If I were Andrew Little….

So, Labour leader and Leader of the Opposition Andrew Little has clocked up his first 100 days. How nice. And although he has not made any serious gaffes yet, Mr Little remains quite untested. Serious issues are all around him – the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement; issues regarding what New Zealand should do to help deal with Islamic State; sorting out Christchurch; the housing crisis and sorting out their caucus.

So, what will he do about them? Good question. I have a rough idea of what I would be doing (in crude chronological order):

1) Giving National an ultimatim to come clean on the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement or Labour will walk away from it – the secrecy is nauseating. The fact that other neutral intellectual groups such as doctors of medicine are raising alarm bells in Australia and New Zealand (and now nurses in the United States), should concern everyone. This ultimatim needs to happen soon, i.e. in the next month or so.

The protests that are going to happen nation wide on 07 March 2015 are not about crippling trade, but about stopping something that could have significant impacts on New Zealand’s sovereignty here.

2) Appoint someone to be the chief spokesperson for Christchurch issues – did Labour really honestly think that Christchurch issues would just disappear with an election? It certainly seems to be the case with Labour, who at this time have no such spokesperson to go up against Gerry Brownlee. Other parties do. In New Zealand First for example it is Denis O’Rourke. The sooner this happens, the better.

3) Announce a policy to be enacted if Labour wins the next election to require Parliament’s permission for a military deployment against a hostile state or force – few would argue against it (except National M.P.’s, as even their traditional Parliamentary allies A.C.T. and United Future did not like the Islamic State announcement. It might take a bit of time to thrash out the details, but striking whilst Islamic State is a major attention grabbing issue seems like the smart play.

4) Get rid of the Labour Party – to use a Michelle Boag (former National Party President)phrase for M.P.’s that do little more other than keep up appearances/occupy their seats/take home a pay cheque – deadwood. Trevor Mallard has been sidelined by his Assistant Speaker role, but others like Nanaia Mahuta, Annette King, Moana Mackey, and to a lesser extent Phil Goff are doing what for Labour? National cleaned its house out before it came to office. It started another renewal last term. When will Labour do likewise? Certainly before the end of the year they need to start.

5) It was noted today that the average house price in Auckland now sits at about $764,000. Ouch! On my current income, after tax, and with absolutely no money spent on anything else, I would take 30-33 years to come close (within say $10,000-15,000)to having that amount. But how much of the heat in the Auckland market would be there if New Zealand had a law saying only nationals from those countries where New Zealanders can buy property, can buy property in New Zealand? This might be better left until election time, but it is certainly a policy I would like to see.

Andrew Little would be much higher in my estimate even though I won’t be voting for Labour any time soon if he got onto these issues.

Thrills and spills in epic New Zealand vs Australia clash

It had it all (except a big score). There were thrills – the bowling, and there were spills – the 19 wickets combined that fell. There were cheers and – although I didn’t hear any – very probably jeers. But in the end it was devastating pace, and some very good spin bowling that made the New Zealand vs Australia derby today one for the ages.

Australia started well after winning the toss that determines who bats first/fields first with a strong run rate that suggested a big scoring match. But no one told  leg spinner Daniel Vettori, or pace bowlers Tim Southee and Trent Boult. Realising Australia was starting down the course of a big score, N.Z. captain Brendon McCullum introduced Daniel Vettori, a veteran of four Cricket World Cups whose immediate task was to chill the Australian run rate until New Zealand’s pace bowlers were ready to strike. It worked. Slowly but surely the Australian run rate which had be sailing along at nearly seven per over began to drop. 80/1 became 80/2 and 80/3 as Daniel Vettori and Tim Southee picked up wickets on consecutive deliveries.

The crowd, which had been relatively quiet until then found its voice. Australia had barely begun to consolidate their loses when in the space of two runs 95/3 became 97/6. Australian supporters could only watch in despair as the carnage unfolded before their eyes.

At 124/9, Australia were only one run better that which England scored a week earlier against New Zealand. Australia, which had held the World Cup aloft in 1999, 2003 and 2007 was teetering on the edge of calamity. If they went out there it would worsen their lowest ever World Cup score by 35 runs. Australia managed to hold themselves together until they reached 151.

To any person who knows how to play cricket and is aware of New Zealand and Australia’s rivalry, this must have seemed too good to be true. But they would also know history has some harsh lessons. In 2003 Australia had been reduced to a similar score until a magnificent fight back dragged them to 208/9. When Australia went into field, their pace attack had New Zealand back in the pavilion for 112. Australia went on to win the World Cup.

And just as no one told Daniel Vettori, Tim Southee or Trent Boult about Australia’s intentions in the first innings, no one told Mitchell Starc about New Zealand’s intentions. With devastating pace to match the havoc that the New Zealand bowlers sowed in the Australian team, Mitchell Starc single handedly brought Australia into the match and then almost won it. His bowling figures of 6-23 tell the story of how Australia bore an uncanny resemblance to New Zealand in 2003. Undone by devastating pace.

But Kane Williamson had no intention of New Zealand repeating 2003. With one wicket in hand, and Mitchell Starc staring down the prospect of causing a huge upset, Kane Williamson’s bat drove a six into the crowd to end what was one of the greatest roller coaster rides of World Cup cricket.

And that, ladies and gentlemen is why a) Australia is New Zealand’s No. 1 cricket foe and b) why New Zealanders love nothing more than beating Australia.

Climate change increasingly difficult to ignore

Today, reading the news on the web, I saw something that I found profoundly disturbing. It was an article about mysterious craters appearing in the permafrost regions of Siberia. The craters – some measuring up to 30 metres across and several metres deep – have baffled scientists as to their origins. No meteorites or volcanic activity has been reported in the area. There is however significant methane deposits trapped under the permafrost and in the absence of any other natural or man made event that could excavated these craters, the scientists have made a potentially very dangerous discovery: the permafrost is melting, upsetting the methane pockets below, which are exploding and excavating the craters.

This is the latest in a long line of discoveries that have been made, which have slowly drawn me to the conclusion that man made climate change or not, we as a nation, as a member of the global community need to act now. Just a few of the others are:

  • The accelerating acidification of the ocean, slowly but surely making our oceans inhospitable to the marine ecosystem upon which we rely so much
  • The fact that tiny Pacific Island nations such as Tokelau and Kiribati may slide beneath the sea for good in my life time – as yet they live a tenuous existence at sea level, prone to king tides, storm surge and tsunami –  and the people on these islands may become environmental refugees
  • The frequency with which bush fires are hitting Australia, sometimes in tandem with heatwaves

There was a time when I actually thought climate change was not only man made, but that it was already too late to do anything. However as I progressed through my undergraduate geography and geology papers, and more recently the slew of environmental science papers that I have taken, I came to appreciate alternative points of view. The views are quite varied and range from the openly skeptical that it is just simply a too short period in history to possibly be man made, through to the aforementioned chicken little type view that the sky is falling, woe betide. And then there is the middle ground view that I am drawn towards. And of course there are the outright denials of climate change in any form – which I thought for the sake of this post should be set aside for another day.

One such view was that perhaps it is happening, but that we need to look at the geological record which contains evidence of past warming and cooling periods and their duration before we jump to conclusions. I tend to go with this, but balance it with two additional stand points to get a rounded perspective. Those other two stand points are at alternative ends of the sphere – trying to plant the range of views on climate change on a one or two dimensional spectrum is simply impossible:

  1. There is only limited impact New Zealand can positively have because of our very small contribution to the overall global emissions, and that we should therefore not cripple ourselves trying to be as clean as possible when in one year or less the growth in emissions from developing countries will engulf any reduction we contributed.
  2. That New Zealand should however take full advantage – and this makes me gnash my teeth with frustration – of its technological know how, clean energy sources and environmental planning laws and rather than lead the world in something it simply cannot do, develop a green tech industry, more along the lines of what Germany is trying to achieve.

I gnash my teeth for a very good reason. The elected politicians have not the vision or the courage to prepare a long term integrated plan involving all of the affected sectors of the New Zealand economy and society that can address as far as is reasonably possible the New Zealand portion of a problem I am increasingly led to believe is now too serious to ignore, regardless of the causes. The know how is there. The environmental laws that enable this are there. The means are there.

But as yet, the will is not.

Government attacking New Zealand democracy

New Zealand is a land that loudly proclaims to free, democratic and transparent. That is certainly true when it is compared to nations such as China where freedom of speech is frowned on and dissent of the government is likely to land you in jail; where their use of the death penalty is one of the highest in the world and where torture is rampant in prisons. But how does New Zealand’s own performance stack up against these claims?

It is true that no Government is totally protective of human rights or democracy. All have had their failings in one respect or another. In supposed times of war, on a number of fronts the perceptions of a crackdown become particularly strong. In a war such as World War 2, where there was a clear and present danger to the free world by aggressive well armed foes, perhaps the censorship and lose lips warnings of those times were justified. But that is not now. Islamic State is not Nazi era Germany or Japan and the circumstances that brought I.S. about are different from those that gave rise to the World War Two aggressors.

Sometimes it is a government of a nation that is supposedly at peace that wants to make life a bit more exciting for itself, that decides it needs to have a foe that can be the problem. Whilst that is not the case in New Zealand, it could well be the underlying cause of the constant wars that the United States finds itself in. America could make the world a much safer place in a fairly short time if it unilaterally stopped arming dictatorships, closed all bases in the Middle East and ended the War on Drugs. But to do that would be hugely damaging to the military industrial complex that – ironically – an outgoing Republican President (Dwight D. Eisenhower) forewarned the U.S. about, which employs more than one million U.S. citizens, to say nothing of the soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines, the C.I.A. and so forth that rely on the complex for gadgets and weapons.

Although I have just acknowledged New Zealand is not – and hopefully never will be beholden to the military industrial complex – the foreign policy of nations friendly to us that are, has an at times negative impact on our own wellbeing. This can be reflected in events and policy changes that happen under a particular Government during a period of higher tensions. The fifth Labour Government for example:

  • Passed the Electoral Finance Act 2007, which many considered an attack on election campaigning rights because of the nature of the provision changes
  • The New Zealand Police carried out “anti-terror” raids to test the provisions of the Terrorism Suppression Act of 2002, passed by the Labour Government in response to the change in the international security environment caused by the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks
  • Prior to the current Government of Prime Minister John Key, had the highest number of Acts of Parliament passed under urgency

However, since November 2008, New Zealand has been governed by a National-led Government that has shown unprecedented disregard for New Zealand democracy and human rights. Since the start of 2009, it has:

  • Sacked an elected Regional Council and installed Commissioners, first with a three year limit and then with another three year extension
  • Removed clauses from numerous Acts of Parliament regarding corporate and investor social responsibility
  • Committed New Zealand troops to a war at the request of allies, without either asking the public for permission or permitting Parliament to have a vote
  • Warned the Human Rights Commission to effectively watch its step, hinting that its funding might be cut if it did not
  • Passed legislation in the shape of the Crown Minerals (Crown Land and Permitting)Act 2013 that the Human Rights Commission found to be in violation of New Zealand human rights law after the author of this blog lodged a complaint
  • Thus far refused despite significant and growing concern about the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement to release the details of the trade agreement
  • Ignored key recommendations from the United Nations Universal Periodic Review for human rights

I, like the majority of people reading this blog, am a New Zealander first and foremost. Like any decent citizen I want the best for my country and for it to be all that it can be. I want to see it be a nation respected by all on the world stage for being fair and compassionate, yet unmistakably New Zealand. To me, the first and foremost priority of ANY government is to put its people and the nation that it is elected to represent, FIRST.

I fail to see how attacking its democratic foundations that this dream can be achieved. I fail to see how the aspirations that the older generations of New Zealanders went to wars in foreign lands to fight for are going to be realized by Governments that trample on their hard gotten gains. That first and most fundamental priority is certainly not being met by the fifth National-led Government.

Using New Zealand’s United Nations Security Council seat

For years we spent considerable effort lobbying other nations to back New Zealand for a temporary seat on the United Nations. I hoped against nagging personal doubts that we were doing enough to convince those nations we should have one. I hoped because I remember the New Zealand effort in the United Nations during the Rwandan genocide by New Zealand diplomats horrified at what was happening and determined that even if the rest of the world did nothing, New Zealand had the moral courage to stand up and say “this is not okay”.

Do not get me wrong. I applaud New Zealand for having a Security Council seat, as it gives us opportunities that a nation does not have in the General Assembly to influence international policy. It gives us an opportunity to pressure the permanent nations to do something about the angst that results when the Veto is wielded on contentious United Nations Security Council resolutions. Syria remains a bleeding mess because Russia and China vetoed resolutions calling for international aid and the humanitarian crisis is now in its fifth year. Israel continues to anger the growing number of Palestine supporters with its disregard for calls to investigate alleged war crimes in Gaza and its ignorance of United Nations Security Council resolutions, something it gets away with because the U.S. prefers to abstain or vote against the Resolution.

But the Middle East is not everything and the obsession with it by the Security Council members, many people find quite off putting.

When I discuss New Zealand foreign policy, I set two different sets of targets. They are the ones that I expect New Zealand to be aiming for, and the ones I know that New Zealand is likely to reach. The ones I expect to reach are easy to describe, though they have been subject to a bit of revision:

  • An agreement on the removal and disposal of waste products floating around in the worlds oceans – nations generally don’t deny there is a problem
  • Recognition of the United Nations Universal Periodic Review of New Zealand and the implementation of its recommendations
  • Giving each geographical region a rotating seat on the United Nations Security Council to be shared amongst the nations of that region
  • Making it a criminal offense anywhere in the world to be supporting Islamic State or Boko Haram

The ones I don’t think New Zealand will reach, but which we must try are:

  •  To continue being a voice for the South Pacific in General Assembly and (should – like now – we ever be on) the Security Council because compromising their well being will compromise our own eventually;
  • Push for Security Council reform – ending the veto, introducing punishments for repeat international law violators;
  • Make the abolition of chemical and biological weapons a priority
  • More evenly distributing the funding responsibilities of United Nations Security Council members

However the obvious resolve of New Zealand Governments on matters of human rights and civil liberties has been in steady decline for some time now. It might have started during the late 1990’s when our economic relations with China began to substantially warm up. In order to keep the Chinese pleased, the Government began to show reluctance in criticizing the Chinese officials. Although they were not actively made to stop protesting, the Government began turning a blind eye/deaf ear to complaints about the conduct of Chinese officials wanting to shut down protests on Parliament grounds. This decline can be traced back in part to our weak constitutional framework and the reluctance of any party in Parliament to address issues that might trip them. One good example is the recent decision by Prime Minister John Key to commit troops to Iraq without a Parliamentary vote, which has resulted in negative feed back from many quarters.

My biggest fear though is none of the above, but that we will sit on our laurels instead of making maximum use of the temporary seat until too late, and let our allies – whoever they are – do the talking. As we have found out, allies have their limitations.

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