Showing posts from October, 2012

Hiding Destruction and Inventing Crisis

Each morning I turn on the radio to listen to Morning Report on Radio New Zealand National, it generally sets the scene for what will be the resonating issues for the day. My wife claims it is not good for my health because for the last four years she has witnessed me starting each day grumbling and muttering into my cereal and my blood pressure rising dangerously.

This morning my cereal was almost blasted out of the bowl by the force of my emotional outpourings and what cereal did reach my mouth struggled to negotiate my oesophagus as I choked on two particular news items. The first item was the Government's announcement that they would be discontinuing the five yearly State of the Environment Report (due in December) and the second was the Head of the Ministry of Education, Lesley Longstone, claiming that we can no longer call our education system world class.

The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Jan Wright, strongly condemned the scrapping of the environment …

NZ Alcohol Industry Triumphs Again.

Alcohol has always been a problem in New Zealand since the first Europeans arrived on its shores. Lawlessness and bad behavior in the early years of European settlement, often fueled by alcohol, was partially responsible for the development of Treaty of Waitangi. The only way for Britain to have legal jurisdiction over New Zealand, and so be able to enforce the peace, was to gain British sovereignty over the nation. It appears that even in those early days the main approach to dealing with excessive alcohol consumption was policing the effects rather than controlling the sales and supply.

Those who have suffered most from the effects of alcohol have been families and children. The temperance movement early last century attempted to ban alcohol altogether and did succeeded to bring about prohibition in different parts of the country(they needed a 3/5 majority vote). However the liquor industry has always been very profitable and there was a strong reaction to the growing strength of t…

Broadband in Schools Highlights Inequities

I do give credit to this Government when it is due and while many terrible things have been threatened or inflicted on our education system the Ultra Fast Broadband (UFB) and Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI) are positive additions. Sadly, once available, the broadband is only going to benefit those who will have access to the related tools and the knowledge and skills to use them.

Connectedness to the world of the internet and the World Wide Web is now essential for a child to fully succeed educationally. Those children who have the tools to access the information and capabilities of the digital age are able to complete tasks and increase their knowledge far more quickly than children who do not. Many studies have shown that access to a home computer has increased achievement in Reading and Mathematics (Tsikalas, Lee, & Newkirk, 2007).

Many high decile schools now expect all children to have a laptop or tablet/ipad and many have classrooms equipped with an interactive white board.…

John Key, Mastermind Contestant

The New Zealand TV quiz show Mastermind has been resurrected after an absence of 22 years, sadly its original host Peter Sinclair is no longer with us but MP Dr Lockwood Smith agreed to step into the role (Smith has some experience as a television quiz host).

Smith: "Good evening and welcome again to New Zealand Mastermind. Our first contestant is John Key, John's background is in currency trading but his current job is Prime Minister. His specialist area is New Zealand Governance and he has one minute to answer as many questions as he can, starting now!"

"What direct relationship does currency trading have to the governance of a country?"

Key: "I guess both involve making seat of the pants decisions and back room deals involving large sums of money..."

Smith: "No, there is no direct relationship, governing a democratic country such as New Zealand  involves using consultation and professional advice."

"When were you first told about the i…

Our Southern Paradise.

For many years my wife and I had contemplated having a our own place near the sea. My wife has very fond memories of family holidays in Appledore, North Devon. It is a very picturesque village with an unusual link to southern New Zealand. Both the Invercargill Museum and the Appledore Maritime Museum have displays devoted to the wreck of the General Grant. Both displays document the survivors ingenuity and tenacity in staying alive for one and a half years on an Auckland Island (sub-Antarctic) before finally being rescued. Two of the survivors came from Clovelly, near Appledore.

Westward Ho Beach, near Appledore.
Instow, across the estuary from Appledore
While NewZealand doesn't have the human history of Britain our wild southern coast has many natural similarities to North Devon. Our favorite part of this coast is the Catlins and most especially Curio Bay. It has an amazing combination of natural features and wildlife: the fossilized forest, the broad sandy beach and wonderful surf…

Hugh Fletcher Slates Laissez Faire Economics

Hugh Fletcher is stepping down from the board of Fletcher Building and this will severe the ongoing connection of the Fletcher family to the firm started by his grandfather in 1909. In his interview with Kathryn Ryan he expressed frustration with the laissez faire management of the economy over the last 30 years. Given Hugh's long and successful business career and his involvement on the Board of the Reserve Bank, his comments carry some weight. Alison Paterson describes Hugh Fletcher in glowing terms and claims "I have never worked with someone with a bigger intellect then that guy." I feel therefore that the points he makes in the interview (my interpretations admittedly, and I'm open to corrections) are worth noting:
No iconic New Zealand Companies that were around when he began in business exist today.There has been no commitment from recent governments to ensure that domestically headquartered businesses can compete with international companies.There is not a lev…

Government Prioritises Elderly Before Children

The Retirement Commissioner, opposition parties, the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research (NZIER) and all those who can do basic maths can see a huge issue with maintaining the current age eligibility for NZ Superannuation. The number of New Zealanders aged 65 and over is presently around 610,000 but is projected to be 1.1 million by 2031. NZ Superannuation is paid to all resident New Zealanders over 65 and while it currently costs us $9 billion a year, we will be looking at spending $20 billion in todays terms by 2031. That would mean every person in the labour force would be contributing around $7,800 each, almost twice the current bill according to the NZIER.

NZ Superannuation is one of the simplest and most generous pension systems in the world and we spend almost three times more of our GDP on Tier 1 pensions than other OECD countries.  According to a 2006 government report our over 65s have amongst the lowest levels of hardships of all groups measured and in 2008 New Zeal…

"Pass the Responsibility" Latest Party Game.

This National led Government have invented a wonderful new game (well they think it's wonderful), it's called "Pass the Responsibility" and is loosely based on Pass the Parcel. The rules are very simple (they need to be): the blame shifts around anyone other than the government and when the music stops those holding the responsibility, cop it.

270,000 children are living in poverty and many go to school hungry. Blame the parents!Many children struggle at school because of their home circumstances. Blame the teachers!Work and Income computers provide access to private information. Blame Ira Bailey!GCSB spys on New Zealand resident. Blame a lowly spook who was just following orders, blame David Shearer, blame everyone who didn't tell the PM what he should have known (when they probably did, but he's conveniently forgotten)! The Christchurch Schooling Review debacle: Blame the education unions, teachers and the school communities for being selfish, not accepting …

The Greens and Knitting.

"The Greens should stick to their knitting and only comment about the environment!"

I don't know how many times I have heard that statement and it generally follows some success the Greens have had in another field. It is a sad fact that many people feel that the environment is something separate from everything else and has no relationship with the economy, our health or the way we do business. Even the Prime Minister promotes the view that the environment has to take second place to the economy. 
Pure Advantage has determined that around 75% of our exports are dependent on us having a clean healthy environment. Our environment is our economy and our economy is our environment and the likes of Federated Farmers need to recognize that simple fact. When less than 20% of our beaches can be considered "very good" for recreation, almost 50% of our fresh water beaches are rated poor or very poor this isn't very good for tourism and appalling for our supposed 100…

Our Vulnerable Less Safe Under National.

"National is building a safer New Zealand. We’ve embarked on a comprehensive programme of reform to protect communities, prevent crime, and put victims first."

So says National MP Eric Roy in his latest blog post where he claims credit for the improved crime statistics. What Mr Roy conveniently ignores is that the highest levels of offending ever in New Zealand occurred under a previous National Government in 1992 and since 1997 overall offending rates have been in steady decline despite the Government in power. He also ignores the fact that it is crimes of dishonesty that has dropped most substantially but violent crime and domestic abuse is on the increase. 

This is also no time for self congratulation. Children in New Zealand are at greater risk of injury or abuse than most other OECD countries (29th out of 30) and we are one of the worst countries in the OECD for assault mortality. Sexual assaults have also risen considerably (up 15%over the last year) and so have our leve…

The Greens Go Well in Gore.

Gore is in the heart of Bill English country, he has his busiest electoral office there and it is not far from his controversial Dipton home. It is a wealthy agricultural centre and is known for it's excellent, higher end shopping and the annual Gold Guitars Awards (it is the New Zealand equivalent of Nashville and Tamworth for country music). It is less well known for its Rhododenron Festival and its support for the Green Party.

I spent a busy Sunday at the bustling Rhododendron festival manning a Green stall with MP Steffan Browning, talking politics and collecting CIR (citizens initiated referendum) asset sales petition signatures. It was the first time I had set up a Green stall in Gore and I was interested to know how we would be received. I was pleasantly surprised. Steffan was a great front person, he has a an easy, jocular manner and his agricultural background allowed him to speak knowledgeably about farming issues to the locals.

It wasn't hard to get people to sign …

HMS National, Off Course and Leaking!

Captain Key and his crew have built their remarkable ship HMS National using their traditional methods. They weakened building regulations to enable fast construction and have made sure the 1st class facilities were of the highest specifications. They ensured that the third class facilities were the cheapest possible and cut back services to a minimum. Their officers were paid the highest possible salaries and the crew were employed on the lowest wages. Brownlee, the ships engineer, loved coal  was adamant that the ship be powered on this fossil fuel, using engines well and truly past their use by date.

Soon after the ship set sail there were problems. The crew complained of their low wages and long hours and many jumped ship to HMS Australia cruising nearby. The third class passengers complained of cramped facilities and lack of food, many became stressed and took their frustrations out on each other. Bennett, the ships purser, castigated the fractious lower class passengers and cla…

Paula Bennett, Child Saviour

25% of New Zealand children are living in poverty, 50% of children will suffer poverty at some time in their childhood, we have some of the worst statistics for child health and welfare in the OECD, we have one of the highest rates of youth suicide in the OECD. Poor families are being forced to live in crowded conditions because of a housing shortage and jobs are continuing to be lost because of our high dollar and a struggling domestic economy.

The PM told Metiria Turei that she was barking mad to suggest a universal child payment (even though the elderly get one). Calls for meals in schools have been rejected, the fruit in schools scheme has had funding cuts and a youth wage has been introduced that is substantially less than the current minimum wage.

The White Paper on Vulnerable Children has been released and Paula Bennett has had an epiphany...what we need to do for children, above all else, is to introduce a dob in a child abuser scheme!

"I feel like this is what I came in…

Key's Compulsive Gambling Revealed.

Gareth Hughes' revelation that there have been 11 shipping near misses around our coast since the Rena grounding is a real concern. Not only have lessons not been learned from the earlier wreck but we are again relying on luck than good management.

This is a government whose leadership is essentially lazy and hard work and due diligence are avoided if at all possible. There are risks to this approach and to maintain the appearance of governing any revelations that they haven't done their homework have to be managed quickly, alibis constructed and potential disasters averted.

I have now come to realize that our Prime Minister's gambling background truly does dictate his approach to governance. As he ignores most of his advisors and refuses to read any reports that may conflict with his "Planet Key" view of the world he must have some way of navigating through the political quagmire. I believe that he has a team of actuaries in his office and he refuses to actual…

National Govt. Brings Much Happiness to Some

This National led Government is getting some bad press at present, but we should remember that not all New Zealanders or companies are unhappy with their governance and quite a number are very pleased with how things are being done:

The US movie moguls find our government very helpful as they are prepared to change immigration and employment law to accommodate them. I'm sure they are also appreciative of the Government's willingness to spy on our own residents when their profits are threatened. Warner Bros were especially grateful for the $10 million in tax breaks and the $13.4 million in advertising subsidies.

Australian Banks love our Government, not only is all our government banking done through Westpac but the New Zealand wings of each bank tend to be the most profitable. The last four years have been more profitable than the previous four and the $14.42 billion earned between 2008-2011 meant the almost  $2 billion that was clawed back in avoided taxes was easily absorbe…

Russel Norman, Finance Minister.

Russel Normans performance on Q + A last Sunday was measured, thoughtful and informed. He obviously has a good grasp of macro economics and has a pragmatic approach to solving our current problems. It amuses me that the stronger Russel performs in the economic arena the greater the confusion from the political right. Even the Labour commentator Josie Pagani felt compelled to suggest that the Greens should stick to talking about the environment.

New Zealand's manufacturers are under extreme pressure due to the strength of our dollar, thousands of workers are being laid off (many shifting to Australia) and tourists are not staying as long in New Zealand because of our high exchange rate. The International Monetary Fund believes our dollar is probably overvalued by around 15%.

The independence of New Zealand's Reserve Bank is generally accepted as important, however, it is limited by legislation that focuses on inflation and provides a limited tool box to do much else. According…

Opportunities Lost, Energy Efficient Housing

Southland's Energy Conference has revealed some frustrations around the construction of housing that is well designed and energy efficient. We already know that our housing stock is aging and much of it is substandard in international terms. Most current housing construction is for the elite market and the average sized house currently being built in New Zealand makes our houses the third largest in the world after Australia and the US.

For those people who want to build energy efficient homes using the latest ideas, technology and innovative designs the bureaucracy involved is expensive and time wasting. Many local bodies to not have the knowledge or the capabilities to assist people in building more sustainable homes and the result is actually impeding good progress.

When I joined Southland's solar water heating pilot scheme, the process of retrofitting this system into an older home was a bureaucratic nightmare. I even had to employ an engineer to advise what would be neede…

Why Finland Leads in Education

Pasi Sahlberg
I am now relaxing after an intensive but successful NZEI Te Riu Roa annual meeting and  conference and I feel very honoured to have been elected onto our National Executive for another term.

We had three major reports presented, one on the future of the teaching profession, and the other two about educating Maori and Pasifika for success. We watched an amazing video that celebrated the success of some Maori siblings (three brothers and a sister) who have become leaders in Maori education because of the support of their parents. We had a sobering presentation from our Children's Commissioner, Russell Wills, who is adamant that more needs to be done to address child poverty. However, it was the presentation from Pasi Sahlberg, an internationally respected educationalist, that most impressed me.

It was the first time Pasi had visited New Zealand and he did not want to pass judgements on our own education system. He did warn us about a shift in the way education was bein…