Red Alert

Archive for November, 2009

The mighty Hurunui

Posted by on November 30th, 2009

Had the opportunity yesterday to visit and experience the magic Hurunui River, about an hour and half north of Christchurch. Fish and Game, Forest and Bird and others hosted the visit.

November 2009 027[1]

Got the chance to white water raft a few kms down the north branch to where it meets the south branch of the River. Breathtaking scenery and wonderful water, even if the rock snot is thick in parts. 

Hurunui River Day 29[1].11.09 016

In August a conservation order was granted for the North Branch, but not the South Branch. The Hurunui Water Project had earlier sought resource consents to dam the river and to take water for irrigation. Last month it announced a delay in its applications for resource consents for up to a year so that the Canterbury Water Management Strategy could address the issue of water storage. I support the water strategy and want to see a greener Canterbury – but not browner rivers. There have to be better options than damming this majestic river.

Key Government: All Map, No Compass

Posted by on November 30th, 2009

If I was a betting man (which in fairness I am at the races from time to time) I would put my money on John Key going to Copenhagen.  As Audrey Young points out

Attendance of leaders has become a matter of symbolism, a symbol of commitment to a positive outcome. Key looks like that is not important to him.

But that will be the only reason he goes. Not because he believes that the world desperately needs to come together to address a major environmental issue, or that for the future of New Zealand and our region we desperately need to be part of a positive solution. Goodness, earlier in the week Murray McCully was complaining about climate change taking too much time at CHOGM. Earth to Murray, its kinda the biggest show in town right now.

My prediction is that Steven Joyce will tell Key the optics look bad, and he had better get over there. I am sorry to sound so cynical but this is a bit of a pattern.

Today John Key has dismissed the 2025 taskforce report, in part on the basis that National needs to keep its promises to the electorate on keeping Labour programmes such as Working for Families and Interest Free Student Loans. Great, but we all know what Key and National actually think of those programmes- “communism by stealth” anyone? Its not that Key actually believes this is socially responsible policy, he’s just stuck with it.

Returning to Copenhagen the risk for New Zealand is that all this naked pragmitism is going to be seen as just that. Again to quote Audrey Young

No one will give Key credit for parachuting in for a photo-op once others have done the hard work

Therein lies the problem for New Zealand. Beyond any straight environmental motives, from an economic point of view being dragged kicking and screaming to Copenhagen is a terrible look for an isolated trading nation that has prided (and marketed) itself on its clean green image. Its probably already too late on that score.

I accept that John Key’s pragmatism is playing well with New Zealanders at the moment. Its all very well having good political anntennae, but the long term future of New Zealand suffers if you don’t have a plan as to where you are going. All map, no compass is a very bad recipe for New Zealand.

Bach benches this week

Posted by on November 30th, 2009

Wallace Chapman and the Back Benches Panel and special guests while they battle it our over the week’s hottest topics! FLAT TAX: Don Brash of the 2025 group says a flat tax of 20-25% is the key to catching up with Oz?  (Don’t think he does  Trevor) Is he right? And ORGAN DONATION: Why does New Zealand have one of the lowest organ donation rates in the world? Is it time to re-evaluate our laws?

Join us for a night of LIVE pub politics from the Backbencher Pub on Wednesday, 2nd of December. Our Panel: Green Party MP Sue Kedgley, Labour MP Chris Carter, and National MP Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga.

Planet A – It is worth protecting

Posted by on November 30th, 2009

December 5 is a busy day, with marches, a free concert and a Family Fair all to raise awareness and show support for protecting our planet ahead of the COP15 conference in Copenhagen.

Simultaneous events are being held across the country including a free concert with top NZ acts in Auckland. Other events can be seen here.

I will be at the Wellington event; you can join me and many others by meeting at the Civic Square at 1pm and then march to Parliament.

However, if you cannot make it, you can go to the concert, which for those who aren’t in Auckland is being streamed live on the internet, or you can watch it at Bar Bodega, 101 Ghuznee St from 2:30-6:30pm

You can also watch it by clicking here.

If you don’t believe me, here’s Lucy Lawless in the shower!

Support school support staff

Posted by on November 29th, 2009

What do school support staff want?  A  fair deal NOW!

School support staff are skilled and committed workers who fill a wide range of functions supporting the education of our children.  Support staff roles include teacher aide, librarian, special needs support, school secretary and technician. Over 1500 support staff marched up Queen Street to Myers Park yesterday protesting the 0% wage offer on the table after 12 months of negotiating with the Government.

These workers play a hugely valuable role for individual students, for their schools and for our community.  Parents, teachers and principals are clear that without the work of support staff the quality of education would be lessened and our schools would not be able to function properly.   And for this important work the wages can be as low as $12.94.  That’s 44 cents above the minimum wage.  This is a disgrace.

School support staff  are predominately women and as a consequence their work is undervalued.   Yet the important pay equity investigation being undertaken for them was scrapped by the Government.

I am hugely impressed by the determination of the ‘pink army’.  These workers know they are not being treated fairly and like other low paid workers in the public sector being offered 0%  they know the Government is effectively requiring them to take a pay cut.  They are not standing for it and neither should we. 

The Government’s focus on the privileged and their lack of concern about the real financial pressure on the majority of New Zealanders is not right.  We all have a responsibility to let the Government know that we don’t agree with their priorities – tax cuts for the rich and more funding for private schools rather than responding to just claims like those of school support staff.

The democracy of intimacy

Posted by on November 29th, 2009

Stefana Broadbent, a cognitive scientist, has spent decades observing people as they use technology, at home and in complex workspaces such as air-traffic control towers. (so says her bio)

In this clip she talks about how the use of social media is deepening our human relationships. I found this fascinating. Hope you do too.

She talks about the democratisation of intimacy, how people are breaking the imposed isolation of the institutions they inhabit (mainly the places where they work) by using social media creatively to deepen their existing relationships.

This is a new take on social media and I guess it’s my anthropological background that makes me so interested. Plus I believe we can see social media enabling us to evolve new communities with strong common interests.

And it’s a healthy take on the potential for social media to be truly beneficial. All the more important for government to take an interest in strong content-based policy encouraging families and communities who are geographically distanced to form stronger bonds.

Strong communities = a strong and healthy society. That’s my philosophy.

2025 taskforce falls at first hurdle

Posted by on November 29th, 2009

The first report from the Brash-led 2025 Taskforce is due out tomorrow and the National/Act government’s response will be instructive.

The Taskforce, set up as part of the Confidence and Supply agreement between the National and ACT parties, commits the government to closing the income and productivity gap with Australia by 2025.

The first report is supposed to identify the policy settings and changes that will “deliver the productivity growth necessary for a stronger, more prosperous economy”.

Predictably, Brash is recommending a flat tax rate for companies and earners, to be paid for by major cuts to social programmes including early childhood education and access to interest free student loans.  The recommendations have a terrible smell of Roger Douglas about them – but why would anyone be surprised with Brash in charge?

Closing the gap with Australia was a fundamental part of National’s election campaign in 2008, but Key is already backing away from the very first recommendations of Brash and Co.

It just goes to show that the easy bit is the campaign rhetoric and setting up a talkfest. The hard part is finding politically and economically sustainable answers and doing something that will actually make a difference.

Taupo would not have been the same without Nikki

Posted by on November 29th, 2009


Brilliant Sunday in Taupo – sun hot, watched the AB’s win with style at pub with hundreds of others, not sure that it was the advice in team room early last Sunday, but what a difference a week makes.

The Taupo cycling events weekend is great, 2 x crits Friday, mtb, women’s 60k, 320 & 640k enduros, a 4 x 40k relay as well as the standard 160 k solo. Rotary main organisers but dozens of Taupo schools and clubs involved supplying volunteers with most of the profits going to them. Heartchildren got cheque for over $75k.

Race went well for me. Stuck with plan for first 65k in a big bunch of much better riders who hauled me along. Did a bit of cross country avoiding mayhem when someone dropped their chain  and lost my bunch. Much of the next 35k alone running out of gas especially on Kurutau (and later Hatepe) hills. Good bunch Tokaanu to Hatepe and then small team working hard to the finish.

The result 4.58.40 was something I wouldn’t have dreamed of five months ago before Nikki challenged me. 33 minutes faster than previous best three years ago. To put in context 962/4308 male finishers and 14/99 55 year olds.

Big question is whether the motivation can continue to next year. Getting up at 5.30am on three week days is really the only way I can get the ks in – a long weekend ride just isn’t enough. I need to do more hills – hill reps never my favourite approach. I promised myself a new bike for Christmas if I did 5.15 (my trusty Scott was second hand when I rode it five Taupos ago) on the premise that might knock ten to fifteen minutes off and get me under five next year.

Maybe Nikki needs to offer me double or nothing?

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Filed under: sport

Rent rises hit lower income earners

Posted by on November 29th, 2009

Figures released by Statistics New Zealand last week highlight the plight of some of our lowest income households. While those with mortgages are enjoying a bit of interest rate relief, those who are renting have seen their rental costs increase by 8.1 percent. Average total household income from all sources has increased by 5.6 percent during the same period.

Just under a third of Kiwi families rent the house they live in. Those on lower incomes are far more likely to rent rather than own the property that they live in, so they are the ones most likely to be feeling the pinch.

About 65 percent of those households earning $43,900 or less rated the adequacy of their income as ‘just enough’ or ‘not enough’. Around half our Kiwis households fit into this demographic. Over 70 percent of those households with an income of $86,700 or above rated their incomes as ‘enough’ or ‘more than enough’.

It’s been a tough year for those at the bottom of the economic ladder. The very first thing the new National-led government did was take away tax cuts for the lowest income earners so that they could give that money to those on the highest incomes. As unemployment has continued to rise, the Nats have been asleep at the wheel. Let’s hope they wake up next year!

English in full bloom

Posted by on November 29th, 2009

If you were Bill English and you were preaching fiscal restraint for others, you’d go out of your way to make sure you were leading by example right? It seems not. First we had revellations that the Nats had doubled the number of Beehive staff earning over $100k a year. Then we had the housing allowance debacle. Then we had yesterday’s revellations about the motorcade incident. And now we have…the flowers!

Stats released last week show that the National-led government have pumped up the spending on flowers for Beehive office suites by about 15%. The biggest increase? None other than the ‘Dipton Petal’ himself, Bill English, who spent 110% more on flowers for his office than Michael Cullen did during a comparable period.

For the record, from 1 Jan – 17 Nov the National-led govt spent $52,010 on flowers compared to Labour’s $45,733. Labour weren’t telling hard working Kiwis they had to put up with a wage freeze for the next five years either.

Erebus – 30 years on

Posted by on November 28th, 2009

Today I attended Air New Zealand’s Christchurch Memorial Service commemorating the 30th Anniversary of the Mt Erebus air accident and the first anniversary of the air accident off the coast of Perpignan, France.  It was a very moving experience. 

I was having a drink in the small bar at the White Heron Lodge (over the road from Christchurch Airport) on the 28th November 1979 when one of the airport staff came in to say that the Antarctica flight had not returned.   I can’t recall exactly when it was confirmed that the plane had gone missing, but it was a very sombre night. 

I was a law student at the time and I well remember the inquiry that followed .  I bought a copy of the Mahon report as soon as it was published and read it cover to cover.  Although the media focussed on the language – the “pre-determined plan of deception” and “the orchestrated litany of lies”, I remember the list of about 10 things he listed, the absence of any one of which may well have meant the accident would not have happened.  Some of these were influenced by human action or inaction – others, like the white-out conditions, were not.   It reinforced for me how important it is in the wake of a tragedy to get to the bottom of what has happened, to acknowledge any mistakes, to say sorry where apologies are due, to take responsibility for those mistakes and to learn from them so that the risk of a tragedy occurring again is diminished.  Preventable deaths cause pain beyond the loss, because there is always the “if only…” that can act to disrupt the path to acceptance in the grieving process.  I am convinced that if those in any way responsible for what has occurred own up to mistakes and commit to rectifying them, it helps bring closure to those affected. 

Today’s memorial service was timely for the families of the men who lost their lives off the coast of Perpignan, but 29 years overdue for the families who lost loved ones on Mt Erebus.  But in saying that, it is never too late to say sorry and I felt that Air New Zealand’s apology was genuine and heartfelt and that they had learned the lessons so tragically evidenced that fateful day 30 years ago.

Filed under: events, history

Saturday Sport: Against the Odds

Posted by on November 28th, 2009

Well done to the Black Caps, coming through with the win this evening in sunny Dunedin. While the second innings collapse from the Kiwis was predictable, I have to admit I didn’t think they could roll Pakistan for 250.  For me, having a genuine strike bowler like Shane Bond  is the difference.   Despite their heroic efforts Chris Martin and Iain O’Brien are not going to regularly win test matches.  Great stuff in any case, and good to see a test in Dunedin make it to the final day, and in sunshine what is more!

and no doubt the other heroic effort of the weekend was our own Trevor Mallard.  Sub 5 hours in Taupo.  Brilliant effort from the old boy!

Filed under: sport

Another good reason to live in Wellington

Posted by on November 28th, 2009

The Wellington City Council is beginning work on how to encourage the uptake of electric cars.  Wellingtonians are already among the most sustainable transport users in NZ, with more people walking or taking public transport to work than any other city in New Zealand.  There is a long way to go here, but this is a positive step to a more sustainable future.

Gerry’s biofuels shambles

Posted by on November 28th, 2009

Continuing with the theme set this morning by Colin James (see Grant’s post) I’ve found another example of how governments get things wrong when they rush things through. Late last year the newly elected National government rushed through a repeal of Labour’s biofuels obligation under Urgency. The obligation would have meant that the fuel you purchased at the pump would have had to have a certain percentage of biofuels within it. It would have been a useful step in reducing our carbon emissions.

National decided to rush through a repeal, thus pulling the rug out from under the biofuel industry that had been scaling up to take advantage of the new obligation. Labour MPs presented examples during the debate of businesses that would suffer, we presented the cost to NZ in terms of higher carbon emissions, and we argued, as we have with the ETS, that ultimately it should be the polluter that pays.

Gerry Brownlee argued, as National have done with the ETS, that the taxpayer should pay. In this year’s Budget National introduced a Biodiesel Grants Scheme as a partial replacement for the sales obligation. It set aside $36 million in taxpayer subsidies to encourage the production of Biodiesel. So how has it panned out? Well so far they have spent less than $44,000 of that money. In other words, it’s been a total flop. Another example of a bad law rushed through. Another example of National not looking at the evidence of what actually works.


Posted by on November 28th, 2009

unofficial time.

Filed under: sport

Rushed Law is Bad Law

Posted by on November 28th, 2009

Colin James has written  an interesting piece on two examples of the impact of a rushed law making process- the Emissions Trading Scheme and National Standards. The ETS has been discussed at length this week, but the concerns raised by our leading, and indeed world leading, educational assessment experts should be sounding the loudest of alarm bells. The fact that one of those experts was John Hattie, the person who John Key pointed to as his mentor on these issues makes it all the worse. To quote from Colin James

if teachers teach to rigid standards the risk is that standards and the testing that goes with them become counterproductive. Kids get trapped into failure. The focus is on what teachers teach instead of what kids learn. “The international record,” the four academics said, “is damning.” Other education experts say this is particularly so of the United States’ “no child left behind” project which actually condemned disadvantaged children to being left behind.

The thing here is there was nothing to justify rushing the national standards law through Parliament last year under urgency. If there had been a proper select committee consideration the views of Messers Hattie, Crooks, Flockton and Thrupp could have had the consideration they deserved. Instead we have another version of this government’s view as expressed by Bill English last week ”  bad advice is advice we disagree with, good advice is advice we agree with”. Parents and children deserve better than a rushed process and a government that only hears what it wants to hear.

No good hairdressers in Dipton?

Posted by on November 28th, 2009

3105003The Dom Post has made quite a bit of a story today about Bill English’s crown car and security car illegally parking in Wellington while the Finance Minister has a haircut. I would actually cut English a bit of slack on being driven the couple of blocks to have his locks chopped in this case as he was suffering from a painful back injury this week. But there is no need for his cars to stay parked illegally and using space reserved for people with disabilities.  Its not that hard for the cars to find somewhere else to go. And is it really necessary for the Diplomatic Protection Squad to even be there anyway?

But two questions arise. With due respect to Bill he mostly looks, as my mother would say, as if he has been dragged through a hedge backwards. Is he really getting value for money here? And are there really no good hairdressers in Dipton, I mean that is where Bill lives isn’t it?

Filed under: humour

Go Trev

Posted by on November 28th, 2009

Well today’s the day for Trevor. He’s written about it enough, now he has to do it. 160km cycle challenge in Taupo. He’s up against it.

Firstly, there’s no Nikki Kaye to pitch himself against. Secondly, he’s probably still jetlagged. And thirdly he’s a bit sick.

Still, he’s Trev. And he’s no quitter. And we’re all there behind you. Just remember that when you’re riding up those big hills and tell yourself your body is a machine.

Oh, and can we get pictures?

Variation 5

Posted by on November 27th, 2009

An experiment is getting underway in the Lake Taupo catchment designed to help clean up the water quality.

The growing intensity of farming over the last fifty years has resulted in growing nitrogen levels in the lake.  Nitrogen often takes years to leach through the ground into the watertable and then into the lake. Sometimes it can take fifty years to go through the system. A lot of work has gone on over the last decade fencing waterways and improving practices but the problem will always be a long term one.

Variation 5 to the Waikato Regional Plan involves capping output by best year farm data from 2001 to 2005. Farms then get a nitrogen discharge allowance (NDA) which will over a period of time be reduced. That forces them to make further improvements.

I think it is a model worth watching very carefully. If it works it could be used for the Waikato.

Filed under: environment

Chinese performers light up the stage

Posted by on November 27th, 2009

Uygur Group dance_Panorama1

The XinJiang Dance Troupe kicked off their New Zealand tour with an entertaining performance at the ASB Theatre last night.

Since the then Trade Minister Phil Goff signed the FTA with China last year, the business relationship between New Zealand and China has increased to the point of China being our third largest trading partner after the US and Australia.

Apart from Trade and business, events and tours like this help to promote cultural understanding and the people-to-people contact and friendships made are just as significant as the financial gains made from New Zealand and China’s growing business partnership.

I hope to see many more cultural and musical groups come to these shores and enthrall, connect, educate and entertain the people of New Zealand

Filed under: asian, ethnic