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Gordon Campbell on the predator society

Gordon Campbell on the predator society

In these last few days before Parliament opens and the cycle of normal political life resumes, significant stories are gaining coverage that they might otherwise struggle to achieve. This morning, they included another example of consumers being treated as sitting ducks by supposedly “free market” forces.

Apparently, the retail price of a Steinlager six pack is $16 here where it is brewed, and only about $6 in the US and about $4 in Britain, even after it has been shipped almost 10,000 kilometres to market. As with milk and cheese, a big part of the explanation by the corporates in question for New Zealanders is that the price has to be in line with expectations that exist here, and that exist there. Or as Lion’s corporate flack put it in the Herald:

I guess overall you could say it's a reflection of the different marketplace for beer pricing. It will be a whole lot of factors... Some of it will be tax, some of it will be making sure the pricing is in line with the other beers that it competes with in the marketplace….

Even after the tax element is removed, it seems, it still leaves the beer costing double the price in New Zealand, than elsewhere. Meaning: business will screw the consumer here because it can, but won’t do it over there because it can’t get away with it. Why, in New Zealand, do free market forces more often look like price fixing, cartel behaviour and monopoly rents? Because so often, they are. But we wouldn’t want to regulate against such practices, would we? Because that would mean more red tape, and business hates red tape.

ACC appears to operate with much the same predatory code of ethics, judging by this story of an Auckland woman’s nine year battle with ACC over compensation for an accident that began with her falling down some broken steps outside a Palmerston North café, and which (thanks to medical bungling) eventually required the amputation of her lower leg. ACC’s contribution has been to fight to deny and minimise her entitlements to care and compensation at every step of the way :

She successfully challenged ACC for entitlements, including that she had suffered a treatment injury, funding for a suitable car, for a kitchen she could use safely - and even to get access ramps installed in her home. When she sought ramps, an occupational therapist told her: "'Your family can help you up. They can carry you'."

In 2008, an ACC complaints investigator instructed a mid-level manager to apologise to Mrs Smith after finding various parts of the ACC Code of Claimants' Rights, including the right to honest, open and effective communication, had been breached.

Even so, the harassment continued, with ACC trying – illegally – to influence the supposedly independent assessment of her case. As one of her advocates pointed out: “By law, rehabilitation needs assessments were required to be based on the claimant's needs, "not a predetermined decision by ACC's staff to deny entitlements"."

This morning’s third cautionary tale is about a typically rosy assessment by the Ministry of Economic Development of New Zealand’s potential earnings from oil exploration. Allegedly, New Zealand can expect to treble its oil production and become a net exporter of petroleum by 2030 with no negative environmental downside at all… Such a wonder is possible, according to Energy Minister Phil Heatley because : .

Mr Heatley says the oil and gas industry is already the country's fourth biggest export earner and there is real potential for growth. The oil industry in Taranaki has a good safety and environmental record and that could be repeated elsewhere in New Zealand, he says.

Except that… the environment elsewhere around New Zealand for extracting oil in such quantities is not at all like Taranaki. It involves deep sea drilling off East Cape and Northland, or in the turbulent conditions of the Great South Basin. These are regions vital to tourism and fishing industries, and to the migratory path of several endangered species. And – newsflash ! – the current oil industry best practice at such depths, and in such conditions, cannot prevent oil spills and major contamination . If that happens, New Zealand will have to shoulder the cost and will struggle to win anything that remotely looks like adequate compensation. The likes of Heatley and the local oil industry lobby groups would have a lot more credibility if they didn’t live in denial about such risks.

There is also little or no recognition that – in return for New Zealanders shouldering such risks – the royalty rates that we charge and our capacity to monitor the rate of extraction are both very low, by world standards. Surely, if we are to take such risks in extracting oil in our difficult conditions, we want to ensure we get the best return from the resource, and we want to know that we can adequately measure just how much of our precious resources the foreign oil company is extracting, on any given day, week or month. Instead, the MED review endorses a further review of the rules and regulations contained in the Crown Minerals Act, to ensure that nothing gets in the way of the oil multinationals.

So that’s one typical morning, and three typical stories of predatory behaviour by the private sector, an SOE and in a government report. No wonder that people feel as if they are living under siege. Literally, they soon will be – given the current plans to extend the surveillance society with the deployment of predator drones in the United Kingdom. Some people, at least, are feeling there may be something… a bit sinister about this trend. So, as the Guardian reports , a public relations campaign is soon to be launched in Britain to re-assure the public that this is a really, really good idea:

Companies seeking to enable the routine use of surveillance drones across Britain are planning a long-term public relations effort to counter the negative image of the controversial aircraft. The Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Systems Association (UAVSA), a trade group that represents the drone industry to the UK government, has recommended drones deployed in Britain should be shown to "benefit mankind in general", be decorated with humanitarian-related advertisements, and be painted bright colours to distance them from those used in warzones….

A series of presentations given by industry figures in recent months show public opposition is considered a major hurdle. UAVSA has discussed how it could use the media to disseminate favourable stories, creating a narrative that presents the introduction of drones in the UK as part of a "national mission".

Paint the drones in cheery colours. Of course. Maybe there’s a lesson here for ACC.


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