Red Alert

Archive for December, 2010

Kiwis spread their wings across the world

Posted by on December 31st, 2010

Isobel Thompson

Above: Raymond Huo with Isobel Thompson at the launch of the Soong Ching Ling Foundation of NZ.

For a country of four million people it is remarkable how many New Zealanders have made their mark and spread their influence around the world.

A recent article in the Listener profiled seven Kiwis who have made it big in different parts of the globe. All of them had amazing success stories and are now seen as leaders in their various career paths.

But this isn’t a recent occurrence, New Zealanders have been putting their stamp on the world for generations and recently I was privileged to meet one such person at the Establishment of the Soong Ching Ling Foundation in Auckland.

Ms Isobel Easton Thompson is 90-years-old and worked as nurse in China from 1947-1950. She went to China with the New Zealand foundation CORSO and worked for the Chinese Welfare Fund which was headed by Madam Soong Ching Ling (aka Mme Sun Yatsen).

Madam Soong Ching Ling (1893-1981) has been recognised as one of the most influential people of the 20th Century for her contribution and dedication to world peace, socialist causes and global development and before her death in 1981 she was awarded the title of Honorary President of Peoples Republic of China.

Ms Thompson worked closely with Madam Soong Ching Ling during her time in China and detailed her experiences in the book, Yellow River, Mules and Mountains: A New Zealand nurse in China 1947-1950, which gives a fascinating insight into a western nurse living in China during an interesting phase of the country’s history.

Ms Thompson is a member of the Soong Ching Ling foundation of Shanghai and was proud to be on hand as the New Zealand branch was officially recognised.

Madam Soong Ching Ling once said: many things could wait but work for children could not. The Soong Ching Ling foundation will continue her life’s work and ensure that her legacy lives on for generations to come.

Summer Sport: Black Caps Situation Normal

Posted by on December 31st, 2010

Ross Taylor, it seems, is bemused.  Welcome to the club Rosco, most of us have been for years when it comes to the Black Caps. In-consistency really is the new/old black.  Two solid performances, albeit against a team without several leading (suspended) players, and who looked like they had they had the kind of jet lag you get from a non-stop trip to Mars, is followed by an absolute shocker.

In the smash and grab that is 20/20 a loss will often be magnified, but last night was bad in any book.  We now move to an entirely different form of the game, and we will see if the selectors play any more interesting games with the test team.  Their experiments with this team did not bode well.  Dean Brownlie?  A couple of good knocks for Canterbury and he is in for a look. We won’t see him again is my guess.

I feel for Adam Milne, and I don’t really think a lot was gained by playing him.  20/20 is not the showcase for speed without variation or subtlety.  Don’t get me wrong, he is a great prospect. He is  quick, and at 18 still has a fair bit of filling out to do.  But he needs to be developed at provincial level. Lance Cairns got this earlier this month, only to go onto the selection panel and promptly be part of picking him.

The Black Caps selectors over the last few seasons have been a bit like a summer race-goer, who puts a dollar each way on the outsider on the basis that it would be amazing if it came off, but no harm done if it does not. Except that the harm is to the consistency of the team, and the confidence of the individual.

There have been positives of course.  McGlashan has worked out how to score, Guptill, and Styris have looked good, Nathan McCullum looks in good touch (and surely must go to 50 over World Cup) and his brother and Dan Vettori are still to come back.

But it looks like another summer of bemusement for us all. And secretly, don’t we just love it!

Tags: ,
Filed under: sport

Improving cycle safety

Posted by on December 31st, 2010

A few weeks ago MPs from across the political spectrum worked together to use social media like Facebook and Twitter to get tips for cyclists, parents and drivers on how we can improve cycle safety. The idea came out of a brain-storming session by a small cross-party group that has been informally meeting over the past few months to push cycling issues at Parliament. Full credit to Green MP Kevin Hague who has been the driving force behind the group.

The top tips for cyclists were:

  1. Maximise visibility, with lights, fluoro clothing, flags etc, but ride as if you are invisible
  2. Make your intentions clear with good signalling and maintaining a consistent line
  3. Be assertive, but not aggressive, riding sufficiently out into the lane to be clear of obstacles like debris on the shoulder or opening doors on parked cars
  4. Be courteous to other road users and follow the road rules

The top tips for motorists to improve safety for people riding bikes were:

  1. Look out for bikes at all times, and don’t assume that they will be travelling slowly
  2. Please be patient – it may hold you up a little to wait before you find a safe place to pass a cyclist, but really seconds or minutes are neither here nor there
  3. Remember that the Road Code specifies a 1.5m separation when passing a cyclist. They need space.

We also asked people about tips for improving safety for kids. In addition to those listed above, people stressed the importance of putting kids through cycle skills courses, getting their skills to a good level before riding on the road, and riding with your kids to begin with. Many people suggested that kids should be allowed to ride on footpaths, and this is something we will need to take a look at, as it is currently illegal.

Good to be working as part of a cross-party group of MPs doing something positive. Let’s hope we can make even more progress in the New Year!

What is social media doing to us?

Posted by on December 31st, 2010

Wouldn’t mind your views.

Read this story the other day. Think the view that we’re becoming more stupid is rubbish. Though don’t much like the acronyms and emoticons in social media.

Did like the comment that:

Social media expert Laurel Papworth said it was out of fashion to use the term LOL (laugh out loud).

My view is that social media is fast-tracking a global comunication evolution.

Might have some more substantial things to say about this after a  bit of a holiday.

Right-wingers are programmed wrong

Posted by on December 30th, 2010

It’s official, the brains of conservatives are less evolved than the brains of liberals. Actor Colin Firth commissioned neuroscientists to conduct a light-hearted experiment to see whether the physical qualities of our brains is likely to determine our political views. After scanning 90 student brains at University College in London, scientists discovered that self-proclaimed right-wingers had a more pronounced amygdala – a primitive part of the brain associated with emotion. Left-wingers had thicker anterior cingulates (grey matter).

I loved Colin Firth’s explanation of why he commissioned the study: “I just decided to find out what was biologically wrong with people who don’t agree with me, and see what scientists had to say about it, and they actually came up with something.” During the last UK general elections Firth endorsed Lib-Dem Leader Nick Clegg, but has since changed his mind. Asked about Clegg in light of the research Firth jokes “I think we should have him scanned”.

Tragic incident reraises question – why did we send SAS back to Afghanistan

Posted by on December 30th, 2010

Incidents such as that being reported over the last couple of days highlight the danger of involvement in a war which is winding down and where our reason for involvement has long past. The previous government decided to stop SAS involvement – a decision John Key reversed.

I want to make it clear I am not joining calls for Kiwi troops to be punished. If mistakes were made then, in my opinion, they are an inevitable consequence of being involved in what is becoming is now not much more than propping up an illegitimate government.

Stuff, based on NYT original reports :-

The owner of an Afghanistan factory attacked by elite New Zealand soldiers is calling for them to be punished after two of his workers were killed.

Special Air Service soldiers led by men identified as “Sean” and “James” spearheaded a night raid on the Kabul premises of Tiger Armour on Christmas Eve. Officials said it was an attempt to prevent an attack on the United States embassy.

Two security guards died and two were wounded in the raid, which Nato described as a fire-fight and the Afghan interior ministry called “a heart-rending and tragic incident”.

Meanwhile Wikileaks is providing some insight into the way the Key government is being pressured both around the substantive issue of the provision of troops, the provision of information to New Zealanders and being a cheerleader to US policy on the issue.

New Year, New Gap with Aussie

Posted by on December 29th, 2010

John Key promised to close the gaps between New Zealand and Australia, but ever since he got elected, those gaps have kept widening in Australia’s favour.

In just two days time a new gap will emerge, as Australian families become entitled to 18 weeks paid parental leave on January 1.

In New Zealand, we have 14 weeks PPL which was brought in under Labour – National voted against it.

Under Labour, we led the Aussie’s on PPL entitlements. They currently have no legislative entitlement to PPL – that all changes on Saturday.

The Australian Government is smart. It knows that investing in parents spending more time with their children when they are babies reaps benefits – and saves money – later on.

That Government has also had an economic plan that has its economy going from strength to strength, even in the current global financial environment.

Meanwhile….NZ keeps drifting further and further behind with a Government that has no plan and is so short-sighted that it can’t think beyond the next photo op for the smiling assasin (as John Key was known when he worked for Merrill Lynch).

…and things keep getting tougher for Kiwi families. But hey, Happy New Year anyway.

Summer Sport: Its all happening (for now?)

Posted by on December 29th, 2010

A little like Ken Barlow from Coronation Street or Nigel Roberts on election night, the Channel Nine cricket commentators just seem to have always been there. From the heady beige days to now we have been treated to Richie, Bill, Ian, Tony and their various friends. A wealth of cricketing experience mixed with lashings of extreme patriotism and buckets of hyperbole, they have marked the modern era of cricket. They even spawned their own genre of comedy.

So much has happened on their watch. Coloured clothing, the 30m circle, hot spot/snicko, the near death and extraordinary resuscitation of test cricket, the arrival of 20:20. As Bill Lawry would say, “its all happening”, and it has been for 30 years.

My favourite times were usually when Bill just lost the plot entirely. ” Share Warne’s a legend. He’s a Victorian, I’m a Victorian.” Or when Tony Greig just did not know who to support if England, South Africa or Australia were playing, and instead resorted to not so subtle put downs regarding the other team.

But is it nearly all over? The ugly demise of Australia as a cricketing powerhouse has nearly reached its apex. The fifth test in Sydney will be Ricky Ponting’s last, and the link to the Australia powerhouse team of the 90s and 00s will be over. They will be just like the rest of us. Only still better than us.

So, what of the commentary team? While various attempts have been made to spruce the team up with the arrival of the extra-aggravating Mark Nicholas, Irritating Ian Healy and Tubs Taylor, the core of the team have stuck through. Richie Benaud, showing the good grace and judgement he has always had, has at least announced a retirement. Surely the time has now come for Chappelli, Greigy, Bill and his pigeons to shuffle off.

Apart from anything else their vacuous boosterism of the Australian team has got little basis to cling to any more. I am sure they are told by Channel Nine to do it, to try to keep the audience when all hope is gone. But the wall to wall coverage of cricket in Australia won’t survive a dramatic form slump like this. It will take time to re-build Australian cricket, and in the modern broadcasting era time is as rare a commodity as Bill and Tony agreeing.

So, if this Ashes series is the end for the Channel Nine team as we know it, I have to say I will miss you guys. Richie told it like it was during the underarm incident, and for that he is a hero. The rest of you annoy me so much some times I turn you off, but to be honest you taught me more about cricket than I ever knew. Cheers fellas.

Unusual praise – if talent counted Amy Adams would be in Cabinet

Posted by on December 29th, 2010

Not often that I praise National MPs but it  will be election year soon and colleagues mightn’t appreciate it then.

Amy Adams was on the Fairfax Media top 25 in their best and worst  lawmakers list, at 24.  Well behind Grant Robertson, at 5,  but still great place for a  first term MP.

Still wasn’t going to post because these lists happen regularly and this one is really just pop analysis with a tendency to repeat comments from tiddly PM,  but then one of the Nat cheerleaders on their pet Kiwiblog said :-

By the way, who is that obscure, almost anonymous politician, named Amy Adams? Never seen her.

Well Amy Adams isn’t a drama queen like several of her colleagues but is one of the brightest, almost cetainly the hardest working Nat backbench MP.  She prepares well,  has good attention to detail and showed a real heart with a speech when she came back from the Canterbury earthquake.

And I think if the National Cabinet was talent based she would be in it by now.

Filed under: national

Liquor Licenses

Posted by on December 28th, 2010

OK, so the last time I posted one of these videos, everyone jumped down my throat despite me saying it was not Labour policy, just something I had been sent by one of the groups lobbying for reform.

Having said that, this one is about giving the licensing power back to communities, something I totally support.

Have a look.

When the USA gets it right

Posted by on December 28th, 2010

There has been a fair bit of criticism of the USA following the release of the Wikileaks documents. Most of it deserved, and some of it I have even been part of. As I have said before on this blog, my view on the USA has changed a bit over the years. Before I lived there as a diplomat I had a pretty jaundiced view of the USA as a country. Living there made me realise that like all places it has some amazing people, places and ways of doing things and some bizarre and awful ones too. The Bush era certainly presented lots of the latter category. I still strongly oppose the war-mongering of that era and many of the actions taken in the name of the USA.

But there are times when the USA gets it right and when individuals stand up for ideals in important ways. One of those is the recent removal of the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy on gays in the military. This was a messy compromise from another era, which has now been rectifiied. I am certainly no supporter of all the actions of the US military, but this piece of discrimination had no place in the modern world.

Barack Obama’s speech at the signing of the legislation to remove the policy is one of his great speeches in my view.

Finally, I want to speak directly to the gay men and women currently serving in our military. For a long time your service has demanded a particular kind of sacrifice. You’ve been asked to carry the added burden of secrecy and isolation. And all the while, you’ve put your lives on the line for the freedoms and privileges of citizenship that are not fully granted to you.

You’re not the first to have carried this burden, for while today marks the end of a particular struggle that has lasted almost two decades, this is a moment more than two centuries in the making.

There will never be a full accounting of the heroism demonstrated by gay Americans in service to this country; their service has been obscured in history. It’s been lost to prejudices that have waned in our own lifetimes. But at every turn, every crossroads in our past, we know gay Americans fought just as hard, gave just as much to protect this nation and the ideals for which it stands.

The full speech is well worth a watch.

Wonderful pisstake Key McCully Dalai Lama

Posted by on December 27th, 2010

The Dalai Lama causes diplomatic staffers to lose sleep. Helen Clark saw him in Sydney Airport, took the initiative, had a meeting and avoided months of Chinese Embassy pressure not to meet.

By way of contrast Key has once again, until now, got away with playing both sides of the road. But that means that in the end he will get run over.  David Fisher in the Herald.

Prime Minister John Key has not broken his promise to meet the Dalai Lama – he just doesn’t feel like fulfilling it yet.

That’s the official position on the exiled Tibetan leader, from foreign minister Murray McCully.

The Herald on Sunday last week revealed a leaked US Embassy cable that said Key had assured the Chinese premier he would not meet the Dalai Lama. But Key promised voters he would meet him.

McCully insists there was no “official” instruction to senior politicians to avoid meeting the Dalai Lama. Key decided himself to dodge a meeting – and his Cabinet ministers made the same decision, all at the same time, all by themselves.

McCully insists he did not mislead Parliament when he said there was no “official policy” on the issue.

Yeah right Muzza – give the man a Tui.

Summer films : Made in Dagenham

Posted by on December 27th, 2010

If you see no other film this summer, you need to see this one.

It’s the story of a group of  women working for the Ford Factory in Dagenham, UK who decided that not only were the 187 women machinists worth more because of their skills, but that all women should have equal pay.

It’s a classic. It has it all. Staunch women, men who aren’t so sure, one corrupt union official and another who has his principles intact.  It shows how American Ford went to great lengths to try to influence (or threaten) the UK government to ignore the women strikers. (Things haven’t changed that much here I reckon when we think about the Hobbit.)

 It led to the UK Labour government introducing the Equal Pay Act in 1970, and shows Labour MP, Barbara Castle’s involvement in that decision.

The UK Equal Pay Act led to other countries doing the same, including NZ. Our Equal Pay Act (or as Pansy Wong liked to call it, the Pay Equal Act, became law in 1972 (and yes, under a National government). We were following rather than leading, so Tories shouldnt get too carried away.

Pity about Pay Equity – but go see it.  Reminds us all that left to employers, self interest and greed comes first.

Thanks Dagenham sisters and mothers.

More feedback on Immigration Bill

Posted by on December 27th, 2010

I have been glad to receive feedback on my Private Members Bill from constituents and industry professionals alike.

Below is a message from one such industry professional:

Kia ora Raymond

Following up to our discussion about the availability of ESOL to our new migrants and people from refugee backgrounds, I thought you might be interested in some background documents.

The first (although it is attached as the last) details the funding cuts that were announced in the 2009 budget that affected directly the access to ESOL nationally.

The two others were in response to a request from the Wgtn Regional Settlement Strategy Leadership group (SSLG) to understand how funding changes were affecting the ability of people to access appropriate ESOL provision in the region; the first, is an attempt to quantify the loss of funding compiled early 2010 and the second, an update on the continuing impact of funding changes on ESOL provision for 2011.

Although the report and update are focusing on the Wgtn region, since this is where the Settlement Strategy Leadership group’s (SSLG) interest lies, the funding changes have had similar impact across the country. The SSLG sent a letter to the Tertiary Policy Group at Ministry of Education in late Nov. summarizing the impact and attaching these two reports.

I was impressed by your interest in being informed from the those of us in the field and it occurred to me when sitting in a reunion earlier this week of skilled migrants who have graduated from the Workplace Communication programme for skilled migrants at Victoria University of Wellington that there are some 150 very articulate and informative people able to describe their experience and what made the difference for them.

It struck me at the time that this would have been a magnificent opportunity to hear first-hand about their achievements in securing employment and how they are contributing to our economy. I wonder if you would be available to attend the graduation of the next group of 12 individuals which is scheduled for Monday 16 May 2011 at the VUW Railway Campus.

Meanwhile, it is time for a break! May you have a relaxing and fun summer break with family and friends.

Best wishes

Name withheld

Tags: , ,
Filed under: asian

Sweet bites

Posted by on December 26th, 2010

Hot off the press (literally) and being blatantly parochial, The Chills (from Dunedin of course) have just released a new album.

Its called Sweet Bites and is a live and studio recordings album of some special tracks over the last 30 years. It is available as a digital download only from the website

The download features a video of Martin Phillips doing commentary on each of the songs.

It will be available on itunes shortly, but at present there is no physical version.

Here is a clip from the recent live concert in Dunedin (30th Anniversary Show – Motels & Cars)

I don’t think this has been made available yet.

Support NZ music because it’s good

Christchurch rocked again

Posted by on December 26th, 2010

The latest swarm of quakes have left the Christchurch CBD at the heart of my electorate with further building damage, stuffed the much-needed sales revenue that Boxing Day might have provided and left many across the city feeling very rattled.

I am, this time, viewing from a distance. We left Christchurch mid-afternoon yesterday after helping at the City Mission lunch and headed north for Christmas dinner with our daughters and family.  Today I was enjoying a cool,  relaxing day – first really since Sept 4 –  until being alerted ahead of tonight’s news to today’s quakes.  Our neighbour reports being very spooked; her aged dog is hiding under bushes.

We will return if need arises – though the seismologists have long said these aftershocks could go on for a year and we are not yet 4 months on.

Being an optimist, perhaps the latest shocks and their  impact on CBD businesses may cause some reconsideration of the current “hands-off’ approach being taken by Government. It has put up a pathetic $100,000 in funding for promotion and a couple of business mentors as its total package of assistance to Christhchurch SMEs, some of whom are suffering 50% falls in turn-over.  Gerry Brownlee has even turned down our request to have Treasury cost a package of measures suggested by some of these hard-hit businessess. I can’t but believe this flint-like approach is being imposed on him by Cabinet dictate. And to think some media have named him as  Politician of the Year!?

Out of the Mouths of Babes

Posted by on December 26th, 2010

This is the only time of year any of us get to spend a decent amount of time with our kids. I was kicking a ball around with my 5-year-old a couple of days ago when the following conversation occurred. I’d like to point out that I really do my best not to indoctrinate my children… but you can’t stop them being perceptive.

5-year-old: “Dad, Mummy says they’re going to stop Kidzone.”

Me: “Yeah, I’m afraid they are.”

5-year-old: “Why?”

Me: “Because they don’t want to spend money on it any more and they want to put something with ads on instead.”

5-year-old: (Thinks for a moment) “Did John Key decide that?”

Me: “Pretty much, yeah.”

5-year-old: “He’s dumb.”

Hickey gets it on Hanover

Posted by on December 26th, 2010

Bernard Hickey says what many Kiwis are thinking about the arrogance of Hotchin :-

Hanover spent large parts of 2005, 2006 and 2007 trying to stop reporters from publishing articles critical of the company. Their legal threats and bullying against media who tried to report their affairs was legendary. On the whole, those threats were effective.

More than 13,000 investors lent more than $465 million to Hanover, thanks to marketing and interest rates slightly higher than bank interest rates. Now those investors are ruined.

They have received back 6 cents in the dollar and will be lucky to get much more, now they have swapped their debentures for nearly worthless shares in Allied Farmers.

There are gut-wrenching tales behind the numbers. I have dozens of emails from devastated investors. I have spoken to many. This event has ruined the financial lives of thousands of people. It has torn families apart. It has destroyed retirement plans.

Parents who hoped to pass on the money to their children have been thwarted. Money for much-needed medical treatment is gone. Long-dreamed-of trips to spend time with grandchildren are gone.

No wonder people welcome embarrassment being visited on Hotchin by a reporter and a photographer. It is the least he should receive.

Most MPs have worked with constituents who have been ripped off by this company and its agents and while the court process might take time it is good to see that at least some of the cash is being saved from being spent in the extravagant ostentatious manner tens of millions have been already.

Filed under: finance

Cycling NZ to end polio

Posted by on December 26th, 2010

Trevor polio ride
Spent sometime earlier in the week with Xaver Hausner, a Rotary student from Germany and Oliver Macindoe his mate who are cycling the length of NZ drawing attention to the fact that polio is not eradicated and raising funds to help that happen. 3360k in 54 days.

The photo shows us meeting with polio victims in the Hutt. Thanks Hutt News.

Interesting talking to them about their cause. Pretty important to keep immunisation rates above 85% to stop an epidemic. And NZ dropping down near that level. Internationally politics and religion as well as poverty seem to be the main blocks to the diseases elimination.

Their bikes weigh 33kg fully laden. I rode Featherston to Easbourne and then Petone to Wellington with them. They flew up the hills and were going pretty well on the flat as well.

Their function in Eastbourne raised over $5k to add to the $30k already raised. Matched by Rotary International and then doubled again by the Gates Foundation.

Two impressive young men, fit , bright, friendly and having a great adventure.

Follow them on

So this is Christmas #2

Posted by on December 24th, 2010

Unashamed plug for NZ musicians.

Wish I’d known about this sooner. Would have bought it. Will be buying it.

We need more NZ music. We need more NZ films. We need more NZ comedy, drama and TV docos.

We need more and better NZ investigative journalism.

We’ll only get it if we invest in it. It’s our culture. Our country. Who we are. It’s not always about profit.

In early 2009, after becoming dismayed with the child abuse statistics in New Zealand singer songwriter Monique Rhodes decided to put together ‘Merry Christmas Baby’, a charity album in support of the Royal Plunket Society of New Zealand. The project enlisted the talents of New Zealand musicians and comprised mostly of original Christmas songs written by the artists. The album reached platinum sales during the 2009 festive season and earned Monique a nomination for ‘New Zealander of the year’.

In 2010 Monique has gone one step further creating what she hopes will be the iconic New Zealand Christmas album. ‘So This is Christmas’ features a stunning line up of New Zealand musicians performing their renditions of traditional Christmas classics. Included are duets from Peter and Margret Urlich, Dragon and Sharon O’Neill, alongside performances by Jordan Luck, The Chills, Elemeno P, Hollie Smith, The Feelers.

Also working with Monique on the album project was Mike Chunn from ‘Play it Strange’. This collaboration produced an original song writing competition that ran through 450 schools nationwide in the search for two talented young New Zealanders. The first winner Danielle Rana recorded her song with rugby stars Rodney So’oialo & Neemia Tialata, the second, Massad, with Antonia Prebble from ‘Outragous Fortune’.

‘So This is Christmas’ supports the charity Shine (Safer Homes In New Zealand Everyday).

1. Noel – Sharon O’Neill & Dragon
2. O’ Holy Night – Hollie Smith & The All Stars
3. The Christmas Song – Peter & Margaret Urlich
4. Jingle Bells – The Feelers
5. Feliz Navidad – The Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra
6. Smile – Massad & Antonia Prebble
7. Sunshine – Danielle Rana featuring All Blacks Rodney So’oialo & Neemia Tialata
8. Silent Night – Patea Maori Club
9. I Saw Three Ships – The Chills
10. Joy To The World – Jan Hellreigel
11. Merry Christmas Everybody – The Earlybirds
12. We Wish You A Merry Christmas – Elemeno P
13. Happy Christmas (War Is Over) – Monique Rhodes & The Jordan Luck Band

Filed under: music