Word of the day

June 28, 2015

Rime – frost formed on cold objects by the rapid freezing of water vapour in cloud or fog;  an accumulation of granular ice tufts on the windward sides of exposed objects that is formed from supercooled fog or cloud and built out directly against the wind; a white incrustation of ice formed when supercooled water droplets freeze almost instantly on contact with a solid surface; a coating, as of mud or slime, likened to a frosty film; to cover an object with hoar frost; archaic variant of rhyme.


Rural round-up

June 28, 2015

Strategic positioning down on the dairy farm – Keith Woodford:

Right now, everyone in the New Zealand dairy industry is figuring out how to get through the next 12 months without too much pain. But eventually events will turn and we will be able to think more strategically about where the industry is going.

Down on the farm, the big long term issue will be how to remain profitable while living in the new world of nutrient emission limits.

There are two ways to go. One is to farm within an all-grass system, but pull back the stocking rate and other inputs such as nitrogen fertiliser and supplementary feed. Some of the environmentally-focused people are arguing that this is the way to go, and within industry organisation DairyNZ there is a strongly held viewpoint that all-grass is where our competitive advantage lies. . .

 

Tukituki decision a win-win for environment & economy:

Federated Farmers is pleased the Tukituki Catchment Proposal Board of Inquiry has released a decision that has allowed for both the environment and economy to prosper.

The Catchment Proposal Board of Inquiry has decided to let the Ruataniwha Dam go ahead with some amendments to the conditions around nutrient management.

Ian Mackenzie, Federated Farmers water and environment spokesperson says “We are pleased the process is finally over and are 100 percent behind the Ruataniwha Dam project going ahead for the reasons that water storage is good for the environment and the economy.” . .

 

Unprecedented support for North Canterbury:

In an unprecedented first, a group of North Canterbury stock agents and meat processors have agreed to collectively work together with Federated Farmers as the coordinator and the Rural Support Trust to help farmers affected by the drought for the good of the industry.

As feed supplies in the province dwindle large numbers of stock have to be relocated elsewhere or other solutions need to be found. 

Dan Hodgen, Federated Farmers North Canterbury Meat & Fibre Chair says “The commitment from these groups to work together to help drought affected farmers is really encouraging and I thank them for it. This hasn’t happened before and it reflects how serious the situation is heading into lambing and calving.” . . .

Biosecurity pups named Fudge and Fritz:

Fudge (girl) and Fritz (boy) are the winning names for two new biosecurity detector puppies that have been especially bred to stop pests and diseases from entering New Zealand.

The Ministry for Primary Industries announced the beagle names today after running a public competition to name two puppies from its “F-litter”.

“Both names were popular choices among the entrants, and they meet our requirements for names that are short and easy to remember,” says MPI Detection Technology Manager Brett Hickman. . .

 

Aussie farmers plant more Monsanto’s GM canola:

Australian farmers continue to embrace GM technology in greater numbers and have now planted more than 1.5 million hectares of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready® canola since its introduction in 2008.
 
Despite an expected 9% drop in the size of this season’s overall canola crop, local growers have purchased a record one million tonnes of Roundup Ready canola seed, up 15% on last season.
 
More than 436,000 hectares of GM canola will be planted this year, up from nearly 350,000 hectares last year. GM canola varieties now make up 22% of the canola planted in the states that allow GM canola to be grown – Western Australia, Victoria and New South Wales. . .

Horticultural Industry Celebrates Bay of Plenty Young Fruit Grower Success:

More than 280 people from around the horticultural industry came together last night to celebrate the 2015 Bay of Plenty Young Fruit Grower competition which saw 26 year old Craig Ward from Apata take out the 2015 title at a sold-out gala dinner.

Craig beat seven other competitors in a series of competitive events and tests during the day and a quiz and speech competition in the evening. Craig will now go on to represent the Bay of Plenty at the national competition run by Horticulture New Zealand in Christchurch on 12-13 August.

This year’s competition received a huge amount of support from the horticultural industry through sponsorship and other contributions. . . .

 


One of Us

June 28, 2015

One of Us Greeting Card

Someday, the light will shine like a sun through my skin & they will say, What have you done with your life? & though there are many moments I think I will remember, in the end, I will be proud to say, I was one of us….   One of Us  ©2015 Brian Andreas

You can sign up for email delivery of a daily dose of whimsy like this at Story People.


Flag of the day

June 28, 2015

The Flag Consideration Panel is inviting people to upload designs for a new flag.

There are more than 4000 in the gallery.

A design website, Freelancer, ran a competition to design a flag. It was won by Christchurch design student Denise Fung with this entry:

This flag design won the competition. Photo / Supplied

Her winning design kept the traditional colours and southern cross motif of the current flag, but added a modern twist with a stylistic fern cutting diagonally through the middle.

“Instead of the Union Jack, I used the colours White, Blue [and] Red, to represent that New Zealand is part of the commonwealth,” Ms Fung wrote in her entry description.

“The key elements on the new flag is the Silver Fern, which has a Kuro (sic) on the top as well.

This combination of the two main icons of New Zealand not only could represent the personality of New Zealanders and the culture of Maori, but also creates a unique impression for the people outside New Zealand.”


John Howard Lecture to Menzies Research Centre – Bill English

June 28, 2015

Our deputy PM and Finance Minister, Bill English delivered the John Howard Lecture to Menzies Research Centre last week:

Thank you for inviting me tonight.

It’s a pleasure to be here in Australia.

What happens over here, and what people are thinking, affects New Zealand profoundly.

That’s why I try to visit here regularly and talk to as many people as I can.

I want to acknowledge the warm relationship shared between our respective Governments – and the constructive engagements we have with Prime Minister Abbott and Joe Hockey in particular.

Australia has enjoyed 25 years of solid economic growth. Following the end of the mining boom, I believe you are well placed to make the necessary adjustments and continue that run of solid growth.

Australia is New Zealand’s most important trading partner and biggest source of overseas investment.

It’s also where many New Zealanders have come to live.

That is, until the last couple of months when – for the first time since 1991 – there was a net migration flow from Australia to New Zealand.

On a seasonally adjusted basis, a net 130 people moved from Australia to New Zealand last month, and I’d like to welcome each and every one of them to our country.

It’s also a pleasure to be following in the footsteps of Prime Minister John Key, who gave this lecture in 2012.

He is the outstanding New Zealand political leader of recent decades.

He brings to bear a remarkable combination of analytical and political skills with the confidence and aspiration New Zealand has needed in tough times.

I know John Key has a huge amount of respect for John Howard.

So do I.

I followed his career for many years through the pages of The Bulletin, which I read in my farming home in the far south of New Zealand.

My first substantial conversation with John Howard was in extraordinary circumstances.

I came over to Australia to meet him in May 2003, as the leader of the opposition National Party.

Unfortunately my visit coincided perfectly with the resignation of the Governor-General.

John Howard obviously had a great deal on his hands dealing with this critical constitutional issue.

However, after watching the Prime Minister answer questions in a very sombre Parliament, I was summoned to his office, greeted warmly and treated to a 45-minute, relaxed, wide-ranging discussion on politics.

That afternoon, I could not have been less relevant to his considerations. But I could not have been treated more warmly and respectfully.

It was a real boost for a young, struggling opposition leader, and I have always remembered his generosity.

Unfortunately, his wisdom and guidance was not sufficient to prevent me from losing my job a few months later.

But John Howard’s example showed me that in politics, persistence is rewarded.

Here I am part of a successful government, now into its third term and hopefully with more to come.

I want to offer some thoughts tonight about the business of government, from a centre-right perspective.

Others can determine whether those thoughts are applicable elsewhere. Each country has its own set of circumstances and its own unique challenges to deal with.

A guiding principle of the John Key-led government has been to take the public along with us as we make changes, explain the reasons for them well in advance, lay out the logic, adjust expectations and implement those changes competently.

Over time, that builds up a popular support for our changes so they will stick.

This approach was developed partly from the experiences of the 1990-1999 National government.

The early 1990s were a time of extensive and sometimes unexpected changes in New Zealand. We implemented sound policies, but we failed to build broader constituencies for those changes.

As a result we lost support, the electoral system was changed to MMP, and many of our policies were undone by the subsequent Labour government.

Since our election in 2008, we have taken a different approach.

Over the past six-and-a-half years the National-led government has been able to implement sound centre-right policy which is now sufficiently embedded with public support that I am confident it will remain in place.

Our approach has been dubbed ‘incremental radicalism’. This differentiates it from another approach to centre-right reform which I call ‘crash or crash through’.

The elements of the ‘crash or crash through’ method include creating a burning platform, initiating rapid change, and spending large amounts of political capital which you hope you will recoup when the expected benefits flow through sufficiently strongly for the government to be re-elected.

In some circumstances this has worked. In the 1980s it was probably necessary.

We didn’t have that choice this time around – nor did we want it.

Our MMP system ensures that electoral success always comes down to a few seats in Parliament.

In last year’s election we beat our main opponents by 47 per cent to 25 per cent of the vote, but our four-party coalition has only a slim majority in the House.

This means we have had to build and maintain continuous public support for our policies.

We have kept a tight rein on new spending – including delivering two budgets in a row with no net new discretionary spending – but it hasn’t felt to people like fiscal austerity.

For instance we increased welfare benefit rates for families with children in our most recent budget – the first time this has happened in more than 40 years. But it was within an overall spending increase that was very slim by historical standards.

In 2010, we implemented a revenue-neutral tax switch which cut all income tax rates and the company rate, funded by an increase in GST and property taxes.

We spent a long time working publicly through the issues so the changes were largely uncontroversial by the time we finalised them, and people could see that the package of measures was balanced and fair.

We also sold 49 per cent of three government-owned electricity companies.

We laid that plan out to the public at the beginning of election year 2011 and campaigned on it, because the legacy of previous asset sales in New Zealand is one of distrust when the public feels assets are sold without a mandate.

While opinion polls showed people didn’t like the policy, there was no evidence of a backlash against us in the 2011 election, and no question that we had a mandate.

In the right circumstances, I believe people can grasp long-term policy trade-offs, so we’ve tried very hard to be predictable, consistent and upfront with voters.

Our fiscal policies and microeconomic reforms are familiar centre-right approaches adapted to New Zealand’s particular circumstances.

But it’s the third part of our policy programme I really want to talk about tonight, and that’s our public sector reforms.

Excluding transfers, government makes up around a quarter of all economic activity in New Zealand.

Government is a huge, diversified business and we can make a big contribution to the country’s prosperity by running that business more effectively.

Centre-right parties tend to want to limit the role of government, which they believe holds back growth in the economy and undermines individual and community liberties.

I share that view – the more so the longer I am in politics.

However because of their scepticism about government, centre-right parties can underestimate their ability to improve the economy by understanding and improving government.

I believe in smaller government.

I also believe the best way to achieve smaller government is to deliver better government.

The centre-right toolkit has traditionally focused on reducing levels of spending, rather than addressing the long-term drivers of that spending.

But too often, spending cuts are only temporary, as they are reversed in the face of public opinion or reinstated by an incoming government.

What is less intuitive for a centre-right party is to better understand the lives and needs of the government’s regular, long-term and most expensive customers.

When government does its job well and intervenes effectively it enables vulnerable people to increase their resilience and social mobility, and it helps them make positive changes to their lives.

It also reduces demand for public services over the medium to long term, and therefore saves taxpayers money.

What works for the community works for the government’s books.

If you compare it to the private sector, a business needs to understand its customers because they drive its revenue. We need to understand our customers because they drive our costs.

It makes sense to get to know our most expensive customers.

Their lives are complex and often challenging. Their interactions with government agencies can be chaotic and crisis-driven.

The result is a loss of human potential and long-term harm to families and communities. And there are big costs for taxpayers.

We are starting to dig into those costs, and the information is proving to be a powerful driver for institutional and policy change.

We can now pretty accurately know the likely life path of different groups of children. For example, there is a relatively small set of children with multiple problems for whom we can expect that:

  • three quarters will not get a high-school qualification,
  • four in ten will have been on a benefit for more than 2 years before they are 21, and
  • a quarter will have been in prison by the time they are 35.

Each of these children will cost taxpayers an average of $320,000 by the time they are 35, and some will cost more than a million dollars.

Front line workers in the community will know most of their names. We can deal with them one by one.

The ideal outcome for us is fewer customers, not more. Fewer dysfunctional families. Fewer parents who spend decades on welfare. Fewer people who commit crimes.

Part of our response is to recognise that people can do more for themselves, and often want to.

We expect more from people, because ultimately they are responsible for their own lives and responsible for their own families.

We expect parents to actively support their children at school. We expect prisoners to get off drugs and gain work skills. And we expect young sole parents who are on benefits to get qualifications.

We’ll help them do that.

We don’t believe that people whose lives are difficult are automatically helpless and will stay that way forever.

But reducing misery, rather than servicing it, requires us to organise responses around these individuals, with them at the centre of public spending.

Inconvenient as it might seem, people don’t live in government departments, they live in families and communities.

Last year we got officials from the health, education, welfare and justice sectors to bring along a summary of analysis about at-risk children and youth.

What we saw were four well-crafted ways of analysing exactly the same people. But they were all quite different because of each agency’s own institutional and professional history and culture.

One agency, for example, used a deprivation index that goes from 1 to 10, while another used one that goes from 10 to 1. Same kids.

That sort of issue is at the easier end of the scale to fix, or at least it should be.

It’s more difficult to set up structures that recognise people’s problems are connected.

Take the case of five-year-olds in state care.

In New Zealand, there are 1,500 of them each year and by the time they are 35 they will incur prison and welfare costs totalling $550 million.

Traditionally we’ve looked after those kids on a shoestring budget, through the valiant efforts of foster parents and front line social workers.

The question is, what can we do differently now, and spend up front, to save those children from such a life and save a good portion of those $550 million in future costs?

When we ask that question, departments usually don’t know the answer because they haven’t tried to solve that problem.

Instead, governments have simply serviced the system for caring for children, and serviced the prison system, and treated those as two separate issues. They are not.

We are starting to link these issues of foster care, education, welfare dependency, youth justice and prison sentences through analysis that shows the costs and potential for more effective intervention at multiple points in a child’s path to adulthood.

We are prepared to spend money now to secure better long-term results for the most vulnerable New Zealanders, and lower costs to the government in the future.

We call this social investment.

It challenges a lot of the structures that have been set up to manage government spending on an annual basis.

If there’s enough good-quality data, the investment approach can look out 20 or 30 years and model the costs of dysfunction, and the benefits of intervention, for particular communities and populations.

That’s how we are now approaching the welfare system.

We previously had a cash-driven, point-in-time view of the welfare system. This led to a focus on short-term results, like bringing down the number of people on the unemployment benefit.

A couple of years ago we commissioned Australian actuaries Taylor Fry to calculate the lifetime welfare costs of people on benefits.

That liability turned out to be $78 billion – or just under 40 per cent of annual GDP.

And we discovered that those on the unemployment benefit made up only 4 per cent of the future liability.

Groups you never thought of made up a bigger percentage. Like those we call ‘recent exits’ – people who have recently returned to work after being on a benefit.

It turns out that many come back on welfare, and their long-term cost was higher in total than the people currently on an unemployment benefit.

Sole parents had an even larger lifetime liability. So did a large group of people with psychiatric and psychological conditions.

You can drill down further into this information.

Among sole parents, for example, you can then ask “Who is going to cost us the most money?” and it turns out it’s the ones who go onto a sole parent benefit before they turn 20.

A teen sole parent on a benefit in New Zealand is on a benefit for around 20 years, on average, with a net present cost of $213,000 per person. So that helps us know where to focus our efforts.

The next obvious question is “what can we do about it?”

With that group of teen sole parents, for example, we no longer just give them a fortnightly benefit and wish them good luck.

They are now enrolled in a scheme that, among other things, ensures they are in school or training, gives them each a supervising adult, and manages their money for them. That programme is showing promising results.

We are also much more focused on getting sole parents of all ages off a benefit and into work, through extra support and greater work obligations.

The latest welfare valuation, which is updated every six months, shows the future liability of beneficiaries has reduced by $7.5 billion in the last year, with $2.2 billion of this due to steps we have taken as a government.

There are now 43,000 fewer children living in a benefit dependent household than there were three years ago, and the number of sole parents on a benefit is the lowest since 1988.

In other areas too, there is a role for better data, and better use of data.

We need to manage privacy and other issues very carefully, but data gives us an opportunity to drive a programme of work firmly focused on getting better results.

That focus is a challenge to public accounting.

The traditional public finance structure is designed to track where every dollar goes, but was never designed to find out whether it made any difference.

Making a difference is the whole point though.

Too often, success has been defined simply in terms of spending money on something. Politicians say “look, we spent more” as though that on its own is what matters.

Public services, which are full of good and capable people, still spend a lot of time not sure of the effects of what they’re doing.

The public think we know, or at least they think we’ve got good intentions.

Borrowing and committing billions of dollars on good intentions has been the post-war model.

Where possible we want to start purchasing results.

We want to buy reductions in recidivism, for example, more educational achievement, and lower welfare dependence.

We also want to broaden the range of organisations and providers we buy these results from.

The more people who worry about New Zealand’s longstanding social challenges, and work on innovative approaches, the better.

The Government doesn’t have a monopoly on good ideas, resources and expertise.

So I expect more involvement from not-for-profit and private sector providers alongside government agencies.

We are aiming to make data more open, so people and organisations outside the usual public policy process can analyse it to develop new ways of reducing dysfunction in vulnerable groups.

Individuals will also benefit from more information about what works, because it supports the ability for them to make choices.

Why shouldn’t someone with a disability, for example, have access to comparisons of different employment support services?

Technology is allowing us to develop new tools to take these sorts of ideas and make them a reality.

Our social investment approach is based on common sense, not a profound new theory.

People have talked about having a results focus for years, and taking a cost-benefit approach to social spending is probably taught in all good public policy courses.

But the difficult part is being able to put these ideas into practice in the real, messy and contentious world of government.

The social investment approach won’t be suitable for all public spending, or even a majority of it, but we’re rolling it out as far as we can.

That’s the opportunity for the centre-right.

Parties to the left of us appear to have given up on innovation in public services. Certainly that is the case in New Zealand, where the Labour Party consistently argues for the status quo.

Centre-right governments have the opportunity to achieve smaller government by delivering better government.

Public services should make a genuine difference to those people in our communities who live with the least resources, and the least hope.

In fact, they should make enough of a difference to reduce the number of people who suffer these disadvantages.

If we focus on making that difference, the centre-right can change government for the better.

More importantly, we can build on the resilience and aspiration of those who are excluded from the economy and community by a passive, unaccountable welfare state.

Thank you.


Sunday soapbox

June 28, 2015

Sunday’s soapbox is yours to use as you will – within the bounds of decency and absence of defamation. You’re welcome to look back or forward, discuss issues of the moment, to pontificate, ponder or point us to something of interest, to educate, elucidate or entertain, amuse, bemuse or simply muse, but not abuse.
Zig Ziglar's photo.

Take 30 seconds and think of three things you are thankful for today – Zig Ziglar.com


35 – 17

June 28, 2015

It was worth staying up late to watch the Highlanders play the Waratahs and win 35 – 17.

The Hurricanes beat the Brumbies earlier and will host the final next week.

 


%d bloggers like this: