Wednesday, November 13, 2019

A billion dollar slush fund won't save Winston First

The news is rapidly spreading through the farming community that the recently passed Zero Carbon Act had some funny things going on behind the scenes with the negotiations between Labour, Greens, National and NZ First.

And it all focused around methane.

Methane is the main greenhouse gas emission from agriculture, and makes up roughly half of New Zealand’s GHG emissions, mainly from livestock belching - not farting as the jokes have it. The Paris Accord which NZ signed up to, does have a methane component to it, but it's a small factor compared to CO2 and even around that small factor the uncertainties of its potential GHG impact are significant:
The results suggest that revised methane emissions estimates will only have a very modest effect on carbon budgets. The revised emissions lead to a decrease in the allowable carbon budget by around 1 to 2% over the next 20 years, Forster and Smith say.
And that's assessing the world-wide production of methane, which itself is tough to estimate. It's a non-starter GHG on a global scale even before one looks at our portion of it.

We're here to destroy your planet

Everybody else focuses on CO2 resulting from industrial production, while New Zealand is the only nation that's focusing attention on agricultural methane.

Pity really as our traditional non-industrial base, 70% renewable electricity, and other lucky factors that we've inherited would otherwise see us looking pretty good on the CO2 emissions front.

But because New Zealand loves trying to be a World Leader on global issues and because we love looking virtuous in front of the rest of the world - an enduring legacy of our Cultural Cringe - we've decided to go after methane as the "Nuclear Free moment of our generation" - and other such shite.

Daisy's new home - a Herd Home
The target is a 10 per cent reduction on 2017 levels by 2030 and between 24 and 47 per cent reduction by 2050 and this has been vehemently opposed by farmers.

This is of course labelled as wooden-headed opposition to Climate Change theory.

But farmers have good reason to oppose the targets, even aside from the objection to being sacrificed to no purpose.

Apart from anything else, the primary way it might be tackled - genetic engineering of grass and animals - is a non-starter with the Greens, the very party demanding action on reducing GHG's. This is fighting with one hand tied behind your back.

Instead there's talk of planting different grasses, methane digestors using the solids dumped on concrete feedpads or herd homes, or crude approaches like simply reducing the size of dairy herds. How "sustainable" any of these would be in terms of income vs. cost for farmers is little debated.

My view is that it will simply do what Big Government always does - aid Big Business.

Most of these approaches will squeeze out small farms (meaning anything less than 250 cows), which will be bought up by corporate farms, large trusts and partnerships - or Landcorp.

Clean and Green Farming
Farms of 1000 plus cows using the "cut-and-carry" model; cutting and carrying stock food to cows housed in sheds 365 days of the year, combined with wage and salary workers to operate it all like a factory. Such units can easily carry the capital investment of herd homes costing $300k to house 250 cows or any of the other Capex involved. And remember that all this sunk cost will contribute not one bit to increase income or reduce costs, aside from avoiding the artificial cost of an artificial tax. For large units that's a shrug of the shoulders: for small farms it's death.

Dirty Farming

So much for our traditional image of cows grazing on green paddocks of family-owned farms, or  sharemilkers and contract milkers making their way up the ladder. That model is dead, and it turns out that the image compared to the US/Northern Euro factory barn approach is worth nothing in terms of branding or marketing. Apparently the Northern Hemisphere model is the one that's cleaner and greener - at least when it comes to GHG's.

The political factor has always been easy to see. Labour and the Greens have an easier ride of it because they only have to worry about their urban voters: for all the talk of EV's and the like, Labour in particular is never going to impose the costs of eliminating fossil fuels in the only way that works, which is straight-out elimination via regulations and/or massive increases in the prices of petrol, natural gas, and so forth. For all the city talk of being concerned about Climate Change, there's only so much cost those voters will wear. Even though it's a Climate Crisis.

By contrast, farmers are rich pricks who can easily carry almost any cost, are vastly fewer in number, traditionally vote National, and easily demonised. They're the perfect target because it doesn't cost Labour-Greens anything.

That's the real reason for the focus on methane.

And all it required was the weaponising of the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), which the Clarke government put in place in 2008 as it was going out the door, and which National left alone as it played both sides of the issue.

Having said that, these sorts of concerns did lead the National Party to push for the methane reduction target to be removed from the Zero Carbon Bill, which it eventually voted to support anyway. That's not much of a surprise as they continue to try and split the difference between their rural and urban voters.

But what is a surprise is that none other than the Climate Change Minister himself - Green Party co-leader James Shaw - considered doing exactly that, instead allowing it to be set by a commission.

But here's the kicker - NZ First would not support such a move.

I was a bit surprised by this news at first but then I realised what was going on.

Winston was sticking it to the National Party.

So filled with hatred for them is he, that he would not allow them anything that looked like a win. Had National not been part of these conversations Winston may well have stuffed the methane targets, since that would have given him a very solid talking point as he trawls for provincial votes with the globulous fraud, Shane Jones.

But not now. Winston just burned off any farming votes he might have expected, and given the dependency of provincial towns and cities on farmer's economic success, he may well have burned off other provincial votes as well.


homepaddock said...

Peters is for Peters first and principles come a distant second to that. His principles don't matter when it comes to opposing National either. Just like the Greens he's now ruled himself out of a centre right coalition in future.

Tom Hunter said...

Peters is for Peters first and principles come a distant second to that

Sure Ele, but most of us have known that for decades. Hell, I've got a book from - I think the late 1980's - titled "Winston First"

But so what? I thought he was well and truly politically dead in 2008!

He has only ever needed 5% of the population and despite the occasional set back he manages to get just enough suckers every election to return to Parliament. Even with all his backstabbing since 2017 I would not count him in 2020: he'll find something new to add to his Golden Oldies of retirement benefits, immigration and "the ordinary bloke", each cast in terms of promises he can deliver to them and threats he will defend them from.

....he's now ruled himself out of a centre right coalition in future.
Has he? Because I've heard no bold talk from Simon to that effect, any more than I heard it from squishy old Bill English in 2017. Like Bill, I'd bet Simon thinks he can't risk burning off voters that swing between National and Winston.

I think that's bloody stupid. Be bold and go around the country telling everybody that National will never join with Winston again because - to use John Key's words - he's not to be trusted. Furthermore, tell them that:

A vote for Winston is a vote for Green-Labour

Simple message that should cut through even any of Winston's usual media-attracting crap.

But I doubt National has the spine to do it. They're as desperate for power as Labour - and Winston knows it.

Max Ritchie said...

I read recently that Bridges will make an announcement next year of No to NZF. Now looking for it, but you know the blogosphere - where to start? Peters is so toxic (and Jones a close 2nd) that the thought of NZF in coalition with Nats and Act fills me with horror. Surely Simon will pull the plug?

Tom Hunter said...

Hmmm - why should it even take that long? Ok - me not politician, me just humble blogger who does not have to face the Great Unwashed.

But to me this is simple. There should not have to be any need for polling and agonising.

It puts the pressure on Winston to try and stand even further away from Green-Labour, meaning more of their plans get stuffed.

It gets media cut through for Simon and National: finally, something bold and decisive.

It provides a platform from which to pivot attacks on Winston's political corruption, which also puts him on the defensive.

It forces Labour into facing tough questions about why their willing to deal with the old ratbag. We all know why of course, but seeing Jacinda under the gun on issues of ethics, corruption and all that, is an angle not normally touched on her.

Max Ritchie said...

I think the rationale is to have maximum effect ie wait until court cases and succession plans are out of the way. But one could argue that simply repeating the announcement every so often, starting now, would achieve that.

Wayne Mapp said...


So are you against National supporting the Bill (now an Act)?

The main change that National proposes is letting the Climate Change Commission set the actual targets. You can be pretty sure that this will include some reduction in methane emissions.

The reality is that the Act has also most unanimous support in parliament, and I suggest also within the general New Zealand community. Dealing with agricultural emissions is part of that framework. You seem to be against all that by your overall criticism of the Act. However, by and large New Zealanders don't like being "fast followers". We prefer to be leaders, not because we are cringing, but because we think always think we should be out in front. We have done that on a huge number of things. It fits our national ethos. National, and particularly Simon Bridges, recognises that. That is why National voted for the Act.

alloy said...

I think ruling out Winston, is a matter of timing it right for maximum effect.

Hope so anyway.

Tom Hunter said...


However, by and large New Zealanders don't like being "fast followers"
I think that's just one of our many national myths, going all the way back to the reforms of the Liberal Party in the late 19th century.

we always think we should be out in front. We have done that on a huge number of things. It fits our national ethos.

It's probably not something for our comments section, given its limited capabilities, or this thread, but perhaps you'd like to send a guest post to The Vet where you can list these "huge number of things".

ACC - which nobody else has copied?

Or our "Nuclear Free" nonsense! Sure, I bought into all that too, back in the day: I thrilled to see Lange up there on that Oxford stage sticking it to Reagan's evil represenative, Reverend Falwell.

But in hindsight it was just puffery. What really reduced nuclear weapon numbers in the world were pragmatic, tough treaties between the USA and USSR - and what ended their threat was the collapse of the USSR. All that fluff about us being an example to the world was a joke, as evidenced by that fact that our allies regularly accept nuclear ship visits to this day and ignore the tiny fringe of protestors who still think it's a thing.

But National would not touch it with a barge poll.

And to be fair that's been National from it's beginnings in the 1930's: you exist purely to keep Labour out of power - while accepting and "competently managing" all the stuff they put in place - and that of course includes the Rogernomics reforms of the 1980's. National would have loved to have done it but never had the courage to do so: they just rode the Labour wave.

But I do get the pragmatism. It's the reason National have accumulated so many more years in government than Labour since WWII. And I also get the fact that the only response that National supporters like you will ever accept is when you lose a couple of hundred thousand farmers votes to another party, which is unlikely. Like the Labour voters of South Auckland they'll vote tribally even when it screws them over.

As long as you think you have those numbers and tribal loyalty - and you're probably right to think that - you'll keep playing this game.

Tom Hunter said...

One more thing Wayne.

Any comment on my specific concerns about cost vs income impacts or predictions about small farms being subsumed into big units as a result of all this?

From the viewpoint of the nation I've no doubt that most would not see or care about the impact: more or equal amounts of food produced, revenues continue, tax is paid, so who cares.

Schools closed because of a steady drop in numbers because the imported workers don't have families? Loss of communities due to population loss as the productivity drive of big farms reduces the numbers needed, and so forth. The destruction of an entire culture and an entire way of life?

I think the overall economics of food production push that way anyhow, so perhaps all this is only one more ratchet. But it's still sad to see.

As Michael Corleone once said:

it's not personal Sonny, it's strictly business.

Prince said...

I can understand why National may not commit right now to rejecting NZF - if the polls suggest a Lab/Green coalition next year, and National has rejected NZF, some Nat voters may switch to NZF to 'keep Lab/Green honest' (as if NZF and 'honest' belong in the same sentence).
However, I believe the best National could do in those circumstances is neuter NZF altogether by refusing to work with them. NZF then lose any negotiating strength and Labour/Greens will govern alone for three years before being turfed out.

Anonymous said...

Wayne . New Zealanders don't like being leaders so much as our politicians like preening in front of the world , at our cost.

EH of D

Adolf Fiinkensein said...

I think many commenters are missing the point. National almost certainly would do a deal with New Zealand First but not with Winston Peters.

Having said that, even when he's dead you could still never quite be sure he was not calling the shots.

pdm said...

`Having said that, even when he's dead you could still never quite be sure he was not calling the shots.'

Adolf based on the lot he has had in Parliament with him over the years - most would not have a clue what to do if Winston wasn't there telling/controlling them. And of course anyone who steps away from the Peters rules is dead meat pretty quickly.

The Veteran said...

The game played by Winston was dumb politics. It just screwed completely any wavering support they might have enjoyed in rural New Zealand. Bequeathing National a bat to hit them over the head with. Dumb, dumb politics.