Monday, October 31, 2011

Green Leaders Show Initiative

The Green Party has firmly established itself as New Zealand's third largest party. The party is now 21 years old and firmly established as a party that is here to stay. We are not a party based on personalities, but policy and principles and when our leaders and MPs retire we have competent and capable people to shift immediately into their places. We are a stable party and although we do have turnover and change within our leadership positions we do this only when necessary and certainly not through overnight coups, undercover plots and individual ego trips. We do not flip flop with policy according to popular whim, our policy is based on research, consultation and wide ranging advice.

Russel and Metiria have constantly proven themselves as capable leaders and politicians of substance. Political commentator, John Hartevelt, described Russel a few months ago as "the real opposition finance spokesman..." and the Q&A panel in the weekend thought that Metiria should not be regarded as a leader of a minor party as both her performance and the Green Party were no longer in the minor category.

We now have the country's election process determined by John Key's media team. John Key has a celebrity image that has been carefully groomed and protected over the last three years. No serious interviews will be contemplated and any leaders' debate will only be against Phil Goff, whom National has successfully spent considerable time and effort in denigrating. Key will still only appear with Goff or on public media on his own terms and it is becoming increasingly clear that his handlers, or he himself, have real doubts about his ability to manage life outside of his protective bubble. His opening address was so totally managed that one wondered if he had a real audience in front of him at all.

Key gets seriously flustered when under real pressure and when challenged by the sort of rational probing that the Greens excel in, the flaky and snide responses he often resorts to in the house would not look good on mainstream television. Despite being recognised as having third party status and being a significant political force (similar to the Liberal Democrats in the UK), National has successfully blocked any involvement of the Greens in influential debates.

This has not phased the Green Party who have successfully built a reputation of being IT capable and highly innovative on limited budgets. While the Key/Goff debate will go ahead New Zealand voters will have an alternative media experience they can turn to. The Green Room is a live video stream that voters can access online and view concurrently with the TVNZ debate. The Green Room will be both informative and entertaining with popular entertainer Michelle A'Court providing humorous insights and an expert panel including business commentator Bernard Hickey and economist Raf Manji providing more substantive comment. Past editor of the Listener, Findlay MacDonald, will interview Metiria and Russel immediately after the TVNZ debate.

Make sure democracy wins on the night by spreading the word:

Those who watched the Green Room would have been highly frustrated that Russel or Metiria  weren't able to challenge Key or Goff. Findlay MacDonald's interview with the Green leaders afterwards displayed that both had a far better grasp of the issues confronting us than what was displayed on TVNZ.

I hope those who missed it can watch a replay.

Friday, October 28, 2011

National's Employment Policy is "Back to the Future" Stuff!

Eric Roy promotes National's new employment policy as though it will be the saviour for many of our unemployed youth who currently suffer a 27% unemployment rate. This terrible situation is largely because of the frozen budgets for tertiary education and cutting back on places in our Universities and most importantly because there just aren't the jobs being created.

Bringing back youth rates will only see a repeat of common situations like capable youths finding themselves in positions of responsibility and managing staff older than themselves, but earning less. I can also see lots of older workers losing their jobs to younger cheaper options as happened when youth rates existed before. If someone does the same job as another and to the same level of performance they should be paid the same.

We are rushing steadily further into an low wage economy and even further behind Australia, this is "Back to the Future" stuff.

My reply to Eric:

Eric, as someone who has 15 years of experience in employment disputes. I am the first to admit that the employer/employee relationship is like any relationship, issues can occur from both sides. What is most important is achieving the right balance between the rights of the employee and the employer.
I am becoming increasingly aware that for good employers there are few issues with current pay rates and regulations as they tend to do more than they are expected to. It is those employers who do not value their employees and do not operate in good faith who find any regulation that supports workers is problematic and they will always look for the minimum requirements. I have found that by far the largest number of disputes I have dealt with, or have knowledge of, it has been the employer who has been in the wrong and not followed fair process. I have heard some horrific stories, especially coming from the dairy industry, where even the basics of employment law are ignored.
When productivity in New Zealand has increased 52% since 1989 and wages have only increased 16% in real terms, New Zealand workers have not benefited from their efforts. To lower pay rates for many yet again and to reduce protections for workers even further will only see a continuation of this trend.
One of the reasons for Australia having safer work places and higher wages is that their employment law is much fairer than ours. I am disappointed that when we have hundreds fronting up for single jobs that National will just make life for workers even harder and most especially when most of our major employers have had huge increases in their profits over the past year that things will be made even worse.
Eric, you are free to make any counter arguments on my own blog and I look forward to further discussion.

Folding Bike Fun

Young English relatives were staying with us a couple of years ago and I was intrigued by the passion one had for his folding bike. Ed works in London and has to travel to work each day on the underground and would cycle the last part of his journey. Folding bikes are easy to carry onto public transport as the best of them are very light and can fold into a manageable size. If the weather was fine he would cycle a larger portion of the trip or take a more scenic route home.

Ed owns the Rolls Royce of folding bikes, a Brompton, and he has even competed in the annual Brompton World Championship Race. This race occurs around Blenheim Palace and all competitors must wear suits and ties, despite this it is still very competitive and many professional racing cyclists take part.

I became interested in the concept as I often have to fly to meetings and use taxis and buses to complete my journey. The idea of having my own transport available on arrival, and be truly independent, strongly appealed. I have always been a keen cyclist and first got involved in cycle touring in 1980 when few bicycles were seen on our open roads apart from the occasional racing cyclist. I loved the fact that you could truly experience the environment you travelled through and relied on your own energy to do so. I have cycled throughout New Zealand, much of Europe and parts of Scandinavia and found it to be the best (and cheapest) way to travel.

Folding bikes have a large following in the UK and much of Europe and there's a huge variety of bikes to choose from, depending on your needs and budget. The best cost thousands of dollars and contain the highest levels of cycling technology. I was especially interested in an American brand of folding bike called Bike Friday that can be transported in a suitcase that doubles as a trailer.

However, the $3,000 dollar plus price tag was beyond what I could afford or be able to convince my wife was an essential purchase. I already owned three other bicycles and our family have more bicycles and unicycles (my son) then would be considered normal.

By chance I found a new, inexpensive and relatively high quality folding bike on Trade Me and soon I found myself an owner and convert of this highly versatile form of transportation. 

My first folding bike originated from Hong Kong and was well constructed and had 7 gears. Despite lacking in a high enough gear to really compete with a standard bike, I could still cycle from Wellington airport to the middle of the city in 20 minutes. For two years this little bike has been a constant companion as I attended numerous meetings and conferences around the country.
 The only issue I have had with this bike is its lack of speed and when cycling around Wellington's waterfront amongst other cyclists I have often wished I could keep up with the Trevor Mallards of the city. I do have a slight competitive streak and would love to cycle past one of those lycra covered fanatics on something that doesn't look as though it could.

Today I achieved what has been a mere dream earlier. I am now the proud owner of a Chinese version of a folding bike that will give any road cyclist a run for their money. It has 16 wonderful Shimano gears
and my first test ride put a smile on my face that lasted for several hours, watch out Trevor!

Footnote: My wife put her foot down and has insisted that I sell at least two of my other bicycles :-( 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Waituna Revisited

Kevin Hague and myself standing on the Waituna viewing platform

The fate of the Waituna Lagoon will be the real test of this National Government's resolve around the state of our rivers, lakes and wetlands. There are enough environmental reports, including one from the Auditor General,  to indicate that we have reached a crossroads in terms of our freshwater management, especially since 80% of our lowland rivers are now significantly degraded.

The Waituna Lagoon is at the point of flipping and earlier this year Russel Norman spent considerable time talking to all interested parties, from farmers through to DoC, to get a real grasp of the realities of the situation. Since that time there was some hope that the government's Fresh Water Management Policies would give regional authorities some regulatory teeth. Sadly (and please forgive the pun) the original document was watered down to the extent it is largely ineffective for dealing with any crisis.

Southlanders are becoming increasingly aware that Environment Southland is struggling and lack the resources and the authority to effectively do what needs to be done. Although it is intensive farming that has largely contributed to the rapid decline in water quality, many farmers had set up their farms under a different regulatory regime and they should not have to shoulder the total cost of putting things right. If a collaborative approach is to be successful, good farming practice needs to be recognized and costs shared. Environment Southland does not have the ability to pay compensation or fast track necessary remedial action and many good farmers feel they are being demonised by the media.

The Southland Times has recognized that the solutions for fresh water management are actually political ones and that there is a great opportunity to galvanize thinking and potential action by making it an election issue. Their poll on the level of public concern shows (at the point of writing this) that 66% of respondents support the view that water management is the defining election issue for Southland and this reflects the conversations I have had while campaigning.

It was useful to have Green MP Kevin Hague visit today, following up on Russel's earlier visit, and see for himself what progress had been made as regards the Waituna. The presentation from Environment Southland scientists just supported what had been presented to Russel a few months earlier but evidence of degradation had become even more prevalent. The sense of urgency and frustration from these scientists was evident as they were virtually tracking the imminent demise of the environment. What was also concerning was the fact that one scientist had shifted across to Environment Southland from DoC because of the widespread cuts to the department. Despite the need for good science to drive any action the financial support for this to occur was being actively reduced.

Kevin, when interviewed, was very clear about what need to happen. Central government had to intervene to create the urgency needed (as they did with Auckland's RWC transport issues) and provide the financial support to compensate farmers where necessary. There has to be an immediate reduction of stocking levels in the catchment to get the 50% reduction in sediments that is needed to avert flipping.

What is totally nonsensical to me is that $11.6 million is being provided to restore Lake Ellesmere (which is already dead), yet the Waituna is still living and has been effectively ignored. Considering the international status of the Waituna Wetland, its flipping will do nothing for our already tarnished "100% Pure" image.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

National Government Hides TPP Terms

I have learned through experience that often when information is withheld because of commercial sensitivities it is generally because of other reasons. I have already expressed concerns about the secret TPP negotiations and the potential threat to Pharmac due to the intense lobbying by pharmaceutical companies.

Unless National is more open about what they are prepared to trade off in the negotiations we will be voting blind, this is too an important issue to leave to a party thats is prepared to sell our state assets for a quick buck, we need some assurance that they can be tough when act in our interests! The US and other countries party to this agreement have been more open about the terms and yet we have a void of information ourselves except for a leaked document that gives great cause for concern.

Pharmac is the envy of the United States people who are often financially crippled by their drug bills and it looks as if we will soon be suffering from a similar situation.

Russel Norman has some strong words for John Key and I'm sure voters need some answers before voting on the 26th:

Key must come clean about TPP and Pharmac before election
John Key needs to be absolutely clear with the New Zealand public before the election about whether he would trade off Pharmac in the interest of signing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Green Party Co-leader Dr Russel Norman said today.

Three United States-proposed texts from the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade negotiations were leaked over the weekend. These texts - which normally would have been withheld from the public for four years - would negatively impact on New Zealand's drug buying agency Pharmac if adopted.

"Pharmac is seen by United States drug companies as a threat," said Dr Norman.

"Pharmac's buying power and use of cheaper generic drugs assists New Zealanders get affordable access to life saving medicines.

The US proposals would open up Pharmac's decision making to litigation from United States patent attorneys, and it would extend the life of drug patents, restricting Pharmac's ability to use cheaper generics.

"Signing an agreement in secret that would weaken Pharmac is not in our long term interests," said Dr Norman.

"The Trans-Pacific Partnership could impact on New Zealanders' ability to receive medicine and severely affect our already stretched health budget.

"Signing up to the Trans-Pacific Partnership will have far reaching effects on our abilities to make laws and regulations.

"This is no ordinary trade deal. It is less about getting market access for our products and more about giving new rights to foreign companies that will undermine good Kiwi initiatives like Pharmac.

"New Zealanders should be thankful that someone with a conscience has leaked these negotiating papers," said Dr Norman.

"Otherwise the New Zealand public would have had to wait four years to find out what our Government was willing to sacrifice for the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement."

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Industrial Relations, Good Faith & Fairness?

It is a fact that in times of economic downturns, employment conditions and security are actively eroded by employers and governments. It is also a fact that many large businesses accrue huge profits during recessions because of reductions in employment costs. It is an employers market and higher unemployment means that employers are able to dictate the terms, so they do. It is during these times that governments should take a lead and ensure that vulnerable workers are protected and employers don't abuse their unfair advantage. Unfortunately National Governments do not generally support working people and John Key has openly stated that unions will not be happy with the changes they intend to make in their second term.

One would think that as productivity increases that workers would have a share of the cake they have had a large part in producing, yet since 1989 productivity has risen by 52% and wages (after inflation) have only increased by 16%. Since Rogernomics workers' ability to collectively bargain has dramatically declined and our strongest unions are now those that serve the state sector. Considering the massive employment cuts in the state sector, around 2,400 jobs have been arbitrarily cut during this term and 1,000 more are planned for the next, there has been little even our strongest unions have been able to do to limit these.

The policy of different governments and employers to demonize unions has been hugely successful and many workers in the private sector now even believe themselves that being a unionist is similar to devil worship. When discussing employment relationships of the past many people remember union action that caused difficulties and disruption but the many abuses of power by employers appear to be quickly forgotten.

When Labour recently released their employment policy one would expect business interests to express concern but many editorials also came out in opposition and the same old threats and myths have been aired regarding mass industrial disruption and loss of business competitiveness. I remember similar angst and anguish when Labour repealed National's hugely damaging Employment Relations Act and yet what followed was a period of economic growth and industrial stability.

If our country is to move ahead in a way that is sustainable into the future we must lift the living and working conditions of ordinary New Zealanders. We need to take advantage of high tech, green industries that require a well qualified and well paid work force. Green businesses (Pure Advantage) are on the cutting edge of business growth and many also lead in their management of employees. They tend to have more collaborative leadership models and share productivity gains with their workers. Good faith employment relationships work and, to be truly fair, industry standards and equity assurances will need to be established too.

If we are to take advantage of the potential in a green economy and ensure all New Zealanders share the benefits, then a party vote for the Greens is essential.

Graph courtesy of Bill Rosenburg

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Occupy Invercargill and Conspiracy Theories

I visited Invercargill's version of this worldwide movement and talked with a small group of enthusiastic young people who are making a stand for what they believe in. I was pleased to hear that rather than chasing them off, our civic leaders are respecting the peaceable nature of their protest and allowing them to stay. Mayor Tim has offered his support by returning the power supply and providing a toilet.

There is more enthusiasm than organisation with the group, but I was impressed with their openness and willingness to listen to different views. I spent an hour listening, presenting Green thinking and discussing world issues. Conspiracy theories dominate much of their world views, especially around banking and money control. I can see how they may form these views, especially after the New Scientist article (hat tip, Robert Winter) that highlighted the research by three systems theorists from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (Zurich). They found that 1% of companies controlled 40% of the entire transnational corporate network and most were financial institutions. The top 20 included Barclays Bank, JPMorgan Chase & Co and The Goldman Sachs Group.

The difference in thinking between myself and many of the occupation group is probably around the intent behind these powerful corporates and reserve banks. I do not think there is a sinister conspiracy but more a culture of power and greed, with little thought to the consequences of their actions on our wider society. The recent economic collapse of many financial institutions reveals greed has been the more likely influence on their thinking rather than a sinister plan of world domination. 

I was concerned that some in the occupation group were so disillusioned with politics and "the establishment" that they had decided not to vote. There is little one can do to create real political change if there is total disengagement and while our political system has its flaws, it isn't totally dysfunctional either. A change of government could easily result in a major shift in thinking and a reversal of much that is currently threatening a sustainable future. Party voting Green would go a long way to enabling this positive change to happen.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Inner City Planning, a Green Vision?

I attended a very well facilitated public meeting regarding the rejuvenation of Invercargill's inner city last night. Urban planner Kobus Mentz put attendees into three groups and provided us with aerial views of the city, some coloured pens and useful guiding questions. He wanted our thoughts on what could be done and much animated discussion resulted.

I ended up in a group that included Bob Simpson, a local architect (and outspoken critic of current city planning), and Nigel Cowburn, a landscape architect who had recently shifted to Invercargill from Queenstown.

Here is a summary of the issues and possible solutions that came out of the meeting:

  • The large retail stores, including Farmers and the Warehouse had shifted the retail centre away from the old CBD.
  • Online shopping has hit local retailers hard. Small business are struggling.
  • Closing streets for pedestrians doesn't generally work with smaller cities as there is not the population to support them and retailers suffer.
  • Current bus stops situated outside the movie theatre, library and museum are problematic.
  • Wachner Place not well sited, or designed. 
  • Covering a street, such as Esk Street, is too expensive.
  • Although we have attractive heritage buildings, many are structurally unsound.
  • Little in current inner city for children or youth.
  • Main restrooms on outside edge of main shopping area problematic and few seats provided in inner city.
  • Our major hotel complex (Ascot Park) is on the outskirts of the city.
  • Turn Wachner place into a bus stop, ideally situated with toilets etc and close to central city accommodation. This could be used for inner city and intercity buses.
  • Focus on inner city being more for boutique shopping, accommodation, culture and recreation. 
  • A purpose built market area for our Farmers Market and buskers etc.
  • Ensure any future hotel development occurs in the city centre and include ample parking.
  • A high quality skate park sited closer to the centre and perhaps a Chipmunks style facility for older children and youth (I have seen an excellent one in the UK and it was very popular). Young people are less likely to get into antisocial behaviour if they have interesting things to do.
  • More trees and seating.
  • Add interest with something like horse drawn trams, these existed in Invercargill longer than in most cities and are part of our heritage.
  • Make the inner city more bike friendly.
  • Rather than a Museum rebuild on current site perhaps shift to inner city.
  • Many vacating stores be converted into carparks or green spaces.
  • Connecting alleyways made more interesting and attractive.
  • Make Otepuni Gardens more of an attraction, perhaps developing more recreational facilities around them.
  • Use strategic tree planting to provide shelter from our occasional windy weather.
  • Ensure that any older buildings that are demolished are replaced with ones that are well designed and add interest.
  • Now that SIT has taken over much of the inner city there are opportunities to provide more to support a student population. Apparently we have a larger proportion of mature students (mid twenties) than many other tertiary institutions.
I thought many of the solutions supported "green" thinking. Our urban environments need to be future proofed and designed to cater for all ages. If the environment is attractive, stimulating and easy to inhabit it is more likely to attract people. 

A certain amount of frustration was expressed by Bob Simpson, who felt opportunities for such talkfests had been occurring for some time and we should just get on with presenting a plan so that we finally have something more concrete to engage with. I am inclined to agree with him as unless you have experience in inner city planning, most people have limited experience or knowledge around what is possible. Let's get someone like Kobus and his team to put something together so we can all see the potential and possibilities for our inner city. 

Monday, October 17, 2011

All Black Winning Strategy Has Wider Applications

The success of the All Blacks does much for the general morale of the country, and the pleasure of following a successful team has some value, but at the end of the day it still a sport and any team is only as good as their last game. However, we now have such a culture of success around the All Blacks that losing is not an option. After any loss serious questions are asked and we are not satisfied until mountains are moved and we are regarded as the top team again. There has also been considerable investment in making sure the RWC is a successful event and immediate Government intervention occurred when Auckland experienced one or two hiccups.

Why can't we have similar expectations applied to all that we do, whether it be economic or environmental management, or even education? It appears to me that when our Prime Minister is questioned on our performance in any of the above, he feels comfortable to claim that we are not the worst and he is happy following the lead of other countries. Why should we spend more money on ensuring a sporting event goes well than addressing our polluted rivers, down graded economy or the drop in the international rankings of our Universities?

If you think of the sort of approach Graham Henry may use and apply it to water pollution it may look something like this (I have replaced the Prime Minister or Nick Smith with Henry for this fictitious news conference):

Journo: Minister Henry, we appear to have lost quite a few rivers recently to high levels of pollution?

Henry: Any loss is unacceptable, we don't like losing and are already examining the deficiencies in our game and planning the necessary action going forward.

Journo: Minister, do you think your policies were appropriate, considering the extent of the losses.

Henry: We are spending much time analysing what occurred and we think we may need to make changes to the team, we are disappointed with the lack of intensity from some of our players and there is not the commitment we would have liked.

Journo: Federated Farmers have claimed we need more analysis and that we don't want to take any action that will reduce their earning capacity.

Henry: Now there's a player whose performance concerns me greatly, Fed hasn't been operating as part of our team and he has been particularly selfish with water possession. He may be our highest paid player but at the end of the day he's just one of the team. I think we may need to toughen up on our rules and expectations to get the sort of performance we expect. I think we also need to look at the outside coaching and advice Fed has received, I think sponsors such as Fonterra have had too much sway and let commercial interests get in the way of good play. The environmental ball has been dropped too often.

Journo: Some say that our "100% pure" brand has lost the credibility it once had because of a series of poor performances, what would you say to those critics?

Henry: I think we have rested on our laurels for too long and it is a bit of a wakeup call for the boys. They know how much value the country puts on our success, it is something that opens international doors and provides us with valuable opportunities on the world's stage. Our brand is everything and the boys should remember that.

Journo: There have been suggestions that in times of economic crisis we need to focus on cutting back spending and clean rivers are a luxury, what are your thoughts?

Henry: There are huge economic benefits from being a winner and it gives us a psychological advantage. Everyone wants a piece of the action if you are the best in the world, investing in being the best is a no brainer.

Journo: Thank you, Minister Henry.

Henry: (Away from microphones) I hope you you write this up positively, otherwise I might be losing my job in November. I don't think the voters will tolerate another loss unless I can produce a credible game plan going forward.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Maritime New Zealand Underfunded

Proper governance should involve maintaining a high degree of future planning and defining priorities based on evidence and good advice. A government must also make sure that they maintain a strong sense of purpose that will not be swayed by a myriad of of lobbyists, who will all claim their particular interests deserve the most attention.

I have already described the issues around the liberalised regulations controlling our coastal shipping and serious concerns were raised by Laila Harre as far back as 1997. One would think that given the dodgy state of many of our coastal ships, often with crews employed on minimum wages, that the potential for disaster must be increased. The damage caused by the Rena must surely have been predicted as a possibility, given the incidents that have occurred internationally, and yet the funding for Maritime New Zealand has been frozen on a paltry $5.7 million.

I would have to question the logic of this National Government, as well as the previous Labour Government, when considering the real threats to this country. More is spent on the SIS, who in 2008 had a budget of $38.1 million, to protect us from terrorists. The SIS have had a lengthy history of incompetence with Ahmed Zaoui proving to be unjustifiably labeled as a terrorist threat and any substantial act of terrorism or espionage (Rainbow Warrior, Mossad passport theft) were missed completely.

The New Zealand Air Force managed to get over $300 million to update their Orion aircraft ostensibly to improve surveillance of our territorial waters. Through reading Nicky Hager's book it becomes apparent that the real reason was to make them compatible with British and United States forces and allowed them to directly support the war in Iraq. I have since been told that satellites are far more cost effective (and generally just more effective) than an Orion for surveillance off our shores.

I strongly support Russel Norman's call for a Royal Commission review on the management of the Rena disaster and I think any future government needs a serious rethink about where our priorities should be as regards protecting our shores and invest accordingly. Our current defense spending is based on ideological ghosts and misinformation, not on realities.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Billboards and Bicycles

The election always brings the creative juices of the various parties to the fore as advertising design is developed and campaigning gimmicks are worked on. The campaigns are always good for re-establishing a sense of community within a party as the shared purpose becomes more focussed and more time is spent working together on different campaign related projects. 

I spent a recent evening with some of our Invercargill Green Team in putting up large billboards in some strategic places. We started in early evening and by the time we were putting the last one up we were working in torchlight. Hopefully our construction efforts will stand the test of time, unlike 2008 when a series of strong winds meant that we needed constant running repairs.

The billboards look great and once again we are receiving accolades for the design, Green creative juices appear to dominate.

Rival candidate and National MP, Eric Roy, came up with the novel idea of walking around the whole electorate (around 300 km). I have applauded him for his commitment to green transport but will be relying on my bicycle and bike trailer. While walking is good, it is probably not as efficient as a bicycle and I understand Eric has a support vehicle traveling with him that must negate the environmental advantages. 

It is reassuring when I am cycling around Invercargill to receive friendly waves and toots in recognition of the Green advertising I am towing behind me. There is a definite shift to Green thinking and many people I speak to (all ages) are declaring they will definitely give their party vote to the Greens, when last election the common response was "I'll think about it."

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Laila Harre Predicted Rena Wreck

An interesting exchange in Parliament, back in 1997, predicted what we are dealing with now. Jenny Shipley's response comes from the National Party bible that is obviously still in use today:

Laila Harre: How can the Minister sing the praises of coastal deregulation, in the total absence of any objective analysis of the costs and benefits of the policy in terms of employment, local business development, and the environment; and is not her answer simply another case of substituting ideology and anecdote for objective and independent analysis?

Hon. Jenny Shipley: These matters were well traversed at the time that the legislation was passed through the House, and there was a great appeal from the cloth-cap brigade, who argued that no change could be entertained because it would affect different groups of people. What is clear is that new employment opportunities are emerging because of new activity on the ports and in different regions. Every time we can get a reduction in the cost of transportation, we allow the provinces to prosper, and that is one of the goals of this Government.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Rena Wreck National's Fault

New Zealanders continue to pay dearly for National's past and continuing incompetence. The $11.5 billion dollar leaky building debacle is directly related to the deregulation of the building industry in 1991 and the Pike River mine tragedy can be blamed on the repealing of the Coal Mining Act in 1993. National governments arrogantly ignore good advice and continue to have the blind belief that less regulation is good and reducing numbers of civil servants, and therefore trusting business to self regulate, is fine. History continues to prove them wrong and yet I don't see evidence of lessons learned, even in their appalling Energy Strategy released recently we find the following statement: 

"The Government encourages development and use of voluntary industry standards to rate building energy performance."

With the Rena disaster both the causes of the accident and the delay in dealing effectively with it can be laid firmly at the feet of the National Party. Again in the 1990s the National Government created an "open coast" policy that allowed unacceptable practices to become prevalent within our waters. In the case of the Rena it had a history of faults and concerns and the last time there was any check to ensure these had been rectified was in the Port of Bluff and all that was required was a verbal assurance that all was well. 

In reality the likelihood of a major marine accident is probably greater in New Zealand than a terrorist attack and yet the checks and monitoring of coastal and international shipping in our waters have been downgraded substantially. If greater diligence and regulation existed then this terrible tragedy would not have occurred. Voting for a National government is a vote for hands off, no responsibility governance and the tax payer becoming culpable for any resulting disaster.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Silica, not Lignite Should be Southland's Future

Southland is pasture rich and mineral rich and we have choices in how we manage these resources for the long term benefits of the region.

This Government has clearly stated that fossil fuels will support the immediate future of this country and Solid Energy has plans for to convert fertile pasture into open cast lignite mines. Solid Energy and the Government claim we need the urea and diesel that can be extracted from the lignite even though the production process and use of these products will be hugely polluting. Lignite is the worst source of diesel and our rivers do not need more urea pouring into them.

The loss of pasture land to the huge open cast mines that will be created ignores the long term future of the southland region. Once the lignite is extracted there are no plans to restore the land for farming but create a series of "recreational lakes". With huge regions of the world's farmland becoming saline infused deserts, through poor water management and over intensification, fertile food producing land will be worth more than gold. For us to destroy the longterm future of our farmland, for a short term gain, is shortsighted and stealing from our children's future.

While the National Government is obsessed with fossil fuel they have ignored the huge and growing alternative energy industry. There has been a growth in the solar energy sector alone of over 120%, this is a growth industry with a real future and Southland is poised to be part of this. We do have heaps of lignite but we also have heaps of high quality silica, which is a an important component in solar panels. Unlike lignite, the silica is not found under our most fertile farmland, it doesn't release dangerous carbon into the atmosphere and it has huge potential in growing jobs.

Solid Energy has predicted that there may be 300 jobs produced from a local lignite industry, yet there is potential for 3,000 jobs developed out of silica if we decide to smelt and process it within the Southland region. While the lignite jobs are largely lower qualified positions the silica industry would require a range of skills and qualifications and a larger proportion of the jobs will need to be higher qualified ones.

I know what choices I would be making now and it doesn't involve lignite!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Sinking Ship Reveals Flaw In Energy Strategy

Dear Sir

The National led Government have thrown all their weight behind oil and lignite mining as their way to make New Zealand prosperous. In their recently published Energy Strategy they state:
 “The Government wants New Zealand to be a highly attractive global destination for petroleum exploration and production investment so we can develop the full potential of our petroleum resources."

When the Brazilian oil company, Petrobras, was drilling off our coast the Green Party asked for assurances around environmental protections and were told that it is Maritime New Zealand’s responsibility, not the company, who would have to manage any oil spill. Our ability to manage an oil leak from a wrecked ship does not fill me with confidence and when I think of the lack of planning behind the government’s energy strategy, I too am experiencing a sinking feeling.

Yours sincerely

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Greens Fill Vacuum Left by Labour

Labour finds itself between a rock and a hard place. They have spent too many years ingratiating themselves with big business and elements of neo-liberal economics that they have lost their way. It is hard to strongly oppose National when much that is wrong with our economy and society can also be attributed to Labour. Little effort was made to reverse much of the inequitable and environmentally damaging policies of the previous National government during the three terms under Helen Clark. Consequently their election platform has no continuity or overarching vision, it is a hotch potch of vote catching ideas that they hope will not upset the corporate donations too much.
The Greens on the other hand have nothing to lose and even refuse to accept corporate donations where there is major conflict with the operations of the business and Green policy. Now that there has been a broad public realization that Godzone is developing huge cracks in credibility and resilience there has been a shift, making green thinking mainstream. Labour has a relatively strong membership and some talented MPs but their leaders are too compromised by their past to be truly effective and the Greens appear more convincing by the day.
What is needed is a huge swing to the Greens to give them at least 20% of the vote. If National won again there would be no confidence and supply agreement, but I can imagine any memorandum of understanding would allow substantial gains for Green Policy like; furthering the home insulation scheme, cleaning rivers, raising minimum wages and possibly even halting some mining projects.
If the Greens won enough it may also provide the possibility of a coalition government with Labour and if the Greens achieve around 20% it would give the relationship a more even footing. Either way, a stronger Green presence in Parliament should shock Labour into rediscovering its roots and bringing about much needed rejuvenation. The white-anting that Clare Curren referred to is really just evidence that other parties are having to stand up for what Labour should have been. Labour created a vacuum for others to fill and the Greens fit there very neatly.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Green Transport and Green Ties.

My wife, Vicky, has become our family's main income earner as I have pursued my political aspirations. I was concerned that as the election campaign gets into full swing there will be a lot that she will have to endure, so I encouraged her to join her English family in Italy for a week's holiday. Vicky's great, great Grandfather was Italian and her family had traced a link to a region in Northern Italy and planned to spend some time exploring the area and finding family connections.

Vicky has just returned from her stay in Malcesine, an idyllic village beside Lake Garda and possibly the Italian equivalent of Queenstown. She brought back a wonderful Italian, green, silk tie for me and I intend to wear it as much as possible during the rest of the campaign

Vicky also brought back stories of the Italian lifestyle she experienced; the wonderful healthy food, the abundance of bicycles, the efficient public transport and the general ambience of sophistication and style that exuded from the people. The Italian Prime Minister may be a little crass, but Vicky found the people friendly, hospitable and very efficient.

We New Zealanders have developed a high level of cosmopolitan sophistication when it comes to food, wine and general culture, but when it comes to transport we are woefully behind the majority of Europe. Their city centres are designed for pedestrians and public transport is efficient and practical. Cycling is a lifestyle choice that not only saves the local environment from exhaust fumes but is a healthy alternative. Where bikes are common, high levels of obesity are not apparent and car drivers are very accommodating. We have a lot to learn and much to gain from following Europe's lead in this regard.

I have included some photos from a trip to Europe late last year (Zurich, Paris, Oxford) to demonstrate what could be achieved here and to show that climate should not be a limiting factor (these were taken in Winter).

Sunday, October 2, 2011

National Measures Balance With Faulty Scales

Every time National Ministers are questioned about the economy, the environment or transport they talk about balance and yet it is balance that is most lacking in their management.

Gareth Morgan and Sir Paul O'Callaghan were largely in agreement about the current mismanagement of our economy on Q & A this morning and it generally involved a lack of balance. An over emphasis of investment in the nonproductive property sector is yet to be addressed and a simplistic focus on dairying ignores the strength of our manufacturing sector. Sir Paul explained how our diverse manufacturing sector earns us more than dairying and he explained the environmental limitations of a continued growth in the latter. Bill English talked about oil exploration and mining as their key focus to lead the development of our economy, ignoring the trillion dollar renewable energy market and the huge potential we have in knowledge and research.

Our spending on research and development is still exceedingly low compared to other OECD countries and we are losing around a 1/4 of our university graduates to overseas because of the lack of opportunities  in New Zealand. Rather than mining lignite we should be mining the huge resource that exists in our talented and capable young people. After all the talk around the "knowledge wave" this government appears to have dropped the ball in this regard and are turning the clock back to knowledge of the past and fossil fuels. When New Zealanders are regarded well internationally for adaptability and innovation it makes sense to provide opportunities in our own country and to harness these skills for the development of our own economy.

There seems to be a huge reluctance from this government to invest in the potential that exists within us and instead there appears to be the bizarre faith that our economic saviours exist outside our country. To sell off our state assets and open our country to international mining companies will not provide any longterm sustainability. Norway did extremely well when exploiting their oil resources because they kept the industry under tight state control and I don't see any attempt to manage our natural resources in the same way.

When 90% of our lowland rivers are polluted, largely through the growth of the dairy industry, $7 is spent on motorway development for every $1 spent on public transport and the wealthiest 1% have the same collective earnings as the bottom 60% - balance is obviously a concept that this National Government really struggles with.

The Green Party is the only party with a comprehensive economic package that addresses the real issues that confront us and provides us with a vision of a stronger and more sustainable economy.