New Zealand – we’re in the sh*t
“…We should always measure a Government’s environmental rhetoric against its environmental record.” – John Key,
In September 2008, one month before the general election, National’s leader addressed the party’s “Bluegreen* Forum“, asserting;
“What global Leaders know, and what the National Party knows, is that environmentalism and a commitment to economic growth must go hand in hand. We should be wary of anyone who claims that one can or should come without the other. And we should always measure a Government’s environmental rhetoric against its environmental record.
In the years ahead it will be increasingly important that New Zealand marries its economic and environmental policies. Global climate change awareness, resource shortages, and increasing intolerance of environmental degradation will give environmental policy renewed relevance on the world stage.
New Zealand will need policies that make the most of this trend. This will be important for our trade prospects and for the way in which we grow our economy. I’m confident that with the right policies New Zealand can make its environmental credentials an important part of its comparative advantage.”
Nearly eight years later, Key’s fine speech on environmental protection has come to nought. Nearly eight years of National governance and – whilst ostensibly implementing “bluegreen” policies – we have recently witnessed the worst case of water contamination in modern New Zealand history;
Until the evening of 19 August, people could only guess at the source of the campylobacter contamination. Though many – if not most – New Zealanders already held a suspicion at the back of their minds.
According to the 19 August Radio NZ report – updated at 6.33PM;
Preliminary results from the tests carried out on the contaminated water have shown, while several strains of the bacteria were present, ruminants were the most likely source.
Wild fowl was also a possible source, but the report from Environmental Science and Research (ESR) said poultry was unlikely.
The institute said more analysis would be carried out next week before a final assessment of the source could be made.
Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule said it was likely the previous weekend’s flooding had swept faeces from livestock into the water supply.
“It’s very hard to explain it in any other way. I’ve been a farmer, I’m an engineer, and it looks likely that somehow that has occurred.”
The chooks may be off the hook – but it seems that the cows have come home to roost (or whatever cows do when they “come home”); our dirty little secret is out in the open. We are a polluted nation, awash in animal faeces and the billions upon billions of microscopic organisms that inhabit each piece of animal dung.
In December 2011, three years after Key addressed the so-called “Bluegreen Forum” and promised that “National will never forget that New Zealand’s outstanding physical environment is a key part of what makes our country special. Kiwis proudly value our forests, mountains, rivers, lakes, and oceans” – there were already suggestions that dairy farmers were not compliant in keeping their livestock out of waterways;
Dairy farmers have been accused of telling porkies to Fonterra about whether they are keeping stock out of waterways.
An Agriculture Ministry audit of the Clean Streams Accord shows that half of farms have complete stock exclusion.
This contrasts with Fonterra’s claim – based on farmers’ self-appraisal – that 84 per cent of farms are compliant.
Fish and Game leapt on the disparity, revealed yesterday in the accord’s report for the 2010-11 year.
Chief executive Bryce Johnson said it raised questions about the accuracy of all the other performance targets reported by the dairy industry to the public, politicians and the government’s Land and Water Forum.
“It’s a woeful indictment on the legitimacy of the accord, on dairying’s environmental performance over the past decade and particularly the industry’s claim that self-policing is the way towards achieving improved water quality,” he said.
At the time, Fonterra’ milk supply general manager Steve Murphy attempted to ‘spin’ the dairy industry’s way out of the discrepancy;
“Some aspects [of the ministry audit] are factual but there are also differences in the way measurements were made.”
Murphy even tried to make light of the situation with this bad-taste remark;
“We can all pooh-pooh the results but the reality is that progress is being made.”
Federated Farmers dairy chairman, Willy Leferink, simply dismissed the report out-of-hand;
“If you look closely at that report you can pick holes in it, but to me, it also sends a clear message to get our respective farms in order.”
At the same time, environmental scientist, Dr Mike Joy, condemned the so-called “clean, green” image that New Zealand was perpetuating. At the 2011 Forest & Bird annual general meeting presentation, Dr Joy called our “100% Pure” advertising campaign misleading and cited the data;
- Almost all river quality monitoring sites show a worsening trend. 43% of them regularly fail to meet bathing standards, in many instances because faecal contamination levels are too high. Almost half our lakes are polluted by excess nutrients, or over-run by invasive fish. Sediment chokes all but one harbour, and estuaries.
- By 2050, if the trend continues, we would have extinguished native fish in New Zealand. Five threatened species are commercially harvested; none have any legal protection.
- 18,000-30,000 people contract waterborne diseases every year, from microbial contamination. Of the 70 “best” Waikato waterways, e-coli in more than 50 of them exceeds contact recreation levels.
Our esteemed Dear Leader responded with his usual facile glibness;
“Well, that might be Mike Joy’s view, but I don’t share that view. Like lawyers, I can give you one that will provide you with a counter-theory.”
When questioned further by the Dominion Post, Key’s tax-payer funded spokesperson responded with a curt;
“The prime minister does not share the view of Mike Joy, and has no further comment to make.”
Eight months after Key’s dismissal of Dr Joy’s warnings, government scientists from NIWA were pointing out the dangerously degraded state of our waterways;
Water in Lake Horowhenua is so toxic that it could kill a small child, regional councillors have been told.
In certain conditions, and if cyanobacteria were present, the lake could be lethal to animals and small children, a scientist with the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, Dr Max Gibbs, told Horizons Regional Council’s environment committee yesterday.
Dr Gibbs was presenting a selection of initiatives to help improve the water quality of the Levin lake, which is floating just off the bottom of the New Zealand lake-water quality rankings, sitting at 107 out of 116.
As our waterways were becoming toxic enough to potentially kill animals and small children, Key made what was perhaps the lamest, most pathetic rationale to justify continuing to use the “100% Pure” branding for our country;
“It’s like saying ‘McDonald’s, I’m loving it’ – I’m not sure every moment that someone’s eating McDonald’s they’re loving it . . . it’s the same thing with 100% Pure. It’s got to be taken with a bit of a pinch of salt.”
John Key was likening our environment to McDonalds – one of the world’s premier unhealthy fast-food producers.
Perhaps Key’s remarks were more appropriate than he realised at the time. At least he wasn’t blaming Labour or welfare beneficiaries this time;
“If . . . we should be 100% Pure and . . . there’s no economic activity . . . cavemen burning fires has a environmental impact.”
Worse was to come for Dr Joy’s admonitions to our poor environment track record.
On 21 November 2012, corporate lobbyist, Mark Unsworth, sent this scathing email, attacking the scientist;
From: Mark Unsworth [email@example.com]
Sent: Wednesday, 21 November 2012 12:15 a.m.
To: Joy, Mike
Subject: Ego Trip
Dear Dr Joy
Is your ego so great that you feel the need to sabotage all the efforts made by those promoting tourism in NZ because of your passionate views on the environment ?
You have the right to hold strong views but you ,as an academic whose salary is paid for by others taxes, must also act responsibly .
Letting your ego run riot worldwide in the manner you did can only lead to lower levels of inbound tourism.
You may not care given your tenure in a nice comfy University lounge ,but to others this affects income and jobs.
Give that some thought next time you feel the need to see your name in print in New York .And possibly think of changing your name from Joy to Misery-its more accurate
Unsworth’s hysterical outburst was a crass attempt to gag the scientist-messenger. At the same time the corporate lobbyist was demanding Dr Joy’s silence, the Ministry for the Environment released a report warning that half of New Zealand rivers were too dangerously polluted to swim in;
More than half of monitored recreational sites on our rivers are unsafe for swimming, a report has revealed.
The Ministry for the Environment’s latest report card – issued weeks before summer weather sends Kiwis flocking to the water – has left opposition parties questioning New Zealand’s 100 per cent pure brand.
The results showed water quality was poor or very poor at 52 per cent of monitored river sites.
A further 28 per cent were graded “fair” – with a risk of illness for those swimming there.
Only 20 per cent of monitored river recreation sites were graded good or very good.
Health effects from swallowing water tainted with faecal micro-organisms or other bacteria can be unpleasant. They include diarrhoea or vomiting, and infections of the eye, ear, nose and throat.Children were particularly at risk of ear and skin infections, said the medical officer of health with the Toi Te Ora Public Health Service, Dr Phil Shoemack.
The report card canvassed sampling from 210 freshwater beaches, including lakeside areas, and 248 coastal beaches used for recreation that had been assigned grades based on monitoring data acquired over five summers.
It is unknown if Unsworth also sent a similar vitriolic email to the Ministry for the Environment.
Attempts in Parliament to clean up our waterways have been blocked by National and other parties.
In October 2012, Green MP Catherine Delahunty’s private member’s bill – Resource Management (Restricted Duration of Certain Discharge and Coastal Permits) Amendment Bill – was drawn from the Ballot. The Bill would have reduced the amount of time that discharges could be made into our rivers”in exceptional circumstances”. (Yes, industries are allowed to discharge waste into our waterways! Who knew!?)
As reported in the NZ Herald in October 2012;
Green MP Catherine Delahunty said her member’s bill, which has passed its first reading, sought to close a loophole in the Resource Management Act that allowed contaminating discharges with toxic effects and discolouration of waters under “exceptional circumstances”.
Ms Delahunty said the phrase included no timeframe, and had been used to justify long-term pollution of some waterways and coastal areas.
Her bill would limit its use to five years.
As further reported by Forest & Bird;
The most well-known case of the term “exceptional circumstances” being used loosely is where the Bay of Plenty Regional Council has allowed the Tasman Mill in Kawerau to discharge wastewater into the Tarawera River since 1995. In 2010, the mill used this clause of the RMA once more to obtain resource consents to keep discharging for another 25 years. That is, under section 107 (2)(a) of the Act, the mill has been consented to discharge to the river for a total of 42 years This is clearly not an exceptional circumstance but a case of a business-as-usual approach being used to exploit this loophole in the RMA.
The Bill passed it’s first reading and was sent to the Local Government and Environment Committee.
At it’s second reading it was voted down;
|Ayes 51||New Zealand Labour 34; Green Party 14; Māori Party 2; Mana 1.|
|Noes 68||NZ National 59; NZ First 7; ACT 1; United Future 1.|
It was disappointing and disturbing to see NZ First voting against Catherine Delahunty’s Bill. At the time, NZ First justified voting down strengthening environmental protection for our waterways by invoking commercial imperatives;
“It was also interesting to note that very big signals were given in terms of the potential impact that this bill would have on the wider New Zealand economic development situation. If resource consents and permits of this nature were restricted to only 5 years for exceptional discharges, it would have a very adverse detrimental effect on investment and industry in this country. In the situation with Norske Skog, it had, just in the last few years, invested $50 million in a major new machine at the paper plant there—a very significant investment in a major piece of equipment. Had Norske Skog not had the extended permits, the parent company internationally would probably have made the decision not to invest that $50 million in New Zealand.”
As then-Co-Leader of the Green Party, Dr Russell Norman has pointed out;
“The natural environment makes New Zealand a great place to live. And it underpins our economy – tourists come here for the 100% Pure image, and Chinese parents feed their kids New Zealand infant formula because it’s clean, green and safe.
So you’d have to be a mug to attack the environment. Or a Cabinet minister, because since the last election that’s exactly what they’ve been up to.
They are using taxpayer money to subsidise the intensification of dairying agribusiness, intensification that will lead to more water pollution. According to the Ministry for the Environment most monitored rivers aren’t safe for swimming already.
Swimming in a river should be a birth right of New Zealand kids but it’s rapidly becoming a quaint historical oddity- “Hey dad did you really swim in that half drained contaminated cesspool when you were a kid?”
And sure agribusiness makes a quick buck selling milk powder to China, but what happens when Chinese parents find out that our rivers are becoming just as polluted as theirs? Will they still pay a premium for New Zealand food?
No environment, no economy.”
In March this year – as disaster loomed five months away for Havelock North – Environment Minister Nick Smith exposed National’s “Bluegreen” stance;
“I do not think a legal requirement for every water body in New Zealand to be swimmable is practical. Our ambition is for a lot more areas to be swimmable… but we want to be practical.”
In effect, Smith admitted his government’s failure and surrendered New Zealand to a future of dirty rivers; dying lakes and undrinkable water.
Little wonder that stock belonging to Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias her businessman husband, Hugh Fletcher, were permitted to freely wade through Canterbury’s Lake Taylor, Hurunui river, and Lake Sumner despite abatement notices being issued by ECan. An incident in January this year was repeated several times.
In one image, a cow was photographed wading through a river, a stream of brown ‘matter’ emanating from it’s rear;
The Station’s then-farm manager, Brian Anderson, called environmental rules “ridiculous”.
Anderson’s lack of concern is by no means unique. Whether it be Key or Nick Smith, there is a distinctive short-sightedness that fails to see even into the very-near future when it comes to the negative implications of our dairy-intensive agri-economy.
The attitude of many (most?) in the farming sector, and their political-wing (the National Party), is to turn a blind eye to known environmental degradation; parrot “green” policies when under public or media scrutiny; and hope for the best.
None of which has come out well for this country.
Even the far-right blog, Whaleoil and it’s unhinged owner, appears to belatedly understand the simple equation; Shit-Out (of the cow), Shit In (to our waterways);
On 7 September, 2008, John Key said that “…we should always measure a Government’s environmental rhetoric against its environmental record.”
Indeed we should.
Thus far, by every measurement, including the polluted waterways of New Zealand and contaminated drinking water in Havelock North – National’s “environmental rhetoric” does not match its “environmental record”.
National has abrogated it’s responsibilities to safeguard our environment. Instead of placing priority on cleaning up our waterways, this is no longer “practical”, according to Nick Smith.
Instead, National has settled for second best.
When it comes to drinking water, second best is nowhere near good enough.
The frightening aspect to National’s indifference to our water quality and wider environmental concerns is not just the contamination of our water-supply. Nor our rivers, half of which are no longer of a swimmable standard.
No, the truly worrying possibility is when the international media will suddenly realise what has been happening in “clean, green” Aotearoa, and that our “100% Pure” brand is a clever scam.
When the documentaries exposing this lie begin to appear on TV screens in Britain, Europe, North America, and elsewhere, our entire tourism sector will face a crisis. It will be a crisis not unlike the 1080 extortion-scare which impacted on our dairy exports to China two years ago,
As the Radio NZ report said;
Dairy products are New Zealand’s biggest export earner with $14 billion’s worth leaving the country’s shores each year, and the industry says reputation is everything.
Dairy Companies Association of New Zealand chairman Malcolm Bailey said the threat cost the country millions of dollars.
It is only a matter of time before the first foreign journalists and camera crews arrive on our shores. Only a matter of time before our dis-coloured rivers; semi-dead lakes; and cows wading and excreting into our waterways is all filmed. Only a matter of time before inhabitants of Havelock North are interviewed. Only a matter of time before a request for interviews with ministers land on their desks.
Only a matter of time.
Who will John Key blame then?
Water contamination has spread to Hastings and Flaxmere;
The TV1 report also confirms the Radio NZ story that farm animal-faeces was most likely the source of contamination;
Dr Snee says the results of yesterday’s DNA testing of the contaminated water were inconclusive – meaning authorities are no closer to getting answers to just how the water became contaminated.
The tests show bovine contamination, so most likely to be from sheep, cattle or deer.
* The Bluegreen Forum is the National Party’s pseudo-environmental “wing”. Realising that environmental protection was a critical ‘Achilles Heal’ of the National Party, the Bluegreen Forum was created so “that environmental issues should not be monopolised by those on the left of the political spectrum“, as Key asserted in September 2008.
The “Bluegreens” are good at parroting environmental rhetoric.
By coincidence, or by supreme irony, blue-green is also the colour of cyanobacteria, which can be a toxic consequence of heavily polluted waterways. According to Wikipedia;
Aquatic cyanobacteria are known for their extensive and highly visible blooms that can form in both freshwater and marine environments. The blooms can have the appearance of blue-green paint or scum.
Scoop media: John Key – Speech to the Bluegreens Forum
New Zealand Yearbook: 1984
New Zealand Yearbook: 2008
Statistics NZ: Agricultural Production Statistics: June 2015
Dominion Post: Fish and Game hits out at farmers
Forest & Bird: 2011 AGM – Dr Mike Joy
Dominion Post: Ecologist at odds with PM on 100% Pure NZ
Dominion Post: Worries over toxicity of lake
Fairfax media: ‘100% Pure’ is like McDonald’s ad, says Key
Facebook: Russel Norman – Mark Unsworth’s email
NZ Herald: No swimming – 52% impure NZ rivers
NZ Herald: Bill aims to plug pollution loophole
Forest & Bird: Resource Management Amendment Bill
Radio NZ: Industry counts cost of 1080 threat
National: Bluegreen Forum
Gordon Campbell on Havelock North’s water issues
Pundit: Mike Joy answers the PM, with hard facts (2011)
The New Zealand story: 100% pooer! (2012)
The Standard: The Friday dump on Havelock North
Previous related blogposts
This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 21 August 2016.
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