Red Alert

Archive for the ‘rural’ Category

Abandoning the Provinces (again)

Posted by on September 9th, 2011

The National led government released its latest public service staff statistics yesterday. They show that they have overseen almost 2,400 Kiwis losing their jobs since 2008. That is thousands of families with people who make the money to put food on the table out of work. Things really are starting to follow the 1990s pattern- the gutting of the public sector, followed by the decline in services and confidence from the public, followed by the hiring of consultants and contractors to fill the gaps…

The figures announced today do not cover the full impact most recent jobs losses announced for DOC and the IRD. In both cases its not the people I look after in Wellington Central bearing the brunt, it is the provinces. Wanganui, Rotorua, Napier, Invercargill, Nelson, New Plymouth. Did someone say “frontline services”.

Two stories related to this came my way today. The first from the Daily News in New Plymouth who quoted one of the staff saying that they had been warned that if they talked publicly about the job losses they would go even quicker.

“They told us there was to be absolutely no discussion of anything to the media. If anyone spoke to the media it could be a code of conduct issue,” an employee told the Taranaki Daily News on condition of anonymity. Penalties for breaching the code of conduct could include being sacked, they said.

The worker also said something that will be familiar to many in the public service. He said “morale was in tatters”. It is, in almost every government agency I speak to- and the end result of that is poorer services for us all.

Meanwhile over in Whanganui they are facing the effect of the cuts to the Department of Conservation, the latest in a line of cuts including to NZTA, child advocacy services and the baliffs. I got a note passed on to me from a local teacher who said

I feel awful today as I hear from children I teach that their their families will be shifting out of Wanganui because of the cutbacks and the gutting of the local DOC office.which once served the region from Taranaki to the Manawatu and over the Ruahines. Going are the scientists, an engineer, cartographers and other skilled workers whose children have been really special to teach.

This is one aspect of the abandoning of provinicial New Zealand, the breakdown of communities. Another is the loss of health services in places like Temuka and Rangiora. John Pagani has written a good blog on another aspect of it. The absence of any real focused regional development from this government that will give people a sense that there are jobs and a future for them and their town. I think we owe these towns that have been the backbone of our country some support and some hope.

Abandoning provincial New Zealand

Posted by on July 17th, 2011

DSCF0294How many times have you passed through Taihape? Have you stopped? Was it for more than just a cup of coffee at the most excellent Brown Sugar Cafe? Yesterday I spent several hours in Taihape with Labour’s candidate for the Rangitikei electorate Josie Pagani.

Like a lot of other provincial towns I have visited in the last couple of years, Taihape is struggling. There is a string of empty shops on the main street, and one of the local business people I met with yesterday told me he thought another half a dozen would close by the end of the year. Taihape folk know there has been a global recession, but they feel let down.

Exhibit A is the local hospital. Refurbished a few years back, operating as a first point of contact for medical emergencies, rest home, maternity wing. In short a small town hospital that gave people confidence, and also helped hold the community together, particularly a community with an ageing population. Then last year, without any consultation, the hospital was effectively closed down. There is still the maternity bit, and a some day stay capacity for elderly patients, but the rest is gone.

Its putting real pressure on the community. We were told the story of someone who badly cut their hand. He knew it was bad, and that he needed treatment. He began to drive to the nearest hospital in Palmerston North. He nearly made it, but passed out half an hour from his destination. Fourtunately he had rung ahead to a relative who came and got him. Old people have been scattered across the North Island, breaking down community and family connections. Other stories include someone ringing the emergency number that is now on the door of the hospital only to be told by the operator in Auckland to go to Taihape Hospital.

Its not just the hospital. This is a town, actually a region, crying out for some support to get economic development going. The people we spoke to yesterday weren’t the type who want the government to do everything for them, but they do want a government that gets its hands dirty helping to give people a start and some support, not sitting on the sidelines hoping the market will provide.

We finished the day at the school. It is brilliant. It is an area school that came about from one of Trevor’s school reviews, and it had some hefty investment behind it. Its modern, and a real community facility. As one local said yesterday, its building was the last time it felt like someone “gave a shit about us”.

I know Labour has not been traditionally popular in parts of provincial New Zealand, but actually when the people stop and think about the Labour approach of getting alongside communities vs National’s abandonment, there is a case for a re-think.

An identity crisis for National?

Posted by on May 14th, 2011

National MP and farmer Shane Ardern has fired a bit of a broadside at his party, claiming that its farmers have become “lost in action”. During a select committee meeting this week, he took a swipe at fellow National MP Jacqui Dean, asking why her Waitaki seat wasn’t held by a farmer. Dean is a former children’s TV host.

Ardern went so far as to challenge a couple of farmers in attendance at the committee to go back and find someone to replace Dean. Ardern reportedly asked “Who’s the MP now? And why are we absolutely lost in action, absolutely lost in action, as far as MPs in Parliament now are concerned?” Ouch!

Apparently his fellow National MP, the retiring but never shy Sandra Goudie, claimed that farmers had become a “misunderstood minority” within National.

This is an interesting insight into the way National has changed. Farmers used to rule the roost but there has been growing disquiet in recent years that the party has been taken over by financiers and bankers. Interesting to see two of their MPs being so open about it though.

Note: The above comments were reported in a Newsroom story, which is only available if you’re a subscriber.

Why Key needs to get offshore advice on broadband

Posted by on April 21st, 2011

I’ve known Bruce Parkes for years. Straightshooter. Like him. Always knew where he came from. Believed Telecom should use it’s superior market position to slow competitors entry.

But with the High Court judgement quoted below showing how he illegally tilted the playing field in Telecom’s favour he can not be the principal policy advisor on a plan which abolishes regulatory oversight of Telecom’s broadband. It gives them a blank cheque to overcharge much of the country for a decade.

Even before the court decision the sector was revolting. This revelation means that there needs to be a quick expert inquiry into both the decision to favour Telecom and the process that resulted in a very unusual decision.

Because of the vested interests involved the expert(s) will have to come from offshore.

The judgement said interalia:-

The senior Telecom executive named by High Court judge Rodney Hansen in his judgment penalising the telco for historic breaches to Commerce Act, is now a senior civil servant with oversight of the government’s broadband investments.

Bruce Parkes is currently Deputy Secretary at the Ministry of Economic Development for the Energy and Communications Branch. Among his responsibilities, according to his profile on the MED website, are ICT policy and the Ultra Fast Broadband plan. “In conjunction with Crown Fibre Holdings, this group will continue to implement work on the ultra-fast broadband policy, with the immediate aim of settling initial negotiations with potential providers,” reads the profile.


Posted by on November 10th, 2010

The outbreak of Psa is a grim reminder how exposed we are as an economy to the effects of biological attack by unwanted organisms. Why then, would a party that claims to represent farmers reduce the border protection efforts to help pay for tax cuts.

The farmers and orchardists at risk from this ridiculous stance should reconsider their loyalty to a party that has deserted their needs. I have been contacted by people working in the system who say this is just the beginning of incursions that will occur because they can’t do their job properly.

Money and resources have been shifted internally to set up Smartgate and smoother passenger processing at our airports. Delays coming into this country are rarely long compared to the US process or the chaos at some larger international airports.

We should never compromise our biosecurity for convenience. The US dont do it for their security, why should we?? I wonder if Hilary passed that wisdom on to John or was he too starstruck to hear?

A Shortcut to Disaster

Posted by on October 28th, 2010

I have learnt today that the Food Safety Authority in collaboration with the meat Industry are about to conduct a trial on a new system of meat inspection at freezing works without the assistance of Meat Inspectors.

It is an interesting contradiction and my fear is that industry self regulation is the object of the exercise. Such ideals have proven all too often to be disastrous from international experience. At a time when the meat industry is under extreme pressure at every level from farmer to marketplace the risk is that inadequate inspection leading to any form of contaminated export meat would cripple our meat exports and reputation as a quality food producing nation.

Apparently no details have been made available to the meat inspectors so the assumption is that chain workers will carry out assessment of the health of the carcasses and the Vets will sign off the consignments for export. If you presume no skill is necessary to be a meat inspector we might be ok. But as I know to get the inspections spot on takes training, skill and experience. One mistake identified by our trading buyers and we are doomed.

The question is, does the risk justify the cost savings if any over time?? It is also ironic that in Select Committee today the Food Safety Authority was trying to convince us of the importance of robust systems for food safety under the new Food Bill.

There will be a few hard Questions for them at the next meeting !!!

Why at Creech

Posted by on June 15th, 2010

Two questions today in the House to John Key on why Wyatt Creech was in cosy contact with Ag Minister David Carter’s office on December 22 2008 seeking briefings on Canterbury water/RMA issues. 

This was two days after the forum held by Carter,English and Brownlee with Canterbury irrigators (and no environmental voice) to progress their issues. Issued a media release at the time noting not even Nick Smith was present.

Have always believed an implicit if not explicit signal was given at the forum to irrigators that ECAN would be taken out of the way if it was impeding their access to more water . Did an OIA of Carter and out pops an email exchange between his political advisor and Wyatt Creech, 11 months before he is appointed to the “independent’ review of ECAN. Creech says he wanted  “a comprehensive picture” about the RMA/water issues “so that I can see that they are raised.” Raised where?

OIA now on way to David Carter asking for all the contacts /correspondence with Creech and other former National Ministers…

Townies to get a cut of cow cockies risk and reward

Posted by on April 12th, 2010

The future of the dairy industry – and especially that of Fonterra is vital to New Zealand’s future prosperity.

There are enormous opportunities for the industry. Because dairying is so important to us we are at the cutting edge of technology and marketing.

To take advantage of this requires capital – hundreds of millions over the next few years. Fonterra is the logical vehicle for the development. But farmers are inherently conservative. They farm to produce milk or even capital gains.  They want to be able to get out of Fonterra and get a fair price for their shares in the company.

But that is a problem for the company. Because they have a  massive contingent liability which would become real if a significant proportion of farmers decide to cash up and move to another company. This is a real negative when Fonterra is borrowing to expand.

Farmers have already agreed to “dry” shares, worth up to 20% of the value of their main shareholding.

But the new proposal – described by Bernard Hickey as Clayton’s shares whereby investors can get the dividend stream and capital gains (or losses) equal to the shareholders but can’t take control because the share have no voting power.

Rod Oram sees the potential:-

Fonterra says the fund will only be big enough to meet the financial needs of farmers. But let’s hope farmers get used to the concept. A variation of it could see the creation of virtual equity, perpetual capital in which outside investors get dividends and capital gains linked to Fonterra’s performance. But they’d get no ownership or votes. This would be a way for farmers to bring in outside capital without ceding any ownership.

Looks good to me. Fonterra is one of the best bets we have to lift our standard of living. And the idea of townies being able to invest really appeals.


Posted by on January 26th, 2010

The announcement that farmers have taken up about 1/3 of their entitlement to additional shares in their cooperative company is a good result given the circumstances. The levels of debt driven by hyped expectations of milk prices and banks throwing money at dairy farmers means many were never in a position to take up the 20% allocation. Some could say it has been planned this way so that the inevitable call for further outside capital will lead to the listing of Fonterra on the NZX. For investors and naive money traders this may seem like progress but for farmers it will lead to less money for milk and more for share dividends. This is all basic commercial opportunism and the board of Fonterra should be made to answer some hard questions before they are handed a mandate to move further forward on any capital restructure of New Zealand’s only fully owned multinational company.