Pristine And Unique: The Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary covers one of the most pristine and unique environments on Earth. Its 10km ocean trench is the second deepest in the world and is deeper than Mt Everest is tall, while its arc of 30 underwater volcanoes is the longest anywhere on earth. It is home to six million seabirds of 39 different species, more than 150 species of fish, 35 species of whales and dolphins, three species of endangered sea turtles and many other marine species such as corals, shellfish and crabs unique to this area. Prior to the arrival of Europeans in the Eighteenth Century, Maori never fished these waters.
JOHN KEY’S DECISION to suspend the passage of the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary legislation marks an important turning point in the life of his government. Rather than pass Nick Smith’s environmentally vital bill with Green votes, the Prime Minister has, apparently, capitulated to the greed of rent-seeking Iwi leaders, and the schoolboy political philosophising of Act’s David Seymour.
Clearly, Key has his eyes fixed on the likely outcome of next year’s election, when the votes of his current Confidence and Supply partners may, once again, constitute the margin between victory and defeat.
In this respect, the fate of the Maori Party is of particular relevance. If Tukoroirangi Morgan can unite the Maori and Mana parties against Labour in the Maori electorates to claim Tamaki Makaurau, Te Tai Hauauru, Te Tai Tokerau and (if Nanaia Mahuta can be persuaded to step down) Hauraki-Waikato, then Key’s hold on power will likely endure.
That will most certainly not be the outcome, however, if the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary Bill is made law over the loud objections of practically the whole of Maoridom. Hence Key’s determination to keep Maoridom (and the Maori Party) sweet.
It is even possible that Seymour’s posturing on the Bill is less about standing up for “the existing property rights of fishing operators” and more about providing some cover for Key’s capitulation to Iwi anger. Better to have National Party voters scolding Seymour for his disloyalty than upbraiding the Prime Minister for “pandering” to Maori interests.
Key will be especially keen that his electoral base is kept as far away as possible from the words of his own Environment Minister, Dr Nick Smith.
In a media statement released earlier today (14/9/16) Smith angrily rejected Maori criticism of the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary Bill:
“We have tried very hard to find a resolution with TOKM [Te Ohu Kaimoana], with 10 meetings involving ministers during the past 10 months. TOKM wanted to be able to maintain the right to fish and the right to exercise that at some time in the future. We wanted to protect the integrity of the sanctuary as a no-take area.
“The claimed consequences for TOKM are way overstated. Māori have caught more than three million tonnes under the fisheries settlement since 1992, but not a single tonne in the Kermadecs. There are five fishing companies affected, none Māori, but who collectively have only caught about 20 tonne per year, out of an annual total fishing industry catch of 450,000 tonnes.
“The claim that this new sanctuary undermines the 1992 fishery settlement is incorrect. The Government always retained the right to create protected areas where fishing would be disallowed and has done so in over 20 new marine reserves, many of which had far more impact on settlement and customary fishing rights. New Zealand is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity and the Aichi targets of setting aside at least 10 per cent of our oceans in marine protected areas.
“The proposed sanctuary is part of a Pacific-wide effort to provide large-scale Marine Protected Areas, with the United States announcing the Eastern Hawaiian Islands Reserve and the United Kingdom proposing a large reserve around Pitcairn Island.”
Smith’s statement was released shortly after 1:00pm and betrayed not the slightest awareness that its author and his bill was about to be left twisting slowly in the wind by the Prime Minister. Less than an hour later, at 2:00pm, Seymour issued a media release announcing his party’s decision to pull its support for the Bill. By 3:00pm, Key was telling the Parliamentary Press Gallery that:
“We’re absolutely sure we can get the numbers with the Greens but we’re very disappointed that negotiations with [Te Ohu Kaimoana] have broken down at this point. The government would restart discussions with the Māori Party to see whether it would support the bill. So it is just going to take a bit longer.”
How much longer? The smart money would be on ‘Sometime After The 2017 Election’.
Key emerges from this whole episode with very little honour. Such craven compromising is a very long way from the extraordinarily bold behaviour of the John Key who took up the Opposition leader’s role in 2007. That John Key would have weighed the Greens’ 13 percent of the Party Vote against the Maori Party’s 2 percent and adjusted his strategy accordingly.
A National Party that was serious about a fourth term would have welcomed the chance to do something environmentally important with the support of the Greens. In a century defined and dominated by environmental perils, the political salience of Green Party issues can only increase. In recognition of that salience, Labour has been willing to forfeit any chance of recovering its former electoral dominance. That is because Labour understands what Key clearly does not: that a party which rejects every opportunity to govern with the Greens, will eventually render itself incapable of governing at all.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Wednesday, 14 September 2016.