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Showing posts from May, 2011

Spot the Hippies in the List!

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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 …

A Mandate for Stupidity?

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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…

More Science Needed Says Dr Tim.

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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, a…

James Hansen's open letter to John Key

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Rt Hon John Key
Prime Minister of New Zealand
Parliament Buildings
Wellington 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 importa…

The Value of Stuff

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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 supera…

Education Budget Has Rotten Core

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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 …

Our Nation's Report Card Makes Interesting Reading

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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…

Revenue and Debt

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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 t…

Gore Hosts Hansen

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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 lo…

Dr Elder vs Dr Wright

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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 wi…

A Budget for Prosperity not Disparity!

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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 …

TPP-The Warning Bells Are Ringing!

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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…

20 Years to Comply is Not Urgency!

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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 b…

Toothless Water Rules Will Not Save Waituna

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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 rul…

It's All Right for Some, Mr Key!

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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:
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.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.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…

Tolley Trashes New Zealand's Reputation in Education.

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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 edu…

Green Party Candidate for Invercargill

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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…

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

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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 t…

The Nanny State Enables Free Choice

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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.

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 Part…

Te Tiriti o Waitangi and Politics

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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…