Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Spot the Hippies in the List!

This weekend the Green Party will be holding their Annual General Meeting in Auckland and I am looking forward to another well organized event. If it is anything like all the past meetings I have attended it will be full of robust and informed debate, useful workshops and great food.

It amuses and sometimes frustrates me when the media representation of these same meetings often goes to great length to confirm myths about the party rather than report on important policy development or serious announcements.

While I admit there have been times when we have fed some of these myths ourselves by some interesting activities early in our history, like the infamous Morris Dancing, it does seem odd that years afterwards it is still referred to while grossly racist comments at other party conferences (for example) are quickly forgotten. Television footage of our meetings in recent years have revealed a strange magnetic power that the few bearded or ethnically dressed delegates have over news cameras. With hundreds of people to choose from at our meetings I can almost guarantee that random interviews will aways include someone with a beard or wearing a cotton dress with an ethnic pattern. While those same people would have interviewed well it does mean the diversity of our membership is ignored.

The skills, work experience and knowledge base of our highest ranking candidates is impressive so I thought I would list some of the occupational backgrounds or qualifications within our Party list:
  • Lawyer
  • University Researcher
  • Diplomat, NZ Foreign Service, Fulbright Scholar
  • Regional Councillor, Environmental Consultant
  • Business Advisor/Company Manager
  • Development Manager 
  • Horticulturalist
  • Media Advisor, Rhodes Scholar
  • Transportation Consultant
  • Forestry Management Services
  • Union Organiser 
  • Business Strategist
  • Senior Policy Analyst
  • Scientist/Research Team Manager.
  • Army Officer
  • Teacher
For a closer look here is our full ranked list and biographical details and I will let you play the media game of "Spot the Hippie", too.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

A Mandate for Stupidity?

The Minister for Education, Anne Tolley, has never been able to engage in a professional discussion around the merits of her own National Standards policy. She continues to ignore specific questions and concerns from our highest regarded educationalists and suggests that the hundreds of schools and principals protesting against the forced implementation of the untested standards have political motives. 

When questioned in the house by Trevor Mallard about what an actual standard meant in plain english, Tolley made the bizarre claim that she didn't have to understand them, just implement and resource them. When really pressured she falls back on the statement that National was elected with a policy to introduce National Standards and therefore has a mandate to do so.

This view is so flawed and simplistic when no voter nor the National Party had any idea about what the standards would look like in reality. Parents had visions of plain english reporting and the ability to get a clearer idea of how their child compared to some useful benchmarks. What has eventuated will not do this. Early last year parents largely supported the idea of National Standards but admitted they didn't understand them, later surveys have shown the more the standards are understood the less they are supported. 

The Government has well and truly lost any mandate it may have had to introduce this flawed initiative and to keep harping on that the mandate still exists is desperate thinking. If my family gave me a mandate to buy a new car, there is an expectation that the mandate is for an improved situation. If the vehicle I returned with was not fully tested, didn't have a warrant of fitness and various mechanics had concerns about its safety, then that original mandate hasn't been honoured and I have no right to force it onto my family. This analogy directly applies to the situation with National Standards except what is at risk is far greater, we stand to seriously damage our internationally regarded education system and the children within it. 

This government has no mandate for stupidity!

Friday, May 27, 2011

More Science Needed Says Dr Tim.

On Campbell Live this evening the plight of the Waituna Lagoon was highlighted. Nitrogen and phospherus are washing into the lagoon at ever growing levels and a rapid decline of water quality has  been revealed and delicate, but important indicator plants are dying. The $8.8 million that the Greens got put into the 2007 budget to protect wetland areas has been largely spent (the money will cease next year) on useful partnerships with landowners and some concentrated scientific research. The rapid increase in dairying in Southland, and around the Waituna, has accompanied a similar increase in water pollution and scientists have now determined that the lagoon is poised at the point of flipping. It has happened to many other Lakes and lagoons in New Zealand and now it is about to happen to the Waituna, our most important and internationally regarded wetland.

Flipping is when a body of water shifts from a clean environment supporting a large range of plants and animals to a turgid, dead, algae ridden mess where little life can be supported. Once flipping has occurred it is highly expensive and near impossible to restore an area back to what it was. The time period predicted for this to happen is not specific, it could be weeks or months or could happen after one sizable storm.

At the same time all this has been publicly revealed through a lot of media attention, Environment Southland discovered around half the dairy farmers assessed over recent months have been seriously breaching effluent levels on their farms. Photos have been published showing paddocks awash with effluent.

Dr Tim Mackle, CEO of DairyNZ, was interviewed and what we heard sounded similar to a climate change denier. He claimed that the science was inconclusive and we need more, we just need to work on getting farmers on board and that things weren't that bad when it is only about 11% of farmers overall who aren't compliant (remembering of course that the current regulations are much softer than they should be).

On DairyNZ's website Dr Mackle is tasked with:
"ensuring that the DairyNZ purpose is fulfilled - to secure and enhance the profitability, sustainability and competitiveness of New Zealand dairy farming."

I think he is doing very well with enhancing profitability but he really needs to get a grip on what sustainability really means. The industry is dependent on clean water and it takes 1000 litres of water to make 1 litre of milk, so isn't that water kind of important? The future of the Waituna lagoon is now based on how much the dairy industry really values their most important resource (I wonder how much they currently pay for its use and care?).

Thursday, May 26, 2011

James Hansen's open letter to John Key

Rt Hon John Key
Prime Minister of New Zealand
Parliament Buildings
Dear Prime Minister Key,
Encouraged by youth of New Zealand, especially members of the organization 350.org, I write this open letter to inform you of recent advances in understanding of climate change, consequences for young people and nature, and implications for government policies.
I recognize that New Zealanders, blessed with a land of rare beauty, are deeply concerned about threats to their environment. Also New Zealand contributes relatively little to carbon emissions that drive climate change. Per capita fossil fuel emissions from New Zealand are just over 2 tons of carbon per year, while in my country fossil fuel carbon emissions are about 5 tons per person.
However, we are all on the same boat. New Zealand youth, future generations, and all species in your country will be affected by global climate change, as will people and species in all nations.
New Zealand’s actions affecting climate change are important. Your leadership in helping the public understand the facts and the merits of actions to ameliorate climate change will be important, as will New Zealand’s voice in support of effective international actions.
The fact is that we, the older generation, are on the verge of handing young people a dynamically changing climate out of their control, with major consequences for humanity and nature. A path to a healthy, natural, prosperous future is still possible, but not if business-as-usual continues.
The state of Earth’s climate is summarized in the attached paper, whose authorship includes leading world scientists in relevant fields. The bottom line is that Earth is out of energy balance, more energy coming in than going out. Thus more climate change is “in the pipeline”.
Failure to address emissions of carbon dioxide, the main cause of human-made climate change, will produce increased regional climate extremes, as seen in Australia during the past few years. But young people, quite appropriately, are concerned especially that continued emissions will drive the climate system past tipping points with irreversible consequences during their lifetimes.
Shifting of climate zones accompanying business-as-usual emissions are expected to commit at least 20 percent of the species on our planet to extermination – possibly 40 percent or more. Extermination of species would be irreversible, leaving a more desolate planet for young people. They will also have large effects on New Zealand’s principal export industry, agriculture
Sea level rise is a second irreversible consequence of global warming. Some sea level rise is now inevitable, but with phase down of fossil fuel use it may be kept to a level measured in a few tens of centimeters. Business-as-usual is expected to cause sea level rise exceeding a meter this century and to set ice sheet disintegration in motion guaranteeing multi-meter sea level rise.
Prompt actions are needed to avoid these large effects. Phase-out of coal emissions by 2030 is the principal requirement. Also unconventional fossil fuels, such as tar sands, must be left in the ground. These conditions, plus improved agricultural practices and reforestation of lands that are not effective for food production, could stabilize climate.
I have had the opportunity while in your country to meet your science adviser, Sir Peter Gluckman and your climate change ministers, Hon Nick Smith and Hon Tim Groser, and discussed these issues with them. If I can be of any help with the science of climate change I am very willing to assist your government. Implications for New Zealand are clear.
First, New Zealand should leave the massive deposits of lignite coal in the ground, instead developing its natural bounty of renewable energies and energy efficiency. If, instead, development of such coal resources proceeds, New Zealand’s portion of resulting species extermination estimated by biological experts would be well over 1000 species. Most New Zealanders, I suspect, would not want to make such ‘contributions’ to global change.
Second, New Zealand should lend its voice to the cause of moving the global community onto a path leading to a healthy, natural, prosperous future. That path requires a flat rising carbon fee collected from fossil fuel companies domestically, with the funds distributed uniformly to citizens, thus moving the world toward carbon-free energies of the future.
Prime Minister Key, the youth of New Zealand are asking you to consider their concerns and exercise your leadership on behalf of their future, indeed on behalf of humankind and nature.
With all best wishes,
James E. Hansen,
Adjunct Professor
Columbia University Earth Institute
Cc Sir Peter Gluckman
Hon Nick Smith
Hon Tim Groser

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Value of Stuff

My father has had a life long interest in cars and even though he retired after many years as a school principal he worked during an era when teachers, especially primary teachers, were not paid a great deal. Cars were also much more expensive before the days of Japanese imports and my father, being a practical man, admired reliability and functionality over style and high performance when choosing a new vehicle.

In my early childhood our family cars were British and a series of Humbers and Hilmans transported the Kennedy family from A to B. As the British car industry struggled to compete internationally and their reputation for quality and reliability faltered he bought a couple of Holdens (useful for towing boats and caravans) and then as Japanese cars came to the fore, some Mitsubishis.

On his retirement about twenty years ago he decided to buy what he thought may be his last car. This purchase was an important one for my father as he planned to cash up some of his valuable superannuation so he could afford to buy a good one. His research was impeccable as he trawled car magazines for reviews and interrogated mechanic friends. One car kept being mentioned, that met his criteria of reliability and functionality, the Toyota Corolla. It was duly purchased, was greatly admired by friends and family and for many years was lovingly cleaned, polished and carefully driven.

As it turned out this wasn't the last car my father would purchase and now in his eighties he is in excellent health and has bought three Toyotas since. However his first Toyota had sentimental value, it had proved to be every bit as reliable as promised and after twenty years of regular servicing and almost fanatical care it was in near pristine condition and, with only 190,000 on the clock, still had a long life ahead. No longer being able to justify holding on to it he passed it on to me, he hoped it would make a useful second car for our family and, as it was a manual, perhaps useful for teaching my son and daughter to drive.

A little over a week ago a driving lesson took a disastrous turn, literally, and the red Corolla ended up side-swiping a parked car, crushing the left front panel slightly and removing the indicator light. I went through the process of reassuring the horrified young driver and sorting out the insurance. As we had full insurance, and the car could still be driven, I thought the repairs would be a minor formality.

At this point the title of this post becomes relevant as I was in for a bit of a shock. When assessing the value of a car for insurance purposes the dominating factor is age, it doesn't matter about the mileage or the general condition of the vehicle, what we are dealing with is a twenty year old Toyota. Two separate valuations were averaged and in an undamaged state the car's value scraped in at $2,300 and since the quote for the repairs amounted to more than 3/4 of the value it was written off.

Here is a car that can still be driven and, apart from one panel and an indicator light, is in better order than many vehicles ten years newer and it is deemed a write off. After getting a cash payout I was able to buy back the "wreck" for $250. Obviously I am repairing the damage and the Corolla will soon be as good as new, but I did think the way we value stuff can sometimes be a little odd. This complicated and high functioning vehicle, with some slight (basically cosmetic) damage was reduced in value to that of a wheelbarrow.

 The actual Corolla photographed recently (it is worth clicking on the photo for a better view).

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Education Budget Has Rotten Core

NZEI Te Riu Roa President, Ian Leckie, puts the apparent increases in education funding into perspective in this press release.

Early Childhood Education appears to be getting a substantial boost with an increase of $550 million, but when the $400 cuts from the previous budget are taken into account it will hardly restore the damage done. The fact that we still substantially fund ECE below the level in most OECD countries (.6% of GDP compared to the average of over 1%) means we are still disadvantaging our youngest children. There is a desperate need for high quality ECE in our communities and when New Zealand has one of the highest percentages of working mothers in the OECD our funding needs to reflect that.

The 2.9% increase to schools operational funding is also a disappointment as it is well below inflation rates (4.9% this year) and will restrict further a school's ability to pay the wages of already underpaid school support staff. The refusal to centrally fund core support staff continues to provide an uncertain employment environment for these essential education workers and schools regularly have to lay off staff if funding is inadequate.

The ongoing funding to support National Standards is a disgraceful waste. Few schools now find them practical or useful and they are taking up an immense level of resourcing that could be used in areas that would make a difference to our struggling learners. New Zealand is ranked in the top four internationally for our education achievement but when so much money is directed away from the work and initiatives that got us there our current high standing will most certainly drop. Already an unhealthy narrowing of curriculum focus has seen our achievement in Science drop. Surely it is through learning domains such as Science and Technology that will best determine our future economic success.

The only positive is the increased provision for ultra-fast broadband and, while this is useful, it is only a tool and without the staffing to support it and a useful context for its use the impact to learning will be minimal.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Our Nation's Report Card Makes Interesting Reading

The New Zealand Institute has produced the NZahead report card that provides an overview of New Zealand's social, economic and environmental wellbeing. By measuring our performance in 16 key areas it hopes to generate robust discussion and support prioritization in future decision making.

It makes especially interesting reading because when we are ranked against other developed nations it puts into perspective how well we are performing and highlights where our government's priorities should be.

If you look at where we perform best we find that we are ranked 4th in the world in education and 3rd for our per capita levels of agriculture and forestry.

The areas where we perform worst and near the bottom of the OECD are:
  • Income inequality, this especially disadvantages children where a high percentage live in substandard housing and low income households.  
  • Mortality through assault (worse than the US and Mexico) 
  • Low household wealth (largely due to mortgages on overpriced housing) 
  • Low productivity, while our manufacturing industries are strong our performance in housing, finance and renting is particularly poor and yet these are the areas where much money has been focussed but have suffered through poor regulatory controls and over investment.
  • Innovation and Business Sophistication, our investment in R&D has been particularly poor over recent years and because of a focus on the flawed National Standards, science advisors to schools have been sacked and the introduction of our world leading Technology curriculum has been effectively delayed.
  • Water Quality, while currently not amongst the worst overall the obvious decline in our water quality is a concern. Nitrate levels in most rivers are rapidly rising and many currently degraded lakes are continuing to deteriorate. 
  • CO2e emissions per capita make us the 4th worst in the world and with the Government's energy focus on fossil fuels, especially lignite, this will only worsen. 
It is interesting that the Government is doing its best to create a crisis in education where we are doing particularly well and dismantling what made us successful with the introduction of National Standards and cutting funding to early childhood. As for agriculture and forestry I don't see any effort to ensure these industries are being managed sustainably or used as potential areas of employment growth.

In the areas where we are failing dismally I see nothing substantial in the latest budget to show that the National Government is determined to address them in any effective way. I can imagine what our report will look like after another National term of office and it won't be a good one!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Revenue and Debt

This government's "austerity budget" is a sham and rather than demonstrating fiscal prudence it demonstrates a dearth of practical economic understanding.

Before National came into government Labour had been working with government surpluses and at the start of the recession we had less government debt than most other countries. The biggest threats to our economy at that time were our private debt, largely due to inflated land and property prices, and the looming leaky building debacle.  

National immediately removed an important income stream by providing those on high incomes with enormous tax cuts and our upper income earners are now taxed much lower than those in Australia. It has been claimed that 5% of our tax payers contribute 31% of the tax take and that this is unfair. The reality is that New Zealand is becoming one of the most inequitable countries in the OECD and most tax payers have barely enough to survive. Referring to our average income is misleading as the few wealthy pull up the figures dramatically and while the average is around $50,000 per annum the median is about $39,000. For the majority of New Zealanders earning around $39,000 or less they are barely earning enough for basic necessities and to tax them further would be verging on criminal.

There have been ongoing revelations about how our most successful industries are paying little in tax. Australian banks, which dominate our banking industry, were found to be avoiding huge amounts of tax and an attempt to claw this back is an ongoing battle. The dairy industry is supposed to be our strongest yet in 2009 the average farmer paid less in tax than a pensioner ($1500 per annum), hardly enough to manage the external costs of environmental damage caused by irrigation and poor effluent management. The booming salaries of our CEOs and top public servants is also an indication of the amount of extra fat in our economy that could be trimmed for all our benefits. The Fonterra CEO had a whopping 41% increase to his salary and was rewarded with around $250,000 a year in tax cuts and the Education Ministry was severely hit by cuts yet still managed to give their CEO a 6.25% pay increase while teacher aids struggled to get over 1%.

Labour and National refuse to go near the huge untaxed profits generated by the sale of property or land.  A capital gains tax would bring in huge amounts of revenue and pull property values down to realistic levels. The lack of investment in productive sectors has largely been because of our hugely inflated land and property values compared to other countries.

If the National Government are serious about raising revenue and paying off debt than they need to turn their gun sights away from struggling low income earners, who have already paid their share many times over, and look at where the real fat in our economy exists.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Gore Hosts Hansen

Dr James Hansen addressed around 300 hundred people in Gore; regional councillors, council staff, NIWA scientists, farmers, high school students, environmentalists and interested members of the public. It was an especially impressive crowd when you consider the presentation was in the afternoon, during working hours, and many had to take time off work to attend. One Invercargill secondary school teacher had juggled class commitments to be there and wished she could have taken some senior students with her.

For some, James Hansen personified good science and what he had to say represented the accumulated knowledge from the world's scientific community from one of the most respected members of that community. For others (the skeptics, deniers or doubters) they wanted to hear for themselves what Dr Hansen had to say and see if he could pass their own personal criteria for assessing the of the value of his words.

Although the science was greatly in evidence in Dr Hansen's hour long initial presentation, the motivation for his books and his public advocacy for the health of our planet was an emotional one. His grandchildren featured heavily in the opening of his talk, his obvious pride and love for them was openly expressed and his determination to leave them a decent future on this planet was clear. The sincerity of the man could not be faked, he was not an industry lackey or a slick salesman of corporate spin, he was an honest and humble scientist who loved his family.

Dr Hansen's message was essentially a simple one, supported by numerous tables, graphs, extensively researched data and measured explanations of what they represented. He described how a variety of natural "forcings" have influenced our planet's climate since the beginning, but these have been superseded by man made forcings that threaten to take us on a climate changing journey well beyond the natural course of things. Unchecked we stand to loose much currently inhabited land to rising sea levels and will experience severe climate fluctuations . The ongoing survival of many species, whether animal or vegetable, will be compromised and many will be lost forever. By far the most dangerous forcing that is known to science is carbon dioxide which accumulates in the atmosphere over time and fossil fuels are the main contributor.

Dr Hansen did communicate hope but claimed that we must turn to our governments to do the decent thing and provide legislation and regulation that will shift dependency from fossil fuels to more sustainable energy forms. Using methods such as a direct carbon tax (that would provide a more realistic recognition of external costs) would force the commercial world to change their practice to accommodate it. What was once cheap fuel would become expensive and more sustainable alternatives would suddenly become attractive. Market forces work but it is up to our governments to shape them in our best interests.

The questions that followed were informed, relevant and testing and Jeanette Fitzsimons remarked on how impressed she was with the standard of them. Dr Hansen strengthened his credibility with his honest answers and when some questions were beyond the scope of his research he openly admitted he did not have the personal understanding to give an informed answer. Deniers, who provided their own understandings of climate change by questioning the importance of CO2 and suggesting gases such as water vapour were more important, were answered respectfully (by not totally dismissing the concepts) and putting them into perspective.

On the lignite issue that confronted us, Hansen was very clear, it needed an informed public debate (not closed forums) and strong leadership from our government. Mining the lignite would be highly detrimental to the health of our planet and although our emissions may appear comparatively small in an international sense they are still enough to tip the balance. To roll over and let it happen should not be an option if we really cared about our future generations. I was convinced.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Dr Elder vs Dr Wright

The two doctors went head to head on television this morning. Dr Jan Wright, Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment discussed the viability of mining lignite with Solid Energy's CEO Dr Don Elder. I have tried to list the points each made and you can be the judge of who came out on top. I guess a lot depends on your value base before you make that assessment, but for me the winner was clear!

Dr Don Elder
  • This will earn us up to $5 billion a year when we are in the middle of tough economic times.
  • We will be able to provide our own fuel for our transport.
  • We can provide urea to support our farming industry.
  • If new Zealanders want us to deal with the carbon dioxide emissions we will, we can store them in the ground or plant trees.
  • Ideally we would like to mine the lignite as soon as possible.
  • We are a state owned industry and are controlled by all New Zealanders.
Dr Jan Wright
  • The carbon emissions will be huge (Solid Energy alone will be releasing up to 17 million tonnes a year) and will shift us backwards as regards our commitments to the Copenhagen Agreement.
  • There is no reliable way of capturing the carbon at present, carbon storage is still not viable technology.
  • There are also two other mining companies wanting to mine the lignite that are not New Zealand owned that will have no obligation to deal with the carbon issue. There is no guarantee that Solid Energy will remain in New Zealand hands.
  • New Zealand tax payers will likely foot the bill for Solid Energy's carbon emissions.
I say leave the lignite and save the soil  and Dr Jan Wright has her say in her comprehensive report that the government has conveniently ignored.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Budget for Prosperity not Disparity!

The Green Party's alternative budget successfully presents the Green economic approach in an easily digestible overview. It really highlights the lack of cohesion or vision coming from this National led government.
National’s approach is to reduce revenue, reduce government spending on many essential services and borrow (while deliberately protecting the already rich). They are gambling on "get rich quick" schemes, like drilling and mining, with virtually no economic or environmental protections. They are also looking to sell off SOEs (that will be potential revenue earners well into the future) for a one time return and a long term loss.
The Greens will actively increase revenue in areas that will encourage a shift in investment to the productive sector. The Greens will also ensure there is an equitable sharing of the the costs to repair the damage done by earthquakes or the unsustainable exploitation of our resources. Those who can afford it will pay their share and the increased incomes of lower waged earners will also increase the tax take.
No choice, really.

Monday, May 16, 2011

TPP-The Warning Bells Are Ringing!

New Zealand in 2011 under a National led Government:
  • The New Zealand Government gifts Warner Bros $25 million and amends employment provisions so that local struggling actors have even fewer protections.
  • The NZ Govt gifts the private challenge to the America's Cup $35 million.
  • With rising living costs, high unemployment and wages rises falling behind inflation Finance Minister, Bill English, claims our cheap labour force will attract overseas business interests.
  • Foodbanks are stretched and budgeting services are overwhelmed. 
  • Pharmac is targeted by pharmaceutical companies as a barrier to profits. 
  • Government plans to force Fonterra to subsidize competitors in the domestic market yet many of these competing companies have overseas owners.
  • Government looks to sell off state assets to bring down deficit.
  • The Government pushes for PPPs (Public Private Partnerships) within state services despite the NZ treasury advising there would be a number of potential disadvantages and they should not be entered into without substantial protections.
  • Petrobras is allowed to explore for oil within NZ waters with no agreed safeguards or protections should there be an accident. Maritime NZ (tax payers) will have to foot the bill. 
  • The mining of coal and lignite lead the Government's energy plan.
In this current environment and under this highly corporate focussed Government the Trans-Pacific Partnership is being negotiated in secret. This Government readily sacrifices working New Zealanders to support international corporates and is quite prepared to sell off the family jewels for a quick buck. Working New Zealanders should be worried according to the CTU and we only have to look at Mexico to see what could potentially happen.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

20 Years to Comply is Not Urgency!

My recent letter to the Southland Times generally followed my earlier post and strongly condemned the National Policy Statement on freshwater management for being toothless and not enough to save the Waituna Lagoon. In today's paper Ali Timms, Environment Southland Chairwoman, expressed an entirely different view in her headlining opinion piece. Ali made a number of claims:

"It will enable us to work with the Southland District Council to make other plan changes that may be necessary to halt and eventually reverse the effects of some types of land use in the Waituna catchment."

"In practical terms, the adoption of the National Policy Statement on Fresh Water means that we will now have to revisit some of our rules, some of which are not strong enough to provide the sort of water quality and allocation regime we need in the 21st Century"

"Environment Southland is well placed to make a successful application to the fund to help pay for restorative measures to be applied within the Waituna catchment and in the lagoon."

I do hope that Ali Timms' positive take on this NPS has some validity and that her council can deliver on her claims but after reading the document and having some understanding of the situation I have some strong misgivings. 

When Ali claims that they will have the ability to halt or reverse existing land use I see a major barrier in this direct quote from the Policy (especially the last sentence):

Policy B7 and direction (under section 55) to regional councils
By every regional council amending regional plans (without using the process in Schedule 1) to the extent needed to ensure the plans include the following policy to apply until any changes under Schedule 1 to give effect to Policy B1 (allocation limits), Policy B2 (allocation), and Policy B6 (over-allocation) have become operative:
“1. When considering any application the consent authority must have regard to the following matters:
a) the extent to which the change would adversely affect safeguarding the life-supporting capacity of fresh water and of any associated ecosystem and
b) the extent to which it is feasible and dependable that any adverse effect on the life-supporting capacity of fresh water and of any associated ecosystem resulting from the change would be avoided.
2. This policy applies to: a) any new activity and b) any change in the character, intensity or scale of any established activity –
that involves any taking, using, damming or diverting of fresh water or draining of any wetland which is likely to result in any more than minor adverse change in the natural variability of flows or level of any fresh water, compared to that which immediately preceded the commencement of the new activity or the change in the established activity (or in the case of a change in an intermittent or seasonal activity, compared to that on the last occasion on which the activity was carried out).
3. This policy does not apply to any application for consent first lodged before the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management takes effect on 1 July 2011.”

It appears there are no retrospective powers provided to regional councils to deal with any overstocking allowed under an earlier consent and I can imagine a flood of applications for increased stock numbers hitting councils before July 1. Despite the multiple references in the NPS in support of the value of wetlands there appears to be no way to change the current intensive land use in wetland catchments that would reverse the levels of contaminants that threaten them.

When you compare the freshwater policy with that of air quality (below) there is quite a contrast in approaches. With air quality there are strong directives around what constitutes reasonable limits in emissions and very clear management guidelines when these are exceeded. When regional councils aren't expected to be fully compliant with freshwater policy until 2030, the almost 20 year time span appears to lack the urgency required.

  • No resource consent will be granted where that consent is the primary source of exceedances for fine particles. All resource consent decisions must take into account the net result of all activities and decisions taken towards improvement of air quality in their region. This allows for regional councils to consider future reductions expected as a result of other initiatives (e.g. replacement of open fires and inefficient wood burners) when considering a particle discharge from new industry.
  • Councils with non-complying air quality will be expected to meet a 'deemed plan' for improvement, where they will show a linear path to compliance with no more than one exceedances of 50µg/m3 by 2013. Only where they meet that linear path are they able to approve significant emissions of fine particles. Councils may construct their own plan for a trajectory better than that linear path.
  • After 2013, Councils will not be able to grant new discharge consents for emissions of fine particles into non-complying areas.
The $15 million dollars of contestable funds to reverse current degradation may have Waituna written all over it, but I'm sure regional councils across the country will have the same view about their own trouble spots (and there are many). When you consider that the Waituna had access to the $8.8 million the Greens got into the 2007 budget and it still wasn't enough, puts this potential windfall into perspective. And when you also consider that the Government has gifted a private yacht race challenger $35 million, the $15 million set aside to clean our fresh water seems a pittance. 

I do hope I am proved wrong and that Ali Timms and her council can implement some useful changes to our local regulations and enforce them effectively, but I'm not holding my breath.  

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Toothless Water Rules Will Not Save Waituna

Although expected, the National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management, or clean water rules, that were released yesterday are a real disappointment. They are entirely toothless.

The Government is providing more money to assist with the cleaning of polluted water but surely dealing to the cause of the damage is the most effective strategy. Regional Councils will have no effective way to reduce or manage overstocking that is the main contributor to water degradation.

Those of us who have been desperate to save the Waituna Lagoon from flipping were looking to these rules as the last real possibility of ensuring substantial action. What was released instead was an irrigation  handout, that will further intensify stock numbers, and a removal of the requirement to gain a resource consent for land use intensification. As Ali Timms, chair of the Environment Southland Council, has previously claimed, 100% compliance under the previous regulations will not save the lagoon and these new rules will not make a jot of a difference.

What we are lacking in this government is an understanding of what real governance means. They need to maintain a balanced perspective and find a sustainable pathway between economic interests and environmental sustainability. Instead they welcome the lobbyists for farming and business interests and allow them to dominate their thinking.

John Key's embarrassing interview in the UK just emphasized what a joke our 100% pure and clean and green brand is becoming. With a high number of our native birds on the world's endangered list and 90% of our low land rivers polluted, we have little to be proud of. Key's assertion that we are 100% pure compared to some other countries was justifiably laughed at. National's main maxim appears to be "as long as we are not the worst we are doing well". This government has almost non existent environmental aspirations and continues to behave like a colony of rats living in a bag of grain, eventually they will mix their source of survival with their own waste until it becomes toxic. No environment, no economy!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

It's All Right for Some, Mr Key!

I would have thought the penny would have dropped by now, but with National still high in the polls it obviously hasn't. Surely there have been enough clues to indicate which section of our society that National feels deserves the most support during these hard economic times. Incase you missed the odd clue I have listed a few here:
  1. Early in National's term Bill English's confusion over what was a reasonable housing allowance for a wealthy MP gave a clue to how removed National's MPs are from ordinary New Zealanders. $46,000 per annum was a sizable level of compensation for having to live in one's own home.
  2. The $35 million paid to private schools while community education had their budget slashed by $54 million was a blow to the unemployed who lost an opportunity to re-educate at an affordable cost.
  3. The $1.775 billion paid to bail out South Canterbury Finance, costing every man, women and child in the country $405, was a generous decision when those being compensated will probably not  be found in our lower income bracket.
  4. The generous tax cuts to our struggling CEOs would mean that John Key's corporate mates each would receive around $100,000 a year extra (given that the average CEO remuneration is around $1.6 million). Most working New Zealanders received nothing once inflated food costs and GST increases hit.
  5. The National Government gifted $25 million in subsidies to Warner Bros even though it has since been revealed that any industrial risk had already been removed. The Government also quickly amended employment regulations to the detriment of local actors who were already struggling on minimal incomes and employment protections. CTU head, Helen Kelly, has recently released a detailed account of the deception that occurred during this appalling fiasco of greed and media manipulation. 
  6. The $11 billion being spent on motorways while the growing demand for reliable public transport in Auckland has been hit by major subsidy cuts. With increasing oil prices this huge concentration of public funds on roads seems nonsensical until you realize that National's mates don't do trains or buses.
  7. The Government's new fleet of BMWs (with heated rear seats) will each cost more than a new ambulance and the total budget for VIP transport this year is $7.9 million. Home care workers, on the other hand, have to use their own cars paid for out of their minimal wages.
  8. John Key's sense of entitlement has continued with his permanent bevy of bodyguards causing an $800,000 blowout of the protection squad budget. One of the most popular Prime Ministers in New Zealand's history needs three bodyguards to protect him while he visits a dairy, at the same time teacher aids get assualted on a daily basis by their high needs students (while earning a miserly $15 an hour).
  9. The Prime Minister's use of expensive helicopters to take him from one social function to another has already been questioned and the use of a millionaire friend's helicopter has recently led to a taxpayer funded retrospective payment.
  10. The $36 million being paid to support the elitist America's Cup campaign seems extravagant when  small christchurch businesses are rapidly going under and farmers in the Hawke's Bay are facing financial ruin.
  11. Bill English has let it slip that perhaps there was no intention to bring wages up to match Australia. He has been able to lower wages so that we can now compete against China as a low wage haven for big business.
  12. Of course the killer blow will be the selling of state assets and cutting of public services and benefits to pay for the Christchurch rebuild. Expecting the wealthy to give up some of their tax cuts in an across the board levy was a no goer and beneficiaries and general wage earners will end up paying the bulk of the debt.
With the real value of wages plummeting, food banks under huge stress, thousands of young people out of work, small businesses struggling across the country, does this Government care? The evidence says no!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Tolley Trashes New Zealand's Reputation in Education.

The International Summit of the Teaching Profession included the top performing countries, educationally, in the world. The invitation to join this select group to share examples of good practice was an honour and recognition of our standing internationally. You can imagine the feeling of embarrassment for our practitioner representatives when our Education Minister refused to attend, thus diminishing the status of our delegation to a non speaking one. The Minister cited pressing commitments related to the Christchurch earthquake and when it transpired that the Japanese Minister was in attendance this added to the discomfort of our delegation. Christchurch teachers have continually informed the New Zealand's Educational Institute that they don't want the difficulties in Christchurch to cause any change or delay in any useful education initiative and had difficulty understanding what pressing decisions needed to be addressed during the two day conference.

The international education community has been watching New Zealand with bemused interest as we appear to be welcoming systems that have largely failed in other countries and dismantling aspects that have been admired and replicated. In implementing National Standards without a research base or trial period flies against good practice and diminishing the importance of qualified teachers in our Early Childhood Sector to save money is also a retrograde step.

As Minister of Education, Anne Tolley continually refuses to properly engage with educational experts or take advice from the profession. She struggles to demonstrate an understanding of professional issues yet dictates education policy and personally signs off on major initiatives. With costs soaring for Early Childhood participation and qualified teachers losing jobs, National Standards causing disarray and disillusionment in the Primary Sector and Support Staff in schools suffering amongst the worst working conditions and pay of any work force, a downward spiral is in evidence.

The fact that is continually overlooked in most of this government's pronouncements is that in most international assessments New Zealand is ranked in the top five. Our education system is not in crises. When you compare our country with like nations (that also have inequalities of income and multiple cultures) we are probably the best. This doesn't mean that we can't do better, but there there is no need for widespread reform.

I have difficulty sleeping at night when I imagine the consequences of National achieving another term in office.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Green Party Candidate for Invercargill

It's finally official, I am the Green Candidate for the Invercargill electorate. 

It has been a bit of a journey and I have had to go through a robust process to get to this point. I had to have a positive profile within the Party, a good CV, be formally nominated and survive an in depth interview before I got accepted into our candidates' pool. To achieve a list ranking in the Green Party I attended our campaign conference and experienced a number of useful workshops and training sessions. I then had to demonstrate my knowledge and skills by performing in a range of forums and scenarios in front of all the other candidates and large groups of members. My initial list ranking came out of my performances at this conference and the final ranking will come out shortly after all our membership have had an opportunity to vote. 

My candidacy for Invercargill involved another process that included a formal nomination,  a selection meeting (where other nominated candidates could contest the position) and then a majority vote was needed to win the position. 

You can imagine my surprise when Don Brash was able to use a corporate style takeover to attain the leadership of the Act Party when he wasn't even a paid up member

Other parties seem to use cloak and dagger type methods to change their leaders and I have heard some shocking stories about how list rankings are determined and electoral candidates are selected.

I am proud to be representing a Party that is principled, honest and transparent in the way it elects its candidates and leaders (our policies are pretty good too).

Thursday, May 5, 2011

"One Law for All"...But Whose Law?

It is generally accepted that facts and detail do not make effective election campaigns. Voters are attracted by concise statements that have emotional buy in and resonate with their own broad views. The left have often lose debates by going into detailed academic descriptions that demonstrate where we are and what we  should be doing, while the right score damaging hits with a quick pithy phrase. Brash's simple statement "one law for all" is a good example of this.

While Hone won the debate on TV1's Close Up if the assessment was based on passion and advocating for the oppressed, he did have difficulty countering Brash's simplistic statement. It is hard to explain why the "one law" idea is flawed and dangerous with a quick retort.

Maori have suffered under discriminatory laws for over 150 years and continue to do so. Maori tend to base their lives in communities and have collective aspirations while european law is centred on the individual and when this is applied to land ownership it has had disastrous consequences for them. Many of our laws discriminate against Maori or minority groups and are in breach of basic human rights. New Zealand is in many ways unique in that our parliament has absolute sovereignty and there is no higher constitution or bill of rights that can be used to overturn or moderate bad law.

Both Labour and National have abused parliamentary sovereignty to marginalize Maori for some time and the seabed and foreshore legislation is a good example where the rights of due legal process have been denied to a particular group of people. The National led government have been particularly skilled at giving the appearance of recognizing the rights of Maori while ensuring that they maintain the upper hand. In affirming the United Nations' Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the government was quick to reassure the country that it would have no affect on our laws and stated so in the house:

"I think it is important to understand that the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is just that—it is a declaration. It is not a treaty, it is not a covenant, and one does not actually sign up to it. It is an expression of aspiration; it will have no impact on New Zealand law and no impact on the constitutional framework."

So it is easy for Don Brash to claim there should be one law for all when he knows that once in the seats of power he can make the laws to suit himself and hard for Hone to counter such subtle and effective racism.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Nanny State Enables Free Choice

I recommend this article by Professor Janet Hoek from Otago University. Puts the whole debate of state support into perspective. Page 26 on this pdf link.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Pharmac and the TPP

I am really worried that US drug companies may be as successful as Warner Bros for getting huge concessions from the New Zealand Government. The pharmaceutical industry is under huge pressure at the moment due the increasing difficulty and cost  of developing of new drugs. To continue making high profits they must broaden the markets for the drugs they have and increase the prices for consumers. Pfizer, for example, has plans to lay off 10% of their staff and cut 2 billion dollars from their expenditure and other companies are facing similar pressures.

Pharmac has been hugely effective in keeping down the costs of prescription drugs and despite the occasional controversial exclusion, such as the hugely expensive drug Herceptin, it is generally perceived as one of the most successful pharmaceutical gate keepers in the world (contributing to huge frustration for drug companies).

New Zealand is currently involved in trade negotiations related to the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement or TPP and, as with any trade agreement, each country wants to protect their own industries with favourable terms. There has been an attempt by representatives of the US pharmaceutical industry to infiltrate Pharmac to gain wider access for their products and to increase Pharmac's budget. The claims that there are many New Zealanders suffering through drug restrictions and that our health system is costing more than it should because of ineffective drug regimes are largely emotive arguments to sway public perceptions.

We need our government to stand strong against these multinational companies and protect our interests against the sort of exploitation that exists elsewhere. United States citizens pay huge amounts of money for cheaply produced, common prescriptions and many become impoverished due to extended medication needs. If you read the last link you will discover that what we have in Pharmac is what US citizens dream about, we don't want to lose it!

Gareth Morgan puts his weight and commonsense behind Pharmac, too.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Te Tiriti o Waitangi and Politics

I am extremely fortunate to be a member of two organizations that recognize the Treaty of Waitangi as a document that dictates how they operate. It saddens and frustrates me that as a nation we still struggle with recognizing tangata whenua and what true bi-culturism really means. This lack of understanding has continually been exploited and has often fractured the political landscape and what we are witnessing now is a continuation of this. With Hone Harawira forming his new Mana Party and Don Brash grabbing the leadership of Act we see two new lines in the sand being drawn and the potential of cultural confusion and race based politics being a large part of the coming election.

We are never going to be able to be comfortable with our bi-cultural heritage unless we can really deal with    the wrongs of the past and develop an effective way of respectfully moving forward. Don Brash claims that it just means everyone being treated the same and Hone would be the first to say that, when huge inequities of health and wealth exists between Maori and Pakeha, we have problems and we need Maori focussed solutions.

Defining what the Treaty means and developing a way to recognize it in a practical and meaningful way is complex and hugely challenging, but possible. My experience of the Green Party and NZEI Te Riu Roa has demonstrated to me how it can be done and it involves empathy, respectful communication and compromise. Sadly these factors are not common elements of how we do politics in this country and even under MMP we still have a system where the "winner takes all" and the majority can ignore the minority in decision making.

NZEI Te Riu Roa has been a Treaty based organization for over a decade and while stating the intent was a matter of a vote, acting on it has been a real journey of discovery and, to be honest, not always a smooth journey. Initially the organization was split into two separate strands to allow self determination of our Maori members, this was a useful initiative as Maori could then discuss their issues and determine what was important in forums that were culturally comfortable to them. While the two strand structure recognized the Maori voice and the way NZEI Te Riu Roa operated as a whole shifted in noticeable ways, ultimate decision making was still dependent on a majority vote and misunderstandings and mistrust still existed.

The separate nature of the strands had also meant a separation of the membership at a number of levels and communication between the two groups became problematic. Maori were expected, despite smaller numbers, to manage their own structures and attend their own meetings then also support the "mainstream" system as well. While Maori were expected to operate and work in both strands few Pakeha felt comfortable attending Maori hui, although they were welcome to do so.

Attempts were made to educate the general membership about what the Treaty meant to Maori and how it could be recognized effectively in the organization and the discussion that was generated was useful. While the two strands still exist NZEI Te Riu Roa has shifted to a new level of understanding, not only do we provide culturally supportive structures and celebrate diversity when we come together in our meetings, but we have started actually listening to each other with real empathy. We have discovered at long last that it is not only having the systems in place, or the money made available, it is continuing to talk together in honest ways and being open to new ideas and ways of approaching problems.

It will always be problematic when Maori are a minority in their own country and in any organization, that when giving "equal" status it then implies equal power. The sense of fairness for many becomes distorted when a minority group is allowed to possibly dictate to the majority and these are the feelings that Brash like to exploit. Where cultural diversity exists there can never be always one answer to a problem and if a monocultural system dominates it means a majority culture will likely dictate how all others will exist. This approach is really simple and easy for those like Don Brash but will essentially further create an imbalance of power and wealth and destroy the wonderful diversity that exists in Aotearoa.

We will truly reach a level of political maturity in this country when the likes of Hone doesn't feel the need to form yet another party to effectively represent his people. With the dissatisfaction of many Maori with the Labour Party and the Maori Party I would have hoped that they would look to the Green Party as the best vehicle for progressing their issues and concerns. Our recognition of the Treaty as a foundation document of our party makes us distinct from others and our democratic and consensus decision making processes are similar to those of Maori. Our recognition of the importance of the land we live on and the water and air we rely on also reflects shared values and kaupapa. When Maori and Pakeha can coexist in one political party and manage to feel that they can effectively be heard and represented by that party, then we will be closer to achieving something worth celebrating.