Saturday, June 28, 2014

Let's Bring Our Banking Home!

In the 1980s and early 90s the wisdom of the day dictated that our small (in a global sense) New Zealand owned banks were unsustainable. We lost the BNZ to the National Australia Bank group and our Trust Banks to Westpac. All 600 PostBank branches around the country were closed down by 1988. The consequences of those decisions saw huge profits and dividends head across the ditch, contributed to our huge Current Account deficit and allowed the Australian banks to become the most profitable in the world at a time when many were being bailed out.

These same banks have shown their gratitude by maximizing their profits through dubious means and paying local CEOs excessive salaries. Inland Revenue managed to claw back billions of avoided tax through legal action and exorbitant default fees (that have cost New Zealanders about $1 billion) are being challenged through a class action.

Russel Norman revealed an unhealthy relationship between our Reserve Bank and Westpac (the Government's sole banker) when the Reserve Bank Governor was caught out attempting to play down Westpac's profits to smooth through an ongoing relationship that hadn't been tendered for.

Ongoing pressure from the Greens has finally seen both the Reserve Bank and the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment agree that the Government's master banker should be decided by a fairly tendered process.

Russel Norman was pleased with this decision because, "Ideally, our Government's banking should be done by a New Zealand bank. This now becomes a possibility."

Banks should be supporting our economy but over the last twenty years the Aussie 'big four' have been sucking it dry. It's about time we restored some real competition and brought more of our banking home!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Pay Equity, Rod Donald Was Right in 2004

In 2004 Green Party Co-Leader Rod Donald made the following in committee speech in regard to the Public Finance (State Sector Management) Bill:

ROD DONALD (Co-Leader—Green) : It is also a pleasure for me to be back after a spirited night last night. I would like to offer Mr Connell some even more PC amendments to this part, and in particular to clause 157, because I do not think that the Crown is being a good employer. It is falling down particularly in relation to pay equity, and I intend, on behalf of the Green Party, to put forward an amendment to fix that particular problem. If members care to look at clause 157(2), they will see that it currently states that: “… a good employer … operates a personnel policy … including provisions requiring— … (b) an equal employment opportunities programme;”. In our view, that does not go far enough. We want the Government to have a pay and employment equity programme, and in case members are in any doubt about what that means, our proposed amendment to clause 157 provides for “a programme that is aimed at the identification and elimination of all aspects of policies, procedures and other institutional barriers that cause or perpetuate or tend to cause or perpetuate, inequality in respect of the employment and remuneration of any persons or group of persons.” That is something that should be incorporated into this bill, because the public service should be a leader in pay equity, for a start.
Unfortunately, to the embarrassment of the Government, not only does the public service fail to be a leader but the gender pay gap is wider in the public sector than in the private sector. One reason for that is that the public sector employs comparatively more women than the private sector, but that is not an excuse. It is time that this Government faced up to the need for a proper pay equity programme, and it is time that it put some money where its mouth is. Senior people in the Government often talk about the need for pay equity—the need for women to earn the same as men for either work that is the same or work that is different but of equal value. I say to members on the Government benches—particularly to those members of the Government with a union background, such as Lynne Pillay and others— that this is their opportunity to show that they are committed to pay equity and that they do recognise that women still earn only 80c for every dollar that men earn, despite improving their educational attainment. So let us deal with the structural discrimination that exists in the labour market.
The Government, of course, acknowledges that we have a problem. It is not even as though we have to convince the Government that there is a problem. It has been doing something about it. Its usual strategy is, of course, to set up a task force, so it did that. The Government had one of those in 2003, and since then it has established a unit within the Department of Labour to look at the pay equity issue and to find ways forward. Well, let us actually implement some changes. Yes, pay equity is a complex issue, but there has been sufficient work done for the Government to proceed to put pen to paper, and to legislate for pay equity. It should take the first step today by supporting the Green Party amendment to clause 157, so that a pay and employment equity programme becomes part of what is expected of a good employer. It is all there in the task force’s report; it stated what needs to be done.
Let us face a few facts and look at why pay equity needs to happen. At the moment there is the classic example of nurses and sworn police officers. A nurse’s starting salary is approximately $30,000 a year, while police start at approximately $40,000. At the top of the scale, nurses are paid just over $40,000, while police earn $60,000. That is simply unacceptable. The Government knows that, and it should be doing something about it. But pay equity is not just about men and women. There are significant differences in pay between different ethnic groups. The average hourly earnings for Pākehā men was $19.88 in the year to June 2003, while for European women it was $16.96, for Māori men it was $16.29, for Māori women it was $14.53, for Pacific Island men, it was $13.90, and Pacific Island women earned the lowest hourly rate of $13.79. That is unacceptable for a Labour-led Government—one that claims it is committed to helping people who are poor or disadvantaged in the community.

The Government has the opportunity today to fix that problem. It can become a leader and fix the problem in the public service, where the average salary was $43,163 for women and $52,436 for men.

It is interesting to note that there was no support for Rod's amendment, other than from the 9 Green MPs, all other parties and MPs (110) voting against.

Ten years later the State Sector is still not an equitable employer. The Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner, Jackie Blue, was concerned at how many Government agencies were too slow at progressing equality. The Defence Department were the worst with men earning more than 42%, on average, than women. Education was also shocking with a 35% pay gap, 'largely because of low pay to the mostly female special education support workers' (teacher aids).

It was also shocking to note how little wages had risen for these women in the ten years since Rod's speech. The most a Grade A Teacher Aid can earn is $15.35 an hour, no matter how long they have worked in the job. This is still $1.61 less than the average hourly rate for a European women ten years ago and $3.42 less than the living wage. It would take 8 years for a Grade B teacher aid with a good level of skill and responsibility to get above the current living wage.

I thought it might still be interesting to compare salaries of nurses and the police again to see how things have progressed between state sector jobs that are gender biased (mainly male or female). The training and academic requirements for nursing are much greater than the police, registered nurses need to get a three year bachelors degree while police are paid $1,372 a fortnight to train for 18 months. The starting salary for a DHB registered nurse is $47,528 while police start on $58,584 for their first year. In 2004 police earned around $10,000 more and ten years later they earn $13,000 more (and nurses will probably still be paying of a student loan). After five years police can expect to earn $76,000 while a nurse will receive $64,000. 

I also compared the average hourly earnings of the other demographic groups that Rod listed to 2013 data and came out with the following results:

                                        2003                               2013

                                      Average                 Average     Median       

Pakeha men                  $19.88                     $29.30      $23.97             

Pakeha women             $16.96                     $24.82      $21.00           

Maori men                    $16.29                     $22.83      $19.82           

Maori women               $14.53                     $22.05      $18:30           

Pasifika men                 $13.90                     $20.98      $18.50           

Pasifika women            $13.79                     $20.11      $17.00           

Pakeha men have done considerably better over the ten years than any other demographic and this is despite the fact that for many years now females have been out performing males academically. Women still earn less relative to their qualifications than men. 

What is interesting in these statistics is that Maori women have largely caught up on Maori men in both average and median earnings while Pasifika women have not done as well and over 50% earned well less than a living wage in 2013. The median wage of a Pasifika woman is now about the same as the average wage for a Pakeha woman ten years ago. The median pay of all Maori and Pasifika workers is less than the average that a Pakeha male received in 2003. 

The Labour Government in 2004 chose not to support Rod Donald's attempt to gain pay equity in the state sector. Women still struggle to get recognition for the work they do and things have deteriorated much further under a National led Government, especially for Maori and Pasifika. The Greens continued the fight for pay equity with their 'Clean up the House' action last year and as a number of Labour MPs chose to support them there is some hope that a future Green/Labour coalition may finally address the issue. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

We Are Losing Our Estuaries!

The Southland Times published an excellent editorial last week in support of our estuaries:

"Breathing estuaries aren't nice-to-have things. More than just an indicator of how we're doing environmentally they're really important ecosystems in themselves. Ask the fishing industry.

"We seriously need to turn the figures around. And we haven't. That is scary."

In 2011 the Southland Times made water quality the foremost election issue and over the last three years things have probably got worse. This National led Government has possibly overseen one of the most environmentally degrading periods that this country has ever seen. It has cleverly limited the extent of the damage through blocking any independent public reporting.

In 2012 Eugenie Sage joined me in highlighting the degradation of our local estuaries after recent research revealed the enormity of the problem.

I wrote a letter in support of the editorial because this is something we can't ignore and the price of providing China with milk powder shouldn't include our most important ecosystems:

I appreciated the editorial (June 20) ‘Time for action to save our Estuaries’. In 2011 The Southland Times made water quality the most important issue of the local campaign due to the wide spread concern about the quality of our rivers.

After research was published in 2012 we discovered that our estuaries are eutrophying at frightening rate. This is concerning not only because we are losing important natural habitats, but estuaries are also the nurseries for many of our commercial fish.

The National led Government has no intention of doing anything substantial in addressing our shocking water quality statistics when bottom lines only require that quality shouldn’t get any worse and that rivers should be safe to wade in without endangering health (90% are polluted now).

The $20 million over four years to help improve water quality is only a token gesture when the Government has set aside $400 million to support the intensification of dairy farming.

The Government also stopped the five yearly independent environment reports (the last was in 2007) and has dictated that any future reporting will be done under their direction. It is clear that they do not want the truth to be known.

The Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Jan Wright, has voiced concern about the on going weakening of environmental reporting and the poor regulation of damaging industries.

Environmental degradation should not be seen as acceptable collateral damage in support of economic growth. We desperately need to shift to an honest economy that recognises the external costs of polluting industries and build a cleaner future.

Yours sincerely
Dave Kennedy

Green Party Candidate for Invercargill

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Politics, Sharks and Voter Apathy

I had a conversation at our farmer's market this morning about how my election campaign was going and the person I was speaking to had the view that all politicians don't actually do much, apart from talking. I find that this thinking is actually fairly common, many people talk about the nonsense that goes on in Parliament and how all politicians are as bad as each other, "It doesn't matter who you vote for, nothing really changes."

I find this view really frustrating, but at the same time I can see why people may feel this way. The average New Zealander is too busy getting by, trying to earn a living and supporting their families with little time to analyze what is happening on the political scene. Their view of politics as seen through the mainstream media is a jaundiced one, it appears that 'gotcha' politics (as it has been recently called) is all dominating. The two larger parties are desperately throwing metaphorical daggers at each other and hoping that one of them draws blood and the media gather like sharks to pounce on the juicy bits as they emerge. Whether it is Judith Collins or David Cunliffe whose blood attracts the sharks, there is little real analysis regarding the extent of the wound (or whether it is self inflicted), blood is blood and the shark frenzy occurs regardless.

As each political poll is released commentators try to pinpoint which recent calamity contributed to any drop in support and who is leading in the leadership stakes. The margin of error is ignored, all the undecided are cast aside and either National has an unassailable lead and can govern alone or the Labour/Green block is in with a chance. Photographs of John Key being taken on a personal tour of the Whitehouse garden by the President himself hit the front pages and Cunliffe's days as leader are apparently numbered because of an 11 year old letter of little real consequence.

There have been a number of major policy announcements from the Greens, Labour and National since the beginning of the year. The Greens have released education and transport initiatives, Labour announced a substantial economic policy and National has released their massive $359 million Investment in Education Success. How much media analysis has there been of each? Policy is released, comment is sought from opposing parties and that appears to be it. The real interest is in whether Winston really does have new information on Judith Collins or perhaps Donghua Liu did donate money to the Labour Party.

Education Academic, Prof Martin Thrupp, is quite correct when he voices concern that National's education plans are potentially going to result in the biggest changes to the system since Tomorrow's Schools and yet no journalist has delved into the policy in any real detail nor sought a range of views. We have numerous crises that rarely feature on the front page of newspapers: growing child poverty, environmental collapse and Government debt that has risen to $60 billion or ($13,300 for every man, woman and child in the country).

Politicians aren't just talk, they actually do things that have a huge effect on our day to day lives: the cost of power, the availability of a decent home to rent, and whether you can live on a minimum wage is down to them. The politicians (especially those in government) can decide if your local school will close or if a special needs child will get teacher aid support or not. Whether our rivers will ever be clean enough to swim in again or if Maui dolphins will still exist in five or ten years are dependent on decisions being made by politicians at this very time.

For most voters dramatic change doesn't appear to happen, the sun still comes up every morning, no matter who is in power, and daily routines continue. When September 20 comes around and pens are poised above the voting forms, what will really determine where the mark falls? Will it be the party that has the most logical strategies and the most progressive policies for the future of the country, or will it come down to the party that survives the campaign shark frenzy with the most limbs attached and their real agenda disguised by the slickest spin and the largest donors?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

National's Campaign Strategy Stinks

We all know from reading Nicky Hager's The Hollow Men (or watching the documentary) that the National Party actually advocates for a small section of society. Their policies rarely support most New Zealanders and after each period of a National led Government we have costly messes like  leaky buildings and dead miners as the aftermath. This isn't to say that Labour shouldn't take responsibility for not repealing dodgy legislation, but National has always stood for less regulation, fewer protections for workers and the environment and an upward flow of money to the already rich.

The lasting consequences of this current National led Government are potentially going to be much more costly than the 1990s version. Our environmental degradation has never been worse, child poverty now effects 27% of children and Government debt has increased by $50 billion. There will be no easy or cheap fixes for any of these and we are still paying the costs from the 1990s.

The only people who do really well under National Governments are the already rich and the evidence for this can be readily seen. The wealthy are the only ones with any discretionary spending and it is mainly being thrown on their lifestyles, houses and new cars. The trickle down theory is still a myth with little credibility. National relies on the short term memory of voters and pre-election spending to create an image of caring for the majority when, in reality, we still have the fastest growing inequality in the OECD.

The National Party knows that most New Zealanders actually want clean rivers, we don't want our state assets sold off and we don't like dodgy back room deals with overseas corporates. Accusations and suggestions of corruption and conflicts of interest continually swirl around this Government and any questions regarding these are met with well practiced dodging and weaving from National's Ministers.

National has cleverly realised that turning the election campaign into a presidential one allows them to shift the focus from their lack of effectiveness or substantial policy to personal attacks on the credibility of opposition leaders. National have an abundance of corporate smarts and one of the largest teams of spin doctors (18% increase in 2013 Budget) of any previous Government. As with our 100% Pure tourist campaign, they know it is the image and spin rather than the substance that has the most sway at the end of the day.

Key has been marketed well, he has a light portfolio load and is able to be continually placed in the media eye rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous and powerful. His image appears with royalty, Hollywood moguls and the US President. He is our most successful celebrity Prime Minister who focuses on who he is seen with rather than the influence he can exert. Although he lives in a huge mansion, holidays in Hawaii and surrounds himself with body guards, Key is able to project the manner of an average kiwi bloke. His relaxed, 'she'll be right' approach strikes a chord with many New Zealanders for whom image is more important than what he actually does (try and name even one real achievement). Key is the Ronald Reagan of New Zealand politics, his genial folksy manner hides the calculated shifting of wealth from those who need it the most. This is most clearly seen in education where private schools have received an inordinate amount of funding despite catering for only 4% of students. Maori and Pasifika children, the 'priority learners', have actually received diminishing support.

John Key collects dirt in the same way Muldoon did. He has been quite open about his regular catch ups with the mud slinging blogger, Cameron Slater, and has referred to his file of damaging information. Any time he or his Government gets accused of dodgy activity he doesn't even try to deny it, he just pulls out something to throw back and the word 'hypocrisy' is thrown around with much enthusiasm. This has been used with great effectiveness to shift the attention from National's very compromised and conflicted relationships with wealthy Chinese businessmen. The charges against National's Ministers are actually quite substantial and, whether it be the favoritism shown to Orivida or attempts to influence police, National doesn't come out well.

When David Cunliffe came out swinging with accusations regarding the Government's relationship with the Chinese businessman Donghau Liu, Key was able to reach into his extensive file and pull out a letter that Cunliffe had sent in support of Liu in 2003. It didn't matter that there was no hint of corruption or undue influence being applied, a connection was found. Cunliffe's high moral ground was kicked out from under him and Key again avoided the scrutiny that should have been focused on his Ministers' behaviour and the media lapped it up.

While one could say that Labour, and the opposition in general, deserve what ever happens if they don't cover their backs, there does a appear to be an over-eagerness on the media's behalf when National holds out their diversionary tidbits. The Government should be held to account for their actions and too often the accusations from Key have little actual substance, yet little is done to check their veracity or relevance. How many times has Key suggested that Russel Norman did a deal with Dotcom when Russel has asked him a particularly hard question?

Maurice Williamson is still an MP, Judith Collins is still considered the highest ranked woman in National's cabinet and John Banks was able to have the confidence of the PM despite serious charges hanging over him...and yet a perfectly reasonable letter from Cunliffe, requesting information for a forgotten constituent, has the potential of causing him to lose the Labour leadership.

Despite their shocking record in government National remain high in the polls because they have successfully shifted the debate about politics to personality and image. They have cut funding to Statistics New Zealand and removed any substantial independent reviews of the effectiveness of their governance so that their spin dominates what is in the public domain. They managed to dispatch Goff and Shearer through personal attacks and smear campaigns they are ramping it up against Cunliffe. Up to now their personal attacks on Metiria and Russel have backfired but National's strategy is clear and this campaign is going to be a dirty one.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Domestic Violence, Poverty and Children

When I was a child in the 60's domestic abuse still occurred and dysfunctional families existed but most families could easily survive on a single income and most mothers stayed in the home and their primary role was caring for children. Communities were much stronger in those days, young families were the heart of them and inequity was less obvious. The minimum weekly wage for a man in 1969 was $42 (the equivalent of $673 now, and $100 more than the current minimum).

The Government had poured much money into child health and we led the world in our approach to caring for our children. In 1946 a universal family benefit was paid to mothers at 10 shillings a week for each child (this would be the equivalent of $40 per child now). In 1958 this was increased to 15 shillings and the money could also be saved and capitalized up to 1,000 pounds (equivalent to $43,500) to buy or improve a home. We had dental clinics in each school and provided free milk.

The 60s weren't perfect, women lacked equality and racism defined immigration policy, but we did value children and the importance of families. The standard of housing was good for the time and home ownership was around 75% (now in Auckland it is 58%). Even if a child came from a struggling family, a minimum income could still allow them to fully participate in their schooling and extra-curricular activities and a strong state housing sector provided good homes for those in need.

Since the 1960s we have become one of the worst in the OECD for the welfare and safety of our kids, with one child killed every five weeks, 1 in 4 girls are sexually abused before they are 15 and 1 in 7 boys are abused.

So what has change since the 1960s that has put pressure on families and has had a negative impact on children?
  • It is harder for parents who choose to look after their children at home to do so, two incomes are now necessary to support a family and the cost of housing has dramatically increased. 
  • Successive Governments have encouraged women to get back into the workforce as soon as possible but child care standards are mixed and the minimum requirement for qualified teachers in early childcare centres is only 50% and there is a funding cap at 80%. The Government supports corporate care (Kidicorp) over community based care. 
  • Inequity is growing in New Zealand at a faster rate than all other OECD countries and the poorest communities are seeing their real incomes dropping considerably. The median income in Mangere-Otahuhu dropped by 14% when including inflation between 2006 and 2013 and is now only $19,700 a year or $378 per week. Almost half would be earning less than that. 
  • Unemployment was near zero in 1960 and now 20% of our workforce is either unemployed or under employed. Young families tend to to be more financially challenged and 50% of children experience poverty at some point in their childhood.
  • Working hours have increased for those in full-time work (often those on lower wages) and many parents now work in weekends. 
  • Primary schools were seen as community hubs and the viability of a school was not just seen in economic terms. The welfare of children is better served when strong communities exist.
  • State housing has not kept up with our population growth or demand and the private sector has been subsidized to provide it instead. There are no minimum standards for private rentals and poor housing is seen as a major contributor to a marked decline in child health with many presenting to hospitals with 3rd world illnesses.
  • Up to the 1960s poor dental health was a major concern and a huge investment was made in addressing it, dental nurses were trained and clinics built in all schools. While dental hygiene is still a concern in many communities it is now obesity in children that has reached epidemic proportions with 1 in 3 children either obese or overweight (27% of Pasifika children are obese). This will have costly health ramifications in future years, especially in Type 2 Diabetes. The same determination to deal with children's health no longer exists.
  • The availability of cheap processed food is much greater now and fresh fruit and vegetables and milk are more expensive. The need to provide healthy food in schools has been removed by this Government. 
  • Fewer children walk or cycle to school and Physical Education in schools has been made less important than literacy and numeracy through the promotion of National Standards. Physical Education advisors to schools have been sacked. 
  • Benefits have not kept up with inflation and the children of beneficiaries (unemployed or disabled) have pronounced disadvantages compared to those whose parents work. The parental tax credit for parents of new born children is not available for beneficiaries
  • Rather than providing a safety net for those in need, New Zealand's welfare and health systems create barriers to accessing support. 
  • Mothers with new born babies are sent home from hospital too quickly and often before they feel happy with breast-feeding or have support at home. 
  • Communities are far more segregated according to socio-economic background than in the past and those living in struggling circumstances are more likely to accept poverty as normality. This is supported by Government policy where social housing in more affluent communities is being removed
  • In the heyday of public broadcasting a social conscience existed and much was invested in making sure that what was provided for children on TV was suitable. Commercial imperatives dominate broadcasting now and children are often exposed to content that is unsuitable during hours that children are likely to be watching TV unsupervised. As a teacher I used to use newspapers as an education resource, I stopped having whole newspapers in classrooms some time ago when I realized that sensationalized and detailed reporting on sex crimes etc were becoming more prevalent, even on the front page.
The pressures on young families are much greater than they were in the 60s, work demands have increased, social segregation and the breakdown of communities is a reality and the commercialisation and underfunding of services are increasing. Poverty is something that 50% of children will experience and domestic abuse has become normality for too many families. For the sake of our children and our future, something has to change.

It was great to see Marama Davidson fronting a lot of the media as one of the key people behind the Glenn Report. The Green Party is leading the debate around child poverty and family violence and we need to be in Government if we are to gain major changes in how we address the issues.

(The image is of Terepo 'Popo' Taura-Griffiths who died of a brain bleed caused by a violent attack by  in 2011) 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Mike Joy and the Disconnected Warning Light

Mike Joy was speaking in Invercargill last night to an audience of around 80 people. It was a very mixed crowd with local body councillors, environmentalists and farmers represented.

Mike has been subjected to some heavy attacks from the Prime Minister and business leaders for being outspoken about the state of our environment. Despite the fact that he has won awards for the significance of his work, Mike will probably have difficulty attracting government funding for further research as he is considered to be an impediment to the growth of dairy farming.

The content of his talk was largely familiar to me but his presentation was very compelling, the science was solid and the environmental concerns were starkly presented:
  • 68% of NZ's native fish are listed as threatened (worse than Europe's 47% and US 37%)
  • 68% of our ecosystems are now classified as threatened.
  • We have lost 90% of our wetlands
  • 90% of our rivers are polluted
  • 95% do not meet the standard for bathing due to pathogens
  • 88% exceed the Phosphate guidelines
  • 80% exceed the Nitrogen guidelines
  • 44% of our lakes are now classed as polluted
  • Most harbors and estuaries are being choked by sediment, destroying marine ecosystems and biodiversity (estuaries are spawning grounds for Snapper and other commercially important fish)
  • Ministry of Health figures show that each year between 18,000 and 34,000 people contract water borne diseases (and these are only the ones that have presented to our health system).

Our problems aren't decreasing or even static, the levels of pollution and the threats to our environment are actually steadily increasing: 

Mike talked about the politicization of the science that is publicly communicated. Much is industry funded, which generally excludes anything that may have a negative impact on the industry concerned. The expansion and intensification of dairying is seen by the National led Government as vital to the economy and, to enable the industry to continue to grow, environmental degradation is seen as necessary collateral damage. 

The Government has decided to stop any substantial independent environmental reporting to ensure that the enormity of the degradation is not widely known and they try to control the information that reaches the public domain.  The last full report was from 2007 (over six years ago) and chapter 13 was initially cut because it stated that the largest pressure on our land, freshwater, coastal oceans and atmosphere was through the intensive development of our pastoral land. It was only because the Green Party discovered the suppression, and published it, that it become publicly known. Although the Government has introduced three yearly environment reporting, it will only be through the Ministry of the Environment (under their direction) and the independent Environment Commissioner has been deliberately excluded from the process. 

The other huge concern about the intensification of our farms is that the current levels of production cannot be sustained through just using our own resources. We have to import large amounts of fertilizer, especially phosphate, and we are the largest importer of palm kernel (1.8 million tonnes for this year) because we cannot produce enough grass to feed our rapidly expanding herds. New Zealand annually imports around one million tonnes of Western Sahara phosphate and most phosphate contains cadmium, an extremely toxic heavy metal. 

Repeated applications of super phosphate just increases the levels of cadmium in our agricultural soils and in many areas farms could never be converted into urban environments because the ground would be considered too toxic for human habitation. Already the offal from stock grazing on land with high levels of cadmium has to be disposed of because of its toxicity. A conservative estimate of the impact on the Waikato region predicts that the average concentration of cadmium in dairy soils will go beyond the recommended guidelines in 16 years. 

While the Government constantly talks about needing to balance economic growth with environmental management it appears the balance has been seriously tipped in favour of dirty economic growth for some time. Opening up a few marine reserves will barely scratch the surface of our environmental needs (and they won't even save our Maui dolphins). 

Mike Joy eloquently compared the Government's environmental stewardship to driving a car when the oil warning light starts flashing and as a solution they have just disconnected the light. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Myth of Free Trade Agreements

I have attempted numerous time to comment on Ele Ludemann's Home Paddock blog in response to her post on Free Trade Agreements and promoting the false perception that they are vital to our economy. While I can't imagine that Ele would be deliberately blocking my comments, none of them have been allowed to appear. Here is what I was attempting to say:

Most FTAs favour the larger nations and Australia's FTA with the US has been a disaster for employment and the environment and the balance of trade favors the US by $13 billion. The growth of imports from the US continues to grow far faster than their exports to them.

Our CER deal with Australia has not actually served us that well when Australian supermarkets can block our products and New Zealanders working and paying taxes in Aussie can't access the services that they help fund.

I recently attended a presentation from the Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank and when he was asked about the importance of the FTA with China he actually couldn't put a value on it. Apparently there was no evidence to show that the increased demand for our primary commodities wouldn't have occurred without it.

As for the TPPA, all evidence from leaked documents so far show that corporate lobbying and influence provide real threats to Pharmac, patent rights for our IT industry and the potential for our Government to be sued for loss of profits.

Our open borders may make us the 3rd easiest country to do business in but that doesn't mean that is an economic advantage, it actually exposes us to exploitation and is one of the reasons why our Current Account deficit is one of the largest in the OECD. The real fear should not about the loss of FTA's but the real consequences of having them in the first place.

The IMF has indicated that our economy is actually quite fragile and it is interesting that an ex IMF official compares our economy with Ireland's and suggests we are at the point of collapse.

Key is obviously aware of this and Pattrick Smellie suggests that the early election date was really to get it done before the economy dips again and the fragility of the recovery is properly revealed.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Teaching Profession Rejects Parata's Plans

Classroom teachers, the New Zealand Educational Institute, the New Zealand Principal's Federation and education academics have all strongly rejected the Government's proposed $359 million Investment into Education Success (IES). All believe that this substantial amount of money will not produce the results that the Education Minister claims and would be better spent elsewhere.

At a recent meeting of primary classroom teachers in Invercargill, one teacher was particularly upset. She had shifted to New Zealand to escape the failing English schooling system only to find the same changes are about to be implemented here.

Respected US academic David Berliner happened to be in New Zealand when the Prime Minister first announced the new spending and he strongly rejected the claim that teachers make the biggest difference to child achievement. He claimed that the socio-economic background of the child has the largest influence on education outcomes (according to all research) and he accused our Prime Minister of lying for stating otherwise.

Prof Martin Thrupp has made a number of useful points in a recent article on the IES. He voices concern at the lack of media engagement with these major changes to school management and questions the evidence for them. Few New Zealand academics have been consulted despite the fact we are internationally regarded for our education research and any changes should be based on our own contexts. Prof Thrupp is concerned that the government is using a management centered approach to lifting children's achievement rather than a child centered one and we are losing the professional culture that made our education system so successful in the past.

NZEI has listed a number of alternatives where the funding would be better used. Rather than removing successful principals and teachers from their schools and classrooms for several days a week NZEI suggests the funding would provide better outcomes if we:
  • Increased funding for our Special Education Service so that 20,000 more kids could get specialist support.
  • Worked towards having 100% of our early childhood teachers being qualified and registered.
  • Reduced class sizes so that all children can benefit from more individualized learning. 
  • Provide sustainable funding for teacher aids so that children and teachers can get consistent support. 
One would think that primary principals would welcome the opportunity to earn $50,000 more on top of their current salary as one of the new 'Executive' Principals, and yet they have solidly rejected the concept. They cannot see how they could do the job of leading their own school well if they are removed from it for several days a week.

Education Minister Hekia Parata has been less than convincing when attempting to justify a corporate styled model of education management. Although she continuously talks about the importance of collaboration in the sector, her understanding of what that would mean is quite different from the profession's view. She talks about data and achievement outcomes and doesn't refer once to the real needs of struggling children. It is also interesting that she claims to be working positively with NZEI and the NZPF and yet neither has supported the outcomes. 

Parata claimed that they had been working on the changes for a year, but the profession only became aware of them when they were announced in January and any consultation has only occurred over the past few months. In reality the IES has been presented as a fait accompli and full consultation and discussion with the wider profession has been deliberately limited by the tight time frame. National Standards were implemented without a trial and without the support of the profession and after five years they are still problematic, these new comprehensive changes are being introduced in the same flawed way.

The Green Party has taken a different and cheaper route to lifting the achievement of struggling children. Over 80% of our children are actually doing well in the current system and far more could be achieved if we addressed the real barriers to learning for our most disadvantaged children; ill health, poor housing and struggling families. Health and welfare hubs are already working well in some schools and, as a proven model, it makes sense to establish them in all low decile schools. The Green Party believe in targeting funding and support rather than inflicting the entire system with a corporate model that has failed elsewhere.  

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Confessions of a Green Speed Addict

I want to confess to something many people may not be aware of, I love going fast and am addicted to speed. While at high school and university most of my friends got their speed fix from owning motorbikes, but I didn't share their petrol fueled passion. While I love speed I prefer a more natural high and the roar and smell of an internal combustion engine never quite did it for me (much to my father's disappointment).

When I was at primary school I raced a P Class yacht in Bluff Harbour. The most thrilling moments were when sailing on a run (the wind behind) in strong winds. I would have to hang out the back of the yacht to keep the snub nose from diving into the sea and keep it surfing on the top. The guy wires would be humming, the spray flying and a rush of gurgling water would be passing underneath, magic!

My claim to fame at University was coming second in a downhill bicycle race on a winding stretch of road between two student hostels (Knox and Salmond). I worked out that if I sat on my carrier at the back of my bike I had a lower centre of gravity and, with my feet sticking out, had more control.

I also love skiing fast. My current skis were the top racing slalom skis fourteen years ago and I am aware that when I am traveling up on the chairlifts that my skis are considerably longer than everyone else's (even though I'm barely 5'6"). I struggle with the tight 'carver' turns but love the stability of my longer skis when I hit rough patches at speed.

My most memorable speed experiences were when I cycled the length of the European Alps in the late 80's. I cycled over numerous passes well over 2,000 metres high (including  Furkapass at 2,436 m) and the downhills were incredible. With over 10km of continual decent I could get up to some amazing speeds, often passing cars.

In 1989 I had dark hair, a beard and was slightly thinner and fitter. I only wore the helmet on descents.

I guess it is the smell and sound of fossil fueled power that I don't enjoy, it is all dominating and you lose all connection with the world around you. With sailing, skiing and cycling you just have the sound of the wind past your ears and the direct connection with the sea, road or snow.

I tried to pass on one of our Green Party leaflets to a black leather covered motorcyclist today but he refused to accept it because, "The Green Party will take away all our petrol." I didn't have time to explain that the future of transport is electric and I don't think he would have appreciated a lecture on why electric vehicles are actually faster because of their greater torque. I do understand that for him there is no raw mechanical romance associated with an electric engine and there would be no throaty roar (possibly just the sound of a large electric drill). However for the sake of our planet we need to adapt.

In the US a 1972 Datsun 1200 had an electric engine inserted and it now drags off just about anything  and can do a 1/4 mile in 11.8 seconds (a 2013 Lamborghini is only 1 sec faster).  The TT Zero electric bike race has been run since 2009 and lap speed records have improved from 140 kmh to 176.5 kmh in four years. Formula E races have even managed to include audience participation with tweets to their favorite drivers providing energy boosts. Electric MAGLEV trains exist that can easily travel at 430 kmh and have the potential to do 3500 kmh.

Transport efficiency and the thrill of speed does not have to be based on fossil fuel, the future of transport is already here and oil has no part in it.

A Country in Crisis

Two Green MPs visited Invercargill over the past week and both described a genuine crisis that is being largely ignored by this Government.

Kevin Hague has been traveling around the country exposing the inadequacies of National's approach to Health and promoting what the Greens would do differently if we got into Government. Using his knowledge of the health system as a past CEO of West Coast Health and available data, Kevin exposed the sham of current health management:
  • Health funding has not kept up with our growing population and the demands on the system and we have actually experienced a loss of capacity. We are not even treading water, we are going backwards.
  • Money has been shifted away from preventative (public) health and primary care, the two areas that give the best value for any spending.
  • The only area receiving greater funding is elective surgery and this has been widely promoted by the Government as proof of success when it actually makes up only 5% of all health spending.
  • Maori and Pasifika people and those with disabilities and low incomes still struggle to access care and have deteriorating outcomes. 
  • The main contributors to poor health are actually poor housing and poverty and these are barely being addressed. We now have 27% of our children experiencing poverty and the health effects related to that.
Kevin also identified a ticking time bomb within our society that is shortly going to place huge pressures on our health system. We have one of the fastest growing rates of obesity in the OECD and Type 2 Diabetes is closely connected to this. Recent research has shown that we are about to experience a tidal wave of diabetes and we have put little in place to manage it. 

Jan Logie has been working tirelessly in support of the huge numbers of New Zealanders who have experienced, or are experiencing, sexual abuse or domestic violence. While the Government has proudly promoted the apparent fact that reported crime is dropping in NZ we only have to study the statistics a little more closely to realize that sexual and domestic violence are actually increasing. Jan explained that if the figures involved in these areas were related to illness or disease, it would be described as an epidemic.
Having ample evidence that sexual violence is a major issue in New Zealand, the Law Commission made a number of recommendations to address the issue and make the justice system operate more effectively for victims. The Justice Minister, Judith Collins, has decided to ignore most of them

It was extremely upsetting to hear about how sick and dangerous our society is for many New Zealanders and how unsupportive we currently are for those who really need it. The social and economic costs to our country are actually huge if we don't put in place credible policy. I would love to see Kevin and Jan in the next Government so they have the opportunity to drive the changes necessary to turn things around. 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Green Party Conference & the Top 20

John Armstrong summed up our conference pretty well:

If anything, Labour's rebuff of the Greens' offer in April for the two parties to campaign more co-operatively has made the Greens even more determined to make it impossible for Labour to give them the cold shoulder. Having raised more than $1 million to fight the election, the Greens are confident they can win more seats - which means more slots in the Cabinet and more action on Green "priorities".

The rapturous reception given the unveiling of a new priority - a carbon tax on polluters which turns into a "climate tax cut" for households and business - threatened to lift the roof.

In one deft stroke, the policy has the Greens saving the planet, helping the poor, giving big carbon users an incentive to be more efficient, while stimulating investment in more sustainable industries.

Best of all is that they can go into the election claiming they are the only major party (so far) promising specific tax cuts. Take that, National. The Greens can play your game too. 

Our Campaign Conference in February this year, and the AGM and conference just completed, marked a new era in our Party's history. Both conferences were well organised and extremely professional in experience and image. Andrea Vance even expressed the view that the Greens now appear mainstream through our recent policy releases and our image.

Now the Green machine is so slick, so corporate, the best I could come up with was an animal print-mohair waistcoat.

If being better financed and more professional means mainstream, then I can accept that, but our policies have changed little since I was first a member. What is probably different is how we are now able to express them into well costed and achievable packages that support our broader progressive strategies. It is great to see that most of our specific policy announcements are being well received and hard to criticize. Our 'Climate Tax Cut' policy will probably receive the strongest opposition from those who have benefited from the broken ETS and the Government's carbon credit subsidies.

The other difference in the last conference for me was the fact that I made the top twenty of our candidate list and becoming an MP is potentially achievable. On the last day those of us who are not MPs, but will become so if we break 15%, were given the opportunity to speak on something we care about within our country and what we hope to bring to parliament. This is what I said:

Some years ago I overheard someone say that the problem with this country is grey haired men in suits who sit around in Koru Lounges. The other day I happened to be sitting in a Koru lounge, in my suit, and remembered what I had heard - for the women who said it, I’d love to reassure her that, while I may fit that description at times, I see myself as part of the solution.

I am a third generation teacher and I am proud of my profession and the public education sector I have worked in for over thirty years. Our public education system has been led by some amazing visionaries and been globally recognized as world leading for over 70 years.

In my grandfather’s time Clarence Beeby was the Director of the Department of Education. His vision of a system that was responsive to the range of children’s abilities and providing teachers with the skills to recognize and develop them was revolutionary. His opposition to undue centralization and conformity to the old proficiency assessments provided the foundation of our current system. UNESCO recognized his contribution to education and he was a foundation member of the Order of NZ.

In my father’s time Marie Clay gained international recognition for her Reading Recovery programme that has been adopted by many other countries and is still used today.

I myself am proud to have had a small part in writing our wonderfully child centred National curriculum, led by Mary Chamberlain, that has a holistic approach to teaching and learning that keeps true to Beeby’s vision. I also was part of the team that revised the Ministry’s Individualized Education Plan or IEP document that endeavours to make our curriculum and education system accessible to all children no matter what their needs, circumstances or disabilities.

Under this Government our wonderful public education system has been under considerable attack through the introduction of failed neo-liberal ideas from other countries. It is still hanging in there but is severely battered and bruised and our teachers and support staff are becoming more demoralized by the day as they desperately try to protect our children from uncaring policies and diminishing resources.

I do not understand why this Government wants to always be a follower rather than a leader on the world stage and why they do not recognize the depth of educational talent we have in New Zealand. Prof Martin Thrupp’s internationally recognized research on National Standards revealed their damaging consequences to school cultures. Many may not realise the ongoing efforts of fellow candidate Jeanette Elley’s father, Prof Warrick Elley, to defend our education system. Martin and Warrick are but two of many local education leaders that the Government should have turned to before looking elsewhere.

Our education system is not failing our children, it is poverty, inequity and shocking living conditions that create the real barriers to their learning. That is why I 100% support our school hub policy and why National’s plan of creating an ‘Executive’ class of principal, earning an extra $50,000 a year won’t address the real issues.

While I acknowledge that paramount global crisis is climate change, I also want to be a champion for our quality public education system. If I am elected as an MP that is my commitment to you.

Some other images from our Conference:

 Some of the international diplomats attending our conference with Kennedy Graham

 Metiria about to launch our free health care to under 18s policy

Russel about to launch our climate change policy, sitting with Jeanette Fitzsimons and Lucy Lawless