South Island being short changed by Government

“Everybody south of the Bombay Hills” is a common reference to everyone not living in Auckland. It is generally used in the context of political commentary on Government decisions where New Zealanders not living in Auckland are likely to come distant second in Government funding or policy announcements.

The recent announcement by Minister of Transport Phil Twyford that billions of dollars are to be spent on Auckland and other North Island transport projects was a rude jolt for many in the South Island. Whilst an announcement on funding for the Southern Motorway was made for Christchurch, there was precious little else for the South Island to be happy with. It broke a promise that Labour made to spend $100 million on trains for Christchurch. It ignored the West Coast, Otago, Nelson, Marlborough and Southland completely.

But worst of all it sent a message to people south of Cook Strait that they are not important.

Yet people wonder why the South Island is getting so frustrated. Much of the power that is generated in the South Island goes to the North Island This has been the case for years and I am assured by a friend in the know that the Police keep a permanent watch on the Cook Strait cable to make sure no one interferes with it.

I am not so surprised by the resentment. It has been around for years and at times has gotten strong enough as to give rise to small political parties that have the vision of separating the South Island or at least making much more effort to include South Island interests on the Government agenda. It has given rise to internet based groups that have – among other things looked at alternative flag designs for the South Island.

Richard Prosser, former New Zealand First list Member of Parliament might have seemed a lone wolf in the mist when he advocated for South Island separatism before entering Parliament. However he was not the first. Nor the last. In 1999 the South Island Party stood at the General Election and got 2,622 votes. Not many, but the fact that it became a verified party with 500+ paying members suggests that such sentiment is capable of becoming more organized. The South Island Party disbanded and another party that replaced it never got enough paying members to be verified as a legitimate party.

Still, one cannot help but wonder what it would take for South Island nationalism to start creeping back into the fringes of New Zealand politics. How many more policy and budget announcements that short change the 1.1 million New Zealanders south of Cook Strait could be tolerated?

The answer might not be as many as people think.

Getting ready for the Alpine Fault

It is New Zealand’s biggest seismic hazard, short of a Hikurangi Trench subduction zone rupture. The Alpine Fault earthquake that is expected to occur in the next 50-100 years has been well publicized. But how much are communities close to the fault doing to prepare for a magnitude 8.0+ earthquake?

The Alpine Fault, New Zealand’s answer to the well known San Andreas Fault in California, is the tectonic plate boundary between the Pacific Plate and the Australian Plate where they intersect in the South Island. Every 300 years or so this fault line ruptures in a magnitude 8 earthquake. A sequence of 24 events over the last 8,000 years points to earthquakes in 1100AD, 1450AD, 1620AD and finally around 1717AD,

No part of the South Island will be spared prolonged shaking. Many people, especially i in the lower North Island, will also notice the earthquake. Shaking intensities along the rupturing segment of fault are likely to be up to MMX, which is strong enough to heavily  damage all structures, with many failing and large objects such as televisions and microwaves being moved about. Liquefaction, lateral spreading, landslides and seiching of lake bodies will occur as well.

Alpine Fault Magnitude 8 is a collaborative and ongoing project to improve the readiness of councils across the South Island in terms of their ability to respond to such an event. It has buy in from emergency services, Civil Defence, social groups, the N.Z.D.F., agencies working with lifeline infrastructure and others. The aim is to improve modelling of the potential hazard, engage emergency management and planning experts and use the knowledge gleaned to fill gaps about how to respond.

I anticipate that much of the work that has been done will have been brought into sharp focus by the Kaikoura earthquake in 2016. This was the largest onshore earthquake to hit New Zealand since Murchison in 1929. It caused widespread damage across the northern South Island and lower North Island. The quake exposed weaknesses in transport arrangements with both the railway line and State Highway 1 closed – traffic had to be rerouted through the Lewis Pass in order to reach Picton.

Despite the Kaikoura earthquake and lingering shadow of the Christchurch earthquake, not all councils appear keen to progress their disaster planning. Westland District Council found itself in hot water in 2016 for rejecting Plan Change 7, which sought to address the planning issues that Franz Josef township finds itself confronting. The township straddles the Alpine Fault, which is clearly visible from the air as a crude gash in the landscape. Critics pointed out that the council has a duty of care to all in the District and that by failing to address the risks posed, it leaves itself open to court action by anyone in the District at the time of such an earthquake.

Yet the risk remains. Other councils are pressing ahead with their own plans individually, to be fed into the overall A.F.8. planning framework. It is a proactive council that stands the best chance of success, for no one knows when 300 years of seismic stress on the Alpine Fault will give up the ghost. The only certainty is that with the same confidence that darkness will come into a room when the light goes out, one can conclude it is inevitable.

Can the Maori Party revive?

In 2009, the year after it was ousted from the New Zealand Parliament in the General Election, New Zealand First faithful gathered to do two things:

  1. Assess the damage caused by being ousted from Parliament
  2. Decide how to move forward based on the assessment of the damage

No one said it would be easy, and it was not. But New Zealand First made it happen and in 2011 picked up 8 seats. Winston Peters and Deputy Leader Barbara Stewart led six newcomers into the House of Representatives much to the chagrin of National. Nearly a year after the 2017 General Election, the Maori Party must be wondering the same thing: can it pull itself back together and if so, where to from here?

The Maori Party has many challenges lying before it. They range from the basic ones around how does a party ousted from Parliament rebuild with severely limiting resources, through to how to attract new members and whether or not the Party’s constitution is in need of an overhaul.

But first things first. Who is going to lead the party? Right now both of the co-leadership positions (Maori Party constitution requires a female and male co-leader)are vacant. Will Te Ururoa Flavell and Marama Fox want them back? Good question. If not then who will take over? There are no obvious candidates to do so at the moment as these were in many respects the two most charismatic, capable and certainly the best known of all the Maori Party leaders over the years.

The Maori Party will have significant challenges to address in terms of who does it represent. One might say that the answer is in the name, and whilst there is truth in that, when one looks at the diverse range of settings Maori find themselves in, the answer is certainly not as simple as one might want to think.

  • Will northern Maori, with issues pertaining to the Treaty of Waitangi and adherence to it by the Crown, Maori and non-Maori alike put their foot down and demand concessions from the leaders
  • Will Ngapuhi come to the table with realistic expectations about what to get out of a settlement as the last major Iwi to commence negotiations
  • Would it want a reconciliation with former member and Mana Party leader Hone Harawira, son of the notorious Titewhai Harawira?

In many respects I was not surprised that the Maori Party collapsed at the last election. Past efforts at having a Maori Party in Parliament have collapsed as well. It also did not help that a resurgent Labour feeling the Jacinda-mania warmth picked out all seven seats, having finally convinced Maori that, yes, it has learnt the lessons of the Helen Clark Government. But the major reason that the Maori Party failed at the 2017 election was that internal warring. a general failure to address issues more pressing than the Treaty of Waitangi, such as crime, joblessness, suicide and addiction rates – all the statistics no one wants to be represented in, in other words – and nine years with National, were just too much for many to stomach.

With 2011 still two year away there is still time to rebuild. But it would be wise to start the planning now.


Has business confidence really slumped?

With her return from maternity Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been getting back down to business at a brisk rate. And with concerns about both the New Zealand economy and the global economy growing, Ms Ardern is out to tackle what media commentators are describing as the elephant in the room: the allegedly slumping business confidence.

I am not altogether sure that business confidence really has slumped as a direct result of the Labour-led policies being announced, or whether it is a result of an overall poor international economy. Yes it would seem that Labour likes to announce working groups and other panels to give the appearance of being busy, but realitistically in under a year with most of those panels still not due to report back, I find it difficult to believe Labour alone can be to blame for the slump in confidence.

On the other hand we have a bunch of slowly worsening crises around the world that are making investors jittery. They range from the increasingly irrational behaviour of United States President Donald Trump to ongoing concerns that another major fiscal crisis is in the offing; from Brexit deadlines looming with neither British Labour or British Conservatives seemingly having a clue what they are supposed to be doing to ever climbing petroleum prices. All of this also says nothing about reviving concerns over Euro-bound economies and concerns about the geopolitics of Russia and China.

That is certainly not to say I think that the New Zealand economy is doing okay. The New Zealand Dollar has dropped substantially. In late 2015 it was arounnd U.S.$0.88c and there were people guessing that it might crack U.S.$0.90c, which is territory that just a decade ago was unthinkable. The announcement about oil and gas being phased out was appallingly handled by Ms Ardern, without even her Minister of Energy and Resources, Dr Megan Woods knowing.

But there are major things happening:

  1. $28 billion was set aside for Auckland transport issues
  2. A major review of education is underway – submission opportunities close on Friday
  3. Substantial announcements made around single use plastics – with promises of stewardship programmes to follow
  4. Tackling major pay issues that the previous Government neglected with teachers and nurses is now happening
  5. A forestry service to manage our forests is being established

I admit that opportunities where the Government could be making substantial announcements exist:

  1. People want action against the epidemic of armed hold ups going on up and down the country – I do too, and not just because the service station that is entrusted with the servicing of my parents vehicles was attacked on Friday
  2. Alternative energy sources, such as biofuel, tidal power and solar panels need
  3. I am not advocating for R.M.A. reform on a large scale, but the enforcement provisions need to be revisited in the wake of the difficulty Environment Canterbury is having with the wayward Chinese bottling company

Let us also remember that Labour have not even been in office one year yet. National had 9 years in office and failed to do a huge number of things I thought that a conservative Government might have done. Whilst there is plenty of time for Labour to fall short of what socialists believe should be the agenda for New Zealand, I believe the party and its coalition partners would have to be performing substantially worse than they are in the polls to be a one term wonder.

Time for a petrol price inquiry

I have read of petrol reaching another all time high price in New Zealand today. This is on a commodity that in December 2017 New Zealanders were paying one of the highest pre-tax (i.e before tax added) prices in the world for. Due to some countries like the Netherlands having substantially higher taxes on fuel than New Zealand, we come in about mid field in the O.E.C.D. for total price after tax paid.

Do we need a goods and services tax (G.S.T.)on petroleum and diesel? I am not sure of the answer to that. The Automobile Association New Zealand has long called for a removal of G.S.T. on fuel, and says that it would lower petrol prices by 10c/L, and reduce pressure on already pressurized budgets.

Sure there is a petrol tax coming and petroleum companies do not want to have dollars shaved off their profit, but since when was that new? Sure the Middle East looks dicey at the moment – but that is the way it has been for most of the last decade. Sure there are costs incurred in refining product and getting it to the market, but again, that is the way it has been for yonks.

Basically it is theft and New Zealanders are blindly thinking “she’ll come right” eventually.

Well, no. It will not come right unless we kick this mentality that has cost us much as a nation, and is set to cost quite a bit more before long, to the curb. This notion that somehow the market will correct things and petroleum prices will come down is stuffed.

So, who is going to petition the Minister for Energy, Dr Megan Woods about the disgusting theft that petroleum companies are getting away with? There is no justification for any of the companies whose global parents hundred hundreds of billions of dollars (U.S.)per annum and are comparable in some cases to G.D.P.’s twice as big as New Zealand to not pay tax in full and on time.

Exxon Mobil NZ in 2017 made N.Z.$143 million profit, up 57% on the previous year. In the same year B.P. New Zealand increased its profit 65% to N.Z.$243 million and Z Energy increased their profit in the same time to N.Z.$263 million

It would cost me $100.80 to filll a 1.4 litre Hyundai Getz from completely empty at $2.24/L. A 3.0L Toyota Surf would cost $89.05 to fill its 65L tank with diesel at $1.37/L.

Yes, we need to be cutting down on carbon emissions, but until there is a serious uptake in electric cars, which still have a number of barriers in the way and hybrids, New Zealand is not going to make inroads on its Paris Accord obligations. But to get there, those vehicles must first become more affordable. Right now a hybrid or electric vehicle is simply not in the budgetary of many New Zealanders.