There is something terrible afoot in New Zealand at the moment and it is being played out in a few different ways all over the country.
Aucklanders’ are being swindled with changes to their local government, leaving them with say over only about 35% of what their new Supercity council does. Control of utilities is being given to a non-elected body run by a CEO who will answer to the Minister of Local Government. This means Aucklanders will be at the mercy of interests of the rest of the country, with national parliamentary elections their only opportunity to exercise their democratic rights and have a say about how water and roading are run in their city. Considering that it is current Local Government Minister Rodney Hide who has overseen the erosion of Aucklanders’ democratic rights I don’t think Aucklanders should be too happy with this corner that their democracy has turned.
And then there is the situation in Canterbury. All elected members of the regional council Environment Canterbury (ECAN) were recently sacked and replaced with a board of commissioners. This was in response to a government ordered review of the council’s performance and concerns about its management of water in the region.
Canterbury has over 70% of New Zealand’s fresh water supply, mostly stored in a huge network of aquifers under the plains. Since 2002 there has been a huge increase in dairying in this geographically dry region, an industry that requires lush green pastures to sustain it. I grew up in here and each time I return to visit I notice more and more of the land is covered in huge green circles, the product of massive irrigation systems. What is so scary about this is that no one knows how much water there is in those aquifers. Scientists haven’t been able to accurately estimate the volume and regeneration rate of water and there are no real measures in place to track or control how much water is being taken out of them by agriculture and industry. I will also go out on a limb and say that dairying is now New Zealand’s number one polluter. Farmers fertilise soil with nitrogen to make lots of grass grow for their cows. And then the cows shit and piss a whole lot of nitrogen back into the soil and into water systems in the area. Nitrogen leaching in soil is a problem to which there is currently no solution and it takes decades for its river and lake choking effects to become apparent. Increasing nutrients in water systems and soil cause things like algal blooms which have severe effects on the ecosystem and kill other species. Dairying is draining and polluting the Canterbury aquifers, NZ most valuable water resource, and our minister of the Environment Nick Smith is busy helping dairy farmers to get irrigation consents by sacking the very organisation set up to manage water use.
According to their website “Environment Canterbury is the regional council working with the people of Canterbury to manage the region’s air, water and land. We are committed to the sustainable management of our environment while promoting the region’s economic, social and cultural well-being.” So get this, the Creech report into ECan’s performance says that “ECan put too much emphasis on the environment”. I’m a tad confused, isn’t that what it is suppose to be doing?
There are some serious conflicts of interest in all of this too. Wyatt Creech the is a director of Open Country Cheese, which has convictions for dirty dairying. Creech’s firm has been twice prosecuted for contaminating Waikato farmland and rivers. And Nick Smith’s brother Tim Smith has just pleaded guilty to 21 charges brought by ECan because of unconsented discharges in the region. Last June Tim had this to say about ECan “I told them their organisation was bloody hopeless and they were all useless bastards who should be sacked,” he said. “I also told them that with some luck my brother and Rodney Hide would do something about it”
It turns out that they did do something about it.
After sacking the council Environment Minister Nick Smith has cancelled the upcoming ECan elections and Cantabrian’s won’t be able to vote in a new council until 2013. This is a blatant removal of democracy and in my view suspicious and totally unnecessary. If the real issue was that this council weren’t up to scratch then surely an election later this year would have been the perfect opportunity for improvement.
What is Rodney Hide up to removing our democratic rights? Something stinks and I think it is the National Government. Here is some more interesting reading on the issue: No Right Turn.
And I have ranted this much without even talking about their intention to mine in the Coromandel, one of New Zealand’s most valuable conservation areas. And how convenient that they don’t have to pay anyone to mine on conservation land! They also want to privatise the management of our prisons and introduce a ‘three strikes and you’re out’ policy in an attempt to reduce crime. It doesn’t work in the US so why would it work here?
A friend of mine put it well recently: “National releases new fuck everyone policy”