Saturday, April 25, 2015

Frana Cardno, A Great Green Mayor

Frana Cardno passed away on Thursday after tragically being diagnosed with cancer last year. She was New Zealand's longest consectively serving Mayor, having served the Southland District in that capacity from 1992 to 2013 (21 years). She was first elected as a Southland District Councillor in 1989.

My first personal contact with Frana was as the Green Party spokesperson for Invercargill when I received phone call from her early one morning. Frana was very concerned about the potential damage to Fiordland National Park through the proposed Milford/Dart Tunnel and the monorail scheme. We talked for some time as she sounded me out regarding my knowledge of the issues and my commitment to doing something about them. She also wanted to know what the Green Party could do. I could imagine Frana having similar conversations with many other people as she attempted to establish prospective allies and galvanise support for any future action.

Meetings were held in Te Anau that led to the Save Fiordland Incorporated Society and the campaign it fronted. Frana had a leading role in the formation of the society, served on the executive and presented the monorail petition to parliament.

Frana also supported our campaign against Solid Energy's plans to dig up the Mataura Plains for their mad lignite schemes. She closed our Coal Action Murihiku public meeting at the end of our 2013 Keep the Coal in the Hole summer festival. In her speech she expressed her frustration with the ever decreasing ability of councils to meet the needs of the people they served. The Government had removed the "four well-beings" (social, environmental, economic and cultural) from the Local Government Act which reduced the ability of councils to include these in the management of consents. Frana implored those present to write submissions to her council plan that would give them a stronger environmental mandate to counter the Government's narrow agenda.

Frana was a passionate advocate for the things that really mattered and energetically pursued the causes she believed in. It was a privilege to have known her and my sympathies go to her family.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Five more reasons why John Key should resign

Towards the end of last year I listed five very good reasons why John Key should resign, here are five more compelling ones that have transpired since:
  1. Whether he has an actual problem with touching hair or not, it is a clear invasion of personal boundaries and human rights to continually touch someone after they made it clear that the contact was unwelcome. It is also harassment while at work and abuse of privilege if Key gets away with the behaviour. The incident has also caused international embarrassment
  2. John Key is sending troops into a war zone with no parliamentary consensus and he couldn't even name the enemy. It appears that our Prime Minister is doing what he has been asked to do by a larger power and has not actually ensured he has been fully briefed on the situation himself. 
  3. The Prime Minister does not have a leadership style nor has built a parliamentary culture that ensures he is well informed. He should have known about Mike Sabin's situation was well before he considered him for heading the Law and Order select committee.
  4. John Key continually makes personal attacks on those who criticise his leadership rather than deal with the valid issues that they bring up in a statesman-like way. Calling respected investigative journalist Nicky Hager and whistle blower Edward Snowden "backward-looking anti-American bunch of plonkers" makes his stance arrogant and unquestioningly pro-American.  His support of Cameron Slater is direct acceptance of 'shock jock' journalism and is therefore hypocritical. 
  5. John Key refuses to answer perfectly reasonable questions about the GCSB and is undermining public confidence in his honesty and personal oversight. The Prime Minister is ultimately responsible for the operations of our spy agencies and should be trusted to do this in the interests of genuine New Zealand security, not political expediency.
John Key is still not behaving in an honorable or an ethical way. He is not respecting the role of Prime Minister and is not conducting himself with any decorum or dignity. 

John Key should resign!  

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Growing poverty and the stagnation of Invercargill CBD

The Southland Times had a front page article bemoaning the growing number of empty shops in the central city and listed a number of possible reasons, however not one was about the dropping spending power of most workers, families and beneficiaries. 

This was my response:

The Editor
The Southland Times

Dear Sir

It surprises me that one of the most influential reasons leading to a growth of empty shops in Invercargill’s CBD never got a mention in the front page article (April 20). Obviously not one single reason can be highlighted as the cause of commercial stagnation in our city centre, and many valid reasons were listed, but surely the spending power of the city must also be considered a factor.

New Zealand has had a ‘rock star’ economy since at least 2011. The past four years have seen our richest increase their wealth by around 10% to 30% a year. At the same time there has been almost no trickling down from the wealth generated by our booming economy and most wage earners have been lucky to get a 1-2% increase a year and almost 50% of workers got no increase in 2014. We are known to be a low wage economy.

The Southland region earns 12% of our national income, from only 3% of the country’s population, and one would expect our median income would be amongst the highest in New Zealand. The 2013 census revealed that the median annual income in Invercargill from all sources, for those of working age, was a paltry $27,400. This is well below what is considered a living wage (around $39,000). Only 23% of us earned more than $50,000.

It is clear to me that the lack of money in the pockets of most Invercargill people must have contributed substantially to the growth of empty shops. The steady increase of inequality in New Zealand (one of the fastest in the OECD) has done little for our domestic economy and our local businesses.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The end of journalism as a public service?

The possible axing of Campbell Live has sparked another debate about the role of journalism in New Zealand and the conflict between public service and commercial interests. There has been a steady erosion of robust and informative main stream media (MSM) journalism in New Zealand over the past decade or so. I believe this is partly because of advances in technology, but mostly a shift in values and priorities for our news and current events providers.

I have seen a decline in news reporting and journalism in Invercargill over the last thirty years and it has been especially noticeable over the last two elections. The Southland Times has existed since 1862 and still operates from the same building it built in 1908. It was once a family owned business and did all its own printing. It is now owned by the Australian Corporation, Fairfax, and is printed in Dunedin. Staff numbers have been cut to the extent that the 107 year old building is probably bigger than its staff require and journalists are no longer available to report on weekend events. There are now few experienced journalists employed by the Southland Times with any great institutional knowledge or having lived long enough in the province to bring any sense of perspective to their local stories.

In 2011 there was a dedicated political journalist who covered the election campaign in reasonable depth. The Editor also looked at all the issues confronting the province and chose water quality as the number one concern. All candidates were provided with ample opportunity to present their party's policies on water management. Invercargill people were well informed, through good investigative journalism, on water quality and all candidates had opportunities to get their messages across. There was also some critical analysis of party policy and candidate performance.

In 2014 a political journalist was initially employed and interviewed me at length (as the Green Party candidate) but then shortly left and the interview was never published. There was no single journalist covering the campaign from then on and one of the dominant elements of the coverage was a regular feature where people were asked in cafes around the province who they were voting for. The key issues for Southland weren't identified, there was no analysis of policy and very little examination of candidates' performance. Political reporting now appears to concentrate on public views and polls rather than providing useful information and analysis.

The local TV Company (CUE TV) did have an informed and enthusiastic reporter and there was some good coverage of the campaign but, as far as I can tell, few people watched their local news programme. CUE TV is now abandoning its regional services  and will just focus on the production aspect of its business. The journalist I referred to now works for Venture Southland.

The Invercargill SIT's Peter Arnett School of Journalism is closing from next year, reflecting a nationwide drop in students interested in journalism. There are much fewer employment opportunities for journalists and courses have lost support.

CareersNZ states, "Chances of getting a job as a journalist are poor due to high competition for a limited number of vacancies." Experienced journalists are holding fast to their jobs as budgets tighten and they are less likely to get jobs elsewhere. Cheaper, less experienced journalists appear to be favoured when vacancies occur. The only growth area for experienced journalists now is in PR and media consultancy and for those genuinely interested in news and investigative journalism there is little work available. The Government now spends more on media advisors or spin doctors than policy analysts and there are more job opportunities working for corporates than investigating concerning commercial activities.

Closing down TVNZ 7 meant the removal of the only publicly available channel dedicated to information and education in New Zealand and made us the only OECD country where all public broadcasting must have a commercial focus. Now that we have gone down the line of chasing viewer numbers and popularising programming, there has been the inevitable dumbing down of content to fit the lowest common denominator. This has led to the extraordinary situation where the behaviour of two judges in a talent competition captured much greater media attention than sending troops to Iraq. Popular human interest stories, often generated through commercial manipulation, supplant stories of real national importance.

The current news media culture plays into the hands of the current Government who rely on the fact that any negative press has a limited life and investigative journalism into issues of genuine significance is minimal. When the GCSB bill was being progressed Key suggested that the recreational snapper fishing quota dominated public attention more. He even had the gall to suggest that it would be better for journalists to focus on the fish than our surveillance legislation.

Investigative journalist Nicky Hager has been dismissed by the Government as a left-wing conspiracy theorist despite his research accuracy and international reputation, while 'shock jock' blogger Cameron Slater is treated as journalist and wins media awards when he ignores most ethical constraints that journalists generally adhere to.  Truthfulness, objectivity and accuracy are some of the elements expected from good journalism, but the rise and power of the likes of Slater has shifted expectations. Our Prime Minister has effectively endorsed Slater's approach with his direct relationship and his acceptance of gutter journalism as the new normal.
Campbell Live, has survived as one of the few TV news programmes that genuinely investigates social, political and environment issues with a public service ethos. It also ironic that it is MediaWorks, a commercial broadcaster, has ended up providing what TVNZ has ceased to do. I can see why there are doubts around its viability if the commercial logistics no longer exist as it is actually the role of our public broadcaster to produce such programmes.

It was interesting that David Farrar has presented an apparent media shift against the National Government and shortly afterwards we learn Campbell Live's days are numbered. I am not a conspiracy theorist (and the two events are probably not related), but I do know that National manages negative press in a personal way and generally attacks the messenger rather than the message. National (and MP Todd Barclay) should be reminded that although Campbell has been a thorn in their side for some time, his interview with Helen Clark regarding the Corngate saga demonstrates his apolitical approach. Campbell does tend to focus on the issues, unlike others who front news programmes and wear their political bias like neon flashing badges.

National Radio (or Radio New Zealand National as it is currently titled) remains our only true public broadcaster of mainly current events and educational programmes and it has had to deal with ongoing budget cuts through a funding freeze. Despite the quality of their news and current events programmes, National Radio has a much smaller audience than TVNZ and television still dominates as the main source of news for most New Zealanders. What Campbell live has suffered from is the fact that New Zealanders still favour publicly funded TV for their news coverage and tend not to change channels afterwards. Also many who are interested in current events and news now access the material, including Campbell Live, online and at their own convenience.

NZ on Air has a commitment to support high quality and factual programmes whether it be through Media Works or TVNZ and this fund holder does provide some compensation for the lack of a fully funded broadcasting channel. The NZ on Air funded series fronted by Nigel Latta, The Hard Stuff (as one example), provided useful information on the state of our nation. However, the occasional informative documentary is no match for a channel fully dedicated to serving the public's interests in an ongoing manner.

It is a win win for this Government when they can reduce the media scrutiny of their policies and activities under the guise of fiscal prudence and commercial realities. Public service comes at a cost and it appears that well funded and independent public broadcasting is no longer necessary or affordable. When corruption and abuse of privilege are becoming growing issues in our country our Fourth Estate has become a weakened force.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Some Worrying Numbers...

55 Maui's Dolphins left and the Government has opened up 25% of their sanctuary for oil exploration.

14.6C the average temperature for 2014, the hottest on record and 0.69C above the 20th Century average.

99 M3+ earthquakes in central and eastern United States between 2009 and 2013. There were only 21 between 1973 and 2008 and the number and severity of earthquakes is increasing. While the oil industry is claiming there is no proven relationship between the increase in earthquakes and the increase in fracking, there is evidence that says otherwise.

$182 million loss posted for Solid Energy for 2014, down from $335 million in 2013. The SOE still owes $300 million to various banks that was due to be paid off by 2016. The Chairwoman Pip Dunphy has resigned because she believes the company is not viable, but Bill English thinks otherwise.

$1.9 million a year to help feed hungry children ($9.5 million over 5 years).

$1 million budgeted to cover annual travel perks for retired MPs.

4th year of California's drought. The state is the food basket for the US and 80% of its water is used for agriculture.

$6.1 billion predicted reduction in farm income after the boom season of 2013/14. The farmgate milk price has almost dropped by half, falling from a high of $8.40 to $4.70.

11,700 Christchurch earthquake claims still to be resolved by EQC, 4 years after the major event. These are mainly the most severe cases and many families have been suffering in substandard conditions for all that time. There seem to be some crazy priorities in the rebuild.

52C or above is now coloured incandescent purple on Australian weather maps as these temperatures are expected to become more frequent.

$711,000 is the median house price in Auckland, 9% higher than the previous year.

$19,700 is the median income for Mangere-Otahuhu in the 2013 census. The 51,000 people living in the board area have seen their annual income drop by $200 since 2006.

$110,000 increase in pay for Southern DHB CEO. This was a 27.8% increase.

1,793 children in Whangarei received food assistance at least once a week. This is despite the Prime Minister claiming only a small number of children need support nationwide.

244 children killed by US drone attacks and 1122 civilians since 2004.

33,360 Auckland dwellings were listed as unoccupied in the 2013 census, while 11,200 more houses were needed to meet demand in 2014. Is there really a housing shortage, or poor management of existing stock?

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Invercargill to become New Zealand's Capital City

At a specially called press conference this morning, Prime Minister John Key announced that Invercargill was to become New Zealand's new capital. The news was unexpected as there had been no awareness that moving the capital was even being considered.

Key explained the need for secrecy was necessary until the final decision was made because the Government realized that a more public process would have led to parochialism and potential friction between provinces.

"The decision needed to be based around the facts, important security considerations and future proofing the seat of government," Key stated.

A detailed press release was distributed and the following is a summary of the information provided:

Recent seismic research had led scientists to believe that a substantial earthquake on the Wairarapa Fault (at the level of 1855 quake) was imminent and the existing parliament buildings were at risk.

The Beehive building has proved problematic for some time and constructing something new had been planned under the previous Labour Government.

Building a totally new capital on a new site (Canberra) was briefly considered but deemed expensive and problematic. All New Zealand cities with populations over 50,000 were considered.

The city that met the majority of the criteria determined as vital for our future capital was Invercargill:
  • a low earthquake risk.
  • an international capable airport that was the closest to Australia.
  • Climate change would mean that Invercargill is more likely to retain a moderate climate for longer.
  • Antarctica was seen as an area for likely future development (as populations shift due to climate change) and Invercargill was the closest city.
  • Invercargill had the greatest potential for development and expansion with its wide streets and surrounding flat ground.
  • a major port was nearby (Bluff).
  • is the centre of an economic hub (the province earns 12% of the nation's export income).
  • proximity to Queenstown, New Zealand's premier tourist destination, was considered useful when entertaining visiting VIPs. 
  • largely intact Victorian architecture provided the city a with sense of history and permanence in keeping with a seat of government.
  • has international recognition through movies such as The Worlds Fastest Indian and as a popular tourist destination.
The 1922 Parliament House would be retained and shifted to the new site and the second stage (that was planned but never built) would be constructed.

After fielding a flood of questions Key announced that the proposed timeline for the shift would not be available until after midday April 1.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

National's Bulldozer Lurches Onwards

The National Government barely paused after their humiliating by-election loss in Northland. In his normal cavalier and dismissive manner Key shrugged off the defeat, "so I got it wrong on that one, but that's the way it goes." He immediately dropped National's bulldozer down a gear and lurched forward again.

Although National have recently been claiming that the changes to the RMA were the crucial component to solving our housing crisis, it seems they were being disingenuous. As soon as it was clear that the Government no longer had the numbers to weaken the environmental protections within the Act, the plans were promptly ditched. The speed of the reversal emphasises the fact that there were few convincing arguments to support the changes in the first place. If they were so crucial for the development of low cost housing one would have expected a more determined fight.

Rather than dwell on yet another failure National just thumbed their noses at the thousands of environmentally concerned New Zealanders who marched in Auckland and opened up over 40,000 square kilometers of our territorial waters for oil exploration and 4,000 on shore. While Simon Bridges claimed that finding new reserves of oil is important to support the transition to using cleaner energy, the main focus of this Government is still firmly on fossil fuel and pandering to oil companies.

National's bulldozer is powered by oil, milk and a cheap and powerless workforce. The effects on our environment and people to maintain its smoking and destructive progress is substantial and to limit dissent and protest the true extent of the damage being done is deliberately hidden.

National's bulldozer is always preceded by its growing team of PR people who shape and spin its image before it comes into view. Members of the same team follow the bulldozer to cover and hide the damage from the New Zealand public.

The damage coverups are managed by hiding and withholding revealing data and information. If the public do not know the real extent of the damage caused then they will more readily accept the spin. Official Information Act requests are routinely delayed or unnecessarily refused and our Ombudsman are under-resourced for coping with the rapidly increasing workload. While the funding has increased dramatically for the PMs office, and his multiple press secretaries, Statistics NZ is laying off staff. Independent reporting on our environment, education and levels of poverty is actively discouraged.

Amy Adams has announced the areas that will be included in the next environmental report and it appears that much of the statistics directly related to the Government's drive to grow dairy production have been excluded. A comprehensive and independent review is being replaced with cherry picked statistics that have an economic rather than environmental focus.

National is relying on the fact that most of their bulldozer's emissions aren't visible and fewer people are bothered about swimming in our rivers. A considerable number of New Zealanders are falling in the path of the bulldozer and are being squashed and flattened, but because increasing numbers of them don't vote and have limited avenues for redress (legal aid has been cut by a third), they can be ignored and dismissed.

National's bulldozer lurches onwards.