Thursday, June 30, 2011

Brash Bashes Bureaucrats with Nazi Slur


Don Brash made a hard hitting speech to Federated Farmers today that revealed much about how he thinks and what his true values are. Through my discussions with local farmers I have become aware that Federated Farmers does not fully represent the farming community and large numbers of farmers believe that the organization promotes extreme views that they are not comfortable with. It is obvious that when Don spoke to this group that he felt his views would be well received and while there were no standing ovations, there were no challenges to what he said.

The most controversial statement was his description of local RMA bureaucrats as "Little Hitlers" who got in the way of reasonable progress. According to Brash if someone owns land there should be no restrictions on what they do with it and petty bureaucracy needs to be dealt to. Of course, putting to one side the inappropriate "Hitler" comment, he has probably highlighted an issue that many may have experienced to some degree but we need to get this in perspective. Any regulations are enforced with bureaucracy and there will always be instances when the process becomes a little fraught, but to claim New Zealand is a difficult country to develop a business couldn't be further from the truth. In the Ease of Doing Business Index, created by the World Bank, New Zealand is rated 3rd behind Singapore and Hong Kong. Our bureaucracy is hardly excessive by world standards and I would be far more concerned with the bureaucrats who are the gatekeepers for ACC or home support.

The other bizarre claim Brash made was around climate change, he is a total denier who claims the science is inconclusive, and his lack of concern about the ramifications of a warming planet was almost infantile. The loss of a good amount of the world's land surface was completely ignored and he described man's ability to live in a range of climates has already been established so there was no need for worry. Obviously extreme weather patterns, the deaths of millions and the catastrophic loss of animal and plant species meant nothing to his money driven and blinkered view of the world.

Brash has already exposed his limited understanding of the Treaty of Waitangi and I have challenged the not so subtle racism behind his "one law for all" statement previously in this blog. He may have staged a corporate take over of a minor political party, but it is still possible he could sit within the caucus of the next government and his flawed thinking may have influence. Heaven help us......

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Waituna's Fate in Minister's hands


Nick Smith is in town and having to confront some of our nation's most challenging environmental issues. This will be a real test of his commitment to protect the environment from catastrophic events and show, post election, what we can really expect from this government environmentally.

He faced his first hurdle when confronted by an excellent question from local environmentalist, Chris Henderson. Nick had been promoting the fact that any lignite mining in New Zealand would be modeled on international best practice and Chris' reasonable question "Minister, can you tell us, where is the world's best practice example of lignite mining?" stopped him in his tracks. He wasn't able to give an answer.

Of course the most immediate issue demanding the Minister's attention is the imminent "flipping" of the Waituna lagoon. Russel Norman put the issue high on his agenda and changed his programme earlier in the year to spend time looking at the problem first hand. As Minister of the Environment, Nick has finally made it down to the Deep South to see what can be done for our country's most internationally recognized wetland area.

The Minister had the greatest opportunity to do something significant to save all our fresh water systems with the National Policy for Fresh Water Management, but after delaying the release for some eighteen months the final document was a real disappointment. Regional councils had been crying out for some legislation that would give them real teeth for dealing directly with the causes of water degradation and got a damp bus ticket.

Given the failure of the water management rules to enable drastic change all eyes are on the Minister to see if he will give some strong governmental directives to deal with the most pressing concerns at least. The decline of the water quality in the Waituna catchment is largely due to stocking levels exceeding what the environment can sustain. The water rules do not allow for retrospective changes to consents that were not sustainable, so there needs to be an ability created to remove stock from the immediate catchment and some reasonable compensation to be paid to the farmers affected. This is the only solution that would really make a difference and the environmental clock is ticking......

This short amateur video is worth a look.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Education Ministry Gets Poor Report


The StateServices Commission, the Treasury and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet have completed a combine report on the performance of the Education Ministry. This report was presumably instigated after the Ministry was ranked near the bottom of 37 Government departments in an earlier review.

The ten areas assessed were given either an A, B or C.
An "A" represented a strong result, a "B" represented being well placed to achieve and a "C'' indicated some development was needed.

REPORT CARD
A   Experiences of the public
B   Curriculum and National Standards
B   Early Childhood Education
B   Provision of Special Education Services
C   Vision, Strategy and Purpose
C   Leadership and Governance
C   Engagement with Staff
C   Efficiency
C   Delivering the Tertiary Education Strategy
C   Provision of Infrastructure for Schools

It is difficult not see this report in the context of the $25 million in cuts that took effect last year and would it be useful to see the levels of performance pre and post the cuts in funding to be able to judge how much staffing cuts have contributed to poor performance. Anecdotally I am aware that frontline special eduction staff are struggling with their workloads and are passing more higher end cases to RTLBs and my work with helping write the draft IEP document made me a aware of a scarcity of human and financial resources (the Ministry funded one person, part-time, to put this important document together).

It appears that the Education Ministry is more focussed on public relations (where it achieved the highest grade) and National Standards than actually funding anything of substance and this reflects the ideology of the current government. It is a pity that the New Zealand Curriculum and National Standards haven't been separated in the report because we all know our National Curriculum is strong after many years of consultation and collaboration, but National Standards are still fraught with high levels of frustration and non-compliance (750 principals voting against the current Standards). It is also a pity the Early Childhood received a strong assessment when the ability to deliver a high level of service to children has been seriously compromised.

National has managed to get away with a lot that it has done to education because of a high level of performance that was in existence before (continually ranked within the top five countries internationally for some time) and it takes a little while before changes to delivery occur. When there has been a huge funding shift to nationally implement a half baked assessment system (and try and make it function), money had to be taken from other areas and it looks like school infrastructure and general efficiency has suffered most.

Martin Thrupp's Rains Project (Research, Analysis and Insight into National Standards) has been criticized by National supporters because it is being funded by NZEI, however it is unlikely that the government would fund such a study when there could be a negative outcome. Martin is an internationally regarded educationalist and to have someone of his standing research the extent that school cultures and teacher delivery will change (either negatively or positively) after the introduction of the Standards is hugely important. His qualitative research will be peer reviewed both locally and internationally and it is not likely that he would risk his reputation through poor method and analysis.

It will take 3 years before Martin's research is complete but after reading this report on our Education Ministry, I think to wait that length of time before dealing to impending crisis would be negligent. The easiest way to turn things around to save our quality public education system would be to change the government in November.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Building Productivity National's Way


After thirty years of teaching I have learned one or two things through the experience of just doing the job. The most important thing I have learned is that children only really learn and progress if they believe themselves capable of doing so and their self belief is hugely reliant on others believing in them.

Treating children with respect, consistency and fairness also goes a long way to getting respect from them and creating a positive and productive working environment. Strangely enough I have found that when I apply similar principles to adults, when I am in a management role, it also produces huge benefits to the worksite atmosphere and staff performance.

This government has sent clear messages to the New Zealand workforce that they don't back them or believe in them. They refuse to recognize that our workers should be paid a livable wage and so devalue the work that many do. They outsource manufacturing when a workforce capable of producing the same things already exists in our own country. They refuse to collaborate with professional groups such as teachers and demand obedience in the implementation of initiatives that have no professional basis. They take direction from international corporates over New Zealand workers to the extent of changing employment law that will disadvantage those workers.

The Government's distrust of workers mean they have to produce medical certificates for every minor absence, when asked, and anyone not in work must be a bludger and a waster unless they can prove otherwise. They give huge tax breaks to the already wealthy and have quietly eroded and chipped away at government services,  Kiwisaver,  adult education opportunities, ACC coverage and financial support entitlements. The refusal to support any action regarding the inequities around underpaid, female dominated, jobs is yet another put down for a large group of workers.

I just can't see how belittling, bullying, devaluing and ostracizing will give heart to our workforce and inspire them to greater productivity.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Alasdair Thompson Not Alone!


In many ways Alasdair Thompson reflects a leadership style that once existed but has had a resurgence under this National Government. The sort of arrogant, bullying behaviour that Thompson continually displayed when confronted with legitimate requests for evidence was embarrassing enough but it took some very old fashioned sexist comments to fully expose the man and provide some real media pressure. Thompson's inept handling of the whole situation meant that his attempts to explain himself and apologize dug an even deeper hole and only served to support Catherine Delahunty's bill even further.

The passion and media attention given to this whole incident is was fully justified given the position that Thompson holds but it concerns me that there is a lack of media consistency when we have been confronted with similar ineptitude by other figures of authority. The aspect that has been lost through the whole menstrual saga is that this is not just an example of one man's ignorance, but it represents a pervasive leadership style that is common throughout our government and not just amongst the men.

If we set aside the emotive nature of Thompson's statements and look at the bare sequence of events we will see something like:
  • Something is suggested that challenges the position of government or business interests
  • A dismissive and arrogant response 
  • A legitimate challenge to the response, often asking for evidence
  • A bullying, evasive response that often includes the questioning of motives or the character of questioner and refusal to provide convincing evidence.
In the case of Thompson, the real indignation felt by the female interviewers meant greater tenacity in their interviewing style which ultimately revealed the true nature of the man. But sadly this passion and tenacity has been lacking from media when we have been confronted with similar ignorance and arrogance from our politicians and leaders regarding issues I regard just as important. 

When Education Minister, Anne Tolley, has been challenged regarding the legitimacy or evidence behind her National Standards we see a repeat of the pattern above, yet no strong media response. Apparently the fate of all our children and the respect of our teachers doesn't deserve the same scrutiny.

When John Key was questioned in the BBC interview he made some outrageous statements regarding New Zealand's environmental situation and questioned the credibility of respected scientist (Mike Joy). Mainstream media again were notable by their absence, while blogs had a field day. The public remained largely ignorant of the truth behind the interview and Key continues to ride high in the polls.

Surely when any business or political leader expresses opinions that are obviously out of line or lacking in evidence, they deserve robust media attention. Key and Tolley's abuse of power and misrepresentation of facts, which directly relate to the state of our education system and our environment, deserves the same intense scrutiny that Thompson received. The issues may not have the same personal connections but the potential damage that will occur under such questionable leadership is surely more far reaching than than anything Thompson could achieve.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Greening of China


Despite its huge industrial expansion and reliance on fossil fuel to drive economic growth, China's carbon footprint per capita is still less than New Zealand. Admittedly China's population is immense when compared to New Zealand and on a global scale the damaging emissions from China are far worse than ours, but it still means as a country we aren't doing the best that we can.

While China has used coal to initially grow their economy, there is general acceptance that this is not an energy source that is sustainable or environmentally viable into the future. China is now a world leader in renewable and clean energy and its exports of solar and wind powered technology is becoming an increasingly important part of their economy. China is also building the world's most ambitious ecocity, that will serve as a model for future urban development across the country.

It is difficult to see how our "Clean Green", "100% Pure" claims will hold fast with so much now happening that contradict them. With intensive, poorly regulated farming degrading our waterways to the extent that 90% of our lowland rivers are polluted and the Government placing the mining of coal and lignite at the top of their energy strategy shows us moving in the opposite direction of China. The fact that up to $11 billion is to be spent on motorways and the level of spending on public transport isn't keeping up with demand shows an unrealistic dependence on the ongoing availability of cheap fossil fuels. When other countries are growing their rail capacity New Zealand shuts down rail workshops and lays off skilled workers.

While we still have some credibility as a "Green" country, surely we should be striving to develop industry and infrastructure that fits the image. We should be among the world leaders in sustainable farming, green technologies and eco-friendly communities. With the rebuild of Christchurch there is much potential to include green and sustainable principles to make it a model for other cities in New Zealand and as an international gateway into our country this first impression is an important one. Our laws and regulations should support a green economy and all our research and energy should be to this end. Russel Norman has clearly outlined how this can happen, while National's lack of a plan and reliance on market forces is clearly a route to disaster.  

Monday, June 20, 2011

Greens Make a Difference in the South


As long as the Green Party has existed there has been a strong relationship between the Party and the people of the South. When many parties are afraid to make a stand on a local issue, and local MPs appear to go into hiding, it is the Green MPs who have been the most conspicuous.

Rob Donald had been a passionate supporter of retaining provincial building societies and banks in local ownership and when an initiative to align a parliamentarian with business was instigated, Rod became an enthusiastic supporter of the SBS bid to remain independent. A member of the current board recently told me the high regard the board had for Rod regarding his advocacy on their behalf.

Rod was also prominent during Invercargill's disastrous schooling review. A combination of Trevor Mallard's rash statement regarding the viability of some secondary schools and poor process by the Ministry of Education caused the loss of the diversity in schooling that Invercargill once enjoyed. At one of the many fraught and heated public meetings Rod Donald was the only MP who questioned the process and spoke in support of proper transparency and community involvement.

With the rapid and poorly regulated expansion of dairying threatening the quality of our local rivers and the Waituna Lagoon it has been Russel Norman who has kayaked the water and spoken with local farmers and regional authorities. Russel has impressed all he has spoken to with his understanding, knowledge of the issues and his ability to listen.

The severe and often arbitrary cuts in home support by the local DHB and the media exposure of substandard care in elderly residential homes resulted in Sue Kedgley, and Labour's Winnie Laban, touring the country to collect information first hand. The 200 people who attended the Invercargill meeting emphasized the real concerns that existed and those in attendance were appreciative of the chance to be heard.

When over 400 people marched the Invercargill streets to protest against the mining of national parks the only MP to march in support was Kevin Hague. Kevin had cancelled an earlier engagement to be there and his speech at the conclusion was well received.

The mining of the Lignite near Mataura has become hugely controversial and Solid Energies slick promotion of the wealth that can be generated and the jobs that will result has been promoted with no regard to the concerns expressed by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment in her recent report. While National has openly promoted the lignite mining, Labour has been noticeably silent on the issue and it was Green MP, Gareth Hughes, who took the time to visit the area and hear the views of local government and the Mataura Landcare Group.

Despite never actually being in government the handful of Green MPs have always had a strong local  presence and many Southlanders have benefited from Green initiatives such as home insulation, abolition of youth rates and improved waste management. The Green Party's work ethic and pragmatism has allowed us to achieve far more than believed possible and you can imagine that if we had double the current number of MPs elected, Southland should benefit even further.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Eyes of Our Children


I spent much of the day supporting my son while he competed in the provincial Lion's speech competition in Gore. There were 16 senior school competitors repesenting secondary schools from both Otago and Southland. All presented themselves well in their school uniforms and introductions for each competitor included their interests and future aspirations. I was impressed by all the students' involvement in sport, cultural activities, community service and their intention to work in highly qualified and useful jobs or professions.

Each competitor had to present a six minute speech on a topic of their choice then later make a one minute impromptu speech on a given subject. We heard speeches on such things as prejudice, etiquette, history, technology, communication, transition to adulthood and giraffes, to name a few. Poise, humour, research, eloquence and some strong messages dominated the day and many comments were made amongst the audience regarding a positive future ahead based on this sample of our youth.

Each one of these highly talented and motivated young people were looking forward to their future and the possibilities ahead of them. It made me think about the world we are preparing for them to enter as young adults and the sort of decisions and choices they will have to make. I'm afraid at that point, I felt a little sick.

Not far from the theatre where the speeches were being made is the rich agricultural land that Solid Energy has purchased for conversion into opencast lignite mines. The Mataura River flows nearby, carrying a heavy load of sediment, nitrates and phosphates in the general direction of the threatened Waituna Lagoon. The heavy rain would have meant all those dairy farms with small holding ponds (previously consented) would be quietly irrigating the overflow out onto already saturated paddocks. The ditches flowing into the Mataura will be running green.

The government has decided to borrow to pay for the Christchurch rebuild and they have promised cuts in state services and strong changes to employment law to favour employers if they are re-elected. The minimum wage is being held under a livable level and youth rates have been threatened.

I can't find the original quote, but I remember Kennedy Graham once suggested something like - those making decisions for our future are deliberately avoiding the eyes of their children or grandchildren while doing so.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Median Wage Drops While Company Profits Rise


JKT links to Statistics New Zealand and reveals the 1.7 drop in the median weekly income (from all sources). The median income is now only $529 per week, $9 a week over the minimum wage (if looking at a 40 hr week). For a year's income it works out at $27,508, so almost half of all New Zealanders live on less than this. No the wonder the demand for food parcels is dramatically increasing and child poverty involves over 20% of our children.

Bill English and the National Government appear to have no intention of addressing the growing inequities and Bill has even stated that low wages will give us a competitive edge. National's enthusiasm for supporting corporates and the already wealthy as a way to stimulate the economy appears to reflect the failed "trickle down" theory of the past. This approach is fully exposed in the latest Time magazine's headlining article "The five Myths about the US economy". Myth number five is "The private sector will make it better" and it is revealed that American firms generated $1.68 trillion in profit over the last quarter of 2010 alone, with none of that profit being translated into jobs or increased wages.

I thought I would do a quick google to check how our New Zealand companies are doing and this is what I found:
Westpac: Profits up 68% ($210 million)
Infratil: up 26% ($120 million)
Air New Zealand; up 33% for half year ($115 million)
ANZ: up 19% for half year ($605 million)
McDonalds: up 5% for half year ($35 million)
Freightways: up 9% for half year ($15.8 million)
F&P: up 20% ($33.5 million)
Delgats: up 9% ($17.1 million)
Fonterra: up 21% ($293 million from a revenue of $9.4 billion)
Fairfax Media: up 15.8% for half year ($172.3 million)
(an average of 22.8% increase in profits across these randomly chosen companies)

These companies represent a good cross-section of our economy; banking, transport, farming, manufacturing, investment and fast food. The increase in profits range from 5 to 68% yet wage increases have been forcibly kept down under 4% and many on the lowest incomes struggle to get more than 1% through their wage negotiations.

I am ready to admit that I am not an economist but it certainly appears that under this government our successful businesses are laughing all the way to their banks and the banks are laughing all the way back to Australia.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Future According to Bill.


A letter in today's Southland Times questions the logic of selling off our public-owned utilities to foreign corporates and likens the sales to "giving our heritage away for two blankets and a musket". Local MP Eric Roy defends the indefensible by attempting to promote the sell off as "gilt-edged" investment opportunities for kiwis and the freeing up of capital for other investments (presumably more motorways). Bill English also contributes his penny's worth in his regular column "From the Beehive" by repeating the party spin expressed by Eric. Bill also makes the bizarre claim that selling state assets will "get our economy growing sustainably".

I have often talked about the coming election providing a choice between two distinct futures and this idea shaped my speech at our campaign conference earlier this year. It is important that the voting public consider where the National led government is taking us and where we will be 5 or 10 years from now. A Green future is one that understands the true meaning of "sustainable" and offers us the best chance of prosperity for all New Zealanders than the current regime. I tried to compare the two futures in this letter to the Southland Times, the 250-300 word limit creates some challenges however.

Dear Sir
This coming election will give voters a clear choice between two futures. The future under the current government is not a prosperous one. It is a future where almost half of our state assets will be sold and much of the profits they will generate will probably disappear overseas. Those who are already wealthy will continue to reap huge tax cuts while the majority of New Zealanders, earning less than $39,000, will have to survive increasing living costs and cuts to state services.

A future where $11 billion dollars will be spent on Northern motorways at the expense of public transport investment and the upkeep of southern roads and a future where skilled workers, such as those based at Dunedin’s Hillside Workshops, are laid off in favour of outsourcing. Our growing prison population will continue to cost us over $90,000 a year per prisoner while 20% of our children live in poverty and early childhood education will still be under funded. A future where scientists and professional experts are ignored while secret lobbyists have the government’s ear.

The future under a Green influenced government will open lobbying to public scrutiny and keep valuable strategic assets in New Zealand ownership. We will ensure shared responsibility for rebuilding Christchurch through a levy based on what people can afford and not resort to continued borrowing. We will invest in our children, not prisons, and value and support our local expertise and skills through liveable wages and jobs that add value to our economy and communities (like our home insulation scheme that has benefited over 100,000 households). We would shift government banking to our own Kiwi Bank and make sure hugely profitable, but polluting industries pay their way.

A Green future will be a prosperous and sustainable future.

Yours sincerely
Dave Kennedy
Invercargill Candidate for the Green Party

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Our Shameful Statistics For Elderly Care.


The latest Consumer reveals some disturbing statistics about our rest homes. Out of the 287 homes audited over the past year, only 14% fully met the services delivery standards and over half couldn't even meet the "safe and appropriate environment" standards. These are especially appalling statistics considering the concern expressed by both the Health and Disability Commissioner and the Auditor General back in 2009 when both voiced serious misgivings about the quality of the oversight for rest homes.

Due to increasingly common media reports of inadequate care in rest homes and the cost cutting restrictions being placed on home care, some focussed research on the issues was jointly organised by the Green and Labour Parties (National refused to participate). Green MP, Sue Kedgley, and the recently retired Labour MP, Winnie Laban, toured the country last year and met with those directly affected by aged care services. The interest in the tour was such that in Invercargill alone over 200 people turned up to share their frustrations and disillusionment.

Sue and Winnie's report revealed a changing culture in the area of aged care. Most elderly prefer to stay in their own homes as long as possible and reliable and quality home care is an essential factor in supporting this. It then stands to reason that those who are in residential homes are generally beyond any level of independence and are therefore in need of much higher levels of care.

Whether it be residential care or home support, most providers operate as businesses and need to be financially viable. The main cost is staffing and if staffing is kept at minimum levels and unqualified staff are employed on low wages it ensures greater financial returns. Most complaints and audit failures are around low staffing levels and the inexperience or the limited knowledge of staff. Concern around shifting funding away from staffing was mentioned in Sue and Winnie's report:

"However, we believe it is vital that there is greater accountability and monitoring of the taxpayer funding in the sector, and evidence of how public funds are currently being spent, before additional funding is given to the sector. For instance, the Thornton Review states that operating costs per resident per day is $78.70, yet the subsidy is $109 (p.9). This begs the question, where is the extra money being spent?

The Nurses Organisation say they have been told by District Health Boards that providers are not supposed to use taxpayer funding for capital development. However, in their negotiations with providers they have frequently been told that extra money will not be spent on extra wages because the money is needed for refurbishing residential homes or for building new facilities."

There are publicly available audit reports on certified providers but useful detail is lacking and Consumer recommends mandatory reporting on key indications of care - such as staffing levels and infection rates etc. Commercial sensitivities should not be a factor when health and welfare of residents should be the prime concern. Consumer also called for a central agency with a responsibility for the aged care sector, a little like the Education Review Office (ERO) they could provide good oversight and public transparency around the performance of individual rest homes. We not only need an independent authority but we also need tougher regulations around staffing and the ability to enforce them.

It is a matter of shame that New Zealand has an appalling international record for the health and safety of our children (ranked 29 out of 30 in OECD) and the way we care for our elderly isn't much better.


Thursday, June 9, 2011

Chicken Licken Politics


It is a well accepted practice for right leaning Governments to use a sense of crisis to initiate high levels of change. The approach has been well documented by Naomi Klein in "The Shock Doctrine"and this government has shown it is not averse to using crisis to drive their predetermined agenda. While the Christchurch earthquake and the international economic collapse were genuine the National Government's  responses to them needs to be questioned as do a number of other crises they have fabricated for their own ends.

I have tried to describe each crisis and the how the National Government has used and responded to it and the Green solution:

ECONOMIC CRISIS

Situation:
  • Poorly regulated property markets, investment companies and financial advisors cause widespread collapse of institutions and overvalued, poorly secured investments. 
  • Government debt one of the lowest in OECD (Labour Government recording surpluses prior to collapse).
  • High level of private debt through borrowing to invest in property and rentals which provided a greater return than other investments because of a lack of a capital gain's tax.
  • Inflated land and property values attract overseas investment and prices them well beyond average New Zealanders. House ownership drops considerably.
  • Australian Banks make huge profits yet avoid large amounts of tax.
Response:
  • Government provides large tax cuts to top end incomes making our tax rate lower than Australia and considerably cutting government revenue.
  • Government bails out many poorly managed finance companies to stabilize economy and protect innocent investors. Bailing out South Canterbury Finance cost tax payers $1,755,000,000 or $405 for every man, woman and child in New Zealand.
  • To finance the tax cuts the Government raises GST and cuts spending in Early childhood, Ministries and Government services.
  • Some regulation (watered down from original) of financial advisors legislated.
  • Govt uses legal avenues to try and claw back tax from banks.
  • Government decides to focus on oil, lignite and coal as the future of the NZ economy
Green Solution:
  • Introduce long overdue capital gains tax on property other than family home. This will shift investment into more productive sectors.
  • Overtime, shift Government's banking to Kiwi Bank from overseas owned banks like Westpac and keep profits here.
  • Put proper prices on carbon emissions so that the actual polluter pays, not the taxpayer.
  • Green jobs, such as home insulation created and supported.
  • Tighten up on tax avoidance that sucks $5.4 billion a year out of potential Govt revenue, while National attempts to cut benefits by a few million.

ACC CRISIS

Situation:
  • Government claim spiraling costs and budget blowout, while the reality is quite different.
  • ACC envy of the world as it is able to avoid costly litigations and having to always appoint blame.
Govt. Response:
  • Cut entitlements and support for physiotherapy
  • Manage to shift many people over 45-50 years away from ACC by claiming age degeneration was the dominating cause of an injury despite accidents being the initial cause. Many reviewed cases showed the approach was flawed and discriminatory and the judging physicians often didn't sight the patient.
  • Open ACC to competition with private insurance companies.
Green Solution:
  • Leave ACC alone it is doing a good job generally and isn't broke.

EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION CRISIS

Situation: 
  • Labour recognized severe underspending in ECE and dramatically increased spending.
  • 100% qualified teachers a goal.
  • Labour introduces 20 free hours scheme.
  • NZ has more working mothers than most countries (65%) 
  • New Zealand spends well below OECD  average (.6% compared to 1% of GDP) and well less than the United Nations recommendation. 
  • Government's science advisor, Sir Peter Gluckman, announces that an investment in ECE brings huge future returns.
Govt. Response:
  • Huge cuts to ECE funding because increases are too great and unsustainable.
  • 100% qualified teacher goal abandoned for 80% goal and funding only up to that level.
  • Well qualifed teachers are dismissed from centres with 100% qualified teachers after salary funding is capped at 80%.
  • Centres either lay off staff or raise fees (large jump in fees for families currently occurring).
Green Solution:
  • Raise qualified teacher goal back to 100%
  • Make sure a high quality ECE provision is available to all. An investment in early childhood is an investment in our future.

PRIMARY EDUCATION CRISIS

Situation:
  • New Zealand is ranked in the top 5 educationally by most international assessments.
  • The 20% of children who are in the strong tail of underachievement makes New Zealand similar to other countries that have high levels of poverty (20% of New Zealand children are in families experiencing poverty). Majority of struggling children are Maori or Pasifika.
  • New Zealand's new curriculum allows schools to tailor their teaching to meet the needs of their children and communities in flexible ways.
Govt. Response:
  • Government claims it will introduce National Standards in Education before the election although they can't describe what they will be like.
  • Against all professional advice the Govt. implemented the standards on all schools before they had been trialed or were fully realized.
  • Professional support failed as even the facilitators admitted the Standards were underdone (in one year level only 30% of children will pass).
  • The Standards focus on Literacy and Numeracy only, at the expense of other curricula (achievement in Science dropping).
  • All advisors outside Literacy and Numeracy are sacked.
  • $60 set aside to support each struggling child for a year (while $91,000 is spent on each prisoner per annum).
Green Solution:
  • Stop the introduction of the current National Standards and spend money on initiatives that have already proven to raise achievement.
  • Restore the New Zealand curriculum as the main driver for learning.
  • Support a more holistic approach to teaching based around enquiry learning. The Enviro Schools did this particularly well.
  • Increase the status of teaching as a profession.
  • Encourage school environments that best support Maori and Pasifika children.

CHRISTCHURCH EARTHQUAKES

Situation: 
  • Two Major earthquakes and hundreds of minor ones destroys much of Christchurch.
Govt. Response:
  • Put Gerry Brownlee in charge of the rebuild. The Minister has huge power over the process.
  • Many of the less affluent areas struggle to get support, John Key refuses to meet the people in these areas.
  • Govt. decides to borrow heavily and cut Govt. spending to pay for the rebuild.
  • A plan is made with limited community consultation.
  • Huge re-organisation of Christchurch schools that will further destabilise already struggling schools.
  • Many buildings demolished in such away that materials can't be recycled and owners ignored.
Green Solution
  • Involve communities in decision making, Kennedy Graham has already been leading community discussions around what people would like to see.
  • Place an earthquake levy on taxpayers, graduated according to income, over 3 years.
  • Use the rebuild opportunity to make Christchurch the envy of the world through making it much more environmentally friendly, efficient and people and community friendly.
  • Provide and encourage "green jobs"as a way of shifting people from unemployment to worthwhile projects.



Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Party Positioning Shuffle


One step to the left, one step the right....it's the Party Positioning Shuffle.

Isn't it amazing how a few similar meaning words or phrases can hold so much power and significance. The difference between "definitely not", "extremely unlikely" and "highly unlikely" has caused passions to be unleashed, friendships to crack and the blogosphere to buzz. The meaning of "right" and "left" has been debated at length, the change in the leadership and political philosophies have been analysed in depth and some people have even contemplated if this means the end of the world as they have always perceived it.

The Green Party believes in honesty and transparency and it follows that to declare before hand the likely partnerships we would be prepared enter into, post election, is to provide a degree of comfort to the voter. The anguish caused by both New Zealand First and the Maori Party through an unexpected shift along the political continuum, into what was considered by many to be unholy alliances with National, resulted in huge losses of credibility. Leaving possibilities wide open makes predicting outcomes hugely frustrating for voters and causes many to revert to FPP thinking. It is important to create clear options and some certainties for the voting process to do justice to MMP.

The Green Party began its life largely regarded as a protest vote for those on the idealistic fringe and for supporters it was like a small life raft, alone on the tempestuous sea of politics. The Party's lifeline was its main point of difference, its idealism and consistency of message, especially when the main parties chased popular votes before supporting good policy and long term solutions. While some felt that the Green Party's  principled stand against GE was a foolish luxury, that would exclude it from ever being considered a main player, it only served to strengthen its core support.

The Green Party has now come of age (it turned twenty one years old in May) and after the next election the last of the MPs from the 90s will have retired. We are now into a second generation of Green parliamentarians who have been mentored well and brought up under the Green charter (one of our list candidates wasn't even born when the Party was first formed). 16 different Green MPs have now sat on the seats of Parliament and the collective wisdom of those who came before have strengthened those who have followed.

The Green Party has witnessed first hand the traps and negative consequences of of being a minor party in a coalition government. The Party has proven itself as an independent operator that can advance policy and its own legislation through collaboration with any other party while never actually being in Government. Being a smaller party and independent isn't the kiss of death and as other minor parties based on single personalities and individual egos come and go, we Greens find ourselves the third most powerful political force and with an infrastructure and membership that is beginning to challenge the big guys.

We have moved beyond the enthusiastic naivety of our early years and, with nine MPs and the possibility of several more in November, we have confidence in who we are and a strong awareness of who we represent. Whether we say we are "extremely unlikely" or "highly unlikely" to provide National with confidence and supply is less an indication of a shift to the "right", but more the confidence to say to any party we are open to a coalition if you shift your policies considerably to match ours. Of course, when looking at National that scenario is "highly unlikely" to happen.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Who Has the Ear of the Government?


Tracy Watkins brings up a very valid concern regarding lobbyists and their secret influence on our Government. Corporate lobbyists in the US became a multimillion dollar industry and their influence, combined with the concern around the ethical nature of their activity, resulted in greater transparency being called for. Consequently all lobbyists in the US must now declare who they represent and are listed on a register. This transparency does not occur in New Zealand.

Russel Norman and the Green Party have advocated for greater public clarity around who our lobbyists are, whose interests they promote and probably even more importantly the access they have to the Government. This issue is becoming increasingly important under a National led government because of the nature of the decision making process being used currently.

Good legislation should be developed out of wide consultation, representing key stake holders, having all points of view recorded and have transparency around the how those views are evaluated. Select committees were supposed to provide a forum for allowing different views and positions to be expressed and allow scrutiny around the detail of any proposed legislation.

National has used urgency to progress all manner of laws and regulation, bypassing select committees and seemingly ignoring publicly accessible advice, position papers and research (often hiding behind commercial sensitivity or national security).

This issue needs scrutiny and debate if New Zealand voters are going understand how "democracy" operates in a multitude of undemocratic ways post election and to ensure future legislation is shaped to ensure transparency, fairness and sustainability.

(Addendum: Sue Kedgley's just released Lobbying Disclosure Bill will go a long way to addressing the issues I have described above.)

Friday, June 3, 2011

Farewell Sue and Keith, an end of an era.


Last evening in Auckland we celebrated both an opening and ending. In the opening powhiri Russel indicated the importance of the meeting for setting the scene for the election campaign. There are always remits that generate a range of positions and he reminded us the importance of achieving consensus and working towards our common purpose.

Later that evening the focus was around an ending. Sue Kedgely and Keith Locke would both be retiring after the election and this was an opportunity for the general membership to recognize their enormous contribution to the Party and the nation. Despite being the last of the first group of Green MPs in 1999, and both being in their sixties, neither of them showed signs of the battles and abuse they had endured through their parliamentary careers. Many people shared their memories of Keith and Sue and reminded us of their many achievements.

Sue was remembered for her passion and tenacity around safe and healthy food, her battles for the humane treatment of animals and her gains in the area of public health. There were numerous tales of Sue purposefully striding through the Parliamentary corridors, skirts swishing furiously, while representatives of all parties cowered before her. Sue has been a formidable presence who has never lost an opportunity to insert Green policy where there was an opportunity and compromise was never an initial strategy. Her supermarket tours were popular around the country and I know many of those who are retired or elderly appreciated her advocacy in researching and campaigning for properly regulated care and that there are processes to ensure compliancy and maintaining standards.

Keith probably has endured more abuse and negative attention than any of our other MPs. His advocacy for social justice around the world and within Aotearoa has meant making unpopular stands that many saw as "anti American" or pro communist. His support of Ahmed Zaoui was ultimately vindicated but not without some criticism for helping a supposed terrorist. The thing that has stood out most about Keith is his humility and humanity, he believes in treating all people with respect and compassion even when he was totally opposed to views they held. The respect he has from those who know him but hold views on the opposite end of the political continuum was most exemplified when his impending retirement was announced in Kiwiblog. There were the usual strongly voiced opinions that described Keith in terms you wouldn't repeat in front of your grandmother (and probably not anyone else for that matter), but both David Farrar and David Garrett felt compelled to step in and mention the respect they had for Keith and his decency as a person. 

While it is always sad and difficult to have people with the stature of Sue and Keith move out of their public role it also emphasizes the strength of the Green Party when the momentum continues and there are people in the wings ready to fill their shoes. The Green Party is extremely well served by the quality of our MPs but we are not reliant on one or two individuals for the sustainability of the Party and this fact is the reason for us attaining the position of 3rd Party and holding that position for the foreseeable future. We are here for the long haul, our country's very existence depends on it.


Thursday, June 2, 2011

Auckland Transport


I have just arrived in Auckland, ready for our Green Party conference and AGM. On the flight from Christchurch I ended up sitting beside a young woman who was a passionate supporter of market forces driving our economy and an especially strong supporter of the $11 billion that will be spent on Auckland motorways. As you can imagine we had a robust discussion and time passed quickly.

The woman believed that the motorways were necessary to not only speed up traffic but to boost the local economy. I suggested that a balance between public transport and motorways was needed and that the balance currently was weighted obscenely towards the latter. She responded with the claim that if something doesn't return a profit it shouldn't exist and public transport isn't worth investing in. I tried to explain how investment in public transport may have an initial cost but was a fraction of what was being spent on roads and if more people used trains and buses then the demand for motorways would lessen.

The women looked increasingly uncomfortable when I described my experiences in other cities around the world when arriving at their airport and then traveling into the city centre and compared it to Auckland. Is there a bus or train that takes me quickly and economically into the centre of the city?

My experience this evening was typical of other trips I have had here recently and must be the same for many others. My flight from Christchurch to Auckland took 1hr 15min, I was one of the first off the plane, my luggage was amongst the first to emerge on the carousel and I went straight to exit. I had arrived in the evening so I had a half hour wait for the next bus which would be the cheapest option at $16. I was tired, the bus would take at least 45 min to get into the centre and then I would have to get another bus from the centre to my motel. I was looking at at least 1 1/2 hours of waiting and travelling time for a 14km journey. A taxi would be the fastest and most direct but, depending on traffic, could cost between $50 and $80, obviously too expensive. There was only one choice, and the one recommended by other travelers, a Shuttle and at $35 not cheap but much less than a taxi.

As I stated earlier, I was out of the airport shortly after arriving and went directly to a shuttle. I then waited for twenty minutes for the Shuttle to fill with enough passengers to maximize the fare for the driver. I was lucky to be one of the first to be dropped off and the journey took about forty minutes, but if I had been the last it would have taken considerably longer.

I compared Auckland with two Australian cities to get a reasonable comparison. Melbourne does have more than double the population but it runs buses every ten minutes, for the same price as Auckland and for a similar distance, and takes between 20-30 minutes. The longest a journey would take in Melbourne would be 40 min compared to over double that time in Auckland. Perth is a similar size to Auckland, it doesn't run buses but the Shuttles are plentiful and cost $15 (Aus) for the 20 min journey.

When the demand for public transport in Auckland is increasing at a rapid pace, it seems nonsensical to cut funding and subsidies while increasing spending on motorways. The return on an investment on an efficient PT system appears to be far greater than a return on roading but this Government prefers BMWs to buses and sees our future is in roads, not rail.