Home' Greymouth Star : March 23rd 2017 Contents Greymouth Star
4 - Thursday, March 23, 2017
Water debate too hot
Prime Minister Bill English is ducking the water issue; it is a hornets’ nest he does not
want to disturb before the election, BERNARD HICKEY writes.
nyone who thought the
debate over the foreshore
and seabed was fraught
and set New Zealand’s
political landscape for
more than a decade
knows that any attempt to price water is
That is why Prime Minister Bill
English was so wary this week of any
quick reaction to the protests against
exports of bottled water. He knows that
once a price is put on water, it becomes
an immediate flashpoint between
iwi, farmers and everyone else over
ownership rights under the Treaty of
He tried to kick an increasingly heated
debate into touch until after the election
by referring the issue to a technical
advisory group at the Ministry for the
After a week of protests and revelations
about foreign-owned water bottling
exporters paying virtually nothing for
pristine spring and aquifer water, English
told his post-cabinet news conference on
Monday the Government had asked the
ministry ’s water allocation advisory group
to consider the issue of exporting water.
He said the group was not expected to
report back until late this year or early
next year — well after the election.
“ We do accept there’s growing public
concern about it. That ’s why we want to
refer it off to this group to look at what,
if any, reasonable options there are,” Mr
The group would look at who would
charge for water, what they could charge
and whether it could be done without
establishing who owned the water.
“ We’re not saying it’s too hard. We’re
just saying it’s hard. Because it’s a big
shift for New Zealand, to say we’re
actually going to put a price on water,” he
said. “Because water’s been free and hasn’t
been owned by anybody.”
If the politics of virtually free water for
exporters is difficult, the blow-back on
any Government that tries to establish
water ownership and starts applying
prices would be substantial.
Once the principle of water ownership
is established, the debate jumps quickly
to iwi ownership and treaty rights, and
whether owners of water permits such
as irrigating dairy farmers, vineyards and
orchards have to pay.
“It’s bound to raise other issues,” Mr
English said of the group’s work.
“The Maori rights and interests would
be part of the discussion.”
Mr English pointed to how it had taken
the Government seven years to announce
a framework for water quality.
“It’s always five times more complicated
than you thought and there is always
a wide diversity of interests in what
happens. That ’s why it took seven years
to get to be able to announce a quality
framework, so you wouldn’t want to
underestimate the many issues that will
arise in considering this particular issue,”
Mr English has been wary of this issue
for some time, stretching back to court
cases around the ownership of water used
in power stations owned by State-owned
Enterprises the Government sold partial
stakes in. He has been talking to the iwi
leaders’ forum about the issue for most of
his time in Government.
“There’s been five or six years of
discussion with various Maori interests
related to tribunal claims going right
back to the sale of the electricity
companies when there was a High Court
case about that, so it’s been an ongoing
discussion about Maori rights and
interests and what those amount to,” he
Mr English’s comments on Monday
struck a contrasting tone to those of his
close ally Nick Smith just last week. Dr
Smith ridiculed the potential for charging
for bottled water exports as a solution to
“ We’re not talking about 1% or .1%,
we’re talking about 0.00002% — it’s
about as silly as suggesting that we’re
going to solve our traffic problems by
banning tricycles,” he said last week.
Dr Smith suggested the can of worms
that would be opened up by charging
some and not others.
“ To charge the water bottling plant for
the water and not charge the soft drink
manufacturer or the beer maker would
just create even more anomalies,” he
He did not mention the dairy farmers
or factories, but could just as easily have
done so. — Newsroom
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1743 - George Frideric Handel’s oratorio
Messiah has its London premiere.
1775 - US statesman Patrick Henry makes
plea for American freedom from
Britain, declaring, “Give me liberty or
give me death”.
1887 - More than 80 miners die
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1918 - The giant German gun, Big
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uWest Coast yesteryear
uToday in history
Michael Joseph Savage, NZ Labour Prime
Minister (1872-1940); Joan Crawford, US
actress (1908-1977); Wernher von Braun,
German-born rocket expert (1912-1977); Roger
Bannister, UK athlete first to run sub-four-
minute mile (1929-); Ric Ocasek,
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Michael Atherton, English cricketer
(1968-); Keri Russell, US actress (1976-); Perez
Hilton, US blogger (1978-); Princess Eugenie of
York (1990-) .
“ In human relations kindness and lies are
worth a thousand truths.”
— Graham Greene (1904-1991).
“ For everything there is a season, and a time
for every matter under Heaven.”
uFood for thought
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No one owns the water. It sounds so
reasonable. How could anyone “own”
water? It “droppeth as the gentle rain from
Heaven”, according to Shakespeare, and is
sent to fall “on the just and on the unjust ”,
if you believe the New Testament. Playing
no part in its creation, what plausible
claim could we, as human beings, possibly
advance for its ownership?
Well, that all depends on how
human-beings organise themselves. A
hunter-gatherer society takes its water
pretty much as Mother Nature delivers it.
From springs and streams and rivers, and
directly, from the sky above.
Agricultural and/or pastoral societies,
however, tend to take a much more
proprietary view of water. Without a
reliable water supply crops can not flourish
and herds die of thirst. The human beings
who live in these kinds of societies are
not disposed to share “their” springs and
streams and rivers with anyone — not
without a fight.
Then there are the human beings who
live in cities. Without water, cities simply
can not exist. Indeed, it is possible to
argue that the key capability which makes
any sort of enduring civilisation possible
is the ability to collect, transfer and
distribute large quantities of water for the
consumption and use of large numbers of
human beings. How would the ancient
civilisations of Mesopotamia and Egypt
have sur vived without their sophisticated
systems of water storage and irrigation?
Where would Rome have been without
aqueducts and cisterns?
In a civilised society, the bald assertion
that “no one owns the water” is, therefore,
nonsense. Because, in a civilised society,
water belongs to everyone.
But, if water belongs to everyone, then
immediately two principles become very
The first is that water can only ever
be owned collectively — and never
individually. (In the simplest terms, you
can not own it — because we own it).
The second principle is that whatever
the collective entity in which public
ownership is vested, be it the State or
a local authority, public officials cannot
ethically permit collectively owned water
to be diverted for private profit without
first extracting from the profit-seeker an
appropriate fee for its use.
It is only when we work back from
these first principles that the bitter
controversy over the use (and misuse) of
water which has arisen in New Zealand is
explained. They make it all too clear why
politicians and officials in the thrall of
farmers — especially dairy farmers — are
so determined to make us believe that “no
one owns the water”.
Like all good agriculturalists and
pastoralists, New Zealand’s dairy farmers
c laim a proprietary interest in the springs,
streams, rivers and aquifers which water
their crops, preser ve their herds and wash
out their cowsheds.
Their problem, of course, is that they
can not claim ownership of these water
sources openly because New Zealand is
not ancient Mesopotamia or medieval
England. They live in a society in which
the over whelming majority of their
fellow citizens dwell in towns and cities
and where the collective ownership and
protection of potable water constitutes the
foundation of urban health and comfort.
Bluntly, the springs, streams, rivers and
aquifers of New Zealand are not the
de facto property of the farming sector;
they belong to the whole nation. This is
the truth that has, at all costs, to be kept
hidden. So long as the whole nation can
be hoodwinked into believing that they
are not the collective owners of New
Zealand’s water; so long as they adhere to
the nonsensical notion that “no one owns
the water”; so long will the farming sector
go on extracting profit from this critical
resource without paying a cent for the
massive collateral environmental damage
they are causing.
This was the motivation behind the
shutting down of Ecan, the Canterbury
Regional Council; the reason why
democracy has been suspended in that part
of New Zealand for more than six years.
So reckless had the greed and selfishness
of the Canterbury farming community
become that they were willing to strip
their city-dwelling compatriots of their
political rights rather than be denied the
massive, publicly-subsidised, irrigation
schemes that would make them and their
When the Prime Minister’s brother,
Connor English, shortly after National’s
election victory in 2008, vouchsafed to me
his prediction that the single biggest issue
facing New Zealand for the next 20 years
would be “water”, I thought he was joking.
He was not.
Chris Trotter is a left-wing
Everyone owns the water
Greymouth girl was
knocked from her
cycle at the corner
of Cowper and Brunner streets yesterday
afternoon by a motorist who did not stop. “As
yet we do not know the name of the driver,”
said a police spokesman today, though the
accident had been witnessed by other motorists
in the vicinity.
The girl, Beryl Elizabeth Brown suffered only
Leaving Greymouth by special train, 116 girl
guides and brownies, along with their adult
escorts and leaders, will travel to Addington
Raceway, Christchurch, to pay tribute to
the World Chief Guide, Olave, Lady Baden
Powell GBE. She arrives in New Zealand from
Mexico on Friday, April 14.
The West Coast contingent will form only
a small portion of the 6000 or so guides and
brownies who will come from Invercargill,
Dunedin and all parts of Otago, Canterbury,
Marlborough and Nelson. A large programme
of events will follow the reception and the
guides will take part in a canoe poi. The
brownies will do action songs.
Everyone wanted to beat Gray. This is how
NZPA correspondent Gary Clark sums up the
reaction of the New Zealand cross-country
team following the remarkable rise of West
Coast ’s Eddie Gray as a world-c lass cross-
country runner. Clark, in a report from London
says Gray now stands on the threshold of what
could become a notable international career.
“ From virtual obscurity in his own country
the 22-year-old West Coast carpenter has
developed so rapidly in only three major races
that he not only beat the rest of his team but by
a wide margin. ”
Hubbard lifts lid on can of worms
I am completely stumped. Never has a
controversial sporting topic floored me
quite like this one.
New Zealand weightlifter Laurel
Hubbard won the women’s over-90kg
division at the Australian Invitational in
Melbourne to equal parts pleasure and
Hubbard, a transgender athlete, has gone
through a tremendous amount of struggle
to get to the point where she is now who
she truly identifies as.
I have nothing but respect for what she
has gone through and the mental fortitude
and bravery that she displayed but there
is a weird feeling of both pride and
uneasiness in the pit of my stomach.
The pride of seeing someone overcome
adversity to succeed is there but her
competing — and winning — against
females has left me, and probably a lot of
other people uneasy.
It is not from the standpoint of
transgender people not being afforded
equal rights in terms of competing in
sports, which is something I believe in.
It is the idea of fair competition and a
potentially unfair advantage that splits me.
Hubbard competed at a national level as
a male weightlifter when she was Gavin
Hubbard. Her transition to becoming
female, it is understood, occurred in her
She is now 39 and meets all the IOC
requirements to compete against cisgender
females. So from a legal standpoint have at
it. There are not any issues in that regard.
To compete, a transgender female athlete
is required only to declare her gender
as “female” and have testosterone levels
comparable to or below those of cisgender
A cisgender person is someone whose
gender corresponds to their assigned sex.
She meets those guidelines and by
rights should continue to be allowed to
However there is the issue of how being
a male, genetically, for over 30 years has
affected Hubbard’s performance. Some of
her peers have questioned this.
Fellow weightlifter and two-time
Olympian Deborah Acason said, “If I was
in that category I wouldn’t feel like I was
in an equal situation. I just feel that, if it’s
not even, why are we doing the sport?”
Equality in sport is a tough one as,
realistically, there is no “even playing field”.
But the fact that she has trained and
competed as a male athlete for all those
years will have surely given her some type
Whether it is a competitive advantage
like Michael Phelps having incredibly long
arms or a genetic advantage such as Lance
Armstrong’s blood doping is not for me to
Also, does this open the door for
transgender All Blacks and Silver Ferns?
Compared to rugby and netball,
weightlifting is barely noticeable in the
Will people accept a transgender
netballer or rugby player? What would be
the requirement for transgender athletes
This is not the first such instance of
transgender females winning competitions
and it will not be the last.
The likes of 1977 US Open female
doubles tennis champion Renee Richards,
who was one of the first professional
athletes to identify as transgender, show
there is a predicate in the topic.
They were equally lauded and
lampooned, something that may await
Hubbard but are ultimately known as
Maybe my uneasiness about Hubbard’s
victory is unfounded and unwarranted.
Not having to experience anything like
the prejudice towards the transgender
community make have skewed my
Regardless, until we know for certain
whether transgender athletes have an
unfair advantage over cisgendered athletes,
she should continue to be allowed to
compete with everyone else. But is that
fair? — NZME-Northern Advocate
Laurel Hubbard wins gold at the Australasian Championships.
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