Our faith in the benign workings of the market – and of the light-handed regulation that goes with it – has had a body count. Back in 1992, the free market friendly Health Safety and Employment Act gutted the labour inspectorate and turned forestry, mining and other workplace sites into death traps, long before the Pike River disaster. It has only been in the last couple of years that we’ve clawed back some of the ground lost on health and safety. Similarly, Telecom’s privatisation set back this country’s investment in new communications technology for nearly two decades, as quasi-monopoly rents were extracted from a captive population. There are dozens of other examples of the damage done by de-regulation, all the way up to this year’s mass poisonings in Havelock North.
This week has seen more of the same. De-regulation is now wreaking havoc on (a) New Zealand’s reputation as an education destination and (b) on our ability to protect our fisheries stocks, and (c) on the state of our lakes and rivers. In each case, the common denominator has been greed, pure and simple. There has been a headlong rush to put diplomas into the hands of wealthy foreign students and to turn international education into a $5 billion export industry by 2015, as required by Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce. When it came to markets such as India, our officials rigorously turned a blind eye to dubious practices in the name of maximising the numbers. When the extent of fraud finally became a political football this year, the hammer has been brought down on the least culpable, most vulnerable people involved: namely, the Indian students themselves, who now face deportation from New Zealand. The Wellington officials and education agency boards who were so unwilling to act in unison and stand up to their Minister, have now begun to circle the wagons. Again, the prime objective appears to be to protect their political masters, rather than the foreign students to whom they owe a duty of care. The damage this desperate policy zigzagging is doing to New Zealand’s reputation as an education destination can hardly be over-estimated.
Ditto on fisheries protection, where the oversight system on illegal catches and fish dumping has been fatally undermined. So much so that top officials admit in emails released under the OIA that proper enforcement would put half the industry out of business.
Here too, the response to the political heat seems to be being devised to undermine any effective action against those most responsible. Officialdom stolidly remains in denial that there is a systemic problem even when their own emails reveal its extent, and the task of “independently” monitoring the situation in future has been handed over to a fisheries industry body.
The most poignant example of all though, would have to be the photos of the Selwyn River, devastated by intensive dairy farming.
This river used to be a natural aquatic playground but is now unusable. The forlorn rope swing hanging silently over the fetid river is a symbol that should haunt Federated Farmers forever more. Basically, a key part of New Zealand’s natural heritage has been stolen from future generations by the greed of this country’s dairy farmers. In the twinkling of a decade, one of New Zealand’s traditional assets – its waters were once drinkable, and its rivers and lakes used to be swimmable – has been fatally sabotaged for the benefit of a few. It will take decades of concerted action to reverse the damage. That’s assuming we ever elect a government willing to do more than sit idly on the sidelines, as the market takes its toll.
The Rite To Choose
Election day for local government is approaching, on October 8. Around the country, the candidates seem to be the usual crew i.e. barely recognisable people offering a mixture of enticements, some of which sound kind of acceptable if you can ignore the stuff that sounds weirdly off-putting. Does the person you’re toying with voting for look OK ? Or, after you’ve seen too many of their billboards and leaflets, is that smile starting to look smarmy? Supercilious, even? Isn’t that photo starting to tell you that he/she totally takes your support for granted, and isn’t it time to take them down a peg?
In addition, there are some truly awful people trawling for your vote. Maybe the best option is to find the candidate that we feel lukewarm about but who might conceivably be the candidate best able to stop the candidate that we truly can’t stand. But who could that be? Is this any easier? The other option is to go whole hog, single issue. Scratch out all the people who want to hand the Green Belt over to mountain bikers or build purpose-built stadiums for their corporate friends or pave Cook Strait in the hope this might attract planeloads of tourists. Tick the people willing to risk everything in the battle against plastic shopping bags.
That will still leave the secret agendas. Normally, candidates don’t tell you beforehand that their real aim is to shut down libraries and give all the money to their business mates. Basically….local body democracy is a game of chance. Good luck.
Kate Tempest returns
The English poet/rapper Kate Tempest has a new album out called Let Them Eat Chaos…For those lucky enough to see her perform in New Zealand back in January, they were definitely the gigs of the year. Here’s the first single from the new album…