Red Alert

I wish you all solidarity

Posted by on July 26th, 2014

On Thursday night was my valedictory speech in Parliament – the last official word of my nearly nine years as a Labour MP.

Valedictories are rites of passage.  Some of us will be remembered.  Most of us won’t, until we die : and then there will be a minute’s silence in parliament.

Part of my leaving has been discovering my grandfather, Frederick Frost and his role as a Labour MP in the government led by Michael Joseph Savage and then Peter Fraser during the war years of the second world war.

He died when I was very young, so I have few memories of him.

He left almost no footprint on the  landscape of political history, except his speeches, which the Parliamentary Library have kindly provided.

He was such a socialist. And so was his son, my father. They believed that socialism would prevail after the second world war as an alternative to fascism.

I pay tribute to my grandfather  – that man who started work at the age of 12 as a pit boy in a Northumberland mine, who came to NZ, fought at the Somme and was injured, and put his shoulder to the wheel to make a better life with the NZ Labour Party.

My footprint will be like Grandpa’s. I went to parliament in 2005 with values and beliefs and a determination to stand up for the marginalised and undervalued workers of New Zealand and never deviated from that.

That is my legacy, small as it may be, I hope that it provides hope to ordinary, working class people to step up to stand for Labour.  Because they need you.

Grandpa returned to work in the Huntly Mines when he lost his seat of New Plymouth.  I won’t be doing that, but I will be returning to the coalface, where there is so much to do.

I wish you all solidarity.


Filed under: Valedictory
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Why a spy-free internet should be a human right

Posted by on June 14th, 2014

Last Wednesday I had an opinion piece published in the Dominion Post titled Why a spy-free internet should be a human right. Unfortunately it hasn’t been put online (still) so I can’t link to it.

However I have posted below the fuller version of the piece I submitted to the Dom Post. An edited version was published.

New Zealand: a nation of  digital pioneers or laggards

On 10 June 2013 Labour made the first public statement of concern just days after news broke that the equivalent of the GCSB had been routinely monitoring US citizens’ phone calls, texts and social media activity. Our voice was joined by hundreds of thousands of Kiwis as the National Government, abetted  by Peter Dunne, pushed two pieces of law through Parliament to provide the GCSB with wide ranging invasive powers which extend into all of our technology companies and reduce their ability to innovate without asking for permission first.

We New Zealanders place a very high value on our open democracy. But without privacy, there can be no democracy. How can you even consider dissent when the state is listening to everything you say? Of course security also is necessary for democracy, but there needs to be a balance between them. The recent revelations about surveillance show this balance has been ignored.

John Key has told us that security is more important than anything, but he didn’t say why. Through Snowden, we now know about the mind-boggling reach of state surveillance into citizens’ homes. New Zealand’s link through the five eyes network raises questions about our role in the US-led global surveillance network and the impact of that surveillance on the relationship between the New Zealand state and its own citizens. It is frightening that this has been done in the name of security by the free world.

Half of New Zealand’s population has a Facebook account. Three quarters of households have an Internet connection and 60% of us have smartphones. We are becoming completely reliant on the Internet and the technologies that make it work. Our financial systems rely on data storage and secure electronic transactions; our personal data is stored and manipulated by companies and government, yet we now find that the information security we depend on for the security of our data and our economy as been deliberately undermined to make surveillance easier.

Labour says that access to the Internet should be a right just like the right to free expression. This is more than rhetoric. Any prospective government in 2014 should make this policy, and must make the internet off-limits to government interference.

Our current Bill of Rights Act dates back to 1990 when almost no-one had heard of the Internet, let alone used it. How things have changed! Labour has proposed a Digital (or Internet) Bill of Rights setting out what we can all do online. The Greens also have proposed declaratory piece of legislation along the same lines. The Internet Party has proposed reforming the Privacy Act, reviewing surveillance laws and strengthening human rights protection and Internet freedom. All these approaches have merit and we want to see a discussion among New Zealand’s excellent legal, tech and human rights-focused community. It is essential that we protect citizens’ privacy, encourage innovation and keep New Zealand a progressive country with a responsible approach to its own national security. We should take care to get it right, but we should not take too long.

These things will have a profound impact on society, and position us as a pioneer or as a laggard in the digital world. A Labour-led government will drive and implement a digital rights framework. We will do this alongside an inquiry into our surveillance agencies, in particular the GCSB, and we will recast our security laws. We say that our citizens should not be exposed to blanket mass surveillance.

The National Party and the right are disinterested, perhaps deliberately because this discussion leads to uncomfortable questions about surveillance and privacy. But the parties on the left have the public’s ears and their hearts.

New Zealand has always been a forward-looking nation. Recognising Internet access as a fundamental human right and enshrining it as part of our civil society is our next progressive step. As Sir Tim Berners Lee, creator of the world wide web, recently said, “unless we have an open, neutral internet…we can’t have open government, good democracy, good healthcare, connected communities and diversity of culture.” If we don’t act to avoid the digital divide becoming entrenched we risk lack of digital access resulting in second-class digital citizenship.

New Zealand would certainly not be alone in enacting such a bill or declaration. Brazil as already adopted one. There is a bipartisan movement in the US Congress to do so. The movement is becoming global, and New Zealand must be part of it. Labour envisages a dynamic public interaction with the progression of rights-friendly digital legislation.

By forging a rights-friendly approach to the Internet and data issues, New Zealand will establish its reputation as a digital hub for innovation. More tech companies will be attracted here and more start-ups that need digital connectivity will be able engage effectively with the rest of the world. New Zealand’s emerging digital economy relies on its reputation as a trustworthy place to do business and to promote innovation. Secretive surveillance laws and uncertain rights around the Internet are a threat to this. Labour is committed to match security laws with strong privacy protections and to protect our civil liberties.

Across the globe people are demanding the right to access the internet, the right to privacy, free speech and to a neutral internet.  Without these there can be no open government, no good democracy, no connected communities and no diversity of culture. Just as the Internet transcends national boundaries, a Labour-led government will work with other countries to agree a common set of principles and rights on the Internet. We challenge the other parties in New Zealand to agree to do likewise. We embrace the multi-stakeholder approach of our very own Internet NGO, InternetNZ, which was worked to ensure a framework that keeps governments and corporates at arms length from controlling the Internet.

An international standard, which articulates not so much the values of Western democracy, but the values and importance that underlie an open internet. Is not this truly new and ground-breaking evolutionary thinking and does it not show how the internet is transforming the world away from traditional notions of governance?

Let us recast ourselves as the pioneers of digital thinking and not remain laggards. Our small country has leapt before into unchartered waters based on our shared beliefs in what is right. We can do it again.

Rachel Smalley, you are so wrong

Posted by on June 14th, 2014

Newstalk ZB presenter Rachel Smalley has accused me of politicising a murder by raising some policy issues in the wake of the murder this week of Henderson dairy owner Arun Kumar.

I called for a stronger police presence with a community constable based in the Henderson town centre, more Council staffing  so they can actually enforce the by-law on begging and anti-social behaviour, and a concerted effort by Council and others to turn around the economic decline of the town centre.

Hardly radical views. In fact the three things I called for are all supported by the chair of the Henderson-Massey Local Board, the head of the local retailers association, and the Waitakere Indian Association which takes a strong interest in the safety of local dairy owners. Coincidence? No. I talked the issues through with all of them, and talked with the shopkeepers in the vicinity of the Kumars’ dairy, before making my comments.

Mayor Len Brown and west Auckland based Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse have also been calling for more police presence in Henderson.

You see Rachel, my constituents don’t get to comment on Morning Report about what they think should be done after an event like this.  But that is why they employ me. It’s my job to do that.

And I certainly won’t be silenced by knee-jerk responses like yours. I expect it from right wing hacks like Whale Oil and David Farrar.  As partisans for the Government it is not in their interests to see Opposition MPs raising questions about matters of public concern,  but I thought you were a credible journalist who would have seen the importance of that.

You write that a greater police presence would not have prevented Mr Kumar’s murder. Of course getting a community cop in Henderson won’t turn back the clock on the messed up parenting and social damage that saw a 12 and a 13 year old making trouble with a knife in a dairy at 7am on a school day, but to deny the relevance of police presence to these kinds of crimes is just shallow and uninformed.

If you had taken the time to find out a few facts you’d know that youth crime and anti-social behaviour have been a consistent problem in the Henderson Town Centre, including begging, intimidation and vandalism. Read the Western Leader, they’ll tell you.  The two boys accused of the crime were well known to the Kumars and other shopkeepers, and part of a group that hangs out in the centre.  The retailers have been asking for a greater police presence – specifically a community constable located in the town centre – specifically to deal with this issue.

The political Right loves to try and close down debate by drawing the cloak of sanctimony over any controversy.  Three years after the Canterbury earthquakes Gerry Brownlee was accusing MPs who raised questions about the mismanagement of the rebuild of playing politics with a natural disaster. In the months that followed the Pike River disaster, journalists and politicians who raised questions about the culpability of the company were accused of politicising the 29 deaths. It was three years before the full extent of the company’s negligence was exposed to light.

It is never wrong for an elected official to raise issues of public concern.

So Rachel, how about you have me on your show on Monday morning and we can discuss this?

Goodnight Kiwi

Posted by on May 27th, 2014

From the Stuff website:

Cartoonist Sam Harvey, creator of the Goodnight Kiwi, has died.

Harvey’s minute-long animation was broadcast for almost 20 years until 24-hour transmission began in the 1990s.

The plucky Goodnight Kiwi, with his companion the cat, said goodnight to New Zealand viewers in the days when TV broadcasts shut down overnight.

For generations of younger viewers, Goodnight Kiwi became a much-loved symbol of staying up past bedtime. The fact that kiwis are nocturnal, not to mention endangered by cats, was irrelevant.

The accompanying tune was an arrangement of a Maori lullaby, Hine e Hine.

Harvey was 91.

Time to Save Invermay

Posted by on May 6th, 2014

Across New Zealand farmers are becoming increasingly frustrated with the Government’s lack of response to the slow train-wreck that characterises AgResearch’s restructure.

Citizens too should be frustrated; taxpayer funds are being squandered to New Zealand’s detriment by a Board refusing to hear reason and not listening to stakeholders.

Staff retention is the number one risk the Board has identified and reported to the Minister.

Yet top scientific staff have already quit the organisation over the restructure and more are threatening to do so.  If Invermay is dismantled and science funding and expertise heads overseas – so too will future economic gains.

View the short video explaining the case for Invermay’s retention. Judge for yourself whether Steven Joyce is performing his taxpayer funded duty to oversee the Board and ensure it is adequately managing risks.  Time for the Minister to step up.

If the Minister doesn’t step up, the organisation will slowly run into the ground. Management’s plan to formally dismantle Invermay doesn’t properly kick into action until 2017.

For more information visit

Invermay – a national issue

Posted by on March 10th, 2014

Despite being signed off by Steven Joyce nearly a year ago, the full business case for AgResearch’s restructure has been suppressed until now. It reveals that the whole organisation is put at risk for uncertain returns. $100m taxpayer money is to be spent; and in one scenario modelled – a worse outcome is produced than business as usual.   I guess it is now obvious why they tried to hide the detail for so long.

The Background

In July last year, the Government’s largest Crown Research Institute – AgResearch – announced its plans for a major restructure. A lot is at stake since AgResearch is the taxpayer-fuelled science engine that underpins productivity-growth on New Zealand farms.

Starting in the South, discontent is spreading across New Zealand with news of the decision to break up a successful hub centred on its World-leading Invermay campus. On Saturday, New Zealand’s largest independent newspaper broke the news that background to one of the country’s most significant export-related restructures has finally been released.

Previously, AgResearch’s own internal review singled Invermay campus changes out – as the piece of the AgResearch restructure puzzle that didn’t fit.  Change is hard, but the internal review team concluded that most of what was proposed across New Zealand would meet the organisation’s internal goals.  However – Invermay should be grown, not shrunk, it said.

Where to from here?

Sheep and deer farmers in particular will be angry. It is unacceptable that this business case was kept from them until now. They are the clients. AgResearch has been treating industry stakeholders like mushrooms: keeping them in the dark and feeding them manure.

AgResearch last year released a shorter redacted version of the business case, in a failed attempt to give the impression of transparency.  What we now know is that the public were being fed only half of the story: the part AgResearch thought fit for farmer consumption.

The drastic changes proposed also create serious problems for families of scientists at Invermay’s Mosgiel campus.  Many have partners who will struggle to find good work in Lincoln and will face significantly higher mortgages. They simply won’t move there.

The worst-case scenario in the business case modelling now looks wildly optimistic.  It assumes scientific staff will relocate – when available evidence says they will not. An earlier restructure saw just 28% of scientists retained; those close to this one say it is shaping up no better.

Instead, the majority of world-class scientists who’ve built Invermay’s international reputation are proposing to leave the organisation to pursue opportunities abroad. Another group are proposing to take early retirement.  While Steven Joyce has been typically short and sarcastic in his responses to my parliamentary questioning on Invermay, he has shown some awareness of the importance of staff retention to organisational capability. As shareholding Minister, he’s left himself some wiggle-room for intervention.

Breeders know the importance of Invermay to their commercial success.  In particular sheep meat productivity has doubled and disease incidence in deer has been slashed. AbacusBio and other important industry participants have contributed to extraordinary success in the Ag sector off the back of facilities and research at Invermay.

The Government set itself the admirable goal of doubling agricultural productivity. Invermay has played a huge role in historic successes and promises to play an important part in the future. Invermay must be saved for the best future for New Zealand’s on-farm productivity.

Signatures are being collected across the country.  Sheep breeders in Northland, Manawatu and Southland abhor the changes equally. If you’re lucky enough to live in Otago there are dozens of places to sign the petition I’ve launched opposing the changes. Visit to find out more or to download your own copy of the petition form.

The board of AgResearch is showing itself out of touch with the industry it serves. Shareholding Minister Steven Joyce must call the Board to account. The Invermay changes make no sense.

Minister of Immigration all at sea over complaints

Posted by on February 14th, 2014

Spokesperson for Immigration

13 February 2014 MEDIA ADVISORY
Immigration Minister all at sea over complaints
Michael Woodhouse is clearly not in command of his portfolio as he simply does not appreciate the scale of the scams in our immigration system relating to job selling, says Labour’s Immigration spokesperson Dr Rajen Prasad.

“The Minister believes that all that victimised migrants who have been scammed for thousands of dollars have to do is to call a phone line at Immigration New Zealand and provide the information.

“He clearly has little appreciation of the scale and nature of the practices adopted by the illegal scammers. They lock people into paying exorbitant fees and leave them dangling on the promise of a job that they hope will eventually qualify them for residence.

“This Minister is not interested in finding out what keeps those complainants from coming forward. Those who scam migrants trade on the vulnerability of migrants because they want to make New Zealand their permanent home. They clearly feel they will lose everything if they complain in a very public way.

“In Parliament today The Minister of Immigration refused to accept that Immigration New Zealand threatened with deportation three people who complained of scams and refused them a visa while their complaint was being investigated. This decision demonstrates the very thing that complainants fear. It took the persistent advocacy of a very experienced lawyer over almost two months for this matter to be addressed.

“The Catch 22 that the Minister refuses to address is that when victims complain, their visas are cancelled or not renewed. If they don’t complain, they pay huge sums of money to illegal scammers and New Zealand does not get the migrants it seeks to attract. Some of the worst cases being reported to my office are from foreign fee paying students.

“The reputation of the New Zealand immigration system will suffer if its integrity is not protected. Many cases have been aired in the media, especially the ethnic media. Callers to radio stations have confirmed many of these scams and have made it clear why they are reluctant to come forward.

“This is why I have asked the Minister to set up an enquiry with sufficient safeguards to allow those who have been scammed to tell their story and expose the elaborate methods that are used by those scammers.”

Contact: Dr Rajen Prasad 021 444 177

John Key’s new BFF over-reaches in his attack on the ABC

Posted by on February 10th, 2014
Tony Abbott, Australia’s Prime Minister, has in recent weeks launched an extraordinary, vicious attack on the ABC, country’s public broadcaster.
Perhaps Abbott believes he can get away with such an attack in his first year of office. It’s been 12 years since I lived in Australia but it would seem to me that attacking one of the country’s most precious institutions is not wise.
His claim that the ABC is biased are simply not borne out by the statistics below. Instead it appears that “fair coverage” is something that the conservative side of politics see as bias.  Welcome your thoughts.This piece appeared in The Guardian a few days ago.

Is the ABC biased and inefficient? Here’s what the data says

Conservative commentators have lambasted the ABC for its skewed coverage but a range of figures dispute that
Mark Scott defends ABC spying coverage
The head of the ABC, Mark Scott, has defended the corporation’s collaboration with Guardian Australia in its coverage of allegations of Australian spying in Indonesia. Photograph: ABC

Following the ABC’s coverage of asylum-seeker claims of mistreatment by the navy, accusations of bias have been levelled at the broadcaster, and an efficiency review announced to assess its operations.

Tony Abbott attacks ABC for ‘taking everyone’s side but Australia’s’

The prime minister, Tony Abbott, said the ABC took “everyone’s side but Australia’s” and should show “some basic affection for the home team”. He also criticised the ABC for collaborating with Guardian Australia on reporting that Australian spy agencies had targeted the Indonesian president.

Conservative commentators have gone further, accusing it of being biased towards the left side of politics.

So, is the ABC biased?

Studies on bias are very thin on the ground, because measuring supposed bias is a very difficult business. To empirically determine what is factual, slanted, and misleading is challenging so we must look at a range of indicators.

Firstly, we can check if the ABC gives significantly more time to one side of politics during elections. Here’s the time spent covering different political parties in the 2013 election:

2013 federal election coverage: cumulative share-of-voice, all platforms combined
Radio TV Internet Total
Hrs:Min:Sec % Hrs:Min:Sec % Words % %
Coalition 55:27:29 37 37:10:23 43.4 27,588 39.7 39.4
ALP 51:52:10 34.7 41:53:43 48.9 29,079 41.9 40
Greens 14:51:44 9.9 3:57:37 4.6 6,069 8.7 8.1
Other 10:16:18 6.9 1:07:52 1.3 2,651 3.8 4.8
PUP 7:06:20 4.7 0:50:49 1 1,543 2.2 3.3
Independents 5:36:59 3.8 0:16:46 0.3 1,373 2 2.5
KAP 4:29:35 3 0:19:09 0.4 1,127 1.6 2
Total 149:42:35 100 85:36:19 100 69,430 100 100

Source: ABC, 2013 federal election. Report of chairman, election committee review panel

Coverage was pretty even between the two main parties, with Labor receiving 40% of coverage, and the Coalition 39.4%. In 2010, the split was similar:

Read the rest of the piece here:

The state sector revisited

Posted by on February 2nd, 2014

This is an oped piece I wrote last week which was published in the Nelson Mail on Friday 31 January under the headline “It’s time to reassess and rebuild”. All constructive, forward-looking comments welcomed!

The role and functions of the state services have come under increased pressure in the last five years. The culture and performance of the wider state sector, in which I include all public services, has altered markedly under the current government.

The National-led government vowed to strip back the state sector, undertaking to get rid of the “back room” functionaries and place more people on the “front line”. It undertook to improve public service delivery with a programme called Better Public Services (now, inevitably reduced to “BPS”), with key performance indicators (KPIs) and targets to make sure the improvements were happening.

It was as if a new owner had taken over the company and decided to do the usual Stage 1 managerial reforms such as sacking the old guard simply because they were the old guard and giving people new goals and targets to meet so that they could demonstrate their efficiency.

Nelson felt it keenly for a small town, with 28 real jobs lost in IRD and 22 or more out of DoC, and that was just for starters. The Department of Labour and Housing New Zealand came next. But Nelson was not alone. Public services were stripped out of all smaller towns around New Zealand and centralised into Wellington.

But all of this was done without any real reflection on the role and purpose of the state sector. What does it do? What role does it perform in our democracy? What needs to be done differently? How might things be done better? And fundamentally, what is the difference between running a company and running a country?

Well, there is a substantial difference, actually.

There is no doubt that the public service is responsible for the implementation of the programme of the duly elected government of the day. That is a basic democratic expectation.

But the public service does a lot more than that. It also acts as a buffer between the exercise of the comprehensive executive power of the Cabinet, and the people. It is the repository of political neutrality and the upholder of our country’s constitutional integrity. It is the part of our democratic apparatus which provides the transparency and accountability which citizens in a sophisticated democracy require of their leaders and their leaders’ decisions. It is the place where innovative ideas can be tested and policy development can occur amongst some of the cleverest brains in the country.

It is also responsible for giving free and frank advice to Ministers in order that Ministers might fully understand the impact of their policies on the real people they purport to represent and whose votes put them there. In performing this function, it also protects Ministers, if only they would see it.

It is that tradition of free and frank advice which has been eroded the most under this government.
There are numerous examples, from Conservation to Health to Education and other departments and ministries besides, to back this up. It has got to the point where senior officials vet a report to a Minister before it even gets to him or her because the officials have had some clear indication or pressure from that Minister about the nature of the “advice” they require.

And so we have a DoC policy adviser resigning her position because her 32-page report on the environmental consequences of the proposed Ruataniwha dam in Hawke’s Bay gets reduced to a a single paragraph printed twice in the brief advice given up to Minister Nick Smith. He can say he didn’t even see the 32-page report because he didn’t. He didn’t see it, because senior officials knew that this was not the kind of free and frank advice the Minister wanted and so they didn’t give it to him.

This is a perversion of the public service.

The public service must advise the Minister on the best method and consequences of the implementation of a policy. The advice must be free and frank, without fear of retribution. That advice should be publicly available, and mostly it is, under the Official Information Act.

The ability of the public service to give free and frank advice on the basis of years of experience, research and policy development, is one of the things which contributes to New Zealand’s enviable reputation for a lack of corruption. The most recent Transparency International report on the Perception of Corruption last year, held New Zealand as first (the perceived cleanest) in the world, largely because of the effort and reputation of its public service. But they also expressed concern about the silencing of advice, inadequate or questionable appointment processes, rushed legislation which took away people’s rights such as the GCSB legislation, and poor contracting processes evidenced in the Auditor-General’s criticism of the Sky City deal.

If the government realised it was running a country and not a company, it might value more highly such things as due process, transparency, accountability and the best public service possible. It is time to take a more fundamental look at the role and functions of our state sector. Of course we should always strive for better public services. Every government should – they owe that to their people. But instead of performing a corporate restructuring exercise, they should reflect on what a capable and competent state sector brings to the lives of New Zealanders. It is time for such reflection and the rebuilding of our state sector.

Those evil town planners

Posted by on January 31st, 2014

Those town planners, they sure are evil. A little while back the Finance Minister was saying 20 town planners were a threat to macro-economic stability.  Now he says they are causing inequality.

This week at the Finance and Expenditure Committee, he was trying to fend off David Parker’s assertion that a falling home ownership rate was causing a widening wealth gap between those who own and those who rent.

I actually think that in the housing market the biggest generator of inequality are planning rules what deliberately drive out low and middle income housing and deliberately drive up the prices of housing so we can have nice looking apartment blocks in the so-called ‘liveable city’, not those messy low and middle income people. It is very unfair and it is locking a whole lot of people out of the housing market or pushing them into part of the market to make access to work and education difficult and we need to change that

This is a great example of diverting and distracting when you are in a tight spot. While it is true that planning rules do need to be reformed to encourage more and better urban development, Bill English’s demonisation of town planners is hilariously misplaced for the following reasons:

1.  Home ownership rates are falling, down to 65% according to the census, and 61% in Auckland.  Rampant house price inflation, and now the LVR lendng limits have shut a generation of first home buyers out of the market. Increasingly there are two classes: those who own property and make windfall capital gains, and those who pay rent and slip further behind.

2. The Member for Dipton seems to be saying the “liveable” or compact city stops affordable housing being built in order to provide apartment blocks for the well-off. This is confused to say the least.  If his answer is to deregulate urban planning so low income people can buy cheap houses an hour’s drive from where the jobs are then he is seriously mistaken about the economics of sprawl. It adds huge travelling costs to residents,  and huge infrastructure costs to the ratepayer and taxpayer. In fact, good quality medium density housing near train stations and town centres offers the best options for affordable housing.

3.  Auckland is a property speculator’s paradise. Yet Bill English refuses to consider a Capital Gains Tax that would take the steam out of those speculative pressures, or restrictions on offshore speculators who outbid Kiwi first home buyers.

4. Not only does National’s fixation on deregulating planning ignore the costs of rampant property speculation, it fails to tackle chronic low productivity in the construction industry, lack of competition in the market for building materials, and the fact that the new Auckland Unitary Plan will bring ample greenfields land into the market.

5. The big driver of inequality is the failure of National to rein in out of control house prices. They’ve been in Government for five years and it wasnt until the fourth year they started to do something, and that pretty much just amounted to tinkering with planning rules.

Poto Williams’ maiden speech

Posted by on January 29th, 2014

Calm, quiet, assured. Poto’s maiden speech leaves you in no doubt of the powerful advocacy she brings. Our newest MP. The member for Christchurch East. Please watch her speech.


Filed under: labour

My 5 point Waitemata Plan

Posted by on January 28th, 2014

Four days, bobbing around in the water, buffeted by the wind and the swell,  gave me time to think about what the harbour means to me. As a kid while our car crossed the harbour bridge I looked down at what seemed a massive stretch of water. Later I came to love taking the Devonport ferry to drink at the Masonic or wander round North Head enjoying what surely must be one of the city’s best views. And now living in Te Atatu I take my kayak out and catch snapper in the upper reaches.

I decided it is more than just a place to swim and fish and sail and paddle and motor around. More than a port or a collection of shipping routes. The harbour with all its beauty and changing moods is as much a part of our mental geography as the buildings and streets and volcanoes. It is part of who we are as Aucklanders.

So why this desire to clean it up, and repair the damage and pollution inflicted by decades of development and neglect?  If the harbour is part of who we are, then surely we want to pass it on to our grandchildren in good shape: not silted up, contaminated, lifeless and unsafe for swimming.  But I keep coming back to Len Brown’s liveable city which has become the measuring stick.

What could be more liveable than going down to Devonport wharf and catching whitebait as our grandparents’ generation did? Or swimming at city beaches and knowing you won’t pick up a gastro bug even after heavy rains? Or an 8 year old catching koura in the Le Roys stream at Little Shoal Bay? Or the kids of Massey being able to swim in the Manutewhau stream without picking up ear infections? Or Ngati Whatua being able to pick a feed of pipis at Okahu Bay as did generations before?

So what to do about it? Here’s my 5 point plan for the Waitemata, cobbled together while paddling:

1. Auckland Council should roll out the world-acclaimed Project Twin Streams, developed by the old Waitakere City Council, to mobilise the community to clean up streams, restore native habitat, and reduce harmful run-off.

2. Local and central government should increase funding to community environment programmes like Sustainable Coastlines and the Kaipatiki Project, engaging the community in habitat restoration, raising public awareness and changing behaviours.

3. Auckland Council should do an audit of storm and wastewater infrastructure and plan the investments needed so the system can cope with a million extra people in the next 30-40 years without breaking down and polluting the harbour. Start by fixing all the sewerage leaks entering waterways around the harbour.

4. Shipping companies using the Port of Auckland should strictly adhere to the new 14 km/h speed limit to reduce the Bryde’s whales being killed by ship strike. If the companies don’t play ball, the speed limit should be regulated.

5. The parties in the Hauraki Gulf Forum should agree to 10% of the gulf to be made Marine Reserves, then to be legislated by the government. This will allow marine life to regenerate, and ecosystems to be restored.

The week finished with a morning out on the Gulf with Explore the whale watching people. The boat was full of high school students finishing up a week long summer camp on marine science, and some of the scientists and advocates from the Hauraki Gulf Forum.  It was a blissful few hours out on the water, sharing it with the Gulf’s advocates of today and tomorrow.

Thanks for following my trail around the Watemata. I’m grateful to all the good people we met along the way, my various paddling buddies, Mels for logistics and support, and of course Ferg’s.

Photos: Olivia Baber, Auckland Council

Turning back time at Okahu Bay

Posted by on January 26th, 2014

One of the stand-out moments of my kayak trip around the Waitemata was our stop in Okahu Bay to meet up with Ngati Whatua.  Their ambitious plans to clean up the Bay and restore it to health evoke the spirit of so many of the projects we visited.

Back in 1912 the City Council built an outfall that pumped raw sewerage onto Ngati Whatua’s shellfish beds at Okahu Bay. A 2.5m-high concrete pipe ran the length of the foreshore leading to the outfall, blocking the papakainga which at that time could only be reached by boat. The pipeline also blocked the stream and turned the village into a swamp.

It wasn’t the only such crime. In 1952 authorities forcibly removed the hapu from their homes at Okahu Bay. The marae and houses were burnt to the ground in order to get rid of an “eyesore” before the Queen’s visit. These events and more are well written up in the Waitangi Tribunal’s reports on Ngati Whatua’s successful settlement claim.

Today Ngati Whatua of Orakei are in post-settlement mode. They are landlords, investors and developers, charting a new pathway for the hapu. But the Bay, such a central and important part of Ngati Whatua’s sense of place, is degraded and lifeless.  The mussel beds are long gone. Pipis and cockles, plentiful a few decades back, are almost non-existent. Water quality is poor.

Enter Richelle Kahui-McConnell who manages the Okahu catchment ecological restoration plan. Richelle began researching the bay while studying for a bachelor of resource management at Unitec in 2007.

“For years Ngati Whatua had been saying the bay has been under pressure. It was losing its mauri (life force) and that it was making people sick.”

Richelle began an annual survey of shellfish, now carried out by students from the local school, and has established an internship programme with Auckland University’s engineering school to test water quality. Results showed high levels of sedimentation, with zinc and copper contamination.

The hapu have big plans. They want to restore the Bay’s catchment, “daylighting” streams that are now buried in concrete pipes and culverts, re-establishing wetlands and planting natives.  It is the only way to properly filter the stormwater before it enters the sea, and will re-establish habitat for native fish and other species.

They are working with the manager of the nearby marina with the aim of reducing pollution from anti-fouling used on boat hulls.

The hope is that by cleaning up the water quality and reducing the sediment, the pipis and cockles will come back.  They even want to re-seed the mussel beds.

Water you can swim in with confidence. Abundant shellfish that are safe to eat. It’s restoring Ngati Whatua’s taonga tarnished by 170 years of colonisation and urbanisation. But I think it is a vision all Aucklanders can share.

Donna Tamaariki of Ngati Whatua, PT, and Richelle Kahui-McConnell at Okahu Bay.

Kayakers 0: Weather 1

Posted by on January 23rd, 2014

We finished the trip today at the Manutewhau stream in Massey, with Marnie Prickett of Auckland Council’s freshwater testing programme Waicare. The Manutewhau rises near Westgate and enters the harbour near the mouth of Henderson Creek. It is a little known gem. A beautiful patch of remnant bush, and a terraced stream with pools much loved by local kids for swimming. The only trouble is the stream is polluted by sewerage leaks. Marnie got to know the stream when alerted by a local school principal concerned that the kids were picking up infections from swimming in the stream.  Now she takes groups of students there to do water quality testing as a way of raising their environmental awareness.

The Manutewhau is like so many other parts of the Waitemata. It should be treated as a precious remnant of the pre-urban ecosystem but it is wearing decades of pollution and neglect. And now, with large scale residential developments in its catchment, it faces further degradation unless there is adequate investment in sewerage and stormwater infrastructure.

Earlier in the day we visited the Kaipatiki Project in Birkenhead. It began 15 years ago as a volunteer effort to clean up and restore the Kaipatiki stream. Since then with the help of thousands of volunteers they have restored 70 ha of native bush on the Shore. They have their own native plant nursery and grow 20,000 plants a year. Their work has evolved and now they do a lot of public education work, over the last 12 months working with schools, kindergartens, and adult learners, teaching around 4,000 people about waste minimisation, composting and worm-farming and sustainability. It is real grassroots environmentalism. Very inspiring.

We also got a briefing from Drew Lohrer of NIWA about their work on invasive species, the ongoing battle to keep out harmful species that come here on the hulls and in the bilge water of foreign ships. As our major international port Auckland gets more than its fair share of unwelcome visitors, like the Japanese paddle crab. Many of these invasive species can tolerate highly polluted conditions and therefore out compete our native species in the degraded environment of the harbour, particularly where sedimentation is a major issue.. We then met with Marcus Hermann of Auckland Council’s Safeswim water quality testing programme. They are the people who put the signs up when a beach has been found to be unsafe for swimming. Check out the latest results here.

The visits were great. But the paddling today was tough. With my mates Chris Cooper and Michael Baker, we paddled for two hours from Little Shoal Bay in strong head winds and a choppy sea.  We beached at Island Bay, Beach Haven and travelled the rest of the day in my big red waka on wheels. Live to fight another day. Tomorrow, we are out on the Gulf watching whales and dolphins with a bunch of high school students doing a summer camp on marine science and some of the movers and shakers of the Hauraki Gulf Marine Forum.

I want to thank Ian Ferguson of Ferg’s Kayaks in Okahu Bay again for supporting this project. Ian and his staff were great to deal with, and the gear was excellent.

More photos here.

Day Three

Posted by on January 22nd, 2014

I’m knackered. Five hours’ paddling, mostly against a headwind and at times bumpy water. My hands, arms and upper body are all feeling it.

But what a stunning day in the water: from the Tamaki Estuary, along the eastern bays past Karaka Bay, St Heliers, Kohimarama and Mission Bay to Okahu Bay, across the channel to Devonport, then past the naval base and Stanley Point, around the Bayswater Marina, and across Shoal Bay to Tuff Crater just east of the Onewa interchange on State Highway One. A visit there with the Forest and Bird Group who have been restoring Tuff Crater (more on that below), then down the Harbour Bridge, under the bridge, and finish the day at Little Shoal Bay.

A spectacular day. In a kayak you are so low in the water, so exposed to the elements, and out in the middle of the harbour you see the city from a different perspective. Views you don’t normally see.

Today I paddled with Tony Dunlop who I got to know when he stood for Labour back in 2005. He is on the board of Forest & Bird, and active in Coal Action. We got to talk politics and the environment, when we weren’t focused on battling the wind and the swell.

Three great visits today. The first was at the Tamaki Estuary, with Moana Tamaariki of Ngati Whatua, Colin Percy from Friends of Tahuna Torea reserve, and Jim Sinclair of the Tamaki Estuary Protection Society.  Colin was one of a group who fought a Council proposal to turn the  spit and wetland into a rubbish dump back in the early 1970s. For the last 40 years they have weeded, planted natives, laid tracks, and turned what was once a neglected wasteland into a thriving ecosystem. We walked through a pohutukawa grove with 20 m high trees. Colin and his friends planted it 40 years ago. The group are part of a Tamaki Estuary Forum which brings together a collection of community groups and Auckland Council local boards who are working to clean up the estuary, improve its current dodgy water quality and restore native habitat.

The second was at Tuff Crater in Northcote. We pulled up the kayaks next to the motorway that leads to the Harbour Bridge, and crossed on the footbridge. Tuff Crater is a an old volcanic crater, filled mostly with mangroves. I guarantee 90% of motorists on the motorway don’t even know it exists. We met Anne Denny of the local Forest and Bird group who have spent 14 years weeding and are well on the way to planting the entire crater walls with natives. They have built a path that is popular with locals. Amazing that this most unprepossessing of places – a mangrove swamp next to an eight lane motorway – has been reclaimed by this local group and transformed into something special. On the other side of the motorway lives a colony of threatened dotterels.

We finished up at Little Shoal Bay where Northcote College science teacher Dr Kit Hustler has devoted several years to monitoring native fish stocks in the stream that runs through Le Roy’s Bush which runs from the Birkenhead shops down to the harbour. The lower reaches of the stream have been gummed up with sedimentation. They are fetid and swampy with the unmistakeable smell of sewerage in the air.  Kit however has identified seven species of native fish in the river. It is extraordinary that in such a degraded environment the fish somehow survive.  The stream is a classic of our urban environment – a waterway wrecked by sedimentation caused by urban development, contaminants from run off, and leaking sewerage systems. Its flow into the city has been blocked by reclamation. Kit brings his students here to study the fish and their habitat, and works with local volunteers to clean up the bush and the stream and encourage the community to take care of it.

Whitebait, the juveniles of these native fish, turn up in the creek from time to time. Wouldn’t it be amazing if the waterway was cleaned up and restored so locals could catch a feed of whitebait at the rivermouth?

Three visits. Each of them local conservation heroes, not waiting for anyone to do it for them or give them permission. Getting on and making a difference.

More pics on facebook.  Thanks again to Ferg’s Kayaks for supporting this project. And Mels for doing logistics so capably.

First day’s paddling

Posted by on January 20th, 2014

Day one of my four day kayak journey around the Waitemata harbour and I am struck by how much life we encounter in just a few hours paddling: oystercatchers watching as we head off from Te Atatu Peninsula, a flock of Caspian terns take off and fly overhead, a fernbird calls at close range in the Te Atatu Orangihina wetland, a shag watches us as we paddle towards it and dives as we approach, a large group of black swans on Meola Reef take off like B52s, a baby flounder swims past (Rob thinks it fell out of the sky, out of the beak of a careless bird? I worry he might be hallucinating), and nesting black back gulls curse us overhead as we skirt along the Westhaven breakwater.

After only a day it feels like my senses have been immersed in the harbour. The endless shades of grey and green, the taste of salt water, surrounded by the tide below and the rain above, and the muscle ache of paddling into the wind.

Today’s paddling buddy was Rob Mouldey, fellow Te Atatu resident who works in Auckland Council’s biosecurity team. He and I fought a tactical battle with the weather, driving the stretch between Te Atatu’s Harbourview wetland and Pt Chevalier’s Meola Reef. It just didn’t seem like a good call to spend three hours paddling across the bay into a headwind. Luckily the Pt Chev-Herne Bay stretch was sheltered and calmer. But as we paddled under the Bridge towards that beer at North Wharf it got pretty choppy.

We met representatives of two tribes who will feature prominently in the next few days: conservation volunteers, and scientists.  The first was Jeremy Painting who is doing a great job looking after the amazing Orangihina-Harbourview wetland on Te Atatu Peninsula’s eastern flank. It is home to the fernbird, and the banded rail. Which is quite something: the fernbird is considered at risk, the banded rail is uncommon and here they are in the middle of the city. Jeremy, with the help of the local Forest & Bird group has been trapping the rats and stoats that prey on the birds. Feral cats are a problem, as are locals who let their dogs off the leash. The volunteers have also been planting, converting kikuyu grass back to native scrub.

Jeremy seems to know the fernbirds almost by name. When one called quite close to his he whipped out his smartphone and played the call of the bird’s neighbour! Apparently it usually brings him in. There are four breeding pairs in the reserve and each has their own territory, which strangely enough overlaps with the old farm paddocks that used to be there.

Across the bay at Meola Reef we met Carolyn Lundquist, a marine ecologist for NIWA who is studying the regeneration of seagrass. The seagrass declined rapidly over the last 50 years of the twentieth century but now interestingly it is making a comeback. Digital analysis of aerial photographs suggests it might be doubling in area annually. It is all the more counter-intuitive because the water coming out of Meola Creek is not that great. The beach here is permanently designated not fit for swimming. One theory is the sediment that poured into the Waitemata as a result of deforestation and urban development killed off the seagrass. Maybe it’s regeneration means the sedimentation is reducing?

These two,  Jeremy and Carolyn, represent the two key ingredients of change if we are to restore the harbour and the gulf to health.  Community support for conservation and treating the Hauraki Gulf as a real national park. And the science needed so we can understand the complex ecology of the gulf and develop good policy. More on that as the journey continues.

Thanks to Ferg’s Kayaks for supporting this project. And Mels for support and logistics.

More pics here.

Paddling the Waitemata

Posted by on January 19th, 2014

Tomorrow morning, weather permitting, I’m pushing the boat out. I’m heading off on a 50 km four day kayak journey around the Waitemata Harbour.

It is part-homage to this amazing stretch of water we live next to. It is a thing of beauty, an extraordinary playground where we swim, fish, sail, and paddle right in the heart of this country’s biggest city.

The trip is also an investigation into the declining ecological health of the harbour.

The Waitemata, and the wider Hauraki Gulf, are facing big challenges from urban development. Fish stocks in general have not recovered from decades of plunder. Shellfish populations are under threat. Toxic metals from run-off are contaminating estuaries. Invasive species are on the increase. And too many of our beaches are unsafe to swim after heavy rain because of sewerage and storm water overflow.

Bigger challenges loom. With Auckland expected to grow by another million people in the next few decades there will be more and more residential development on coastal land. As well as that, the city’s creaking sewerage and storm water system will find it hard to cope with planned urban intensification without major investment. The risk is more pollution in our harbour.

I’ve been inspired by the work of the Hauraki Gulf Forum – a group of scientists, local government, iwi, and conservation advocates – who publish the State of our Gulf report. It is sobering reading but they make a powerful case backed by science that we should take action to stop the environmental degradation and repair the damage.

Each day this week I am going to be meeting marine scientists and visiting local conservation projects. I want to learn more about what is happening to the ecology of the harbour, and what we can do to clean it up and restore it to health for future generations.

Tomorrow at 9.30am I am going to head off from Te Atatu Peninsula, in my electorate. In the course of the week, and in the company of friends paddling with me, we will head east via Pollen Island and Meola Reef, around the western bays to the city, skirting the downtown wharves and on to Okahu Bay. We will follow the eastern bays all the way out to the Tamaki Estuary, and then back across the channel to Devonport. Then we run west along the North Shore, under the Harbour Bridge, around Kauri Point, up Kaipatiki Creek for a side trip, and then out to Hobsonville in the North West before cutting back to home in Te Atatu. As long as the threatened cyclone doesn’t get in the way, it should be epic.

I can’t wait.

(I will post updates on facebook and twitter, and blog here each night.)

Big thanks to Ferg’s Kayaks for supporting this project.

NZ and the disarmament agenda – where are we?

Posted by on December 19th, 2013

The nuclear disarmament agenda has been gathering pace internationally in 2013 but our government has been ignoring, or just missing, every opportunity to do anything to advance it.

We had a great statement on it read at the UNGA recently by our disarmament ambassador, but that was despite Murray McCully, not because of him. She has been withdrawn from Geneva and sent back to Wellington, and the poor sole rep in Geneva is left there defending our interests and trying to advance the agenda without any instructions from government in Wellington.

The humanitarian rationale for non-proliferation and dismantling of nuclear weapons is gaining traction internationally. The impact of even one nuclear bomb being detonated (they are so much more powerful now than in 1945) will have catastrophic implications for the global environment and climate, food production and security, economics and politics, that winding back our collective arsenals and decommissioning nuclear warhead production is the only sensible way forward.

There are more or less 17,270 nuclear weapons in the world right now, of which 4,400 are on high alert, or ready to be used immediately. $1.75 trillion USD is spent annually on military expansion. Just 9 countries spend $100billion USD per annum, that is nearly $300million USD daily, on nuclear weapons. Just imagine what we could do if……

NZ had an opportunity to assist Obama and the US in his ambitious programme for the de-escalation of this threat to humanity, but John Key only saw it as a photo op. What a waste. It’s time he moved over and let someone who actually cares about NZ’s role in the world take over. David Cunliffe will do nicely.

Beyond Chorus to the bigger picture #1

Posted by on December 19th, 2013

Who would have thought when John Key made his grand statement during the 2008 election campaign that under a National Government 75% of New Zealanders will get ultrafast broadband in their homes within 10 years; that five years later his flagship scheme would be in such deep water?

The roll-out of broadband fibre is slow. Uptake is slow. Chorus, the company charged with the bulk of the contract, is under intense scrutiny as it claims it can’t do the job it was contracted to do. The regulated price of the existing copper-based broadband is under dispute by Chorus which is demanding the government intervene and overrule the Commerce Commission’s lawful role in regulating that price according to a statutory process.

All the while the government has lurched from one reactive response to another reactive response; threatening to overturn the Commerce Commission’s lawful process, then bringing forward a review which it pretended would be of the whole broadband scheme, only to focus on just the copper price and attempt to manufacture a means to overturn the Commerce Commission.

That review is now under a legal challenge and politically the government has had to back away from its plans to legislate to over-turn the Commerce Commission because it doesn’t have the numbers. Claims the govt had no idea the Commission would regulate the copper price don’t stack up because it was Steven Joyce’s legislation and he oversaw the contract with Chorus. They have no excuse because they should have factored in the impact of a range of price changes. Either they thought they had it all under control or they completely dropped the ball.

In desperation, in September the Prime Minister claimed Chorus would go broke if the copper price dropped. Chorus denied this but became increasingly strident about its need for a bailout.

With no backing for legislation, the government was then forced to get an Ernst & Young opinion on the financial state of Chorus which showed Chorus would NOT go broke. Instead there were a range of things Chorus could and should already have done to manage its finances better.

The E&Y report spells out measures that Chorus could take to save money.

It certainly demonstrated that:
•    Chorus is NOT going broke. The report clearly shows this. Chorus has a cash flow problem and that John Key was wrong in his claim in September that Chorus may go broke if the ComCom decision stood.
•    Chorus can largely fix the problem itself. It can save money by changing its business model. Chorus can and should stop paying its dividend and raise debt, both prudent and acceptable responses. It should have been getting on with doing this already.
•    The contract does not need to be re-negotiated.
However, if Chorus is left unchecked the risks are that it could embark on what is essentially a “work to rule” strategy; slow down internet speeds, take its time to fix faults and increase its prices.

The E & Y report was solid but should be considered  interim. It is certainly not the full picture. It has two major flaws.

  1. There are strong signs E&Y have largely relied on what Chorus say without significant verification even though the Terms of Refernce required them to
  2. They have not taken into account the impact of the final Commission determined prices on both the UCLL (unbundled copper local loop) which is the access price AS WELL as the UBA (the bitstream price which is known as the copper tax). According to our information the impact of both prices could be that the copper price will rebalance to be around what it is today. The issue is the time lag in getting there and the impact on the industry.

See the next post for a breakdown on what this might mean.

TPP: Is this true?

Posted by on December 10th, 2013

Washington Trade Daily

Volume 21, Number 246 Tuesday, December 10, 2013 Trade Reports International Group

Closing In On a TPP Deal

Singapore – Trade ministers from the 12 members of the TransPacific Partnership pushed hard yesterday for convergence on three critical areas – intellectual property rights, state-owned enterprises and the environment – in an effort to finalize an agreement on modalities, WTD has learned (WTD, 12/9/13).

Except for a single member of the group, there is a general consensus to work on the basis of latest texts that departed from what was set out in last month’s Salt Lake City chief negotiators meeting, said participants familiar with the proceedings yesterday.

Australia, New Zealand and Canada, among others, dropped their objections to the high-standard disciplines in intellectual property and came on board by agreeing to the modified text.

Effectively, there is consensus on the intellectual property dossier except for one developing country, WTD was told. The latest intellectual property draft is premised on very high standards regardless of differing levels of economic development among the participating countries. To enable developing countries to implement the WTO-plus standards, the draft provides a generous transition clause. But the 12 have yet to finalize how the transition period will be determined – whether on the basis of economic and social indicators prepared by the World Bank or another criterion, WTD was told.


On state-owned enterprises – relating particularly to small and medium enterprises – the TPP members are close to agreement, WTD was told. But several members have difficulties with the problem of “competitive neutrality” to mitigate distortions caused by subsidies and preferential treatment.

On the environment, the TPP trade ministers have overcome differences that arose in the Salt Lake City talks. WTD was told that the chapter is based broadly on US proposals.

The meeting – which will conclude today – will set the ground for finalizing a “modalities” text which will become the basis for further negotiations towards clinching the final TPP pact sometime next year, said participants. The “modalities” text on market access will depend to a great extent on what happens between the United States and Japan, which are still far apart on market access, particularly US access to Japan’s agricultural and automotive markets.

A final pact can be concluded after another two or three rounds, WTD.