Gordon Campbell on tourism’s endless sense of grievance

8781930a00d930f5f127Sad that a once in a century pandemic should have come along before the government had a clearly thought out plan for rescuing all the firms and saving all the jobs in the tourism sector. Sad that the government now looks like it was making up the criteria for support as it went along. But guess what? To some extent, they were. Possibly because in the modern era, a pandemic had never before caused international travel to evaporate almost overnight.

At the outset of the pandemic, tourism was clamouring for immediate rescue. I recall some tourism operators calling for the head of Tourism Minister Kelvin Davies if, by the end of that week, he couldn’t pluck out of the air a definite date on which the transTasman bubble with Australia would commence. Business, as we get told so often, craves certainty. It also craves strict criteria for the funding available, so that industry knows where it stands. Otherwise, the whole thing could have turned into a slush fund and handout machine like the Provincial Growth Fund, right? Business usually says it doesn’t like that sort of thing, either.

What we are hearing now (largely) are the complaints of the people who missed out. Were the criteria too strict, or applied too subjectively? It has been a bit like Goldilocks’ problems with the porridge. Here are the details for the Strategic Asset Protection Programme (STAPP). To qualify, a tourism operation had to be a key attraction that was nationally or internationally recognised, and had to be able to show they had generated significant spillover benefits for the region. Points were allocated on those points. Yes, a degree of subjectivity was involved, but arguably no more than in say, the points system used in immigration.

Obviously, support had to come with qualifying conditions. Otherwise, good taxpayer money would have been thrown after tourism operations that had little or no chance of surviving in the new Covid environment. Fund every tourism firm and every other sector would (justifiably) expect similar treatment. Under that scenario, the entire economy would end up being nationalised, via Covid.

Despite (or because of) its constant moaning, tourism has done more OK It came to pass that the tourism sector got $400 million in the Budget. This was roughly eight times what has been allocated to the international education sector, which had experienced a similar collapse in its inbound business. This week’s round of complaining has involved applying the wisdom of hindsight to the methodology for distributing the taxpayer money used to bail out the sector. Some tourism firms that missed out are now blaming their plight on imperfections in the funding criteria. One of the complainants conceded to RNZ on Tuesday that he hadn’t bothered to apply for the money in the first place.

Yes indeed, the rules for getting a taxpayer handout did bring qualifying criteria to bear. Otherwise, taxpayers would have been on the hook for saving every single tourism operator ( and job) in the entire country. Were the criteria imperfect and/or somewhat arbitrary? Inevitably. On occasions the criteria generated controversial outcomes, like the $10 million in total awarded to AJ Hackett’s bungee operation.

I agree. At first glance, the funding of Hackett does seem stupid. Why bail out an operator significantly dependent on overseas tourists when there is no sign that international tourism will revive, anytime soon? Yet on reflection …try creating criteria that would have excluded Hackett’s operation. If Hackett was to be excluded for his partial dependency on foreign tourists then there wouldn’t be many successful applicants left standing among the tourism firms clamouring for support, then and now. By what criteria could you pick tourism firms to support if a partial reliance on foreign tourists was to be treated as an automatic disqualifier? Yes, Hackett is wealthy. But if that is also to be a disqualifier, would every other tourism operator be willing to be means tested, and denied support unless and until they had run down the funds that they had accumulated during the boom times, and that (arguably) they should have saved for a rainy day?

Judging by their success to date, the members of the tourism industry are very skilled lobbyists. By comparison, the international education sector has been inept at garnering its fair share of government assistance. International education has been left running on fumes, with a $51 million support package spread thinly over the entire sector. Yet the tourism industry’s answer as to “who”among its members should receive taxpayer support seems to be: every single one of them. Over the course of the pandemic, a situation has evolved whereby it is regarded as entirely the government’s fault if any tourism firm whatsoever goes out of business, or if any single job is lost to the pandemic this year, or next year.

So far, there seems little willingness to accept the possibility that some firms that thrived during the previous tourism boom may not make it under the conditions created by the virus. State support was always supposed to be temporary, to help the people affected to adjust to the new reality. Instead, a minority seems intent on blaming the government for its “ failure” to recreate the old reality.

Footnote: For the record, the breakdown of how the $400 million support package for has been allocated can be found here. The latest figures on the firms receiving state support do not support the conspiracy theory that a wealthy cabal has commandeered the funds. If so, the 130 businesses being supported is a pretty big cabal:

There were 305 applicants for STAPP support. 160 applications were ineligible, and of the 145 eligible applications, 18 applicants were unsuccessful. Additionally, the Tourism Recovery Ministers Group had a mandate to decide on urgent investments which are outside the application round, and did so for AJ Hackett, Discover Waitomo, and Whale Watch Kaikōura. Overall, 130 businesses are receiving support through the STAPP.

Iran, China’s new captive

Week by week, the Trump presidency morphs into fascism. Thankfully, Trump’s constitutional outrages still do generate headlines. The deadly consequences of his foreign policy get less coverage. Still, the selling out of the Palestinians by Bahrain and the UAE (with Trump’s blessing) has been noted. But the consequences of Trump scrapping the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran have sailed completely under the radar. In effect, Trump has pushed Iran into the arms of China. The result is blood chilling. Reportedly, ordinary Iranians face being turned into the Uighurs of the Middle East:

The next phase of the 25-year deal between China and Iran will focus on a large-scale roll-out of electronic espionage and warfare capabilities focussed around the port of Chabahar and extending for a nearly 5,000 kilometer (3,000 mile) radius, and the concomitant build-out of mass surveillance and monitoring of the Iranian population, in line with the standard operating procedure across China, senior sources close to the Iranian government told OilPrice.com last week.

As always, China has long term strategic objectives in mind :

[The plan] dovetail into Beijing’s strategic vision for Iran as a fully-functioning client state of China by the end of the 25-year period. By that time, Iran will be an irreplaceable geographical and geopolitical foundation stone in Beijing’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ project, as well as providing a large pool of young, well-educated, relatively cheap labor for Chinese industry. The mass surveillance, monitoring, and control systems to cover Iran’s population is to begin its full roll-out as from the second week of November, after the final agreement on event sequencing has been reached in the third week of October at a meeting between Iran’s most senior Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and intelligence services figures and their Chinese counterparts.

Only five years ago, a different future seemed possible. Under the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal that the global community negotiated with Teheran, Iran agreed to forego nuclear weapons in return for trade openings to the West. The deal had flaws, and the US was not being motivated by altruism. Yet Trump has now brought about something far worse. When he tore up the nuclear deal and imposed harsh economic sanctions on Iran, this only increased the power and the wealth of the regime hardliners who control the smuggling routes. It also discredited the Iranian liberals who had been open to the West, and thereby enabled the mullahs to suppress internal dissent.

Crucially, this deal’s demise also curtailed the influence of Western democratic values. As time has passed, the Trump sanctions have impoverished and disempowered the Iranian middle class and the working class alike. From the Green Revolution of 2009 onwards, significant numbers of Iranians had become restive under a regime that has failed its revolutionary potential. China will now help the mullahs to suppress that unrest.

As the above article indicates, China is in the process pf installing a force projection platform in Iran, and a surveillance system (in seven major Iranian cities) based on the monitoring system in Xinjiang province that Beijing uses to control and indoctrinate the Uighurs. Ironic, really. At home, China regards Islam as a threat to its own brand of secular totalitarianism. In Iran though, China is popping up an Islamic theocracy run by conservative Shia mullahs. In the process, the proud and endlessly creative Iranian people are being prepped for a future as worker drones in Chinese-run factories.

Would President Hillary Clinton’s brand of militarism have had the same outcome? On balance, probably not. In all likelihood, the Clinton administration would have pursued trade-driven diplomacy as a more lucrative alternative. Along the way, the nuclear deal would have undermined the regime hardliners. Eventually it might even have allowed the Iranian people themselves to mete out justice to the mullahs. Trump has closed that door.

Rave Culture, RIP?

Cry for Ibiza. Can dance culture and DJ-ing survive the pandemic? It has to be significant that a cutting edge DJ like Avalon Emerson has seen the writing on the wall. As she explains here to the Face magazine, she recently moved back from Berlin to Los Angeles (she’s originally from Arizona via San Francisco) in order to recreate herself as a producer, arranger and also – apparently – as a singer and instrumentalist. In June, she released a great remix of Robyn’s “Honey” track. Tomorrow, she’ll be releasing her contribution to the landmark

DJ- Kicks mix series. On the lead off cut to that set, she’s revived the (typically laconic) Magnetic Fields song “A Long Forgotten Fairytale.”

As they say in Starship Troopers, would you like to know more? Well, this 2017 club monster – the video features her riding a motorcycle through the Sonora desert in Arizona– captured Emerson at the peak of her DJ-ing powers: