EFA Anti-Democratic – Clark

June 24, 2008

It’s not Helen but Linda Clark who, with Chapman Tripp colleague Andy Nicholls, delivers a blistering attack on the Electoral Finance Act in this week’s Listener. The preview is here but the full story won’t be on-line for a couple of weeks.

The Listener does this to encourage us to buy a copy of the magazine and I’m not going to interfere with that so will resist the temptation to copy the whole piece. Instead here’s a taste of what they say:

An Act rushed through late last year is threatening our right to really know who we will be voting for – even our politicians are playing a waiting game, and it needs to be fixed now.

…The EFA’s dampening effect on the current election campaign is so serious, it is anti-democratic.

Though National has said, if elected, it will repeal the EFA, it needs to be fixed now if this campaign is to be a fair contest. Voters should be able to see for themselves what and who is up for election and not just in a flurry at the last minute.

… parties … are holding back their candidates from campaiging and robbing voters of the opportunity to be informed.

… election advertising … commits political parties to key promises… And in the contests for electorates, which these days are given scant media coverage, it helps voters identify one candidate over another.

People don’t even know which electorate they’re in after the boundary changes, let alone who the candidates are. The Waitaki Electorate has the highest number of registered voters in the country, but the returning officer said she got lots of forms back from people saying their details were correct but they’d been put in the wrong electorate.

The EFS is getting in the way of this campaign with the problems stemming from both the scope of the Act’s intention and the way it was drafted.

 …Parties have found calculating expenditure complicated by what is now a very broad definition of what constitutes election advertising…it’s possible a party logo alone will be deemed to be an advertisement – no one seems sure.

…What is prevailing is confusion and conservatism…The (Electoral) Commission…has opted not to provide any sign-off of expenditure before the election…

The trouble is none of this ofers any of the parties any certainty that what they are doing is not in breach of the EFA… some MPs may have already overspent…

Elections should never be decided by the courts and electioneering should not be such a guessing game.

…Constitutional laws require bipartisan suppport to be durable, They ought to be non-political.

There is more – buy a copy and read all it for yourself.


Fruit Rots for Want of Pickers

June 24, 2008

Australia is borrowing our ideas to help solve their problems with a shortage of seasonal workers:

FRED Tassone is one of scores of operators of orchards, market gardens and vineyards across the country who cannot find enough workers to pick their produce.

Despite more than 460,000 people being officially unemployed in Australia, the chronic labour shortage in the horticulture industry has reached the point where fruit has been left rotting on trees, and vegetables are left in the ground.

The federal Government is evaluating a recently completed trial of a seasonal workers program in New Zealand, generally regarded as successful by government and industry alike. Soon the sight of Pacific Islanders in fields across Australia may be commonplace.

A decision on a pilot of a program allowing Pacific Islanders short-term visas of up to six months is expected in the next few weeks. Pacific leaders have long advocated the freer movement of labour.

The use of Pacific workers helped orchardists in Central Otago last summer, and also added vibrancy to the community. A group of workers, with beautiful voices, used to busk at Wanaka’s Sunday market.

The mining boom in Western Australia has attracted many people who might once have been prepared to do the hard physical work in the orchards and vineyards.

“It doesn’t matter whether the unemployment rate is 5 per cent or 50 per cent, Australia’s unemployed don’t want to do our work,” Mr Tassone said.

“Unskilled workers can make up to $1200 a week, but Australians just don’t want to do it.”

Jonathan Nathundriwa, 30, from Fiji, who works on a farm next to Mr Tassone’s, said local unemployed people were not interested in the hard physical work required.

On the other hand, the Islanders would be delighted to earn a decent income, Mr Nathundriwa said.

“My family back in Fiji are busting their chops for $10 a day,” he said.

“I would love to be able to give them employment.”

He could also be talking about the dairy industry here.

 Gay Tripodi, who runs stone-fruit operation Murrawee Farms at Swan Hill, in Victoria, said backpackers were not a solution.

“For God’s sake, they’re a nightmare,” she said. “It’s not their fault – most are good kids, but 99 per cent have never been on a farm.

“We need workers who can stay with us for the duration of the season, five to six months.

“We can train them up and then they return to us the following year. We have been really struggling. The situation is dramatic.”

We have a similar problem with people unaccustomed to farms who think they want to work in dairying. It would be great to be able to employ seasonal workers on dairy farms in the same way orchards do. If we could we might look further than the Pacific Islands. We’ve had good workers from Argentina and Chile and neighbours are equally positive about workers from Uruguay.


Carbon Farming Website

June 24, 2008

The Carbon Farming Group, a charitable trust funded by the Tindall Foundation has some sobering information for farmers on the impications of the Emissions Trading Scheme.

 I put some top-of-my-head figures in the calculator and discovered that a dairy farm with 1200 cows and 50 hectares of radiata pine would be liable for $46,000 a year.

 A farm with 20,000 sheep and 50 hectares of radiata would pay $ 55,000 a year.

 Cut down the trees and the liability for the dairy farm is $74,100; and $82,500 for the sheep.

 The obvious lesson is to plant more trees, but in an increasingly hungry world replacing pasture with forest is not a sensible strategy. And even with more trees the ETS will impose big costs on farmers, some will have to be absorbed and some will flow on to consumers which will make food even more expensive.


Otago Uni iTunes

June 24, 2008

I first enrolled at Otago University (or for pedants the University of Otago) so long ago (1975) that I’m not sure there were any computers on campus, or if there were they certainly weren’t available for lowly Arts under-grads.

When I returned in 2003 most communication between the University and students was by email; and some lectures and a variety of other resources were available on the internet.

Now an email from the alumni office informs me I could listen to lectures, short films and musical performances via the University of Otago on iTunes.


Campaign Trail Can Be Lonely

June 24, 2008

Oh dear, it’s a lonely life for would-be Mps. Only six people attended a meeting with Act candidate and former Labour Finance Minister Sir Roger Douglas in Invercargill yesterday – including Sir Roger and his off-sider.

 

Maybe that’s why he turned up at the South Island Dairy Event later in the day – there are more than 600 people attending that conference providing a ready-made audience.


Choosing Gender

June 24, 2008

After our second son died someone said what a pity it was the boys who died, because of the farm.

I’ll put to one side the fact that we could have had any number of sons who might not have wanted to farm and any number of daughters who might have choosen to and concentrate on the issue: would the death of a daughter somehow be less distressing than that of a son? Of course not.

Among the many things I learnt from the short lives and early deaths of my sons was the truth in the words expressed so often by prospective parents, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a boy or a girl, as long as the baby  is happy and healthy.

No doubt that colours my view in the debate surrounding the Bioethics Council recommendation that parents undergoing IVF be allowed to choose the gender of their chidlren.

I don’t agree with  Rev Dr Michael McCabe and John Kelinsman  who said:

Catholic teaching on human dignity asserts the inviolable right to life from the moment of fertilisation to death. This right is totally unrelated to questions regarding the quality of life.

We are disturbed that there is a growing trend among some to equate the right to life with the absence of disease or with a certain notion of normality.

From a Catholic perspective, all embryos are equal and deserve unconditional respect. Therefore, embryos with genetic abnormalities have as much right to exist and be selected as those who are supposedly free of genetic abnormalities.

I loved my sons inspite of their disabilities which meant they passed none of the developmental milestones and could do no more the day they died than they could the day they were born at 20 weeks and five years respectively.  But if I was a prospective parent undergoing IVF and could choose an embryo with or without a disability, I would not hesitate to choose the one without.

But I am hesitant about the next step to allow choosing gender, even if as the ODT says:

On the face of it, there is much that could be said in favour of this, not least its logic.

The parents-to-be will have made a number of challenging, potentially life-changing decisions to progress their status to this point and it can be argued, as the council has indeed done, that there are simply insufficient reasons to withold that final decision from the persons involved.

But:

It comes back to such broad concepts as “interfering with nature”, “designing babies”, manipulating genetic material for shallow or unethical ends, and so on.

For while the council was recommending sex selection in the most narrow of circumstances, many would see the move as a dangerous precedent: an open invitation for the advancement of other selection crtieria for “social” reasons.

Whatever one’s cultural or spiritual background and beliefs, there is something inherently disturbing about the prospect of a world in which babies are pre-selected according to a set of supposedly desirable genetic traits and characteristics – which is where opponents of the sex selection report can see this ultimately headed.

After our sons died a lot of people said we were lucky we still had a daughter. It’s hard to appreciate luck when you’ve just buried a child, but I understood what they meant. However, I am not sure if they would have understood if I’d explained that one of the lucky things about having a healthy child was that it taught me to be realistic about parenting.

Had none of our children survived I might have harboured romantic ideas that I could have been the perfect mother of a perfect child. As it was I learned from experience perfection and parenting are mutually exclusive and that we carry on loving our children inspite of the imperfections – theirs and ours.

Parenting, at least as much as marriage is for better and for worse and the idea that a certain number of girls or boys would make a family better just buys in to the false idea that that there is a “right” number and gender balance for a family.

I have no problem with choosing the sex of a baby to avoid a gender-linked health problem. But I am uncomfortable about taking that extra step to allow choosing a boy or a girl to gender balance families.

Professor Lord Robert Winston discussed this on Nine To Noon  this morning.


Nikken Seil Dream Over

June 24, 2008

Dr Hirotomi Ochi  bought Teschmakers, a former Catholic girls’ boarding school, and 500 hectares of land in 2001 to set up an international centre in North Otago for health sciences and the growing and processing of organic foods.

But he died nearly three years ago. Now his company, Nikken Seil is selling the 22ha it bought north of Oamaru to establish a business park and the sale of the school and surrounding land is expected to follow.

Nikken’s principal shareholder Dr Hirotomo Ochi, who died in October 2005, bought Teschemakers for about $500,000 in 2000, and from that sprang the idea of the business park and the purchase of about 500ha of farmland to produce organic foods for processing.

Dr Ochi was also the principal shareholder in food company Nikken Foods, but since his death the projects – which could have created hundreds of jobs – have languished.

Former Waitaki mayor Alan McLay yesterday said the business park land was still “a huge opportunity long term”.

“Nothing has changed, except the possibility of having Japanese enterprises and industries. It’s given us the opportunity for a much-needed industrial area for the town,” he said.

The international college was a big dream and the company spent hundreds of thousands of dollars restoring the old school buildings, including an historic homestead which was destroyed by fire part way through the restoration, and rebuilt.

 

 The school ought to be worth a lot more than its $500,000 purchase price now the buildings have been restored  – if someone with a new dream can be found to buy it.

 

 Waitaki Mayor  Alex Familton agrees with his predecssor that there is still potential for a business park.

 


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