Red Alert

Archive for the ‘asian’ Category

Goodbye Chief

Posted by on May 4th, 2013

As a humble Kiwi Chinese, I initially felt I was not senior enough to write this kind of article to remember the Hon Parekura Horomia, our matua. But I am privileged enough to remember him as a mentor and a friend who had played a brief but important role in my entering into politics and becoming a member of the Labour whanau.

One evening in the early 2008, I was invited to Parliament’s celebration of Chinese New Year. My job was to translate for Prime Minister Helen Clark. The Labour-led Government initiated the celebration in Parliament and this has so far become an annual event. My other mission was to get my nomination form completed.

The form was almost filled out one year earlier in 2007 where I was nominated as a list candidate for the 2008 general election. Being Labour’s first Chinese-born candidate (who’s from the mainland China), this was far more than a normal nomination form. I had the minister for ethnic affairs as my “proposer” and the Prime Minister and four other senior ministers as “seconder”: For any first-time nominee, those big names meant a lot!

Could not remember whose idea it was but my supporters and I felt so strongly that we wanted to get this form completed in the presence of our matua. We are deeply grateful for the opportunity to settle and live in New Zealand and we are deeply grateful to the Tangata whenua.

So immediately after the celebration I rushed to the Executive Wing. I rushed through the endless doors in Beehive trying to get hold of Parekura, the Minister for Maori Affairs. I nearly gave up because I must leave then to catch the last flight back to Auckland. All of sudden and out of nowhere, here came the giant Parekura! He barely knew me at that time but I must have presented myself well in the short space of one of two minutes. He laughed and spoke in his iconic humorous tone: “Ohkey boy, I’ll sign it for you”.

I subsequently sought permission from the General Secretary Mike Smith to keep the original form and submitted instead a certified copy. I cherished the nomination form then and will cherish it more now.

For a humble Chinese person who made New Zealand home, to have someone like Parekura witness my nomination form was more than being symbolic. We are deeply grateful to the Tangata whenua and Parekura was and will forever be our matua.

Since I’ve become an MP, we bumped into each other in the long corridors in Parliament from time to time. Each time he greeted me with a friendly “chief”. He even regarded me as one of his “browny bros” and supported me.

He’s our true chief. His wisdom, passion and humour are a guiding light for me and for us. 


Filed under: asian, ethnic, Labour Party
Comments Off on Goodbye Chief

Hands-off Government let export education drift

Posted by on March 19th, 2013

Lincoln Tan of the New Zealand Herald reports

A Ministry of Education report to be released this week is expected to show a 6 per cent drop in overall fee-paying student enrolment. The annual Migration Trends and Outlook, released last Friday, reported a 7 per cent drop in international student approvals to 68,980 – the lowest since 2008.

Of course it does not look good because the Government has been hands-off. It just let the sector grow when time is right or deteriorate when it is not, like the situations we are in now. No coordinated marketing, no leadership, no policy to give quality providers a boost and bad apples a boo.

The Labour list MP has a private member’s bill in the ballot that is seeking to tighten rules about small private schools having international or national titles in their business names.

The Bill has already generated some attention. For those who have not seen much of the Bill, here is the Q&A, which is self-explanatory.

 Education (Naming of Private Training Establishments) Amendment Bill Q & A

 1. Q: What is the purpose of this Bill?

 A: This Bill will stop misleading naming of PTEs and provide a boost to the image of the Export Education industry by ensuring that private training establishments (PTEs) are profiled correctly and accurately. The Bill will be one of the measures that are designed to promote NZ education providers collectively in the international market.

Currently there is minimal (and patched-up) regulation for the naming rights of PTEs which is causing great harm to our Export Education market in Asia and around the world. Many countries (particularly in Asia) have strict guidelines which reserve international, national or regional titles to reputable education providers whose names match their international, national or regional status. Therefore PTEs which boast regional or national titles in their names are attractive to Asian students and their families. However, a number of PTEs (although it is a relatively small number) in NZ have abused their naming rights and have created a credibility issue for the NZ Export Education system with the term ‘ghetto education’ being used in China and other countries to describe the state of the educational facilities in NZ, which is detrimental and unfair to the majority of the education providers in NZ.

This Bill will ensure that PTEs are profiled accurately and correctly and that New Zealand remains a top quality international education provider.

2. Q: Who is likely to benefit from this Bill?

A: The majority of New Zealand’s PTEs. This Bill is designed to protect them.

3. Q: Who is likely to be offended by this Bill?

A: A very small number of poor providers in the export education sector who are providing poor outcomes for students, flaunting the rules and damaging NZ’s overall reputation. The “ghetto education” – as so termed in overseas media – referred specifically to them.

4. Q: Will the Bill impose more regulation?

 A: No. This Bill seeks to help manage performance rather than impose more regulation.

 5. Q: Why this is a scaled-down version?

 A: The original Bill was drafted over a year ago and we have since undertaken consultation with the export education sector. We listened to them and have taken their advice. Generally speaking, under the current economic environment, the New Zealand export education sector needs help to compete with the UK, US, Canada and Australia who are seen as top quality international education providers.

The Bill in the current form deals with only one issue, which is the naming rights of PTEs.

The accurate and correct profiling of PTE’s will help promote the image and profile of NZ export education as a whole.

6. Q: Why does the Bill not cover border control in respect of the exemption for offshore education advisers providing advice on student visas and permits?

A: Two reasons: the loophole can easily be closed by removing the exemption by an Order in Council – this is the Government’s call and we urge the Government to seriously consider this.

Secondly, evidence shows that these issues were caused by a small number of poor providers. One of the reasons why these poor providers existed in the first place is that under the current legal regime they were allowed to profile themselves in an inaccurate (or passing off) manner and attract more international students to them than other providers who pay more attention to quality and sustainability of their establishment. Many of these poor providers are also aided by a “larger than usual” amount of commission paid to agents.

7. Q: Will this Bill impose any fiscal burden to the government?

A: No. This Bill will not cost a lot, if at all, to implement. With reliably profiled PTEs, we will attract more top-quality students to study in New Zealand. The flow-on effect will be felt throughout the country. So this Bill is good for NZ’s economy.

8. Q: Will this bill help prevent New Zealand from attracting the ‘bad’ students who tend to fall into trouble in NZ?

A: Yes. This bill will improve the level of export education in New Zealand which will have an instant flow on effect and lift the quality of international students attracted to study in New Zealand.

9. Q: What motivates you to write this Bill?

A: As Labour’s spokesperson for Export Education, my dream is to see New Zealand become a world leader in top-quality export education. As many international students do stay and become our residents after graduation it also goes deeper than just export education.

Because some of these students are our future New Zealanders – we must get it right from scratch and attract the best quality students to New Zealand.

10. Q: Isn’t it the case that no matter how good the Bill is it may not be drawn from the ballot and even if it does, it will likely be voted down?

A: True, but the Government will be forced to address the issue with more urgency.


Comments Off on Hands-off Government let export education drift

Why I voted this way?

Posted by on March 13th, 2013

[From 19:30 – 21:55, Wednesday, I made NINE attempts but still could not secure an opportunity to take a call at the Bill’s second reading. The following is what I wished to say:]

To those who have accused me of sitting on the fence at the Bill’s first reading, I say to them they were right. Because I was torn between two extreme and opposing views, and I found both views to be very convincing. I therefore decided not to vote at the Bill’s first reading.

Following steps of a rather informal consultation with my fellow Asian constituents, and also constituents of wider communities, I’ve now decided to vote in favour of this Bill, for the following reasons:

Firstly, I would like to quote David Do, who is New Zealand born, but of Chinese-Vietnamese descent. He told the Parliamentary Select Committee that it was wrong to simply imagine Kiwis of European descent supported gay marriage, while those of Asian or Pacific background opposed it. He said many people within immigrant families supported gay marriage, but could not speak out.  And he went on to say, and I quote:

“At least one thing that obviously unites the diverse Asian community is a desire to live free from discrimination, and to ensure everyone, regardless of their background, has the equal opportunity to succeed and live free lives.”

I believe it is very important for KiwiAsians to be informed, to be aware of the issues, so they can be knowledgeable participants in our democratic process. To be an informed participant, no matter how strongly they feel about the Bill – either for or against it – the decision is theirs and their decision should be respected.

To that extent I would like to thank Louisa Wall, Charles Chauvel and Asian Rainbow Community members especially David Do and Wai Ho for having their opinion pieces translated and published in the Asian media and having their voice heard. Because it is important that when, as a society, we make these far-reaching decisions, we also make sure that all the voices, and all the views, are heard in open dialogue.

Had I not followed such process and read some of the submissions from both sides, I would not be able to make up my mind now.

Secondly, we must look at how opinion on the marriage equality issue around the world is shifting quite rapidly at the moment.

Recently we have seen either voting in favour, or at least a major shift of opinion, in countries including the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, France, Germany and Ireland. Support in the United States has gone from 25 % in 1996 to 53 % today.

Just a few weeks ago, our former Speaker, The Right Honorable Dr Lockwood Smith, stated how much he now regretted voting against homosexual law reform. And the Prime Minister John Key was quoted as indirectly indicating that he regrets voting against civil unions – he says he was following his electorate, not his own views.

Do we want to be on the wrong side of history? I’ve found the following statement is very convincing:

In 15 years’ time, new voters especially will struggle to understand how their local MP voted against allowing their friends who are happily married, to get married. It may be a bit like an MP in 1908 explaining to female voters why they were against them having a vote in 1893!”

As MP Nikki Kaye said in the first reading that New Zealand has a proud history of leading in issues of equality and passing a piece of legislation like this one will strengthen the rights and freedoms of a significant group of New Zealanders.

And I was also encouraged by Dr Paul Hutchison. At the first reading he spoke of his initial reticence but finally said he had not constructed strong enough intellectual, moral, health or even spiritual arguments against it. In the end it boiled down to the premise that all New Zealanders should have the right to civil marriage, irrespective of race, sex or gender.

I want to thank Young Labour, Young National and representatives from all other parties in Parliament for their contributions. It is rare and unprecedented that youth representatives from all eight parties in Parliament had come together to show their support for marriage equality.

Thirdly I want to express my sincere respect to those who remain opposed to this Bill. I want to thank the 204 people who sent letters to me and hundreds of others who emailed me and those who spoke to me about their strong views on why this Bill should not proceed.

I respect their views, and they can be assured I weighed up the opposing views very carefully. I salute my Labour colleagues Sua William Sio, Ross Robertson and Damien O’Connor for their courage and determination. Isn’t that wonderful that we live in this beautiful country where colleagues and everyone can express their different views and agree to disagree. That’s what democracy is all about!

I have decided not to sit on the fence because I am convinced that the issue is about equality, justice and human rights. And supporting these values tips the balance in favour of the Bill.

To conclude, I would like to quote a UK MP, a Conservative MP Nick Herbert:

“Are the marriages of millions of straight people about to be threatened because a few thousand gay people are permitted to join? Will they say: ‘Darling our marriage is over, because Sir Elton John has just become engaged to David Furnish’?”

The answer is obviously no. Neither will the institution of marriage become redundant when Lynda Topp marries her fiancée, Donna Luxton. To the contrary, we should be offering them our congratulations because marriage is about love and commitment, and this is the basis of any successful marriage.

Hands-off and Half-baked

Posted by on January 4th, 2013

NICOLE MATHEWSON reports in The Press (4 January 2013):

A proposal to shift to a 10-year census could seriously affect Christchurch’s recovery, critics say.

Statistics Minister Maurice Williamson said in July 2011 the Government was considering holding the census once every decade.

Currently conducted every five years, the census helps determine electoral boundaries and funding for services like district health boards, schools and the police.

I agree with our Earthquake Recovery spokeswoman Lianne Dalziel:

“Christchurch was already living with the consequences of a delayed census …I’d really want to see a good case put up for a delay. We’ve had the schools shake-up landed on the city without the benefit of knowledge about where the settlement patterns are going to fall and that’s wrong.”

Green’s Eugenie Sage cited as an example that one of the reasons for not closing Belfast’s Ouruhia School is potential roll growth from the Prestons and Belfast subdivisions. “Five-yearly census information will help confirm that.”

Labour statistics spokesman Raymond Huo said a 10-yearly census would reduce costs to Statistics New Zealand, but it was “not that straightforward”.

“I think Williamson’s idea is half-baked at best because it’s not that simple,” he said.

“The key drivers are cost constraints and the demand for more frequent detailed and accurate statistics. Particularly for the Christchurch area, we need more frequent and accurate data.”

Indeed. There are at least three issues as Statistics NZ noted:

  • Continuing cost increases (due to population growth and inflation);
  • Not keeping pace with potential cost savings arising from technological changes;
  • Increasing availability of administrative date.

NZ could learn a lot from international experience. Australia has developed its eCensus system and one of the goals for its 2016 census is to further increase internet uptake. At its 2011 census 34% of households completed forms online, already.

Canada is researching methodology options (based on existing administrative registers plus a full-enumeration field census with yearly updates).

France’s approach is unique: a full-enumeration of population and dwelling every five years plus 8% sample conducted every year in large municipalities. Date are released annually as moving averages.

US also changed census model. In 2010, its 10-yearly long-form census was replaced by ACS – a large annual survey of 3 million households.

Statistics NZ in its Transforming the New Zealand Census of Population and Dwellings: Issues, options, and strategy gave a detailed analysis of each option/approach.

Statistics Minister Maurice Williamson could simply read it and talk to his officials. His approach has so far been hands-off and his idea, half-baked.

Aung San Suu Kyi to NZ – was anybody listening?

Posted by on November 25th, 2012

What was Aung San Suu Kyi’s word to the west during her recent European tour? “Yes – we welcome foreign investment, but ethical investment and people-centred aid please.” Did John Key hear any of this before he swanned off for another photo opp?

His post-Burma visit interview with Audrey Young was a lesson in how to learn nothing from one of the world’s greatest and most principled democratic leaders. It was like watching a child trying to speak adult language. And as for the Boy’s Own Annual approach to Foreign Affairs –  of the East Asia Summit: “It was a pretty interesting meeting just generally….I know…all these guys. I’ve met them lots now” – one wonders what Key thinks he is there for. And did he not know how ASSK might react to the name Myanmar?

Key announced $7 million in aid to go to Burma – $1 million in humanitarian aid to Rakhine state and $6 million in agricultural reforms. I blogged positively on the fact that he announced aid at all. But Key’s and National’s obsession with Foreign Affairs being reduced to trade shone through his announcement as did his disregard for everything for which ASSK stands – democracy, poverty elimination, reliable and accessible health care, accountable structures, rule of law, credible governance, anti-corruption.

Contrast Key with Obama’s brave and principled leadership shown in his speech at the University of Yangon: “Above all, when your voices are heard in government, it’s far more likely that your basic needs will be met. And that’s why reform must reach the daily lives of those who are hungry and those who are ill, and those who live without electricity or water.”

$6 million in agricultural reform assistance is another way of saying how can the NZ government make life easy for our biggest company, Fonterra? Somewhere down the track, that may be an appropriate question. Right now, instead of the developed nations circling like vultures over the next and possibly last untapped market in the world, why aren’t we concentrating on what Burma needs in order to get its people back on their feet so they can trade their riches of oil, gas, gems such as rubies and other minerals, as well as their fertile land, on their own terms and for the benefit of their people?

What business needs to flourish is the rule of law, transparency, a lack of corruption and democratic accountability. US businesses are not lining up to flood into Burma yet because they know the banking system is embryonic and capricious (crisp US bills only please, no bank accounts for foreigners, cash only). Check out what US businesses are saying here.

But to get to that stage, Burma will need health care and education. Our UnionAID programme training young Burmese leaders ($175,000!) is more likely to be effective in the long term than opportunities for NZ businesses. Getting some of the basics such as human rights, health care and education sorted are the priorities, not laying the ground for us to do well out of Burma in the future. Journos can see that. A real leader would see that.

Aid to Burma

Posted by on November 23rd, 2012

I am pleased that John Key has announced $7million in aid funding is to go to Burma, during his visit to that emerging country today. $1 million is to go to the strife-torn province of Rakhine in the western part of the country, where the Muslim Rohingya people remain stateless and in the most appalling need of aid and humanitarian support. I am pleased Key has been able to utter the words ‘human rights’ in Burma – how many decades of tyranny does it take for him to recognise that humans rights abuses exist?? – because he didn’t seem to be able to do so in Cambodia.

I was in Burma two weeks ago with the GAVI Alliance which distributes vaccines to the poorest parts of the world. 650,000 children will receive a new pentavaccine (diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, hepatitis B and influenza B) in the next 6 months and 1.5 million children will get their second measles vaccination in the next 12 months. I saw it starting in poor, rural villages outside of Nya Pyi Taw. NZ doesn’t contribute to that. That would be a better to place to start than agricultural development in my view. Fonterra can be left to do that, because it will for its own interests – government aid money could more usefully go to the primary needs for health care for the next generation.

I came away from Burma convinced that the new President and some of his Ministers are indeed committed to reform. I hold more hope for the progress of democracy than I have ever had before. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will take her rightful place as the elected leader of Burma in my lifetime – something that has felt like a distant dream for such a long time.  It is time for NZ to stand alongside the real efforts being made to lift Burma out of poverty and deprivation. I know agricultural reform can help there. I don’t deny that. But health care for women and babies is always a good investment in the long term.

I just hope that Key also decides to continue putting $175,000 into a valuable NZ-based UnionAid programme which takes 6 young Burmese leaders every year and gives them English language training at VUW and exposure to democratic structures and community organisations. It is a small investment with big results. I met with some of these interns while I was in Yangon. They are in a think tank advising the President on monetary policy, taxation, fiscal policy and writing of budgets. They are working for the ILO on its Freedom of Association project setting up trade unions under our own Ross Wilson, or on training others for leadership roles. It would be a shame if Murray McCully axed this small but significant programme when he should be doubling it. He is considering axing it apparently because one of the interns refused to go home last time and was granted asylum by Immigration NZ. Fix the process, Murray. Don’t axe the programme.

And by the way, Mr Key, don’t call it Myanmar in front of ASSK. That was an embarrassment you could have avoided with a little thought or experience.

A glimmer of hope for leaky home owners

Posted by on November 21st, 2012

The Law Commission’s announcement today that it will revisit the ‘joint and several’ liability issue is to be welcomed, because it could have spin-offs for leaky home victims that are still being denied full compensation.

 The existing principle of ‘joint and several’ liability means where two or more people are liable for the same loss, then each defendant will be potentially liable for the whole of the loss.

 This principle has become very contentious, particularly where defendants in leaky homes cases argue they will only accept liability for their portion of the losses, and this seriously delays or stalls the whole process.

 So the Law Commission’s issues paper – discussing and calling for submissions on its Review of Joint and Several Liability – could be a trigger to get things moving – although it is unclear whether it applies retrospectively, which is a different matter.

We already know about the existing  ‘log-jam’ in settlements with the Financial Assistance Package. There have been reports that although 1232 owners had lodged expressions of interest by the end of September, only 35 claims were proceeding thus far and only 12 had received their final payments.

 The Law Commission is now seeking views on the options for reforming the system of liability, and also for the advantages of the status quo. The closing date for submissions is Thursday 31 January 2013. This media release and a copy of the publication is available from the Law Commission website at


Hey Steven Joyce – wanna see a real Road of National Significance?

Posted by on November 14th, 2012

This is the road to the Parliament in Nay Pyi Taw (Naypyidaw), the purpose-built new capital of Burma. It is 20 lanes wide – 10 each way and you could land a 747 on it – perhaps its original purpose? Except that it is a little undulating. And it clearly fixes congestion – there is no traffic! Or is that due to the fact that you need permission to visit Nya Pyi Taw? Whatever the situation, this is clearly a road of national significance. I think Steven Joyce lacks ambition for NZ……

National Crisis

Posted by on November 8th, 2012

New Zealand’s unemployment rate has now risen to a 13-year high. It last reached these heights in June 1999, when National was last in power.

“This is a national crisis,” as Council of Trade Unions Secretary Peter Conway bluntly describes it. “There are now 175,000 people unemployed, 294,900 jobless and over 113,000 people looking for more hours at work.  This means that we have 400,000 people out of work or looking for more work.”

Despite the spin-doctoring, this is the real story of National’s economic management. After four years in power, John Key is proving to be a disappointment.

In typical black-humour fashion, National MP Todd McClay raised a question in the House this afternoon, asking “what steps is the Government taking to support jobs as part of its programme to build a more productive and competitive economy?”

What steps, indeed… But this National-Act Government does not care about ordinary Kiwis. What they care about is their PR management. And that reminds me of a similar approach by Botany MP Jami-Lee Ross (and my ‘defending the indefensible’ reply) last week in the Howick & Botany Times…

Instead of enjoying the “brighter future” the National-Act Government have promised, more Kiwis are struggling, and going backwards, than ever before.

Job statistics released today make grim reading. Unemployment has increased to 7.3 per cent. In Auckland, unemployment is up from 7.3% to 8.6% – to a total of 65,300 – an increase of 9,900. John Key promised he would create 170,000 new jobs. Instead we have 175,000 people looking for work.

As Peter Conway put it… “These are not just numbers; they are people, and families. They deserve support and the government needs to give urgent attention to the jobs plight

Housing response a sham

Posted by on November 7th, 2012

I can understand why the Housing Crisis Action Group is planning to hold a protest at Parliament this afternoon against these drastic changes to the government’s social housing policy.

This has resulted in a severe loss of state housing across the country and meantime, the National-Act Government’s response to the Productivity Commission’s housing affordability report does nothing to help struggling Kiwi families get into their first home.

As Labour’s Spokesperson on Housing, Hon Annette King, said on November 2nd, “There is nothing in National’s response today that will make housing more affordable. It will do nothing to put the missing rung of the housing ladder in place and give people a leg up to it. The Government is in denial and is condemning the housing sector to a path of decline.”

From the perspective of my Building and Construction portfolio, I note Productivity Commission Chief executive Murray Sherwin said back in December that the cost of building a new house in Auckland is 25 percent higher than Melbourne and Gold Coast, and the difference was “not due to the requirements of the building code’” yet so far, all we have heard from this Government are the clichés about how we must “reduce delays and costs of RMA processes” to supposedly get things moving.

Mr Sherwin also said materials account for 55 per cent of the cost of a new house, and they are “significantly cheaper” in Australia. Although part of that was due to the small size of the Kiwi market, a lack of standardised products, combined with high domestic transportation costs, had hiked building costs in New Zealand.

Clearly, any investigation along those lines would sound a bit too much like intervention for this market-driven National-Act Government.

It’s also interesting how Mr Sherwin’s suggestion that the Commerce Commission “can investigate’ complaints about businesses fixing prices, carving up markets or abusing market positions has also gone completely unanswered.

In fact, the National-Act Government’s response will do nothing to get struggling Kiwi families into their first home.

Boost needed for Export Education

Posted by on October 5th, 2012

Export education is the smart, green and sustainable way to grow our economy.

Since being initiated in 1989 by the Labour Government, the export education sector has grown substantially to now be worth $2.3 billion P/A.

On the surface this sounds good but dig deeper and the statistics and media reports make for grim reading.

A small number of providers provide bad outcomes for students by abusing their naming rights, flouting the rules and damaging New Zealand’s overall export education reputation.

My Private Members Bill, the Education (Naming of Private Training Establishments) Amendment Bill will go to the root of the problem and ensure that all education providers are profiled in a way that accurately reflects the size and quality of their learning establishment.

This will serve to protect the majority of education providers and help make New Zealand a top quality export education destination which will compete effectively against the United Kingdom, Australia, United States and Canada.

Please find below a FAQ on my bill:

Education (Naming of Private Training Establishments) Amendment Bill Q & A

1. Q: What is the purpose of this Bill?

A: This Bill will stop misleading naming of PTEs and provide a boost to the image of the Export Education industry by ensuring that private training establishments (PTEs) are profiled correctly and accurately. The Bill will be one of the measures that are designed to promote NZ education providers collectively in the international market.

Currently there is minimal (and patched-up) regulation for the naming rights of PTEs which is causing great harm to our Export Education market in Asia and around the world. Many countries (particularly in Asia) have strict guidelines which reserve international, national or regional titles to reputable education providers whose names match their international, national or regional status. Therefore PTEs which boast regional or national titles in their names are attractive to Asian students and their families. However, a number of PTEs (although it is a relatively small number) in NZ have abused their naming rights and have created a credibility issue for the NZ Export Education system with the term ‘ghetto education’ being used in China and other countries to describe the state of the educational facilities in NZ, which is detrimental and unfair to the majority of the education providers in NZ.

This Bill will ensure that PTEs are profiled accurately and correctly and that New Zealand remains a top quality international education provider. (more…)

New hope for the building sector

Posted by on September 13th, 2012

Seeing as the race to become the next Speaker of the House is heating up, I thought I would put in a plea for Prime Minister John Key to choose the Hon Maurice Williamson to take over from the Rt Hon Lockwood Smith.

I believe Maurice would make a good Speaker for a number of reasons. He has the skills, experience and speaks good English. These are all good attributes for the Speaker to have.

But the main reason Maurice should be selected as the next Speaker is to give the building sector a fresh start.

Ever since he passed the third reading of the Building Act 1991 he has been (on observation of many others) in the defensive position.

Stakeholders in the building sector have also said that he has run out of ideas as the Building and Construction Minister.

When looking at his Building Act Review it is sad to note that New Zealand has encountered many issues, and the National-ACT Government has not offered answers to any of them:

1: Consumer protection: In the absence of a more genuine reallocation of accountability, as argued by submitters, through mandatory insurance-backed warranties and the introduction of proportionate liability, the consumers are exposed to greater risk. The consumers are suffering and waiting!

2: Product Warranties: Legislation brought in by National has never directly addressed the accountability of manufacturers and suppliers of building materials although they had played a vital role in the leaky building saga.

3: Earthquake-prone buildings: Earthquake-prone buildings need to be strengthened to 33% under the current law. It has been encouraged to get this lifted to 67% after the Christchurch earthquakes but many building-owners cannot afford to bear the cost of strengthening works. Nor would insurers be prepared to offer cover.

It may also be worth considering setting a different strengthening level for different parts of NZ according to the earthquake-risk level that exists in individual regions.

4: Insurance Premiums: This is especially the case in Wellington where insurance premiums have risen to unsustainable levels.

It has been reported in the Listener that building replacement insurance on some heritage buildings has gone from $14,000 a year in 2009 to $52,000 in 2011. And it’s predicted to hit $132,000 this year.

The Dominion-Post also reported this week that some businesses have faced insurance premium increases of up to 200%. Department store Kircaldie and Stains premiums had risen from 78c for every $1000 worth of insurance in 2010 to $8.11 this year, even though the main 1908 building had been strengthened to 100% of the building code.

The list can go on and on.

We need a Building and Construction Minister who is going to show leadership and find solutions to the above issues.

What we got from him for so long was nothing but a tweak to the status-quo.

Worse still, if you ask questions to the Minister about these issues, the competent Minister will have a dozen sound bites ready to reel off without even thinking about the question.

So now the greatest hope for the building sector is to have a new Minister for Building and Construction.

I’m not saying that Williamson doesn’t have the required capability for the role. His hands maybe tied. He may just have had that portfolio for too long. He is probably tired, bored and reluctant to entertain new ideas or simply to challenge the status-quo or himself.

Building Matters (5): Mandatory Warranty – the UK Model

Posted by on September 3rd, 2012

Thanks to the Parliamentary Library here is an overview of the United Kingdom’s mandatory warranty scheme:

The UK’s 10-year warranty scheme called ‘Buildmark’ is administered by The National House Building Council (NHBC). The main goal of the NHBC is to raise standards in new homes.

NHBC quick stats:

• 16,000 builders and developers are on NHBC’s register

• NHBC have over 1,100 employees, including 280 building inspectors

• NHBC is an independent, non-profit distributing company

• NHBC is governed by a council with representatives from organisations interested in raising building standards in the UK.

The ‘Buildmark’10-Year Warranty:

These warranties protect around 80 per cent of all new homes built in the UK. Every new home with a NHBC warranty has to be built in accordance with NHBC standards. NHBC inspectors visit the sites at key stages during construction.

The Buildmark warranty provides protection for:

• Pre-completion insolvency cover (NHBC will reimburse the deposit or arrange for the home to be completed in line with NHBC standards)

• Cover for the first two years after completion (the builder is responsible for putting right any defects of damage caused by their failure to build to NHBC standards)

• Cover for most parts of the home in years 3-10 of ownership

Buildmark however is not a complete guarantee against all defects.

Issues and problems:

Some NHBC customers have not been happy with their experience.

The 10-year warranty should provide peace of mind to new home owners, but there have been a series of issues to highlight that this isn’t always the case.

In 2007, mould began to appear in a new home in Wigan. The NHBC inspected the house and said the mould was attributed to “lifestyle factors” through the use of the shower, cooking and drying clothes in the house (the NHBC warranty only covers condensation/mould damage if it is caused by a building defect, not lifestyle factors).

The homeowner then spent 2,500 pounds replacing belongings and cleaning the house, however the mould soon returned.

The homeowner then sought advice from other building professionals who discovered that insulation work in the house was insufficient and that a number of other defective problems with the house attributed to the mould issue.

In this case the NHBC’s diagnosis was wrong and the advice to the homeowner to reduce cooking and bathing was unacceptable.

This is just one example of many of the NHBC signing off on sub-standard homes.

Building Matters (6): Mandatory Warranty – the Australian Model, will be out later this week.

Please find a link to Building Matters (4) here.

15 December 1975: National Day!

Posted by on August 28th, 2012

15 December 1975 is a day that will continue to haunt National.

It was on that date when the newly elected, powerful and undoubtedly popular Prime Minister Robert Muldoon abolished the compulsory New Zealand Superannuation Scheme which was initiated by the previous Labour Government.

If only Muldoon and the National Government of the day hadn’t terminated the scheme it would now be worth more than $240 billion and “transformed the NZ economy into a world beater over the past 30 years.”

According to Brian Gaynor and other leading economists, Muldoon’s “dreadful” political decision instead transformed New Zealand from the potential Switzerland of the Southern Hemisphere into a low-ranking OECD economy. And it was the worst economic decision in the past 40 years.

The ripples of that decision are still being felt to this day. In fact, if the scheme wasn’t squashed then New Zealand would be much better positioned economically, would be able to own many more assets and would not incur that much Crown debt.


National haunted by Department of Statistics

Posted by on August 23rd, 2012

Clare Trevett reports:

Each month, the relentless tread of Statistics New Zealand’s updates on migration echo through Parliament, haunting National with the ghosts of campaigns past.

As Labour’s Spokesperson for Statistics I want to salute Statistics NZ for their indepth data which gives us valuable information on the state of the country.

This year, the innocuously titled “International Travel and Migration” tables have told a tale of ever increasing numbers heading to Australia.

So this week National was again hoping its 2008 campaign billboard – “Wave goodbye to higher taxes, not your loved ones” – had faded from the collective memory.

Migration to Australia has reached record levels and excuses from the PM are wearing thin. I am curious on one thing though.

Following on from the latest reshuffling of departments and ministries where the Department of Building and Housing (among others) was absored into Mobie, does the Government intend to merge Statistics NZ into the so called ‘Super Ministry’ also?

Then Portfolio Minister Maurice Williamson will become a Minister who has the portfolios but no ministries.

And the Super Minister Steven Joyce will have all the ministries but has no portfolio responsibilities. National has just created another precedent of business efficacy! No wonder he IS the minister who is in charge of “innovation (new ideas – reshuffling at a regular pace) and employment (reshuffling does keep everyone, including the media, busy)!





Building Matters (No. 4): CCC is not CCC – will that concern you?

Posted by on August 17th, 2012

Under the Building Amendment Bill No. 4 brought in by Minister Maurice Williamson, consenting authorities (city councils) are no longer required to issue a Code Compliance Certificate. Instead, they are only required to issue a Consent Completion Certificate.

Does that mean consenting authorities will no longer have any direct role in checking the quality of the building work? Or Mr Williamson would only confine his concerns to the aspect of semantics?

I agree with submitters that that move will not necessarily improve consenting authorities’ “last-man-standing” position. But it will be the consumers that will be left to pick up much of the bill for any claims resulting from substandard building work.

One submitter said the intention of the proposed change is no more than “ring-fencing” the consenting territorial authorities from any liability in the event of building failure.

The irony is that this system will still see the Consumer paying fees for the part the Territorial Authorities will play in monitoring the building work, but it will not provide the Consumer with any surety as to the performance and durability of that work,” says Home Owners and Buyers Association of NZ.

This is a step too far until such time as the Licensed Building Practitioner regime matures and the qualification is actually worth something to the Consumer given that the bar has, in our opinion, been set far too low and therefore the competency, commitment and care of building practitioners cannot be assured even if they are licensed.

By no longer certifying compliance with the Code, the consenting authorities will almost certainly find their liability for non-compliance of building work is significantly reduced, as pointed out by another submitter.

Many serious defects are only discovered many years after construction, often near, say, the ten-year-cutoff. By removing this Code Compliance Certificate, many owners who discover very serious defect will be time barred from seeking damages from any party.

The situation will get worse taken in context of section 362P: “Building contractor must remedy defect notified within 1 year of completion”.

“Where is ‘completion’ defined?” – asked Structural Engineer John Scarry: “Is it when that part of work is completed or ‘practical completion’, or is it when the CCC is issued?”

Which CCC anyway?

Please click here to find my Building Matters posts 1, 2 and 3.

Building Matters (No. 3): More earthquake-prone buildings than first thought

Posted by on August 13th, 2012

A survey conducted after the Canterbury earthquakes has revealed that between 10,000-25,000 or between 8% and 13% of all New Zealand’s non-residential buildings do not meet earthquake standards, as reported by One News.

These statistics are a cause for concern. This will prove to be one of the most costly and serious issues facing New Zealand today.

Residential buildings are facing a similar problem as well.

A submission made by the Christchurch City Council to the Local Government and Environment Committee recently may help to inform us on this issue:

In relation to an appropriate strengthening level, the Royal Commission can note that the council’s earthquake-prone buildings policy sets a target for owners of earthquake-prone buildings to strengthen their buildings to 67%.

Council works at persuading owners to achieve this level. However, it has encountered significant resistance from insurers for any strengthening of earthquake damaged buildings, other than that required to lift a building above 33%.

Most building owners do not have sufficient funds themselves to pay to get the building strengthened to a higher level. In the future however, insurance might not even cover strengthening of buildings to any level.

It should be noted that it is not just Christchurch feeling the pinch but insurance premiums and the cost of strengthening upgrades are also biting in other parts of the country.

Across the country, homeowners receiving their latest insurance bills are facing on average increases of up to 30 per cent.

In Wellington it has been reported that building replacement insurance on some heritage buildings has gone from $14,000 a year in 2009 to $52,000 in 2011. And it’s predicted to hit $132,000 this year. Worse still, owners have been told to expect a 50% increase next year, taking insurance premiums to levels which are simply unaffordable.

Where is the leadership from the National-ACT Government on this issue? This is something which may haunt New Zealand for generations to come and we need Maurice Williamson to act rather than sit back and display his blasé attitude.

Building Matters (2): Building Materials

Posted by on August 7th, 2012

Submissions made to the Local Government and Environment Committee regarding the Building Amendment Bill No. 4 summed up the issues well:

There is no accountability for manufacturers of building materials and products, said one submitter.

We remain unable to fathom why product manufacturers are not identified as part of the regime when all other parties are (councils, owners, builders and designers, said another.

 Obviously, these submissions are largely from our construction sector/building practitioners but they raise valid and important points.

 In response, Minister for Building and Construction Maurice Williamson gives off the impression that these issues do not concern him or his National-Act Government in the slightest.

Therefore the concerns regarding building materials are not addressed in either of his building Bills No. 3 and 4, although they had played an significant role in the leaky building saga.

Hence the leaky home problem should “more correctly” be called “the rotting framing problem” as Paul B put it in his comment to my blog on Building Matters (1) published on Friday August 3.

 To help understand building matters and the feelings of New Zealanders, it is important to note some of the following comments made to my blog last week:

KJT said: When are you going to stop blaming builders, who were only following the specs they were given.

Haven’t seen any of them being made to pay out, or the deluded politicians, who relaxed regulation, to allow dodgy suppliers and other thieves to prosper.

I agree with warranties, but they should also apply to materials manufacturers and those who specify them and how they are used.”

Draco.T.Bastard said: Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and you don’t meet the building code but if you follow the building code you lose the manufacturer’s warranty on the product. Can anyone say Product not fit for purpose?

 Herodotus said: Who protects the industry from the manufacturers of building materials ?

From comments above there appears a real reluctance from the Government or governmental bodies towards these manufacturers.

I will make sure to bring these views to the attention of the Local Government and Environment Select Committee, which is currently hearing submissions on the bill.

These views will be valuable to us while shaping our position as to how to get these concerns addressed.

Note: Building Matters (3): CCC is no longer CCC: will that concern you? Will be released later this week.


Building Matters (1): Mandatory Warranty?

Posted by on August 2nd, 2012

Issac Davidson at the NZ Herald reports (30 July):

New Zealand’s biggest councils are imploring the Government to introduce warranties in new building laws or risk “Leaky Buildings 2″.

The councils have made sensible calls. The Government has to introduce meaningful protections for consumers and consenting authorities/ratepayers or we could have another repeat of the leaky building saga on our hands.

Christchurch and Wellington city councils have urged the Government to introduce a warranty scheme to protect consumers and local authorities from liability when builders do not produce good work.

Unbelievably, Minister Maurice Williamson in the second of his two building amendment bills (No.4) is actually planning to reduce the level of protection for consumers and ratepayers!

In the absence of a more genuine reallocation of accountability, for example, through mandatory home warranties and the introduction of proportionate liability, consumers and ratepayers are further exposed.

But worse still, the home-owners will have fewer remedies (if any) when left in the lurch by a $1 shell company.

In the UK, a 10-year warranty protects around 80% of all new homes built in the UK. Every new home built with this warranty has to built in accordance with NHBC (National House-Builders Council) standards. The warranty covers the workmanship, insolvency of the builder and covers any faults, damages or defects discovered within two years of completion.

In Australia, Tasmania is the only state with a voluntary builders warranty scheme. All other state schemes are mandatory.

How do we improve our legislative protection?

As the Building and Construction Spokesperson I am interested in feedback and turn it over to the readers for thoughts on whether we should introduce a mandatory warranty scheme such as that of the UK and Australia.

Note: Building Matters (2) will focus on accountability of manufacturers of building materials.

Is unemployment really falling?

Posted by on February 10th, 2012

Statistics NZ has just released some new statistics on unemployment and the headline to their press release says it all: Unemployment rate falls, but little growth in employment.

An analysis by Westpac economists is worth noting:

But most other aspects of today’s report were weaker than expected. Not only was employment up a paltry 0.1% – just enough to keep pace with population growth – but this was purely due to a 3% pickup in volatile part-time jobs. Full-time employment was down 0.8%, the first drop since late 2009. Labour force participation dropped, from 68.4% in September to 68.2%. Hours worked were down 1.4%.

So the new data does not do anything to help the current unemployment figures which show an increase of 96.5 per cent more people on the unemployment benefit in the past three years.

What is unsurprisingly interesting is that:

The regional breakdown does show that localised labour shortages appear to be emerging in Canterbury – on our estimates unemployment in the region is now sitting at 5%, down from 5.5% in September and 6.1% in March.

It’s ironic that unemployment can be at such a high rate in Christchurch when demand for licenced building practitioners alone will reach 1100 per-year over the next five years in the city.

National talks aloud about having a plan and building a brighter future but the statistics do not back up their rhetoric. What are they actually doing about the stagnating unemployment rate?

Filed under: asian