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Gordon Campbell on the smelter deal, Fonterra and Iran

Gordon Campbell on the smelter deal, Fonterra and Iran

by Gordon Campbell

Well, it does seem that about $30 million is the kind of pocket money that the government has readily at hand to throw at foreign corporates - at Warners over The Hobbit, and now at Rio Tinto over the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter. One would love to know how the size of these handouts – yes, this is corporate welfarism – are calculated. A $30 million subsidy seem to be about ten times the amount of say, the size of the biggest grants that our scientists can access, after they have been required to jump through innumerable hoops for months on end. But that’s only to do stuff that might be of social benefit. This deal is about delivering a political benefit (i.e. keeping the asset sale of Meridian Energy on track) so hey… the sky’s the limit.

In the context of the smelter’s long term viability, $30 million is not going to be a decisive amount. It will merely buy the government the time to unload Meridian, and anyone who thinks that this patchup arrangement makes Meridian a stable and predictable investment in the long term, should think again. Rio will take the easy money, and move on when it sees fit.

Fonterra’s Bad Week
I’m not sure if there’s a marketing version of Stockholm Syndrome – you know, where the people marketing a slogan get captured by it even more so than the intended target audience – but a lot of New Zealanders do seem to regard that “100% Pure” slogan as a statement of manifest, unvarished truth. It's what we think we are. (Despite the polluted state of our rivers.) Our hands are clean, our intentions pure. Like us, please. (What do you think of New Zealand?)

The self deception involved means that a calamity like this week’s Fonterra scandal tends to be seen as an aberration, an anomaly that can be put right again by us re-asserting our basic decency and inherent trustworthiness. Some people – like a marketing guy on RNZ on Monday – even thought the Chinese might even be impressed by our candour. This is despite the fact that Fonterra didn’t tell the New Zealand public – much less the Chinese whom we are now trying to re-assure – for a considerable time after Fonterra knew that consumers (i.e. babies) were at risk, with the delay presumably being because the details of the damage control exercise hadn’t been quite worked out.

For all the avowals we heard from Fonterra heard this week about the need for transparency, the word had a very narrow meaning to them. It meant being “transparent” about the good news – what they were doing to fix the problem, trace the dodgy product, and reassure their customers and clients – while being not transparent at all about the bad news. Bad news such as why the delay in informing the public; what the consequences would be for those held responsible, what the scale of compensation claims may be against Fonterra--and what harm (short of botulism) might accrue to those babies that Fonterra allowed to keep on consuming the tainted product, while Fonterra mulled over how to manage the revelations.

Amid all of this, a few things did seem pretty clear. The incident has exposed this country’s complacent over reliance on (a) dairy exports (b) China as an export destination and (c) Fonterra’s reliability as a good corporate citizen. Just as Fonterra claimed to be able to trace 90% of the tainted product quite easily (but was having difficulty with the remaining 10%), much the same appears to be the case with the “100% Pure” brand. Maybe “90% Pure” would be a better slogan. It would send an aspirational message, and a better example of truth in packaging.

Israel Plus Saudi Arabia Plus the US, versus Iran
So Iran has elected a reformist leader to replace the crazy guy (Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) that the White House didn’t like. So what has been the US response to the current friendly overtures from Iran? Why, just the other day Congress passed this hostile, punitive Bill aimed at Iran and this came in the wake of a $10 billion arms deal described by Foreign Policy as “a strategic game changer” in the region, and signed recently between the US and its two most Iran-hating allies in the Middle East (namely, Israel and Saudi Arabia.)

Foreign Policy also reports that new US Defence Secretary Charles “Chuck” Hagel has been given the task of repairing relations with Israel and putting the “special relationship” between the US and Israel back on track. That seems to be working out just fine:

Hagel's first trip to an ally, after Afghanistan, was to Israel; the first foreign defense minister he called after being sworn in at the Pentagon was Israel's, the gregarious Ehud Barak; Hagel called Barak's successor, Moshe "Boogie" Ya'alon, on the Israeli's first day on the job; Ya'alon's first overseas trip as defense minister was to Washington. And as Hagel and Ya'alon sat beside one another on a helicopter tour of Israel earlier this year, the two former soldiers called each other "Chuck" and "Boogie."

Chuck and Boogie. So that’s all good then.

ENDS

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