Selling our future for $75 each

2 Dec

By Matt McCarten

Reprinted from the Herald on Sunday December 1, 2013

Only a scriptwriter for a Hollywood blockbuster film about a Texas multi-national scouring the world to extract wealth from other people’s communities would come up with the name Anadarko.

When the topic of Anadarko’s deep-sea drilling in our waters came up on last Sunday’s Q + A on TVNZ, host Susan Wood quipped “I do want to get us back to the money here, because that is the real issue.” She is right. It is about money.

The companies that extract oil in New Zealand are almost entirely foreign owned.

Despite their claims that they are “only” keeping 58 per cent of their profits, a report funded by the Government estimates the share of profits sent overseas for any future oil finds will reach 90 per cent.

Our government’s current take (royalties plus taxes) is the fourth lowest in the world.

Even the Texas good old boys must feel guilty about taking advantage of our naivety.

The Government and the oil corporations frame the debate around job creation and economic benefits.

Most of us get bamboozled by corporate cheerleaders and their spin doctors. It is deliberate. Any opposition is sneeringly written off as fringe loonies. But we do have to enter the debate, even if it is a dishonest game of jobs versus environment.

There are fewer than 5000 jobs in oil, gas and coal mining. Dirty energy acolytes claim that if we let them have their way they could double the numbers.

Compare that with the 111,000 jobs in tourism that rely on our clean, green image. In manufacturing, we employ 190,000.

In the present Government’s term, 40,000 of these jobs disappeared without John Key lifting a finger. Is it really about jobs?

Half of all New Zealand jobs and 70 per cent of our export revenue are directly linked to our clean, green reputation. Deep-sea oil drilling interests claim our Government could receive $300 million from it. That’s $75 per New Zealander. We trade away our best marketing brand for that?

The future of this country is in clean energy. PricewaterhouseCoopers says future jobs will be in clean technologies and could be worth $22 billion a year. Investment New Zealand estimates we can create a $150b high-value, low-carbon export economy in 12 years.

Then there’s the small matter of climate stability we rely on. If more than a fifth of the current discovered fossil fuels is burned, the earth’s heating will increase by more than two degrees.

That’s the irreversible tipping point for climate change. It beggars belief that we are enthusiastically pursuing an agenda that will result in crippling droughts and storms that will destroy our economy.

Long-term destruction of our agricultural nation is being traded for short-term gains for a few oil barons. There is a lunatic fringe. But it’s not us.

(Matt McCarten is National Secretary of Unite Union. His weekly Herald on Sunday column are a commentary on social and political issues in New Zealand. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Unite Union.)

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