Showing posts from July, 2011

Valuing our Ecosystem Services

The Royal Society of New Zealand has highlighted the importance of natural ecosystems as providers of services that benefit human wellbeing and suggest these need to be included in economic decision making. For Green supporters this is not a revolutionary idea but the Royal Society has articulated the concept well: 
"The natural economy provides us with many natural ‘goods and services’, but most are not considered in economic valuations, says a new paper released by the Royal Society of New Zealand. In its “Ecosystem Services” paper the Royal Society describes how ecosystem services or processes benefit human wellbeing and the need to include these in economic decision-making. It says when these ecosystem services are not recognised in the marketplace, it leads to decision-making failures. Examples of ecosystems services are forests reducing soil erosion, shellfish filtering water pollution, unfarmed areas improving natural pest control on nearby farmland, and ecosystems providing …

20% of Schools Break the Law!

I have already expressed my concern that this government's focus on numeracy and literacy, above all else, will have negative consequences on our children's learning. The Ministry have just revealed that around 20% of schools have refused to set targets against the Standards and therefore rejecting a legislated requirement. These school communities (boards and staff) have felt so strongly about the negative aspects of the standards that they have broken the law to protect the children in their care. Considering that the Minister of Education has threatened to withhold resources or replace boards with statutory managers, their stands haven't been taken lightly. One can only imagine how many schools have difficulty with the Standards but aren't prepared to break the law. A number of surveys have indicated at least 75% of principals and schools have major concerns.

It will be difficult for the Minister to continue to claim that this is just political action initiated by …

Rich List Prompts Questions

Reading the release of the latest "rich list" prompted me into asking a few questions in the form of a letter:

The Editor
The Southland Times

Dear Sir

If New Zealand’s rich list of those with a personal wealth of over $50 million is growing, why are most New Zealanders earning less than $28,000 a year?

Why have the rich enjoyed an 18% average growth of their wealth when most of us have seen a reduction of our disposable incomes?

How can one man have $2 billion, largely from investing in Southland dairy farms, yet the government can only find $15 million to invest in protecting our rivers from farming effluent?

Why does the government insist that the tax cuts for the wealthy are justified when many of those wealthy are expressing concern at the inequities of income and would be prepared to pay more?

If almost half of New Zealand wage earners need financial support from the government to survive on their incomes, are we not subsidising business profits and the incomes of the w…

Fairfax Media Poll Provides Mixed Messages

The latest Fairfax Media Poll has National being able to govern alone if the election was held now. It is an interesting phenomenon when there are so many concerns and protests around this government's initiatives and yet it continues to receive (according to the polls) widespread support.
We have Christchurch people concerned at the lack of information and urgency in dealing with their situation.  Early childhood educators and communities are reeling after ongoing cuts to funding qualified teachers.ACC claimants struggling with having to climb through endless hoops to get reasonable compensation (especially if you are over fifty or a rape victim). Those on low incomes and benefits struggling with the leaps in food prices and the general cost of living.Primary schools having to abandon the implementation of the new National Curriculum to make sense of an untested and flawed assessment system.Wage earners struggling to see why their wages cannot be increased to keep up with inflati…

Reform and Rehabilitation Worth the Investment

It seems to me that many of the costs that our government and tax payers have to shoulder are due to poor investments in areas that would save money in the short and long term. Spending on early childhood education is one area of investment that I have promoted previously in this blog. This is obviously too much of a long term investment for this government to consider as the benefits would take at least ten years to fully come into effect. David Lomas' article in the latest Listener titled "Senseless Sentencing" highlights an area that would show an immediate return to an investment that members of this government have actually identified themselves, prisoner rehabilitation.

We currently spend about $92,000 per annum on each prisoner and the costs of the legal process before incarceration must also be considerable. All in all we are looking at over a billion dollars a year to manage a prison population of around 8700 offenders. According to Lomas the majority of our cr…

Poverty, Absolute Poverty and Skiing Holidays

My wife is a GP and I am currently working part time as a teacher and our combined income makes us well above New Zealand's median household income of about $35,000. We do have a disposable income that we can use to buy more than the necessities of life and even the odd skiing holiday, like the one I have just returned from.

Our Summer holidays are generally based around camping, tramping and playing around in water and tend to be relatively cheap. Our skiing holidays tend to be not so cheap once we have paid for a rented cottage or motel, our ski passes and the odd meal out, yet there are many who obviously find few problems in affording this expensive recreational activity.

While we drag our aging, 12 year old, two wheel drive up the mountains we are often left in the dust created by large and relatively new 4WDs that dominate the car parks. My 10 year old skis and 22 year old ski boots do look a little different from those most others appear to use and I am surprised at the nu…

MoE Appointment May Challenge Quality Public Education

Despite the fact that New Zealand is regarded as having one of the best education systems in the world the government has decided to appoint a new CEO for the Ministry of Education from the UK, possibly the first to be appointed from outside our country. Lesley Longstone is currently employed to oversee infrastructure and funding for the English Department of the UK system. It is interesting that we have appointed someone who has a leadership role in a national system ranked 9 places beneath ours according to one assessment.

The really worrying aspect of this appointment is the fact that our Minister of Education has shown an interest in the "Free Schools" being supported by Britain's coalition government and Ms Longstone is an enthusiastic supporter of these schools. It appears that those that benefit most from these schools are the wealthy middle classes, at the expense of low decile schools.

New Zealand's public education system has been based on ensuring access …

The Rugby World Cup is a Trojan Horse!

We have constantly been given the impression that the hosting of the Rugby World cup is a prestigious gift, but I am increasingly discovering that this gift is more like a Trojan horse.

In the first place it is not a gift at all, it cost us a good deal in promotion and lobbying to gain the privilege in the first place, then we had to pay the IRB $150 million.

Once gaining the hosting rights logistical planning revealed that we lacked the necessary public transport infrastructure and stadiums that would meet international expectations.

The school terms had to be reconfigured at great inconvenience to schools and those sitting NCEA so that school busses could be used to cover the inadequacies of our public transport systems. By chance I happened to talk to someone involved with managing transport logistics and it was her opinion that we would barely manage to cope with this event and unless our transport infrastructure underwent huge improvements this would be the last event of this sc…

National's Naughty Nineties

It appears that some decisions made in the 1990s are causing some slight difficulties for us today. In 1991 the National government of the day decided that pesky building regulations were getting in the way of the building industry's ability to fast track projects, the industry could be trusted to make sound decisions without bureaucratic interference. Now, twenty years later, we have a leaky building disaster every bit as bad as the Christchurch earthquake, $11.5 Billion dollars worth of repairs and rebuilding.

In 1993 the National government of the day ignored advice and repealed the Coal Mining Act and regulations. This meant the loss of the coal mines inspectorate and the knowledge and experience within it. Now almost twenty years later we are grieving the needless deaths of 29 men. Kevin Hague has voiced concern that due to the obvious inadequacies of mine safety in New Zealand we need to act immediately to protect those currently mining. The Minister of Mines, Kate Wilkinso…

Four Great Myths Busted

Here are some great Myth Busters dealing to some common myths that have no basis in fact: 
1) National's ACC Crisis Myth - Myth Buster: Bill Rosenberg, CTU economist 
ACC’s financial position continues to improve according to the government accounts for October, directly contradicting ACC Minister Nick Smith’s claims of crisis for the corporation, said the CTU today. “ACC’s reserves are now above forecast by $739 million (5.4 percent), a further improvement over last month,” said CTU Economist and Policy Director Bill Rosenberg. “The strong performance of ACC’s investment portfolio shows that the Government’s claims of blowouts and financial mismanagement are completely inaccurate.”  ACC’s claim liabilities, above forecast largely because of changes in the assumed interest rate used to estimate it, are now just 0.6 percent ($166m), more than forecast, again an improvement over last month. These numbers are driven largely by constantly changing market valuations and by actu…

A Dairy Story with a Happy Ending!

While dairying is an industry that generally deserves the bad press it receives, there are moments when something positive bubbles up through the effluent.

The Editor
The Southland Times

Dear Sir
Two years ago I had strong objections to the dairy conversion that was proposed for a farm near Curio Bay. I felt it was an inappropriate activity to exist in an area reliant on tourism and the pristine nature of the marine environment. There were many other submissions objecting to the conversion at the time, especially when there was wide mistrust for an industry that appeared to ignore the negative environmental impacts it was causing. When consent was given for the conversion I was extremely dismayed and felt sure that, despite the stringent guidelines that were set in place, there would be serious consequences.

When the Environment Southland’s environmental awards were announced on Friday I was pleasantly surprised to see the same farm “South Coast Dairy Ltd” listed as a winner. After s…

National's Cunning Plan!

Q&A this morning devoted its programme to innovation and they had collected together a number of academics and successful entrepreneurs to discuss what was required to really develop a strong economic future for New Zealand.

Some common themes came through strongly:
We need a well educated population.Good ideas come from innovation and creative thinking.The most successful companies spend at least 6% of their income on R&D.Good ideas need investment to be fully realized and we need to divert money from non productive sectors like property.Our country has to invest in itself first to attract international investment.Ideas that have global aspirations are more likely to succeed.A vision that goes beyond ten years is important. Our current Government have done some serious thinking and based on these themes they have developed a cunning plan that is so revolutionary that we have failed to see its true brilliance. New Zealanders are naturally resilient and innovative and we have c…

A Capital Gains Tax is a Fair Tax

I have already presented on previous posts my concerns at the huge inequities of income in New Zealand. Most working New Zealanders barely earn more than the minimum wage with the median income sitting around $27,000. The largest employers over the last year have actually been returning huge profits with Westpac seeing a massive 63% increase in profits over the last half year. The most profitable businesses and the wealthy of our country have benefited from huge tax cuts when many already escape taxes on much of their income. It has been revealed that the most wealthy gain around 40% of their income from capital gain and this is not taxed, whereas those earning moderate or low wages have all of their income taxed.

The Government have been relying on the old and failed theory (trickle down) that if you allow business to return greater profits and tax the wealthy less then they will invest in growing their businesses and employ more people. What has happened in the US and here is that …

Democracy Shouldn't Stop at the Polling Booth.

There appears to be a high level of mistrust for our elected representatives in regional authorities and at national level. In popular surveys politicians are well down the list of our most trusted professions and despite being elected by popular vote there appears to be little faith in their abilities to act in the best interests of those who put them there.

I think there are a number of reasons for this and two in particular stand out for me. The first is around transparency and this comes out of the number of closed meetings that occur at regional and national level where the public is excluded from deliberations. An Invercargill blogger rightly questions the necessity of public excluded (PE) sessions here and here. Many of these PE sessions appear to have have been decided on dubious grounds and while the final decisions may be sound they do not support confidence in how those decisions were reached. Often commercial sensitivity is used as a basis for PEs but I struggle to see th…

Robert Guyton Follows a Tradition of Southland Leadership.

Environment Southland Councillor Robert Guyton's frustration with failings of our regulatory processes has led to an independent approach that follows a tradition of Southern leadership. Yet again the Government, and the nation, needs to sit up and take note.

Southland may be at the southern end of the country and be largely dismissed by much of New Zealand as inconsequential, but our impact as national innovators and leaders is actually substantial.

Southlanders are used to being sidelined or ignored by the rest of the country and rather than complain and make a fuss, we just get on with doing things independently. Southlanders are not overawed by the fact our population is small, we are a province of doers and we believe in ourselves.

My first experience of the Southland spirit was when I was involved in the Southland Section of the New Zealand Alpine Club. The Southland Section was routinely ignored by the national body when international expeditions were organized, so the Sou…

Dr Rob Whitney and Conflicts of Interest

In a recent ODT article on the mining of Southland's lignite Dr Rob Whitney, New Zealand's representative on the World Energy Council, was quoted as very supportive of accessing this resource. It appears that Dr Rob Whitney is an influential man in the world of energy production as he heads the WEC's project looking into energy development through to 2050.

If Dr Whitney has influence at an international and local level it is important that we are also aware of his background and any potential bias he may have regarding energy production. One of his key roles in New Zealand is as the CEO of CRL Energy which is owned by the New Zealand coal industry. CRL Energy specializes in research, testing and consulting in all aspects of energy production and in particular focusses on fossil fuel energy and most particularly "coal related research".

Given Dr Whitney's background, his enthusiastic support for lignite and coal appears to come out of his strong connections t…

Dairying IS the Problem!

The facts all point to the increase in dairying (19% growth in 2009-10 alone) in Southland having a direct relationship to a deterioration of water quality. The science collected around the Waituna by both DoC and Environment Southland shows the growth in cow numbers relates to a similar growth in nitrogen and phosphorus levels found in local rivers and the lagoon. From five dairy herds in the nineties there are now forty herds in the Waituna catchment. Consents for intensive stocking on porous peat land seems nonsensical now, especially when earlier consents only required two day holding ponds, and in wet winter weather many farms are awash with effluent. Regulations currently deal with only around 10% of the dairy effluent, most is excreted on to the wintering paddocks by the herds and washed into waterways with every rainfall.

Past Environment Southland Councils operated very much like a branch of Federated Farmers and the previous chair, Stuart Collie, openly supported the philos…