John Armstrong: Water exports a lightning rod for voter dissatisfaction

One question has lingered in the backdrop to September's general election: Will the National Party find itself incurring the same sort of voter backlash which installed Donald Trump in the White House and uninstalled Britain from the European Union?

With the countdown to polling day about to be measured in weeks rather than months, Bill English, while keeping his fingers strictly crossed, has had reason to feel increasingly confident that he will not fall victim to the tide of populism which has engulfed neo-liberal leaders like him across the globe.

The opinion polls still have National enjoying just as comfortable a margin over its rivals as had been the case before the change in prime ministers.

The economy continues to hum along nicely. There is no discernible mood for change.

Enter Nick Smith. The Environment Minister's extraordinarily inept handling of the acutely sensitive matters arising from the export of bottled water invited the very backlash that English would have thought he was escaping.

Smith claims to have an open mind when it comes to imposing a requirement that bottling companies pay a royalty on the water they currently extract from bores and aquifers for next to nothing.

In one swoop, Smith managed to turn charging for water into the hottest of election issues. - John Armstrong

But the minister's every utterance has been geared by his obsession with proving to the populace that charging for water is bound to generate inequities that make the whole idea unviable.

Smith looked like he was siding and sympathising with foreign-owned companies who effectively have an unwritten licence to print money.

To make matters even worse, Smith ridiculed those taking the contrary view to him.

In one swoop, Smith managed to turn charging for water into the hottest of election issues. 

It is not an issue which on its own will cost National the election, however.

The export of fresh water has instead served as both a lightning rod and a safety valve for a deeper and wider dissatisfaction felt by voters - one they are reluctant to discuss with pollsters but one which exposes National's electoral vulnerability.

In the minds of many New Zealanders, the latter-day gold rush which the export of bottled water has become serves as further evidence that the country is becoming ever more what might be termed as a "soft touch" for foreigners. 

Those New Zealanders are heartily sick of it.

They are sick of foreigners with deep pockets gobbling up large chunks of residential property in Auckland. They are sick of foreigners with even deeper pockets buying up high country sheep stations in the South Island.

They are sick of less well-heeled immigrants arriving in ever higher numbers and shutting locals out of the housing market, while placing added pressure on already overly-stretched public services. 

They feel sick at the thought that New Zealand citizenship may be on offer to the highest Silicon Valley-based bidder. - John Armstrong

They are sick of the moral bankruptcy displayed by large foreign companies paying no tax on the vast profits they are making from their New Zealand operations. 

They feel sick at the thought that New Zealand citizenship may be on offer to the highest Silicon Valley-based bidder. 

They are going to feel even sicker when large water tankers park themselves off the beaches of the West Coast and start syphoning off vast volumes of snow-melt at virtually no cost.

Someone will be feeling very chipper, however. All of the above is a script which might have been written for Winston Peters.

So far this year, however, the New Zealand First leader has avoided ratcheting up the rhetoric. 

He has good reason not to do at this stage of proceedings. 

In past elections, he has hit the hustings early only to see his party peaking too soon.

There is also a lesson for him in last week's election in Holland.

If he sounds too Trump-like, he may only succeed in persuading those in younger age groups to stop boycotting conventional politics and instead go out and vote in order to thwart him.

'The public mood can suddenly turn against a third term government without apparent rhyme or reason'

The beneficiaries would be Labour and the Greens.

Those two parties could do themselves no harm by talking a lot tougher and pushing more hardline policies which address voters' feelings of alienation and loss of control of the country's values, resources and identity.  

For his part, English has done what he can to get water off the election agenda. He overruled Smith and instructed the Ministry for the Environment's technical advisory committee to investigate the feasibility of making bottling companies pay royalties.

English admitted he was bowing to public pressure. That was an important thing for him to say.

John Key made it a cardinal rule of his administration that not only would he listen to the people, he would show the people that he was responding to what they were saying.

English needed to show he is applying the same formula.  He needed to reassure voters that Smith's arrogance was an aberration - and not a new norm for National.

The stark reality for National, however, is that the margin between the party governing largely unfettered and being hogtied by Peters is very small.

As Labour found to its cost at the 2008 election, the public mood can suddenly turn against a third term government without apparent rhyme or reason.

English may well end up regretting that he did not put Smith out to pasture when he reshuffled the Cabinet on becoming prime minister late last year.

But the pair are not just close friends. They are political blood brothers. And blood is thicker than water.

Health Minister Nick Smith says the business of bottling water makes up a tiny fraction of what NZ's water resources are used for. Source: Breakfast




Vice Chancellor Jan Thomas misled students, says Massey University Students' Association president

Massey University Vice Chancellor Jan Thomas misled students over the cancellation of the Don Brash speaking event and the student association has no confidence in her ability to do the job.

Student association president Ngahuia Kirton says her biggest concern to come out of the issue was threats to restrict funding to the association.

"As a whole, students seem to have been misled and I don’t think that their views were properly taken into consideration by the senior leadership team," she told TVNZ1’s Breakfast.

"MUSA’s position is very clear, we have no confidence in the vice chancellor’s ability to discharge her duties, so I would hope that the university council would take that into consideration," she said.

Documents obtained yesterday under the Official Information Act contain correspondence to and from Ms Thomas in the run-up to the cancellation.

In one email on 9 July, the vice-chancellor said she did not want a "te tiriti led university to be seen to be endorsing racist behaviours".

A day later, she emailed to say she would like to know the options for banning the politics club from holding events on campus.

She said the "racist behaviour of Dr Brash - given te reo is an official language of NZ and we are a tiriti-led university - can't be ignored".

Ms Kirton said the vice chancellor’s concerns that Mr Brash’s views didn’t align with the values of the university were valid but students were still misled.

"I think her concerns were more around the fact that Massey University is a teriti-led and her views that Don Brash’s views didn’t align with that is completely valid."

"I’m more concerned about the way she handled the communication and the events that happened afterwards."

"Personally, I don’t agree with Don Brash’s views, and I think many people at the student association also do not agree with them, however I do think university as the critic and conscience of society is a great place to have those healthy debates and these difficult conversations."

Ms Kirton says her biggest concern to come out of the issue was threats to restrict funding to the association.

"The cancellation of the Don Brash events aside, the student association’s biggest concern is actually the threats to restrict funding to student associations to manage backlash."

President Ngahuia Kirton says the student association has no confidence in Jan Thomas’s ability to perform her duties. Source: Breakfast

TODAY'S
FEATURED STORIES

Refugee quota increase a proud moment, Red Cross says, but now it's time to prepare

Jacinda Ardern's announcement yesterday that we will increase our yearly refugee intake to 1500 by 2020 was a proud moment for New Zealand, says Red Cross official Rachel O'Conner.

But there are some things we will have to do as a nation to prepare for the increase, which will result in New Zealand having doubled its intake in less than five years, she told TVNZ1's Breakfast this morning.

"We'll need people to respond, we're going to need people to volunteer, to donate items," she said. "But a lot of it is about...having welcoming communities."

Resettlement, she explained, is difficult - away from family and friends, without work and often having to learn a new language.

"Kiwis have this value of showing care and compassion, and that is what helps build that sense of belonging," said Ms O'Conner, who serves as national migration programmes manager for the humanitarian organisation.

That's 500 extra people who'll be making New Zealand home annually. Source: 1 NEWS

Under the Prime Minister's plan, six new resettlement communities will be established so that existing ones in New Zealand aren't over-burdened. The towns, however, haven't yet been chosen.

"We're going to be looking for councils and community groups to put up their hands and say, 'Yup, we want to be one of the new six'," Ms O'Conner said.

Ms O'Conner described yesterday's announcement as "a great start". But with 1.4 million people in desperate need of resettlement, "we're seeing unprecedented needs globally at the moment", she added, explaining that the Government also needs to take another good look at foreign aid and peace building activities.

Even after yesterday's announcement, New Zealand is far from being a leader in terms of refugee intake numbers.

PM Jacinda Ardern made the announcement today. Source: 1 NEWS

"But we are leaders in the terms of the quality of resettlement that we provide," she said, telling the story of a mum who had carried her disabled teen son on her back for his entire life because they didn't have access to health care in their previous country.

After arriving in Auckland, the boy was given a wheelchair and it changed both of their lives, O'Conner said.

"She kept saying, 'I can't believe I don't have to carry him anymore'," she recalled.

Jacinda Ardern’s announcement yesterday means six new settlement locations will be in the works, Rachel O’Conner told Breakfast. Source: Breakfast


'What’s up Muzza' - is it weird to call your parents by their first name?

What do you call your parents - mum and dad, or Geoff and Pam?

The idea some people call their parents by their first name was a hot topic on Breakfast this morning, with Hayley Holt saying it was a bit weird calling her parents by their given names.

‘I’d feel a bit odd, ‘hey Robin, what’s up Muzza?’”

Many viewers said calling parents by their given names was disrespectful, with one viewer saying she had earned the title of mum.

Another said when children were older, it could be a discussion families could have together.

Newsreader Scotty Morrison said in Te Reo Māori there were “beautiful terms” for older members of the whanāu.

“As our people get older they get more and more respect because of the life they have had, the life experience, the knowledge that they’ve gained," he said. 

“It’s important in Māori culture to have that respect for the older generation.”

Some Breakfast viewers thought it was disrespectful not to be called mum or dad. Source: Breakfast


Topics