Word of the day

August 19, 2013

Phenakism – deception; trickery; a form of deceit or craftiness.


Rural round-up

August 19, 2013

Growing good apps to protect crops:

Smartphones that respond to signals from plants? Laptops that co-ordinate irrigation at dozens of vineyards? Remote weather stations programmed to text frost alerts?

Many commercial growers are using laptops, tablets or smartphones to keep costs down and production up. Home gardeners too, if they can afford it.

Apps may get more attention but they’re small potatoes compared with the software and online programs already at work or being tested for horticultural use. Simply scanning a monitor or applying a few keystrokes can save water and fuel, redirect a labour force or protect a crop. . .

New role fulfils rural passion – Sally Rae:

Kim Reilly recalls how she was a ”ridiculous tomboy”, growing up in a farming family on the Taieri Plains, – so it was no surprise that she pursued a career in the rural sector.

Dunedin-based Mrs Reilly (41), a senior policy adviser for Federated Farmers, has taken over from Matt Harcombe as regional policy manager South Island, following his move to the Ministry for Primary Industries.

Working for the rural lobby organisation provided her with the challenge of utilising her tertiary qualifications, while also maintaining her passion for the rural lifestyle and a firm belief in the importance of farming. . .

Unmanned aerial vehicle monitors river pollution – Laura Macdonald:

A Wairarapa farmer’s developing an unmanned aerial vehicle that can be programmed to fly remotely to take video of the state of our rivers.

It’s being tested with the help of Victoria University in the hope it’ll be used by regional councils trying to get to grips with the problem of polluted waterways.

An unmanned aerial vehicle is the last tool in the effort to monitor New Zealand’s fresh water. It’s being test flown in the Wairarapa over the Muir family farm.

“We don’t actually see a lot of what is going on in the back country of New Zealand, and with this we can actually see it,” says farmer James Muir. . .

Making money on dairy futures – post botulism – Michael Field:

Fonterra’s botulism scare may have scared people off buying milk powder and knocked New Zealand’s international trade, but it may have helped financial traders making money off it.

Two years ago, the New Zealand stock exchange launched a futures trading market for milk powder.

NZX Dairy Futures notched up a record trading month last month, and this week – just as Fonterra executive Gary Romano resigned over the botulism scandal – it had a record trading day. . . .

Bold dairy comeback – Murray Robertson:

DAIRY farming will make a big comeback to the Gisborne-East Coast district if a bold new move by landowner partners in the new Ata Milk brand comes to fruition.

The man spearheading the Ata Milk concept, Dr Hugh Jellie, said it’s about “taking the region back to the future”.

He has been working on the project for 10 years.

Dr Jellie and his partner Sheryl Andersen moved to Gisborne from the Bay of Plenty six months ago.

“To get this community project off the ground, it’s important to be part of the community.” . . .

Wineries suffer further damage from latest quake:

Marlborough wineries have suffered more losses and damage from Friday’s magnitude 6.6 earthquake than they did from the 21 July event.

Wine Marlborough general manager Marcus Pickens says a number of wineries in the region closed after the big quake struck on Friday afternoon and structural engineers will be assessing the damage during the week.

He says there has probably been some wine loss, although how much is not really known at this stage.

“I think a number of the tanks, the way they behave would have spilt wine out the top … and those wine losses are financial losses as well.” . . .

Science award winner values time at Invermay – Sally Rae:

George Davis, who spent decades working at Invermay, has been acknowledged by the sheep industry for his contribution to sheep industry science.

Now retired, Dr Davis received the Silver Fern Farms sheep industry science award at the second annual Beef and Lamb New Zealand sheep industry awards in Invercargill last week.

It was both a very nice occasion and a nice surprise to receive the award and it was also special to be recognised by the industry, Dr Davis said.

The award acknowledged his contribution to New Zealand’s significant international profile in sheep genomics research. . .

What is a new potato? New guidelines issued:

A complaint to trading standards officers in Scotland has led to an industry body issuing a new description of what constitutes a “new potato”.

South Ayrshire Council was asked to investigate whether new potatoes were stored for long periods before sale.

It found that in some cases newly-harvested potatoes were stored for up to seven months before being sold.

The Potato Council has now drawn up an industry standard definition after the council raised its concerns.

The traditional description of a new potato is that it has been specially grown and harvested early, with a thin skin or one you can rub off with a finger. . .


Wrong place

August 19, 2013

A couple of weeks ago a group Peter Dunne called  “irresponsible scum” protested outside his home late at night.

. . . Mr Dunne, who was not home at the time of the protest, said the “hardcore group” were at his house with a loudhailer on Sunday, past 11pm on Monday night, and also yesterday morning at 7am.

He was concerned his wife and neighbours were being intimidated by the group, whom he said were “irresponsible scum”. . .

A different group protested outside the home of Prime Minister John Key at the weekend.

. . . “People do a job. I have a job to do, not everyone agrees with it,” he told TV ONE’s Breakfast. “There’s plenty of places you can have a go at me, but in my home? I don’t think it’s the right place.”

“I really don’t mind if people protest at Parliament, (but) the reason I’m opposed at home is it doesn’t really affect us.

“The police turn up, we have security at the home, and more often than not when they turn up I’m not there. So they’re taking something out on Bronagh and the kids.”

Mr Key said it is also inconvenient for his neighbours who also have nothing to do with setting legislation. . .

People have a right to protest but MPs’ families and neighbours also have a right to private lives undisturbed by political action outside their homes.

They chose to protest outside MPs’ homes because they knew they’d get publicity.

It won’t make any difference to the legislation to which they’re objecting but it did make the news.


MPI revokes export certificates for 4 Westland dairy consignments

August 19, 2013

The Ministry of Primary Industries has revoked export certificates for four consignments of lactoferrin manufactured by Westland Milk Products following the detection of levels of nitrate that exceed the New Zealand standard.

 Lactoferrin is a naturally occurring protein found in milk. The consignments were derived from two affected batches of lactoferrin manufactured by Westland at its Hokitika factory. One batch was exported directly to China as an ingredient for other dairy products by Westland, and the second batch was supplied to Tatua Co-operative Dairy Company, and also exported to China.

MPI has been advised by Westland, Tatua and their customers, that a small proportion of the lactoferrin was used in consumer products. Almost all of these products are now confirmed as detained in the supply chain. There was no affected lactoferrin used in products in New Zealand.

“MPI’s technical experts have looked closely at this issue and believe any food safety risk to Chinese consumers is negligible because the quantities of lactoferrin used in consumer products was very small, meaning the nitrate levels in those products would easily be within acceptable levels”, MPI acting director-general Scott Gallacher said.

“MPI, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the companies concerned are working closely with the Chinese authorities on this issue,” MPI acting director-general Scott Gallacher said.

“MPI has sent a team to the Hokitika factory to confirm how this problem arose, and verify the problem is limited to just the two batches identified. It appears to be so, at this time.”

“The consignments exported to China were accompanied by official export certificates stating that the product complies with New Zealand and China’s regulatory requirements.  This was based on testing of composited batches undertaken at the time of manufacturing, which showed no issue. We now know that is not the case and certification has been withdrawn,” Mr Gallacher said.

This isn’t good timing, coming so soon after the precautionary recall of some products which used Fonterra’s  whey protein concentrate.

But it’s important to keep it in perspective.

The affected product has been identified, almost all of it has been contained and there is no food safety issue.

But it will add to perceptions that our quality standards aren’t as high as we boast and put another dent in our reputation for food safety.


What’s liberals’ next cause?

August 19, 2013

The parents and grandparents who worried about their liberal offsprings’ rejection of marriage in favour of cohabitation a few decades ago would be bemused by the fervour the current generation of liberals showed in their fight for what they called marriage equality.

One generation turned its back on marriage, the next fought to extend its reach.

The law allowing homosexual marriage takes effect today.

The old law required couples marrying to say “I AB, take you CD, to be my legal wife/husband” or words to similar effect and those having a civil union to say “I AB, take you CD, to be my legal civil union partner” or words to similar effect.

What that meant in practice was that couples marrying or entering a civil union could say exactly the same words and would have exactly the same legal protection.

Under the new law, which allows couples to choose to marry or have a civil union, requires:

for a marriage ceremony, each party must say the words “I AB, take you CD, to be my legal wife/husband/partner” – or words to
similar effect, for a civil union ceremony, each party must make a clear statement to the other that names both parties and  acknowledges that they are freely joining in a civil union with each other . . .

Couples marrying or entering civil unions can say exactly the same words they said before the law change and will have exactly the same protection under the law as they did with the old legislation.

The change is in effect a political and personal one rather than a practical one.

The campaign aroused strong feelings on both sides and the liberals won. Having achieved what they set out to do with this, what will their next cause be?


Firm on fraud frees up 1000 houses

August 19, 2013

Housing New Zealand’s firm line on criminal offending and dishonesty has freed up 1000 houses since the Government changed its policy in 2008, Housing Minister Dr Nick Smith said.

“State houses are heavily subsidised by other taxpayers and tenants abuse this support when they are dishonest about their living situation or income, or use the home for criminal activity like drug manufacturing. We need to take a firm approach to such abuse to be fair to the vast bulk of honest tenants, to ensure public money is supporting improved social outcomes, and to ensure our state houses are available to those most in need of housing support,” Dr Smith says.

“Housing New Zealand expanded its fraud unit and started taking a firm approach on the change of Government in 2008. This has seen the number of tenancies terminated for fraud or criminal offending grow from 42 in 2008/09 to 292 in the year ending of 2012/13. A total of 1001 tenants have been evicted as a result of fraud investigations since the new approach was adopted.

“Housing New Zealand also takes a zero tolerance approach to state houses being used to manufacture and supply drugs. Four houses were used as meth labs in the 2012/13 year, as compared to seven in the previous year. It is an appalling breach of faith for tenants, generously provided with a home by other taxpayers, to then use that home to manufacture and peddle drugs. I am hopeful that the decline in the number of state houses being used as drug houses is a sign that the message of zero tolerance is getting through.

“The work by Housing New Zealand investigators resulted in 129 criminal convictions and the identification of $11 million of rent subsidies tenants were not entitled to.

“While the vast majority of Housing New Zealand’s 62,000 tenancies on income-related rent are in legitimate need of housing, a small minority are rorting the system. I make no apologies for the hard line taken to make sure state housing is freed up for those who actually need it.

“Housing New Zealand investigations for fraud arise from tenancy manager observations, anonymous tip-offs, information from other government agencies and inconsistent information from tenants themselves. 22 per cent of investigations result in no further action because of honest misunderstanding or mistake, insufficient information to prove dishonesty, or other exceptional circumstances that negated what appeared fraudulent.

“Housing support fraud will become more difficult with the Government’s social housing reforms that bring together the administration of financial support for housing and welfare. Many of the people defrauding Housing New Zealand were also committing benefit fraud and it makes sense for both sorts of financial assistance to be considered together.”

A thousand out of 62,000 is not a large number but state houses are supposed to be for those who need them, not those rorting the system or indulging in criminal behaviour.

Last week Victoria University accounting and commercial law associate professor Lisa Marriott said that Inland Revenue was more likely to write off unpaid tax than the Ministry of Social Development  was to write off welfare debts.

MSD would often keep welfare debts on its books, sometimes until people died or retired.

Tax debt totalled nearly $6 billion, while welfare debt was about $1b, she said.

“There appears to be no basis for treating debtors to the two government agencies differently,” Marriott said.

The study indicated tax debtors got off more lightly, she said.

Inland Revenue was more likely to negotiate with debtors and collect core tax, and write off penalties and interest, Marriott said. . .

Associate Social Development Minister Chester Borrows said those claims were misleading.

“The Ministry of Social Development (MSD) has a duty to take care with taxpayer money. When they find evidence someone has fraudulently taken money they are not entitled to, they will prosecute, and make no apologies for that,” says Mr Borrows.

“To describe this as being particularly ‘punitive’ is simply wrong. It implies we should ignore welfare fraud, and shows a basic ignorance of the wide range of support MSD provides to New Zealanders.”

Mr Borrows singled out claims that more is spent chasing welfare fraud than tax fraud as demonstrably false.

“This year IRD has a budget of $142 million to enforce tax obligations. This is more than quadruple MSD’s collections and integrity services budget of $29.8 million.”

He also pointed to the use of penalties and interest to illustrate the different approaches taken by MSD and Inland Revenue.

“To focus on penalties and interest written off by Inland Revenue ignores the very different way IRD and MSD operate. Inland Revenue has a tough regime of penalties and interest, whereas MSD only uses penalties in rare cases where dishonest behaviour needs to be sanctioned by a criminal prosecution is not appropriate.

“The numbers clearly illustrate this. In 2011/12 MSD imposed around $144,000 of sanctions on 164 cases – a stark difference to the more than $600 million of penalties and interest IRD imposed in the same year.” . . .

Revenue Minister Todd McClay says there can be good reasons to write some tax off.

“Businesses that are finding it a little bit difficult to meet their obligations can stay in business and keep employing New Zealanders,” says Mr McClay.The Minister says comparisons between the two Ministries are unhelpful, partly because there are under half a million kiwis on benefits, but more than 7 million tax customers. . .

Fraud is fraud and taking other people’s money is wrong. But simple comparisons between the way the MSD and IRD treat debt is misleading.

The $1b written off by MSD will be a much larger percentage of benefit payments than the $6b written off by IRD is of tax payments.


Why are NZers special?

August 19, 2013

In all the discussion about whether or not the GCSB Bill allows the agency to spy on New Zealanders, I have yet to find an explanation as to why it shouldn’t.

What’s so special about New Zealanders?

We don’t live in a benign world. and sadly some of our number could be as likely to commit acts of terrorism as people from any other country.

I would be very concerned about an agency having the unfettered right to spy on anyone.

But I have none about the police, GCSB, Defence or SIS having the right to spy on us – with the appropriate safeguards to ensure that such action was undertaken only when it was essential and in the interests of public safety.


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