Waka jumping and oil exploration
By Richard Harman (author)
Did the Prime Minister get Winston Peters to support the petroleum exploration ban by locking in Greens support for the waka-jumping legislation?
That is a possible scenario suggested by the papers relating to the ban which were released under the Official Information Act on Tuesday.
The papers set out a timeline which eventually leads to both Peters and Shaw.
Thursday, March 8: Officials from the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment email Energy Minister Megan Woods’ office with a timetable to have a block offer announcement ready for delivery at a petroleum conference on March 27.
The email says that a paper will need to be drafted and approved by the Minister and go to a Cabinet Committee and then Cabinet itself on March 26.
In an email the same day from the head of MBIE’s Petroleum and Minerals section, James Stevenson-Wallace to a colleague, Marcus Pelenur and another person whose name is redacted, Stevenson-Wallace says that though a decision has yet to be made, the draft of the Cabinet paper should be based on “Option Four” because its the most complex of the options the officials and the Minister have been considering.
In another later paper, the Minister, Megan Woods, confirms that Option Four limited the block offer to onshore exploration and would refer offshore exploration to the Climate Change Commission.
But Stevenson-Wallace emphasised in his email that he had not received any direction on the preferred option from the Minister.
Saturday, March 10: The two Green female co-leadership candidates, Julie-Anne Genter and Marama Davidson and both say they oppose New Zealand First’s Waka Jumping Bill.
Monday, March 12: That evening, the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff, Mike Munro, emails two people in Parliament whose names have been redacted saying the PM will need background on the current state of the oil and gas industry “ahead of her chat with Winston Peters on Thursday.”
Munro says that “obviously production would continue for some years even if exploration was to end tomorrow, so a sense of the length of consents, size of reserves etc. would help provide a better understanding of what will be a measured transition to clean energy."
Apparently the Prime Minister is preparing to face concerns that Peters must have about ending exploration.
And interestingly, even though MBIE believes no decision has been made, Munro uses the word“will” in describing the transition to clean energy.
Later the same evening, an email sent by Blackberry, probably from the Prime Minister’s office, to someone else in Parliament whose name has been redacted, but presumably is in Woods' office, asks that Munro's request be "priority one for officials tomorrow.”
Tuesday, March 13:
That morning Woods’ office email MBIE saying they have had a request for "an urgent aide memoire ahead of a meeting she has with Winston Peters on Thursday."
There is a substantial amount of email traffic on preparing the Prime Minister's brief for her meeting with Peters. Obviously, it is important.
Wednesday, March 14: Despite the heavy hints from Munro that there may be no block offer, Woods office email MBIE checking how the Cabinet paper is coming along.
The writer (name redacted) says: “I haven’t yet had a final decision on what option the Minister wants to go with.”
MBIE completes the Peters briefing paper, and it is hand-delivered to the Beehive.
Meanwhile work on the Cabinet paper continues with advice later in the day from Woods' office that instead of taking a paper to the Cabinet Environment Committee the following week, the block offer will be discussed there as an oral item without any paper.
The timetable set out six days earlier has now been abandoned.
Thursday, March 15: It appears from the emails that Peters was told that it was being proposed that the future of offshore petroleum exploration would be considered by the Interim Climate Change Committee.
What else took place at the meeting is not referred to in any of the non redacted documents, particularly whether the question of the Greens’ apparent unwillingness to support the waka jumping bill was mentioned.
Saturday, March 17: Greens co-leader James Shaw's staff has now seen the draft Cabinet paper with its proposal to refer offshore exploration to the Climate Change Commission, and he is objecting
.He emails someone in the Beehive – either in the PM’s office or Woods’ office – saying that the Climate Change Commission “is not currently set” to do this work given its limited budget and resources.
Monday, March 19: Ardern accepts a Greenpeace petition on the steps of Parliament calling for an end to oil exploration. She says the Government is “actively considering that”.
But four hours late she told her weekly press conference that the Government was simply undertaking a regular review of whether to offer any more blocks of ocean for tender for oil exploration.
Shaw was asked ending oil exploration was a bottom line for the Greens and replied "that should be blindingly obvious".
Meanwhile, officials in MBIE’s petroleum and minerals section hold their regular weekly meeting and note that Cabinet paper is still being drafted, but they don't know which of the positions the Government prefers.
Tuesday, March 20: Woods office email MBIE asking what other countries have taken steps to limit oil exploration.
The PM wants to know more about the block offer process.
Thursday, March 22: MBIE still assumes the block offer process will go ahead and emails Woods’ office with a draft timetable
Thursday, March 27: Another meeting involving Ardern and Peters and possibly Woods or Shaw is called in the PM’s office. Interestingly the meeting is to take place “after discussions between our respective Chiefs of Staff.”
Friday, March 30 – Monday, April 2: Easter
Thursday, April 5: An email from Woods’ office to MBIE refers explicitly to Option Four in a request for information on what seismic surveying might continue under existing permits. (Seismic surveying is a big issue with Greenpeace and therefore the Greens).
Friday, April 6: All names have been redacted from this email, but it advises of a meeting in a Ministerial meeting room in the Beehive at mid-day “to discuss block offer with (name redacted)”.
An extra person is added to the Beehive meeting because of “CMA implications? CMA change”.
There is no explanation of what CMA means.
Sunday, April 8: Was Friday’s meeting the key because Munro now emails NZ First Chief of Staff, Jon Johannson, the draft block announcement to be made on Thursday, April 12. Munro says it is "good" that Shane Jones will attend the announcement.
Shaw tells Greens members at party function to mark Marama Davidson’s election as co-leader that a big win for the Greens will come over the coming week.
Thursday, April 11: The announcement of no more offshore exploration is made.
There is a chain of events here which strongly suggest that Ardern was having to play Peters and Shaw off against each other.
Peters clearly was not happy with the exploration ban.
So how was he persuaded to support it?
Did Ardern persuade Shaw to ignore the protestations of many in his party and support Peters’ waka jumping bill and was that enough to persuade Peters to forget his concerns about the exploration ban?
We don’t know but that is how MMP politics works.