Showing posts from October, 2013

Pedalling Backwards on Climate Change

Kennedy Graham was in Invercargill this evening as part of his tour around the provinces where he is sharing the Green vision of a future New Zealand economy that could better manage our responsibilities around climate change: "The Great Transformation".

Kennedy explained how we can approach change in a more positive way, instead of avoiding the issue as the current National led Government has done. Although there is a target of reducing emissions by 50% by 2050, we have actually been seeing a steady increase. This has largely been because of the Government's disengagement and deliberate weakening of the ETS. Our current situation is dire, thanks to National we have:
Refused to sign phase two of the Kyoto protocol to avoid the financial penalties of not meeting our targets.Weakened the ETS by refusing to include farming as originally planned and allowed cheap Eastern European carbon credits into the country that dropped the price to such a low level that they no longer p…

Overblown Management Salaries Not Being Earned

Fonterra's independent inquiry into the botulism scare made 33 recommendations to improve on current practice. One area that was identified was the "lack of senior oversight for crucial decisions". Fonterra's last boss grossed over $40 million over his eight years heading the company and was paid an $8.2 million golden handshake when he finished. 26 Fonterra managers earned over a million dollars each over the previous year and a number of them would have had some part in overseeing the botulism incident and the fact that it was managed so badly is concerning.

It has been very apparent that during the so called recession we have seen a tight reign on wage increases but some spiraling increases for managers and CEOs. The number of high profile company and department heads and well paid boards of governors who have failed to provide the oversight they are paid to do is a regularly reported phenomenon:

Lesley Longstone, mismanagement of Novopay, increasing class size pr…

Challenging Our Constitution

Otago University academic Professor Janine Hayward has written a great overview of New Zealand's Constitution and the need for a robust conversation.

Prof Hayward loves to challenge her students with the frightening reality of what is constitutionally possible:

"If Parliament decides to forcibly take the babies of beneficiary parents into state care, it can, if it has 51% support in Parliament."

While many may consider this a shocking possibility and not likely to happen, we need only to look at Labour's Seabed and Foreshore legislation where a Labour Government removed indigenous rights to gain popular support. This year the National led Government removed the legal rights of family carers of the disabled. They passed an Act that capped the number of families who can be paid for looking after a family member, limited the level of those payments, denied spouses rights to be paid and specifically prevented anyone testing these issues in a court. Breeches of human rig…

Government Generosity Overwhelming

Struggling families welcomed the recent news that the minimum family tax credit will be increased by $1 dollar a week. Revenue Minister Todd McLay explained how working families, who qualify for the minimum family tax credit, will see their after tax annual income increase by $52. Mr McLay wished to ensure that working families were rewarded for being in work and that their incomes were adjusted to meet any increases in inflation.

This would make a real difference to these families' weekly budget and address the fact that median family income has been dropping. Maori and Pasifika families were also pleased to hear about the increase as they had experienced the biggest income loss over the last few years. The median income for Maori families had dropped $40 dollars a week over the past four years and $65 dollars for Pasifika families. The $1 increase was a move in the right direction.

One family (who wished to remain anonymous) had already written a list of things that they could …

Data Culture and the Forgotten Kids.

I was working with a school principal this morning to organise our local function for newly registered teachers. After the organisational stuff was dealt with we discussed the worrying trends occurring in education and the effect it is having on our children.

This Government came into power with one very clear goal - raise the achievement of the educational tail. They identified a group comprising 20% (debated) of all children who were failing to meet minimal levels of achievement and they determined that a high percentage of these children were Maori or Pasifika.

Their method was clear, they would introduce an assessment system across all children (including the 80% of children who were succeeding) and the resulting data would better identify struggling children and enable them to target resourcing to where it was most needed. This was the vision.

Our whole education system has been shaped into one huge data collection machine. All teaching and testing has shifted from the needs of …

Ethics Exit and Carter's Credibility Crashes

The National led Government is taking a battering at the moment, and for good reason, yet the Speaker is doing his best to protect it. Since first coming to power there have been numerous examples of decisions and behaviour that raised concerns about National's understanding of ethics and morality. Since I wrote an earlier post titled 15 Ethical "Fails" Under National there have been a number more. The Skycity judgement revealed poor process and an unfair advantage and Hekia Parata has been found wanting in two legal cases that demonstrated a lack of proper consultation and diligence involving school closures.

The issue of the moment is National's blindness to the obvious conflict of interest that John Banks has regarding his vote on the Skycity deal. Metiria's questioning of the Prime Minister's views on the matter put Key on a back foot. The logic of Metiria's argument was irrefutable and his mumbled responses lacked his usual bravado.

At one point Met…

National's Chickens Coming Home to Roost

When National grasped the reigns of power they had two agendas, their neoliberal semi-secret one and their public one.

Their secret agenda was well described in Nicky Hager's The Hollow Men and it hasn't changed much from the Brash vision pre 2005. The National Party is no longer the broad church it was in the 1960s; champions of small business, farmers and rural New Zealand. Over the last twenty years it has become much more an enthusiastic advocate for big business and their door is always open to well paid PR people and corporate lobbyists.

National never campaigned on giving large tax cuts to the wealthy, gifting tens of millions to private schools and providing corporate subsidies to the likes of Warner Bros, Rio Tinto and Sky City, but it happened anyway. Making sure employment law favoured employers and further marginalizing unions was also a secret priority, as was removing impediments to business developments by weakening environmental protections and limiting commun…

Local Bodies and the Green Tide

For the first time the Green Party supported local body candidates under our green banner. There were three reasons for doing this:
We had the resources and local structures to support a local body campaign.Local body issues are also green issues; waste management, transport, housing, land and resource use, planning and environmental management, climate change, community development...There is greater public acceptance of the Greens as a reliable political force. We also ensured that we had quality candidates and all those who wanted to stand for us had to go through a similar robust selection process that we use for our national election candidates. Local body representatives do not have the same level of support and resourcing as our MPs so we needed to insure that our candidates had a good understanding of their roles and that there was solid support from their local Green branches. 
Local body elections have shown declining levels of participation and reason for this has been wide…

CTU Conference and the Importance of Unions

I have been a member of a union for over thirty years and have had leadership roles for half of that time, but recently attended my first CTU conference. The impression many have of unions is shaped by those who oppose them and that manipulated image would have been challenged for anyone who had the opportunity to be there. The conference wasn't full of card carrying communists in cloth caps, around fifty percent were women and some of the largest attending affiliates consisted of professional people. Only 20% of workers are now represented by a union and those not represented are most likely to be on the lowest wages and in casual work.

It is now 100 years since the Great Strike when Massey's Cossacks were used against the striking watersiders.  Unions had not had a long history in New Zealand at that time, with the New Zealand Federation of Labour only being formed four years before. It is important to remember the appalling conditions that many workers were subjected to at…

More Illegal Behaviour Linked to Parata

A High Court Judge decided today that the process used to close down a Christchurch school was illegal.  It was obvious from the very beginning of the process to close and merge Christchurch schools that the Minister had an idealogical agenda and did not want a high level of community or school involvement. An Ombudsman had been so concerned by the shoddy process that he did his own investigation and the Chief Ombudsman, Beverly Wakem, is currently carrying out a more comprehensive inquiry.

Christchurch schools had become battle weary, not only were they trying to hold things together and maintain a stable environment for children and families after the earthquake, but they had endured the forced implementation of National Standards and the Novopay debacle. It was difficult for them to find the extra energy to engage in the truncated consultation and submission process that the Minister forced upon them.

One school did somehow find the energy to fight back. Tony Simpson, Principal of…

The Dairy Dilemma

The growth of dairy industry in New Zealand has been likened to a gold rush. Production has risen 77% over the past twenty years and the number of dairy cattle has doubled (3 million in 1989 to 6 million in 2009). The total export value of the dairy industry has increased by over $5 billion in the last four years ($15.5 predicted for this year). We only account for 2% of total world milk production but because we have a small population, and domestic consumption is limited, New Zealand accounts for around one third of cross-border trade in dairy products.

Sadly there is a downside to dairy expansion, the cost to the New Zealand environment has been considerable. In many regions the growth of the industry has been so dramatic that it caught local authorities on the hop and there were not the regulatory controls or monitoring systems in place to manage the growth. In Southland many dairy farms were consented on land not suited for the purpose and water quality plummeted to the extent t…

Don Lamont 1922-2013, A Great Southern Man

My relationship with Don was a brief one. His book lined home in Gore became the meeting base for Coal Action Murihiku. He was a welcoming host and an enthusiastic supporter of our cause. It was always hard to believe he was over ninety years young. Yesterday was Don's funeral and I became fully aware of the true greatness of the man.

Words that often came up when friends and family spoke of him included: loyal, compassionate, thinker, writer, activist, wise, determined, original and spiritual. He was a man for whom the environment and social justice dominated his life and while he was a natural leader it was always the cause, not self promotion, at the forefront. A great example of Dons humility was in his book The Wind to Ride: Fifty Years of IHC in Southland wherehe documents the history of the organisation in Southland, yet never mentions himself as a founder and driving force behind it.

Don was also an active and leading member of Forest and Bird and Men of the Trees. When h…

Education and the Importance of Creativity

I am currently attending the annual conference of the New Zealand Educational Institute. Our keynote speaker was Prof Yong Zhao an internationally regarded scholar, author and speaker. Prof Zhao is an elected fellow of the International Academy for Education and was named as one of the ten most influential people in educational technology by the Tech and Learn Magazine. His speech was strongly critical of most education systems and especially those that use national standards and competitive assessment systems.

Prof Zhao explained how modern economies now operate has meant that we need to have a different approach to teaching and learning to best prepare our students to be successful in the current and future employment environments. Increased mechanisation has seen the end of mass jobs in the manufacturing sector and a growing need for those who have creative and entrepreneurial skills. Far more people are self employed or work in service industries and there is a huge increase in j…