Red Alert

Archive for July, 2012

I seek leave to make a personal explanation …..

Posted by on July 30th, 2012

I see I am getting a bit of gyp from critics in the blogosphere whose latest fantasy is that I lack an environmental ethic.

Their mistake is they think that a healthy environment stands in opposition to a healthy economy.

I don’t rise to the bait too often, but on this occasion I will bite and lay out my record.

Some of these critics should do their homework.

I am 52 years of age. I tramp, ski, and swim in rivers and the sea. I have been fighting for environmental causes most of my life.

As a lawyer I fought for conservation orders that now protect many of the south island’s rivers including the Mataura, the Buller, the Ahuriri, the Greenstone, the Dart, the Lochy, the von, and the Kawarau. 

I am still active in river protection. This year I am appearing pro-bono as an expert witness on energy policy in support of the Fish and Game application to protect the Nevis river from damming.

As Minister of Energy I halted the decline in renewable electricity as a % of total generation, set an objective of 90% renewables by 2025 and put in place a myriad of initiatives to achieve that end. That objective has survived the change to National, and good progress is being made towards it. Together with Jeanette Fitzsimons, I also promulgated the most ambitious energy efficiency and conservation strategy we had ever had, and played a strong hand in the design and funding of the insulation retrofit programme that National continued with.

As Minister of Energy I added substantially to the lands protected from mining by extending schedule 4 protection to all parts of national parks not then protected, including Kahurangi.

As Minister of Land Information I revamped tenure review, helped form a number of conservation parks, including the Otiake Park in the Hawkduns, stopped tenure review around lakes and rebalanced the relationship between the Crown and lessees. National has reversed some of those changes.

As Acting Minister for the Environment I unblocked the national policy statement on freshwater quality. Trevor Mallard continued this work culminating in the very good NPS proposed by Judge Shepherd et al, which was then neutered by National.

As Minister of Climate Change I successfully legislated to price greenhouse gases in all sectors of the economy covering the 6 main gases covered by the Kyoto protocol. New Zealand remains the only country in the world to have achieved that. I was named Environmentalist of the year in 2008 by the Listener for that and other initiatives.
Changes by National and a loss of momentum internationally collapsing the price of carbon have undermined it, but the architecture remains sound. It is Labour’s policy to bring agriculture in to the ETS.

While in government I read about set nets causing the deaths of Hector’s and Maui dolphins. After confirming with Chris Carter that this was intend a serious problem I approached Helen Clark who, with Jim Anderton’s help, vastly expanded the areas where set nets were banned.

I have had high profile run-ins with proponents of lignite developments, including Solid Energy’s Don Elder.
As Labour’s then spokesperson for conservation, I helped lead Labour’s successful campaign against National’s plans to allow mining in schedule 4 National parks, Coromandel, Great Barrier Island etc. For those with a sense of humour, my Christmas interchange with Gerry Brownlee on the issue, in which Gerry starred, remains the most watched clip from parliament.

I have spoken often on the need to better protect our albatross and petrels from being killed as by-catch. Similarly, I am a defender of lowland wetlands against reclamation, and against degradation caused by intensification of nearby land use.

I have been a defender of the RMA, while wanting to improve its reputation by addressing some of its arcane and hard to defend processes.

I am happy to stand on my record on environmental matters.

Which is why it annoyed me to be told I am out to lunch on mining issues.

Having a clean environment means making sure we use our natural resources responsibly. It doesn’t mean we stop using all of them.

That’s why, outside of schedule 4 areas, mining applications can and should be considered case by case.

As I said when interviewed, there is legitimate public concern about deep sea drilling arising from the Gulf of Mexico catastrophe and the limitations of New Zealand’s response to the Rena shipwreck. We must ensure that world’s best practice is followed and that the safety devices needed in the event of mishap are available and can be deployed. Even then, it may be that the deepest of wells are too risky and ought not to proceed.

In terms of lignite, I reiterated that Labour believes its use as an energy source using current technology is a dirty greenhouse gas intensive practice. We are also unconvinced it is economic, especially if environmental consequences are included, and have said government money should be  spent on renewables instead.

Our position on developments in the EEZ is that RMA type principles should apply. We sit between the Greens (who would ban most development activities) and National, whose EEZ legislation, while initially supported by the Greens, is inadequate.

We can develop our resources responsibly and make responsible decisions for our future – and a sustainable economy requires it.

Keep Our Assets Bill Drawn

Posted by on July 27th, 2012

Yesterday my Labour colleagues and I had an outstanding result from the Members Ballot with four Labour bills drawn.

If successful my State-Owned Enterprises and Crown Entities (Protecting New Zealand’s Strategic Assets) Amendment Bill will see key state assets New Zealand Post, Kiwibank, Kiwirail and others protected for future generations.

It protects essential state assets such as New Zealand Post, Kiwibank and Kiwirail from attempts to sell them off for short term profits. Any government trying to sell these assets will need a 75 per cent majority in Parliament or win a referendum. That’s a fair policy.

We know Kiwis oppose selling our assets. This bill ensures strategic assets sales will need to pass a much higher hurdle, which is only fair.

The need for this bill is clear for all to see. The government is going hell for leather to sell off our essential assets despite massive opposition.

This is the acid test for the government. If National doesn’t support this bill it will be clear they are readying more assets like Kiwirail for sale. I call on all parties to support this bill and protect our assets.

I think New Zealanders will be very supportive of the fact that we are putting in place provisions that will stop sale of other assets.

People will sleep better knowing the Government had to either go to a referendum or get 75 per cent of Parliament before they can sell off Kiwibank.

This is just another way we can stop the sale of strategic asset sales and to keep them for generations to come. Kiwis all across the country are signing the Keep Our Assets petition in droves and to date the Keep Our Coalition has collected over 160,000 signatures, and is well on our way to forcing a referendum. Sign it today.

By the Numbers

Posted by on July 27th, 2012

61/60 – The vote that secured the passage of two Labour bills to select committee– including mine.

26 – Babies visited Parliament with their parents in support of 26 weeks paid parental leave.

7 – The age at which Margaret Mahy wrote her first book. May she rest in peace.

4 – Labour bills drawn from the members’ ballot – including mine.

1 – Fig leaf that John Banks is wearing.

Reconciliation, not retribution

Posted by on July 27th, 2012

David Shearer, Morgan Tsvangirai, Phil Goff

It was a privilege to meet with Morgan Tsvangirai this week, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change and Prime Minister of Zimbabwe.

Both David Shearer and I were impressed by him.  His commitment to and courage in promoting change in Zimbabwe to restore human rights, democracy and social and economic progress is remarkable. He has been arrested, tortured and severely beaten and survived assassination attempts.

Like Nelson Mandela, however, he is driven by a desire for reconciliation with, rather than retribution towards his oppressors.

In his Prime Ministership, notwithstanding the difficulties in his relationship and differences with President Mugabe and the Zanu-PF party, he has led Zimbabwe on a path to economic recovery and restoration of basic public services. He is currently negotiating the creation of a new and more democratic constitution, which will go to a referendum later this year.

Thereafter there will be elections which the international community, including New Zealand, must support and do what we can to ensure that unlike previous elections they are kept free of violence, intimidation and rigging.

Mr Tsvangirai faces huge challenges.  While he would clearly win a fair election, those who currently hold power will be reluctant to pass it over.  The current elite enjoy the support of the military, the police and the Zanu-PF controlled media. That is why the strong support of the South African Development Community and the international community through the UN is vital to allow a proper democratic process that is accepted by those who stand to lose their privileged position.

We wish success to Morgan Tsvangirai in his drive to set Zimbabwe on the path to a democratic and successful Zimbabwe, that can put the past behind it, and will support  international efforts to ensure a free and fair election.


Something amiss

Posted by on July 27th, 2012

2000 workers have applied for 200 jobs in a Christchurch supermarket, most of them being paid minimum wage, or a dollar or two above if the supermarket is unionised.  200 workers will get a job and that’s a good thing.

But no New Zealanders will get a shot at 110 “Facade Installers” jobs paying a minimum of $18.33 an hour because Immigration New Zealand has granted an “approval in principle” for a company to bring the workers from China, on the basis that there are no New Zealanders easily able to do or be trained to do the work.

From the documents I’ve seen, the company appears to have inflated the pre requisites for the job, saying they require 3 years proven minimum experience in “commercial facade installation”, their advertising has been limited (a few ads on Trademe and Seek) and they’ve made no commitment to training Kiwi workers.  Insiders in the industry tell me that these are jobs that labourers can do, workers are easily trained and the work is pretty basic construction work.  The company has successfully tendered for a range of construction projects without having or training the workforce to perform the work, and they have now turned to the government to rescue them.

I believe Immigration NZ has been shoddy in going along with this.  I asked the Minister of Immigration yesterday in the House whether he was satisfied with the labour market testing requirements and he said he was.

He shouldn’t be.  From time to time we will need migrants to work in New Zealand – especially in areas of skills shortages and in times of high employment.

But this situation doesn’t cut it. It’s not the first I’ve seen, and it won’t be the last unless the government makes a real commitment to Kiwi jobs and training.

And that means the Minister of Immigration paying more attention.

Filed under: Immigration, jobs

Te wiki o te reo Māori 2012 – Rāmere

Posted by on July 27th, 2012


Ombudsmen (Cost Recovery) Bill

Posted by on July 26th, 2012

One of the Bill’s that was drawn from the ballot today is unlikely to gain as much attention as others, but it could have quite a significant impact on the way government operates. The Ombudsmen (Cost Recovery) Amendment Bill, in the name of Shane Jones, allows the Ombudsmen to set guidelines for recovering the costs of their investigations from the agencies being investigated.

Sound pretty uninteresting? Consider this: the Ombudsmen are the people who investigate alleged breaches of the Official Information Act (among other important roles). If the government is trying to hide something, they are the ones who can force it into the open. They play a vital ‘safeguard’ role within our governing system. But currently they can’t keep up with demand.

During the 2011 financial review of the Office of the Ombudsmen, the Chief Ombudsman stated that the office was ‘in crisis’ due to its high caseload and inability to meet demand. Only a minor increase has been recommended as part of this year’s Budget. This extra funding will cover increases in salary costs but will do nothing to address the more than 300 cases that are presently unallocated and awaiting further consideration.

This Bill allows the Ombudsmen to set guidelines for recovering the costs of their investigations from the agencies being investigated. This will ensure that resourcing constraints do not deny access to due process, and will promote greater compliance with legislative requirements by government departments and agencies.

Providing the Ombudsmen with the ability to charge those departments or agencies who are the subject of Official Information Act 1982 investigations is likely to improve compliance with that legislation (which currently contains very weak compliance provisions).

So, not the sort of stuff that’s going to set the political world alight with excitement, but a very important debate to have all the same.

Te wiki o te reo Māori 2012 – Rāpare

Posted by on July 26th, 2012

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Why the Minimum Wage Needs to Rise

Posted by on July 26th, 2012

I’m stoked that my Mondayising Members Bill has successfully proceeded to select committee.  Members Bills provide the opportunity to pass legislation against the Government.  A sensible idea and sufficient luck mean positive change becomes possible from the opposition benches.

It looks like the heavens are smiling on me.  I have just now heard that I’ve had a second bill drawn.  This time I aim to raise the minimum wage to $15/hour.

I’m convinced that the minimum wage needs to go up sooner rather than later.  There is too much inequality in NZ. The poverty inequality drives is destroying lives and wasting the opportunity to get the best out of our people.  I’ve previously explained how this has come to pass and why it is hurting us.

Critics argue that too high a minimum wage risks growing unemployment.  At some point this is undoubtedly true.  If the minimum wage went up to $30/hour, a bunch of businesses would go under.  That wouldn’t be good.  On the other hand, if the minimum wage is too low, the Government ends up dishing out subsidies to families to keep them out of poverty (or worse, it chooses not to give out subsidies to keep them out of poverty). 

A direct link between minimum wage and employment has never been successfully drawn.  Expect a Nobel Prize for any economist who manages it.  What we do know is that a lot of the rhetoric does not match reality.  National raised the minimum wage just 70 cents in their last 9 years in Government and unemployment soared.  Labour raised it $5 in their last 9 years and towards the end of their time enjoyed the lowest unemployment in the Western World.

A $15/hour minimum wage seems to have consensus in New Zealand as a figure that will not cause unemployment, but comes closer to a living wage. 

Interestingly, a lot of small and medium businesses routinely pay this wage because they know their workers, believe in them and understand how close to the poverty line they live.  It tends to be a few rogue larger firms that screw their workers down to the lowest common denominator. 

The costs of treating poverty related illnesses low-paid workers and their families bear are carried by all of us through the health system too.  So we effectively as taxpayers end up subsidising rogue employers and their bad practices.  This is bad for NZ socially and economically and it needs to stop.

I argue for increases in the minimum wage over time on the basis that it stops bad employers from exploiting low wages as a means of generating wealth.  Instead they have to explore ways of working smarter and increasing productivity. Most employers get this.

But fresh thinking from those who subscribe to a mean understanding of human nature suggest that even they should support minimum wage increases.  Of particular interest to me this week is a recent article written from a very conservative economic perspective that shows why even Act Party acolytes ought to get in behind this change.

Banks escapes prosecution

Posted by on July 26th, 2012

The police have just announced that John Banks has escaped prosecution. They’ve sent me a letter regarding it, which you might be interested in. Here is a copy of the letter I have just received from Auckland Police you can download a copy here.

Today’s members’ bill ballot

Posted by on July 26th, 2012

Today at midday there will be a ballot for members’ bills, with five places available on the Order Paper.

You can see the full list of bills in today’s ballot after the break. I’ll post the results just after midday.

Update: the following bills were drawn:

59. State-Owned Enterprises and Crown Entities (Protecting New Zealand’s Strategic Assets) Amendment Bill – Hon Clayton Cosgrove

55. Resource Management (Restricted Duration of Certain Discharge and Coastal Permits) Amendment Bill – Catherine Delahunty

37. Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill – Louisa Wall

47. Ombudsmen (Cost Recovery) Amendment Bill – Hon Shane Jones

40. Minimum Wage Amendment Bill – Dr David Clark


The Best Place In the World to Raise Children?

Posted by on July 25th, 2012

Last week the United Nations chastised Minister of Women’s Affairs Jo Goodhew and the NZ Government for our low level of paid parental leave.
Tonight the Government gets a chance to rectify it, by supporting my Bill to extend paid parental leave to 26 weeks.
Instead, they plan to veto it for trumped up financial reasons.
Follow the debate from 8pm tonight.

The right to know

Posted by on July 25th, 2012

The Law Commission has just released an important and awaited report; The Public’s Right to Know: Review of the Official Information Legislation. I don’t think it’s online yet but keep trying

I haven’t read it yet, but I see that a main recommendation is more proactive release of information so that people don’t have to ask. This is an important advance.

The Commission is recommending a new statutory duty on public agencies to take reasonably practicable steps to proactively make official information publicly available. Professor Burrows stresses that the objective has been to avoid placing an unrealistic burden on agencies to immediately release large amounts of information.

The Commission recommends the Acts could be improved in a number of targeted areas such as:

 • revamping the Ombudsmen’s guidance about release and withholding, using decided cases as examples to provide more clarity

• redrafting unclear and confusing withholding grounds – in particular the so-called “good government” grounds

• new withholding grounds to better protect commercially sensitive information, and information provided in the course of a statutory investigation or inquiry

• giving advance notice to people and organisations whose private, confidential or commercial information is liable to be released

• adjusting the grounds for refusing requests which impose too great a workload on agencies • encouraging proactive release of public information

• new statutory oversight functions to support the legislative framework

• increasing the reach of the legislation by including additional bodies within its scope, either fully or partially, such as specified information about the courts and certain parliamentary bodies

Te wiki o te reo Māori 2012 – Rāapa

Posted by on July 25th, 2012

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How serious is the digital divide?

Posted by on July 25th, 2012

Have been sitting in the Education  Select Ctte for the last month or so, hearing submissions  on an inquiry into 21st century learning environment and digital literacy.

Am increasingly concerned at the consistent message to us that there is:

1. A digital divide in NZ where some schools have much better connectivity, access to technology and children are taught in an environment which incorporates the digital world, compared with schools that don’t have much of either.

2. This divide is growing, not lessening as broadband rolls out slowly to schools, prioritising higher decile areas. That the digital learning environment is not consistently supported across schools.

There have been some great examples of schools that are early adopters, have talented and committed staff which are driving change in how technology is used and the way teachers teach. But it’s not consistent.

It’s becoming clear that the learning environment and the digital environment are intertwined. Our kids need digital skills for their futures. There are however some significant barriers to this occuring.

Quantifying NZ’s digital divide is critical.

Mondayising Public Holidays

Posted by on July 24th, 2012

The first-reading vote on my ‘Mondayising’ Members Bill is set down for tomorrow. 

I’m chuffed with the level of public support for the Bill. I guess everyone knows Kiwi workers put in some long hours and look forward to 11 public holidays with the family every year.

A reflection of the widespread backing for my bill is evident in today’s Stuff poll which had public support running all afternoon at 81%. 

The Bill is popular because it recognises the growing importance of Waitangi Day and ANZAC Day to our history and sense of identity as New Zealanders.  The time is right to give these days the full recognition that other public holidays have.

Let’s also be clear that the Bill is popular because it makes sure people get the holidays they deserve. 

Folk were rightly miffed when they missed out on two public holidays last year only because the days of commemoration fell on a weekend.

A couple of people have put to me the proposition that having a holiday on the Monday that follows somehow diminishes the importance of the day itself.  What nonsense.  It doesn’t seem to have reduced the significance of ANZAC day in the Australian territories that have Mondayised it.  On the contrary, reports suggest increased turnout for 25 April ANZAC commemorations.

The example of Christmas illustrates the point.  When Christmas last fell on a weekend, did you hear anyone complaining that Christmas Day was somehow less significant because we received an extra holiday the day after Boxing Day?  I thought not.

I’ve had the pledges of support necessary for the Bill to progress.  My thanks to Labour Colleagues, the Greens, NZ First, The Maori Party, United Future and Mana for their assistance in progressing this legislation.

John Key looks like a man alone opposing the full recognition of these days.

The cost of Mondayising is negligible.  John Key is the Minister of Tourism and now even the industry he’s supposed to be representing have come out against him

Waitangi and ANZAC Day warrant a day off every year, not just 5 out of 7.  We only miss out on our full allocation of public holidays twice every seven years – when these days fall on a weekend.

Key needs to explain to ordinary working New Zealanders why they don’t deserve these two days off with friends and family.

Te wiki o te reo Māori 2012 – Rātū

Posted by on July 24th, 2012

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Planet Reality

Posted by on July 23rd, 2012

When the National Party talks about Planet Labour, they think they are being very funny. Actually, I believe they’re the ones living on another planet, and it’s certainly not Planet Reality.

I just met a couple of great women who know Planet Reality. They are caregivers in an aged care facility, which includes a dementia unit, some with years of service. Most of them are on minimum wage.

They and their fellow workers were on strike three days last week to get a collective agreement. They haven’t had one since the Home was sold by the Baptists to a private owner in 1997.

They want a pay scale that recognises their experience, skill and service, that isn’t dependent on minimum wage movements or the will of the boss. They want a way to ensure that taxpayer funded increases are passed onto the workers when they are intended to be.

They’ve been bargaining with their employer since last October. They’ve been in mediated bargaining since February. They’ve done everything they can under the law to get their employer to agree to a new agreement and they will do more – at least while they still can.

The government’s going to change the law so employers don’t have to keep bargaining. When they’ve had enough, they can say, that’s it, had enough, bargaining over. Bad luck. Back onto your individual contracts where you belong.

Minister Wilkinson tries to soft soap this by saying this change will return the law to how it was under Labour until 2004. But the law was changed because some employers were “surface bargaining” – going through the motions until they could pull the plug by saying bargaining was concluded.

I know this doesn’t mean much to a lot of people. It certainly means nothing to those who don’t understand the realities of low wage workers and how hard it is to get a collective agreement settled when your employer doesn’t want a union on the job, because it’s a whole lot easier to have all the power.

I just hope these women get a deal before Wilkinson manages to get the law changes before parliament.

End of Life Choice bill in ballot

Posted by on July 23rd, 2012

I have, after 6 months’ work, finished my End of Life Choice Bill. You can find it here. I think the social conversation has moved on from the last time such a bill was debated in 2003 and lost 60-58. The two missing votes at that time were one abstention and one voted not lodged. So that was close. I hope I have enough specificity and enough safeguards in place for people to support it this time. I am sure it can be improved. I am equally sure that is time that we approached this issue with compassion and gave people the right to be as self-determining at their point of death as they have been in life. It would only apply to people who were of sound mind and suffered from a terminal illness, or an irreversible condition which made their life unbearable, in their own view. It also provides for people to register End of Life Directives in the event that these situations occur and they are unable to communicate their wishes to receive life-ending medication.  Other features include: the need for two medical practitioners to attest that the person is of sound mind, has the condition they say they have and have not been coerced into their decision; the need for counselling and a period of reflection; and a Review Body to examine the law after a period of time to ensure it is not being abused and is operating correctly. It will go into the ballot this week. Let me know your thoughts.

Te wiki o te reo Māori 2012 – Rāhina

Posted by on July 23rd, 2012

Whakanuia tahi te wiki o te reo Maaori me te roopu Reipa!

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