Sunday, June 30, 2013

Solid Energy, The Damage Continues...

The Government's early encouragement of Solid Energy's mad lignite schemes and poor oversight of their financial management has caused an almost $400 million debt and the loss of hundreds of jobs. While National Ministers publicly blame the company, they are holding no one responsible (the "perfect storm") and ex CEO Don Elder has become New Zealand's most highly paid gardener.

Bill English enthusiastically helping Don Elder dig a huge financial hole 

The suffering of families who built their lives around Solid Energy's fossil fuel empire will continue for some time as they search for new jobs and possibly head for Australia, where coal mining is also struggling.

In Southland, where the company poured millions of dollars to promote the lignite industry, we have been left with the memories of great promises and a dodgy $29 million lignite briquetting plant. While it is claimed that the plant is a going concern and has potential, locals have witnessed truckloads of substandard briquettes being dumped into the New Vale Mine and have not seen it operating for more than three days on end. There is still no known market for the briquettes and the volatility of the lignite dust still causes concern for worker safety. The North Dakota plant, that the Mataura one was modeled on, has been mothballed and it seems crazy that Solid Energy would have pursued a technology that had no international demand.

Australian based GTL Energy will be taking over the plant and claim that they will be able to convert 150,000 tonnes of lignite into 90,000 tonnes of high quality briquettes a year. I will believe it when I see it and I think that the Mataura Fire Brigade may be severely tested in the near future.

To cover debt, Solid Energy is selling the 3500 hectares of farmland that they had originally bought to mine. They are currently the largest owner of arable land in Southland and, while it is with some relief that the land will continue to be used for agriculture, it is concerning that few New Zealanders will have an opportunity to buy some. As with the Crafar farms (bought by China's Shanghai Pengxin), Solid Energy are also selling their farms as one lot. Former Federated Farmers Southland president Hugh Gardyne would rather have the farms sold individually to local farmers than an overseas investor.

It looks as if the ripples from the Solid Energy Empire crash will continue for some time.

It is ironic that the address of Solid Energy's "Palace" (as it was known) is 15 Show Place.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Government Still Messing With Auckland Transport

John Key's backdown on his Government's refusal to support Auckland's rail loop was inevitable. Similar to his reversal of the decision to increase class sizes, Key has seen that public support for the rail loop has remained strong. The decision to delay funding was a clever tactic to take the heat out of the Government's opposition by appearing to support the scheme yet refuse financial support for another seven years. This allows Brownlee and Joyce to continue with their crazy motorway agenda and in speaking to the Land Transport Management Amendment Bill, Transport Consultant and MP Julie Ann Genter clearly explained the folly of it all.

The flagship of all the Government's growth stimulation initiatives are the Roads of National Significance (RONS) and building motorways has become an ongoing obsession that has transcended reason. Some excellent questioning and research from Genter has revealed that the motorways that the Government are so determined to build generally fail cost benefit analysis. Not only that but they appear to be mainly based on the view of a Minister, with no background in transport planning, that they are a good idea.

Private transport volumes peaked in 2004 and road freight saw a leveling off in 2007, rail freight volumes are increasing and demand for public transport is also increasing. The Government has decided to ignore research and public demand and is prioritizing around 90% of its "infrastructure" spending on motorways. What the Government hasn't factored in is the huge cost of road transport to businesses and private citizens. While it costs the Government and taxpayers (road taxes etc) around $4 billion a year to maintain our road infrastructure, it costs us $12 billion a year to buy vehicles and fuel. Fuel and vehicles have to be purchased from outside New Zealand and this just increases our current account deficit. The Government's plan to spend $11-12 billion on motorways that support only 4% of our traffic volumes will lock us in to an uneconomic transport system that will just increase our levels of debt.

If the Government has its way the rail loop won't be built for another 10 years and one can easily imagine the level of frustration at the inefficiency of Auckland's public transport by 2023. Those living in the proposed greenfield housing developments on the outskirts of the city will also suffer through the lack of transport options. The obsession this Government has for bitumen is almost obscene.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Russel Explains Green Economics

Russel Norman spoke in support of the Public Finance (Fiscal Responsibility) Amendment Bill and while it wasn't supported by Labour (for what it didn't include), there were actually many positive elements. In his speech Russel highlighted the best parts of the bill and also explained how it could have been greatly improved through using a Green economic approach.

The fact that the bill promoted efficiency and fairness as major considerations in the development of revenue strategy, it would logically support progressive taxation and a capital gains tax. Since many of our wealthier citizens pay very little tax on much of their income then such taxation would more fairly share the tax load.

Recognising the interaction between fiscal and monetary policy was another positive element and, while this was the aspect that caused most concern for Labour, in Russel's view, the amended version covered the economic relationship between the two well. It makes sense that a more holistic approach to economic management is needed.

Russel also praised the inclusion of the consideration of the impacts on present and future generations. If much of our current legislation regarded impacts on future generations, as this should require legislators to do, we would have had quite different outcomes.

The aspect that Russel praised most was regarding the inclusion of an 'investment statement'. This would make it a statutory requirement to look beyond the turnover of the Crown's accounts and have an overview of all capital assets and liabilities. If we used a private household as an example, it would mean that rather than just focusing on income and expenditure over a year, there would need to be an assessment of the total assets of the household (i.e. equity status of the family home) and existing liabilities (i.e. car loan). When this is applied to the Crown, any government wouldn't just look at GDP, they would have to quantify the growth or otherwise of the nation's capital assets. Although it wasn't obviously intended as such, this could be used to limit the degradation of the Crown's assets for short term gain and would also have to include our levels of debt.

To me the most interesting part of Russel's speech was his explanation of how the Greens would have extended the scope of this bill beyond economic capital and included environmental and social capital.

If we included environmental capital it would mean that we would have to regard our natural resources in a similar way to capital assets. For example, the mining of a natural asset is a consumption that involves the degradation of our natural capital. There should be the ability to quantify the short term value of exploiting a resource and assessing the value of this in relation to the long term impact on our natural environment. There would need to be a long term strategy to ensure that what we consume today does not reduce our environmental capital to the extent that a future generation is unreasonably penalised. If, for example, a family farm is handed on to the next generation after the natural assets of the property have been badly degraded then it would create unnecessary future hardship and the continuing the practice would be increasingly unsustainable. To quote Russel from an earlier speech, "no water, no milk; no environment, no economy".

The same approach can be used with social capital, our people are an asset. It has already been estimated that child poverty could be costing the country between $6 and $8 billion a year and investing in our children would actually build useful social capital. A well educated and healthy population has economic value and spending wisely on health and education and building resilient communities will not only serve social needs, but it also makes good economic sense.

A well managed and healthy economy can't be achieved by just looking at income and expenditure and "balancing the books". A strong economy is one that has a healthy, skilled workforce with high levels of participation. A strong economy has abundant resources that are managed sustainably, and a strong economy is one that has low levels of debt and growing capital assets.

Currently we have high levels of poor health and poverty, a low waged workforce with concerningly low levels of participation (especially regarding our productive industry). Our environment is being rapidly degraded for short term gain, we have high levels of debt and we are desperately selling off our assets to overseas interests.

We need a Green Minister of Finance!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Poverty, Blaming Easier Than Fixing

I do think it is important to debate major issues confronting our country through public forums and involve influential and knowledgeable people. I remember in the 70s Brian Edwards used to front such programmes where an expert panel would debate an issue and a representative audience could also have opportunities to speak. These programmes were a great sharing of ideas and very informative. TV3's "The Vote" obviously was set up with a similar intention but I have been disturbed by how the format has actually limited robust discussion and ridiculously simplified the issues.

Last week the moot was, "Our kids: the problem's not poverty it's parenting".  It was painful to watch some highly respected and knowledgeable individuals having to argue a simplistic view rather than deal with the complex and varied reasons why many children are suffering in substandard environments.

Dr Russell Wills, our current Commissioner for Children, has been involved in leading a an expert advisory group in finding solutions to child poverty and was allowed only a few minutes to channel some of those findings and recommendations during the debate. He was obviously frustrated by the lack of opportunity to share the solutions that would probably make a difference.

Celia Lashlie has won recognition for using her experience as a prison officer to inform her writing and her last book "The Power of Mothers" is a must read for those who want to understand the reality for many struggling mothers. Celia quickly realised that the format would be counter productive to ensuring useful support for the mothers she is passionate about helping. She was concerned that if the vote favoured blaming parents it would become an excuse for the influential "middle class" and our decision makers to withdraw support from areas that would make a real difference.

Hone Harawira was passionate but unable to argue a narrow view, however he clearly described the levels of poverty and lack of well paid work for the people he represented. Northland has the lowest median income in the country and the highest levels of youth unemployment. 25% of 20-24 year olds are in the NEET category (not in education, employment or training) and a high proportion of people live on incomes less than $15,000 per annum.

The conservative panel of Christine Rankin, Bob McCroskrie and Hannah Tamaki argued that poor budgeting and not prioritising children was the heart of the problem. Hannah Tamaki even attempted to explain that if homes are cold and lacking in amenities then a warm blanket and love was sufficient to get by. Sadly this simplistic view won the debate with 63% of viewers.

The lack of well paid work, the rising costs of rent and power and the shocking levels of unhealthy, substandard and overcrowded homes that many families are forced to live can now be ignored. The median weekly income for Maori families is around $459 and for Pasifika, $390, considering that many are living on incomes less than this is should be a major concern.

Less affluent communities are also plagued by loan sharks and have far more liquor retailers, pokie machines and fast food outlets than more affluent communities. It is difficult enough to be poor but this government generally protects industries that take unfair advantage of poor families' vulnerability and does little to address the problems they cause.

John Key described poverty in a 2011 election debate as being "scared to open the bills" and this definition would probably include half of all families. I wonder how Christine Rankin would manage a common scenario for many when, after the rent and power bills have been paid, there is only $20 left to buy food for the week and one of the children needs a new pair of shoes? A blanket, love, good budgeting and a bowl of cereal just won't cover the deficits many families face.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Gareth Hughes in Invercargill

The Green Party's energy spokesperson is the very energetic Gareth Hughes. He is no longer the youngest MP in Parliament (that honour goes to National's Jami-Lee Ross), but with his boyish grin he claims he is the youngest looking. Gareth maybe younger than most of his parliamentary colleagues but he is already into his second term as an MP and is currently the Green Party Whip. Like all of our younger MPs, Gareth's apparent youth belies an intellect and knowledge that surprises those who challenge him. He is regarded as one of the few MPs in Parliament who actually spoke knowledgeably about the issues around the Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Amendment Bill and won a lot of support from the IT community for reflecting their concerns. Gareth's strong stance against poorly regulated fracking and deep sea oil drilling has also attracted strong negative attention from those who see New Zealand's future is in the extraction of fossil fuel.

Gareth escaped the Wintery blast that hit Wellington by coming down to Invercargill yesterday to talk with people at Venture Southland about the potential of our high quality silica and speak at a public meeting about the dangers of deep sea drilling.

Venture Southland have done a lot of useful background work on what is needed to take advantage of the 99% pure silica we have and develop an industrial complex that would be comparable to our aluminium smelter in employment opportunities and economic value. They have been surprised about the lack of interest being shown by this Government and as far as I know the Green Party is the only party that has engaged with Venture Southland about it. There has already been offshore interest in investing in a silica smelter here but, as with aluminum, silica has long term economic viability but does experience market fluctuations. Timing is important when setting up. The real value of the silica will be in the added value that could be achieved through making our own high quality products like solar panels. At the moment China has monopolised the photovoltaic industry, but the quality is mixed and there is a market for a reliable brand.

Given the potential of clean energy, and the readily available resources we have, it seems bizarre that the Government is so keen to encourage the extraction of more polluting energy sources in high risk environments. Gareth's presentation provided a reality check for those who thought a gas or oil discovery in the Great South Basin would bring much riches and employment. Per dollar earned, the oil industry creates far less jobs than most other industries, and many of those will come from outside the region. The Government also extracts far less in royalties than most other countries and as consumers we would still have to pay the market rate for the extracted fuel. At the same time the risks involved in deep sea drilling are huge. It cost Maritime New Zealand and other tax payer funded agencies almost $50 million to manage the oil from the wrecked Rena and a disaster similar to the recent one in the Gulf of Mexico cost tens of billions. The Government is only demanding $10 million in insurance from companies during the most risky exploration phase, a major catastrophe would have to be largely borne by us and would be economically as well as environmentally devastating. We don't have the physical resources to contain or manage a major rig disaster and by the time the necessary equipment arrived from overseas the damage would be well advanced

The Government's recent legislation and eagerness to put up vast areas of our ocean up for tender created an interesting loophole for the Green Party. Bidders for any of the areas up for grabs do not have to prove financial viability or past experience in drilling, but only present a plan. This approach will not only attract industry cowboys but it allowed the Green Party to make our own bid. The Kiwi Bid will not be providing a plan for extraction of any resource, but propose instead to do the opposite so that our beaches and marine based industries can be protected from possible harm. While it is unlikely that the current government will accept our bid, it does provide it a clear choice of activity and allows those who join the bid to make their feelings clear. So far over 7,000 people have supported the Kiwi bid and using this link, so can you.

See the interview with Gareth on Cue TV (it starts 6:25 minutes in).

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Manufacturing Crisis, Who to Believe?

The joint manufacturing report from the opposition parties was released at the same time that the Government was attempting to celebrate an economic upturn. For those who listen to the spin rather than looking at the detail it appears to be all rather confusing; the Government is celebrating an economic upturn that they claim is the result of their good management, while the opposition is claiming things aren't so good and major changes are needed.

It can't be denied that there is more economic activity than there has been in the previous few years but a closer look at what is driving this makes it clear that the recovery is patchy and probably not sustainable. Three main areas are supporting the current economic upturn; the Christcurch rebuild, Auckland's buoyant property market and our agricultural exports. If you are involved in the construction industry, property investment or the dairy industry, things are looking rosy, but if you are attempting to buy your first home or are trying to export high tech manufactured products then times are tough. This isn't a balanced recovery and the manufacturing report highlights the fact that if we want to really grow jobs and raise living standards in New Zealand then we have to do more to support our manufacturing sector. 

The government is supporting the easy money that is coming out of the dairy sector and is ignoring the fact that the industry may have already gone beyond a point of environmental sustainability. Rather than ensure that the existing dairy herds are being managed with minimal environmental impact, the government is spending up to $400 million on irrigation schemes and has decided to stop comprehensive environmental reporting. The recent drought was thought to be a precursor for future climate trends and for such a water dependent industry as dairying this should indicate some caution is needed when regarding future expansion. The number of jobs that will be generated from further growth in this industry may also be limited, farms are larger and less labour intensive and we seem to be employing greater numbers of imported workers. Due to the huge costs involved in buying and setting up dairy farms much of the income generated is profiting Australian Banks rather than increasing government revenue.   

The Christchurch recovery is also problematic in terms of broad benefits. Fletchers has a monopoly over the construction industry, and even more so with the demise of Mainzeal, and the lack of competition is causing delays, raising the costs of construction materials and driving down wages. The Canterbury region is also attempting to deal with the recent loss of over 4,000 workers from the industry and much of the needed workforce will be imported. Rather than most incomes of construction workers being spent locally, and boosting the domestic economy, many wage packets will leave the country. It also appears that the amount of money available to support the rebuild is being restricted with many insurance companies and EQC paying out less than what was expected and the Government is putting pressure on the Christchurch City Council to sell its assets. Rather than using an earthquake levy to help finance the recovery, as the Greens suggested, the Government has decided to continue to borrow and increase our already sizable public debt. 

The Auckland property market is seeing another bubble emerging with investors again seeing property as a lucrative area. At the same time we have a huge demand from lower income earners for affordable properties to buy or rent. With the Government supporting the reduction of compliance costs and opening up greenfield areas for development, we will still see developers continue to favour elite housing and support for a continuation of inflated prices. Already New Zealand's private debt is huge and the borrowing that will occur because of the current property boom will only increase as people are tempted to take on large mortgages.  

New Zealand desperately needs to develop a sustainable economy and the areas that are supporting the current recovery have obvious limitations. Investing more into high value exports would mean an increase in research and development and a growing demand for a skilled workforce. A stronger manufacturing sector would broaden our export base, leave us less reliant on one or two industries (the demise of one would be catastrophic).  The resulting growth of a higher skilled workforce would raise living standards, increase government revenue and boost the domestic economy. 

The major recommendations in the report just seem to be commonsense to me:

Recommendation 1: The government adopt macroeconomic settings that are supportive of manufacturing and exporting, including:
   a fairer and less volatile exchange rate through reforms to monetary policy;
   refocusing capital investment into the productive economy, rather than housing speculation; 
   and lowering structural costs in the economy, such as electricity prices.

Recommendation 2: New Zealand businesses are encouraged to innovate. Research and Development tax credits, with a stronger emphasis on development, should be introduced as part of a package for innovative manufacturing, supporting exports and quality jobs.

Recommendation 3: The Government adopt a national procurement policy that favours Kiwi-made and ensures that New Zealand manufacturers enjoy the same advantages as their international competitors.

John Key and his Government are desperate to present a positive spin on the state of the economy, but in doing so they are not telling the full story and are promoting false hopes. It is good luck rather than good management that has got us through the last four years and it won't be long until even luck will be in short supply. With its huge investments in uneconomic motorways and subsidising the dairy industry (with its grand irrigation schemes and changing the ETS) it is obvious that no lessons were learned from the demise of Solid Energy. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

PaCT and the Devil

By announcing the mandating of the PaCT assessment tool in 2015, this Government has finally managed to line their National Standards' ducks in a row and satisfy a major element of their GERM (Global Education Reform Movement) agenda. This decision now means New Zealand will no longer lead the world with its child centered teaching and learning approach and will shift to a nationalised assessment regime that has failed in the UK, US and other countries ranked well beneath us. We haven't learned from the experience of others, including Australia, that found that national testing regimes did not have a positive effect on achievement.

The online PaCT tool (National Standards Progress and Consistancy Tool) was never designed, or initially intended, as a system of national assessment. It was designed as just another tool that teachers could use to check the accuracy of their overall teacher judgements. Many schools agreed to trial the system as they could see the benefits of having an online tool that could be used for some children and support the range of other assessments available to them.

The teaching profession has long recognised that a single assessment provides a limited perspective on a child's achievement and multiple measures provide broader coverage and will be more likely to establish the level a child is working at and what the next learning steps should encompass. It is important to recognise that no child is alike and certain assessments can be more useful than others when related to different children, especially in a multi-cultural country like New Zealand. Doctors do not rely on a single test to establish the overall health of patients and neither should teachers.

Once a single assessment is used to compare all children and schools and measure teacher performance  (as this PaCT tool will inevitably be used to do) we will create a high stakes system that will shift the focus from the needs of children. Despite the fact that other assessment systems will still exist PaCT will become the most important one and teaching will naturally shift to ensuring that children will do well in it. This will narrow teaching to the requirements of the test, and create high levels of stress for children, parents, teachers and schools. The potential that exists in our National Curriculum and its holistic approach will not be realised and important learning areas such as Science, Technology and the Arts will suffer further.

The current National Standards data (despite its flaws) just revealed what teachers already knew, achievement levels are closely related to the decile of the school and those children who are come from environments affected by poverty will do less well than kids from affluent backgrounds. Teachers and schools can make a difference but research has shown that of all the factors influencing a child's achievement, a teacher contributes only 10%.

When the PaCT results are aggregated into the inevitable league tables, and are used to compare schools, then the data will gain a significance well beyond what they really represent. Teachers and schools will be reluctant to take on children with high needs or those who will have a negative impact on test scores. Teachers will be reluctant to teach in low decile schools as unfair judgements will be made on their professional abilities based on the test scores of their children.

If this Government is really serious about their priority of lifting the achievement of Maori and Pasifika children and improving education delivery then they should invest in professional development and properly resourcing schools, not high stakes assessment systems. Mandating PaCT may sound perfectly reasonable to those not involved in education but the devil is in the detail.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Crisis Management Governance Failing

Listening to Tim Groser on Q+A this morning just emphasised how little forward planning this Government does. Despite being very open about the fact that we probably lack diplomatic capacity and admitting we need more mandarin speakers when dealing with China, it does make me wonder why more hasn't been done to rectify this before now. Whether it be Novopay or the certification blunder that held up our meat shipments, it was poorly performing bureaucracy that caused the problems. While the Government is quick to blame officials and claim that in retrospect things could be done differently, this doesn't absolve it from responsibility.

Since 2008 the National led Government has not focused on building capacity and performance in the state sector, but saving money. It has been apparent in all ministries and state departments that  reductions in funding have been based on arbitrary decisions rather than ones that have been strategically managed or based on performance reviews and future needs. The fact that many sacked staff have had to be re-employed as expensive consultants to cover skill deficits supports this view. Arbitrary cost cutting often results in unintended consequences that then have negative economic impacts.

This Government also seems to think that improving the capacity of our state services is just about telling people to work harder and getting tougher on those who don't perform. Many state service CEOs have been employed to manage cost efficiencies rather than lifting performance and this was especially true for ACC chief, Ralph Stewart, who did exactly as he was asked to do in reducing expenditure but had to resign because of the human consequences. Lesley Longstone's short stint as the Secretary of Education came to an abrupt end because she was employed to implement private models of education but had no understanding of our public system.

If one wants to lift performance of a department or sector there has to be an understanding of what needs to be done and that there are appropriate levels of skilled staff to do the work. It is up to Government Ministers to ensure that they are up to speed with their portfolios and ensure they have the necessary information on which to base decisions. They are also charged with employing the right people into leadership roles. It is not just Lesley Longstone or Ralph Stewart's fault that things turned to custard under their leadership, much of the blame should rest with the Government that employed them in the first place. The Government has seriously misjudged what was really important for the effective management of ACC and Education. In both cases an ideological stance had influenced the appointments rather than an informed approach based on readily available evidence.

Too many decisions are now reactionary ones resulting from a crisis and a little bit of prior planning and prioritised investment would have avoided costly emergency measures. We see the human consequences of an under-skilled and poorly staffed  EQC, we are seeing a $24 million blowout in costs related to Novopay, we are having a housing crisis that needs attention and we are urgently having to feed thousands of children arriving to school hungry. In each case the crisis could have been predicted and much of it averted if we had acted faster and were properly prepared. The biggest of all crises confronting us is climate change and again delaying action will only cost us dearly in the future.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Hekia Parata, Mid Term Report

Hekia Parata stepped her high heels gingerly over of what remained of New Zealand's public education system (battered by funding cuts, Novopay failures, sacked advisory services, recent closure announcements, bullying implementation of ideological systems and a struggling Ministry) and sat before microphones and cameras. With practiced composure and a broad smile she announced that the latest National Standards results revealed a "small but incremental increase in reading, writing and mathematics".

The way Parata presented the information one could believe that the data arrived from the heavens and was inscribed in stone and was not derived from roughly moderated teacher judgments and testing systems that had recently been scaled upwards. For all we know the small but incremental increase could just as easily have been a 10% drop in achievement, the data is so flawed.

For teachers to hear this Education Minister appearing to take credit for the apparent gains in achievement and then condescendingly suggesting areas that needed improvement, it was almost too much to bear. Most of us would love to present a report on the Minister's own achievement and I have constructed my own here (based on real evidence):


Name: Hekia Parata

Level: Minister 

CONSULTATION: Well below the standard (see Ombudsman report

EVASIVE ANSWERS: Well above the standard (see recorded example)

STAFF MANAGEMENT: Well below the standard (difficult relationships in office and Ministry)

SPECIAL NEEDS: Well below the standard (Salisbury School judicial review)

PRIVATE SCHOOLS: Well above the standard (always given priority over public schools)

MAORI / PASIFIKA: Well below the standard (many successful initiatives had funding cuts)

LEADERSHIP / OVERSIGHT: Well below the standard (Novopay glaring example)

Comment: Hekia Parata has an excellent vocabulary and is an expressive speaker but she needs to understand that her speeches still need substance and she must try harder to connect with her audience. Hekia has been accused of bullying behaviour and needs to develop greater empathy for those less fortunate than herself. Hekia must take responsibility for her own actions and remember that great things can happen through co-operating with others.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Climate Losing to Partisan Politics

The news event of the moment is whether Peter Dunn really did leak confidential information or did he just momentarily let his guard down because of the attentions of a young female journalist. While politicians and journalists are falling over themselves to take advantage of the situation or catch the next piece of juicy gossip, worrying stuff is happening elsewhere.

Extreme flooding has hit central Europe effecting Poland, Germany, Czech Republic and Austria. Flood waters four times higher than normal have resulted in many deaths and tens of thousands having to leave their homes. People have described unusual tropical weather during a period that is normally very dry.

A series of devastating tornadoes are wrecking havoc through the central US only days after dozens were killed by a massive twister in Oklahoma.

The past year has seen multiple weather records:
  • Jerusalem saw more snow fall than over a decade and heavy rain saw flooding in parts of the Middle East.
  • The Australian Bureau of Meteorology reported the hottest temperatures ever recorded and had to invent a new colour for the weather maps to accommodate temperatures over 50 degrees celsius.
  • China recorded its coldest Winter in decades with temperatures regularly below -40. 
  • In the first week of January Northern India suffered extreme cold causing the deaths of over a hundred people.
  • Southern Brazil and Northern Argentina experienced temperatures amongst the hottest ever recorded.
  • New Zealand experienced one of our worst ever droughts and farmers are being advised to begin expecting such events as "the new normal".
  • 2012 was declared as the wettest Britain has experienced since records began.
The volatility of the world's weather has seen events that were once considered as something occurring every hundred years happening several times over the past decade. The climate change that scientists have been warning about is actually being experienced ahead of predictions. With carbon levels in our atmosphere passing 400 ppm in May, we are now well past the 350 ppm that was assessed to be the safe upper limit to avoid a climate tipping point. 

Despite the scientific evidence and the physical realities of the dangerous situation we are in, most world governments are still supporting the fossil fuel industry that is causing most of the atmospheric damage. One of the worst Governments is our own. We have now abandoned Kyoto, made the ETS totally ineffective, allowed cheap carbon units into the country and are actively creating new coal mines and subsidising oil exploration.

Kennedy Graham is resolutely questioning the Government's policies around climate change and continues to get a similar answer: why should we sacrifice our economy when other countries pollute more than us? The fact that we have one of the worst levels of emissions per capita is conveniently ignored. Kennedy has even presented a strong economic argument to show that the effects of climate change is actually costing economies far more than the measures that would mitigate it, but to no avail.

Kennedy convened a conference on climate change last Friday (7 June) where he had invited leading scientists, farmers, politicians, foresters and business people. This was a well attended and informative conference and yet National MPs refused to attend. Kennedy was disappointed at their attitude and had the view that because Climate Change is a global ecological crisis, it is far more important than petty partisan politics.

Bob McKibben, founder of is currently touring New Zealand with his documentary "Do the Math" where he demonstrates that the numbers that describe our current situation can't be ignored. This is a not to be missed event if you really care about our future:

    Auckland – Tuesday, 11 June, Epsom Girls Grammar School Hall, 7-8.30pm
    Dunedin – Wednesday, 12 June, venue tbc
    Wellington – Thursday, 13 June, The Embassy Theatre, 7-8.30pm

Many smaller centres are setting up video links or showing the documentary and I will be attending the Invercargill showing tomorrow evening.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Greens Play Hardball!

We are six months away from election year and the political missiles are already being fired thick and fast. The fact that the Green Party is being heavily targeted by both National and right leaning journalists is a good sign that our Party has finally made it as a political force. We should be celebrating.

The last two elections it was difficult to get any media time at all and even though we ran a strong campaign and were the third largest party in 2011, it was Winston who hogged the TV with his drip fed revelations about the "tea cups" saga.

During the last election National flirted with the Greens as a potential coalition partner, they actually saw us as a more stable and rational group than the fractious Act Party and for three years our memorandum of understanding delivered some useful stuff (including home insulation, cycle tracks and the Tui Mine clean up). Our Party hasn't changed but National's tactics have. When we publicly declared an interest in a coalition with Labour, National almost wiped the home insulation scheme and, despite its obvious success, has scaled it back (it is interesting that they often mention the scheme as one of their main strategies to deal with poverty).

Now the Greens can do nothing right in the eyes of National Party Ministers, every other answer during question time ends with a derogatory reference to the Greens. It is obvious that they see us as a real threat.

The attacks on the Greens are verging on hysterical, especially when most of the policies we espouse are actually fairly mainstream and most have already been adopted by other OECD countries. It is National that is actually beginning to look out of step with the rest of the world. Whether it be a Capital Gains Tax, bank deposit insurance, addressing child poverty, the Kyoto Protocol, or even Quantitative Easing the possible solutions promoted by the Greens are widely used and conventional responses.

There have been extreme and bizarre reactions from Key and his Ministers, rather than directly comment on the Green solutions they have resorted to personal attacks and abuse. While Key is happy to defend and support John Banks, he feels comfortable referring to the Greens as "wacky, extreme, unusual". The Green's plan of managing electricity pricing was likened to something out of North Korea and was called "barking mad". Strangely the Government supports a very similar system in Pharmac, to manage prescription drug prices.

One National MP even accused the Greens of being dishonest because we were straying from our supposed core role of just commenting on environmental issues. He expressed the view that we had no mandate to meddle into social policy or economics and should stick to saving trees and snails.

It has been most entertaining to see the responses to Russel's AGM speech when he likened Key to Muldoon, it was very much the reaction one would expect when a playground bully meets someone who hits back. Russel got a similar response when he dared question the impartiality of Dr Brent Layton. It appears that the Green Party's refusal to turn the other cheek when under attack has unsettled many.

National is also desperately trying to label the Greens as "far-left" and the word communist is often used on right wing blogs. This is scaremongering in the extreme and one wonders if the dancing cossacks will make another appearance (yet another similarity between Key and Muldoon?). While Russel Norman is being widely lauded for being able to understand and articulate mainstream economics and business spokesperson David Clendon is traveling around the country supporting private enterprises, the far-left tag seems well off mark and a little desperate.

It isn't just Russel who has unsettled the Right, our Co-leader Metiria is also standing firm. Her blistering attack on John Banks and his Charter Schools gave him some of his own medicine (he regularly makes personal attacks on the Greens in his speeches) and he didn't like it. Interestingly his sexist references to Metiria's appearance were upheld by the speaker despite most women in the chamber standing because of the offense it caused.

All Green MPs are delivering intelligent and well researched rebuttal of the Government's failing policies and National is unable to respond in a similar vein.

By amalgamating the messages of the hysterical right we can summarise their spin:

The watermelon Greens led by a ginger headed Australian communist and his lipstick covered co-leader and their team of old fogies and young dudes are planning to subject the country to policies developed in North Korea. The Greens are going to use photocopiers to print truckloads of money and subject the country to other wacky and barking mad schemes. The Greens are devious and nasty and should never be given the reins of power. 

While National's loyal followers believe every word of this nonsense and repeat it ad nauseum, most thinking voters will see it for what it is, the desperate dying throes of a Government well passed its use by date!