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Russel Norman interview transcript

Published: 11:10AM Sunday October 16, 2011 Source: Q+A

PAUL  Russel Norman, you are unhappy at many aspects of this - in what way?

RUSSEL NORMAN - Greens Co-Leader
Well, obviously our first concern - I mean, you know, talking to people in Tauranga and elsewhere - was about the missing the first five-day window. We had a five-day window of calm weather where the ship was in relatively good shape, compared to what it is now: the containers obviously weren't falling all over the place, it wasn't as dangerous, the ship wasn't breaking up, and we only got 10 tons of oil off in that window.

PAUL So you subscribe to the idea that they were too slow to get underway?

DR NORMAN I think it's fair enough to have questions about it. I mean, we know that there's been some pretty... some maritime experts have said you could have got it off. We heard from the former harbourmaster in Tauranga, who raised serious concerns about that.

PAUL Well, the government have given, you know, some good reasons, really, why it was... you know, for the delay. Are they wrong? I mean, apparently some of the piping they need to get that oil out is terribly damaged by the part of the ship that's lodged on the reef.

DR NORMAN That's right, and I think that only an independent investigation after all this is over into Maritime New Zealand's handling of it, particularly that first week, I think can really get to the bottom of it. But I don't think the government should say that they've absolutely made no mistakes. I mean, how can anyone really know at this stage? And we're to learn from this disaster and from the fact that we didn't get any significant amounts of oil off in the first five days, then we need to have an open mind about that.

PAUL Do you want a royal commission after it's over?

DR NORMAN I think a royal commission - that's been called for by the Environmental Defence Society. I think it's fair enough, especially since the government themselves have come out so hard defending their position. I actually think we need an independent inquiry.

PAUL What is your feeling as a politician on this - as somebody who knows how things work in Wellington? Do you think it's possible that Maritime New Zealand failed to really ring the bells at governmental level?

DR NORMAN I think it is possible. I mean, one of our concerns early on was when the statements were coming out that were saying that they didn't want to act more quickly because they were worried about the liability issues - that if they intervened before the salvors, you know, that the government could end up with the liability. And when we heard that, I mean, we were pretty shocked, because it's, like, actually, we need to do everything possible now in this next five days, because that's our window. Part of it is, you know, the "sprint versus the marathon" thing that the government's come up with. They say it's not a sprint, it's a marathon. Actually, the first five days were a sprint. We had to get as much off in those first five days. That was our window of opportunity.

PAUL  What does the whole business tell you about our ability in first response for a major oil disaster in New Zealand?

DR NORMAN Well, I mean, this is - what are we talking about - a few hundred tons of oil, and clearly we had a lot of trouble.

PAUL Well, we're talking 1700 tons of oil.

DR NORMAN Well, it hasn't come off yet. In terms of what's in the water... So, Deep Water Horizon was 600,000 tons. I mean, it means that we do have serious questions about our ability to deal with an oil spill.

PAUL And then what does it tell you about whether we should proceed with deep-water oil exploration?

DR NORMAN Yeah, I mean, obviously before all of this, the Greens already had called for a moratorium, so it'd be no surprise that we would look at this and say, "Look, we can't even deal with a little one." If we want to protect our coastline, and we're a coastal people, how are we going to do it?

PAUL Well, we are, but we have 3300 ships travelling around this coast every year. You know, this is the biggest disaster we've ever had. You can catastrophise this a bit, can't you? I mean, given the amount of shipping we have, this is a rare disaster.

DR NORMAN Well, it's still having a huge impact. I mean, I was... You know, I've been down there. I was on the beach yesterday cleaning it up - you know, just trying to do my bit - but there were hundreds and hundreds of people there trying to do their bit and it was... it is a terrible disaster. I was in the bird rescue centre earlier in the week with a wandering albatross. I mean, they are just fantastic birds - a wingspan bigger than my arms covered in oil because of this. I mean, you can't underplay... It's a small spill that's having a huge environmental impact. Our job as a people is to protect this country and protect our coastline, and we failed.

PAUL Yes, and we have - what - 180,000km of coast. How can we really afford ever to protect that?

DR NORMAN Well, we can make sure that we've got the vessels in place. Remember, there was the report from Thompson and Clark not so long ago which suggested the government buy some more some capital equipment so we're prepared. We can try to have more of the skills. We can't have all of the skills in Maritime New Zealand - obviously not. But they did recommend that we had more of the skills actually within Maritime New Zealand. So we can follow those recommendations.

PAUL Right, but some would say somebody's playing politics with this, because it's playing right into the Greens' hands.

DR NORMAN Well, if you think about the Greens and why people like me and us are involved in the Greens - we love the environment; we want to look after it. Of course we're going to raise concerns. Our job is to keep the government accountable. We called for berms across the Maketu Estuary and we got them, which was great. We called for public meetings...

PAUL They didn't work.

DR NORMAN They've had some effect. I've been down there to look at them. They're absorbing some of the oil. Our job is to push it to actually try and protect the environment. That's why we've been calling out about it.

PAUL I think you very much for coming on Q+A, and I must compliment you on your albatross impression.

DR NORMAN Sadly, it was a dead albatross, Paul.

PAUL I'm sorry.

 

 

 

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