Red Alert

Archive for December, 2012

Yes Sir-ee Bob

Posted by on December 31st, 2012

Mayor Bob of the West picked up a gong today. It is great to see Bob Harvey honoured. He has made a huge contribution to West Auckland, elected six times in a row as Mayor of Waitakere City.

Bob is a man of many parts. As a young ad man he brought modern advertising to Labour’s election campaigns in the 1970s, and played a key role in the re-making of two Labour Prime Ministers: Norman Kirk and David Lange. He served as Labour Party President 1999-2000 and is a life member of the party. He has been a lifelong surf lifesaver and high profile advocate for the sport. He swam the Dardanelles and the Manukau Bar. He has been an active member of the international nuclear disarmament movement Mayors for Peace. He now chairs the board of Waterfront Auckland.

You never quite know with Bob what creative and/or outrageous idea he is going to come up with next. His transformation from ad man to mayor was seamless. His life has been a series of brainwaves and it is a tribute to him that quite a few of them have been turned into reality.

Waitakere, the eco-city, was one such idea. Bob and the councillors he drew around him, took a sprawling collection of neglected dormitory suburbs in Auckland’s West and over twenty years made this community proud. They invested aggressively in infrastructure and community facilities. They worked to bring jobs and urban renewal to the West. They worked with Labour in Government to protect the Waitakere Ranges from suburban sprawl. The Council worked alongside community organisations on pioneering environmental and social projects like Project Twin Streams.

But perhaps Bob’s greatest achievement was to craft a sense of identity out of the place and the people. He and the people around him made it something special to be a Westie. He did what great politicians do – he lifted people’s horizons, appealed to their better instincts, and communicated a vision of how their community could be better.

Listening to Bob speak at community events is a treat. He acknowledges the land and the place, he reaches back into history, there is a big idea or two, and he always appeals to our humanity.

On behalf of Labour, congratulations Bob on an honour well deserved.

And so it’s Christmas.

Posted by on December 25th, 2012

‘So this is Christmas
And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun
And so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun

The near and the dear one
The old and the young

A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Lets hope it’s a good one
Without any fear

And so this is Christmas
For weak and for strong
For rich and the poor ones
The world is so wrong

And so happy Christmas
For black and for white
For yellow and red ones
Lets stop all the fight

A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Lets hope it’s good one
Without any fear.’…

Apology to the late John Lennon but those words have come back to me this Christmas.

‘The war is over’ is his final line. I wish that were true. In a world torn with violence, millions of people are still in harms way. Then there is here at home. For many New Zealanders this Christmas will be yet another battle of survival.

‘And so it is Christmas
And what have you done?

What we have done is to set a new policy direction
for New Zealand, a different path to the one of the past 30 years. Too much has failed for too many people .

In a country with child poverty growing, unaffordable housing, huge social division, few jobs and fading hope for young people, a political party can either grab hold of the problems and address them or pretend they don’t exist, talk  in slogans and blame others for the plight.

We choose to do something about it.

‘A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Lets hope it’s good one
Without any fear’

It’s Christmas Eve

Posted by on December 24th, 2012

And, as is becoming traditional here is the one true Christmas anthem, to wish everyone a peaceful and restful festive season. Its been a big year in political terms, and I am pretty sure I am not the only one looking forward to a break. Its also a time to think of those for whom 2012 has not been much fun- those without work and/or struggling to make ends meet. Those in war zones around the world and those for whom this season will provide no reason to celebrate. Take some time out to count your blessings and re-commit to making the world a fairer and better place.

In terms of Red Alert, watch out in the new year for a re-launch with a different approach and way of doing things. Exciting times ahead.

Health By Numbers

Posted by on December 19th, 2012

Both Vernon Small and Corin Dann anointed Tony Ryall their politician of the year. Both cited the same reason: When was the last time you heard of a health scandal?

I agree that Tony Ryall is the best politician on National’s front bench. But that doesn’t make him a good Health Minister. By forcing hospitals to focus on delivering short term statistics he can crow about in Parliament and micro-managing any emerging issue that will resonate with National’s base he has managed the politics of the health portfolio sublimely.

But by sucking resources out of public and primary health and refusing to do anything to prevent the looming obesity crisis or the fact that poverty is a primary driver of ill health, Tony Ryall is setting future health ministers up for massive problems. They will have to grapple with a health system that simply will not be able to cope with the demand that will be placed upon it. Very difficult choices will have to be made about how much we spend on health, how the revenue is raised and what the public health system can deliver. If we leave that all too late, drastic steps will need to be taken and the public health system as we know it will cease to exist.

Just like superannuation, National has their head in the sand on health. They are more worried about getting the numbers right for today’s political purposes rather than doing what is right for the future.

Tony Ryall has build a magnificent house of cards. It looks splendid right now, but the signs it could collapse at any time are there:

Maryan Street has already called Ryall out on his dodgy elective surgery numbers. Simple procedures get priority over more complex surgeries regardless of the outcome they achieve for the sole purpose of getting the numbers up.

At the Health Select Committee fincncial review of the Ministry of Health I pointed out that despite both Labour and National getting elective surgery waiting times down to now being on par with the USA and National diverting resources into getting more and more surgeries done, New Zealand ranks amongst the worst developed countries for post-operative complications such as infections and surgical items being left in the patient. So it’s all about quantity, not quality. Of course, those post-op complications are costly and soak up resources that could be used on better things.

Today there is an emerging story that the national screening programme which identifies hearing irregularities in newborns has been botched resulting in up to two-thousand babies being recalled to hospital to have their hearing re-checked. Why? Because some of the screeners only tested one ear and, bizarrely, some tested themselves rather than the baby. As Associate Health Minister Jo Goodhew had to concede on Radio NZ this morning the only logical explanation for this was to save time, get more tests done and produce the numbers the Government is looking for.

Good on the Government for dumping this story after Parliament has risen so this little health scandal can be squashed before the next question time and good on Ryall for sending Goodhew to face the music. Perhaps it was to make up for his sexist graphic about doctors and nurses (which again contained dodgy numbers).

Tony Ryall the best politician of 2012? Yes. But he’s a crap Health Minister and we will all be paying for it in the future.

Two minutes silence for Hillside

Posted by on December 18th, 2012

On Friday at 11am, please stop whatever you are doing for TWO  MINUTES to mark the passing of 130 years of engineering work at Hillside Workshops in Dunedin.

Filed under: economy, jobs

Adjournment Debate- Grant Robertson

Posted by on December 13th, 2012

The fourth and final speaker for Labour in the adjournment debate was, well, me. Its a pity I can’t sing, but I did my best to end the year with a bit of levity through National’s 12 Days of Christmas aka the National’s 12 Fiascos. I hope you enjoy!

Adjournment Debate- Jacinda Ardern

Posted by on December 13th, 2012

Third speaker for Labour in the adjournment debate was Jacinda Ardern. This was an excellent speech, challenging the government’s abysmal social record that sees inequality at its worst ever levels and hundreds of thousands of children in poverty. Jacinda laid down some specific policy challenges for National to get in behind Labour’s policies.

Adjournment Debate- David Parker

Posted by on December 13th, 2012

Second up for Labour in the Adjournment Debate was David Parker. He went through National’s shameful economic performance (to quote David Clark, ” the worst economic record in 50 years!) and outlined some of Labour’s alternative policies. David has had a really good year shifting the debate on monetary policy and pushing the need for a more active government role to stimulate our economy.

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Adjournment Debate- David Shearer

Posted by on December 13th, 2012

The final Parliamentary debate of the year is an opportunity to sum up the political year and enjoy a few laughs. Labour had four speakers yesterday, and I will post them up in order today. First up was David Shearer who delivered a funny but also very pointed summing up of National’s Year to Forget. The consensus at the Press Gallery Party last night was that his was the best speech on the day.

RMA Reforms: The Chainsaw Massacre Part II

Posted by on December 9th, 2012

A curious thing happened last week. The government introduced to Parliament the first of two pieces of legislation to “reform” the Resource Management Act. That isn’t itself curious, what is, is that the Minister responsible, Amy Adams has not even put out a media release about the Bill.

Hard to fathom why, but if it is because she is ashamed, then she has every right to be. While there is innocuous and even possibly useful changes in the Bill, it gives a number of signals of the government’s on-going desire to centralise power away from communities, reduce public input and tip the scales away from sustainable development. You can read more about Labour’s concerns here. and here.

Nothing exemplifies National’s approach better than the proposal to change the rules around what Councils can do to protect trees. This might not sound like a huge issue, but it has a lot of history, and National is buying a fight that is as wrong as it is silly.

Essentially what the Bill proposes is that a tree protection rule in a council plan can only apply to a particular tree that is specifically identified in the plan, or a grove of trees that are located on the same or adjacent allotments. The effect of this is that Councils will not be able to protect species or types of trees. The inverse of course is that if a specific tree is not protected then it could be felled. Whatever a bureaucratic nightmare will ensue.

The history here is that the government tried to make similar changes in their 2009 RMA reforms. The good people of Waitakere took a case to the Environment Court that created a definition of “groups of trees” that saw blanket protection possible for bush clad areas. Greg Presland has a good description of the situation and a link to the Environment Court judgement, here.

The law change proposed this last week is directly aimed at overturning the Court decision. But more than that it is a further attempt (alongside the Local Government Act and other aspects of this Bill) to take away from communities the right to make decisions about how they wish their communities to look and feel. And for no good reason at all.

I am sure this will re-ignite the debate about the protection of trees, especially in West Auckland. From Labour’s point of view we will strongly oppose this provision. Trees are a vital part of our environment, in rural and urban settings. Moreover we have to call time on a government that is systematically reducing the power of communities to decide their own future.

Sunday Sport: Omnishambles

Posted by on December 9th, 2012

Long time readers of Red Alert, and indeed Public Address, will know that cricket, and particularly the New Zealand cricket team mean a lot to me. Along with other NZ Cricket supporters I have had a lifetime of hope and dashed hope, dealing with heroic failure and abject failure, and celebrating the odd (actually there were lots in the 80s) moment of success. But always there for the lads.

So, for non cricketing folk you might wonder about the outpouring of emotion from cricket fans over the three part tragedy played out by New Zealand Cricket this week in partly sacking Ross Taylor, then fully sacking him and then appointing Brendon McCullum as Captain. Well, let’s just say there are many years of emotion attached to it. Actually I think New Zealand Cricket fans are the closest we get to the deep emotion of English football fans. The true fans, the ones who stick it out through wins and losses, feel this omnishambles deeply.

What happened? Well, here is my take. From my standpoint, Ross Taylor probably shouldn’t have been appointed captain in the first place. He was picked to be a “lead from the front” “do as I do, not as I say” kind of captain. In the wake of an unsettled period (Andy Moles, awkward Fleming/Vettori transition, John Wright debacle), and with questions hanging over the ability of a number of the team to cut it at international level, that might not have been wise.

But he was given the job. So, what was done to help him? Was Taylor given the support/training etc that he clearly needed if he was going to turn into a good test captain? Was he willing to accept that kind of support? It will be hard to know what has happened, but just as in politics the spin is now coming from both sides of the argument.

For my ten cents worth, Brendon McCullum is the obvious captain for the shorter forms of the game. Not because he is a fellow Kings High School old boy or because he is the world’s best 20/20 batsman, but because the games require more of the instinctive, gambler personality type that McCullum exhibits. For the test team I am not so sure. I think he could grow into that role, but I would have been happy to see Taylor do it for a while and see whether he could develop a bit more.

Other countries have different skippers for different formats. The difference there is the test captain is often not involved in the shorter form of the game so there is no sense of “confusion” with them on the team. Honestly, though, that must be able to be managed, if you have the will and wit to do so.

Speaking of a lack of wit, that brings us to NZ Cricket. The way NZ Cricket has handled this situation, and others over recent years shows an administration that is deeply flawed, and is bringing the game they are charged with looking after into disrepute. Everyone involved has been treated badly, and some will struggle to make the positive impact on the game that they should.

Ross Taylor is talking about being back for the England series. I hope he will be. But I will bet now that his international career will be shortened as a result of this farce, and that is something we will all end up regretting.

For Brendon McCullum he enters a hugely difficult period as captain. South Africa without your best batsman and with your team feeling demoralised. And then he will return to New Zealand and Taylor will be treated like a folk hero during the English series. The only thing that will give McCullum a break will be some good results. Here’s hoping, and in the meantime, I know I will be supporting the lads, as I always have. They need us now more than ever.

Filed under: sport

Duckworth-Lewis Food Labelling

Posted by on December 9th, 2012

Buried inside a media release about innovative health food claims from Kate Wilkinson’s office late on Friday was the news that National has, predictably, let industry interests trump public health on the issue of front-of-pack food labelling.

With obesity and diabetes being the most pressing health challenges New Zealand (like other developed nations) is facing, helping people take better control of their own nutrition is absolutely vital.

Choice is important and there is no point in sanctimoniously dictating to people what they should and should not eat, but we can provide simple information and signals to help people make informed decisions.

The right thing to do is establish a universal and simple-to-read ‘traffic light’ type system that people can easily interpret whilst doing their shopping.

What was announced was not a new system but a report prepared by an advisory group  consisting of both industry and health representatives. (Oddly the Health Promotion Agency and its predecessor the Health Sponsorship Council are not represented. Perhaps Kate Wilkinson thought Katherine Rich could wear both her conflicting hats at the same time while she represented the  Food and Grocery Council).

Kate Wilkinson says the report identifies a set of principles that will provide a useful guide to food businesses that want to adopt front of pack labelling.

So it’s voluntary which means the manufacturers of those foods that people need to eat sparingly will avoid it like the plague.

It’s also complicated with foods to be compared within categories, not with all other foods and using a points system rather than the simple traffic light system. In a win for the PC brigade, negative labels will not be used, only varying degrees of positive labels.

Incredibly, it suggests that the really bad foods, the ones with no positive nutritional value should have no label at all.

By the the time I finished reading it I was surprised the group hadn’t recommended shoppers use the Duckworth-Lewis method to determine what foods they should buy.

Predictable but nevertheless disappointing.  Once again National shows it has no concept of public health and is happy to keep pouring money into the treatments it chooses and putting more strain on the health system in the future.

I think that the best system is this one developed by Sanitarium. It combines individual nutrient ratings with an overall rating while still retaining the simple traffic light approach. This is what we should be pursuing.

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By the Numbers

Posted by on December 7th, 2012

169,000,000 – Dollars higher than forecast: National’s deficit keeps growing…

450,000 – Dollars – the cost to taxpayers of two reports into the MSD privacy breach.

50,000th – Kiwi left for Oz yesterday

7000 – Teachers have signed a petition rejecting the Government’s education reform agenda in Canterbury.

1 – Good case of ‘Claustrophilia’. 520 Wellingtonians donned Santa suits last night in a charity run for KidsCan – Merry Christmas!

Census 2013: Tuesday 5 March – collectors needed

Posted by on December 7th, 2012

 Statistic New Zealand has today announced they are looking for 7000 Census collectors for the 2013 Census.

What makes the 2013 Census even more important is the fact that the last one – planned for March, 2011 – did not go ahead due to the Christchurch earthquake in February of that year.

As a democratic society, the census is how we find out about who makes up our communities.  Comparing census information over time shows planners how the country is changing and allows them to forecast how it will change in the future. And this allows the Government to accurately target spending in areas such as health, education and infrastructure.

So the countdown has begun for the next census, to be held on Tuesday, 5 March 2013. This will involve the delivery and collection of census forms for an estimated 4.6 million people and 1.8 million dwellings. Everyone in New Zealand on census day must fill in a form.

A large team of census collectors will be needed. You will get two, half-day training sessions and up to six weeks of work, with flexible hours. You will need a car and mobile phone.   

More information about the jobs, including a job description and district maps, is available on the census jobs, site.

Tackling the multi-nats

Posted by on December 7th, 2012

I’ve drawn attention to the way in which multinationals are avoiding paying tax in New Zealand.  After some prevarication, Peter Dunne ordered up a report from officials on the way similar issues are being tackled abroad.  Good.

The topic is running hot in the UK.  The Guardian’s editorial on Monday was a call to action.  The Australian Assistant Treasurer, David Bradbury, last month announced a range of measures to address tax avoidance.  Bradbury’s speech is well worth a read.  It explains the issue in plain English and how Australia is tackling it.

Quantifying the size of avoidance in New Zealand needs to be a priority for the Revenue Minister.  Australia have pulled an expert group together to advise their Treasury on the scope and extent of the problem in their country.  New Zealand needs to do the same.  Quickly.

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Filed under: Tax

Today’s members’ bill ballot

Posted by on December 6th, 2012

New Zealand First had the luck of the draw, with two of their bills being drawn in today’s ballot for the two available spaces on the Order Paper. Their bills were:

  • Sentencing (Protection of Children from Criminal Offending) Amendment Bill – Le’aufa’amulia Asenati Lole-Taylor
  • Social Security (Clothing Allowances for Orphans and Unsupported Children) Amendment Bill – Tracey Martin

You can see the full list of bills after the break. (more…)

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Dunne struggling to keep up?

Posted by on December 5th, 2012

In February this year, the Prime Minister said tax policy was being held back because the computer systems “can’t actually support radical changes from Government.”   The Prime Minister’s comments over nine months ago indicated the urgent need to outline a credible plan and timeline for the necessary system upgrade. 

Since then, there is no progress to report.  Consultants CapGemini are rumoured to have been paid tens of millions for scoping reports.  Bill English was reported as saying $700 million from asset sales proceeds will be spent ‘rebuilding the country’s tax system’ but has dodged direct questions on the topic since.  Dunne says decisions haven’t been taken yet.

Voluntary compliance for income tax payments is declining. At last count 1 million tax returns hadn’t been processed and $7 Billion in tax was outstanding. Unbelievably, Dunne says 32 separate privacy breaches in a year isn’t evidence of a systematic failure and he is refusing to answer specific questions on the matter.  Call centre staff turnover is high. Morale is low. 

The computer problem desperately needs addressing as I explained in a recent article in the Otago Daily Times.  And it requires a transparent process.  Nothing to report after nine months begs some questions about competence.

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Keep Our Talent

Posted by on December 3rd, 2012

It’s no exaggeration to say that almost every day I get a letter or email from a postgraduate student who is facing the prospect of not being able to finish their study next year because of the National government’s abolition of student allowances for postgraduate study. I have been working with a number to try to find a way for them to keep studying. Many of the letters are copies from people imploring Steven Joyce to change his mind. There seems to be no chance of that. A number are from students who thought they would be allowances next year as they are part way through their programmes. With a few exceptions (those with dependents who have same course code as this year) this is not happening. Steven Joyce’s confused communications about the issue have not helped.

A group of students affected by the cuts have undertaken a nationwide survey of those getting allowances to see the impact. Good on them for this initative. Amanda and the Keep Our Talent team have come up with some important and disturbing conclusions. 40% of those who responded said they were re-considering post-graduate study becuase of the cuts to allowances. 20% were looking at going overseas. As one respondent put it

I will not be able to do my PhD in New Zealand meaning I am less likely to do research on a topic that is relevant to New Zealand. I am sure others will be in a similar situation and this will severely disadvantage New Zealand’s knowledge and expertise.

The situation is particularly dire in long programmes like clinical psychology (which I will write about in another post). This really is one of the most heartless and short-sighted tertiary policies I have seen in 20 years working in this sector.

And worse of all. Steven Joyce won’t even meet the Keep Our Talent group to discuss their survey. Gutless.

About Part 6A again

Posted by on December 2nd, 2012

Part 6A in the Employment Relations Act means little to most people, but it means a lot for thousands of cleaners, catering workers, orderlies and laundry workers, whose jobs are prone to repetitive contracting out.

After a two year review, the government’s announcement last month that Part 6A of the Employment Relations Act would be limited to workplaces with more than 20 workers sent me looking for why this decision had been made.

The OIA documents I obtained showed that the Government ignored warnings about excluding SMEs from the Department of Labour and Sapere Consultancy, who was contracted by the government earlier this year to determine a “cost benefit analysis.”  The idea of excluding SMEs was not covered in earlier papers going right back to 2010, but this year a May 18 Aide Memoire from the Minister asked the department :

Would it be possible to exempt small businesses from Part 6A of the Employment Relations Act 2000?

Both Sapere Research and the Department of Labour criticised the idea of excluding SME’s from Part 6A.  Sapere considered this as a possible amendment to Part 6A of the Act but commented that:

“..From what we heard from interviews and found with our subsequent analysis, it seems likely that restricting the special protections to only large employers would be counter-productive and lead to even more perverse outcomes than the current arrangements. This is because it would result in transfer situations where one party had to be compliant and the other did not, leading in all likelihood to a breakdown in the exercising of the provisions at all.

The Department of Labour also concluded it would be ‘‘counter-productive and lead to even more perverse outcomes than the current arrangements’’.

This option was flagged a couple of times in later reports but did not make it into the last of three Cabinet Policy Papers which were presented in or around early September. Then in late September DOL (now MoBIE) was asked to again look into the option of excluding SME’s.  They stated that this would reduce compliance costs for SME’s but would add a layer of complexity to Part 6A. They noted that large employers would be undercut by smaller ones in bidding for contracts.

A later paper by MoBIE outlines the plan to prevent large companies from creating smaller entities, by establishing a “test of independence” which they warned would “add another layer of complexity and uncertainty to this process”.

So, there will be a new provision in the Employment Relations Act which removes the rights of more than 6000 workers, adds more complexity and cost to business and will doubtless end up in expensive litigation.

There’s been a campaign from Crest Clean over the year, aided and abetted by others, including Rodney Hide who wrote two articles for the NBR slamming Part 6A. And you don’t have to look far in CrestClean to find a National Party stalwart.

There are interests here that have persuaded the government to go beyond sensible and workable change. That’s not unusual for this lot, but I know who will pay the price for it.


D-Day for diabetics

Posted by on December 1st, 2012

Today the government, through Pharmac, ceases to subsidise the Roche Accu-Check blood glucose meters used by 80% of NZ’s 200,000 diabetics. About 20% of diabetics use the Abbott meters and 0.5% use the Care-Sens meters. But Pharmac has chosen to give the contract for subsidised meters to the people who import the Care-Sens model, Pharmaco. All of them. One supplier. Dangerous and unnecessary. But apparently it will save $10 million!

Pharmaco is running training sessions for pharmacists, doctors and other health professionals on how to use these meters so they can teach their patients and customers how to use the new meters. They are calling them “Meet your Meter”. I am so tempted to call them “Meet your Maker” seminars but that would be too inflammatory.

Diabetics depend on these meters. They are used to identify blood glucose levels so that Type 1 diabetics know how much insulin they need to inject right now and Type 2 diabetics know how many jelly beans to consume right now. Pharmaco tendered for the contract on the basis of a meter which was inferior to the one used by most diabetics, but after an outcry from the diabetics themselves, they upgraded the meter to a comparable one.

Changing over medical devices is a risky business. Changing to a sole supplier is crazy.  They will have no competition to upgrade their product over time or provide good after sales service. Their predecessors did both of those things. Pharmaco is now working in a hostile environment. They had better be careful to get this right. Lives depend on it.