Award for most incompetent Minister goes to . . .

07/04/2022

Who is the government’s most incompetent Minister? There’s plenty to choose from.

Transport Minister Michael Woods is a contender for the $50 million spent on the Auckland bike bridge to nowhere and for continuing to work on the far too expensive light rail project:

While New Zealanders are in a cost of living crisis with record inflation, it is unjustifiable and irresponsible for the Government to steam ahead with their plans to build their light rail vanity project, National’s Transport spokesperson Simeon Brown says.

“Documents released by Treasury today show Michael Wood’s commitment to light rail could explode to an eye watering $29.2 billion – nearly double the cost of what was announced in January, which was already a staggering amount of money at almost $15 billion.

“Treasury’s advice was scathing of the project, saying the Government should not pick a preferred option for light rail until further analysis could be undertaken – advice the Government has clearly ignored.

“Labour’s commitment to this vanity project will cost taxpayers a whopping $100 million before the next election, with no guarantee of spades being in the ground.

“The cost for this project is entirely unjustifiable and the Government needs to accept that this project is simply not worth it. Especially when New Zealanders are dealing with a cost of living crisis, which will only get worse if the Government doesn’t rein in its wasteful spending.

Kris Faafoi is a contender for the way Immigration treated families of essential workers stuck overseas and for failing to fast track residency for essential workers already here.

Immigration policies are also likely to lead to job losses in the tertiary sector:

The Government urgently needs to get international students into the country to prevent looming job losses in the tertiary sector, National’s Tertiary Education spokesperson Penny Simmonds says.

“Universities and polytechnics are currently considering staff redundancies as a way of coping with declining enrolments this year.

“Labour is allowing 5000 international students into the country next month – but universities and polytechnics can only access 2150 students, or 43 per cent, with the remainder of students heading to high schools, Private Training Establishments and English language schools.

“This will do little to ease the urgent staffing issues facing the sector.

“Given that student visas are currently taking Immigration New Zealand three months to process, students applying in April won’t be processed in time for semester two, putting further stress on our valuable tertiary teaching staff.

On top of that, international research now shows New Zealand is falling out of favour with international students, being ranked last among the major English-speaking education destinations in a survey of more than 10,000 people from 93 countries.

“And the effects are obvious – according to the Ministry of Education in 2019, New Zealand had about 22,000 fulltime international students paying total tuition fees of $562 million. The figures for 2021 and 2022 are estimated to be 70 per cent of that 2019 figure.

“The Government must explain what the rational is for limiting international student numbers, our fourth biggest export earner, when the border is reopening.

“It is appalling that this Government has allowed international education in this country to decline to this level. We must act urgently to prevent further deterioration in this sector and that means not restricting international student numbers coming here.” . .

He’s also fallen short as Justice Minister:

Victims of crime missed out on support they were entitled to because Justice Minister Kris Faafoi failed to sign off the criteria for a $3 million victim support fund for more than five months after the fund was announced, National’s Justice spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.

“Earlier this month it was revealed that zero victims were supported by the fund announced in Budget 2021, despite applications being open since July 2021.

“Labour was content to let Victim Support take the blame for this lack of delivery, but it turns out Minister Faafoi didn’t bother to sign off the eligibility criteria until November 2021 – more than five months after the fund was announced and four months after applications opened.

Rather than letting Victim Support take the rap, Minister Faafoi should have fessed up that his incompetence is the real reason why victims are missing out on support the Government promised them.

“Governments spend months finalising the Budget every year so he would have known well in advance that this fund would be open for applications from July. What is his excuse for doing nothing for over five months to ensure victims could access the support? 

“Even worse, the Police Minister has conceded agencies who are meant to advise victims of support they are entitled to were not provided information about the fund until February 2022. . .

That Police Minister Potu Williams is another contender for the silence when police were facing the protesters at parliament, silence over repeated examples of policing by consent that let gangs disregard lockdown rules and terrorise the law abiding while doing it; and her refusal to allow National police spokesman Mark Mitchell to meet the Commissioner or district commanders:

. . . He said: “I don’t think she’s [Williams is] very good at her job and I don’t think she’s across her portfolio, but for her now to use her political power and position in government to start blocking me from meetings – that’s Third World stuff … she may as well go and join the Cabinet in Somalia.” . . 

Trumping that is her denial of an increase in gang violence:

. . .Mitchell asked Williams in Parliament on Wednesday if gang violence had increased or decreased under her watch, to which she replied: “I reject the premise of that question.”  . . .

And this:

Then there’s waste in health with expired vaccines:

Thousands of meningococcal vaccines have been left to expire instead of being given to those most at risk, National’s Health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti says.

“It has been revealed that 17,122 meningococcal vaccines have expired in the last two years, at a cost of $1.6 million, and who knows how many lives.

“The Ministry of Health has a strict eligibility criteria for the meningococcal vaccine, but these vaccines that were left unused could have been made available to those most at risk, to help protect them from this deathly disease.

“The lost opportunity to protect people is a tragedy and that $1.6 million that ended up being wasted could have been spent on other areas of health that desperately need it.

“Last week a meningitis petition was presented to Parliament, pleading to the Government to fund vaccines against the disease. This news will be a cold comfort to those petition supporters.

“This is becoming a concerning pattern of behaviour from Health Minister Andrew Little who has already wasted $8 million worth of measles vaccines in a botched catch-up campaign, and now he can add this one to the growing list.

“Minister Little needs to commit to making expiring meningococcal vaccines available to primary care for use inside and outside of the strict criteria to avoid a tragedy like this happening again.” . .

And the botched measles programme costing $1900 per person:

The botched $20 million measles vaccine catch-up programme is worse than it appears, National’s Health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti says.

“The other week it was revealed that $8 million of measles vaccines were left unused and had expired.

“However, information shows that only 11,206 people of the targeted 300,000 received the vaccine – representing a cost of nearly $1900 per person and reaching only 3 per cent of the targeted population.

“It was also revealed that Labour spent $1.8 million on public relations to frame a campaign ‘with a particular focus on Māori and Pacific people’, yet only 1181 Māori received the vaccine – a PR cost of $1,500 per person.

“Worse still, to date the programme costs show that $2.2 million has been spent on public relations while only $1.61 million was spent on actually delivering the vaccine to Māori.

“Andrew Little seems more interested in PR and spin than actually delivering measles vaccinations to Māori.

“The list of health failures is mounting under Andrew Little’s watch. He failed to deliver any extra ICU beds during a global pandemic, has completely missed every health target set and now he can add a botched measles campaign to his growing list.”

The government put so much effort, and spent so much money, justifying locking us down and persuading us to get vaccinated so that the health system wasn’t over whelmed yet did little or nothing to retain existing staff and recruit more.

That’s left  hospitals understaffed and health professionals overworked :

Their employers have warned them not to speak out but nurses say they won’t be silenced. Overworked and understaffed, they’ve told Sunday that they’ve had enough of a health system under real pressure.

The Omicron surge hasn’t helped, but there was a serious nursing shortage long before Covid struck, and now burnout and resignations are high while the pandemic shut off the supply of overseas nurses.

Nurses still on the job worry patient safety may suffer because they are so short-staffed.

Is the government listening?

No it’s not. Instead it’s going ahead with the complete restructure of the health system that will do nothing to improve pay and conditions for health professionals and nothing to improve services, and outcomes, for patients.

That would be bad enough at the best of times. In the middle of a pandemic it’s a complete waste of scarce funds and people’s focus.

While on health and the pandemic lets not forget the shortage of PPE, the delay in securing vaccines which left the rollout starting late and the RATs debacle.

Then there’s paying more and getting less in several areas.

Carmel Sepuloni has overseen an increase in MSD staff and deterioration in performance:

Our welfare system is less responsive than ever as phone wait times for the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) surge, National’s Social Development and Employment spokesperson Louise Upston says.

“Whether it’s superannuitants, students, people out of work, or a family who needs help to cope with soaring living costs, New Zealander’s deserve timely answers from the department responsible of administering the welfare system.

“Since 2017, the number of MSD staff answering calls has increased from 650 to 1220 people, yet the average wait time has also increased from 4 to 18 minutes, even reaching close to 40 minutes some weeks this year.

“That’s an 88 per cent increase in staff numbers, a large deterioration in performance and no better outcomes for Kiwis.  

“Appallingly, some people have waited longer than three hours while others have reported it took weeks to receive a call back.

“The cost of living crisis has increased demand for hardship grants and there is almost an extra 50,000 people on the unemployment benefit, which means preparations should have been made to cope with more inquiries.

“New Zealander’s deserve a better service given the substantial taxpayer dollars poured into MSD. Simply increasing staff numbers is not going to cut it.

“Minister Sepuloni needs to hold MSD accountable for their plummeting performance and ensures it fulfils its core responsibility to answer New Zealander’s questions and help people access their entitlements.”

Corrections is spending more money on prisoners with worse outcomes:

Taxpayers are spending more money on prisoners, yet violent crime continues to go up, National’s Corrections spokesperson Simon O’Connor says.

“New Zealand taxpayers are now spending $151,000 per prisoner, per year – an increase of over $30,000 per prisoner from 2018/19.

“Overall, there has been an increase of $139 million poured into the Corrections system over the period between 2018/19 and 2020/21, despite fewer prisoners.

“At the same time, there has been a steep decline in the number of prisoners accessing rehabilitation services. Prisoners accessing alcohol and drug programmes alone has dropped from 6311 in 2015/16 to 1065 in 2019/20 – a decrease greater than the drop in prisoner numbers.

“More money is being spent, but we’re getting worse outcomes.

“Rehabilitation is a key way for prisoners to turn their lives around, but in 2019/20 the number of prisoners taking part in rehabilitation programmes plummeted to 2399, from 5845 in 2015/16.

“It can hardly be a surprise then that violent crime is up 21 per cent since 2017, as reported by the Salvation Army, and that we have one of the highest recidivism rates in the OECD.

“This is typical for a Government who are experts at spending taxpayer money with no expectation of results.

“On top of this, Labour is taking soft-on-crime approach which is clearly not working.

“Without effective rehabilitation, re-imprisonment rates and violence will only keep climbing.”

And more is being spent on mental health for no positive results:

The mental health monitoring report out today shows that the Government’s $1.9 billion investment in mental health has delivered no benefit to Kiwis, National’s Mental Health spokesperson Matt Doocey says.

“This is emblematic of a Government that is all spin and no delivery. Labour’s only measure of success is how much it spends on things. But it needs to be about the outcomes that we achieve for New Zealanders.

“The report released today by the Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission reinforces what many mental health groups and services have been telling me for some time – that they’re not seeing any of the money promised for mental health and can’t point to where it’s gone.

“They have been raising these concerns with the Government for months about staff shortages and growing waiting lists, but have not received a response.

“The findings in the report also show that our specialist services are facing increased demand since the beginning of the pandemic, especially from younger people seeking mental health support.

“The Government says it has invested in the sector, yet services are harder to access. They must explain where the money has gone and why it hasn’t made a difference to improving people’s mental health.

“Making announcements with good intentions isn’t going to solve the growing mental health problems that New Zealand is facing, but strong leadership and a well-managed plan to execute change will. We need targeted spending that delivers outcomes for Kiwis.”

Then there are virtue signalling environmental policies that are nothing more than taxes that increase costs but do nothing at all for the environment:

The Government’s car tax comes into force today, piling on yet another cost for Kiwis facing a cost of living crisis, National’s Transport spokesperson Simeon Brown says.

“Hardworking Kiwis will be hoping that this is just an April Fool’s joke, but sadly they will still have to live with Labour’s new car tax after today.        

“The so-called ‘Clean Car Discount’ gives a rebate for expensive electric vehicles while imposing fees of thousands of dollars on many other vehicles. For example, buyers of a Toyota Hilux* will face a $5175 tax when they first register the vehicle.  

“This will have a negative impact on our farmers and tradies who need utes to do their jobs and contribute to our economic recovery.   

“The Government is penalising farmers and tradies for their choice of vehicle despite there being no viable electric ute available. Even Toyota had to correct the Prime Minister last year that it has no plans to bring an electric ute to New Zealand within the next two years.

“LDV will have an electric alternative, the EV-T60, coming from China later this year. But it is two-wheel drive and can only haul a max of 1,000 kgs for 162km. This is not enough to meet farmers’ needs, who need strength and reliability.

“While the Government gives with one hand, by temporarily reducing fuel taxes, it takes with the other by imposing the Auckland regional fuel tax, a car tax, and is now proposing a biofuels mandate which will further increase the cost of fuel. 

“All of these policies drive up the cost of living for motorists struggling to get by under rapidly rising inflation and fuel prices.

An environmental and transport failure is the train from Hamilton to Auckland:

The Te Huia train today marks its first birthday with news that it has spent more time off the tracks than on them, National’s Transport spokesperson Simeon Brown says.

“There is not a lot to celebrate about this service which has failed from day one.

“Not only has the train spent more time off the tracks than on them over the past 12 months, taxpayers have poured $98 million into a service which very few people use and which takes much longer than driving between Hamilton and Auckland.

“Furthermore, research produced by the Waikato Chamber of Commerce shows that based on current passenger numbers the train actually emits more carbon emissions than someone who drives their petrol or diesel vehicle between these two cities.

“Patronage is significantly lower than what it was when the service started despite repeated calls to ‘build it and people will come’.

“This painfully slow train is simply not fit for purpose. It doesn’t achieve the outcomes that the Government claimed it would one year ago.

“The Transport Minister is so completely focussed on his legacy projects, he is prepared to waste almost $100 million of taxpayer dollars on a train that isn’t fit for purpose and hardly anyone wants to use.

“Quite frankly this is an irresponsible use of taxpayers’ money which would be better spent on extending the Waikato Expressway from Cambridge to Piarere.”  

If all this isn’t bad enough, there’s the incompetence with funding the Strategic Tourism Asset Protection Programme (STAPP) 

The Auditor General’s Report on the Strategic Tourism Asset Protection Programme (STAPP) confirmed what many businesses have been saying – that this Labour Government has been biased and unfair, National’s Tourism spokesperson Todd McClay says.

“Every tourism business in New Zealand has done it tough over the last two years and this report has shown that this Labour Government favoured some and left others to suffer.

“In May 2020 the Government and former Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis opened a $290M fund for struggling tourism businesses. When applications opened, some businesses were accepted without any evidence that they were in financial difficulty, and didn’t have to go through the same process as other businesses.

“The Government seems to believe that only Queenstown exists when it comes to tourism in New Zealand, when in reality there are tourism operators up and down the country who are suffering just as much.

“In typical Labour fashion, they simply threw money at a problem without having a well-managed plan. Current Tourism Minister Stuart Nash has blamed the uncertainty of Covid-19 for these mistakes, but the reality is they failed to think things through at a time when tourism businesses needed them most.

“New Zealanders deserve to have a Government who are responsible with their spending, but this Labour Government has proven time and time again that they cannot be trusted to make wise or fair spending decisions.

“I am calling on Minister Nash to find those funds that were given out incorrectly, take them back and redistribute them to all Kiwi tourism operators so that they can open up quickly for international tourists.”

Bryce Edwards says the report raises questions of integrity:

Was political favouritism involved in the dishing out of millions of dollars by government ministers to tourism businesses? We can’t know, because the Government didn’t keep sufficient records or have proper processes for the handouts. That’s the obvious question arising from a scathing report released by the Auditor General on Thursday, which has received far too little attention.

The Auditor General’s report investigates a scheme set up by the Government early in the Covid crisis (May 2020), called the Strategic Tourism Assets Protection Programme. The report is one of many that have criticised government procedures during Covid for their lack of integrity. . . 

Harman draws attention to the fact that there have been a number of other reports from the Auditor General’s office that have pinged the Government for poor processes in regard to government departments dealing with private vested interests during Covid – especially the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Social Development.

Of course, one of the most problematic has been the multi-billion-dollar Wage Subsidy Scheme, which was seen to be poorly designed and administered.

There’s a theme building up from these reports – that of crony corporate welfare getting out of hand in recent years. This is one of the blind spots in New Zealand politics and society. Recent governments are prone to giving generous subsidies to business interests, often without any great systems of integrity or best practice. And unfortunately, the public never seems to mind much when it becomes apparent.

It could well be that New Zealand is just too eager to believe the annual Transparency International Corruption Perception Index results that show this country to be the least corrupt nation on earth. In ignoring reports such as this latest from the Auditor General, the Government is undermining that status.

On the subject of Ministerial oversight of money wasted, there’s plenty to choose from :

So much incompetence, it’s hard to choose which is worse but there’s one person who is supposed to be on top of all the portfolios and those presiding over them. That’s Jacinda Ardern.

Would any other recent Prime Minister have tolerated this litany of laxness from Ministers? Bill English, John Key, Helen Clark? No.

There’s a lot more to leadership than announcing announcements and serving word salads no matter how caring they sound.

Ensuring Ministers are up to the jobs they’re supposed to be doing and holding them to account if  and when they fall short is a very important one by which measure of competence this PM falls short.


Bright ideas needed

28/03/2022

Reducing the excise tax on fuel shows what happens when politics meets climate change policy – politics wins.

That’s a very good illustration of what’s wrong with so much of the response to climate change – it’s focused far too much on taxing more and trying to force us to do or have less.

That’s not attractive to the wealthy,  it is unaffordable for the poor.

The economic and social costs of too much climate change policy are too high with little, if any environmental benefit.

There is a better way – bright ideas based on the research and science. That’s what’s solved so many other problems.

 

 

You can watch the clip on YouTube here.


Rural round-up

13/12/2021

Hands on training to develop future farmers – Colin Williscroft:

AS MOST farmers know, sometimes if you want something to happen you’ve got to get in there and give things a push yourself, rather than wait for action from elsewhere.

That was certainly the case for the Growing Future Farmers (GFF) programme, which recently signed a funding agreement with Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ) to help it attract and train more young people in the red meat sector.

After winning the B+LNZ Sheep Industry Trainer of the Year award in 2016, Dan and Tam Jex-Blake realised that if they wanted to do something about the skill shortage facing the sector, they had to be proactive themselves.

Jex-Blake says there was and still is an absolute need to get more skilled people on-farm and the pipeline of young people wanting to enter the industry was drying up. . . 

 

Passion for growing agri-business education – Kate Taylor:

The introduction of agribusiness to New Zealand’s secondary school curriculum was a team effort, but continues to be driven by the enthusiasm of Waikato teacher Kerry Allen.

Kerry grew up near Rotorua on a dry-stock farm that has been in her family for more than 100 years. She worked in a plant nursery at weekends, did a horticulture degree at Lincoln University and then teacher training in Christchurch. After teaching horticulture and then science at Hillcrest High School for 18 years, Kerry took a new curriculum and resource writing position with St Paul’s Collegiate School in 2014.

The idea of an agribusiness curriculum grew from parent feedback that general education wasn’t meeting the needs of the primary sector. St Paul’s introduced agricultural and horticultural science classes, then expanded into agribusiness by using standards from other subjects, re-contextualised in a primary sector context. That worked, but they wanted to take it further as its own subject. They started getting other schools on board and began the process of asking the Ministry of Education to introduce it as a new subject. . .

Deer venture enters new territory – Sally Rae:

“We live it. We love it.”

North Otago farmer Bryce Burnett is talking about his family’s passion for the deer industry and venison which they have been producing at their Kauru Hill property for nearly 40 years.

It was his father Russell who made the move into deer, during the early stages of the industry, buying 30 hinds from Mark Acland in 1982 to add to his sheep farming operation.

Bryce took over in 2000 with his wife Janice, and, two years later, the couple decided to focus solely on deer on the 360ha property, inland from Oamaru. . . 

Bird highway takes flight – Country Life:

There’s a new highway taking shape at the southernmost tip of the North Island but not for sheep trucks or milk tankers.

Farmers like Stu Weatherstone, who operates one of Wairarapa’s largest dairy farms, are getting in behind the scheme to create a bird corridor across the valley.

The four year Tonganui Corridor project linking the Aorangi range in the east and the Remutaka mountains in the west involves planting and protecting tens of thousands of trees on strips and pockets of farmland in the South Wairarapa valley.

It’s hoped the corridor will eventually link the ranges and allow birds, insect life and other native species to flourish across the basin. . . 

Wine industry commences major research programme to protect and enhance New Zealand sauvignon blanc :

Bragato Research Institute (BRI) is excited to announce today that through a partnership with the government, work has begun on its Sauvignon Blanc Grapevine Improvement Programme. The research programme will develop new variants of New Zealand’s premier wine varietal, Sauvignon Blanc, to make the wine industry both more resilient and more sustainable. More resilient by identifying traits such as drought and frost resistance, and more sustainable by seeking natural resistance to pests and diseases.

“The New Zealand wine industry has a substantial track record of coming together to create large R&D projects for the benefit of the industry as a whole. This will be the first national grapevine improvement programme in the country,” says BRI CEO, Jeffrey Clarke.

BRI has designed an accelerated 7-year research programme that will apply the latest genome sequencing technology, after using established tissue culture techniques. This will allow BRI to create up to 20,000 entirely new variants of contemporary New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, and then screen them to identify plants that exhibit the most useful traits selected by the wine industry. . . 

‘Replacing meat with highly processed food would repeat the health disasters of the 1970s’ – Dr Gary Fettke:

Wading through decades of nutrition research led orthopedic surgeon Gary Fettke and his wife Belinda to discover how health concerns over meat consumption have been falsified by statistical manipulation, misinformation, and biased promotion, and underlined the propaganda war designed to create a fear of meat and  drive its replacement with highly processed plant products. Dr Fettke outlined the outcomes of his extensive research in his opening statement to the Senate Inquiry into definitions of meat and other foods earlier this week, which appears in full below.

THE 1970’s saw the blame pointed at saturated fat and the introduction of low fat, sugary processed foods.

That was a health disaster.

We cannot repeat that with the demoniSation of meat and replacement with more highly processed and fortified foods. . .


Science not scientific any more

27/07/2021

Is science teaching not to be scientific any more?

Proposals for NCEA science risk taking our curriculum down a rabbit hole at a time when the Government should be focused on turning around our declining achievement in science, National’s Education spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.

The proposals divide science into ‘mātauranga putaiao’ (Māori understanding of the natural world) and ‘western science’.

“Western science’? Since when has science been defined by geography?

Mr Goldsmith says he would like to see Education spokesperson Chris Hipkins call it ‘western science’ to the leading rocket scientists or specialists in artificial intelligence in China and India.

“It suggests the curriculum leaders don’t know the first thing about the subject. Science is universal no matter where you come from. Calling it ‘western science’ is an insult to half the world.

“But more importantly, how will these sorts of muddled distractions help turn around our declining achievement in the subject?

“International studies show Kiwi kids are falling behind the best in the world in science and in the latest National Monitoring Study of Student Achievement of Science just 20 per cent of year 8 students were achieving at or above expectations.

“An equally important question is what is meant by the statement, ‘the two world views and bodies of knowledge (mātauranga putaiao and so-called western science) are separate and need to be considered separately. One should not be given greater status than the other – both have authority.’

That doesn’t appear to be a statement based on science.

“Is the Government telling our children that the collective wisdom of all the cultures of the globe, over millennia and up to today, what we might call modern science, should be given no greater authority in the subject of science than the insights and traditions of one culture?

“In practical terms, and in terms of limited class time, what does this mean? How will this help us reverse our declining relative performance in the global endeavour that the rest of the world calls science?

“Our nation’s prosperity depends on Kiwi kids receiving a world class education in science.

“This Government has lost sight of the basics in education: getting the kids to school, teaching them a world class curriculum and measuring performance to ensure they’re making progress.

“If we want our kids to succeed globally, we need to educate them to the highest global standards.”

Two of the major problems facing the world at the moment are Covid-19 and climate change. Solutions to both require the best science. New Zealand farming is world-leading but faces myriad challenges. Addressing those will require the best science. We have a shortage of health professionals, engineers and scientists, their training must be based on the best science.

That’s real, universal science which the Science Council defines as:

Science is the pursuit and application of knowledge and understanding of the natural and social world following a systematic methodology based on evidence.

Scientific methodology includes the following:

    • Objective observation: Measurement and data (possibly although not necessarily using mathematics as a tool)
    • Evidence
    • Experiment and/or observation as benchmarks for testing hypotheses
    • Induction: reasoning to establish general rules or conclusions drawn from facts or examples
    • Repetition
    • Critical analysis
    • Verification and testing: critical exposure to scrutiny, peer review and assessment

No single culture’s understanding is included in that definition of science, nor of any other I could find and nor should it be.

You’d think that science would be one subject where scientific rigor rather than a political view would apply to its teaching.

Alas, science education isn’t going to be strictly scientific any more.


Rural round-up

18/07/2021

Rural living: the good, the bad and the glorious – Nicky Berger:

I never wanted to be a farmer. Growing up on a small sheep and beef farm north of Auckland, I spent many sunny afternoons in the “Pooh Bear Forest” below our house, and others learning how to handle wool from eternally patient shearers.

But I never believed it was my destiny to grow food. Instead, I spent my teenage years imagining myself working in one of the skyscrapers we would see on occasional trips into the city. When I was old enough, off to the city I went.

However, the unexpected death of my dad one sunny evening in 2004 changed everything.

Sitting at the kitchen table in my family home the following morning, I stared in wonder at ute after ute coming down our driveway, past our house, and heading over to the woolshed. . .

Images of distressed animals misleading council says :

Recent publicity surrounding intensive winter grazing in Southland has been unhelpful, the regional council says.

Images of distressed animals deep in mud have circulated on social media in recent weeks.

But Southland Regional Council chief executive Rob Phillips said some of them were not from this winter and many appeared to be taken outside of Southland.

“We want to follow up and address any poor practice, but when those circulating the images aren’t prepared to tell us where the properties are, it lets everyone down and certainly doesn’t help to improve the situation, he said. . . 

Farmers a cut above DOC in caring for Crown land – Jacqui Dean:

There’s some people who are firm in the belief that Crown land can only be properly looked after if it’s under Department of Conservation (DOC) control. In my opinion, that view is misguided and fails to recognise the state of vast tracts of land across the South Island.

I’ve spent the first half of this year visiting Crown pastoral leaseholders in the South Island to better understand the implications of the Crown Pastoral Land Reform Bill that’s making its way through Parliament.

This piece of legislation is touted by its proponents as a way to improve environmental outcomes. It puts an end to tenure review and places heavy-handed restrictions on the most basic of farming activities on crown lease land.

During my visits to these rugged and remote areas I’ve been able to compare high country land being farmed under a pastoral lease with nearby land under DOC administration. . . 

Farmers sent a clear message, Labour should listen:

The immense turnout to yesterday’s nationwide protests by the rural sector sent a clear message to the Government, they are fed up with Labour penalising them at every turn, Leader of the Opposition Judith Collins says.

“Yesterday farmers up and down New Zealand told the Government they wouldn’t be sitting down and taking the hits Labour is dishing out. All National MPs were with them, showing our support and how much we value the work our farmers do.

“Farmers helped New Zealand get through Covid-19, and Labour is repaying them through unworkable freshwater regulations, failing to deal with serious workforce shortages and now it’s hitting them in the wallet with a Ute Tax.

“The rural sector has rightly had enough. They’re not alone though, almost every other New Zealander is being hit in the back pocket through new taxes, rent increases and costs on businesses. . . 

 

Malaysian firm to convert Southland farm into forestry block – Shawn McAvinue:

A Malaysian company has been given consent to buy a nearly 460ha sheep and beef farm in Western Southland.

The Overseas Investment Office gave the consent to the 100% Malaysian-owned company Pine Plantations Private Ltd to buy the farm – near Tuatapere – from vendors Ayson and Karen Gill for $4 million.

The consent states the company intends to develop about 330ha of the land into a commercial forest, principally in pine trees.

Planting was intended to start in 2021-22, for the trees to be harvested in up to 30 years. . . 

City kids go bush – Sally Blundell:

It’s called real world learning: pine nut pesto, bush tea and home kill. Bush Farm Education is taking kids out of the classroom and into nature.

The classroom is a place of puddles and hay bales, trailers and tractors. Today’s lessons – fire safety, edible mushrooms and the reality of home kill.

“Just imagine if every kid in Ōtautahi Christchurch, or even New Zealand, could have a day a week out on the farm, in nature, learning about it,” says Katie Earle, founder of Bush Farm Education on Lyttelton Harbour. “It would just be incredible.”

Incredible but unlikely. A Sport New Zealand survey in 2019 found that only 7 percent of children and young people aged five–17 met the Ministry of Health guidelines of at least one hour of moderate to vigorous activity a day. Recent research by Ara Institute of Canterbury into education outside the classroom found a third of schools struggle to get students outside, citing time constraints, added paperwork, education regulations and health and safety rules. . . 

Increased demand for softwood lumber in the US and Asia will change the global trade flows of wood in the coming decade:

Softwood lumber has been in high demand in the US and Europe throughout 2021. The limited supply resulted in temporary price surges to record high levels during the spring, followed by substantial declines in early summer. The outlook for lumber demand is likely to be strong worldwide in the coming decade in most world regions, including North America and Asia. Both these regions are consistently dependent on imported wood.

Few countries in the world can significantly expand lumber exports, and Europe will play an increasingly important role as a wood supplier in the future. Tighter lumber markets will impact not just the sawmilling industry but also forest owners, pulp companies, wood panel manufacturers, and pellet producers.

The latest Focus Report: Global Lumber Markets – The Growing Role of European Lumber from Wood Resources International (WRI) and O’Kelly Acumen examines the forces driving the tightness of global lumber markets, including the demand outlook in the US and China and the supply potential from Europe, Russia, and other regions. It also analyses the possible implications of near-term changes in the lumber markets for all players in the value chain. . . 


Unscientific science

06/07/2021

A concerning thread from Michael Reddell:

Perhaps the people who are campaigning to get religious teaching out of school could extend their efforts to this.

Science is defined as: the observation, identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanation of phenomena; the state of knowing : knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding; a branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws.

There is no place for myths in any of those definitions nor should there be a place for myths in the science curriculum.

They might fit in literature, social studies and perhaps in history, but including them in science is anything but scientific.

 


Sowell says

03/06/2021


Keep the boy in school

29/05/2021


Political claptrap infects education system

28/05/2021

“White privilege’ is infecting the education system:

It is right to have important conversations around inequities, but it is wrong to peddle crude, simplistic, stereotypes imported from America which are more divisive than constructive, National’s Education spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.

“Teachers are being shown videos that instruct them to list their ‘privileges’ and view their students in terms of racial groupings. The training modules we have seen state that ‘education is a form of symbolic violence’ and that the structure of school day doesn’t work for Pacific learners who ‘are not tuned into the different parts of the day’.

“The ‘white privilege theories’ being imposed upon teachers, at what I am sure is a considerable cost to the taxpayers, are woeful. For example, citing the ownership of a beach house and the ability to have a ‘Kiwi holiday’ as a matter of ‘white privilege’ rather than one of socio-economic factors.

“It is alarming to learn how much of teachers’ time and resources are being directed to so-called diversity programmes rather than on ensuring every Kiwi kid receives a good education.

“One of the very best things society can do to resolve inequities of any kind is to ensure that access to education is equal and that any child can gain the knowledge and skills to succeed.

“There are huge issues to be addressed in education currently, including falling maths and science grades and major truancy problems. The Government is allowing imported culture wars to distract us from the basic challenges that if resolved would improve things for all children.

“New Zealand’s teachers work incredibly hard and deserve to feel supported by the Government rather than put through multi-day workshops that require them to interrogate their race, sex, sexual orientation, and any other personal factors the Ministry of Education deems appropriate.

“The Government needs to get some perspective and focus on the issues that have the most consequences on children’s futures.

“They need to set clear priorities and be transparent about them with New Zealanders. They also owe taxpayers a summary of just how much these kinds of cultural engineering training schemes have cost the country.”

This is outrageous.

New Zealand pupils are falling behind in maths and science and teachers don’t feel confident teaching maths and yet time and resources are being wasted on this political claptrap.


Was normal, now privilege

17/05/2021

Anyone else sick of what should be normal being called privilege?

A student at a Whangārei primary school had to stand up in front of their classroom and say what they had done to acknowledge their white privilege. . . 

When did it become okay for teachers to be so political?

And when did what ought to be normal become privilege?

That’s normal as in being a child with parents who love each other and their children; living in a family where parents set boundaries and impose consequences when they’re breached; having a warm, clean home where there’s enough food.

That isn’t privilege. It’s what should be normal for all children and has nothing to do with ethnicity.

Calling it privilege, with or without the qualifier white, is a political construct.

It takes no account of effort and will.

It carries the message that where you are and what you have is all due to circumstances beyond control..

It is behaviour that would be punished if a child subjected another to it in the playground and it has no place in a classroom.

To make a child stand in front of a class and speak like that is bullying that should not be tolerated at school, let alone from a teacher who is in a position of power to a pupil who is not.


Rural round-up

16/03/2021

Forestry issues still need much debate – Keith Woodford:

Land-use decisions between farm and forest need unbiased information from within New Zealand, without Government screwing the scrum towards foreign investors

In my last article on forestry, a little over two months ago, I ended by saying that “there is a need for an informed and wide-ranging debate as we search for the path that will lead to the right trees in the right place, planted and owned by the right people”. Here I take up that issue again.

In the interim, the Climate Change Commission (CCC) has published its draft report on how New Zealand might meet its Paris obligations through to 2050. A key message in the report is that forestry must not be used as the ‘get out of jail card’ (my term) that avoids facing hard decisions elsewhere in the economy.

The CCC estimate is that under current policy settings and with carbon priced at $35 per tonne, then new forests will increase by 1.1 million hectares by 2050. If the carbon price rises to $50 then the CCC thinks new plantings will increase to 1.3 million hectares. . . .

Small steps boost farm’s biodiversity:

Farmers discovered that there are many ways to protect and enhance mahinga kai and biodiversity values while visiting Waimak Farm in Eyreton recently.

The 612-hectare farm includes the largest remaining kanuka stand in North Canterbury. Due to its important biodiversity values this area is being protected by farm managers Richard and Susan Pearse.

Richard Pearse says the kanuka stand provides an important seed source and seedlings have been taken from the area to try and recreate a similar ecosystem in other dryland areas. He is aiming to plant approximately 1000 native trees per year throughout the entire farm.

“It’s important for us to protect this area as there are hardly any of these dryland areas left. It is easier to protect what you already have on farm than starting from scratch.”

Arts approach to rural mental health in Tairāwhiti – Alice Angeloni:

A mental health service that uses mahi toi (the arts) to create culturally safe spaces will reach into rural Tairāwhiti.

The primary mental health service will support west rural and East Coast communities and is expected to start between April and June.

A report before Hauora Tairāwhiti’s district health board last month said $900,000 left over from another Ministry of Health contract would fund the service over two years.

But as it was a “finite resource” to 2022, with no guarantees of funding being extended, building leadership capability within the community would be key to making the service sustainable, the report said. . . 

Nature school demand grows post lockdown – Emma Hatton:

The demand for one-day nature or forest schools is on the rise, with advocates saying if schools do not provide more outdoor-based learning, the demand will continue to grow.

At Battle Hill farm in Pāuatahanui in Wellington, about a dozen children aged between four and 12, gather every Wednesday for nature school.

They start the morning with a hui to decide what the day will look like, possibly geo-caching, tree climbing or making damper to eat over the fire they will build. They also check the weather and debrief on any safety issues. . .

2021 Auckland/Hauraki Dairy Industry Awards winners announced:

The 2021 Auckland/Hauraki Dairy Industry Awards Share Farmer of the Year winner is excited to be part of the New Zealand dairy industry, producing dairy products with the lowest carbon footprint in the world and is a major contributor to the New Zealand economy. 

Women achieved a clean sweep, winning all three categories in Auckland/Hauraki. Rachael Foy was named the 2021 Auckland/Hauraki Share Farmer of the Year at the region’s annual awards dinner held at the Thames Civic Centre on Thursday night and won $10,300 in prizes and four merit awards. The other major winners were the 2021 Auckland/Hauraki Dairy Manager of the Year Stephanie Walker, and the 2021 Auckland/Hauraki Dairy Trainee of the Year, Emma Udell.

Rachael was named the Auckland/Hauraki Dairy farm manager of the year in 2017 and placed third at the National Finals.

“The benefits of entering the Awards are numerous, including networking, benchmarking my business, the prizes, raising my profile and the National finals week,” she says. . . 

Carbon bank – Uptown Girl:

Everyone is all paper straws, and bicycles, and reusable grocery bags and water bottles, and then we’re over here like, “Here’s our dirt.”

Actually, we call it soil. And we have to make that clarification or our college soil professor will drive down here and make it for us.

But seriously. Did you know our soil, when managed right, is a massive carbon bank? That’s right – we are storing carbon right here, right below our feet!

What you’re looking at is a crop field where we grow grains to harvest every year. You’re seeing green cover crop, that was planted in the fall before harvest of our corn to make sure our soil was never bare. . .

 


Rural round-up

09/02/2021

Environmental reforms putting more pressure on struggling farmers – Nadine Porter:

More mental health resources and shorter waiting times to access help will be needed to support dairy farmers trying to follow proposed new environmental rules, industry advocates say.

Rural Support Trust Mid-Canterbury wellbeing co-ordinator Frances Beeston said there had been at least a 30 per cent rise in farmers seeking support since Christmas, and she believed that would increase further as more environmental reforms were introduced.

The Climate Change Commission released a draft plan last week designed to help the Government meet its promise of reaching net zero emissions of long-lived gases by 2050, and reducing biogenic methane emissions by 24 to 47 per cent by 2050.

The plan noted current policies would lead to an 8 to 10 per cent reduction in New Zealand’s livestock numbers, but said a 15 per cent drop would be needed to meet the Government’s targets. . . 

More trees less stock – Peter Burke:

More science and technology, more trees and fewer livestock is the prescription that the Climate Change Commission has offered up in its draft report on how to reduce greenhouse gases in the agriculture sector.

The report covers all aspects of New Zealand society and includes agriculture. In the 200 page chronicle, the Climate Commission sets out a plan for NZ to meet its greenhouse gas emissions targets by 2050.

It is a draft report, based on the commission’s own research and submissions from a wide range of organisations and individuals. It is now out for consultation before a final report is prepared by the end of May.

Commission chair Rod Carr says to achieve the Government’s goal of net zero emissions by 2050, there needs to be transformational and lasting change across society and the economy. He says the Government must act now and pick up the pace. . .

Will wool go the way of whalers? -Pete Fitz-Herbert:

“Being the best whale hunters in the world didn’t protect the whaling fleets.”

That comment from Climate Commission chair Rod Carr about New Zealand’s low-emission beef and dairy production, has Manawatu farmer Pete Fitz-Herbert thinking about the future of the wool industry:

In the future – will farmers be seen as whalers are now?

How long, before the last whale was harpooned off the coast, was the writing on the wall that it wasn’t the career choice that it once was? . . 

Why you should eat your heart out for ‘Organuary’ – Jacqueline Rowarth:

Encouraging people to eat more animal organs for Organuary may seem like a light-hearted response to the vegan movement, but research shows it could reduce greenhouse gases, Dr Jacqueline Rowarth investigates.

Eating the heart of your enemy might seem a bit extreme these days but in the past it was an acceptable part of a surprising number of cultures – surprising until one considers food scarcity, that is.

Eating whatever was available was a matter of expediency and the lore that arose around what each part of the body signified shows an early awareness of basic function.

Eating the brain and tongue gave knowledge and bravery; the heart gave courage and power. . . 

MBIE funds hemp research :

A Taranaki-based medicinal cannabis and industrial hemp venture is part of a group that will investigate ways to turn hemp seed hulls into products for the global market. Greenfern Industries is part of a partnership that was awarded $145,000 in cash and in-kind funding for research into products created from the by-products of hemp seed oil processing. Greenfern will work alongside industry partners Callaghan Innovation and Hemp Connect as part of the project funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s (MBIE) Bioresource Processing Alliance (BPA).

BPA invests in research and development projects with the aim of generating additional export revenue for New Zealand by working with the primary sector to get better value out of biological by-products.

Boarding school parents sick of borders closing ‘at the drop of a hat’ – Jamieson Murphy:

THE parents of interstate boarding school students are constantly worried that when they drop their children off at school, they may not be able to get home, with state borders slamming shut “at the drop of a hat”.

The Isolated Children’s Parents Association has called for a nationally consistent and long-term approach to border restrictions for boarding students.

ICPA president Alana Moller said while urban schools were closed for weeks during COVID outbreaks, many rural students were not able to return to their boarding school for months, even several terms due to border closures.

“Students from western NSW who board in Victoria weren’t able to go, because they weren’t sure if they could come back,” Ms Moller said. . . 

 


Just wondering

03/09/2020

Just wondering:

Why did James Shaw decide the Taranaki Green School was of sufficient merit to prompt him to issue an ultimatum?

. . .Newshub has obtained an email that went to Government ministers and the Treasury from Shaw’s office and it included a stark ultimatum.

“Minister Shaw won’t sign this briefing until the Green School in Taranaki is incorporated.”

The email said Shaw discussed the ultimatum with the Education Minister. 

“Minister Shaw has also discussed this one with Minister Hipkins.

“Sorry to be the spanner-in-the-works, but if we can get the project included, he’ll sign everything this afternoon,” the email said. . . 

Just wondering:

After all the dead rats he and his party have had to swallow in contravention of their policy in the last three years, why on earth would he make such a strong stand over  this?

Just wondering:

Who leaked the email, and why?

Just wondering:

Why did the other Ministers give in to the greenmail?

Just wondering:

What does it say about a party leader who didn’t remember his party’s policy against all state funding of private schools and what else has he forgotten about his party policy?

Just wondering:

If he’ll read this from the Villa Education Trust:

There are more reasons for dismay than immediately strike home with the Green School $11.7million debacle.

Plenty has already been said about the “greenmailing” of James Shaw over signing off on the rest of the $3 billion. The hypocrisy of the move. The passing the buck by the Minister of Finance and Minister of Education. Etc. We then had Chris Hipkins – Minister of Health, Education, State Services and Leader of the House – reverting to nonsense around Charter Schools and stating that at least the Green School kids won’t be learning in shipping containers.

The first missed point of despair is that the entire response to this spend from the perspective of other schools has been around property. One question you can always ask the Boards of dilapidated schools is how have managed their maintenance budget over the last 12 years. If they are honest you will get a range of answers. The second point is that our genuine crisis in education is student achievement and it is not highly correlated to the buildings they learn in (within reason of course). We have gone educationally insane of we think that flash buildings with close the MASSIVE U.E. gaps for Maori and Pasifika (compared to Asian and European) and reverse the decline against international measures. The NCEA results have already started to slide after 2 years under Labour. With the amount of absenteeism currently happening and the level of online engagement for many this year’s results could be a massive disaster for marginalised groups. However – educators are prepared to make a spectacle of themselves for spouting and a dab of paint.

What’s more important, flash buildings or student achievement?

The injustice our Villa Education Trust feels is around a second hidden effect. In the Learning Support Action Plan 2019-2025, Minister Hipkins acknowledged “one in five children and young people need some kind of extra support for their learning. This might be because of disability, learning difficulties, disadvantage, physical or mental health or behaviour issues” and “New Zealanders want an education system where all children and young people can take part in education and can learn and achieve, whatever their needs.”

In the Plan, Minister Hipkins goes on to say “This Government has a vision for an inclusive education system where every child feels a sense of belonging, is present, makes progress, where their wellbeing is safeguarded and promoted, where learning is a lifelong journey, and where children and young people with learning support needs get the right support at the right time.”

During 2019 we took the Minister at his word – as we are – according to all external reviews (e.g. “In summary we find and conclude that in both schools, the management and staff are actively involved in continuous development, and the delivery, of a unique programme of teaching and learning which is based on a comprehensive ‘local’ curriculum that is aligned with the New Zealand Curriculum, and which provides for the personalised needs of priority learners ‘many of whom have been failed by the current education system” Cognition Education) Hence we proposed to close our small private school and open a non-zoned, 240 student State Designated Character School, near a transport hub for a wide range of Auckland families to access. The Prime Minister had told the country she wanted more options like this and the “work was being done.”

Our school community has been exceptionally poorly treated by Ministry through a process that, so far, resulted on July 7th with Hipkins saying “no” with him blaming his officials and his officials blaming him.

So – while 25 students benefit by $11.7 million at The Green School … 240 students per year with diverse needs will miss out. To rub salt in Minister Hipkins publicly mocked our efforts in the House yesterday. Class, kindness and compassion.

This whole debacle illustrates the problem with politician’s making individual funding decisions:

The Taxpayers’ Union is calling for the abandonment of grant decision making by politicians and Cabinet committees, and a return to the tradition of these being made by officials using objective and transparent criteria.

The following can be attributed to Jordan Williams, a Spokesman for the Taxpayers’ Union:

“The spectacle of politicians horse-trading individual funding decisions is something we expect to see in smoke-filled rooms of yesteryear, not a modern day New Zealand with a reputation of being corruption-free.”

“The Provincial Growth Find, and now the COVID ‘shovel ready’ fund, are normalising a process of decision making that rewards companies which are politically connected. It is a dangerous path.”

“Steven Joyce reintroduced the sort of corporate welfare largess not seen in New Zealand since the Muldoon Government. But instead of fixing the problem, the current Government has doubled down and we have now returned to politicians making funding decisions for individual projects and pet causes.”

“Enough is enough. Now we are seeing the warts and all flaws in the process, New Zealand should return to a transparent process of the politician’s job being limited to setting criteria and objectives, and leaving it to officials to make the individual grant decisions.”

There is a case for Ministers to have a role when decisions are finely balanced.

This wasn’t.

Treasury opposed the grant:

The Treasury advice to Shaw and the others ministers who signed off on hundreds of projects for infrastructure investment says the Green School does not have “full private school registration” and would be unlikely to get that until mid 2021.

“We believe it would be inappropriate to announce or provide government funding for a project that does not yet have the necessary education approvals,” the advice says.

Furthermore, it says even if it had the “necessary” approvals, “we do not recommend funding for this school”.

Treasury also objected to the project being overseen by the Provincial Development Unit saying it was not the “appropriate agency for this school”. . . 

Shaw has accepted responsibility for the debacle but whoever gave into his greenmail is just as culpable.

This isn’t just a waste of money, it’s also a poor reflection on the whole government  its processes and priorities:

The murky brinksmanship revealed in the decisions to fund the Green School suggest the $3 billion shovel ready fund is operating like a slush fund by the Government, National’s Finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.

“Grant Robertson needs to come clean about the deals being done between Ministers. How is it that one Minister could hold up shovel ready projects unless the Green School was signed off?

“It’s clear the Government doesn’t have its priorities in order. These projects are supposed to be about investing in infrastructure to create jobs and grow our economy.

“But the impression left is that the shovel ready fund is operating as yet another $3 billion slush fund with different projects carved out by Government parties for their political wins.

“No matter how hard he tries, Grant Robertson cannot wipe his hands of this decision. He is the Minister of Finance, it is his job to make sure every taxpayer dollar is spent wisely. Instead he signed off on a private school receiving millions of taxpayer dollars.

“With the scale of debt-fuelled Government spending right now, it is more important than ever that the Government demonstrates to New Zealanders that decisions are made on the basis of need and effectiveness rather than ‘wins’ for different Government parties.

“The whole episode makes a mockery of the Prime Minister’s claim there is no politics in Covid.

“The Government can’t claim ignorance, Treasury told it not to give any funding to the Green School because it didn’t have the full education approvals needed for a private school.

“Grant Robertson needs to front up and explain exactly what happened and why he’s allowing himself to be held to ransom by his own Associate Minister of Finance.”

Just wondering:

Does Grant Robertson need reminding of his own words: that every dollar the government pays out is being borrowed?

Just wondering:

What were the merits of the ‘shovel ready’ projects that were put forward for grants and missed out?

It would be difficult to believe that at least some didn’t have a much better cost-benefit ratio than this one.


Borrowing every dollar

31/08/2020

Finance Minister Grant Robertson justified not extending the wage subsidy to cover the longer period at alert level 3 by saying: we are borrowing every single dollar that we are paying out.

Did Cabinet take that into account when it signed off the $11.7 million paid to the Green School which has raised the ire of  principals, teacher unions, the Opposition and Green Party members?

Green co-leader James Shaw has copped most of the criticism and warrants it for the hypocrisy in backing the payment when his party policy opposes private schools.

But the decision must have been signed off by Cabinet.

Labour is no doubt enjoying watching Shaw squirm. But it is just as guilty of hypocrisy for agreeing to fund this small, private school with fees of up to $43,000 a year after scrapping the partnership schools which did so much for disadvantaged pupils failed by the conventional education system.

New Zealand First has been uncharacteristically quiet about this but it is in no position to criticise when so many of the projects it has funded with taxpayers’ money would not have passed the cost-benefit test.

That was bad enough when the government books were in surplus.

It is far worse now that every dollar that is spent is borrowed, accruing interest and will have to be repaid.

Robertson reminded us of that in defending his decision to not extend the wage subsidy.

If he, and his government,  took that approach to all other spending the Green School would not have been funded and the country wouldn’t be facing such a mountain of debt.


How are going to get out of this mess?

03/08/2020

Sir Bill English is warning businesses to prepare for a W-shaped downturn:

Former prime minister Sir Bill English has issued a bleak warning to businesses to prepare for the worst case scenario as “cracks” created by the economic earthquake of Covid-19 become more apparent.

Just like the damage caused to Wellington’s buildings by the Kaikoura earthquake, the true damage to the economy might not emerge immediately, he said.

Wage subsidies had “bought time for thousands of businesses” and there was a sense just from the amount of traffic on the streets of there being a “bounce”, he said.

But the return in consumer confidence would not last and businesses are “reluctant to deal with the fact” that the economy might drop back again, he told a webinar hosted by accounting firm BDO. . . 

Businesses might find by the middle of next year that they had 20 per cent less revenue as a “W”-shaped downturn took shape, and needed to ask if they could survive on that, English said.

“This is going to be marathon not a sprint. It could be really tough.” . . 

Job losses are already piling up:

Today’s troubling revelation that another 1500 Kiwis lost their jobs this week highlights the need for a sound economic plan to get us through the current jobs crisis, National’s Finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.

The number of people receiving unemployment benefits is now up to 212,000 – an increase of 67,000 since New Zealand went into lockdown.

This week alone, 1500 more people went on the dole. Another 450,000 Kiwis are also in the precarious position of relying on the wage subsidy scheme that will run out on September 1.

“New Zealand is facing its worst economic downturn in 160 years,” Mr Goldsmith says.

“This incompetent Government’s big idea is simply to increase government spending, which will just lump the country with more debt for future generations to repay through higher taxes. . . 

The government’s response so far is not going to help the economy:

Massive debt-fuelled spending and keeping the border tight are necessary but insufficient to restore our economy and create jobs, National’s Finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.

Mr Goldsmith was reacting to Grant Robertson’s “Q & A” interview this morning, where the Minister played down projected job-losses when the wage subsidy ends and emphasised more government spending and tight border as the government’s primary economic response.

“The reality is that the spending has not always been well targeted or effective and the so-called tight border of Labour has been shown to have holes.

“The missing piece in the job creation story – the third trick – is bold moves to enable private sector investment,” Mr Goldsmith says.

“The government can buy temporary jobs, such as it is with its $1.1 billion programme to hunt possums and plant flax bushes, but it is the free enterprise economy that creates the most sustainable jobs.

“We need to be making it easier for firms to hire workers and expand their business.

“As well as its JobStart and BusinessStart programmes, which help businesses hire additional workers and redundant workers start a business, National has announced substantial tax changes to encourage businesses to invest. Firms will be able to write off $150,000 per new asset immediately.

“National would also extend 90 day trials to all firms – making it easier for companies to take a chance on new employees, and reverse recent further restrictions on inward investment.

“The government, meantime, is still in the mind-set of adding costs and regulations to business, such as last week’s higher waste levy charges,” Mr Goldsmith says.

Debt will increase whichever parties are in government after next month’s election.

A responsible one needs a plan to minimise  the borrowing and to pay it back.

Without that, Damien Grant says, the Government’s Covid-19 spending will be an economic albatross for decades:

 The true extent of the intergenerational crime that is being committed is becoming clear.

Today’s young are being robbed of opportunities and may be the first generation in our nation’s history to be significantly poorer than their parents.

Let’s start with the easy part: government debt. We spent $12 billion on the wage subsidy, the vast majority going to boomer-owned businesses to ensure they did not have to pay the full cost of their firms being shuttered.

Think about this for a moment. Almost every firm that got the money would have survived. This was a freebie to the capital-owning class; paid for with borrowed money that will not be re-paid by them, as their tax-paying days are coming to a close in the next decade. . . 

Whether or not most firms would have survived is debatable, as is the question of whether they were in trouble before the lockdown.

Wellington has decided, with overwhelming community support, to smash our economy in order to temporarily eliminate what has proved to be a virus with a far lower level of mortality than first advertised.

Fine. This isn’t something that I support, but OK. Let’s do this. However, if you are going to destroy tourism, damage hospitality and cripple construction, we need to be honest with ourselves; we are going to have to get by with less.

But we don’t want to do that. There is a collective refusal to accept that we are considerably poorer today than we were in January. There is an illusion of economic normality being created by enough ink to re-hydrate the Red Sea. . . 

National Party finance spokesman and putative post-election leader Paul Goldsmith estimates the projected $140b of future borrowings is equal to $80,000 per household.

Yet, no one seems to care. We’re in a panic over the fairness of charging people $3000 to cover the costs of an enforced stay in a quarantine hotel and the antics of school kids playing at being Nazis, but were heading off the edge of a fiscal cliff and … nothing.

The cost of borrowing will be paid for in two ways. Not only will this money need to be paid back; either through higher taxes, reduced government services or by the pernicious and economically destructive hidden tax of inflation, there is the opportunity cost of lost growth.

When you borrow to maintain consumption you are stripping resources from the economy that could have been deployed elsewhere for more productive activity; investment, primarily.

People wanting to borrow find they cannot get access to capital because the state is sucking up all available cash.

It isn’t just the cash available for lending either. It is the physical and human resources that entrepreneurs require to trade that are being diverted by the states’ uncontrolled spending. . . 

This government thinks it’s better at spending our money than we are and it’s spending is making it more difficult for private enterprise to flourish.

The lockdown produced a very good health response but the government response to the economic crisis will make it worse.

The problem isn’t just that sooner or later the debt will have to be repaid. It’s that every cent needed to repay it is a cent not available for essential services and infrastructure unless the economy starts growing, and growing well, again and there is no sign of anything from the government that will help us get out of this mess.


Planning to fail

03/07/2020

Ensuring Covid-19 doesn’t get past the border has widespread support, but it’s time for a plan that keeps it there and lets more people in:

The Prime Minister needs to stop misrepresenting the border issue and tell New Zealanders what her strategy is to protect the economy long-term, Leader of the Opposition Todd Muller says.

“The Government’s clumsy and incompetent management of our quarantine procedures means it is impossible for New Zealand’s border to open tomorrow, next week or even next month.

“That simply would not be safe.

“However, New Zealanders also need to know how and when the border will progressively be reopened, because not doing that is untenable.

“New Zealanders deserve the highest standards to protect them from getting Covid-19, both at the border and when it comes to tracking and tracing in the event of cases in the community.

“We need to know when those standards will be in place so that New Zealanders have confidence to progressively and safely open the border and grow the economy.

“Locking down what’s left of the economy and waiting for a vaccine isn’t an option.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s response ignores the issue:

 . . .”It is untenable to consider the idea of opening up New Zealand’s borders to Covid-19.

“In some parts of the world where we have had frequent movement of people they are not estimating that they will reach a peak for at least a month,” Ardern said.

“Any suggestion of borders opening at this point, frankly, is dangerous.” . . .

No-one is asking for the borders to open at this point.

A lot of people, businesses and organisations are asking for information on the plan for when and how the borders will open at some point in the future.

Farmers and contractors need experienced workers, principals facing teacher shortages are looking for staff, secondary schools and tertiary institutions want to be able to host foreign students again . . .

None of these is asking for anything that would risk Covid-19 getting past the border, but all want to know the government’s plan for safe entry of more than returning New Zealanders and the heavily restricted number and categories of people deemed essential workers so they can plan.

Any half competent government would have had people planning ahead months ago.

The omnishambles at the border that required the military and another minister to take over running it, shows that wasn’t done.

The current situation needs a strong focus but the inability for someone in government to look further ahead while others deal with immediate priorities reinforces Todd Muller’s observation there are three or four competent ministers and a whole lot of empty chairs in Cabinet.

Had there been anyone with more ability in any of those chairs, perhaps one of the three deputy Health Ministers for example, Chris Hipkins who already had a very heavy workload wouldn’t have been the only one capable of taking over as Health Minister yesterday after David Clark resigned.

That appointment highlights the shallowness of the Cabinet pond and explains why Muller’s request for details of the strategy for opening the border is being ignored.

There doesn’t appear to be anyone in the government with the time and ability to plan that far ahead which is a very serious problem because as the adage says, if you fail to plan then you’ll plan to fail.


Let people with skin in game take over

25/06/2020

Schools and tertiary institutions have lost a lot of income from foreign students locked out of the country by Covid-19.

They have an opportunity to recoup some of that by attracting northern hemisphere students for the second semester.

That would require strict isolation and quarantine for two weeks.

Given the omnishambles at the border and the bottle neck with returning citizens and residents, there’s no hope of that being done at facilities being run by the government.

Why not let the the host institutions run their own isolation and quarantine places?

They would have a lot of skin in the game – money to be made if successful and the knowledge that they’d not only make significant financial losses, their reputations would also  be at risk if they failed.

Providing all the costs of isolation, quarantine and any treatment of people who had Covid-19 were met by the students directly, or through the institutions, the taxpayer would not have to pay.

If they were coming to southern institutions students could fly in to Queenstown or Dunedin so they wouldn’t add to the congestion in Auckland.

Schools, polytechs and universities would earn some much-needed income for themselves and foreign exchange for the country.

Students, and their families, would have to trust that the private sector would do better than the public one has but proving that shouldn’t be hard.

People, and organisations, with skin in the game will almost always do better than those, like bureaucrats and public providers, whose income isn’t hurt by their incompetence and they would have to ensure they had the right systems and procedures from the start.

They have the very real incentive of so much to gain from getting it right and too much to lose from failing to risk getting it wrong.

The only sticking point is the government which has shown it can’t trust its own agencies and probably won’t risk trusting private institutions.


Not essential not safe

20/04/2020

Last week the Prime Minister announced schools and early childhood centres would be open for anyone from year 10 down if we move from level 4 to level 3.

That was a confusing message given that schools haven’t been considered essential and opening them like that wouldn’t be safe.

An uproar from schools caused a swift back track and now the message is that only children who cannot stay at home should come to school.

Who is going to police that and just how teachers will juggle pupils in classes and online; and how they and pre schools will manage the social distancing is unclear.

Keith Woodford voices his concern:

. . .We need to think carefully about this. Young children are not particularly at risk themselves from the effects of COVID-19 but they have great capacity to be either pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic transmitters of COVID-19. Also, the idea that they can be in their own school bubble isolated from other bubbles, and with social distancing, is greatly flawed. School and home bubbles will overlap and that provides a big transmission pathway.

If we get it wrong, and there is a new outbreak of COVID-19, then there is likely to be no way back. With our current outbreak, we knew where it was coming from. In contrast, if there is a second wave then it will come at us from within the community and we will have no point of attack. . . 

While seemingly signaling too lax a regime for schools and pre-schools, the government has been too hard on other activities, including hunting:

The Game Animal Council is recommending to government that further consideration is given to allow deerstalking and other large game animal hunting to take place under COVID-19 Alert Level 3.

The Game Animal Council has requested that consideration be given to allow easy one-day hunts under the following conditions:

  • Hunters must stay within their region.
  • Experienced hunters may undertake day hunts close to home and in areas they are familiar with. This is not the time to be learning how to hunt or embarking on overnight hunts.
  • People may only hunt with others in their bubble.
  • Firearms safety must be paramount.
  • Hunters must create a safety plan including location, estimated return time and keep a log of who they come into contact with.

We believe these conditions meet the requirements set out for other forms of recreation currently allowed under Level 3 and allows for compliance with COVID-19 safe practice,” says Game Animal Council General Manager Tim Gale.

“As we know hunting has many social and community benefits especially when it comes to mental health and wellbeing as well as being an important food source for many people.”

“There are a number of questions we are also asking regarding the inequities when it comes to the recreation activities allowed and those that are not allowed under current Level 3 rules,” says Gale.  . . .

Inequities and contradictions are rife.

A friend lives in Invercargill about 100 meters from a liquor store and a butchery. The former is able to operate, the latter is not.

An email from Dunedin’s University Bookshop told me that I could buy text books and any books for children, but not novels for adults.

My scanner has died. I tried to order one online but found it’s not considered essential, although a printer is.

This stupidity is caused by the government’s mistaken insistence on being guided by what it considers essential rather than what is safe when deciding what can operate and what can’t.

We are paying a very high price for the loss of liberty in an attempt to eliminate Covid-19. Whether or not the attempt is successful, we’ll be facing the costs of the shutdown for decades.

Those costs will include business failures, job losses, high unemployment and the health and social consequences of all that.

The sooner those businesses which could operate safely are permitted to do so, the greater the chance of their survival and the more secure their futures will be.

Cabinet is meeting this morning to decide if we can more out of level 4 this week.

Regardless of what it decides on that, it must change its insistence on allowing only businesses it regards as essential to operate and free up all which can operate safely.

 


Too late, too soft, too slow

26/03/2020

Parliament featured a rare show of unity yesterday after the government declared a state of emergency.

This gives it extraordinary powers which are deemed an acceptable response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The cross party support doesn’t mean the government is above criticism.

The rapidly increasing number of people with the disease, following the trend of other countries which were ahead of us and with which we are fast catching up,  gives credence to the view that the government’s escalation of alerts came too late.

A six-day delay in results of tests for the disease means testing is too slow. The only way to shorten the period of lockdown is more tracing.

And the tougher border controls are still too soft.

. . . Ardern said the Government would further tighten its already stringent border restrictions, including mandatory screening for the limited numbers of people who are legally still allowed to enter.

Anybody who displayed symptoms of Covid-19, could not demonstrate a clear plan for self-isolation, or could not travel to their usual residence while maintaining physical distancing, would be put into “approved facilities” for a period of quarantine. . .

This is a definite improvement on what has been happening, but it is still not going hard enough.

Everyone who comes into the country must be quarantined.

That is the only way to be as sure as we can be that  no-one coming here could spread the disease to others.

The country-wide lock down is unprecedented.

It gives the government and its agencies sweeping and draconian powers that severely curtail our ability to work, move, socialise, and travel.

It will come at a huge economic and social cost.

Jobs have already been lost, more will be. Businesses will fail. Charities will be over-stretched and some of them will fail too. Education is being disrupted. Liberty has been curtailed.

Domestic violence will increase. Children who depend on school for food will go hungry.

The only justification for this is that the disease chain is broken and dies out in the shortest possible time.

Four weeks lockdown will be hard. Any extension because links in the disease chain are still connected will be harder still.

The only way to be sure all links are cut is to be strict about the lockdown that has been imposed and just as strict at the border to ensure that everyone who could have, or be carrying, the disease, is quarantined.


Planting seeds

04/03/2020

Film showing Inspiring the Future ‘What’s my Line’ made by the New Zealand Tertiary Education Commission/Te Amorangi Mātauranga Matua, the Government’s Crown Agency which provides career services from education to employment across NZ.


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