Wednesday, November 25, 2015

National and the art of distraction

The failure of this National Government to properly address the big issues confronting this country is surfacing in numerous reports. However, the massively resourced spin machine, supported by Crosby Textor influenced strategies, has successfully managed bad press since 2008 and continues to be effective despite the following:
At the same time the Government has been receiving heavy criticism for their lack of influence over the treatment of New Zealanders being deported from Australia. The fact that legislation had to be passed under urgency to manage those arriving back in New Zealand in increasing numbers (despite knowing this would be needed over a year before) was concerning. John Key's attacks on the opposition, accusing them of supporting rapists, resulted in mass walkouts from female MPs that was widely reported internationally

No matter where one looks this Government's care of our children, vulnerable individuals and families and the protection of our natural environment has been shockingly inadequate. Rather than the Government being held to account for its obvious failings the damning reports receive passing mention in newspapers and TV news and rarely make headlines. It is the distractions that receive ongoing attention instead and the Government is using them well. 

The flag referendum is being promoted with some energy and it is interesting that the staged process allows for ongoing announcements from the Government that can be used strategically to distract from embarrassing revelations of incompetency elsewhere.

The success of the All Blacks in the Rugby World Cup saw John Key appearing in dressing rooms and constantly rubbing shoulders (although some cartoons had him rubbing other parts) with our country's sporting heroes. The suggestion of whether Richie McCaw should be knighted received more attention than our child abuse statistics.

While children are still arriving at school hungry, many schools are poorly maintained and we lack thousands of houses, the Government is prepared to latch on to the national grief at the passing of Jonah Lomu and is throwing hundreds of thousands at a stadium based farewell. While Jonah was an amazing sportsman we have had other deserving New Zealanders pass, like Sir Peter Williams QC, with barely any Government recognition. It is clearly a populist ploy to spend so much on Jonah.

The capture of the conversation between Obama and Malcolm Turnbull praising Key couldn't have happened at a more useful time. Key's international image had taken a series of hits with his hair pulling issues, the radio interview where he admitted peeing in the shower and his rape support allegations being reported widely overseas. The positive comments from the most powerful world leader gave Key some breathing space again.

The poor health of our Fourth Estate and a strategic focus on populist politics has allowed our Prime Minister and his Government to float above the mess they are creating and the damage they are responsible for. It is important that we have a strong turnout at the People's Climate Marches in 34 New Zealand towns and cities to show that we aren't all blinded by the spin.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Sarah Dowie's Climate Spin

Invercargill's National MP, Sarah Dowie responded to a letter to the paper from P Burrows who had criticised the Government's record on climate change. Here are some quotes from Dowie's letter that was pure spin:

"This Government is committed to act on climate change which is why we're continuing with the ETS and why we've set a target to reduce greenhouses gas emissions to 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030."

"We believe the target is fair and ambitious."

"We've taken a balanced approach to setting the target without adding unreasonable costs to NZ households"

This is my response published today: 

MP Sarah Dowie’s letter (November 19) to The Southland Times was clearly an attempt to hide the dirty reality of her Government’s shameful record regarding climate change.

Most European countries are already on track to make a 30% reduction in emissions by 2030 (from the 1990 base line) and they have a goal to lift that to 40%. New Zealand is taking a tiny 11% reduction target to Paris from the same base line and is already being ridiculed for it by international science communities.

The global annual average for greenhouse gas emissions per capita is around 8 tonnes and at 17 tonnes per capita New Zealanders are amongst the highest emitters in the world. We should be doing our share.

Over the last seven years little has been spent on preparing our country for a low emission future, while billions have gone into subsidising and growing polluting industries:
  • The Emissions Trading Scheme was weakened and polluting industries subsidised.
  • Forests have been converted to dairy farms.
  • Conservation areas and our territorial waters have been opened up for gas and oil exploration.
  • New coal mines are being supported.
  • $12 billion is being spent on new motorways.
  • The electric locomotives on the North Island main trunk are being replaced with Chinese diesel ones.
Green technology has a fast growing global market and yet our Government has both feet firmly planted in the fossil fueled past.

Join our November 28 People’s Climate March at 11am (Cnr of Nith and Forth). We will have speakers representing our youth who will have the most to lose from climate inaction.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Paris Reflections

I have gone through a range of emotions after hearing about the 129 terrorist inflicted deaths in Paris. Paris may be on the other side of the world but I have French friends, I spent time in Paris relatively recently and my wife and son flew into Amsterdam the day after it occurred. I have some strong personal connections with the place and people and I found the news disturbing.

I was reminded of the dilemma my wife and I had when visiting her family in England and we were due to arrive in London with our children the day after the tube bombings. 52 people were killed and 700 injured in those explosions. We made the decision to continue with our plans with view that security will be much tighter and it was unlikely that there would be a repeat. However, it was a difficult decision to make and it rattled our feelings of security and made us look forward to returning to Invercargill where such things are unlikely to occur.

Many feel the horror of a "civilised" country suffering from these sort of attacks that generally only happen in those other Middle East countries where this sort of thing is more common. Obviously the deaths in Paris are shocking, and extremely distressing for those families who have lost loved ones, but I am am pleased that others are also commenting on the disproportionate attention and emotive reporting that these terrorist acts are receiving. The moral outrage being expressed is very selective and, given the reporting, one would think that 'we' are well above such acts and are somehow superior to those who would commit such heinous crimes.

The emotional distress caused by the 129 deaths in Paris will be no different to the distress caused by the 459 civilians (100 children) killed in Syria recently by US air strikes. For those living in Iraq or Syria the fear of an attack and possible death is constant and many probably fear the US as much as IS. The Obama sanctioned drones have killed around 1000 civilians and 200 children and the recent US bombing of an Afghan hospital, and attempted coverup, does not allow any moral superiority.

The West also turns a collective blind eye to Israel's persecution of the Palestinians. To those living in Gaza, the Paris attack is something they experience on a regular basis. There is a peculiar belief that terrorism via armed forces is justifiable but deaths via a suicide bomber is not. Some even claim because the Israeli military gives some warning before they bomb schools it some how makes the deaths morally acceptable.  The UN estimates that at least 2,100 Palestinians were killed in Gaza during the 2014 Israeli attack, 1,462 were civilians and around 500 were children. Israel, through the support of the US, has a massive military advantage and its claims of self defense are easily discounted when comparing the casualties, the Palestinians killed 66 soldiers and 6 Israeli civilians as they desperately tried to defend themselves with largely homemade weapons.

The US has made a mess of the Middle East with its ongoing military interventions and its support of Israel.

The Islamic State would never have become such a powerful force if the US hadn't armed it in the first place in a misguided attempt to dislodge Assad by supporting rebel groups. For ordinary people living in Iraq or Syria life has become much worse because of Western involvement. Hussein and Assad may have been despots but under their rule Muslim extremism was not supported and women experienced greater freedoms. It is also hypercritical to decry Assad's regime while treating Saudi Arabia as an ally, given its human rights abuses. The attempts by the West to intervene to establish democratic governance in the region has been a dismal failure and has allowed extreme Islamic philosophies to become established. The realities of living in the region after the interventions has radicalised a generation of young people who see the West as the enemy.

The youth of Syria, Iraq and Gaza (where there is little personal freedom and 60% unemployment) see no future for themselves and many have become emotionally damaged through witnessing the deaths of family members. What happened in Paris is just a symptom of failed attempts to address the rise of extremist groups in Iraq and Syria. The French are a major player in military action in the region and there was an immediate reaction to the Paris bombings with French jets dropping 20 bombs on Raqqa, Syria, a supposed IS stronghold.

I really worry for the Syrian refugees attempting to escape the hell that their homes have become, their treatment in Europe is not going to improve after the Paris attack. All refugees will now be seen as potential terrorists. I also am concerned at New Zealand's vulnerability because of our support of the US and our presence in Iraq. The Prime Minister's claims of us being safer because of our five eyes connections are not reassuring at all.

The war on global terrorism is doomed to failure if the very violence, and misguided military action that has created it, continues to be supported as the solution. There are probably many thousands of young people who are prepared to become suicide bombers or risk their lives in an attempt to hurt those they believe are responsible for destroying their hope and their future. Paris is possibly just the beginning.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Beyond Embarrassing

My unabridged letter to the Southland Times after realising how much is reported overseas regarding our internal politics:

When I first travelled overseas many years ago I was proud to proclaim my identity as a New Zealander. In those days we were respected as a principled country that championed human rights. Back then Australians and New Zealanders recognised and valued our shared history and our ANZAC relationship meant something.

How far we have fallen.

My European and American friends now know that our Prime Minister urinates in the shower and has an unusual attraction to long hair (why should this be public knowledge?).

We were once known as a great country for bringing up children but the OECD ranks us as 29th out of 30 countries for child health and safety (below Mexico).

When many countries are opening their doors to growing numbers of desperate refugees, New Zealand is ranked 90th in the world for the numbers we accept per capita.

Our Australian neighbours are not treating us friends any longer and yet our Government refuses to publicly denounce its human rights abuses as many other countries have done. The Prime Minister’s emotive description of the New Zealanders being detained under discriminatory laws as “rapists and murderers” was unnecessarily inflammatory, many aren’t even criminals.

A respected New Zealand soldier who served in Afghanistan (who has been charged with no crime) is currently being held in maximum security for being a member of a motorcycle club.

It was also reported around the world that John Key accused opposition MPs as supporting rapists and when female MPs (many of whom had experienced sexual assaults themselves) attempted to protest that slur they were evicted from the Parliamentary Chamber.

This is beyond embarrassing.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

How low can Key go?

The Prime Minister's performance in the House on Tuesday reached a new low when he accused the Labour of supporting "rapists, child molesters and murderers". After a question from Marama Davidson regarding Australia's breaches of human rights he even acccused Davidson and the Greens of similar: "If those members want to protect sex offenders, rapists and murderers, go ahead".

It seems that the Prime Minister is happy to ignore issues of human rights if it is expedient to do so. While claiming to have voiced concerns about the detaining and deportation of New Zealanders for historical crimes to Tony Abbot at an earlier meeting, it doesn't appear that he expressed them very strongly. Key keeps repeating the fact that those being held in detention on Christmas Island are criminals despite the fact that many are being deported for historic crimes where a sentence was served and there has been no reoffending since.

John Key and and human rights are not a natural pairing. As a student he had no memory of where he stood when the country was ripped apart during the 1981 Springbok Rugby tour. It is inconceivable that a 20 year old student would not have been confronted with the apartheid/rugby dilemma and not have had an opinion unless they had no strong moral convictions.

As a politician he has supported dirty politics and was happy to feed privileged information to "shock jock" blogger Cameron Slater to destroy his opponents and his open disregard for the Official Information Act is a concern.

When a New Zealander was killed by an American drone, Key brushed aside any concerns about natural justice, "For the most part drone strikes have been an effective way of prosecuting people that are legitimate targets." I would love to know what he thinks would define a "legitimate target" given his enthusiasm for making personal attacks on opposition members.

John Key is a Prime Minister with no obvious moral compass and has no interest in making a stand on moral issues. He would be happy to be known as the Prime Minister who changed the flag rather than making genuine positive difference in the world. He would rather rub shoulders with celebrities then help struggling New Zealanders or displaced refugees. Metiria Turei exposed the shallowness of his commitment to the vulnerable in the world when she questioned him on New Zealand's commitment to lead on important global issues while chairing the UN Security Council.

Prime Minister John Key does not treat his privileged position with any sense of decorum, he plays dirty, speaks dirty and his legacy will be in considerably lowering the bar for a PM's behaviour and what is acceptable in politics.

UP DATE: Today the speaker admitted that he was in error for not ruling the Prime Minister's statement out of order because he hadn't properly heard what was said but he still did not allow a number of women MPs to voice their objections. It was clearly unacceptable for him to block objections on Tuesday and, despite acknowledging his error today, Key's statement will remain unchallenged in Hansard.

Metiria Turei, Jan Logie, Catherine Delahunty and a number of female Labour MPs all stood with Points of Order objecting to Key's statement because of their own experience of sexual abuse or active advocacy for victims. Carter ruled the objections out of order because he deemed that they were too late for him to act on them. Marama Davidson continued with another point of order on the same issue and was ejected from the house and a number of MPs from Labour and the Greens walked out in support.

Turei's later questions saw Key reaffirm his comments, but the Speaker bizarrely ruled that reaffirming an objectionable comment was not cause to express offense and he would not act on those concerns.

Key's determination to continue with his objectionable statement (and possible dead cat strategy to deflect attention from the Government's lack of action) continues the downward spiral to an even lower low!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The cost of Bill's surplus still hurting.

Bill English is a clever man, through an economic sleight of hand he produced the holy grail, a budget surplus. This was celebrated as a worthwhile achievement since the tax cuts for the wealthy had reduced the Government's income considerably (tax revenue plummeted from $44 billion in 2008 to $33 billion a few years later). It needed budget trimming and austerity measures in many areas and increasing revenue from other sources (like SOE dividends, more speeding tickets and borrowing $50 billion) to ensure the rich could continue enjoying their windfall.

The cost of the budget surplus is being paid for in other ways:

But Bill got a surplus!

But Bill got a surplus!

But Bill got a surplus on the backs of the poor, the sick, the struggling and the homeless... 
and the rich get to keep their tax cuts. 

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Southland Sun Supplies Solar Success

MP Gareth Hughes visited Invercargill on Friday and he spent the time visiting a business and a number of homes that rely on solar energy as their main power source. He has been seeking support for his private members' bill that is only one vote away (Peter Dunne) from going on to a select committee.

Gareth's Bill involves a small amendment to the Electricity Industry Act that will empower the Electricity Authority to independently set a fair price for electricity buyback for small scale electricity generation connected to the grid. The cost of installing a solar system has dropped about by about 33% over the last two years while electricity prices have increased by around 25%. As the the support for photovoltaic homes and businesses increases dramatically (World Solar alone has installed solar systems on 200 Southland homes over the past 17 months) electricity companies have been cutting buyback rates and deliberately holding up paper work and meter installation.

If electricity companies make it so difficult for homes and businesses to be connected then there is the potential for many to leave the grid altogether, especially as battery technology improves. Obviously as more disconnect from the grid the burden of maintaining and servicing it will be placed on a diminishing number of people. This will force up the cost of power yet again and push even more people into solar. Some deep breaths and clear thinking is needed now.

There probably needs to be a total re-evaluation of our business structure for our electricity supply. Our hydro electricity allows New Zealand to have one of the cheapest and sustainable sources of energy in the world. However, Max Bradford's competitive model has never worked as intended and now the cost for the consumer is far beyond the cost of production and transmission. Ever-increasing profits and dividends have turned our electricity system into a form of taxation. In 2013 Contact Energy alone paid a $114 million dividend to the Government.

Other countries (Australia/UK/Germany) that are reliant on coal for a major part of their electricity supply have used subsidies to encourage the uptake of grid connected domestic solar systems. Solar capacity in Germany is steadily increasing, largely through grid connected private systems and on one day last year almost 20% of the production came from solar. Power companies in Germany have had to evolve from purely managing supply to becoming energy service companies and this is what our New Zealand companies may need to do rather than trying to fight the growth of solar.

In the near future it would make sense for New Zealanders to have solar homes and electric cars. The cost of installation will be quickly recovered if both the house and the car can be run on free energy. The Tesla electric car can do 0-60 mph in 2.8 seconds and drives over 400 km on one charge. Savings of around $5,000 in electricity and fuel costs a year could easily be achieved by installing a $7,000 domestic solar system and buying an electric car like the Nissan Leaf (around 16,000 2nd hand).

Gareth's private members bill makes sense and it would be helpful to contact Peter Dunne and tell him so. By fighting against the the global growth of solar energy the Government and our power companies are just trying to stop the inevitable and making life more difficult for forward thinking businesspeople and home owners.

Gareth also took the time to talk to Venture Southland about their wood energy initiatives and the research being undertaken for the best electricity model to replace Stewart Island's expensive diesel generator. He also took the opportunity to get behind the wheel of Venture's electric Mitsubishi car.

The following are some images to from Gareth's Invercargill trip:

 Two views of the same Invercargill home that had panels on the east and west to take advantage of morning and evening sun when the home demand would be greatest.

Home owner John Dasson with Gareth Hughes and Doone Morrell (Managing Director of World Solar) looking at the performance of John's system on his inverters. 

 Sue McNeill and Gareth after looking at Sue's grid connected specially designed eco home

 Gareth sitting beside the little battery shed of my younger sister's home that is off grid.