The attack on New Zealand’s oceans

The oceans across which our ancestors and tangata whenua sailed to reach Aotearoa/New Zealand, and which thousands of New Zealanders fish from, sail through and swim in every year are under attack. The attack, a sustained assault on the sea and its natural bounty, has left the oceans reeling. But there is some good news in an otherwise bleak state of affairs for our marine environment.

As a nation surrounded by sea water, and being the surface 12% of a sunken continent, New Zealand has intricate and inextricable links with the sea. As a nation where one of the major industries is fisheries, the well being of the marine environment is more important than the emphasis we currently place on it. With this borne in mind, there is room for significant improvement on how we treat the marine environment, the species that live in it and the quality of the sea water.

Notably fisheries have improved. The fisheries crisis peaked about 20 years ago when about 650,000 tons was being caught. The annual catch has been less than 450,000 tons since and that rate continues to improve. 84% of fisheries were being harvested at a rate considered to be acceptable. That sounds good, but it is offset by 16% of unsustainable fisheries, some of which have completely collapsed and must close whilst stocks replenish.

Our extractive activities such as oil and gas are not sustainable. In the 9 years of National being in office, despite a global example of oil rig mismanagement occurring in the Gulf of Mexico with the Deep Horizon well incident, no serious effort was made to improve our ability to handle a large scale blowout. That caused large scale disruption to fisheries in the Gulf, as well as to shore based activities such as tourism, and the oil washing up would have closed beaches heading into the peak tourist season. New Zealand had then, and as far I am aware, still has no capacity to handle such an event. Even the running aground in 2011 of the freighter off the entrance to Tauranga Harbour sorely tested our ability to handle a marine environment emergency.

Our ports are handling more cruise liners and other shipping. Due to the increased tonnage passing through, the likelihood of ballast water containing invasive species is increasing, as is the likelihood of non-compliance with harbour regulations about dumping of waste or ships running into submerged obstacles such reefs, wrecks and so forth.

Coastal development is increasing. Projects to facilitate coastal development such as dredging, land reclamation, removing of coastal vegetation – which used to come right down to the sea prior to European settlement – and residential development, among other activities are all increasing. Their impacts have included increasing siltation, disruption of seabed environments.

Whilst the fisheries report is encouraging, the rest of it is grim. New Zealand needs to develop a comprehensive plan for dealing with maritime emergencies and appropriately resource regional authorities with the means to deal with them. It needs to more closely monitor the coastal development going on and if necessary revise planning documents such as the Coastal Policy Statement to cope with these changes.



Revising terror laws for jihadis

Meet Mark Taylor. Mr Taylor is a Kiwi jihadi who went to Syria to fight for Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (I.S.I.S.). For years he . Now, with I.S.I.S. largely defeated, Mr Taylor has been abandoned by them in a part of the world he knows not much about. He has no proper documentation, or the means to get such documentation, with the nearest consulate office where he could go being in Turkey.

Mr Taylor is known as the “bumbling jihadi”. He is apparently someone not really able to think for themselves, easily influenced and wanting a sense of belonging say people who used to know him when he was in the Army.

But at the same time, how do you survive in a war zone like Syria or Iraq for so long, especially in a disorganization militant environment with no clear command structure, logistical capacity or leadership? Mr Taylor managed to do that with no food or money and that basic services were non-existent, which points to a degree of resourcefulness.

At the end of the day though, I side completely with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on this. Mr Taylor should face the full force of the law if he makes it back to New Zealand, for several reasons:

  1. He is a member of a terrorist/militant group banned under New Zealand law
  2. In being a member he would have associated with other members, possibly received or given logistical or material support to other members
  3. He has not recanted any of his views, based on which one can assume he still believes in them
  4. Whilst not participating in actions, he boasts of being on guard duty whilst with I.S.I.S., which means that although he was not involved in combat he was enabling other militants to be by relieving them of being guards

That said the legal situation he finds himself in, as do the Police working to establish grounds for prosecution and the Government working out how the new laws should look, is complex. What the “full force of the law” might look like is not immediately clear, though the strongest path to conviction appears to be the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002, because he joined a group internationally recognized as a terrorist organization.

The Green Party, not surprisingly do not believe in tightening up the legislation. They believe his human rights will be breached, which the Government deny. National support the legislation as far as the Select Committee, at which point they will be asking for amendments. New Zealand First are likely to support the legislation as well to ensure it reaches the Select Committee at least.

But how “bumbling” was this guy really? With Kurdistan now under full attack by Turkey and struggling to guard the jails holding jihadi like Mr Taylor, we have to be ready for the prospect that they will be let go or attempt an escape. Some argue that Mr Taylor in the Middle East is more dangerous to New Zealand and the world than if he were released and allowed to return to New Zealand.

Whether we like it or not, as the situation in Kurdistan deteriorates and the Kurds struggle for survival, they might well have no choice but to let Mr Taylor go. What happens then? I do not know, but if he comes to New Zealand the public need to be protected from him and any ideological influences he brought with him. The Police need to be sure he is not going to commit an attack or promote violence. And that most certainly will involve jail time.

Democracy the real loser in 2019 Local Government elections

So, the elections of 2019 are over. The new District, City and Regional Councils as well as the new District Health Boards have been decided. Many of the Councils have had their first meeting’s – formal or otherwise and photos of the elected bodies have been posted to Facebook.

As with all elections there are winners and losers. In 2019 though the real losers were not actually the defeated board members/councillors/mayors – although they certainly lost – but the democratic principle which lies at the heart of New Zealand politics. When a country has an average voter turnout of only , that is not democracy IN ACTION, but as a headline on the Sunday Star Times said, “Democracy INACTION”*.

And I have been left wondering what it will take to make more New Zealanders vote in these elections. Will it take compulsory civics in school to learn about how the system works and why, say in Year 12 place of one of the five optional subject slots students can take? Will it require more places to cast ballots – I thought that for one weekend at some point in the campaign period perhaps the locations that are used for General Election voting could be opened for casting ballots. Others have suggested using online voting systems to get people to vote, something has been used in the United States with controversial results.

We cannot make them come to the ballot box, but one thing that could be done is automatically enrolling all citizens upon their 18th birthday. That would ensure that the thousands not on the roll are put on it and are not subject to fines. It would also give the Electoral Commission a better idea of who lives where and make sure that appropriate election resources are applied to that ward/seat.

I wonder what it will take for small electorates to have more than one person standing in some wards. Kaikoura District for example the entire council was re-elected unopposed simply because a district with only a tiny rate payer base almost completely in Kaikoura township was simply not enough to squeeze out any more candidates. Same goes for districts across much of the northern South Island and parts of rural North Island.

Fortunately one certainty still seems to exist irrespective of voter turnout: say or do anything really stupid during the campaign or ones term and you will probably be toast. Just ask Siggi Henry in Hamilton, who wore an anti-vaccination t-shirt to a function and deliberately parked in a disabled carpark. She lost her job on Saturday. Just ask John Tamihere, the former Labour cabinet minister opposing Phil Goff in Auckland, who made the mistake of saying “Sieg Heil”, which is closely linked to Nazism. His election bid to be Auckland Mayor failed handsomely. Just ask former Christchurch City Councillor Deon Swiggs who sent inappropriate text messages to a 15 year old, getting him banned by his boss from council functions for youth and ultimately losing his seat on Saturday.

But all in all, this is not how New Zealand elections should be going in terms of voter turnout and the negative commentary about this sorry state is justified.

*Emphasis is mine

National climbing in polls; Jacinda still preferred Prime Minister

The latest poll out could potentially see a National A.C.T. coalition form. This is how Parliament would look if an election were held today using the numbers of Colmar Brunton:

  • NATIONAL: 60 seats
  • LABOUR: 51 seats
  • GREENS: 8 seats
  • A.C.T.: 1 seat
  • N.Z. FIRST: 0 seats

Because New Zealand First has no electorate seats it would be out of Parliament and their vote would be meaningless. This would boost all of the other parties. National would increase to 49.5%, which would give them 60 seats in the house. With A.C.T. that would enable them to form a Government and not need any other support.

The reality I think is a bit different. Whilst Labour is suffering in the polls I do not believe its popularity has slumped that far as polls typically survey 800-1,000 people. Across all electorates that might be about 14 people per electorate.

  • NATIONAL: 58 seats
  • LABOUR: 50 seats
  • A.C.T.: 3 seats
  • GREENS: 9 seats

David Seymour is the politician I most despise in Parliament and if his A.C.T. Party disappeared most Kiwi’s would be pretty happy, but just this once I think that the man from Epsom has done something right. His work around euthanasia and cannabis reform is going to pay dividends that – credit where it is due – he deserves.

I do not see a future for New Zealand First. Too many people key to the party’s success have been driven from it. Too much time has been squandered with internal politics instead of figuring out how to make it a more efficient election campaigning machine. It is no closer to reforming its campaign machinery than it was when I rejoined in 2010 after a four year hiatus. And then there is the Winston question: how long will Winston Peters stay on as leader?

National leader Simon Bridges is trailing Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in the preferred Prime Minister stakes for numerous good reasons. She has a commanding lead of 38% as opposed to Mr Bridges who has 9% support and is now comfortably ahead of his National Party colleague Judith “Crusher” Collins on 5%.

  1. His support of Donald Trump policies shows a lack of acknowledgement of the harm that the former is causing America and the world
  2. National spent 9 years denying there was a housing crisis – whilst Phil Twyford should be out of cabinet and some of that surplus should be getting spent on it, Labour have at least tried to ease some of the restrictions in place
  3. Labour have started work on the monumental task of readying the economy for a post-oil New Zealand – keeping a promise
  4. Her compassionate style, whilst fluffy to many is in contrast to the attitude of many in National to things like refugees, mental health and beneficiaries

One thing is for certain, whether Ms Ardern or Mr Bridges like it or not, 2020 is shaping up to be a very lively affair.


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.