Thursday, May 30, 2013

Holly Walker Reveals More Dodgy Process

Today we witnessed yet another deliberate and orchestrated attack on the democratic process. The Housing Accords and Special Housing Areas Bill is yet another piece of legislation that will enable central government to overrule local democracy and will allow the granting of building consents (most likely to developer mates) without the agreement of local councils. It is such a blatantly undemocratic piece of legislation that the Government wanted to limit scrutiny and fast track it into law. Holly Walker risked expulsion from the house when she determinedly attempted to expose the true nature of the Government's behaviour.

Walker asked a straightforward question to Sam Lotu-Iiga, the Chairperson of the Social Services committee, to try and establish what guided his decision to close submissions early, but was blocked by the Speaker. After much questioning of the Speaker's ruling, using reference to standing orders (and getting the support of other MPs), Carter finally relented and allowed the question to be asked several times before a clear answer was received.

Lotu-Iiga desperately tried to justify why he had taken a unilateral decision, to limit the time allowed for making submissions to a mere 10 working days. Further questions revealed that no attempt was made to contact key stakeholders to gain their input. Scrutiny of the bill by those who would be most affected had not been encouraged.

Walker then attempted to get an indication of the numbers of submissions received to date. Despite this being a direct question, Lotu-Iiga was not prepared to put a figure on it (despite having ample time to find out) and was supported in not answering by the speaker. It was obvious that few submissions had been received.

Walker then asked whether Lotu-Iiga would be prepared to extend the time period for submissions to allow for greater public involvement and was told that this would be a committee decision. I would hazard a guess that the committee will be dominated by National MPs and there would be majority support for the chair's decision, as it is in keeping with the process National has followed elsewhere.

Lotu-Iiga did look uncomfortable while questioned by a resolute Walker, but the process looks as though it will be allowed to continue with little media scrutiny. It is easy to imagine the laughter in National's caucus meeting as Key's cabal celebrate yet another victory over our democracy. The debris of the Denniston Plateau celebration has barely been cleared away.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Our Economy Urgently Needs Green Solutions

I believe there are eight things that are key to a resilient economy:
  1. A reliable and efficient energy supply
  2. Efficient, integrated transportation systems
  3. A stable and competitive currency
  4. An abundance of sustainably managed, local resources.
  5. A skilled workforce
  6. A healthy domestic economy
  7. Research and development that provides us with a competitive edge.
  8. A strong and credible international brand
In all eight areas this Government has failed to deliver because of uninformed policy, under-investment and short term, ideological thinking.

Our Power supply should give us an advantage over most nations because we have an abundance of renewable and cheap energy sources. However we have inefficiencies in transmission when our industries are some distance from the power source and there is no real competition in supply. Our power companies are able to fix rates at the highest cost of production and there are no incentives to reduce consumption or increase efficiencies. Power charges have increased well ahead of inflation and are contributing to family poverty. 

We need to introduce the Green solution to reduce power costs, invest more in regional solutions to reduce transmission costs and invest in renewables. 

When our domestic and national economy is dependent transporting goods over long distances we need to develop efficient transport networks that will serve us well into the future. Our rail network is currently carrying more freight than ever before and is still the cheapest and most efficient way of transporting bulk goods. It is also a highly efficient for carrying people and most major cities in the world use rail to get people to and from work. Cycling is also a common transport system in sophisticated European cities. Coastal shipping is another area that is efficient but underdeveloped.Our roads also need to be supported and maintained in a cost effective manner. 

We need to shift our focus from building expensive roads that don't pass cost/benefit analysis and concentrate on long term solutions

Our Manufacturers are struggling to be competitive when our currency continues to be exploited by money traders. We have one of the most minimally managed currencies in the world and our Reserve Bank has limited tools to make useful adjustments. We are now dependent on Australian Banks and are suffering from profiteering through unnecessary bank charges and see billions of banking dividends head over the Tasman. 

We need to become more sophisticated in our currency management by giving the Reserve Bank more tools and support a New Zealand owned bank that can introduce healthy competition and reinvest dividends locally. 
Our most valuable resources should be our most sustainable, when managed properly. In a world that is rapidly feeling the effects of climate change and a reduction of agricultural land we have a distinct advantage. Water, pasture and our natural landscapes will provide an ongoing income if managed prudently. We are open to greater risk if we put all our eggs in the dairy basket and intensify the industry beyond the ability of the land to support it. We will be vulnerable if we expand herds beyond the ability of the land to support them and have to rely on imported fertilizer and feed. Our parks and conservation estate are huge tourist attractions, especially when there are so few unaltered landscapes in the world. Exploiting unsustainable and environmentally damaging resources such as coal and oil are boom and bust industries where jobs are precarious.

We need to protect our water and make sure that any economic development is sustainable over time and does not degrade the natural environment which also attracts income in a conserved state.

Education is provides us with a skilled workforce that has the capacity to add value to raw commodities and provide useful research to help make us become a more efficient and competitive economy. Our narrow education focus on literacy and numeracy and not areas such as science and technology will be detrimental over time. A skilled workforce is an important economic resource and when there are no jobs for our most capable people, then we will lose them overseas. Every year 25% of our graduates leave our shores to find work, this is just a leakage of valuable resources. Education is itself a potential source of income, but we must ensure a high standard exists to continue to attract overseas students.

We need to invest in our youth and education and provide skilled jobs because this will provide the capacity for us to do well in the future.

Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) provide the basis of our regional economies and provide around a third of our jobs. Many SMEs will be the success stories of the future and we need to ensure that there aren't unnecessary barriers to new enterprises and there are protections from monopoly bullying. Too many sectors in our small country do not function properly because of poorly controlled monopolies like supermarkets. We need a strong domestic economy that supports local businesses, we need to lift wages so that there are greater discretionary funds for ordinary families to spend. 

We need to ensure Government procurement supports local businesses, where possible, and there is more money being spent in the domestic economy.  

We currently underinvest in research and development and our Universities have lost international ranking places because of this. Our most successful manufacturers, like Fisher and Pykel, have become so through innovation and research but we still invest less in science than most OECD countries. 

We need to invest more into science and research, both blue sky and industry driven if we are to become more efficient and competitive in world markets. 

For a small country to be successful in ever changing and volatile world markets a having recognisable and reliable brand opens doors and establishes consumer support. Our Clean Green and 100% Pure brands actually underpins 75% of our export markets. If we lose brand credibility our markets will shrink and so will our economy. 

We need to ensure our Clean Green image is credible by having tougher protections for our environment and strengthening our biosecurity

This Government is failing to deliver electricity at a reasonable price for private and business consumers!

This Government is not basing transport decisions on sound research and advice and is squandering $12 billion of taxpayers' money on unjustifiable roads!

This Government has sat on its hands while our manufacturers have suffered and continues to bank with Westpac despite having to take legal action to recover tax!

This Government has overseen the degradation of our rivers and encouraged the extraction of our fossil fuels (a polluting and twilight industry) in vulnerable environments!

This Government has failed our education system with attacks on public schools, professionalism, and priorities that focus on data, not children!

This Government has favoured overseas businesses with its procurement and has strangled our domestic economy by not supporting a living wage!

This Government has allowed our brightest young minds to leave our shores and we now struggle to compete with the rest of the world in innovation and design!

This Government has tarnished our clean green brand (our greenwash is even mentioned in the Lonely Planet Guide) and weakened our border security!

This Government is implementing failing systems and damaging industries from overseas and ignoring the successful ones!

This Government is not building economic resilience and we urgently need good green change to set a better course for our future prosperity. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Self Inflicted Poverty a Myth

Approximately 270,000 New Zealand children are living in poverty according to the Government appointed Children's Commissioner. It has been claimed that 50% of all children experience poverty at some stage in their lives. Third world diseases like rheumatic fever, caused by poor and overcrowded housing, is costing the country over $21 million a year. Untreated nits and malnutrition are increasingly being reported by Kidscan and growing numbers of children are being supplied with shoes and coats for the Winter months. New Zealand has one of the worst levels of child health and safety (29th of 30) in the OECD.

Rent and power bills are climbing well above the CPI, while the median family income is falling. Maori and Pasifika families have suffered most with the median Maori family losing $40 a week in income over the last four years and Pasifika families $65. The median New Zealand European family gets by on $580 a week but the median Pasifika family survives on $390, almost $200 less and, as this is the median, around half subsist on less. There are many stories of parents who have nothing left to buy food after paying rent and the "working poor" are causing an increase in food parcel demand. The recession is still used as a reason to to keep a tight rein on wage increases despite the fact that the top two quintiles of earners have seen a steady rise in incomes and our richest saw a 20% increase in wealth last year.

John Key and his National Government have been slow to respond to the child poverty crisis and have finally given in to much pressure to introduce a breakfast in schools programme. Even though they refuse to measure the extent of poverty in New Zealand John Key estimates that around 10% of children will access the breakfasts.

The Government's reluctance to support children in New Zealand is because of the view that it is the parent's role not the Government's. Many stories of abuse and neglect are used to support the idea that it is mainly poor choices and bad parenting that is the cause of child suffering. Paula Bennett has focussed on a dob in an abuser scheme rather than address the causes of poverty directly.

Young mothers are being encouraged to work as soon as they are able but, as many earn the minimum wage and can only find casual work, the economic benefits are often limited. Employment does not necessarily mean improved outcomes for families. The Government made it compulsory for beneficiaries to send their children to an education centre once they reach three years of age, but while there has been a huge growth in numbers of private early childhood centres, many have empty places because parents can't afford to use them. 

Despite the obvious evidence that families are struggling because of dropping incomes and increased costs, there is still a perception that poverty is self inflicted and not the result of Government policy and growing inequities. Here is a sample of some comments on two blog sites, the Green's Frogblog and Keeping Stock (one of the more restrained National supporting blogs):

"Structurally ANY race of people who have more kids then they can feed, school, control, etc are going to have problems."

"Structurally ANY race that eats too much corned beef and not enough vegetables are going to have problems."

"Structurally ANY race that tithes 10% plus of earnings to churches is going to have problems." 

Fact is loser parents breed loser kids and continues the cycle, not only that…the tax money of those who do make a proper go at life ends up funding
a) their benefit and housing

b) the consequences of their addictions

c) police wages to counter their criminal activity

d) social services to deal with their fkd up kids

e) all of the above when their kids turn out just like them
Not to mention higher insurance premiums from the burglary, car theft and vandalism.

Genetically the darker races less developed, more violent \ agressive and seem to lack the intelligence to live amongst normal people.

once this programme starts it will be there forever .. You will NOT be able to stop/suspend it ever because it will become an entitlement.

free condoms to all those bsprout say are in poverty .. there you go, problem solved

It is questionable whether the government should be using our tax dollars for charity. Surely that is the proper pursuit of bona fide charities? When governments start charity for the sake of charity alone (I.e. without a genuine governance reason such as improving education outcomes) then there is nothing to prevent them from increasing that charity to unmanageable proportions. 

While this Government continues to pursue policies that perpetuate the shift of wealth to the already rich and deny a living wage to our poorest, the effects of poverty will continue.

Monday, May 27, 2013

10 Reasons for Opposing RMA Changes

  1. Geoffrey Palmer, former prime minister and one of the Resource Management Act architects, has publicly attacked the proposed changes. He claims that the changes would: "significantly and severely weaken the ability of the RMA to protect the natural environment and its recreational enjoyment for all New Zealanders." and that, "Core environmental matters that currently have the status of 'matters of national importance' will be downgraded to mere matters."
  2. Dr Jan Wright, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, voiced concern that the proposed changes would unbalance the RMA: "The RMA's fundamental purpose is to make sure that the environmental effects are taken into consideration when decisions are being made about using our resources. It is not, and should not become, an economic development act!"
  3. It will remove 22 years of case law, that assists in clarifying current decision making, and will probably slow the consent process until new case law is established.
  4. The New Zealand Planning Institute is concerned that the changes to the bill will fail to serve the objectives of the bill and will not streamline the consents process as intended, or improve local decision making.
  5. There will be significant costs in identifying and documenting all "significant" trees and environmental features for councils so that they may be protected from future developments. Unless trees and features are identified then, according to the proposed changes, they will have no value. 
  6. The Environmental Defense Society is concerned that the proposals will give "radical" powers to government ministers who will be able to overrule local decisions without consultation with the affected communities. 
  7. The Government claims that the RMA limits economic development unreasonably and yet out of 185 countries we are ranked 3rd for the ease of doing business and 6th for gaining permits. According to official information (Page 15) from the Department of Building and Housing a non notified consent decision should be made within 20 days and a notified one would take around four months. The current RMA process is generally working efficiently.
  8. A legal view of the proposed changes identifies that the ability to consider all aspects of a consent application will be limited: Notified parties can only comment on aspects that they were notified for (no wider concerns); appeal rights are limited to the High Court on aspects of law and there will be little ability to look at all aspects of the application. 
  9. Economic criteria will be given more weight than environmental considerations.
  10. The changes are part of a Government agenda to reduce environmental considerations in support of potentially damaging industries. 
The Prime Minister and his Government have little care for our environment and generally see environmental considerations as unnecessary impediments to economic activity. The virtual dismantling of the ETS to something that is almost inconsequential and the refusal to continue measuring the state of our natural environment says much about any concerns regarding the sustainability of Government policies or the negative impacts they may have. Our clean green, 100% pure image need only be retained as a useful facade or advertising gimmick.

These are direct quotes from the PM regarding the proposed mining of the Denniston Plateau:                              

"The Denniston Plateau has got a lot of potential from a mining perspective and is relatively low in conservation, ah, land, in parts. I mean there are parts that are important and, ah, parts that are pretty low."
"Look the bottom line is that there is well over a thousand jobs there, there is a lot of coal that can be taken out...given, you know, the remoteness of it and all those things, its a good thing."

"Eer...I do (believe in global warming), ahh, but I'm prepared to except, actually Oxford, doesn't Oxford University that came out this week and said that its slowing or cooling slightly...(indecipherable mumble)."

"But the bottom line is there is an abundance of coal around the world, so whether they take it out of Denniston or they take it out of some mine in China, they're going to take it out of the ground and actually the aim here is to get more efficiency when your doing these things, not to stop economic activity."

Sunday, May 26, 2013

GE Threat and European Lessons

The genetic engineering debate is more complicated than many will have you believe. The view that those opposing GE are holding back useful scientific developments that will enable us to better feed a growing population is wrong and is just repeating the misleading promotions of a monopoly's interests.

The protests that occurred in New Zealand and around the world are a reaction to the dangerous dominance of Monsanto in determining the future of our food production. Genetic engineering may indeed have potential for good, especially if the way it is progressed is altruistically motivated and there are proper protections and controls in place for any research and application. Unfortunately altruism is not what drives Monsanto, the company that has a monopoly in seed production and distribution (as well as agricultural chemicals).

Monsanto protects its commercial interests with worrying effect. It has had laws changed to protect it from competition, buys out competitors and it protects its patented GM seeds with a vengeance (at great financial cost to many farmers). Monsanto has changed the culture of farming to one that is dependent on the use of patented seeds and chemical sprays. It is no coincidence that Roundup is now the dominant herbicide and "spray and sow" is considered mainstream farming practice.

Many farmers now have little choice but buy Monsanto seed as it is now too dangerous to reduce costs by saving seeds from a previous harvest. It is illegal to save and sow Monsanto seed and now that the seed is so widespread it is difficult for farmers to find seed that hasn't inadvertently included some patented seed. The cost of a potential law suit through accidentally using Monsanto seed isn't worth the effort and the monopoly quickly tracks down any wayward farmer that attempts to go it alone.

There has always been genetic modification to crops through selected breeding and natural selection and many regions still rely on more natural forms of plant modification. It is interesting to note that many countries using more natural methods are now out performing the US in crop yields and many who are reliant on Monsanto seed are seeing a decline and terrible human costs. It is now widely recognised that agricultural resilience is most likely to occur through increased biodiversity. Monsanto is doing its level best to destroy biodiversity for its own commercial interests, with little regard for the consequences.

It is in consumers' interests that food is properly labelled so that people are able to choose the kind of food that they would like to eat. Given the global reputation and concerns around GE food production around the world the ethical concerns for many people outweigh the possible health ones, but for either reason clear labeling should be provided so that a choice can be made. The GE industry has successfully fought to avoid being included on labeling and most people do probably consume GE in their daily food intake.

The concern for many in New Zealand is that this Government has shown time and time again that it will protect commercial interests above the interests of the people and it is more likely to accept US ideology and approaches than those of Europe. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is being negotiated in secret and we know that US corporate interests will be pushing for a greater market share in the Pacific region. Many worry about the pharmaceutical industry's interest in reducing the effectiveness of Pharmac and we should be equally concerned at opening our doors to Monsanto.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Double Standards, Discrimination and Fear

When it comes to policing and security, double standards and unfair discrimination against minority groups always occurs, both here and internationally, generally fed by intolerance and irrational fears.

The shocking images of the bloodied, knife wielding man in London have been seen around the world and is driving even greater concerns regarding the threat of "terrorism". This barbaric attack on another human being cannot be excused at any level, it wasn't a case of self defense and it was obviously motivated by strongly held political views. While the outrage expressed about this incident is understandable it was interesting how the video was shown through many news media. Some in the US just claimed that the young man was shouting "God is good in Arabic", supporting the view that it was only religious fanaticism that caused the act.  The political grievances he expressed were often ignored:

"...we must fight them as they fight us, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth."

"I apologise that women had to witness this today, but in our land our women have to see the same. You people will never be safe, remove your governments, they don't care about you."

I can envisage this incident causing widespread fears, tighter security and all dark skinned or Muslim men being regarded with even more suspicion. Few people, especially the police or Government will spend time addressing the causes or background to this incident.

While the "eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" is a very archaic form of justice, for the US any terrorist related deaths generally involves retribution well beyond the original act. The Iraq war was seen by many Americans as a response to September 11, and this wasn't discouraged by the government. Almost 3,000 died from the Twin Towers attack and in comparison 110,000 Iraqi civilians lost their lives and their country has been left far more broken than the loss of two skyscrapers. The war in Afghanistan has resulted in around 10,000 civilians (a minimum estimate) being killed through US led foreign military action and around 100,000 people displaced before Osama Bin Laden was finally tracked down and executed.

The US have gone even further than just retribution and have taken the approach of pre-empting possible terrorism by killing terrorists before they act. Currently President Obama is supporting drone attacks within other countries to kill "potential" terrorists, and often killing innocent people in the process. There have even been doubts regarding the evidence used to identify the individuals targeted. While the actions of the young man in the video seems particularly chilling, is it more acceptable to kill someone with an unmanned drone? While US citizens may be fearful of Islamic terrorists, Muslims, statistically, have far more reason to fear the US.

Luckily we have had few incidents in New Zealand that could be called terrorist acts resulting in loss of life and the only one that really comes to mind is the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior. In that case it was a supposedly friendly nation that instigated it and our secret service was too busy spying on the likes of Keith Locke to be aware of the threat.

Maori dominate our crime statistics, our prison populations and have much poorer health outcomes than Pakeha. They are also most likely to be unemployed, live on the lowest incomes, and live in substandard houses. Young Maori men are often regarded with suspicion and even law abiding, academically successful young Maori have stories of being stopped, questioned and even physically harassed by the police when going about their lawful business. Maori who are apprehended for criminal activity, no matter how minor, are more likely to receive treatment that is more severe than what Pakeha would receive for the same behaviour.

The police response to the threat posed by Tame Iti and his mates has now been established as unlawful and unwarranted. The only terrorist activity in the end was committed by the police themselves and the trauma suffered by innocent children and families through the police actions is ongoing. A vague apology and no compensation has followed the report. As other commentators have mentioned, this would have never happened in Remuera.

I wonder if both Muslims and Maori were treated in a more even handed and moderate way whether they would pose the same threats or feel the same need to act violently?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Dirty Dairying and a Solution.

There have been lots of emotive letters to the Southland Times recently, regarding the extra rates being placed on dairy farmers by Environment Southland to deal with the growing external costs of the industry. Many are accusing dairy farmers of trying to shirk their responsibilities and others complaining of an unfair burden of responsibility when it is their financial neck on the line. I have written my own letter suggesting a way forward that recognises responsibilities and rewards positive action:

Dear Sir

Around 7 years ago, when the dairying boom was in its infancy, Lincoln University research (Peter Tait and Ross Cullen) showed that the external costs of dairy farming in the Canterbury Region came to at least $30 million a year. Most of this was being absorbed by local ratepayers and tax payers. I am sure the external costs are much greater now and the Government has supported further dairy expansion by subsidising irrigation in the region by $80 million in the last budget. Dairying is probably New Zealand's most profitable industry at the moment but there have been some serious environmental consequences through its expansion. Around 80% of our lowland rivers are now badly polluted and while dairying isn't the sole cause, it is a significant one.

Environment Southland are under some pressure from central Government to improve water quality in Southland after we recorded some of the worst levels of degradation in New Zealand and have internationally important environments, like the Waituna Wetland and our estuaries, close to  environmental collapse.

I attended the Southland Federated Farmers AGM recently and have been listening to the concerns of many farmers for some time about the pressures of environmental compliancy and the "Dirty Dairying" label that has hit good and bad farmers alike. I have been grateful to the likes of Russell MacPherson who has taken time to explain the farmers' perspectives to me. The industry, including Fonterra and Dairy NZ are now doing some positive things to clean up farming practices. I sympathize with those farmers who feel that they are meeting all their environmental obligations, and more in some cases, and are having to shoulder the costs of those who are consistently non-compliant.

I would like to suggest that Environment Southland, Dairy NZ and Fonterra work out a way of producing an independently moderated system to regularly assess each dairy farm and give it an environmental compliance rating. In this way good farmers could receive some sort of financial recognition for their efforts to do the right thing and those who are non-compliant would then pay a greater share of the costs. 

We should be recognising the best in the industry while ensuring that those who are letting us all down with their practices, quickly lift their game. How about it?

Shayne and Charmaine O'Shea, winners of the 2013 Ballance Farm Environment Award