So, I had to sleep on it, but I’ve worked out what it was that disappointed me so much about John Key’s embarrassing performance in front of the UK media on Hardtalk.
John Key won’t accept that our tourism slogan isn’t reality and dismisses all the evidence otherwise. When the interviewer brings up the level of polluting nutrients in our rivers, John Key denied that there was a problem. Well, here’s what the NZ government has to say on the water quality in our rivers:
“There was a strong increasing trend overall in total phosphorus and in dissolved reactive phosphorus, … and also a strong increasing trend overall in oxidised nitrogen and total nitrogen, which all indicate deteriorating water quality, mainly attributable to expansion and intensification of pastoral agriculture.”
That’s from the Water quality trends at National River Water Quality Network sites for 1989-2007 report.
Or there’s the 2009 update to this data, with the key finding that “Nutrients have worsened”.
In fact, our water quality is so bad that this Monday, the government announced a new Clean-up Fund for water quality, with the Environment Minister stating “We have a number of significant rivers and lakes that require major clean-up investments”.
So, John Key, you’re a muppet, for denying reality.
Which brings us to how to present New Zealand overseas, given that our clean green image is a key part of our tourism. It’s undeniable that we’re running into our environmental limits, so John Key’s head in the sand approach isn’t acceptable. It we actually want to engage with this problem, and frankly, we don’t have a choice here, then there are several other approaches we could take:
1) Defensive – “Our rivers are polluted coz we grow food for you, so quit bitching at us.”
2) Sniffy – “Our standards for river pollution are much stricter than European standards, so much so that most rivers in Western Europe would exceed New Zealand’s pollution trigger limits by a factor of ten. What constitutes highly polluted for us would be clean for you.”
3) Responsive – “Yes, like every other nation with modern agriculture, we’ve got water quality problems and we’re working hard to fix them. Why, just this Monday we announced a big investment in cleaning up our rivers. Look, the New Zealand budget comes out later this month, we’re in a tight fiscal situation, there’s very little new spending, but top of the list is improving our water quality. That’s how much this matters to us.”
Or we could, you know, just fix the problem by requiring farmers to pollute rivers less. Instead, Key’s government this week released an entirely watered-down freshwater policy statement. If we haven’t got real policy, and we haven’t, then the Key government’s solution seems to be good PR, so I think we can expect a combination of 2 and 3 as a protective layer of bluster.