There is a worrying disconnect between some politicians and life in the real world, and it's only getting worse now that we are in election season.
The current government's proposal to proceed with the Lake Onslow project in Otago, which it says is the key to achieving 100 per cent of electricity by renewable means, is a case in point. Energy and Resources Minister Megan Woods says if the $30 million business case "stacks up," it will be a game-changer in terms of producing cheap, sustainable electricity with lower emissions.
Even if a business case can be made, however, and there were reports last week that the previous National government investigated the proposal and abandoned it because it didn't make economic sense, the drive to eliminate our remaining reliance on burning fossil fuels for electricity as and when needed has to be questioned.
We currently produce 86 per cent of our electricity by renewable means, and critics of this plan argue that pursuing the last 14 per cent makes no sense. They claim that electricity generation accounts for 3 per cent of the emissions that are blamed for contributing to our share of global warming, which casts major doubt on the wisdom of spending $4 billion, and if Treasury's record is anything to go by that will prove to be wildly optimistic, on a lake that is going to take four to five years to build and two years to fill.
If there was going to be a marked reduction in emissions, that might make some sense, but the current scenario doesn't. And why do we have to spend $30 million to repeat what a previous government did?
This has all the hallmarks of another example of virtue signalling at huge expense for no benefit.
Woods' assertion that Lake Onslow will drive down electricity prices is also disputed. Critics claim that it will actually make electricity anywhere between 29 per cent and 40 per cent more expensive for households, depending on who you listen to. With no appreciable environmental benefit, and the potential to increase the cost of power, especially when we are staring down the barrel of a cataclysmic depression, this would have to be the worst possible time to contemplate such a project.
A similar argument can be made against the new regulations that, according to critics, will make pastoral farming in Otago and Southland virtually impossible. Rules governing the allowable extent of pugging, a maximum slope of 10 degrees for cropping or winter grazing, and strict demands for the re-sowing of pasture or crops without regard for climate, suggest once again that this government has no idea of how farming works, or the increasingly vital role it plays in preserving what is left of our Covid-19 economy.
Between them, Otago and Southland are home to 17 per cent of New Zealand's dairy cows and 18 per cent of the land that carries them. Those cows contribute almost $2.4 billion to the economy, and employ more than 6000 people. That is a huge chunk of the economy to jeopardise with rules that say more about urban perceptions than the reality of farming.
They also suggest that some politicians continue to believe that many farmers abuse their animals and their land in pursuit of profits at all costs. Earlier this year there were clear signs that many urban folk appreciate dairy farmers and understand their concerns. That sentiment doesn't seem to have reached the Beehive.
Now the Green Party has launched its 'Farming for the Future' policy, which would introduce a levy on fertiliser and cost taxpayers $297 million over three years to subsidise "regenerative and organic farming methods." That again suggests that the Greens have absolutely no idea of the role pastoral farming is going to play in our economic recovery, if there is to be one once this pandemic has run its course, or its part in our past and hopefully future prosperity.
It is one thing to work towards reducing the flow of nutrients into waterways, and quite another to demonise pastoral farming, another example of ideology triumphing over common sense.
The NZ Taxpayers' Union reckons the promise to spend the revenue generated by this tax on promoting vegan plant-based practices adds insult to injury, and has called on the government, which currently includes the Greens, to focus on allowing the economy to recover rather than wasting money on "trendy environmental schemes." Hear hear.
Then there is the government's Three Waters reforms, which critics describe as a comprehensive reforming of local government in disguise. These reforms come with millions of dollars in government funding for councils, but only if they agree to giving the control of water infrastructure to a handful of centralised authorities. That, reportedly, could see the Far North become part of an entity stretching down to and including the Waikato.
There is no doubt that water infrastructure is in need of huge investment, far beyond the capacity of any local authority to contemplate, but again there are questions over the final outcome. Critics claim that the cost of providing drinking water that meets the new standards will rocket, to the point where some people won't be able to afford it. Another ideological goal is being pursued with no acknowledgement of reality.
The Three Waters reforms were inspired, at least in part, by the polluting of Havelock North's drinking water several years ago. That shouldn't have happened, but this response is out of all proportion. It should be possible for councils to provide clean drinking water without making it too expensive for some people to buy.
Some politicians seem to have difficulty understanding that the people they supposedly serve do not have unlimited financial resources. Certainly they should strive to create an environment where we can live our lives, do our jobs and contribute to our collective health, wealth and wellbeing without destroying our habitat, but they seem to have lost sight of the need to cut our cloth according to our means.
They do understand though. If they didn't they wouldn't tolerate Pharmac's inability to buy every drug available on the world market. The same, surely, applies to water, unrealistic standards for pastoral farming and electricity, that once used to be the cheapest in the world. Now it's close to the dearest.
No one who is standing for election next month will disagree that we need to increase our productivity, and our exports, if we are going to have any sort of future that doesn't involve living in holes in the ground, but some of them have a strange way of showing that. They insist on promising, or if they are already in government insisting on luxuries we cannot afford. One wonders just how dire our situation has to become before they begin to realise that.
And one last thing. Labour is now promising that if it is re-elected next month it will make 20 per cent of MIQ places available for essential workers from overseas. If these people are needed, and there is absolutely no question that they are, and if it is safe to let them in, they should be allowed in now. To make that an election promises is nothing short of blackmail.
Let Labour never again accuse its opponents of politicising this pandemic.