14 March 2023

A small country far away of which they know nothing

It is the biggest foreign and defence policy news in the South Pacific since the end of the Cold War, that is the formation not only of the AUKUS defence alliance, but the agreement for Australia to be the seventh country to have nuclear propelled submarines.  Seventh after the five formal nuclear weapons states and India (which is an informal nuclear weapons state).

It's big news in Australia.  Indeed the issue is bipartisan, with it all being started by the Morrison Coalition Government, and continued by the Albanese Labor Government.  It's big in the UK too.  A country that from the late 1990s appeared to be withdrawing from the Pacific (having pulled out of Hong Kong), is now a key second level nuclear power operating globally. Again, it is not controversial in the UK, helpfully since the British Labour Party has sidelined its hard left tankie faction. It's also news in the US.  It solidifies Western liberal democracies against the totalitarian aggressors in Beijing and Moscow, a sign that there wont be tolerance for Beijing seeking to claim the Republic of China on Taiwan.

It ought to give pause for thought in New Zealand. Remember ANZUS? Yet no.  The Cold War-era policy, instituted by the Fourth Labour Government to ban nuclear weapons and nuclear propulsion from New Zealand waters and territory, ostensibly to protect New Zealand from nuclear attack in the event of a world war and the fear of nuclear power, looks obsolete and childish.  That's because it is.

The fact NZ Labour politicians talk of a "nuclear free moment" with pride, and neither the media nor the Opposition take them up on this is a sign of the abject paucity of any serious critical discussion about foreign policy in New Zealand politics, and it is disgraceful.

There is little from broadcasters or journalists on this at all, and it is in no small part because the National Party, which once took on this issue and folded, has given up on asserting the importance of defence and alliances.  What NZ is stuck with is a policy that fits rights into the mould of the Green hard left which the Fourth Labour Government let rip (or rather David Lange did), in order to placate the left faction in the face of far-reaching economic reforms. 

On the face of it, NZ's exclusion from AUKUS is primarily presented as showing an "independent" foreign policy, whatever that means. At best it means keeping our head down in the hope that all sides will trade with NZ exporters, which is simply economic realpolitik. It also means NZ having a channel to the side of authoritarianism, between the West, which is useful in itself.  However, that's not really how Labour presents it (and let's be clear, the Labour Party has led foreign policy in NZ since 1984 continuously, even though it has been tended by the Nats). 

At worst, this "independent" foreign policy is akin to the "both sidesism" that Te Pati Maori expresses openly. TPM stated this in its foreign policy that it wants to be enemy to none and friends to all.  It effectively puts a distance between NZ and other Western liberal democracies, and pulls NZ closer to expansionist totalitarian autocracies like Russia and the PRC (and its friends in Tehran, Pyongyang and Damascus). It says NZ isn't really that concerned about having friends that get attacked, because "everyone has done bad".  

Sure you can be Switzerland if you like, but be honest about it. It is not a moral foreign policy, it is one based on realism and giving up on being allied to those you no longer think are any better than their enemies.

What AUKUS means for NZ is pretty clear. Australia will soon be the nexus of military deterrence and defence in the South Pacific like never before and NZ law will ban its new submarines, in due course, from sailing into NZ ports.  That is worthy of at least debate.

Why does NZ still ban nuclear propelled vessels? Is this some fear of pollution in an age of concern over climate change? Is it science based (as Labour and the Greens claim is behind their policies on climate change), or is just scaremongering?  If it is the latter, why persist with it?  Because politicians are scared of Greenpeace?

The nuclear weapons ban has more substance, if there remains an idealistic campaign that the world should be rid of nuclear weapons. However, it deserves debate as well. Does NZ banning nuclear weapons on its territory achieve anything?  Does NZ seriously want the US or UK to give up nuclear weapons unilaterally, or does it think that peace, for example, on the Korean Peninsula would be enhanced if the US refused to use nuclear weapons in the event of war breaking out there?  The notion is absurd. 

I'd scrap the nuclear ban, both of them.  The nuclear propulsion ban is anti-scientific nonsense, and should be ridiculed for what it is.  The nuclear weapons ban should be shelved because it achieves nothing, as many NZ allies and friends are protected by the presence of nuclear weapons. From South Korea to Japan to Poland, Finland, Slovakia, Israel, India, Pakistan, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia. The reason countries join NATO is to have the US and UK nuclear umbrellas deterring aggressors.  

I wouldn't have NZ sign up to AUKUS - as it has nothing to add, but I would be clear that NZ is with Australia, and that NZ's moral foreign policy is that it opposes the use of force to change internationally recognised borders. 

I know the National Party would run a mile from this issue, because it sees no traction in it domestically, and because Labour can frighten legions of fearful low-knowledge people raised on the religion of NZ's "nuclear free moment" as a bizarre piece of smug-nationalism. That smug-nationalism achieved nothing, because the Cold War ended a few years later because our side won.  Liberal democratic capitalist economies beat the USSR, and the threat of nuclear annihilation in Europe was defeated not because of NZ's nuclear-free policy.  Likewise, there is no remote reason why Iran, India, Pakistan, Israel, the DPRK or any other country will surrender nuclear weapons, because a Minister in New Zealand said they should. It is because NZ is a small country far away of which they know nothing. NZ is blessed with isolation, an isolation that saved it so often in the past, but which should not be the basis of an arrogant smug attitude to the geo-politics of those without the luxury of isolation from threats.

It would, however, be nice if one or two journalists took this on, and maybe even ACT. Can someone in Parliament at least ask the question as to why NZ will continue a ban that will stop its closest ally sending its future submarines to our ports?

Addendum:  As I thought further about this, NZ arguably has four paths of foreign policy to take in relation to its allies:

1. Be a full-status ally: Scrap the nuclear-free laws, contribute 2% of GDP to defence and work with Australia, the US, UK and other allies to effectively be a bulwark against neo-nationalist authoritarian aggression.  There is little sign that there is a willingness to do this.

2. Fence-sitting realist trade maximisation: Claim to be an ally, but spend underwhelming amounts on defence, ban vessels and aircraft of some allies, seek to maximise economic advantage by not being tied to allies based on principle while proclaiming this fence-sitting to be "independent" and "moral" (status quo).

3.  Fortress neutrality: Declare friendship with all, no interest in military aggression or in defending others, but arm to the teeth so there is no doubt that if confronted you will bite (Swiss option - no interest in that).

4.  Unarmed neutrality: Declare friendship with all, giving up on military to take advantage of isolation, focus on patrolling EEZ and let Australia take the hit, cut defence spending to spend on "ourselves" (Costa Rica option - what the Greens probably really want and Te Pati Maori appears to want).

09 March 2023

Greenshirts for Aotearoa

Imagine relaxing, going about your day and finding two people arriving on your doorstep, one with a clipboard, both wearing green shirts, labelled the Environmental Protection Authority or perhaps the Ranginui Papatuaunuku Whakamarumaru Ti'amâraa (perhaps?).

They ask you about your employment, and perhaps you are self-employed, or unemployed, or retired, in which case they will ask why you have not presented yourself at the local Whare O Te Aorangi to be given task to save the planet. Your age is unimportant they say, you could be making cups of tea for the younger volunteers, you could be helping manage the archives. What is your excuse for not helping the people and the community?

You wont have been ignorant of it, because the New Aotearoa News Agency (NANA) will have been saying for months about the exciting new initiative that means ALL citizens and permanent residents get to help save the planet and save us all, all species from the desecration of over two centuries of colonialism, capitalism and selfish individualism.

The two people invite you to pack up a few belongings and come with them, for you are to be assigned duties in Takaka for 6 months. You’ll be so welcomed, and you’ll be helping to save the planet, the land and te tangata from the climate emergency.

You object, but they smile and say there is no need to get the Police involved, and they understand if you’ve forgotten or been confused, but they’ll be back tomorrow. It gives you time to remind your loved ones that you are going to go work in the countryside, to help rebuild what was destroyed by past generations.

In the meantime your read on the NANA website that community spirit will be raised through the creation of a network of groups of neighbourhood associations. Every street will have at least one, some will have several, high density housing estates will have one of their own. Every week, citizens will meet to discuss what they are doing for society and the environment, to plan new initiatives and to bring up issues of each others’ behaviour that harms the environment, and encourage each of us to do better. It will be a voluntary arrangement, at first, but everyone’s attendance will be noted.

You seem to remember you’ve heard of this sort of thing before

(Inspired by former Dunedin City Councillor and RMA Commissioner, Fliss Butcher's proposal in Newsroom)

26 February 2023

Is National's proposed water reform enough?

I've been critical of the Labour Government's Three Waters' proposals, primarily because of the bizarre excessive centralisation, the opaque accountability and the lack of any serious measures to link the provision of water services to consumers. The co-governance element has little value and is only an inching forward of a ideological agenda to change public sector governance from one monopolised by liberal democratically elected politicians to one shared with appointed tribal elites.  It is the wrong solution to the right problem.  Besides, it was the hard-left, in the Alliance, Greens and the post-Douglas Labour Party that stopped water reform in the 1990s, so why trust them now?

If it were up to me I WOULD take water off of local government, I'd vest it in companies, owned directly by ratepayers, required to make a profit and transition income away from rates, towards user fees (even if it is a flat fee).  The bogeyman of privatisation, so carefully cultivated in the 1990s, and spread through the education system and much of the media is so stultifying that even ACT is quiet on it, but I think water SHOULD be privatised by handing it to property owners.  Inevitably these companies would merge and acquire one another, going from around 60 to around 10 or fewer, but that should be led by the market, not by Cabinet directed by the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) and its consultants. For all of the best will in the world, the odds they know what the optimum structure of the water industry should be, are remote. 

It's fair to say the two biggest reasons people are opposed to Three Water are co-governance and loss of local control. 

Regardless of the various theories behind what people think co-governance is, the fundamental point is that it introduces Iwi appointments of half of the members of a selection panel, which itself selects the Board members for the four water entities (which have boundaries that appear to look like they suit some Iwi boundaries, rather than the structure for the water industry).  There is a point that there is traditional Mana Whenua governance of waterways, but fresh, waste and stormwater infrastructure is not about that.  It is quite different to have power over the use of waterways that might feed a water treatment/reticulation system, or may receive waste/stormwater, where there is a genuine interest in the use of the resource (and discharge into it) and the infrastructure feeding it. Indeed I think there is LESS accountability under co-governance, as it is easier for Mana Whenua to hold water entities to account if they aren't part of the management of them.

The loss of local control I care relatively little about. Local government has in so many cases demonstrated that it is incapable of taking a long-term view of water infrastructure, and certainly is uninterested in concepts like user-pays, asset management and other ideas that, I suspect for too many local politicians, are either seen as a "neo-liberal free market" conspiracy, or something confusing to rip off ratepayers. 

So National has proposed the following:

Councils (TAs and unitary authorities of course) will need to deliver a plan for how they will transition their water services to a new model that meets water quality and infrastructure investment rules, while being financially sustainable in the long-term.  The Minister of Local Government will approve such entities.

It essentially means that structural reform will be led by local government, not the DIA and Cabinet, and it gives local government flexibility to determine how best to set up institutional arrangements that will be financially sustainable in the long-term.  It seems difficult to see how this can be achieved without being entities that are politically at arms-length, that are guaranteed revenue from either user fees or a proxy for user fees (hypothecated water rates for example, particularly for stormwater services).  Commercial Council Controlled Organisations may be obvious, but it seems likely that Councils will need to cluster together to be viable.  Central Hawke's Bay, Hastings, Napier and Wairoa have talked of this, but I suspect there needs to be a lot more of that, perhaps no more than four such entities in the South Island and eight in the North Island.

Finally, there is provision for the Minister to step in if Councils are slow in providing viable proposals, which seems appropriate, although you might wonder what happens if a Council that wants to merge its services with others that don't want it.  It has potential to get messy, but options can be developed for this.

Supporting the Water Quality Regulator to exclusively target water quality. It will also cover wastewater and stormwater, with a goal to reduce or eliminate contamination of local beaches and waterways.

It isn't unreasonable to have oversight of drinking water quality, but the inclusion of waste and stormwater is odd, as this is a function of regional councils. Should regional councils lose this function?  If not, will the regulator cover others who discharge waste into waterways?  If regional councils are to retain responsibility for waterways and water catchment, then shouldn't they be expected to perform these functions, and if not, why should they have these functions?  It seems overkill.  The Water Quality Regulator should best just focus on water quality, but it also needs to be moderated itself, so it doesn't seek standards that are excessive.  There are also questions about how it will operate in relation to the water entities.

National will establish a new, independent Water Infrastructure Regulator within the Commerce Commission to work alongside the existing Water Quality Regulator (Taumata Arowai). Water services will be regulated under Part 4 of the Commerce Act, alongside other essential infrastructure such as electricity lines.

This is economic regulation and is effectively a way of ensuring oversight of the new water entities not overcharging or over/under spending on water infrastructure.  It is encouraging to treat them like electricity lines companies, although a lot of work is needed to establish the value of the regulatory base of those assets.  It seems odd that it would report to the Minister of Local Government, it would be more appropriate to report to a Minister of Infrastructure (who also looks after energy and communications).  


National is terrified of the p. word. 

The public ownership of water is not up for debate. Councils will not be able to propose water service models that involve privatisation. National’s plan is to return water assets to their rightful owners: the local communities who paid for them. We want local, public control and ownership of water assets, and that’s what this plan will deliver.

Even Rob Muldoon once considered selling minority shareholdings in Air New Zealand.  This is a pathetic surrender to left-wing scaremongering.  What is actually wrong if one or more Councils say they want private capital to invest in their water infrastructure, in a corporate model that pays dividends?  This would access new capital, and with an economic regulator there is no risk of any form of "profiteering" that Marxists claim would occur under this?  Have a backbone why wont you?  National did, after all, part privatise electricity generation and retail companies, why be scared, or is it up to ACT to propose allowing this?

Finally, what about user pays vs. rates?

The policy essentially leaves this open, so it could be user fees or could be rates based, but rates would need to be hypothecated. The only issue is that if Councils choose to go the user pays path, should there not be means to regulate Council rates downwards so they don't use it as a chance to maintain rates levels as well as user pays?  Why should only water entities have fees regulated, when Councils should have rates regulated more generally?


The proposal has merits, in fact it IS arguably enough. Just.  It lays the groundwork for water being treated as a utility, a service for consumers, and it is difficult to see how the entities that Councils propose can be viable for borrowing large amounts of capital if they are NOT commercial in some form (even in the form of consumer trusts), and it would seem easier to deliver long-term financial sustainability if there is user pays rather than rates (which are, after all, still Council determined).  However, I can imagine it might be necessary to be heavy-handed in making Councils set up entities that will be able to borrow and manage the enormous infrastructural uplift required. It also seems unlikely that central government can avoid putting significant amounts of taxpayers' money into uplifting the infrastructure deficit, but only on a one-off basis.  I suspect the end point in a few years will be around a dozen water companies. 

The fear of privatisation is pathetic, weak and disappointing, when there should be no reason to not argue for the right of local authorities to choose privatisation if they wish.  I know it's there to fend off the even more pathetic, scaremongering hysteria from the left, which will be amplified by idiotic leftwing journalists, but if you believe in local empowerment (!) then let it include the private sector. After all, most of the country's electricity lines companies and all telecommunications are delivered by the private sector, how is the party of business so terrified of it?

Still is it better than Three Waters? Yes, it is.  It has at least some requirements around performance, and oversight. It gives Councils a short time to get their act together to set up entities that will meet water quality requirements, and infrastructure investment requirements.  It is less centralised, at first, and offers more opportunity for some innovation locally, and ultimately both central government regulators will direct the water entities to deliver.

Sure it isn't what I would do, but it has the potential to get not too far away from what would be a good model for the water sector.  

19 February 2023

Good riddance to Sturgeon

Now I'm no fan of Rishi Sunak, the tax raising Chancellor (and now Prime Minister) who has shown next to no interest in embarking on the reforms necessary to raise the UK's economic performance, let alone confront the poor performance of much of the education system, or the national religion - the NHS.

However, he has done a great service to the UK, he has probably helped preserve the Union and he has eviscerate Scotland's most egregiously underperforming leaders in real terms - the odious Nicola Sturgeon, whose brand of hard-left nationalism blamed everything bad in Scotland on the English (and the Government in Westminster) and fuelled historic sectarian hatred of the Scots of the English, even though her and her Scottish National Party (SNP) had unparalleled powers over domestic affairs in the past 15 years.

The SNP has run health, education, police, transport and to a limited extent tax policy over that time, and there are no shortage of scandals.  The ferry scandal which saw the Scottish Government let a contract for new ferries to serve island communities, let to a failing local shipbuilder, which couldn't guarantee that it could build them, and which ultimately saw Scottish taxpayers bailing out the company, to build ferries years late, with the ultimate cost being 250% of the original quote. It was criticised by Audit Scotland, essentially nationalist political instincts combined with socialist economic beliefs cost Scottish taxpayers a fortune.  It even saw a PR stunt held with fake windows painted on, so Sturgeon could have a photo op.

Under the SNP life expectancy in Scotland peaked in 2014 and stagnated dropping in 2019 and since (albeit Covid may be blamed from 2020). Scotland has the lowest life expectancy of all of the UK countries. Deaths from drug abuse are the higher per capita in the developed world, having risen 88% since Sturgeon became first Minister. 

Allister Heath, editor of the Sunday Telegraph writes:

Under the Scottish Nationalist Party’s egregious misrule, Scotland was gradually becoming a failed state, but it was her quasi-religious conversion to the most extreme form of gender ideology that brought her down. Defying public opinion, common sense and reality, Sturgeon wanted 16-year-olds to be able to change the sex on their birth certificate without a medical diagnosis. This meant, among much other madness, that rapists who declared themselves to be women could be housed in female prisons.

This was supposed to be “progress”, but in just a few weeks it had culminated in her extraordinary resignation. Even more remarkably, her ousting was triggered by none other than Rishi Sunak, in his first truly conservative – and cleverest – decision since entering No 10. By vetoing Sturgeon’s gambit, he took what the centrist wimps in his party thought was a major risk: weren’t Conservative prime ministers merely meant to kow-tow to the nationalists, to avoid upsetting them at all cost? Wasn’t it the case that nobody in Scotland wanted to hear from “Tory toffs” in London, and that intervention would backfire and strengthen Sturgeon’s hand? And going so hard on a woke issue – wasn’t that ludicrous, a case of swimming against the supposed tide of history twice over?

The sceptics were wrong. A supposedly “Right-wing” stance (in reality, mainstream majoritarian cultural conservatism) turned out not just to be popular on its own merits but also political dynamite, exploding a fragile Scottish consensus. Support for Sturgeon and Scottish independence slumped. It suddenly became obvious that it is possible to confront nationalists and woke extremists – and win. Opinion is not immutable, or guaranteed to drift ever more Left-wards: a leader can galvanise and radicalise a population’s latent opposition to woke social engineering.

Scotland should have had enough of the SNP, a party that claims that its nationalism is kinder, gentler, more sophisticated "civic" nationalism, but which inflames anti-English hatred, along with abusive conduct against its political opponents, resulting in SNP supporters abusing those in politics who they disagree with:

Holly Moscrop, the 20-year-old chairman of the Young Scottish Conservatives, said she was spat at and grabbed as security staff looked on.

“It was chaos,” she said. “The protesters realised we were Tories and went crazy. They were screaming at us, calling me a Tory whore, calling me Tory filth. It was nasty. Someone grabbed my coat and tugged at it, leaning over the barrier, screaming right in my face.

“There’s always a big push for women to get involved in politics, but incidents like this show why some hesitate. You’re open to a whole other category of abuse. Not every person who wants independence is bad or is going to hurl abuse at people. But people need to look past parties and work together to stop this.”

Nationalism fuels hatred:

... Sandesh Gulhane, a senior Scottish Tory MSP, claimed Ms Sturgeon’s attempts to “inflame her base” by suggesting Scotland was downtrodden had contributed to the angry scenes.

“Nicola Sturgeon says she wants a respectful debate and then comes out and says Westminster are treating us like something on the sole of their shoe,” he said. 

“Everything she’s doing is to inflame her base, simply because, let’s be honest, they’re not delivering. So they’re whipping up their base, they’re whipping up anger and hatred. And look, it’s racist. They hate the English. That is the definition of racism. You’re hating a group of people based upon a characteristic.”

Indeed Editor of The Spectator, Fraser Nelson even gets told he's not really Scottish because of his political beliefs.  That's simply sinister:

This is why when Helen Clark tweeted approvingly of a Guardian article as follows...

I responded in kind:

Not commenting on Clark at all, but that resulted in this:

Sturgeon's SNP has made Scottish politics more divisive, has fuelled more hatred of not just the English, but also opponents of Scottish independence. The record of Sturgeon's government both in advancing a political sphere that is civilised, and in advancing its policy goals, is absymal. That Sturgeon has been brought down by an irrational and reality-evading extremist policy on trans-gender rights is pathetic, but it is worse that Helen Clark would seek to compare Sturgeon, to Ardern. I'm no fan of Ardern, but her record is not at the depths of failure of Sturgeon.

I have Scottish heritage, it's rather repulsive to simply claim Sturgeon resigned because of how "hard done" by she was by media that, in Scotland, was predominantly sympathetic to her. At what point will leftwing female politicians just accept that one of their own (particular one that fires up the sort of nationalistic and political hatred they don't promote) has screwed up, and deserves to leave power? 


There is the missing money in the SNP accounts under Sturgeon. £600,000 raised in 2017 but when accounts are filed in 2020 there is only just over £96,000 and yet only £57,000 was spent on campaigning.  This issue has still not been resolved with accusations of the Police being slow to investigate the money.  Note that CEO of the SNP is Peter Murrell, Sturgeon's husband...

who also loaned the party £107,000 which the party didn't declare initially and which Sturgeon denied knowing anything about, until it came to the media's attention.

So pardon me if I think the politician who spews out complete venom towards her political opponents deserves no sympathy.

18 February 2023

Preventing damaging cyclones

 Let's get something very clear

1.  Had New Zealand cut emissions like the  Green Party/Alliance since 1990, or any other climate change activists wanted, it would have made zero impact on whether or not the cyclone would have happened.  Even accepting that NZ makes a contribution, that contribution is 0.17% of global emissions, according to the Ministry of the Environment.  If that were zero, it would have made no difference to the cyclone.

2.  Had New Zealand cut emissions like activists wanted, along with all of their other policies, New Zealand would have been measurably poorer with less investment, lower GDP, lower population and less tax revenue for government. New Zealand would have had fewer exports, fewer imports and had even less resilient infrastructure, because the hard left would have ensured all infrastructure was underpriced (so having less money for capital) and there would have been no private investment in most infrastructure.  

and if New Zealand DOES slash emissions regardless of cost following this, the odds that another cyclone will devastate part of New Zealand do not change one iota.

Sure, I believe climate change is real and human beings contribute towards it, and efficient reductions in emissions are wise. Yet the best way to respond to the threat of climate change and the threat of natural disasters is wealth, economic growth and building infrastructure for resilience.

Whether it be back-up power for cellsites, bridges that can withstand the debris from cut forests, stopbanks or simply re-emphasising what people can do THEMSELVES for civil defence (non-perishable food, water, batteries for transistor radios).

Shutting down industries, denying people mobility they wish to pay for and kneecapping New Zealand exporters that face competition from subsidised and protected rivals in other countries makes people poorer, it makes it more difficult to pay for more resilience in road, water, communications and energy networks, which ultimately users will (and should) pay for.

It's why Japan survives big earthquakes better than Turkey.