Lack of Community in our Communities

July 16, 2008

The headline The Horror Hits Home   with an opening pararpah that asks how two infants can allegedly starve to death in an ordinary looking house in an ordinary looking suburb, could have been written about New Zealand. This story however, is about Australia in the wake of the discovery of two babies who starved to death but the issues our our issues too.

What has happened to our communities and neighbourhoods?

Have we become so self-absorbed, so work-oriented or so crippled by the idea that governments should be responsible for the protection of children that we have become the look-away society, where homes have become boltholes and the most vulnerable among us – the old and the young, the sick and infirm – live in dreadful isolation?

Demographer Bernard Salt sees it as a “loss of connectivity”, a separation from our neighbours, that has been growing for several decades in suburbs that have become increasingly amorphous.

“Within the space of about two generations, Australia has moved from being household-based to being workplace-based, and the result has been that any sense of neighbourhoodness has moved out of suburbia and into the office,” he says.

“Most of us are now more likely to have a conversation about the events of the day over the office partition than the back fence.

“As a result, home has become something of a bolthole, leaving suburbia and its role as a place of community connectedness severely diminished.”

And not only in suburbia, it happens in the country too. It’s six weeks since Gypsy weekend when numerous dairy farm workers change jobs but I’m yet to meet any of the new people in our neighbourhood. 

One of the neighbours and I spoke of having a pot luck meal for our road and its off shoots, before calving when it gets too busy. But the first calves are already arriving and we’ve got no further than talking about it.


Nats ECE policy good for country kids

July 14, 2008

The National Party will allow parents of children at kohanga reo and playcentres to access early childhood education (ECE) subsidies which is good news for country families.

The existing policy, introduced by Labour, exempts parent-led centres and requires early childhood centres to have at least one registered pre-school teacher before parents get subsidies. That rules out virtually all centres in the country and small towns.

It is important to have high standards for education, but that should not arbiarily exempt parent-led centres, as the current system does.


Peters in contempt of parliament?

July 14, 2008

Radio NZ reports that Winston Peters is demanding an apology from the NZ Herald over its reports that Owen Glen made a donation to NZ First and that Glen’s PR advisor Steve Fisher says he can’t confirm any of the allegations.

Speaking about the issue on The Farming Show (should be on line later today) MP Eric Roy said he recalled that Winston Peters had been questioned about the donations in parlaiment and denied the party had received them.

If the alleagations in the Herald are correct and Peters did deny them in the house then he would be in contempt of parliament.


Brown Gold

July 14, 2008

You’ve got to love a city  that pays homage to chocolate with a week long carnival.

Dunedin’s chocolate celebrations celebrations began on Saturday with a Mad Hatters Tea Party at the Otago museum.

The annual jafa race down Baldwin Street takes place today and the ODT reports that places at chocolate painting, sculpture and decorating classes sold out within a week of going on sale.

But shhh, we’d better not tell the fat police.


Brain Explosion

July 13, 2008

From Federated Farmers weekly email newsletter, Friday Flash, which is always interesting reading, comes this warning:

Brain explosion – Employers must consider the new phrase ‘brain explosion’ before dismissing employees for serious misconduct. Several recent cases have seen the phrase used as a defence and what’s more it has worked with employees being reinstated. Employers confronted with anything that might be referred to as a ‘brain explosion’ should call Federated Farmers for advice on procedural process before taking action.

A brain explosion sounds messy, but this warning suggests mishandling an employee who has one could be even messier.


Governmentium

July 13, 2008

Cameron Bagrie’s  report on unproductive Government spending has been labelled a nonsense by Jim Anderton – perhaps that indicates he’s been poisoned by governmentium:

 

A major research institution has recently announced the discovery of the

heaviest element yet known to science.

 

The new element has been named “Governmentium (Gv).” Governmentium (Gv) has 1 neutron (PM), 29 assistant neutrons (MPs), 19 deputy neutrons (List MPs), another 3 acting assistant deputy neutrons and 6 Green assistant deputy neutrons, giving it an atomic mass of 63.

 

These 63 particles are held together by forces called morons, which are

surrounded by vast quantities of lepton-like particles called peons.

 

Governmentium is inert. However, it can be detected, because it impedes

every reaction with which it comes into contact. A minute amount of

Governmentium can cause a reaction that would normally take less than a

second, to take more than four days to complete.

 

Governmentium has a normal half-life of 18 months; it does not decay, but instead undergoes a reorganisation in which a portion of the assistant

neutrons and deputy neutrons exchange places.

 

Governmentium’s mass will actually increase over time, since each reorganisation will cause more morons to become neutrons, which then form isodopes.

 

This characteristic of moron promotion leads some scientists to believe that Governmentium is formed whenever morons reach a critical concentration.

 

This hypothetical quantity is referred to as Critical Morass.

 

When catalyzed with money, Governmentium becomes Administratium (Am) — an element which radiates just as much heat but less energy than Governmentium since it has half as many peons but twice as many morons all controlled by isodopes.

A reader sent me an email with this, I have seen several versions of it before but do not to whom credit for the original is due.


Front Page Dogs

July 13, 2008

You know you’re in the provinces when the front page of the local paper has a report on the annual sheep and cattle dog sale.

Friday’s Ashburton Guardian story, headlinedTop dogs bring the big bucks, noted that dairy conversions have taken their toll on the number of stock dogs for sale: 122 in 2006, 94 last year and just 51 this year.

A five year old heading bitch, Queen, sold by Amberley farmer Neil Evans gained the the top price of $5600. The top huntaway made $2000.

The report finished with an explanation for the uninitiated:

A heading dog has a natural instinct to circle silently and widely around stock to bring them back to the handler, whereas huntaways are trained to drive sheep away and are characterised by their loud bark.

There are some of both breeds in politics 🙂


Peters Through The Looking Glass

July 12, 2008

Winston Peters says NZ First handles its PR in-house.

Given the way he handles questions from journalists, I wonder if in the house there is a library with a copy of Through The Looking Glass?

‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone,’ it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.’

‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master – that’s all.’

Alice was too much puzzled to say anything; so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. ‘They’ve a temper, some of them – particularly verbs: they’re the proudest – adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs – however, I can manage the whole lot of them! Impenetrability! That’s what I say!’

‘Would you tell me, please,’ said Alice, ‘what that means?’

‘Now you talk like a reasonable child,’ said Humpty Dumpty, looking very much pleased. ‘I meant by “impenetrability” that we’ve had enough of that subject, …


Which Province is NZ’s Food Bowl?

July 12, 2008

If Waikato is the food bowl of New Zealand  as Lianne Dalziel said in justifying the appointment of former MP Dianne Yates to the Food Standards Australia New Zealand Board, then the province needs to improve its marketing.

I’d have accepted the cream can or horse racing capital, but Waitako wouldn’t immediately come to mind if I was asked which province is the nation’s food bowl.

If we’re going for North Island entrants for the title Hawkes Bay with its wonderful fruit, vegetables, sea food and wine would be a finalist. The Bay of Plenty, Poverty Bay and Northland have a delicious range of fruit and vegetables too; and Wairarapa has wine and olives.

In the South Island, Central Otago can claim the country’s best stone fruit, it has pip fruit and wine too. Nelson and Malborough also grow tasty fruit and have delicious sea food and wine. Canterbury produces tasty fruit and good wine too.

Oysters put Southland on the list, though I’m not sure if swedes would be counted for or against them 🙂

Lamb is legend in Hawkes Bay, Canterbury and Southland, though just about anywhere in New Zealand grows it just as well, and the same can be said for beef.

North Otago may not spring to everyone’s mind as the culinary capital but we have a growing appreciation of our primary produce. There’s a fledging viticulture industry, and Fleurs Place at Moeraki has woken our taste buds to the delights of local fish and sea food. Just as the cold winters add intensity of flavour to Central’s stone fruit, the colder water enhances the flavour of fish, particularly blue cod.

Riverstone Kitchen , a finalist in the Cuisine restaurant of the Year, uses as much local produce as possible – including fruit, vegetables and herbs, from its own orchard and garden.

Wasabi is grown in the Waitaki Valley and it also produces very sweet strawberries, raspberries, loganberries, blackberries, tayberries and boysenberries.

Whitestone Cheese has an array of national awards to back up my ever so slightly biased view that they produce the country’s best cheese.

Totara Lowlands  sells the most succulent cherries I have ever eaten – they don’t export so the pick of the crop is sold locally. Their hazelnuts and honey are also top quality.

While we’re in that part of the the district, Totara and nearby Kakanui are renowned for the vegetables from their market gardens and there are simply no better new potatoes in the world than those which grow here. They are no ordinary spuds, they’re more like underground strawberries.

If you don’t understand how proud North Otago would be if we were called the nation’s potato patch then you obviously haven’t tasted the Jersey Bennies which grow here.


Young Farmers take over Ashvegas

July 11, 2008

When the then Skellerup Young Farmer of the Year contest moved from radio to television the TV people said the contest would have to be filmed in a studio in Wellington.

The Young Farmers’ organising committee said no, that would kill the contest, it must stay in the reigons. They won and the contest moves round each of Young Farmers’ seven regions, alternating between North & South Islands each year.

The result is rivalry not just between contestants but between regions who ensure they have the best Grand Final possible. In the process they attract a lot of local support and visitors from all over the country.

This year’s final of what is now the National Bank Young Farmer Contest  is taking place in Ashburton. Tickets to tomorrow night’s show and dinner sold out weeks ago and there isn’t a spare bed to be had for miles around. It’s great for the local economy, for the contest and Young Farmers.

The programme started on Wednesday with a north vs south rural challenge in the town’s main street. It was won by the South Islanders, who may have had an at-home advantage for the swede tossing.

The contest got more serious yesterday with theoretical and technical challenges and the presentation of a project on market innovation.

Last night’s three minute prepared speeches covered a variety of topics including Heros: Hone Heke or Hopkins? It’s a personal choice; My Frist Time and Taking An Agricultural Approach to Raising Children.

Today it’s all go on the Ashburton Domain for the practical competition which carries a lot of points and may determine the winner because, if as happened last year there is a tie at the end, the title goes to the one with the most points in the practical.


Health Workers Should Lose Right to Strike

July 11, 2008

Otago District Health Board Chief Medical Officer Richard Bunton  says health workers, like police, should lose their right to strike.

He is commenting on the release of investigations by Health & DIsability Commissioner Ron Paterson into complaints over two deaths during the 20006 strike by medical radiation technologists, on which I blogged yesterday.

Mr Bunton said changing the system “has to happen” so that health service workers were covered by legislation, like police officers and not be allowed to strike.

He would expect the definition of health services to be fairly broad, covering any health work which was essential for delivering good patient care.  It would be a matter of “sitting down and working out a mechanism to settle salaries”.

I am sure this would have public support but at least one union isn’t keen.

Association of Salaried Medical Specialists executive director Ian Powell said Mr Bunton’s suggestion was ” throwing the baby out with the bath water”.

Mr Bunton said he accepted that his views would be controversial and would be met with an “interesting debate”.

It was rubbish to suggest strikes did not affect patient care.

No matter what words or niceties were used to explain what happened during strikes, there was no way that staff could deliver the same level of care when the usual processes and checks and balances were not there, he said.

They also cause extra work and put additional strain on alreay overstretched colleagues who aren’t on strike.

Mr Bunton said it was likely situations similar to those in Dunedin Hospital had occurred elsewhere. If Mr Paterson, the watchdog of patient rights, was making a strong statement about the risks to patients during strikes, the Government was obliged to “have a damn good look at it”.

Speaking from the United Kingdom, Mr Powell said Mr Bunton’s suggestion was not helpful. It would involve going “down to an arbitrationist system”, which he did not believe would be favoured by health workers.

Some perspective was needed about industrial action in the health sector. While there was a perception health was riddled with strikes, that was not the case.

 Mr Paterson was raising pertinent questions which should be considered by the health sector in general – not just the minister – but such consideration should not be a “knee-jerk” reaction, Mr Powell said.

The system doesn’t have to be riddled with strikes for striking to cause an unacceptable level of risk.


Ode Upon an IPhone

July 11, 2008

It’s not quite earth has nothing to show more fair, (which, in case there is a student of literature about to pull me up, is the opening line of a sonnet not an ode), but Jim Hopkins  waxes lyrical on the IPhone:

Ahhhhh! The iPhone, that sighPhone
I need one, 3G
To be truly iCatching
– A real iPhoney!
With my shy high iTech
I’ll wi-fi all night
Consuming the world with
A big-gigabyte
I’ll download and upload
And open my portals
I’ll mega my pixels
To shame lesser mortals
I’ll snd pointlss txts
And compile my iTunes
And send sexy iPics
To lonely tycoons
Ahhhhh! iPhone! That sighPhone
The Apple I’m needin
One byte and I’m there!
In the Garden of Eden!!!!
An Adam of Apps
In a digital nation
A WAP-happy chappy
Set free from vexation!!!!!


Informed Vote Essential for PGW SFF Deal

July 11, 2008

Gerry Eckhoff  has some concerns about the proposal for PGG Wrightsons to take a 50% stake in Silver Fern Farms.

The wider industry is bedevilled by self-interest, protectionist or silo mentalities which have cost the sheep industry dearly.

A statement by Owen Poole, chairman of Alliance Group, that Alliance has the best brands in Europe, is a case in point. Silver Fern Farms (formerly PPCS) also tell farmers that its brands are the best. Both are wrong.

The best brand is “New Zealand Lamb”, yet the two large co-operatives continue to believe in their own rhetoric and that, divided, we farmers stand a better chance of survival in the international market place.

I don’t think Alliance is a good brand name for meat. Silver Fern Farms is an improvement on PPCS but Eckhoff is right, New Zealand Lamb is the recognised brand.

The offer by PGG Wrightson to buy 50% of Silver Fern Farms (SFF) is, in reality, the only lifeboat afloat as the sheep industry sinks, so it is little wonder many farmers want to grasp the lifeline offered.

The $220 million offer may well be a very fair one but the question as to why the SSF board, after deciding to seek outside capital, did not call for wider expressions of interest for a 50% stake in the company remains unanswered by the board.

Farmers have had their shares in the company capped because it’s argued too big a shareholding is contrary to the co-operative ethos. But that doesn’t seem to be a consideration with PGW taking a 50% share. A lot of farmers would not be in a position to increase their investment, but there may be some who would not only be able but willing to do so.

Silver Fern Farms has a turnover of $2 billion so the offer by PGG Wrightson of $220 million effectively allows the purchase of a controlling interest in New Zealand’s biggest meat company, for 12c in the turnover dollar.

That seems like a fire-sale price to many sheep farmers, but it also speaks volumes as to the ability of Craig Norgate and Tim Myles of PGG Wrightson.

Farmers will await with interest an analysis/advice from the one non-farmer or independent director of SFF.

The SFF chairman, Eion Garden, says the proposal should not be seen as a financial bailout. That view will be greeted with some incredulity by observers.

If Mr Garden is correct, then he needs to explain why he does not simply invite Mr Norgate and Mr Myles on to the board of SFF for their undoubted expertise, but without the cash.

The Board says the capital injection will be used for improved technology and marketing, but that doesn’t explain why it needs to come from PGW.

Much of the rationale for the merger presented to farmers is the need for year-round supply and the technical assistance PGG Wrightson can bring to ensure this happens.

All that needs to happen to ensure supply during the August-September-October period (the off-season for supply volumes) is for meat processors to ask farmers, in, say, February, to submit a tender price to supply whatever number of stock the processor needs during these months.

The processor then obviously accepts the lowest tender prices until the required numbers are reached. Whether a merger is necessary to achieve that easily obtained outcome is a moot question.

A change in strategy doesn’t necessarily require a change in structure.

It is concerning that the emphasis of the merger appears not to be so much about capturing a greater share of the overseas value chain but locking in the domestic supply chain.

At a time when the world is increasingly short of meat protein and with the prices set to rise substantially, the board of SFF offers to sell 50% of the business to a very willing buyer.

That clearly indicates that there is not too much wrong with the industry – just the people currently running it.

TI wouldn’t say that about all the people running the industry.

If sheep farmers choose to exercise their right to vote on this issue, as they must, they have a duty to future generations to inform themselves as well as possible on all the issues and not just rely on the opinion of vested interests.

That’s good advice for any vote, but you can’t require people to have a comprehension test before they put their tick on the voting paper.


Sky High Fuel Price for Helicopter

July 10, 2008

A helicopter pilot who does most of his work in agricultural spraying tells me his monthly fuel bill has gone up from $12,000 to $18,000 this year.


Should Medics Be Able To Strike?

July 10, 2008

A damning report  on two deaths which occurred because of delays to treatment during a medical radiation technologists’ strike raises the question of whether health professionals should be able to take that sort of industrial action.

A report into a complaint against the Otago District Health Board involving a Dunedin Hospital patient whose treatment was delayed because of strikes suggested “the wrong party is in the dock”.

The report is one of two by Health and Disability Commissioner Ron Paterson on two complaints against the board, arising out of medical radiation technologists (MRT) strikes in 2006.

It says although there is potential to breach an agreement with unions over life-preserving services, hospitals cannot allow patient safety to be jeopardised.

The reports draw attention to the risks to patients during health professionals’ strikes when clinicians are not able to carry out their usual practices, and calls for the Minister of Health to consider better protection for patients during strikes.

Strikes by any other workers may disrupt and annoy people, but those by health professionals have the potential to kill them.

Read the rest of this entry »


If you think city fuel prices are high…

July 9, 2008

… try driving in the provinces.

Poneke  tells us that 91 octane petrol in Wellington has reached 218.9 cents a litre.

In Wanaka it’s 2.269 for 91;  and 2.349 for premium. 

Diesel is 199.9 cents a litre and of course Road User Charges come on top of that.

Ouch.


Consent Appeal Off Track

July 8, 2008

While debate rages over KiwiRail nationwide, North Otago has a local argument over whether a disused line should be re-opened to allow trains to run at all.

A branch line used to run from the limeworks on the outskirts of Weston to Oamaru. It was closed in 1997 and the lines were lifted a couple of years later but its owner, then NZ Railways, retained ownership in case it was needed for a cement plant.

However, when the Waitaki district plan was reviewed in 1993 the designation wasn’t properly recorded. OnTrack now needs it redesignated because it’s the best means of transport for Holcim NZ  if its plans for a new cement plant in the Waiareka Valley come to fruition.

The new plant would be a $400m investment for Holcim but its plans have not been greeted with universal enthusiasm and the Waiareka Valley Preservation Society  was set up to oppose the proposal.

Resource consent was granted in February but both Holcim and the WVPS have lodged appeals – the former over some of the conditions, that latter over the approval.

OnTrack’s application to redesignate the line came in the middle of all this and the WVPS submitted against it. Independent commissioner Allan Cubitt recommended that approval be given and because OnTrack is a requiring authority under the Resource Management Act it makes the final decision. Not surprisingly it accepted the commissioner’s recommendation but now the WVPS, which submitted against the application, is appealing that consent too. Their appeal will be considered with the others on Holcim’s proposal in the Environment Court.

We farm next to the site for Holcim’s plant and another of our properties neighbours the company’s sand pit, which will be used if the cement works go ahead. 

I submitted in support of Holcim’s proposal at the resource consent hearings. I’ll cover the details in a future blog, but the short argument is that there would be substantial economic and social benefits for the district if the cement works go ahead; and RMA conditions will safeguard the environment.

As for the railway line, I crossed it several times a week when it was open before and can’t recall any problems then. People who have built beside the rail corridor since the track closed will have concerns; but once they get used to them they’ll hardly notice a few trains a day – and they will not run at night.

I think the WVPS objections have more to do with the society’s opposition to Holcim than the reopening of the railway line. And that’s one of the frustrations with the RMA – it allows people objecting to one thing to object to another in the hope of stopping the first.


$10,000 punt on National Win

July 3, 2008

I’m having one of those fortnights this week so just caught up with this in yesterday’s Press over breakfast:

A Melbourne punter thinks National will win New Zealand’s election and has plunged $A 10,000 ($NZ12,720) on John Key’s party. The punter stands to win $A13,500 with Australian betting agency Centrebet if National wins the election later this year.

Centrebet has since firmed National in to $1.30 with Labour the outsider at $3.35.

“It’s one of the biggest bets so far, but we also have a London punter who’s placed L2000 ($NZ5,300) on Key at $1.30,” Centrebet political analyst Neil Evans said.

However, he said Clark has not been friendless in the betting, with a Christchuch punter recently backing her at $3.15, while an earlier Wellington punter staked $1000 on her at $2.65.

Would it be unkind to point out this could prove that only losers are backing Labour?

National opened three months ago at $1.47 and Labour at $2.62.

Over at The Inquiring Mind  Adam Smith has copied a letter to the editor of the NZ Herald from Labour president Mike Williams in which he argues that polls are losing their predictive value.

I wonder what he thinks about betting agences? They can be wrong, but their businesses thrive because they’re right more often.


SFF Selling Dunedin Head Office

July 2, 2008

Silver Fern Farms  is selling its Dunedin head office building and the recently closed deer plant at Burnside.

Chief executive Keith Cooper said the decision to sell the three-storeyed 0.33ha George St site, known as Harvest Court, followed an approach by a buyer with an offer “too good to refuse”, and had nothing to do with recent closures of processing plants, he said.

The 3800sq m building was owned by a holding company, Farm Enterprises Otago, which was 74% owned by Silver Fern Farms (SFF) and the balance by Federated Farmers Otago.

SFF would remain the anchor tennant, Mr Cooper said.

He would not reveal the sale price, but according to Dunedin City Council rating information, Harvest Court had a land value of $6.58 million and a capital value of $9 million.

This is separate from Monday’s announcement that PGG Wrightson wants to take a 50% stake in SFF and whether or not that deal goes ahead it makes sense for the company to sell non-core assets to reduce its debt.


Still No Crisis?

July 1, 2008

Hawea people are losing patience  with the Government’s refusal to admit there’s a power crisis.

The Government must bite the bullet and tell the nation to make a 10% savings on power or endure public shame if it is not achieved, the Lake Hawea Community Association chairman Errol Carr says.

Lake Hawea residents are on high alert as Contact Energy begins this week to draw down Lake Hawea to the emergency level of 336m for the first time in 20 years.

Mr Carr said the lake level was stable at about 338.1, but a public demonstration was likely if residents’ concerns about low lake levels and environmental damage were not heeded.

“If told, I think the South Island would buckle in and do what they can. The Government is saying there is no crisis, but why are we going to emergency generation?”

Because it’s election year and Labour doesn’t want power cuts.

Lower South Island residents have saved the lowest percentage of electricity, recording 3.2%, according to Transpower statistics.

Upper South Island residents have saved the highest percentage nationally, at 4.1%, and the national average savings is 3.6%.

I don’t know how much power is the difference between 3.2%, 3.6% and 4.1%, nor why the Upper South Island beats the national average. – But it’s easy to explain why savings are lower in the lower south: it’s winter, and the further south you go the colder you get. Here,  around the 45th paraellel, yesterday’s frost still hasn’t thawed from shady places and it’s only .5 degrees outside right now.

Mr Carr said while he did not want older people and those with limited heating sources to suffer, the national average was “pretty mediocre” and there was a lot more that could be done.

He attributed the Government’s reluctance to take leadership to a desire to avoid bad news during an election year.

“We would like to see the Government telling the country there is a problem,” Mr Carr said.

And I’d like to see the Government explaining to the country why there is a problem.


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