On the government’s environmental credibility problems in Canterbury, and attacks on Police

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Reportedly, Ronald Reagan’s aides would go into in panic mode whenever the avuncular President started to ad lib a few additional points of clarification. The aim may have been candour, but the remarks tended to give a terrifying glimpse into the abyss behind the mask. Something similar occurs whenever Prime Minister John Key tries to project a brisk sense of I’m-in-charge. As he told yesterday’s press conference, he wants to see more irrigation in Canterbury. The problem, as he sees it, is water storage. Others could sort out the details, but more irrigation on the Canterbury plains is his expectation.

The problem with that approach, as someone pointed out, is that the main water catchments involved – such as the Hurunui River – have protection orders on them. Was he saying these should be revoked? What he wanted to see, Key repeated, was more irrigation in Canterbury. The unspoken inference was: by any means necessary. By any means (of course) that were environmentally sustainable – which is proving to be a very elastic concept in this government’s hands. Like some pesky NGO, the eco-system will just have to be brought into line with profit opportunities, that’s all. If it ever got the vote, the environment would never vote National anyway.

The result of this mindset? Whenever a conflict looms between economic growth and sound environmental management, the take charge guys say: get it done. Mining on conservation land? Simply assert that low impact mining won’t be a problem. The downside impact of more irrigation, more dairying on other water users in Canterbury, and on water quality? Only losers lose sleep over such things. (If it needs cleaning up, someone can make a buck doing it later) Positive, take charge guys simply say it will be sustainable – such a useful word – and get on with it.

The profile of this particular irrigation issue had been raised last week by a review of Environment Canterbury conducted by a government appointed panel headed by former National deputy Prime Minister Wyatt Creech. The panel recommended taking water management away entirely from the elected representatives of Environment Canterbury, sacking its council and not restoring the vote until 2013 – which is only one year before Frank Bainimarama plans to restore democracy in Fiji. Control would be vested in a government-appointed board. Like that village in Vietnam, the only efficient way of saving democracy in Canterbury is to destroy it.

Someday, a future historian will ponder the irony of how the Key government won power by railing against Big Brother – and then responded to every alleged inefficiency in the system by centralizing power, at the expense of grassroots decision-making. Well, environmental problems in general – and the problems of dirty dairying in Canterbury– cannot be managed by simply denying they exist, or asserting they are compatible with growth. Such problems are the legacy of a previous generation of can do, take charge guys refusing to take responsibility for the pollution they cause. Greens Co-Leader Russel Norman has pointed out the credibility problems of any panel reviewing water management that is headed by Wyatt Creech

“First, the Government appointed Creech, a director of Open Country Cheese, which has been successfully prosecuted and fined tens of thousands of dollars for contaminating farmland and rivers, to pass judgement on the organisation charged with stopping dirty dairying in Canterbury.

“Then John Key hinted cryptically in his opening speech to Parliament that the Government would ‘remove particular regulatory roadblocks to water storage and irrigation in Canterbury’.

“Now this review recommends taking all water decision-making in Canterbury away from elected representatives. Putting the pieces together it starts to look like things are about to get easier for big irrigators in Canterbury, even though water resources in the region and stressed are overstretched as it is.

“If the Government cares about Canterbury’s water resources, it should ensure that there is a moratorium on new water storage and irrigation projects in the region before any of these recommendations are implemented.

A moratorium? That’s not what decisive people do. Further damage to an already maxi-stressed water resource in Canterbury? Mining in national parks? Only defeatists wring their hands about the damage this could cause to our $18 billion a year tourism industry, and to the natural heritage of future generations. In essence, Key is dialling back his government’s duty of environmental protection by at least 15 years, to the happy, sappy days of denial. Lets be clear about this government’s resolve. Whatever is good for foreign mining or big dairying, is good for the country. And if you try to challenge that notion at the ballot box, we’ll crush you.


Copping a Strike

To date, the government’s main response to crime has been to issue a press release, and raise the legal penalties As if deterrence worked. As if people committing crime stand in the pub car park and weigh the cost/benefits before doing the crime. No matter either that the Chief Justice pointed out last year that this approach is not sustainable, either socially or financially. Nor does this approach in any way recognize that as income disparities increase in this country, those on the front lines who enforce authority within that system are bound to be viewed with increasing levels of resentment.

The Three Strikes legislation is yet another failed American policy imported here – the Act Party must get these policies in a job lot – and one of its main problems is that it centralizes power. Police, vested with the discretion about laying charges, could pick and choose which offenders they could put away for a very long time, under the Three Strikes provisions. One can imagine how this power may be wielded during the interrogation process. But then, centre right governments have never worried about Big Brother when it is wearing a uniform.

That problem could now be compounded by moves to make any attack whatsoever on a Police officer into a Three Strikes offence. And who makes the initial decision as to whether such an offence has been committed? The Police. No one wants to minimize attacks upon Police officers. Yet by the same token, no one wants to maximize the considerable powers they already have, and the potential for abuse.

In this case, it could well make the job of being a Police officer far more dangerous. If an offender on the two strikes cusp gets engaged in conflict with a Police officer, might that not motivate the offender to kill the Police officer, and thus try to escape being banged up for the penalties virtually inevitable under the Three Strikes legislation?


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