Politicians flounder on rocks

The Green Party and Labour leader Phil Goff have done themselves no favours in Mt Maunganui.

Local retailers complained to Taking the Pulse on Saturday that both the Greens and Mr Goff keep drawing attention to the stricken Rena which hit the Astrolabe Reef on October 5, spilling oil.

Last week, Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei and Green MP Gareth Hughes launched the party's five-point plan for oil spills. While there was some understanding for the Greens trying to build the party's environmental credentials with the policy, retailers have had enough.

One of the biggest criticisms came from the photo opportunity visits by politicians, including Mr Goff shovelling oily sand dressed in suit pants, a white shirt and street shoes.

Later, Mr Goff was shown wearing white overalls, kneeling as he sifted sand. Unlike other volunteers, the Labour leader left the beach after about 90 minutes - a "normal" shift is four hours.

The main shopping precinct was full of browsers on Saturday but no-one seemed to be spending - except in cafes, which were full. Hospitality outlets were doing well, the Pulse was told in the morning. However, the bars seemed only moderately busy on what was a stunning late afternoon.

Motels had no vacancy signs out, so perhaps some people were coming back. Officials dealing with the oil spill have been booked into at least two of the larger motels in the holiday spot.

The motel at which the Pulse stayed was busy, but it is always busy at this time of the year. October was a disaster for many reasons, but the main one was the lack of visitors from the Rugby World Cup. One motel reportedly had the worst October in 17 years.

Publicity from the oil spill also hurt visitor numbers; people likened it to the Gulf of Mexico spill, which wrecked both tourism and fisheries along the coast of Louisiana.

The damage caused by the negative publicity during the election campaign is starting to worry a few. Outside the New World supermarket, the Pulse randomly asked residents about the oil spill. They were generally unaffected, as their jobs or the jobs of their partners remained intact. There was some concern about the lack of jobs for young people.

But the main political issue that annoyed nearly everyone spoken to in about two hours was grandstanding - both in Mt Maunganui and Epsom. Voters were absolutely over the side issues and complained it reminded them of when New Zealand First leader Winston Peters was in full flight. Then, they remembered that Mr Peters was again in full flight.

There was no love lost on the Mount for Mr Peters. No particular reason could be nailed down, but the dislike was palpable.

The Greens have called for a moratorium on deep-sea oil drilling and exploration, which would deprive the country of billions of dollars in royalties.

Also, the party wants an independent inquiry into the speed of the government response to the Rena grounding, maritime regulation and the capacity of maritime services to respond to accidents.

Mrs Turei said she did not accept Maritime New Zealand's repeated statement it acted as quickly as it could.

One thing that resonated with business owners in Mount Maunganui was the response from the Government in helping pay wages. While there were still some who wanted more government handouts, most were strongly supportive of National's actions.

The Greens also want higher standards for coastal shipping, supporting the use of local crews and ships.

Maritime New Zealand's oil spill response capability and infrastructure should be increased and a stronger legal framework to safeguard taxpayers from clean-up costs should be introduced.

All of the estimated $22 million paid annually by boaties in fuel excise tax would go to Maritime New Zealand.

Tauranga residents were being warned late last week that wayward shipping containers could be dragged ashore near their homes if the ship was deliberately broken apart so salvors could remove the containers in the Rena's hard-to-reach holds.

That was not a prospect being welcomed but it was a decision accepted as inevitable by many. There is a dispute brewing over the best landing area, but the work has started. The job of removing the 1280 containers on the ship has begun but is likely to take several months.

What was clear during the Pulse's visit to Tauranga and Mount Maunganui that the resilience of people to accept fate, deal with it and work hard to prevent it from happening again remains alive and well.

- dene.mackenzie@odt.co.nz



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