Something Fishy Going On: The furore surrounding the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary offers a powerful example of the political difficulties into which Reflexive Left Syndrome can lead a progressive political party. Almost overnight, the significant benefits to the global environment represented by the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary have been put at risk for no better reason than that a determinedly commercial entity like Te Ohu Kaimoana wishes to reserve the right to harvest the Kermadec fishery.
THE LABOUR PARTY is at serious risk of, once again, succumbing to Reflexive Left Syndrome (RLS). Simply put, RLS causes progressives to respond predictably (and all-too-often counter-productively) to every issue affecting the Left. Those suffering from RLS do not wait for the facts; nor do they pause to consider whether their support for one part of the Left might put them at serious odds with another. Positions are fixed with precipitate haste, and room for subsequent manoeuvre and compromise is severely restricted. RLS nails its victims to the political spot: positions they frequently cannot abandon without incurring serious damage and/or ridicule.
The latest example of Labour succumbing to RLS involves the party’s position on the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary.
At the First Reading of the legislation establishing the sanctuary, the vote in favour of this internationally acclaimed measure of marine conservation was unanimous. So far, so good. But, all it took for Labour to announce that it was “reassessing” its support for the legislation was a claim that it contravened the Maori fisheries settlement.
Te Ohu Kaimoana, the Maori Fisheries Trust, had announced that it was challenging the Crown’s actions in the High Court. Labour’s six Maori MPs, feeling obligated to defend their constituents’ rights under the Treaty of Waitangi (Fisheries Claims) Act of 1992, immediately began applying pressure to their Pakeha colleagues. References were made to the Seabed and Foreshore Act of 2004. With the party registering just 28 percent in the latest One News/Colmar brunton poll, Labour’s Maori Caucus wanted to know if it was intending to alienate their people’s electoral support all over again?
With typical haste, Labour succumbed to RLS. On 12 April, David Parker, Labour’s Environment spokesperson, and Kelvin Davis, its spokesperson for Maori Development, jointly issued a press statement declaring: “The lessons of foreshore and seabed must not be forgotten and the Crown should not by legislation run rough-shod over Māori interests.”
Exactly which Maori interests were being run roughshod over was not specified by Parker and Davis. That a number of “prominent Maori” (including Sir Tipene O’Regan and Dame Tariana Turia) had spoken out against the sanctuary was all that was needed for RLS to kick-in.
But, Parker and Davis were not the only people to issue a media release on this issue. The former leader of Mana Motuhake, and Alliance Cabinet Minister, Sandra Lee, had some very different thoughts to offer on Te Ohu Kaimoana’s attempt to prevent the establishment of the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary.
“Te Ohu Kaimoana have a poor conservation record”, said Lee. “They openly supported illegal Japanese whale hunting in the United Nations Southern Ocean sanctuary when I was Minister [of Conservation] and probably still do. Perhaps they could focus their energy on helping our own unemployed rangatahi [young people] to get on the water fishing their own quota instead.”
Certainly, Sir Tipene O’Regan’s response to Pakeha concerns about the fate of what he labelled “charismatic megafauna” [whales] could hardly be described as supportive.
The furore surrounding the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary offers a powerful example of the political difficulties into which RLS can lead a progressive political party. Almost overnight, the significant benefits to the global environment represented by the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary have been put at risk for no better reason than that a determinedly commercial entity like Te Ohu Kaimoana wishes to reserve the right to harvest the Kermadec fishery.
The Neo-Tribal Capitalist character of the forces pushing for the scrapping of the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary has not been lost on Sandra Lee. Nor has the need for all the peoples of the Earth to challenge the right of commercial interests to plunder the planet’s living resources without let or hindrance. But Labour, rather than balancing carefully the respective claims of a vulnerable ocean eco-system, and a commercial Maori entity, has allowed its response to be dictated by RLS. They have rushed in like fools – and not in the defence of angels.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 14 April 2016.