Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


Home grown terrorism threat?

It was revealed today that a threat has been made to contaminate infant formula and other milk products if the government doesn’t stop using 1080 poison for pest control by the end of March.

Blackmail threats were made by anonymous anti-1080 campaigners late last year and small packets of milk powder, contaminated with 1080, were sent to both Federated Farmers and Fonterra in November last year.

Prime Minister John Key says the Government will not negotiate with “eco-terrorists”. However the police deputy commissioner of national operations refuses to call it a terrorist act, saying police had been treating it solely as an act of criminal blackmail.

In some ways the threat couldn’t come at a better time for the government as the Prime Minister wants to pass controversial anti-terrorism legislation that will allow our spy agencies to legally spy on NZ residents – something they have been caught doing illegally over recent years. With an upcoming by-election which is no longer a certainty for the government, could this be the event that persuades voters to give up some of their freedom in order to defeat terror? I hope not, but it looks like John Key is going to milk the threat for all it’s worth.

Why is 1080 used?

1080 (Sodium Fluoroacetate) was first approved for use in New Zealand in the mid 1960s to control introduced pests such as possums, rats, mice, stoats and rabbits. These creatures are decimating our native fauna and flora. The poison is spread from the air in pellet form at the rate of about 2 Kg per hectare (about 2.5 lb per acre).

Until the start of human settlement in New Zealand around a thousand years ago, these islands were devoid of land mammals. Birds occupied all the niches occupied by mammals in other parts of the world – with one exception. The niche taken up elsewhere by small carnivores such as cats, stoats and weasels, remained empty in NZ. This lack of danger resulted in a bird population with very low reproductive rates and many became ground dwellers or lost the ability to fly.

When the Europeans arrived here a little over 200 years ago, they brought with them the pests that are now the target of the 1080 poison. NZ has one of the highest extinction rates in the world for animal species. and that’s likely to continue until the pests are eliminated. Possums also carry bovine tuberculosis, which is a threat to our dairy industry.

Currently 1080 is the most effective tool available to make a significant effect in reducing pest numbers. In 2013, 1080 was dropped over 448,210 hectares (1730 square miles), and last year aerial drops covered  550,000 hectares (2124 square miles)

Why is 1080 controversial?

The poison is highly toxic to all mammals including deer and dogs. The hunting community is against its use for this reason.

Some communities have concerns over aerial 1080 drops near waterways. They are afraid that they or their animals may be poisoned.

However a report by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment evaluating the use of 1080 was published in 2011 and concluded that not only should the use of 1080 continue to protect New Zealand forests – but it should be used more often. She also noted:

“It is seldom that I come to such a strong conclusion at the end of an investigation. But the possums, rats and stoats that have invaded our country will not leave of their own accord.”

“The clean green brand that New Zealand identifies with is at risk unless more is done to protect native animals and forests.”

There is one record of a hunter dying in the 1960s after eating a 1080-laced jam bait (which was later banned). An adult would have to eat about seven cereal baits to be lethal, although one bait could seriously harm a child.

1080 residues have never been recorded in public water drinking supplies and no human deaths from drinking affected water or food have been recorded. The Ministry of Health sets a drinking water standard of two parts of 1080 per billion parts of water, which has never been breached. At that level, a 60 kg (132 lb) adult would need to drink about 60,000 litres (15,850 gallons) of water in one sitting to consume a fatal dose. The highest record of 1080 in water was nine parts per billion.

To consume a fatal dose from an animal that had died from 1080, an adult would need to eat at least 37kg (81 lb) of meat from that animal. The New Zealand Food Safety Authority has not detected 1080 in any commercially-produced foods since testing began in 1999.

However, some people are so concerned by the possible dangers of 1080, that they formed the Ban 1080 Party which stood in the 2014 general election. They received 5,113 party votes (0.21 per cent of the total vote).

Personally, I’m happy for the 1080 drops to continue until the last of the vermin is dispatched. As for the blackmailer/terrorist, if they attempt to carry out the threat and put innocent children at risk, they’ll be no better than the likes of the barbaric murderous ISIS.



So, New Zealand has a seat at the Security Council

Why aren’t I thrilled that our little country has been elected to a two year stint as a member of the highest chamber of the United Nations? Because our membership will have absolutely no effect on the outcome of the decisions made by that body.

I can give you five reasons why our membership will be ineffective.
* United States of America
* United Kingdom
* France
* Russia
* China

As long as the five permanent members of the Security Council have the power of veto, the security council will always be hamstrung by the self interests of the five. It is time that both the power of veto and permanent membership be reviewed.


The abuse of power?

Our democratic system has been evolving for over 150 years and is likely to continue to change, albeit at a slower rate than in the past. We are one of a handful countries that don’t have a formal written constitution (Israel and the United Kingdom are others that spring to mind) and a Unicameral legislature (parliament). Members of the executive are selected from members of Parliament. Parliament has absolute sovereignty, and there is no institution that can override its decisions.

Parliament has entrenched some legislation relating to elections, which requires either 75% support in Parliament or a simple majority in a referendum. However the entrenchment act itself is not entrenched, so in reality a simple parliamentary majority is all that is required to change the general elections from once every three years to once every 1000 years. Legally there is nothing you or I could do about it.

Our democratic system is open to abuse due to its lack of checks and balances. So it begs the question why do we enjoy the highest levels of freedom in the world? I’m afraid I can’t answer that with any certainty, but I see a number of trends that put our democratic process at risk.

Loss of egalitarianism: Until the introduction of Rogernomics in the mid 1980’s we were one of the most egalitarian nations on earth. Poverty was almost unknown, and where it did exist, it was largely due to lifestyle choices of a family’s primary income earner. The wealthiest 1% of the population held a relatively small proportion of the nation’s wealth compared to today’s top 1%. By and large, members of Parliament not only represented their electorate, they were also representative of their electorate.

Charting the bell curve of the population as a whole and members of parliament would have resulted in very similar charts. Today it’s quite different. The chart for the population as a whole shows a flattening of the curve. The tails at either end of the curve have extended and the highest bulge in the graph has moved noticeably towards the poorer end of the chart. We now have the dubious reputation of having the fastest growing disparity between rich and poor in the OECD.

While we do have some members of parliament from poorer backgrounds there is an increasing number of millionaires and multimillionaires present. The bulge in the bell curve of the wealth of parliamentarians has been moving in the opposite direction to that of the general population.

Our parliamentary representatives are becoming less representative of us. Issues that are important to lower income groups have become less relevant to them as they have become more isolated from those they represent. This is apparent in the attitude the National Party has with its fund raising dinners.

For anyone who is not familiar with the controversy, dinner guests get the right to have a private conversation with a government minister by making a suitable “donation” – typically between five and ten thousand dollars. While this may not actually result in the buying of a minister’s support, the public and no doubt the wealthy (and often foreign) business people see it differently. At least one minister has admitted that his thinking on a topic has “shifted” after such private discussions, although he claims he wasn’t “influenced” by them. Yeah right!

What these ministers can’t or don’t want to see is that not only must government be free of corruption, it must be seen to be free of it.  They are walking a very slippery slope with this practice.

This post was going to be about the misuse of Parliamentary urgency to pass non-urgent legislation, but once started, took on a life of its own. The issue I have with the use of urgency it that it bypasses the Select Committee phase of the process where members of the public have the right to present written or spoken arguments for or against the bill – A very important part of our democratic process. This will be a rant for another day.