Debates about the environment and mining are likely to play a prominent role in New Zealand politics in 2012. Despite National's political mismanagement of - and eventual back down over - its proposal to allow significant new mining on conservation land in 2010, this year the Government is likely to aggressively pursue the growth of a larger extractive industry. This is reflected in three important recent items: Neil Reid's NZ 'likely Texas of the south', Adam Bennett's Government plans to make mineral exploration easier, and the Sunday Star Times' editorial NZ's too poor to stop the search for oil (which is not currently available online). You can also listen to Mike Hosking discuss the 'billions of barrels' of oil off the East Coast with GNS Science's Chris Uruski here.

The reported potential for those 'billions of barrels' will no doubt reignite public debate about the extractive industry. On the one hand there is its potential for creating wealth, employment, and economic growth. But opponents are quick to identify environmental concerns, and also question where the wealth from increased drilling and mining is likely to end up. In line with this, TVNZ has a report questioning whether the state is currently receiving enough money from those mining on Department of Conservation land - see: DOC income for conservation land under scrutiny. Apparently, the 78 mining companies using conservation land are together paying DOC less than a million dollars a year for the privilege.

The Ports of Auckland dispute continues to dominate New Zealand politics. The Herald has attempted to provide a balanced overview and analysis in its Sunday editorial, Cool heads needed at the port. Also in the Herald, Matt McCarten demands that Ports CEO Tony Gibson be sacked, and suggests that Len Brown is being naive or disingenuous in his role in the dispute - see: It's time to step up, Mr Mayor. For a more rightwing analysis of the dispute, see two other items: Brian Gaynor's Port's viability hinges on dispute outcome and John Roughan's Port makes its own case for sale.

The Green's new leftwing MP, Denise Roche, has broken her party's silence on the issue in her Frogblog post, Ports of Auckland's agenda: Casualisation, union-busting and privatization.


Rather than a strong endorsement of the port workers however, her post concentrates on Green concerns about the environmental angle, privatisation and local democracy.
Labour partisans have been defending their party's neglect of the issue. Rob Carr argues that 'given the level of media attention already given to these strikes public support from Labour is not needed... Labour should save its press releases for when strikes are getting ignored'. John Pagani also offers up a defence of Labour's silence (Ports and the unprincipled politics of fudge); which, according to Danyl Mclauchlan, can be summed up as: 'Labour cannot speak up for workers because it loves them so much'.

Danyl Mclauchlan also puts forward the most convincing explanation so far for Labour's absence from the dispute - see his Dim-Post blog post, Whereof one cannot market research, one must keep silent. Essentially it seems that Labour does not want to risk losing support by speaking out in favour of the wharfies without reassurance from their trusty focus groups and polling companies. (Incidentally, Mclauchlan was interviewed this morning on RNZ about economic growth - listen here).

Related to Mclauchlan's arguments about Labour's reliance on market research, Brian Edwards has detailed some Random thoughts on why Labour did so poorly in the election. After outlining a number of factors in the defeat, Brian Edwards points at Labour's overreliance on focus groups to determine its political programme. This was especially the case, Edwards says, with Labour's 'serious misjudgement' in making its campaign centre on its opposition to state asset sales.

While many of those in focus groups might well have signalled unhappiness with asset sales, such 'opposition will be intellectual rather than visceral, almost a case of what they think they ought to believe as good Kiwis, rather than something they feel in their guts or would change their vote for'. But apparently within Labour, 'questioning the reliability of focus group information is seen as akin to heresy'.

Elsewhere, Fran O'Sullivan says It's time to make Rena owners responsible, labelling the Government's approach to seeking costs 'pussy-footed'. Clio Francis reports that Occupy Wellington protesters may be ousted as the Wellington City Council seeks a legal avenue for their eviction. The Council argues that a 'stream of complaints' along with the fact that the site is now a magnet for the homeless and mentally ill has spurred the decision.

Law Commission president Sir Grant Hammond has incurred the ire of Gerry Brownlee over his criticism of the 65 bills yet to be dealt with by Parliament - see: RNZ's Number of bills sitting on Parliament's books criticized. Lincoln Tan reports on allegations that Chinese chefs, brought to New Zealand as part of our free trade agreement with China, are being paid as little as $8 an hour, under threat of losing their visas - see: Union says immigrants forced to accept pay below minimum wage.

Finally, Tony Wall profiles a Whangarei teenager who has taken a personal role in the fight against child poverty in New Zealand - see: Teen becomes leading voice on child poverty.