Thursday, January 31, 2013

More Jobs Lost From Struggling Sheep Industry


When I last attended a Federated Farmers meeting a farmer, when hearing I was a Green Party spokesperson, asked me aggressively when I had last set foot on a farm. I had to agree that it had been a few months and I don't pretend to be a farming expert. I spent my childhood in a farming community and for a number of years taught in country schools. I was even the vice president and newsletter editor of a Young Farmers Club. I talk a lot to farmers and am genuinely interested in what they do and the difficulties they have. Despite all of this there is still much that I don't fully understand, especially the slow demise of our sheep industry.

New Zealand was once best known as the land of the sheep and Aussies had a name for us related to this. When I was younger and lived at Bluff there were a number of thriving freezing works in Southland, including the local one, Ocean Beach. The impressive "meat loaders" at the Port of Bluff enabled thousands of meat carcasses to be loaded onto ships and employment in this industry was so strong that many people shifted down here for jobs.


In the 60s and 70s homes covered their floors with an Axminster or a Bremworth, all with that wonderful wool symbol on the corner. Kids went to school in Winter with knitted jerseys made by their mum or grandma. Our paddocks will full of Romneys or Border Leicesters, with Merino's wandering our hill country and Sunday dinner was always a mutton roast. What we farmed, ate, walked on and wore was dominated by the sheep.

Recently we looked at buying a new carpet and were shown the range available in one shop. It has been sometime since I have bought a carpet so I naively wanted confirmation that all we had looked at were made of wool. It turned out none of them were and although they had some woollen carpets most were synthetic. You rarely see kids wearing wool at school now and many are shivering in cheap Chinese sweatshirts on frosty Winter days. It is now cheaper to buy such garments than knit something. The Sunday roast is probably a forgotten and largely historical part of our social history (I can hear the Vegans cheering in the background).

The Ocean Beach Freezing Works (1891-1991) has long closed and others are in the process of downsizing and we have recently lost a number of woollen mills in Christchurch, Milton and Oamaru. Hundreds of jobs are being lost and smaller communities are losing their largest employers.

I have an idea why this has happened but farmers have told me that the old Wool Board has struggled to be as effective as Fonterra has been for the milk industry. The Wool Board and its marketing arm Wools of New Zealand no longer dominate and lead the New Zealand wool industry as we now have New Zealand Wool Services International as our largest wool exporter but is 75% owned by the Melbourne based company Lempriere. Most of the wool clip leaves New Zealand in a greasy, scoured or slipe form, only 10% is fully processed in New Zealand or made into yarn (and now probably even less with the closure of the mills).

Our lamb and mutton exports have also suffered since their heyday in the 60s when we exported around 150,000 tonnes (170,000 tons) of lamb a year compared to the 2011-12 year when less than 10,000 tonnes were exported. I do understand that we lost a major market when Britain joined the Common Market, but it is incredible how little is now exported.

What I have difficulty understanding is how our Government has stood aside and watched what was a core industry slowly die because of haphazard marketing and international branding, loss of local control and a high dollar (which is largely behind the mill closures). Green party Co-Leader Metira Turei chastised the Government for the loss of the jobs because of  a "...devotion to a failed monetary policy and its unwillingness to change with the times."

The advantages and potential of wool as clothing, carpets and for furnishing are compelling and the likes of Icebreaker and Swanndri have proven a demand for good woollen products, even if they have outsourced their manufacture. It appalls me that the Government is pulling out all stops to support dairy expansion with new irrigation schemes and enthusiastically promoting coal mining while our traditional industries languish through lack of support rather than lack of potential.


When Dr Ganesh Nana presented BERLs Report on potential growth areas for Southland's economy, dairying didn't feature. When questioned about this Dr Nana suggested putting all of our energy into only one agricultural industry didn't make economic sense. "How many dairy farms are enough?" he asked. There is economic strength and resilience in diversity.

Obviously much blame can be laid at the feet of the wool and meat industries themselves but I do wonder why so little has come from the Government, especially when thousands of jobs will be lost. Its reliance on milk rather than supporting a diverse and innovative agricultural economy is dangerous, as was recently shown with the DCD scare. If our milk exports fall over because of international perceptions of a health risk, no matter how false, it would be the death nell for our already struggling, under developed economy.




Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Who is Hekia's Secret Education Advisor?


Official papers have revealed that the Government ignored both Treasury's and the Education Ministry's advice regarding the integration of a private school. Wanganui Collegiate provides for around 420 pupils in an attractive, but exclusive Christian environment. It required $3.8 million dollars to bail it out and bring it into the state sector and will cost around $3 million a year to keep it open. Both Treasury and the Ministry were concerned at both the cost of the bailout and the damage that will be done to the existing state schools where there are already 1400 empty places.

The Government, the Minister and the Ministry claim that their main education priority is lifting the achievement of Maori and Pasifika children and yet this government has pulled out all stops to support a small group of privileged children. The package works out at about $9,000 dollars per student and considerably more than the yet to be delivered extra assistance they promised for struggling children identified by the National Standards. I am sure that the Collegiate families will still be expected to pay substantial fees that will continue to maintain the school's exclusive status, but with the added bonus of state support.

Half of the National Party MPs send their children to private schools, including John Key himself, and it was no surprise when, in their first year in office, they increased private school funding by $35 million (even though only 4% of all students attend them). It was interesting that the Ministry of Education had its funding cut by $25 million shortly after.

We now have evidence that the Government ignores the advice of education academics, ignores the Principals Federation, ignores parents and school communities, ignores the Treasury and ignores the Ministry. So it begs the question, "whose advice do they listen to regarding education?"

I think Gerry Brownlee's response to Julie Anne Genter's attempt to produce evidence for his decisons regarding the RONS is telling. Brownlee produced no evidence, he just believed that they were a good idea.

The secret education advisor is probably no education oracle but Hekia Parata sitting alone in her office (she has difficulty keeping staff) and consulting deeply with herself. Her self-belief must be as compelling as John Banks' to be able to continue in her role when all evidence shows it isn't justified.   When education should be led in by someone with knowledge, empathy and compassion we have been  lumbered with a narcissistic autocrat instead.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Feral Rich Are Destroying Our Civilised Society


The latest New Internationlist has published statistics regarding the world's wealthy and the increasing divide between rich and poor. They refer to the "Feral Rich" and ask, "what can we do to stop them?"
  • 8% of the world's population own 82% of its wealth.
  • There are now 180 more billionaires than before the global financial crash.
  • The world's richest man is Carlos Slim and his total wealth is $69 billion (the New Zealand Government's annual income is 70 billion).
  • The world's richest woman is Australian mining heiress Gina Rinehart. She is worth $28 billion and she has $52 million a day to survive on.
  • The average household wealth in the world declined by 5.2% over the last year.
  • The 400 richest Americans have a combined wealth of $1.7 trillion
  • In 1980 the average US CEO earned 42 times as much as the average worker and by 2012 this had skyrocketed to 380 times.
  • The top rate of US income tax in 1980 was 70% and in 2012 it was 35%.
  • Mitt Romney and his wife pay 14.1% of their income in tax, while the average worker pays 30%.
  • $21 trillion is stashed away in tax havens which is the equivalent of the entire US and Chinese economies combined.
  • In the US 47% of the members of Congress are millionaires.
  • 62% of British cabinet ministers are millionaires.
New Zealand reflects what is happening in the rest of the world but our income inequality is growing faster than most.
  • Our 100 richest New Zealanders have a combined wealth of $52 billion.
  • Our richest saw their incomes increase by an average of 20% in 2011
  • Over the past four years the median income for Maori families has dropped by $40 a week and Pasifika families have seen a drop of $65.
  • The median weekly income in New Zealand (from all sources) is $550, many obviously live on much less.
  • The median rent for a 3 bedroom house in Auckland is $370 a week and rents across the country increased by $10 over the past year.
  • Tax evasion cost the Government $6 billion while benefit fraud cost around $39 million.
While the rich have got richer around the world, most are paying far less in tax and most governments are struggling to pay for core government services and infrastructure. Many rich, including writer J K Rowling are happy to pay tax because of the support they received from the state early in their careers. They also believe that tax is the price to pay for a civilised society. Would a truly civilised society stand back and watch 25% of their children live in poverty? Would a civilized society have their elderly live in rest homes that can't pass minimum standards of care and pay the minimum rate for their workers (one of our wealthiest New Zealanders, Kevin Hickman, owns rest homes and his personal wealth increased by $15 million last year)? 

The fact that Governments and most people of the world struggle to manage on their incomes is not because there isn't enough money in the world, it's because the world's wealth has been captured by a few and they refuse to share. Many Governments are guilty of perpetuating this wealth capture by lowering taxes and not standing firm to lobbyists.  

Sunday, January 27, 2013

John Key's Housing Solutions


I have said a number of times that I wish we had a Clarke and Dawe in New Zealand to poke fun at the extraordinary thinking exhibited by our National led Government. If we did we could see something like this (only Clarke would obviously do it better)...

Interviewer, Greg Floyd: Thank you for agreeing to this interview, Prime Minister, so soon after returning from your holiday.

PM, John Key: Aloha, Greg, its good to be back. I was actually getting a little bit tired of constant sun, swimming and socialising with Hollywood moguls. I would have returned even earlier, but the body guards seemed to be having so much fun.

Greg: You took your diplomatic security squad with you on holiday?

PM: Not the full squad, only ten of them this time. The opposition made such a fuss about the blowout in their budget I had to cut their numbers this year. A bit sad really as we regard them as part of our family and they do a great job of keeping our kids entertained by letting them play with their guns.

Greg: You have just announced further initiatives to address the housing shortage, this hasn't been prompted by the housing policies announced by Labour and the Greens?

PM: Not at all Greg, we have already instigated a number of things to address problems around housing. My Ministers were having a terrible time finding decent houses in Wellington and early on I made sure that they had $40,000 a year to sort out that crisis. Obviously the wider issues are lack of land and too many compliance demands from councils. I have told the Auckland City Council that they have to make life easier for developers and we are making more land available in some of the nicer residential areas by shifting off state housing.

Greg: I'm sorry, Prime Minister, don't we need more state housing? How is this a solution?

PM: We don't have a state housing shortage, this is just a myth dreamed up by the "print more money brigade" and Labour. The people I talk to are crying out for property investment opportunities and some of these state houses are pulling down the values of the properties around them and valuable developments, it's disgraceful.

Greg: But isn't one of the problems in our economy an over-investment in property and a shortage of cheaper housing?

PM: Most of my friends got rich through investment in property, it is a perfectly legal and a decent way to earn a living. As for cheaper housing, 3,000 new homes are being built in Hobsonville Point and I have put my foot down and insisted that at least 10% will be sold for less than $485,000.

Greg: Are you saying that this is lower cost housing?

PM: For Hobsonville it is, even a school teacher could afford one (except they may have problems with their mortgage payments if we don't sort out Novapay).

Greg: Do you really think lowering compliance costs for developers and fast-tracking developments will produce a lot of lower cost housing?

PM: Not at all, but a lot of my mates are on my back because their latest developments are taking more than a month to process, it's really frustrating for them. We don't actually need more lower cost housing, I have seen some wonderful homes that people have made out of garages and when we raise the petrol tax many will become available to convert into houses.

Greg: With respect, Prime Minister none of your initiatives sound like they will help many of our Pasifika and Maori families who are having to live in overcrowded homes.

PM: Again this is just more nonsense from the losers of the left. Pasifika and Maori families chose to have more than one family sharing a house, its a cultural thing. We don't have the homeless problems of the rest of the world and people living in cardboard boxes, Skyline Garages are luxury in comparison.

Greg: So let me get this right, Prime Minister, we need more land available to developers, less compliance costs and need to fast track consents, but this is mainly for the higher cost housing?

PM: That's right.

Greg: And your solution for cheaper housing is to convert garages?

PM: Yes, it's part of a wider strategy. If we raise petrol taxes many lower wage earners won't be able to afford to run their cars and not only will we remove congestion from the roads but we instantly have a housing solution. Brilliant, eh?



Thursday, January 24, 2013

Shaping Southland's Future Without Lignite


The last 12 months has seen a lot of water flow under the bridge and not just because we have had more than our fair share of rain over the last few weeks. A year ago we held the first Leave the Coal in the Hole Summer Festival and the situation for both the Coal Action Network Aotearoa and Solid Energy couldn't be more different. Last year Solid Energy were poised to rip up the Mataura Valley and turn the area into one of the biggest industrial sites in New Zealand while the Coal Action Network was largely unknown and our camp was under heavy police and security surveillance.

This year Solid Energy's ledgers are full of red ink and their first lignite venture (the briquetting plant) has gone through several managers and its completion is months behind schedule. Even the mining lobby organisation Straterra has suggested that the use of lignite is looking "less alluring".

The Coal Action Network and the local group Coal Action Murihiku (CAM) have established themselves in the Southland community as credible and responsible. Despite the dirty tactics of Solid Energy in having our donated marquees removed last year and their attempt to label us as dangerous protestors, our efforts to get along side the local community and provide alternative information has been successful. Solid Energy may have lots of money to throw around in sponsorship but most of our CAM members have established reputations as community minded people who genuinely care about the future of the region. It is difficult to demonise a QSM recipient, a retired forest manager and an award winning 91 year old conservationist who are active CAM members.

The camp this year was situated in the beautiful Dolamore Park and I parked my caravan beside a babbling creek and enjoyed the constant sound of water and bellbirds. In this environment, surrounded by flowering rata and birdsong, it's hard to comprehend that anyone would put greater value on the lignite beneath us.




 The registration tent

The few remaining for the pack up on the last day.

We had eclectic group for the presentations and discussions at the camp and it was great to share the combined experiences and knowledge from around the country and even some international perspectives from a German and Frenchman who joined us. The Green Party was represented by MP Gareth Hughes.

Green MP Gareth Hughes

For those who had arrived on the Friday we took them for a tour of the New Vale Mine (that supplies the fuel for Fonterra's Edendale Dairy Factory) and the briquetting plant. We discovered that soon after leaving the camp that we were quickly joined by a distant police escort and ProVision Security. Solid Energy employ Thompson and Clark Investigations Ltd (whose clandestine activities were recently exposed) to advise on security and Director Gavin Clark also manages ProVision Security. It is ironic that Solid Energy promotes the development of the lignite as something that will bring employment opportunities for local people and yet most jobs so far have gone to those outside the region and even the security guards were flown in from the North Island. We were told that the guards were employed to "protect us from harming ourselves". I guess it was flattering that Solid Energy spent so much money on our safety when the industry doesn't have a great record for looking after their employees.



We had kept the local police fully informed about our programme and organisation and we have a good relationship. They were more concerned about us being troubled by the odd carload of young people who tour the countryside in any weekend looking for excitement.

CANA spokesperson Rosemary Penwarden attempted to present a symbolic gift to Solid Energy management at the briquetting plant, but they refused to meet us and their local communications person appeared briefly and then hid. Rosemary had to leave the food basket of local produce and packet of mothballs at the gate under the wary eyes of the ProVision guards, who seemed to regard the gesture with unnecessary caution. The food basket was a tongue in cheek reference to the financial difficulties that Solid Energy was experiencing and symbolic of the food producing potential of the valley. The mothballs represented our view that the plant should be mothballed until we have the technology to manage the carbon safely.

  The presentation

The public day on Sunday, Shaping Our Future, We Have Options, had a great line up of speakers and was opened by the Gore District Council Mayor Tracy Hicks. Jeanette Fitzsimons then provided us with an overview of Solid Energy's current situation and the collective activities of CANA and its many regional groups. One of the most reported actions was the lively group of around 200 people who greeted John Key as he arrived to open the new Bathurst Mines office in Wellington. A large number of groups opposed to the mining of coal on the Denniston Plateau were represented in the protest and were supported by some Green MPs. Since the previous year when CANA was operating on a national basis with a small leadership team it has been exciting to see the development of so many local groups and a rapid growth in membership. The facebook page supporting the Murihiku campaign, for example, now has over 230 supporters.

Jeanette Fitzsimons

Climate change writer Gareth Renowden followed with a rather sobering description of climate data, changing weather patterns and the huge loss of Arctic and Greenland ice. 350.org  has campaigned on 350 parts per million of carbon in the atmosphere as being a tolerable level for maintaining a climate equilibrium and yet we have already reached 394 ppm and are currently growing at a rate of over 2 parts per year (it was less than 320 in 1960). Originally most scientists were talking about surviving a 2 degree increase in the average global temperature but original projections are proving to be far too conservative as new data comes in. Scientists a now talking about 4 - 6 degrees being reached by the end of the century. Gareth is the author of Hot Topic (2007) and manages a respected blog with the same name.

Gareth Renowden

WWF CEO Peter Hardstaff presented the BERL report that they had commissioned to investigate low carbon growth opportunities for the Southland Economy. He explained how economic factors have a direct relationship with the survival of the world's wildlife. By accessing the lignite, Solid Energy would effectively be increasing New Zealand's carbon emissions by at least 10% and encouraging low carbon economic alternatives was the most effective way of saving the many animals threatened by climate change. The climate is already changing at a rate faster than many animals are able to adapt to and one of the consequences of this will be a catastrophic loss of biodiversity. While it was thought that dwindling fossil fuel resources would slow emission rates, it is now predicted that we will far exceed our atmospheric limits for carbon well before all the resources are extracted. The need to change to a low carbon economy is becoming even more urgent.

WWF CEO Peter Hardstaff

Medical specialists and practitioners have an obvious interest in the causes of poor health and illness and there is an awareness among many that climate change will have an increasing impact on people's health. Ora Taiao has a growing membership of specialists and health professionals who share this concern. Ora Taiao member and Southland Hospital specialist Dr Mark Smith gave a very thorough presentation describing probable increases of infectious diseases, cancers, mental illness and other health challenges as warmer conditions spread. A changing climate and rising sea levels will also limit our ability to produce good food which is obviously essential for maintaining good health, developing nations will especially suffer. Dr Smith also described how the use of fossil fuels, especially coal, have negative impacts on health and the expansion of lignite mining in Southland would affect the health of the local community.

Dr Mark Smith

Rob McCreath (the surname pronounced "as in death", as Rob likes to say) and his wife Sally formed the Friends of Felton to save the farmland in their Australian Valley from coal mining. Their campaign was successful when the Queensland Premier Campbell Newman declared publicly and in writing that there would be no mining in the Felton Valley. This was the first major win that a farming community had achieved over a mining company in Australia. Rob explained how the Felton farmers had promoted their cause using humour, imagination and forming alliances with groups such as Friends of the Earth that farmers would normally be wary of. He emphasised the importance of sticking to your core message and recognising and using the diverse skills that exist in any community in support of your campaign.

Australian farmers Sally and Rob McCreath

We were fortunate that Artist Wallace Keown happened to be available to explain his inspiration for the  30 year old painting that features in CAM's banners. Apparently this isn't the first time that digging up the lignite has been contemplated and rejected. Wallace's painting clearly depicts what we stand to lose if commonsense isn't reapplied.

Te Anau artist Wallace Keown

Cath Wallace, Co-Chair of ECO New Zealand shared her extensive knowledge of the complexities of the laws that relate to the extraction of minerals and the rights of landowners, especially in relation to the Crown Minerals Act. Farmers in Australia discovered that in law they had no right to refuse access to mining companies on their own land. While it isn't quite as clearcut in New Zealand the Crown Mineral's Act is going through a review that will probably see more favourable wording in support of mining while landowners rights and environmental protections will probably be diluted. 

Cath explained how mineral permits generally ignore external costs of health, social and environmental issues that may result in the course of extraction. While landowners do have the right to stop access on land, many discover that they lose that right if they have given earlier permission to "fossick" or "Prospect". Once a lower level permit has been granted it is relatively easy to gain a permit for the next stage. It is very difficult for a landowner to stop a progression to full scale mining if they have earlier allowed access. In relation to crown owned land it is the Minerals Minister who calls the shots and while Schedule 4 land cannot be mined Cabinet now has the power to reclassify land designation. 

Cath also reinforced the value of farming compared to mining in terms of capital expenditure. Just using the briquetting plant as an example, the $29 million spent on the project had effectively produced only 6 jobs. 

Environmental lawyer, Clare Lenihan explained how the RMA operates in regards to landowners' rights. It is a complex process when Regional Councils and District Councils are increasingly limited in how they can give affect to the multiple elements involved in any consent, especially when issues around climate change have been excluded from the Act.

The Climate Change "Elephant in the Room" when the RMA is being applied. 

Southland District Council Mayor, Frana Cardno, closed the public meeting by expressing extreme frustration with the ever decreasing ability of councils to meet the needs of the people they serve. The Government recently passed legislation that removed references to the "Four Well-beings" (social, economic, environmental and cultural) from the Local Government Act and thereby restricting the ability of councils to include these in their management of consents. Frana has a history of environmental advocacy and is active in the Save Fiordland Campaign, she implored those present to make submissions to the council plan that would give them a stronger environmental mandate to counter the Government's narrow agenda.

Southland District Council Mayor Frana Cardno

This year's festival was undoubtedly a success. We had good coverage in the media with a number of newspaper articles (another link) and Rob McCleath was interviewed on local and National Radio. Despite the National led Government's determination to follow Australia in the blind pursuit of mineral wealth at all costs, there is a definite ground swell of support for a future proofed economy that is not so dependent on dangerous carbon. This is not an "anti" campaign but a movement that is pro Southland, pro environment, pro jobs and pro sustainable economies. Every other speaker during the open day referred to their commitment to ensuring a positive future for their children and grandchildren and surely this should also drive Government policy before short-term financial gain. We can't continue to steal from our children's future to satisfy today's greed!


More photos from the festival - Otago Daily.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Chris Trotter and the Mandate Word

Chris Trotter has written an opinion piece that was first published in a number of newspapers before being presented on his blog. In it he claims that the National led Government have a clear mandate to sell state assets. He has received enthusiastic support from rightwing bloggers who have been using similar arguments for some time.


I believe that the Government has no mandate for the sale of state assets, neither politically nor morally. When I explained my point of view, which was largely based on one of my earlier posts on the same topic,  Trotter called my argument "specious in the extreme". I still stand by my view and find his arguments flawed.


The word mandate, in the political sense, generally refers to the authority granted through democratic elections to govern. If a party that was elected into government after campaigning on a particular policy it is generally accepted that they have received mandate to implement it. This is basically the core of Trotter's argument and at a simple level it is largely true. However when he attempts to justify his view his arguments begin to unravel:

"The sale - partial or otherwise - of state assets was the subject of widespread discussion and debate in the run-up to the election. Indeed, by signalling his intentions well in advance, John Key adhered to the finest traditions of democratic accountability."

It is a bit of a stretch to claim that Key "adhered to the finest traditions of democratic accountability" when the asset sale policy was not really one of the key platforms on which National ran its campaign. For National the 2011 campaign wasn't about policy, it was about personalities. The detail in National's election policies were minimal, especially regarding the asset sales, and the party even refused to have them published on National Radio's election website. Key even acknowledged there was little support for the asset sales but claimed that when people were more informed about them then they would be more positive, however further details were never provided before the election and information provided afterwards was far from convincing. The National Party's election campaign was largely focused on John Key being preferable as Prime Minister and policy detail was brushed aside as the bulk of their campaign energy was devoted to discrediting Goff.

You couldn't even say that the asset sales were "the subject of widespread discussion", the topic received little coverage in the MSM. In fact in the weeks running up to the election the only issue that got much mention was the teacups saga. The policy did receive some scrutiny from other parties and elements of the media and a number of opinion polls indicated public opposition was around 75%.   

"With 47.3 percent of the Party Vote, the governing party came within an ace of securing an absolute majority of the votes cast... Any political party racking up such a total is entitled to claim a very strong electoral mandate for all its policies."

To say that 47.3 percent of the party vote provides a mandate for "all" National's policies is a little hard to accept. No matter how remarkable the level of support that the party achieved under an MMP system there were still 52.7 percent of voters who didn't support them. The European Union requires a 65% voter majority for any proposal and any constitutional change in New Zealand requires a 75% majority of MPs. One would think that selling our state assets would require more than 47% support. 

"the public understood that a vote for National was a vote to privatise 49 percent of Solid Energy, Meridian, Genesis and Mighty River Power. Nearly half of them voted for the Government anyway."

This is a huge assumption and ignores the fact that voters were weighing up many considerations from who they preferred as a Prime Minister to Labour's unpopular policy to raise the retirement age. Despite Labour's attempt to make it otherwise, there is no way voters regarded it as a one issue election. Key's popularity was also based on the assumption that he was responsive to public feeling and would change tack if a policy wasn't supported. Many who voted for National probably thought that the asset sales would not actually occur.

"New Zealand’s representative system of government entrusts the administration of the nation to the political party, or parties, which alone, or in combination, command a majority in the House of Representatives. National and its allies played by these rules – and won. Their performance referendum is scheduled for 2014 – and it’s binding."  

This widely stated view suggests that democracy ends after polling day and that any Government need only acknowledge the views of the voting public when the next election occurs. Taking this narrow legal view ignores the need to follow good democratic process and responsible decision making over the three years in office. New Zealand is unique in that our constitution is not contained in one document but consists of a collection of statutes, treaties, court decisions and unwritten constitutional conventions. Many of those conventions, like the use of Select Committees, were established to ensure ongoing democratic input and public consultation.

There were1430 written submissions received by the Finance and Expenditure Select Committee regarding the "Mixed Ownership Model" legislation and 100 of those submissions were presented orally. Practically all submissions (1421) were opposed to the Government's plans. Not only were submitters treated with some disdain from the National Party members of the committee but the chair, Todd McClay, demanded that the deliberations be cut by six weeks. This undemocratic process became even more pronounced when it was revealed that Treasury Officials had written their final report before all the submissions had been fully heard and considered. 

When a Party wins a mandate to govern there is also an expectation that they will do so responsibly and also recognise the intent of the voting public that gave them that power. A mandate to govern shouldn't also mean a mandate to ignore public opinion and select committee submissions. 


When John Key supported John Banks' right to continue as an MP he chose to use the minimum legal requirement and ignored the general belief that Banks had lied and was not of fit character to hold office. Trotter has done the same thing with his essay, he has provided justification for the Government to continue with the sale of important strategic assets by ignoring all the other expectations of what should constitute good governance. A policy that was promoted by a party with 47% support, was opposed by three quarters of voters, had 99% of select committee submissions against it and fails independent economic analysis is not one that can claim to have a mandate for implementation.       

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Our Degraded Estuaries

The lower part of the Waihopai River that is rapidly eutrophying, 3 hectares of eutrophic mud has become 123 hectares in the last 12 years.  
The editorial in Saturday's Southland Times was an excellent one. The rapidly deteriorating state of our estuaries can't be ignored any longer. Eugenie Sage has already spent time looking first hand at the issue and talking to those who have the daunting responsibility of leading the rescue. However, it is the Government who should be making clean water an even greater priority and providing more support for struggling regional councils. If we are going to make a significant difference in the little time we have we need stronger national standards for water quality and more incentive for farmers to clean up their act.

The editorial:

Anyone who regards the warnings about Southland's sick estuaries as alarmist should take their head out of the sand and insert it into some of the eutrophic nastiness of Daffodil Bay.
Such a popular recreational area, it is now redolent of Rotorua and not in a good way.

Increasingly, large parts of Invercargill's New River and Riverton's Jacobs River estuaries are in gasping ill-health to the extent that a report commissioned by Environment Southland concluded last November that both face the same potential fate as the Waituna Lagoon as algae growth and sediment increase.

That mess from nomadic nutrients and that hydrogen sulphide rotten-egg smell caused by matter breaking down without oxygen are not to be dismissed as just Mother Nature at her less picturesque and fragrant.

Something is ecologically crook.

The natural estuarine life is all but absent from eutrophic areas that have been expanding scarily.

The blighted area from the New River Estuary's Waihopai Arm was three hectares 12 years ago. Now it is 123ha.

The finger of suspicion points at farming. In a social sense, it doesn't just point - it jabs farming rudely in the ribs. However, there's still scientific work to be done and we should not forget that general land use, stormwater and sewage are also issues. Environment Southland's specialist consultant, Wriggle Coastal Management, continues to work to find the upriver source of most of the nutrients.

This week, flood levels have been stirring things up even more. Environment Southland reminds us that a flood could move more sediment in a few days than the norm over an entire year.

So it's appropriate that a great deal of monitoring has been under way.

If there is an increased sense of urgency about all this, then good, given the political eddies that have allowed such major land-use changes to happen in an absence of comprehensively informed and reliably implemented national environmental standards.
We all understand that the problem is not only confined to our province or our country, but that must not mean that we should fail to act on our own behalf.

Admittedly, there has been action or activity, anyway. The final report of the Land and Water Forum released last year identified a need for better collaboration.

If this was met with heaving sighs, then it's little wonder, since the call - made in the last of, what was it, three reports? - was itself downstream of the big National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management, not to mention the Irrigation Acceleration Fund and the Fresh Start for Freshwater Clean-Up Fund.

At local level, a tough call was necessarily made, as Environment Southland introduced new resource-consent requirement for dairy conversions. It was a good move, given the accelerating problems.

The council has welcomed the endorsement from the forum that regional councils are the managers of water quality and quantity, albeit with concerns that inevitably and justifiably come from local government that the Government's view of collaboration be one that does not only place requirements on councils, but also provides appropriate resourcing.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

No Real Men Left in NZ?


My son was offended by a letter to the Southland Times that suggested that the reason dairy farmers were having to employ workers from outside New Zealand was because there were no "real men" in New Zealand who were capable of manual labour. I thought my son's response was worth republishing on my blog as it also relates to the Green Party's recently released discussion paper on the ICT industry. I should note that there have been a number of letters also published in the Southland Times suggesting that dairy farmers will continue to struggle getting local workers when the pay and conditions they provide are generally very poor.


After reading Mervyn Cave’s letter regarding idle youth (January 8) I had to double-check the date on my copy of The Southland Times. As it turns out, it was not 1963.

In response to a shortage of manual labourers, he blames an “electronically castrated” generation of men, constantly “messing about on computers”. As a product design student, I admit most of my time is spent writing essays, 3D modelling and photoshopping images on a computer, and very little of it spent lifting heavy things and grunting. Does it make Mr Cave uncomfortable that such “slugs” designed nearly everything he owns?

I can imagine many women would also be insulted at the outdated insinuations that they are incapable of driving trucks or picking fruit; their role merely to marry and look after the “real men”.

The fact is that able-bodied youth of both genders exist in plenty, but fulfilling and well-paid work is increasingly to be found in the digital world. It is not issuing work permits to “real men from the Third World” that will solve Mr Cave’s labour problem, but offering real incentives to strong Kiwi blokes and blokettes. Can we be blamed for trying to escape the rank and file of New Zealand’s ever-expanding low-wage economy?

Maybe when this government starts respecting workers at all levels of the food chain they won’t attempt to upskill and leg it to Australia at the first opportunity they get. 

Chris Kennedy 
Invercargill


The future of work for young New Zealand men?