Death by a thousand cuts on West Coast

So, another mine is coming to the end of its working life on the West Coast.

No mine is ever permanent. They get built and provided the owner/operator does not have a major accident (Pike River) or there be a major economic slowdown (like right now)in the raw mineral sectors, they last as long as it takes to get the economically recoverable raw mineral being extracted, out of the ground.

But in a province where mines and the industry built up around them have played such an integral part of the economy, the death of so many mines is like death by a thousand cuts. A few people lost here and a few lost there. Small numbers most of the time, occasionally overshadowed by the loss of jobs that go with major redundancies at firms like Solid Energy. Over time the losses accumulate not just in the number of people being made redundant but also the loss of skills, knowledge and experience, which might have taken decades to get to the stage it was at when lost.

Given that the West Coast’s only other major industries in the past have been logging and tourism, this is not a minor issue. The native logging was brought to an end by the Government of Prime Minister Helen Clark in the early part of last decade, and the loss of yet more jobs with no obvious remedies on the horizon must be of significant concern to the West Coast.

Kiwi Rail’s wellbeing on the West Coast is a major concern. Mining and logging were major users of the railway to transport raw product out to Lyttelton for shipment to overseas markets. With few logs on the move and fewer bucket loads of processed coal coming down from the mines, how much longer can Kiwi Rail keep the Otira tunnel and associated line open? Will tourism via Arthurs Pass be enough, and what else could be transported by train? Given National’s preference for roads over rail the answers do not look promising.

I sympathize with West Coasters. It is an amazing province as natural beauty and tourism opportunities go. The people are awesome and laid back, but is this enough to stop the long term economic decline of New Zealand’s least populated province?

Introducing T.I.S.A. (Trade in Services Agreement)

We know about the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, something that is being subject to daily coverage in the media, because of the growing political backlash against it and the current gathering of corporate executives in Hawaii to negotiate the final text. What people do not know is that there is another, even bigger and just as problematic agreement being negotiated which is called the Trade in Services Agreement (T.I.S.A.). This agreement encompasses dozens of nations which are spread across every continent except Africa.

The purpose of T.I.S.A. is to free up the trade in global services, be they health, judicial, social or otherwise and was first proposed by the United States. New Zealand is a participant in the negotiations for this agreement. T.I.S.A. is particularly relevant because it would make it easier for companies such as Serco to obtain Government service contracts as they currently have around the world.

As very little has been mentioned about T.I.S.A. around the world except as a result of leaks from sources such as Wikileaks, it may be assumed that people were not supposed to know. This – as with the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement – is a major problem because the text is probably therefore sealed (supposedly)until either five years after the agreement has been signed or five years from the ending of negotiations, by which time one can probably assume the full effects (good or bad are being felt).

On a side note, this explains why Minister of Social Development Anne Tolley thinks Serco is fit for providing social services. They would be benefactors of this deal.

Counting down to the Rugby World Cup 2015

At work the other day we had a French temp working with us. After introducing myself I started casting around for a subject that we might have in common. His English is rudimentary and my Francais non-existent. I asked him through the challenges of the language barrier if he plays rugby. He said no but that he watches it when he can. So I asked him how he thought France would go in the 2015 Rugby World Cup. His response was honest: France – if send their A-team to play their A-game can lift the World Cup, but he thought they might send their A-team only to have them play their B-game.

I thought it was a fair call. It occurred to me that the World Cup is only a few weeks away and I pondered what I knew of French-New Zealand rugby matches at the World Cup. France bet New Zealand in 1999 and the country went through a collective mourning period for weeks (though I was pretty much over the gloom after 24 hours). France did it again in 2007 and everyone called for the then All Black coach Graham Henry’s head. He survived and after a couple years of some indifferent rugby by his charges saw New Zealand lift the Webb Ellis Trophy on New Zealand soil for the first time in 24 years, against none than…. France.

At that point the supervisor wanted me for something, so the conversation was interrupted. When I restarted it a bit later, a colleague originally from Japan joined in. Japanese admire the All Blacks and are quite keen on rugby. My colleague had watched the New Zealand-South Africa match between two of the most formidable nations on the rugby scape of global sport. New Zealand had been patchy, though we had won the match 27-20 in the end. I asked him what he thought of it and he said we were scratchy.

And I should be honest as I am about the prospects for the All Blacks at this Rugby World Cup. I find it refreshing, that unlike cricket, no one country seems to have a real strangle hold on the Webb Ellis trophy. It changes hands at every world cup with New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and England all having lifted it in the last twenty years. Any one of these nations along with France should be on the short list to get to the Semi Final stage at least – noting New Zealand exited at the Quarter Final stage in 2007.

New Zealand is strong. But we also have weak spots. On one hand we have a line up of experience many other nations can only dream about, but on another many of those players are in the twilight of their careers with retirement or playing for a lucrative European club. Many such as Conrad Smith, Richie McCaw, Kieran Read and Daniel Carter know that there is only so much longer that their bodies can sustain the physical nature of the game and the attendant injuries. All have been concussed at some point or another.

And there are some exciting up and coming nations in the competition as well as some regular competitors who regularly make it out of pool play but don’t advance past the Quarter or Semi Final stage. Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Italy and Argentina all fit into this category. Others to feature include Japan, Samoa, Tonga and Fiji. Although this last group is not likely to trouble the big powers in the Semi Final stage, Tonga upset France in the 2011 Rugby World Cup. The small island nations also bring a bit of entertaining flair sometimes lacking in the bigger powers, because they play as much for family and pride as for doing as well as they can in the competition.

So, roll on the 2015 Rugby World Cup. The few weeks left before it starts should be a good gauge of where the major powers are (not) at.

T.P.P.A.: The final week?

Well it might finally be here. For years we have been warned of negotiations regarding the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement. For years a small but growing number of people and organizations tried to . But now the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement could be as little as one week away from being formalized.

But this might also be where the real fight starts. Despite the seemingly overwhelming corporate support for it, any prolonged exposure to political and social accountability seems to petrify the executives whose private jets will be flocking to Hawaii over the next few days for what they hope will be the end stage negotiations to conclude the biggest trade agreement so far seen – and very probably the most damaging.

In New Zealand last week the Fighting Foreign Corporate Control Bill of New Zealand First Member of Parliament Fletcher Tabuteau was defeated by the narrowest possible margins. By a vote of 61-60 it was shut down after United Future leader Peter Dunne sold out, despite having promised his support to the second reading stage where it would have been subject to the scrutiny of a select committee.

But people are mobilizing. On 15 August, despite it possibly having been signed by then, large protests are planned nation wide to protest the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement. Before then via the Sum of Us activist group, a plan to raise $150,000 to take out large scale advertising in Honolulu to ensure that negotiators involved in the final stages are aware of the concerns about it.

So are political parties. After spending nearly two years sitting on the sidelines whilst New Zealand First and the Greens acted, Labour finally laid down its conditions for supporting the T.P.P.A. The move might have seemed at odds with Labours post-1984 history of supporting trade agreements even with nations whose human rights record or behaviour on the world stage the Government of the day has not condoned. However it might have also been the result of finally having a unionist for a leader.

Come what may (will?)this week, one thing is for certain: T.P.P.A.-wise it is going to be one very interesting week – albeit possibly for all the wrong reasons.

Dear Tim (Minister of Trade)

Dear Mr Groser

I am writing this out of deep concern that I and my fellow New Zealanders are not being told the truth about the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement that I understand final negotiation for are set to happen in Hawaii in the week starting 27 July 2015.

What is so hard about releasing the text of the agreement to the public if this agreement is as good as you say?

We hear that concerns about Pharmac are irrelevant. Yet you do nothing to justify that, like show evidence that Pharmac will not be harmed. This is something big for me, as my blood pressure control is contingent on being able to pay for medication that Pharmac subsidizes. I cannot ignore this.

We hear concerns, which no one in a position to do so appears to have made an honest effort to deny, that an investor state dispute settlement mechanism means corporations may be able to sue the Governments of sovereign nations for passing laws that they perceive as threatening their profits – whether or not they actually do is another thing altogether. An example of this is Philip Morris attempting to sue the Australian Government for its attempts to deal with the socio-economic effects of tobacco.

Prime Minister John Key famously said sometime ago that if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear.

So why is National hiding the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement? Has the Government instructed any major media outlet to not report on the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement – the only coverage stems from protests and does not seek to find out why the protests are occurring.

If it was really that good, you would have told us by now. So why have you not?

Yours Sincerely

Robert Glennie
Concerned New Zealand Citizen

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