Editorials 18 June 2010

The Herald looks for details around the foreshore law:

Unease has been generated by Attorney-General Chris Finlayson’s statement that customary title is “an ownership title”.

This creates a considerable breach with the existing 2004 legislation, which vested the foreshore and seabed in the Crown.

Iwi and hapu whose claims succeed will receive a deed giving title to a coastal area.

They will not be able to sell the property or block public access, but they will have considerable control, including the ability to veto or initiate development, permit activities, and exploit non-nationalised minerals.

He says the compromise reached between the Government, the Maori Party and the Iwi Leadership Group means that, from the staging post of the public domain, there will be few awards of customary title by the courts or as a result of negotiation with the Crown.

That, says John Key, is because the threshold for the granting of such title is high.

Iwi and hapu applicants will have to show continuous and exclusive occupation of the area claimed since 1840.

A test the Court of Appeal said would be hard to meet.

The Dom Post focuses on health issues:

Decisions on health spending are among the most difficult of all those that governments face. They can literally be a matter of life and death.

There are no easy options. Though the public purse is not bottomless, the demand for health services is. There is always a new drug that can be bought or an extra treatment that can be added, always a demand for extra dollars to be spent.

In health, the issue is always where the line is to be drawn, the line that divides patients between those who get to have the state pick up the bill and those who are told that their health needs are their fiscal responsibility.

The line being debated at the moment is who should get bariatric surgery and who should not. The operation costs between $17,000 and $35,000, but has been shown to have dramatic effects on the morbidly obese, with patients halving their weight and with weight-related health problems vanishing along with the kilos.

There are those who will say that the obese have brought it on themselves, and because of that should not be a priority for health spending.

That is not an approach that is applied elsewhere in the health system. Smokers are not told their lung cancer will not be treated because they knew the risks and continued to smoke anyway. Those who spent their summers acquiring a deep mahogany tan are not told that the skin cancer that resulted will be left untreated. And drunk drivers and the thousands of others who injure themselves because they drank too much are not turned away from the hospital doors because they made the wrong choices.

But maybe they should be, to some degree. If you protect people from the consequences of their choices, then they may continue to make bad choices.

If a smoker is told their health insurance premiums will be an extra $1,500 a year because they smoke, that could result in many quitting.

The Press drills into the oil spill:

For BP, the scale of the disaster is such that it looks as though it will bring about the end of the company in its present form. Some estimates suggest that the rapidly mounting costs for the company from the fines and damages it will have to pay could reach $40 billion. Even for a company with annual sales of a quarter of a trillion dollars and profits last year of $17 billion, that is a huge sum to absorb. Already BP has lost half of its value on the sharemarket (incidentally hitting pension funds hard) and it is possible it will have to file for bankruptcy protection and reorganise itself in order to survive. Yesterday it cancelled its dividend (further hitting pensioners and others who are invested in it) in order to pay for a $20 billion fund to meet its present estimated liabilities. The costs are clearly going to spread far beyond the Gulf of Mexico.

The environmental scope of the disaster will not be known for some time. But if the Exxon Valdez could be described as the worst oil-spill disaster in the world, then this one is catastrophically larger. Exxon Valdez was in a remote, sparsely populated part of the world and while wildlife was devastated, the human impact was small. The Gulf of Mexico is just as rich in wildlife and is also, of course, heavily populated. Those people are now seeing their livelihoods, resorts and living areas destroyed.

They have been infuriated by what they saw as a somewhat insouciant response to the calamity by President Barack Obama. It was not helped by a speech he made on Wednesday, which although it gave a pledge that BP would be made to pay for all the damage it was responsible for, also told Americans a truth they have been unwilling to hear – that part of the problem is their addiction to oil-based fuels.

But the president is correct and his remarks apply as much to New Zealanders and others as they do to Americans. Consumers’ continuing addiction to oil have driven prospecting companies to take ever greater risks to meet that continuing demand. The demand itself remains high because those risks are not factored into the price they pay for petrol and other oil products. The Gulf of Mexico disaster emphatically shows that that cannot continue. Markets are already adjusting to this new reality. Consumers will have to do so too.

As oil becomes more expensive, other technologies will become more viable.

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