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Showing posts from August, 2013

A Matter of Trust

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"Fonterra botulism crisis was false alarm"
Before the current National led Government New Zealand was perceived as the least corrupt country in the world, but this has dramatically changed with a recent survey that has seen us plummet almost thirty places to a similar level as Spain and Portugal. Transparency International interviewed 1000 New Zealanders and it revealed the following:
Political parties are seen as the most corrupt institutions, 75% felt they were effected by some level of corruption and 12% thought they were extremely corrupt.75% felt that the media is affected by corruption to some degree.64% of New Zealanders surveyed stated that levels of corruption had increased over the last two years.3% of those surveyed stated that they had paid a bribe to help with accessing a government service.79% of new Zealanders believe the country is being run by a few big entities acting in their own interests. A recent poll revealed that 76.5 percent of New Zealanders did not …

National's Pre-election Handouts Begin

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You can tell that election year is looming as the money starts to flow in some new directions and it is particularly obvious in education.

National's bias towards the already wealthy was obvious as soon as they were elected into government in 2008. Despite the looming recession they gave upper income earners a substantial tax cut that reduced tax revenue by around $2 billion a year and supported a sudden increase in income inequity.

The new National led Government then gave private schools a $35 million boost while at the same time cutting funding to the Education Ministry by $25 million. Against all advice the Government bailed out Wanganui Collegiate (400 elite students) by $3.9 million and committed to supporting the school by $3 million a year from then on. Research has shown that high decile schools are better off by around $1,000 a year per pupil (despite decile funding that favours lower deciles) and private schools receive the most taxpayer support for special needs. King…

Image vs Substance

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Who will fill the seat?
Labour's leadership change reveals much about the current political culture and New Zealand society in general when one observes what is being discussed in different forums. It appears that possible contenders are not so much being evaluated in terms of their grasp of policy or economics nor their skills as a leader, but on such concerns as how overtly gay they may be or whether it matters that they are liked by their caucus.

During the 2011 election campaign many people appeared to have voted for John Key rather than the policies he and his party campaigned on. I often heard people explaining that they actually didn't like National's policies, but they just preferred John Key as Prime Minister over Phil Goff. Despite the fact that Key lives in a Hollywood style mansion and holidays in his $5.6 million dollar Hawaiian bach he has managed to cultivate an image of being an average kiwi bloke. Perceptions are everything.

A few years ago I visited the …

Leadership, Popularity and Politics

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David Shearer's resignation was obviously a real surprise to many of his Party colleagues, even though it has been on the cards for some time. I have heard few people say anything negative about Shearer's character and he appeared to be a genuinely nice guy. The manner of his resignation was an honorable and honest one. He had obviously tried hard to be what everyone wanted him to be but continually missed the mark and it was his own awareness of this that probably dictated his decision. His lack of success as a leader reveals much about what it takes to be successful in politics.

Shearer ticked all the boxes for Labour, he was internationally recognised for his humanitarian endeavors and had been successful in numerous leadership roles. On paper his credentials placed him on a higher plane than John Key, whose money trader past provided little evidence of empathy towards those less fortunate than himself or the potential to win the hearts of a wider constituency.

Sadly Labou…

Critics of GCSB Dealt To, Muldoon Style

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A full inquiry was rejected and so was any attempt at a multi-party consensus on how we should manage our internal security. All that mattered was that the Government had the numbers and the Government Communications Security Bureau and Related Legislation Amendment Bill was passed into law by 61 votes to 59.

Through it all John Key reigned supreme. We were asked to trust him implicitly as he alone was party to all the highly sensitive information that justified the law change. Random snippets and hints of confidential espionage information were shared on radio shows and in answers to journalists' questions but not with the leaders of opposition Parties or their MPs. We heard about Al Qaeda operatives in New Zealand and multiple cyber attacks as justification for the radical changes.

Key also refused to state whether the US provided funding to assist the GCSB operations as it does for the equivalent agency in the UK, claiming mysteriously, "It's not in my interests or th…

The Iniquitous Inquiry Bill

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While all attention is on the passage of the GCSB Bill another bill is being passed through largely under the radar. The Inquiry Bill has been lying on the bottom of the pile since 2009 and is being resurrected after the Fonterra debacle. The current legislation that guides inquiries is around 100 years old and the Government has decided that it needs more teeth to enable a more contemporary and robust approach. This Bill has been scrutinised by the Law Commission and, in fairness, was probably being pushed through with genuine intentions, however Holly Walker has revealed some concerning elements.

The mismanagement and over-reach that occurred during the Henry Inquiry has shed a different light on the Inquiry Bill and enables us to place the proposed legislation into a recent context. This has exposed some powers that will be given to future inquiries that probably go beyond what was intended and clauses 21 and 23 are of particular concern and they include the following:

"An inq…

Big Boys Club Membership Achieved

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"In the Last two years New Zealand has been invited for the first time to the "Big Boys Club", the Major Economies Forum, because of the particular contribution that New Zealand makes"

Tim Groser (8.8.13)

Prime Minister John Key, together with Finance Minister Bill English and the Minister of Trade Tim Groser held a joint press conference to make a special, public pronouncement. Barely able to suppress their excitement they announced in unison, "We're big boys now!"

All three proudly showed off their special Big Boy Club lapel badges to the gathered journalists and then John Key explained the journey that had culminated in this momentous achievement.

The Major Economies Forum is an exclusive club containing the biggest emitters of green house gases and there are few countries as small as New Zealand who have been allowed to join. New Zealand had to prove that despite its small population it could pollute as well as the rest of them. On quantity of emis…

Clean Green Government Needed

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My recently published letter in the Southland Times:
The National led Government has a little over a year left before the next election and they have a few months to tidy up and make things look attractive to voters.
They know, and we know, that they have made a dogs breakfast of it all and their mismanagement has had negative impacts on Southlanders and our Southland environment. It will take more than paying mining giant Rio Tinto $30 million to hang around for a few years (while they hock off Meridian Energy) to impress us.
The Fonterra scare and the international focus on our ‘100% Pure’ brand has kicked a hole in the Hollywood facade ($55 million to Warner Bros) and shone some light on the sad reality around us: our dirty rivers, our child poverty, our poor housing, our struggling state services and our sullied reput…

Bennett Bold or Just Bluff & Bluster?

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This Government is very good at setting targets and making strong demands of those involved in working with the most vulnerable in our society. Sadly, passing legislation and drawing lines in the sand is only the first step and properly resourcing those who have to do the work is equally important. Paula Bennett's tough stance on child abuse hit a raw nerve but enacting her proposals may actually make things worse and not address the real causes.

I am worried that more harm will be done to hundreds of vulnerable children who will be removed from one dysfunctional situation and be placed in a worse one. Children placed in the care of the state have often had to endure more abuse than what they experienced in their own home. There are also genuine concerns about potential breaches of civil rights and situations where people will have to prove their innocence, rather than have guilt established, after unsubstantiated charges of child abuse.

I am very aware that there is a shortage o…

National Standards Failing Boys

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In the olden days (before this National led Government and National Standards), we had the National Education Monitoring Project (NEMP). Rather than focusing on dodgy raw data to compare and shame schools, the project did useful qualitative research. In those days it was widely accepted that a child's background was a large influence on achievement, but this research took a cross section of children in years four and eight, from all over the country, and and assessed their knowledge and skills in different curriculum areas. The published results provided teachers with in depth analysis of where the gaps existed and the activities used to support the research provided many great ideas to enhance teaching and improve assessment.
This Government has arbitrarily decided that we need only focus on literacy and numeracy to determine a child's level of capability and we have reached a situation where achievement overall appears to have plateaued and girls appear to be progressing fa…

30 Protest Outside 2019 Green Conference

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The National Party experienced large protests outside its conference after being in power for five years and now it was the Greens turn to experience something similar outside their 2019 AGM.

The suffering under a Green Government had been substantial for the thirty who had gathered outside the conference. A number carried placards and several emotional speeches were made through an expensive portable sound system.

One speaker, a property developer, barely managed to finish his protest speech before breaking down as he described the suffering he had endured after the introduction of a capital gains tax and being forced to build lower cost housing. He explained how his profits had been halved and he was having to consider selling one of his three holiday retreats.

A luxury car dealer held a placard with the inscription "Save Our Cars". The Greens had almost killed his business as many of his wealthy customers now preferred to commute by train and were buying smaller electric…

The Million Dollar Men and a Dirty Pipe

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Fonterra CEO Theo Spierings earns something in the region of $5 million a year (based on his predecessors income). Twenty six Fonterra employees earn over a million dollars per annum each. This would mean that the Fonterra management collectively earn around $30-40 million (perhaps even more), not bad for a farmer's co-operative.

We still don't know the full story behind the Fonterra crisis and who was responsible, but we do know that the twenty six millionaires were not able to stop this from happening, or manage the crisis effectively.

There is also someone whose job it is to ensure that a certain pipe is kept clean, and I wonder what their salary/wages are?


Flatlining Literacy, What to Blame?

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There was more anguish expressed today about the languishing rates of literacy in New Zealand and commentators and experts are pointing their fingers at where they think the blame should lie. Much of the criticism is being based on data and I heard few comments based on qualitative research.

PIRLS is the most widely regarded international assessment on literacy and is useful for comparing the performance of our education system to those of other countries. New Zealand has consistently scored amongst the the best in the world for many years but it has become apparent that while many countries are trending upwards with their results, New Zealand's achievement levels have remained static over the last ten years.

As appears usual, the blame for the lack of progress in literacy is being placed firmly on our education system and I heard especially strong criticism of our Reading Recovery programme. Again we have concern expressed about Maori and Pasifika achievement and how we are still…

How Others See Us, 100% Pure Joke!

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For decades we have rested on our laurels and relied on earlier achievements to maintain our reputation. We were the first country to give women the vote, we once had an enviable record in child health, we built lots of state houses to ensure all New Zealanders had good homes and we exported safe food for many decades.

Tourists are attracted to this country through our 100% pure branding and the scenery captured in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies. 75% of our exporters rely on our clean green brand to establish and maintain their overseas markets.

For years we have smugly looked down on countries like China because of their political systems, human rights abuses and their levels of poverty. I think most New Zealanders would be surprised at how others may see us now. After the Fonterra botulism scare, China is looking at us and making judgements that we once applied to them.

Xinhau of the China Daily asks, "Where is the quality control?" and then proceeds to use our $…

NZ in World News For Wrong Reasons

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Aljazeera: NZ botulism scare triggers mass global recall

China Daily: New Zealand milk stokes fears

The Cambodia Herald: China stops imports of N. Zealand milk powder: NZ minister

Ria Novosti (Moscow): Russia Bans New Zealand Dairy Giants Products over Botulism

The Times of India: New Zealand diary giant issues global botulism alert

The New York Times: Botulism Threat Found in Infant Formula Ingredients

BBC: Fonterra 'sorry' for contaminated product scare

CNN: Fonterra dairy recall shakes China consumer confidence

The Australian Financial review: Fonterra seeks to limit damage from safety crisis.

I am hoping that the worst case scenario does not occur and that the Government and Fonterra can restore international confidence. If we don't have our dairy industry, what else do we have? The Government is spending hundreds of millions on continuing dairy expansion and intensification, is this a case of too many milk bottles in one basket?

Important Lessons as Fonterra Falters

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Ganesh Nana finished introducing the BERL report "AView to the South" (which looked at industries that had unrealised potential in the Southland region), when a local dairy farmer asked the question:

"You haven't mentioned the dairy industry in this report, surely there is still potential for growth?"
Nana responded by explaining that his economic background caused him to be cautious about over-investing in any one industry. A strong investment portfolio, he believed, was one that had a broad mix of investments. If any one sector experienced a downturn in a mixed portfolio it could be compensated by growth in another. Nana questioned the wisdom of the dominance of dairying in the province and was reluctant to in promote further growth in this industry.
No one would dispute that Fonterra has been hugely successful and largely responsible for earning us the title "The Saudi Arabia of Milk", but our reliance on this single industry has become obsessive …

Evidence Clear, Disparity Growing

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Two articles today provided a clear indication of the direction we are heading as a country.

The first was a front page piece on Gore's Salvation Army food bank. The hardcopy version was more detailed to the one that I have linked to and described a worrying new trend. Kaye Byron has worked with the organisation for 18 years and has been upset by the recent numbers of pensioners asking for help. Most have been independent for all their lives and have never had to ask for food before. Coming to the food bank was a last resort.

"They are really embarrassed. They don't want to be here...it's just absolutely horrible."

Other food banks around the province have reported similar trends and the Southland Food Bank Charitable Trust co-ordinator Ron Maynard has reported almost double the number of food parcels being given out in Invercargill compared to last July.

Invercargill Salvation Army food bank co-ordinator Brenda King believed that the rising costs of power, petr…

John Key, Blame Shifter

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Watching John Key wriggling and squirming his way out of political corners of his own creation could be entertaining if it wasn't for the fact that he is the Prime Minister of our country. It appears that no matter what happens the buck never rests with him. Apparently lack of oversight and ignorance excuses him of any responsibility and he never questions what he is told. It is like watching the comedy "Yes, Prime Minister" and the Prime Minister in this New Zealand version has little influence over his staff, who operate in a randomly independent fashion and constantly cause embarrassment to him.

Yesterday Phil Heatley followed Russel Norman's powerful speech about journalistic independence with a petty little speech that focussed on selected pieces from Green MP's biographical statements. His intention was to question their characters and imply that they would lack the gravitas to function as Ministers of the Crown. This is an often used ploy by the National …

Southland Chamber of Commerce & the Feds

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This year I have attended the annual meetings of two institutions that many would not consider natural Green allies, Federated Farmers and the Southland Chamber of Commerce. One could imagine a cold reception for anyone openly green when in a room of farmers or businessmen, but we are now living in a different time and Southland is a unique place.

Southland is not a conservative backwater as many may think and it is not as politically blue as people may imagine. The old Awarua electorate (now largely Clutha Southland and currently held by Bill English), elected a Labour MP in the 70s. The Invercargill electorate had a Labour MP for four terms before National's Eric Roy was elected. Southland is a province of independent thinkers and when I fly out of Invercargill to meetings further north I often find myself sitting beside leaders of national organisations who are based in the south. Although we have only 2% of New Zealand's population we punch well above our weight. We know …