Bruce Bisset: These policies can't be sustained

By Bruce Bisset


Seems to me this Government believes the laws of the land should apply strictly to ordinary citizens, vaguely to rich vested interests, and not at all to government itself - especially when it comes to sustainability.

Or rather, that the only valid criteria for assessing what's sustainable is economic. As if environmental, cultural, and social concerns were irrelevant, despite that the RMA places each of those "four wellbeings" on an equal footing.

As it should, because they are equally important - as copious case law has further enshrined. But did you see social, cultural or environmental considerations in the decision to close the Napier-Gisborne railway?

No. Economic sustainability was the only cited factor.

Clearly the other three invisible wellbeings were not considered on par with economics.

Had they been, the hopes and desires of the communities of the East Coast for a sound future with robust infrastructure would surely have outweighed any paltry financial loss KiwiRail might face in repairing and keeping open the line.

And paltry it is, in the scheme of things. A handful of millions; a drop in the bucket of Government coffers.

Indeed, a drop even in comparison to the so-called "roads of national significance" with their $14 billion price-tag.

Contrarily, as far as I'm aware none of those projects actually stacks up in economic terms; so presumably, with roads, it's the "other" wellbeings that matter most.

Save environmental, that is; even the government spin-doctors struggle to raise a good lie to claim roading is environmentally beneficial.

Rail beats road hands down on that score. But again, you don't see government backing the Auckland rail loop and airport extension, although Mayor Brown was elected on that plank and it would do far more good for our major city than a holiday highway to the backblocks of Northland.

Rich vested interests come in somewhere round here; the ones who profit from the fossil fuel and automotive industries.

Just as they do in our fishing industry. Can't legislate to save Maui's dolphin because it might mean changing the way the trawlers operate; can't make the Ross Sea a marine preserve because it might take away the chance to make a fat buck from the last pristine ocean.

And gee, we wouldn't want to make fishing "economically unsustainable". Bugger the ocean and whether it's in crisis; get those seine nets down there!

Labour MP (and former Sealord chairman) Shane Jones can get as wet as he likes over Greenpeace spoofing the Sealord "we're sustainable" ad, but the fact is our premier fishing company - half-owned by Maori - is a recalcitrant abuser of the concept of sustainable management of fisheries.

Not to mention turning a big blind eye to the pitiful wages and conditions the crew of its Asian partners have to put up with to trawl their catch.

Take a kid fishing while you can, folks, because they won't even be catching sprats in a few more years.

Point being, even the economically sustainable argument is a piece of string, let out or pulled back in depending on who benefits. And there is no place in such narrow-visioned deliberations for the welfare of the general community (including the environment) to be given proper weight.

I know this because we have three - count them, Tolley, Foss, Tremain; three - Ministers of the Crown on the East Coast, so you'd think such a significant proportion of Cabinet would be able to argue a few measly million out of the discretionary budget to support their region and keep the rail line open.

But no. And all they can do is cry crocodile tears over the fact it isn't economically sustainable.

Roads aren't either, especially SH2 to Gizzy. But they can instantly find the same amount as it would cost to repair the railway to add a few overtaking lanes to the road, and a few extra million (probably again the same as for rail) each year for maintenance, to "mitigate" the decision to axe the line.

Just as National can uncaringly diminish us in the eyes of the world with their dolphin and Ross Sea vetoes in order to keep the trawlers thrumming.

Guess we shouldn't expect anything else from a government led by a money trader. And it helps explain why they don't care for the RMA.

That's the right of it.

Bruce Bisset is a freelance writer and poet.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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