Monday, April 16, 2012

Why not just 'dig' our way to prosperity?

We have often heard our illustrious neighbour Australia called the ‘Lucky Country.’ Indeed, I must say that for the most part, I believe that to be true. They are blessed with a wide range of climatic conditions, meaning that they can grow nearly all of their ‘food’ needs and they have vast mineral resources on which to base strong manufacturing and exporting sectors.
It is not uncommon to hear---if the economy is faltering, then dig something out of the ground. I must say that is a bit of an exaggeration, given that when Australia’s economy is slowing, it probably has something to do with the main recipient of the big hole, namely China. Nevertheless, there is a clarion call from many sectors within New Zealand that we should do the same. If it was that easy and if the real costs of such a move were minimal, then perhaps the discussion should be held.
The vision of overflowing Government accounts fills politicians with glee as they see a way of promising almost anything to the electorate. Imagine schools funded at higher levels, and hospitals providing a no-wait policy for almost any condition. I don’t see that actually happening in Australia to the level that would be diggers propose would be our future.
Let’s pretend for a moment that we embark on an opening of public land and National Parks to the would-be prospectors. Do we have the vast wealth as claimed by the proponents of careful, environmentally safe extraction methods? That’s a mouthful in itself and one that is very hard to believe. One doesn’t have to look far to see that such claims are fraught with danger.
There is quite a list of mineral wealth, some in huge amounts, namely various types of coal. There are also claims that NZ has huge oil and gas reserves, both onshore and in the deep ocean. One only has to read the news and watch TV to know what can go horribly wrong during extraction and with the vagaries of the weather. Imagine the damage and danger potential of mining in the sub-Antarctic or the depths of the Pacific and storm-ridden Tasman.
There are a few questions around the economic dependency issue crying out for answers too. Do we want to further increase our dependency on China? --- because that is where the majority of our mineral and oil resources will head. We have been through a similar scenario before.
Think back to the days when New Zealand was dependant on Europe (read Britain) to take our agricultural products. When those markets were gradually cut off by Britain’s’ joining the EU, we had to find new markets--- quickly. We have been quite successful over the years in achieving something like ‘less-dependency ‘ on that old market and while it is still important, that time should serve as a reminder of what can happen.
Whichever way we decide to go in the near future, we have to weigh up the advantages and disadvantages and the debate needs to be open and wide. We are going to have the Greens with their message of ‘environmental purity’ on one side, and  the interest groups (with their mouthpieces, National and Act--- if it is still a functioning party) representing unfettered access to the imaginary and proven resources. Somewhere in the middle will be the other parties (Labour, NZ First etc.) struggling to come to terms with the debate. On one hand they want the ‘big spend’ on their favourite projects, but they may also have some sort of conscience re the environment.
We the great public will have to keep ourselves informed and find a way of sorting through the minefield of information bombarding us from all sides.  My plea is that we think of the future and what we really want as opposed to what we really need. It comes down to something as basic as that and our personal beliefs. Remember, once it has gone, we can’t get it back.