Anti-farming bias won’t wait for facts

August 24, 2016

Contamination of Havelock North’s water supply is a serious health issue which has prompted the government to undertake an inquiry.

In announcing the draft terms of reference for it, Attorney General Christopher Finlayson said:

“It is important that New Zealanders have confidence in the quality of our drinking water, and the independent inquiry will ensure we have a clear understanding of what happened in Havelock North,” says Mr Finlayson.

“Cabinet has today agreed to initiate a Government inquiry which will report to me as Attorney General.

“The inquiry will look into how the Havelock North water supply became contaminated, how this was subsequently addressed and how local and central government agencies responded to the public health threat that occurred as a result of the contamination.

“The terms of reference are very wide and will include any lessons and improvements that can be made in the management of the water supply network in Havelock North and, more broadly, across New Zealand.”     

Cabinet will consider over the coming weeks who will lead the Government inquiry.

The inquiry will be undertaken under the Inquiries Act 2013. This will ensure it follows a clear statutory process and will have a range of powers such as the ability to call witnesses.

The need to wait for facts hasn’t stopped the usual anti-farming suspects rushing to blame farming in general and dairying in particular for the contamination and using it as an excuse to call for the end to irrigation development.

Federated Farmers’  Hawke’s Bay president Will Foley said while there was some livestock farming in the area it wasn’t intensive:

. . . Basically in terms of the area around Havelock North there just isn’t intensive livestock farming.

He said farmers were watching the situation but there had not been any discussions yet.

“Really we’re just waiting to see some more clear evidence as to how the contamination occurred. And then if it was something related to farming livestock, then we can react to it then and I guess change practises if that’s what it turns out to be.”

IrrigationNZ points out that a focus on science and proven solutions is needed in the response to the Havelock North water crisis.

“IrrigationNZ is very concerned, as is everyone else, about the situation in Havelock North. However, we are surprised by some of the accusations now being made around intensive livestock and irrigation, particularly as the area surrounding the water supply well is dominated by orchards, cropping and low intensity livestock.”

“Before jumping to conclusions we first must understand the facts. A thorough inquiry will establish how groundwater in the area has become contaminated but this will take time. In the short term we should be moving towards best practice when it comes to protecting public water supplies from contamination,” says Andrew Curtis, IrrigationNZ CEO.

Fact 1;

Pathogen contamination almost always results from a point source or a preferential flow scenario.

“The issue will likely be either a preferential flow scenario down the side of an old well case (particularly around older bore casings), a poorly constructed or sealed well head or backflow (contamination making its way directly into bores). Another scenario could be point source from the stock piling of manure. During periods of heavy downpour, contaminants can move through the soil and then there is a risk,” says Mr Curtis.

Fact 2;

Grazing livestock or irrigation are unlikely to be the cause.

“The Havelock North end of the Heretaunga plains is an area of low intensity livestock. Dominated by orchards and seasonal cropping, with sheep grazing in winter there is no dairy or intensive livestock,” says Andrew Curtis.

Livestock grazing is extremely unlikely to have caused this issue – the pathogens don’t make it through the soil, the soil acts as a filter – research work undertaken by ESR has previously shown this to be true.”

Solutions to prevent contamination of groundwater?

Proven solutions include good management practice at both the supply point and any nearby wells.

“Well head protection is essential for all bores and this needs to be better enforced for older bores. Additionally, we need to be looking at requiring back flow protection where applicable. INZ has produced guidelines for backflow prevention that are based on international best practice for agriculture. On top of this, the council needs to be managing nearby point sources where, if heavy rain occurs, leaching could result. Basically all wells near public water supplies should be properly protected.”

“A best practice approach to managing the threats to public water supplies needs to be implemented across New Zealand. There will always be risks from avian, ruminant and human sources so we need to be identifying all the contamination pathways. We need to let the experts get on with their jobs and not take cheap shots with un-informed accusations,” says Mr Curtis.

It’s understandable for the people of Havelock North to be upset about their water and everyone wants to know what caused the problem and what can be done to prevent it happening again in the area or anywhere else.

But that’s not an excuse for the usual suspects to use the issue for their own political agenda without waiting for the facts. In doing so they’re show their anti-farming bias.

We could forget about feeding people and earning the export income we need for a happy, healthy, well functioning country as those of a very dark green persuasion would have it.

We could produce a lot more food and seriously degrade the environment with no concern for the future, a path for which I haven’t heard anyone advocate.

Or we could use science to produce food sustainably which requires good environmental practices based on science.

If poor farming practices are degrading the water we can do something about it but let’s wait for the inquiry and base any required action on the facts.

 


Does new national day have to be another holiday?

August 22, 2016

Deputy Prime Minister Bill English says the government acknowledges the need for a national day to commemorate the land wars.

“The time to recognise our own conflict, our own war, our own fallen, because there is no doubt at Rangiriri ordinary people lost their lives fighting for principle in just the same way as New Zealand soldiers who lost their lives fighting on battlefields on the other side of the world,” Mr English said.

I agree with the need to commemorate the wars which are poorly understood by many.

It wasn’t until I studied New Zealand history at university that the muddled impression I’d got from school was corrected.

But if a new national day is going to necessitate a day off, does it have to be another holiday?

We already have 11 statutory holidays, with penalty rates and days off in lieu for anyone who works on any of these.

Those come on top of four weeks annual leave which adds up to a total of day more than six weeks of paid leave.

If you employ 5 people, that’s 30 weeks or more than half a year, with a staff member off which is a big cost for a small business.

I’m not suggesting we cut holidays but rather than just adding another day, let’s look at all the stat days, when they occur, why and whether any could go in favour of the new day off.

With New Year’s day and January 2nd, Wellington, Auckland,  Nelson, Otago, Southland and Taranaki  Anniversary days, Waitangi Day, Easter and Anzac Day  most people have five or six days off in the first four months of the year on top of annual leave, at least some of which is usually taken at that time.

Then there’s at least five or six weeks until Queen’s Birthday at the start of June and more than four months until Labour weekend in October for all but South Canterbury which has Anniversary Day in late September.

Hawkes Bay and Marlborough’s Anniversary Days fall in late October but are sometimes marked in early November.

Canterbury has Anniversary Day in early November and Westland’s and Chatham Islands’ Anniversary Days are at the end of November, though sometimes marked in early December.

The rest of us have no break for the couple of months from Labour weekend to Christmas.

Replacing all the different Anniversary days would be the easiest if someone was willing to deal with the uproar in Canterbury where theirs coincides with show and cup week.

Queen’s Birthday isn’t actually the Queen’s birthday and it could be replaced. Given how few people know what Labour Day signifies it is another option to give way to the new national day.

A new national day to commemorate an important part of our history is a good idea, but rather than simply adding a 12th statutory holiday,  let’s use it as an opportunity to look at existing statutory holidays and work out a better distribution of long weekends.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Regions need these migrants

August 18, 2016

Duncan Garner asks why New Zealand is giving visas to migrants to work in retail and cafés.

Someone with the right attitude, and reasonable numeracy and literacy ought to be able to be trained for that work without too much trouble.

But in the regions, especially in less populous areas,  getting people with all that isn’t easy.

The pool of available labour is small and often very shallow.

A café  owner in a small village with a tiny permanent population and more than 40 kilometres from a reasonable sized town regularly struggles to get staff.

She has employed all the locals who are willing and able to work so ends up with migrants, usually young people most of whom want short to medium term work.

Every time any of her staff leaves she has to go through the same rigmarole even though it might only be a few weeks, and sometimes days since she’s been through it before.

She advertises and almost always gets only people from overseas replying. She then has to go to WINZ to ensure there’s no-one on their books who could do the work, and there hasn’t been yet. Only then can she employ a foreigner.

Cities might be awash with people needed for retail and cafes but tourism is booming in the southern South Island and there simply aren’t enough locals to fill these jobs in the small towns and villages.

That begs the question of who’s responsible for getting the people on WINZ’s books work-ready. But if you’re a small business, like most shops and cafés you can’t afford the time or money it takes to train someone who hasn’t got the basic skills to hold down a job; you need people ready and able to fill vacancies and more often than not there aren’t locals who can.


Pay rise ought to be commended

August 17, 2016

Spark is  introducing a benchmark salary above which its staff are paid.

All non-commission full-time staff will earn at least $40,000 a year, and front-line commission employees who earn a lower base salary will earn an average of $42,000.

If compared to the current living wage of $19.80 an hour, $40,000 a year minimum falls short at $19.23 an hour.

Spark general manager of human resources Danielle George said the company wanted to “do the right thing” for its staff and attract the best talent, as well as contribute to turning New Zealand into a higher wage economy. . . 

“We have revised our entire value proposition, exploring how we can best deliver base pay and meaningful benefits, all designed to meet the needs of a very diverse workforce.”

The new Spark pay policy has benefited more than 250 staff who have received pay increases over the past two years to bring them up to the new level. . . 

That ought to be cause for commendation but the Council of Trade Unions’ Richard Wagstaff doesn’t think so:

“Their $40,000 salary that they’re promoting is actually a little under the living wage which doesn’t really inspire too much in terms of fair pay for people.”

Spark says the pay scheme is a commitment to a higher-wage economy, and once you take into account staff benefits, the overall package is better than the living wage.

“We want to do the right thing for our people and to attract the best people to a career in Spark,” says general manager of human resources Danielle George.

“If that sets a standard that encourages others to follow, that’s got to be a good thing for New Zealand.”

Benefits include credit towards Spark products and services, life and income insurance, flexible working arrangements and interest-free loans to buy company shares. . .

Spark is offering more than $4.00 an hour more than the minimum wage which is $15.25.

Paying that is a legal requirement and it’s reviewed each year, taking into account that increasing it could price some people out of jobs and threaten some businesses. The living wage is an artificial construct which takes no account of what’s affordable.

Another union, the PSA is praising three Wellington mayoral candidates who support the living wage:

The PSA held a forum for candidates which was attended by Justin Lester, Jo Coughlan, Helene Ritchie, Keith Johnson, Andy Foster, Nicola Young and Nick Leggett.

Mr Lester, Ms Ritchie and Mr Leggett confirmed they support the Living Wage for all council workers, including those employed through contractors and council-controlled organisations.

“We’re extremely pleased to hear three candidates plan to build on the good work already done by Wellington City Council towards making this a fairer city”, PSA National Secretary Glenn Barclay says.

“The PSA decided to hold this forum to hear from the candidates first-hand about their vision for Wellington – including their stance on local ownership of local services and privatisation.

“Wellington City Council has already taken great strides towards becoming New Zealand’s first accredited Living Wage council since it voted to do so in 2013.
“We know this has the backing of Wellington’s voters – what’s now needed is a mayor and a council that will deliver on the promises and finish the job.”

Do voters really support that and if they do, are they happy to be rated more to pay for it?

Unlike the minimum wage, the living wage takes no account of the value of work being done or the danger that some businesses couldn’t survive if they were forced to pay it.

It’s also based on what a vicar thinks a family of four needs to participate in society which ignores the fact that not everyone has to support a family of four on their wages, and if they do Working For Families would give them a generous top-up if they were on a low wage.

New Zealand isn’t a high-wage economy and that’s a weakness. But the solution is increased productivity and upskilling, not the job-threatening imposition of the so-called living wage.


Not Ministerial language but . . .

August 16, 2016

Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse posted on Facebook:

Plenty of Q&A from attendees at the annual NZ Association of Migration and Investment conference today.

Michael Woodhouse MP's photo.

He got several responses, one of which was:

Mark Lambert Here’s a question n answer in one, when are we going to get tough n say no more immigrants? And if yr answer is why then you need to go to specsavers, then remove yr self from my page ….

To which he replied:

Michael Woodhouse MP I think you’ll find you’re on my page you redneck.

Several others responded, most of whom had realised what the first commenter hadn’t – he’s in the UK and the Minister is a New Zealand MP.

The commenter’s last comment included several expletives and the hope he’d meet the Minister one day to which he got this response:  unlikely, NZ has a strict no dickheads rule.

It isn’t Ministerial language but sometimes giving in to the temptation to respond in that way is understandable.


Which jobs and why?

August 11, 2016

Andrew Little is musing over wiping student loan debts for graduates who take public service jobs in the regions.

“I don’t have any particular promise to make. We’re looking at ways that we can assist students to effectively write off at least a part of that student debt, through things like taking a public service job somewhere outside of one of the main centres and for the length of period that you’re there let’s look at a write-off sort of regime.”

Five pound Poms, the British immigrants who came to New Zealand on assisted passages after World War II had to work in public service jobs wherever they were sent.

That was a long time ago when the public service was much bigger than it is  now which raises the question of which jobs is Little thinking of?

The government already has a scheme where graduates get their student loan debts written off for working in the regions in both human and animal health, doctors, nurses and vets for example, some of which are public service, some of which are not.

The other obvious public sector placement would be teaching, but it could be harder to fill teaching positions in Auckland than in the regions.

These days there aren’t a lot of other public service positions available in the regions that are likely to attract graduates with or without a debt right-off.

Then we get to why more taxpayer money should go to help people who have had around 70% of the costs of their education paid for and interest-free loans providing they stay in New Zealand.

Khyaati Acharya explains how much students get:

. . . Arguments then, in favour of free tertiary education ignore two considerations. The first is that governments face resource constraints which limit how much funding can be allocated to the tertiary sector. The second is that while an educated population may provide wider economic and social benefits, the greatest benefits accrue to the individual who undertook the education in the form of increased earnings, a higher quality of life and reduced unemployment.

Under the current scheme, for every dollar the government lends through its student loan scheme (as at 2014) a mere 58.17 cents is treated as an asset. This means that 41.83 cents in every dollar lent to a student is written off as an expense – largely the cost of the zero-percent interest policy.

In short, the Government expects that less than 60% of each dollar lent will be recouped. The difference then must be funded from taxes. . . 

Excluding the public subsidy inherent in the interest-free student loan scheme, the average university student’s share of the direct cost of higher education fell from 32% in 2000 to 27% in 2010. The reduced cost proportion for students was largely the result of fee regulation policies, like tuition caps, which dictate to what maximum percentage tertiary education providers may increase their fees. But take into account the implicit subsidy provided through the interest-free student loan scheme, and on average, students paid 16% and government 84% towards the direct cost of tertiary education in 2010. . . 

A better educated population has public benefits but the private benefit is greater.

Universities New Zealand gives the top 10 reasons a degree is a smart investment: 

  1. The more educated you are the more you earn. 
  2. The more educated you are, the less likely it is you will be unemployed.
  3. A typical university graduate will earn around $1.6m more over their working life than a non-graduate- this is much higher for a medical doctor ($4m), professional engineers ($3m) and information technology graduates ($2m).
  4. Arts graduates earn around $1m to 1.3m more than a non-graduate.
  5. About 10% end up in jobs that, on the face of it, probably don’t need a degree.
  6. If money and job security are key motivations, then the worst choices at university are the creative or performing arts or studying philosophy and religious studies – but they earn well above the median for salary and wage earners and have low unemployment rates averaging only 2-5%.
  7. Taxpayers get their investment back – graduates typically pay back all the costs of their education plus another $200,000 over their working life.
  8. It takes an average of 7 years to pay off a student loan – the average balance on graduation is $14K.
  9. A degree pays off by the age of 33, where net additional earnings from a degree exceed the costs of getting a degree and the income lost while studying.
  10. If you are interested in university study, there isn’t really a bad option.  Follow your heart and the evidence says you are likely to end up personally and economically better off.

Averages are averages – some will earn much more and some won’t get a financial benefit from their education, some will have smaller loans and/or pay them off quickly, some will have bigger loans and/or pay them off slowly.

But a tertiary education does pay off for most people and the average loan on graduation is $14,000 which is paid off within seven years.

Expecting these better educated, higher earning people to pay off the loans they incur for a very small proportion of the cost of their education is not a big ask.

The people who will benefit most from the policy Little is musing on are those best equipped to help themselves.

There are far more pressing needs for money that will have a greater public benefit and/or help those who are less able to help themselves.


366 days of gratitude

August 9, 2016

Tonight I happened to run into someone who I used to dislike because I let politics get personal.

He recognised me though asked after someone else’s husband  with whom he’d confused me (the someone else not the husband) and then said something else about my family that he’d remembered incorrectly and was then very apologetic.

I said it didn’t matter and it didn’t. It must be more than 10 years since we’d seen each other so a little confusion over which husband went with which woman and misremembering other details are understandable.

I laughed, he laughed and it reminded me that having differing political views should be just a difference of opinion and  should not turn into personal dislike.

Most people involved in politics at any level are there as a form of community service and most share a similar desire to make our country better. It’s not where we want to go but how to get there that becomes a matter of contention and that shouldn’t turn into animosity.

Tonight I’m grateful for the reminder to separate the political from the personal.

 


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,918 other followers

%d bloggers like this: