Neoliberal apologists rush to defend weak response to Auckland storm few Aucklanders knew was coming – more proof of National underfunding?

By   /   April 11, 2018  /   18 Comments

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Many Aucklanders had no idea how severe the storm was going to be, rather than blaming Aucklanders perhaps those tasked with ensuring we get warned need to find better ways of communication rather than shrugging.

Can we all just get past the whole, ‘Jaffas-don’t-know-what-a-real-storm-is’ crap and actually ask some hard questions of the lack of awareness and clean up response.

This matters because Auckland is our largest city and our global warming future means these sorts of extreme events are going to become more regular.

We’ve had  rush of neoliberal apologists telling Aucklanders that we had plenty of warning and that we should take it as a lesson to be prepared…

Aucklanders’ reluctance to remove and trim trees blamed for power outages
Aucklanders’ love of trees contributed to power cuts to a quarter of the region during Tuesday night’s storm, an electricity industry commentator says.

Wellington-based Molly Melhuish said people’s reluctance to remove or trim trees exacerbated the effect from the strong winds, which gusted more than 150kmh overnight.

“I love trees on streets, I don’t want to be too hard on getting rid of them, people love their trees, they hate cutting them down, but they’ve paid the price this time,” Melhuish said.

Protecting properties’ power supplies “depends on how strongly Vector insists on removing dangerous trees, that’s what all the outages were about”, she said. 

About 120 power lines remained down, with more than 91,000 Auckland properties without power on Wednesday, and some could be without it for days, Vector network manager Minoru Frederiksens​ said. 

Vector had 75 crews working to restore lines but that could take two to three days, he said.

Vector spokesman Iain Butler confirmed “by and large” trees were to blame for Auckland’s outages.

“A tree doesn’t have to fall to cut power. Smashing into lines and then blowing back again can be enough, and not all fallen trees land on power lines,” Butler said.

The company’s hands are often tied wanting to trim trees that they need permission from property owners to prune, Frederiksens said.

Even if permission is granted, property owners don’t want to pay trimming costs and Vector is reluctant to pick up the tab for what he said is the tree owner’s responsibility.

“More trees” weakened by Tuesday’s cyclone force winds and heavy rains could come down and cause more outages if another low front deepens and strikes Auckland, he said.


Employer and Manufacturers Association chief executive Kim Campbell’s initial assessment on how Auckland’s grid stood up in the “phenomenal storm” was positive.

Winds peaked at 213kmh at Manukau Heads. 

Campbell said work started following Auckland CBD’s crippling six-month-long outage in 1998 had made the city’s power grid more robust.

By world standards, the city had “one of the best power supplies”, but “there’s not a lot you can do” about storms hitting power lines, he said.

All businesses should have contingency plans for power outages, he said. 

Most businesses have business interruption insurance and larger firms have backup power generation.

“There’s is no power grid in the world which is 100 per cent reliable. We have a storm that happens once every 50 years so we have an outage that lasts a few days.

“If this happened every week then you’d say ‘we’ve got a problem’.”

…many thoughts here.

1 – I think getting a Wellington PR consultant to lecture Aucklanders is about as tactful as setting a feminist meeting at a strip club.

2 – Anytime the Employer and Manufacturers Association chief executive Kim Campbell crawls out of his crypt from feeding on the souls of kittens to defend the free market a Green Party activist dies.

3 – If Civil Defence & infrastructure services are so certain they communicated adequately the risks of the storm that hit Auckland – why are they now begging for patience while 115 000 homes still don’t have power? Didn’t they listen to their own advice the way they expected us to?

I don’t want to be ‘that guy’ but all we have learned since National left power was that they underfunded ever aspect of social society to gain their tax cut surpluses and it seems that not only are our tax payer funded weather services increasingly inaccurate, the civil defence social services and infrastructure required to defend and repair after natural disasters is increasingly worn thin.

I’ve asked before whether or not MetService’s corporate focus has watered down its domestic reporting duties…

I was one of those who asked questions about MetService at the time, but more from the point of view that I just assumed that because MetService was a publicly owned entity, National would have run it into the ground with cost cutting and monetisation prioritisation over free public services.
So I fired off an OIA request to MetService and did some digging.
What I found was a profit agenda program at total fucking odds with the public responsibilities MetService are supposed to represent.
As this country’s oldest continuous scientific institution, MetService has a proud history of scientific enterprise and public social responsibility. August 2011 marked the 150th anniversary of the appointment of New Zealand’s first Director of Meteorological Stations, Dr Charles Knight. Through the years since, despite the pressures of structural change and funding uncertainty, the organisation’s focus on forecast quality and public safety has remained its driving force.
On 1 July 2017, MetService will celebrate its 25th anniversary as a State-Owned Enterprise. Its SOE status gives the organisation a unique position among its National Meteorological Service peers – that of a fully commercial operation able to compete successfully in multiple markets and sectors around the world, while also providing a comprehensive range of World Meteorological Organization (WMO) standard weather services to New Zealanders. Both sides of the business benefit each other and work closely in tandem, with the creativity and can-do attitude of MetService’s highly skilled staff at the core of this success.
MetService employees offer a diverse skillset – not only meteorologists and the engineers and technicians who maintain the observing network, but also graphics and information system developers, sales managers and communicators, to name a few – so our culture is one of high performance. MetService employs the best and most talented in their fields, and we widen their expertise with training focused on the outcomes we need. MetService is further investing in a number of initiatives to drive international growth, that delivers long-term value to shareholders.
…why the incoming Associate Minister of Transport? It’s because MetService run their public safety forecasting services via a contract through the Ministry of Transport…

MetService’s cornerstone contract is with the Ministry of Transport. Public safety forecasting services such as severe weather forecasting and warning services for New Zealand, its coastal waters and the South Pacific high seas are provided under this contract, which provides a mechanism for the Minister of Transport to fulfil their obligations under the Meteorological Services Act 1990.

…ok, and so how has this contract from the Ministry of Transport panned out then?

Here’s the information from the OIA…

…so about $22million each year from the Ministry of Transport for public safety forecasting services which is about a $5m increase in budget over a decade which seems pretty small for a country as large as ours. This represents 40% of their budget so total cost must be under $60m.

Compare NZs land mass to the UKs,

268,021 sq km
Ranked 73th. 11% more than United Kingdom
241,590 sq km

But the cost of the MetOffice is $224million so our $60million looks pretty tiny for a land mass that is so much larger.

But what really caught my eye as I was looking through the MetService reports was this graphic…

…we own 49% of something called ‘MetOcean Solutions’. Who are they?

‘They’ are a commercial enterprise that MetService has invested in because as a Crown Owned Enterprise they have to make a return.

In August 2013, MetService acquired a 49% stake in leading New Zealand oceanographic weather company, MetOcean Solutions Ltd. This investment is a key part of our growth strategy, helping springboard us into the international marine sector with established products and world-class expertise.

So what services do MetOcean provide?

Here’s where the profit agenda comes at total odds with the public responsibilities.

MetOcean, the company we own 49% of, provides special oceanic weather forecasts for the deep sea oil and gas industry…


Worldwide, a variety of offshore oil and gas companies use historical data from MetOceanView to understand the environment they work in. Packaged up in the site’s ‘hindcast app’, historical wind, wave and current data is summarised in an easy-to-access format that users can download and integrate into their operational planning.

“The offshore oil and gas industry needs access to reliable site data,” explains Senior Oceanographer Dr Rafael Guedes. “Nowadays, many data sources are available, and the industry needs a robust web platform where they can easily access, browse and download time-series from some of the best hindcast data sources available around the globe. To meet their needs, we set up a hindcast downloading app within our MetOceanView web service.”


…which brings us back to that giant wave. It was MetOcean who recorded it. Can no one else see the utter counter productive madness of a publicly owned Weather Service that warns us of extreme weather events owning a 49% stake in a service providing weather reports to the oil and gas industry that is helping create more climate change pollution???

…it feels like the priority is to make money while domestic weather forecasting has suffered.

I also find  the Vector and Civil Defence have simply put the responsibility to stay safe in a natural disaster on the individual rather than well funded public service responders.

It’s a bit like the whole Worksafe ‘use your mouth’ campaign…

If only we had, what were they called, Unions, that’s right, Unions who could demand basic work safety instead of this bullshit ‘you’re responsible yourselves’ multimedia crap.

Our public infrastructure is so frail the best they can do to promote safety and natural disaster responses are reduced to reminding you that you are on your own.

Many Aucklanders had no idea how severe the storm was going to be, rather than blaming Aucklanders perhaps those tasked with ensuring we get warned need to find better ways of communication rather than shrugging.

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  1. XRAY says:

    We all know there was no real warnings because our media love to do doom and gloom story’s about the weather equally as much as the road toll score during holiday periods.

    So much so the media are like dogs rolling around in cow pats in that respect.

    As I am reliant on our crappy weather forecasts I can recall there was a forecast for rain but little else looked concerning.

    And yep, Bill English’s miracle work as Finance minister is unravelling as we speak!

  2. Observer Tokoroa says:

    When will they ever learn

    On the evening of the night/day the fine ship Wahine was washed helpless into Wellington Harbour, the Met Service had given no information of an extremely violent Hurricane. A massive Hurricane.

    50 yrs later on the same night/day – Auckland got hit with an unannounced massive violent Hurricane. And guess what ? Not a peep from Mrs Met Service.

    All the pretty girls reading the weather forecasts and all the pretty boys reading the forecasts didn’t even say “I don’t know nuffingk”.

    Sure they told us about a few small cms of snow fall. But not of a mighty Hurricane bearing down on our biggest City.

    So what. Don’t worry girls and boys. The Aucklanders couldn’t get power or water or transport. But you will get your pay.

    Have fun.

  3. Afewknowthetruth says:

    The crux of the predicament:

    ‘oil and gas industry that is helping create more climate change pollution’

    And since it is politically and culturally unacceptable to do anything about fossil fuel consumption, everything that matters will continue to be made worse.

  4. CLEANGREEN says:

    Todays shocking RNZ report on ‘financial report’ news at 6am;

    A British economist was interviewed by Suzie Ferguson and this economist who is also on Jeremy Corbyn’s team, warns that a new global economic crash is coming soon.

    She warns that the world economy now tetters on a massive debt level far exceeding 20008 with a global debt now at 278 trillion dollars against a asset value of all assets of just $76 trillion dollars or just a quarter of all debt now held by the world economy so the value of assets is already to high and increasing while we will never pay down the $278 trillion dollar debt.

    • Marc says:

      People do NOT care, facts matter no more, it is living it up on the Titanic, before it sinks, nothing else.

  5. savenz says:

    100% – Love how it’s the trees fault again. If only we could concrete our entire city, and have no oceans to swim in either with all the waste water going into the sea. sarc.

    Have Vector not heard of under grounding the power, funny enough they make all private homeowners do it these days, but don’t want to spend the money to follow their own advice.

    Also with trees, Vector seems to be more interested in arguing over who pays for them to be trimmed, and who owns them, it actually would be more efficient if the power company just went around and maintained trees around the power lines rather than blaming others for it…

  6. OnceWasTim says:

    I noticed recently in one of those supposedly 3rd world countries, (I think with electricity still under public ownership), there is a programme of underground reticulation going on – a least up to the lamp post where (in NZ’s case) the demarcation point of responsibility is.
    And even in what is considered potentially earthquake prone areas, they have a solution (which is to provide manholes where cables are looped to allow for potential stretching as ducting and ground movement might occur).
    Seems to me to be the difference between investing in infrastructure and profit taking – something the gNats needed to obtain some ‘learnings from, going forward’.
    It was all both at the home reticulation and 11kv level.


    The rapidity with which fibre rollout was being done was also something unbelievable.

    Still, I guess power company CEO’s, their spin-meister PR teams, and the gentry (who probably already have underground cabling to the door) know best eh?

  7. Patrick says:

    I have repeatedly heard Civil Defence claiming the storm played out exactly as they expected. Well if that is the case then they must have modelling showing >150,000 houses without power. And if they have that then they surely put out press releases warning people accordingly. And that would have put it at the top of the news.
    They told us a storm was coming – nothing about the likely magnitude (which seemed to have been under-estimated) and the likely impacts. Given the level of warnings for other lesser storms this effort by them was grossly underwhelming.

    MetService bang on about their updates but you have to be on twitter or the like to get those. I monitor their website a lot and their weather forecast is pretty rubbish. The four Auckland areas always say the same things (and it is usually pretty banal and meaningless) and their rain fall measures are grossly inaccurate.

  8. Marc says:

    Sounds like a lot of blame game and passing the responsibility to others going on. I say it again, Auckland City and most its population are a joke of sorts, incapable or organising their lives, same as incapable of organising a piss up in a brewery.

    • stefan broca says:

      No wonder NZ has become a joke around the world, if this sort of nasty, bigoted filth is an example of how people in the “regions” really think… Nine years of what amounts to a herd of particularly stupid sheep cheering on a gang of corporate whores who’s only reason to exist is to strip away all, and any vestige of what NZ used to stand for, and what made the country one of the most successful democracies in the first world.. Indeed, the destruction of the work done by successive labour governments, that actually paved the way into the first world has actually been celebrated by mindlessly greedy, and bigoted excuses for mature NZers.. If one needs any more reasons to explain the “brain drain” then you are a part of the reason so many of us have lost faith in ever being proud of, and would wish to return, and be a part of what used to be a society that produced a disproportionate number of world class people in all areas of expertise, as evident in the number of ex kiwis in positions of power, and responsibility all over the globe… So, all you three eyed yokels out there.. Enjoy your self assumed “intelligence” and “worth”.. The reality is that you are the true enemies of the people of NZ..

      • Marc says:

        ” If one needs any more reasons to explain the “brain drain” then you are a part of the reason so many of us have lost faith in ever being proud of, and would wish to return, and be a part of what used to be a society that produced a disproportionate number of world class people in all areas of expertise, as evident in the number of ex kiwis in positions of power, and responsibility all over the globe…”

        I don’t even get it, what made you feel your feathers were ‘ruffled’, you sound like a total entitlement driven jerk and idiot.

        If that is your opinion, offering NO qualified comments on what I generally commented on, you are a total loser, and NO LOSS to this country, same as those that left NZ Inc for Australia years ago were described as lifting the IQ of NZ at the same time as that of Australia.

        Thank you for proving me right.

      • Marc says:

        Still don t quite get your comment, my criticism was NOT against Labour, it was against Auckland, the Council, services and many idiots blindly relying on services they cannot rely on. Poor comment by you, I must say.

  9. Mike the Lefty says:

    Simple, we just cut down the trees, put ’em in a tree museum and charge the people 30 dollars plus just to see ’em – to paraphrase the great Joni Mitchell. The political right keep demonstrating why they are not fit to be in government and that’s why Winston didn’t go with them.

  10. macninz says:

    Yes Martyn. The Unions have been gutted and the results of this have been pretty clear over the last few years – teachers nurses low paid workers everybody who “works” to keep the country running are those who have borne the cost of budget surpluses. While the top 1% continue to drive their Alfa Romeos and rubbish the minimum wage increase.

  11. Whispering Kate says:

    Our personal problem with trees on our boundary which are council owned is that they need cutting back and taking some of the crown out. They are far too high and are going to end up either on our roof or the roofs of homes over the road.

    We had the council arborists out to have a look – their decision was a no – their reasoning was if they did the job, then it would encourage the trees to just grow again – I was aghast – obviously they would grow again – surely that is the council’s job – to regularly from time to time continue to keep their council trees in a safe condition.

    We have children who play out on the street on their bikes, one of these days a branch is going to just come down and hurt one of them.

    Councils need their bloody heads read. Too many vanity projects and not enough core business is attended to.

  12. Afewknowthetruth says:

    Auckland takes food from the regions (or from overseas) and consumes it, converting it into sewage it cannot cope with..
    Auckland takes gas from the regions (primarily Taranaki) and consumes it, releasing massive quantities of CO2 as a waste product that contributes inordinately to planetary overheating.
    Auckland takes oil from overseas and burns it, releasing massive quantities of climate-changing CO2, and other pollutants.
    Auckland takes building materials from the regions (or from overseas) and uses them to increase it ecological footprint and increase its carbon footprint.
    Auckland takes electricity from the regions and converts it into locally-impacting heat.
    Auckland takes water from outlying districts and uses it to flush pollution its surrounding waters.

    What does Auckland produce that is tangible, other than inordinate amounts of pollution?

    Is it not fitting that New Zealand’s epitome of dysfunctional living has become the poster child for the dysfunction it represents and celebrates?

  13. Andrewo says:

    Hey, I just looked at the metservice website – it was all there to see, except for people who are too stupid to read a weather chart.

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