Brexit apparently good for New Zealand says British Minister

As we watch Britain lurch ever more unsteadily towards Brexit, arguing with itself and with the French and German officials at the same time, U.K. officials are already starting to think about the trade negotiations with various Commonwealth nations waiting to be started. Come whatever eventually will on 01 November 2019, there is a British Government official saying that New Zealand has nothing to fear from Brexit and that the United Kingdom wants rapid talks to get underway once the process is done.

That will depend on how well the next several weeks go and what kind of U.K. we have on 01 November 2019. Will it be a U.K. that has some how managed to secure a Brexit deal against the shadow of the infighting, the legal uncertainty and the politicking? Will it be a U.K. now on the cusp of falling to bits as it reckons with a dodgy new post Brexit reality? Or will something nobody has foreseen happen?

On one hand trade deal between the two countries would be great and I suspect conducted on far more friendly terms than an American trade deal – if we ever get one with Washington – is likely to be done. On the other, I cannot help but get the feeling that it will be lost in the hullabaloo that is going increase by orders of magnitude, drowning out rational conversations especially if there looks like being no serious prospect of an exit deal that Britain AND the E.U. can live with.

New Zealand needs to be realistic. As much as we are liked and respected in London, there are plenty of other bigger, more interesting fish for the U.K. to cook, which will compete with New Zealand for the attention of U.K. Trade Secretary Liz Truss. Canada, Australia, India among others are going to be actively seeking out U.K. officials to put a good word in their ears about doing a deal with their countries.

But before any of this happens, we need to know what form of U.K. we are going to wake up to on 02 November New Zealand time. We need to know that they will be in a position to negotiate, which might not be so easy if a no-deal Brexit occurs and they find hard borders springing up around them. And if they can start negotiations, will the terms of reference involve things New Zealand holds dear like Pharmac’s independence, whether there will be changes to visas for New Zealanders with U.K. connections and so forth.

Another question is whether Britain goes to the polls again or not. And after the votes are counted will it still be shades of navy blue of the Conservatives or the bright deep red of Labour, or will the Liberal Democrats have managed to smudge their colours all over the country?

Time will tell.


Sexual abuse scandal risks undoing Labour

For months, senior figures in Labour knew something stunk. A senior apparatchik was sexually harassing junior members at a camp. The Treasurer knew what was happening. At some point the former Party President Nigel Haworth was told. A guy who was working in the Prime Minister’s office was committing abuse. But when they had tried to call him out on it by going to the party leadership, it said #SeeYou.

For months it festered and simmered. The incident happened in February 2018. It was the second of two known incidents involving the complainant who was meant to have met the offender at a public office, but was convinced to go to his home.

Mr Haworth and other senior figures were told at the time. But for a year they sat on it. Even when another round of allegations bubbled up around the Young Labour youth camp, and a lawyer was detailed to deal with the allegations, nothing happened. It was not until 2019 that an investigation was launched. The report from the lawyer was released without input from the complainant despite increasingly panicked messages being sent.

And when they asked to see the report and get legal representation, Mr Haworth said that was not necessary. Imagine that. Shutting down a sexual abuse allegation in the age of #MeToo because ones own career is more important than the well being of a young lady whose life has been turned upside down.

The stark reality is, that a party claiming to be big on a better world for sexual abuse victims, has no honest plan for a festering gash that is becoming infected and will need some solid work done. Labour Party President Nigel Haworth might have gone, but it is obvious that he did not tell Ms Ardern the whole truth and nothing but the truth, or that if he had, someone in her office failed to tell her everything.

From a party that campaigned heavily on a fairer, more just place for women in the world, whose leader stood before the United Nations and talked about #MeToo the difference in the message received in New Zealand was stark. Somehow the talk about #MeToo becoming #WeToo did not get to the highest elections of the external Labour leadership, but it seems that #SeeYou – basically telling the complainants to get lost – did. Youngsters who had every reason in the world to believe that camp that they were at would be a great one, good campaigning from old hands would be taught and everyone would have a great time, found out that Labour is not the cuddly bear it is made out to be.

This is a scandal that could sink Labour at the next election if the Prime Minister does not come clean on what happened and why and demand immediate 100% transparency. This is a scandal that could make this Labour Government the first 1-term wonder since the 1-term wonder that was Norman Kirk/Bill Rowling. National and Simon Bridges would love that prospect, but I am not sure that the rest of New Zealand would.


Boris holding United Kingdom hostage

I have come to the conclusion that Brexiteers who are determined that Britain should leave, deal or no deal, are virtually holding the United Kingdom hostage. When the Labour Party actually has Conservative M.P.’s openly working along side it because they have realised that this is the only way some semblance of order can be maintained and are actively trying to derail the Prime Minister, is not there something seriously wrong?

Yes, sure Britain voted to leave the E.U. Yes it was meant to be done and dusted on 29 March 2019, but when the United Kingdom voted to leave on 23 June 2016, how many of the voters actually had a clue what they were doing?

My guess is not very many.

How many politicians actually honestly knew what they were doing? My guess is as a percentage, even fewer than the voters. But they voted “LEAVE” anyway, and now in 54 days time – barring a miracle – we will see… well… something. It might be what some think will be a knock out blow to the United Kingdom; or it might be a few weeks of turbulence that settles down and life for the most part trundles on.

But we don’t know what Mr Boris Johnson is thinking, except that one thing I think is certain: Britain will exit the E.U. in some form on 31 October 2019. And to that end, like some sort of deranged mad man, he is desperately plunging ahead, using whatever means he sees fit – suspending Parliament with the Queen’s permission was always going to cause a backlash, but did Mr Johnson see or think about who the casualties might be, and more to the point is he likely to anytime soon? Probably not.

Former Prime Minister Theresa May is not likely to be remembered kindly for her time at No. 10 Downing Street, but she might at least be recognized as continuing to push for a deal the entire time even if what she brought to the negotiating table was anything but palatable. Mr Johnson on the other hand is determined to have Britain exit in whatever form it finds itself on the day.

And maybe the ex-Minister who is thought to have deliberately leaked a document showing the very worst we could expect from Brexit was being a whistle blower on a potentially horrible outcome for Britain. A Brexit where just about everything at the becomes contentious. A Brexit where a hardened Irish border forms again, potentially pointing to a return of the Troubles. A Brexit where Scotland, which did not vote for Brexit decides now is the time to push for an independence referendum.

From here, like the rest of the world I can only watch and wait to see what happens next. I can only hope that in the worst case my New Zealand friends have thought to get a New Zealand passport organized so that their freedom of movement is not curtailed and that they realise what a great thing our passports are. I can only hope that some sense is seen and the determination that the next 7 weeks in British politics are not the end days of the U.K.


“Over tourism” in New Zealand?

Recently reporter Brook Sabin opined about a New Zealand that he says has gone from being a nice little country off the beaten trail to being over touristed mecca that has lost or is in the process of losing its glory. His opinion piece for Stuff detailed a number of festering problem areas in New Zealand, which got me thinking about whether New Zealand is over touristed.

When I was doing Year 13 Geography at school, we had to look at an “economic process” as a class and were given the choice of one of the following: industrialization, tourism and a couple of others. At my school we did tourism. The tourism process focussed on two areas of interest – Queenstown and the Gold Coast. We examined the pull factors such as the mountains and scenery in Queenstown, and the beaches and warm climate on the Gold Coast.

One memory that stands out from the Queenstown segment of this study was being shown a progress chart for the foreseeable future. It showed Queenstown on an accelerating curve up to the end of the 20th Century (given that this was taught in 1999, I think it could be classified as foreseeable future). Once it passed the 20th century the chart showed continued acceleration for a few more years before breaking into fourĀ  different potential directions. One suggested growth would just keep on going; a second suggested it would slow down, but not stop completely; a third suggested it was going to flatline indefinitely in the near future from physical limitations and the fourth suggested things would start to run in reverse before very long. I think in 2019, the second possibility is the current front runner followed by the third if we are not careful.

Queenstown has a number of major problems that are increasingly interconnected:

  1. It has used up nearly all of the flat land available to it and is now starting to put pressure on neighbouring places such as Wanaka. In turn Wanaka has gone from being a sleepy town that becomes active during holidays and every second year for the Warbirds over Wanaka airshow to effectively a dormitory suburb of Queenstown. The same goes for Arrowtown, a sleepy picturesque town known for its lovely autumn photography of deciduous trees shedding their leaves.
  2. The rapid growth has not been matched by infrastructure. Queenstown roads, water and sewerage networks are under increasing pressure to the point that Queenstown Lakes District Council recently applied for permission to discharge sewerage directly into Lake Wakatipu, which is half of the overall tourist attraction.
  3. Tourists, tourists, tourists. We need tourists to come and spend money and go home with great memories of a friendly nation, but many attendant problems such as freedom camping, dumping of waste and ignorance of protocol around tourist attractions.

It is not just Queenstown though, that is struggling. Whilst Queenstown has become in some respects a victim of its own success, there are many other tourist attractions as well where the numbers of tourists are reaching problematic levels. One such place is the Tongariro Crossing in the middle of Tongariro National Park/World Heritage Area. Day in day out in all weather, good and bad there is a steady line of tourists snaking across Mordor. Most come prepared and have an idea of what they are getting into, but some come thinking its just a couple hours walk and get stuck. With the tourists also come litter problems, people having to airlifted off because they ignored warnings about track conditions and so on.

Small locations like Franz Josef on the West Coast and Tekapo in inland Canterbury, where the permanent population is only a couple of hundred people struggle with over crowding. Franz Josef has the busiest helipad in New Zealand sending dozens of flights up to the glaciers each day almost from dawn until dusk. Down at the small airstrip near the Waiho River single and twin engined light aircraft are coming and going constantly flying over the glaciers and Mt Cook. Numerous tourist buses trundle through daily, plying the same route. Once a sleepy town at the foot of the Southern Alps, like Wanaka, it is no longer quiet unless the Waiho River has knocked out the bridge.

New Zealand prides itself on its environmental sustainability. Compared with many nations we are comparatively clean and green, but the notion we are 100% pure clean is so wrong, I have actually tried complaining about it being misleading advertising. We are most certainly not 100% pure and the faster that silly campaign ends the better. People coming to New Zealand expend significant carbon just getting here, never what they do once they have arrived. The waste that comes out of rental cars is considerable – food, tourist advertising, abandoned clothing items among other stuff which will fill a skip within a week.

I initially actually thought Mr Sabin was being a pessimist, but unfortunately there is more truth to his words than I think most of us New Zealanders want to admit.




Kiwi Build facade still there: No building behind it

Those living in Christchurch could be forgiven for looking at the gutted Kiwi Build programme and thinking that it reminds them of certain derelict facades left behind in the post-earthquake central business district. Battered, clearly having seen better days and with literally nothing of substance behind it, Kiwi Build’s future was announced yesterday after months and months in the repair shop. So what will become of the scheme that was going to promise 10,000 houses a year or about 100,000 all up?

In a press conference that was perhaps fitting for its size given the time, money and resources invested in Kiwi Build by the Government, Minister in charge Megan Woods was keen to make sure New Zealanders know that Kiwi Build still exists. She acknowledged the problems with the promises made and drastically marked down the number of houses expected – an interim target of 1,000 as opposed to the 100,000 that had been promised when the then Housing spokesperson Phil Twyford had basically plucked the number from thin air in 2017.

Kiwi Build was never really going to happen. The number promised was unrealistic and would have tied up our building sector in unaffordable delays to major projects. Phil Twyford should have understood this – and probably did – but instead of quietly admitting Kiwi Build was unrealistic, he let it drag out for months, showed his incompetence and finally lost the Housing portfolio. Dr Woods understood Kiwi Build was not realistic, but she was new to the portfolio and needed time to get up to speed on it, as well as figure out what to do with the facade of a grand idea that was attached to nothing.

Rather than set targets, Dr Woods could be looking at why councils have unused housing that could be made available. In Christchurch, rather than build a wad of new houses, how about appropriating the ones that were uplifted and transported to Yaldhurst from the eastern suburbs.

I want all New Zealanders to have warm healthy dry accommodation. Rather than a straight jacket one size fits all mentality, we should be looking at a diverse housing mix, including single bedroom flats as well as apartment options. Not all of us need a 3 bedroom stand alone house sitting on 1/3 acre such as my parents property in Bryndwr, Christchurch. And rather than promoting urban sprawl which consumes good arable land that is best left for agriculture and so forth, apartment blocks 3 or 4 stories high, such as that which a friend in Sweden lives.

What Kiwi Build eventually gets remembered as, we do not yet know, but we do know that the facade of it is not going to have any respectable structure behind it for sometime yet. Just like certain facades in Christchurch.