Rural round-up

November 14, 2013

End in sight for TPP talks – Nigel Stirling:

Trade Minister Tim Groser says negotiators are on track for an end-of-year deadline to complete the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade talks but whether it is met will depend on the leaders of the countries involved.

At last month’s Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in Bali TPP leaders, including New Zealand’s Prime Minister John Key, exhorted negotiators from the dozen Pacific Rim countries involved to step up efforts for the deal to scrap trade and investment barriers.

Groser said NZ’s chief negotiator David Walker had been involved in an intense round of meetings since the Bali talks. . .

Record price in N Canty:

An irrigated 129ha North Canterbury farm has sold at auction for $6.7 million, or $52,300 a hectare, a record price for a North Canterbury dairy farm.

PGG Wrightson Christchurch agent Peter Crean said Gairloch, sold by his colleague Athol Earl, was converted to dairy in 1995 and has milked about 450 cows, with production peaking at 188,000kg milksolids last season.

“We have a strong board of motivated buyers at present with few local dairy properties of this calibre available, so it was no surprise that the sale achieved such a positive result,” Crean said.

Five bidders took part in the auction and the room was full of others including bankers, farm valuers and neighbours, he said. . .

Minister pays tribute to drought heroes:

Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy has paid tribute to Rural Support Trust members at a function in Parliament tonight, thanking them for their work during the drought earlier this year.

“This was the worst drought in 70 years and a very tough time for many rural communities.

“Rural Support Trusts worked tirelessly to lift farmer and community morale. I want to salute them for the work they did in sitting around the kitchen table with so many farmers, supporting them to find a way through.

“They opened doors to vital support service and helped people to make better decisions for themselves, their families and their livelihoods.

“Many farmers are staunch and reluctant to ask for help. Their farms can be geographically isolated, and the stress can affect the whole family. . .

Speech to the Global Food Safety Forum – Nathan Guy:

. . .I’m very pleased that the Global Food Safety Forum has chosen New Zealand as the location for its first such event outside China.  New Zealand is a fitting choice, given the strength of the relationship between our countries, the importance of China as a growing market for New Zealand’s high-quality food exports, and our well-deserved reputation for having a world-class food safety system.   

Today I want to emphasise the critical importance of food safety – for the environment that supports us all, the health of consumers, and the strength of our economy. In particular, I want to emphasise how critical it is that we all play our part in that system.

New Zealand is in the business of food. We produce, process, retail, import and export food. Agriculture, fisheries and forestry, are central to our economic wellbeing, contributing 12.7% of GDPand representingover 11.8% of employment.

Food exports account for 54 per cent of New Zealand’s total export value and our food and beverage exports go to around 200 markets. . . .

New Zealand’s fisheries performing well:

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has now released its 2013 summaries of the Status of New Zealand’s Fisheries which confirms most New Zealand fisheries are performing well.

Highlights from the 2013 review show that:

Both stocks of hoki have now increased for seven consecutive years and both are now well within or above their management targets. As a result it has been possible to increase the quota from 90,000 tonnes to 150,000 metric tonnes

The recent discovery of a new aggregation of Chatham Rise orange roughy has led to a favourable revision of the status of this stock. . .

What it takes to compete in the global dairy industry- Dr Jon Hauser:

The dairy industry is a hot topic in Australia at the moment. Warrnambool Cheese and Butter, a prized dairy asset in southwest Victoria, is up for grabs. There is currently a 3 way bidding war between local publicly listed dairy company Bega, farmer co-operative Murray Goulburn, and the Canadian dairy giant Saputo.

This week United Dairyfarmers Victoria organised a meeting of farmers in Warrnambool. The UDV is a farmer representative group charged with lobbying government and industry on behalf of Victorian dairy farmers. They invited me to talk about the global dairy market – what it takes to compete, and what industry capital and marketing structures are best suited to serving farmer interests. This article reproduces the main content of the presentation. . . .

New CEO for Dairy Women:

The Dairy Women’s Network Trust Board has appointed Zelda de Villiers as its new chief executive.

De Villiers, managing director of DeLaval New Zealand, has more than 20 years’ experience in the international agricultural industry.

She has also worked for DeLaval International in Sweden and NZ, where she has been based since 2009.

Before joining DeLaval, she spent the first 10 years of her career in the agricultural finance and rural banking sector in South Africa. . .

Farm Open Day showcases transformation of sunshine into food:

One of Canterbury’s most productive and most visited farms will open its gates to the public of Christchurch on Saturday 23 November 2013, with its inaugural Farm Open Day.

The Farm Open Day to be held at the Lincoln University Dairy Farm (LUDF) from 1.30pm to 4.30pm will enable visitors to find out how grass becomes milk, milk gets to the supermarket and all the bits in between.

“Farming is the amazing transformation of sunshine, nutrients and water into food (and fibre)” says Dr Andrew West , Vice-Chancellor of Lincoln University and Chairman of SIDDC (South Island Dairy Development Centre). “The Farm Open Day will showcase that transformation from sunshine, nutrients and water through plants, into animals and into our kitchens, dining rooms and cafés.” . . .

Getting school students to cherish our water:

With the summer break just around the corner, us Kiwis will be heading to the beaches, rivers and streams to relax, swim and have some fun. But all that depends on the quality of the water. Lincoln University’s extension programme, Waterwatch, is an interactive programme that involves school students monitoring the ‘health’ of their local rivers or streams.

According to the 6th biennial survey Peoples’ Perceptions of the State of the New Zealand Environment released in 2011, the most important environmental issue facing New Zealand is ‘water pollution and/or water’. So freshwater is an area of particular concern to New Zealanders.

Thanks to the support of The Canterbury Community Trust, Waterwatch is able to provide a fun, flexible and accessible programme of hands-on activities that encourage the sustainable management of, and responsibility for, our waterways. . .


Yes please – but

November 14, 2013

A friend doesn’t remember any computer passwords, she just clicks lost password each time she needs one.

I haven’t gone that far but I’m very near the limit of what I can remember without compromising security with obvious ones like dates of birth and family names.

However, there’s hope in sight for overloaded memories:

Purdue University researchers are working on technology that could see all those passwords that computer users must punch in replaced with steps such as iris and fingerprint scans.

The basement lab of Purdue University’s International Centre for Biometrics Research is where such emerging biometric technologies are tested for weaknesses before going mainstream.

Iris and fingerprint scans as well as facial and voice recognition are just a few of the tools that can improve security while making lives easier, said Stephen Elliott, the centre’s director.

That technology can allow someone to log into a computer or activate a smartphone simply by swiping their fingerprint over a sensor – and eliminate the need to frequently change passwords.

“I think the average person would tell you they have too many passwords and it’s a hassle to change them all the time, and therefore they use the same password for lots of things, which inherently makes that easier to break,” Elliott said. . .

If I was offered that technology I’d say yes please – but there is a but: what happens if you want to allow someone else to access whatever it is the biometric open-sesame applies to?


Thursday’s quiz

November 14, 2013

1. Who said: The happiness of life is made up of minute fractions – the little, soon forgotten charities of a kiss or a smile, a kind look or heartfelt compliment.?

2. The production of The Taming of the Shrew was involved in which Cole Porter musical?

3. It’s bise in French, becio in Italian, beso in Spanish and  kihi in Maori, what is it in English?

4. Philematology is the study of what?

5. Should we follow the example of other cultures where greetings and farewells among friends are more tactile?


Jury still out

November 14, 2013

Fonterra’s internal report on the  botulism scare was full and frank.

The company has said it will implement all 33 recommendations.

It must because as Federated Farmers chief executive Conor English told the international food safety conference,  food safety is New Zealand’s number one issue – and the botulism scare was damaging and a massive risk for the economy.

Mr English compared it to Christchurch’s February 2011 earthquake.

“The stuff that happened with Fonterra and the dairy industry is very like the earthquake … and if they can’t get, frankly, their s*** together so that they are better for it – then I think New Zealand’s in a lot of trouble.

“So I hope, that they do – but the jury’s out for me, to be honest.”

These are strong words.

The earthquake killed lots of people and in the end no lives were at risk from the contaminated why protein.

But a real health threat in any of our dairy products would have as devastating an impact as the earthquakes have.

Fonterra is our biggest exporter and the fallout from the botulism scare shows the damage goes much wider than the company when something goes wrong.

That it appears not to have done any lasting damage has been in spite of the company’s inept handling of the issue when it broke and in the immediate aftermath.

The director of Victoria University’s contemporary China research centre, Xiaoming Huang, said Fonterra’s problem was not as big a deal in China as it might appear from New Zealand.

Professor Huang said New Zealand food still has a very good reputation and believes the public over-reacted.

The Global Food Safety forum’s founder, Rick Gilmore, said time will tell if New Zealand’s response so far is the right one.

“Agricultural and ag exports are so important to the New Zealand economy, that you can’t afford to do otherwise. I think everybody recognises that. So my impression is that New Zealand has held on to its claim to be a food safety model.”

That’s reassuring but no excuse for complacency.


CIRs past use-by date

November 14, 2013

The Opposition is trying to pressure the government over the referendum on the partial sale of a few state owned assets.

This exchange in Question Time yesterday shows they’re making no traction at all:

1. Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Will the results of the state-owned assets referendum in any way influence his Government’s policy to sell State assets; if so, how?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): No.

. . . Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Maybe the way to—[Interruption] Let me relive your past so that you can enjoy it, because we are certainly going to enjoy it on this side. Let us put it another way. This is not the first time, actually, that New Zealanders have heard about the mixed-ownership programme— no. During the 2011 election campaign, Phil Goff described the election as a referendum on asset sales. Russel Norman described the ownership and use of State assets as having become “the defining issue of the election”. The Mana Party said that a vote for National was a vote for asset sales. Well, guess what? We campaigned on it the whole way through, and we won with the largest result in National’s history under MMP and the largest result of any political party under MMP, and Labour got the worst result—

. . . Hon David Cunliffe: Given that more New Zealanders at the last election voted for parties that were opposed to the Government’s assets sales programme, and given that over 327,000 New Zealanders signed the anti – asset sales petition, does he agree that there is unease amongst New Zealanders over his policy?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The election campaign in 2011 was dominated by this issue of the mixedownership model. National won that election with a comprehensive majority in any terms. This Parliament has faced on numerous occasions referendums for which there has been significant public opposition, and we do not even know, by the way, what the result of this referendum will be. But the most recent one was when 87.4 percent of New Zealanders opposed the smacking legislation. That was a policy pushed by Helen Clark, the Greens, and a Labour Government, and all that we can say is that Labour arrogantly ignored it. So when Labour members are in Government they just ignore things, and when they are in Opposition they roar like little tigers or lions, or whatever else it is over there that they do.

Hon David Cunliffe: Given that the Prime Minister’s wafer-thin majority looks like it is going to be hanging from the coat-tails of “Crazy Colin Craig”, who believes in binding referendums, does he propose to ignore the results of the next referendum, just like he has ignored and arrogantly refused all the others?

Mr SPEAKER: Again, in so far as there is prime ministerial responsibility, the right honourable Prime Minister.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I am prepared to accept that I have got a narrow majority in Parliament, relatively speaking—it is 64 votes. But that is way better than David Cunliffe, who does not even have a majority in his own caucus.

Dr Russel Norman: Is the Prime Minister looking forward to receiving his ballot papers in the mail next week so that he can voice his view, albeit the view of a small minority, in favour of asset sales in the referendum?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Firstly, the member is prejudging the outcome, but what I will be saying when I receive my ballot papers through the mailbox is: “What a waste of $9 million of taxpayers’ money, which the Green Party could have seen spent on vulnerable kids or for a million other good reasons in the Parliament.” Secondly, I will say to myself: “Man, it was amazing the way that they tried to con the New Zealand public that they had signatures they did not have.”, and I will say to myself: “It is just another stunt from the Greens that will not work.”

Dr Russel Norman: Does he agree that it is important that all New Zealanders, even those like himself who are part of the small minority that supports asset sales, participate in our democracy under this legislation and exercise their right to vote in the referendum?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: It is up to people whether they wish to participate in an electoral stunt, but I will just say this to the member. This is what I want the member to do. When he is going on the radio and he is on TV, and all the various things he does over the next 3 or 4 weeks, I want him to say this. I want him to say: “I am voting against the asset sales referendum that has been put up.”— fair enough—“I will be voting no.”, or whatever he will be voting, and I want him to say to the New Zealand public: “I deeply apologise for being so arrogant as to ignore you on smacking.”, because

that is what that member did. He was part of the party that drove that. When it was about smacking, he said to the public—

. . . Hon David Cunliffe: What does he think is better value for money: the cost of running the antiasset sales referendum, which is $9 million or thereabouts; the $147 million that he spent on ticket clippers for the fire sale of State assets; or the $1 billion that Treasury says he and Bill English have wasted by the fire-sale rushing this sale of energy companies when the market could not absorb the shares?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, firstly, the member is just plain wrong, actually—

Hon Members: No, he’s not.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: —as he was yesterday in question time, even though he does not actually want anyone to go and have a look at what he said—which is about the third or fourth time that he has been wrong, but do not worry, we will keep an eye on that. The Government has actually maximised the return that it got from these assets. It has actually sold them into a strong market. If the member is so in favour of referendums and thinks they should be binding, then he will adhere to the one that saw 81.5 percent of New Zealanders wanting the number of MPs to reduce to 99 and he will support the 87.4 percent of New Zealanders who did not want the smacking legislation. That member, like the Green member, cannot have it both ways. They cannot say: “I’ll ignore the public on the ones I don’t agree with them on, but I want to follow them on the ones I do.”

When Citizen’s Initiated Referenda were introduced the results were not made binding on the government for very good reasons.

One of those is that referenda are very blunt instruments and it’s incredibly difficult to word them so they are not ambiguous.

The current one is a case in point.

It asks if people support the partial sale of state owned assets. People who don’t want any sales at all will answer no, but people who would rather SOEs were sold in full could also answer no.

None of the CIRs that have been held so far has been acted on by the government of the day.

That isn’t an argument for making them binding.

It’s an argument for getting rid of them.

That this one was a politicians’ initiated referendum rather than one driven by citizens is another argument for that.

CIRs have passed their use-by date and should be replaced with a more effective and less costly vehicle for influencing government policy.

#gigatownoamaru is working hard to influence the competition to be the southern hemisphere’s first gigatown.


Rudd retires

November 14, 2013

Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has announced he will retire from parliament.

. . . In a shock announcement on Wednesday night, an emotional Mr Rudd, who served twice as Prime Minister and was one of Labor’s most polarising figures, said there came a time in every politician’s life when their family said “enough is enough” and there was no point “being here for the sake of being here”.

He leaves at the end of the week and did not say what he planned to do next. The general reaction among his colleagues was a mixture of sadness, relief he was gone and concern for the byelection and the pressure it could place on Bill Shorten. . . .

It is very difficult for a former leader to go back to the back benches.

His presence there and active undermining of Julia Gillard destabilised her government.

Had he retired when she beat him in the leadership race the Labor Party might not have retained power but it would almost certainly be in a much stronger position than it is now.


Govt doesn’t know best

November 14, 2013

One of the many things I admire about Finance Minister Bill English is his willingness to admit that government doesn’t know best and doesn’t always do best.

Speaking at an insurance industry conference in Auckland this morning, English said governments had some “pretty bad habits”.

Those included thinking of capital as ‘free’, as taxes could simply be coerced from an endless supply of customers.

“When things go wrong, governments come up with money to fill the hole,” he said.

“So we’re spending a lot of time trying to understand our risks better … and allocate the management of those risks to people who are in the best position to do a good job.

“That might sound like pretty basic stuff to the insurance industry,” he told the conference.

“I can tell you that to a government, it’s pretty radical.”

English said the new attitude was going to create “ongoing significant change” in the public sector.

Excellent – ongoing significant change is necessary.

He said the Government was bringing corporate treasurer-style expertise to its balance sheet, which had continued to grow through ACC and the NZ Superannuation Fund despite the partial sale of assets.

“We need to understand much better how to manage a balance sheet with a fast growing debt portfolio and a fast growing managed funds portfolio.”

However, he said the real challenge was managing the government’s enormous property portfolio, including $17 billion worth of houses, $13b of schools and $8b of hospitals.

“All of these are poorly managed…that’s why we’ve gone into PPPs [Public Private Partnerships],” said English.

He said the benefit of PPPs was not so much cost savings, “but because we learn so much”.

“The external parties who would be putting capital at risk are much more sensitive to the risks of the project and have a much better toolkit for those risks.”

Having your own money at risk does help you focus on what matters and getting it right.

On the domestic front, English said the risks for the next few years were on the supply side, including attracting skilled people to the workforce.

More significantly, he said New Zealand had one of the least affordable housing markets in the world, despite having only a few million people living in a country the size of Britain.

“We can choose to have a more affordable housing market with less of the debt and the leverage that goes with the overpriced housing market.”

English said in the last few months, the Government had put in place the legislation required to create a more flexible housing supply.

“We simply can’t let a few dozen planners in our councils make decisions which can create such large risks for our economy.”

The leaky homes debacle necessitated tighter building consents but when planners start picking colours and tell you to face your house to the street even if it’s not to the sun they’ve gone far too far.


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