Govt hasn’t learned

04/06/2020

The government hasn’t learned from mistakes it made in deciding which businesses could operate at alert level 4:

Dozens of marine engineering jobs in Nelson are at risk over a Government policy to refuse entry to ships during the Covid-19 pandemic, delivering a hammer blow to the international repair and refit industry.

Aimex Service Group managing director Steve Sullivan said about 40 jobs were under threat at the Port Nelson-based company he founded in 2009.

“Forty per cent of our revenue comes from the international refit business,” Sullivan said. “It’s all under threat.”

Two major contracts were cancelled just before the alert level 4 lockdown, leading to a loss of about $4 million to the wider Nelson economy, Sullivan said.

“We … will have to put more people out of work if the policy does not change,” Sullivan said, referring to the 40 jobs at risk.

Both he and Nelson MP Dr Nick Smith urged the Government to lift the blanket ban and consider the entry of each ship on a case-by-case basis.

The catalyst for prompting Sullivan to speak out publicly was the Government refusal to allow entry to the Captain Vincent Gann, a tuna boat now at sea in the eastern Pacific and in need of urgent repair.

A fault with the Captain Vincent Gann’s reduction gear that provides propulsion meant it was able to travel at half its usual speed only. It was also at risk of further damage. The repair work was expected to take about six weeks and would deliver about $600,000 to the wider Nelson economy – $400,000 to Aimex and $200,000 to associated businesses.

The Captain Vincent Gann’s last port of call was American Samoa, which had no reported cases of Covid-19 and had closed its borders in late March.

TNL International shipping agent John Lowden said the American-owned Captain Vincent Gann had been fishing out of Pago Pago for the past 18 months.

“The crew has been at sea since … 15th May and by the time it gets down here, they would have been at sea for a month,” Lowden said. “They don’t pose any threat at all.”

Sullivan said the crew members could easily be tested for Covid-19 and were prepared to be quarantined on arrival, if necessary. . . 

This exchange in parliament yesterday gives no hope that common sense will prevail:

 Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister of Customs: Does she agree with the statement by Steve Sullivan from Nelson’s marine engineering company AIMEX that “The Government’s policy to refuse entry of vessels for engineering and maintenance work is costing jobs and millions of dollars in work”, and does she stand by her department’s decision to refuse entry to the fishing vessel the Captain Vincent Gann?

Hon JENNY SALESA (Minister of Customs): I do stand by Customs’ decision to give effect to immigration rules. This Government’s position has continued to be that the best economic response is a strong public health response. While I appreciate this is an incredibly difficult time for many businesses in New Zealand, our Government has made unprecedented support available for businesses like AIMEX. I encourage them to take up any and all support that they are eligible for from the Government during this unprecedented time.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Is the Minister saying it’s better for New Zealand for companies like AIMEX to take a wage subsidy rather than actually letting them do the work that earns the company and the country income.

Hon JENNY SALESA: The question is mainly about whether or not we allow a fishing vessel like this to come through. The decision made by the Government has not been to open up our border. We are 12 days into having zero COVID-19 cases, with only one active case. In terms of foreign ships, on 26 May a foreign fishing boat emerged as one of the points of transmission where a foreign-flagged, foreign-crewed vessel with 29 members of its crew being COVID-19 positive was heading towards the Pacific. A vaccine is not yet available for COVID-19, so the fact is that we are focused on saving lives and focused on public health. We are now looking at the recovery of our economy, but I stand by our Government and our response.

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Why did she state yesterday in this House that the Customs refusal to allow entry of the Capt. Vincent Gann from American Samoa to New Zealand was based on advice of the ministry and Director-General of Health, when her department has admitted it never sought any advice from the Ministry of Health or the director-general on that vessel from American Samoa. . . 

Hon JENNY SALESA: The question that the honourable member asked me yesterday was whether I stand by Customs’ policies and actions—a very general question. Then he followed up with the question about this particular vessel. Had he put down a specific question like that, I would have been able to answer in specific ways.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does she accept that the COVID-19 risks for the fishing crew from American Samoa are far less than from the film crew that’s been allowed in by the Government from California, when American Samoa has had zero cases and zero deaths, and California has had 115,000 cases and 4,200 deaths?

Hon JENNY SALESA: I reiterate that this particular ship was a foreign-flagged, foreign-crewed ship. They were not all Americans or American Samoans on that particular ship. Customs enforces the rules and laws that Parliament and Cabinet set. The exemptions for visas are by the Minister of Immigration and the exemptions for jobs are by the Minister for Economic Development. The honourable member who has been a member for many, many decades—more than me—should know if he was to put down this kind of question who the right Minister is to ask about these sorts of issues. . . 

The government’s insistence on its own arbitrary and inconsistent definition of essential during the alert level 4 cost more jobs and did much more damage to the economy than had any business that could operate safely been permitted to do so.

Its refusal to let this boat when the crew has been isolated at sea for more than two weeks, are prepared to be tested and if necessary quarantined, shows it hasn’t learned from that.

There are plenty of other examples of the immigration lottery:

The Avatar film crew has been allowed in but there’s still no certainty over whether America’s Cup crews will be.

Dairy farmers are desperate for migrant staff to return:

. . . Ryan Baricuatro has worked on McFarlane’s 550-cow family farm near Carew, west of Ashburton, for seven years.

In early March, with no cows on the farm following the cull and Baricuatro’s wife due to have a baby in the Philippines, McFarlane encouraged him take some leave and return to his home country.

“We didn’t expect him to be gone for two months and not knowing when he’ll be back is tough,” McFarlane said.

“With his knowledge of the farm and the way we operate, he’ll be integral to getting us back and running after Mycoplasma bovis and at calving. He’s virtually irreplaceable for us, we’re desperate to get him back.” . . 

Geraldine farmer Tom Hargreaves shares McFarlane’s concerns.

Last May, his sheep and beef farming family bought the property next door and hired two staff, including Uruguayan Patricia Grilli, to run a 420-cow dairy operation.

After a successful first season on the farm, Grilli took time off to return to Uruguay for her father’s surprise birthday celebrations. . . 

Despite their best efforts, including providing Grilli with a letter from her employer and a lawyer, she was turned away by customs officials at the airport in Uruguay.

That’s left Hargreaves worried and his team stretched thin to cover Grilli’s role through winter.

“We don’t really know what’s happening. Nothing has been shown to us, so we’re really in the dark and getting more and more nervous,” he said.

“The dairy farm should start up from August 1, but we really needed her over winter as well. Our dairy farm manager didn’t have a day off and the sheep and beef guys would help out but only he and Patricia know the milking shed.” . . 

As of Wednesday, DairyNZ was aware of at least 40 skilled workers who had taken ill-timed holidays and are now unable to get back into New Zealand. 

DairyNZ chief executive Tim Mackle agreed it could become a human and animal welfare issue if dairy farms were understaffed or had staff with the wrong skill-sets come calving.

As well as the workers stuck offshore, the industry was facing a much bigger problem if lower skilled workers already in the country couldn’t get their visa extended, he said. . . 

It’s not just workers who can’t get in.

Schools and universities could be attracting foreign fee-paying pupils and students from the northern hemisphere to start study in July but they too have yet to gain permission for entry.

Eric Crampton discussed why getting safe entry at the border matters:

The government seems to have everything backwards currently. It results in horrible inequities and the usual amounts of muppetry because they’re starting at the thing from the wrong end.

Right now, if you want to enter New Zealand and you’re not a returning resident or citizen, you have to convince the Minister that you’re important enough to be let in. That kind of regime was hard to avoid during the worst part of lockdown because you also needed exemptions from piles of other mobility restrictions if you were coming in as an essential worker to fix Wellington’s sewer pipes. But it’s got things the wrong way around now that lockdown is over. Instead, the principle should be that if you can enter safely, you’re allowed in – with no sign off from the Minister unless that were somehow already required for whatever visa you’d be coming in on.

Starting from the economic necessity of getting particular people in has the government picking winners – it’s the aristocracy of pull all over again. James Cameron has pull; some poor guy whose pregnant wife is here in New Zealand while he’s in Australia doesn’t. Because being allowed in is a function of their having the Seal Of Approval, safety gets less consideration than it should. Tom Hunt’s story from yesterday of quarantine-bound Avatar film crews mingling in hotel reception with regular guests – that kind of muppetry absolutely cannot be allowed to happen. And maybe it didn’t – the story relied on a non-quarantined guest’s reckon that the crowd she went through at reception was that film crew. But it is the kind of thing that’s more likely to happen if the guiding principle is “Movies are important and Avatar Sequels about that main Avatar and the other Avatar – that’s what matters and it matters so much that we’ll pay them tons of money to make those movies here”

You need to flip it.

If people can come in safely, they should be allowed in. . . 

The government was too slow to close the borders before the lockdown and too slow to insist on quarantine for anyone who came in.

Now it’s gone to the opposite extreme with arbitrary and inconsistent exemptions instead of working on the safety principle.

There would be a slight risk of someone bringing Covid-19 with them but providing everyone who comes in was required to quarantine at their own expense, the risk and cost would be minimal when compared with the benefits of businesses and jobs saved.

It would also give us some hope that it was able, and willing, to learn from its mistakes.


Rural round-up

02/09/2016

Fonterra on the eve of disruption – Fran O’Sullivan:

Fonterra chief executive Theo Spierings’ challenge ‘build windmills not walls’ is galvanising the dairy co-operative, writes Fran O’Sullivan.

Theo Spierings’ leadership has been tested as he re-engineers New Zealand’s biggest business during the tough times of a lengthy global commodity slump.

The story of how NZ dairy farmer incomes have plummeted, the company’s staff numbers have been slashed and hard calls made with its suppliers is well-traversed.

But behind the scenes there has been a fundamental refocusing of the company’s strategic operations which Spierings expects will result in a “strong picture” when he unveils Fonterra’s financial results late next month. . . 

Value-add products need a point of difference – Keith Woodford:

[This article was commissioned by the NZ Herald. It was written on 8 August 2016 and published on 31 August 2016. Since being written, some 24 days ago, we have seen substantial increases in dairy commodity prices, and in the short term (i.e. the forthcoming GDT dairy auction on 6 September GMT, and possibly subsequent auctions) these increases are likely to continue. However, the fundamentals remain unaltered; i.e commodities are highly volatile and will remain so, but there are also many traps for the unwary along the value-add path.]

There is increasing recognition within New Zealand that the dairy industry is in some trouble. Heading into a third year of low prices, questions have to be asked whether the industry is on a false path. And if so, where is the path back to firm ground?

Some will argue that the answers are simple: that we should reduce the dairy footprint on our land, and that we should focus on value-add. In reality, it is not that simple.

For those who live in the cities, it is easy to miss the importance of agribusiness to the overall economy. Much of New Zealand’s economic growth of the last 15 years is a direct consequence of a bountiful economic environment for agriculture in general and dairy in particular. . . 

GMO ruling frustrates biotech industry, farmers:

A lobby group representing New Zealand’s biotech industry fears further changes around the way genetically modified organisms are regulated could potentially force companies and scientists to shift overseas.

The High Court has upheld the Environment Court’s decision that local councils can have control over use and release of genetically modified organisms in their district.

The ruling was based on an appeal by Federated Farmers, which argued the release of GMOs was already regulated by the Environmental Protection Authority and local councils were not qualified to make such decisions.

But lobby group NZBIO chief executive Will Barker said the decision would come as a blow to the industry. . . 

Boat to change face of commercial fishing in NZ launched in Nelson:

A ceremony steeped in tradition was held in Nelson today to celebrate the launch of a boat that will change the face of commercial fishing in New Zealand.

The state-of-the-art vessel has been built for Tauranga-based fisherman Roger Rawlinson, of Ngati Awa descent. It has been named Santy Maria after his mother, who started the business with his father Bill more than 25 years ago.

The Santy Maria is the first vessel in Moana New Zealand’s $25-30 million fleet renewal project. It has been designed by Australian company OceanTech, with the technical expertise and vast fishing experience of Westfleet CEO Craig Boote, and constructed to the highest specifications by Aimex Service Group in Nelson. . . 

Seafood industry continues steady growth path:

The seafood industry continues to show strong growth with export earnings reaching $1.78 billion in the year to June, Seafood New Zealand’s Executive Chairman George Clement said today.

Speaking at the seafood industry’s annual conference, George Clement said the June result was an increase of $201 million on the same time last year, ”further demonstrating that we continue to make a significant contribution to the economy as one of the country’s main export earners,” he said.

“Last year industry accepted the Government’s aspirational goal of doubling export revenues by 2025 and we are on the growth path to achieve this,”
he said. . . 

The thirsty truth about avocados – Mitch McCann:

From Instagram to Pinterest, this is the golden age of avocados.

They’re so popular, the New Zealand industry’s earnings have doubled in the past three years.

Earlier this year avocado prices skyrocketed to around $4.50.

But now you can grab one for less than $2.

That’s because we’re into a bumper season, which may end up being New Zealand’s biggest ever.

But growing avocados takes a lot of water – much more than for things like potatoes, tomatoes and lettuce. . . 

Seeka announces the purchase of the Kiwi Crush™ and Kiwi Crushies™ product ranges from Vital Food Processors Ltd.:

Seeka Kiwifruit Industries (NZX-SEK), New Zealand’s and Australia’s largest kiwifruit grower, today announced the purchase of the Kiwi Crush and Kiwi Crushies product ranges from Auckland based Vital Food Processors Ltd (Vital Foods) for an undisclosed sum.

Kiwi Crush is a range of 100% natural kiwifruit based drinks that have since the early 1990s helped New Zealanders support and balance the digestive system. . . 

Hawkes Bay wine celebration reveals master class talent:

Two big names in the wine industry will be the hosts of the first-ever F.A.W.C! Masterclasses, at the Hawke’s Bay Wine Celebration.

A must-do event for wine lovers, when the cellar doors of 38 of the region’s finest wineries come together – the Hawke’s Bay Wine Celebration is being held in Auckland and Wellington next month. This is a unique opportunity to meet the winemakers while sampling award-winning wines. The event will showcase 50 Chardonnays, 38 Syrah, more than 30 Merlot Cabernet blends, as well as aromatic Riesling and Gewurztraminer through to newcomers Albarino, Tempranillo and luscious dessert wines. . . 


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