Friday, November 30, 2012

Communist Style Austerity Forced on Local Governments


The Local Government Amendment Bill has passed it's final reading and the Government is continuing to push through bad legislation with their usual slim majority, 61 votes to 59. John Key's steadfast support of the not so honorable John Banks has helped ensure that they have a very willing yes man who is not likely to question anything his benefactor puts forward. One would have to question the ethics of allowing such close voting to determine controversial decisions when many institutions require a two thirds majority (perhaps this is something we need to review).

The Local Government Amendment Bill is being forced through Parliament to replace the aspirational Local Government Act of 2002. This Act was written by Sandra Lee, the Local Government Minister at the time, and Jeanettte Fitzsimons was the chairperson of the select committee that informed it (the previous 1974 Act was a mishmash of historical regulation and overly prescriptive provisions). The 2002 Act included a focus on sustainability and referred to the 'four well-beings' social, economic, environmental and cultural. The purpose of the act was to encourage democratic process and to support the general well-being and good health of communities through the activities of local authorities.

The National led Government's 2012 Act seeks to remove the four well-beings and force local authorities to stick to supporting core infrastructure only. This is supposed to ensure that rates will not be increased above inflation and limit spending on supposedly dubious cultural and sporting events. The Act is also intended to support a review of existing local bodies and potentially allow the amalgamation of councils into more cost effective unitary authorities. There is also a provision to enable the Government to step in and over-ride any local body decision that they may disagree with.

This Government is sending a strong message to local authorities, there will be no more flexibility in spending and they will have to focus on the important stuff like sewerage and street lights. Apparently councils around New Zealand are wasting huge amounts of money on street races, busking festivals, Santa parades and libraries and it has to stop because they are pushing up the rates. If councils keep wasting money like this the Government will do what they did in Canterbury, sack the council and instate commissioners.

We have left the 'Nanny State' of Helen Clark and now have the 'Big Daddy State' of Planet Key where any misbehaving, austerity rejecting local body will find themselves sacked and the heavies will be sent in. I can't help feeling this is a little hypocritical when the Government itself blows millions on yacht races, rugby tournaments and expensive BMWs and is borrowing money like it's going out of fashion.

This sort of knee jerk politics ignores the reality for much of the increased spending. It isn't the Santa parades that are pushing up rates but the fact that waste management is just becoming more and more expensive to do properly (we can't just dump rubbish in the nearest abandoned quarry or pour raw sewerage directly into the sea any more). Also the Government itself has cut funding to support regional roads because of their motorway plans and support for waste management in small communities is underfunded. In the big scheme of things it isn't the busking festivals that are breaking council budgets, they are just easy targets. The National led Government have approached their own governance in a similar manner when they targeted beneficiaries when the real problem was maintaining the $2 billion a year tax cuts to the rich.

National MPs and right wing bloggers love to accuse the Greens of being watermelons and Labour of being union friendly communists but if anything is going to create grey, communist style, urban environments it will be this Local Government Amendment Act. It will suck the colour and soul from our communities, but hey, the sewerage should flow well...











Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Aspiring to Become Average


New Zealand used to lead the world in so many things: GDP per capita, education, being the most equitable society, environmental stewardship, child health and welfare, human rights, the least corrupt society...  However the world moves on and other countries have caught up and passed us over the last forty years. We are now the fastest growing inequitable society in the OECD, we have dropped from 1st to 15th in environmental management, we have one of the worst records amongst developed nations for child health and welfare and while we used to be in the top four for education achievement I now hear us being described as in the top 7.

Obviously there are many who are concerned that 25% of our children are suffering from poverty and 80% of our lowland rivers are polluted through intensive farming and are making their concerns known. This Government and their many supporters are enthusiastically defending our decline and the damage to our 100% pure brand by emphasizing the fact that there are others much worse off than us and nothing is wrong with being average.
  • Our rivers may be polluted but at least they are better than the Thames (possibly a dangerous claim).
  • We don't have real child poverty when you consider Africa, until we have children roaming the streets naked with stick like legs and distended bellies (no shoes and no breakfast is nothing to worry about) we don't have to act.
  • If other countries aren't taking action on carbon emissions why should we (we actually have one of the worst emissions per capita in the world) therefore we should pull out of the Kyoto agreement and join China the US and Russia. 
  • We have one of the fastest growing levels of Government debt in the OECD but we are still not as bad as Greece. 
While it appears to be unacceptable to be other than first in the world for Rugby and we need to spend $36 million of taxpayer money to be competitive in the Americas Cup, this Government is determined that in all other areas aspiring to be average, or at least not the worst in the world, is a reasonable goal.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Fracking Report Flags Issues


Green MP Gareth Hughes has received much criticism for his energetic opposition to fracking, this industry has been the saviour of the US in terms of energy independence and is a rapidly growing industry around the world and in New Zealand. After passing the peak of easily available oil, the industry has had to look at more environmentally challenging sources to meet demand. Drilling in deeper seas has resulted in some catastrophic accidents in terms of environmental damage and lives lost and less productive and environmentally invasive sources have been exploited (like the Canadian tar sands).





The discovery that previously uneconomic deposits of oil and gas could be accessed by hydraulically cracking rock and connecting smaller pockets of fossil fuel was a revelation. This was achieved by drilling down into oil rich rock and forcing a mixture of water and chemicals into it so that it causes widespread cracking and allowing the oil or gas to flow.


While fracking is very productive there have been some concerning environmental consequences when the chemicals used to support the fracking infiltrated the aquifers and contaminated ground water. The cracking and gas release is not a precision process and leakage into the surrounding environment has also been a constant problem. Although there has been fracking in New Zealand for over twenty years it is has been on a relatively small scale and it has been a largely self regulated industry.

Given the concerns overseas and some worrying reports locally, the Green Party has demanded a moratorium on fracking and managed to get the Parliamentary Commissioner of the Environment to investigate the environmental consequences.  This report has just been released and although the commissioner decided that a moratorium was unnecessary she did flag some real concerns:

“However I have significant concerns about how fragmented and complicated the regulatory environment for fracking is and about how these rules are being applied.
 
“If fracking is not done well it can have significant environmental impacts including polluting water and triggering earthquakes.
 
“I am also concerned that regulation may be too light-handed, particularly if fracking opens the door to a large-scale and widespread oil and gas boom with a lot of different companies involved.
 
“These concerns form the basis of the next stage of my investigation into fracking which I hope to conclude before the middle of next year.”

Interviews with a local authority representative revealed a lack of capacity to regulate and monitor new fracking wells and the scientific community has also voiced concern. While the Green Party largely support the work of Dr Wright regarding the environmental impact of fracking there is still reasonable concern that there could be serious consequences while the regulatory capacity is lacking. We believe a moratorium is still appropriate until the industry can be properly controlled and monitored and Dr Wright's investigations are fully completed. It would also be hugely useful if cleaner sources of energy received greater support and research. 



Monday, November 26, 2012

Lest We Forget: The Real Hobbit Story


Peter Jackson is a hugely talented director and Warner Bros makes some wonderful movies and I will probably go to see the Hobbit when it comes to Invercargill. I must say, however, that I have lost a good deal of respect for Sir Peter Jackson and was extremely disappointed in the behavior of the National led Government in regards to the treatment of our New Zealand actors and film workers. When I view the Hobbit I will be admiring the skill and capabilities of all those who worked on and off the screen, but have had to work under an employment regime that does not properly recognise or support their real contribution.

The Hobbit actors and crew were employed as contractors even though their actual status was as employees, this enabled Jackson and Warner Bros to escape most obligations as good employers. Warner Bros had refused to meet or bargain with the local actors union and ignored the usual expectation of operating in good faith. It was the Company not the actors that was the real bully in this misreported story.  The changes to immigration law allowed Warner Bros to bring anyone into the country without following normal immigration controls and removed the ability to ensure that New Zealanders were employed in the first instance if they were able to to the job required.

Through lies and deception Peter Jackson, the hugely profitable Warner Bros and the Government manipulated public opinion to enable unnecessary changes in employment and immigration law. While some benefit will probably come from increased tourism, this may have largely occurred without the $107 million of tax payer funds being gifted to Warner Bros in subsidies, grants and marketing costs. This money would have been far better spent directly supporting our local film industry that has produced the likes of Boy, Whale Rider and the World's Fastest Indian that have also received wide international acclaim through telling our own stories.

Already there is a resurgence of the myth regarding the Hobbit dispute and anyone who supported the rights of the film workers are being branded Hobbit Haters. For those who wish to have their opinions shaped by fact rather than propaganda, here are two important accounts that are worth reading:

Helen Kelly's detailed account of the dispute.

Hobbit employment commentary published in the New Zealand Journal of Employment Relations.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Valuing Workers and Increasing Productivity


In 1914 New Zealand was the richest country in the world in terms of GDP per capita and we were still ranked third in 1960. According to the IMF we are now 25th, just behind Italy, and the United Nations make us 29th, below New Caledonia. While I accept that the international markets we have had to compete within have changed (the EEC, trade protectionism and the growth of multinational monopolies), I do think there are internal factors that have caused a drop in productivity and competitiveness. If we look at only one aspect, New Zealand's workforce, we have been experiencing dropping productivity (around .3% annually) since 2006. While the Government claims that the global recession and the Christchurch earthquake are responsible for our lack of productivity and economic success, I think this is a copout.

There are seven factors that I think have a large impact on our low levels of productivity:
  1. Low wages.
  2. Poor employment conditions 
  3. Growing income inequity
  4. Fewer high value jobs
  5. Struggling manufacturing sector
  6. Lack of investment in research and development
  7. Reducing the status and value of jobs.
New Zealand is increasingly becoming a low wage economy, median weekly earnings for all wage and salary earners is around $42,000 a year and this means half of our workers earn this or less. We have a growing number of part-time workers who are looking for full-time work and a drive from employers to have a higher level of casualization. Workers have also not received wage increases for some time that reflects any increases in productivity. The real value of wages is falling as costs such as housing and power are rising faster than inflation. Although the Port of Auckland workers had dramatically lifted their output they were rewarded with reduced employment conditions and enforced casualistion. Working harder in New Zealand does not generally relate to increases in income. New Zealand wages are around 30% less than Australia and the level of union membership and collective agreements is also much less. 

Many jobs that used to be regarded as full-time are being casualised and this reduces the employers responsibility to provide employment certainty and normal rights such as sick leave and redundancy pay. Workers who used to be wage earners are now contract workers and although their incomes may be low they are often then required to pay for their training and the costs of transport and tools. Many employers have the luxury of a workforce that they have little responsibility for and can turn on and off the supply as they wish. However, this also means that there is little loyalty to the employer and a lower level of collegial support within the workforce as they have to compete against each other for jobs. Our health and safety record is now three times worse than the average in the OECD and we have around 1000 premature deaths annually from work related illness and 100 fatal injuries. Pike River was an extreme example of the disregard we have for worker health and safety. 

We are seeing the wealthy of New Zealand being rewarded with tax cuts and huge salaries for CEOs appears to be accepted practice. The richest New Zealanders saw a 20% increase in their wealth last year and the growth of income inequity is more pronounced in New Zealand than most other countries in the world. In many jobs there little incentive for workers to seek promotions as the minimal increase in remuneration involved is not seen as enough for the increased workload or responsibility. I know this is true in teaching and much of the public sector and the CEO of Fonterra recently received a 41% increase in salary while a wage freeze was in force for other management positions. 

There is a scarcity of high paying, well qualified jobs in New Zealand. 25% of our university graduates head overseas to get jobs and those that remained earned an average of $29,000 in 2010. 15% of our 20-24 year old graduates are unemployed and many of those who are, are in jobs that they are over qualified for. The Government has cut almost 4,000 well qualified jobs from the public sector.

It has been estimated that up to 20,000 jobs have been lost from the manufacturing sector in New Zealand since 2008. Our high dollar has put the squeeze on exporters and many New Zealand businesses like Fisher and Pykel are outsourcing production and are being bought out by overseas companies. The Government itself has not supported our skilled workforce and the outsourcing of rail engines and rolling stock saw the closure of the Hillside workshop that once employed 1200 workers.

Many of our best scientists and researchers are leaving New Zealand because of an under-funding of research and development that places us well behind the majority in the OECD.  Professor Jacqueline Rowarth is adamant that our agricultural sector will only thrive through greater investment in R+D and claims our level of investment in this area ranks us with Mexico.

When jobs are dramatically cut from the state sector it implies that those jobs were not necessary in the first place and often diminishes the status of those that remain. We even have the situation where jobs that were once considered highly responsible positions are being filled by people with no relevant qualifications or experience. The introduction of Charter Schools that allows non qualified teachers to front classrooms and the government's lowered expectation of qualified teachers in Early Childhood (from 100% to 80%) has seen a huge drop in status  for the teaching profession. Even the job of delivering post has had lowered status to the extent that Queenstown discovered around 20,000 undelivered items due to little appreciation of the responsibilities and ethical standards necessary for the role. Few rest homes in New Zealand manage to achieve even basic standards of care, largely due to the fact that rest home operators improve profit margins by keeping wages low. Those who work in caregiving jobs are amongst the lowest paid workers despite the experience and skill needed to do the job well. It appears that the Novapay debacle may not have happened if more qualified people with a deeper understanding of the sector had been employed to do the work. I wonder how much those who were doing the data entry got paid? 

If we wanted to see a stronger economy we need a workforce that is well qualified and well supported by technology and research. A worker would be more productive and take pride in their work when what they do is valued and they are provided with safe environments and are well remunerated. Workers are more likely to be productive when they work collaboratively and feel a loyalty to their employer. Any worker will invest more in their work if they think it has long term prospects and has job security. Finally workers are more likely to concentrate and be more productive when their wages enable them to live comfortably in good homes and have financial security. All this seems like common sense to me but perhaps John Key and Bill English know something I don't. 

Friday, November 23, 2012

Mike Joy, Traitor or Martyr?


Dr Mike Joy is one of a number scientists who have been thrust into the public arena because their work and research conflicts with their Government's economic agenda. Last year it was my privilege to support the hosting of Dr James Hansen, NASA scientist and climate change advisor to the US government during his speaking tour of New Zealand.  During the 1980s Dr Hansen had presented to the US Congress the large body of evidence and peer reviewed science that revealed the dramatic impact human activity was having on the Earth's climate. He was shocked to discover that rather than accepting and acting on the information he had provided, Congress and President George Bush swiftly censored his work so that the public communications of his presentation were far less threatening. The Government had decided that the short term interests of business and the nation's economy took precedence over the health and viability of the planet.

Like the majority of scientists Hansen operated in a sector where his reputation and the value of his research was determined by peer reviews and conclusions based on reliable evidence and high ethical standards. I would even go as far to suggest that many of our best scientists could be placed on the autistic/Aspergers spectrum, such is the importance of sticking to sound investigative process and accurate data. For such people using false evidence and promoting unsubstantiated opinions would be an anathema.

Dr Hansen would be the first to admit that he lacks the charisma and speaking skill to be a really effective communicator and he never sought public attention for its own sake. It is his concern for the planet and future of his much loved grandchildren that has thrust him into the limelight. He also realised that science alone would not shift government policy and he has found himself fronting public protests against activities that have a direct impact on the climate. He has even been arrested for peaceably protesting against a plan to pipe synthetic oil from the Canadian tar sands.



New Zealand scientist Dr Mike Joy is another scientist who has fallen foul of government and business interests because his work provides challenges to their activities. Like Hansen, Joy did not seek public attention but was initially thrust into the media spotlight when his findings were used to challenge our Prime Minister's support of New Zealand's "100% Pure" brand in an interview on BBC's Hard Talk. The brand was extensively used to promote tourism in New Zealand and the Prime Minister held the tourism portfolio for his Government.

When confronted with Joy's claim that many native species were close to extinction and that 90% of New Zealand's low land rivers and that half of all lakes were polluted, John Key disagreed. He than made the extraordinary statement "That's Mike Joy's view, but I don't share that view...he's one academic and like lawyers I can provide you another one that would give a counter view." In that one statement he reduced the value of science to mere opinion that is easily challenged.

Interestingly the Prime Minister hasn't been able to find a scientist to provide this counter view but there are many, including the Government's own  Commissioner for the Environment, whose own findings largely support Joy's. There is even an environmental report produced by business group Pure Advantage that communicates the same concerning environmental information.

The efforts to discredit Joy reached a new level when he was asked to provide his opinion of New Zealand's "purity" after the launch of a new tourist campaign using the 100% pure brand accompanying the release of the Hobbit movie. Joy responded with his usual scientific honesty and had no awareness that his comments would be reported by the New York Times. Consequently he has been widely criticised and has even been accused of treachery by prominent Government lobbyist, Mark Unsworth:

To: Joy, Mike
Subject: Ego Trip

Dear Dr Joy 
Is your ego so great that you feel the need to sabotage all the efforts made by those promoting tourism in NZ because of your passionate views on the environment ? 
You have the right to hold strong views but you ,as an academic whose salary is paid for by others taxes, must also act responsibly .
Letting your ego run riot worldwide in the manner you did can only lead to lower levels of inbound tourism .You may not care given your tenure in a nice comfy University lounge ,but to others this affects income and jobs.
Give that some thought next time you feel the need to see your name in print in New York .And possibly think of changing your name from Joy to Misery-its more accurate 
Cheers 
Mark Unsworth"

And later: 

"Dear Graeme and Dan and Mike
You really do have no idea do you.Why don't you ask your students about what they think of Mikes economic treachery.
You guys are the Foot and Mouth Disease of the tourism industry .


Most ordinary people in NZ would happily have you lot locked up.
Cheers Mark"


Unsworth was quickly supported by Cameron Slater and these comments from his Whale Oil blog reflect common views:

"Joy should be taken out and shot at dawn for economic sabotage...they (tourist operators) now have to put up with being ambushed by this prick who has probably never had a real job in his life. The biggest transformation for him has been from sitting behind a desk to standing in front of one."

"Basically another unemployable academic."

"If this clown is the product of higher learning long may I stay as thick as two strainer posts."



This Government would rather base our economy on lies than science. They have not included the science curriculum in the National Standards for Education, they have sacked all our science advisors and are seriously underfunding R+D. With the Prime Minister's own support we are developing a society that treats hard working scientists and their work with distain and mistrust. We now have treasury determining educational change and a money trader and business lobbyist defining the value of science, heaven help us!








  • Tuesday, November 20, 2012

    Sage Advice For Saving Our Estuaries


    Russel Norman started the Dirty River Tours a few years ago to highlight the declining quality of our waterways. He visited the Mataura River in Southland a couple of years ago but his southern focus shifted from rivers to the Waituna Lagoon and wetland area when it was revealed that the bigger environmental catastrophes were occurring where the rivers ended.

    Eugenie Sage has taken over Russel's role as the Green MP responsible for water issues and has started her own Dirty River Tour. She had decided to begin her tour in Southland and initially looked at the Oreti River until she became aware of a worrying report from Environment Southland regarding declining state of our estuaries.

    The declining quality of our rivers and aquifers is a worrying reality and the infamous BBC interview with John Key, where our Prime Minister dismissed criticisms of our environmental record from respected scientist Mike Joy, revealed this Government's total reluctance to acknowledge the truth. It appears that while we are profiting hugely from the boom in dairying and the intensification of our farming, environmental concerns are largely being sidelined . The flaw in this approach is that while rivers may be improved at a later time the damage to estuaries, lakes and wetlands is not such an easy fix. Reducing the runoff of nutrients from farms would make an immediate difference to river quality but for environments where the flow ends, and we have still water, the nutrients and sediment settles and remains in the environment. The problem compounds over time and even when there are improved environmental controls at a later stage it can be too late for an estuary or a lake.

    I have already posted on the importance of estuaries as a vital ecosystem and the fact that two of our largest Southland estuaries have reached a tipping point, environmentally, should be a serious wakeup call for our Government. Environment Southland should be commended for their recent focus on coastal areas and having good data to inform planning. If it wasn't for Environment Southland commissioning their estuary report the true extent of the spread of eutrophication would not have been known.

    For all their efforts Environment Southland is hampered by the fact that they are required to implement their own water quality standards and every time they set limits they are being challenged by farmers and businesses that will suffer from the tighter environmental controls. This means that it is a slow and sometimes expensive process to embed new regulations and if other regions do not have the same level of controls farmers feel justifiably aggrieved. We desperately need national standards in water quality so that regional councils can enforce the standards without having every action contested and those effected by the tighter controls can see consistency across the country.

    The Third Report of the Land and Water Forum contains some positive recommendations but still largely fails to provide real support for local authorities who bare  the brunt of water quality enforcement. Without national standards for water quality they will face ongoing enforcement challenges and introducing a commercial element into the use of water rights is also a concern.

    We have all experienced increases in power charges through commercializing our power supply and the same will happen with water. Individuals could buy water rights beyond their needs and sell the rest at a profit. The price of water will increase if demand exceeds supply and the money will not be reinvested in maintaing quality and supply but will go to the pockets of those who control the rights. It would be far fairer to have a regional authority managing the distribution of water use in a sustainable way and charging a reasonable rate on usage that could then be reinvested in the management and protection of the water systems.

    This National led Government have failed to understand that the security of our environment isn't dependent on a strong economy, it is the other way around. Our economy is dependent on a healthy environment! It is ironic that some of our most successful businesses and business people have already realized this simple truth in the latest Pure Advantage report and this Government would be well advised to read it.

     Eugenie Sage paddling into the New River Estuary, near Invercargill.

    Maurice Rodway,  Southland manager for Fish and Game and Environment Southland Councillor pointing out areas of most concern.

    Sunday, November 18, 2012

    John Key and Don Quixote

    John Key attacking yet another neoliberal fantasy!

    This National led Government thinks we have an education crisis in New Zealand and has spent millions on supporting private schools, and introducing National Standards and Charter Schools.

    This Government thinks we have a roading crisis and has $12 billion earmarked for motorway developments.

    This Government thinks we have a crisis with welfare fraud and has pushed through much legislation to limit access and coverage for beneficiaries.

    This Government thinks we have a crisis with over regulation and business stifling regulatory bodies and wants to change the RMA, get rid of  environment councils.

    This National led Government is spending all its time and energy on crises that are largely a figment of its neoliberal imagination. It has refused to acknowledge or tried to ignore the real crises that are confronting New Zealanders. When it can't ignore these crises it shifts the blame away from itself, ignores the causes and invests money in dealing with the damage left at the bottom of cliffs instead.

    There is no crisis in Education, our system performs amongst the top five in the world. This government invested $60 million into a flawed assessment system that delivers nothing for children and $6 million on a child abuse data bases and a dob in an abuser line. It has cut funding to education programmes dealing with domestic violence and although alcohol is the major cause of abuse it backed down on tougher legislation on the sale of liquor.

    There is no roading crisis, road traffic numbers are stagnant but there is increasing demand for good public transport and rail freight tonnage is increasing. The closure of the Hillside railway workshop is another sign of underinvestment in rail and the loss of another skilled workforce through outsourcing.

    There is no crisis in welfare fraud, while it is estimated that such fraud does cost us around $39 million a year, by far the biggest cost to government revenue is tax evasion. This Government had to spend millions in court costs to recover $2 billion of owed taxes from Australian banks and it is estimated that up to $6 billion is lost to evasion by businesses and the wealthy. When you consider that our wealthiest New Zealanders also earn around 40% of their income in untaxed capital gain, there must be billions of potential revenue from those who saw a 20% increase in their income last year. It is also costing the Government around $2 billion a year in lost revenue to pay for the tax cuts to the already rich.

    There is no general crisis from over-regulation. In fact 80% of our lowland rivers are polluted through uncontrolled intensive farming, 29 miners died largely because of deregulating the mining industry and we have to spend $11 billion to cover the cost of deregulating the building industry. We are also the third easiest country in the world in which to do business.

    We do have a major crisis regarding the governance of our country. This National led Government largely ignores child poverty, family violence, the degradation of our environment, a massive shortage of affordable housing and a crippling exchange rate while instead attacks nonexistent enemies like some deluded Don Quixote.




    Thursday, November 15, 2012

    The GERM is Infecting Our Schools!


    Primary Teachers are on the whole a fairly mild mannered lot who generally just want to focus on teaching and the children they are responsible for. When I first started teaching there were are number of issues with our pay and conditions and yet to mobilize teachers to take collective action was really difficult. Most teachers didn't want to draw attention to themselves, disrupt their class programmes or inconvenience their communities. Consequently NZEI members have only gone on strike a couple of times in the 130 year history of the Institute. Many teachers actually have difficulty thinking of the New Zealand Educational Institute as a union as it started as a purely professional organisation and professional work has always been a large part of its activities.

    Prior to 2008 teachers generally felt positive about teaching and were proud of our education system. Our ranking for educational achievement, on most international assessments, placed us clearly in the top five (when you considered our social and cultural diversity, we were probably number one). We had just started implementing our new curriculum, which had taken around eight years to develop through a co-construction process, and the Ministry's Best Evidence Synthesis publications addressed almost every aspect of education using the best research and evidence available. We weren't perfect but we were heading in the right direction and were recognized internationally for this.

    After 2008 we suddenly found ourselves in a whole new environment and our education system was in crisis. We were told that children who arrived at school with disabilities, English as a second language or socio-economic disadvantage (the 20% of underachievers) were struggling because schools were failing them. The fact that 80% of our children were doing well and our top students were the best in the world was ignored. Poverty and inequity was also dismissed as a contributing factor in underachievement. We were told that National Standards in Education would be the answer and that literacy and numeracy should be the focus of teaching above all else. Politicians would now lead educational change as we were told the profession could no longer be trusted because of our  political, self-serving agendas.

    The National led Government was adamant that New Zealand needed to follow the education approaches adopted by the US and UK and even appointed an English Bureaucrat to lead the Ministry of Education. The previous Education Minister, Anne Tolley, informed a National Party conference that there needed to be widespread systemic change in education and her replacement Hekia Parata has continued the theme after the 2011 election. We were informed that larger classes would produce better outcomes for children, Charter Schools (that didn't have to follow the curriculum or use registered teachers) would lift achievement and that National Standards, despite their "ropey" nature", would used in league tables to compare schools. Apparently it would be helpful to show even more clearly that the higher the decile of the school, the more likely children will achieve and parents with children in special needs schools needed to know just how far below the rest their children were.

    The Christchurch earthquake provided a unique opportunity to push change even more rapidly and Charter schools and mega schools were planned, with almost no consultation and using data manipulated to suit the agenda. While the Government promoted the importance of choice this obviously did not include schools with smaller rolls and rural situations. The possibility of two different schools sharing the same buildings, but at different times, is also being considered. It is obvious that cost savings rather than children's learning and supporting communities drove the initial plan.

    All these changes seemed nonsensical to the teaching profession as there seemed no benefit to children's learning in any of them. Clarity around the Government's agenda became obvious with the visit of Pasi Sahlburg earlier this year. Pasi is an internationally regarded educationalist from Finland, the top ranking country for educational achievement. Pasi introduced us to the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM) that is spreading throughout the world and yet failing the children in countries where it is being introduced. GERM uses ideological economic and business imperatives to determine educational change rather than a foundation of educational research and evidence.
    1. Instead of teaching being based on collegiality, cooperation and good practice there is an emphasis on competition. Teachers compete against each other for performance bonuses and schools will compete for enrollments. Rather than share ideas and provide collegial support, teachers and schools will keep their knowledge to themselves and even actively undermine competition. This will have the effect of causing a decline in teacher and school performance. Collaboration is the best way to increase teacher capability across the profession.
    2. Instead of individualized programmes to suit diverse learners and backgrounds and recognizing different rates of development (and birth dates),  all children will be expected to meet the same standardized assessments in literacy and numeracy at the same time. This will discourage some learners and have them judged as failures when they may actually have other useful skills and knowledge not being assessed and the fact that they may be the youngest in the class will not be  recognized. Personalised learning recognises that children develop at different rates and can learn better when they can empathise with learning contexts. 
    3. Instead of ensuring all schools are well resourced and supported and all teachers meet professional standards, business and religious interests can set up schools with non qualified teachers and have higher levels of funding than others. This is described as providing greater choice and yet overseas experiences show that enabling such "choices" results in Charter Schools of poor quality and those that are more successful achieve that success by excluding children who will not produce good results. Rather than an expectation that all schools will be good schools, we will have winners and losers. It is the equity across all schools that is most important to lift achievement as not all children will be able to attend the 'best' school if we give some schools unfair advantages.
    4. Instead of broad assessments providing an overview of all that schools and teachers do to support teaching and learning, data based accountability rather than qualitative assessments will be used. Schools and teachers will be compared and judged based on their numeracy and literacy results. "High stakes" assessment will be the result and teaching to the test will become common. Teaching will be narrowed to those curriculum areas being assessed and the teaching of learning areas such as Science and Technology will suffer. Children with learning disabilities and behavioural difficulties will become liabilities to the assessed performances of both teachers and schools. If we have a trusted, highly professional teaching body that is well supported professionally and can just get on with the job of teaching then much of the time consuming accountability processes can be avoided. 

    Primary teachers are currently meeting around the country using paid union meetings to discuss the Ministry's offer in our agreement negotiations. It is obvious that the GERM agenda is being progressed via the negotiations and our attempt to have a system that supports career pathways and good teaching rather than clawbacks is being rejected.

    While there have been some wins over aspects of the Government's initiatives, the plan to increase class sizes was strongly rejected by most New Zealander's and there have been backdowns in the Christchurch plan, the GERM agenda is still pushing ahead in many areas and in a more subtle fashion. Bullying and bad faith has dominated this Government's management of education, rather than convince teachers of the professional value of National Standards or conduct a trial they just wrote it into law so that it became illegal not to implement them. If the profession expresses any concern about the Government's initiatives it is soundly rejected as politically biased and "union" driven. Schools that make stands are soundly punished by the withdrawal of professional support, threats of sacking and vilification through the media. As Christchurch has found, consultation is not considered an important part in progressing change and the Government demands that the teaching profession be compliant to the dictates of the Minister no matter how bizarre the directives.

    Mild mannered teachers are becoming uncomfortable and grumpy, they are having to spend hours dealing with Ministry incompetence through the Novapay introduction and they see the damaging effects of the Government's initiatives on their schools and children. Their patience and goodwill has been pushed to the max and demands for stronger action is being heard at meetings. This National led Government are buying themselves a battle and defeating GERM is the goal!

    Dunedin

    Auckland

    Christchurch

    Monday, November 12, 2012

    Defending the Indefensible


    The Southland CTU has organised a political debate on the economy in an attempt to get some serious attention applied to the potential loss of around 2,000 jobs to the region. There is considerable concern regarding the down sizing of the freezing work industry and the possible closure of the Tiwai Smelter. The Government has claimed that they can do little to help and there has been a general hands off approach to job losses around the regions. Investing in our own people and maintaining a skilled workforce in New Zealand has not been a priority as seen by the constant outsourcing of contracts, the closure of Dunedin's Hillside Workshops and a 15% loss of workers in the construction industry.

    While the Green Party, Labour, New Zealand First and the CTU are being represented at the debate by high ranking members (Turei, Cunliffe, Peters and CTU National Secretary Peter Conway) the National Government is notable by it's absence. Invercargill MP Eric Roy sent a bizarre letter to the Southland Times claiming the following:

    "...there was no dialogue over the dates for the meeting - I was told it is this date and that's that."

    "The National-led Government does have a business growth agenda...the number of jobs has actually been growing over the last two years. The number of jobs in the economy overall has grown by 57,000 in the same time period."

    "Unions and opposition parties have an opportunity to support areas that make a real difference for companies- like reforming the RMA, supporting employment law changes to increase flexibility and controlling ACC's costs. If the political opposition and unions were serious about jobs, as one example they could ask Forest and Bird to withdraw its objections to Bathurst Resources' Escarpment Mine project near Westport."

    "The Government is working hard to give business the opportunity to grow and create jobs across a range of sectors such as oil and gas exploration, the expansion of intensive agriculture, the development of aquaculture, investment in hi-tech innovation, and encouraging foreign investment."

    My reply:

    Dear Sir

    I found Invercargill MP Eric Roy's letter extraordinary (November 13). The Green Party judged the meeting to discuss Southland's job crisis as an important one and consequently we have one of our co-leaders attending. To not have anyone fronting up to represent the government is concerning.

    While the wealthy of New Zealand have enjoyed tax cuts, and have seen their incomes grow by almost 20%, the burden of the recovery has been placed on ordinary New Zealanders. While Mr Roy claims his government has created 57,000 jobs this figure is very similar to the 53,000 people who have migrated to Australia over the same period (the highest level ever). The numbers of unemployed have grown by 78,000 under this Government and the true number of New Zealanders without jobs is actually close to 300,000.

    Mr Roy bizarrely appears to blame the lack of growth on Forest and Bird for protesting against the mining of a significant natural environment and Unions for not allowing even greater erosion of pay and conditions. He should be looking instead at his own government's cutting of around 4,000 jobs in the state sector (resulting in systemic failures in almost every department) while spending record amounts on consultants and $2 billion a year to maintain tax cuts to the rich.

    The Green's home insulation scheme is one of the few initiatives that have managed to produce a positive return on the investment while the Government's $12 billion motorway projects largely fail cost benefit analysis. It is about time Mr Roy and his Government got serious about creating sustainable jobs and supporting the regions instead of protecting the incomes of the already wealthy.  We have suffered enough.

    Yours sincerely...






    Friday, November 9, 2012

    !00% Down the Gurgler


    This National led Government cares about the environment a great deal and they even have a special branch or appendage of the party called the "Blue Greens" that is totally devoted to environmental concerns. Such is their passion for the environment that this group have devoted much of their energies to a single project of great national significance, the Meola Creek Restoration Project. They even have an impressive plan of action:
    As part of our action plan, we'll be:
    • cleaning up the creek to remove litter and waste
    • monitoring the creek regularly to gauge the success of planting
    • clearing weeds prior to planting
    • undertaking restoration planting at designated site over some planting days
    • providing regular maintenance of planted sites
    • Highlight our activities at the Grey Lynn Festival

    I guess for those who live near this creek or attend the nearby Decile 7 Mt Albert Grammar school, they are very grateful for the Blue Greens' efforts. I'm not sure what the St Lukes Environmental Society think about the BGs, however, as they claim to be responsible for the all the cleaning, planting and even the building of a boardwalk.

    This National led Government cares about the environment so much that they changed the purpose of DoC from preserving our wild places in perpetuity to "Conservation leadership for a prosperous New Zealand". They then gutted the department by cutting their budget by $54 million. Gerry Brownlee had the brilliant idea of creating some "prosperity" for us by "surgically" removing some valuable minerals (mainly coal) from our National Parks and then was surprised when one or two New Zealanders ungratefully protested against his plan.


    UNESCO will be interested to hear that the South West New Zealand World Heritage Park (encompassing Fiordland), that was granted this status due to its pristine nature, may have a road tunnel drilled through a major mountain range and a monorail constructed within the park. DoC's new purpose has seen it welcome commercial interests to make significant changes to the natural environment for private profit. A bus trip through a mountain tunnel and a monorail train trip through cleared bush is seen as adding something to the tourist experience of this natural wonderland.

    Prime Minister John Key has shown considerable skill with promoting our 100% Pure brand overseas. When interviewed on BBCs Hardtalk he was able to quickly dismiss the quoted claim of respected scientist Mike Joy that we have many native species heading for extinction and 90% of our rivers polluted. To the astonishment of the interviewer Key claimed that compared to most other countries we were 100% Pure and that he would find another scientist to provide a differing view as he didn't like Mike Joy's.

    This National led Government expresses concern about how the rapid growth of dairying and the intensification of farming is having a huge impact on our rivers. They have made it very clear, however, that in times of economic hardship balancing an economic recovery with environmental protection becomes more difficult and when Environment Canterbury couldn't shift the balance towards farming interests with enough haste, they sacked the councillors and replaced them with commissioners.  Even though the Government promised to allow elections to occur again in 2013 they have decided to continue the arrangement (against the advice of the Human Rights Commissioner). I guess democracy impedes economic growth and shouldn't be encouraged. There are even plans to establish unitary authorities around the country that will see regional councils cease to exist at all.



    With the continuing effects of farming on our rivers we are seeing the pollutants being passed on to our lakes, lagoons and estuaries and many are reaching saturation levels of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediments. New Zealand's environmental management ranking has plummeted from being 1st in the OECD to 15th since 2006. Desperate times call for desperate measures and this National led Government has decided that the enormity of our environmental catastrophe should be hidden, rather than take remedial action, and our clean image should be protected even if it is a fiction. To this end the Government has decided, against the advice of the Environment Commissioner, that they won't publish the five yearly State of the Environment report (due to be released this December) as it will make dismal reading. It would probably be best that New Zealanders and the world knew as little as possible about what is really happening.


    This National led Government claim that they accept the science around climate change and even have it mentioned on their Blue Green web page. They also decided to continue with Labour's Emission Trading Scheme, but with a few tweaks. Although New Zealand has amongst the worst levels of greenhouse gas emissions per capita in the world, the Government has determined that we are too small to make a difference in a global sense and that we should exempt our major polluters and subsidise their emissions instead (to the tune of $150- 300 million of tax payer support per year). It was thought that we should wait for the likes of the US to get serious about their emissions before we really commit. To lesson the impact of the subsidies the Government has managed to drive down the value of our carbon credits from $20 a tonne to $3 a tonne. This may be a death blow to our forest industry but it will help the Government balance its books and give yet another boost to farmers and the struggling coal industry. The Government's commitment to road transport and building motorways will also contribute to our growing transport emissions and this will also prove costly in time.

    I guess that the Government has decided that maintaining a clean environment and our 100% Pure brand is too hard, despite the recommendations of Pure Advantage, and have decided to withdraw from the legally binding Kyoto protocol. We once led the world with our environmental credibility but now we are joining China and the US by focussing on short term economic goals instead of making a longer term commitment to working towards an environmentally sustainable economy.

    From 100% Pure we are now 100% down the environmental gurgler!

    I thought I would end this post with a photo of the leading Blue Greens who must shoulder a good deal of the responsibility for the extent our current environmental commitment (at least Meola Creak appears to be looking good).


    Back row (from left): Paul Hutchison, Ian McKelvie, Amy Adams, Scott Simpson, Nikki Kaye, Jacqui Dean, Chris Auchinvole, Nicky Wagner, Kater Wilkinson, Nick Smith, Todd McClay, Cam Calder, Louise Upston, Tau Henare. Front row (from left): Tim Macindoe, Colin King, Maggie Barry. (Absent: Tim Groser).

    POST SCRIPT

    Kennedy Graham is an educated man and his sixteen years of experience in the NZ Foreign Service means he understands the danger of loose words and claims without substance. His charge of "ecocide" against this National led Government was not done lightly nor from a sudden emotionally charged impulse. While the accusation was serious (and supported with a good deal of fact) he still referred to the government members in a respectful manner. His speech was not respectfully received and he had to endure continuous personal abuse throughout. The sooner we remove this ideologically driven, ignorant government the better we will be.