Showing posts from July, 2012

Rich List, Poor List

I am not an economist (although I did study economics at high school in the 70s) and yet I can clearly see glaring examples of economic mismanagement by this National led Government. This became even more obvious over the last two days after reading a copy of the NBR's "Rich List 2012" and then hearing the news report that the incomes of Maori and Pasifika families had dropped considerably over the last four years.

Since first becoming the Government in 2008 National has made it very clear that it is the already wealthy who deserve the most support and ordinary New Zealand workers and families need to make sacrifices to ensure the flow of money goes up, not down to those who need it the most. Dropping the tax rate to upper income earners has been the largest contributor to growing our income inequities and declining government income. Tax revenue plummeted in the two years following the tax cuts by $5.7 billion and the claim that this would be off set by an increase in …

National Party Ultimate Steampunks!

The National led Government is a conservative government and as such they prefer the reassurance of long held ideologies and views. They call themselves "centre right" and while they reject the hardline Neo Liberal views of the Roger Douglas brigade, this is more to do with political pragmatism than a rejection of the philosophy. I'm sure if voters were amenable, they would embrace a flat tax and the privatisation of everything.

Risk taking for National is using contemporary research and academic thinking to inform policy. How can you trust anything that hasn't been around for fifty years or more? Scientific confirmation that greenhouse gases were contributing to climate change was widely accepted by much of the scientific community in the fifties and sixties and although few National MPs will question it now, there is still a lack of urgency in acting on this knowledge.

The Emissions Trading Scheme was never fully supported by the Green Party when Labour first intr…

John Key's House of Cards

Since 2008 John and his National Party playmates have been carefully stacking cards to build a "brighter future" for all New Zealanders. Each card provides the structural support for another and they have been busy stacking them higher and higher while telling anyone who will listen how skilled they are at doing this. John bragged that they could make a tower as tall as Australia's.

John and Bill began the base of the structure with the "lowering the tax for the rich" card and Nick placed the "weakening of the ETS" cards on top. Gerry was a bit careless with his "drilling, mining and fracking our future" cards and caused a bit of a shake as thousands marched up Queen Street to protest their placement, and then Christchurch shook (but I don't think he was responsible for that). Gerry slightly adjusted the wobbling mining cards and then was given the responsibility of placing and supporting the "Christchurch recovery" card.


Innovative, Energy Efficient Housing Needed Urgently

$10,000 "Hobbit" home
I currently organize Green Drinks for Invercargill, this is an apolitical social group that meets monthly in a local cafe. This was originally started by Invercargill Transition Towns as a way of connecting all those who share similar green ideals, aspirations and lifestyles. We often invite people with expertise in a given area or have a particular theme, but mostly we just enjoy talking to like minded people about topical issues or life in general.

I have decided to have energy saving houses as a theme this week as many people I know are building new homes and trying to make them as energy efficient as possible. My youngest sister and her husband have relocated and refurbished a house onto a few hectares of land and will be off the grid and largely self sufficient. They wanted to install a composting toilet and recycle all their grey water but the costs of local body compliance has been huge and they have had to compromise on many of their ideas that …

Paula's Food Parcel Proposal

It was recently revealed under the Official Information Act that the government has spent $216 million on roading consultants for motorways that appear have rapidly diminishing significance. Some have failed the cost/benefit analysis that was done after the decision to build them. The Government has already spent $11.4 million on the "holiday highway" and the Minister has admitted there will be no financial advantage from its construction.

The National led Government has thrown a substantial amount of money on dubious projects and yet have refused to increase spending on areas where real need has been clearly established. 50% of our children experience poverty at some time in their lives and most young families are struggling financially with their incomes dropping in real terms. We now have working poor, families with both parents in work but because major living costs such as housing are increasing and minimum wages fixed at a level that is unlivable, they are dependent o…

Save Fiordland, a Green Perspective

Barrier Peak, Darren Mountains (one of my first climbs)
I have been asked to speak at a public meeting in Queenstown this evening to provide a Green Party perspective. I decided to demonstrate why it is crucial to have a strong Green presence in the next government:
We currently have a National led Government that puts economic gain and balancing the budget ahead of environmental and social consequences. They have an ideological agenda that is not informed by science, research or sustainable economics. They are motivated by the sugar fix of quick financial returns that ignore the long-term consequences and they put corporate interests before small businesses and ordinary New Zealanders. The sale of State Assets is a prime example.
This approach has had a direct impact on government services and departments and we have seen the evidence in the operations of both ACC and DoC, with some very serious consequences. In both cases the core purpose and public mandate for their existence has bee…

Private Tunnel Impacts on Park

In today's Southland Times, S Osborne attempted to support the construction of a private tourist tunnel in Fiordland National Park by claiming the impacts would be minimal. Using the Manapouri Power scheme as an example of minor impacts only displayed the ignorance of the writer.

Dear Sir

I wish to correct some rather large misrepresentations from S Osborne (20/7/12) regarding the impacts of a private tunnel in Fiordland National Park.

To claim the effects would be minimal couldn't be further from the truth and to use the Manapouri Power Scheme as an example of "maximising the natural environment without leaving a blot on the landscape and yet still enhancing our world" was a poor choice.

Constructing the Manapouri power scheme involved diverting up to 510,000 litres of water per second into Doubtful Sound and substantially reducing the flow of the Waiau River. The construction was hugely disruptive at the time and the pylons and supporting road hardly cons…

Our Children, Our Shame!

The statistics and evidence clearly exists, New Zealand has a huge problem with domestic violence and a large number of our nation's children are suffering because of it. Green MP, Jan Logie, asked some very direct and searching questions of the Prime Minister yesterday regarding the lack of action or commitment from the government to address this issue and got some bumbling, evasive replies.

There are around 73,000 police callouts a year related to family violence and 70% of those callouts also involve incidents of child abuse. When it is obvious that we have a problem in this area Jan wanted the PM to explain why the Government had closed the Family Violence Unit in the Ministry of Social Development and cut funding to domestic violence education programmes. The PM responded by brushing aside the claim that domestic violence was a growing problem, "information we have show it's  probably leveling off". The PM claimed that the Government had shown their commitment …

Implementing League Tables Dishonest and Unethical

When National Standards in Education were first implemented four of our more prominent education academics wrote an open letter to the then Education Minister, Anne Tolley, opposing them. In that letter Professors Thrupp, Hattie, Crooks and Flockton stated:
" our view the flaws in the new system are so serious that full implementation of the intended National Standards system over the next three years is unlikely to be successful. It will not achieve intended goals and is likely to lead to dangerous side effects."  The letter was ignored and three years later the same flawed Standards are going to be used to inform a league table to rank schools across the country. The Prime Minister himself has stated that the standards are "ropey" and yet he is supporting the use of them to compare the performance of schools.

Such is the concern regarding the damage that will be done by using such flawed, unmoderated data to inform league tables that 100 education academics…

Save Fiordland Society Incorporated

The Southland Times

Dear Sir

A recent business report revealed that around 75% of New Zealand's exports are reliant on our "clean green" brand and yet the reality is very different from our image. We are amongst the poorest for environmental monitoring and pollution controls in the OECD, 80% of our lowland rivers are polluted and our per capita carbon emissions are amongst the highest.

It is our largely pristine and untouched national parks that underpin our clean green brand and Fiordland's Milford Sound provides one of the most internationally recognized images of New Zealand.

It appalled and horrified me when the department charged with protecting our national parks would grant initial approval to two private proposals (bus tunnel/monorail) that would irrevocably change the natural values of Fiordland if they were to proceed. Not only will the environmental damage be substantial but the external costs for roading upgrades will be considerable as would the negativ…

Maori Party in Abusive Relationship

It always amuses me when people refer to "the Maori" as if they are a homogenous group that act and think alike. The Maori Party were always going to have trouble representing the breadth of Maori interests and iwi aspirations, and when they went into coalition with National the pressure placed on those supporting the left and environmental concerns became intolerable. Even Hone Harawira, who is the political face of this breakaway element (Mana), does not truly represent this group as a social conservative.

The Maori Party has always claimed they can achieve more for Maori by sharing a bed with the National Party than by not sleeping with them. If I continued with this analogy I would have to say that the Maori Party have endured an abusive relationship with their coalition partner. National have benefited the most from the relationship, the majority of their policies have a negative impact on Maori (who make up the majority of New Zealand's poor and disadvantaged) and…

KiwiRail Job Cuts Cause Unnecessary Risk

The 220 jobs that are being cut from KiwRail's engineering department are not insignificant. These are the guys that repair, maintain and upgrade the track and oversee general rail infrastructure. Our rail systems were hugely run down during the years of privatisation and have still not returned to the standard they were before. The main goal of this exercise is to save $14 million without losing "essential skills and competencies".

It all sounds a little like the cuts to our biosecurity staff where we were assured that we would not lose essential frontline staff and yet information gained through the OIA revealed otherwise. Twenty five frontline staff had been cut and two x-ray machines were taken out of service. An independent report identified shortcomings in our biosecurity that led to the entry of a devastating kiwifruit vine disease that will cost around $400 million in lost revenue.

If our track maintenance is compromised because of these cuts the potential for a…

Housing Crisis Demands Immediate Action!

While the government anguishes over our  education system and spends much time, energy and money trying to fix what isn't broken, other areas of greater significance are being ignored. New Zealand housing is in a crisis situation and the capacity of our construction industry is in decline.

Most of the housing currently being built is for the elite market, as the cost of building a new house is now beyond most New Zealanders. The average house being built in New Zealand places us third in the OECD for size, just behind Australia and the US, and they are three times bigger than those being built in Sweden or the UK. According to last week's Listener, it is also 30% more expensive to build a house here than in Australia and, as our wages are 30% lower, this just increases the unaffordability for the majority of New Zealanders.

We have a huge shortage of low cost housing. Auckland alone needs 11,000 houses over the next two years and Christchurch will potentially need similar num…

Racism Apparent in Our Legal System

My previous post was a response to the strong financial incentive for legal aid to gain guilty pleas from their clients. We know from statistics that a large proportion of those using legal aid will be poor and Maori. Maori make up 15% of our population but constitute 50% of all male prisoners and 60% of female prisoners. One could say that this is purely because Maori offend more than the rest of society and "if they do the crime, they should do the time", however the evidence says otherwise.

I have become increasingly aware that when it comes to policing, and our legal system, there is not a level playing field for all of our citizens. I have been appalled at the treatment Maori/Pacifika friends of mine have experienced from the police and the way their law abiding children have been harassed. If you are young, brown and out and about at night, if you haven't committed a crime then you are about to. A 1998 survey of how Maori perceived the police revealed a high level…

Unethical Incentives Skew Service Delivery.

This National led Government thinks in fiscal rather than moral or ethical terms. When John Key was questioned regarding the ethical nature of John Banks' nondisclosure of donation sources he claimed that as long as Banks hadn't broken the law (and he admitted the law was vague), he was comfortable. When it comes to money, it seems, as long as it is vaguely legal anything goes and the human consequences are not a major consideration. National operates a little like the tobacco industry as exemplified by one of their managers when Hone Harawira asked in a select committee if he thought that their business was a moral one, "It's legal" was the reply.

When ACC staff were provided with financial incentives to remove people from long term support then it totally changed the context in which the service was being provided. It has since been revealed that not only have thousands lost the support that they genuinely needed and deserved but hand picked medical assessors …

Key Admits Standards are "Ropey"

After three years and tens of millions of dollars, the National Standards in Education are still not embedded nor functioning as intended. 78% of schools are still not fully using them and around 1/5 aren't meeting even basic requirements.

The teaching profession asked for a trial before full implementation and this was ignored, we had also asked for dialogue around addressing the many flaws and this was also brushed aside. The past education minister, Anne Tolley, set up an advisory group that initially included representation from the profession but then refused to discuss concerns with the Standards themselves. The group only existed to progress the implementation.

Now the profession are being told that league tables and performance pay is on the agenda and National Standards will be used to inform both.

We should be proud of our quality public education system that consistently gets ranked in the top 5 internationally and, although we can still improve, the constant introduct…

Two Business Stories about Sustainable Success

I heard the first story yesterday through attending Te Kuhui Whetu, the annual conference for Maori education for NZEI Te Riu Roa. We had a impressive presentation from Tumanako Wereta the humble but impressive chair of the Tuaropaki Trust. Tumanako has led what must be considered one of the most remarkable Maori business success stories. An amalgamation of the land belonging to seven Mokai hapu in 1952 resulted in a business trust that has seen a growth of assets from $45 million to around $600 million over the last ten years.

The success of the Tuaropaki Trust is largely due to a strong vision and good deal of self belief. Their vision statement simply says that the Trust will "act as a beacon of hope and prosperity for our people", however it is the carefully thought through strategy that has provided the substance to the vision. Making the best use of their land and resources, four key areas of business development were pursued: temperature controlled horticulture, geot…