Sustainable New Zealand: A green party to challenge… the Greens?

On Sunday 10 November 2019 a new party launched in New Zealand. The Sustainable New Zealand Party, headed by former National candidate Vernon Tava, is a centrist green party that has been established to take on the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand.

As Mr Tava is a former National Party candidate, one might suspect that, although nothing has been said so far, National Leader Simon Bridges is looking for a way to claw back credibility with the environmental wing of politics. Were this to be the case, then its more business friendly approach might see it trying to lure away the blue component of the “Blue Greens” who were meant to be the environmentally friendly wing of the National Party.

The National Party claims that the Greens, like the Labour Party they support are anti-economy. To them the Green Party does not want people earning decent incomes, a skilled work force developing economic sectors to meet the challenges and opportunities of the 21st Century is wrong, if you believe the National Party estimate of the Greens.

It is true that the Green Party is suspicious of research, science and technological development. The party has already via Minister for Conservation, Eugenie Sage, stated its dislike of waste to energy plants that generate electricity from burning waste, Whilst the blurb on the Sustainable New Zealand website talks about the Green hostility to biotechnology, it makes no mention of S.N.Z. support for research into biofuel or hydrogen as an alternative to petrol and diesel.

I assume that Sustainable New Zealand wants to eventually get into Parliament. If that is the case then even though it appears to be positioning itself as a full time environmental party to take on the Greens, some sort of social policy platform is going to be needed. And this is where the “centrist” in “centrist green” could well come in. One can only guess at this time though what sort of policies Mr Tava would consider for his platform.

So, watch this space. In the coming days and weeks S.N.Z. will no doubt have more to say about their vision for New Zealand and what kind of social policy platform they will adopt. Likewise the Green Party will make moves to give them a more distinct edge over S.N.Z..

Mr Tava has a big hill to climb though. It is a lofty goal for any party outside of Parliament to find a way past the 5% threshhold or to win an electoral seat. Only New Zealand First has exited Parliament and made it back in. No party has started from birth outside of Parliament in the Mixed Member Proportional environment and made it in yet. How well Mr Tava manages this climb will be contingent in terms of who runs the party and how.

Upgrade to China Free Trade Agreement

New Zealand and China have upgraded the Free Trade Agreement that exists between the two nations. The Agreement which was originally signed by Prime Minister Helen Clark and Chinese President Hu Jintao in 2008, was presented by the Chinese Premier Li Keqiang today as an agreement that deserved to be upgraded.

All very well. New Zealand has significant trade with China and has a $5.1 billion trade surplus which Mr Keqiang acknowledged in remarks following the announcement of the new deal, for which negotiations were started by the National-led Government of Prime Minister Bill English and concluded by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Concessions appear to have been made by China. In the previous version of the F.T.A. China permitted 98% of New Zealand exports to have preferential access, whereas this time it is 99%. As the last deal was about making sure that New Zealand had a working agreement with China, this was about enabling business to be more easily conducted.

New Zealand maintains the right to regulate for purposes of complying with Te Tiriti O Waitangi, as it also does for purposes of regulating public policy. China has agreed to allow products to enter and not have to be re-certified on entry, which has been a problem for exporters. New Zealand exporters will also be able to self declare their goods as products of New Zealand.

Notably though, the number of New Zealanders who can get visas each year has not changed.

These are however testing times. China’s growing ambition in the Pacific is expressed in military, foreign policy and economic development. It’s growing interest in the South Pacific should be noted by New Zealand and monitored closely. China’s lack of regard for human rights in a part of the world not known for strong human rights policy is of significant concern to human rights N.G.O.’s in New Zealand.



Hydrogen cars for New Zealand?

On the television the other night I saw an advert from Hyundai about a new car that they are working on. It is NEXO. The ad shows a four wheel drive vehicle mounted and claims that the only emissions coming out are water.

If these claims by Hyundai are true then this is quite revolutionary. It offers a potential carbon free fuel cell option for cars. Hydrogen’s volatility is well known – the Hindenburg airship was filled with it and exploded in flames when struck by lightning in Paris – but because hydrogen is lighter than air it will have no problems dissipating, which is important because it to reduce likelihood of the fuel catching fire should the tank be punctured. But, in terms of climate change, hydrogen has NO carbon attached. It is simply H.

This raises a very interesting point to a topic of interest at the moment in New Zealand. What if Tiwai point is shut down because the owners cannot get a satisfactory deal for electricity? Tiwai Point gets its electricity from Manapouri power station deep in Fiordland and that electricity is not minor – Manapouri generates about 850 megawatts, of which about 530 megawatts are used by Tiwai point. All of this is electricity that would flood the market if it were no longer required and – some people honestly hope – will bring down power prices.

But this is not a new problem – it has been threatened before that the Tiwai Point facility will shut at some point and a whole lot of hemming and hawing has gone on about what to do with the electricity should it all be released to the market. I personally think it should be, but I am aware that hundreds of jobs – quite well paying ones at that in many instances – would be on the line.

IBut back to the hydrogen question. Is Tiwai Point actually seriously likely to close? If Tiwai Point aluminium smelter were to close and hydrogen vehicles did become a credible alternative to fossil fuel powered cars, it would be a useful location to establish a hydrogen plant. It would potentially maintain many of the jobs that would probably be lost if the smelter were to close, thereby continuing to provide a large source of employment to the Invercargill/Southland electorates.

With an election not more than 12 months away, supporting the development of hydrogen as a fuel source for cars in New Zealand is a great opportunity for which ever party has the gonads to try something different. Electric vehicles are not only hitting a bit of a stumbling block over price and fuel consumption, but also having to confront the fact that most New Zealanders simply cannot afford one. Could hydrogen fuel cell vehicles fill the void?

University readings resonate with life Vol. 2

In July I mentioned that I had gone back to university and was doing postgraduate planning via distance learning at Massey University. I decided to mention it because the readings for the course discuss planning in ways the vast majority of us probably have not thought about. Whether it is a resource consent application so one can build a new house, or they are negatively affected by something like losing land that will be flooded when a new dam is built, at some point or another New Zealanders will have to deal with the effects of council planning.

I want to come back to this briefly to acknowledge two more noteworthy papers that were part of the readings for 132.732: Planning Theory. In the first article in July I mentioned papers by Marcus Lane (2005) who looked at public participation in planning and Joe Painter (2006) who looks at the roles of ordinary people in positions of power and the effects of their mundane everyday actions.

The reading by Jago DodsonĀ The Global Infrastructure Turn and Global Practice (2016) looks at the rise of infrastructure and the need for urban scholars to take note of this change at national and global level in the context of international frameworks. Notably, as this was written shortly after Donald Trump won the 2016 election, Dodson notes a nationalist dimension to Mr Trump’s emphasis on American infrastructure. His was a response to the need for massive investment in crumbling roads, bridges, derelict dams, water, sewerage and electricity infrastructure. But Mr Trump was merely following a trend that had developed in Canada, Australia and to a lesser extent here in New Zealand that infrastructure development should be a priority issue. An interesting point raised in the Dodson paper was that to avoid the over accumulation of capital, diverting the excess into developing infrastructure should be an acceptable alternative.

The Dodson paper will not resonate so much with the ordinary New Zealander, so much as it will with the economic policy maker. I am talking about the people trying to set a 21st Century course to match the challenges from issues such as sustainability and climate change, diversifying the job market and improve resilience to international shocks.

Perhaps it was the paper by Ambe Njoh Urban planning as a tool of power and social control in colonial Africa (2008) that I found the most striking of the ones in the second half of the course. In reading the paper around the same time as I started an assignment that examined power and social control through urban planning in a local context, I found it striking that Cathedral Square in Christchurch, despite the acknowledgement of Ngai Tahu as local tangata whenua, the Square still has a very English feel and appearance to it. Despite post-earthquake buildings nearby such as the Christchurch public library (Turanga) and the yet to open Convention Centre (Te Pae) having names in Te Reo Maori, those buildings bear little obvious relation or connectedness to Waitaha (Canterbury) or Otautahi (Christchurch). The imposing facade of the old Chief Post Office in Christchurch.

Cathedral Square has battleship grey tiles that in summer have a reflective glare that those with vision problems or those sensitive to bright light find challenging. In writing my last assignment I happened upon a submission to Christchurch City Council from the disabled community for improvements to Cathedral Square. I am not sure how many have happened, but it made me wonder just how accessible this supposedly public place really is. Despite being a public place with trees in built up boxes and temporary installations to offset the unkempt mess behind the fence around the Cathedral, I have on occasion wondered what Ngai Tahu would have wanted had it been given a better say.

As we here in New Zealand look to the future, I can agree with Dodson that there will need to be significant infrastructure investment in the near future. But I can also agree with Njoh, that perhaps unintentionally New Zealand is really no better than other countries in terms of the use of planning for purposes of expressing power and social control.

Neoliberalism: The dam containing New Zealand’s potential

Neoliberalism is like a dam. It is a dam impounding a huge reservoir of potential. The potential being impounded is the potential for New Zealand to be better than it is. And that is just the way the owners of Neoliberal Dam like it.

The trickle down economic theory flows into the top of Lake Neoliberal. And there, it stops, forever trying to fill an endless reservoir. The wealth stays impounded behind the dam, far below the intakes it is never meant to reach and start flowing down the penstocks to the turbines of the power station.

The power station is idling. The flow is just strong enough to allow the turbines to idle, without actually being engaged to drive the shaft between the turbine and the generator. The tail race which drains the turbines is surprisingly

It have been like this for decades. The power station operators at Neoliberal Dam talk about how they want it to recognize its potential, but the operators are beholden to the owners who just want to hoard the potential. They do not want to generate meaningful output because that would require their business plans to significantly change; it would require them to invest in projects that would suck up some of their ill gotten gains.

The communities downstream from Neoliberal Dam know that there is something wrong with it. The spill way has never been used in all the time it has existed. The outflow level never fluctuates seriously. However they do not have the time, the money or the know how to take on its owners and get them to see things from the locals perspective. Nor do the owners of Neoliberal Dam want to meet the locals. The elected representatives of the local communities are beholden to Corporate Power Company and are reluctant to speak ill of the deals being done behind closed doors.

But in a sign of a changing climate, protests about the mismanagement of Neoliberal Dam are beginning to occur with increasing frequency. Overseas the 98% living downstream of Neoliberal’s sister dams are starting to display signs of displeasure. How long before that displeasure reaches New Zealand remains to be seen in a country where the prevailing attitude still largely seems to be “She’ll be right mate”.

But to this observer, wondering what it would take for the turbines to start to work, the answer is clear. The only way to deal with the Neoliberal Dam, is to either change the owners and completely overhaul the dam or blow it up and start again.