Gordon Campbell on Labour’s epic fail on seabed mining

967200aac0dfbfec86cbSeabed mining is a substantive issue. It pits environment harm and the interests of indigenous communities against the relatively few jobs for locals, and the relatively large potential profits for mining companies. As Te Pāti Māori co leader Debbie Ngarewa -Packer says:

The application by Trans-Tasman Resources involved taking: “Millions of tonnes of iron, titanium, vanadium from the seabed… by dredging up millions of tonnes of the sea floor, extracting the mineral, and dumping the unwanted sludge back into the sea, smothering the surrounding area with a sediment film – which would spread all the way down from Taranaki to Wellington, affecting marine life, biodiversity, and Māori.”

The symbolic politics should not be ignored, either. The Te Pāti Māori bill to ban seabed mining got voted down in Parliament yesterday by an unholy combination of Labour, National and Act MPs.

This collusion has given Te Pāti Māori the perfect launch platform for its election campaign. On some matters significant to Māori – and we’ve been here before with seabed related issues – Labour looks just as bad as the other crowd. In the end, only the Greens, Elizabeth Kerekere and Meka Whaitiri stood with Te Pāti Māori in advocating for the ban on seabed mining.

Labour has seemed remarkably blasé about allowing recent history to repeat itself. Evidently, Labour considers that Te Pāti Māori will have no other option post-election but to go along with the centre-left bloc. That being the Labour mindset, any gains from supporting the ban would have been outweighed by gifting National with a message that Labour was a pro-Māori, anti-business party that was supposedly willing to jeopardise the economic advancement of regional New Zealand.

To soften the blow, Environment Minister David Parker did try to argue that a seabed mining ban would have stopped offshore drilling for oil and gas on the South Taranaki Bight. This concern, as Cindy Baxter of the Kiwis Against Seabed Mining group has pointed out, could have been readily addressed by a subsequent tightening up the bill’s language to exclude that possibility, after Labour had voted with the rest of the centre-left to allow the bill to reach the select committee stage.

Moreover… By supporting the bill to select committee at least, Labour could have fostered an informed public debate about seabed mining and the balances to be struck between environmental impacts, economic benefits and indigenous rights. By doing so, Labour would also have reduced the ability of Te Pāti Māori to make political hay out of the episode. Ultimately, it is not only Māori voters who stand to be receptive to variations on “they’re both as bad as each other” campaign messaging. Cumulatively, those perceptions could reduce voter turnout.

Once again, Labour has decided to back off from taking a principled position out of fear of handing its centre-right opponents a weapon – they’re so pro-Māori they’re anti-business! – with which redneck hostility (and corporate antagonism) to be used against the current government.

Selling Out

Aucklanders are being rushed into selling off the family silver. Surely, if the history of the past 40 years has taught us anything it is the folly of selling off public assets into private sector hands. The airport shares promise to provide a revenue stream to help finance future public services. Selling them is being justified by an alleged need to keep rate increases for the property-owning classes at a level below the rate of inflation.

What’s the bet that the airport shares will be hocked off at fire-sale prices to wealthy corporate investors who will then sit back and reap the rewards of the multi-billion dollar expansion planned for Auckland airport. The public panic being whipped up to justify the shares sale is not merely born of an ideologically driven hostility to government provision and public ownership, though that is a factor.

What’s also at work is an irrational phobia that borrowing will be unable to be repaid by the city’s future growth and by the expected decline – starting next year – in the cost of borrowing. And that’s even before we get to the arguments that the city should be selling off its golf courses before it sells off its airport shares.

Debt incurred by central and local government is not like household debt, despite 40 years of right wing politicians making that bogus comparison. Running a deficit is virtuous when it is directed into productive investment, which the airport shares will be, from next year onwards and into the future. How exactly, does Mayor Wayne Brown propose to generate new revenue streams – especially once he has sold off this one? The reality is that council will be forced into ratcheting back the services it provides to the wider public, while a few lucky investors get to make out like bandits.

Usually, the market wisdom is that you buy at the bottom of the curve and sell at the top. Yet Aucklanders are being pushed into doing the opposite with their airport shares, and this will be to the benefit of the city’s least vulnerable citizens.

Changing Horses

The pandemic jolted DJ/producer Avalon Emerson into realising that her professional club life in places like Berlin was over, maybe for good. Over the years, this column has featured her dancefloor anthems like “The Frontier” and “ One More Fluorescent Rush.” Yet since Covid hit, she’s decided to pursue a parallel career as a singer, fronting a band.

The experiment began with her cover of the Magnetic Fields’ song “ Long Forgotten Fairytale,” a track showcased by a video of her cross country drive with her wife, Hunter Lombard. Earlier this year, Emerson released the debut vocal album she’s made with her band, The Charm.

This time around, her dancefloor chops have been made secondary to a detached and shoegazey vocal style that sounds more like the late Julee Cruise than it resembles the urgency of, say, a contemporary like the Canadian DJ/singer/producer Marie Davidson.

Here’s “Sandrail Silhouette” from the new vocal album:

For old times sake, here’s “The Frontier” again, lit by images of her motorcycle ride across the Mojave desert. For someone whose professional life revolves around dark indoor clubs, Emerson’s music and videos have always resonated with a love of America’s vast geographic expanses. This might have something to do with her being born and raised in Arizona.