand is under-investing. There is huge potential and it aligns with New Zealand strengths. I will invest more in research and development funding that supports a high value economy, including clean tech.

There are too many rivers and streams in New Zealand where it is no longer safe to swim. This is not good enough.


Time to clean up the burning pit, Minister!

Posted by on May 10th, 2013

For the last month or two, residents of the new Wigram Skies suburb in Christchurch have been suffering from toxic smoke blowing across them. It has been coming from a fire in the nearby recycling pit caused by the spontaneous combustion of some medium-density fibreboard. You can see what they have been putting up with in this picture. No wonder 150 of them came to a public meeting called by MP Megan Woods, in whose electorate that new suburb has developed.

The toxicity comes from burning formaldehyde. The Medical Officer of Health says that there is no long term health risk posed by the smoke and fumes. That is a good thing. But it is still unpleasant, irritates the nose and eyes, stinks and is an air pollution issue. I visited it with Megan recently and even on a still day I could smell it in the air the moment I got out of the car. Now it seems the fire has collapsed and is able to be put out. It has been too hot for firefighters to get near until recently.

The question shifts now to what to do about it and how do we prevent something like this happening again. The site needs to be cleaned up and taken over by the Ministry for the Environment. Residents have legitimate questions about the environmental impact on the local area and the pollution threat to water resources given the fact that the Owaka pit is right on top of an aquifer. If we still had a democratically elected Environment Canterbury body, something might have been done or planned by now. But we don’t. This is a major pollutant and the Minister for the Environment, Amy Adams, should take it over as a pressing concern for these people.

Oh, and by the way – the pit is in Amy Adams’ electorate……

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.

Hide hoses down Auckland water fears

Posted by on August 31st, 2010

Local Government Minister Rodney Hide has intervened in the Auckland mayoral and council elections with a carefully contrived announcement on water rates.

You would think water rates would be decided and announced by the new Auckland Council. The election is, after all, only six weeks away. And the water company, is after all, owned  by the Council.

But no, Mr Hide yesterday trumpeted a new water rate that will see all Auckland houses pay the same tariff of $1.30 per 1000 litres of water.

Asked why he was announcing it now, he replied because Aucklanders have been “anxious about water” charges.

Why have they been anxious about water charges? Because the Government wants to roll out volumetric or user pays pricing for waste-water expected to result in hefty increases for most Aucklanders. And because the centre-right Citizens and Ratepayers ticket has the same policy. And the C&R mayoral candidate Mr Banks has been taking heat on this issue.

Mr Hide was happy to announce the new rate on water piped to the home, but he was keeping quiet on the new rate for waste water which is the one that is likely to go up significantly if it gets the full user-pays treatment. If he was going to announce one I don’t see why he couldn’t have announced both, because Watercare has had a full year to do the calculations on both.

The farsighted Mr Hide has legislated that waste water charges, and general rates, won’t be going up until mid-2012 which just happens to be after the mayoral and council elections, and after next year’s general election.

By the time the new waste water and general rates kick in, the Auckland Council will have been in place for 18 months and Mr Hide will be able to wash his hands of any responsibility. He is hoping the Council will have to carry the can for the structures and budgets he put in place 18 months before.

If in 2012 the waste water charges and general rates do go up, as most Aucklanders believe they will, with any luck we won’t have to listen to Mr Hide blaming the Auckland Council.  He will be long gone by then.

Water pressure

Posted by on August 24th, 2010

The Nats polling must be disastrous among Canterbury voters on its handling of water issues for today’s backflip to take place.

Why otherwise would they send 120,000 homes – at taxpayers’ expense – a four page glossy brochure with John Key seeking their views, including asking whether  new elections are wanted immediately for Environment Canterbury councillors, axed in 30 hours of urgency in March.

Today Key refused to answer my question about how much the brochures cost taxpayers: “Seeing it is paid out of the leader’s budget, I have no ministerial responsibility for that.” Cop out.  Await the OIAs.

Jim Anderton suggested consultation was best before the Government fired the elected councillors, rather than asking them 5 months later. ” I think that Cantabrians support the moves by the Government, and that is why over 55 percent of people in a recent poll gave that view,” said Key.

Sorry, if 55 % support the move, why revisit it?   Three inter-connected issues may have driven the Govt PR initiative (at our expense!) ; a wish to try and defuse water as a local body election issue (for non-endorsed candidates);  Key might be want to move away from Hide, a key supporter of the ECAN legislation as ACT implodes; and sending a peace-making signal may help ensure the crucial national Land and Water Forum can actually report this month amid ongoing signals of distrust from environmental reps who were deeply aggrieved at the ECAN legislation handing Water Conservation Order powers to the Govt-appointed commissioners…

One certainty; a lot of water has flown under the bridge since the pre-Easter legislation – and it’s made this the number one political issue in Canterbury.

NZ abstains on UN water resolution

Posted by on July 29th, 2010

Is access to clean water a basic human right? 124 nations at the UN General Assembly thought so today and supported a resolution affirming this (and sanitation too.)

NZ was among 41 abstentions, with MFAT arguing it hadn’t had time to assess, wasn’t consensus on the issue.

Labour as government would almost certainly supported the resolution. Former Prime Minister Peter Fraser was an architect of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. With a world population of perhaps a billion then, the crucial importance of access to water wasn’t seen as ncessary. With 6 billion on the planet and growing, about a billion people already live without safe water. Little wonder as many people die each year of water-borne illness, most of them children,  as the population of greater Auckland.

Ironic abstention when one in six New Zealanders doesn’t have tested safe water, when the Government has frozen assistance to small communities to make water safe for a year, and Rodney Hide’s bill to privatise council water supplies for 35 years is before us.

Filed under: Auckland, water

Milk ahead of water

Posted by on July 20th, 2010

Synlait, the Canterbury corporate dairy farmer, has been hunting for capital since it began making milk powder two years ago. It’s already an unmistakeable site on State Highway One about 30 mins south of Christchurch. The plant handles 300 million litres of milk from its own farms and supplies from rival Fonterra, as required under the dairy industry deregulation that spawned Synlait.

Synlait has now secured an $82m injection from China’s Bright Dairy,  taking a majority stake in the company, already  22 percent  owed by Japanese coporate Mitsui. Subject to regulatory and shareholder approval, Bright Dairy’s capital will see Synlait’s milk powder output doubled by 2011/12 .

This lines up neatly with the Government’s announced agenda to see new water allocations flowing in Canterbury next year, long before any tough new environmental controls can be put in place. You can’t help but believe the Synlait injection wasn’t in Government’s mind – Ruth Richardson is on the Synlait board – with its axing of Environment Canterbury’s elected councillors who were among those concerned at the deteriorating water quality, most particularly in the area around where Synlait’s milk plant is centred.

Dunsandel township, just up the road from the existing plant, has had e-coli in its water supply for the past year. Synlait wants to double production and later double it again. Little wonder it has invested in the Central Plains Water project, which, despite occasional attempts to mask its purpose, is designed to create more water for dairying. Fonterra is also intent on using the CPW scheme to create milk for a brand new $100m plant it is planning at Darfield,  to the norwest of Dunsandel.

So a new wall of milk is coming fast, with little prospect of tough new environmental rules in the same timeframe. Little wonder, water is now identified as the number one issue in Canterbury. Nick Smith is in Christchurch tomorrow for a major announcement on water issues, so perhaps he comes with soothing words.  Trouble is, milk comes ahead of water as far as his Cabinet colleagues are concerned.

We don’t need your education

Posted by on July 6th, 2010

National standards for education – and proof-reading – are slipping. Rangitata’s Nat MP Jo Goodhew has sent out a survey asking : What issues are most important to you (rank in order 1-7) Health. Education. Environment. Education. Economy. Law and order. Other

Hope plenty of Rangitata voters double-tick the environment box and educate Goodhew. She’s never denied revving up Timaru’s mayor to complain about ECAN- along with Christchurch’s Bob Parker – setting in train the loss of local democracy and the Government’s agenda to rush new water allocations into place next year in Canterbury without new environmental rules. Extraordinarily, Parker is now calling for earlier new ECAN elections than scheduled. E for consistency.

You drink first Minister

Posted by on June 17th, 2010

Challenged acting Health Minister Jonathan Coleman in the House this afternoon to drink some water. Big deal? Well it is water from Port Robinson, small community near Cheviot and it ain’t safe to drink, despite being a reticulated supply. 1 in 6 New Zealanders are in the same boat.

Coleman, filling in for Tony Ryall, had earlier maintained the charade that local bodies are responsible for ensuring safe drinking water supplies, 10 months after Ryall put a stopper on Labour Govt funding to help small communities to improve water supplies; Ryall has also put a three year moratorium on the need for local bodies to meet World Health Organisation minimum guidelines for safe drinking water.

Challenged to drink a glass of the water, Coleman said only if I did. Well I will – but a week after Coleman sups up. If he doesn’t come down with e-coli, giardia, cryptosporidium or some other nasty lurking in many water supplies, then I’ll down a glass too.

Game on Jonathan?

A bit of a stretch

Posted by on June 17th, 2010

I sat through all of the hearings on Gerry Brownlee’s Electricity Industry Bill. A lot of submitters questioned his plan to take Tekapo A and B power stations off Meridian Energy and give them to Genesis Energy (both state-owned SOEs). The Institute of Professional Engineers argued that it could lead to less efficient use of water as competing generators tried to maximise their competitive positions against each other. The Treasury argued in a written submission to the Minister that there wasn’t a robust business case / analysis. Unfortunately the National MPs chose to block Treasury from appearing before the Select Committee to explain their concerns.

This morning Gerry Brownlee appeared before the Commerce Select Committee to discuss the estimates for Vote Energy. I took the opportunity to ask him what his basis was for concluding that the asset swap was a good idea. He claimed that because there had been several dry years in the past decade there was evidence that Meridian hadn’t been managing the Waitaki water catchment efficiently. Basically he tried to blame the lack of rain in the South Island on Meridian. I know they are the biggest generator, but I don’t think their market power extends to controlling the weather.

State Owned Enterprises aren’t toys. They’re multi-million dollar enterprises. Any changes the government makes need to be based on robust business cases and rigorous analysis. Gerry Brownlee hasn’t done that. Former National Party Minister Max Bradford made a real hash of his power sector reforms of the 1990s – which led to huge increases in prices. Sadly for price-wary Kiwis, Gerry Brownlee and National appear to have learned nothing from their past mistakes.

Why at Creech

Posted by on June 15th, 2010

Two questions today in the House to John Key on why Wyatt Creech was in cosy contact with Ag Minister David Carter’s office on December 22 2008 seeking briefings on Canterbury water/RMA issues. 

This was two days after the forum held by Carter,English and Brownlee with Canterbury irrigators (and no environmental voice) to progress their issues. Issued a media release at the time noting not even Nick Smith was present.

Have always believed an implicit if not explicit signal was given at the forum to irrigators that ECAN would be taken out of the way if it was impeding their access to more water . Did an OIA of Carter and out pops an email exchange between his political advisor and Wyatt Creech, 11 months before he is appointed to the “independent’ review of ECAN. Creech says he wanted  “a comprehensive picture” about the RMA/water issues “so that I can see that they are raised.” Raised where?

OIA now on way to David Carter asking for all the contacts /correspondence with Creech and other former National Ministers…

Time to take action against water privatisation

Posted by on June 7th, 2010

Not content with the damage it has done to Auckland, the National-ACT Government is now turning its sights on local government across the board by opening council water up to privatisation. If you want to fight this, read on.

The Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Bill allows private ownership of water infrastructure for up to 35 years.  Much of the initial public debate focused on whether this amounted to privatisation, with the Government arguing that because it wasn’t the permanent disposal of a publicly owned asset then somehow that is not privatisation.

But hey, how long would the contract need to be for it to qualify as privatisation: 50 years? 100?

The changes are designed to encourage public private partnerships (PPPs): long term contracting arrangements in which corporations will often build, own, and operate a waste water plant for example and then sell it back to the Council at the end of the contract.

Labour is against privatisation of water supply. It is a natural monopoly. It makes no economic sense to hand it over to the private sector. What’s more, New Zealanders believe water is a human right and its supply should not be driven by the profit motive.

The Government is 20 years behind the curve with this particular economic fad. Water privatisation via PPPs was all the rage internationally in the 1990s but the tide has turned with a wave of cities around the world bringing water back under public control because of dissatisfaction with over-pricing and under-investment. The latest is Paris where city government was elected last year on a platform of terminating contracts with Veolia and Suez and bringing its water supply back into public hands. Ironic given that the French virtually invented the water PPPs, and its two partially-state owned water companies dominate the international market.

Veolia is the parent company of United Water who already have seven contracts to deliver water services in NZ. Fifteen years ago they picked up the contract to run South Australia’s water supply. Three months into the contract Adelaide was engulfed in “the big pong”, an overpowering sewage smell that took three months to fix. An independent inquiry blamed it on equipment failure and lack of monitoring caused by cost cutting.

The Government argues  PPPs will bring private sector capital that will allow cash-strapped smaller councils to invest in much needed water infrastructure.  But they fail to explain that corporations don’t bring their own money to these deals. Ultimately all the costs of this infrastructure have to be paid through rates (or taxes) or user charges. What’s more the corporation has to make a profit. And the cost of capital for private borrowers is almost always more than the Government pays.

If you want to fight this folly, then join the National Day of Action Against Privatisation, this Saturday: details on facebook, and web. There will be a rally outside a town hall near you.

If you are in Auckland come along to this public meeting Wednesday night this week hosted by Labour and the Greens.  You can download this guide to help you make a submission to the select committee. Deadline June 18.

The Bill has other obnoxious features. It repeals the requirement to consult the community before public services are contracted out or corporatised, reduces the obligations on Councils to consult the community more generally, and imposes an arbitrary list of core services that surprise surprise doesn’t include community well-being (pensioner housing for example), economic development, or protection of the environment.

Update: Good article in Vanity Fair on how Big Water is taking over the world. Hat tip: John Whyte

Reforming Paradise

Posted by on June 3rd, 2010

The chairman of the Government-supported Land and Water Forum acknowledged yesterday that the legislation axing Environment Canterbury has severely tested the Forum.

Former diplomat Alastair Bisley needed all his diplomatic skills at the Environmental Defence Society’s annual conference in Auckland  – Reform in Paradise -where he reported on progress with the Land and Water Forum.

The Forum was initiated two years ago as a way to bring diverse parties – farmers, fishers, Fonterra, iwi, irrigators an others – together to try and improve freshwater quality.

Nick Smith won Cabinet funding for it as a vehicle to progress his much-professed ambitions to improve water quality. Then he shat on it with the ECAN legislation.

Yesterday also, even one of the Creech review team admitted he had sympathy for ECAN and acknowledged the lack of national water standards from the Government.

Bisley indicated the Land and Water Forum was briefed about the abolition of Environment Canterbury’s councillors; what clearly came as a nasty surpise was handing the new ECAN commissioners powers to amend or rescind Water Conservation Orders protecting Canterbury rivers like the Rakaia and Rangitata. Five parties to the Land and Water Forum went publicly ballistic.

Alastair Bisley could only say that what tests you makes you stronger. My own question to him was how he could reconcile the Forum’s wish to improve water quality when John Key has stated publicly that he wants new water in place in Canterbury in the next year – an impossible timeframe to achieve any environmental improvements.

Alastair pointed to new water storage taking pressure off aquifers. Correct, but not a solution to increased effluent and nitrates which a new rush of water will also create and further degrade water quality.

Have to say that it was galling to watch John Key coming in earlier at the EDS conference by video link and saying no less than 5 times that the government attached great importance to getting the balance right between economic and environmental growth. Sorry but that is fundamentally contradicted by his agenda for rapid new water to provide election year lines and photo ops around ‘step change’ growth which will again come at the environment’s expense. And all of that puts our whole economic base at risk, as several speakers said yesterday.

Prof Caroline Saunders from Lincoln Unversity said she was astonished at the state of Canterbury rivers when she came here 14 years ago – from the less than pristine Newcastle-on-Tyne.  That was before the Canty dairy boom really kicked in.  Caroline affirmed our prosperity rested on marketing and delivering on our environmental sustaintainability.  Marks and Spencers sustainability head said the recent reporting in Britain questioning our ‘clean, green’ image was a ‘warning shot’ across our economic bows.  It’s almost unbelievable that this Government continues to think it can get more economic cake by flicking crumbs to environmental outcomes. More reforming Paradise than reform of it.

ECAN axing constitutionally repugnant

Posted by on May 19th, 2010

Leading constitutional lawyer Philip Joseph has panned the Government’s urgent legislation which in 30 hours axed Environment Canterbury’s elected councillors and peoples rights to be heard on Water Conservation Orders.

In today’s Press he says the act breaches several principles of law, is “constitutionally repugnant”, contains “elements of subterfuge” and is a “constitutional affront”.

The insufferably arrogant Nick Smith just dismisses Joseph’s comments as predictable.

Of course it’s not privatisation…

Posted by on May 7th, 2010

Tom Scott Rodney

Yesterday in Question Time, Rodney Hide wasn’t there, so Associate Local Government Minister John Carter answered questions from Brendon Burns and me about the Government’s water privatisation bill.

And for the first time we got a straight answer from the Government. When I asked: Does the Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Bill allow private ownership of water infrastructure for up to 35 years?, John Carter said yes.

Could these two things be related?

When is water privatisation not water privatisation?

Posted by on April 30th, 2010

Answer: When the government says it’s not.

Water privatisation is on the agenda with the tabling in the House yesterday of Rodney Hide’s local government amendment bill.

The bill will allow private companies to own water infrastructure (dams, pipelines, treatment plans, you name it) for up to 35 years.  Although curiously the bill’s explanatory notes and the Government’s press statement explains this is not privatisation. Yeah right!

If 35 years isn’t privatisation, how long would a dam have to be in private ownership before the Government conceded it was privatisation? 50? 100? Help me out here.

The provisions are designed to encourage public private partnerships (PPPs) which internationally have become the favoured mechanism for privatisation of municipal water in recent years.  And in particular BOOT schemes (Build, Own, Operate and Transfer). The Local Government Act 2002 limits contracting out of water services to a period of 15 years and prohibits private ownership of municipal water infrastructure – both those will go under Hide’s bill.

Hide says the current provisions in the Local Government Act prohibiting the sale of Council water assets still apply. They would continue to apply to existing assets but not to new ones built under the new regime.

Alongside the desire to open up municipal water to private control, is another provision which would repeal the current obligation of councils to consult the public before contracting out public services to the private sector.

The Prime Minister stands up in Parliament and says “there is no privatisation agenda” as he did this week. But his Government is removing the democratic safeguards against privatisation of local government assets.  The other example currently before the House is the third super city bill’s repeal of the requirement for a majority approval in a binding referendum before the Ports of Auckland can be sold.

Put the privatisation and contracting out agenda alongside Key’s corporatisation of Auckland local government by handing over 75% of the city’s operations and assets to hand picked commercial boards, and it is pretty easy to see what National-ACT are doing  to local government.

The bill contains a number of other elements we’ll be considering closely in the coming days: reducing councils’ obligations to consult the community, some requirement to focus on so-called core services (although most of Hide’s nutty core services and mandatory referenda ideas did not get through Cabinet), financial transparency and pre-election reporting.  The bill could get its first reading as early as Tuesday.

Rubbing it in

Posted by on April 28th, 2010

On Friday at 5pm, the doors will close at the regional council, Environment Canterbury – ECan – for elected councillors.  You’d think they’d be allowed to exit with some dignity, perhaps shouted a drink to thank them for their work, whatever your views of them, prior to the Government-appointed Commissioners taking over on Monday.

But  no.  As they exit the building, 50 metres away, the National Party will be preparing to host, I kid not,  The Jenny Shipley lecture as a party fundraiser. And the topic for those faithfull shelling out their ten bucks?

“Canterbury Water – A Collaborative Approach.”   Chch Mayor Bob Parker, well-known for his collaborative approach to ECan, ” will provide some historical context to the debate on Canterbury water.”  Another collaborator, Nick Smith will present the Government’s view.   

What goes round, comes round.

A dictatorship?

Posted by on April 21st, 2010

Interesting piece from Campbell Live this evening on the disbanding of E-Can and the disenfranchising of the province with the cancellation of the 2010 election. Good to see the significance of this decision finally being recognised by national media. Remember Nick Smith said one of the reasons he did this was because he was ‘wary of the outcome’ of the election. And it was all done under urgency. In the circumstances you can understand why one of the Councillors in the story  feels under National and ACT she is living in a dictatorship.

You can’t just smile and wave John – managing interest conflicts is your job

Posted by on April 6th, 2010

Over the last week while being questioned by Russell Norman John Key has asserted that whether or not a conflict of interest exists is a matter for a Minister to decide.

Well bad news John it isn’t. There is a process and you are responsible both for that process working properly and detailed arrangements for managing conflicts that flow from it.

The case in point, if the facts as alleged by Norman are accurate, is a pretty clear cut one. David Carter as a farmer in Canterbury has a case currently before Ecan to increase his water rights and therefore the value of his land. He takes part in the Cabinet debate and decision to scrap Ecan and short circuit the system for the decision relating to his farm. About as obvious a conflict as one could get and certainly well over the perceived conflict test.

Why do we have rules – the Cabinet Office Manual puts it pretty well:-

2.50 To protect the integrity of the decision-making process of executive government and to maintain public trust in the Executive, Ministers and Parliamentary Under-Secretaries must conduct themselves in a manner appropriate to their office.

And how does the system work in practise:-

the management of any conflicts that are identified is agreed between the Prime Minister and the Minister concerned, with advice as required from the Cabinet Office.

So John you can’t just smile and wave and say it is up to your Ministers. The Cabinet Office, the rules and their implementation has one person responsible to parliament – it is you.


Posted by on March 31st, 2010

About an hour ago, the last speech was given and Environment Canterbury was consigned to the dustbin. In 30 hours flat, Cantabrians lost their right to vote for a council making major decisions about their lives. This is the first such axing of a council  in our history – the Rodney district council asked for a review ten years ago.

Make no mistake, for all the posturing and Nick Smith’s third speech crocodile condolences to staff and councillors, we will not see ECAN return, certainly not under this government. And Jo Goodhew, MP for Rangitata and Junior Govt Whip, did not deny repeated claims in the House that it was her approach to Timaru mayor Janie Annear that triggered the Mayoral Forum criticism of ECAN. That came  right on the eve of the vote which bowled former Labour MP Sir Kerry Burke as ECAN chair in favour of Alec Neill.  Not that it did him much good – six months as chair and his Government’s rejection of his compromise that councillors work alongside commissioners. We put up amendments to this effect-  and many others – but to no avail.

With ECAN gone, the Government can get on with the business of rapidly allocating new water.  Sad thing is, that will put at real risk the Canterbury Water Management Strategy which gave us a once-in-a-lifetime chance of getting a win/win. Trouble is, although the strategy is attached as a schedule to the axe-ECAN bill,  its first priority of environmental balance and first phase water quality restoration before new allocation, is not the Government’s agenda.