Mining personal grief for political ends

November 19, 2017

When politicians make promises do you take them at their word?

Under MMP that’s harder because they can always use the excuse, that was their policy but had to let it go during coalition negotiations.

But if it was a promise made by the two parties in government and their coalition partner outside government that one can’t be used.

In August, leaders of Labour, United Future, the Maori Party and the Green Party signed a commitment to reenter Pike River mine.

National, rightly, put lives before politics:

Environment Minister Nick Smith responded to the commitment and said the parties were either making empty promises to the families or proposing to water down a law intended to prevent future workplace tragedies. 

“It is a hollow political stunt for parties to promise manned re-entry of the mine by the end of 2018,” he said.  

“It would be reckless for politicians to override the 800-page detailed assessment that concluded that manned entry deep into this drift was too risky to life.

“There is no cover-up. There is no conspiracy. Pike River was a horrible industrial accident that unnecessarily killed 29 men.

“The greatest duty we owe the memory of these men is to take the risks of explosions in gassy coalmines seriously and to comply with the new workplace safety laws that stemmed from the Royal Commission of Inquiry [into the Pike River Mine Tragedy].”

Winston Peters said he’d be one of the first to go back into Pike River and manned entry was one of New Zealand First’s bottom lines.

Such promises are oh so easy in opposition, but what happens when the reality of government bites?

Pike River Mine minister Andrew Little says he cannot guarantee a re-entry of the mine and has told family members that he will do what he can but safety is the top priority. . . 

“Ultimately, and the families are very clear, the first principle of the set of principles that are governing what we do is safety, the safety of anybody involved in the re-entry project. I’m not going to put anybody at undue risk. I’m simply not going to.”

He did not intend to legislate for any exemption to the health and safety laws or immunity from liability for the Pike River Agency.

Safety was the priority of the previous government in the face of harsh criticism from the Pike River families and then-opposition parties supporting them.

That was the right position.

The Pike River disaster was a tragedy. There are many unanswered questions on how it happened and the shortcoming that led to it happening.

Some of the answers to those questions might be found if it was possible to safely reenter the mine.

But safely is and must always be the operative word.

The bottom line that National and the mine owners stuck to still stands: no lives must be endangered, no lives must be lost, to retrieve the dead.

Some families have accepted this.

Some have not and put their faith in the politicians who promised them manned entry would be undertaken.

Little will be criticised for his safety-first stance, but this time it’s the right one.

The wrong one was making a promise that he and the other politicians, including his leader, Jacinda Ardern, should never have made.

Those politicians were mining personal grief for political ends.

It was despicable behaviour.

 

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Govt business what not how

October 30, 2017

The Green Party is sticking to its plan to reduce dairy farming:

Prior to the election, the Green Party said it would pay more than $136 million for farmers to move to more sustainable practices and if it were in government it would invest in a Sustainable Farming Fund.

Green Party leader James Shaw said a priority would be putting together a package to help farmers make the transition from dairy farming.

He said the Greens wouldn’t be pushing for a cap on the number of cows.

But Mr Shaw said dairy farmers would need help to change.

“A lot of dairy farmers are still heavily in debt from the acquisition of the land and also the conversions and also it’s a pretty difficult time when the price of milk is still somewhat depressed.

“So you know the thing we’re going to be pushing hardest on is making sure that there is a package available for farmers to help them make that transition.”

Mr Shaw said dairy farmers needed to make the transition to more sustainable methods of farming.

Setting standards for water quality is the business of government.

Dictating how that is achieved is not.

It might be that dairying isn’t appropriate in some places. But other land uses aren’t necessarily any kinder to the environment and it could be that a change in management could make dairying a better option than any other form of farming.

Dairying has got a bad reputation, some of which might be justified. But some is based on historical practices no longer in use and some on alternative facts not supported by science.

Some of the latter comes from organisations with an anti-dairying agenda.

Jamie McFadden, a member of Federated Farmers North Canterbury executive, rightly asks is our freshwater fishery really in crisis?

Last year Fish & Game sought and received approval from the Department of Conservation (DoC) to place a winter fishing ban on all North Canterbury rivers below State Highway 1.

At the time, Fish & Game claimed the North Canterbury freshwater fishery was in crisis and it was because of farming.

Both DoC and the Rural Advocacy Network have requested the evidence supporting these claims. After 18 months no evidence has been forthcoming. DoC now realise they have been misled and have said they will not renew the fishing ban unless Fish & Game provide evidence.

Earlier this year I attended a public meeting in Rangiora organised by Fish and Game where the fishing ban was discussed. I presented our submission challenging the lack of evidence behind the fishing ban, particularly for the Hurunui and Waiau rivers. A show of hands was taken and the clear majority of the 70 attendees felt the ban should not apply to these rivers. Of those who fished the Hurunui and Waiau the majority thought these were healthy fisheries. . . 

Clearly there are a range of factors affecting our freshwater fishery and increasing fishing pressure, particularly near Christchurch, is one of them.

A local fishing guide has for several years been undertaking the annual trout spawning surveys in the Waimakariri River. This year he reported better numbers than have ever been seen and some superb stream improvements by many farmers – the future is bright.

In late autumn I checked the middle reaches of the Hurunui River catchment and photographed numerous shoals of 10-20 trout. In one pool alone I counted 65 good-sized healthy trout.

A balanced report on the state of our freshwater fishery would acknowledge there are some healthy fisheries, concerns with some other fisheries and a range of factors affecting both. It is disappointing that Fish & Game has made no attempt to correct their misinformation in the media.

Many farming families are Fish & Game licence holders and enjoy the recreational opportunities our rivers provide. Farmers want to know what they need to do to fix any water quality problems they are causing.

There are many examples of farmers actively engaging in improving water quality and undertaking stream enhancements. Farmers want to work with organisations like Fish & Game but the continual attacks on farmers undermine the ability to achieve this.

We would like to see Fish & Game publicly drop the anti-farming broad brush ‘dirty dairy’ campaign, correct their misinformation in the media and develop a more constructive approach to freshwater issues.

Farmers, and others, are working to improve water quality and this report from Seven Sharp showing definite improvements in Taranaki dairy country.

Meanwhile, science is making progress with pasture species:

Research is in progress but plantain-based pastures may be useful for reducing nitrate leaching while maintaining or increasing milksolids production.

The urine patch is the major source of nitrogen loss to the environment on dairy farms and different forages can be used to reduce nitrate leaching, either by lowering the nitrogen loading in urine patches or increasing the nitrogen uptake from the urine patch.

Forages for Reduced Nitrate Leaching (FRNL)

Research in Canterbury and Waikato the FRNL programme has found that urine-N concentration of cows grazing plantain was 56% lower than those grazing perennial ryegrass/white clover pastures, and 33% lower for cows grazing 50/50 pasture-plantain.

Within FRNL, diverse pastures that include plantain were identified as a promising tool for reducing N leaching. Modelling estimated that, at commercial scale, N leaching could be reduced by 10 and 20% when the area of the farm sown in diverse pastures was 20 and 50%, respectively. This was because of lower total urinary N excretion and lower urinary N concentration (Beukes et al. 2014; Romera et al. 2016).

Sustainability balances economic, environmental and social concerns.

Dairying generally gets ticks for its economic and social contributions and farmers and industry bodies like DairyNZ, are making good progress to address environmental concerns .

DairyNZ acting chair Barry Harris said last season saw dairy export earnings reach $13.4 billion, which is on par with the five-year average, and illustrates how well farmers have responded to the low milk prices of previous seasons.

“I see the decade ahead of us to be transformational for our sector. Never before have we had a stronger mandate for the dairy sector to concentrate on productivity – to produce more from less, and to do so sustainably,” says Barry.

“We support initiatives that incentivise farmers to use the best environmental practices. While the 2010s have been about dairy positioning itself for the changes ahead, I see the 2020s as heavily focused on making those changes.

“New Zealand’s environmental reputation, the reputation that gives us an advantage on the global market, relies on us upholding and improving our sustainability.” . . 

Thanks to good science, herd numbers can decrease while production increases.

DairyNZ chief executive Tim Mackle said in 2016/17 national cow numbers fell to 4.86 million from 5 million previously, with the average herd size dropping five cows to 414.

“Yet production per cow set a new record – increasing by 9kg per cow (381kg MS/cow).” . . 

 

The government and its partners needs to stick to the what, not the how.

Good progress is being made and it will continue to be made not by political dictates but by good practice based on sound research.


Voters here and there

October 23, 2017
  1. Does this mean people living here and experiencing what was happening had a greater appreciation that National had the country going in the right direction than those living overseas who had to rely on the media?
  2. Will at least some of these people who voted Green in a much greater proportion than people living here did, come home and face the consequences now their party has some influence in government?

 

Votes within NZ: Labour 36.86%; Green 6.06%; NZ First 7.3% and National 44.61%.

Overseas votes: Labour 38.2%; Green 15.23%; NZ First 2.88% and National 37.35%

 


Compromise more likely than consensus

October 9, 2017

One of the supposed virtues of MMP is that it could lead to government by consensus.

In practice it’s much more likely to require compromise.

The Green Party doesn’t  understand this.

If it did, it would be negotiating from a position of strength with both National and Labour.

Instead, its been sidelined, leaving policy gains for New Zealand First with the possibility of some crumbs only if Winston Peters opts for a Labour-led government.

It might look like a principled position to its left-wing supporters.

It looks more like impotence to those for whom the environment isn’t partisan.

Whatever permutation we end up with in government, there will be a strong focus on the environment in general and water quality in particular.

If the Greens moved into the real world and accepted the need for compromise, recognising that some gains are better than none, they could play a leading role in policy development.

Instead, they’ll remain marooned on the far left of the political spectrum, a powerless outpost of Labour, having to accept New Zealand First policies which could well be even less palatable to Green supporters than many of National’s.

 


Why are we waiting?

October 8, 2017

The official election results left National with two fewer seats than on election night and Labour and the Green party with one more each:

  • The number of seats in Parliament will be 120.
  • The National Party has 56 seats compared with 58 on election night.  
  • The Labour Party has 46 seats compared with 45 on election night.
  • The Green Party has 8 seats compared with 7 on election night.  
  • There are no changes to the number of seats held by New Zealand First and ACT New Zealand which remain at 9 and 1 respectively.
  • All electorate candidates leading on election night have been confirmed as winning their seats.
  • The total number of votes cast is 2,630,173.  47% of votes were cast in advance.
  • The turnout as a percentage of enrolled electors is 79.8% (2014 – 77.9%).  This is the highest turnout since 2005 (80.9%).
  • The final enrolment rate is 92.4% (2014 – 92.6%).

This still leaves a possibility of National and NZ First governing with 65 seats or Labour, NZ First and the Greens governing with 63 seats, or NZ First giving confidence and supply to one of the bigger parties while sitting on the cross benches.

The difference between the numbers has got a little smaller but nothing else has changed about the options since election night so why couldn’t negotiations have started sooner and why are we still waiting for an outcome?

 


Blue-green more sustainable than red

October 2, 2017

Waikato social work student Nathan Williams analysed voting at university campuses and found a majority voted National at only two.

The biggest percentage vote for National was at Lincoln which given it specialises in agriculture isn’t surprising.

The Green Party did worst at Lincoln, though still better there than it did overall.

Williams also used the data from the Electoral Commission to show how parliament would look if only university students voted.

Not all votes at campuses would have been from students and a high number of students at Otago and others which attract a majority who live away from home would have cast special votes for their home electorates.

But it’s reasonable to assume most would have been students and therefore more would have been younger than at other polling stations.

This supports the view that the Green Party gets more support from younger people.

Their failure to keep that support as people age is another argument against their marooning themselves on the far left of the political spectrum.

The environment isn’t socialist.

Ag students who voted blue could be just as passionate about the environment as any who voted Green.

The blue-green view of sustainability – balancing environmental, economic and social concerns, is both more practical and sustainable than the Green one which is red.


Environment isn’t partisan

September 27, 2017

Former Prime Minister Jim Bolger nails it:

He said the Greens might be quietly reflecting on whether they should only link themselves to left-wing politics.

“The environment is neither left wing or right wing, frankly. The environment is the environment, it’s Mother Earth we’re talking about.” . .

If the Greens weren’t really reds they would be in a much stronger position than they are now.

They could sit in the middle, as the Maori Party did, able to go left or right.

It would be they, not New Zealand First, that would be being courted by the major parties.

The Green Party’s environmental policies were lost in the controversy over its radical left-wing social policy regarding welfare. It was delivered by Metiria Turei who lost her co-leadership and ultimately her seat because of it.

The environment isn’t partisan. A party which recognised that would be far more attractive to voters and in a much stronger position than the red Greens are.


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