Tuesday 1 October 2013

Citizens Left Out Of The Water Equation

Enjoy It While You Can: The Tukituki River sparkles in the Hawkes Bay sun, but if the Ruataniwha Dam is built and intensive dairying is made possible further upstream, this iconic river will swiftly be transformed into what Green Party co-leader, Russel Norman, predicts will be "an industrial drain". Water is fast becoming New Zealand's most valuable natural resource and Federated Farmers - aided and abetted by the National Government - is determined to place that resource in private hands.
THERE’S ALWAYS A MOMENT when we realise that power has shifted. Trusted people and institutions suddenly turn against us. Those whose job it is to assess and avert public risk disappear. We hear rumours about wholesale sackings and forced resignations. Obvious and serious conflicts of interest are studiously ignored. And those in charge, while not guilty of telling outright lies, have unquestionably stopped telling us the whole truth.
Such extreme power shifts are generally confined to the corporate sector. And while they are never pleasant, and often very costly in personal terms, most of us nevertheless accept the process. The business world is not a democratic world: its unfairness and rapacity is largely beyond our control. Businesses fail, are sold, merged, asset-stripped, re-branded and downsized – and there’s not a lot any of us can do about it.
Beyond the business world, however, we do not expect to be left out of the equation. Employees may be required to subordinate their judgement to the entity paying their wages but, constitutionally-speaking, citizens are sovereign: their democratic judgements not subject to private-sector countermand.
Citizens do not take kindly to being treated as if they were employees.
But this is precisely what is happening. All over the country: from the Canterbury Plains to the Tukituki River in Hawke’s Bay; private interests are muscling in on public resources; compromising the integrity of public institutions; and trampling with ill-disguised contempt upon the rights of New Zealand citizens.
And at the heart of this power grab is – water.
I SHOULDN’T BE SURPRISED. On 19 November 2008, just eleven days after the election of the current government, myself and the right-wing political commentator, Matthew Hooton, were invited to address the National Executive of Federated Farmers.
Coming away from that meeting, I was impressed by three things.
The first was how much the Federated Farmers CEO, Conor English, looked and sounded like his brother, Bill, the newly elected government’s Finance Minister.
The second was the presence of Dr William Rolleston. Until that moment, I had only known Dr Rolleston in his role as one of New Zealand’s most outspoken advocates of genetically engineered agricultural production. That he was so closely associated with Federated Farmers was something I probably should have known, but was still rather disturbed to find out.
The third, and by far the most important, thing I took away from that meeting was Conor English giving me a quiet “heads-up” that the most important issue facing Federated Farmers, and New Zealand, over the next few decades would be the issue of who controlled access to what was fast becoming the nation’s most valuable natural resource – water.
MOST NEW ZEALANDERS don’t think too much about water. Most of us live in cities and towns which, for the better part of a hundred years, have enjoyed a plentiful, safe and remarkably cheap water supply. In the odd drought year we townies may be asked to refrain from watering our gardens, but most of us, for most of the time, don’t give water a second thought.
Matters are very different in the countryside.
Over the course of the past twenty years the New Zealand landscape has been transformed by the extraordinary growth of the dairy industry. Where once the cargo vessels leaving our ports were loaded down with carcasses of frozen lamb and bales of wool – as well as butter and cheese – our agricultural exports are today dominated the thousands of tons of top-quality milk powder produced by New Zealand’s world-beating dairy farmers.
That milk powder earns this country billions of dollars every year, but dairying’s “white gold” comes at a heavy cost. The successful dairy farm not only requires millions of litres of water by way of an input, but its hundreds of cows also discharge equally vast quantities of effluent by way of an output. That effluent inevitably makes its way into the nation’s waterways – polluting them to the extent that the lower reaches of more than half of New Zealand’s largest and most magnificent rivers are no longer safe to fish or swim in. And neither are their tributaries.
THE SHUTTING DOWN of democracy in the Canterbury Regional Council, and the more recent suppression of a Department of Conservation draft report on the sustainability of the Ruataniwha Dam, represent the working out in political terms of Conor English’s heads-up warning of five years ago.
New Zealand’s dairy farmers, and the enormous economic interests they represent, have decided to privatise the nation’s water resources – and the government is helping them do it.
Dr William Rolleston has even enlisted the reality of Global Warming to advance Federated Farmers’ cause: While New Zealand has plenty of water, he says, it's not always in the right place at the right time.

But, presumably, it will soon be in the right hands.

This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 1 October 2013.


Brendon said...

I hope kiwis begin to realise they have been conned by politicians who use TINA (there is no alternative) to spread market led reforms that benefit a minority while imposing costs on the majority.

All kiwis should knows those that make the rules and appoint the referees are the ones that benefit. That there is mass propaganda that ordinary citizens cannot benefit from democracy.

The last thing the right wants is for the wider public to realise that public institutions is something that they directly benefit from.

So the key battle ground in Canterbury is to show why a democratic Ecan can benefit 1/2 million Cantabrians.

So the critical thing for Cunliffe to achieve as opposition minister of regional development is to show how a model of democracy and strong regional public institutions is something that brings tangible benefits to the wider public.

Anonymous said...

While I agree that the citizen's and resident's input is much neglected, this is at this stage not yet a proper agenda to "privatise" water supplies and use, what the government is planning.

There is much talk about better water management and the likes, there are of course plans for irrigation schemes to be established, and more.

Yes, of course, if this will be left to the Nats and their support parties to put into place, we will get forms of privatisation of water use and access, by stealth so to say. There will be private operators, or at least PPPs that will implement it in that case.

Most living in the urban centres are poorly informed, and they have no clue what is going on in the regions. Leaving all this up to the farming lobby and rural regional councils should not be allowed.

Submissions can be made for RMA amendments and the likes, but who really bothers out there, apart from a few. And then again, we know that select committee processes are often just a joke, as the majority will be able to vote for the recommendations by government.

So like with other matters, people have their power taken off them, or it is flowing through their fingers like fine sand. It is time to wake up and take note, and to take action, folks.

Anonymous said...

Jasper Carrot had a joke that ended 'and now we've got a bunch of sharks selling us our water'

CarbonGuilty said...

What conspiracy theory is it now? Helen and John are taking your water and giving it to the big corporates via the Tory farmers? Yes Helen, your Helen Chris it was who devoted nine years to creating Fonterra and this is her only legacy really. She did well and it is not a Tory plot at all but it is the way of the world. Irrigation and food production, that is all and it is global. No politics here. Generally the World's environment is improving but on one measure it is not and that is small waterways and coastal water are becoming nutrient rich, everywhere. In NZ we hope to do better and probably will but do not pretend you don't eat the butter or drink the milk of the wealth we create by modern farming. We all benefit from this at the cost of some waterways, left right and straight down the middle.
What would the hard left do instead? Have a bit of starvation of course! Would they flinch? Not based on the past and it goes on today in the remnant socialist world. To be fair that would be a Green policy rather than Labour's.

Davo Stevens said...

Hmmm! Carbon, so it's Helen's fault now!

She did not create Fonterra my friend, it was the cockie's who decided to change the old Dairy Board to a public company, they own it and they changed it.

Water is a finite resource, more used for irrigation-less for anyone else, that is a simple thing for anyone to understand.

Why aren't the farmers, who are causing the polution, doing something about it? Should we taxpayers be the ones to clean their mess? No, the cockie's should -- they make the mess-they clean it up! After all they are making plenty from the sales of their products!!

The change to Capitalism has caused more poverty and deprivation than there ever was with Socialism.

Waiology said...

"Most New Zealanders don't think too much about water."

If an informed citizenry is important, which naturally I support, how do you propose we remedy this? ... better coverage by the media, more and clearer science outreach, school curriculum, public awareness campaigns, community group activities, museum installations, an annual prize for most improved waterbody, water user charges, water footprint labelling?

Anonymous said...

The tap water is full of fluoride and acidity. The natural water is being destroyed by industry. Clean green NZ no more.

aberfoyle said...

Last year forty % of our water ways were polluted.The same results of a new survey found that today, 65% of our water ways are polluted a 25% increase,even a egit would have concern about that rapid rise.What it means, aside from the polluting of the water ways their eco structure and aquatic life,is that your kids or you, are advised not to swim in them on your summer juants.

As for the flogging off our water ways.Water is the new (clear)?gold of our generation, and if there is a buck to be made our present governing corporation,will gladly flog it off to the highest bidder no matter our protestations.

Jigsaw said...

I live in the country and have done so for 40 years and more. I am not a farmer. In many ways the rural environement is better now than it has ever been.There are far more trees than there were even 20 years. The real problem with water comes from not enforcing the regulations that already exist. The clean streams accord has never had enough teeth. The dairy farmer down the road from us who has fenced the stream off barely more than metre from the banks could easily be forced to do a much better job by Fonterra-simply refuse to take his milk.Urban people should be encouraged to save the water from the roof - I wonder how many of you do? When in the city I see people everywhere wasting water. Farming has to get much smarter not go back to the 19 century.
Incidentally Chris you said not a word about Maori claims to water-why is that?

Davo Stevens said...

Mr. Jigsaw, your comments are right on. There are some issues with them though that I must take exception to.

Fonterra has a contract with the farmers and MUST take the milk regardless.

Yes, the Clean Streams Act needs more teeth and better regulation. The problem is that Conservative Govts. don't like regulation and expect the farmers to police themselves.

Many urban areas and cities have bylaws that do not allow people to collect rain water off the roof. Some will allow only a small amount of storage for garden purposes only. Another point; the water is not all that clean and is often polluted anyway.

The Maori claim was about trying to stop the asset sales or at least slow it down. Instead of the almost in-decent haste that this Govt. has been pushing them through.

Do keep it up Jigsaw, I don't always agree with your comments but they are always interesting to read.

CarbonGuilty said...

D Stevens you think capitalism causes famine? Ridiculous. Is that ignorance or prejudice? Perhaps 50million starved to death by communisim & socialism last century, mostly in USSR & China for a start. Today people starve only in communist Korea and remnant socialist Africa. Blame capitalism for over abundance & waste but not low food supplies. Water is not finite either, it is infinitely renewable and farmers are doing a lot (with more to come) to keep it clean and we all benefit from the vast tax income from their production. What would you do to earn that instead? And yes it was partly to the credit of Helen's Labour Party that we have the wonderful dairy & meat & crop production we all live off. Sensible and conservative woman, unlike the current phoney one about to become the latest Labour embarrassment.

Anonymous said...

The fact is, as I learned in economics 101, unregulated capitalism does not deal with externalities at all well. Pollution being a case in point. Not to mention that pollution sometimes destroys other people's means of livelihood. Seeing a couple of capitalists duke it out over this sort of thing would be amusing if it wasn't playing with our future.

Jigsaw said...

I am sure that collecting water in the city is a problem. A friend in Auckland wanted to do that and the council refused him a permit-the real reason was that if they couldn't measure his water usage then they couldn't charge him enough for his waste water. I agree that water collected in the city may not be suitable for consumption but it would be suitable to wash the car and water the garden etc-even flush the toilet.Small pumps are now far more efficent and cheaper than they once were. Davo -I am sure that Fonterra do have contract but they could put more pressure on farmers. Some regulations like those controlling waste from stock trucks are increably weak.
Be a very boring world if we all agreed don't you think!

CarbonGuilty said...

Don't ask the council about collecting water, just do it. It's got to be more or less a human right to use the water that falls on you I reckon, and then use it for the garden. And washing the car, if you do that sort of thing instead of having a life. Even just blocking off some of the down pipes from the house so the run-off goes into the garden is good, but don't overdo it and flood the neighbours.
I expect some councils or health police are concerned if people drink bad water or flood the show.In some places it rains too much so that is an issue. Could have a by-pass setup eh. Not about rates on water.

Davo Stevens said...

@Carbon, I never said that Capitalism caused starvation. I simply pointed out that there are more people hungry here and elsewhere where Capitalism is King.

In those "Bad ole Days" here no-one ever went without, today they must beg to get crumbs. Begging doesn't improve one's self esteem.

You refer to 'Communism' but there has never been a Communist Govt. anywhere in the world ever. The places you refer to were/are Fascist not Communist. N. Korea is Fascist too. As are the few African countries.

The only Socialism even here was in the period from WW II to the 1980's. Since then we have seen wages stagnate, our standard of living going down and more people struggling to survive. So Capitalism is great??

We have a Govt. happy to pay out millions to Warner Bros. Rio Tinto et al yet penny-pinch the poorest people in the land. Something is seriously out of kilter there my friend.

I'm not Left or Right just an ordinary Kiwi bloke who works hard to keep a roof over my head. I lived through those 'Bad Ole Daze' as I have lived through the 'New Way' and I know which is better.

CarbonGuilty said...

Stevens you are surely blinkered if you think we have not seen communism in this world. Wish it were so. Millions have been murdered by communists, in the name of communism. Nor have we ever seen socialism here, thank heavens. NZ has always been a sensible, moderate, democratic capitalist country and still is. I reckon NZ is a better, nicer, healthier, more educated, more creative, more environmentally sound, more interesting, freer place than it has ever been. And it generates enought wealth to afford about 20 billion dollars a year in tax payer welfare alone plus large voluntary sums given by many of us. You? All thanks to capitalism. However it could be better still if the bottom 10% got off their cycles of dependancy and disfunction. I don't think government of any colour can help much there. Perhaps NZ society can crack it but it is worse almost everywhere else, particularly in the former socialist and communist countries. Sweden is cited often yet people I know there say it is just as nasty at the bottom there.

I accept communism usually becomes fascist as well, but that is almost inevitable with such an inhuman system. Socialism is merely an attempt to impose communism from a democratic base and that is partly why it always fails: The people, bless them, get rid of it while they still have the vote, if it is not rigged. Go and live in Venezuela and you'll find out what I mean. Or Zimbabwe. Wonderful NZ is clearly wasted on you mate.

Davo Stevens. said...

@Carbon. You're dreaming again. We live in the real world my friend.

Fascism and fighting it, has killed more people than than any other kind of Govt. Sadly you apparently can not see the difference. I am not going to get into an argument with you over that point.

I suspect that you as a child, got free dental care, free schools, free or cheap GP visits etc. THAT IS SOCIALISM! When there is work for everyone, THAT IS SOCIALISM! Need I go on? Even that bastion of Capitalism, the US has state schools, state roads, a basic Welfare system and so on.

Want to know just how great Capitalism is? Go and read Charles Dickens. His stories were set in mid Victorian times when Capitalism was king.

As I said at the start, I live in a real world my friend.

CarbonGuilty said...

Hey Stevens stop referring to people as your friend. I am certainly not one.
Welfare is not socialism and none of those things you refer to are or were free. My parents paid lots of tax for those things and got less back than they paid. Still the same today. Expensive, not free. Nothing is free except speech in the capitalist democratic world. Elsewhere, you may get shot.
There were worse places than Dicken's London. Most of the world in facy. Russia for example was horribly bleak and it got even worse under your socialism later on. Meanwhile Dicken's land brought in welfare, paid for by capilatism.