Red Alert

Archive for the ‘wellington’ Category

The passing of Ben Hana, aka Blanket Man

Posted by on January 16th, 2012

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I felt a real sense of sadness hearing the news of the death of Ben Hana, known to most Wellingtonians, and others as Blanket Man. Like many Wellingtonians I had a few conversations with Ben over the years. Early on in Cuba Mall when he used to talk a lot more, and more latterly when he enjoyed the sunshine in Courtenay Place, with less to say, but still a nod of acknowledgement.

Ben was a polarising person. For many he was an iconic figure, part of the unique and quirky Wellington. A number of people had close relationships with him, and supported him with gifts and food. The gift of an IPod a few years ago saw him rocking out even more in his own universe. For others how he looked and acted was affronting and challenging and they felt threatened by him.

He was the face of homelessness in Wellington. It is true to say that he shunned the idea of moving off the streets in recent years, and indeed of taking on much in the way of formalised help. He was beyond that, and wanted none of it. But this is a misleading view of the experience of the homeless. For most of the homeless in Wellington it is not such a choice, and indeed for Ben earlier in his life as things went wrong, and he became unwell mentally, and his addictions developed I am sure he would have liked and benefited from some more support and somewhere to call home.

Homelessness is not necessarily about sleeping on the streets, its about not having a stable place to live, to be your base. It is often associated with mental illness and addiction, and there is far too much of it in our city. A number of organisations, especially the Downtown Community Ministry do a great job supporting those who are homeless, but we are falling short.

We have a real shortage of emergency accomodation, affordable accomodation and accomodation for those with mental illness. The different agencies involved are getting better at working together to find solutions, but still need to be more coordinated and flexible if we are to truly address these issues. Its not just government either, the community has a responsibility too. Many private landlords will not take on those who have a history of mental illness. I will be continuing to advocate and organise on these issues in Wellington. This is a nationwide issue though, and I believe it merits a select committee inquiry, as Labour has pushed for in recent years.

For me the best memorial for Ben would be that we as a city and community come together to say that we will look after and look out for all the residents of the city. We will make it a priority to deal with homelessness and the issues that lie behind it. We will respect those who are homeless for who they are, and work with them to give them real choices that will address the issues that cause their struggles and put them back in charge of their own lives. RIP Ben.


In praise of… the ‘school secretary’

Posted by on September 2nd, 2011

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Actually the title of this post is wrong. The person we used to call “the secretary” at our local school is now rightly given other titles such as Office Administrator or School Administrator. But even those don’t capture the role that they play in the running of schools and the well-being of the staff and students.

This morning I attended the farewell for Anne Young (pictured above) the long time Office Administrator at Cardinal McKeefry School in Wellington. Anne has been the friendly welcoming face of the school for many years, and right from when I met her I always felt welcomed and included when I visited the school. As I looked around the room at her farewell today I saw all kind of representatives from the community for whom Anne is their window to the school- from the bank, the contractors, other schools, parents, staff and of course the kids.

A couple of years ago when NZEI were running their support staff pay campaign I listened to some administrators detail the scope of their work. It was vast, but they all seemed to know that the ultimate reason for them being at work was the kids. At every school I visit the office staff have a great feel for the schools and the needs of children. I have observed them playing the role of counsellor, mentor, friend, shoulder to cry on and general supporters of a range of kids. They know them, keep an eye on them and notice all the ups and downs.

Schools simply could not run without the likes of Anne. From making sure the bills get paid to making sure the kids are looked after, they are a key part of our school communities. The jobs do not pay anything like what they should, so I thank them all for their service. All the best to Anne in her retirement, but also to all the school secretaries/administrators/whatever you are called, thank you for what you do.


Time to re-think govt office space

Posted by on June 4th, 2011

I see yet another brand new high rise building is being planned for the lower end of Lambton Quay, with a government department, reportedly the Ministry for Social Development, signed-on as the anchor tenant. Frankly I’m getting a bit fed up of seeing massive amounts of money spent on brand new buildings in the Wellington CBD for government departments and agencies. Why does every government employee need to be located right opposite the Beehive in some of the most expensive real estate going? Why is it important for a call centre operator to be located across the road from the Minister they are never likely to meet?

Out here in Upper Hutt, we’ve got plenty of office space going that would be ideal for government employees, and it would cost the taxpayer about a third of what it costs to keep them in CBD offices. In this era of greater austerity and cost-cutting, surely we should be looking at whether or not we need to continue to prop up a bunch of central city property developers when there is plenty of office space on the periphery and in the suburbs that’s already available (not to mention the economic, social and environmental benefits of allowing people to work closer to where they actually live).

Public servants are entitled to work in comfortable surroundings, but that doesn’t mean they have to be accommodated in brand new CBD offices. It’s time for a major re-think about how government procurement of office space is handled. Having different government agencies bidding against each other for new office space is just stupid, and I understand that has happened in the past. Perhaps it’s time for a more centrally coordinated approach, with an increased emphasis on de-centralisation?


Wellywood and the Sale of Assets

Posted by on May 23rd, 2011

WEllywood signIts easy to get annoyed about the decision to go ahead with the Wellywood sign. For me, its just not Wellington. Its cliched and derivative. The city I love to call home is quirky and different. If we are going to welcome people in, lets give them something that is truly representative of us, and unique. (Leaving aside the fact that given prevailing winds, you are most likely to see the sign on your way out, not your way in…)

But what this really shows is what happens when a strategic asset is sold off. For those who were not around the sale of the Government’s 66% share in Wellington airport was the nadir of the Shipley led National government in the 1990s. Winston pulled New Zealand First out of the coalition in the wake of it, and the government staggered on until they were defeated in 1999.

Nowadays the airport is 2/3rds owned by Infrantil and 1/3rd owned by the City Council. I actually have quite a lot of time for Lloyd Morrison, but I am sorry to say that the fact that his company can essentially make the call on how Wellington is branded in terms of visitors and publicity, is just not right. This is just one aspect of what happens when a city or country loses control of strategic assets.

Can we be sure that something like this would not have happened with government ownership? Of course not, but at the very least the public would have a greater say and ability to influence the decision, and deal to the decision makers if they do not listen.


Wellington’s “quake prone” buildings

Posted by on March 4th, 2011

There has, understandably, been a lot of talk in the last few days about how Wellington’s buildings will stand up to an earthquake, and the progress or lack thereof that has been made in strengthening buildings.  The information from the Wellington City Council about those buildings that might be earthquake prone is now being consumed all across town.  That’s all well and good, but what about a solution to actually get the work that needs to be done, done?

I well remember in the 2008 election campaign coming under some pretty strong criticism about the costs being imposed on building owners for earthquake strengthening in Wellington as a result of changes to the Building Act.  In 2009 the Wellington City Council allowed for a negotiated slow-down of the timeline for undertaking the strengthening work, and most owners have got on with the often massive task of raising the necessary funds to do this work.

The tragedy in Christchurch has seen many people think again about the strengthening work. The City Council is to review the process again.  I have been contacted by building owners and tenants who are worried, and are anxious both to make progress on the strengthening, but also about what new requirements might come from the Council review.

There’s no doubt we all want to see the strengthening happen, and happen quickly. But we have been, and possibly still are in a recession.  People are struggling to find the money to do the work. 

I think the time has come from a central and local government partnership to address the issue just as has been done with the leaky building issue.  It does not necessarily have to be structured the same way (it could be a loan facility for instance) but if we are to see buildings strengthened in a timely manner, the owners are going to need some help.

The government’s priority in this kind of area must, and will be, with Christchurch over the next period, but as soon as it is practical I would like to see if we can get the right people together to develop a proposal that gives building owners, residents and the rest of the city a pathway to getting this important work done.


The Coolest Capital City in the World #2

Posted by on November 1st, 2010

And just to make the point, Wellington hosted a very cool musical weekend this past couple of days. Saturday saw Rufus Wainwright and Sunday (and again tonight) Leonard Cohen. I did not make it to Rufus, but I did see Leonard last night. He was simply stunning. I would not class myself as a fan, at least until last night. I have heard plenty of Leonard songs over the years, and spent many of my Friday nights as a student warbling along to So Long Marianne played by the house band (Bits of Spaghetti) at the Robbie Burns, but seeing him in person was something else. A fitter 76 year old you would struggle to find. Intense, captivating, amazing.

In any case, to celebrate, here is Rufus playing Leonard. I dont class myself as religious in any sense, but this song has it all.


The Coolest Capital City in the World

Posted by on November 1st, 2010

Far be it from little old Wellington to rain on the parade of the first day of the Auckland Super City, but it is worth celebrating Wellington’s fourth placing in Lonely Planet’s Cities to Visit in 2011. New Zealand has made a habit of fourth places at the Olympics, but this is one we should welcome!

We can debate endlessly these kinds of lists and where the old, great cities of the world might rank, but the truth is that this is a very popular publication from Lonely Planet and can only be great Wellington’s tourism. The fact that the Rugby World Cup is on here next year will have figured somewhat in the thinking, but the descriptions of the capital’s arts, cafe, music and natural attractions are spot on.

So as ever, we Wellingtonians will take it all in our stride, order another coffee, ignore the wind and bask in the glow of global recognition.


The Wellington Mayoralty

Posted by on October 13th, 2010

Further to Brendon’s post, the result in the Wellington mayoralty is very interesting indeed. First off, huge congratulations to Celia Wade-Brown and her team. I have known Celia for a few years now and she is a person of integrity and strong values. She adopts a principled approach to her work, and that will stand her in good stead for what will be a very challenging role.

I also do want to acknowledge Kerry Prendergast for her time as Mayor. I have very different politics to Kerry and I have disagreed with a number of things she has done (or not done) as Mayor. But I can not fault her work ethic, commitment to Wellington or her willingness to engage with me as an MP.

Obviously the result continues the succcess of the left/progressive candidates in local body elections. While Celia is a Green party member she ran as an independent at the election and had the support of a broad spectrum of left/progressive voters. Wellington is traditionally a centre-left town and it is that majority that has prevailed here.

Despite what Kerry has said this result is actually a vindication of the STV system, rather than some kind of undemocratic outcome. STV ensures that the person who wins the Mayoralty of Wellington is genuinely the most preferred candidate of all voters. For too long FPP ensured that people with minority support won against a large majority.

In any case I, and the other Wellington Labour MPs, really look forward to working with Celia on some exciting new ideas for Wellington, especially in the area of transport and community development.


Managing parking or maximising tickets?

Posted by on September 13th, 2010

Marcus Ganley of Labour is running an impressive campaign in the Wellington Council downtown ward of Lambton. One of his issues is whether the Council should bring parking enforcement in-house and put an end to revenue maximisation. You can vote in Marcus’ poll here, and choose which one of a gruelling schedule of meet-the-candidates meetings is nearest you.


Where to in Health?

Posted by on August 8th, 2010

In Wellington we woke to the news on Friday that Ken Whelan, the Chief Executive of the Capital and Coast District Health Board had resigned. In his farewell email to staff Whelan said

there was no more room to cut the district health board’s costs, despite Government pressure to do so. “I cannot see where any more major efficiency can come from without negatively impacting on services.”

Even Sir John Anderson, the government’s appointment to Chair the Board has said that any further savings “would cut into muscle”.

I have had a bit to do with Ken over the last 18 months or so that I have been an MP, and I regard him very highly. He listened, he was honest, and had a very good grasp on what was happening within the DHB. When he sounds the warning he has made on his departure, the government should listen. The two areas where I have the biggest concerns in Wellington are mental health and public health where cuts are starting to have an impact. In Mental Health this will get worse with the closing of the two community clinics in the city and Kilbirnie set to cause significant disruption to service, despite the best efforts of the staff involved.

When we combine what is happening in Wellington, the public uprising over neurosurgery in Dunedin, the at least 80 cuts to frontline services elsewhere across the country, as highlighted by my colleague Ruth Dyson, and the fact we still do not have a Director-General of Health in place, questions have got to be asked about where Tony Ryall is taking Health. It is never going to be easy. Maintaining and developing health services with an ageing population, increased costs and understandable public desire for locally accessible services is a tough ask. But it needs leadership and it needs to get beyond glib answers in Parliament.

A place to start? Of Capital and Coast’s $47 million deficit, $37 million of it relates to the building of the regional hospital. A senior health professional I spoke to on Friday noted that other DHBs with financial issues are also in this state because of costs related to the buildings. A chunk of this is due to the capital charging regime. I think we need to re-look at the capital charging regime. Of course we want DHBs and other government entities to be efficient in their use of buildings and capital, but if it starts to mean cuts into core medical services, we have to question if the priorities are right?


Wellington’s night in Shanghai

Posted by on June 10th, 2010

Just back from the Wellington cultural and networking evening here in Shanghai, which was well attended by a mixture of expat New Zealanders and Chinese business people.  It was held in NZ Central which, apropo of my previous post,  I think is a great investment for NZ Inc.  It is a space that promotes New Zealand right in central Shanghai, and is available for business people coming to Shanghai to use as a base.

Its hard to be sure at events like this with a somewhat self-selecting audience, but there seemed to be a genuine interest in New Zealand.  While there was a lot of talk about exporting our value added products and knowledge into China in key areas such as agriculture and horticulture, there was great interest in our IT and production industries.  There are a number of production companies represented on the Wellington delegation, along with Richard Taylor from Weta, and they have all reported great progress with joint ventures in film and TV production in China.

The cultural side of the evening was brilliant, with Elena and her troupe wowing the audience.  

Earlier in the day we had a youth forum at the NZ Pavilion at Expo.  One of the Chinese participants was the volunteer coordinator for the Expo. They have around 8,000 volunteers working each day on site, and around 400,000 visitors each day.  It is vast.  From what I saw the New Zealand pavilion stacks up well, and offers some unique experiences, especially in terms of the outdoor area complete with  hot pools, veggie garden and Pohutakawa.


Shanghai Bound

Posted by on June 8th, 2010

I am on my way to Shanghai as part of the Wellington City delegation that is going to leverage off our presence at the World Expo. It should be a great experience.

There are around 50 business people on the delegation, along with a cultural group, a young leaders delegation and myself and the Mayor as the politicians.

The delegation includes people from film, fashion, communication, IT, healthcare, property, event management and wine exporting industries to name just some.

There are a variety of events to showcase Wellington, including a film night.

I was asked to go on the delegation by the City Council, and I will be speaking as part of a young leaders forum at the Expo. Its nice to know that I can still be considered young by some people!

Will try to file a few reports from Expo to let you know how it is going.

And to answer the inevitable, I am paying my own way there and back with my accommodation being met by our hosts.


Te Tai Tonga Poneke- Random Acts of Labourness

Posted by on May 19th, 2010

Following on from their gifts of Easter Eggs to cleaners around the city, the team from Labour’s Te Tai Tonga Poneke branch completed their second random act of labourness by giving away a load of second hand, re-conditioned bikes to the kids at the Arlington Apartments in central Wellington. I was there doing an electorate clinic, and it was just great seeing the delight of the kids at receiving what for many of them was their first bike. Just an awesome gesture. Well done team.


Biography of my skin

Posted by on April 10th, 2010

Went last night.

Biographical story about Miranda Harcourt who plays herself, written by her husband Stuart McKenzie who joins her on stage later in the play.

It is really good,  much more frankness about their relationship(s) than many of us would enjoy seeing about ourselves.

Bits of it are hysterically funny – others take your breath away.

I’m a Harcourt fan. Remember Dame Kate when she was a TV children’s host and being about a decade older that Miranda have watched her develop into a deep and brilliant actress over the years.

Using video clips for interaction was a technique I hadn’t seen before – it worked well.

Only gripe was that I thought that some of the real intensity of what was mainly a solo show was lost when Stuart was on stage towards the end.

See it. Here is what Kiwiblog thought.


Wrong week Noelle

Posted by on April 10th, 2010

Noelle McCarthy has a great opinion piece in the Herald which makes it very clear why Wellington is so much better than Auckland.

She is brilliantly insightful.

However the piece is a bit spoiled by her reference to our wind.  Seems so wrong as I sit sweltering outside in April.

And on the odd windy day my hair gets no worse anyway.


No thanks to Wellywood

Posted by on March 12th, 2010

I thought the Mayor of Wellington was taking the piss – or thought it was 1 April when she proposed a plastic imitation on the Mirimar hill.

She has given jafas a great opportunity to poke sticks at us as shown by two columns in the Herald today :-

Jim Hopkins: If Wellywood’s the answer, I have questions

and Brian Rudman : Two cheers for Wellywood – they’re welcome to their wannabe sign

Kerry please tell us you were just trying to be funny.


National’s neglect of rail

Posted by on March 9th, 2010

Wellington commuters who regularly use our local trains live with the day to day realities of the last National government’s disastrous decision to privatise what was then NZ Rail. Between its sale and eventual buy-back in 2008, very little was spent on upgrading or even maintaining rail services. Some of the trains running on Wellington’s rail lines are literally museum pieces.

The last Labour government started to repair some of that damage. For example the new trains that will start arriving in Wellington later this year were purchased only after central government stumped up most of the cash. The problems that have plagued our local trains over recent months are largely due to the huge backlog of maintenance and upgrading that’s now being done. Had it been done over the past decade and a half we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in now.

Like a lot of Wellingtonians, I’m disappointed the new National-led government seem to have so little faith in rail. From the outside looking in it seems as though they want it to fail so that they can carve it up, sell it off, or close it down. They’re now talking about closing down regional lines, what a sell-out. Freight within NZ is expected to increase by up to 75% in the next 20 years – does National want to see all of that going onto the roads?


Time to plead guilty bill

Posted by on March 8th, 2010

Yet another inquiry into the Brash email leaks doesn’t find quite enough evidence to name the Deputy Prime Minister.


Wellington weather is rubbish

Posted by on January 16th, 2010

Why oh why am I in Wellington  for the weekend.

Rain is driving in from the south for the second day in a row.

The power has been off for two hours. I’m relying on GPRS and not much battery on the laptop.

Got out the Mp3 and have been listening to Dane Rumble, Topps , Rungas, Dobbyn. Might head to Elvis.

When kids were teens they used to put their tapes in our covers  (esp Topps Judy Small) just before we headed on holidays. Just hearing them reminds me.

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Bill English and the parking tickets- or not as the case may be.

Posted by on January 4th, 2010

When I first blogged about Bill English’s motorcade taking up parking spaces, including mobility ones, while he was getting a haircut I tagged it as humour. It was a huge story in the Dom Post, but I actually felt a bit sorry for Bill as he had bad back pain at the time. However the news that no parking infringement notices will be issued is really disappointing. As someone who has had many parking tickets from the Wellington City Council (never for parking in a mobility park I hasten to add) I have paid those fines as a fair cop. In this case it seems the Wellington City Council has caved in to pressure from the government.

The whole thing was totally unnecessary as in the first instance Bill English probably did not need the security detail for the short trip, and moreover they definitely did not need to park in those spaces. This is not on. Garry Poole from the WCC says no other drivers were inconvenienced, how does he know that? How many times have we all had parking tickets when that would have been true? Not much sign of the one law for all message here, Bill.