A proxy war New Zealand does not need


A proxy war is normally a war fought by small actors on behalf of bigger actors. As such, there is a war between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a client state of America, and the Islamic Republic of Iran, which is a client state of Russia. As client states, they receive aid from their more powerful mate.

Neither Russia or America want the other to gain absolute control in the Middle East. This is a cross roads region between the Asian, North African and European continents. Both need the oil that comes with these nations, and both are propping up dictatorships who care nothing for the supposed Western influence of human rights.

Both America and Russia are guilty of arming war criminals. They will deny it as this is a very heavy allegation to make, but American and British cluster bombs have been dropped by Saudi Arabia on Yemeni schools, hospitals and homes. And irrefutable evidence of these events has been found by Amnesty International.

Russia has blood on its hands from supporting the regime of Bashar al Assad in Syria. It has vetoed numerous United Nations Security Council resolutions trying to hold Mr al Assad to account. Russia has also steadfastly stood up for Iran in the same way America has for Israel. It has vetoed U.N. resolutions against Iran. It has ignored Iran’s abomination of a record on women’s rights. Were a war to start between the two I expect Russia will respond militarily to a direct attack on Iran, at which point the stakes rise by orders of magnitude. So too does the risk.

Has the U.S./Israel /Saudi Arabia thought about this? I am not sure that they have.

Iran, perhaps under the Russian umbrella may think it is safe and that the United States would not strike. Perhaps true, but I think Israel would. It struck Saddam Hussein by knocking out his Osirak reactor; it struck Syria several years ago. What would happen if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to bomb the entire Iranian nuclear programme and any military installations deemed to be strategic back into the stone age?

But there is another country involved. Turkey. Over the decades Turkey has maintained an increasingly hard line against its Kurdish minority. As a result some Kurdish groups such as the P.K.K. have been labelled terrorist groups. Turkey is in a unique position. It is friendly to Russia and – to a decreasing extent – the United States. It has hosted N.A.T.O. forces during various operations, including the 1991 Gulf War and the U.S. used to have missiles there, which were removed after the Cuban Missile Crisis. Recently the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan has become more authoritarian and survived an attempted coup in 2016 that led to a massive crack down against the intelligentsia and activist groups.

But in the last few months that has taken on a new dimension with Turkey acquiring advanced Russian S-400 anti aircraft missiles and is talking to Moscow about participating in its 5th Generation combat aircraft programme. This has led to a sharp and possibly long lasting deterioration in its relationship with N.A.T.O. and the United States, which has cut Turkey out of the F-35 fighter programme.

And then, last week it started a military operation against Kurdish forces who had been participating in the war against I.S.I.S. after the Americans downgraded their forces in northern Syria. In an already complicated geopolitical mess, this was something totally unnecessary on Turkey’s part and that of Washington.

And all it achieves is the diminishing of the prospects for a lasting peace in a region that has been nearly continuously wracked by some sort of conflict since October 2001. It is not a conflict New Zealand needs to be a part of. It is not one we will gain anything from and definitely one we should be actively pushing towards the peace negotiations table.

 

Winners and Losers: The 2019 Local Government elections


Congratulations to all ward representatives, Councillors and Mayors elected. It has been fascinating watching the results coming in from around the country. Commiserations to those who lost their races and now return to regular day time work.

Particularly interesting for me in Canterbury has been the election of our first democratic council since the Commissioners took over the 2007-2010 council in March 2010. They leave behind a province struggling with fresh water issues, transport and land use. They leave behind a council whose permanent staff has not only drastically changed, but also missing a lot of local knowledge particularly in the planning and policy sections. Four of the 6 councillors that stood in 2016 have been returned. The other 10 are newcomers.

I am not surprised Lianne Dalziel has been re-elected Mayor of Christchurch. Whilst she was not my preferred candidate, her campaign was the strongest. Runner up Daryl Park was unrealistic in having a policy platform of zero increases in rates. Mr Park also did not score as well as many others did on matters such as housing, transport and drinking water supply. Green candidate John Minto is widely considered too radical and and came third.

Around the big cities in New Zealand I see that Phil Goff has taken Auckland for a second term. Paula Southgate has won Hamilton. Ms Southgate lost the 2016 election race by a razor thin margin of just 6 votes to Andrew Turner, who she outed comfortably. A 35 year old Green Party candidate named Aaron Hawkins has taken Dunedin. It is Wellington that people are watching. One term Mayor Justin Lester is trailing Andy Foster in a race that will be decided by special votes, of which there are about 5,000 to count. That result will be a few days away. An Andy Foster victory would make Justin Lester the first one term Mayor in Wellington in decades.

The West Coast Regional Council has two female councillors joining five others around their council table. This may be a backlash for the denial of climate change that permeated the previous council. Greater Wellington Regional Council has few changes.

In terms of District Council races, I am interested to see what the composition of the Westland District Council is. After a horror three years with two big flood events, two cyclones and much criticism over the Franz Josef flood protection works and their failure to implement Plan Change 7 concerning the Alpine Fault, no doubt ratepayers will be looking forward to a more responsible council. In Canterbury the Waimakariri, Kaikoura, Timaru, Hurunui Districts all have new mayors. The Kaikoura District Council, struggling in the aftermath of the 2016 magnitude 7.8 earthquake faces a difficult three years trying to stay afloat whilst repairing the damage and conducting regular business.

To all those who have voted, in my book you retain your grumbling rights for another three years. To all those that did not, if you now get a council that uses rates in ways you did not want them to, stiff cheese.

Ending a discriminatory and improper policy


It has been announced that the Government is about to wind up a policy instituted by National in 2009, which meant that refugees north African and Middle East origin were not encouraged to settle in New Zealand. As a consequence New Zealand struggled to meet its refugee quota which earned numerous rebukes including at least one from the United Nations.

As an Amnesty International member I welcome the ending of this policy. Racist, discriminatory and ultimately not beneficial to New Zealand, it makes me wonder how many more we might have been able to take had their origins not been brought into question.

It was also richly hypocritical. American foreign policy implemented by client states such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Israel has displaced millions of people across the Middle East through wars. Saudi Arabian bombing of Yemen was made possible by aircraft and munitions supplied by the United States and Britain. Turkish offensives against Kurds in Kurdistan were made possible through the same mechanisms. And the New Zealand National Party thought America was doing right.

The hypocrisy lies in whilst thinking of New Zealand as a humanitarian country that does its best to help refugees and make them feel welcome, refugees from an entire geographic region were being blocked. Despite them having fled war and persecution by state actors that America helped to arm and being separated from family, apparently settling in New Zealand and having safety often for the first time ever, was a total no-no. A country with a party that thought American foreign policy was on the right track was refusing to accept the consequences of that not so right foreign policy. By refusing to accept that by being in countries like Afghanistan in wars we should have had no role in, New Zealand was being part of the problem and not the solution.

So, now, with this racist, discriminatory and hypocritical policy on the way out, hopefully future New Zealand National Party-led Governments will see the wrongs of their ways.

 

The $7.5b question: tax cuts; election spend up; something else?


The biggest government surplus in a decade has political and economic commentators thinking: What will Treasurer Grant Robertson do with a $7.5 billion surplus?

A few certainties arise even before that question can be considered:

  1. 2020 is election year and there will no doubt be thoughts of holding at least some of it to throw at election promises in a years time
  2. Certain parties who do not need to be named are going to want – and indeed have already promised – tax cuts, specifically income tax cuts
  3. With a shaky world economy getting ever more jittery with every passing month and the domestic economy not looking so hot, economists and some politicians are suggesting that the government needs a spend up to get things moving

I have long had ideas about what to potentially spend on in the past, which have been largely social areas such as health, education and social welfare. My understanding is that the calls in 2019 are for greater investment in infrastructure critical to the 21st Century.

This suits me fine, as I have a few ideas of what it could be spent on:

  1. Research and development of a potential biofuel programme relying on the waste stream for an appropriate fuel source – take several years to get this started, but if successful modest scale biofuel plants could be established in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch
  2. Research and development of a Waste to Energy plant for the West Coast, which would be self sufficient in terms of electricity use
  3. Examine electrification of the South Island segment of the Main Trunk Line
  4. Invest in 5G technology nation-wide instead of letting the telecommunications companies do so for reasons of national security
  5. A substantial acceleration of the billion tree programme that was announced by the Government in 2017
  6. Support a mini-home scheme

But what if the Government decided on tax cuts? Whilst there might be enough to justify some I am personally against income tax cuts because the wealthiest are always the winners, when all should be able to gain fairly from them. Such a move would certainly not be welcomed by the left wing of New Zealand politics, who believe with justification that this would only favour the very few.

A more intriguing alternative is one that almost never seems to be up for discussion. Despite the right talking about fiscal responsibility, under the last several New Zealand governments significant debt has been accrued and much of it is still outstanding. Has the ever so radical idea that New Zealand should actually pay moreĀ  of it back not strike one as a useful idea?

Extinction Rebellion protests not helpful


Yesterday 200 activists from Extinction Rebellion caused disruption in central Wellington. They occupied an A.N.Z. bank branch, blocked intersections and formed a group outside the Ministry of Business Innovation and Enterprise (M.B.I.E.). The protests which were part of a 60-city world wide disruption campaign were not well received by the Police, Prime Minister or members of the public.

Activism that is peaceful is perfectly fine and there are many examples of peaceful activism that have drawn impressive results. But activism where disruption involves illegal activity such as trespassing or causing nuisance, whilst gaining media attention, is not a great way to get public support.

Whilst being an activist myself, there is one thing I will not do except in exceptional circumstances: break New Zealand law.

The one instance where I believe breaking the law might be necessary is in the improbable – not impossible – event that indefinite martial law is declared or one of the core Acts of Parliament that form the basis of our constitutional framework is suspended. But as this is talking about the realms of the quite improbable, I see no need to break New Zealand law.

But to Extinction Rebellion an organization established to protest government policies that they say are leading humanity to its nadir, it is apparently okay.

The protests yesterday are not their first. A few weeks ago protesters aligned with Extinction Rebellion trespassed into the railway corridor in Christchurch to stop coal trains. In doing so they delayed the transit of four freight trains for several hours. In doing so they interfered with railway track that would have had to be checked over for potential damage before trains could be allowed to pass over it.

I said I am an activist, and I am. I have much time for peaceful activism and believe that there are stronger ways of getting messages across than participating in activity that disrupts for the sake of disrupting. Extinction Rebellion could have had a protest outside Kiwi Rail offices, or crowd funded an advert in the media or handed out flyers.

More surprising was the belief of some at the Amnesty International New Zealand office, that such disruption as that caused by the railway protest was okay. Based on what I have been told in the past, this stance sounded like a departure from their normal law abiding approach.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern correctly said that the A.N.Z. protesters were doing no one any favours. Disrupting a bank where people are trying to carry out their legitimate financial procedures is not likely to curry any favours with the New Zealand public, or the Police who probably thought they had better things they could have been doing.