Showing posts from March, 2012

Laila Harre Joins Greens

When the Rena disaster first hit the headlines I discovered an interesting parliamentary exchange between Laila Harre and Jenny Shipley regarding the planned deregulation of coastal shipping. Interestingly if you remove the references to shipping the two arguments actually sum up National's current approach to governance and the Green Party's concerns:

Laila Harre: How can the Minister ... (insert just about any current National initiative) 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 (still National's approach) 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 …

Solid Energy and the Tobacco Industry

I can see many parallels between the coal and tobacco industries and this became more apparent with the attempts of Buller Coal and Solid Energy to have greenhouse gas discharges removed from consideration in resource consents applications. Buller Coal plan to mine the environmentally significant Denniston Plateau and Solid Energy hope to proceed with their Mt William mine on the West Coast (the Mt William mine alone would be responsible for releasing 11.5 million tones of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere).

Like the tobacco industry attempted, the mining companies are claiming that they can't be held responsible for the use of their product, they only mine the stuff. Solid Energy also tried to minimize the emissions that would eventually be produced by claiming that the gas released would be minuscule in a global sense (obviously every individual mining operation internationally could make a similar claim). The coal will be exported to China, India and Brazil and Solid Energy w…

Politics and Pumpkins.

It is easy to become despondent and angst ridden when living under a National Government. Their arrogance, sense of entitlement and plain ignorance oozes from every statement and their splatter gun approach to governance is hugely unsettling. They seem to be firing half baked, ideological mush everywhere they can while hoping that some of it will stick. Our teachers, DoC staff, diplomats, beneficiaries, wage earners, local body councils and probably most New Zealanders are trying to survive and get on with their lives while also trying to avoid each shower of sloppy decisions being fired from the Beehive in their direction.

When I get tired of writing submissions and letters, supporting protests, signing petitions, demanding referendums, counseling victims of ACC cuts and attending endless meetings, I take refuge in my garden and marvel at my pumpkins. While I may not live in a mansion, my humble quarter acre is very productive and sustains us for much of the year. I wonder what John…

Wetlands Symposium Winds Up Wonderfully

Prior to European settlement a good amount of the Southland Plains comprised of wetlands. In those early days wetlands were known as swamps and were regarded as having little value unless they could drained and converted into farmland. One workshop presenter told the story of his father visiting the Catchment Board a few decades earlier to gain permission for a building near the Waituna Lagoon, the reply across the counter, "Do what you like, it's only a swamp!"

Few people saw the value of wetlands, even internationally, and the first time that I became aware of their true value was when I read a small book written by Sir Peter Scott, only son of Robert Falcon Scott. Sir Peter is probably less well known than his explorer father, yet he probably achieved far more in his life. As well as being a highly regarded painter of birds he was one of the founders of the World Wildlife Fund. He led a movement to restore wetlands in Britain as a way of  ensuring the survival of the…

Guy Salmon Warns Loss of Regional Councils

The keynote speaker for the first day of the National Wetlands Symposium was Guy Salmon and his speech was largely about the failure of governance, at both regional and national level, to protect our water resources. Guy also explained how wetlands had received poor support in the past because of the difficulty in defining what they are, they are not just land or water but a combination of the two.

Guy is a member of the Land and Water Forum which represents 62 organisations who come together to make policy recommendations regarding land and freshwater management. The Forum's 2010 document, "A Fresh Start for Fresh Water", contained policies that were intended to influence the National policy Statement for Fresh Water Management. However the Government's water rules had some major deficiencies according to Mr Salmon and the Forum has now been asked to make recommendations on methods, tools and governance processes that could better manage water quality and quantity.…

Treasury Head Hits Education

The Editor

The attacks on our education system and our teachers are increasing with Treasury head, Gabriel Makhlouf, joining the fray (“Change Manager”, March 24).
According to Makhlouf maintaining our top five ranking in most international assessments isn’t good enough and our struggling tail of underachievers is largely due to underperforming teachers. Using raw data to measure teacher performance is his answer to improving practice. The fact that 30% of students leave school without achieving NCEA level 2 is not helping the productive capacity of the country, Makhlouf claims.
While our education system is not perfect, it certainly isn’t failing and our teachers have no difficulty getting jobs around the world, such is the regard our profession has internationally. New Zealand teachers are not …

National Park or Amusement Park?

I strongly oppose the application from Riverstone Holdings Limited for a concession to build a monorail through the Snowdon Forest Conservation Area on the following grounds:
1.The application has huge implications for the immediate environment and although the monorail will be built within a Conservation area it will not benefit the majority of New Zealanders who would visit the region but will generally cater for the wealthy elite of the tourist market.
2.The construction of the monorail may take many years and have a negative impact on all those visiting the area over that time, including the potential restriction of access do due safety concerns.
3.The current transport infrastructure is adequate for accessing Milford Sound and when compared to similar areas internationally, travel times are not excessive. We should encourage tourists to stay in places outside Queenstown and the existing route to Milford Sound, through rural New Zealand, is widely admired for its own beauty. The need…

Planning for Southland's Future.

Dear Sir

Ali Timms, Environment Southland's Chair, wrote a very good opinion piece (March 17) in which she discusses possible local council reform. While there could be perceived savings in the establishment of a unitary authority (a single council replacing the current four) that would reduce duplication of services, there already exists a growing level of collaboration. Ali describes the cooperation between councils in creating Emergency Management Southland and the development of our regional water plan as being good examples of these.

The "South Island Strategic Alliance" also has potential and it appears that the parochialism and patch protection that may have existed in the past is giving way to greater pragmatism.

I share Ali's concerns regarding the Resource Management Act and the expensive and often protracted process that can  result. As someone who has presented submissions under this act, its limitations can be cause for frustration.

The a…

Neoliberalism Infiltrates DoC

In speaking to my submission against the Holyford/Dart tunnel today, I tried to express my frustration around the huge philosophical shift that has occurred within the Department of Conservation.

When DoC was originally set up in 1987 the intent was very clear: "To protect natural and historic heritage and provide recreational opportunities. Nature was to be protected for its own sake and protected for New Zealanders and future generations to enjoy."

This admirable purpose no longer exists and has been replaced by "conservation leadership for a prosperous New Zealand".

No longer are our wild places to be protected in perpetuity for future generations but will be viewed for their potential to generate a short term economic return.

When looking at the list of DoC's new roles it is obviously no coincidence that "working with tourism operators and others running businesses on public conservation areas" precedes "Advocating for the conservation of n…

Greens Leading the Opposition

The Green Party's ability to articulate the issues we face and present a coherent and rational plan for the future was hugely instrumental in shifting their share of the vote to well over 10%. Now that the dust has settled after the election and the different parties have had a chance to adjust themselves and regroup, it is still the Greens who are leading the charge.

The Maori Party have become the ragged remnants of what they were and those who are left have endured  the tainted National Party atmosphere for too long. They have lost their fire and have accepted their role as crumb sweepers, scrounging tidbits from under the National caucus table. Their only real warrior, Hone, abandoned the party waka when he could see no end of bailing was going to keep it afloat. However, Hone, despite his passion, lacks the discipline to make much headway and many of Mana's potential supporters didn't even bother to vote.

Winston (the political phoenix) has risen from the ashes too m…

"High Stakes" Assessments Fail to Deliver

I felt very fortunate to recently hear a presentation from Margaret Wu, an internationally respected authority on educational assessment. If only the National Government had sought her advice before embarking on the ideological nonsense that formed the basis of their National Standards, then we may not be dealing with our current mess.

Margaret's quietly authoritative style and conclusions based on a distinguished career in educational research effectively exposed the myths that form the basis and justification for the National Standards.

Myth Number One: New Zealand's long tail of underachievement can be addressed principally by raising the quality of teaching.

Given that New Zealand is already ranked in the top five of education systems internationally it was always going to be difficult to significantly improve an already strong system. Margaret made the enormity of that claim even more ridiculous by presenting the determining factors for any child's academic attainment…

Ports, Profits, People & Prosperity

Arriana Huffington's book "Third World America" provides ample warning for our current government and business leaders regarding the dangers of putting short term profits before people and maintaining important infrastructure. Efficiency drives are also dangerous when the desired outcome is cost savings rather than improved outcomes. The Port of Auckland dispute has exemplified many of the issues confronting our country under our current leadership regime.

The POAL is the largest container port in the country and is the second most efficient port in Australasia. Last year cargo volumes were up by 24% and there was a very healthy 2.1% increase in normalised profit (providing the company almost $25 million after tax).  The 6% dividend that Auckland City receives from this "council owned enterprise" appeared to be a very good return considering a generally subdued economy. I wouldn't have thought huge changes were necessary and the demand that the dividend be …

Unions and Balance

I have just returned from our NZEI Te Riu Roa National Executive meeting and because of the continuing attack on education from this government it was another intense one. We are a very united but varied group who really do represent the diversity of our membership. We have early childhood teachers, school support staff, primary classroom teachers, resource teachers of maori and special education and primary principals. We all have direct connections with children, schools and communities where we work and are united in our view that an accessible, quality education system is paramount. A good deal of our discussions over the last two days were around the professional work and research that we are involved in. The highlight of the two days was an excellent presentation from Margaret Wu, an internationally acclaimed expert on educational assessment.

The New Zealand Educational Institute began life in 1883 as a largely professional organisation for teachers and has grown into a union o…

Hospital Heroes

Today and for the second time in as many years I found myself feeling my age and physically vulnerable. I also felt extremely privileged to have good friends and live in a country that still has an excellent public hospital system.

We had just finished our day's meeting in Wellington and I was returning to our hotel when I became aware of a peculiar fluttering sensation in my chest. It didn't feel like anything digestive so out of interest I checked my pulse. It appeared that every fifth beat was being missed. I didn't feel particularly unwell and thought it was just a minor anomaly that would eventually sort itself out. However after walking to the restaurant where we were dining, doubt began to eat away my confidence and I decided to phone my GP wife for reassurance.

Was there any pain? No. Was I short of breath? No. Did I feel clammy? No. It's probably nothing to worry about, but if it gets worse, check it out...

 A few minutes later it felt as though every second …