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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume. 34, Number 12. June 16, 1971


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The Evening Post has labelled the Manapouri Select Committee's Report on the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society's petition "a big victory". The President of the Save Manapouri Campaign has heralded it as "a triumph". Yet, the three "riders" attached to the recommendations that the petition receive "favourable" consideration are so fundamental that the quarter of a million Romans who hoped to see the Minister of Works walking penitent and manacled behind the triumphal chariot are going to be badly disappointed. It might, however, not be back quite as far as the Leader of the Opposition suggested, that is to say to square one. The Select Committee recommended:
(a)that the Mararoa dam be constructed so as to ensure that the lake is not raised at this stage.
(b)that the dam be constructed with a foundation wide enough to take a higher structure if raising the lake-level is found necessary in the future.
(c)that any decisions in the future to raise the lake have the authority of Parliament.

On the face of the report the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society should feel not only disappointed, but cheated. It petitioned Parliament for a conclusive determination of the issue, i.e. that it not permit the waters of the lake to be raised. The "riders" however, are so fundamentally at odds with the recommendations of "favourable" considerations that the select committee has in fact facilitated the very opposite of what the Society sought. When the tens of thousands of dollars donated by the public to the Society and the Save Manapouri Campaign are added to the vast sums the Government has invested in the Cabinet Committee, the Commission of Enquiry, and the Select-Committee the magnitude of the resources devoted to merely investigative and adjudicatory process become apparent - six figures probably being a conservative estimate.

Every fact, every viewpoint, every possible hypothesis has been brought to bear on the issue. The only thing found wanting has been political fortitude - but it has never been a party to the controversy since money could never persuade it to come along. After ten years the public is entitled to a little better than this.

Nobody could realistically expect the Government to come out the door like Bad-Legs Diamond, with its hands up, crying out "don't shoot G-men." Governments just don't do this. They will always manage to put a gloss on the surrender to make it look like an honourable compromise. In this light, then, it is possible to regard the ecommendation of "favourable" consideration as the substantial finding, and the riders as the face-saving part of the formula. After all, everyone knows that with growing conservation awareness the public opinion climate for a decision to raise the lake will become increasingly negative as time goes on. Given that the Government knows this, the wide foundation routine becomes far less of a catch. The question is, does the Government in fact appreciate that the public wants to see the better aspects of New Zealand life preserved and is prepared to put its money where a quarter of a million-strong section of it put its mouths.

Alas, the debate on Wednesday afternoon following the tabling of the report confirmed the suspicion that the fourty-four tired men on the right-hand side of the chamber have stood still in their thinking while New Zealand has been marching on. First we had the Chairman of the Committee, the Hon A.E. Allan, with a series of Parliamentary gems that will be remembered more for their originality than their relevance. Raising the lake, the country was told, would enable elderly tourists to step right off the boat into the top section of the stockyard love walk. He could have added that they would also be able to climb to the top of 27 foot trees without having to actually climb them. (Tarzan was originally a fish). Then there was a repetition of his colleague's libel about the part played by school-children in swelling the numbers of the petitioners, only this time it was made behind the secure barriers of Parliamentary privilege. Mr Allen rounded off with an attack on the perspective of some of the country's most eminent natural scientists who represented submissions that the Commission of Enquiry went out of its way to praise for their objectivity.

Photo of a lake

He was later joined by the Hon E.S.F. Holland who, while recognising the need for safeguarding the environment, could not quite see what all the fuss was about.

The real bombshell, however, came from a certain Minister of Works who had better remain nameless, who, after repeating the time-honoured piece about the 'binding' agreement, made it clear that he would recommend that the full arrangement in the current agreement be maintained.

"The final decision on the height of the dam will depend on the relative economies of producing extra energy and firm continuous power balanced against the increased cost of the dam and of clearing the shoreline." What of the agreement? Informed opinion is that the requirements of the smelter (now operating) can be met without raising the lake. If, however, we accept for the moment that the Comalco contract requires the lake to be raised, then if Comalco is not willing to cooperate in renegotiating the agreement to the extent necessary to avoid interfering with the lake level, the Government must contemplate unilaterally abrogating the agreement to that extent and foot the bill. The thesis that follows from this is that such a move would undermine New Zealand's image of integrity in its international dealings. That would be true if the public had known all along about the full implications of the agreement, but the fact is that for six years the people have been fed a diet of placatory assurances that "no decision has yet been made." These assurances when contrasted with the existence of the alleged obligation give rise to three possibilities;
(i)the Government was so badly advised by its civil servants that it did not know the full extent of the obligations it was committed to;
(ii)the Government knew what the position was but was all the time contemplating renegotiation or abrogation of the contract.
(iii)the Government knew what its obligations were but deliberately misrepresented the position to the public in order to avoid stirring p the hornet's nest which did in fact come when the truth was made known at a meeting in Invercargill late in 1969. If anyone's integrity is at stake it is that of the people who signed on the dotted line, not those in whose name it was done.

People should thus be aware that the agreement is being used as an excuse to justify adhering to a scheme that a number of politicians have become personally committed to.

Wednesday's debate demonstrated clearly that these politicians are just as committed as ever and that their basic attitude has not altered.

The proceedings and report of the Select Committee do, however, leave room for real optimism. This arises from a fairly subtle twist that a proper interpretation must give the report. The remarks made during the debate show clearly that the real attitude of the committee is to be found in the riders and not in the head recommendations. In that sense the latter is ancillary and subordinate to the former. The only thing that could have prompted the committee to include the ecommendation of favourable consideration would have been fear of the enormous weight of public opinion behind the petition. We have to accept that the sound reasons behind the public desire to save Manapouri will never find a place in the imaginations of the committee. What is important is the simple fact that the public does desire to leave Manapouri unspoiled and no amount of scepticism in politician's minds as to the validity of the reasons for this desire will detract from its actuality and the dire reality of the ballot box. It is a natural human reaction to discontent, belittle, and laugh at what is feared. Hence the insulting emphasis by Government speakers in Wednesday's debate on he peripheral and irrelevant aspects of the great issue raised by the petition, namely whether the public's expression of its sense of values is going to be given effect to.

The present writer would hardly presume to attribute the whole of the eighteen percent swing agains: the Government at Marlborough to the Manapouri debate, but it is unquestionable that it had a good deal to do with it. The Committee's "sop" to public opinion, in the form of the head recommendation, shows that the fear of a nation-wide repetition of the Marlborough debacle is very much alive in the Government's mind. There are a number of other reasons too, for not being too pessimistic.

1.As far as determination to actually see Manapouri raised is concerned as the Minister of Works will fully realise that of all the members of the Cabinet he is the furthest out on the limb. As soon as the electorate starts to growl, the rest will eagerly climb back to cling to the trunk rather than let one man topple them off.
2.An election is only eighteen months away. Leaving Manapouri in the balance is an open invitation to the Opposition to take it up for all its is worth. One can only regret, however, that Mr Kirk did not instruct the Labour members of the Select Committee to dissent. As Mr TAlalboys was astute to point out, the Opposition is for the time being, at least, carralled by the Select Committee's unanimous decision.
3.If what the Government is up to is merely saving a trump card until a little nearer to November 1972 when it will suddenly reveal a definite commitment to saving the lake, then, of course, there is little need to fear.

Tactics for the future;

Naturally, the Save Manapouri Campaign, will remain in action to work alongside the new national federation of Conservation groups now in the process of being formed. Every means will thus continue to be employed to keep public opposition the key factor for when Armageddon finally draws near, that is if it is not beaten to the gun by the Revolution. Judging by the despair that the sheer triviality the Parliamentary debate has engendered about the place the latter is not such a remote possibility.

One need only conclude by saying the Revolution would not be entirely unwelcome.