Environmental catastrophe in Indonesia has NZ link

Rupertdebear drew attention in today’s Open Forum to an ongoing environmental disaster in Indonesia.

The catastrophic environmental, financial, social disaster presently taking place in Indonesia is grossly under reported in our media. Why? Radio New Zealand have some reporting on what is taking place with a comment that links the events to New Zealand Farming.

He linked to an RNZ report  Indonesian haze chokes orangutans.

Indonesia’s threatened orangutans are being choked by the haze from the land-clearing fires burning on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo, and being driven out of their habitat into farmland, where they risk being shot.

They covered more of the poor cute animals in danger story before getting to the crux of the problems.

The smoke in this part of the Indonesian province of Central Kalimantan has been dense for three months.

Visibility at times is less than 50 metres, and the pollution is so thick that an estimated half a million people are suffering from acute respiratory problems.

The scale of this man-made disaster is immense.

One organisation, the Global Fires Emissions Database, estimates Indonesia has overtaken China and the United States to become the world’s biggest polluter.

It is extraordinary for a nation without major heavy industry and where most people cannot afford to drive cars.

Repeating: The scale of this man-made disaster is immense.

But as Rupetdebear says the media in New Zealand don’t seem to have been particularly interested. Rugby has been far more important it seems.

But there is a New Zealand connection to the massive deforestation as our farmers use KDE, a palm plant by product. The expansion of palm production has driven deforestation in South East Asia.

Maggy Wassilieff explains:

The drivers for increased palm oil plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia are:
1. very productive plant
2. The demand for trans-free vegetable oils (FDA regulations)
3. The demand for biodiesel.

The palm kernel foodstock is a byproduct of palm-oil production.
It was never the driver for the plantations.
Ill-judged green ideas on biomass fuels and “healthy” foods have played a role in the environmental destruction of Asia’s finest tropical rainforests.

And Rupertdebear adds a long comment but it’s worth repeating in a post:

PKE is a byproduct of these industries which in themselves have dirty secrets large and small. The whole question of Palm Oil is a subject of complex considerations and difficult decisions.

However it is significant that there is compelling evidence that here, in NZ, substantial amounts of PKE are derived from uncertified sources. In other words it is illegal under one or several jurisdiction and certainly immoral and unethical. Leaving this where it falls, I believe that New Zealand farming sector needs to be held to account. In a recent exchange on the Radio New Zealand website I posted this response the recent environmental report on farming.

I am not providing the links here – but you may follow my authorities here:

rnztalk.nz/t/farming-damaging-environment-report/1846/17

Many of us think that the environmental damage caused by New Zealand farming is serious. It gives rise for deep concern on many levels. Issues of cost and efficiency, public health including the imminent threat to our water supply and long term food safety, animal welfare, even how we think of our self as a nation and our international reputation. The list could go on.

Many of us have seen the environmental problems with our own eyes. As someone who retains a close association with the land, I recognize such damage when I see it. Even if I had not had this experience, a casual reading of the media would alert me.

This month the Otago Regional Council’s regulatory committee heard that non-compliance in the 2014-15 financial year was the second highest since the council introduced its effluent discharge enforcement policy in 2007-08. Action over “effluent rule” breaches also peaked in 2014-15, with 18 infringement notices issued and 25 prosecutions undertaken.

Travel south and the situation appears worse. Hundreds of Canterbury dairy farmers have been caught out breaking their resource consent conditions
.
A report by Environment Canterbury (ECan) found more than a third of dairy farms were breaking effluent discharge rules in the last 12 months. In the Orari-Opihi-Parora zone, the third largest in the region, more farms were breaking the rules than following them.

At the beginning of this decade the Crafar Farms became the poster boys for dirty farming. Over a five year period (2007 -2011) multiple pollution and animal welfare offences of the most sickening kind took place – protected, one suspects in large part, by the money involved. At the end it was estimated the Crafar Farms owed $NZ200 million.

Lessons from The Crafar Farms are many but two that are particularly relevant are debt driven compromises and overstocking. The constant chase for the next dollar and unforeseen consequences – perhaps.

One of the many disturbing aspects of this type of crime was the time it took agencies charged with controlling pollution and animal welfare to effectively respond. As reported in 2009 by the New Zealand Herald there are questions (that are still unanswered) about how MAF dealt with the Crafar Farms. These questions include how animals were slaughtered and the speed with which authorities moved to bring under control a management that simply wasn’t managing in the best interests of anyone – man nor beast.

If you think that our authorities are now onto the question of farm related pollution you might want to think again. How does 11 years of polluting sound. To put this into context consider this question, what is the difference between a terrorist and a farmer?

What might be your response to the discovery that a “terrorist” was planning to release toxins into your water supply or poison your food ?

How about someone who releases 300,000 litres of effluent into a river on the Coromandel over a nine hour period ?

Well a Coromandel farmer was found to have done this and far worse in August this year. Over a period of 11 years a “staggering” amount of dairy effluent seeped into the Tairua River. He was finally fined less than $10,000 per year.

“In some respects this is about as bad as it gets,” said council investigations manager Patrick Lynch.

“Often we find discharges that result from carelessness, or even negligence, but someone deliberately polluting is rare, thankfully.”

Well I agree with Mr Lynch that we can be thankful that deliberate pollution is rare but I think we should be very concerned that they often find discharges that result from carelessness!

It is this careless risk that really speaks to the problem. What we know of the incidence of pollution from farming is but the tip of the iceberg. The far greater amount goes undetected except in our analysis of water quality. And the report card on this continues to frighten. As NIWA states:

“Despite a comprehensive clean-up of dirty ‘point-source’ discharges in the 1990s, water quality in many of our lakes and rivers is still declining. The cause this time is ‘diffuse-source’ pollution associated with intensive land use, particularly pastoral farming”.

And it is not as if we have only just discovered this. Read about the outbreak of bacillary dysentery in 1965-66 mainly centred in Stratford and the general problem with pollution from the Waitangi Tribunal.

The problem is well documented, well understood and closely related to our approach to climate change. Similar forms of denial are evident in both cases. Indeed in the way that we tolerate the destruction of our environment we see the tolerance to the destruction of our planet.

As I write this a fire is raging across the 5000-kilometre length of Indonesia.

To quote the link I am providing

“It is surely, on any objective assessment, more important than anything else taking place today. And it shouldn’t require a columnist, writing in the middle of a newspaper, to say so. It should be on everyone’s front page”.

A great tract of the Earth is on fire. It looks as you might imagine hell to be. The air has turned ochre: visibility in some cities has been reduced to 30 metres. Children are being prepared for evacuation in warships; already some have choked to death. Species are going up in smoke at an untold rate. It is almost certainly the greatest environmental disaster of the 21st Century – so far.

On this news site the most dominant story is one of Rugby!

I encourage you to follow the link above and see where we are heading. Watch the video it is happening now and it is horrifying.

Many of us think that the environmental damage caused by New Zealand farming is serious. It gives rise for deep concern on many levels. Issues of cost and efficiency, public health including the imminent threat to our water supply and long term food safety, animal welfare, even how we think of our self as a nation and our international reputation. The list could go on.

Many of us have seen the environmental problems with our own eyes. As someone who retains a close association with the land, I recognize such damage when I see it. Even if I had not had this experience, a casual reading of the media would alert me.

This month the Otago Regional Council’s regulatory committee heard that non-compliance in the 2014-15 financial year was the second highest since the council introduced its effluent discharge enforcement policy in 2007-08. Action over “effluent rule” breaches also peaked in 2014-15, with 18 infringement notices issued and 25 prosecutions undertaken.

Travel south and the situation appears worse. Hundreds of Canterbury dairy farmers have been caught out breaking their resource consent conditions
.
A report by Environment Canterbury (ECan) found more than a third of dairy farms were breaking effluent discharge rules in the last 12 months. In the Orari-Opihi-Parora zone, the third largest in the region, more farms were breaking the rules than following them.

At the beginning of this decade the Crafar Farms became the poster boys for dirty farming. Over a five year period (2007 -2011) multiple pollution and animal welfare offences of the most sickening kind took place – protected, one suspects in large part, by the money involved. At the end it was estimated the Crafar Farms owed $NZ200 million.

Lessons from The Crafar Farms are many but two that are particularly relevant are debt driven compromises and overstocking. The constant chase for the next dollar and unforeseen consequences – perhaps.

One of the many disturbing aspects of this type of crime was the time it took agencies charged with controlling pollution and animal welfare to effectively respond. As reported in 2009 by the New Zealand Herald there are questions (that are still unanswered) about how MAF dealt with the Crafar Farms. These questions include how animals were slaughtered and the speed with which authorities moved to bring under control a management that simply wasn’t managing in the best interests of anyone – man nor beast.

If you think that our authorities are now onto the question of farm related pollution you might want to think again. How does 11 years of polluting sound. To put this into context consider this question, what is the difference between a terrorist and a farmer?

What might be your response to the discovery that a “terrorist” was planning to release toxins into your water supply or poison your food ?

How about someone who releases 300,000 litres of effluent into a river on the Coromandel over a nine hour period ?

Well a Coromandel farmer was found to have done this and far worse in August this year. Over a period of 11 years a “staggering” amount of dairy effluent seeped into the Tairua River. He was finally fined less than $10,000 per year.

“In some respects this is about as bad as it gets,” said council investigations manager Patrick Lynch.

“Often we find discharges that result from carelessness, or even negligence, but someone deliberately polluting is rare, thankfully.”

Well I agree with Mr Lynch that we can be thankful that deliberate pollution is rare but I think we should be very concerned that they often find discharges that result from carelessness!

It is this careless risk that really speaks to the problem. What we know of the incidence of pollution from farming is but the tip of the iceberg. The far greater amount goes undetected except in our analysis of water quality. And the report card on this continues to frighten. As NIWA states:

“Despite a comprehensive clean-up of dirty ‘point-source’ discharges in the 1990s, water quality in many of our lakes and rivers is still declining. The cause this time is ‘diffuse-source’ pollution associated with intensive land use, particularly pastoral farming”.

And it is not as if we have only just discovered this. Read about the outbreak of bacillary dysentery in 1965-66 mainly centred in Stratford and the general problem with pollution from the Waitangi Tribunal.

The problem is well documented, well understood and closely related to our approach to climate change. Similar forms of denial are evident in both cases. Indeed in the way that we tolerate the destruction of our environment we see the tolerance to the destruction of our planet.

As I write this a fire is raging across the 5000-kilometre length of Indonesia.

To quote the link I am providing

“It is surely, on any objective assessment, more important than anything else taking place today. And it shouldn’t require a columnist, writing in the middle of a newspaper, to say so. It should be on everyone’s front page”.

A great tract of the Earth is on fire. It looks as you might imagine hell to be. The air has turned ochre: visibility in some cities has been reduced to 30 metres. Children are being prepared for evacuation in warships; already some have choked to death. Species are going up in smoke at an untold rate. It is almost certainly the greatest environmental disaster of the 21st Century – so far.

On this news site the most dominant story is one of Rugby!

I encourage you to follow the link above and see where we are heading. Watch the video it is happening now and it is horrifying.

Doubts on MFAT and Malaysia

Have we been told what really happened between MFAT and Malaysia? Unless an employee has screwed up badly and their Malaysian counterparts went along with it without questioning it, or there’s more to this story than we have been told.

An ex-MFAT employee commenting on Kiwiblog defends staff at MFAT but goes on to doubt the veracity of the stories we’ve been told.

CryHavoc  says:

I’m not sure why I’m going to do this, but here goes…

To the extent anyone gives a shit you will see from my comments made on kiwiblog that I am far from left-wing – a Government consisting of the current opposition is genuinely scary to me. I am also ex-MFAT and, take it from someone who looked out for such things, MFAT is not a hive of left-wing activity. Without question there are well-meaning, cardigan-wearing Otago polsci grads who believe fervently in climate change and the efficacy of the UN, but there are plenty of neoliberals too.

In this case the old saying of never attributing to conspiracy what can be put down to cock-up I think rings true. Not that that excuses at all what has happened here (though I will be very interested in what exactly has happened, and if McCully hasn’t been more involved than he is claiming I will be flabbergasted), but some of the rhetoric here and on yesterday’s thread is OTT.

It’s relevant that of the seven MFAT alumni in parliament now, four are Nats (Groser, Hayes, Parata, Foster-Bell), two are Labour (Cunliffe, Robertson) and one Green (Graham) – yeah we weren’t proud of all of them (where do you think the nickname “silent T” was thought up?). And on policy, the agency that brought you the China FTA, the closest relationship we’ve had with the US in 30 years, and now the TPP, is hardly working towards a socialist paradise.

Forgive this rant – despite historical loyalty I am well gone from MFAT and very happily in the private sector earning more money for less work – but some of the abuse is warranted; much of it isn’t. The vast majority of MFAT staff are working bloody hard for little recognition and yes, not that much money.

CharlieBrown says:

CryHavoc – you seem to be quite balanced and know a lot about MFAT so you might be able to answer my question. Is it possible or likely that NZ is just going along with the Malaysians version of events to avoid embarrassing that government and souring relations with them? I know its a gross generalization but South East Asian countries don’t have a great reputation when it comes to corruption and the fact that we produced a very clear and definitive written statement of what the Malaysians insisted on and the best that they come up with is a description of informal talks and emails. If it meant bringing a man to justice I would quite happily go along with that.

Can journalists request to see these emails or transcripts of talks with all involved using the official information act?

CryHavoc (42 comments) says:

Hi CharlieBrown – thanks for your comment, I’ve been pretty angry about this all week so I’m glad I seem balanced! In truth I read it exactly as you have said above. It’s absolutely par for the course for countries like Malaysia to latch on to any excuse to save face.

Here’s how I break it down. The Malaysians have had the option since day one to waive the guy’s immunity. MFAT made a formal request via Third Person Note (so called in the trade because it is highly formal and represents the “official view of the Government”) that asked the Malaysians to waive immunity. The Malaysians responded ten days later saying that they would not… oh and please cover up all the evidence. It seems clear to me that they had no intention of letting the guy face trial here.

Subsequent to that, just as the thing is blowing up (like this week I.e. A month or so later) in Malaysia and there’s a heap of domestic political pressure on the Government of Malaysia (because their young, westernized, savvy population has the same view of sex-pests that we do and they’re all saying he should be tried here) they say “Oh, we had been led to believe that it would be ok if he came home.”

I call bullshit on this. In the diplomatic game it is all formal and you don’t assume a country’s view until it is on paper. If they thought there was ambiguity, and they genuinely gave a crap about whether the guy stayed or not, they would have sought clarification from NZ before sending him home. There is just simply no way that a mid-level official in MFAT saying “um, well, it might be ok if he faces a court martial in Malaysia” would trump the formal exchange above.

[Now I have no idea what the nature of those informal conversations was, so I could be completely wrong – but I still can’t believe they wouldn’t seek formal clarification.]

So… What has happened this week, as far as I can see, is that the Malaysians have found themselves in the shit. They’ve sent a shitbag to NZ and he’s caused a major embarrassment to them. They’ve therefore reached for the only remaining excuse they have – some flimsy bollocks about informal conversations – and said oh no it’s ok, we’ll send the guy back, we’re the good guys here (ignoring all the time that they could have played this card at any stage… and of course knowing that the guy is some low ranking bloke who’s expendable), and hence regained the moral high ground. McCully, much to my disdain, has allowed them to do it – aided and abetted by the singularly stupid and insular NZ media for whom finding a scapegoat is the key objective, rather than doing any analysis.

So that’s just my take. And to answer your other question, yes, absolutely everything on the MFAT record is OIAable on this. It will no doubt be heavily redacted to prevent the Minister taking any flak, but there should be a record of every conversation that has taken place on this issue. Not transcripts per se but file notes of everything.

Something abnormal certainly seems to have happened here, we just can’t be sure what.