Tuesday, November 29, 2011

An Outside View of Our Campaign

Rachael Goldsmith
Alex Fensome, political journalist for the Southland Times provides this interesting overview of the local election campaign. 
The contrast between the parties could barely have been more defined.
The Nats were sitting around an open fire in the venerable Invercargill Club, surrounded by black-and-white photographs and plush carpet.
Labour met in the dingy confines of the Jed St Trades Hall with cask wine and savories on hand, clustered around a projector as the results came in.
The Greens had themselves a barbecue at Dave Kennedy's leafy Gladstone home, chatting away like it was a housewarming.
It was they who had the most to celebrate. Both Kennedy and his Clutha-Southland colleague Rachael Goldsmith rode the Green wave to the party's best-ever southern results.
The pair ran good campaigns, focused on the party vote but not forgetting to go to candidate's meetings, where, barring the odd misstep over wages and tax, they impressed.
That Goldsmith polled more candidate and party votes than Act's Don Nicolson in her electorate was a brilliant result for her.
For Roy, it was a coronation. His campaign manager rather unwisely said Labour's Lesley Soper was the best thing that happened to National's campaign, but she always faced an uphill task to fight Big Eric.
His own campaign was competent. He didn't need to do much and he did nearly fall off the wagon with some ill-advised, overly aggressive responses at candidate's meetings. But to hold the city for the third time was a good effort. Whether Invercargill remains a swing seat will be seen when Labour revive.
There is no doubting Soper's committment and passion for the job, but there was little she could do. Without wanting to be overly critical, she can come across as emotionless and robotic when campaigning. But Labour's situation did not help her cause.
Everyone was surprised about NZ First. I guess that charisma I wrote about previously served him well once again. And frankly, Key deserves Peters back in Parliament because of National's abysmal handling of the Teapot Tapes. If they had just released it, you wouldn't have seen hide or hair of Winston.
I especially like the fact that he recognized Rachael Goldsmith's achievement in outshining Don Nicolson, the third ranked Act candidate and ex president of Federated Farmers, on his own turf. For a not yet 30 year old young mother and social activist to do so well in her first election was truly remarkable and firmly put yet another nail into the Act coffin. 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Post Election Thoughts

The Greens have much to celebrate, our campaign has been widely praised as the most effective of all parties and we have achieved our goal of getting more than 10% of the party vote. We had hoped to get our top 15 candidates into parliament but James Shaw just missed out. This was a real pity because the Wellington Central campaign he led was probably the most comprehensive of all the Green campaigns and was only 12 votes short of pipping Labour.

The Greens will make history when Mojo Mathers becomes the first profoundly deaf MP to be elected, while Mojo didn't get in on the initial voting she is likely to do so once the special votes have been included.

As for my own campaign, I had hoped we could double the Green vote in Invercargill and we almost did that by raising the 4.26% we got in 2008 to just .1 away from 8%. I must admit that I was a little disappointed as the impression I got throughout the campaign indicated a greater level of support. Three factors probably created barriers to our final result, the first was the effective blocking of my appearance on CUE TV's "Election Special". While it wasn't exactly a riveting show, and at most may have only reached a couple of thousand viewers, it would still have reached a much greater audience than the seven candidate forums I attended. The audiences for these meetings ranged from one to about forty and many of the people who attended them were the same. What was especially frustrating was the fact that the questions posed on this programme encompassed many local issues that I have had a direct involvement with and at a much greater level than the other candidates.

The second negative influence was probably voter apathy. Around 5,000 fewer people voted in Invercargill than in 2008 and many of those were from the less affluent suburbs. The fact that the total votes for both National (3,000 less) and Labour (2,500 less) were considerably down from the last election, the greens increase of 1,000 was significant and should be celebrated.

Winston Peters provided the third influence, with his party vote almost doubling in Invercargill despite having no local candidate and only a couple of small billboards to indicate their existence. In most polling booths the Green vote doubled around Invercargill but many of the booths, where we did best in the last election, did not show the same growth. It was in these areas that New Zealand First was strongest and in a number of them scored higher than us. The power of mainstream TV is obviously a huge influence on voters and the prominence of Peters in the last couple of weeks was extraordinary. The tea cup fiasco played right into his hands, as a conspiracy theorist there is none better than Winston and he milked it to the utmost. While the Greens exposed real concerns around National's plans for the unpopular asset sales it was what Peter's hinted to, regarding the contents of the tea cup tapes, that got full media attention. The fact that he often shared billing with Key and Goff ahead of the Green leaders on national media was very influential and almost trumped the huge effort in leafleting, billboards and local campaigns the Greens had committed to.

To end on a positive note, we will probably have 14 MPs in parliament (the most we have ever achieved) and the ability to share the workload and use the increased resourcing generated will be hugely valuable in growing our Party even further. Watch out 2014!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Last Post and a Green Future

Dear Sir
New Zealand is a country rich with resources and a relatively small population. We have an education system that is ranked amongst the top in the world and a growing percentage of wealthy who are spending millions on luxury items ($480 million on Bentley cars last year).

There is no good reason why we should also have 270,000 children living in poverty and one of the worst statistics for child health and welfare in the OECD. There should be no excuse for allowing most of our rivers to be polluted and unsafe for swimming and it makes no economic sense to sell off our state assets when we have so much potential in innovative and renewable technologies.

For a country that produced the people who split the atom, invented the jet boat and the jetpack we should be able to build our own trains and farm sustainably.

The Green Party has achievable, practical and fiscally sound solutions for bringing at least 100,000 children out of poverty, cleaning our rivers and creating 100,000 sustainable jobs. A party vote for the Green Party is a vote for a smart and compassionate economy and a positive future.

Yours sincerely...

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Farewell to a Local Hero

I have just attended the funeral of Alister Fraser who died aged 81 after serving his community selflessly for most of his life. Alister was the principal of Invercargill's largest intermediate school and a school inspector when I was beginning my career in teaching. He was a larger than life personality whose passion for education knew no bounds and yet we heard at the service how he constantly worried that his support of teachers was adequate enough and whether the job he did made a difference.

After Alister retired he continued supporting schools and teachers where he could and even gave his time, most mornings, on a busy school crossing. He was involved in community leadership for much of his retirement and worked part time at Anderson Park Art Gallery as an attendant and guide.

Alister spent much of his life in serving the communities he lived in and the remuneration he craved for was not financial, but the knowledge that he had made a difference in the lives of others. The church was seated to capacity for his funeral and the adjacent hall was also full, he had made a difference and the people in attendance were clear proof of that.

Alister was a unique man but I have known many people during my life for whom success isn't measured in dollar terms but the knowledge that they had done their best and the world had benefited from their existence. It is knowing these people that makes me question the need to pay our community leaders and CEOs massive salaries with the justification that you only get the best people if you pay top money. The best leaders are not motivated by greed alone.

Monday, November 21, 2011

New Zealand Taxes Poor More Than Aussie

New Zealand stifles its poor with much heavier taxation than in Australia and because half of New Zealand  income earners earn less than $28,000 it is also stifling our domestic economy. The median wage in Aussie is over $40,000. A simple comparison between the two tax regimes makes interesting reading.

New Zealand taxes all those earning $14,000 or less at 10.5 cents for every dollar while Australia doesn't tax the first $6,000 of earnings at all. In New Zealand we tax those who earn between $14-$45,000 17.5 cents for each dollar and Australia only taxes 15c from $6,000 through to $37,000. For those at the top end of earnings, $70,000 and above, New Zealanders get hit by 33 cents. Australia keeps ranking up the taxation for those who are better off, those earning $80,000 to $180,000 have a 37c tax and those above $180,000 are taxed at 45 cents in every dollar. Imagine our Government's increase in revenue if we did that, no asset sales needed.

GST is set at 15% in New Zealand while it is only 10% in Australia and the minimum wage here is $13 and hour while across the ditch it is $15.51.

Australia also has a capital gains tax while we do not.

No wonder a huge number of our working families need financial support and can't survive on their incomes.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Solid Energy and Dirty Secrets

Nicky Chapman comes from four generations of Southland Farmers, he is currently a member of Transition Town Port Chalmers. This opinion piece was published in the Otago Daily on November 18.

One thing's missing so far in all the hoo-hah about whether we should partially sell some of our state assets: the consequences of doing so for Southland and Otago.
These consequences are to do with the region's estimated six billion "economically recoverable" tonnes of lignite, three billion under the fertile paddocks of Eastern Southland alone.
One of the state assets up for partial sale, Solid Energy, proposes to convert this lignite to briquettes, diesel and urea. Because lignite (brown coal) is a particularly low-quality fuel, the conversion process itself emits a lot of CO2, as well as the end products. Quoting Solid Energy's own estimates, the Greens' Dr Kennedy Graham has noted that the lignite projects will add an extra 10 to 20 million tonnes of carbon emissions annually to our current 70+ million tonnes (which we had promised to bring down).
Solid Energy acknowledges the reality of climate change, and has said it will take responsibility for its emissions. There are a few snags with that. Does Solid Energy just mean that it will pay the carbon charge?
That will mean others will actually be responsible for reducing emissions.
Does it mean complying with the Emissions Trading Scheme?
That is likely to give Solid Energy 90% of its emissions free for years. Does it mean using carbon capture and storage technologies?
Reports on this show just how expensive these still-developing technologies are. In our earthquake-prone land, we may never be able to safely capture and store CO2.
Nor can we plant endless numbers of trees. Some might say that we do not need to be responsible for emissions if the lignite products are burned offshore, but that's a risky (and immoral) assumption for an exporting nation.
We do have democratic instruments to help us make responsible decisions, and play our part in averting climate catastrophe. Unfortunately, so far they haven't been much cop. The Emissions Trading Scheme hasn't slowed down Solid Energy's plans.
The Resource Management Act was used to shut out community involvement in the decision to build the first briquetting plant. This could also happen with the larger lignite project plans. The Government could declare them to be "of national importance" and send them to the Environmental Protection Agency.
This government-appointed body does not have to call for local hearings and is subject to major political influence.
How do asset sales fit in with these climate change issues?
The answer is further loss of regional autonomy.
Like his elected bosses, Solid Energy's Dr Don Elder is keen to sell, but not to help the state's hungry coffers.
It is unlikely the "mum-and-dad" and/or iwi investors can help much with his big plans for lignite. Only overseas businesses have the money to help us to get our hands dirty.
Investors will expect control for their money. We are at present negotiating a trade deal to ensure more can secure it: the Trans Pacific Partnership (TTP). Prof Jane Kelsey, of the Auckland Law School, has noted that the TPP will enable overseas investors to sue the government for reducing their profits. She is particularly worried about Pharmac's ability to negotiate for more affordable drugs, but the concerns apply generally. If half of Solid Energy were sold to TPP members, then foreign-owned coal mining companies could sue taxpayers if the government pulled out of lignite mining, or increased carbon charges. This is already the case with Chinese investors under the NZ-China "Free Trade" agreement.
In short, selling Solid Energy shares could limit our choices and/or actively penalise our economy.
There are other ways to develop and grow our energy resources. Venture Southland, a joint initiative of the Invercargill City Council, Southland District Council and Gore District Council, has just released its Southland Energy Strategy 2011. It's a great combination of visionary and practical thought. The risks of lignite extraction are clear; its benefits seem few, given the many other good ideas for increasing energy efficiency and using Southland's many renewable energy assets.
Both Labour and the Greens oppose asset sales and lignite mining, with Labour having just confirmed its opposition to mining lignite with present technology, "because of the high volume of greenhouse gases produced".
When Bill English opened Solid Energy's lignite-to-briquette plant in September, he talked of the "huge opportunities" from Southland lignite. There are no opportunities in extreme weather, rising sea levels and acidic oceans. We need to persuade all our politicians, local and national, that selling Solid Energy shares to "develop" lignite will bring tragically irreversible changes to our landscape, our CO2 emissions, and our identity as a region and as a country.

Dairying, from Dirty to Dynamic

This isn't Russell's farm (it was too wet to get a photo) but come from a useful site:

I had a very enjoyable and informative afternoon on Thursday. Russell McPherson, Southland's Federated Farmers Dairy Chairman, had invited me out to his dairy farm to have a chat and look over his property. As it turned out the weather wasn't too great so I viewed his farm through a window and we talked at length over a cup of tea.

Russell came across as the sort of farmer who is easy to admire, a hard worker who began his career as a shearer and worked his way into farm ownership. He is a man who would never be happy with the status quo but is always reflecting on the efficiency of his practice and looking for a new challenge. Russell's conversion from sheep to dairy was a business no brainer and his dairy shed reflected state of the art technology at the time of construction. I could tell by the appearance of his home and the visible surrounding environment that if anything was to be done on this farm it would have to be done well. He admired those who displayed the same work ethic as himself and was proactive in providing opportunities for others to begin careers in farming.

Despite his success and the fact he had much to be proud of (including his son who had initially invited me in when I arrived early and chatted to me until his father arrived) Russell was not a happy man. Growing concerns around the state of our rivers and lakes and the rapid increase in dairy farming had seen the public perception of the industry change from economic saviour to pariah industry. "Dirty Dairying" had become a catch phrase and it had become a career that Russell was reluctant to admit to in new social situations. As far as he was concerned he had nothing to be ashamed of and yet he was being tarred with the same brush as the few in the industry who did not operate to the same standards as himself. Russell was especially worried that if dairy farming had a bad reputation it would struggle to attract good people into industry and improving standards would become even more problematic.

Although we disagreed on a number of key issues, like bringing farming into the ETS and charging for water use, there were many potential solutions and strategies that we both agreed on. There is huge money to be made in the Dairy industry if people are prepared to work hard and I can imagine it will be providing a large hunk of our export income for some time yet. However, it is important that we get the right balance of regulation and compliance management to fully allow the environment to thrive and keep the industry viable. I don't think Russell and I will ever agree with what that balance would look like but I really appreciated the time I spent with him and look forward to more conversations in the future.

I would like to think that the Green Party will have a growing influence in parliament and conversations like this one must surely lead to ensuring that "dirty dairying" is changed to "dynamic dairying' and we end up with a country full of pristine rivers flowing through model farms.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Commercial Interests Beat Public Interests

Dear Sir
It was with some frustration that I had to watch CUE TV’s Election Special and not be able to be present myself as the Invercargill, Green Party candidate. The Green Party do not have the the corporate support that some other parties do and have to run a smart but fiscally responsible campaign on a tight budget (this is actually not the reason for our limited advertising budget it is because of a cap to spending dictated by law see later comment). We have committed television and radio spending on our national campaign and relied on the fact that most regional broadcasters do not charge for candidates to appear on candidate forums.

I was surprised when CUE TV informed me that I would have to pay to take part in their “Election Special” as I thought that it was in the public interest to provide a balanced and representative programme. I was grateful to have three minutes of free air time as part of a news item but it is hardly enough to provide much detail from our comprehensive policies. I recognize that CUE are a private company and are free to treat the election as a commercial opportunity but there is also a case for displaying a community conscience when decisions around who should govern our country are being made.

For those people who wondered what happened to their local Green candidate and wish to read my views on topics such as economics, good governance and the state of our environment you can visit my “Local Bodies” blog (easily found through Google).

Your thoughts and comments would be most welcome.

Yours sincerely

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Green Leadership Tested Over Billboards

It is interesting to observe different leadership styles when those in positions of responsibility have to stand up and be accountable. When we compare the way Russel Norman managed the discovery that a Green Party member (and partner of his EA) was responsible for the defacing of National's Billboards with how John Key managed his error regarding his Standard and Poors comment, we see vast differences in approach.

Russel Norman responded almost immediately to the information he received regarding the billboard actions by making a statement to the media. He made an unequivocal apology to the National Party and he  had made immediate contact with John Key to apologise in person. Russel also identified those involved even though his EA was married to the instigator. Although the Green Party had not condoned nor instigated the action, Russel offered Green Party assistance to rectify the problem. Transparency and honesty are important elements in how we Greens operate and when individual members fall short of these traits it is taken very seriously and we are expected to take full responsibility for our mistakes.

When John Key found he was in contradiction with Standard and Poors over a statement he made in the house he managed the situation in a very different way. I will let you be the judge of what kind of leadership you are most comfortable with, but in my case my preference is clear. All people make mistakes but honesty and transparency goes a long way.

Russel's media statements

John Key's media statements

Sunday, November 13, 2011

RMA Needs Regional Input

The proposed tunnel between the Dart and Hollyford valleys may benefit big players in the tourist industry but will be disastrous for the Southland economy and the environment. Southland District Council Mayor, Frana Cardno, is very concerned about the negative impacts on her patch.When you consider the long term ramifications of this project and the planned lignite mining it makes me even more convinced that we need to have a comprehensive economic development strategy for our region.

Our regional authorities have struggled to cope with the rapid growth of the dairy industry, which has had a hugely negative impact on our waterways. While there could have been better management of the growth of this industry our local bodies can only manage consents and business projects on an individual, case by case, basis. Under the RMA there is no real capacity to reject a proposal because of broader issues around carbon emissions or because it isn't compatible with the main business activities in a region.

When Solid Energy gained a consent for their lignite briquette plant it was able to do so with restricted public consultation. This was despite the fact that the growth of lignite mining would have huge ramifications on the region and hugely increase New Zealand's carbon emissions. When corporate interests see economic possibilities in Southland it appears that they can generally get what they want.

It is up to our local councils to make decisions that benefit the wider community and are sustainable over time. While it is important to support new projects that have the potential to provide jobs and support the local economy, it is also important that a proper balance is achieved so that one project doesn't have negative consequences on existing or future activity. In the case of the lignite mining, Solid Energy  have no plans to restore the mined land for farming and intend to turn the holes into lakes. The Dart/Hollyford tunnel will contain many tourists in a limited region to the advantage of the biggest players in the industry and the Kingston Flyer, Te Anau  and the Southern Scenic Route will be hugely disadvantaged.

Venture Southland already has a large bank of research to provide the basis of a regional plan. They have the Topoclimate Survey,  Southland's Energy Strategy and much research for the development of our silica resources and extending the possibilities of our rocket tracking station. A collaborative approach between the Southland District Council, the Gore District Council, the Invercargill City Council and Environment Southland would be needed establish a plan that would carry significant weight. There has been talk in the past of establishing one unitary authority for the whole Southland region to streamline regulatory processes and improve services. While there is less support for this to happen now, a cohesive Southland economic strategy would be useful for developing consistency across the region and to protect our regional interests.

Asset Sales and Deregulation - Fail!

Surely the long term aims of any Government should include generating enough revenue to pay for core spending and to create the right economic climate to encourage sustainable business development.

This government has a hands off approach to generating economic activity and they openly support ongoing deregulation and taxing less as their key tools for economic development. National strongly believes that the market can find its own solutions to issues such as the increasing costs for fossil fuels and shifting to more sustainable business practices. When asked by Gareth Hughes to describe the Government's strategy to deal with future oil shortages, Bill English replied that the market will adjust without support. National also looks for easy solutions to ensure energy supplies and continues our dependency on fossil fuels by opening our territorial waters for oil exploration and our land for coal mining and fracking. Before investing much in alternative energies they want to wring the last drop of fossil fuel out of our country first, even if doing so exposes us to potential harm and delays the transition to renewable energies.

 When the National led Government gave the wealthy tax cuts it also cost them a considerable revenue stream. To maintain the cuts and to support future core spending on education and health, without resorting to even more borrowing, quick cash was needed and selling off a few assets was the most obvious solution. The assurance that the country would retain a controlling share does not provide much comfort to many who still have memories of the asset stripping and loss of sovereignty that occurred in the past. Surely it would be better to hold on to our state assets and use their economic strength to support new businesses development and generate revenue through energy bonds that could be purchased by mum and dad investors.
Smart taxation generates revenue and can also shift spending into more productive areas. A capital gains tax is a smart tax and if we had one some years earlier we wouldn't have seen the over investment in property and the steep rise in farm prices that has restricted farm profitability.  Targeted taxation can also fast track changes in business practice and by placing a charge on the commercial use of water it will force businesses to use the resource more efficiently as well as funding the work to protect our rivers and lakes. Considering that it takes at least 100 litres of water to make 1litre of milk, many farmers have the supply and protection of a key resource subsidized and this isn't sustainable economically or environmentally.

Government regulations provide protection from exploitation and potential hazards that can occur when industries and businesses push to maximise profits. To reduce regulations and rely on the goodwill of business to put people and the environment before profit is naive in the extreme and resulted in the $11 billion dollar leaky building debacle and the Pike River Mine disaster. That this government hasn't learnt its lesson from these and is still pushing for industry driven standards is a real concern. Smart regulations can provide incentives for businesses to invest in better practices or energy uses that may not be immediately useful but will ensure sustainability in the future. A business owner I spoke to recently said that he was forced to use coal rather than electricity because the former was far cheaper and although he wanted to be carbon neutral, there was no incentive to do so.

One of the most compelling arguments against less regulation is to compare the economic performance of countries that have few regulations to those that are highly regulated. New Zealand is one of the most open economies in the world and we are currently ranked the third, after Singapore and Hong Kong, for being "business friendly". Despite this our economic performance hasn't been startling and the costs of deregulation (leaky buildings) appear to outweigh gains. Argentina is a country not too dissimilar from New Zealand, it has an agricultural base and is rich in natural resources and it has seen a 102% increase in GDP over the last five years despite having far greater regulatory controls. Norway has a similar population to New Zealand and it has become hugely rich by maintaining state control of its strategic natural resources.

Going down the road of asset sales and greater deregulation is just setting our country up for failure!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Green Threat!

Dear Sir

As the Green Party rises in the polls I recently heard a reference to this as if it implied a threat to the very fabric of our society. “Imagine what would happen if the Greens got into power” they said. So I did, and this is what I came up with:
  • We would have warmer homes
  • We would have less children living in poverty
  • Kiwi Bank would become the Government’s bank
  • We would be able to swim in our rivers again
  • The minimum wage would go up
  • We would have lots of new jobs in the renewable energy sector
  • Our Clean Green brand would mean something
  • Our rest homes would be properly staffed and regulated
  • Our schools will focus on learning, not flawed assessment systems
  • The Southerner Train would be reinstated
  • We would have a Kiwi Saver option that would take less in fees
  • We would keep our brightest minds in New Zealand by investing more in R&D
  • We would retain our state assets and use them to support new industry
  • We would bring greater transparency into government
I didn’t think it sounded too bad and I had to wonder what the alternative was.

Yours sincerely
Dave Kennedy
Green Party Candidate 

Friday, November 11, 2011

National/Green Coalition Even More Unlikely

National are now holding on to their polling lead by the skin of their teeth and their traditional coalition partner when things get tight is looking increasingly dodgy. Act has lost its libertarian base and the social liberalism, a strong element within that philosophy, that used to softened their hardline economics and make them appear more mainstream. The new faces of Act, like John Banks and Don Nicholson, come across more like flaky members of a conservative christian party and this kind of political philosophy has had minimal support in New Zealand in the past and even less so now.

The Maori Party has developed into the party for the money orientated, entrepreneurial sector of the Maori community and they have lost their activist, social justice element to Mana. This will potentially halve its support and diminish its value as a useful coalition partner.

All that remains are the Greens. We Greens are an increasingly credible political force and we have the real potential of getting around fifteen MPs this election. National have directed most of their attacks on Labour but have been very soft on us and Green candidates around the country have been surprised to find ourselves on very friendly terms with National candidates. There is high degree of political flirting coming from the National camp in an attempt to flatter and soften the broader Green membership into thinking a closer relationship with National would be alright.

Labour on the other hand have been desperate to counter the large chunk of voters that are obviously shifting to the Greens and are coming out with policy announcements that could almost be quoted word for word from the Green Party website.

Much political commentary has has described the positive elements of a potential National/Green coalition and there have been some criticisms and frustrations expressed around the apparent duplicity of the Greens political positioning. The Greens are in a powerful position at this point and we have achieved a level of political maturity to know that to come out with a coalition preference already established would be a form of political self-castration.

Despite the a lack of media coverage it is the Green Party who have defined this election campaign with clear messaging and a comprehensive and visionary economic plan that has real credibility. While Labour was scrabbling around to answer Key's clever challenge "show me the money" we Greens were sitting on a fully costed package that sees New Zealand well out of debt far earlier than what National or Labour have proposed.

If National or Labour wish us to consider them as potential partners it is policy that will be the most influential element of any courting attempts. National does not understand this at all, for them being in the seats of power is everything and just to offer the possibility should be enough. Their "greenwash" works with many voters, despite the visual evidence in our rivers and the Rena wreck that says otherwise, but it doesn't work with us. They don't seem to understand that each of their policy releases so far have just represented another potential bridge burnt. Even the Blue Green's within National are becoming increasingly uneasy about National softening their commitment to the environment.

If National comes knocking on the Greens door after the election to make up some missing seats then there would need to be some serious bridge building beforehand. If the policy compatibility doesn't exist to any great extent then any coalition based on confidence and supply would be even more highly unlikely!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Education is an Investment in our Future

This is the speech I have written for the education forum being organised by the local School Trustees Association. It is hard to cover as much as you would wish in 5 minutes. I think I have covered things fairly well but it doesn't paint a pretty picture.

Our public education system is a great one, and we are ranked by most international assessments as amongst the top five in the world. We lead the world in our students’ achievements in maths, reading and writing. Our teachers are treated like gold when they work overseas, as I have found myself in the UK, just saying you were from New Zealand would assure you of a job.

The main difference between New Zealand and the countries ranked above us is around cultural diversity and disparity of wealth. It has been suggested that 20% of our children are under achieving but when you remove those with identified disabilities we are only looking at around 16% of children and poverty (which now effects ¼ of our children) is a significant factor. When around 84% are doing well, we can probably do better but we are hardly failing.

When this Government came into power we were in the process of implementing our National Curriculum, an exciting and innovative approach to teaching and learning. As I was personally involved in the writing team that developed our Technology curriculum I was excited by the fact that we were leading the world in this area and I could see how the knowledge and creativity we would develop in our children would give our country a huge advantage in the future.

This National led Government has managed to largely smother the excitement and innovation that existed. When the huge tax cuts were given to the already wealthy and $35 million was provided to private schooling there was a clear message that the public sector was not a priority.

The Minister of Education has stated that we need widespread systemic change and has looked at different models in the UK and US, who are ranked well beneath us internationally. Consequently National Standards have been forced on all of our primary schools without a trial or a research base. The introduction of our National Curriculum has been delayed while schools and teachers grapple with a flawed system that will never function as standards nor have national consistency. Any attempts to have the flaws addressed have been rejected and programmes like Ka Hikitia, that were designed to support struggling learners, have been largely side lined.

Most of our curriculum advisors have been now been sacked and the Education Ministry had its funding cut by $25 million. A recent review of the Ministry rated it as one of the poorest performing of all ministries.

At a similar time that this report was released the CEO of the Education Ministry had her salary increased by $20,000 while Support Staff were given a pay increase of less than 2%, and most still struggle on wages barely above the minimum. The Increase to the schools operation grant was not enough to cover even this meagre increase so many support staff lost hours of work or their jobs. Support staff make up about 30% of school staffing but are amongst the most vulnerable workers in New Zealand.

The Government slashed $400 million from Early Childhood Education and de-professionalised the sector by bringing a funding cap of 80% qualified teachers. Parents are experiencing increased costs as Kindergartens and Centres struggle to maintain fully qualified staff. Many children are being excluded from accessing a quality centre because of this. While funding has increased in the last budget much damage has already been done and we are still underfunded in this sector compared to other OECD countries. When we have one of the highest levels of working parents in the developed world and one of the worst records of child health and welfare, Early Childhood education deserves better support.

Our Secondary Teachers find the demands of NCEA and meeting the needs of diverse learners has increased their workloads considerably but a reduction of class size has been rejected. I personally know many good secondary teachers who have left the profession because their workload has had a negative impact on their families and themselves. Many potential teachers in areas such as science and technology are discouraged because of the conditions of work.

Even our tertiary sector has suffered through funding caps and restrictions on student places. Our Universities are dropping in their international rankings and even though we attract 10% of international students we are seeing our worldwide reputation in decline. The limited funding for research in Universities is a large factor and another reason why a ¼ of our graduates leave for overseas.

The Green Party believes that Education is an investment, not a cost. For example every $1 spent on Early Childhood education there is at least a $7 return. It was asked recently that if we spend $91,000 a year to keep each prisoner in jail and pay our police considerably more than teachers aren’t we focussing on the wrong end of the problem?

The Green Party will wipe the current National Standards system and restore the status of our curriculum. We would fund 100% qualified staffing in Early Childhood education. We would support centrally funding Support staff and we would work towards a maximum class size of twenty. We would also increase the inadequate operations grant by 10% and make sure the SEG grant adequately addresses the actual number of special needs children in each school. We won't resort to selling off our state assets to do this but use the revenue generated by sensible taxation and a revitalised green economy. 

We are a country rich in resources and talented people we can invest millions in being the best in the world at rugby and sailing in the America’s cup and spend billions in building new motorways. But if you want investment in our children, in education and a real future to be a priority then party vote Green on November 26.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Lifting the Minimum Wage

I was asked a good question at a rather lively Riverton meeting regarding the lifting of the minimum wage to $15. The questioner was an owner of a small business who was concerned that such an increase was unaffordable to them. I attempted to explain the issues around maintaining a low wage economy but I felt that I hadn't got my messages across clearly enough in the time that I had. Here is a second attempt at doing so in another forum, letters to the editor:

Dear Sir

I was asked a question on Tuesday night regarding the affordability of raising the minimum wage for small businesses. It was an important issue and needed a more detailed answer than I was able to provide on the night.

New Zealand’s economy isn’t as dire as we are given to believe as most of our large companies have seen a 20% average increase in profits over the last year. Our productivity has increased by about 59% since 1989 yet real wages have only increased by 16%. Many businesses are achieving good profits on the backs of low wage earners who have not been rewarded for their increased productivity.

We now have a large sector of our society called the working poor because those on the lowest wages cannot survive independently on their incomes. If wages have to be topped up by benefits we are effectively subsidising the wages of many workers for the benefit of the employer and this isn’t sustainable.

In giving tax cuts to the already wealthy and not lifting New Zealand’s median income (currently only $27,000) it has restricted spending in our domestic economy while boosting expenditure on out sourced luxury items. Last year almost $500 million was spent on Bentley cars and Rolls Royce have decided there is now a big enough market for luxury cars in New Zealand to establish a local dealer.

Our wealthiest 1% of income earners earn the same total amount as our poorest 60% but they will still only buy 1% of every day consumables. If we want a healthy domestic economy we must lift the spending power of the struggling 60%.

If the minimum wage was lifted to $15 an hour there will be more money in the pockets of ordinary New Zealanders and everyone will benefit.

New evidence has come to light that Key's warnings of a negative impact from wage increases is not supported by Treasury.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

It's Not So Hard Being Green!

Tomorrow the Green Party are having a campaign launch on the Wellington waterfront and I just spent a very pleasant evening dining out with our national campaign team and many of our candidates. I was sitting opposite John Field, our National Secretary and beside Eugenie Sage, who is number six on our list and a likely MP.

John has a long history with the party and his name has featured on all our advertising for at least two elections. He often reminds us that if we muck up with our billboards, or anything else regarding the Electoral Finance Act, he may end up doing time. John is a stickler for good process and many, including myself, have been on the receiving end of one of John's strongly worded reminders of the rules and how we stuffed up. Every party needs someone like John to keep them on the straight and narrow and in past elections John's patience would be wearing pretty thin at this stage of the campaign as we struggled with the workload and a multitude of enthusiastic but not always knowledgeable volunteers. I noticed a much more relaxed demeanour in John this evening as although we still have huge pressures in our national office we have reached a point in our party's development that we can employ knowledgeable and capable staff.

Eugenie comes from a similar mould as our much beloved ex-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons, they both exude a calmness that comes from an impressive knowledge base and a quiet determination to follow through on their beliefs. I know that Eugenie will make very conscientious and effective MP and it was great to share a meal with her before this becomes a reality.

One topic of conversation was the very positive Herald article profiling the non MP candidates in our top fifteen. The fact that they felt the need to profile James Shaw, our suave and super organized number fifteen, must indicate that they think there is a strong possibility of him being successful. Truly exciting times.

We had been provided with the back room of a popular local restaurant and the evening crackled with the electricity of multiple, excited conversations as we shared our campaign successes. With three weeks to go and hitting 10% on one of the more conservative polls we all felt we were on the cusp of something momentous. Of course November 26 will determine whether our current euphoria is justified or not, but at this moment, and in this place, it wasn't so hard being Green!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Clean Rivers a Green Priority

The Southland Times have devoted the past week to a series of articles related to our polluted waterways and they have made it the number one election priority for Southland. Editor, Fred Tullet, has become a strong advocate for our environment and sustainable living (he led a home gardening series last year) and he is especially keen to clean up our rivers. He has asked all candidates to explain our solutions to solve our water crisis in less than 1000 words and this is my response. 


The Green Party is the only party that has made the state of our rivers an election priority. Rivers exist for all of us; for recreation; as a source of food and drinking water and for industry. Rivers are essential for a healthy economy and our clean green brand underpins our tourism industry and agricultural exports.

New Zealanders take pride in leading the world in many areas and even second place in the Rugby World Cup would be unacceptable. The view that our rivers are all right as long as they’re not the worst in the world is also unacceptable. We have well and truly dropped the ball as regards the quality of our water and when 80% of our lowland rivers are degraded, urgent action is needed.

Urgency is especially required to save the Waituna Lagoon and although some real efforts have been made by local farmers to change their practice we are close to losing our most important and internationally recognized wetland. We need to have the same funding focus and central government attention that Lake Ellesmere has received. If $11.6 million can be found to clean up an already collapsed environment surely we can do the same for an environment that is close to collapsing. It is far easier to stop a lake from flipping than shift it back afterwards.

We have lost too many environments and lives in this country through a weakening of regulations and cutting of investment in regional and national infrastructures that were designed to protect us. Shifting responsibility to the market or industries to set and monitor standards has failed dismally. This approach has contributed to the $11 billion leaky building debacle, the Pike River disaster and the declining standards of coastal shipping leading to the Rena wreck.

We do not have robust standards for clean water, the government’s water management strategy has shifted responsibility to under-resourced regional councils and provided limited ability to deal retrospectively with existing consents that don’t fit with current expectations. Giving regional councils 30 years to be fully compliant does not provide a sense of urgency.

We often hear that a balance is needed between economic growth and protecting the environment and in times of financial crisis the environment must take second place. This is flawed thinking because a healthy environment is essential to a healthy economy. When any industry can abuse our rivers with impunity, it is ordinary New Zealanders who have to pick up the tab for cleaning up the mess.

If businesses profit from the use of our water resources but have no responsibility for any damage they cause we are effectively subsidising them. $35 million was provided by this government to accelerate irrigation schemes but at the same time only $15 million of extra funding was provided to clean our waterways. There is a concerted effort to increase farm intensification while cleaning our water has a lesser priority. This is not a balanced approach and will only support further decline.

It has been largely accepted that the recent decline of river quality is due to intensive farming and more especially the rapid growth of the dairy industry. It is easy to set higher water standards and punish farmers for noncompliance but we must also recognise the importance of farming to our economy and provide the right support for ensuring good farming practice becomes common farming practice. The Green Party has long promoted good practice and even has a number of “Good Farming Stories” on our website where effective methods are promoted. It is important that as new technology and sustainable methods become available that these are shared.

There needs to be greater investment in research and development for government institutions such as MAF to be more effective. Dairy NZ and Fonterra are doing some good work with model farms and promoting sustainable methods but there needs to be greater effort and urgency in getting poor farmers to change their practices. While there are many farmers receiving environmental awards there are still too many who continually flaunt even basic expectations.

It was disappointing to hear of Fonterra’s abandonment of their organic sector. New Zealand is well behind Europe in organic farming and we seem to be ignoring a growing international market for organic food. There is much to be learned from organic practices, especially when it reduces our dependency on imported fertiliser and one of the major causes of increased nitrogen levels in our rivers.

The Green Party has a plan to make our rivers and lakes clean enough to swim in again. The plan ensures that responsibility for cleaning our rivers is shared fairly, is fiscally responsible and is achievable. The plan has three elements:

1. Set standards for clean water
We will implement clear, robust standards for clean water that set limits to the amount of water being taken from our rivers and lakes, and the amount of pollution going into them. This will include a minimum standard for intensive agricultural practice, which is one of the main causes of our current water quality decline.
2. Introduce a fair charge for irrigation water
We will incentivise the efficient use of water by putting a fair price on its commercial use. This will help stop over-use of our precious water resources. A charge of 10 cents per 1,000 litres would raise $370-570 million dollars per year of which we would use $138 million to fund river clean-up projects by farmers and councils.
3. Support water clean-up initiatives
We will provide financial assistance to farmers and councils to help them clean up our waterways. We will create jobs that help the environment by funding people to work with farmers to fence and plant their streams to keep stock and pollution out of rivers. We will also provide financial assistance to councils to upgrade their sewage treatment plants so that wastewater no longer pollutes our rivers.
A party vote to the Green Party is a vote for cleaner rivers and richer lives.