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Sludge #29 – If It Looks Like A Dog, Barks Like...

Sludge Report #29 – If It Looks Like A Dog, Barks Like…

Inside This Edition: Oil Protests Ooze Irony - If It Looks Like A Dog, Barks Like…

NOTE: Authors of this report will be anonymous and wide ranging and occasionally unhinged. Indeed you are invited to contribute: The format is as a reporters notebook. It will be published as and when material is available. C.D. Sludge can be contacted at sludge@scoop.co.nz. The Sludge Report is available as a free email service..Click HERE - http://www.scoop.co.nz/cgi-bin/newsagent/new_user.cgi?form=home to subscribe... feel free to email this on to your friends and enemies alike.

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Oil Protests Ooze Irony

For all their success in mounting another big, internationally noticed protest at an international corporate gathering, the anti-WTO etc protesters in Melbourne - particularly those with an environmental agenda - should be looking with both envy and apprehension at the protests against high fuel prices in Europe.

After all, if you're looking for really effective protest and blockade, then the truckers of Britain and Belgium are providing an object lesson. Britain is grinding to a halt - the whole country, not just one hotel or conference venue or even just one city - and it is doing so not because of support for some higher aim, but simply because people don't like paying high prices for gas.

In other words, this is an old-fashioned, hip-pocket protest. It's not about the future of the planet or the exploitation of the Third World - where most of the oil comes from. It's about people in the First World complaining because a commodity just became more expensive.

Yet what is one of the primary effects of higher fuel prices, seen here as well as in Europe? It is more people using public transport, and new focus on alternative and more efficient fuels. Outcomes, in other words, that environmentalists should support.

Is it drawing too long a bow to suggest that while activists may succeed in raging in a general way against the machine, it is a different story when it comes to filling the machine. A different set of protesters are proving more powerful and bloody-minded than a thousand Nandors refusing to be moved from a seated position on the pavement outside an Australian casino.

One thing's for sure, the European fuel protests are bad news for the Greens and for Environment Minister Pete Hodgson's hope that carbon and polluter pay taxes can be part of New Zealand's mix of responses to cutting greenhouse gas emissions - a key area of policy action for the Government over the next two years and a major headache, not only for its relations with the business community, but also with grumpy, gas-guzzling middle income earners.

What the public outcry over high fuel costs is indicative of a widespread hypocrisy in the public debate on the environment which the Nats' Simon Upton has long noted. That is: the tendency for city dwellers driving unnecessarily powerful sports utility to skifields at the weekend to emblazon their bumpers with environmentally friendly slogans.

The coincidence of the S-11 protests in Melbourne and the fuel protests in Europe show that while there is clearly a constituency for protest about economic globalisation, there is arguably a far larger and more entrenched constituency in favour keeping the wasteful First World just the way it is. Weirdly, many people in the latter camp believe themselves to support the aims of the former, but that is the subject for another column.

P.

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More Feedback to Sludge on Tranz Rail… See also… Sludge Report #28 ( http://www.scoop.co.nz/mason/stories/HL0009/S00074.htm ) – Slow Down! and Sludge #28 Feedback (http://www.scoop.co.nz/mason/stories/HL0009/S00079.htm ) – Railroad Extortion

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Inside This Edition: Oil Protests Ooze Irony - If It Looks Like A Dog, Barks Like…

Dear Sludge,

I'm delighted to see that the Alliance, ARC councillor Mike Lee, Campaign for Public Transport and the Railways and Maritime Transport Union aren't the only ones that think this deal is nuts. To paraphrase the infamous Senator J. McArthy: If it looks like a dog, wags its tail like a dog and goes woof like a dog then it very probably is a dog. And this deal certainly seems to match that description.

But you only mentioned the half of it. The deal isn't just for $65M. No. It's $65M for the Western, central & Avondale-Southdown corridors + $2.25M + CPI a year for the North Island Main Trunk Line. Or is that $4.25M a year for the NIMT? That depends on how many "slots" the region rents between freight trains... What the hell, why not offer another $47M for assignment of the NIMT and have done with it! And that's what the ARC is currently looking at doing, handing over $112M for the whole shebang.

And what, pray tell, are we going to have running on the tracks? Well, the region is looking at choosing between heavy rail and light rail, or who knows what. This they call "mode selection" but they haven't got that far yet. They are still deciding a "mode selection process" to determine this thorny question. And given the region's history of getting things done we could be waiting a few more decades for the answer. Meanwhile, Tranz Rail's shareholders will have been busy multiplying their loot, no doubt overseas, and chuckling all the while (Fay Richwhite are big shareholders by the way, and they can scarcely be called a New Zealand company any more).

And who is going to pay? Well, without actually having involved the Government in the negotiations the region's mayors seem to expect they can demand $35M or so from Wellington. Government has wisely sidestepped the request and passed it onto Transfund, who have to do an economic analysis of the proposal. This is pretty difficult when the region's politicos have no idea what mode they're going to put on the tracks or what the prospective patronage of the system they choose might be. In fact, Transfund has apparently said of the proposal "There is no explanation of how a value of $65M plus an annual sum was arrived at".

And the balance? The region is looking hungrily at Infrastructure Auckland's pot of gold. IA, by the way, originally calculated the value of the rail corridors at $20M - $30M. This organisation, too, has very strict criteria to judge the fundability of any infrastructural project, so it will be interesting to see how they justify any grants they make.

And why are the region's politicians and bureaucrats so keen on spending public money on Tranz Rail's shareholders? The main motivation doesn't seem to be improving rail transport in Akl, as there are no plans in place to hit the ground running. But they are wildly enthusiastic about putting the services out to competitive tender, which, they assure us despite all British evidence to the contrary, is going to deliver a cheap, efficient, high-class service. In other words, they want to pretend to be big bizniss people...

Even this just scratches the surface of the stupidity of the thing. I mean, there's the health and safety issues, all the deferred maintenance, the costs of upgrading the infrastructure, the fact that Northland councils want to sue Auckland because they will have the right to use the western corridor only from 1.00am to 5.00am, other regional development issues, Tranz Rail's desire to break up the network and get out of the dirty business of transport, etc, etc...

I hope you have the time and energy to continue digging into this issue. It's a target-rich environment, that's for sure.

Regards, Alex

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