ODT re-launches on-line

May 29, 2008

There are a few disadvantages to life in the country, one of which is that our newspapers are delivered with the mail which doesn’t arrive until anywhere from 1ish to after 3. By this time we’ve usually caught up with national, international and big regional and local stories from radio, TV or the net.

 I’d suggested to the previous editor that because of this rural subscribers ought to be able to get free, or heavily subsidised access to the digital edition but was told that would down-grade the product for other subscribers.

 I happened to be speaking with ODT political editor Dene McKenzie a few weeks ago and said because of that we were thinking of stopping the paper and subscribing to the digital edition instead. He told me to wait because a new editor, Murray Kirkness, had a  different view and the paper was going to re-launch itself on-line. It has and introduces itself here.

 The digital revolution has just taken another turn for Otago Daily Times readers with the launch today of www.odt.co.nz, an open and free source of local, national, international and sports news.

 We’ll update constantly throughout the day, bringing you the latest national and local news as well as features from throughout our region, New Zealand and the world.

And, of course, it’s all about you. We have designed the site for you, our readers. Now you can interact with the ODT in many exciting and different ways. So, let’s have a conversation at www.odt.co.nz

You’ll be able to comment on stories, vote in polls, send us your photographs, create your own news stories.

Your opinions will help shape the news as never before.

Don’t be scared to contact us. We want both your feedback and your contributions _ stories, photos, events – and we now have the cyberspace to publish what we receive.

The ODT is rightly known for the depth of our local coverage, and we’ll carry that even further online.

Not only will we replicate online the hyper-local stories found in the Regions section of the print edition, but the site takes this further with a unique Your Town section.

Most of the towns in our area get their own home-page, complete with news stories, photographs, events, photo slideshows and weather.

The Southland Times competes with the ODT in Central Otago and further south but there is only one other local paper in the region The Oamaru Mail (owned by APN). It used to be an afternoon paper but is now printed in Ashburton in the morning so the only reason for getting it rather than the ODT has been for the parish-pump stories which will now be on line.

We have also taken into account the importance of tertiary students to the region by creating an On Campus section, complete with news, photo slideshows, blogs and a gig guide.

In spite of giving away subscriptions at orientation students most students don’t read papers, but may use the on-line version more.


Elsewhere on the site, our sport coverage will be as comprehensive as ever, ranging from grassroots local games to the most up-to-date news and results from around the globe.

For world news we have signed a partnership with international news giant Associated Press to deliver the latest news and photographs from throughout the world. Wherever news happens, AP is there, and we will be there with them.

We aim to provide depth as well as breadth. Make sure to check out our Opinion and Business section for independent thought and analysis.

Our bloggers will provide a slightly different flavour of opinion, but will certainly be entertaining.







Hickey accepts Cullen’s challenge

May 28, 2008

Bernard Hickey blogged this morning in Show Me the Money that every day from now until the election he’s going to accept Michael Cullen’s challenge to identify some pointless or wasteful Government spending that could be cut.


This includes spending by state-owned enterprises and jobs being offered by all manner of agencies and quangos. This is going to be fun because there is a lot of low-hanging fruit.

The good doctor believes the government runs a tight ship and critics won’t be able to find much in the way of cost savings from government spending to fund tax cuts or to help reduce the inflationary pressures that are keeping interest rates high. He has challenged National and any other proponent of income tax cuts (although I am not one right now) to explain how they will be able to afford tax cuts without massive cuts in government spending and services.

My sense is that nine years of strong government spending growth have created an atmosphere where bureaucrats employ extra people, pay for more consultants and launch more projects without asking the basic question: Do we really need to do this and will we create more value for the economy by doing this than by allowing the private sector to use these resources?

 His first example was Transpower’s new website winterpower watch which was difficult to find and didn’t tell him what he needed to know.


He asked for other suggestions and this afternoon added Housing New Zealand staff’s weekend conference at the luxury Tongariro Lodge which has been widely reported in the MSM and on blogs including kiwiblog  and No Minister.

In the same post Bernard wonders why the Government is looking for a fulltime web communications advisor.

 I don’t get it. I can understand IRD and ACC and a few other government departments that deal with the public need fulltime webmasters to run sites that provide services to the public. That could actually be quite useful and efficient.

But the MSD is an policy advice body. It deals with ministers and other bureaucrats. Surely it’s not that hard. You put all the advice and research up on the site using the basic publishing systems already there. It’s either publicly available on the Internet or it’s available only to other bureaucrats via an Intranet. Do we really need someone doing this fulltime?

Here’s the most interesting gem from the job description. It explains why the MSD wants a fulltime web manager.

The Knowledge Sharing and Communications unit is based within the CSRE group in National Office and has a team of nineteen staff. It includes a Library team to provide effective and proactive library and information services to all Ministry staff.

Just the communications unit within the MSD, let alone the MSD head office, has 19 staff!

Add these examples to the areas ripe for culling suggested by The Hive and me and the potential for tax cuts might increase from just enough for a block of cheese to an amount that could buy a whole cow.




Still no verdict in EFA logo deliberation

May 28, 2008

In March the ODT published a photo of Green MP Metiria Turei completing her third triathlon in a bathing suit emblazoned with Green Party logos. The accompanying story quoted her saying she chose not to swim in a wetsuit, preferring a swimsuit with logos because “it’s always good to get your message out there”.


I wrote a letter to the editor pointing out that the suit ought to have had authorisation including the name and residential address of the Party financial agent and the cost would have to be counted in the election return.


She responded that logos didn’t count so I emailed the Electoral Commission recounting the exchange and asking for an opinion. The reply from Helena Catt said it wasn’t clear that a logo by itself met the definition of an election advertisement.


As the commission was then considering whether a Labour logo on a balloon met the definition I asked her to reconsider the issue. When I hadn’t had a reply by the end of April I resent the email. The response said when the commission considered the balloon they would consider all instances of logos which had been sent to them.


The Herald reports today the commission members are divided over whether logos are advertisements under the EFA.

“… we have not yet received Crown Law opinion on the relationship between logos and election advertisements,” Dr Catt said.

“We are aware that this is a pressing issue but it is not an easy issue so we have to work through differing views.”

I’d have thought if it was used to get “your message out there” it would be, in the words of the Act, “any form of words or graphics or both that can reasonably be regarded encouraging or persuading voters to do either or both of the following:  a) to vote for the party (whether or not the name of the party is stated) …  Why else would they do it? But it obviously isn’t that simple.

…Dr Catt said while it was desirable that the Chief Electoral Office, which regulates candidates’ election advertising, and the Electoral Commission, which regulates parties’ advertising, held the same view about logos, it was possible that they could differ.

As David Farrar  points out this is another victory for the law of common sense.


 The trouble is common sense won’t be a defence for anyone who breeches the EFA so until a decision is made candidates and parties must take a very precautionary appraoch to the use of a logo on anything.


EcoClimate report not all bad

May 28, 2008

Last week’s rain which varied from 12 – 30 mls in different parts of North Otago has lowered temperatures. So while noting the touch of frost on my morning walk I wondered if it would be all bad news if the globe is warming?


The EcoClimate report, Costs and Benefits of Climate Change and Adaption to climate change in New Zealand, which was released by MAF yesterday, says that farming may be better in some areas if the temperature rises a degree or two.


The full report is here and the authors stress it should be regarded as part of the risk assessment of what could happen to production not a firm prediction on what will happen.


The Herald says the impact of climate change wouldn’t be all bad, but the bad effects would be worse than in the past.

The expectation for North Otago is it will be warmer which could mean an earlier growing season. However, it might also be drier with a greater risk of droughts.

“For an average year in the future the predicted changes are small when averaged across the country,” said MAF’s director of national resources policy, Mike Jebsen.

“But different parts of the country are affected differently, with the west becoming wetter, the east drier and all of the country becoming warmer.”

The growing season will get longer, especially in Southland and the West Coast. But although production is expected to increase there, it will decrease in Northland and some east coast areas.

In an average year in the 2030s or 2080s the expected impact on national export revenue from dairying, compared with now, is expected to be minimal. For sheep and beef farming it would be between 4 and 9 per cent lower.

But in extreme years droughts are expected to be worse than those experienced in recent decades, like the 1977/78 and 1997/98 episodes, and national production from pastoral farming would be almost halved.

 Econometric modelling by the Treasury a few years ago found drought to be the second most potent influence on the New Zealand economic cycle, after export prices.

We know all about that in North Otago which has been dogged by recurring droughts. The impact on individuals is as harrowing as ever, though the impact on the district is getting less as irrigation increases.  

Droughts would become more frequent, said Niwa scientist David Wratt, and the work suggested the likelihood of the especially damaging case of a two-year drought might be higher.

“What is now a one-in-20-year drought might become a one-in-five-year one later in the century.”

The work takes no account of any increased risk of pests and diseases which might arise from higher average temperatures (about 2C over the rest of the century, twice the increase of the past 100 years), with fewer frosts and more hot days. Nor does it attempt to model how farmers would react to these climatic changes.

“It takes no account of adaptation, for example, water harvesting and storage or going to drought-resistant plants,” Jebsen said.

More precipitation on the Southern Alps might mean more water coming down the South Island rivers, increasing the potential for irrigation.

North Otago Irrigation Company (NOIC) is already working on the second stage of its scheme which has consents to water 20,000 hectares. The scheme has 100% reliability of supply because it takes water from the Waitaki River which is snow fed.

End of season bonus for Fonterra suppliers expected

May 27, 2008

The Dom  reports that Fonterra suppliers might get an end of season bonus of at least an extra 30 cents a kilo when the board announces the final payout after a meeting on Thursday. 

Its current payout forecast for 2007-08 is $7.30. Fonterra has a policy of revising payout estimates, other than its regular updates, only for movements of at least 30 cents, so a payout of at least $7.60 for this season is expected.

That would be higher than the current estimates of Goldman Sachs JBWere – $7.40 – and Westpac’s $7.50.

“It would be a mild surprise if the current season’s payout was $7.60 or more,” Westpac agri-economist Doug Steel said.

 That would be about $60,000 more for a 600 cow herd but farmers may not see all of the extra money because the company is considering retaining some of this season’s payout in light of uncertainty in international  financial markets.

Next year’s payout is expected to reflect the slight easing in world dairy prices in the past six months. Goldman Sachs JBWere is picking $6.25 a kilogram of milk solids for 2008-09, and Westpac $6.50.

Fonterra gave the drought as its main reason for lifting its payout forecast last month. A subsequent lift for 2007-08 and a more optimistic view for 2008-09 may be due to the fact that most dairy commodities, except skim milk powder, have been holding their prices in the past couple of months.

Even if next season’s payout is lower than this season’s it will still make dairying and dairy support attractive to people considering a move from sheep and beef although the latest Rabobank/Nielson Rural Confidence Survey shows some improvement in expectations for lamb prices. Philippa Stevenson reports on the survey on Rural Network.

Bad reporting but good idea

May 27, 2008

Student bond idea `has merit’

By DAN SILKSTONE – The Press | Tuesday, 27 May 2008


National Party leader John Key supports forcing medical graduates to remain in New Zealand for a set period as part of student loan arrangements.


Good grief – how did this reporting  get past The Press sub?


The headline sums up the story but nowhere in the article is there anything to back up the first paragraph’s statement that Key supports forcing medical graduates to remain here. And the Herald  makes it quite clear the scheme, if implemented, would be voluntary.


National leader John Key says his party is considering wiping medical students’ loans if they agree to work as GPs in rural areas for three or four years.

“I am very concerned about the number of young graduates that are completing their qualification here in New Zealand and leaving,” Mr Key said this morning.

“We need them in New Zealand, we’ve got a GP shortage that is well acknowledged and we’re not afraid to look at creative ways of maybe encouraging them to stay.”

Mr Key said any scheme would be voluntary.

“There are plenty of doctors who have a student loan – they might owe $90-$100,000. The concept of them working in part of regional or rural New Zealand for three or four years to have their loan written off might be very attractive,” he said.

That’s the kind of model we are considering.”


And the idea has merit. There is nothing wrong with graduates going overseas for further training or work experience, but we have a problem when they feel forced to go away for better pay and then don’t come back.


There is a shortage of GPs, especially in rural areas – every doctor at one medical practice in Oamaru is from overseas. Otago Medical School has started a rural training scheme which bases fifth year students in provincial towns in an attempt to redress the chronic shortage of rural doctors. There are a variety of reasons doctors prefer working in cities, but writing off a portion of a recent graduate’s loan for every year worked may help encourage some to the country.


Hat tip: kiwiblog


Why pump sewage uphill?

May 27, 2008

James Weir writes in the Dominion that if there’s no rain in the next three weeks we’ll be asked to start conserving power. Hydro storage is down to 54% of average, the worst levels since the 1992 power crisis.


It isn’t very difficult to save a bit of power – The Listener (preview available now full story on-line in a month) reckons that turning off at the wall the “vampire” appliances which suck power while on standby will save $75 a year – but an uncharitable corner of my mind is asking why bother?


I understand the problem we’re facing and that every little bit helps. But I also wonder what’s the point of individuals doing our little bits when for example, Queenstown Lakes District Council is building a sewerage scheme which will pump Wanaka’s sewage 10 kilometres uphill all day, every day.


Let’s set aside the question of what happens when power fails, as it does now and then when it snows; and the fact that the oxidation ponds where the sewage ends up will attract birds which could cause problems for the nearby airport.


Let’s just ask why, when we’re supposed to be aiming for sustainability; when gravity is free and less prone to breakdowns than electricity; when ratepayers (of whom I am one) are already struggling with the cost of infrastructure for the rapidly growing town; would you build a new scheme which requires you to pump sewage that distance uphill with the attendant financial and environmental costs?


Hat tip: The Hive

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