Scientist Dr Mike Joy writes about his experience of watching a private Facebook status become a very public endorsement.
Editors update: after publishing the below piece The Spinoff received a phone call hotly disputing it from TOP’s Sean Plunket. He claimed to possess and has since provided an email from Mike Joy dated 11.17am on September 18 under the subject line ‘statement’, with the words used by TOP in their advertising of his endorsement within. The Spinoff has since spoken to Joy, who has admitted that his sending the email slipped his mind when writing the below, and expressing regret for the whole affair. He cited his “political naivety” by way of explanation. You can read Sean Plunket’s rebuttal here. NB: The Spinoff is keeping this post live as an archive and record of events – paragraphs two and three are now discredited, and should not be taken as accurate.
After two decades of fighting to halt the degradation of freshwater in New Zealand, you would think I’d be celebrating the fact that water is taking centre stage in this election. Briefly, I was. Yet after raising issues about our disastrous water quality for so long, I find myself now being used as a political football. This has been especially galling after my experiences with dirty politics from the National Party in the past.
Three days ago I made a ‘friends only’ post on my personal Facebook page saying I believe we should be voting on ideas and policies not personalities and tribal affiliations this election. It also said I like some TOP policy. I had no idea what was coming.
My Facebook post was immediately picked up by TOP. They issued a press release based on my ‘endorsement’. At the time of writing, their Facebook post about it has been shared 511 times. They didn’t seek my permission in any way. This use by TOP of my personal Facebook post, and the resulting attacks from people disappointed by my ‘betrayal’, saddened me so much I decided to close my private and public Facebook pages. The very point of the post was about keeping personalities out of this crucial election. Editor’s note: As noted above, Mike Joy now acknowledges that he emailed TOP a statement, and TOP did not use his Facebook post without his permission.
The real freshwater issues we have in Aotearoa, issues that are central to this election, are not new; they have been a long time in the making and reveal failings of multiple governments. Many decades of a hands-off approach to the protection of freshwater quality, quantity and biology is the reason for the crisis we are experiencing now.
Looking back I can see many examples of government failure, back as far as 1983, when legislation was enacted supposedly to protect our freshwater fish but which turned out to be a farce. The only fish species given full protection by the Freshwater Fisheries Act was the extinct endemic grayling – last been seen in the 1930s – and, bizarrely, the introduced trout and salmon. The rest of the native, mostly endemic, fish species were given protection… except (and this was a big exception) if you wanted to eat them! Over the following decades many commentators warned of freshwater declines but were virtually ignored by government.
Over the last nine years I have witnessed and tried to highlight a very cynical response from the current government to water issues. The Department of Conservation still ‘manages’ the commercial harvest of threatened whitebait species and actively oppose NGO groups trying to end this anomaly; meanwhile the Environment Ministry has stopped their crucial freshwater advocacy role. The Ministry for Primary Industries still ‘manages’ the commercial harvest of threatened endemic longfin eels. The Environment Ministry’s much vaunted ‘Fresh Start for Freshwater’ national policy statement (NPS-fw) was an absurdity that involved shifting goal posts to make the status quo acceptable. Following this sleight of hand, maps of the country coloured warning red in lowland farming and urban areas suddenly became green. Very recently the NPS-fw was updated after submissions but is still a complete failure and will do nothing to halt declines.
The only political party championing these causes for as long as me is the Greens and I have been involved with them over that time. The Greens have been consistent in their push to make the changes we need in order to keep our crucially important clean-green reputation anywhere near the truth.
There is a clear choice for New Zealanders who care about freshwater. In my opinion, the current government is not an option. Here are a couple of important points for you to consider when making a decision who to vote for:
1. Money won’t ‘fix’ waterways. The only way to stop the decline is to stop polluting and that means reducing intensity.
2. Fencing waterways, while undoubtedly a good idea, does not address the issue of nitrogen run-off. Furthermore, the much vaunted claim that 97% of waterways are already fenced is spin. Not mentioned is the fact that to come up with that number only the larger streams and rivers are classified as ‘waterways’. The far more important smaller waterways – the tributaries which feed the larger waterways – are not.
But back to appearance as the face of TOP’s freshwater campaign ad. Some have told me that this is just the rough and tumble of politics. While that is undoubtedly true, I don’t see why we should accept it as business as usual. The point I was trying to make in the Facebook post that started this bizarre storm was that voters should think about carefully about policies and not personalities this election. That is as true of freshwater policy as anything else.