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Gordon Campbell on Pike River, shifting RWC games, Libya

Gordon Campbell on Pike River, shifting the RWC games, and Libya

Nearly four months after the Pike River disaster, the mine’s unpaid contractors are still waiting for the promised government support package to be unveiled. The bills owed to local contractors when the mine exploded amounted to $7 million – and the support package promised in December was always expected to include a cash element to help meet those unpaid bills.

Now according to papers released under the OIA to Radio New Zealand, there doesn’t seem to be a ‘ stimulus package” at all.

The likely response now seems to entail little more than offering management advice about the existing job possibilities in the region and – in time – building an events centre to commemorate those who lost their lives. Some of the unpaid contractors will not qualify for the new work on the events centre, and there are obvious cash flow issues in the meantime for even the lucky ones who might be able to benefit from the events centre contracts.

One can only contrast the approach to the mere $7 million owed to the Pike River contractors with the way the government rushed in last year to pay out $1.8 billion to the speculators left high and dry by the collapse of South Canterbury Finance. With Pike River, there seems to be a deliberately Darwinian style of thinking involved – namely, wait and see how many contractors are left standing, subtract how many have moved to Australia to find work, and thereby minimize the numbers of people left behind that you need to help.

In fact, the decision to offer cash support to the beleaguered contractors is a very simple one. It needn’t be held off until a full medium term recovery plan is put together. That’s why the Christchurch earthquake shouldn’t be used as an excuse to delay the decision to help out the Pike River contractors.


Rugby World Cup

There is something very New Zealand about the way the decision about the Rugby World Cup games in Christchurch is being allowed to unfold. At Pike River, the authorities left families in limbo, to gradually infer that the miners were probably dead. If this was meant to be an act of kindness – a letting down of people easily – it plainly didn’t work. The families were merely encouraged to cling to hope and then had it dashed, in an agonizing fashion.

Much the same reluctance to front up and prepare for the likely outcome now marks the decision over the RWC games set down for Christchurch. It will be left to the International Rugby Board next week to play the heavy and state the bleedingly obvious – that the stadium, the training facilities, the accommodation resources and the public transport system in Christchurch cannot sustain the influx of 40,000 plus visitors for a world class international event. Especially when the aftershocks keep on coming. As one commenter to this column said, the suggestion that visitors could be accommodated in cruise ships berthed above the epicentre of the February 22 quake is a sign of just how desperate things have become.

Wouldn’t it be better if our political leaders had shown some leadership and helped prepare people for the inevitable outcome? Instead, the politics of ‘good news’ governance mean that the Prime Minister has so far expressed only his preference that the games be played in Christchurch – just as I’m sure he will express his sympathy afterwards when the decision to shift the games is finally announced.

The real battle will then revolve around whether the quarterfinals in particular are shifted to Dunedin or to Auckland. If Auckland is chosen, this will make the RWC very much a North Island tournament. That would serve to undermine the opportunity being offered by the RWC, to showcase the entire country’s tourism and business potential. For that reason – and to placate the disappointed Christchurch fans with the best and most accessible alternative – it has to be Dunedin.


Slaughter in Libya

In a series of ‘pass the buck’ responses, NATO won’t enforce a ‘no fly’ zone in Libya, and the Obama administration won’t intervene in Libya without a UN mandate, and there is no appetite in Europe – let alone in Russia or China – for any kind of intervention. So the result seems pre-ordained. Libya’s dictator Muammar Gaddafi will be allowed to slaughter the young rebels who foolishly thought they could count on outside support in their struggle for democracy. But afterwards… boy, won’t everyone give Gaddafi heaps in the UN debating chamber for being such a monster.

From the outset, Scoop has argued that Gaddafi’s forces had an edge in military hardware – they had the jets, the tanks, the trained forces like the crack Khamis brigade, the foreign mercenaries – and the rebels did not. It is becoming a pattern. In the aftermath of the first Gulf War, the West led Iraqis to believe that if they rose up against Saddam Hussein, they could expect outside support for their cause.

Instead, the West then stood by while the Iraqi rebels were slaughtered in their hundreds of thousands. To compound the tragedy, the West then imposed sanctions that starved and killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children, while leaving Saddam’s regime intact. In Kosovo. during the 1990s, we saw the West issue similar encouragements to the Kosovans – followed by the same outcome, as the rebels seeking independence (and who counted on being defended by us) were massacred by the Serbs. Boy, did we give Slobodan Milosevic heaps afterwards for that.

It is true that a ‘no fly’ zone may achieve very little in a direct military sense in Libya. Air power is an element in Gaddafi’s superiority, but not the only one. Yet what it would signify – since it would require a pre-emptive attack on Gaddafi’s anti-aircraft defences – was that the West was prepared to offer substantive support to the rebels. It would transform the mindset for the battle on the ground – and quite possibly trigger a palace coup against the Gaddafi family that would render full scale intervention unnecessary. By not making any military move at all, the West is giving Gaddafi a greenlight to wreak vengeance on his opponents. It will leave resentments that will last for generations.

Libya is not Afghanistan or Iraq. The roots of the Gaddafi regime are shallow, and vulnerable to a minimal push from the outside. Yet that is not how this dismal situation is going to play out. Tragically, the current diplomatic busyness we are seeing from the likes of US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton is just a smokescreen for leaving Gaddafi in power.


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