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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Exxon can appeal $2.5bn oil fine

Alt Tv/Fleet FM Breakfast News Comment
Exxon can appeal $2.5bn oil fine
Exxon Mobil has won the right to appeal against a $2.5bn (£1.21bn) damages bill relating to a 1989 Alaskan oil spill. The US Supreme Court said it would hear the appeal against record damages due to victims of the Valdez oil spill. The case has dragged on since 1994 with the US oil giant fighting to reduce the bill, which it has called excessive. In what was one of the biggest ever oil spills, 11 million gallons of crude were released into Alaska's wilderness after the Exxon tanker hit a reef. About 1,300 miles (2,080km) of coastline was contaminated as a result of the oil spill. The Captain was drinking Vodka before the crash, Exxon claim they can’t be held responsible for a drunk captain who crashes their ship, and that they have done ‘enough’. Activists and critics of Exxon point out that the $2.5 billion represents 3 weeks worth of profit for the mega oil company.


At 30/10/07 11:19 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...





At 30/10/07 3:00 pm, Anonymous last one mate thanks said...

In R. Miller (ed.), New Zealand Government and Politics, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 2nd edition, 2001, pp. 3-13.



Bruce Jesson

For nearly 22 years, between 1974 and 1995, I published a magazine called The Republican, whose defining idea was New Zealand nationalism. It stood for an independent New Zealand. Twenty-two years is quite a long time, and during that period some profound changes occurred in New Zealand. In 1974, New Zealand was in some respects a self-contained economy - with a barrier of exchange and import controls, and tariffs - but was also heavily dependent on Britain for investment and trade. New Zealand was also suffused with British culture; hence my republicanism. Colonial attitudes were still very strong in New Zealand, with critics of republicanism arguing that we could not break with Britain because that was our main market. The governments of the period spent most of their diplomatic energy trying to salvage what they could of the British market following Britain's entry into the European Economic Community. Although the third Labour government took some interest in New Zealand's national identity, it was a very tentative interest.

By 1995, New Zealand had been transformed. The economy was no longer self-contained, far from it, but had been through ‘Rogernomics’ and was open to the global marketplace. Nor was New Zealand dependent any longer on Britain for trade and investment. New Zealand was still a dependent economy, but we had spread the dependence as it were and relied on quite a wide range of countries for trade and investment. Culturally, however, the British imprint remained very strong, inhibiting the growth of republican sentiment. When a former Prime Minister, Jim Bolger, raised republicanism as an issue, he was quickly slapped into line by his own party.

Nationalism is as marginal at the beginning of the new century as it was in the 1970s. True, there is the occasional manifestation of nationalism, for instance in the rhetoric of Winston Peters and New Zealand First before the 1996 election. There is also some hint of nationalism in the Alliance's policies of economic sovereignty. And even Helen Clark has spoken recently about the need for a nation-building exercise.

Generally, however, there is little recognition in New Zealand of the concept of a New Zealand nation. If it is mentioned at all, it is disparaged. Liberals reject nationalism as being akin to racism and fascism - which is how the media depicted Peters' election campaign in 1996. The cultural-cringe, dependency approach is still commonly heard: we cannot afford to adopt policies that might antagonise investors overseas because we depend on them for trade and investment. This cultural-cringe approach is linked with an argument about globalisation. We now live in a satellite and hi-tech global economy, this argument goes, which has rendered national barriers redundant. National governments no longer determine the course of particular economies. That power lies with global capital. Mike Moore, a former Prime Minister and now the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation, is a particularly strenuous advocate of this line of reasoning.

Actually, there is nothing new about the globalisation argument. I used to hear it frequently in the 1960s and 1970s, in arguments about nationalism, except that it came from the Left, especially from Trotskyists. Nationalism was rejected as 'bourgeois'. Socialism was defined as international, and the proletariat was seen as an international class. The authority for this came from Marx and Engels, especially from this passage in the Communist Manifesto:

The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world-market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. To the great chagrin of reactionaries, it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood. All old-established industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction becomes a life and death question for all civilised nations, by industries that no longer work up indigenous raw material, but raw material drawn from the remotest zones; industries whose products are consumed, not only at home, but in every quarter of the globe...

Although Marx and Engels wrote that in 1848, it could have appeared in some business magazine today. There was a fair bit of truth in what they wrote. In the nineteenth century, the world was without borders. The orthodoxy was free trade, and people and products moved freely around the globe. But Marx and Engels oversimplified matters, because the nineteenth century was also a time when nations were created and national movements flourished. Capitalism was never simply the global system portrayed by Marx and Engels, but was national too. Indeed, ironically enough, Marxism was to become the state ideology of some virulently nationalistic regimes, especially in Asia.

There has never been an either/or choice between the global economy and the nation state. The global economy requires national political structures, if only to provide a system of law and authority and basic economic and social infrastructures. The global economy and the nation state depend on each other, although their respective roles vary from time to time. A relatively open world economy existed before the First World War, but was replaced by a segmented one in the 1930s and 1940s. It was still a world economy, but barriers had arisen between nations, and the balance had shifted toward the nation state. Now the balance has shifted back towards an open world economy. This does not obliterate the nation but just changes its role. Defining that role is one of the major issues of our time.

Many businessmen and politicians tend to act, however, as though the nation has in fact been obliterated, and this in itself has become a tangible problem. George Soros, the financial speculator with a penchant for political philosophy, has defined the problem quite succinctly in his book The Crisis of Global Capitalism. A global economy now exists, he says, but not a global society. Consequently, the global economy has become uncontrollable and is the cause of such social evils as the undermining of the welfare state.

Soros links global capitalism with the rise of the New Right. And he identifies the New Right as the enemy of the open society because of its belief in the infallible market and its totalitarian sense of absolute certainty. New Zealand could be considered a prime example of what Soros is writing about - a society that is visibly disintegrating under the impact of global forces - although Soros does not appear to be aware of New Zealand. His examples are the obvious victims of global financial disorder: East Asia, Russia and Brazil.

New Zealand's plight obviously does not compare with the barbarism that has engulfed Russia, but it is serious enough. We are a country with a national debt of $100 billion, equivalent to our GDP. A country with a perpetual current account deficit: every year we spend more overseas than we earn. A country whose major economic enterprises are owned offshore. New Zealand was once among the most stable and prosperous of countries, but for a quarter of a century or more has been going through a process of economic decline.

New Zealand's experience illustrates the perils of opening an economy to the speculative forces of global finance. Enormous damage was done to the productive economy in the period when Roger Douglas was finance minister, as a speculative flood of offshore finance fuelled the sharemarket boom and crash. The productive economy has never recovered from that experience. Again, in the mid-1990s, speculative forces took control of the New Zealand dollar, forcing the exchange rate to a level that priced New Zealand exports out of global markets. The result was a current account deficit of more than 7 per cent.

New Zealand's experience also demonstrates that national considerations are still extremely important in the global economy. Different countries are affected by global forces in different ways. New Zealand, which has been more open than most countries to the global economy, has fared worse than most developed economies. Certainly, we have fared worse than Australia, which has been largely untouched by the Asian troubles, whereas we slipped into recession. The moral appears to be that it is a mistake for a country to completely open itself to the turmoil of the global marketplace. It is still better to control the economic process in some way.

Since 1984, New Zealand governments have believed the opposite and have argued that the opening of the economy to the global marketplace has been an inexorable and inevitable process. It has not been true. What has occurred in this country has been largely a matter of choice. And some of it has been actually quite extreme, for instance the extent of the deregulation of the finance markets. Instead of attempting to redefine the relationship between the global and the national, New Zealand governments have allowed the balance to tip totally to the global.

New Zealand has moved so far along the road of simplistic laissez-faire certainty that there is no choice but to turn part of the way back. And the corollary of this is that there is a need for a certain degree of nationalism, because turning part of the way back will mean recognising that New Zealand has interests that are unique to it as a nation. It will require a greater degree of democracy too, because there will need to be a national discussion as to what those interests are.

This lack of balance is a cause of New Zealand's economic decline. There is a growing recognition, even from within the business community, of a need to reassert the role of the nation and the state. There is a contradictory element here. One of the policies commonly advocated is incentives for foreign investment, which is just another version of the cultural-cringe approach to politics. Nevertheless, it is increasingly being acknowledged that New Zealand has moved so far along the road of simplistic laissez-faire certainty that there is no choice but to turn part of the way back. And the corollary of this is that there is a need for a certain degree of nationalism, because turning part of the way back will mean recognising that New Zealand has interests that are unique to it as a nation. It will require a greater degree of democracy too, because there will need to be a national discussion as to what those interests are.

In short, there is a dire need for a democratic nationalist project in New Zealand. Logically, a Labour-Alliance government should be the vehicle for such a democratic nationalist project, but it would face a disabling difficulty. There would not be a sufficient body of support. The problem is partly that New Zealand lacks a proper public sphere. The media has been commercialised and corrupted to such an extent that it does not provide a forum for public discussion. But even if it did, there remains the problem of New Zealand's colonial background.

Colonialism and national identity
New Zealand’s colonial background is one of the defining features of this country, yet it is the subject of an embarrassed silence. The economic, political and social patterns that were established in the mid-nineteenth century are still pervasive, but their history and their continuing influence are not acknowledged. And although we tend to divide New Zealand history into pre-1984 and post-1984, this is misleading because there are strong elements of continuity linking the two periods.

Take the structure of the economy. One of its weaknesses, most economists agree, is its dependence on commodities -that is, dairy products, meat, wool, timber, fish, etcetera. Lately, there has been a substantial decline in commodity prices. There is nothing new about this situation, however. New Zealand was always at the mercy of fluctuating commodity prices when it depended on the British market.

Similarly, our sense of national identity is much the same now as it was in the 1960s and 1970s. New Zealanders did not believe we had a future as an independent nation then; and they do not believe we have a future as an independent nation now. This lack of a national identity might be called a defining absence. That is, our political affairs have been dominated by something that is not there.

Take the Rogernomics period as an example. One of the most frequently asked questions about that period is: how was the economy transformed so rapidly and with so little resistance? And part of the answer at least is that New Zealanders had insufficient national identity to resist the opening of the economy to the global marketplace. I frequently made the point at the time, in my Metro magazine columns, that the government was establishing an independent role in foreign affairs while destroying any autonomy that the economy may have had. This should have been an obvious focus for debate, especially for members of the Labour party, but it was scarcely raised.

I was not surprised by this, having campaigned for republicanism for nearly twenty years to little effect. Nationalism, I had learned, was a marginal movement, and in this respect New Zealand was an oddity. In most countries, the symbolism of nationalism pervades the rhetoric of the major parties, whereas in New Zealand I found little to draw on. It must be rare for the citizens of a country to argue strenuously against it having an independent role, but here they always have.

The Republican built up to a circulation of about 600, although much of this circulation came from people who appreciated its left-wing philosophy rather than its republicanism. In a sense, The Republican was doubly marginal. It was marginal among New Zealanders because it was a magazine of the Left. Most of its subscribers were congregated in the inner city ghettoes of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. And it was marginal on the Left because of its nationalism. In fact, I used to deride the Left for its colonial attitudes and its obsession with overseas causes. It is a wonder I did not antagonise all my readers.

Most of what I wrote in the 1970s was negative in tone. I attacked the British connection and the British heritage without saying much about what the nationalist alternative would be. I suppose this was partly because I was deprived of the usual ethnic and cultural trappings of nationalism. Usually, nationalism has an ethnic and cultural dimension, whether it be Maori nationalism, Scottish nationalism or Serbian nationalism. Pakeha New Zealanders, in contrast, have used the ethnic argument in favour of colonialism, not nationalism. We are of British stock and British heritage, the RSA generation used to argue - I suppose those who survive still do - and our loyalties are formed by that tradition. New Zealanders of my own age group are of more liberal sensibilities and would not use such a blatantly racial argument, but they are imbued with British culture. Hence it was to be expected that they would lack sufficient national identity to rebuff Rogernomics.

A recent replay of one of Television New Zealand’s ‘The Way We Were’ programmes brought back the mood of the 1960s and 1970s, when thousands of young New Zealanders of my generation departed every year on a pilgrimage in search of their ‘OE’. As the programme’s presenter, Paul Holmes, made clear, because they were searching for their cultural roots, they went to London rather than America. Some returned to New Zealand with a greater awareness of being New Zealanders. Others felt completely out of place in London and Europe, and fled back home. But quite a few preferred it there and stayed.

I used to disparage this quest for OE as a pathetic case of cultural cringe, which was both true and unfair. It was only natural that young New Zealanders would lack a sense of being New Zealanders. Their way of life was English, especially for those who attended private schools and the elite state schools. It would have been possible to pass through the New Zealand education system in the 1950s learning next to nothing of New Zealand history and literature. English history and literature would not have been so easily avoided.

The English consciousness that pervaded New Zealand was a false consciousness. We were colonials, not the real thing. Thus Christchurch, where I grew up, cultivated an English character. The Christchurch middle classes sent their children to private schools and elite state schools, which were even more English in their tone than their curriculum. ‘Jerusalem’ was sung at school assemblies. Girls' schools played hockey; boys' schools rugby. The school structure was hierarchical and authoritarian, with a system of prefects, and at some private schools even fags. Not surprisingly, the Christchurch middle classes were exceedingly English in manners, tastes, accents and sense of humour.

Yet this culture was transplanted, not authentic. There was nothing English about the large, dry, flat paddocks spreading across the plains, nor about the braided rivers sweeping down from the mountains, nor about the casual, No.8-wire culture of the Canterbury farmers and workers. Nor was there anything particularly English about suburban Christchurch, with its bungalows and large sections. Even the Christchurch elite, living in ornate two-story houses in Fendalton, showed some signs of ‘New Zealandness’ in their relatively casual attitudes and lack of pomposity.

The stresses and strains of this situation had caused, as we know, the development of cultural nationalism in New Zealand in the 1930s. New Zealanders of cultural sensibilities had, since the earliest days of colonisation, lamented that the country was a cultural wilderness. Inevitably they made their pilgrimage to England, seeking their cultural roots there, only for some of them to discover that they were not in fact English. The poet, Frank Sargeson, is the celebrated example of someone who felt overwhelmed by the culture of Europe and who took the obvious step of trying to develop a culture from within New Zealand.

Unfortunately, there is a paradox - in fact, a couple of paradoxes - involved in such a project. How do you derive a culture from people who spurn culture? How do you derive something unique from a society based on imitation?

One solution is to cheat and to purloin the Maori culture. The New Zealand sections of our bookshops are crowded with books on Maori topics, many of them by Pakeha authors. Another solution has been to draw on what might be termed 'colonial' themes. 'Colonial' in the sense of country settings with practical people living in a socially barren environment. The danger with this sort of approach is that it could end up glorifying deficiencies such as the know-nothing anti-intellectualism that pervades our society. This was not such a danger with someone like Sargeson, who was a genuine intellectual. But it had become a reality by the time we reached Barry Crump, who gloried in the boozy, misogynist, hard-case culture of the dead-end rural worker. It had also become a reality in the film-making of Geoff Murphy – ‘Goodbye Pork Pie’ - and in the humour of Fred Dagg and Lynn of Tawa.

New Zealand culture has tended to be either limited in this way, or worthy. There is a prissy, conventional quality to New Zealand that renders much of our writing dull. It is about small themes and unexceptional people, and in this it reflects the conventional nature of our society. I have long felt that 'provincial' is the best word to describe New Zealand. We are a separate community if only because of distance, but we lack the vigour of a self-confident nation. There are no big figures walking the national stage, no great conflicts, no stirring debates. No great intelligence is brought to bear on events. It is true that the country went through a total transformation in the 1980s where fundamental issues were at stake. But the issues were presented in a technical economic guise, and this was sufficient to disarm and confuse much of the population. The transformation occurred with most people not realising the fundamental nature of what was happening.

You can see my problem as a New Zealand nationalist. How do you develop a sense of identity among people who lack any originality or confidence in themselves? Do not get me wrong. I am not saying that we are entirely a nation of mediocre and timid conformists. I have known plenty of New Zealanders who have been well-read, intellectually-stimulating, non-conformist, courageous and sometimes eccentric. They have tended to be marginalised, however. There is something about the structure and culture of this country that fosters the mediocre conformist. For instance, the upper levels of the business community are still populated by nondescript folk who depend on belonging to the right networks. School and club are still extremely important.

New Zealand's faults in this regard are displayed most graphically and embarrassingly in the public sphere, in politics and the media. A number of our politicians are in politics because of their own self-importance, rather than for their political beliefs, and are truly awful in their ignorance of political thought and history. The National party used to draw its MPs from small-town big-wigs. Labour drew its MPs from the denizens of the party machine. Too often, parties are choosing pushy personalities with big egos. Occasionally a thoughtful politician does appear, but they are overshadowed by the pushy personalities.

My own direct experience was of local body politics. Vanity and pomposity dominate decision-making more than a rational consideration of the issues. Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the situation is the quality of the media scrutiny. When I was chair of the Auckland Regional Services Trust, newspapers and broadcasters would send journalists to cover our affairs who were too young and inexperienced to understand the issues involved. Invariably, these journalists had no background in finance, whereas we were primarily a financial organisation. Often, they would send different journalists from one meeting to the next. Having educated one novice in the complexities of our affairs, we would then have to educate another. As a result, the affairs of the Trust were usually not covered properly. Or, alternatively, we could feed whatever message we liked into the media, with no critical evaluation of it. Some of the journalists I dealt with were competent and conscientious, but the organisations they worked for were not. The news hierarchies were basically not interested in local body matters, and didn't provide sufficient space or resources.

National politics is taken a bit more seriously, although in the media coverage has the same sorts of faults. People are put in the Parliamentary Press Gallery who have no political background, and therefore no critical faculty. They have no need of it, because they are not supposed to do much more than report what is going on. They are a conduit between the politicians and the readers, and are paid to take the politicians seriously. Accordingly, there is not any more intellectual content in the media than there is in parliament.

Gobalisation and politics
New Zealand is suffering, not benefiting, from the process of globalisation, despite the global fanaticism of recent governments. New Zealand is - both figuratively and literally - closer to the periphery than the center of the global economy. We do not know what our role is within it, what we should be producing, and how we should go about it. Nor do we have any idea of what our interests are, or even that we have separate interests as a nation. Instead, we are dominated by a culture of commercialised individualism. Troubles that originate at the national level, or at the level of society, are displaced to the personal level where they are insoluble. We go from one extreme to the other, from the global - which is too big - to the personal which is too petty, missing the manageable level - the national - which is in between.

The problem may be economic but the solution, to a large extent, is cultural-political. Most people flinch from economics because it tends to be presented as a series of technical problems, to do with matters such as savings and investment. There is beneath this, however, the more fundamental level of goals and values. What do we consider a good life to be? How do we reach agreement about this as a community? How do we go about implementing it? If we could launch a discussion of this sort, we would in the course of it begin developing a national identity. We would, as part of the process, begin talking about the things that are unique to us.

Something like this began to happen in a small way during the term of the third Labour government in the early 1970s, although not on the scale of Gough Whitlam's Labour government in Australia. Hitherto unfashionable ideas were tossed around. Hitherto marginal groups were listened to. New policies were introduced. There was also a noticeable growth in interest in our national identity, especially in the arts, stimulated I think by the general political debate. National’s Robert Muldoon put a stop to much of this, when he got in, with his authoritarian and colonial attitudes.

If it took government activity to sir up a small degree of political awareness and national identity in the early 1970s, it will take government activity to do it again in the new the century. New Zealand society lacks the inner resources to do it spontaneously. New Zealand was a state-created society because of its colonial origins, and has lacked vibrant institutions such as a vigorous press and an independent trade union movement, existing outside the realm of government.

If the public sphere is to be reinvigorated in New Zealand, and if a national identity is to be created, then the initiative will have to come from the government. There are plenty of things such a government could do in the interests of our national identity. It could foster the arts. It could introduce public service television. It could remove the commercial pressures from education, and allow the expansion of its cultural and social roles. The government could launch a national debate about our future as a nation, through an economic and social summit perhaps. Such a government would find, if it drew on a broader range of advice, that the state plays a much greater role in most other economies. And that giving the state a greater economic role would simply be returning New Zealand to some sort of normalcy.

Logically, a reforming government could do all these things, but I cannot imagine a New Zealand government that would have the courage. New Zealanders are a conventional, timid people - quite the opposite of our frontier illusions about ourselves - and this is reflected in our political parties, with the possible exception of ACT. Labour treads a careful path in relation to where it sees the middle ground. And the Alliance treads a careful path in relation to where it sees Labour.

Both Labour and the Alliance see themselves as heirs of the Labour government of Norman Kirk (the Alliance with more justice), and there are some themes of that government that they could usefully pick up, especially the theme of national identity. Kirk was a closet republican. If he and his government had survived, they would have raised issues such as the New Zealand flag in their second term.

Nearly twenty years later, we find that Labour and the Alliance are not brave enough to raise republican issues, although some individual MPs do. Yet New Zealand's identity as a nation - indeed, its very existence - has become a tangible problem, as a result of the destructive impact of global capital. Labour and the Alliance will have to deal with it. And they will find that it is not an issue they can adapt to but one they will have to control - that New Zealand's national identity is not something that can simply be expressed, but something which has to be created.

Discussion Questions
1. What are the main distinguishing features of the New Zealand political culture? Are we likely to break all remaining ties with Britain in the foreseeable future?

2. It has been said that New Zealanders seem ‘more sure of themselves, of their identity, of their national identity, than ever before’. Do you agree?

3. How much importance do New Zealanders place on a distinct national identity?

4. Kelsey has argued that ‘New Zealand’s national identity since the mid-1930s had been constructed around the monocultural, interventionist and centralised welfare state. From 1984 the foundations of that identity were systematically undermined.’ Discuss.


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