Gordon Campbell on muzzling the Ruataniwha dam evidence

In case anyone still questions the value of our public investment in state radio, the revelations about the Ruataniwha dam project – which began with an RNZ report into the suppression of Department of Conservation criticism – should be laying any such doubts to rest. In the wake of RNZ’s reporting on DOC’s cave-in to political pressure, it seems that Ministry of Primary Industries concerns about the dam’s impact also (somehow) didn’t make it into their submission on the dam, either.

Thirdly, as the Greens indicated in Parliament yesterday [Question Time transcript], GNS science also lost a contract with Hawkes Bay Regional Council after it queried the validity of the science that HBRC are using to allay public concerns and justify the investment.

Given that this large scale project – it will cost hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer and ratepayer funds – has been declared to of national significance and will serve as a model for others, the project needs to be halted NOW. The current hopelessly tainted process of evaluation has to begun afresh. Unfortunately, as became clear in a further RNZ report this morning, the patent conflicts of interest involved here make it unlikely that this sensible option will be taken.

Both central government and local government in the Hawkes Bay are working in unison to get this dam built, whatever – and as Hastings mayor Lawrence Yule conceded, local government in the Bay happens to be both the environmental regulator and the commercial promoter of this project! (It regulates with one hand what it is touting with the other.) In a similar travesty of governance, the entire issue is being booted upstairs to be evaluated by a Board of Inquiry – whose members, once again, will be chosen by the same central and local government agencies that have already declared themselves wedded to the Ruataniwha project.

As Greens Co-Leader Russel Norman told RNZ this morning, transparency is desirable. If the aim really is to pursue intensive dairying whatever the environmental cost – even if that involves turning the Tukituki River, as Norman says, into an industrial drain – then that should be stated openly, rather than a process being followed whereby the relevant science is suppressed. BTW here’s the Tukituki River in its current state.

The whole episode has been a devastating expose of how business is done by central and local government, 2013. If there is a spare $40 million floating around the national coffers to give to another America’s Cup campaign – as there does seem to be – I’d much rather it was given to RNZ, given its contributions to the national debate. Unfortunately, the more likely outcome is that it will be punished for embarrassing its paymasters in government.


Sport crimes

Talking of sports funding, the moral bankruptcy of international sport has been in the spotlight in recent days. The awarding of the 2022 FIFA football World Cup to Qatar always looked like insanity, given the heat. Now, thanks to a Guardian investigation, it also looks a criminal outrage, given the conditions of modern slavery being imposed on the foreign workforce building the venues, Nepalese workers in particular. The investigation is available here.

In brief, the Guardian found that the work force on the sites in Qatar “face exploitation and abuses that amount to modern-day slavery”. For example:

At least 44 workers died between 4 June and 8 August because of heart-related issues or workplace accidents
That there is some evidence of forced labour on a major World Cup infrastructure project
Nepalese men have not been paid for months, with salaries retained and passports confiscated to limit their movements
Access to free drinking water on construction sites has been denied on some occasions

FIFA is making noises of concern. In its press release response to theGuardian evidence, it said among other fine things :

“”The health, safety, well-being and dignity of every worker that contributes to staging the 2022 Fifa World Cup is of the utmost importance to our committee and we are committed to ensuring that the event serves as a catalyst toward creating sustainable improvements to the lives of all workers in Qatar.”

And furthermore :

We firmly believe that all workers engaged on our projects, and those of the other infrastructure developers in Qatar, have a right to be treated in a manner that ensures at all times their wellbeing, safety, security, and dignity.

Great words. Now lets see some action to back them up. Like (a) shifting the tournament from Qatar or (b) giving the Qataris a tight timetable for bringing all Cup work sites into the 21st century. Such steps seem unlikely, if the International Olympic Committee is to be taken as an index of global sport’s sense of moral responsibility. The IOC has just ruled that Russia’s anti gay laws are OK by them, and the IOC has now given a final green light to the winter Olympics being held in Sochi, Russia next February. So much for sport as a moral inspiration to the young. In 2022, it looks as though the beautiful game will be being played on a field of bones.


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