Gordon Campbell on plastic bag activism, and street harassment

Amusing to see the Act Party experiencing another outbreak of young fogey-ism. What has aroused the ire of Act Leader David Seymour this time is the introduction of a Greens private members bill to the ballot process, calling for a 15 cents levy on plastic bags to reduce pollution.

Clearly, one of the dastardly things about this measure is that elsewhere it seems to work, brilliantly. Reportedly, figures from Wales show that single journey plastic bag use dropped by around three-quarters after the introduction of a 5p charge in 2011.

Ireland’s €0.15 (11p) levy on bags reportedly led to a 90% reduction in consumption. Scotland introduced a similar measure in late 2014, and it seems to be having a similar impact. In England, the plastic bag levy has reduced the incidence of one trip plastic bag use by 85%.

How very difficult it must be for Seymour, emotionally, to encounter an environmental regulation that actually works. We need to be considerate at this trying time. Plainly, its been hard on him.

The Greens’ policy is science-free and economics-free. Beyond ignoring evidence around environmental impacts, they appear to have pulled their ‘15 cent’ price from out of thin air, ignoring the fact that rational market-based pricing is vital to ensure people use resources efficiently. Finally, the levy would mean another layer of bureaucracy for businesses who have to keep track of sales and essentially process an entirely new tax. These little bureaucratic frustrations quickly add up, and the costs are inevitably passed onto consumers.

“We need to get smarter about the hidden costs of regulations, instead of just copy-pasting trendy overseas initiatives.”

That’s hilarious, given the readiness of the Act Party to copy- paste any trendy piece of ideological extremism emanating from the loony fringe of the American right. Seymour cites the backlash against the plastic bag levy in Austin, Texas – where the alleged higher environmental toll from re-usable bags has become a conservative meme, what with the need to use scarce water to wash the re-usable bags and what with people supposedly resorting to thicker re-usable plastic bags etc etc. This being Texas, they’re also responding in the American way : they’re sue-ing.

Important though, to keep the big picture in mind. Here’s Texas governor Greg Abbott on how the plastic bag ban fits in with bans on fracking, tree cutting and other heinous violations of the spirit that made Texas great :

“Texas is being Californianized and you may not even be noticing it,” Abbott said, addressing a downtown Austin conference hosted by the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation, an influential think tank. “It’s being done at the city level with bag bans, fracking bans, tree-cutting bans. We’re forming a patchwork quilt of bans and rules and regulations that is eroding the Texas model.”

“Now think about it,” Abbott said. “Few things are more important in Texas than private property rights, yet some cities are telling citizens that you don’t own some of the things of your own property that you have bought and purchased and owned for along time — things like trees. This is a form of collectivism,” said Abbott….

So there you have it. First they come for your plastic bags, the next thing they’ll be after your neighbourhood fracking platform. Thank the Lord for David Seymour. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.

Kelly Aftermath

Over the past few days, there has been a genuine outpouring of emotion over the death of former CTU president Helen Kelly, and it has shown how much she was valued, by so many. The media rush to embrace Kelly has been something else, though. Is it really possible to praise Kelly to the skies for caring so much and being such a fighter for what she believed in – while continuing to show little empathy with the causes she cared so much about, and fought for so diligently? Apparently, it is. She cared. End of story, mostly.

By and large, the media has sentimentalised her life, and her death – with RNZ’s Checkpoint directing questions such as “You’re broken–hearted, aren’t you?” at her grieving kin. This hyper-emotional coverage has largely ( but not entirely) been divorced from Kelly’s actual life and works. Not so much media enthusiasm is being shown for her antagonism to a 90 day employment rule that has created precious few jobs (if any) but which has opened the door to the exploitation of young workers. Nor has there been much visible rethinking of the unjust union denigration that occurred before, during and after the government’s capitulation to Hollywood over ,The Hobbit film, despite the subsequent releases of documents that completely vindicated her stance.

One could also mention the battle over workplace access by union officials. Even the health and safety law changes that Kelly and her colleagues finally achieved (after so many unnecessary deaths and injuries in the likes of the forestry industry) were watered down by the government at the 11th hour despite the lessons from Pike River. At the time, the media that’s now treating her like Mother Teresa stood around while that happened, largely unmoved. Last week’s fulsome NZ Herald editorial was nice.

It would have been even nicer if they’d said such things while Kelly was still alive. To be fair, the Herald’s editorial line on the Hobbit dispute was reasonably well balanced, although the Herald did also run this appalling opinion piece, which included a hatchet job on Kelly and Robyn Malcolm.

Even two years after the Hobbit dispute, Fairfax editorial writers were still describing the union actions “as being close to act of sabotage.”

Quite a switch then last week, for the same Fairfax editorial writers to proclaim that “NZ was richer for Helen Kelly’s tireless campaigning.” .

On wider union issues, here’s the more common Herald editorial line, in which the 90 day law has been hailed as a “win win” situation for all concerned.

Still, there’s reason for hope. This year, zero hour contracts became the unacceptable face of unbridled employer power.

This week will provide a couple of interesting tests of how meaningful the willingness to canonize Kelly has been. The junior doctors strike starts today – and this is a strike about rosters, not pay, which means it is about the same kind of safety in the workplace issues that Kelly held dear. Lets hope the media focus is upon that, rather than on the usual rash of ‘inconvenience to the public/conflict on the picket line’ stories. (So far, RNZ has reported a good deal of public support in Christchurch for the strike.)

Similarly on Thursday, the pilots union (the Air Line Pilots Association aka ALPA) head back into court to appeal the apparent willingness of the authorities to put economic costs ahead of safety provisions, when it comes to the Wellington airport runway extension. Aspersions have already been cast on whether ALPA’s position really, truly reflects rank and file pilot opinion.

None of this gap between cheap emotion and hard issues would have much surprised Helen Kelly, or daunted her.

Street Harassment

A few years ago, Melody Thomas – she of RNZ’s Music 101 and The Wireless fame – wrote an excellent piece for Werewolf about wolf whistling, catcalling and the whole business of women being harassed in public by blokes offering them uninvited “compliments.” The other day, the Fluxblog site’s Matthew Perpetua pointed to a couple of good songs on the same subject. Fugazi’s classic polemic “Suggestion” (from 1988 !) was aimed at the band’s punk fans, admonishing them to show some respect and restraint:

Why can’t I walk down a street free of suggestion?
Is my body the only trait in the eyes of men?
I’ve got some skin
You want to look in there?

She does nothing to deserve it
He only wants to observe it
We sit back like they taught us
We keep quiet like they taught us
He just wants to prove she does nothing to remove it
We don’t want anyone to mind us
So, we play the roles they assigned us…

Here’s part of an essay explaining why that Fugazi song remains highly valued :

I love this song, and here’s why: it clearly articulates the connection between all the flavours of harassment inflicted against women, from street harassment (“suffer your words”), to objectification through the male gaze (“suffer your eyes”), to physical sexual assault (“suffer your hands”). In the song, all contribute to a social structure that devalues women (“suffer your interpretation of what it is to be a man”). By song’s end (“He touches her ’cause he wants to feel it / We blame her for being there / But we are all guilty”) it’s clear that the harm done here has gone far beyond the realm of “suggestion.”

The song is clearly anti-rape, but it’s also a stinging condemnation of all the bystanders who don’t speak up when women are assaulted: “We sit back like they taught us / We keep quiet like they taught us . . . We don’t want anyone to mind us / So we play the roles that they assigned us. . . . we are all guilty.”

A few days ago, the New York band Crying released a track that as Perpetua also says, offers a useful parallel vision to the one contained in the Fugazi song. “There Was A Door” is from the woman’s perspective:

Family doesn’t mean you can touch
And “just joking” is not a reason enough for me to
Not bite but be polite….
All I’ve wanted for the place I live
Is respect for this vessel I’m in
A body of water, wild, immense, untamed
Teach me how to be unseen, [not] something to claim

Crying come from Purchase NY, an old money, university enclave that’s one of the wealthiest corners of the USA. On this track, the band mix the vocals of singer Elaiza Santos down to where they’re merely another element amid the colliding plates of electrobusyness…The result is messily appropriate for the content.


And for old times sake, here’s Fugazi and “Suggestion” – with the band noisily advocating for the right thing. Helen Kelly would probably have liked them.

5 Comments on Gordon Campbell on plastic bag activism, and street harassment

  1. I’ve written to Countdown requesting they introduce 20c a bag charges. I refuse the proffered plastic bags firmly but politely saying ‘Save the planet’. I would defend David Seymour’s right to exist (almost) to the end but I couldn’t disagree with him more!

  2. The Crown are playing musical chairs with the role it’s partys play.
    The hard right Act party are now acting as controlled opposition leftys.

  3. Most of us feel disenchanted with the Crown NZ govt (and all its colors/partys).
    We know a few MP’s that make money filling plastic bottles with NZ water and exporting the plastic water bottles to China.
    So how the Crown nz govt wants us to believe that another consumer tax on bags will will stop bottles, and will stop China dumping plastic bottles in the ocean is beyond me.
    It is just a piss poor tax marketing campaign or the “segway” into other so called “green taxes”.

  4. @Mark, you are not going to “save the planet” by increasing prices for the poor or by taxes.
    You are not saving anything ignorantly demanding an increase in consumer pricing, doing it on behalf of those whom cannot afford your desired price increases.
    The threats and the damage to the planet is from people living in ignorance.

    People identified with a corporate belief system, greed, people wanting to profit off, to gain more instead of just producing and distributing food and resources.
    A group of merchant banker who own the media spreading the corporate beliefs and making the ” Mark” of the world their ignorant minion bleating for more poor taxes.
    Believing in ignorance that a tax taken by the the Bank of England’s Crown govt will ” save the planet” (or lesson the above commentators noted dumping/plastic water bottle pollution in China)
    Plastic bags are not the problem, ignorance is the problem.

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