Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Charter Schools Channel Flawed Ideology


This National Government is so ideologically driven and so determined to shut out the professional voice of teacher organisations that it ignores all research and reason to drive through changes that will be hugely damaging to children and our international standing. To force the flawed Charter School system on our struggling Christchurch communities with no educational justification will only create even greater stress to communities that desperately need continuity and stability. To have Catherine Isaac, who has no significant education background, leading this change is equally appalling.

The quality of a nation's education and health systems are generally considered to be key indicators of an advanced society and in the most recent comparisons New Zealand is ranked 41st in the world for our health system and 4th for education. One country that achieves better than us in both areas and has a similar population and general culture is Finland. In international assessments the Finnish education system is generally regarded as the best in the world and I would have thought if we were to improve our already strong education performance we should be looking at Finland for ideas.

A few years ago the New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI Te Riu Roa) sent a delegation to Finland to look at their education system first hand. They discovered that in a number of areas the New Zealand system was stronger and most particularly with regards to our curriculum  (which is well regarded internationally) and our pedagogical practice. Where Finland had a clear advantage was in the status and training of their teachers, a teacher in Finland is required to have a masters degree and the teaching profession has greater prestige than medical practioners. Finnish teachers are also highly unionized and their union has a good working relationship with their government.

Probably the most significant difference between our countries was nothing to do with systems, but demographics. Finland has little cultural diversity and is a highly equitable society. We, on the other hand, have around 25% of our children living in relative poverty and the majority of our children who struggle educationally are Maori or Pasifika.

It seems obvious to me that if we were really genuine in our efforts to improve education in New Zealand we would raise the status of teachers so that it attracts a higher calibre of applicant and lift teaching qualifications to a post graduate level. We would especially have to address the poverty that leads to limited achievement and make sure that our teaching accommodates cultural diversity. Introducing Charter Schools into our current system, that have have had mixed results in the UK and US (with world education rankings of 13th and 33rd respectively), is bizarre in the extreme and will do nothing to advance the academic achievement of our most vulnerable children.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Bernie Napp Continues Lignite Debate

Bernie Napp, Senior Policy Analyst, Straterra.

Dave Kennedy challenges me (January 28) to name New Zealand towns that have achieved average to above-average prosperity directly through mining coal or lignite. The real comparison is between a "mining town", if there is such a thing today, at that same town before mining.

In the case of Waihi, an aerial photo shows that the town has been built around the open pit. Were it not for this gold mine there would be little or no town at all.

Perhaps the closest thing to a mining town in New Zealand is Reefton (gold, coal), which had many new houses and freshly painted houses when I visited in 2010.

Mr Kennedy accuses me unjustly of an "attempt to misinform the Mataura people" by including oil and gas in the resource sector median-salary figure. Skilled underground coal and gold miners in New Zealand can earn more than $100,000 a year.

But to offer a vision for Mr kennedy, if mining was properly encouraged and managed in new Zealand, there would be more towns like New Plymouth.

The Government's upcoming review of the Crown Minerals Act 1991 is an opportunity to achieve that.

Bernie Napp
Senior Policy Analyst
Straterra

My Reply:

Dear Sir
I know that Bernie Napp (January 31) is paid to promote and support mining development but his last letter still avoids the reality of mining lignite. If our Environment Commissioner, Dr Jan Wright, has advised the government that lignite mining should not proceed then surely she and the many New Zealand scientists and mining experts who support that view should not be ignored.

You only have to visit the current New Vale mine and imagine the same environment, only on a vastly bigger scale, in the lower valley to realize the impact it will have on the local community. Farmers who live beside the new Vale Mine find the constant noise and the lighting at night intrusive and this will only get worse. These are the more obvious effects but the environmental and economic impacts from the huge increase in carbon emissions are more concerning. The claimed capture and storage of the carbon will not be possible or practical for some time.

The high salaries he described are related to underground mining where the dangers are obviously greater.

Bernie continues to imply that the future prosperity of the country is dependent on mining yet I thought it was farming and food production that is more important to our economy. The lignite mining will remove thousands of hectares of some of our most fertile farmland out of production.

We should also be able to choose what we mine and I would have thought our high quality silica has more potential, especially as it supports renewable energy, has fewer environmental impacts and will provide more employment opportunities.

Yours sincerely...

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Christchurch CEO Pay Debacle Continues


National radio provided some interesting listening this morning when it revealed that the 14% increase to Christchurch CEO's pay followed concerning performance reviews. The $68,000 increase granted to Tony Marryatt had already provided a slap in the face to struggling Christchurch ratepayers but the revelation that there was documented evidence of declining performance was a shocker. This debacle highlights two issues in my mind, firstly the need to review the true value of CEOs in the public and private sectors and secondly the quality of decision making processes at local government level.

The most prevalent argument in support of excessive CEO salaries is that there is a competitive international market for competent leaders and if we are not prepared to meet "market" rates we will not attract quality applicants and will lose those we already employ. This line of thinking has led to exploding salaries at the top end and has seen the ratio of the average pay of CEOs and average workers in New Zealand more than double over the last thirty years, from around 7 times the average wage to well over 16 times. When many companies are very secretive about the salaries paid within their companies it is hard to establish the actual ratio and it may even be closer to 20 times. A PhD study by Helen Roberts of the University of Otago found the average CEO pay grew from 11.8 times the average worker in 1997 to 15.2 times in 2002 and given the rate of growth in that period it could easily be well over 20 times now.


We already have many examples of CEO salaries within both the public and private sector defying common sense and reason.  Karen Sewell, the recently retiring CEO of the Ministry of Education, got a $20,000 increase in pay when the ministry she led was one of the poorest performers and at the same time the ever suffering school support stuff struggled to get a 1% increase in pay. Fonterra's boss, Andrew Ferrier, received a whopping 41% ($1.5 million) increase in pay while his middle management were trapped in a wage freeze. Ferrier has been paid over $25 million since he joined the company 8 years ago.


I cannot verify the accuracy of the table below that provides a comparison of CEO/worker ratios in selected countries, but it does give an indication of where we may fit internationally.


Given that this government appears desperate to emulate the US in many areas the table provides a concerning indication of where we are heading. Tim Hunter provides some useful information on what our prominent CEOs are currently earning.

I have yet to see convincing proof that there is a direct relationship between the salary earned and performance and Tim Hunter has revealed that the biggest and most successful companies don't necessarily pay the highest salaries. If we are going to deal to the growing inequities of income we have to provide incentives for our business leaders and linking the median pay of their workers to their own may be the solution. If we arbitrarily set the salary of a CEO at something like 7 times the median pay of their employees then any increase in their own pay could only occur if they can also lift the incomes of those beneath them.

The other area of concern that has been highlighted by the Christchurch situation is the decision making process that led to the pay increase in the first place. It does appear that decision making in many regional councils is not as robust and democratic as it should be and we are often being let down by those whom we elect to these roles. I think the Christchurch situation may reflect the reality for many councils where decisions are predetermined by a leadership group and presented to the council as a fait accompli. Those few councillors, like Tim Carter, who question decisions or want more information are often considered trouble makers, even though they are giving due diligence to their role and doing what they were elected to do. If decisions are made on voting alone and there has been no attempt to reach a consensus then those who voted against a decision will obviously have difficulty supporting it outside council, especially if there are reasonable concerns involved.

The job of  a councillor in a regional authority is an increasingly difficult one given the growing detail and complexities involved in legislative compliancy and the expanding responsibilities and expectations of local councils. Many of those who do the job have to juggle the role with their other jobs and responsibilities and rely on their leadership and staff to provide them with all the information needed to guide their decisions. In earlier times council CEOs were called town clerks and as "government servants" the service element to their role was paramount. With the shift to align local government management to private sector models and salaries there must be a temptation for empire building and self interest to become greater motivational factors. We may find that a return to a culture of service and responsibility may be useful rather than the inflated sense of entitlement that appears to pervade many of our public and private sector leaders.

POSTSCRIPT

Gordon Campbell provides a good overview of the current situation and the difficulties faced by Christchurch people in ensuring good process from their civic leaders.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

More Misinformation About Mining


Bernie Napp, the senior policy analyst from Straterra, attempted to dismiss comments from Green MP Julie Anne Genter, however the obvious duplicity revealed in his letter to the Southland Times is almost farcical.

I would like to correct Green MP Julie Anne Center on her bizarre claim that no mining town in New Zealand has ever enjoyed benefits (Mataura split on mining benefits, January 25).

In 2010 the New Zealand Insti- tute of Economic Research report- ed that the median wage for a mining employee, including in oil and gas, was $57,320 in 2008, compared to the New Zealand median of $33,530.

It is wrong to use Waihi as an example of a mining town because people in that industry in Waihi also live at Waihi Beach, Katikati and elsewhere.

Consider also the benefits to users of resources.

As matters stand, New Zealand gas and coal are essential inputs into the dairy, wood and timber processing, horticulture and other industries. Indeed, if there were no energy and minerals, whether imported into or produced in New Zealand, there would be no hospi- tals, no transport, no schools, no electricity, no food, no clothing, no phones.

Seen this way, the benefits of mining to society are infinite. 

BERNIE NAPP 
Senior policy analyst
Straterra 
Wellington

My reply (after advice I have made some changes to the original letter that appeared here, apparently I can't suggest a deliberate intent to mislead on Bernie's part) :

Dear Sir

It concerns me that someone writing on behalf of Straterra should attempt to misinform the Mataura people regarding the benefits of lignite mining. It is stated on Straterra’s own website that “We believe in engaging in a fair, reasonable and transparent way, to promote informed debate on resource sector issues”, yet Bernie Napp’s letter (January 26) was very misleading.

For Mr Napp to imply that Waihi Beach and Katikati could be considered mining towns was a bit of a stretch when the obvious reason why some miners may choose to live in those places is because they would prefer not live in the actual mining town of Waihi. I challenge Mr Napp to name some prosperous New Zealand towns that have achieved average to above prosperity directly through mining coal or lignite.

By exaggerating the incomes that could be expected from lignite mining by including those from the much wealthier gas and oil industries was very misleading. This would provide unreasonable expectations of the benefits of accessing one of the lowest grade energy sources in existence.

Finally, it was disingenuous of Mr Napp to imply that opponents of the proposed lignite mining were against all mining. Our major concerns relate particularly to the mining of lignite and Solid Energy actively blocking public submissions. The lack of reasonable assurances regarding the capture of carbon emissions, the risks to water quality and the potential loss of over 3,000 hectares of productive farmland (that Solid Energy currently owns) are also concerns.

Those who currently live close to the existing Newvale Mine suffer from constant noise and the bright lights at night and as the mines expand so will the number of people affected.

Let’s have more honesty and transparency please.

Yours sincerely...

It makes it easier to understand the purpose behind Mr Napp's letter when you visit Straterra's website and read their statements regarding the supposed "climate change myths".

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Transparency and Truth will Win Lignite Debate


Solid Energy have money and the Government on their side but very little else and the closer one looks at the facts and the arguments the more obvious this becomes. The four days spent at the Keep the Coal in the Hole Summer Festival made this crystal clear.

Solid Energy (as an SOE) are lucky to have a Government overseeing them with an energy strategy that promotes the exploitation of fossil fuels and the belief that mining (just about anything) will be the economic saviour of this country.  The National Government has had a long record of ignoring environmental advice and setting the balance between economics and sustainability heavily in favour of short term profits. The facts about the poor quality of lignite as an energy source are well documented, especially by our Environment Commissioner (Dr Jan Wright), and yet the projects continue to be supported.


The Coal Action Network of Aotearoa (CANA) is a growing national organisation dedicated to responsibly phasing out the use of coal in an attempt to save our planet from the crippling effects of climate change. It is does not have great financial resources but is supported by good science (and scientists) and much goodwill from its growing membership, including many professional groups. The organisation has a management team that includes the likes of Jeanette Fitzsimons and Tim Jones and since the beginning has been very open about its intentions and activities.

Jeanette Fitzsimons outside the site of the proposed briquette factory

While CANA has been very transparent, Solid Energy has done everything in its power to limit opposition and block public scrutiny. It has bought out most local farmers and has bought the silence of many local community groups through its financial support. SE successfully blocked public involvement in the establishment of their pilot briquette plant and was strangely able to claim that neighbouring farmers who have openly objected to the plant did not need to be notified because a tall chimney and the prevailing wind will protect them from any ill effects. It was also interesting that the two marquee tents  donated to our festival by the local branches of large companies had to be removed after pressure was applied to their national management. If Solid Energy can't engage in public debates they obviously intend to win by other means.

Sid Plant's presentation in the Mataura Community Centre

SE criticised the leaflet that I distributed amongst the local communities before Dr Hansen's talk by claiming it was spreading misinformation but refused to specify what that misinformation was or answer the list of questions I posed. Australian farmer, Sid Plant, described his experience of living next door to a coal mine in Victoria and, given the Government's eagerness to emulate Australian mining, he provides a clear warning about the realities of the industry. Sid convincingly described how the mining industry did not provide the jobs claimed, destroyed the local community and has not been able to restore the land back to  anything like the productive quality it was before. Nick Smith argued that New Zealand Lignite mining will be modeled on "best practice" but was not able to give an example of where a such a mine currently existed when challenged on this.

The current New Vale Mine which is only a fraction of the size of future mines

While Don Elder has claimed that there will be a demand for the briquettes, urea and diesel that can be produced from the lignite he has not been able to explain how the production of these can be managed cleanly or economically. The lignite briquettes are very fragile compared to those produced out of high quality coal and there are few proven markets for them. The processes for producing the urea and diesel will result in the release of huge amounts of carbon and the diesel will be of poor quality. Elder has suggested that the carbon emissions will be easily managed through capture and storage yet the technology to do so is limited and the suggestion of injecting the carbon into the Great South Basin is premature and laughable.

A lump of sun dried lignite found near the road outside the mine

This is a battle between corporate might and what is right and I'm sure science, the facts and common sense will win out in the end. The future of an exploited and fragile community, some of our most fertile soils and our next generations depend on it.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Keep the Coal in the Hole Summer Festival

Having a National Government voted in again we know that their Energy Strategy will continue to lead our country's energy priorities for the next three years. Sadly the government's support of Solid Energy's plans of turning the Mataura Valley into huge, opencast lignite mines will probably continue. So far Solid Energy have successfully blocked public involvement to establish their briquette plant and will probably continue to operate in a similar fashion unless enough of us make a strong stand.


The New Zealand Institute's report card on how our country measures up compared to other developed nations shows we rank 26th out of thirty nations for our carbon emissions per capita. For Jeanette Fitzsimons, ensuring that her grandchildren will have a real future on our planet is what has driven her since retiring from parliament and she sees the management of our carbon emissions as the most important issue in determining that future. One of the world's most respected climate scientists, Dr James Hansen, was appalled with what Solid Energy and our government's has been planning and he recently toured New Zealand to explain why mining coal should be considered our planet's biggest threat. Dr Hansen even wrote an letter to our Prime Minister regarding this and it appears to have been largely ignored. 


Dr Jan Wright, New Zealand's Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, has also strongly opposed the mining of lignite and her report on the negative aspects of this low grade energy form is very convincing. Dr Wright has appeared on television to debate the issues with Solid Energy's CEO, Dr Don Elder. The telling statement from Dr elder during this debate was when he was challenged over the management of the carbon released by the lignite and he explained that Solid Energy would do something about the carbon if New Zealanders demanded it, hardly reassuring. One carbon sequestration solution that has been suggested by Dr Elder involves the use of the Great South Basin, the implausibility of this as a way to manage the Mataura lignite carbon is obvious, especially when international experience of carbon storage has had mixed results. A ten year moratorium on lignite mining seems a perfectly reasonable stance given the number of technological concerns still to be resolved to allow the resource to be safely used.


The Coal Action Network Aotearoa  is dedicated to ensuring that the worst contributor to climate change is recognized and managed properly in Aotearoa. The network has been proactive in supporting Jeanette's lecture tours around the country and also organised Dr Hansen's tour. Given the intractable position of the National Government regarding the mining of coal and lignite and their brushing aside of all the warnings and sound advice from the Commissioner for the Environment and the worlds most respected climate scientists, other action has been deemed necessary. 


The Keep the Coal in the Hole Summer Festival (20-23 January) is a gathering for all those who care  about our climate, our planet and the future of the next generations and want to make a difference. Mike Dunbar's farm is now surrounded by Solid Energy owned farms and he has refused to sell them the land owned by his family for over seventy years. The Festival is on Mike's farm, over 120 people had registered at last count and I hope to see you there too.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

New Zealand Becoming a Banana Republic


"The wealthy continue to spend up large on new luxury cars, shrugging off the effects of the global economic turmoil.
Official figures show sales of luxury brands such as Bentley, BMW, Porsche and Ferrari grew by more than 8 per cent last year."

Despite considering myself green and being hugely aware of the environmental consequences of the internal combustion engine, I have to admit to my admiration for a well made car. I was brought up by a father for whom the car you drove, and how you cared for it, defined you as a man. I think the fact that I  preferred self propulsion as a means of transport was always a bit of a disappointment to him and while at one time my father owned six cars I have ended up the proud owner of five bicycles.

My father's influence, however, did instill in me a fondness for British cars and I can still recall the distinctive smell of leather and woolen carpets in the stately Humber Super Snipe we owned briefly (the Queen used a similar vehicle for her 1953 New Zealand tour) and the smaller Humber 10 I learned to drive in. There is something about the solid engineering and general aesthetics that appeals to me about the British marques of the 50s and 60s. I have never owned a new car but for 14 years drove a 1961 Humber 80. There were two of of them, the first I bought as a student and my second on my return from my OE and was short of cash.
This is similar to my two Humbers except my first was green and my second was yellow
I was especially fond of the winged lady that perched elegantly on the bonnet of the Humbers and I stubbornly continued driving them despite the fact that I could have owned a far more fuel efficient and reliable Toyota. Latterly I have admired the Rover 75s and the S Type Jaguars for their style connections with the 60s.

The reason why I began this post with an autobiographical account of my relationship with cars is to show that I can empathise with people who like cars and are prepared to irrationally spend money on them. My negative reaction to a newspaper article regarding the increase in the sales of luxury cars is not based on envy but concern regarding the huge amount of New Zealand's wealth being spent on these elitist vehicles, many of which cost more than the lifetime earnings of the average worker.

When wage earners are being asked to bite the bullet, hundreds of jobs are being lost in the public sector and 1/4 of our children are living in poverty, the luxury car market saw an 8% increase in sales. I have no way of quantifying the total amount spent but when over 2500 new Audis and BMWs were sold last year, as well as 11 Ferraris, 20 Maseratis, 5 Lamborghinis and the local Rolls Royce dealer thinks he is on track to sell at least 8 next year (at over $700,000 each) we are talking in hundreds of millions. I estimated that $450 million worth of new Bentleys were sold here in 2010 so I think the total annual spend on luxury cars could reach the $2 billion mark and, coincidentally, this is very similar to the amount of revenue we lose each year through providing tax cuts to the rich. Banana Republic here we come!

Monday, January 9, 2012

NZ Report Card Reveals Much


The New Zealand Institute is a privately funded "think tank" that claims to be politically neutral and appears to be largely supported by New Zealand's business leaders. The report is based on readily available  data and internationally accepted assessments to compare New Zealand's performance in 16 key areas with other developed nations within the OECD. The report card is intended to prioritise the areas most needing our attention and encourage discussion around potential solutions. I have referred to the report in an earlier post but given the fact that we have re-elected a National Government for another three years I thought it timely to revisit it.

Given its mainstream economic background I would have thought the Institute's findings would be taken seriously by our government and the areas where we are performing worst should get the most focussed attention. Sadly it appears the reality is to ignore those aspects that are particularly dire and look at major reforms of those that should require the least attention.

We received our 2nd highest grade for education (where we are ranked 5th in the OECD) and while we should aspire to be at the top, we should only need some minor adjustments to a generally well performing sector.

The areas where we received the lowest "D" assessments were regarding our CO2 emissions per capita  (where we rank 26th out of 30 nations), our income inequality (ranking of 25th) and our household wealth (24th). It would seem logical that these areas would deserve immediate action and strong leadership from our government in addressing them.

Strangely this National Government is bent on initiating and carrying through some major reforms in the education sector. The reforms have no basis in research and the outcomes of similar reforms overseas have had mixed results and in many cases negative consequences for children. To top it all the Education Ministry that is charged with driving the reforms has been reeling from funding cuts and a recent parliamentary review which found it bordering on dysfunctional.

The Government has chosen to further delay the slow process of dealing with our CO2 emissions and will subsidise our largest emitter, agriculture, for another 3 years. Obviously with no incentives to change agricultural practices little substantial will happen with the levels of emissions in this sector until 2015. Instead of a strong focus on alternative and environmentally sustainable energy sources the government has also embarked on opening our country up for oil exploration and coal and lignite mining, with few assurances of safe practice or how we will deal with any emissions. Rather than improving our bad grade for CO2 emissions there has been a concerted effort to make our grade in this area even worse (a Leave the Coal in the Hole festival has been organised in an attempt to focus on the foolishness and long term consequences of the government's approach).

The consequences of income inequity and falling household wealth is being seen in our appalling child poverty statistics. We now have 1 in every 4 children living in relative poverty and basic expectations for children living in a developed nation are not being met. Third world health issues such as rheumatic fever and general poor child health are becoming more common. The long term consequences and cost to the country of ongoing health and educational issues for this group of children as they progress into adults will be huge. The government's choice to introduce more draconian measures and gatekeepers when our struggling families apply for income support and forcing mothers of young children into low waged employment (around 65% of mothers with children less than a year old already work) will only exacerbate an already dire situation.

Income inequities are being actively increased with the huge tax cuts to the rich being maintained, despite a $2 billion annual loss in revenue, and wage increases are being kept at minimal levels. The current industrial stoush between the Port of Auckland Limited (POAL) and the Maritime Union of New Zealand (MUNZ) is a sign of things to come over the next three years. The government and many employers are keen to see our workforce de-unionised and casualised and job security and collective bargaining will become increasingly rare. Treating workers as expendable commodities will ultimately remove workers from feeling they are a valued and essential part of the industries they work within and this will probably reduce our already low productivity even further. By not investing in R&D and education to the same extent as higher performing economies (i.e. Denmark, Singapore) we will be relying even more on our competitiveness being based on a low wage, lower skilled workforce and exporting raw materials and commodities with little added value. Already 25% of our university graduates head overseas as there are few opportunities for their qualifications in New Zealand.

Based on current performance and priorities one can only predict that the next report will see a considerable decline in grades and, considering the major areas of concern require immediate action, the following government may find themselves in a near hopeless situation. We only need to look at Barack Obama's Presidency to see how difficult it is to repair the damage inflicted by two terms of neo-liberal ideologies and pandering to the wealthy elite.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Sir Peter Gluckman's Advice Ignored


I have just finished listening to a repeat of a Chris Laidlaw interview with the Prime Minister's science advisor, Sir Peter Gluckman, and found that his his views on Science and how it can be supported in the New Zealand context made a lot of sense. I didn't hear all of the interview but the following points he made stood out for me:
  • Science can be both the cause of many of the world's problems and the solution.
  • New Zealand's minimal increase in productivity can be related to a lack of investment in research and development. 
  • We shouldn't restrict our scientific research to what can be directly related to economic development because "blue sky" science still has relevance. There are two types of science "applied science" and "yet to be applied science" and what can be seen as random scientific discoveries can often result in producing useful but unintended applications.
  • While there should always be some management of research spending the current system is not working well, there are too many scientists competing for a limited pool of funds that is controlled by overly restrictive criteria.
  • We need to increase scientific literacy in the general population and the media could take some responsibility in promoting scientific developments and understandings, there is a public interest in science that is well communicated.
  • While scientists are human and there will always be an element of sociological influences on how they interpret data and the relevance of outliers, the conclusions of peer reviewed science are generally sound. The fact that around 98% of scientists support anthropogenic climate change, for example, is hugely significant.
  • We have a choice of making significant changes and sacrifices now to mitigate the causes of climate change or leave it to following generations. Sir Peter advises that we should be acting now as delay may make the issue beyond effective action.
  • New Zealand's leadership in researching the management of agricultural livestock emissions is worthy of recognition.
When comparing us with smaller sized nations with stronger economies (like Denmark and Singapore), a major difference between us is the level of commitment to education and research. Successful smaller economies generally spend over twice as much on R&D and as Professor Shaun Hendy says "...while it is often argued that New Zealand cannot afford a first class innovation system,  I would argue that we cannot afford to not have a first class innovation system." It is not about our lack of ability to do so but our lack of commitment.

When science and technology are so important for the success of our economy and our future survival it concerns me that the current government has actively downgraded these areas educationally. Although our technology and science curricula are world leading and innovative they are not supported well through professional development for teachers or resourcing (all our advisors have been sacked and there has been millions spent on the flawed National Standards and literacy and numeracy instead).

Sir Peter also supported an increase in funding to early childhood education (which he regards as an investment, not a cost) and perhaps the government's partial reversal of its earlier cuts can be partly due to his influence. The intransigence shown around not funding 100% qualified teachers is still a concern, however. 

While it is worthy to note the leadership shown in researching the emissions of livestock it is concerning that farmers do not get the standard of support and incentives that they should to improve their practice. The limited influence of MAF and the dominance of industry advisors has led to many farmers supporting commercial interests at the expense of the environment and sustainability. It is one thing to have the science and research, but if it is not reflected in farming practice there is little point in doing it. The government must take a lead in this area and ensure there are incentives for the agricultural industry to change to more sustainable practices, especially when there is strong evidence to show National's support for industry self regulation as an answer is not reflected in reality.

It is a pity that this Government is inclined to only support science that fits with their ideology and publicly reject and diminish the relevance of science and scientists who don't fit with their vision. The internationally viewed dismissal of scientist Mike Joy's research was shameful and after reading Merchant's of Doubt over the holidays it concerns me that the active rejection and discrediting of sound science in the US is also happening here. 

Saving for one's retirement is a useful analogy for how we should regard investment in R&D and education. The more we are able to invest now, the less we have to spend at a later date. Investing in education, science and technology is an investment in a more secure and sustainable future.



Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Dairy Industry Cannot Be Trusted to Self Regulate


The editorial in today's Southland Times refers to the lack of honesty from the dairy industry in reporting their progress in fencing off waterways. The dairy industry has been adamant that self regulation is the best way forward in ensuring environmental protection and that they would be more likely to be proactive in this area without tight regulation and constant monitoring from local authorities. My discussions with Russell McPherson, Southland Federated Farmers Dairy Chairman, revealed a similar strong view from local  dairy farmers that Environment Southland over regulated and were over zealous in their policing of those regulations. Russell claimed most dairy farmers were responsible and environmentally aware and should be left alone and trusted to do the right thing. Fonterra has also made reassuring claims in their statement on environmental sustainability:

We’ve also set ourselves clear environmental targets to monitor our progress and make ourselves more accountable. And as we meet – or exceed – these targets, we’re raising our standards even higher.
and:
Fonterra works in partnership with our farmers to lift on-farm standards and has taken a leadership role in working with Government and industry groups to minimise the impact of dairying on the environment.

Sadly both the dairy farmers and Fonterra have been found to wanting in their commitment to protecting our waterways from their industry. Fonterra's survey of farmers claimed that 84% of their supplying farms had excluded dairy cattle from all waterways "deeper than a Red Band gumboot and wider than a stride". MAF's comprehensive national survey found the reality was half of what was being claimed, they found that of the 587 farms they inspected only 42% had fenced off such waterways. Such exaggeration and inaccuracy in reporting on the industry's environmental progress is very revealing and demonstrates that regulation and independent monitoring will be necessary for some time if real progress is to be made. 


It is disappointing that when the dairy industry is so keen to lose the "dirty" tag and demonstrate their concern for the quality of our waterways, their commitment turns out to be shallower than their Red Band gumboots.