In January 2006, I predicted petrol would hit NZ$2 per litre but attributed it more to the Labour Government’s mishandling of New Zealand currency rather than oil prices. Now that the price has come to pass—consider that when I made it, $1·40 per litre was unheard of—I am surprised that no one in the mainstream media or even politics has brought up the parallels with the 1970s and New Zealand’s solution to the fuel crises.
It seems a very obvious thing to bring up, so I have to question what people are afraid of.
Responding to the volatility of international fuel prices, the Muldoon administration of 1975–84 embarked on energy projects in an effort to make New Zealand less vulnerable. The various Synfuel projects and energy exploration resulted in an era where New Zealanders drove around in natural gas vehicles, and we even produced our own petrol after converting it from gas.
By the late 1970s, the New Zealand Government was subsidizing gas conversions and certainly by the early 1980s, many (most?) petrol stations offered compressed natural gas or liqueﬁed petroleum gas alongside petrol and diesel. It was just considered normal.
New Zealand was saving its foreign exchange and people were driving environmentally friendly cars.
In 1984, the right-wing policies of the Labour Government saw most state assets relating to the venture sold off to corporations and Muldoon’s venture was passed off as a folly by the new administration, the technocrats of the Business Roundtable and, shockingly, by the National Party itself as it changed leaders.
Even a bid to market LPG as an environmentally friendly fuel in the 1990s could not save it as the National Government taxed it tremendously—something that was clearly not done in the national interest.
The winners of the destruction of this energy venture were the corporations, predominantly foreign-owned, buying in to outmoded, socially irresponsible technocratic thinking that has brought a widening rich–poor gap.
There’s not a peep from National, now in opposition, to say that it had been right in the 1970s as the only party prepared to shield a little country, so easily swayed by global economic forces, from oil company greed.
The only logical and cynical conclusion is that National are as big a sell-out of New Zealanders as Labour and Roger Douglas were in the 1980s. And that they are suckers for monetarist theory, all the time closing their minds to the mere possibility that Muldoon—whose policies were adored by successful national leaders such as Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, who did all right with them—might have been right.
It’s election year—and National’s John Key is silent. Again.
There’s a lot Sir Robert Muldoon got wrong but on the alternative-energy policies, I can’t ﬁnd too much fault.
First, New Zealand is a little country that is too drastically affected by global economics. Even Malaysia in 1997 could not protect itself properly against them. Hence, the technocratic, monetarist movement cannot be left unguarded.
Secondly, energy prices are unstable and New Zealanders need to be protected against them.
Thirdly, environmental policies demand that we look at alternative fuels.
Fourthly, this is something that needs a governmental push to ensure alternatives are available nationwide, or at least somehow create incentives for the infrastructure.
Faced with these basic facts, the development of our own energy sources for the long term seemed to be the only way forward.
Sure it was cumbersome and expensive to develop, and there were missteps along the way, but where would we be today? Certainly not paying $2 a litre.
Little did Sir Robert foresee that it would be so gleefully dismantled by his successors—with the same arguments of efﬁciency so cleverly used by the technocrats of the Slater Walker era in the United Kingdom.
In spite of all the English expats here, we bought the arguments hook, line and sinker.
One would have hoped that today, we would remain shielded from these energy crises offshore, with our ﬂeet of natural gas-powered cars. That we would be leading the world in showing how alternative fuels worked, and foreign countries would be coming to us to license our technology.
We gave up that lead, that advantage, in 1996 to follow the American example of gas guzzlers and SUVs.
The General Election is mere months away, this is the hottest issue on the book, and no one dares bring up Muldoon. It’s because no one dares offend a few rich bastards making money off working New Zealanders by bringing up a leader who dared stand up to foreign corporate interests.
Additional tags: petrol prices, gasoline, gas prices Posted by Jack Yan, 11:44
Jack, the rose-coloured tint in your rear view spectacles is showing. Fact: Transport use of gas was encouraged to use up the excess gas in the Maui NGC take or pay contracts (without them, Maui wouldn't have been developed). Fact: Transport applications used heaps of gas, so it worked while it was subsidised (versus conventional fuels. Fact: When the realisation dawned that we hadn't got a limitless supply, gas was put onto a similar footing to other road fuels, and the cost of special equipment killed it off.
The same even handedness should still apply today. The answer is alternative fuel/engine technologies that justify themselves on their merits, not woolly-headed subsidies.
One more thing: gas prices (and hydro prices if water was priced sensibly) rise in line with oil prices. They're all energy in various tangible forms, and it's the price of energy that's risen.
Now if I'd been at the Vista lunch I could have put you straight on all this before you went into print! You need me, Jack.
Right, I'm off for a decent pint - walking, no less.
Thanks, Jim. I think regardless of the position it’s important this is even raised as a dialogue—this entire era has been covered up by the press here even as we hit $2 a litre.Post a Comment
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