Showing posts from May, 2012

Eric Roy Lives on a Different Planet to Mine!

Eric enthusiastically supporting Bill's economic management
Invercargill's National MP, Eric Roy, wrote a glowing opinion piece about his government's zero budget in today's Southland Times, ending with:

"...we are able to continue to deliver improvements in health, education, welfare, and other core public services to ensure we are building a more productive, better skilled society with more opportunities for all Kiwis.

National is delivering on policies clearly set out during the 2011 general Election - the next steps in our programme are for a more productive and competitive economy, more jobs, and higher incomes."

My letter in reply:

Dear Sir
It is concerning that MP, Eric Roy, is singing the praises of his Government’s “Zero Budget” when the overall state of our country is in serious decline.
The World Wildlife Fund’s comprehensive report on the state of New Zealand’s environment and biodiversity paints a depressing picture of environmental degradation. Ou…

Coal Action Murihiku Visible in Gore!

Thirty years ago there was an awareness and interest in the extensive lignite deposits in the Mataura Valley and the possibility of mining it. Artist Wallace Keown, well known for his atmospheric landscapes and thought provoking abstract paintings, was so incensed at the possibility of losing the wonderful farmland to opencast lignite mines that he created a painting as a visual representation of his concerns. Wallace explained to those who attended the opening of his exhibition that, at the time he painted the picture, movie theatres promoted their movies with colorful posters at their main entrance. He had the idea of showing how the Mataura Valley had changed through human intervention with overlaid poster images as if representing past, present and future movies.  The mining never eventuated, because even in those days it was recognized that lignite was a poor alternative to other energy sources, Wallace put the painting aside and it was forgotten.

Thirty years later Wallace had …

Head in Sand over WWF Report!

The World Wild Fund's report on New Zealand's environmental record since the 1992 "Earth Summit" in Rio paints a bleak picture. There has been little to no progress made in all the areas covered and a general deterioration has occurred instead.

I have written a summary of the report and included my own perspectives:


The New Zealand Government committed to "Stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system". Since 1992 our emissions have steadily increased across the three key areas of agriculture, industry and transport.

For a country of low population and numerous possibilities for renewable energy, the government has a bizarre fixation with fossil fuels. The worst of all of these is lignite and Solid Energy's plans to utilize the lignite in Southland to produce urea and diesel will potentially increase our emissions by ar…

National Kneecaps Quality Public Education

New Zealand's education system is ranked amongst the top five in the world and this is remarkable considering our multicultural society, high levels of child poverty and limited funding (we spend less on education as a percentage of GDP than most OECD countries). All the countries ranked around New Zealand also pay their teachers considerably higher salaries.

New Zealand class sizes are also amongst the largest in the world with the OECD average at 21 students per teacher at primary level.

So what enables our education system to overcome some real barriers and perform so well?

1) A creative and holistic approach to teaching and learning.
Since Clarence Beeby New Zealand has developed an approach to teaching that is related to the needs of children and not primarily focussed on standardized assessments. The current New Zealand curriculum supports schools in shaping a school curriculum that meets the needs of their children and the wider school community. The curriculum also recogn…

English's Little Budget of Horrors

When it comes to government spending and "balancing the budget", four overweight elephants (or hungry monster plants) remain in the room while Bill English attempts to fund their huge appetites by cutting the support to children, families, students and even taxing paperboys.

At around $11 billion, the largest elephant by far consists of the RoNS (Roads of National Significance) where even the Government's last commissioned report revealed that the cost/benefit ratio for some motorways is as low as 0.4 (40c return for every $1 invested). When questioned by Julie Anne Genter regarding the dire economic projections and funding shortfalls the Minister of Transport, Gerry Brownlee, came up with some concerning answers. He claimed that he wasn't interested in the facts, was no expert on oil prices, the motorways will be built simply because people wanted them and that "they will cost what they will cost".

The second biggest elephant that the National Government …

Merrill Lynch, Leopards, Spots and Mr Key.

New Zealanders elected John Key because he was amiable and successful. If a man is rich and personally successful then it seems logical that if he transferred his skills to governing the country then New Zealand will prosper as well. Sadly New Zealand hasn't thrived under John Key because he has continued to do what he does best.

As Merrill Lynch's global head of foreign exchange he successfully gambled and traded foreign currency, earning himself around $3 million dollars a year. According to Wikipedia he was also given the name "the smiling assassin" for maintaining a cheerful disposition while sacking dozens of staff during a recession.

Key's past employer, Merrill Lynch, did not come out of the financial crisis well, they were heavily involved in the mortgage based collateralised debt obligation (CDO) market and bought First Franklin Financial Corp, one of the largest subprime lenders in the US. When the value of CDOs collapsed, Merrill Lynch resorted to all…

Power Companies and the Holy Grail

Early last year, around the time of the Christchurch earthquake, there was a knock on our door. I discovered on our front step a very friendly man holding a clip board. He was promoting a new energy company and he was very persuasive.

This company, he promised, charged less than any other company and would ensure a meter reading every month. We were with Meridian at the time and we were frustrated by the fact that meter readings had become reduced to only once or twice a year and after a series of estimates we would find some bills of less than $100, then others close to $900. I got into the habit of paying a bit extra on our Winter bills so that a later blowout could be managed.

The salesman explained that the company he represented, Just Energy, was able to keep prices low because advertising and sponsorship expenditure were kept to a minimum. After a little research to confirm they were legit, I signed on the dotted line. We had an initial glitch when our final account from Merida…

Yellow Pages & Accessibility

Dear Sir I never expected the arrival of this year's telephone book to be such a devastating experience. I have smuggly watched friends and contemporaries resort to visual aids and increasing levels of magnification while I have managed to maintain the vision of my youth. You can imagine the shock and consternation I experienced on opening the telephone book and attempted to read the contents. I had barely recovered from this first blow to my youth when I received a second after expressing my concern to someone younger than myself. "What's a telephone book?" they replied. One seemingly innocuous incident has seen me rapidly shunted into the world of the aged and technologically dated. Yellow Pages Group Ltd, I will never forgive you! Yours sincerely Dave Kennedy (membership of Grey Power pending)I discovered my letter to the Southland Times did not get there due to an email failure. I commented on the stress that the arrival of the new telephone book ca…

Performance Pay for Teachers Problematic

The National Party have been pushing performance pay for teachers for some time and it has popular support because it suggests a process of rewarding good teachers and providing incentives to improve for those who aren't doing as well. It sounds simple but is essentially flawed.

As Hekia kept reminding people in her pre-budget speech, teachers are "professionals" and this means they join of a number of occupations that share that classification like doctors and lawyers. All professions share certain characteristics, they all involve a high level of education, training and constant professional development. They all require a high degree of social responsibility and ethical behaviour and there is also a considerable expectation of trust and confidentiality needed in the performance of their work. Most professions involve complex interactions with people and the unpredictability and often high stakes nature that influences these interactions can be demanding and stressful…

Parata's Education Plans Worrying!

"Learning is Earning", this economic mantra appeared throughout Education Minister Hekia Parata's speech this morning when she made some pre-budget announcements regarding National's plans for education.

Unlike her predecessor, Anne Tolley, Parata acknowledges that our education system is a largely successful one:

"We have an education system that is among the best in the world. It gives our students a platform to compete here at home and internationally. Four out of five kids are successfully getting the qualifications they need from school and we must celebrate their success and the professionals in our system who make that possible every day." However Parata still ignores the reality behind those children who struggle and continues to lay the blame for underachievement on the teaching profession.  "Too many of the kids are falling behind because they are not getting the quality teaching and leadership that all the evidence tells us makes the difference …

National's War Against the Poor

Rather than a determination to battle poverty this government has decided to fight the poor instead and together with their corporate mates they have devised a battle plan that mirrors the "war against terror". To gain public support for growing an effective arsenal in any war, one needs an enemy and that enemy must be perceived as a real threat. For Bush, the threat of a few radical terrorist cells could not justify a full scale mobilization of the US military so the implication that the Islamic world, as a whole, threatened US security was necessary. Islam became the new Communism and the American public allowed billions to flow into costly actions (and selected corporates) against a largely fictitious enemy.

On a smaller scale the same approach is happening in New Zealand. The National Party had their campaign largely supported by their corporate mates and once elected some form of payback was expected. The tax cuts to the already wealthy was intended to be a fiscally ne…

Paul Holmes Needs to Go.

When there are so few televised interviews where the movers and shakers of this country are questioned at length, in exchanges longer than a 30sec, why have do we have to suffer Paul Holmes as the interviewer?

The job of a good interviewer is draw information from the interviewee and provide the viewer with new insights into their opinions, knowledge and character. Shane Taurima understands this but Holmes continues to treat Q&A as a vehicle to push his own opinions and shape interviews around his personal thinking.

This morning he interviewed Russel Norman and Winston Peters regarding their views on the economic management of the country.  For anyone who genuinely wanted to hear how the Greens and New Zealand First would manage the country's purse strings, they wouldn't have been enlightened. Russel Norman has continually impressed with grasp of economics and presenting alternative strategies and Winston has had past experience as the Government Treasurer, yet neither ha…

Austerity Measures Create Anorexic, Weak Economies

The NZ economy personified
Chris Trotter rightly questions the validity of austerity measures as a way of lifting an economy out of recession and he expresses concern at the social costs of this approach. When social services and support are cut the social consequences often last longer than the actual recession. The ongoing costs to the taxpayer to support those whose health, education or employment needs were compromised, will be potentially substantial. Austerity policies also tend to limit the discretionary spending of households, which has a direct and negative impact on the domestic economy and small businesses. 
It is obvious that those leading Government policy at the moment are no students of history, while uncontrolled spending and growing debt are not answers to an economic recession, there are few examples in history to support the sort of austerity measures being implemented either. As Trotter describes in his post, one of the most effective strategies was Roosevelt's

Invercargill March

It is the official launch of the Keep Our Assets petition today. The Greens, Labour, Grey Power, the CTU and NZUSA have all supported a single campaign to collect 350,000 signatures to enable a citizens initiated referendum on the issue.

National are claiming that they have a mandate to sell almost half of our power companies and Solid Energy because they promoted this during their election campaign. They are continuing to say this despite the fact that every poll that has been conducted since has shown an overwhelming majority of people are against the selling of these strategic assets. As every day passes there are more revelations about how poorly thought through and researched these sales are.

There have been thousands marching in Auckland...

thousands marching in Wellington...

And in Invercargill this Saturday we are expecting a comparatively large turnout. This is one single issue that has support across all sectors of our society, with farmers walking beside Greens and student…

Pregnancy, Punishment and Poverty.

Simplistic thinking, demonisation and sledgehammers appear to dominate this government's approach to dealing with poverty and National is doing everything it can to address the symptoms of poverty while desperately avoiding the cause.

25% of our children live in relative poverty, unemployment is growing, fewer of those who are employed are in full-time work and the minimum wage is so low that we now have large numbers of working poor who cannot survive on their incomes without support. As Metiria Turei pointed out today, rather than focus on job creation, lifting the minimum wage and and addressing the growing disparity between the rich and poor, the opposite is occurring.

Over 3,000 jobs have been cut from our state services and a sinking lid approach to government spending has also limited job growth in the private sector (building more state houses, for example, would reverse the decline of jobs in the construction sector and increase capacity for when it is needed in Christch…

Pigs, Troughs and PM Entitlements

Images of pigs and troughs came to mind when it was revealed that the Prime Minister was was introducing a bill to lock in perks for former Prime Ministers. He will obviously benefit hugely from the passing of this bill and, given his personal wealth and the state of the economy, even thinking of doing this is a little obscene.

Perhaps twenty years ago the situation was different, retired Prime Ministers had fewer work opportunities  and spouses would have had minimal incomes. Geoffry Palmer, Mike Moore, Jim Bolger , Helen Clark and Jenny Shipley all continue to work and earn substantial pays. Jenny Shipley has received $108,000 over the last three years in annuities and travel, even though she has not been PM for 13 years, she is also creaming $1000 a day for being a member of panel set up to monitor the management of the Christchurch earthquake.

While most New Zealanders are having a zero budget to look forward to and experiencing ongoing cuts to government services, this sense of …

Don't Sell Our Assets Mr Key!

I'm no Woody Guthrie or Bob Dylan, but there is a long tradition of adapting well known songs as a form of protest. Additions or improvements welcome as I want to use this for our Invercargill march this Saturday. I managed to get Clint Green to sing it for me, he's New Zealand's very own folk protest singer who is already famous for his National Standards song. Check out the video for my song, and thanks to my son for organizing the visuals.

Don't Sell Our Assets, Mr Key

This land is our land, this land is my land
From Cape Reinga to Stewart Island
From the Kauri forests to our sparkling rivers
This land was made for you and me.

We paid our taxes and put our money
Into damming rivers and building windfarms
We created assets that provided power
For our people and economy

Our government borrowed and cut the taxes
to the rich and prosperous and corporate leaders
Now we are marching and loudly chanting
Don't sell our assets, Mr Key!

This land is our land, this land is my land
From C…

Unemployment Rise Result of Failing Government

We now have 160, 000 people unemployed in New Zealand at 6.7% of the working population, it is up 0.3% over the last 1/4. Most of the unemployment is among women (7.1%) and the level of part-time employment has increased while full-time employment is at the lowest level since September 2010. Unemployed youth aged between 15 to 24 have now reached a new high of 13.9%, double the overall percentage. When the recession has well and truly ended for New Zealand's top income earners and most corporates, these statistics are appalling and a clear sign of economic mismanagement from the government.

At a time when the wealthiest New Zealanders are seeing a 20% increase in income, the government insists on maintaining tax cuts to this group and stifling the domestic economy by keeping minimum wages low and drastically cutting government spending. A good number of the unemployed will include some of the 3,000 positions that have been cut from the state service.

It is madness that when we ha…

Science Education Underdone in New Zealand

ERO's Dr Graham Stoop's revelation that science is underdone in primary schools is no surprise to the profession. The huge focus on reading, writing and mathematics over the last few years and the introduction of National Standards effectively shifted the emphasis away from science. The wiping of all advisory services not directly supporting National Standards also removed the valuable professional support for science that I found hugely useful earlier in my career.

The decline in science knowledge and achievement has been known for a number of years. The National Education Monitoring Project (NEMP) identified a drop in achievement in the younger age groups and noted in a 2007 report:

"The significant declines for year 4 students in the physical and material world strands, which on average included tasks that were very popular with students, may be related to the evidence from the 2007 science survey that year 4 students were sensing a lack of science activities at school,…