Once upon a time . . .


Once upon a time in La La Land there lived around four million people, a statistically accurate number of whom were regularly asked for their opinions by polling companies.


However, bad fairies interfered with their judgement and the results  and the media who reported on them so that they never accurately represented reality.



Latest results from the latest ONE News Colmar-Brunton poll on 05/10/08 (ONE News images)

And because the popular and competent people who believed in the law of common sense knew that was the case they were able to carry on ruling happily ever after.

Rolls down, schools to close?


The wholesale closure of rural and provincial schools by then Education Minister Trevor Mallard was a major contributer to the Labour losing so much support in the provinces at the 2005 election.

By then the government had put a moratorium on school closures, but it was too late. Children were having to travel much further to school, classrooms were overcrowded, communities which lost schools also lost their focus and those affected made their feelings clear at the ballot box.

Because of that the ODT headline Southern school rolls to plummet  will have been greeted with no enthusiasm at all by the government.

The story which follows shows Ministry of Education roll projections based on birth numbers from Statistics New Zealand:

. . . the number of 3 to 4 year-olds will decline in the Waitaki (-0.4%), Dunedin (-2%), Southland (-2.7%), Clutha (-5%) and Gore (-8.8%) territorial authorities between June this year and 2011 . . . 

The drops contrast with a predicted nationwide rise of 9.4% in the number of pre-schoolers.

A decline in pupil numbers of up to 8.8% will impact on schools. However, this time the suggestion that some might have to close isn’t coming from politicians or bureaucrats:

New Zealand Principals Federation president and Balclutha School principal Paddy Ford said Otago and Southland schools needed to take heed of the figures.

“They might need to look at amalgamation. It doesn’t go down well with schools to say this, but we do have to look at ways of providing the best education we can deliver.”

Talk of school closures usually produces more heat than light and it is often those who no longer have pre-school or school age children who protest most strongly. Those whose offspring are at or nearly at school tend to look at what’s best for the children and sometimes that means school closures and amalgamations.

Schools can reach a tipping point because when the roll drops so does the number of teachers. Parents then decide their chidlren are better off at a bigger school even if it means longer on a bus to get there and the roll drops further until the school is no longer viable.

The concern in rural areas though is that roll projections based on birth numbers don’t necessarily reflect the reality, especially if there is a lot of dairying which has a big change in staff at the end of one season and start of another.

Some schools have more than a 30% change in their rolls over Gpysy weekend at the end of May and a few families moving in or out of a school catchment can have a big impact on pupil numbers.

While schools can provide a focus for a community that’s not a reason to keep a school open if a roll decline means its no longer meeting the educational needs of its pupils. The difficulty is that the Ministry has to work on historical figures and projections which don’t always paint the whole picture.

However, if the projections are accurate, Paddy Ford says declining rolls wouldn’t be all bad news because there is a shortage of teachers.

And while the projections for some southern districts are for falling rolls, huge increases are forecast for the Queenstown Lakes (29.7%), Central Otago (14.2%) and Invercargill (11.4%) areas.

Govt dept comms staff up 112% in 6 years


The number of public relations, communications, media staff and contractors employed by government departments has grown by at least 112% in the past six years.

Gerry Brownlee says in a media release that there were 238 people employed in these areas six years ago. That had grown to 448 last year and then to 505 by July this year. 

“The government spent $30,498,344 on spin doctor salaries for public relations, communications, and media staff in 2006/7 – in the 2007/8 year that rose by 27% to $38,860,253.” 

Among the increases in the amount paid in salaries Brownlee noted was the Department of Conservation which laid field staff off this year but increased its spend on PR salaries from $560,000 in 2006/7 to $1,100,000 in the 07-08 year – a 96% increase.

The Ministry for the Environment had an 88% increase, from $580,140 to $1,092,484; and Inland Revenue salaries doubled from $913,909 $1,828,476 in the same period.

One of the few good things to come out of the Electoral Finance Act was a very clear warning to government departments that they can’t be doing anything that could be construed as singing the praises of the Labour-led government so what on earth are all these people doing?

I doubt if it’s telling us what we have a right to know because journalists reckon there is an inverse relationship between the number of PR people in an organisation and the ability to get clear, honest and open communication from it.

More EFA silliness


How’s this for another example of EFA silliness?


The tall metal frame supporting the sign about the bird and butterfly haven belongs to the National Party’s Waitaki electorate.


What was then the Otago electorate bought lots of them years ago. The electorate committee has leased them to campaign committees for a few weeks before each election and the cost of that has been accounted for in the election return.


In between elections the people who own the land on which the frames stand let other organisations use them at their discretion.


But this year is different because under the EFA if we use the frames we can’t account just for the cost of leasing them we’d have to account for the full commercial value of the materials.


That would be several hundred dollars per frame which multiplied by several across the 35,888 square kilometres of the electorate is far too much when the most we can spend is $20,000 inclusive of GST.


So the bird haven sign stands in splendour on our frame and the hoarding is propped near by on the cheapest materials we could find.



Aussies play catch up


Dalylight saving began in most of Australia today which brings most states back to two hours behind New Zealand.

Clocks in New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, ACT and South Australia went forward an hour this morning.

Western Australians sensibly wait until the end of the month to adjust their clocks and neither Queensland nor the Northern Territory observe daylight saving.

More questions for Fonterra


Inquiring Mind asks several questions of Fonterra. in the wake of the melamine milk poisoning in China.

I have some more:

                    What is Fonterra’s policy on advertising infant milk formula?

                     Does it have different policies in different countries?

                    Does it know if San Lu, in which it has a 43% stake, was one of the Chinese companies which contributed to the $765 million spent on advertising baby milk formula in China last year?

Melamine taint prompts recalls in Sth Korea


Nestle and Mars branded snacks made in China have been recalled in South Korea after melamine was detected in samples.

The Korea Food and Drug Administration says the industrial chemical has been found in M&M’s and Snickers peanut Fun Size, both produced by Mars in China.

Kit Kat bars from Nestle were also found carrying melamine, bringing the total number of melamine-detected items to 10 in Seoul.

The report doesn’t mention whether the amounts of melamine detected were at dangerous levels, but given the deaths and illnesses in China recalls are a sensible precaution.

Chinese farmers victims too


The production chain from pasture to plate is a sophisticated one in New Zealand with high standards for quality at every link.

The New York Times  paints a very different picture in China where turning grass into milk doesn’t seem to have evolved much beyond peasant farming and where the farmers are as much the victims of the melamine milk poisoning scandal as the consumers.

Hat Tip: The Hive

Wotif works well


We were in Dunedin last night for a 21st birthday party and hadn’t got round to booking anywhere to stay until Friday so used wotif.

That found us a room at the four star Dunedin City Hotel for $129.

It’s the fourth time we’ve got a Wotif deal there and each time we’ve been impressed. The rooms are spacious and clean, beds comfortable, the shower has a rose on a flexible hose, they have Les Floralies Earths Organics toiletries and the windows open.

We tend to make most of our decisions to travel at the last minute so use Wotif often. The only time we’ve had a problem was due to the manner of the receptionist and not Wotif.

Every other time we’ve had the same service we’d expect if we booked directly with the hotel, but at a much lower price.

That includes a Wotif Secret Deal  which doesn’t reveal the name of the hotel until you’ve paid. We’ve done that three times and got five star accommodation in the centre of Auckland twice and four star in Wellington once, for a fraction of the normal rate.

You know the general area you’ll be in so if it doesn’t matter too much exactly where you stay it’s worth the gamble.

Only 34 more sleeps . . .


. . . until election day and the Electoral Commission is spending $40,000  on newspaper ads this weekend explaining the Electoral Finance Act.

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