Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Our children, our future, National's failure!

More than 300,000 children in New Zealand now suffer from income related poverty according to the Children's Commissioner. This is 45,000 children more than what was documented in his previous report a year ago and brings the poverty percentage up from 24% of children to 29%. We are almost at the point when 1 out of every 3 children lives in an income deprived household.

The future of our society and our economy is dependent on the support we provide oncoming generations and yet a growing proportion are starting life in environments that are detrimental to their health and development. The first five years of life practically determine a child's future and serious respiratory illness or rheumatic fever in the early years generally results in a life time disability.

There is also a connection between poverty and domestic violence and in 2014 there were 102,000 family violence investigations (up 7% from 2013). On average the police are being called out to a family violence incident every five and a half minutes. New Zealand has one of the worst records for child welfare in the OECD and one of the highest youth suicide rates. Alcohol consumption is also related to a large percent of violent and criminal behaviour.

The physical and psychological damage being caused to many of our children is extreme and the organisation charged with protecting our most vulnerable has been found wanting in a recent report. Most children ending up under Child Youth and Family care end up no better off than they were in their previous circumstances because of a culture described as "dump and run".  State care stops at age 17 and these youth are abandoned to survive on their own on minimal benefits. We have one of the highest imprisonment rates in the world and 83% of inmates under 20 have a care and protection record with CYF.

We also have a severe housing problem (currently 15,000 homes short in Auckland and rising to an estimated 25,000 by 2018) and the growing numbers of homeless families living in garages, cars, on the streets or crammed into already overcrowded homes are reflecting this. However, many of those lucky enough to get a house find that they are poorly insulated, damp and unhealthy and the cause of growing hospital presentations and even death.

1/3 of our children are overweight or obese and those children living in deprived circumstances are five times more likely to be obese than those in the least deprived areas. Pasifika families are amongst our poorest families and 30% of Pacific children are obese.

Mai Chen is leading the Superdiversity Socktake and under the current population trends, Europeans will soon be a minority in New Zealand, with Maori, Pasifika and Asian communities dominating in the decades ahead. Poverty and poor health affect Maori and Pasifika children more than others and they are becoming a larger percentage of our population.

The Government has refused to measure child poverty in any meaningful way and has desperately tried to hide the true extent of the problem. Nothing that they have done over the last seven years effectively addresses the causes of poverty. Rather than ensuring children are able to live in healthy, loving environments where their parents earn an adequate income to meet their physical and educational needs they have thrown bandaids at the problem. Anne Tolley's list of government responses are just reactionary tinkerings around the edges and for every new initiative that is funded, another is removed. Surprisingly children from wealthy homes are more likely to receive support than those who are are not, 25% of Kings College students received special education support when sitting NCEA.

Inequality is a large part of the problem and, while wealthy New Zealanders have seen their incomes dramatically rise under a National Government, those on the lowest incomes have seen their spending power stagnate and drop. Our economy recovered from the great financial crisis quicker than most and little of that recovery was shared with those who needed it most. The most recent example of the the extent of inequality was when our elected representatives were provided with pay increases at least double the median increase received by most workers. Our Prime Minister received a 3.11% pay rise or $13,000 more onto his annual income, this contrasts with the biggest increase that beneficiaries had received for some time ($25 a week) which will see them gain $1,300 a year.

Our children can't vote and have no political power and yet they are hugely significant in determining the future of our country. A lack of investment in our children will seriously limit our long term resilience and directly impact on the kind of society we will have in the future. 300,000 children desperately need safe and healthy homes, good food and their educational needs met. Their parents can only provide these if they earn enough and decent affordable homes are readily available. This National Government can't fob off responsibility any longer, substantial and urgent action is needed right now. The cost of doing little is substantial.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

False fears used to justify the unjustifiable

The level of threat to New Zealand of a terrorist attack is currently considered 'low', this has changed from the 'very low' level of threat that existed before the ISIS (or Daesh) crisis in Syria and Iraq.

Our involvement with the Five Eyes alliance has been partly justified because of the potential threat of a Daesh connected terrorist attack and the SIS has been consistent in telling us that there are 40 people on their watch list that they consider potentially dangerous. The Prime Minister and the SIS refuse to divulge the criteria used to define what they consider dangerous and given they have had people on their watch list in the past who were no threat at all makes me doubt the real danger they pose. Green MP Keith Lock was spied on from the age of 11 years (and as an MP) only because of his family's and his own political views.

It is clear that the Prime Minister wants to ramp up the feeling of threat from possible terrorism. When SIS Director Rebecca Kitteridge reported to an annual Intelligence and Security Committee meeting she expressed concern at the number of women traveling to the Islamic State controlled areas. She admitted that they had no information regarding their intent and what they would be doing there and that it only involved around a dozen individuals:

"It's difficult to see what they do when they go. We definitely do have intelligence that they went. Whether they are going to fight or whether they are going to support other fighters is not clear."

The information was very vague about these women, some may very well be part of aid programmes or be returning for family reasons. To assume that they wished to be part of the fighting or that they are radicalised is only supposition. However John Key used this information to make the public statement that that Jihadi Brides were becoming more common and implied that this was what these women were. When pushed he admitted only two were 'believed' to have become the wives of militants. Given that few of these women are unlikely to re-enter the country without substantial scrutiny I find it difficult to understand the level risk to our security that these women pose. The use of the term 'believed' means that the evidence of New Zealand Jihadi Brides is not conclusive.

New Zealand has been involved, directly or indirectly, in past Middle East conflicts for many years and yet the last terrorist attack we experienced was the French attack on the Rainbow Warrior. Key's intention in highlighting this issue is clearly to justify our military presence in Iraq, our involvement with Five Eyes and increased levels of surveillance.

The Paris attack and the mass shooting in San Bernadino, California, has ramped up fears in the West well beyond the relative risk. While both events were tragic and shocking the average French or US citizen has probably more to fear from someone in their own community than a Daesh terrorist. Donald Trump's wish to ban all Muslims from entering the US and constant calls for the wider Islamic community to take responsibility for IS extremists is hypocritical. The black community has more to fear in the US from the police shooting them than any terrorist (100 unarmed blacks were killed by police in 2014 alone). There are also more mass shootings in the US then there are days (350 so far for 2015), and less than 1% can be attributed to Islamic terrorists.

If we want a dangerous world to live in then all we need to do is marginalise and persecute communities and supply them with advanced assault weapons. Given the West's approach to the Middle East, and lack of an articulated strategy, it is clear that conciliation and peace have never been seriously pursued. It is always useful for Governments to create an external perceived threat to their own security to distract attention from their internal problems and justify surveillance human rights abuses. Key understands this well.

Postscript: A young Muslim woman found herself questioned on her return from Iraq after visiting family members with her parents, her story makes interesting reading.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

NZ Police Politicised and Corrupt

I recently had a long chat to a local policeman who will remain nameless because of his vulnerability if it was ever revealed that he had spoken out about the day to day realities of frontline policing. He explained to me about the management heavy structure, the shortage of frontline police, the poor performance of centralised communication systems and the frustration of losing the community policing approach that used to work. I was also told that the records they contribute to are managed so that the statistics look good for their superiors and fit with Government targets.

This policeman hated mental health callouts, he had no training to deal with those suffering from mental health events and was uncomfortable about the physicality of their management. Mental health sufferers were often locked up in cells as if they were criminals as secure mental health facilities are in short supply. He also explained how many of the offenders he was having to deal with were the product of failed systems. One of the worst he had recent contact with had experienced over fifty homes as a state ward and then abandoned at age 17 with few skills. He had become a bitter young man, who trusted no one, and was a constant offender.

Our police are having to deal with the consequences of poor health and welfare policy while they themselves are under resourced.

The police are also assisting with the implementation of unreasonable Government policy, protecting the Government's image and shutting down any scrutiny of their own operations. Here are some examples:
  1. Bradley Ambrose was the photographer who inadvertently recorded the teacup conversation between John Key and John Banks. There was no evidence that it was a deliberate act and no charges were laid. John Key demanded that Ambrose be investigated for intent and the police took the extraordinary steps of seizing 323 txt messages in the days before and after the incident. Many of the txt messages were conversations between Ambrose and his Lawyer in breech of lawyer client privilege. 
  2. Glen Innes state house removals were supported by the police who took an aggressive approach to managing the protesters. It was clear that they went well beyond what was necessary with regards to John Minto who hardly posed a physical threat. 
  3. The Government's target driven management throughout the public sector creates considerable pressure on managers and the police are expected to produce data showing reductions in crime. This has been achieved (with a supposed 30% reduction since 2008) but there is evidence that the reliability of the data is in question. In an effort to meet targets Counties Manukau recoded 700 burglaries as incidents between 2009 and 2012. While this was presented as an isolated incident, it was revealed on The Nation that police at the highest level don't want their statistics scrutinised (starting 6:45 in an interview with the Chief Ombudsman, Dame Beverly Wakem) . A OIA request from a TV producer for information regarding South Auckland police doctoring burglary data was delayed for over two years. A job sheet surfaced that revealed that the then Deputy Commissioner Mike Bush (now in the top job) advised that the OIA request was to be left and not responded to. 
  4. Nicky Hager severely embarrassed the Government with his Dirty Politics revelations and as a result the police spent 10 hours searching his house and removed his computer despite no criminal charges being laid. Hager's bank records were also accessed by the Police without official court approval. This description of the raid on Hager's house is particularly disturbing, especially the treatment of his daughter.
  5. Heather du Plessis-Allan embarrassed the police by revealing how poor their systems were to monitor gun purchases and vet purchasers. As a part of a TV3 Story investigation she provided fake details to purchase a gun to prove how easy it was to do so online, without a license. She then handed the details of what she did and the gun to the police. As a result the Police sent a team from Auckland to Wellington with a warrant to search her house. There seems no rational reason to have done it, other than to make a point that they don't like to be publicly embarrassed. The police had already been informed about the issue that du Plessis-Allan had exposed some time before but had done nothing to address it. 
  6. Censoring Dr Jarrod Glibert from accessing police data because he once published research on gangs is well beyond what should be allowed in an open and free society. Insisting that any researcher has to sign an agreement that will not allow anything to be published that will negatively impact on the police is one step towards a police state. Academic freedom and robust research is a necessary part of protecting our society from abuse through state controlled institutions.
  7. One would have thought after the police corruption exposed in the Arthur Allan Thomas and Louise Nicholas cases, that the police would have cleaned up their act. However the Scott Watson interview in the North & South raises questions again about manipulated evidence and vendetta's. Commissioner Mike Bush was also forced to apologise for his eulogy at the funeral of corrupt cop Bruce Hutton (who planted the evidence that wrongfully convicted Thomas). In that eulogy he praised Hutton's integrity. 
I have the utmost respect for many frontline police who are forced to work in many challenging and difficult situations, but I find the amount of political influence over their activities concerning. I also think that the current Commissioner's honesty and integrity are questionable. We need to be able to trust our police to treat us fairly and impartially and I don't think we can. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

NZ Government policy reflects those who make it.

I am privileged. I was was lucky to grow up in a supportive and loving family. I inherited genes that provided me with good health and the ability to gain a tertiary qualification. Because I am male, European and heterosexual I have suffered few prejudices or barriers to achieving what I have in life. I live in a relatively affluent neighbourhood, my children are successful and my wife and I are still married after almost 23 years (and she still tolerates me). We own our home and can afford the essentials of life without worrying about our income, life is good.

Those elected to government roles, both locally and nationally reflect my background. The majority are aged between 45 and 65 years, are European, well educated, relatively affluent and few have experienced real hardship. Most of us believe we got here through our own abilities and hard work. Our experiences of this country are a reflection of our affluence and the communities we live and operate in. If we remain within these communities, and our comfort zone, then Aotearoa is a paradise.

A growing percentage of New Zealanders do not share my experience or circumstances. According to the last census, 25% of us were born overseas, almost 14% of us were born in Asia, 15% of us are Maori and 7% have Pacific ethnicity. Males make up 48.7% of the population and once we are older than 65 years then two thirds are female.

None of our demographic have tried to rent a house as a young Maori woman; have experienced bringing up children on a benefit or minimum waged job; have been beaten by our partner; or have English as a second language. Few of us would have found problems finding jobs that fitted our experience or qualifications.

Once we remove all the other gender and cultural demographics other than educated, affluent European males aged between 45-65 years, we probably make up less than 5% of the population. Research has revealed that wealth reduces compassion and those within this group, who currently lead our Government, are probably amongst the wealthiest who have ever held those roles. At this point I remove myself from this demographic, and those left probably make up less than 1% of the population.

The last seven years has seen an incredible growth of wealth and influence for rich white men and a decline in the circumstances of Pasifika or Maori women and children. The priorities for this Government clearly meet the needs of a small sector of society with billions spent on roads for Beamers to drive on and much less for maintaining schools in low decile communities, building social housing or lifting the minimum wage.

If Metiria Turei, Eugenie Sage, Catherine Delahunty, Julie Anne Genter, Mojo Mathers, Jane Logie, Denise Roche and Marama Davidson had leading roles in the next Government we would see some major shifts in priorities. It's probably that simple.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

National and the art of distraction

The failure of this National Government to properly address the big issues confronting this country is surfacing in numerous reports. However, the massively resourced spin machine, supported by Crosby Textor influenced strategies, has successfully managed bad press since 2008 and continues to be effective despite the following:
At the same time the Government has been receiving heavy criticism for their lack of influence over the treatment of New Zealanders being deported from Australia. The fact that legislation had to be passed under urgency to manage those arriving back in New Zealand in increasing numbers (despite knowing this would be needed over a year before) was concerning. John Key's attacks on the opposition, accusing them of supporting rapists, resulted in mass walkouts from female MPs that was widely reported internationally

No matter where one looks this Government's care of our children, vulnerable individuals and families and the protection of our natural environment has been shockingly inadequate. Rather than the Government being held to account for its obvious failings the damning reports receive passing mention in newspapers and TV news and rarely make headlines. It is the distractions that receive ongoing attention instead and the Government is using them well. 

The flag referendum is being promoted with some energy and it is interesting that the staged process allows for ongoing announcements from the Government that can be used strategically to distract from embarrassing revelations of incompetency elsewhere.

The success of the All Blacks in the Rugby World Cup saw John Key appearing in dressing rooms and constantly rubbing shoulders (although some cartoons had him rubbing other parts) with our country's sporting heroes. The suggestion of whether Richie McCaw should be knighted received more attention than our child abuse statistics.

While children are still arriving at school hungry, many schools are poorly maintained and we lack thousands of houses, the Government is prepared to latch on to the national grief at the passing of Jonah Lomu and is throwing hundreds of thousands at a stadium based farewell. While Jonah was an amazing sportsman we have had other deserving New Zealanders pass, like Sir Peter Williams QC, with barely any Government recognition. It is clearly a populist ploy to spend so much on Jonah.

The capture of the conversation between Obama and Malcolm Turnbull praising Key couldn't have happened at a more useful time. Key's international image had taken a series of hits with his hair pulling issues, the radio interview where he admitted peeing in the shower and his rape support allegations being reported widely overseas. The positive comments from the most powerful world leader gave Key some breathing space again.

The poor health of our Fourth Estate and a strategic focus on populist politics has allowed our Prime Minister and his Government to float above the mess they are creating and the damage they are responsible for. It is important that we have a strong turnout at the People's Climate Marches in 34 New Zealand towns and cities to show that we aren't all blinded by the spin.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Sarah Dowie's Climate Spin

Invercargill's National MP, Sarah Dowie responded to a letter to the paper from P Burrows who had criticised the Government's record on climate change. Here are some quotes from Dowie's letter that was pure spin:

"This Government is committed to act on climate change which is why we're continuing with the ETS and why we've set a target to reduce greenhouses gas emissions to 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030."

"We believe the target is fair and ambitious."

"We've taken a balanced approach to setting the target without adding unreasonable costs to NZ households"

This is my response published today: 

MP Sarah Dowie’s letter (November 19) to The Southland Times was clearly an attempt to hide the dirty reality of her Government’s shameful record regarding climate change.

Most European countries are already on track to make a 30% reduction in emissions by 2030 (from the 1990 base line) and they have a goal to lift that to 40%. New Zealand is taking a tiny 11% reduction target to Paris from the same base line and is already being ridiculed for it by international science communities.

The global annual average for greenhouse gas emissions per capita is around 8 tonnes and at 17 tonnes per capita New Zealanders are amongst the highest emitters in the world. We should be doing our share.

Over the last seven years little has been spent on preparing our country for a low emission future, while billions have gone into subsidising and growing polluting industries:
  • The Emissions Trading Scheme was weakened and polluting industries subsidised.
  • Forests have been converted to dairy farms.
  • Conservation areas and our territorial waters have been opened up for gas and oil exploration.
  • New coal mines are being supported.
  • $12 billion is being spent on new motorways.
  • The electric locomotives on the North Island main trunk are being replaced with Chinese diesel ones.
Green technology has a fast growing global market and yet our Government has both feet firmly planted in the fossil fueled past.

Join our November 28 People’s Climate March at 11am (Cnr of Nith and Forth). We will have speakers representing our youth who will have the most to lose from climate inaction.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Paris Reflections

I have gone through a range of emotions after hearing about the 129 terrorist inflicted deaths in Paris. Paris may be on the other side of the world but I have French friends, I spent time in Paris relatively recently and my wife and son flew into Amsterdam the day after it occurred. I have some strong personal connections with the place and people and I found the news disturbing.

I was reminded of the dilemma my wife and I had when visiting her family in England and we were due to arrive in London with our children the day after the tube bombings. 52 people were killed and 700 injured in those explosions. We made the decision to continue with our plans with view that security will be much tighter and it was unlikely that there would be a repeat. However, it was a difficult decision to make and it rattled our feelings of security and made us look forward to returning to Invercargill where such things are unlikely to occur.

Many feel the horror of a "civilised" country suffering from these sort of attacks that generally only happen in those other Middle East countries where this sort of thing is more common. Obviously the deaths in Paris are shocking, and extremely distressing for those families who have lost loved ones, but I am am pleased that others are also commenting on the disproportionate attention and emotive reporting that these terrorist acts are receiving. The moral outrage being expressed is very selective and, given the reporting, one would think that 'we' are well above such acts and are somehow superior to those who would commit such heinous crimes.

The emotional distress caused by the 129 deaths in Paris will be no different to the distress caused by the 459 civilians (100 children) killed in Syria recently by US air strikes. For those living in Iraq or Syria the fear of an attack and possible death is constant and many probably fear the US as much as IS. The Obama sanctioned drones have killed around 1000 civilians and 200 children and the recent US bombing of an Afghan hospital, and attempted coverup, does not allow any moral superiority.

The West also turns a collective blind eye to Israel's persecution of the Palestinians. To those living in Gaza, the Paris attack is something they experience on a regular basis. There is a peculiar belief that terrorism via armed forces is justifiable but deaths via a suicide bomber is not. Some even claim because the Israeli military gives some warning before they bomb schools it some how makes the deaths morally acceptable.  The UN estimates that at least 2,100 Palestinians were killed in Gaza during the 2014 Israeli attack, 1,462 were civilians and around 500 were children. Israel, through the support of the US, has a massive military advantage and its claims of self defense are easily discounted when comparing the casualties, the Palestinians killed 66 soldiers and 6 Israeli civilians as they desperately tried to defend themselves with largely homemade weapons.

The US has made a mess of the Middle East with its ongoing military interventions and its support of Israel.

The Islamic State would never have become such a powerful force if the US hadn't armed it in the first place in a misguided attempt to dislodge Assad by supporting rebel groups. For ordinary people living in Iraq or Syria life has become much worse because of Western involvement. Hussein and Assad may have been despots but under their rule Muslim extremism was not supported and women experienced greater freedoms. It is also hypercritical to decry Assad's regime while treating Saudi Arabia as an ally, given its human rights abuses. The attempts by the West to intervene to establish democratic governance in the region has been a dismal failure and has allowed extreme Islamic philosophies to become established. The realities of living in the region after the interventions has radicalised a generation of young people who see the West as the enemy.

The youth of Syria, Iraq and Gaza (where there is little personal freedom and 60% unemployment) see no future for themselves and many have become emotionally damaged through witnessing the deaths of family members. What happened in Paris is just a symptom of failed attempts to address the rise of extremist groups in Iraq and Syria. The French are a major player in military action in the region and there was an immediate reaction to the Paris bombings with French jets dropping 20 bombs on Raqqa, Syria, a supposed IS stronghold.

I really worry for the Syrian refugees attempting to escape the hell that their homes have become, their treatment in Europe is not going to improve after the Paris attack. All refugees will now be seen as potential terrorists. I also am concerned at New Zealand's vulnerability because of our support of the US and our presence in Iraq. The Prime Minister's claims of us being safer because of our five eyes connections are not reassuring at all.

The war on global terrorism is doomed to failure if the very violence, and misguided military action that has created it, continues to be supported as the solution. There are probably many thousands of young people who are prepared to become suicide bombers or risk their lives in an attempt to hurt those they believe are responsible for destroying their hope and their future. Paris is possibly just the beginning.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Beyond Embarrassing

My unabridged letter to the Southland Times after realising how much is reported overseas regarding our internal politics:

When I first travelled overseas many years ago I was proud to proclaim my identity as a New Zealander. In those days we were respected as a principled country that championed human rights. Back then Australians and New Zealanders recognised and valued our shared history and our ANZAC relationship meant something.

How far we have fallen.

My European and American friends now know that our Prime Minister urinates in the shower and has an unusual attraction to long hair (why should this be public knowledge?).

We were once known as a great country for bringing up children but the OECD ranks us as 29th out of 30 countries for child health and safety (below Mexico).

When many countries are opening their doors to growing numbers of desperate refugees, New Zealand is ranked 90th in the world for the numbers we accept per capita.

Our Australian neighbours are not treating us friends any longer and yet our Government refuses to publicly denounce its human rights abuses as many other countries have done. The Prime Minister’s emotive description of the New Zealanders being detained under discriminatory laws as “rapists and murderers” was unnecessarily inflammatory, many aren’t even criminals.

A respected New Zealand soldier who served in Afghanistan (who has been charged with no crime) is currently being held in maximum security for being a member of a motorcycle club.

It was also reported around the world that John Key accused opposition MPs as supporting rapists and when female MPs (many of whom had experienced sexual assaults themselves) attempted to protest that slur they were evicted from the Parliamentary Chamber.

This is beyond embarrassing.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

How low can Key go?

The Prime Minister's performance in the House on Tuesday reached a new low when he accused the Labour of supporting "rapists, child molesters and murderers". After a question from Marama Davidson regarding Australia's breaches of human rights he even acccused Davidson and the Greens of similar: "If those members want to protect sex offenders, rapists and murderers, go ahead".

It seems that the Prime Minister is happy to ignore issues of human rights if it is expedient to do so. While claiming to have voiced concerns about the detaining and deportation of New Zealanders for historical crimes to Tony Abbot at an earlier meeting, it doesn't appear that he expressed them very strongly. Key keeps repeating the fact that those being held in detention on Christmas Island are criminals despite the fact that many are being deported for historic crimes where a sentence was served and there has been no reoffending since.

John Key and and human rights are not a natural pairing. As a student he had no memory of where he stood when the country was ripped apart during the 1981 Springbok Rugby tour. It is inconceivable that a 20 year old student would not have been confronted with the apartheid/rugby dilemma and not have had an opinion unless they had no strong moral convictions.

As a politician he has supported dirty politics and was happy to feed privileged information to "shock jock" blogger Cameron Slater to destroy his opponents and his open disregard for the Official Information Act is a concern.

When a New Zealander was killed by an American drone, Key brushed aside any concerns about natural justice, "For the most part drone strikes have been an effective way of prosecuting people that are legitimate targets." I would love to know what he thinks would define a "legitimate target" given his enthusiasm for making personal attacks on opposition members.

John Key is a Prime Minister with no obvious moral compass and has no interest in making a stand on moral issues. He would be happy to be known as the Prime Minister who changed the flag rather than making genuine positive difference in the world. He would rather rub shoulders with celebrities then help struggling New Zealanders or displaced refugees. Metiria Turei exposed the shallowness of his commitment to the vulnerable in the world when she questioned him on New Zealand's commitment to lead on important global issues while chairing the UN Security Council.

Prime Minister John Key does not treat his privileged position with any sense of decorum, he plays dirty, speaks dirty and his legacy will be in considerably lowering the bar for a PM's behaviour and what is acceptable in politics.

UP DATE: Today the speaker admitted that he was in error for not ruling the Prime Minister's statement out of order because he hadn't properly heard what was said but he still did not allow a number of women MPs to voice their objections. It was clearly unacceptable for him to block objections on Tuesday and, despite acknowledging his error today, Key's statement will remain unchallenged in Hansard.

Metiria Turei, Jan Logie, Catherine Delahunty and a number of female Labour MPs all stood with Points of Order objecting to Key's statement because of their own experience of sexual abuse or active advocacy for victims. Carter ruled the objections out of order because he deemed that they were too late for him to act on them. Marama Davidson continued with another point of order on the same issue and was ejected from the house and a number of MPs from Labour and the Greens walked out in support.

Turei's later questions saw Key reaffirm his comments, but the Speaker bizarrely ruled that reaffirming an objectionable comment was not cause to express offense and he would not act on those concerns.

Key's determination to continue with his objectionable statement (and possible dead cat strategy to deflect attention from the Government's lack of action) continues the downward spiral to an even lower low!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The cost of Bill's surplus still hurting.

Bill English is a clever man, through an economic sleight of hand he produced the holy grail, a budget surplus. This was celebrated as a worthwhile achievement since the tax cuts for the wealthy had reduced the Government's income considerably (tax revenue plummeted from $44 billion in 2008 to $33 billion a few years later). It needed budget trimming and austerity measures in many areas and increasing revenue from other sources (like SOE dividends, more speeding tickets and borrowing $50 billion) to ensure the rich could continue enjoying their windfall.

The cost of the budget surplus is being paid for in other ways:

But Bill got a surplus!

But Bill got a surplus!

But Bill got a surplus on the backs of the poor, the sick, the struggling and the homeless... 
and the rich get to keep their tax cuts. 

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Southland Sun Supplies Solar Success

MP Gareth Hughes visited Invercargill on Friday and he spent the time visiting a business and a number of homes that rely on solar energy as their main power source. He has been seeking support for his private members' bill that is only one vote away (Peter Dunne) from going on to a select committee.

Gareth's Bill involves a small amendment to the Electricity Industry Act that will empower the Electricity Authority to independently set a fair price for electricity buyback for small scale electricity generation connected to the grid. The cost of installing a solar system has dropped about by about 33% over the last two years while electricity prices have increased by around 25%. As the the support for photovoltaic homes and businesses increases dramatically (World Solar alone has installed solar systems on 200 Southland homes over the past 17 months) electricity companies have been cutting buyback rates and deliberately holding up paper work and meter installation.

If electricity companies make it so difficult for homes and businesses to be connected then there is the potential for many to leave the grid altogether, especially as battery technology improves. Obviously as more disconnect from the grid the burden of maintaining and servicing it will be placed on a diminishing number of people. This will force up the cost of power yet again and push even more people into solar. Some deep breaths and clear thinking is needed now.

There probably needs to be a total re-evaluation of our business structure for our electricity supply. Our hydro electricity allows New Zealand to have one of the cheapest and sustainable sources of energy in the world. However, Max Bradford's competitive model has never worked as intended and now the cost for the consumer is far beyond the cost of production and transmission. Ever-increasing profits and dividends have turned our electricity system into a form of taxation. In 2013 Contact Energy alone paid a $114 million dividend to the Government.

Other countries (Australia/UK/Germany) that are reliant on coal for a major part of their electricity supply have used subsidies to encourage the uptake of grid connected domestic solar systems. Solar capacity in Germany is steadily increasing, largely through grid connected private systems and on one day last year almost 20% of the production came from solar. Power companies in Germany have had to evolve from purely managing supply to becoming energy service companies and this is what our New Zealand companies may need to do rather than trying to fight the growth of solar.

In the near future it would make sense for New Zealanders to have solar homes and electric cars. The cost of installation will be quickly recovered if both the house and the car can be run on free energy. The Tesla electric car can do 0-60 mph in 2.8 seconds and drives over 400 km on one charge. Savings of around $5,000 in electricity and fuel costs a year could easily be achieved by installing a $7,000 domestic solar system and buying an electric car like the Nissan Leaf (around 16,000 2nd hand).

Gareth's private members bill makes sense and it would be helpful to contact Peter Dunne and tell him so. By fighting against the the global growth of solar energy the Government and our power companies are just trying to stop the inevitable and making life more difficult for forward thinking businesspeople and home owners.

Gareth also took the time to talk to Venture Southland about their wood energy initiatives and the research being undertaken for the best electricity model to replace Stewart Island's expensive diesel generator. He also took the opportunity to get behind the wheel of Venture's electric Mitsubishi car.

The following are some images to from Gareth's Invercargill trip:

 Two views of the same Invercargill home that had panels on the east and west to take advantage of morning and evening sun when the home demand would be greatest.

Home owner John Dasson with Gareth Hughes and Doone Morrell (Managing Director of World Solar) looking at the performance of John's system on his inverters. 

 Sue McNeill and Gareth after looking at Sue's grid connected specially designed eco home

 Gareth sitting beside the little battery shed of my younger sister's home that is off grid. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Government of Water Down and Trickle Up

It has been revealed that the Government rejected official advice to set tougher targets to deal with child obesity. The decision to take a soft approach to deal with rising child obesity should be no surprise to those concerned with public health and welfare as this has occurred numerous times in the past. This Government clearly puts private profit and unrestricted markets ahead of the general welfare of New Zealanders with the resulting burden being placed on our health and welfare systems and even our environment.

The Law Commission provided the Government with a number of recommendations about the sale and advertising of alcohol and the most potentially influential elements were left out of the final bill because of the lobbying of the powerful liquor industry. The Government weakened the work of the Problem Gambling Foundation in their deal with Sky City and even tried to shut down the Foundation's work by shifting their funding to the Salvation Army. Labour's Emission Trading Scheme (while not the Green Party's preferred way of managing emissions) actually had a substantial positive impact in its first year of operation, but since National watered it down our emissions have actually increased by 13%. Watering down the effectiveness of important legislation is what this Government does well.

The costs of child obesity to this country will be substantial if we don't intervene in an effective way. Already New Zealanders have obesity levels that make us the third "fattest" country in the world. Almost a third of all New Zealanders are grossly overweight (the definition of obesity) and another 35% are overweight. 1 in 10 of our children are obese and 35% are overweight, meaning that 45% of our children have weight issues and this must have an effect on their general health and ability to participate in physical activities. Issues with weight also impacts on a child's self image and academic engagement.

In his well researched book Stuffed and Starved Raj Patal explains how the commercialisation of the food industry has corrupted the food supply to the extent that human health has become a secondary factor to profit. Cheaply produced processed food and fast food is promoted more heavily in poorer communities around the world and heavily targeted advertising captures children into lifelong addictions to high sugar and artificially flavoured foods. Unregulated food markets have not caused positive outcomes in poor communities and healthy, natural food is now substantially more accessible to the wealthy. As one example, milk is much more expensive in New Zealand than in the UK, Australia, the US and Canada because of the industry monopoly here and a profit driven market culture.

The Government removed the healthy food guideline for schools that dictated that food provided in schools should be healthy. It seemed ludicrous at the time that teachers were expected to teach and promote healthy eating then schools do not have to practice what is preached. The photographs that compare the lunches of children from a high decile school and a low decile school reveal much about the potential effectiveness of education alone and the impacts of poverty when it comes to food choices.

The Government's decision not to intervene in the advertising and sales of unhealthy food to children is essentially pandering to those who profit from producing and promoting highly processed food that has little nutritional value. The Government has decided on an appallingly insensitive strategy of identifying and labeling overweight children as if calling children fat is going to solve the problem. It ignores the fact that what causes children to be overweight could easily be targeted instead rather than naming and shaming. While the private sector will continue to enjoy few market restrictions the public sector and Government coffers will have to deal with the health and self-esteem consequences

Type 2 Diabetes is reaching epidemic proportions and will dominate the work of our health sector at a time when it can barely afford to maintain current services. As of December last year over a quarter of a million New Zealanders were diagnosed with diabetes and thousands more will probably had it but didn't realise. The annual cost to our health system in treating Type 2 Diabetes had increased from $247 million to $600 million in 2008 and is likely to be well over a billion dollars now. No wonder any increases in health funding is being absorbed with little improvements to overall services.

In his valedictory speech Russel Norman said "...a Government can't do everything that's true. A Government can't mend a broken heart but the Government can fill an empty stomach - that is within our capacity." It is also within our capacity to make sure that we fill that hungry stomach with healthy food.

The profits of the already rich are strongly protected through this Government's watering down of important legislation and the wealth of the country continues to trickle upwards.

Friday, October 23, 2015

"The environment can handle more"

The first state of the environment report since 2007, "Environment Aotearoa 2015", has just been released and what it describes is nothing to celebrate. Basically most of New Zealand's environment is far from good, our rivers are pretty much stuffed, our farmland is largely compacted by too many cows and while nasty exhaust fumes from cars have been reduced, we have increasing levels of green house gasses. We have twenty species that have not been seen for over 20 years and pests such as possums and rats are causing devastation in our national parks. Our fish stocks may be reducing at a slower rate but then the acidity levels in the sea are increasing and we have a growing number of marine mammals and seabirds verging on extinction.

John Key's response, "The environment can handle more."

The following statements are reproduced from the report and I'm wondering why it reads differently on Planet Key:

"Land use and population growth have placed increasing pressure on waterways. This is more evident with agricultural land because it surrounds 46 percent of New Zealand’s rivers. Between 1990 and 2012, the estimated amount of nitrogen that leached into soil from agriculture increased 29 percent. This increase was mainly due to increases in dairy cattle numbers (and therefore urine which contains nitrogen) and nitrogen fertiliser use. Once in the soil, excess nitrogen travels through soil and rock layers, ending up in groundwater, rivers, and lakes. Between 1989 and 2013, total nitrogen levels in rivers increased 12 percent, with 60 percent of the 77 monitored sites showing statistically significant increases. The greatest impact of excessive nitrogen levels in New Zealand rivers is nuisance slime and algae (periphyton) growth."

"In catchments dominated by agriculture, nitrogen in rivers comes mainly from livestock urine, and from nitrogen-based fertiliser. Between 1990 and 2012, the estimated amount of nitrogen that leached into soil from agriculture increased 29 percent (about 1.5 million kilograms a year). This increase was mainly due to increases in dairy cattle numbers (and therefore urine which contains nitrogen) and nitrogen fertiliser use. Once in the soil, excess nitrogen travels through soil and rock layers, and eventually ends up in groundwater, rivers, and lakes."

"Irrigation is the biggest consumptive user of water in New Zealand (consumptive use is when water is taken from a waterway but not returned). Based on resource consent information (which governs the amount of water a user is allowed to take), irrigation accounts for about three-quarters of consumptive water use."

"Compacted soils also affect land productivity. Soil compaction is evident on land used for farming animals for dairy, meat, wool, and velvet, and is made worse by higher stocking rates and heavier stock. Over half of the land used for dry stock and nearly 80 percent of soils under dairy farming are affected by compaction. This can adversely affect productivity because compacted soils can impede pasture growth and the capacity of the soil to hold water, resulting in greater run-off."

"The leaching of nutrients from farmland is an issue affecting our rivers, lakes, and estuaries. This happens when we apply more nutrients to the land than grass and other plants can use. When an excess of nutrients flow into waterways, they cause unwanted plants to grow, affecting water quality. Nitrate leaching has been an issue for some decades, but has grown in significance as farming intensified in many parts of the country."

"Many species face an ongoing threat of extinction. The extinction of one species can detrimentally affect other species or even entire ecosystems. Since humans arrived, hunting, habitat destruction, and introduced animals and plants have resulted in at least 40 species being confirmed extinct. However, the actual number of extinctions is likely to be substantially greater. For example, at least 70 New Zealand species or subspecies have not been seen for more than 20 years, but are still classified as ‘data deficient’ or ‘nationally critical (data poor)’, rather than ‘extinct’."

"The most serious long-term pressures on our marine environment are likely to be caused by climate change. Coastal sea levels and long-term sea-surface temperatures around New Zealand have risen over the last century, and our oceans are more acidic than when measurements were first taken in 1998."

"More than one-quarter of our indigenous marine mammal species are threatened with extinction, and the extinction risk of one mammal species, the New Zealand sea lion, has increased since 2005. Māui’s dolphin is now one of the rarest marine mammals in the world, with an estimated 55 individuals more than a year old remaining. Ninety percent of indigenous seabird species and subspecies that breed in New Zealand are threatened or at risk of extinction. The risk of extinction has increased for seven of the 92 seabird species since 2005."