Speaker by Various Artists

13

The Power of N – Nutrient Caps and Peak Dairy

by Dave Hansford

Chris Lewis quickly backed down from the suggestion of a dairy moratorium in the Waikato, but environmentalists won’t let it go so easily. The Waikato Federated Farmers president now insists he merely raised the notion as a “straw man” at an executive meeting, and that he was subsequently misrepresented. But the genie is out of the bottle again, so we may as well talk about it.

Lewis’ comments specifically referred to a plan by state-owned farmer Landcorp to run another 27,000 cows on 20,000 hectares of former forests at Wairakei, near Taupo, by 2021. They came as something of a surprise because until now, the Feds’ response to everything – climate change, the economy, food security – has always been to argue for still-greater production. But Lewis has spotted a game-changer coming: one that has only just begun to divide the country’s most muscular agricultural cartel.

It’s all about cows’ wee. Each day, every dairy cow in the country passes 23 litres of urine, and there are now 6.7 million of them. There are also around 3.6 million beef cattle, which means our landscape gets drenched with more than 230 million litres of bovine urine (plus the outpourings of calves and 29.6 million sheep) every day. The nitrogen load of a single urine patch can run to a tonne per hectare, and that’s far more than any natural system can absorb – more than 750 tonnes of nitrogen run into Lake Rotorua alone each year.

Depending on soil type and topography, it can take up to 100 years for nitrogen to leach into the nearest waterway, and that’s the zinger right there. Many of our waterways are already saturated with nitrogen (and its evil twin, phosphorus), such that regional councils are spending tens of millions of ratepayers’ – and taxpayers’ – dollars trying to clean them up. But we haven’t even begun to see the worst of it. Beneath every dairy district, there is a subterranean tidal wave of nitrogen seeping inexorably downhill, into groundwater, into creeks, then rivers, then estuaries. As it goes, it whips plants into superfertile overdrive: freshwater algae run riot, exploding into blooms of sometimes-toxic scum.

All this comes at the expense of other creatures: studies show that high levels of dissolved nitrate can stunt development and reproduction in aquatic invertebrates and fish, or straight-out kill them. People cannot swim, or fish, or paddle, or drink the water. By any sane measure, it becomes clear that New Zealand reached Peak Dairy years ago. It has to stop; councils know it, and now some farmers understand it too. Nitrogen caps are limits, set and enforced by regional councils, on the amount of nitrogen allowed to leach from a given farm. Horizons Regional Council in the Manawatu has finally, after years of litigation by farmers, imposed a duly compromised set of restrictions around land use and runoff, and requires each farmer in the Manawatu River catchment to prepare a nutrient budget. The Bay of Plenty Regional Council, faced with crippling bills to rehabilitate Lake Rotorua, has moved too. Similar restrictions now guide agriculture around the margins of Lake Taupo.

So Chris Lewis – and most thinking farmers – can see the writing on the wall: if they’re not already regulated, they soon will be. And the more farms – or more correctly, the more cows – in a catchment, the smaller will be each farmer’s nutrient allowance. Don’t underestimate the magnitude of what’s happening here: for the first time, the headache of nutrient leaching is slowly being transferred back to those who caused it. Farmers have enjoyed a privileged status since the country was founded. They may have had subsidies wrenched off them in 1984, but make no mistake; they’ve nevertheless enjoyed a form of protected status ever since. In the realisation of their profits, they’ve left 56 per cent of monitored lowland lakes eutrophic – full of enough nutrients to trigger a bloom – or worse. The National River Water Quality Network, a monitoring programme that regularly samples 77 river sites country-wide, recorded nitrogen loads increasing by 1.4 per cent a year between 1989 and 2007.

The Government has committed a shade under $14m to rehabilitating such fouled reaches as Lake Ellesmere, and the noxious Manawatu River, found by the Cawthron Institute to be the filthiest river in the western world. The Lake Taupo clean-up was projected to cost at least $80m, but needs much more. The Waikato River will need at least $210m to return to health. The Rotorua Lakes will cost at least the same. All these projects are funded by some mix of central and local Government funding. According to Environment Minister Amy Adams, New Zealanders have already committed more than $450m in taxes to cleaning up their own iconic lakes and rivers after farmers have finished with them. That, in any language, is a subsidy.

And that’s the damage already done: future generations will grapple for decades with the insidious, lasting legacy of what we enjoyed as a dairy boom.

Endlessly citing the familiar litany of dairy pollution, though, doesn’t get us any closer to a solution. We need to understand the position some farmers have found themselves in. The Government has saddled them – dairy farmers in particular – with the responsibility for resuscitating a moribund economy (don’t confuse the cost of earthquake rebuilds for prosperity). Under the terms of the Primary Growth Partnership, ag minister Nathan Guy wants primary sector export receipts to double in value by 2025. Given that they have already wrung monumental production increases from their properties – an average 57 per cent per hectare between 1992 and 2012 – that demand in critical markets like China has flattened, exchange rates routinely swing against them, and international dairy prices tumbled more than 50 per cent last year, the only practical thing left for dairy farmers to do is to stock more cows.

That, of course, is precisely what regional councils don’t want them to do – and nor does the public. But farmers find themselves in a crossfire of signals. The Government, like some Harlem pusher, is doing everything it can to coax farmers into still more expansion. It has adopted fresh water quality standards so lax they would give the filthy, lifeless Yangtze a clean bill of health. It removed the obstacle of a democratically-elected regional council in Canterbury that was proceeding on water issues with a caution mandated by voters. Instead, it installed pro-irrigation, agri-business-friendly “commissioners.” It has devoted $35m of taxpayers’ money to facilitating irrigation schemes. It granted agriculture exemption from the Emissions Trading Scheme on what is unfolding as a perpetual basis.

That’s only a small part of the onus on dairy farmers to intensify: many operate on land valued at close to $40,000 a hectare, with assets – stock, plant and machinery – worth an average $1.2m per farm. These costs are far in excess of what their international competition must meet, and the result is breathtaking levels of debt. Over the past decade, dairy sector debt almost trebled to around $32b – an average of more than $2.2m per farm (but debt is in reality heavily concentrated: around half of it is held by just 10 per cent of farmers). There are cases of individual farmers presently more than $10m in the hole. With that much riding on assets so exorbitant, there’s a powerful incentive to produce as much milk as you can.

So it’s all the more laudable that many farmers are spending big money to curb nutrient losses and adopt best environmental practice; writing up nutrient budgets, analysing nitrogen and phosphorus losses through dedicated software. Restoring wetlands so that they can help absorb the losses. Building stand-off pads and winter houses to get cows off boggy paddocks, when nutrients run straight off.

Which is one reason Chris Lewis is wary about the expansion plans of Landcare and others. He insists that he doesn’t want any good work already done undermined by industrial-scale operations upstream. But most of all, he knows what will happen when regional councils eventually put a price on nitrogen and phosphorus. He knows that first-come, first-served mechanisms in the RMA will not serve smallholders and family farms well. That they couldn’t possibly compete with the likes of Landcorp when it comes to buying up allocations or credits. He knows that nutrient charges would tip scores of farms presently running on a knife edge of viability clean over that edge. The jostling for position has already begun.

For the first time in the country’s history, we are seriously considering two transformational ideas: farming within limits, and polluter pays. A very small molecule is having a profound effect.

31

So NZ First gets another list MP? Or does it?

by Philip Lyth

Winston Peters becomes the new MP for Northland,  and his party gets another list MP for a total of 12 votes in Parliament?  Or does it?  This post explores some of the issues and notes the Privileges Committee may get involved..

Up to this morning, everyone has assumed that a Winston Peters win would mean a 12th NZ First MP, but almost no-one has looked in detail at how this would be effected.  Graeme Edgeler did discuss this a month ago and thinks that, while the Electoral Act isn’t especially clear,  the result is sure.

I am not convinced,  and think the question may well end up in front of the Privileges Committee.

First,  some background.  This is the first time that a sitting list MP has contested and won a by-election.  But it is not the first time a list MP has stood.  In the early days of MMP,  ACT’s Owen Jennings stood in the 1998 Taranaki-King Country by-election and came within 990 votes of defeating National’s Shane Ardern.  Since then,  five other list MPs have stood in the Mt Albert, Mana, and Te Tai Tokerau by-elections.

The Electoral Act is silent on the specific circumstances of what happens if a list MP wins a by-election,  so it will be up to Parliament to deal with this novel situation,  as it has dealt with other matters.  The House will adjust and will cope.

The 1998 by-election made it clear that a list MP could stand in a by-election and retain their list seat if not elected.  A list MP is not prevented from standing  (whether or not you think that is a good idea.  If you want to have a say on that,  see the final para.)   I am confident that at that time,  the Clerk of the House would have prepared advice for the Speaker on the steps to be taken if the list MP was successful.  While that advice has not been published,  it would have been checked and updated from time to time,  and is probably being reviewed right now.

Is it automatic that a new list MP will enter Parliament for NZ First?  Cards on the table, I think that will happen,  but the processes of law must be followed.  And there a couple of possible difficulties. 

First,  will Winston Peters himself try to stop a new list MP?  I had been pondering this earlier this morning,  and I see TVNZ’s Katie Bradford has tweeted that when he fronted the media today:

Winston Peters is considering not replacing himself with another list MP. Says he believes in smaller parliaments.

I would put nothing past Peters,  he is wily and experienced.  He is indeed capable of defending this course of action,  pointing to both a smaller Parliament of 120 MPs,  ‘as intended by the Royal Commission’ he would likely say, and to a saving of ‘millions of dollars’ in salary and support costs over the next 2½ years until the 2017 election.

What will he do?  He again ducked the question when he was asked on TVNZ’s Q&A this morning,  saying only that “The Board [of NZ First] will turn its mind to that,”  and noting that the Official Count and the return of the writ are nearly two weeks away.  (This new twist will doubtless now be exercising fine legal brains in the Office of the Clerk, and they will be providing updated advice for the Speaker.)

The second possible difficulty is that someone will try to challenge the return and swearing-in of a new list MP.  There is no precedent and the Electoral Act is silent on what should happen,  so there is opportunity for a challenge if a person has the determination and the resources.  The greatest obstacle is that Parliament is the final arbiter of its own membership.  It does not look kindly on outsiders attempting to determine or affect that. 

I respect Graeme Edgeler’s views explored in his blog four weeks ago.  However he brings a lawyer’s view of the law and the Courts to his thinking.  As many have found in various ways over time,  Parliament is not a Court of law but a political arena.

What happens from here?  It is certain Winston Peters will do nothing in the next week.  The House is sitting until Thu 1 April,  and he will take his seat as NZ First Leader and list MP,  using his vote on various bills.  He will bask in the limelight and enjoy National’s discomfort.  Then fortunately there is a three-week recess for Easter, school holidays, and Anzac Day.  It that time much will be determined. 

The deadline for special votes is 7pm on Tue 7 April, and the Electoral Commission’s target to complete the Official Count is the next day, 8 April.  The writ naming Winston Peters as the MP for Northland should be returned to Parliament a few days after that.  A number of things could happen before Parliament resumes on Tue 28 April.

Having mused like Hamlet,  Peters could determine in his own mind that there is to not be a new list MP.  Chief Electoral Officer Robert Peden said at the time of the Te Tai Tokerau by-election

"There is no statutory obligation on a list member who wins a by-election to resign his or her list seat. However, by not resigning their list seat, the list member would be preventing their parliamentary party from benefiting from the byelection win through gaining an additional member in the House from the party's list"

Yet Mr Peden has no role to play in interpreting the law and determining what happens in this case. As Chief Electoral Officer, he and his team run elections,  and return the writ to Parliament naming the successful candidate.  He also fills any list vacancy that arises and returns the writ for that to Parliament.  But whether any list vacancy arise or not is for the Speaker and Parliament to determine.

(Parenthetically,  full credit to Robert Peden and his team for the conduct of the by-election.  Election night results from over 80 polling day voting places and over 13,000 early votes were all online by 8.45pm,  and a spreadsheet with a full breakdown of votes at each place was online by 2am. )

I think it highly unlikely that Peters would choose to renounce a 12th MP.  While he could publicly make a virtue of a smaller Parliament and saving millions, he would also forgo a crucial vote in Parliament.  For any Government bills supported only by National and ACT’s David Seymour, it makes no difference whether the vote is 60-61 or 60-60, they are lost anyway.  (Under Standing Order 153,  a tied vote is lost.)  Changes to the Resource Management Act currently fall into this category.

But consider Members’ Bills such as David Shearer’s Feed The Kids bill,  which Peter Dunne and the Maori Party were willing to support to Select Committee.  That was defeated 60-60 on a first reading;  had NZ First a 12th MP it would have been sent to select committee and possibly progressed further.  Currently NZ First has four of its members bills on the Order Paper,  and more in the ballot.  They will want to progress as many of their bills as possible,  and also to support at least some Opposition bills. That may be the decisive consideration.

( As an aside, will National whips on Members Day this week instruct their MPs to filibuster as much as possible in order to delay new bills being balloted? Or could they try to whip through business to get NZ First’s bills on Sky City Convention Centre and on Free Trade Agreements voted down before NZ First has a 12th MP sworn in?  Filibustering could backfire.)

If Peters does want to renounce a 12th MP, what then?  If the Speaker accepts the situation,  that is an end of the matter,  and Parliament continues with 120 MPs.  But what if the Speaker considers that a list vacancy has arisen?  This is an area where the law is unclear. S134(1) of the Electoral Act simply says:

If the Speaker is satisfied that the seat of a member elected as a consequence of inclusion of the member’s name on a list submitted under section 127 has become vacant, the Speaker must, without delay, publish a notice of the vacancy and its cause in the Gazette.

That would then mean the Chief Electoral Officer would then be responsible to determine the name of a new list MP.  As NZ Herald has reported,  that could be Ria Bond or if she declines, Mataroa Paroro, who is married to the sister-in-law of Tracey Martin.  Graeme Edgeler is certain a vacancy cannot arise, saying it is not provided for in s55 of the Act.  I am less certain,  given the situation is without precedent and not explicitly provided for in the Act.  David McGee,  the acknowledged authority writes in Parliamentary Practice in New Zealand notes  (3rd edition, published in 2005, well after the Taranaki King-Country by-election):

The responsibility for setting in train the machinery for filling a vacancy in the membership of the House rests with the Speaker.

and

As far as the House is concerned the Speaker has indicated that before taking the drastic step of declaring the seat of a sitting member to be vacant, the Speaker will give the member concerned leeway to argue to the contrary.  In a doubtful case this may involve the Speaker referring the matter to the Privileges Committee for consideration.

McGee also notes:

However, both the House and the courts may have a role in establishing or helping to establish for the Speaker that a vacancy in fact exists.

If Peters and the Speaker disagree as to whether there is a vacancy in a list seat,  I’d expect that the Speaker would refer the question to the Privileges Committee for inquiry and report,  and for the House to receive the report.  That has happened on occasion.  Of course Winston Peters’ seat on Privileges would have to be taken by another NZ First MP for the duration of the inquiry.

Next,  Winston Peters might,  having listened to the public clamour for a 12th NZ First MP,  and indicate he wants to bring in Bond or Paroro.  This might be a matter of straightforward mechanics:  the Clerk would indicate whether or not a formal resignation as a list MP would be required, or whether the vacancy would arise on receipt of the Northland writ.  The Clerk and her staff are very good at ensuring that procedures are understood and followed to have lawful effect.

Turning to the second area of difficulty:  what if someone tries to challenge the return and swearing-in of a new list MP?  Yes,  someone with the determination and financial resources could engage the services of a prominent public law firm and obtain a scholarly opinion with copious footnotes.  No doubt this would be used to generate heat through the media,  but might not gain much traction at Parliament.  While an aggrieved person might go to Court citing McGee above,  it is likely that the Courts would decline to rule,  citing comity and deferring to the respect the Courts and Parliament maintain for each other. 

To the disappointment of various members of the public,  they cannot complain to the Speaker on a matter of privilege  -  only an MP can take that step.  It is unlikely to see how any benefit would accrue to National by doing so, although it remains to be seen what the mood of caucus and their Board would be.  There is one MP placed to write to the Speaker:  ACT’s David Seymour.  Would he be of a mind to put pen to paper?

Finally the Justice and Electoral Select Committee is conducting its review into the 2014 election, as it does every 3 years. There will likely be in time an Electoral Amendment Bill to progress agreed changes before the next election.  I hope the members consider clarifying the law on what happens when a list MP wins a by-election.  Submissions are open until Tuesday 31 March,  and anyone can submit on this or any other matter relating to elections in New Zealand.

31

Hook, Line and Sinker – National’s Empty Bribe to Rec Fishers

by Dave Hansford

Whenever something distasteful oozes to the surface, the Government mounts some artful distraction to keep the public’s eye off the ball. In its final-term legislative spree, National is pushing through the most unpopular elements of its right-wing agenda – RMA reforms, the TPPA, state housing sell-offs, the Canterbury council coup – at an accelerated pace. Then there are the tainted pratfalls – Dirty Politics, revelations around GCSB spying on foreign government officials, child poverty, the ‘rock star’ economy that actually hasn’t had a number-one hit for many a year.

Governments always keep a stock of sweeteners/distractions to hand at times like this, just in case the media and the public notice these unsavoury issues and asking awkward questions. Lately, John Key has kept them preoccupied with the idea of a new flag, and last week, Nick Smith and Nathan Guy re-floated a favourite: “recreational fishing parks” in the Hauraki Gulf and Marlborough Sounds.

Fishing parks have been a staple distraction/election bribe for years now. The proposal of last September, bang before the election, closely mimicked a similar sweetener announced – you guessed it – just before the 2008 election. To be fair, any campaigning party would be negligent in NOT throwing a baited hook out to the rec fishing electorate: an estimated 600,000 people go salt water fishing at least once a year, with 81,000 going out at least once a week. What’s more, rec fishers often tend to be distinctly positional, nay militant, about what they roundly regard as a birthright. Of course politicians will chase that vote.

The argument over fisheries normally rages between the rock of recreation and the very hard place of commercial fishing. Each side blames the other for the seasonal, annual and multi-annual paroxysms of fish stocks. In the middle are iwi, left trying to prosecute their own pan-generational strategy for fisheries.

To offer recreational fishers some enshrined grounds, like the inner Hauraki Gulf (more than 178,000 rec fishers are reckoned to live around the inner Gulf), to the banishment of commercial vessels, is sweet music indeed from the piper’s flute of Nathan Guy. He says he will set aside inner Hauraki Gulf waters – those roughly coincidental with current management boundaries known as Statistical Area 7, the shallowest of Fisheries Management Area 1 – “so families in Auckland ... can continue to enjoy one of the country’s best-loved pastimes.”

In the Marlborough Sounds the proposal roughly equates to the established blue cod management zone, but doesn’t preclude marine farms or commercial harvest of paua, scallops or crayfish.

But here’s an odd thing: trawling, pair trawling and Danish seining is already banned from Area 7. Indeed, most of the Gulf is off-limits to trawlers and seiners longer than 20m. The only commercial fishing going on in Area 7 at all is a little low-intensity long-lining, potting and set-netting for snapper, flounder, john dory, crayfish and kahawai. The story in the Marlborough Sounds is much the same: finfishing would be banned, but existing fisheries – snapper, groper, bass and blue cod – are, according to National, already low-value. Guy says these fishers would have to venture further out to sea or go out of business.

Last November, John Key told the Ponsonby Cruising Club that affected fishers who could not move on would be offered compensation from a package of between $5m and $20m.

This is something of a departure from a Government that has steadfastly refused to discuss proposals from conservationists to buy fishers out of set net quotas along the North Island west coast that continue to present a threat to the critically endangered Maui’s dolphin. Presumably, Auckland votes are more valuable than the last few strands of DNA of the 55 surviving animals – the world’s rarest marine dolphins.

Environmentalists might applaud any move to banish commercial fishing from inshore waters, but let’s take a more critical look at this: the parks exclusively disadvantage small-scale, mostly solo operators – owner-fishers, or those fishing under leased quota. Typically, vessels are small, shorter than 20m, and finfish are often caught by bottom and middle-depth long-lining, a low-impact method with which skilled fishers can target precisely the species they want.

Yes, there’s still some by-catch, but let’s remember that a hook with an unwanted species – or a seabird – on it doesn’t turn the fisher a buck. In recent years, inshore fishers have developed more polished setting techniques and adopted new gear to reduce that very overhead. Some have put equal energy into imaginative innovations and practices that lessen seabird bycatch or prevent it altogether.

Guy and Smith cannot seriously expect these fishers to move such operations into the outer gulf – they would have to borrow tens, if not hundreds, of thousands to invest in bigger vessels and heavier gear, more sophisticated nav equipment, and probably deckhands. In short, they would have to try to enter the already burgeoning offshore fishery dominated by big pair trawlers and seiners. Twenty million dollars of compensation – in total, for both Marlborough and Hauraki – probably wouldn’t even cover the value of lost Hauraki inshore quota. The suggestion is laughable. Yet their press release assures us that these are not significant businesses.

Besides, do we really want shut down such low-impact, artisanal fisheries? In their wake will go the processing plants, transport and marketing businesses they support, such as Leigh Fisheries. For a Government to throw such local industry to the wolves while our frigates stand helplessly by while pirates pillage the Ross Sea of thousands of tonnes of toothfish doesn’t just look callous: it looks downright cynical.

So just what are National’s fisheries parks supposed to achieve for fisheries management? Certainly not stock enhancement. Rec fishing catches are already regulated by bag limits. Last April, the limit for snapper along the east coast of the North Island dropped from nine fish per person, per day to seven, and the size limit increased from 27cm to 30cm. Those limits are meant to constrain recreational snapper catch between North Cape and the eastern Bay of Plenty to 3050 tonnes – the estimated five-year average catch of all recreational fishers.

Declaring a fishing park doesn’t change any of the figures or dynamics of the Gulf snapper fishery – except to offer those fish that would be taken off the commercial sector to the fishing public. Of the total landed recreational Gulf catch over the 2011-2012 summer, a shade under 80 per cent was snapper, calculated by NIWA to weigh in at 2490 tonnes. Total snapper stocks in there are estimated at just over a quarter of their unfished biomass of 1000 years ago, and fisheries managers are still concerned for the health of the fishery.

If National were trying to achieve something for conservation, then, they would instead get behind no-take marine reserves. New Zealand has signed up to international agreements promising to protect 10 per cent of our total marine environment in no-take reserves by 2020. With five years to run, just 0.4 of our EEZ is protected. In 2000, surveys of three coastal reserves found that legal-size snapper (27 cm at the time of survey) were 14.3 times more abundant inside marine reserves compared with fished areas. A comparative survey at the Poor Knights recorded a 300 per cent increase in legal-sized snapper in the first year of protection. When compared with fished control sites, snapper were found to be 8.3 times more numerous in the marine reserve after just three years.

The spillover effect on rec catches from a comprehensive, representative network of no-take reserves would seem to be obvious. Yet new marine reserves take an average ten years to establish in New Zealand, and rarely realise the full extent originally proposed, thanks in part to dogged opposition from rec fishing groups like LegaSea and iwi.

In March, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced the creation of an 834,334-square-kilometre marine reserve – roughly three and a half times the size of the UK – around the Pitcairn Islands. Last September, Barack Obama hung a no-fishing sign on one of the planet’s biggest marine environments when he increased the Pacific Remote Islands National Marine Monument near Hawaii by more than 500 per cent to 1.2 million square kilometres.

By contrast, the National Government’s response to an ailing inshore marine environment was to cynically offer it up as an election bribe to fishing fans. Again. Nathan Guy will never deliver on his promise. The 2008 bid failed in the face of industry litigation, and so will this one. Iwi were not even consulted, and they too, will rightly oppose it.

Non-fishing taxpayers should, too. Why should they bankroll a gambit that benefits just a couple of hundred thousand people in two narrow localities? There are well-established, legally enshrined property rights at stake here. If rec fishers want to acquire quota from the commercial sector, they should pay for it, just like commercial fishers have to. A fishing license fee would be an excellent way to start, as the Australian Government has already decided.

National, of course, knew all along that this proposal cannot, will not, fly. But it probably won them some votes. 

25

Scoop.co.nz's Operation Chrysalis - Ask Me Anything

by Alastair Thompson

Scoop.co.nz is a website with which I am sure Public Address readers are familiar. New Zealand's largest independent online news publisher by audience size, Scoop reached 324,791 NZ users over the last 31 days.  Over the past four weeks we have been running a crowd-funding campaign for something we are calling "Operation Chrysalis", which as the name suggests, is about transformation. 

The intention of this post is that the comment thread be used as an Ask Me Anything  opportunity for you to ask questions you have about Scoop's ""Operation Chrysalis" plans.

We will be promoting this post and discussion on Scoop and encourage you to share the link with people who you think will be interested in the future of Scoop. And please do ask me anything. I will - to the best of my ability - respond directly and succinctly.

Scoop's Dilemma - How To Support The Tree

The easiest way to explain the origins of the "Operation Chrysalis" project is to use a metaphor.

Think of Scoop as a Tree.

And think of the central "professional” value provided by Scoop as its Fruit, ie:

a) access to a large influential audience;

b) a complete set of timely information;

c) a rich accessible database of content.

Scoop’s users (and the government and society broadly) benefit from these Fruit.

The Fruit only exists because access to the Tree is free - both to contributors and readers.

But unless there is a Tree there will not be any Fruit.

So how can we get Scoop's readers and contributors to support the Tree?

The objective of "Operation Chrysalis" is therefore to find a method to sustainably fund the tree - i.e. Scoop's free to access and free to publish publishing operation.

A New Ownership Structure & A New Business Model

Operation Chrysalis has two main legs.

  1. To reboot our relationship with our contributors and readers - and to make it more commercial and sustainable;
  2. To restructure Scoop as an organisation so that it better reflects the reality of the situation - i.e. that Scoop is a cooperative effort;

The Scoop response to Leg One is our idea of an "Invisible Paywall" - an aspect of "Operation Chrysalis" which has to date had only minimal exposure.  I deal with in the next section of  this post.

Meanwhile Leg Two is the reason behind our decision to turn Scoop into a not-for-profit news organisation - we also hope this will build a stronger trust relationship between Scoop and its readers. This was the basis of the Pledgeme crowd-funding campaign which hit its initial target $30,000 last week.

The Business Solution To "Operation Chrysalis" - An Invisible Paywall

Towards the end of February an article - somewhat ironically published behind NBR's paywall  - contained the Scoop on Scoop's plan to solve its long term sustainability problem.

Campbell Gibson's article revealed that Scoop intends to begin charging its at-work professional users -  those who regularly use Scoop for work purposes  - for accessing Scoop.  We are calling this initiative an "Invisible Paywall".

Scoop first discussed its "invisible paywall" intentions  at Nethui in 2012. But as 2015 begins - and online advertising revenues continue to tank - we now intend to pursue them more vigorously.

We acknowledge that the "Invisible Paywall" is a novel approach to online content monetisation and that it is likely to raise a few eyebrows. That said, Scoop's - free to publish,  free to search and free to read - news release publishing model is also as far as we are aware novel.

Companies, individuals and organisations which use Scoop are being informed that if they use Scoop routinely as part of their work that they need to have a license to do so. License fees start at $420 pa  for organisations with up to 20 staff and increase to $2940 pa for organisations with up to 4000 staff. If you regularly use Scoop as part of your work consider yourself informed.

Organisations and businesses who choose not to pay have the choice of not using Scoop and/or blocking access to Scoop from their networks. However we are hoping that  if the full circumstances around our "Invisible Paywall" are explained, enough businesses and organisations will be willing to contribute to make Scoop sustainable.

That said, so far the introduction of this new approach has been a fairly steep learning curve.

At the end of January we wrote to Universities and Technical Colleges about our change in policy and suggested they start paying us. Universities are among our biggest users. The universities response which arrived via an article behind NBR's paywall -  was to claim that they do not use Scoop. We thought somewhat disingenuous given the significant levels of university usage shown in our logs.

As Jan Rivers pointed out in this column, Universities routinely pay huge sums to access databases of news and other content shows and clearly understand the importance of being compliant with copyright law. 

In the end the success of "Operation Chrysalis" will likely be dependent on us convincing "business" users of Scoop like Universities to pay for the value that Scoop provides them. If sufficient numbers are willing to do so - at a relatively low per-user cost - then Scoop's future will be assured. If not then we will need to come up with a plan B.

Either way we will find out in the next few months.

Conclusion

After 16 years of daily publishing Scoop has become part of the NZ internet furniture, a constant feature of the place that everybody expects to be around forever.  Russell has described Scoop as "The Home of the National Argument" a description which captures the fact that Scoop seeks to be a big-tent containing the views of all sides of all arguments. 

It is the Scoop team's sincere hope that Scoop will continue to be this big tent for many years to come - to enable every voice to be heard in NZ's public policy debates - and to provide a window for the public to view these debates as they occur.  We have always believed that in providing these things we are strengthening NZ's democracy. And it is for this reason that we have for so long fought tenaciously to keep Scoop alive and independent.

And this is the objective of "Operation Chrysalis".  I hope you support it. 

If you do I encourage you to say why in the comment thread below. A compilation of endorsements may assist us in convincing the establishment of the merits of our "Invisible Paywall" approach.

You might also consider contributing to our Pledgeme campaign.

As I say in the video and blurb for that campaign - I strongly believe Scoop is the best chance an emerging independent online news internet community in New Zealand has of establishing a platform for news capable of withstanding the heavy weather our industry has ahead.

8

Ian Jorgensen: Images from A Movement

by Ian "Blink" Jorgensen

A Movement is a series of 10 themed art books collecting the remarkable music photography of Ian "Blink" Jorgensen from 2000 to 2015. Jorgensen has been an artist manager, tour manager, festival promoter, record label owner, author, publisher, musician and music provocateur. But before all that, and through all that, he was a photographer.

Ian has kindly given us 11 key images from A Movement that tell his story in music. You can see, touch and purchase the full set (and hear some great music too) at the launch tour through until April 4.

There are also a few screenings of an accompanying film, Movement.