Thursday, March 31, 2016

Arguing from incompetence

New Zealand's rivers are filthy, filled with cowshit and unsafe for swimming - and they're getting worse. National's "response" to this crisis has been to issue "national standards" which are effectively a licence for pollution and allow rivers that will make you sick; they're not committed to cleaning up our rivers, despite overwhelming public support for it, because it would upset their sacred cow, the dairy industry. So instead, when pushed about their failure, they spout nonsense about how ducks and volcanoes and floods are responsible for dirty rivers - echoing their earlier climate change denialist arguments about "sunspots".

But this invites an obvious question: if National thinks that ducks and volcanoes and floods are responsible for (some) dirty rivers, why not regulate around them, and target the problem we can clean up easily, cowshit? Green MP Catherine Delahunty asked this very question on Tuesday. The government's answer: More excuses:

Catherine Delahunty: Why is it not possible to regulate a nationwide minimum standard of swimmable rivers by simply exempting fresh water contaminated by natural phenomena such as volcanic ash and birds, or during high flood events?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The first point I would make is this is the first Government in New Zealand history to set down national policy and standards for freshwater bodies across New Zealand, and I do find it a bit rich that members opposite who did nothing for decades now challenge this Government’s very comprehensive programme around fresh water. In respect of freshwater bodies, there are examples where it is birdlife and sometimes it is volcanic issues, but there is also the very practical issue in most of our urban areas where we have small streams that nobody swims in where it literally would cost billions to get the water quality up to that level, and we are not about spending billions of dollars of New Zealand ratepayers’ money in areas where people would not, practically, swim.

Note that he didn't even pretend to answer Delahunty's question. As for the issue of urban streams, again, the same question applies: if National wants to clean up rivers, but thinks that its not worth cleaning up urban streams that nobody swims in, then it is surely not beyond their wit to craft a regulation exempting them from tougher standards. By throwing his hands up and crying "it's all too hard", Nick Smith is basicly arguing that he - and by extension, the government he represents - is too incompetent to be in charge of this issue. In which case, why are we paying him $280,000 a year?

But the truth is that its not too hard. National's inaction is a matter of choice, not difficulty. And we should hold them accountable for it.