Gordon Campbell | Parliament TV | Parliament Today | Video | Questions Of the Day | Search - 15 February 2008 - 15 February 2008

A Weekly Report from the Keyboard of Murray McCully

MP for East Coast Bays

Sustainability Hypocrisy

The Parliamentary year commenced on Tuesday with the traditional Prime Minister’s address outlining the Government’s legislative agenda for the year ahead. With official statistics showing that over 76,000 New Zealanders left permanently last year, over 40,000 of them moving to Australia, it might have been hoped that our Prime Minister would have word of initiatives that would start to stem the growing exodus. But no, rather than confronting the growing problem, Helen Clark opted for the smokescreen strategy.

The big issue, she told the House, is sustainability. In fact sustainability was mentioned no fewer than 18 times in the context of the 40 minute Clark speech.

Could this be the same Helen Clark who has presided over the single biggest setback to New Zealand’s environmental sustainability in many decades: the great chainsaw massacre of this country’s forestry stocks? For every year since records were started in 1951, New Zealanders planted more trees than they cut down. Official MAF records show, for example, that for the years 1995 to 2000, the net planted forestry area in this country expanded by 90,000 ha, 64,000 ha, 88,000 ha, 49,000 ha, and 52,000 ha consecutively.

Under Prime Minister ”Sustainability” Clark New Zealand actually moved into net deforestation mode in 2004, losing about 5,000 ha of forest. In each of 2005 and 2006 we lost about 11,000 ha of forest. But the appalling management of the carbon charge policy, which took effect on 1 January 2008 created a massive incentive to cut down trees before that date. So the official figures for 2007 are going to show the biggest chainsaw massacre in New Zealand history. That’s sustainability for you, Helen Clark style.

Our Productive Public Service

Wondering why the size and cost of the public service is blowing through the roof? Well, a small indication may be discerned from emails, thoughtfully leaked to the worldwide headquarters of by frustrated public servants in recent weeks, outlining the lengthy process by which Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) chief executive Brendan Boyle was to be farewelled by that department and welcomed into the same role at Internal Affairs.

Staff of LINZ received a memo advising that on 4 February “LINZ manuhiri” would “gather at 9.15 am at DIA for welcome at 9.30 am. The Internal Affairs Office is across Lambton Quay from LINZ,” the memo helpfully informed.

The programme then provided for: “Department of Internal Affairs Tangata whenua (staff) welcome Brendan and LINZ staff. Speeches (Whaikoreo) and waiata (songs) in Te Reo.

“LINZ response – speeches and songs in Te Reo

“Transfer of Brendan from LINZ to Department of Internal Affairs at 10.05ish. Speeches.

“At 10.30ish the formal part of the process will close, and the proceedings will open for English to be spoken. Speeches to follow from Kevin Kelly the GM Policy LINZ, Annette Offenberger the Acting CE DIA and Brendan Chief Executive DIA.

“Conclusion with morning tea (Kapu ti/Kai) at 10.45ish, followed by farewell (Poroporoaki), Informal mixing of LINZ/DIA staff.”

So that’s the whole morning cut (and probably the early part of the afternoon) for a bundle of senior public servants (all of whom are no doubt drawing salaries in excess of those paid to our elected representatives, but let’s not be churlish). But wait, there’s more:

“In preparation for this,” the memo advises, “you have already been advised of a number of waiata practice sessions.” These are listed as being from 12.30 to 1.30 on the 18th, 23rd and 25th of January. Then there’s the “rehearsal for the Powhiri” scheduled from noon to 2.00pm on Tuesday 29th”.

“If you intend going to the welcome, attendance at these is recommended,” staff are advised.

But, dear taxpayers, never fear. The nation’s public servants are ever sensitive to the prospect that large numbers of highly paid public servants might be diverted from their important duties. The note advises: “Due to a limit of 60 LINZ people that can be accommodated at Internal Affairs, would you please register attendance..” Isn’t that reassuring?

Soft on Burma

The revelation that 100% New Zealand government-owned engineering company, Kordia (formerly BCL) is contracted to an arm of the repressive Burmese regime to install cellphone facilities has exposed the utter hypocrisy of the Clark administration’s so-called "independent" foreign policy. Compared to the sheer ministerial hysteria that accompanied the discovery that only partly government-owned Air New Zealand had carried Australian troops to Kuwait, it was hard to believe it was the same government.

Air New Zealand had actually taken the trouble, twice, to inquire of Foreign Affairs whether the proposed troop charters would conflict with government policy. Despite being told by MFAT that there was no problem, the airline was still slated by Ministers for not keeping them informed, and the chairman hauled in for a talking to. Kordia, in complete contrast, made no such inquiry of MFAT before signing up with the Burmese regime, and we were initially told that Ministers did not expect to be informed – a position that was subsequently abandoned when the contradiction became obvious.

But, the Prime Minister and her colleagues explained, New Zealand does not have any sanctions against Burma (or Myanmar as our Ministers still insist it should be called). Which raises the very good question as to why not? Because in this respect, New Zealand is very much out of step with our traditional friends.

The Canadian government actively discourages investment in Burma by its nationals, and also actively discourages travel to that country.

The US has invoked trade sanctions, banned investment, and restricts financial or technical assistance to Burma.

The European Union responded to last year’s brutality in Burma by widening existing trade and investment sanctions. And Australia also restricts financial dealings with or travel to Burma.

So, in responding to the brutal repression of the Burmese monks and other citizens, New Zealand is about 100% out of step with those nations with which we would normally act. The reason, we were told, is because the United Nations has not yet called for sanctions. And nor, for so long as China has a veto on the Security Council, is the UN ever likely to. But such is our Prime Minister’s fixation with that organisation that she is not prepared to act without its mandate, even if all of our traditional friends took action months ago. Well, we suppose that’s one way of running an independent foreign policy.

Call it Burma

Regular readers will recall that this publication has previously called for New Zealanders to refer to the nation our Government insists on calling Myanmar, as Burma ( 2nd November 2007). As we pointed out at the time, Myanmar is the name selected by the military junta – the people who specialise in murdering their citizens and specifically in massacring Buddhist monks.

In the US, Canada and Australia, the government and the media all refer to Burma. The United Kingdom’s government website even explains the choice of Burma as a specific repudiation of the brutal military regime. The position was best summed up by a leading UK Burma campaigner in these terms: "Often you can tell where someone’s sympathies lie if they use Burma or Myanmar. Myanmar is a kind of indication of countries that are soft on the regime." Which sums up very well the Clark Government’s position.

Helping Democracy???

The Helen Clark spin that New Zealand government participation in the Burmese government’s cellphone development would assist the spread of democracy in that country would have been truly laughable were the topic not so deadly serious. Next Clark will be arguing that if New Zealand had been prepared to export dairy products to Germany during World War Two, Hitler would have used them to feed the people in the concentration camps.

International contempt for the Clark position is best expressed in an editorial in the Bangkok Post: "Mrs Clark argued that the facilities would be used by democrats to get the news of anti-regime actions out to the world. It is difficult to believe Mrs Clark is so isolated from reality that she thinks a regime that closed down the entire system of internet blogs to stop one democratic writer, would allow others to send photos and images on their own cellphone system."

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