ECan sacking a coup for corporate irrigators

The sacking of the Environment Canterbury board was an orchestrated coup conducted by the government on behalf of corporate irrigators.

From their overseas offices big agribusiness investors are piling on the pressure for more opportunities and better returns for their over-paid managers and impatient shareholders.
They are happy for their profits to be extracted at the expense of family farming, the Canterbury environment and democracy itself. The social and environmental damage is irrelevant to people who have never sighted the Canterbury plains and who wouldn’t know a braided river from an irrigation canal.
The government report prepared by former National cabinet minister Wyatt Creech said the board was dysfunctional and riven with political squabbling but even if this report were 100% correct, and this is hotly disputed even by critics of ECan, abolishing the board and replacing it with commissioners was an outrageous abuse of democracy.
If things were as bad as Environment Minister Nick Smith says then the government should have told the people of Canterbury and appealed to them to use their votes to fix it at the local body elections. The subsequent public debate would have clarified the issues, candidates would have declared their positions and Canterbury voters left to make their decision through the ballot box. The newly elected board would have been tasked with finding a way through the various competing interests for Canterbury’s water.
But the government wasn’t interested in voters getting in the way of the irrigators.
Papers released under the Official Information Act last week showed instead that it was working hard to find ways to overcome obstacles to the irrigators plans. Democracy was one of them.
So it abolished the board and installed Margaret Bazely with a group of development-friendly commissioners to help. No environmentalists need have applied. And just to make sure the irrigators get what they want, under section 31 of the new act, Nick Smith can suspend the Resource Management Act (RMA) for water moratoria and water conservation orders (river protection measures). In this way the government will be able to further restrict the rights of objectors to legally challenging ECan decisions which threaten the environment.
The government wants to change the face of the Canterbury environment forever. Margaret Bazely’s job is to put in place a water plan for Canterbury which favours development over the environment and which will be impossible to legally wind back by Cantabrians by the time they get the chance to elect the board again in 2013.
Aucklanders are facing a similar process with the development of the supercity where the government proposes to establish Council Controlled Organisations to run most council services at arm’s length from elected councillors. The undemocratic structure is developed before voters have a say.
Just to make absolutely sure we are in no doubt as to the government’s intentions Finance Minister Bill English said last week the government itself would provide the money for investment in damming Canterbury rivers for irrigation if the private sector couldn’t by itself guarantee enough profit for investors.
The government was strongly advised not to take the dramatic action it did. Ministry of Justice Officials said the Creech-led review of the council did not justify bringing in commissioners and restricting any appeals on a regional plan and water conservation orders to points of law in the High Court.
Looked at more widely, whenever a government wants to make significant policy change it often does so by creating a crisis. National did this with claims about ACC before announcing big increases in levies as a way to make it more lucrative for private sector involvement.
In the ECan case the “crisis” was created by commissioning a report on the workings of the board. Who better to do so than former National government minister and dairy industry heavyweight Wyatt Creech? It was like asking a weasel to check on kiwi eggs.
Creech quickly prepared a report which gave the government ammunition to declare a crisis and abolish the board.
And it won’t be just the voters who can expect to be shafted through this decision. Don’t be surprised to hear moves to contract out ECan work to the private sector. Neo-liberals claim contracting out is more efficient but any so-called efficiencies are gained by reducing pay and conditions of employment.
A more insidious impact of the decision will be its chilling effect on democracy elsewhere in the country. Other elected boards will know they could suffer the same fate if they stand in the way of development.
In the meantime it’s reassuring to see Canterbury residents angry about the decision. Turning opposition into effective action is the next step.
ENDS

ECan sacking a coup for corporate irrigators

The sacking of the Environment Canterbury board was an orchestrated coup conducted by the government on behalf of corporate irrigators. From their overseas offices big agribusiness investors are piling on the pressure for more opportunities and better returns for their over-paid managers and impatient shareholders.

They are happy for their profits to be extracted at the expense of family farming, the Canterbury environment and democracy itself. The social and environmental damage is irrelevant to people who have never sighted the Canterbury plains and who wouldn’t know a braided river from an irrigation canal.

The government report prepared by former National cabinet minister Wyatt Creech said the board was dysfunctional and riven with political squabbling but even if this report were 100% correct, and this is hotly disputed even by critics of ECan, abolishing the board and replacing it with commissioners was an outrageous abuse of democracy.

If things were as bad as Environment Minister Nick Smith says then the government should have told the people of Canterbury and appealed to them to use their votes to fix it at the local body elections. The subsequent public debate would have clarified the issues, candidates would have declared their positions and Canterbury voters left to make their decision through the ballot box. The newly elected board would have been tasked with finding a way through the various competing interests for Canterbury’s water.

But the government wasn’t interested in voters getting in the way of the irrigators.

Papers released under the Official Information Act last week showed instead that it was working hard to find ways to overcome obstacles to the irrigators plans. Democracy was one of them.

So it abolished the board and installed Margaret Bazely with a group of development-friendly commissioners to help. No environmentalists need have applied. And just to make sure the irrigators get what they want, under section 31 of the new act, Nick Smith can suspend the Resource Management Act (RMA) for water moratoria and water conservation orders (river protection measures). In this way the government will be able to further restrict the rights of objectors to legally challenging ECan decisions which threaten the environment.

The government wants to change the face of the Canterbury environment forever. Margaret Bazely’s job is to put in place a water plan for Canterbury which favours development over the environment and which will be impossible to legally wind back by Cantabrians by the time they get the chance to elect the board again in 2013.

Aucklanders are facing a similar process with the development of the supercity where the government proposes to establish Council Controlled Organisations to run most council services at arm’s length from elected councillors. The undemocratic structure is developed before voters have a say.

Just to make absolutely sure we are in no doubt as to the government’s intentions Finance Minister Bill English said last week the government itself would provide the money for investment in damming Canterbury rivers for irrigation if the private sector couldn’t by itself guarantee enough profit for investors.

The government was strongly advised not to take the dramatic action it did. Ministry of Justice Officials said the Creech-led review of the council did not justify bringing in commissioners and restricting any appeals on a regional plan and water conservation orders to points of law in the High Court.

Looked at more widely, whenever a government wants to make significant policy change it often does so by creating a crisis. National did this with claims about ACC before announcing big increases in levies as a way to make it more lucrative for private sector involvement.

In the ECan case the “crisis” was created by commissioning a report on the workings of the board. Who better to do so than former National government minister and dairy industry heavyweight Wyatt Creech? It was like asking a weasel to check on kiwi eggs.

Creech quickly prepared a report which gave the government ammunition to declare a crisis and abolish the board.

And it won’t be just the voters who can expect to be shafted through this decision. Don’t be surprised to hear moves to contract out ECan work to the private sector. Neo-liberals claim contracting out is more efficient but any so-called efficiencies are gained by reducing pay and conditions of employment.

A more insidious impact of the decision will be its chilling effect on democracy elsewhere in the country. Other elected boards will know they could suffer the same fate if they stand in the way of development.

In the meantime it’s reassuring to see Canterbury residents angry about the decision. Turning opposition into effective action is the next step.

ENDS

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Predator priests in the Catholic Church

The Catholic Church has a 2000-year history of surviving scandals and it will survive the latest appalling revelations of its cover-up of cases of paedophilia amongst priests.

This scandal has been around for several years but has gained new notoriety as it has moved from country to country. It’s become clear that not only did church authorities know about the abuse but that they swept it under the carpet. Paedophile priests were shifted from parish to parish where they often continued their child abuse. In cases revealed this past week at least 30 such priests were transferred from the US to places such as Asia or South America where the offending in many cases continued.

It’s the same attitude as drug companies which ship substandard medicine to unsuspecting third world countries. The church avoided further abuse of white boys in middle class American parishes by shifting the problem to brown children in the third world.

The church hierarchy would like us to see the problem as a small group of rogue priests and as part of a wider societal problem rather than a church problem.

There are elements of truth in both explanations but the church’s several decades of cover-up is unforgiveable. The instinct to protect the institution was much stronger than the desire to seek justice for the victims or prevent further abuses. It saw the offending as sins needing God’s forgiveness rather than crimes deserving trial and punishment.

The pope himself has now been drawn into the debate with accusations that in 1980 he approved a placement for a paedophile priest who went on to abuse elsewhere and that he reportedly dragged his feet over defrocking a paedophile priest while he held a senior position at the Vatican.

But if we think any of this will result in fundamental change within the church then we should think again. The church hierarchy has acknowledged there is a serious problem but have produced nothing in the way of a comprehensive plan to address the issues. Instead it is showing signs of getting fed up with the constant criticism and is planning a push back with a huge gathering of clergy in Rome in June. In the meantime the cardinal described as the pope’s right-hand man, Tarcisio Bertone, last week made a crude attempt to deflect criticism onto homosexuals by claiming a link between paedophilia and homosexuality. It was a particularly nasty comment which says more about the homophobic attitudes which dominate church thinking than anything else.

The church will survive these latest revelations because as an institution it has adapted through the centuries by aligning itself with the rich and powerful.

When I was growing up in the 1960s the church looked like it might align itself with the poor and the oppressed. The context was the rise of newly-independent third world countries and a fresh energy injected into world affairs at the United Nations where poverty and exploitation were words gaining ground. In 1960 Pope John 23rd was elected in Rome and called just the second Vatican Council together to rejuvenate and realign the church with the gospel message of social justice. His successor Pope Paul 6th continued this thrust and across the third world in particular more priests and church authorities began to speak out for the poor and dispossessed. This was most notably in Central and South America where liberation theology was gaining ground and resulting in church figures finding themselves in active opposition to brutal military regimes being propped up by the US. The Vatican didn’t lead this movement but tolerated it until the right-wing of the church reasserted control.

With the death of John Paul 1 the conservatives regained power and the church once more reverted to what critics cheekily call the “pie in the sky when you die” theology. The unsaid message was the poor should accept their lot and simply aim for personal salvation. Here in New Zealand the Catholic Commission for Justice and Development led by visionary Christchurch priest Father John Curnow was gradually sidelined and then abolished by church authorities.  Siding with the poor and the oppressed was OK for Jesus Christ but not for the purveyors of power at the Vatican.

The current pope was one of those who actively worked against the church siding with the poor. He was happy to give lip service of opposition to human rights abuses by US-backed military regimes while supporting the church’s active involvement in overthrowing the so-called communist regimes of Eastern Europe.

There are still many good people within the church today but it is run by deeply conservative forces in tune with capitalism and the corporate sector.

Last week a church official made a statement forgiving the beetles for John Lennon’s infamous comment that the Beatles were “more popular that Jesus” while other church spokespeople were giving the message that through its practices in the predator priest scandal, the church is more important than the teachings of its founder.

ENDS

Whanau ora a big disappointment

The Maori Party has been a huge disappointment and Whanau ora will likely be its biggest failure.

The party was formed amid well justified anger and frustration at the Labour government’s panicky move to legislate across Maori rights to have claims to the foreshore and seabed heard in the Maori Land Court.

The break with Labour had happened before. Back in the 1990s Maori voters sided briefly with Winston Peters before his New Zealand First party was decimated under coalition pressure from National.

The Maori Party injected fresh energy into Maori aspirations via MPs with no previous parliamentary baggage such as Pita Sharples, Hone Harawira and Te Ururoa Flavell. However for such a race-based party the danger was always there that they would lose sight of the wood for the trees. And so they have. The party is fixated on improving things for Maori but at the same time endangering provision of services for people in low income communities who themselves are disproportionately Maori.

This approach was highlighted in the bizarre story last month of the Maori Party signing up to an ACT-driven working group report which is asking the government to consider extending so-called education “choice” for children from low income communities. This would increase opportunities for a tiny number of children at the expense of the majority who would suffer by further reduced state responsibility for the quality of education in our schools.

With Whanau Ora we have a similar approach with the aim to benefit struggling Maori families which National will use to undermine state provision of social services and open the sector for the damages and ravages of privatisation. Maori will be the predominant losers.

Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia sees Whanau Ora as her own and the Maori Party’s crowning achievement in coalition in this parliamentary term. She seems content to fossick around at the bottom of the cliff picking up the pieces of dysfunctional families while even more victims of government policies pile up around her.

Feeling good at the bottom of the cliff is no substitute for tackling the hard stuff at the top where free-market economic policies create the carnage.

Maori families don’t need big state intervention in their lives. Neither does anyone in a low-income community. I have huge faith in all families to be able to make their own way in the world without big government or a welfare system designed not so much as a safety net but as a minimalist drip-feed to take the heat out of opposition to the catastrophic failure of 30 years of neo-liberal economic policies.

Instead of quality jobs, self respect and self reliance, the free market has delivered to low income communities thousands of pokie machines, endless liquor outlets, loan sharks on every corner and fast-food joints by the bucketful alongside social devastation and destroyed families. Whanau Ora aims to ease the negative effects of the market on families without having the insight to address the problems at their source.

What the party has failed to grasp is that economic policies drive communities. Once a government has decided its economic direction what follows in health, education, welfare or employment is essentially predetermined.

And so instead of tackling the big issues – government policies to provide jobs for everyone while abolishing the dole for example – the Maori Party is content to play Florence Nightingale to the victims of Labour and National policies.

Why on earth would a party set their sights so low?

Even in its lady-of-the-lamp role the Maori Party will struggle to make any meaningful difference. It will bring a few benefits to some families by helping rationalize social services but basing welfare provision for Maori families on Maori concepts will mean little change for anyone until economic policy is based on the same principles. As it stands the best we can hope for from Whanau Ora will be in helping some families devise bunkers to help weather economic storms.

There will also be many families within Maoridom who will resist Whanau Ora. Expect to see welfare refugees seeking respite from attempts by well-meaning Whanau Ora advocates trying to patch up deeply fractured families.

I’ve seen similar attitudes many times working in schools in low income areas where many Maori families see themselves as having greater common cause with their European, Pacific and migrant neighbours and friends than with a distant iwi to which they have no connection.

The Maori Party engagement with National was never going to end in happiness.

It won’t be till the party engages in a serious economic challenge to National and Labour that it will make a significant difference for Maori families.

ENDS

An apology is in order

Jock Hobbs – where are you?

An apology is in order for the families of Maori rugby players excluded from All Black tours to South Africa for nearly 50 years in deference to that country’s racially prejudiced policies.

It’s a chapter of shame in rugby history that for the period 1928 to 1970 our rugby hierarchy thought more of the racist sensitivities of white South African political leaders than the sensitivities of Maori rugby players or All Black rugby sovereignty. The All Black teams that toured South Africa in this period were all-white because South African authorities would have been “embarrassed” at the participation of Maori players. They worried it would cause blacks to agitate for the chance to play for South African national teams and who knew where it would end – they might even insist on the right to vote. So New Zealand rugby deferred to racist politics, sold out on sporting principles and betrayed Maori rugby players and the entire Maori community. This shameless behaviour would have continued for many more years had it been left to the ossified attitudes which governed rugby through the last century.

Last year writer Malcolm Mulholland wrote to the rugby union suggesting an apology after finding the exclusions were still a burning issue for many Maori players and their families. Mulholland was researching the history of Maori rugby for his book Under the Maori moon. But despite the obvious hurt still felt by the families of those barred on the basis of race the rugby union says now is not the time to focus on “political issues that happened in the past”.

What claptrap. If not now then when? 2010 marks the 100th anniversary of the formation of the official Maori All Blacks. A “New Zealand Natives” team toured the British Isles in 1888/89 and this team passed on the haka and their black shirts to future New Zealand teams but it wasn’t till 1910 that the Maori All Blacks were officially constituted as part of New Zealand rugby.

But they didn’t have a sporting chance. When the South African regime made it known in 1928 that Maori players were unacceptable rugby great George Nepia was told he would not be selected to tour and neither would other Maori players be eligible to represent the country.

Maori players were again counted out in 1948 and 1960 although by this time a protest coalition had developed under the umbrella CABTA (Citizens All Black Tour Association) which organised demonstrations around the country under the slogan “No Maoris – No Tour.”

The rugby union found its own way of rationalising these racist decisions. It said it would be unfair to put Maori players into awkward situations in South Africa when they weren’t welcome.

It wasn’t till 1967 that an All Black tour to the country was cancelled when South Africa again said it didn’t want Maori players. If it was left to its own devices the leaders of our national sport would have insisted on touring but the Holyoake National government told our rugby leaders “enough” and the tour was cancelled.

Three years later South Africa backed down and allowed four Maori and Pacific players to tour – including 19 year old Samoan winger Bryan Williams who was the hugely popular “golden boy” of that tour.

But the issue had moved on to protests about apartheid in South Africa and the rugby union continued to march out of step with the rest of the world by welcoming all-white Springbok rugby teams to New Zealand when most of the world was cutting ties with the regime as part of an international boycott.

An apology won’t change the past but it would be significant for the families of those wronged on the basis of race. There is no better time than this 100th anniversary year to acknowledge the sins in rugby’s Maori history.

The head of the rugby union’s Maori Rugby Board Wayne Peters is reported as saying the board decided it was more important in the centenary year of Maori Rugby to focus on celebrations rather than political issues from the past which would never occur today.  But where is the voice of the rugby union in all this? It wasn’t Maori rugby which made the decision to exclude brown players from touring teams to South Africa.

So come on Jock Hobbs. You chair the NZRU. Step out of the shadow of the Maori board and give us a lesson in leadership – your predecessors made shameful decisions which still carry hurt.

Show some mongrel and say sorry.

ENDS