Showing posts from April, 2011

Acting up with Brash!

When I read The Hollow Men by Nicky Hager I wasn't filled with with the shock of a conspiracy theory confirmed or even felt that those concerned were evil incarnate as some did. I felt that the book and the documentary showed a group of people who are comfortable with their political philosophy but were aware that the public would not support their agenda if it was presented openly. To a certain extent the Greens also manage any public promotion and shape it in a publicly digestible way, that won't frighten the horses.

The difference between the politics of the right and left (if we use these flawed terms) is that the right have more they need to camouflage as their policies generally have a negative impact on a larger section of society. The openness with which National initially met with the Exclusive Brethren (as shown in the documentary) displayed a certain naivety rather than an intentionally clandestine operation. Those on the right just have a different view of moralit…

Impartiality Can Mean Different Things?

A local journalist and Public Opinion contributor is adamant that the Gore District Council is prejudicing a hearing on Solid Energy's lignite processing application by supporting an address by the world's pre-eminent authority on Climate Change. However the writer is obviously comfortable with the fact that one of the elected commissioners who may hear the case previously managed a coal mine and is currently a director of Lignite Ltd, a company that hopes to profit from further access to the resource in question. My letter in reply:

Dear Sir
Peter Owens' latest letter (April 25) continues to provide misinformation and fudging of facts, which doesn't help the ongoing debate around the issue of large scale lignite mining in the Mataura Valley.

The resource consent that Mr Owens refers to is related to Solid Energy's proposed briquette plant on Craig Road and this is just a small initial project that will have a relatively minor environmental impact. I am sure that w…

Green MPs Front Up!

There are two major environmental crises hanging over Southland at the moment. The most pressing is the potential "flipping" of the Waituna Lagoon, where serious environmental degradation is occurring as I write, and the second is the large scale, opencast lignite mining proposed for the Mataura valley.
Both situations have been marked by huge indifference from the National led government who see the profits gained from dairying and the potential lignite derived products as more important than what is environmentally sustainable. The Labour Party has been largely missing in action over these issues, with a track record of not making strong stands unless they think they will be publicly supported. An example of how Labour operate was seen during the popular campaign against mining in national parks. The Green Party had an anti-mining petition and major campaign in action over over several months before Labour picked up on it and replicated the campaign as if it was their own i…

Easter in Aotearoa?

Having a mixed marriage (English/Kiwi) has not involved too much cultural conflict. Vicky and I have found that our backgrounds have been surprisingly similar, despite our formative years being spent as far apart as you could possibly be, and in different hemispheres. Most of our family traditions and our childhood experiences are very similar and even when we compare our holidays, our family celebrations or festivities, or the books we read, it is as if we came from the same culture or country. 
The difference really becomes pronounced when the seasons are matched with the traditional celebrations and Vicky would be the first to say that this is where things go badly wrong. Christmas just doesn't work in Summer and when it is combined with the end of the school year and Summer holidays it is almost like all the good things happen at once and the pressure to get through them takes away much of the pleasure. Easter in the Northern Hemisphere developed out of the pagan Spring festiva…

ANZAC DAY (Part Two), "the price of citizenship" .

I strongly recommend the book Nga Tama Toa: The Price of Citizenship, C Company 28 (Maori) Battalion 1939-1945  by Monty Soutar. Even Monty's presentations on how the book came to be is an emotional roller coaster  and a revelation to many. 

Monty, with his team of researchers spent 16 years interviewing and collecting stories from C Company soldiers and their families. What resulted is a huge collection of narratives; sad, truthful, heartwarming, horrifying, informative and uplifting. 

The book tells us about the people from Eastern Bay of Plenty to the south of Gisborne, marginalized in their own country and treated as second class citizens. Maori were not allowed to drink in pubs and did not receive the same benefits and status as their pakeha neighbours. In the first world war Maori soldiers had a supporting role well away from the frontlines and were not treated as worthy of equal military status. On their return they were not offered the financial assistance that pakeha soldie…

ANZAC DAY, how war brings people together.

I thought I would write something around ANZAC Day but found a number of themes started to crystalize in my mind, so I have decided to separate them into different posts. Today I would like to focus on a positive aspect that came out of the great wars.

Although New Zealand is populated by relatively recent migrants (in historical terms even Maori are  recent inhabitants), travel was expensive and for many the voyage to New Zealand was their last major journey and later generations only dreamed of returning to their family and cultural origins.

With both world wars the opportunity to travel and see new places was a big part of why many young men, and a few women, signed up. Despite the horrors of battle and the tragic consequences that results from mass conflict the wars also brought the nations of the world closer together in a way that mere travel could never do. Strong alliances were formed between allied countries, many soldiers were welcomed into the homes of the countries they f…

Two New Posters

What do you think?

Lignite Mining, what price for future generations!

I wrote the following after attending Jeanette's presentation in Invercargill last night, hosted by Forest and Bird and the Coal Action Network of Aotearoa:

Jeanette Fitzsimons has retired from her parliamentary position and leadership of the Green Party and after decades of fighting for the environment one would think she deserves a well earned break, however, Jeanette is not the sort of person to rest when there is important work to be done. She began her presentation by patiently explaining the real consequences of climate change and said that most of us in the room won't be around when the full enormity hits "but you will" she said to a young girl sitting shyly beside her mother. What drives Jeanette and compels her to continue fighting is the possibility we can leave a world worth passing on to following generations.

The single most barrier to maintaining a stable planet is carbon emissions, through the continued use of fossil fuels, and the proposed lignite mi…

The Cost of Milk and Child Poverty.

Chris Farrelly, CEO of Manaia Health, presented some worrying statistics on Nine to Noon this morning and and shared some shocking stories about child health in the northern region he has responsibility for. He talked mainly about child poverty and the lack of commitment in this country to really look after our children.

Kathryn Ryan sharply questioned him about the causes of poor child health and suggested it was just poor parental choices and that we had adequate welfare support. Chris explained how low wages, high housing costs and inadequate benefits limited choices. It is generally considered that it is reasonable to spend 1/4 of one's income on food but many poor spend over 80% and then struggle with rent and other living costs. With benefits and wages falling behind inflation, and food costs largely driving that inflation, poor families are in a no win situation. At least 25% of our children currently live in homes experiencing a degree of poverty and a two day conference w…

Mataura is not a hole!

The combined efforts of my ideas and my son's graphic design skills. What do you think?

Semantics, Spin Doctors and Common Sense

It may be just an anal obsession with semantics, but I think the meanings of words can carry heavy connotations and there can often be a huge difference between the dictionary definition of a word and the practical reality. When it comes to describing political persuasions or philosophies the semantics become blurred by countless spin doctors, local mythologies and pure ignorance.
Act MP, Heather Roy, presented this explanation to Victoria University recently and a local blogger and followers (including myself) have provided some more light hearted definitions.
Research has shown that the majority of voters are not swayed by detailed policy statements but by emotional connections and surface perceptions. The main challenge for political parties in this coming election will be around crafting and shaping an image for themselves that resonates with the voter. Obviously the Green Party hasn't access to the funds and resources of a governing party who already have invested heavily into 

Solar Energy Supported in the South

We in the South may be battling the worrying side effects of the rapid expansion of the dairy industry and  are being threatened with losing the Mataura Valley to open cast lignite mining, but the Southland sun will soon be shining on some more sustainable activity.

Venture Southland, together with the three southern councils have instigated the first region wide, solar energy pilot. Solar Energy is something the Green Party has always promoted and even managed to get a centrally funded subsidy to support take up. However the initiative was not as successful as we would have wished, for a variety of reasons; the cost of the units were prohibitive because the market was relatively small; there weren't enough fully trained installers and many initial installations were poorly done which didn't help the promotion.

The southern scheme already looks to be highly successful, with minimal advertising it has attracted lots of interest and the company that is providing the systems has…

Solid Energy vs Good Governance

I couldn't believe Peter Owen's suggestion in today's paper that seeking views and advice outside that of Solid Energy's was naive. Peter suggests that we should ignore experts who have opposing views because it will result in costly legal bills and make life difficult for the Gore District Council and Solid Energy. The bizarre claim that supporting an invitation for Dr James Hansen to speak in Gore is demonstrating bias is nonsensical.
This is my response:

Dear Sir
I had great difficulty understanding Peter Owen’s definition of neutrality and what constitutes good decision making (April 16). He appears to suggest that in considering the merits of Solid Energy’s lignite mining proposals, the Gore District Council’s interest in consulting a range of expert advice is naïve.

Mr Owen expresses astonishment that the GDC would associate themselves with Dr James Hansen, who openly opposes coal and lignite mining. I presume Mr Owen’s dismissive manner is due to the fact he is n…

Arts vs Sport

I am currently chairing the governing committee of our local Art Gallery and it is exciting to be contemplating and promoting some really strong proposals for future development.

Our Gallery has been managed for over 60 years on limited funding, minimal staff (one full-time person only) and a heap of goodwill and voluntary support. Despite our whole annual budget being little different from the annual drinks bill for Rugby Southland our art collection and gallery management has been recently assessed as being equal or better than other provincial galleries in New Zealand.

As a passionate supporter of all visual and performing arts in Invercargill I see incredible quality and value in our local artistic ventures. Southlanders are also great supporters of the arts and our local theatre is generally packed for a variety of performances. I don't think many people are aware that Invercargill's Civic Theatre is the only theatre in the South Island, outside Christchurch, that has th…

The Issue or the Man?

I feel far more comfortable debating issues and solutions then attacking individuals and questioning personal motives and it was with some reluctance that I responded to a letter from Eric Roy in today's Southland Times.

Robert Guyton's irrepressible cheekiness in an earlier letter had sparked a strong response from Eric and a supporter, who described Russel's recent visit to the Waituna as a publicity stunt. They accused the Greens of just criticising from the sidelines and doing nothing when they were in government (we have never been in government).

On a personal level, I have found Eric to have a real interest in the environment and he has always been a keen outdoorsman like myself. While I have climbed, tramped and kayaked around much of Fiordland and Mt Cook, Eric has tramped, fished and hunted similar areas. The main difference between our shared interest in the environment is our political background and this dictates our perceptions around solutions to environmen…

National Standards; a train wreck in the making.

It is unfortunate that the National Standards debate has shifted out of the professional arena where it should rightly be. The fact that the Minister has no professional understanding has meant she will not engage at all with education academics, who are united in their condemnation of the Standards. Her insistence that any opposition is union and industrially based has no foundation, but if constantly repeated, begins to stick in the public mind.

There is no argument about the importance of having standards, both teachers and parents should expect and demand high standards in the education of our children. It is the form that the standards take, the implementation and the lack of evidence and research behind them that cause concern. It is interesting that in surveying the views of parents last year the New Zealand Herald found that while 73% liked the Standards only 11% fully understood them and a later survey found that as understanding grew, support for the standards dropped.


Lying, Fudging and Misinformation

Honesty in politics is often thought to be a misnomer, the two words are not really considered compatible. I'm not quite sure if it is because of this commonly held view that allows John Key to maintain a good level of popularity, people don't expect him to be honest, but at least he's got a nice smile.

However, it really concerns me that  dishonesty and misinformation are not being properly challenged by our news media and the constant contradictions are not getting exposed effectively. During the last election John Key had a few shaky moments when he was caught out and he appeared like a possum in headlights, but now his relaxed and dismissive manner when discovered bending the truth now seems largely successful and he is getting away with some pretty heavy stuff.

We will put to one side the statements around not raising GST, the early claims that National Standards were going well, the claims he knew nothing about the BMWs (despite test driving one and having memos cro…

The Sun Shone on the Waituna

The sun shone, the water sparkled and the birds exploded into the air as our kayaks approached. The Waituna Lagoon may not have the towering grandeur of Milford Sound but it has its own wild beauty that is appreciated with a passion by the local residents who have fished, shot ducks and watched over it for generations. Local Ngai Tahu have revered the lagoon for centuries as one of their most important sources of food and both long and short finned tuna (eels) can be found here in abundance. The international importance of the Waituna Wetland was established when it was the first in the world to be recognized by the Ramsar Convention in 1976.
One local farmer feels a connection more than many after his dying father told him that it was now his responsibility to look after the "lake". This resulted in him giving up half his farm to act as a protective buffer between the lagoon and the farmed land beyond. Another farmer told us with understated feeling that he just wanted his …

But will he walk the talk?

Nick Smith has released the Government's Freshwater Reform Report and in his introductory statement he says the right things. The real test of his resolve and that of the "Bluegreens" will be how they respond to the crisis in the Waituna Lagoon.

Power & Responsibility

I remember reading reading Ursula Le Guin's book A Wizard of Earthsea as a child and being strongly impressed by the underlying moral theme running through it.  Like the Harry Potter books, that it predates by almost 40 years, the story involves the education and development of a talented young wizard (Ged) who has to endure some difficult situations before finally confronting a dark and evil presence. Coincidentally, both central characters had their key mentor perish in their defense.

Despite the similarities between the two stories there is a key difference between Rowling's view on magic and Le Guin's. For Harry Potter, magic was an exciting and useful tool that was wielded with enthusiasm and could be used for fun or as a weapon. The education that young Ged received emphasized the responsibility and thought required in using any spell, large or small. Magic, in Le Guin's vision, was a direct intrusion on the natural order of things and should never be used with…

Too Many Deficits!

Dear Sir
Just how many deficits does this Government wish to run?

After rejecting the Green’s suggestion of an earthquake levy, which would more equitably share the cost of Christchurch's reconstruction, the Government has chosen to cut benefits and borrow. We will find those with the least will suffer more while the wealthy get to keep their tax windfalls. Cutting spending and borrowing will just delay the inevitable costs and will lower our international credit rating.

While the financial deficit is bad enough this Government is compounding our problems with a huge deficit in visionary thinking. While China is now leading the world in the design and manufacture of ecologically sound and sustainable energy sources the National Government’s prematurely released Energy Strategy revealed that fossil fuels still dominate their thinking.

I would rather live in a clean green country that leads the world in sustainable food production and innovative, carbon neutral energy sources tha…

Sshhh, SIS Secret Stuff

I am sorry to say my rise up the Green Party list may be hampered by my lack of effectiveness in standing up for human rights and the environment. The true evaluation for any environmental and human rights activist appears to be the size of their SIS file. 
When it was revealed that Keith Locke had been under surveillance since the age of 11 and both Sue Bradford and Catherine Delahunty had impressive files, the status in having one was immediately established. I had always thought that my 35 years of involvement in fighting environmental degradation and supporting human rights, including my public battles with Norman Jones (ex-Invercargill MP and well known homophobe and anti-socialist) in the early eighties, had been noticed. The fact that I used to subscribe to both Time and a Soviet monthly must have also attracted attention, especially as I always found the envelope containing the latter had been tampered with. After enthusiastically sending away for my file, I was brought down to…

A Very Fruitful Day

It is very satisfying when you can fill your kitchen with food at no cost and this has been one of our best years for fruit in the 17 years we have lived here. The apple trees are so laden with fruit their branches are almost touching the ground, the green house is full of the aromatic scent of ripe grapes and Vicky and I managed to fill two containers with blackberries from the side of a popular walking track. 

Vicky was concerned we were taking more than our share of the blackberries but despite being right beside the walking track there was no evidence of anyone else taking advantage of the bountiful supply. It was nice to have the fruit to ourselves but sad that others don't experience the prickly adventure of harvesting them and then the pleasure of eating homemade blackberry and apple pie.

Daylight saving ended today and the Autumnal feeling outside was more pronounced due to the heavy cloud and crunching leaves underfoot, but inside our house the smell of  grapes, blackberrie…

Crime & Punishment, what's behind the rhetoric?

I found myself agreeing with much that Judith Collins was saying on Q&A regarding our crime statistics. While good policing probably has made a positive difference to crime there is an on going problem with an element of police culture which needs to be resolved and she is quite right to expect that this should happen. Drug and alcohol rehabilitation would also make a huge difference, but it is just a pity that stronger controls over the sales and advertising of alcohol couldn't have supported such initiatives. The high expectations placed on the private prison sounds good too, but if this prison is expected to deliver on expectations, and make a profit, I can see cuts will be made in the pay and conditions of staff. Private residential homes for our elderly ensure profits buy employing non-qualified staff and having minimal employment conditions and private prisons have an international reputation for the same. While removing cigarettes from prisons makes sense on one level, …

April Fools!

I had hoped that the employment legislation taking effect today was part of an elaborate April Fools trick. Extending the 90 day trial to all employers was such a ridiculous idea as was the right to request proof of illness within the first three days of sick leave. I know Gerry Brownlee sometimes displays a sense of humour and Anne Tolley's grim visage can sometimes show a hint of a smile, so a witty trick on April the 1st was entirely possible.

I listened carefully for the midday news to hear the public announcement that the changes to the Employment Relations Act 2000 was just a clever trick, there was nothing. The Act is real and the crazy changes are now law.

Wetlands are not Wastelands

This is an image from the viewing shelter on the edge of the Waituna Lagoon at the heart of the Awarua Wetlands. It is one of the largest remaining wetland complexes in New Zealand and is nationally and internationally regarded as important for wildlife, especially trans-equatorial migratory birds. Over 80 bird species have ben identified in the area, 65 of which are dependent on this type of environment for all or part of their lives.

In 2007 the Green Party managed to wrangle $8.8 million from the budget (The Arawai Kākāriki project)for three significant wetland areas, with Awarua being the largest. This money has allowed for:
The science around wetlands to become substantial The partnerships with surrounding communities and farmers to collaboratively create huge changes in land use Providing effective public educationDevelop public accessibility  Despite all of this the ongoing scientific research has detected a negative change in the quality of the water entering the wetland. Farm…