New Zealand’s management of its strategic assets: just right or in need of recalibration (and in learning from Canberrra)?

This article has been contributed by CHRISTIAN NOVAK, who has undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in history from the University of Sydney.  He currently works for a Wellington based communications company. 

With the global economy already massively disrupted after two years of a global pandemic and now, high inflation, the Russia-Ukraine conflict demonstrates the need for sovereign governments to protect and manage their strategic assets – in this case, energy supply and the risks associated with them.

Amid soaring fuel prices and cost-of living pressures, the closure of our sole oil refinery at Marsden Point calls into question New Zealand’s approach to energy security. Considering the Government struck a deal with Rio Tinto to keep the Tiwai Point Aluminum Smelter open, it puts the spotlight on the government’s decision not to underwrite the refinery. This is because the smelter is not a ‘lifeline utility,’ as defined under New Zealand’s Civil Defence Emergency Management Act 2002.

Compare our policy on Marsden to Australia, which is subsidising its two oil refineries on both strategic and national security grounds. The question posed, therefore, is: how does our government view security of supply of a strategic resource?

Australia, like New Zealand, faced similar problems with its refineries – scale and distance, therefore cost. Continue reading “New Zealand’s management of its strategic assets: just right or in need of recalibration (and in learning from Canberrra)?”

Seventy academics support motion of no confidence in Royal Society – but others say they are too scared to sign


Seventy notable academics have sent a motion of no-confidence to the Royal Society over its handling of the professors’ letter to the Listener — but some of their colleagues say they are too fearful to sign it. Graham Adams reports.


If anyone ever believed universities are institutions where academics can speak their minds freely and openly, the stoush sparked by the letter that seven University of Auckland professors sent to the Listener last July should have thoroughly disabused them of that notion.

What should have been an uncontroversial statement that mātauranga Māori is “not science” and therefore should not be included in the NCEA science syllabus led to a wave of condemnation and vilification of the professors. And this despite the fact they made it clear that indigenous knowledge was valuable, both “for the preservation and perpetuation of culture and local practices” and in “key roles in management and policy”.

What’s more, prominent Māori scholars such as Professor Sir Mason Durie had already acknowledged that science and indigenous knowledge are incommensurable.

Even the professors’ own Vice-Chancellor, Dawn Freshwater, hung them out to dry with what one British journalist described as a “hand-wringing, cry-bullying email” that referred to the “considerable hurt and dismay” the letter had caused staff, students and alumni.

Three of the professors, Robert Nola, Garth Cooper and Michael Corballis, were Fellows of the Royal Society NZ, but — rather than supporting their right to speak publicly about their concerns about mātauranga Māori in a science syllabus — it responded with a statement on its website that said their views were not only “misguided” but caused “harm”.

Last November, it also instigated disciplinary action against Nola, Cooper and Corballis after complaints were laid. (Corballis has since died.)

After a barrage of criticism from famous international scientists, including Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne and Steven Pinker, our premier academy for science and the humanities abandoned its pursuit of the two professors in March. But if it hoped that would be the end of the matter it was sorely mistaken.

Last week, 70 of the society’s more than 400 Fellows signed a letter to the society calling for a no-confidence motion to be debated at the 56th hui ā-tau o Ngā Ahurei Annual Fellowship on 28 April.

It began:

“Many of us have lost confidence in the current Academy Executive and Council, whose actions seemingly have brought the society into disrepute, shutting down useful debate and bringing international opprobrium from leading scientists.

“We are further concerned about the lack of agency that Fellows have following the many restructures of the society over the last several years, and the spending of fellowship fees to cover lawyers’ costs and, presumably, public relations consultants to defend the society’s very poor processes and actions.”

The three specific objections made in the letter were to the statement published on the society’s website last year (described as “ill-conceived, hasty and inaccurate in large part”); the way the society handled the complaints against Professors Nola and Cooper; and lastly the “unfortunate” fact the pair felt compelled to resign.

As the letter put it:

“It is extremely unfortunate that this process has led to the resignation from this Academy of two of its distinguished Fellows. One is a renowned philosopher of science, and the other is perhaps the strongest scientist of Māori descent in the society and is someone who has been active in supporting Māori students in education for decades, and who, along with other experts in science, offered an expert opinion that was rejected by the society as being without merit, and characterised as racist by members of the Academy Executive (and current and former Councillors).”

The motion was moved and seconded by two of the nation’s most prestigious and accomplished mathematicians, Distinguished Professor Gaven Martin and Distinguished Professor Marston Condor.

Among the 70 signatories were internationally renowned heavyweights, including Distinguished Professors Brian Boyd and Peter Schwerdtfeger — celebrated scholars in literature and theoretical chemistry respectively — and Professor Alan Bollard, a former Governor of the Reserve Bank, and chief executive and secretary to Treasury.

Having a substantial chunk of the Royal Society’s Fellows formally object to its handling of the Listener letter and the fallout is momentous but what is also remarkable — and remarkably depressing — is that the number of signatories would have been even higher if other Fellows had not feared for their livelihoods and careers by signing.

Gaven Martin’s covering letter included these dismal paragraphs:

”Sadly several other Fellows have also indicated they will vote in favour, but because of the potential harassment and bullying they believe they would receive (from some current and former members of the Academy and the RSNZ Council, and from colleagues in senior and other positions within their university), they do not wish to disclose their names in this document, especially if it becomes public. 

“Many younger Fellows and others have said (again in writing) that their jobs would be at risk signing this letter. 

“Two Fellows (major Royal Society NZ medallists) said this:

‘Better not [sign] at this stage… I agree with all the statements — but you can’t imagine the pressure being put on us. I will vote for the motion though.’


‘In confidence I am disillusioned with RSNZ and I am too scared to sign anything for fear of what may happen to me at [the University of Auckland] if I do so’.”

Martin noted:

“This is a startling indictment of the situation in the research community in New Zealand at the moment, and of the way in which the RSNZ handled and exacerbated the controversy over the letter to the Listener.”

The letter’s signatories ask that the society write to Professors Cooper and Nola, and to the estate of Professor Corballis, and apologise for its handling of the entire process.

They also want the society to

“… review its current code of conduct to ensure that this cannot happen again, and in future the actions of the Academy/Council are far more circumspect and considered in regards to complaints concerning contentious matters”.

Lastly, that the entire society “be reviewed, examining structure and function and alignment with other international academies, and the agency given its Fellows upon whom its reputation rests”.

While it is at it, the Royal Society might also like to apologise to the other four professors who signed the Listener letter but are not Fellows given that their reputations were all sullied by the statement the society put on its website about their views being misguided and harmful.

However, you’d have to say that right now the society will have its hands full just dealing with the explosive no-confidence motion placed before it.

  • Graham Adams is a freelance editor, journalist and columnist.  

Professors warn of constitutional change by stealth and of the dangers of protecting Maori knowledge against refutation

A radical makeover of the research and science sector is outlined in Te Ara Paerangi Future Pathways Green Paper, which was launched on October 28 by Dr Megan Woods as Minister of Research, Science and Innovation.  Submissions on the discussion paper closed on March 16.

At the launch of the discussion paper, the government did not disguise its intention to embed the Treaty of Waitangi in the design and delivery of science and research in this country and to provide more opportunities for “mātauranga Māori”.

What does this portend?  Graham Adams warns that the inevitable conclusion of the changes proposed in the discussion paper – especially if it is read alongside Te Pūtahitanga: A Tiriti–led Science-Policy Approach for Aotearoa New Zealand (HERE) – is co-governance with iwi of universities and Crown Research Institutes.

In other words, constitutional change by stealth.

Submissions are not publicly available.  Perhaps they never will be. Continue reading “Professors warn of constitutional change by stealth and of the dangers of protecting Maori knowledge against refutation”

Broadcasting merger – why and what will it mean?

Barrie Saunders comments on the government’s proposals for restructuring public broadcasting (based on what we have been told so far) …

TVNZ and RNZ are to be merged but absent is a credible rationale or even the end point.   All that is being left to the yet to be appointed establishment board.

First, a bouquet to those journalists who have analysed the announcement and pointed out the information gaps.   Pretty amazing when you think this is all about communication entities.

In summary, what we know is they will come under one company umbrella, the budget for which has yet to be announced.  And yes, it will have a charter full of worthy objectives and will be required to cater better for minorities.

What will happen over the next year?

  • Massive lobbying by many to be on the new board, including current members of the RNZ and TVNZ boards.
  • Massive lobbying from the supporters of “public broadcasting”, some of whom are dismayed at the thought the commercial TVNZ culture will permeate their beloved RNZ.
  • Massive time spent inside parts of RNZ and TVNZ as staff lobby for key roles and speculate on what may happen.  A general loss of productivity.
  • Current CEOs of TVNZ and RNZ, Simon Power and Paul Thompson respectively, expected to be preoccupied with the merger and how they might head it, all at the expense of their day jobs.
  • Other media heads, including Discovery, to engage in the process to ensure they are advantaged or at least not disadvantaged.
  • Lots of media speculation about what’s going on.
  • General public confusion.

Continue reading “Broadcasting merger – why and what will it mean?”

Three Waters : an unnecessary programme that will degrade our democracy with a dubious (and unnamed) form of governance

Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta yesterday welcomed the independent Working Group report on the Three Waters Reform Programme.  She insists the programme is necessary to ensure all communities have access to affordable, safe and sustainable drinking, waste and storm water services.  BARRIE SAUNDERS and KARL DU FRESNE – former colleagues of Point of Order’s Bob Edlin – challenge this on their respective blogs and warn of the implications for our democratic structures….  


Three Waters – a totally unnecessary battle

The Three Waters proposal driven by Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta is a totally unnecessary, very divisive battle with local government and the people of New Zealand.  

The focus has been on whether there should be co-governance with iwi leaders, and also, whether it adequately prevents privatisation, which I see as a red herring maybe designed to divert attention from the real issues.  

The critical question is whether the failings of local government are such, that their Three Waters assets should be confiscated by the state, reformulated into four entities, and then handed back into a convoluted governance regime involving iwi and local government nominees.   

Having looked at the papers behind the proposals I do not believe they meet the necessary threshold.  Yes, there are problems, as Local Government NZ has recognised for many years, but they do not in my view justify central government overriding local government in this heavy-handed manner.  Continue reading “Three Waters : an unnecessary programme that will degrade our democracy with a dubious (and unnamed) form of governance”

Otago University pioneers bold new approach to the study of conflict

The National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies says on its website it is the only centre of its kind in New Zealand and it addresses the most enduring and intractable problems confronting humanity.  It invites people to “join our passionate faculty to study development, peace-building and conflict transformation” and it offers a Master of Peace and Conflict Studies degree, one of very few such programmes in Australasia. But it is not without its own troubles.  KARL DU FRESNE reports:  

Sometimes irony is just too delicious for words.

The Otago Daily Times recently reported that the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Otago has been exposed as having a culture described as “toxic”, “paralysing”, “isolating” and “divisive”.

Those words come from a confidential 31-page report leaked to the ODT, which said the centre is known on campus as the “conflict and conflict” centre. The report described the centre as dysfunctional, with “deeply entrenched conflicts”. Perhaps they could use themselves as a case study.

It’s a story that falls squarely into the “you couldn’t make this up” category, but which seems, for reasons that I couldn’t speculate on, to have been ignored by the wider New Zealand media. Continue reading “Otago University pioneers bold new approach to the study of conflict”

Graham Adams: Three Waters: A sorry tale of government deception and media inertia

Nanaia Mahuta’s plans to reshape water infrastructure have been so poorly scrutinised that voters still don’t know whether iwi will receive royalties — despite the legislation being scheduled for next month. Graham Adams reports…

Anyone who has travelled around New Zealand over the summer break will likely have seen signs saying “Stop Three Waters!” on fences along highways and rural roads.

It is also likely at least a third of those travellers who noticed the signs will have little — or no — idea of what Three Waters will mean in practice.

That was the dismal information offered by the latest 1News Kantar Public Poll. And, unfortunately, 1News’ coverage of its own poll gave some clue why such ignorance is widespread, even as the issue divides councils — and a big chunk of voters — throughout the country.

In fact, the state broadcaster offered such brief and garbled analysis of the questions it had commissioned on Three Waters it was difficult to understand why it had bothered taking the nation’s pulse on the topic in the first place.

Its once-over-lightly segment certainly helped explain why 35 per cent of those polled had either not heard of Three Waters (13 per cent) or didn’t know enough about it have an opinion (22 per cent).

Continue reading “Graham Adams: Three Waters: A sorry tale of government deception and media inertia”

Democracy or partnership? A critical issue revisited

Guest post by Barrie Saunders

Last year I posted an article about democracy or partnership and asked which of the two do we want – because we can’t have both.

Since then, the partnership and co-governance concepts have gained legs with the Three Waters proposals and the twin health authorities.  In addition, at local government level in the same vein, we have seen non-elected appointees given voting rights on council committees.

PM Jacinda Ardern uses the “partnership” term frequently and in a TVNZ interview with Jack Tame, National Leader Christopher Luxon also equated the Treaty with partnership.

When starting a journey, it is useful to know where it will end;  otherwise one can end up in an uncomfortable zone, from which retreat is difficult.  Somehow, I suspect few political leaders, other than the Maori Party and ACT, have really thought through the partnership concept, and we are heading for a rough time, unless there is a course correction.

Continue reading “Democracy or partnership? A critical issue revisited”

Follow the money: matauranga Maori and the millions at stake

A lot of funding and influence is riding on the successful casting of indigenous knowledge as equal to science. GRAHAM ADAMS says the debate over the NCEA science syllabus is only the tip of an iceberg.

Anyone trying to get a grip on the mātauranga Māori debate over the past several months is likely to be completely puzzled by now.

The incendiary stoush was sparked last July by seven eminent professors stating in a letter to the Listener that indigenous knowledge is not science and therefore does not warrant inclusion in the NCEA syllabus as being equal to science.

Yet in the five months since the letter was published, virtually no one among those opposing the professors has argued convincingly that mātauranga Māori is scientific (even if some small elements of it could be called proto-science or pre-science).

On the face of it, the debate by now should have been declared a clear win for the professors and their supporters.   In rebuttal, their principal critics — including the Royal Society NZ, Auckland University Vice-Chancellor Dawn Freshwater, the Tertiary Education Union and prominent Covid commentators Drs Siouxsie Wiles and Shaun Hendy — have not gone beyond asserting that  mātauranga Māori is a valuable and unique system of knowledge that is complementary to science.

This view is not contentious in the slightest — and was explicitly endorsed by the professors themselves in their letter. Continue reading “Follow the money: matauranga Maori and the millions at stake”

Dawn Freshwater kicks for touch on mātauranga Māori  

As international criticism mounts, Auckland University’s Vice-Chancellor pledges a symposium next year to debate the role of Māori knowledge in science education. Graham Adams suggests a public apology to the seven professors would show this is more than a PR exercise.  

Reading the statement last week by Dawn Freshwater announcing a symposium to be held next year to debate the relationship between mātauranga Māori and science, it was hard not to feel at least a little sceptical about her new-found enthusiasm for free speech.

After all, in late July the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Auckland effectively hung seven professors from her own university out to dry soon after their letter “In Defence of Science” was published in the Listener.

The professors’ 300-word letter was written in response to plans to include mātauranga Māori in the school science curriculum and to give it equal standing with “Western/Pakeha epistemologies” — which means subjects such as physics, biology and chemistry.

The professors acknowledged the value of indigenous knowledge as “critical for the preservation and perpetuation of culture and local practices” and that it “plays key roles in management and policy”. But, while it “may indeed help advance scientific knowledge in some ways”, they concluded, “it is not science”. Continue reading “Dawn Freshwater kicks for touch on mātauranga Māori  “