Friday, June 29, 2012

Worst Gang Not Covered by Bill

The leader of our most notorious gang talks tough while surrounded by his heavies.

Rotorua MP Todd McClay's private members bill to ban gang insignia in Government premises was drawn today. It is concerning that the most dangerous gang that currently exists in New Zealand is not covered by this bill and will continue their threatening and damaging behaviour with impunity.

“The bill introduces restrictions around gang insignia being displayed at places such as Government departments and council facilities, including Work and Income and Housing NZ offices, as well as the grounds of public schools and hospitals,” Mr McClay said.
“Gangs serve no legitimate purpose in our society, and the public has a right to be protected from their intimidation.”

While I totally agree with McClay's sentiment that society needs to be protected from gang intimidation the use of gang insignia as the method of doing this is flawed. Our country's worst gang are clever enough to avoid traditional attempts to restrict their operations.
This gang bullies and targets the most vulnerable in our society and they have destroyed families and caused extreme emotional stress and even suicide because of their thoughtless actions.

They live in a guarded, fortified environment and the gang leader travels around the country surrounded by a team of disciplined and probably armed heavies. The gang have managed to infiltrate many of our most important institutions and forced them to give up funds to support their nefarious schemes.

This gang are hocking off property that doesn't belong to them and are involved in a number of dodgy gambling activities. They can't be touched because they have literally paid off the police and even have influence over our legal system

The gang's transport of choice isn't motorbikes, but BMWs and they publicly flaunt themselves in intimidating and expensive suits. Their headquarters are in Wellington...

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Te Anau, Turmoil and a Tunnel

Around 300 Te Anau residents crammed into the conference room of the Distinction Hotel to hear a range of presentations regarding the Milford Dart tunnel and the Fiordland Link Experience monorail. While the Glenorchy community have united in a substantial campaign against the proposed tunnel, Te Anau, at the other end, has been slower to mobilize. Many possibly felt that both proposals were so ludicrous that they wouldn't go ahead but now that we are into the second term of this Government, they are not so certain.

Most of those attending the meeting were concerned about the environmental effects that would result from such intrusive projects and the many local residents could see the damage to their livelihoods if tourist traffic was diverted away from the town. Local hoteliers, tourist operators and guiding businesses felt especially threatened.

More than 1200 submissions were received by DoC regarding the tunnel project and over two thirds were opposed. The majority of those who supported the tunnel were tourists who were concerned that the return journey from Queenstown was too long. Most tourists buy their tour package overseas and don't realize it is possible to stay in Te Anau. By cutting the Te Anau to Hollyford part of the journey, if the tunnel was used, some spectacular scenery will be missed. The Tunnel and the monorail are essentially private business attempts to capture tourists in the Queenstown region to maximize profits for themselves. Since the demise of government supported regional development we are at the mercy of commercial growth being dictated by large business interests rather than regional interests and this is especially obvious in this case.

There were concerns about the external costs of both projects, like upgrading roads and bridges, that would have to be absorbed by local ratepayers. With central government cutting funding for road maintenance in rural areas, to support motorway developments in the North Island,  southern authorities are already stretched in maintaining existing roading infrastructure.

Due to cuts in DoCs budget there are now a number of past employees, like Colin Pemberton (with extensive knowledge of the Department's operations) who are now employed elsewhere and are beginning to speak out. Under this Government the goals and objectives of DoC have changed considerably and commercial imperatives now dominate planning and decisions. At one time the management plans for each conservation area fully dictated the activity within, but this is no longer the case. Colin is appalled that projects like the tunnel and the monorail can receive initial approval when the detail provided is scant at best, especially in relation to quantifying and mitigating negative environmental effects. Neither project is compatible with the Conservation Act or the World Heritage status of the region.

Many of the submissions against the projects came from those with a high agree of mining and engineering knowledge and they had very specific concerns regarding the practicalities of drilling a tunnel through a seismically active area and managing the waste material. The estimated cost of the tunnel was thought to be well under the true costs and it has been suggested that once the concession is granted overseas interests will be invited to do the work using their own capital. The obvious result will be foreign control of an asset within our National Park and the potential for our free trade agreements limiting our ability to dictate the tunnel's operation.

There was talk of legal challenges to DoC's process and different ways of expressing concerns to the Government and judging by the strength of feeling from the meeting, and the calibre of those leading the campaign, things will happen. Sir Alan Mark was one of the main speakers and he could remember a similar meeting around forty years ago in Te Anau that launched one of the most significant environmental campaigns in New Zealand's History. The government should be listening!

Sir Alan Mark 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Wrap-Around Services Unraveling

Primary education is becoming a problem for this National led government. Government revenue is falling and whether this loss is largely self induced, as I believe, or genuinely because of an economic recession, the need to cut spending is paramount. All other public sectors have been taken a funding hit and education has had to accept its share. The Ministry of Education lost $25 million, Early childhood has been dealt to more than once and Primary Education needs to suffer as well.

The difficult issue with cutting the budget to the primary sector is deciding on where the cuts can occur. The Government is committed to spending an extra $1.5 billion on rebuilding and repairing leaking schools and, given the state of many of them, this spending can't be compromised. Private schools can't be touched either as these are attended by Government MPs children (in fact these schools got a $35 million increase). The major part of the primary education budget goes to teacher salaries, but cutting teacher numbers is difficult to sell as the Minister and the Government discovered. Narrowing the curriculum to just literacy and numeracy was a useful ploy because making the other learning areas like Science, Technology nonessential enabled the sacking of their related advisors, however this only saved the odd million or two.

The Government has been left tinkering around the edges instead. Health camps and residential schools are being closed and the children served by these specialist providers are going to be supported by "wrap-around services" while they attend their local school. Children with extreme behavioural needs provide challenges for mainstream schools and their parents often struggle with their responsibilities as well. Not only were these residential schools useful in providing some helpful respite for teachers and parents but the children generally benefited by having an environment designed to manage and meet their needs.

Past experience of this Government has taught me to doubt the rhetoric that supports any of their education initiatives. National Standards were introduced "to lift the tail of underachievement", cutting the Ministry's budget was designed to "strengthen frontline services" and the proposed cut in teacher numbers was claimed to be the way to increase teacher quality.  The reality behind the wrap-around services is similarly concerning as the logical people to provide these services are those working in Special Education, in other words the "front line" of the Ministry.

The cuts to the Ministry's budget that I referred to earlier did not improve these front line services and instead we have seen a process of attrition and the case loads of Special Education staff have steadily increased. I have even heard about an ACC type culture where case workers have been encouraged to drop students to make the numbers look better.

Given this Government's determination to cut funding at any cost and the diminished capacity of Special Education, it appears that the proposed "wrap-around" services are already unraveling.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

New Zealand, Slavery and Being a Good Global Citizen

The US can hardly be held up as a bastion of human rights but it is still a concern that their Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, can release a report naming our country as one of the worst for supporting human trafficking. Not only do we have a thriving industry in underage prostitution but the exploitation of workers on Korean-flagged fishing boats, operating in our waters, has been likened to modern slavery. Clinton's report even documents advertisements for runaway fisherman and likens them to those used for escaped slaves in the 19th century, even including rewards. New Zealand once had the reputation of being an enlightened society that led the world in promoting human rights and social justice and this image has been seriously tarnished. The employment problems within our fishing industry has been known for years and the inaction from both Labour and National led governments has finally caught up with us.

For the last thirty years successive government's enthusiasm for a Neoliberal approach to governance has seen a dilution of regulations and an expectation for the private sector to self manage with little monitoring of safety standards or employment conditions. Even the last Labour Government has to shoulder responsibility for many of our  current problems because they did little to reverse the poor legislation from those they followed. The intention of loosening regulation was to reduce government spending and support the growth of business, however the actual affect has often been the opposite.

Even if you set aside the human cost of dead miners, the working poor, struggling families and child poverty the fiscal ramifications are huge. Around $12 billion will be necessary for putting right the leaking buildings and the health costs to the country because of families living in poorly maintained houses is considerable (David Cunliffe recently revealed that 50% of our state houses are still the ones built by Savage 70-80 years ago). Cutting costs through limiting regulation and cutting social spending may have some short-term advantage but the long term consequences are often substantial.

Pure Advantage identified that around  75% of our exporters are dependent on our clean green image to maintain their international markets and we forget the advantages we have gained by being a world leader in promoting social justice and human rights. We once led the world in giving equal rights to women and our support of child health but this is no longer the case with growing pay inequities between genders and we are now one of the worst countries in the OECD for child health and welfare.

Our state supported protests against nuclear testing and the proliferation of nuclear weapons and rather than diminishing our international status, it increased it. Our position in ANZUS was diminished but in a global sense we were admired for our independent stance and this provided support for our representation on the prestigious UN Security Council. We are currently standing for election onto the UN Human Rights Council, however our current status on human rights may pose problems.

Kennedy Graham recently wrote despairingly about the narrow and blinkered thinking coming from the National Party. They see New Zealand's relationship with the wider world only in terms of trade and gaining economic advantage and ignore the importance and value of being a good global citizen and a world leader in social justice.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

School League Tables Lack Logic

I wonder what really motivates our Prime Minister John Key and his colleagues regarding their intense fixation with education (although I do have my theories)? Considering the huge issues we have with child poverty, a budget that won't balance, an ACC system that is highly dysfunctional and a city struggling to rebuild after an earthquake and we see eduction receiving all the attention instead.

Hekia Parata, the Minister for Education, has made it clear that the major priority for this government is the achievement of Maori and Pacifika children and yet I am not aware of anything they have introduced that will realistically address this issue. National Standards have not helped, shutting down residential schools and health camps haven't helped, sacking most of our advisors hasn't helped and under-resourcesing Ka Hikitia (which was designed to actually address the problem) hasn't helped either. The government even tried to increase class sizes by claiming it would improve teacher quality and thank goodness they backed down on that one!

Balancing the budget probably does have an influence on government thinking and education does pose a problem in this respect. There have been some increases in spending in the sector but what most people don't realize, and the government doesn't advertise, is that the bulk of the new spending goes to mitigating an issue caused by a past National Government. $1.5 billion will have to be spent to fix and rebuild leaking, substandard school buildings that were constructed after National changed building regulations in 1991. In an attempt to balance this necessary spending there have been widespread cuts to professional support, specialist schools and even the Ministry of Education itself.

John Key is determined to win at least one battle against education professionals where parents will support him. League Tables won't require much money (just teacher and Ministry time in collecting and collating data) and having a system for comparing and ranking schools appeals to many. It all sounds very simple and logical, we can do it for sports competitions so why not for schools? Parents should be able to see how their school compares in performance to other schools in the country for both reassurance or to choose a new one. The trouble is, it isn't simple or logical and lots of questions arise:

  • When National Standards are based on teachers using their own judgements (OTJs) using a wide variety of assessments, how can the resulting data be consistent across all schools?
  • When an assessment system becomes "high stakes" and is used to compare schools and teachers, will this not shift the focus away from assessing a child so that their true needs can be identified?
  • When the focus is only on literacy and numeracy, what will happen to the amount of time schools devote to other learning areas like Science, Technology, PE and Art?
  • Won't some schools be disadvantaged if they have a large number of children with disabilities and learning and behaviour needs (especially when the government is closing specialist schools)?
  • Won't schools be discouraged from enrolling children with high needs if they pose a risk to their school ranking?
  • Doesn't such a narrow focus of assessment to compare schools ignore many other aspects that make a good school (like an inclusive culture, strong community relationships or a focus on values and key competencies that will provide long term value to students)?
  • Won't Schools that experience a high level of student transiency (dairy community) and have around 25% of their roll change every year be at a disadvantage when the value added by their school cannot be properly assessed?
  • What research has the government used to support the introduction of league tables that won't impact negatively on teaching and learning? 
  • Is this league table announcement just another red herring to shift attention and energy away from all the other areas where the government is struggling?

It all sounds like another half baked populist idea that doesn't stand close scrutiny, all the most successful countries for educational achievement (and that includes New Zealand) don't use league tables. I'm not holding my breath while I await answers to these questions as we are still waiting for answers to queries regarding National Standards, Charter Schools and PPPs and that didn't stop the Government from introducing them anyway.

Monday, June 18, 2012

School Deciles Cause Racial Divide

In the early 1990s schools were provided with a decile ranking based on the socio-economic data on the school community. The intention was to provide more funding to schools where communities lacked financial resources, the lower the decile, the greater the funding. The intention of the ranking was to create greater equity across schools by targeting funding to schools with greater needs, however, it has had the opposite affect.

Recent Ministry of education figures have revealed that low decile schools now have half the number of pakeha children attending them than in 2000, revealing a growing racial divide between high and low decile schools. The reasons are many and cannot simply be described as "white flight", as many have labeled the movement, but has more to do with income and perceptions of quality.

Maori and Pacifica families dominate the numbers of families on the lowest incomes and tend to live in areas of cheaper housing. Most of our cities have seen greater definition between suburban areas over the last twenty years, where those who have certain incomes and cultural backgrounds tend to live in communities that reflect them. We even have examples of the Government shifting state and low income housing from areas that are becoming more affluent, mixed income communities are not encouraged.

My own experience supports what has happened to New Zealand society, my parents bought a house in south Invercargill in the 1970's and I attended the local secondary school. The community we lived in was a mixed community with professional people and unqualified workers living beside each other. My secondary school was well regarded for both sporting and academic achievement and a had good mix of cultural backgrounds. Almost forty years later and, after schooling reviews, reorganizations and two name changes, it has become a predominantly Maori/Pacifika school with a declining roll. It is now regarded as the last option for many parents.

School decile rankings have been mistakingly used as an indication of quality and this has been supported by the real estate industry where a quick search will find advertisements that promote areas for their proximity to "top schools". The 1991 National Government removed zoning to allow parents to shift their children to the schools perceived as better than others and schools had the ability to skew enrollments to suit themselves. Since the return of zoning "popular" schools have the ability to ballot spaces for children outside their zone but they tend to use discriminating criteria, like a past family connection, that is able to exclude many children according to their family background.

The quality of teaching in low decile schools is generally very high as their teachers need to be highly skilled to meet a range of needs and accommodate diverse cultural backgrounds. Low decile schools offer rich and stimulating learning environments but do have many challenges to overcome. Boards of Trustees in in less affluent communities do not have the same levels of expertise as more affluent communities where those with professional skills can oversee the likes of building maintenance and finance.

Although low decile schools receive greater funding, affluent schools have more effective fundraising and expect parents to provide larger donations. Although public schools cannot charge fees there is much pressure placed on families to pay the donations and children are sometimes excluded from activities or trips if the "donations" haven't been paid. I know of struggling parents who have automatic payments going to their schools to minimize the stress of large bills and some struggling families even end up shifting their children to a lower decile school because the level of donations are beyond their means.

The current Government talks about the need to raise achievement in our Maori and Pasifika children and have implied that poor teaching is a major factor in underachievement. When many of our low decile schools are predominantly Maori or Pasifika this creates an impression that such schools are plagued by poor teaching. In reality many of these schools have great ERO reports and provide excellent learning environments. The fact that this Government is targeting low decile communities for their flawed Charter Schools and learn in the job teacher training schemes is concerning when neither experiment would be contemplated for an affluent community.

While the decile system was an attempt to create greater equity across poor and affluent communities it has instead highlighted differences and has made them more pronounced. Our urban communities are becoming less diverse and we now see communities divided and informally segregated according to income and race. The Spirit Level provided evidence to show that the more economically divided a nation is, the greater the likelihood of negative social and economic outcomes. We need to address the growing disparities between our communities and a review of our school decile ranking system should be part of that.

Friday, June 15, 2012

John Key Has No Mandate For Asset Sales!

Looking skyward and whistling is not listening!

When the National led Government struggles to explain or justify its policies it resorts to its trump card "we have a mandate". 

This claim was first used when the introduction of National Standards in Eduction met widespread criticism. National had indeed promoted the Standards in their 2008 election campaign and there was broad support for them, but there was no detail in the policy and the justification for them had no professional basis. What was introduced as the National Standards has struggled to deliver the clarity of reporting that was claimed nor have they made any perceptable difference to those struggling children who were purportedly going to benefit from their introduction. The National Party has still not delivered on this "mandated" policy. 

The National Party received a tenuous mandate to govern when elected in 2011, their claim that the election was a resounding victory is a huge exaggeration. In one of the worst turnouts in New Zealand's election history (74%) National failed to win a clear majority with only 47% of the vote and therefore 53% of those who voted did not vote for them.  The election was not fought on policy as National has tried to claim but on the personality of John Key and some of his popularity was based on the perception that he listened and responded to public concerns. Even during the election campaign the policy of a partial sale of state assets was not well supported and the details behind it were deliberately hidden. Not only did National block close scrutiny of their asset sale policy but they refused to share any of their policies on our national broadcaster's election website. If the sale of state assets was a major pillar of their campaign then this was not well promoted and voters were not provided with the information to vote on this in an informed way.

To progress the asset sales the Government has had to pass new laws and 1430 written submissions to the related "Mixed Ownership Model" legislation were received and 100 of those submissions were  presented orally to the Finance and Expenditure Select Committee. Practically all submissions (1421) were opposed to the Government's plans and, given the enormity of these plans, one would expect full and careful consideration of the evidence provided. Not only were submitters treated with some disdain from the National Party members of the committee but the chair, Todd McClay, demanded that the deliberations be cut by six weeks. This undemocratic process became even more pronounced when it was revealed that Treasury Officials had written their final report before all the submissions had been fully heard and considered. 

With the sudden change to the original timeline the Green Party were forced to present their rushed minority report without the opportunity to circulate it amongst their caucus, totally against existing conventions. The bill was passed last night with a majority of one (61/60).

Grey Power, New Zealand's University Student's Association and the CTU have joined forces with the Green and Labour Parties to promote a petition demanding a citizen's initiated referendum on the asset sales. Russel Norman has requested (due to the mounting evidence from most opinion polls, the submissions to the select committee and the minimal majority in passing the bill) that the sales be delayed until December when the strength of the petition can be ascertained. The request was brushed aside and Mighty River will be up for sale after this July.

This National led Government has not given due diligence to either establishing the long term value of the asset sales nor to ensure good democratic process is followed. John Key led a personality based election campaign that largely relied on the public perception that he listens to public concerns and his election was a actually just a mandate for him to continue listening. John Key has no mandate to sell our state assets and he has stopped listening!

Russel Norman's excellent speech against the bill provided the facts against National's fiction.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

TPP Fears Realized in Leak

Leaked Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) documents show that the Government is allowing overseas companies to sue our country for policies that may cause them to lose money. Australia has refused to agree to a similar clause and it exposes New Zealand to potential litigation from the likes of pharmaceutical companies who have long criticized Pharmac's control of drug imports.

This is just another sign of dodgy governance where New Zealanders are not being served well because National is more concerned about the flow of money than the potential environmental or social damage that may ensue. Examples abound:

  • Petrobras was able to do drill exploratory wells without providing an emergency response plan, the responsibility for mitigating any leak fell on Maritime New Zealand (and therefore the taxpayer).
  • A deal with Warner Bros involved putting aside New Zealand's immigration law and reducing the employment conditions of our actors.
  • A back room deal is done with Sky City in exchange for a loosening of gambling laws that will essentially cause an increase in problem gambling.
  • Fracking is able to continue even though the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment has been asked to write a report on the environmental impacts of the industry.
  • An increase in classes sizes was planned to save millions from the education budget, the claim that this would increase teaching quality was not able to be supported by any explanation on how this would be achieved. 
  • The ACC debacle would not have occurred if National's key focus was providing a good and sustainable service. The fact that ACC has made a huge $2 billion profit while poor customer service and shocking privacy breaches have become commonplace is telling. John Judge's employment brief was never about improving service but running ACC like a private insurer.

The TPP agreement has the potential to inflict the most damage on ordinary New Zealanders. Not only could we see huge increases in prescription charges, because of the costs of litigation and the necessary weakening of Pharmac, but I can imagine if we decided to stop off shore oil exploration and fracking because of environmental concerns, compensation will be sought.

My biggest concern of all is that we have two more years of this Government and with asset sales being progressed under urgency we will only see more of the same until 2014.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Lessons from History!

There was an economic recession and New Zealand had a Prime Minister who lacked vision and often made embarrassing pronouncements that had no basis in fact. The government he led responded to a drop in revenue by cutting public spending and public sector staffing was slashed. Unemployment steadily grew and beneficiaries had work requirements placed on them. Family and child poverty became common place, with many families living in substandard housing. Although financial assistance was available for struggling families it was suggested that not all deserved support. Many businesses took advantage of the straitened times by laying off workers and re-employing them under reduced conditions. In the middle of this recession an earthquake hit an urban environment, killing 256 people and demolishing much of the central business area.

Sound familiar? This actually describes New Zealand in the early 1930's, "Honest" George Forbes was the Prime Minister and Napier suffered the earthquake. The government that followed Forbes' was led by Michael Joseph Savage, an Australian with a socialist background.

Savage was appalled at the poverty and inequities of wealth that existed in New Zealand and the demeaning working conditions that prevailed. The government he led took an entirely different approach to the enforced austerity that they followed and the policies that they implemented created a rapid increase in the living standards of New Zealanders and supported economic growth:

  • Raised benefits, which stimulated the domestic economy through increased community purchasing power.
  • Ensured national control of our banking systems.
  • Strengthened union membership.
  • Increased focus on Maori health and education.
  • Supported adult education (WEA) 
  • Took an active role in international politics and was an outspoken critic of world powers when they supported corrupt regimes and turned a blind eye to Japan's invasion of China.
  • Improved social security and ensured free health care.
  • A huge investment in state housing.
  • Supported publicly funded, non commercial broadcasting. 
To push through his government's changes Savage ignored the National Party's and the Treasury's strident opposition and history has supported the wisdom of his approach. 

I accept that this is a simplified history of that era but, despite the differences between then and now (mainly increased environmental concerns), the social themes are similar. I'm sure that if Michael Joseph Savage was alive today he'd be experiencing a pronounced feeling of deja vu. He would also wonder why the National Party (advised by the Treasury) is being trusted to govern and why austerity is again seen as a way to lift us out of recession.

It is interesting to note that Savage described his governing approach as "applied christianity" and coincidentally we have had another New Zealand parliamentarian (with an Australian heritage and a socialist past) ask for a return to Christian values in a popular speech. His Party also convincingly challenges the flawed thinking of the National Government and their Treasury advisors and talks about an alternative future for Aotearoa, New Zealand.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Pure Advantage and the Green Race

Sir Stephen Tindall was interviewed by Kathryn Ryan on National Radio this morning. Sir Stephen was speaking on behalf of Pure Advantage, an alliance of business leaders who support green growth as best way to ensure and sustain the wealth of New Zealanders. Those involved are notable and influential business personalities and as well as Sir Stephen include Rob Fyfe, Sir George Fistonich, Jeremy Moon, Justine Smythe, Mark Solomon and Joan Withers. This is not a group that can be easily dismissed.

Sir Stephen spoke with some frustration at the lack of foresight shown by successive governments to lead the country in a way that recognizes the importance of our green brand or promote the opportunities that green business can bring.

Pure advantage recognizes that the state of the world's environment and the economic challenges that are being faced mean that business as usual is no longer possible. Most nations are looking at more sustainable ways of operating and there is growing demand for green technology. Pure Advantage assessed New Zealand's international status in their just published report "New Zealand's Position in the Green Race" and it identifies many areas of poor performance:
  • Our overall environmental performance ranking is 14th, just above Albania.
  • Our deteriorating water quality has seen us drop to 43rd in the world.
  • 60% of our energy supply comes from fossil fuels and we import 40% of our energy (mostly oil).
  • Our greenhouse gas emissions per capita are the 5th worst in the world and our emissions have increased 23% since 1990.
  • Our transport energy efficiency is one of the worst in the world, we have the third highest rate of car ownership and between 1990 and 2006 our transport emissions increased by a shocking 64%. 20% of our greenhouse gas emissions come from road transport. We are amongst the worst users of public transport and only 1.8% of our land transport budget is tagged for it.
  • Our housing stock is fifty years behind northern Europe in energy efficiency, largely due to poor insulation. 1.6 million New Zealand houses are poorly insulated.
  • While we are amongst the best in the world for the total area of protected land, our general land use is not so good. We have high demands on water for irrigation (consented irrigated land has increased by 52% since 1999), we have high levels of erosion, nutrient leeching, loss of biodiversity and low levels of forestry replanting.
  • 77% of our threatened indigenous species have no targeted recovery programmes, we are rapidly losing the battle to sustain our indigenous biodiversity.
  • We are now the only country in the OECD that doesn't have a legislated process for national environmental reporting.  

In the concluding chapter in the Environment for New Zealand 2007 report one important paragraph was removed that existed in the draft:

It is the very aspects of New Zealand’s environment that underpin our economic wealth through tourism and primary production – our iconic flora and fauna, our stunning wilderness areas and our rural landscapes – which are particularly vulnerable to increasing pressures. This is perhaps the critical area where New Zealand differs from other developed countries: other countries do not rely so heavily on the preservation of their natural environment for their economic wellbeing. 

What Pure Advantage recognize is the importance of our "clean, green" brand and that around 75% of our businesses are dependent on our environmental image. By ignoring the state of our environment and allowing a steady decline in our position as environmental leaders, we are actually threatening the future viability of our economy. Russel Norman is quite right when he claims "no environment, no economy". 

The Green Party supports much that is promoted by Pure Advantage and our Green Jobs election document encompasses a good deal of what PA has included in their Green Race report. The way forward is indeed "green".  

Saturday, June 9, 2012

National's Tenancy Problematic

We, the New Zealand public, are landlords and every three years we review the performance of those we allow to reside in our parliament buildings and deal to those who have not met the terms of our informal tenancy agreement. We have a three year occupancy clause but when a tenant's behaviour is such that the rent payment is irregular and there is damage to property, direct action may be required before the three years are up. Being a landlord is a difficult role, we need to maintain occupancy but when tenants misbehave removing them can be a protracted and difficult process. For landlords with a social conscience there is also the concern that if we turf tenants out they will have nowhere to go (we do have a chronic housing shortage).

The National Party has proven to be a difficult tenant, it has been disrespectful to its landlords and its poor budgeting has limited rent payments. There have been too many times where National has spent up large partying and gambling with its mates and not having enough money left to pay the rent. There are many similarities between a spoilt teenager and the National Party; the need for instant personal gratification, spending large on cars, travel, and recreational toys with no thought to planning for the future. 

The potential damage to property is also causing huge concern, with National inviting overseas mates to come onto our property and use our resources with little monitoring or assurances to protect our assets. They have also allowed activities to occur around our property with no expectation to clean up any mess made or pay for any damage done. 

There is also some concern that National may begin to sell off parts of our property to pay for the rent. It seems bizarre that we should allow this upstart tenant to hock off some of the best bits of our property and reduce our total equity, just to meet a few rent payments. 

We need to be more assertive as landlords and tell our troublesome tenant that if they want to retain occupancy they have to reassess their budgeting priorities, respect our property, manage their friendships properly and tidy up the mess!   


Friday, June 8, 2012

Education Questions That Demand Answers!

The latest OECD report on education has New Zealand still ranked at the top in educational achievement. We are rated 4th in reading and science literacy and 7th for mathematics. England on the other hand has slipped hugely since 2000, having dropped from 7th to 25th in reading, from 8th to 28th in mathematics and from 4th to 16th for science. Australia is ranked well behind us and the US can only manage middle rankings.

It was also revealed that New Zealand spends less on education per student than nearly all 34 OECD countries. The report shows that we still have a spread of achievement, but then again our levels of child poverty remain amongst the highest in the OECD.

Some questions:

If teachers are working in an education environment that is under resourced compared to other developed countries, yet we still manage maintain our top rankings, shouldn't we be celebrating the quality of our teachers?

If England is plummeting in their education achievement, why did we employ someone who was partly responsible for that decline to head our Education Ministry?

When our government is spending $12 billion on motorways that do not pass basic cost/benefit analysis and maintaining tax cuts to the rich that cost around $800 million a year of lost revenue, why are they subsidizing both by cutting funding to education?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Parata's Future?

With her announcement today Education Minister, Hekia Parata, finds herself in an interesting place.

Tolley was useful to National because she actually didn't understand her portfolio and was able to arrogantly push stuff through with no lingering doubts that the profession may be right. Parata understands a lot more and her initial engagements with the profession has seen her put aside the tightly scripted speeches used by Tolley and strategically "speak from the heart". She often changes her language to that which is more palatable to teachers and quickly dropped talking about performance pay, for example, and has promoted robust appraisals instead.

I think she was probably handed a lemon with the teacher cuts, lacked good advice from her Ministry (the current CEO obviously does not have any appreciation of the New Zealand education system and culture) and felt obliged to carry it through. For someone who is generally very articulate she was reduced to the sort of banal statements or mantras used by Tolley as she was obviously struggling to make sense of it herself.

The decision to backtrack was probably a wise move because to push on would be hugely damaging to National when professional groups and unions were uniting with a single purpose and were being supported by parents. This was never going to be a battle that National would win.

While initially damaging to herself, Parata has shown some courage in pushing this turn around when many of her colleagues would likely refuse to back down to teachers under any circumstances (their dislike of teachers and their unions has a long history). The real test will be how she manages things from now on and if she truly engages with the profession and develops a more collaborative approach she may be able to salvage her reputation and win some respect.

With any National Minister there is always concern about what motivates and drives them, for many it is ego and feelings of aristocratic entitlement that makes being in power more important then what that power can achieve. I do not know enough about Parata to know what motivates her, whether the backdown is more about her own political survival or a genuine understanding that cutting teachers would actually compromise quality. She has a reputation for being difficult to work with and has lost a succession of EAs  in her brief ministerial career, but she still has two years to make sure that our education ranking doesn't go the way of our water quality and that will mean reversing much that National has done up till now.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Hekia's Huge Tui Billboard!

Given Hekia Parata's claims on National Radio, I felt the need to write another letter. I have covered much of this in an earlier post in more detail because the 250 word limit poses restrictions in including all of National's damaging initiatives.

Dear Sir

The National Government is so determined to lift the "quality" of teaching in our public schools that they have:
  • Sent their own children to private schools that received $35 million in extra funding.
  • Gave the rich over $2 billion in tax cuts while allowing a huge increase in child poverty.
  • Cut $25 million from the Ministry of Education budget.
  • Sacked advisors for science and technology
  • Spent $60 million on implementing the flawed National Standards, without a trial and against advice.
  • Employed a Ministry of Education CEO from a country ranked behind New Zealand in educational achievement.
  • Closed our residential schools for children with behavioural needs.
  • Refused to pay school support staff a living wage.
  • Refused to increase school operations grants to reflect the true costs of running a school.
  • Bullied and berated teachers so that morale is low and many of our best teachers are considering leaving the profession.
  • Planned to increase class sizes to 1:27 when the OECD average is 1:21.
  • Dropped the qualified early childhood teachers target from 100% to 80%

Under a National Government we have seen our OECD ranking for water quality (the Yale report) drop from 2nd to 43rd and New Zealand was in the  top 5 for education when National took office but we have already seen a drop in science achievement.

Education Minister, Hekia Parata, claims that the National Government's changes are all about lifting the quality of teaching in public schools but all I can see is one hell of a Tui billboard! 

Yours sincerely...

2012 Green Conference Reflections

The Green Party's 2012 AGM has just finished and I thought I would share some of the highlights from my personal perspective:

The Values Party Fortieth Birthday Celebrations

I gave the Values Party my first vote and their 1975 manifesto remains a pivotal document in the history of the New Zealand green movement and an influence on the Global Greens Charter. This year is the fortieth year since the New Zealand Values Party became the first "green" party in the world to contest a national election (1972) and a day of celebration and reflection had been organised on the Friday before the Green Party AGM.

The passage of time since the seventies became obvious when the past members arrived with greying hair, walking sticks, hearing aids and even a wheelchair. The average age of those who stood in the 1972 election was 29 years, they were youthful, enthusiastic and idealistic. However, on listening to them on Friday one had to admit that although they had lost their youth over the preceding years, their enthusiasm and idealism remained.

Through following the afternoon discussions I was able to fully appreciate the strong connections between Values and the Greens. Green policy largely grew from the Values' manifesto and some of the early leaders of the Greens (Jeanette Fitzsimons, Rod Donald and Mike Ward) had been active members. The Values Party had introduced new and pioneering political thinking to New Zealand, based around social renewal and a respect for the environment. It was foremost a party of ideas, especially when it was unlikely to become a parliamentary force while operating within a First Past the Post system. The Greens, on the other hand, were formed in an environment where Values' ideas had greater public acceptance and, under MMP, a parliamentary presence was possible. The Green's have been able to transform those ideas into a political reality and put some organisation and pragmatism into the process.

Claire Browning's book "Beyond today: a Values Story" was launched the same afternoon and in her words, "This book - a values story - is the Green Party’s story. It celebrates Values, and says that the Greens should too. Not just any values: all politics is about values, of one sort or another. By values, I mean: ‘Green Values’." It is a book that needs to be read by all those who wish to understand where the Green Party came from, its reason for being and why the Green journey needs to continue.

Behind the lectern two kites had been hung with intertwining tails:

Pasifika Greens

We were joined this year by members of the recently formed Pacifika Greens. It was really wonderful to have a Green AGM that better reflects the diversity of New Zealand Society.

The retiring Male Party Co-convenor and Female Policy Co-convenor Speeches

Roland Sapsford, our "great green giant", has skillfully facilitated and mediated through many internal crises and external challenges over his six years in the role. Few people in the Party have his depth of institutional knowledge and it is great that we have a handover strategy to ensure that Pete Huggins is fully supported as his replacement. Roland's speech accurately described how far we have come as a Party and how our growing membership and organisational capacity will position us well in supporting a Green Government.

Caroline Glass could make a living out of standup comedy, her speech was one of the most entertaining I have heard, and she has proven to be a highly intelligent and astute convenor of our policy committee. I do hope she continues to be involved in policy development because her skills will be invaluable as we continue to streamline and rationalise our policy writing process.


I helped facilitate a workshop titled "What is fit to govern?". We looked at the characteristics and attributes, structure, cabinet and the processes we would like to see under a Green Government. All the discussions and ideas revolved around improving transparency, increasing participation in decision making and someone even had the radical idea that all legislation should have an evidence or research base and recognize basic human rights (it would be a radical approach currently).

I attended a workshop led by the courageous Liala Harre, who is our Party's new Issues Director and leading the Green's campaign (CIR) against the Governments asset sales. When questioned about the criticisms from right-wing blogs regarding the Greens use of parliamentary funds to support the campaign, she was able to provide a very good answer; The Government is spending $120 million to progress the sales of our SOEs and promote the sales to the public, so it is more than reasonable for an opposition party to spend only thousands in opposing it.

The Greens employed BERL, respected economic researchers, to look at the long term viability of selling the assets and their report revealed it would have a hugely detrimental affect on our economic sustainability.

It was impressive to hear how the general public concern had enable the the Greens to attract thousands of volunteers to help with the petition, no wonder the right are agitated!

Metiria's and Russel's Speeches

Metiria's speech focused on women and children (the heart of politics), our appalling levels of poverty and the Government's total failure to address it. She expressed the need to have a cross party agreement on addressing the needs of  children and our growing inequities of income. This approach had been used in the past to address the financial needs of our elderly and who now have amongst the lowest levels of poverty in the OECD, however it is not the same for our children, where we are ranked near the bottom. Urgent action is needed if all children are to enjoy the basic pleasures of "a full belly and a nice shiny, new pair of shoes".

Russel's speech recognized the environmental and social history of our country and described the natural wealth that we have squandered and the abundance that remains but is under threat. He described how there has always been those who call Aotearoa home and want to protect it and those who would rather see it as a source of a quick buck. He recalled Michael Savage as someone who understood how a collective effort can raise a country from economic depression:

"Savage's government understood that we are in this together, and that together we can solve the biggest challenges of our times.
This sense of collective purpose, however, has been undermined by a series of misguided governments. The reforms of the 1980s and 1990s not only resulted in large parts of our economy being sold offshore — they damaged our sense of collective nationhood.
Within a generation, New Zealand has moved from being one of the most equal societies in the western world to being one of the most unequal."
He called on all those who understand the value of our rivers, forests, beaches and lakes and cared about social justice to remember that the challenges confronting New Zealand can't be tackled alone and that we are all in this together.


Our Green 2012 AGM and conference ended with the usual time of reflection and giving thanks to all who had contributed to another successful meeting. My own shared reflections recognized the growing strength of our Young Greens, who continually impress me by the knowledge, skills and wisdom they bring to our meetings and the greater maturity they display compared to myself at the same age. The fact that our Young Greens can be found throughout our Party in leadership roles gives me great hope for our future.

The Values story is far from finished and a Green Government is now a near reality for thousands of New Zealanders rather than a distant hope for a few enlightened people who dared to describe a better world forty years ago.