Green Party energy policy in 2017 election

Today the Green Party released their energy policy for the 2017 election.

The reaction from Business New Zealand has been largely positive. Other than the commitment to 100% renewable energy, the lobby group believes that it is constructive and comes about as a result of working with the party.

I support parts of the policy too. One area which is encouraging is the Green Party plan to support inter customer trading of electricity that private users generate and put back into the grid. Likewise encouraging the lines companies to amalgamate in places means that the management of the grid across New Zealand should hopefully become less fractured than 29 separate entities at work.

New Zealand is rich with options for renewable energy. It sits in the “Roaring Forties” belt of latitudinal westerly winds, which upon contact with the Southern Alps give rise to substantial rainfall enabling hydroelectric power generation, as well as significant opportunities for wind power. The reasonably high sunshine hours in towns like Blenheim, Whakatane and Nelson ensure the natural potential for solar power also exists. Around the coastal environment there are also several locations where tidal power can be potentially harnessed.

I am aware of significant investment in geothermal energy in New Zealand that has most likely utilized the available capacity. Geothermal systems are quite delicate in nature and thus a fine balance exists between re-injecting too much water back into the ground and not enough.

Another source of power that is heavily utilized is hydro power. Although it has lost a portion of the market as other sources have come online, hydroelectric power makes up about 60% of New Zealand’s total electricity supply. However it is dependent on reliable northwest rainfall feeding the Upper Waitaki Power Scheme, and the Clutha, Roxburgh and Manapouri power stations in Central Otago and Southland.

But there is undeveloped and under researched potential in New Zealand energy resources as well. One example is that New Zealand has a thriving waste stream of bio-waste ranging from waste cooking fat and oil, that at least on a small scale has been demonstrated to be suitable for refining. New Zealanders discharge a huge volume of green waste at refuse stations each week. On a local scale there are a few operations where the gas is captured and used to power onsite facilities. However these are few and far apart. Due to the uncertainty and a lack of interest by Government in biofuel, I support research into whether or not a nation wide bio-fuel programme can be developed in New Zealand.

There is one concern I do have though and that is that the Green Party might try to mothball with the intention of decommissioning thermal plants that rely on coal and oil, such as Huntly, Stratford and Whirinaki. These power stations would prove useful in maintaining energy supply during dry periods when the hydroelectric storage lakes are running low, or if there has been a problem with other sources.

National scared of Winston Peters

Yesterday, the Minister for Immigration, Michael Woodhouse announced a raft of new measures to tackle record numbers of migrants coming to New Zealand. The measures come amid a stagnating and high house prices.

But what  was this: An act of desperation? An act of cynicism? An act by a party that is scared of a wily old foe? The timing suggests it could be a combination of all three.

For years Winston Peters and his New Zealand First party have been a consistent clarion for more sustainable levels of immigration than the 71,000 migrants who flooded into New Zealand last year. National has hit back each time, accusing New Zealand First of wanting to stifle growth and of being xenophobic all the while ignoring the very socio-economic issues that are being fuelled by the rapid population growth.

I have no problems with immigration and nor does the New Zealand First party which I support. Without regard to race or reason for coming, if people want to come here and contribute constructively to New Zealand whether they are on work visas, as tourists, let them. If they want to live here long term as law abiding New Zealanders, let them. Where the problem lies is being able to continue this without the quality of life that those already in New Zealand and those that have lived here all along, enjoy being eroded.

Determining what constitutes a sustainable immigration flow is a tricky question and the answers no doubt depend on what is intended to be gained from the data, its modelling and subsequent outputs. If we are simply looking for a rate of immigration that can be maintained for say a generation, perhaps statistical census data, coupled with regional data sets pertaining to the environment is an appropriate way to go. Geographic Information Systems software can do this in a temporal and/or spatial manner, and other applications can do statistical manipulation.

So, how does this relate to National being scared of Mr Peters? The data sets already exist and National has had eight years to use the data to attempt some modelling, and draw up appropriate policy based on the outcomes. The party might well argue that this is what it is doing now.

But after three terms, knowing history does not favour – with the exception of Keith Holyoake, four term peace time Governments, one cannot help but notice the cynicism of the timing. Now it is election year and National has had three terms in office and is seeking a historic fourth term. It has enjoyed years of riding high in the polls and watching Labour slump to consecutive defeats. It has built itself up on a centrist mandate that former Prime Minister John Key obtained in 2008, renewed in 2011 and again in 2014. Mr Key created a common man image that worked well for him, but has come unstuck on current Prime Minister Bill English.

Come 24 September if this attitude of National continues, the party could very well be in a state of shock, unable – and perhaps unwilling – to admit that perhaps one Winston Peters was right all along.

Election year cynicism mars great news for care givers

Today history was made for care givers around New Zealand. This is the day that the Government of New Zealand backed down and acknowledged that New Zealand care givers deserve a significantly larger wage and that the predominantly female workforce in this sector was suffering significant wage discrimination.

Unfortunately, despite backing down, the Government cannot claim any credit in regards to this. All of the credit must go to the E tu union for bringing this about after much hard work. It is in election year and is quite an expensive defeat to have to be admitting, but in doing so, it paints National in a positive light. This was pointed out by the Leader of the Opposition, Labour Leader Andrew Little when asked for commentary on the deal yesterday afternoon. Nor was the rather cynical nature lost on other opposition parties such as the Greens and New Zealand First.

So, what does the deal entail:

  1. Effective 01 June it a care giver on $15.75 will receive an extra $4/hr, increasing their wage to $19.75/hr
  2. Some will get up to 7/hr increase in their pay
  3. The deal will cost N.Z.$2 billion to implement over the next four years

The campaign to get the historic announcement today to happen at all is the result of a two year negotiation campaign led by E tu. It comes after concerns that a failure to address these concerns would set the people who work in it down a trail where they have no quality of life and would not be able to plan for the future.

So, thank you to E tu for standing up for care givers and settling this with the Government. It gives me confidence that the people working in this essential sector of our health care are being appropriately valued.

The Hone question

To make peace with Hone or not to make peace with Hone?

That is the question confronting the Maori party that Hone Harawira, a firebrand former Member of Parliament helped to form in 2004. The former M.P. was made to leave the Maori Party in 2009 after e-mails surfaced about his attitude to private spending out of the public purse, and following electoral defeat, left Parliament completely. Three years later has Mr Harawira learnt from his experiences being defeated and made to leave a party he helped to found?

During his time in politics Mr Harawira has earned a reputation pushing a separatist platform, blaming non-Maori for the social ills of Maori. He was combative in Parliament and in public. Although he earned a bit of respect for being willing to criticize the Maori Party for blindly behaving like a National-Party puppet, his focus, like their’s has tended to be on settling Treaty of Waitangi grievances. Neither have addressed the socio-economic ills that make Maori feature disproportionately highly in crime, poverty, truancy and unemployment rates.

I believe that Mr Harawira is finished in New Zealand politics. His divisiveness, inability to control his dislike for non-Maori and advocating for a separatist agenda that would have been hugely damaging for New Zealand was one of the primary reasons for Internet-Mana being defeated in the 2014 election. The behaviour of his mother at Waitangi Day commemorations and extended family, especially his nephews, who often skirmished with police helped to damage the Harawira brand as a political force. The ill fated and ill conceived alliance with a fledgling party whose line up of washed up politicians and candidates with no name recognition divided the left leaning vote at a time when unity was essential.

However, whilst I have no desire to see Internet Party, Mana Party or Internet-Mana if that is what they still are, back in Parliament, I acknowledge that I am but one voter. Thousands on the left were taken by their promises to be friendly to internet users at a time when there was considerable concern about corporate deals being fleshed out that would have severely impacted on copyright.

It also has to be acknowledged that Mr Harawira was one of only a few Members of Parliament who would happily come to join a picket line advocating better conditions; one of the few to recognize the catastrophe that is the recently passed Maori land use Bill in Parliament. He had a bill drawn from the Ballot in Parliament that was going provide for free lunches to children in schools. The Bill as yet has not been read in Parliament, but it had up to 70% support.

But will the colourful former Member of Parliament from Te Tai Tokerau comply with any deal struck with the Maori Party? And more specifically do New Zealand voters want him back?

On 23 September 2017, we shall find out.

The Machiavelli of New Zealand foreign policy departs

He was known as a back room dealer, Machiavellian in nature. His colleagues in the National Party, his electorate and in the Beehive know him to be abrasive and hard headed. But to the world, Murray McCully was the New Zealand Minister of Foreign Affairs. And now as he enters his final weeks in the job, the question hangs over the head of his boss Prime Minister Bill English: who to replace him with.

Murray McCully had a mixed time as Minister of Foreign Affairs for New Zealand. On one hand he was delightfully successful in getting New Zealand one of the rotating seats on the United Nations Security Council, a two year period where as one of the ten non-permanent members we held a prized opportunity to positively influence global affairs. Mr McCully enjoyed a surge of respect from unexpected quarters late in 2016, when just before Christmas and the end of New Zealand’s tenure in the Security Council seat, New Zealand along with Venezuela, Malaysia and Burkina Faso got a resolution through that condemned Israeli occupation of Palestine.

But Mr McCully also had chances that he failed to take, and took decisions that still rankle the international community to this day. His ongoing support for the United States led “War on Terrorism”, even when it is on increasingly questionable grounds, has raised the ire of human rights campaigners, legal experts and left people wondering if the independent foreign policy platform of New Zealand was being deliberately eroded. The switching of New Zealand aid to support the South Pacific was another controversy that Mr McCully had to deal with.

This article should not pass without mentioning his handling of internal reorganization in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the loss of skilled diplomatic staff, researchers and planners. The Machiavelli in Mr McCully alleged came to the fore here. Tracy Watkins writes of him as the Machiavelli because he was, she writes, a wheeler, dealer and a plotter to the extent when some of his colleagues called him the dark prince, they meant it.

Mr English faces a dilemma in replacing Mr McCully though. Less than six months from the election at the of a three term Government, in a country where Governments in peace time are not generally favoured by history to win a fourth, what impact could the replacement Minister have? Would it be better to appoint a care taker Minister of Foreign Affairs until Mr English knows what shape the National Party will be in after the election? And what direction does Mr English want to take – a centre/centre-right approach like Mr McCully took under former Prime Minister John Key, or a swing to the right? And, given history’s preferences, does – aside from a fourth term – Mr English have anything to lose?

Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee is one of the leading candidates. Member for Ilam, Minister for Earthquake Recovery and former Minister for Energy and Resources, Mr Brownlee has had substantial Ministerial experience over the last 8 years. But he is abrupt, blunt and some people might say in the wake of the Nicky Hager book, lacking regard for international law.

Another candidate is Dr Jonathan Coleman, Minister of Health. Dr Coleman took over this after Tony Ryall left. His time has seen him face increasing criticism over cuts to the budget, apathy over medical marijuana and a lack of empathy for people with mental health issues. But would Dr Coleman want the job?

The ranks thin quickly after that. Few others have much experience on the international stage and in a time when as Ms Watkins notes, building relationships is everything in international diplomacy, would the newcomer be up to the task?

Or will history veto a fourth term like it has done so many times before?