Tuesday, December 16, 2014
The terrorism threat is mounting in New Zealand, the Prime Minister claims there are up to 40 people here who are capable of repeating the sort of action tragically experienced in Sydney. New Zealand's terrorist threat has has been upgraded from very low to low. Legislation has been passed under urgency to provide greater powers to the SIS to allow surveillance without a warrant for 24 hours. The threat of the Islamic State is seen to be greater than any terror organisation existing in the Middle East prior to this. The Government has put all its energies into protecting us from the danger of IS related activities and the increased surveillance capacity will hopefully protect us in our new low risk environment.
There have been 3 deaths in New Zealand over the past 60 years because of terrorist acts and they all occurred over 30 years ago. Two perpetrators were New Zealanders and the other was a friendly state. In 1982 a local "Punk Rock" anarchist blew himself up when trying to destroy the police computer in Wanganui; in 1984 Ernie Abbot, the caretaker of the Wellington Trades Hall, was killed by a bomb placed by a yet to be identified terrorist; and Fernando Pereira was killed when the Rainbow Warrior was bombed by the French Foreign Intelligence Service in 1985. There have been no deaths from terrorism since, despite ongoing conflict in the Middle East and our own military involvement.
The SIS hasn't had a great record in identifying terrorists in the past. Green MP Keith Locke was spied on from the age of 11 years because it was felt he was a threat to the state, Ahmed Zaoui was also thought to be a terrorist and an actual terrorist act on the Rainbow Warrior was missed completely by the SIS and was cleaned up by the police. The Urewera terror raids in 2007 on Maori activists and Save Happy Valley protestors ended up with a few minor firearms charges and all involved are back with their families.
The threat of terrorism has been communicated with a high level of concern from our Prime Minister, but perhaps there are much greater threats to ordinary New Zealanders. According to the Women's Refuge 14 women, 6 men and 10 children are killed by a family member each year (on average). 5,000 people die every year because of tobacco use and second hand smoke and in 2012 93 people died because of drivers influenced by alcohol.
In 2011 the Government cut funding to the Women's Refuge by $800,000. This organisation provides the most support for those suffering from domestic violence across the county. The Government has put a hold on plain packaging for cigarettes and we now have two Government MPs who were once employed by tobacco company Philip Morris. The New Zealand Law Commission provided the Government with recommendations on how to reduce the harm from alcohol consumption and only a few were implemented.
Despite the Government's reluctance to deal effectively with the 5,123 people who die each year because of family violence, alcohol and tobacco, at least terrorism is regarded a lot more seriously. We can sleep safely in the knowledge that IS related madmen won't attack us in our homes and John Key and his team of merry spies are watching over us.
Saturday, December 6, 2014
From the North to the South, in fine weather and foul, Tim Groser and his Government got the bums up from New Zealanders. The nationwide Heads in the Sand protest today provided a physical expression of our concern that climate change deserved greater attention. Our Government Ministers need to get their heads out of the sand on this issue.
Fossil fuels are destroying our future!
This Government is committing ecocide!
Tuesday, December 2, 2014
The Southland Times described a report from the New Zealand Initiative (NZI) claiming mining was the key to rural prosperity. Although listing a range of extractable minerals this appallingly ignorant report strongly supports coal and lignite mining as the road to rural prosperity.
The New Zealand Initiative is being disingenuous in its claims that mining will benefit rural communities. There are very few mining communities in New Zealand that are prosperous and the nature of extractive industries is that they have a finite life and generally cause negative social and environmental outcomes. In using Australia as an example of the benefits of mining The NZI ignores the damage caused to Australia's rural communities. Australian farmers are leading the protests against coal mining and fracking with the Lock the Gate movement.
The well researched document Jobs after Coal explains the social and environmental consequences of coal mining and its chequered history as an industry. The NZI report only focused on the short-term earning potential and, based on past experience, much of the profits gained from any mining industry are not invested back into the local community. Most mining companies operating in our country (despite their names often including the words 'New Zealand') are actually overseas owned.
The NZI report also includes support for a dismantling of the RMA to allow for easier access to our minerals. Given the negative impacts that mining generally has on the communities they operate in, it is extremely important that a solid process is used to determine those impacts and full consultation occurs. New Zealand already has a reputation of being one the easiest countries in the world to do business in. Our Government's willingness to subsidise and encourage fossil fuel extraction was given special mention in a brief economic overview of our country in a recent issue of The Economist: ..."the offer of oil concessions will please investors" (The World in 2015, The Economist).
Our New Zealand Government is obviously influenced more by the likes of the narrow corporate interests represented in NZI than our climate scientists and local business people who are focused on a more sustainable future. NZI members are dominated by banks and investment companies and the New Zealand influence is debatable when it includes an odd mix of powerful multinationals, including BP and Imperial Tobacco.
Many of our most successful business people make up the Pure Advantage alliance and yet their championing of benefits of the green economy and our long-term sovereign interests are being actively ignored. It is hugely embarrassing to many of us who are concerned about the fate of our planet and future generations that our Government is not prepared to engage and promote those views.
At this very moment in Lima, the nations of the world are pledging huge reductions in green house gas emissions, the EU is aiming for a 40% reduction and the US is talking about reductions close to 30%. Per capita New Zealand is one of the worlds worst polluters and yet Tim Groser withdrew New Zealand from the second Kyoto commitment announced that a paltry 5% reduction by 2020 is the best that we can do.
What I have described provides a good background to the event that I am helping to organise this Sunday, the Invercargill Heads in the Sand protest. A good number of us are meeting on Oreti beach to demonstrate our frustration at our Government's active refusal to logically engage with the real concerns about climate change. Oreti beach is best known for the fossil fueled dreams of one Burt Munro but this Sunday, from 11:30 am, it is our climate that will be our focus.
Similar protests are occurring on Sunday around the country.
Sunday, November 30, 2014
Invercargill provides a good snapshot of New Zealand society. We are a city of around 51,000 people and have a breadth of industries to support our local economy. Within our wider province we have an aluminium smelter, New Zealand's largest dairy factory, a number of exporting manufacturers and the region earns about 12% of our national export income with only 3% of the population. We also have a highly successful tertiary institution in the Southern Institute of Technology (SIT) that pulls in overseas students and provides a wide range of courses to lift the qualifications and skills of our local workforce. Venture Southland is proactive in promoting the region and leading research and development to grow a more sustainable local economy.
We are also ethnically diverse with growing Maori and Pasifica populations and many immigrant workers. We have an unemployment rate that is similar to the national average of just above 5%.
I recently wrote a post about inequality and income distribution in Invercargill based on the previous decile ratings of our school communities. Those ratings were based on the 2006 census and I thought I would do a reassessment based on the new ratings that have been revised using the 2013 census.
One would expect that the income distribution in an highly productive community, with such low unemployment, would fit the familiar bell curve. Most households should be earning good incomes, a very small group struggling financially and a similarly small group that are very affluent. This isn't the case.
Out of 28 school communities 11 have a 1-3 decile rating and despite strong economic growth in the region over the past three years we have a decile 1 school for the first time since 2006. Our very poorest have got poorer. 9 schools have a decile 4-7 rating but 3 of these are decile 4 and only 1 is decile 7. We now have 8 schools that are rated in the affluent decile 8-10 group (down one from 2006).
The median income from all sources for those of working age in Invercargill is only $27,400. Only 23.5% of us earn more than $50,000 and almost 37% earn less than $20,000. A living wage is currently estimated at 18.80 an hour to give an income that would allow workers to "live in dignity and to participate as active citizens in society". This comes out at $39,000 annually for 40 hour weeks over a full year. Given our statistics probably around 60% of Invercargill people eligible to work do not earn a living wage.
I believe that Invercargill people and the Southland region are doing more than our share to support the national economy and to try and stand on our own feet. It is central Government that has failed us. Our hospital is underfunded and in crisis, we have had no social housing built since the 90s, our road funding has been cut, local state sector staff have been cut (DoC and the IRD) and the cost of electricity has caused energy deprivation for many. We no longer have any emergency housing for those in desperate need and there are plans to sell off most of our existing state housing (the money generated is unlikely to be injected back into our community).
As with the rest of New Zealand there are more early childhood centres and aged care facilities being built and the service industry is growing. Despite creating more employment the developers of many of these new businesses are subsidised by our taxes but most only pay the minimum wage to their workers to maximise returns.
John Key claimed on election night that he was going to work for all New Zealanders, he hasn't up till now and he has given no indication of when that work will begin. Meanwhile inequality grows and the future for most Invercargill people (especially children) under this Government is looking bleak.
Head of Dark Ops (Jason Ede)
Thursday, November 27, 2014
There are many reasons why the Prime Minister John Key should resign, but here are five:
- It is unbecoming and unethical for our Head of State to continue to have a personal and ongoing relationship (txt conversations) with a discredited 'shock jock' attack blogger who calls his blog 'Well I'll Be Fucked' (English translation).
- It is untenable that our Prime Minister accepts the word of a discredited blogger over that of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security in suggesting that parts of her official report are contestable.
- Deliberately misleading the House is a serious offense and the Prime Minister has been caught out previously for this. His denial that he had any recent contact with Cameron Slater was patently dishonest. It also appears that he only made the subsequent correction when Cameron Slater himself revealed that he had been communicating with him.
- The Prime Minister is the Minister directly responsible for his own office and the SIS and to continually deny his role in overseeing the culture and activities of both is unacceptable. Jason Ede was working under his direction and the culture of using public officials to discredit the opposition is unethical and occurred under his leadership.
- Key has led a Government dogged by unethical behaviour and conflicts of interest, resulting in many Ministers resigning. Under his Government there has been a breakdown of democratic process and a manipulation of government resources for political advantage. This has caused the likes of Dame Anne Salmond to voice public concern about the state of our democracy.
John Key has failed to meet the basic expectations we have of his office, he should resign!
Wednesday, November 26, 2014
I was in Wellington last weekend, alternating between spending time with my two student children and attending our Green Party executive meeting. Being with intellectually engaged and compassionate people was a useful foil to the depressing events that hit me over the past few days.
The first event was a discovery that I made by chance during a debate with some rightwing climate change deniers. In response to their claims that the 97% of scientists who are in agreement about the human influence of climate change are just part of a huge conspiracy for their own personal gain, I looked at the potential influence of oil and gas companies. I discovered that in a list of companies with the largest revenue in the world, oil and gas fill 6 of the top 10 places (17 oil and gas companies in the top 40). There are also five automative companies in the top 40 and each of these companies earn hundreds of billions every year. The smallest of these companies has an income about 50% greater than the New Zealand Government. No wonder most Governments struggle to cut carbon emissions and those few questioning the science have strong financial backing.
Considering the immensity of the climate change issue, and the urgency with which we need to act, unless we can counter the considerable power of the oil and gas industry little will be achieved. Our Government has opened its arms to the oil and gas industry and has given up much of our land and territorial seas to exploration, short term gain is more important than the health of the planet. There will be no attempt to restrict the recovery of fossil fuels under a John Key led Government.
The next event was catching a late showing on TV of Inside Job, the award winning 2010 documentary narrated by Matt Damon that described the systemic corruption of the United States by the financial services industry that led to the Great Recession. The blatant greed and callous disinterest in the suffering caused to ordinary people by those leading the investment companies and banks was horrific. Of course most were bailed out and those behind the corruption and inevitable collapse of the financial sector are still in leadership roles and many have been employed by successive US Presidents, including Obama.
What struck me again when watching Inside Job was that our own Prime Minister came from that culture (Merrill Lynch) and while he wasn't working for them during the crucial years before the recession, he was still involved in an industry driven by short term thinking and instant profits. Compassion has no part in this industry where only the fittest survive and those surplus to requirements are disposed of quickly. Key thrived in this environment and his reputation for a having relaxed manner despite a ruthless approach to his work caused him to be labeled the 'Smiling Assassin'. Key's calculating, almost mercenary approach to his leadership has a history and he has brought these skills to his role of Prime Minister.
Key has generally managed to distance himself publicly from much of the grubby activities that have been going on within his Government but it is obvious that his modus operandi from his Merrill Lynch days is still in operation. It is also clear that the command centre for National's dirty tactics is the PM's own office and, despite his denials, Key is probably orchestrating a good deal of it himself.
Since the September election opposition parties have had to cut staff numbers because the Government of the day sets the budget for their resourcing and there has been no funding increase since 2007. Over the same period the vote within the budget for the Prime Minister's Office and cabinet has increased over 100%.
For the 2008/9 financial year the overview of the vote for the PM's Office and Cabinet included $8.5 million for the likes of free and frank advice, inter-departmental coordination and policy development and domestic and external security. For the 2013/14 financial year the vote for the PM's Office and Cabinet has been broken up into new sections, presumably to allow the increases to be less obvious. The free and frank advice, inter-departmental coordination and policy development gets $4.17 million and secretariat services to the cabinet, cabinet committees and the executive council gets $4.47 million. What has increased most dramatically is an area of the vote that was modestly funded before and now gets $8.76 million. This money goes to what is described as:
"leadership, advice, coordination around national security matters, leading collaboration within the New Zealand intelligence community, managing the National Cyber Policy Office and providing assessments to support national security."
Twice as much is being spent on supporting this Government's intelligence and spying capacity than policy development and governance of the various departments and ministries that provide support and services for New Zealanders. John Key is not motivated by improving the lives of less fortunate, but he does appear to enjoy the adrenalin rush of attack politics and scoring points over the opposition. His braying and gloating performances in Parliament, as he ends many of his answers with personal attacks, is something he actually appears to enjoy. It is also clear that his personality is more suited to the dirty politics culture of attack bloggers than the dignity and diplomacy expected of a Prime Minister. Those who Key corresponds with personally via txts are not New Zealand's wise heads like historian Dame Anne Salmond or award winning scientist, Dr Mike Joy, but Cameron Slater.
In John Key we have a Prime Minister who is spending more time and money on controlling the opposition to his ethically challenged Government than on developing good policy for the benefit all New Zealanders. For him, being remembered for changing the design of our flag means more than saving our environment and lifting 25% of our children out of poverty. Attack bloggers and corporate lobbyists always have his ear and the plight of those struggling to find a home while working on unlivable wages do not. We have a Prime Minister who is driven by maintaining power and control, by any means, rather than service and compassion.