Huge gulf divides All Black captains

RACHEL STEWART
Last updated 07:23 20/08/2012

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What do Richie McCaw and Anton Oliver have in common besides the All Black captaincy and being South Islanders by birth? It turns out not very much but we'll get to that in a moment.

First, let's talk water. It is a subject on the lips of many. Every New Zealander has a huge stake in it whether it relates to ownership, availability or quality. We're all learning it's something that can no longer be taken for granted. The pressures on water have become too large and unrelenting, and involve industry trying to extract financial gain from it one way or another. The fight is definitely on.

The team in white is the dairy industry, aka prime polluter number one. “Dirty dairying” are now household words and its implications are evidenced in declining water quality.

Yet cow numbers march incessantly on.

The team in green are the various environmental groups and, for this particular match, are led by Fish & Game. The very organisation that coined the term “dirty dairying” has made more headway on water issues than any other “green” group in the land - a happy byproduct of looking after their hunting and fishing stakeholders well.

Last week Fish & Game spearheaded a new campaign highlighting awareness of water conservation orders which, despite having been in existence for some time, are not generally well understood. Essentially, they give specific waterways the highest level of protection available.

There are 15 water bodies protected in New Zealand. Fish & Game instigated 12 of those which their members paid for through their hunting and angling licence fees.

Recently, Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Jan Wright also called for broader protection of wild and scenic rivers.

It is yet to be seen whether the Government will act on her recommendation.

New Zealand needs more than 15 protected waterways and not least because water orders bring with them defined limits on water extraction. This means any companies pursuing more water than the limits allow for know the parameters before embarking down the litigation track. Data suggests that setting limits on all waterways would most certainly reduce the legal wrangling polluters and users will be willing to engage in.

From the outset they clearly see the financial risks versus the benefits of doing so.

A public awareness push is imperative because attempts are already under way by the extractive industries to undermine the status of water orders. Given our current Government's track record on matters economic and democratic, this has to be treated as a real threat.

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Unconvinced? Think Environment Canterbury's councillor sackings due, according to Nick Smith, to their “water management style”. The asset sales programme, and its associated water resources, is another example of essentially selling the car without the ownership papers.

Water is fast becoming the new oil.

Fish & Game's campaign to emphasise water orders is fronted by ex-All Black Anton Oliver.

He has a masters degree in environmental policy from Oxford University and has been an assertive critic of what he sees as mismanagement of New Zealand's fresh water.

“Living in the UK I see the promotions aimed at luring tourists to New Zealand - the land of crystal-clear waterways.

"In my opinion there is a large and growing discrepancy between the marketing ‘clean green' rhetoric and the reality of what's actually happening on the ground.

“My concern is that we are fooling ourselves if we think New Zealand's natural world is pristine and untouched - it's a concept that is difficult for us to accept because it challenges a part of our national identity."

He's right of course. Kiwis seem to have difficulty grasping the fact that not all is well in our rivers, lakes and streams.

Tellingly, while Oliver is putting his beliefs into action as a water conservation order ambassador, the current All Black captain is fronting as Fonterra's ambassador. New Zealand's largest company is using him during the next three years to “build pride” among Kiwis in the Fonterra brand. Marketing experts estimate he is earning a fee of about $300,000 a year. In other words, McCaw is lending - sorry, selling - his over-exposed face to this country's largest industry extractor and polluter of freshwater. It is nothing more than unthinking, opportunistic and greedy.

Oliver is doing the opposite. He is consciously, purposefully and altruistically speaking out about water quality degradation by putting his money where his mouth is.

And therein lies the difference between these two men, and also between those who revere the economy like a god and others calling for more principled handling of our natural resources. Some things - and clean, fresh water is one of them - are bigger than the bucks.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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