Showing posts from 2011

"Consumer" Recommendations Confounding

I have always relied on Consumer's advice when buying major household items, however I have sometimes found their recommended buys don't live up to their status. The fridge we bought some years ago was a recommended model and yet we have been plagued by fluctuating temperatures and during Summer the fridge often turns into a freezer.

When I pulled out our first cucumber of the season to use in a sandwich and found it was frozen solid, it was the last straw, especially after the strawberries I had picked the day before were in a similar state when I tried to put them on my breakfast cereal. Over the last few years we have had a succession of appliance specialists come in to try and fix the fridge and this time I decided that another costly repair (the fridge is well out of warranty) wasn't worth it, the fridge would have to go!

I did look at the Consumer website, but rather than just going for their recommendations I also read the reviews that owners of the various models h…

The Big Southern Dry

Invercargill reached at least 25 degrees celcius today, according to the Metservice, and this was higher than Nelson, Gisborne and Auckland. We have had a month of almost continuous fine weather, except for the 14th and 15th when a total of 15mm fell (just a light shower compared to the 510 mm that fell in Takaka over the same time). The average rainfall for Invercargill in December is 105 mm and with five days left in the month we are 90 mm short. Environment Southland are monitoring the dropping river levels and those who have water consents are being advised of the possibility of having to cease taking water.

Our "quarter acre pavlova paradise" (for those of you who are old enough to remember Austin Mitchell) sits on an ancient sand dune and the continuous rays that are burning through the ozone hole fry the roots of my lawn and quickly change the lush green blades to a crunchy brown. Our new solar water heating system is steadily earning its worth, however.

My vegetable …

Government Attacks New Zealand's Highest Performing Sector

Over the last three years New Zealand has had to deal with a number of crises and disasters, some man made and others caused by forces of nature. Investment companies collapsed, a mine exploded, Christchurch shook and a ship was grounded and leaked oil into a pristine marine environment. Extreme weather has struck a number of New Zealand regions with drought, tornados and heavy rain wrecking havoc with peoples' homes and livelihoods. A number of reports have also highlighted the shocking statistics around the health and safety of our children, with at least a quarter living in poverty. To top it all we discovered that around 80% of our lowland rivers are seriously polluted and we aren't quite as pure as we thought.

While all this was happening and despite working with a fraction of the funding of other OECD countries our education system soldiered on, consistently ranking amongst the top five in the world. Our curriculum and remedial reading programmes have been widely admire…

School Principal Appointments Becoming Political?

I have grave concerns regarding the Ministry taking over the appointment of school principals from boards of Trustees, especially when we have a government that has the potential to impose political and ideological criteria on suitability for positions. However, I also have concerns about the current system of appointing principals as the career pathway for leadership positions is flawed.

Prior to tomorrow's schools applicants for leadership positions needed to have a number of years experience and also have gone through a professional assessment (Grading) before applying and while the system wasn't perfect only those with some experience of staff management and proven professional knowledge would be considered. No one would be appointed to a position as principal of a large school unless they had proven experience in a smaller one. I am aware of many principals who have been appointed in the role for nonprofessional attributes such as just being male or because they had attr…

Stewart Island, Paradise Lost?

During the week on Stewart Island with my family it was easy to believe that the rest of the world didn't exist.  The Island never appears to change, the familiar landmarks are practically as they were when I first visited in the early 70s. The continuous calls of Kaka, Bellbird and Grey Warbler provide a melodious background that, like the music of the spheres, appear to be part of a continuous cycle of song that reaches back to the beginnings of time. When my days were determined by the weather or how captured I was by the book I was reading, politics and current events became surreal intrusions. Rather than being constantly aware of our environmental, economic and social decline I was surrounded by lush and thriving bush and clear water full of very visible darting fish.

Despite the ease of falling into the Stewart Island time warp and thinking all is well with the world I did become aware that some things weren't as they seemed. Our family spent two days walking the Rakiu…

Labour's Leadership Change Process Flawed.

The Green Party's leadership selection process makes so much sense. Surely a party's leaders should have a proven track record within the party and have the respect of both caucus and wider membership. For Labour to quickly dump a leader then replace them through a publicly managed popularity contest is hardly the best mandate for such positions. The fact that the Greens have only had four leaders since 1995 and two of them are current is proof of the robust process we use. Surely sound decision making leads to robust outcomes and stability over time and any mainstream party should be able to demonstrate these to have any credibility for forming a government.

Leaders often grow into their roles I find it hugely concerning when Helen Clark did so poorly in early opinion polls then eventually proved her capabilities over time while Phil Goff was never given that opportunity. Whatever caused the party to go with Goff over Cunliffe originally can't have changed substantially …

Charter Schools in NZ

It has now been announced that "Charter Schools" are going to be introduced into New Zealand through a coalition agreement with the ACT party. It appears that this idea had never occurred to the National Party and is just a minor adjustment to their education plans to accommodate John Banks. The evidence is otherwise, however. National had already secretly embarked on bringing in this system (for which they have no public mandate) and I can't imagine John Banks coming up with the Charter School idea in the first place.

It is no coincidence that the new CEO appointed to the Ministry of Education, Lesley Longstone, is an advocate for Free Schools (the UK equivalent of the Charter Schools in the US). Making John Banks an associate education minister to potentially roll out a contentious programme makes political sense. It will need a stubborn, thick skinned but expendable politician like John to do this (much like using Anne Tolley to bring in National Standards).


Going Solar in the South

It has been quite a journey of regulation and compliance but our solar water heating system has finally been installed and is up and running. Of the hundred or so who originally indicated an interest in Venture Southland's pilot, there are only nine determined households who have stuck it through to the end and I think ours was the last to be installed.

It is too early to judge the success of the system and it probably won't be until we have a few power bills that we will really get an idea. I used the Homestar self rating system to see how successful we have been in upgrading our 1932 bungalow to make it more energy efficient. We only managed to get a rating of 2 helped by the following:
Under floor insulationCeiling insulationHRV ventilation systemA large heatpumpA wood burnerWater solar heatingA north facing houseComposting and recycling systemsWhat let us down was: Drafty single gazed windowsNo wall insulationNo bathroom extractor fan Older ceiling insulation that doesn'…

An Outside View of Our Campaign

Rachael Goldsmith Alex Fensome, political journalist for the Southland Times provides this interesting overview of the local election campaign.  The contrast between the parties could barely have been more defined. The Nats were sitting around an open fire in the venerable Invercargill Club, surrounded by black-and-white photographs and plush carpet. Labour met in the dingy confines of the Jed St Trades Hall with cask wine and savories on hand, clustered around a projector as the results came in. The Greens had themselves a barbecue at Dave Kennedy's leafy Gladstone home, chatting away like it was a housewarming. It was they who had the most to celebrate. Both Kennedy and his Clutha-Southland colleague Rachael Goldsmith rode the Green wave to the party's best-ever southern results. The pair ran good campaigns, focused on the party vote but not forgetting to go to candidate's meetings, where, barring the odd misstep over wages and tax, they impressed. That Goldsmith polled more can…

Post Election Thoughts

The Greens have much to celebrate, our campaign has been widely praised as the most effective of all parties and we have achieved our goal of getting more than 10% of the party vote. We had hoped to get our top 15 candidates into parliament but James Shaw just missed out. This was a real pity because the Wellington Central campaign he led was probably the most comprehensive of all the Green campaigns and was only 12 votes short of pipping Labour.

The Greens will make history when Mojo Mathers becomes the first profoundly deaf MP to be elected, while Mojo didn't get in on the initial voting she is likely to do so once the special votes have been included.

As for my own campaign, I had hoped we could double the Green vote in Invercargill and we almost did that by raising the 4.26% we got in 2008 to just .1 away from 8%. I must admit that I was a little disappointed as the impression I got throughout the campaign indicated a greater level of support. Three factors probably created ba…

The Last Post and a Green Future

Dear Sir
New Zealand is a country rich with resources and a relatively small population. We have an education system that is ranked amongst the top in the world and a growing percentage of wealthy who are spending millions on luxury items ($480 million on Bentley cars last year).

There is no good reason why we should also have 270,000 children living in poverty and one of the worst statistics for child health and welfare in the OECD. There should be no excuse for allowing most of our rivers to be polluted and unsafe for swimming and it makes no economic sense to sell off our state assets when we have so much potential in innovative and renewable technologies.

For a country that produced the people who split the atom, invented the jet boat and the jetpack we should be able to build our own trains and farm sustainably.

The Green Party has achievable, practical and fiscally sound solutions for bringing at least 100,000 children out of poverty, cleaning our rivers and creating 100,000 s…

A Farewell to a Local Hero

I have just attended the funeral of Alister Fraser who died aged 81 after serving his community selflessly for most of his life. Alister was the principal of Invercargill's largest intermediate school and a school inspector when I was beginning my career in teaching. He was a larger than life personality whose passion for education knew no bounds and yet we heard at the service how he constantly worried that his support of teachers was adequate enough and whether the job he did made a difference.

After Alister retired he continued supporting schools and teachers where he could and even gave his time, most mornings, on a busy school crossing. He was involved in community leadership for much of his retirement and worked part time at Anderson Park Art Gallery as an attendant and guide.

Alister spent much of his life in serving the communities he lived in and the remuneration he craved for was not financial, but the knowledge that he had made a difference in the lives of others. The c…

New Zealand Taxes Poor More Than Aussie

New Zealand stifles its poor with much heavier taxation than in Australia and because half of New Zealand  income earners earn less than $28,000 it is also stifling our domestic economy. The median wage in Aussie is over $40,000. A simple comparison between the two tax regimes makes interesting reading.

New Zealand taxes all those earning $14,000 or less at 10.5 cents for every dollar while Australia doesn't tax the first $6,000 of earnings at all. In New Zealand we tax those who earn between $14-$45,000 17.5 cents for each dollar and Australia only taxes 15c from $6,000 through to $37,000. For those at the top end of earnings, $70,000 and above, New Zealanders get hit by 33 cents. Australia keeps ranking up the taxation for those who are better off, those earning $80,000 to $180,000 have a 37c tax and those above $180,000 are taxed at 45 cents in every dollar. Imagine our Government's increase in revenue if we did that, no asset sales needed.

GST is set at 15% in New Zealand…

Solid Energy and Dirty Secrets

Nicky Chapman comes from four generations of Southland Farmers, he is currently a member of Transition Town Port Chalmers. This opinion piece was published in the Otago Daily on November 18.

One thing's missing so far in all the hoo-hah about whether we should partially sell some of our state assets: the consequences of doing so for Southland and Otago.
These consequences are to do with the region's estimated six billion "economically recoverable" tonnes of lignite, three billion under the fertile paddocks of Eastern Southland alone. One of the state assets up for partial sale, Solid Energy, proposes to convert this lignite to briquettes, diesel and urea. Because lignite (brown coal) is a particularly low-quality fuel, the conversion process itself emits a lot of CO2, as well as the end products. Quoting Solid Energy's own estimates, the Greens' Dr Kennedy Graham has noted that the lignite projects will add an extra 10 to 20 million tonnes of carbon emissions a…

Dairying, from Dirty to Dynamic

This isn't Russell's farm (it was too wet to get a photo) but come from a useful site: The Global Dairy Agenda for Action
I had a very enjoyable and informative afternoon on Thursday. Russell McPherson, Southland's Federated Farmers Dairy Chairman, had invited me out to his dairy farm to have a chat and look over his property. As it turned out the weather wasn't too great so I viewed his farm through a window and we talked at length over a cup of tea.
Russell came across as the sort of farmer who is easy to admire, a hard worker who began his career as a shearer and worked his way into farm ownership. He is a man who would never be happy with the status quo but is always reflecting on the efficiency of his practice and looking for a new challenge. Russell's conversion from sheep to dairy was a business no brainer and his dairy shed reflected state of the art technology at the time of construction. I could tell by the appearance of his home and the visible surrounding …

Commercial Interests Beat Public Interests

Dear Sir
It was with some frustration that I had to watch CUE TV’s Election Special and not be able to be present myself as the Invercargill, Green Party candidate. The Green Party do not have the the corporate support that some other parties do and have to run a smart but fiscally responsible campaign on a tight budget (this is actually not the reason for our limited advertising budget it is because of a cap to spending dictated by law see later comment). We have committed television and radio spending on our national campaign and relied on the fact that most regional broadcasters do not charge for candidates to appear on candidate forums.

I was surprised when CUE TV informed me that I would have to pay to take part in their “Election Special” as I thought that it was in the public interest to provide a balanced and representative programme. I was grateful to have three minutes of free air time as part of a news item but it is hardly enough to provide much detail from our comprehens…

Green Leadership Tested Over Billboards

It is interesting to observe different leadership styles when those in positions of responsibility have to stand up and be accountable. When we compare the way Russel Norman managed the discovery that a Green Party member (and partner of his EA) was responsible for the defacing of National's Billboards with how John Key managed his error regarding his Standard and Poors comment, we see vast differences in approach.

Russel Norman responded almost immediately to the information he received regarding the billboard actions by making a statement to the media. He made an unequivocal apology to the National Party and he  had made immediate contact with John Key to apologise in person. Russel also identified those involved even though his EA was married to the instigator. Although the Green Party had not condoned nor instigated the action, Russel offered Green Party assistance to rectify the problem. Transparency and honesty are important elements in how we Greens operate and when indivi…

RMA Needs Regional Input

The proposed tunnel between the Dart and Hollyford valleys may benefit big players in the tourist industry but will be disastrous for the Southland economy and the environment. Southland District Council Mayor, Frana Cardno, is very concerned about the negative impacts on her patch.When you consider the long term ramifications of this project and the planned lignite mining it makes me even more convinced that we need to have a comprehensive economic development strategy for our region.

Our regional authorities have struggled to cope with the rapid growth of the dairy industry, which has had a hugely negative impact on our waterways. While there could have been better management of the growth of this industry our local bodies can only manage consents and business projects on an individual, case by case, basis. Under the RMA there is no real capacity to reject a proposal because of broader issues around carbon emissions or because it isn't compatible with the main business activiti…

Asset Sales and Deregulation - Fail!

Surely the long term aims of any Government should include generating enough revenue to pay for core spending and to create the right economic climate to encourage sustainable business development.

This government has a hands off approach to generating economic activity and they openly support ongoing deregulation and taxing less as their key tools for economic development. National strongly believes that the market can find its own solutions to issues such as the increasing costs for fossil fuels and shifting to more sustainable business practices. When asked by Gareth Hughes to describe the Government's strategy to deal with future oil shortages, Bill English replied that the market will adjust without support. National also looks for easy solutions to ensure energy supplies and continues our dependency on fossil fuels by opening our territorial waters for oil exploration and our land for coal mining and fracking. Before investing much in alternative energies they want to wring…

The Green Threat!