Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards: Political round-up: March 2

Photo / file
Photo / file

At first glance there appears to be a strong multi-party consensus and response to the just-released ministerial inquiry into New Zealand's 'slave fishing' industry. But while endorsing or condoning slavery is an obvious political no-no, the question of what should be done about it, and why, gets a much more varied political response.

The National Government is - for the moment - only picking up 6 of the 15 recommendations in the report - see Amelia Romanos' Govt agrees action to end abuse on foreign trawlers. TVNZ notes that 'recommended law changes that would ensure New Zealand criminal law applies on the ships won't be implemented any time soon. And nor will the recommendation that New Zealand companies be the employer of the foreign crew, therefore ensuring better wages and conditions' - see: Korean fishing boats 'damaging NZ's reputation'.

The recommendations that the Government have agreed to implement are at the easier end of the scale - they mostly rely on the companies themselves and the Ministry of Fisheries monitoring compliance of the 2006 code of practice.

Some legislative changes will be required, but these are unlikely to be a priority in the Government's already backlogged parliamentary programme. On top of that, Labour has pointed out that the ministries involved will receive no extra funding to increase their monitoring. It's hard to imagine there being too many volunteers at the Ministry of Fisheries to spend months at sea observing and sharing the conditions that these workers endure.

The lawyer for the Slave Free Seas group, Craig Tuck - see RNZ's Recommendations seen as not sufficient - fears the response is not enough and will take far too long. And according to researcher Glenn Simmons some of the fishing company business models are actually built on the low wages and poor conditions, and these companies could fold if all the recommendations are adopted - see: RNZ's Small fishing companies threatened by changes to employment law.

The Greens want all 15 recommendations adopted and argue that the Government should phase out foreign charter vessels altogether in favour of New Zealand businesses and workers - see: Govt urged to move fast on foreign ships. Once again the Green Party is raising the 'nationalist flag' that will resonate with many voters. On the left - as evidenced by the demands from the Maritime Union - the preferred solution is for foreign crews to be subject to New Zealand industrial laws, which would mean they would receive something like $60,000 to $80,000 instead of the current '$6700 to $11,600 a year'.

Many submitters to the inquiry asked why locals weren't employed to do the work, particularly Maori workers who were supposed to see the benefits of the original Sealord deal giving iwi groups substantial fishing quota. Shane Jones makes the same point (see: Fishing jobs for Maori a priority - Jones) but given his involvement in the original fisheries settlement and his role as a Cabinet minister while all this was occurring during the last Labour Government, he may well be asked the same question. The question might also be asked of the many iwi leaders who clearly prefer higher profits and cheap foreign labour over employment for Maori.

The No Right Turn blog identifies the problem as being that the police, despite having received complaints about serious human rights abuses, have approached the issue as if it's merely a contractual and employment dispute - see: No Right Turn: Slave-fishing: The core problem. This post also draws a comparison between the police's massive deployment of resources to arrest Kim Dotcom for potential copyright infringement with their lack of interest in tackling slavery in New Zealand waters. See also, National does nothing about slave-fishing (http://bit.ly/yC2tZc). And David Farrar also gives an overview of the issues in his Herald blogpost, Slavery on our seas.

The allegations made by mostly Indonesian workers against Korean employers working for New Zealand fishing companies were disturbing enough in themselves, but it seems that for many, the motivation for condemning the state of the industry and regulations is simply embarrassment over what overseas customers may think and the damage that it might cause to exports - see, for example, today's Herald editorial, Time to halt exploitation on high seas.

Both Jane Clifton and Chris Trotter are today questioning National's instincts for self-preservation. Clifton says 'evidence is stacking up so mightily against the partial floats of the four electricity companies, it's beginning to look like an act of bizarre political martyrdom on National's part to persevere with them'. She suggests National's keenness is partly motivated because state-owned energy companies have the expertise and potential for expansion in overseas markets, but the Government can't afford to fund such business opportunities - see: Asset sales: is the Government mad?.

Trotter contrasts the relative pragmatism of National's first term with its current pursuit of unpopular policies, and asks Is this Government trying to kill itself?. He believes that National is in suicidal mode, swinging to the right as a response to the lobbying of elite vested interests: 'The clamour for neoliberal "reforms" has always come from a tiny minority of New Zealanders.... The National Party's problem is that they're the sort of people it's always felt obliged to pay attention to: CEOs of powerful corporations; Rich Listers; right-wing media commentators'.

It's been a long-time coming, but it now seems a certainty that New Zealand's only ad-free public broadcasting TV channel is to be closed down in a few months - see: No eleventh hour reprieve for TVNZ7. The so-called 'house Tory' at the Public Address blogsite, Craig Ranapia mourns this news in Freakanomics (TVNZ Edition).

William Mace says that Maori Television may be looking to expand its operations to replace TVNZ7, quoting Chief Executive Jim Mather: 'the reality is the money's already there...but because it's spread over the television landscape you're not getting the critical mass a dedicated channel can provide - see: The media week that was Nicely underlining the contradiction between public good and commercial imperative is the allegation from Labour MP Clare Curran that TVNZ has been pressuring Fair Go reporters to tread lightly on advertisers - see Adam Bennett's TV boss denies instruction to protect advertisers. TVNZ denies the allegations but Steven Price, who has done legal work for the programme in the past, isn't convinced and unequivocally tells TVNZ's Jeff Latch where (not) to go - see: Doesn't sound like a fair go to me (http://bit.ly/xAmn3x). John Drinnan also comments on the 'dumbing down of Fair Go over the past two years'.

Toby Manhire in his blog post, Election day "comments" on social media referred to police, tries to get to the bottom of the Electoral Commission's police referrals of alleged election day breaches on social media, but he doesn't get far. Manhire has been investigating the issue of the social media election day 'blackout' for some time now and he concludes that such heavy regulation is too problematic, saying 'While I rather like the spirit of the election day blackout, it might be better framed as a convention, rather than a legal ban'.

In other articles, Matthew Dearnaley has a good summary of where the widespread industrial action is at (New strikes threaten autumn of discontent), and Susan St John provides a reality check about who is actually better off when beneficiaries move into work: 'The Minimum Family Tax Credit is effectively a subsidy to employers. They can get away with paying only the minimum wage as they know a higher hourly rate will not give any more in the hand to someone receiving the Minimum Family Tax Credit' - see: Achilles heel of National's welfare reform.

Finally, Trevor Mallard continues to embarrass Labour, according to Cameron Slater, as the long-serving MP publicly boasts about a taxpayer-funded European trip for a course designed for newly-elected MPs - see: Remedial MP course for Trademe Trevor. Jane Clifton in her Listener column also has a crack at Mallard, noting 'if you're a habitual scrapper with a history of lobbing dirty bombs at opponents, you need to be especially careful, making this a most bewildering fall from grace for such an experienced, thorough and tough political operator.'

Bryce Edwards

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago. He teaches and researches on New Zealand politics, public policy, political parties, elections, and political communication. His PhD, completed in 2003, was on 'Political Parties in New Zealand: A Study of Ideological and Organisational Transformation'. He is currently working on a book entitled 'Who Runs New Zealand? An Anatomy of Power'. He is also on the board of directors for Transparency International New Zealand.

Read more by Bryce Edwards

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a5 at 12 Jul 2014 02:54:33 Processing Time: 465ms