National is taking a hammering from various pundits for reversing field on the mining issue. Here’s just one example. Says Tim Watkin, writing on the Pundit website:

“The government says its backdown on mining is evidence that it listens. But the question left is whether there’s any policy Key and Co. will fight to the death for? Timid and without principle or pragmatic and unwilling to get ahead of voters. Yet again the government has, with its backdown on mining Schedule 4 land, given us a choice as to how to view them.”

I for one am happy to celebrate the decision. What should I prefer? That National cram a dumb idea down our throats?

It appears that John Key, who runs National (not Gerry Brownlee, thankfully), exhibits that dreaded vice … pragmatism. But after all, National (like Labour, the Green Party and the rest) is a political party, not a religious cult. It — like the others would, if they enjoyed power — looks for a winning political formula that of necessity keeps it from drifting too far from the centre where most voters live. That’s the essence of successful democratic politics.

So, has National capitulated to a bunch of “greenies” who would never vote for it anyway? Sure, all those thousands of petitions and submissions helped snap National back toward the centre. National got lost in the fog of easy money on this one, stumbled into an 8,000 volt hotwire, and got knocked on its arse.

But I suspect something else was also at work within National.

Here in Hawke’s Bay, I know a dozen or so fly fishermen. I don’t think most of them would like to be called “environmentalists” in public (let alone “greens”). Yet they are passionate about protecting the region’s waterways … I mean, really passionate. Probably the more accurate term for them would be “conservationists.” They have a genuine reverence for this region’s, and New Zealand’s, natural endowment. They tend to focus on protecting land and water (and sometimes, biodiversity), so often they have a more narrow policy agenda than “environmentalists.”

And, I’ll bet, nearly to a person, they vote National. Because they also tend to believe in fiscal conservatism, markets, the profit motive, self-help, and generally less government. And there are far more of them than there are mining executives.

I suspect Brownlee’s mining proposal really upset this kind of National supporters … supporters with clout. His proposal threatened New Zealand’s most precious and irreplaceable lands with bulldozers and diggers. You didn’t need to be in the Green Party to “get” that.

For the sake of our environment, I hope this analysis is correct. I hope there are heaps of fly fishermen (and of course other Kiwis who adore our outdoors) in the National Party.

I find the observations of Gary Taylor, Chairman of the Environmental Defence Society, on point (full statement here):

“In my view the decision to lock down all National Parks from future mining is especially noteworthy and principled. We now have a national consensus, a compact between Government and the people that recognises the primacy of conservation in all our National Parks. It means we won’t have to argue about mining in National Parks again.

“It is also excellent that mining on the Coromandel Peninsula north of the Kopu-Hikuai Road and on Great Barrier Island is off the agenda. Both proposals were extremely controversial.

“…Some may say that this is an embarrassing back-down by the Government. I think it shows a Government that is listening and is becoming more environmentally aware as it matures in office. That is a very good thing.

“We have a large number of very important environmental reforms underway at present and this decision bodes well for good outcomes from those processes. They include devising an effective environmental regime for mining and oil exploration in the EEZ so that environmental disasters won’t occur there.”

To which I would add: And promulgating tough national freshwater quality standards.

Taylor might be a bit optimistic. National still doesn’t evidence with any consistency that it understands the concept of “clean growth,” too often casting issues in “economy versus environment” terms.

I don’t think any of us — greens, environmentalists, conservationists — should relent in keeping the pressure on National so that its environmental thinking does indeed “mature.”

But for a moment at least, I’m celebrating a correct decision.

Tom Belford

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8 Comments

  1. I remain suspicious about the Goverment's actual agenda. Why suggest mining in OUR national parks in the first place, what result did the Government expect? Correct, the one we saw yesterday. However, why suggest mining within OUR National parks in the first place, crazy, eh? Almost like, er, building a Sports Park on prime agricultural land, crazy eh?

  2. Spinning the Government's U-turn on mining land in Schedule 4 of the Crown Minerals Act as 'pragmatic', 'listening,' is disingenuous.

    National were prepared to desecrate the most precious land in the Conservation Estate. That they even considered such an outrageous proposal is evidence of a Government bereft of Environmental ethic.

    Their attitude was, 'no land is more precious than money,' and it took an outpouring of dissent from the Public to change their minds.

    The triumph here is not John Key's pragmatism but the will of all those the people who opposed this ludicrous proposal.

  3. Nationals grand record;

    1:Vast erosions of your civil liberties with the Police, The Pork Industry, The Meat Board, and bloody Dog Control Officers with the power to break into your home and spy on us WITHOUT a warrant!2:Manufacturing a crises in ACC to privatize it giving the Australian Insurance Industry a multi million dollar bonanza.3:Abusing sexual abuse victims by forcing them to be diagnosed as mentally ill before they can get access to counseling.4:Recreating class stratification with sirs and dames on top and dirty bennies on the bottom.5:Rising GST to pay for a massive tax cut for the rich after ruling a GST rise out before the election.6:Telling the mining industry what their mining policy was in 2006 but not tell the public in the 2008 election.7:Planning to mine in conservation land based on mining lobby figures valuing minerals at $195 billion when the 2002 Statistics Department puts the figure at $3 and a half billion.8:Bennie bashing with confidential information anytime the media needs a distraction9:Forcing the sick back to work when there is no work10:Forcing solo mothers back to work when there is no work11:Threatening Radio NZ for asking questions.12:Holding ‘consultation’ on Climate Change when they already had made up their mind.13:Holding ‘consultation’ meetings for Maori seats on the Auckland Super City when they already had made up their mind.14:Subsidizing their big polluter mates by 55% up until 2050, the ice caps will melt before National stop protecting their big polluter mates15:Passing a weak emission target that doesn’t do a bloody thing 16:Allowing the Dairy industry to set the new water standards for the country (seeing as they are one of the biggest polluters this is a joke)17:Undemocratically Disbanding Ecan to give Farmers more water18:Appointing booze barons to run Auckland19:Gerrymandering Rodney so voters there get more representation than Auckland Central residentsopening the country up for more foreign ownership20:Privatizing NZ citizenship to millionaires (wonder which party they will vote for)21:Taking the independence away from the Overseas Aid agency so McCully can make a buck out of it22:Sending NZ back to war in Afghanistan23:Throwing the privacy laws and cabinet manual out the window to attack beneficiaries who complain about cut backs in training allowances.24:Gutting the Adult Education programmes by a staggering 80% which will lead to massive community isolation. 25:Creating Council Controlled Organizations that will be secret and will spend 75% of the SuperCity budget with no public oversight whatsoever appointed by Joyce and Hide.26:Giving the private education industry $35 million while public schools suffer 27:Annexing Auckland with a misuse of urgency and Rodney gets to appoint his mates to run the city.28:Government Departments no longer responsible for their carbon footprint29:Canning physical activity programmes for children30:Wholesale dismantling of democratic oversight with 40% of the time passing legislation last year through under a misuse of urgency.31:Taking sports money off poor schools to give to rich schools32:Live sheep exports33:Privatization of prisons EVEN THOUGH the head of Private Prisons from GEO told us at a select committee that private prisons WON’T be cheaper!34:Creation of rape pen shipping container prison cells35:Giving the Police power to take your DNA based on mere arrest of a crime with no judicial oversight.36:Giving Police massive new unchecked powers and wiping out evidential thresholds to seize your assets37: Drug Driving laws that are utterly subjective and allow the Police to take your blood meaning a joint you smoked last week will still show up costing you $5000 and 3 months inside.38:A 9day fortnight that actually ends up costing workers39:Preparing TVNZ for privatization40:10% employment cuts in the public sector when caps were promised as opposed to (knee)caps.41:Dismantling pay equity for 46% of the working population because to National women don't matter as much as slashing wage costs42:90 day right to sack in an unemployment environment that ranges from 7% to 14%43:Junk food back into schools 44:The molestation of the select committee process with a misuse of urgency that you would need to go back to 1998 to find a comparison.45:Truancy fines raised to $300046:$35 million on military boot camps that don’t work but make middle class voters feel smug (this amount has increased btw)47:Attempting to legalize whaling48:Gutting the RMA pretending it’s cutting red tape when really it’s burning Green tape49:Dismantling the ETS and holding a right wing inquisition into the ‘science’ of global warming50:Medieval law and order policy pushed through by a right wing homophobic drunk who now wants to meddle with the NZ Bill of Rights so his 3 strikes and you’re locked up forever raw meat law can pass51:Forcing through a National Standards system that has been attacked by educational experts and will only create a league table by stealth in the interests of the private education industry.52:Ending the independence of Legal Aid based on nothing more than rumour with zero actual evidence.53:MMP referendum when no such referendum was ever promised.54:Gagging DOC, Ministry of Justice and Boards of Trustees if they don't agree with ill thought out policy.55:Apponting a homophobic bigot like Brain Neeson to the Human Rights Review Tribunal under questionable circumstances.

    Plus a few that have been missed.

  4. Yes, right on the nose Tin Watkins and very interesting additional comments from others.

    Remember, Gary Taylor has been on the environmental scene for decades, not only in NZ but overseas; he voices optimism but there is always hope for wayward individuals, even possibly an often perverse and misguided government.

    Politics is ever 'the art of the possible' and National 'flew a kite' over the mining, now with Gerry Brownlee snatching up what pieces remain for him to work on, such as "the public accept mining on DOC land that is not under Schedule 4," but was that indeed indicated by the protest and sumissions. Never-the-less, he intends operating on that claim.

    The public get what they vote for, or most of them do, National are playing on a very sticky wicket and being as smart as possible in the realisation that a significant number of voters, vote on 'knee jerk' reaction every three years.

    The over-inflated economic dream-time bubble burst horribly and governments are left standing in the resulting puddles, unequal to the consequences, their hot air pumps totally unable to manipulate reinflation of the global bubble.

    The big question here is: how much do most NZers have to sacrifice to ill-considered Government 'think-big' plans and projects, before they face up to the economic and social reality of what is happening to them and the environment that sustains their lifestyle.

    We shall see.

    David Appleton

  5. You've made some interesting points Tom and I'm inclined to agree, this Tory Government's about turn has nothing to do with a public back lash rather a rejection of the proposal by its own blue blood constituency.

    And that in itself is an appauling reflection on how this Government operates.

    A case in point is its attack on working people and their families by undermining the employment relationship between labour and capital that has been established over the past ten years.

    Whislt the changes that are being implimented will cause significant hardship for all working people, the fact that this Government knows that its own blue blood stock will back the changes regardless of the public outcry.

    Dave Head is quite right, they can not be trusted; the time for the rose tinted glasses to be removed is well past.

  6. i've always preferred green-tinted glasses; i used to have a natty pair of John Lennon ones til i wore em out by barking too hard :)

    point, made above, is this was a flag-waving exercise: the real agenda Plan B, now being run out, is that anywhere EXCEPT schedule 4 land is ok to mine. that still includes an awful lot of "conservation" estate.

    funny, but i don't recall agreeing to this.

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