Thursday, September 29, 2011

Students and Soldiers Suffer Through Shonky Governance


I am extremely angry about two events that occurred over the last twenty four hours, both were catastrophic and both avoidable.

The first regards the death of another New Zealand soldier in Afghanistan. I am half way through Nicky Hager's latest book "Other People's Wars"and with 73 pages of notes and references, this is no throwaway opinion piece as suggested by the Prime Minister.

Nicky is very complimentary about the professionalism and decency of the majority of our armed forces but is very critical about the reality of the war in Afghanistan and the modus operandi of the United States Forces. Too many times our servicemen have found themselves in compromising and unethical situations and well outside of the public brief around their involvement. Such has been the enthusiasm of our military hierarchy to be involved with our ANZUS allies that they have turned a blind eye to the realities of the war and have manipulated the information to the government and the public.

In this highly flawed war our New Zealand soldiers have been at the forefront of military activity involving the imprisonment, torture and deaths of many innocent Afghans. It is not just reconstruction, training or "mentoring" that has dominated the work of our military but direct action against the local people. This needs to be understood by the New Zealand public and makes the death of SAS soldier Leon Smith a real concern. I hope the inquiry called by the Green Party is followed through and that we will withdraw all New Zealand personnel from a war that we should not have committed to in the first place. No soldiers' death should occur needlessly or without justifiable purpose when serving their country.

The passing of the Education (Freedom of Association) Amendment Bill was described by Gareth Hughes as legislation looking for a purpose. The 8,000 submissions received on the bill was a considerable number and especially concerning was the fact that 98% were in opposition. This bill was not driven by concerned students but because of an idealogical stance by a right wing party that objects to anything that contains the word "union". Student unions are more widely called "associations" and while they do represent student bodies in a political and partially industrial sense they are essentially providers of core services for the health and welfare of their members.

Young students who are making their way in an adult world for the first time are often vulnerable and in need of support. The compulsory nature of initial membership is a form of assurance that services will be well funded and, because they're democratically controlled, there is greater likelihood they will be targeted at actual needs. The fact that some student bodies have struggled with aspects of their responsibilities is no different for any democratically elected and governed organisation and to paternalistically legislate against them in this manner is arrogant and unnecessary.

The Human Rights Commission had no concerns about the status quo regarding association membership, the democratic rights of students were well covered in constitutions and legislation. There were no concerns that necessitated such drastic action and the overruling of student self determination. Similar legislation in Australia has seen student services gutted and students generally suffering as a consequence.

It was sad that retiring MP, Heather Roy, saw her bill as the crowning achievement of her parliamentary career when it is going to unintentionally cause much potential suffering, her work for special education will leave a far more positive legacy.


Aged Care Workers Undervalued


There are two occupational sectors that I feel are possibly the most undervalued and poorly treated of all, school support staff and aged care workers.

On Tuesday Sue Kedgley met with group of picketers at Parliament. They were protesting about the paltry response from the government to address their issues of poor pay and conditions. I have posted on this issue before but felt compelled to write yet another letter to the Southland Times:

Dear Sir
There have been many damning reports regarding aged care in New Zealand over the last few years including those from the Auditor General and the Health and Disability Commissioner. Green MP, Sue Kedgley and Labour MP, Winnie Laban, travelled around New Zealand to see first hand the realities of aged care in different communities. Their report made a number of recommendations that focussed on greater accountability and monitoring of the aged care sector and improved pay and working conditions for workers.

Since then New Zealand Consumer revealed that out of 287 homes audited over the past year, only 14% fully met all the standards required and over half couldn’t meet the “safe and appropriate environment” standards.

Residential care workers protested at Parliament on Tuesday and expressed their concern that although the Government had provided $17 million of extra funding the best workers could expect would be 51 cents an hour onto their average hourly rate of $10.85.

The Green Party is committed to improving the services provided to our eldest citizens and improving the status and working conditions of those who provide them. Sue Kedgley has called for the establishment of compulsory safe staffing levels and fair pay and conditions for aged care workers. To allow the current situation to continue is untenable.



Yours sincerely...

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

National is stealing My Children's Future!

This government does not see young New Zealanders as important or regard their future with any sense of responsibility. The cuts to tertiary and early childhood education are seriously restricting opportunities for vulnerable young people at important times in their lives. Quality early childhood education can make a big difference to thousands of children experiencing poverty in their homes and when unemployment effects 27% of our youth, education and training opportunities are vital for self respect. Even if they get into tertiary education the support systems provided by student associations will be gutted by the crazy VSM bill. The fact that we now have the highest youth suicide rate in the OECD must surely suggest Government policy is failing and will only get worse. National Standards are strangling our primary schools, the unnatural focus on literacy and numeracy doesn't reflect the different learning styles and interests of children and the holistic approach to education that got us into top four in the world.

We are currently paying the cost of poor building regulations in the nineties (leaky buildings) and lack of investment in public transport. Delayed action in dealing with these disasters will carry the debt of fixing them well into my children's future.

This National led government has decided that rather than invest in children they will heavily support those New Zealanders who are currently rich. By cutting the taxes of the wealthy, government revenue has dropped considerably. They have had to borrow to rebuild Christchurch and limit funding for research and development at well below the OECD average. Cash cows are polluting our rivers and fossil fuels will form the foundation of our future economy. Our corporate focussed, easy buck government is going to leave my kids with huge loans to pay off and an economy saturated with carbon and lost opportunities to join the green future that smart nations are already embracing.

Those New Zealanders under voting age are powerless to influence the decisions that influence their future and sadly those who have just attained that right are generally conspicuous by their absence. Most young voters, or potential voters, are unaware that this government is helping themselves from their future to party up large with their rich mates. It is my children who will suffer from the hangover and the after party mess!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Southern Green Campaign Cranks Up!

From left: Dora Langsbury (Te Tai Tonga), Metiria Turei (Dunedin North), Rachael Goldsmith (Clutha-Southland), Myself (Invercargill). 
Sue Coutts (Waitaki) left just before the photo was taken. Shane Gallagher (Dunedin South) and Alex Kruize (List Candidate) had work commitments that kept them in Dunedin.

This weekend we held one of our regular "Quarterly" provincial meetings in Invercargill and had five of our southern most candidates present. It was a great opportunity to compare campaigns and see where we could co-ordinate our efforts.

We had a number of people present to us over the weekend to provide different environmental, iwi and local government perspectives. The presentations confirmed to us that our three main election priorities have local validity and provided us with some "close to home" stories to support their existence.

One of the most compelling stories came from Michael Skerrett's presentation. Michael has a number of leadership positions within Ngai Tahu and is hugely knowledgeable and passionate about environmental issues. He described his long association with the Titi (Mutton bird) Islands and how his own experience and scientific research had provided some concerning evidence regarding climate threats to the birds' existence. Climate change appears to have a direct impact on the cycles of the El Nino/ El Nina oscillations. El Nino is the warm phase and while it is present the food sources for Titi are seriously limited. El Nino used to occur approximately every five years but recently the cycle has noticeably shortened and the Titi are struggling with increasing numbers of birds not surviving the breeding season. By digging up our lignite we are supporting the destruction of Titi!

All we Green candidates have close relationships with our communities and have first hand knowledge of how poverty, unemployment and environmental threats effect our electorates. The stories we witness and are related to us are compelling and no other party has practical solutions as convincing as ours to truly make a difference and give us some real hope for the future.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Emergency Team Argue While Waituna Dies



The Editor
The Southland Times


Dear Sir
For those who care about New Zealand’s most significant and internationally recognized wetland there is a huge level of frustration at the apparent impasse between local farmers and Environment Southland and most especially the inaction from central government. It appears that the only national crisis that deserves the full attention of our government is a waterfront party in Auckland. While there is the potential for international embarrassment around not being able to lay on a decent booze up, surely there should be greater embarrassment around letting one of our most significant environments fester and die. There is also no logic in spending $11.6 million for an attempt at resuscitating the already dead Lake Ellesmere when the Waituna Lagoon is still living.

The science is irrefutable and we have many practical solutions such as those suggested by Ciaran Keogh (Southland Times 22/9/11). When Fonterra’s profits are sky rocketing and the government has proven its ability to act in a crisis, funding or farmer compensation should not be an issue. The situation is like watching someone dying on the ground while the emergency team are standing around trying to establish blame for the accident and who should be the first to start resuscitation. The hand wringing and pointing fingers need to stop, let's just save the Waituna before it’s too late!



Yours sincerely...

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Green Jobs For New Zealanders


100,000 green jobs for New Zealanders
GREEN PARTY PRIORITY 2011

The current situation
We need a pragmatic economic strategy to help New Zealand succeed in a competitive global economy — a global economy that is turning increasingly green.
The OECD has recognised that New Zealand’s long term competitive advantage lies in safeguarding our natural resources through mutually supportive economic and environmental policies. They recognise that our economy is our environment and that our 100% Pure brand is invaluable in a world worried about carbon emissions, water shortages, and contaminated food.
The current Government’s economic approach has been to risk our brand for the sake of a quick buck. The majority of our lowland rivers are now polluted due to the unregulated expansion of our dairy industry. Three lignite plants are under consideration and will escalate our contribution towards climate change. The Government is spending $20 billion on new state highways
while our trains remain an international embarrassment. And plans for deep-sea oil drilling are being fast-tracked despite what just happened with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

What we’re going to do about it
The Green Party has a plan to create 100,000 new green jobs — a plan that will add resilience to our economy and protect our natural environment, without going further into debt.
We’ll create 100,000 new jobs through direct government investment, changing the way our state-owned energy companies work, and shifting the drivers for green jobs in the private sector.
How we’re going to do it
Our plan is detailed and fully-costed. It includes plans for direct government investment, building sustainable infrastructure, supporting the greening of our small and medium enterprises (SMEs), driving innovation, introducing smarter regulation, getting the prices of resources and pollution right, protecting our brand, reforming capital markets, making our workplaces fairer, and measuring progress differently.
Here are three of the highlights:
Direct investment We will ramp-up the Heat Smart home insulation programme ensuring it is rolled out to a further 200,000 homes over the next three years, costing $350 million and employing 4,000 people directly — 10,400 if you include indirect and upstream employment effects.
Keep it Kiwi We will retain ownership of our state-owned enterprises while creating the right incentives for them to partner with clean tech entrepreneurs in the private sector and develop renewable energy solutions that we can patent and export abroad. With the right incentives in place, if we can capture just 1% of the global market for renewable energy solutions, we’ll create a $6 to $8 billion export industry employing 47,000–65,000 people in new green jobs.
Support for Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises Through a mix of government procurement policies, tax incentives, start- up funding, and a $1 billion boost to R&D funding, we’ll support SMEs to step up and drive new job creation in the cleantech sector.
To view the full plan, visit greens.org.nz/greenjobs

Reinstate Passenger Rail Services to Invercargill!


I had my first political forum of the election campaign in Invercargill last night, it was organised by the CTU and their national president, Helen Kelly, was a guest speaker as well.

My speech mainly covered the Green Party's three election focus areas; green jobs, saving our rivers and lifting 100,000 children out of poverty. A representative from the Maritime Union asked a question regarding different transport options, especially coastal shipping and this led to a general discussion around the appalling obsession this government has with roads. I briefly described the Green Party's policy on transport and suggested how wonderful it would be to have the old Southerner Train service returned between Invercargill and Dunedin. This comment received the most positive response than anything else I said during the evening.

We no longer have flights between Dunedin and Invercargill and the only public transport we have currently are bus services. This has become problematic since the Southland and Otago  health boards merged. Many Invercargill people have to travel to Dunedin for specialist appointments, this occurred when the boards operated separately but because the appointment was "out sourced" patients were eligible for transport and accommodation allowances, but this is no longer the case.

For those on low incomes or are frail and in poor health, the journey to Dunedin is a huge inconvenience. Buses run infrequently and the three hour trip is not comfortable for many who are elderly or disabled. Family or friends may have to take days off work to provide transport if buses do not suit and then the financial inconvenience extends beyond the patient. Passenger trains provide a more comfortable travel experience than buses and can be more accommodating for different needs.

When I was a student in Dunedin during the seventies I had the choice between a bus, the Southerner train and a railcar that was still in service then. Before we married, Vicky and I enjoyed a holiday cycling from Picton to the Abel Tasman National Park and spending time in the Marlborough Sounds and a few vineyards in between. What made the holiday even more enjoyable was the mode of transport to get to Picton, the Southerner. After loading our bicycles onto the train in Invercargill we settled back into the sumptuous, sheepskin covered seats and enjoyed the friendly service of the hostesses and the devonshire teas that were served to our table. We were in no hurry and enjoyed the continually changing vistas that passed our window. Our holiday had started the moment we stepped onto the train. I'm sure if the option was available many of the WRC visitors they would have chosen rail rather than rental cars, especially when the Northern hemisphere have maintained and improved their rail systems and this would have been a familiar service.

We all know the history behind the decline of New Zealand Rail but I hope that passenger rail services can be restored to similar levels of earlier times, for so many reasons it just makes good sense to do so.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

NZ, the Unethical Investor


New Zealand is not wealthy in a global sense and our Government's investments would barely rate against many international corporates but our Crown Financial Institutions, like our $19 billion Superannuation Fund, do have a global impact. It is important that our money has a positive influence on the world and that we use reasonable diligence to ensure our investments are well vetted.

Norway has a similar population to New Zealand yet it has taken a far more responsible approach to how it has invested its oil riches. Norway uses a Council of Ethics to closely evaluate its state pension fund investments against strict ethical guidelines. The guidelines are based on two premises. The first being that future generations will benefit from current oil wealth and that the return from invested funds are contingent on sustainable development in an economic, environmental and social sense. The second is a commitment that the fund should not allow a risk of investment that could contribute to unethical acts or omissions that include violations of humanitarian principles, violations of human rights, corruption or environmental damage.

While the New Zealand Superannuation Fund has a commitment to "responsible investment" this doesn't go far enough, even though they have stated:


"Like many institutional investors, the Guardians invest with a long-term focus. We recognise that environmental, social and governance (ESG) matters are long-term factors that can be highly relevant to investment performance. ESG matters present regulatory, market, reputational and operational risks and opportunities shareholders need to consider to fully understand the companies in which they are invested."


Just recognizing the relevancy of environmental and social matters does not present the same commitment  as actively pursuing ethical investments. Rather than establishing our equivalent of a Council of Ethics it has been the Green Party that has had to often take on that role. Russel Norman revealed that the NZSF has invested in a multinational involved in nuclear armament, a tobacco company and five companies involved in manufacturing cluster bombs. These investments represent appalling oversights and are an embarrassment for New Zealanders who take pride in our nuclear free status and being responsible global citizens. 


(The Council or Socially Responsible Investment is a useful resource and I used an article from the Council's chair, Dr Robert Howell, to inform this post.)



Friday, September 16, 2011

Landcorp Leads Sustainable Farming Practice


In my numerous roles I end up flying reasonably regularly, not ideal for a greenie, but unavoidable. What I find is a positive consequence of this traveling is that I often end up sitting beside interesting people from whom I learn a lot during our shared flight.

On my most recent trip I ended up sitting beside someone with a management position in Landcorp. He wasn't phased by my admission of being a Green candidate and enthusiastically explained how his SOE has a responsible and forward thinking influence on the farming industry.

Landcorp makes a sizable investment in R&D and much has a focus on environmentally sustainable farming. Any proven advancement in practice is quickly promoted within their farming community and a commitment to "best practice" is taken seriously. It is in their best interests, I was told, to always be ahead of environmental expectations rather than making excuses and avoiding compliance to new regulations for as long as possible.

In terms of land use, Landcorp has transferred its most marginal land into the control of DoC and has a policy of protecting waterways through having at least a 20 metre protective margin around them. They also consider land use that suits the soils and climate of a particular region and minimize the levels of artificial chemicals used.

I have no evidence to discount anything I was told and felt that the passionate promotion of Landcorp as a responsible land user by my fellow passenger appeared genuine. It made me think that if Fonterra had a similar ethical approach to leadership of the dairy industry we would be in a much better place. It also made me think that if we sold much of our SOE's to foreign ownership, how much of current ethical practice would be maintained ahead of shareholder dividends?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Selling State Assets, Unlearned Lessons



Bill Rosenberg was appointed Economist and Director of Policy at the CTU in May 2009. He holds a B.Com in Economics, a BSc in Mathematics and a PhD in Mathematical Psychology. Bill was previously Deputy Director, University Centre for Teaching and Learning at the University of Canterbury, a Member of the Institute of Directors, a Commissioner on TEC, and was a member of the Regional Land Transport Committee of Environment Canterbury.

His history lesson reproduced here is one worth remembering:

The New Zealand Rail sale in 1993 was organised by Faye Richwhite who then proceeded to benefit from it hugely by taking a substantial shareholding – a conflict of interest fit for a post-Soviet state. The main shareholders of the purchaser, TranzRail, were Faye Richwhite, Berkshire Fund and Wisconsin Central of the US, and Alex van Heeren. They bought a company which had been freed of debt by a $1.6 billion injection by the government. The price was $328 million, of which they paid only $107 million and borrowed the rest. According to Brian Gaynor they “were responsible for stripping out $220.9 million of equity in 1993 and $100 million in 1995” . By the time they had sold out, they had made total profits of $370 million, mainly tax free because of the lack of capital gains tax, and darkened by accusations of insider trading. 


Under Wisconsin’s management the safety record was appalling (by 2000, fatal accidents for employees were eight times the national average) and reinvestment and maintenance were abysmal, leaving the operation in a crippled state. They sold out to Toll of Australia who similarly failed to maintain the system, and who then sold it back to the government in two tranches for a total of over $700 million plus ongoing costs to the government of several hundred million dollars to repair the rail network and replace the antiquated rolling stock. It is difficult to estimate the total costs to the country, but the total cost to the government will be almost $4 billion , greatly magnified by the neglect of the private owners. 

The previous government has been accused of paying too much for the rail company, and they probably did, but that was just one element of the huge financial and opportunity losses to the people of New Zealand as a result of the privatisation that were evident well before the renationalisation.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Lignite Salesman


A well dressed sales man in a business suit, carrying a heavy sack, knocks on a door. The door is opened by the householder.

"Wanna buy some fuel?"

"We do have a multi-burner, what kind of fuel?"

"Lignite."

"No thanks, that stuff is rubbish, it doesn't put out much heat, leaves heaps of ash and is really dirty stuff."

"I'm selling lignite briquettes, they're almost as good as coal. We've taken all the moisture out and made them into these." The salesman reaches into the sack and pulls out a hand full of small dry nuggets.

"Surely the energy to make those must almost be the same as the energy they put out. What is your energy source for drying them?"

"Coal."

"What about all the carbon emissions, I've heard that lignite is one of the worst for this."

"We haven't sorted that out yet, but it doesn't really matter because most of the stuff will be exported to China and it becomes their problem."

"Where do you get it from?"

"There's heaps of the stuff all around Southland just waiting to be dug up, it's an amazing resource."

"There's nothing valuable above the lignite?"

"Just a few farms, we've bought them out and already have one open cast mine in operation."

"But aren't we going to lose valuable farmland? What are you going to do with the holes?"

"The holes will become a real asset, we're going to turn them into recreational lakes."

"Do lignite mines make nice lakes?"

"In a hundred years they'll probably look alright and no one will remember what they were."

"I guess I could try some of these briquettes, are they cheaper than coal or wood?"

"Actually they're quite expensive, there's the cost of mining and processing, my salary of course and we are going to be caught a little bit by the ETS...."

"Sorry, I'm not interested!"

The salesman shrugs, throws the sack over his shoulder and walks away muttering..."It all seemed like a good idea at the time..."

After Robert's comment below I am open to some alternative last lines...suggestions?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Tame Iti the Terrorist


I have observed Tame iti from a distance and met him once. Tame iti scares the hell out of many New Zealanders, his full face moko, his bum baring, spitting and his shooting of the flag understandably cause discomfort. He is a passionate advocate for Tuhoe and knows that if you want to get media attention for your cause, but do not have heaps of cash, then theatre and outrageous behaviour gets you noticed. It is easy for many to label him a dangerous terrorist but he is also a 55 year old, caring family man and a diabetic.

I have no doubt that the New Zealand police had intercepted some worrying communications and that it could easily be construed that "terrorist" training was happening in the Urewera bush. I also believe that his training camps were poorly thought through, fantasist and probably a bit silly, especially when he knew he has been a closely watched man for many years and it wouldn't be likely that any of his activity would go unnoticed. In the US playing with guns is imbedded in their culture but in New Zealand any gun activity that doesn't involve hunting or organised sport would be cause for concern.

The big question is not so much Tame iti's behaviour but the police management of the situation. Tame iti is a media personality who has connections and relationships with a broad cross-section of society and has even had Gerry Brownlee open one of his art exhibitions. As Tame iti said on Q&A this morning, his phone number is in the book.

New Zealand is not a large nation and our whole country often operates as one community, we do have disagreements but most can be solved if a low level approach is taken and there is open dialogue. The wide ranging, expensive and over the top police response looked more like an exercise for frustrated squads who have few opportunities to put their training into practice. Those who were targeted were often loosely connected to Tame iti and many were environmental activists. That innocent children and families were confronted with such organised violence by the police was unethical and abhorrent. A cynic could construe that there was a deliberate intention to rough up and frighten as many annoying activists as possible and the anti-terrorist legislation provided a useful opportunity.

If the police had picked up the phone or visited Tame iti early on and expressed their concerns about his activities I'm am quite sure they could have achieved a quick resolution. It could have been that simple.

POSTSCRIPT 14/02/12

It is over five months since I wrote this post and since then I have read "The Day The Raids Came", edited by Valerie Morse and records the personal accounts of those raided. I have also read many of the leaked transcripts and watched the video clips of the supposed terrorist training. I still see no reason to change what I wrote, a quiet chat or a phone call would have sorted it.
20/03/12
Now it is post trial and the four accused have only been charged with a few firearms offenses. The jury could not decide if the intent of the group posed any real threat to the public. What a monumental waste of time and money!

Friday, September 9, 2011

RWC Powered by Goodwill, Volunteers and Youth


New Zealand is a world leader in volunteerism, in 2008 1,250,000 of us served as volunteers, around 1/4 of our population. The kinds of roles we are prepared to do for no remuneration vary immensely and firefighting, search and rescue, St John's Ambulance, Red Cross, PTA's, meals on wheels and a myriad of sports organisations are some examples.

Estimates put the value to our country of volunteer efforts to be around $3.5 billion. I was surprised to discover that the age band that is most likely to do volunteer work is actually the youngest, those aged between 12 and 24 years average around 70 hours annually in non paid service. I think the enthusiasm and efforts of the student army after the Christchurch Earthquake caused many to reassess how we regard the capability and sense of community that exists amongst our youth.

Watching the opening of the RWC I was impressed by the fact that much of the entertainment and enthusiasm behind the hugely successful extravaganza was reliant on the volunteering of thousands of young people.

I hope that our youth, and the value they add to our communities and nation, will not be sidelined after this event. The fact that 27% of teenagers are unemployed and that they have the highest suicide rate in the OECD should not be swept under the carpet. Tertiary education places have been cut and there are not enough training schemes to supply the skilled workforce that we will need in the near future.

It appears that this Government is ignoring its responsibilities for ensuring that the capabilities and opportunities for our youngest citizens are as good as they should be. What is most galling to me is that they intend to rub salt into the already raw wound of underemployment be removing the self respect of those who most need it through their draconian youth payment scheme. Yet again it is easier to blame the victims for their lack of opportunities than do something that would make a real difference.

The Green Party understand the issues, have been strong advocates for youth in the past and our policies provide practical solutions for ensuring future generations are well prepared for the challenges ahead.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

"Legal" Temporarily Trumps "Ethical" in National Standards Standoff


I attended a meeting this evening that consisted of a good number of Southland's primary principals and board of trustee chairs. It was a sombre meeting as many board chairs shared the horror and frustration of the last week.

Despite a stated obligation to negotiate with boards that had not included National Standards in their Charters, the Ministry had decided to short circuit the process and demand that all schools that were currently noncompliant had to do so in a matter of days. Those schools that actually managed to get Ministry officials to front up and talk to them found that they could not get satisfactory answers to most questions and that the majority of the answers provided were heavily scripted.

Boards that were strongly committed to meeting the needs of their children and could find no educational advantage in the Standards have decided to include them in their charter and comply. Not to do so would came at a cost most boards were not be prepared to pay. The situation was described by one passionate board member as follows:

Imagine if the government of the day decided that reintroducing corporal punishment will make a noticeable difference to raising achievement in our schools. Boards that refused to follow this requirement were told they had to comply even though they had strong ethical concerns. If they didn't comply then the board would be sacked and a commissioner would be appointed (at the school's cost) who would then introduce corporal punishment into the school. The idea of an outsider, with no appreciation of their children's backgrounds or needs, instigating corporal punishment on their children would be too horrific. If anyone was to inflict this on their children it would have to be themselves, at least they could manage the potential severity of the requirement to the lowest level possible.

While physical punishment may seem a little extreme to use as an analogy, for many who see the potential damage that a narrowing of the curriculum and labeling 5 year olds as below the standard could do, it does seem appropriate.

Another board member said to the Ministry bureaucrat who they were confronted with, "so we have a choice between what we ethically and morally believe as right and what is legal?" They were given a clear understanding that their choice needed to be the legal one. NZEI and the NZPF are advising schools that they should now follow the legal requirement but also have it recorded that they were doing so under duress.

However this is no backdown for noncompliant schools when compliance has meant due process has been ignored, no attempt has been made to address genuine concerns and threats to remove boards previously assessed as highly competent have occurred. The issue is political the methods of control are draconian and putting the welfare of children first and maintaining community control of our schools is the sensible option at this point. The battle is not over and compliance under duress is not the way to progress educational change in this country.

National Standards have been developed out of a lie and their ongoing existence is supported by even more lies. Every level of this house of cards is based on fabrications and misinformation and collapse is imminent.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Public Not Fooled by Tolley's Spin


The Chair of Invercargill's Licensing Trust, Alan Dennis, wasn't fooled by the Education Minister's response to the open letter the other day. Alan has been instrumental in ensuring that the trust has shifted from a strong sports bias in their previous funding support to an increasing focus on education and he has a fair idea of what makes a difference for children. In a letter to the Southland Times he suggests it is the Standards themselves that are the political stunt, not the action from Invercargill principals.

Here is Alan's letter:

Standards kill education

It was with interest I read your headline "Education criticism political stunt". It is possibly the most accurate  description of the Government's National Standards policy to date.

The relationship between the Ministry of Education and the education profession seems at an all-time low. The Minister, Anne Tolley, seems to be continually criticise the profession and would do well in my opinion to hear the educational voice and acknowledge the value of listening.

If ever there was evidence of a political stunt then this is it. Might is not always right.

I am unaware of any significant research that shows that National Standards will lift student achievement. There is, however, evidence that it could in fact have the opposite effect; we risk that future generations are "dumbed down" by this political policy that should have learners' needs paramount.

The professional educational voice continues to advocate for what they know, supported by sound research and evidence. If I was the Minister I would be concerned that I have not convinced many boards of trustees of the value of my policy.

The internationally acclaimed New Zealand curriculum is all but dead, killed by this policy as we return to the industrial reading, writing arithmetic approach.

The public should be concerned that New Zealand's leading educationalists have serious concerns regarding the cost and intentions of the National Standards policy.

Surely now is the time for informed discussion, reflection and debate.

Thank you for providing a headline that held the truth of the matter.

ALAN DENNIS
Invercargill
-Abridged

Monday, September 5, 2011

"Just a Political Stunt," Claims Tolley


It is interesting how any activity opposing National Standards is a "political stunt" according to the Education Minister. The 750 principals who voted no confidence in the Standards at their conference, the myriad of academics who have written about their concerns and around 350 schools that initially refused to include the Standards in their charters.

While it was unfortunate that my political background gave the Minister an opportunity to dismiss a letter signed by almost all the primary principals in Invercargill, it stretches credibility to accept that all of those principals are at the beck and call of the local Green Party candidate. The Minister also ignored the collective action taken by many of the same principals without my involvement.

The Minister again provided her standard lines of misinformation:

"The vast majority of schools are implementing standards..."
This ignores the fact that they have been forced onto schools as a legal requirement and most do it reluctantly. The level of implementation varies widely and few have fully embraced them. It is extraordinary that over a 1/4 of schools feel so strongly about the standards that they have refused to comply despite the potential ramifications.

"and many... are already seeing a difference for the one in five children who have been failing in our system"
While there should always be concern for lack of achievement, to credit a flawed assessment system for raising achievement is also a stretch of the imagination. As far as I know there has been no research to support such a statement, however, there is evidence that the narrow focus on literacy and numeracy has seen a drop in achievement in science.
Research on the impact of poverty on academic achievement suggests that unless children come from homes where their education is well supported, schools will always struggle to address underachievement.

"Principals, teachers and the unions helped develop the standards..."
Early on there was some involvement with the profession, but at a very minimal level. While our new curriculum took five years of collaborative work, the National Standards had no such process. They were largely developed within the Ministry office over a few months and we just had to watch the gradual evolution of the standards on the Ministry website after they were legislated. Even the facilitators leading the initial professional development were presenting information that conflicted with the moving feast appearing on the ministry site during the first months of the implementation. Calls for a trial were ignored.

"...and there is an independent advisory group, which is addressing any concerns."
The Education Institute tried to work with this advisory group but withdrew when told that the group could only address the manner of implementation, not any concerns with the standards themselves.

It is interesting that while opposition is labeled political, the Minister ignores the political nature of her standards. The very idea was an election platform for the National Party, the initial information pamphlet came from the party, not the Ministry, and the driving argument for introducing the standards has been the political mandate claimed by the National Party rather than the weight of researched evidence.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Comparing Party Lists


National's candidate list has been questioned regarding how it reflects New Zealand society so I thought I would compare four main party lists for how truly representative they are.

I should clarify that my personal view is that ability to do the job should be the driving determiner of any selection process and it is the duty of each party to ensure that they encourage participation of capable people from the full breadth of our society. The level of diversity is also an indication of how comfortable a range of people feel within the party itself.

Here is a breakdown of the top 15 for each party as I see it and I am open to any corrections:

National
12 men
3 women

Act
11 men
2 women
2 unidentified

Labour
9 men
6 women
2 Maori
1 Pacifika
1 aged under 35

Greens
7 men
8 women
3 Maori
2 aged less than 35
1 Deaf

I did consider including those from the LBGT community but this was problematic for a number of reasons. I didn't include the Maori Party because of their unique representation.

Of course there should be a number of other determiners that provide useful indicators of capability and representation like social backgrounds, education, work experience and community involvement. A quick run through of the biographies for all candidates reveals much about who will have their ear, or influence each, if they got elected.

You can imagine the make up of any future government caucus and the sort of policy that would drive  them. I considered looking at the top twenty candidates for each party, where more diversity can be seen but felt that anyone below 15th is not likely to carry much influence and, in the case of the two smaller parties, are not likely to get elected anyway (although 20 Green MPs would be great).

Wasting Our Waste


A local blogger highlighted how we are potentially wasting our waste with potential energy sources being dumped with little regard for their potential value. http://cracker666.wordpress.com/2011/09/04/waste-to-energy-again/#comment-2985 

My comment developed into a blog post:


Quite right, Paddy, there are so many lost opportunities regarding our management of waste, whether it be farm, industrial or domestic. I think there has been some progress over the years but we really need strong leadership and determination from our national and local governments. A large part of this is the difficulty of making long term commitments to initiatives that may not be initially viable but make sense over time.
For Invercargill we went through a relatively robust process, led by Geoff Piercy, ( http://localbodies-bsprout.blogspot.com/2010/08/two-bins-or-not-two-bins-that-is.html ) yet the council lost resolve at the last minute and the resulting system will need to be changed again in the next few years. Our family’s current experience with the two bins is that our recycling bin is overflowing by the end of the second week and each week the bottom of our waste bin is barely covered.
Green/food waste causes the most problems at the dumping site yet we have again delayed effective management of this and the energy created by this waste is a largely untapped resource as well. We compost all our food and garden waste and if there was an opportunity for people who don’t have this collected separately to have this done, we would be much closer to a useful domestic  system.
Our council continues to stockpile our glass waste and there needs to be a national solution to this issue until a commercially viable industry is developed. The same applies to our electronic waste, the government withdrew support from the existing collection system and has yet to come up with an alternative. China has realized the value of E waste as we rapidly approach a “peak metal” crises, we need to give value to this potentially rich resource as well. Giving a value to waste is a great incentive, I’m not sure how it can be applied in all cases but I remember when you rarely saw a broken or discarded bottle because they provided useful pocket money and were a mainstay of charity fundraising.
Individual farmers are expected to manage their waste at present and while farm based systems, like the one you promoted the other day, may work you can imagine a subsidized, collective management of the waste could create commercially viable fertilizer and bio energy. I can envisage tankers following the milk ones to collect another valuable commodity from the milking sheds and wintering pads.
We used to have a gas works in Invercargill and I discovered in our original house plans (1932) that a gas stove was to be installed in the kitchen. Perhaps if we were to be truly visionary we could be heading towards self sufficiency in energy through greater efficiencies (another story) and practical management of our waste, the lignite could stay in the ground and oil slicks won’t eventually be washing up on our beaches.



Thursday, September 1, 2011

Federated Farmers Discredit Waituna Science


Allan Baird from the Federated Farmers' dairy section sparked a flurry of responses in the Southland Times when he suggested that the science behind the deterioration of water quality in the Waituna catchment needed to be reviewed because the scientists involved had vested interests. There was a prominent article, an opinion piece from Ali Timms (the Environment Southland Chair), a letter from the ES director of environmental management and a letter from a concerned political activist.

Environmental reporter, Scott MacKay, got a response from Environment Southland Chief Executive Ciaran Keogh who explained the multiple agency, peer reviewed nature of the science gathered. This should have discounted Mr Baird's suggestion that the science wasn't robust, however, he has since claimed that it was the peer reviewing that caused the issue.


"When spoken to yesterday, Mr Baird said the original Environment Southland report about the lagoon was not alarmist, but when peer reviewed that view changed and frightened the regional council into action.
He believed this happened because some of the scientists involved were looking for more work, so he was not certain the science was completely accurate."
It seems Mr Baird wants it both ways, he initially claimed the science was flawed because it lacked robust peer reviews and then he has suggested a conspiracy theory around scientists jointly fabricating the evidence to ensure further employment. 
In talking to local people who have regular contact with our waterways through their recreational activities there is a real awareness that things are not well with our water. Whitebaiters and fishermen are noticing an obvious reduction in catches and from their own perception the clarity and cleanliness of the rivers is in decline. The science supports what they have noticed themselves.
Federated Farmers are using a global approach, common with many major industries, to discredit and devalue science and scientists who restrict their business interests. They have been successful in shifting pubic opinion away from the huge scientific evidence for man made climate change and there is a danger that our local scientists will be dealt with in a similar fashion. Federated Farmers have a popular ally in our Prime Minister, John Key, who has already questioned the standing of respected scientist, Dr Mike Joy, and repeated the view that there is no need for concern because our river are still better than most in the world.
Surely we should be raising the bar for environmental standards in this country to a level that is amongst the highest in the world rather than being satisfied with mediocrity. The way to truly make a difference in protecting our water is to have clear standards for quality and give water an actual monetary value, both are priorities in the Green Party's plan to clean up our rivers.