Small failures

September 1, 2016

Hawke’s Bay District Health Board expects investigations will show a combination of small failures led to the gastroenteritis outbreak in Havelock North.

. . . The DHB’s chief executive, Kevin Snee, said he expected the government’s inquiry would show that there were small problems in the systems and processes used by the DHB, and by the district and regional councils.

He expected this to show that, when aligned, the problems allowed the water supply to become contaminated and people to get sick. . . 

This is so often the case, lots of small things add up to cause a big problem.

Earlier tests pointed to a ruminant animal as the cause of the outbreak.

Even before that was announced the usual suspects were blaming intensive dairy farming, in spite of there being none near the bore supplying the town.

. . . Federated Farmers president William Rolleston said the area near the aquifer was mostly lifestyle blocks and orchards.

He said people needed to take a step back from the speculation.

“We all contribute to bacteria in the environment, birds do, humans do and so do farm animals.

“Last week we saw a crescendo of finger pointing at agriculture, we heard that this was because of intensive dairy farms and the closest dairy farm we can find is 40 kilometres away.”

Mr Rolleston said while the indications did point to a four-legged animal as the source of contamination, that didn’t mean intensive agriculture was to blame.

He said the aquifer in question was a shallow aquifer, which had a greater risk of having its seals breached.

“We’re not saying that agriculture doesn’t create a risk, but those are the risks that the council needs to actually take cognisance of and mitigate.”

Last week the Green Party said any inquiry into the Havelock North water contamination should look at the role of intensive agriculture.

Mr Rolleston admitted agriculture was a risk for water.

“We’re not denying that and farmers have been up to the task. We’ve spent a billion dollars in the last decade fencing rivers and we’re playing our part.” . . 

Environment Minister Nick Smith also says speculation is unhelpful:

Questions have been asked about the culpability of cattle and chicken farmers, as well as a nearby mushroom farm, but Dr Smith says sometimes even the most basic failures could be to blame.

The campylobacter outbreak in Havelock North struck down 5100 people with gastro, closed schools and businesses and has left residents still boiling their drinking water weeks later.

It is a reminder of the E. coli contamination in Nelson where upstream farmers, birds and waterfowl were blamed before testing confirmed the true cause, Dr Smith says.

“It was embarrassingly found that most of the problem was toilets from the council’s library having been wrongly plumbed into the stormwater rather than the sewerage system,” he told crowds at a Lincoln University environment lecture in Christchurch on Tuesday night.

He said the lesson was to be cautious of jumping to conclusions too soon. . . 

He also addressed concerns about measuring water quality, limits on water takes and proposed strengthening of swimming requirements.

Dr Smith warned a goal of making all waterways swimmable, rather than wadeable, were “unworkable” and “impossible” without a massive bird cull.

But the Green Party has criticised that view as baseless.

“He knows, as we all do, that the real and lasting damage to our rivers is from stock in waterways, farm run-off, sewage and intensified dairy farms among others – he just won’t admit it,” Green Party water spokeswoman Catherine Delahunty said. . . 

Tests above and below a dam on our farm confirmed birds were at the bottom of poor water quality.

The Otago Regional Council also proved seagulls were to blame for high levels of E.coli in the Kakanui River.

Up until recently, ORC staff and local farmers alike had been baffled about the cause of such high concentrations in the upper Kakanui, particularly during summer.

ORC staff have been concerned about the concentration of the bacteria, as high levels indicate a risk of people swimming becoming ill. The council enlisted the help of local farmers, who provided access to their properties and the nearby river for inspection.

ORC scientists went into the gorge to investigate by helicopter when this inspection failed to identify the source of the bacteria. The culprits − a large colony of nesting gulls − were found in rugged terrain, about 5km above the Clifton Falls bridge. Water quality samples were taken immediately above and below the colony, with divergent results.

Upstream of the colony, the bacteria concentrations were 214 E.coli/100ml, whereas immediately downstream, the concentration was far greater at 1300 E.coli/100ml.

The levels peaked on January 3, at 2400 parts per 100ml of water. ORC manager of resource science Matt Hickey said that according to Government water quality guidelines for recreational swimming areas, those with less than 260 E.coli/100ml should be safe, whereas water with more than 550 E.coli/100ml could pose a health-risk.

Mr Hickey said six colonies of gulls were found in total, on steep rocky faces, where they clearly favoured the habitat for nesting. While they had gone undetected up until now due to their inaccessibility, it was likely the gulls returned each year to breed.

“Unfortunately, these nesting gull colonies are likely to continue to cause high E.coli concentrations in the upper Kakanui River, particularly during the breeding season,” Mr Hickey said.

These are only two examples which show Delahunty is wrong to say birds aren’t a problem.

That doesn’t mean farming, especially when it’s intensive, is blameless.

There are many causes for poor water quality but many have happened over time and it will take time to get the improvements we all seek.

That is much more likely with the collaborative approach the Minister seeks:

New Zealand had a habit of turning environmental issues into a battle ground with winners and losers where farmers are seen as environmental vandals and environmentalists as economic imbeciles, Dr Smith said.

“I have been trying to lead a culture change at both a national and local level where different water users and interest groups work together on finding solutions that will work for the environment and the economy,” he said.

It doesn’t have to be either a healthy environment or a growing economy.

A collaborative approach, based on science, can achieve both.

Science must also be applied to the cause, and response to, Havelock North’s problems to ensure that a series of small failures doesn’t lead to large-scale gastroenteritis again.


Another good reason to vote National

December 4, 2012

The Green Party wants Cabinet positions in proportion to its vote should it be in government with labour after the next election.

On the surface that seems fair, but which positions does it want?

Dr Norman wants Finance, Metiria Turei could get Social Development, Kevin Hague may get Health, Kennedy Graham could go for Trade, Eugenie Sage for the Christchurch rebuild, Gareth Hughes with Energy, and Catherine Delahunty with Education.

It’s not just the number of positions but their importance which ought to be taken into account. Some positions in Cabinet are more equal than others.
These are all very important positions which would have a very big impact on how much money the country earns, how it earns it, how much the government spends and how and where it spends it.
Having the Green Party wield that much power provides another very good reason to vote National.

Opposition Bills bereft of economic sense

August 17, 2012

The luck of the draw for Members’ Bills was with the Opposition yesterday with three of theirs drawn:

Two of them – the Income Tax (Universalisation of In-work Tax Credit) Amendment Bill, put forward by Green MP Catherine Delahunty, and the Reserve Bank of New Zealand (Amending Primary Function of Bank) Amendment Bill proposed by  NZ First’s Winston Peters show the Opposition is bereft of economic sense.

If there is any good in the tax churn that is Working for Families it’s that it incentivises work by ensuring even a low-paid job brings in more money than a benefit.

If people can get the same money for not working as they would for having a job, why would they bother?

This was Labour policy at last year’s election and the Bill has given Labour a dilemma – to stick with the policy, which the electorate rejected, or dump the policy and upset a potential coalition partner?

Peters has had a fixation with the Reserve Bank and its powers for years. His Bill would require it to consider growth, the value of the dollar, export growth and employment as well as inflation which is its current target.

He was in parliament in the 1980s and should still be able to remember the damage wrought by inflation which was raging for much of the decade.

Requiring the Bank to do so much would almost certainly result in higher inflation with little if any positive impact on the other factors.

If he was really interested in employment and the dollar’s value he’d have a bill aimed at reducing impediments to business and entrenching reduced government spending.


Many measures of diversity

November 30, 2011

Green Party MP Catherine Delahunty is unhappy about the first decline in the number of women MPs since MMP was introduced and is blaming National.

National having only three female MPs in the top 20 shows a lack of commitment to gender representation.

“No country or Parliament is better off if women are blocked from political leadership,” Ms Delahunty said.

No-one’s blocking anyone and it’s got nothing to do with National’s commitment to gender representation.

National has a lot of electorate MPs which reduces the number of places available on the list, many are long serving, including those selected before MMP was introduced.

Among those with relatively new MPs are the three big central South Island electorates Waitaki, Rangitata and Selwyn, which might be regarded by some as conservative. All are represented by National women, – Jacqui Dean, Jo Goodhew and Amy Adams respectively. So is Waimakariri which Kate Wilkinson won on Saturday and Nicky Wagner is waiting for specials to see if she can take Christchurch Central which finished with a draw on election night.

There haven’t been many opportunities for new candidates in the last two elections but it is probable that a good number of the older MPs will retire this term or next which will provide openings for new entrants.

Anyone, man or woman, who wants to be a National MP should start working towards selection now if they haven’t already done so. That means taking an active role in the party and building up membership.

National is the only party which allows members to choose their candidate providing an electorate has sufficient members to do so.Candidates who’ve proven themselves as active members will have a better chance of winning selections.

Gaining selection with the support of members is far better than hoping you’ll get a winnable list place through tokenism.

Kiwiblog has a chart showing the demographics  of the new parliament, illustrating gender isn’t the only measure of diversity.

What he doesn’t show though is what the MPs did before entering parliament nor how many got a pay rise and how many took a cut.

That’s another measure of diversity in which I suspect National would do very well.


The power is in the middle

October 10, 2011

The Green Party has been working hard to soften its far left image and has even been suggesting its open to a much closer relationship with National.

First term MP Catherine Delahunty isn’t following the party line on that:

Green Party MP Catherine Delahunty has said she will resign if her party entered a coalition deal with the National Party – a call that undermines the credibility of the Green Party’s bid for more mainstream political appeal by leaving open the possibility of such a deal.

Ms Delahunty did not return calls, but Otago University politics lecturer Bryce Edwards confirmed she made the comment when responding to his questions during an interview on Friday.

“I clearly asked her: ‘If there was a Green Party MP that was a minister in a National-led Government, would you resign from parliament?’ She said, ‘Yes I would’.”

That’s a very silly stance when the power under MMP is in the middle.

If the Greens keep to the far left they’ll always be Labour’s lapdogs. If they are prepared to entertain a deal with National they are in a much stronger position.

One reason MMP hasn’t worked well in New Zealand is the absence of a party in the centre which stands for something identifiable. If the Greens really are prepared to be more mdoerate on social and economic issues while putting forward strong but reasonable environmental policies they could be that party.


Labouring the list

March 26, 2011

Party lists are of great importance to the people on them.

That’s understandable for anyone not standing in an electorate, or standing with little or no chance of winning. But even those with safe seats often want a high place for ego’s sake if nothing else.

Those ranking the list labour over them trying to present a line-up which will appeal to voters without disrupting caucus and upsetting non-MP candidates which can be mutually exclusive goals.

But does anyone else, even political tragics, really pay much attention to them?

The lists are made public once they’ve been sorted but unless there is someone who is well known I’d be very surprised if many voters know, or care, about who is on them and in which order.

The only time after an election a list matters is if a list MP jumps or is pushed from parliament when the next person on the list is invited to take his or her place.

Sometimes,  a party has second thoughts about the ranking as Keeping Stock reminds us the Green Party did  when co-leader Russel Norman leapfrogged Catherine Delahunty and Mike Ward to get into parliament before the last election.

When the Labour list was ranked in 2008 the importance of not upsetting sitting MPs must have had at least some bearing but that is now causing them problems.  The next person on the list is former MP Judith Tizard who must be offered the place vacated by Darren Hughes. If she turns it down it’s offered to Mark Burton, Mahara Okeroa, Martin Gallagher and Dave Hereora, all former MPs who, Labour president Andrew Little told Mary Wilson on Checkpoint, will not be on this year’s list.

The next one on the list is Louisa Wall another former MP but one who is standing again.

It is possible that the next five people on Labour’s list won’t want to disrupt their lives to return to parliament for a few months. But, has anyone asked them if they’d like to return for longer? The Labour list has yet to be ranked so if one of the five made the sacrifice they could be offered a place which has the potential to keep them in parliament for the next term.

But from what Little said last night, that isn’t a consideration. Instead it looks like five people will be expected to not take the place which they are entitled to by the law giving a whole new meaning to the term labouring (or should that be Labouring?) the list.

UPDATE: Kiwiblog notes that the five could-be MPs would be turning down 11 months salary if they decline the chance to return to parliament.


Peters’ fiasco shows MMP flaws

August 1, 2008

Public law specialist Andy Nicholls says the Peters’ debacle shows a review of MMP is needed.

Winston Peters’ value to both Labour and National has become abundantly clear. Both parties are pulling their punches over the donations allegations for fear of alienating him as an ally or future ally.

MMP creates hostage situations. Remember Alamein Kopu and her pull over Jenny Shipley?

In this most recent row Sir Robert Jones has unexpectedly been firing most of the bullets at Peters. He probably summed up the view of many when he said, “I belong to a different era. I don’t like it now under MMP.”

John Key has said National will, if elected, hold a referendum into MMP. Key’s referendum will first ask voters: are you satisfied with MMP? If the majority says no, then a second referendum will be held pitting MMP against some other unspecified alternative.

But is this what we need? MMP was itself born out of a referendum, and voter frustration at the unbridled power of first-past-the-post governments. First Sir Robert Muldoon, then Sir Roger Douglas proved if you could control the Cabinet you could control the country.

But one wage freeze and an unadvertised rapid economic transformation later, voters realised they wanted their leaders on a tighter leash. They wanted them to have to work harder, and more consensually, to get their own way. Which is what MMP delivers with its minority or coalition governments, its requirements to consult and its generally slower pace of change.

Referendums are very blunt instruments and support for MMP in the 1993 one came at least in part from people voting against politicians rather than for a change in the voting system.

Plus, of course, for anyone younger than 32, two-tick voting is voting. So why would we ditch it? Because MMP has flaws which undermine the legitimacy of our parliamentary system.

Nicolls gives examples such as the ability for MPs like Gordon Copeland to abandon their parties, switch allegience and still be an MP; or those like Rick Barker who lose a seat but still get back into parliament – and even cabinet – on a party list. Although this also allows MPs to enter parliament when standing in an unwinnable seat, as Katherine Rich has in Dunedin North.

If that is justified by the sanctity of the party list, then what about Mike Ward and Catherine Delahunty? Both Greens and both higher placed on the list than Russel Norman, yet both pushed inelegantly aside when Nandor Tanczos’s early retirement offered the co-leader the chance to get to Parliament in time for some pre-campaign publicity.

All these inconsistencies create unfairness, though not so much as the threshold rule itself.

Under MMP a party must win 5 per cent of the party vote or an electorate seat. A win in an electorate, where the party scores lower than 5 per cent, still gets a proportionate top-up. So Rodney Hide’s win in Epsom gave Act two MPs even though the party won only 1.5 per cent of the party vote.

By comparison, in 1996, the Christian Coalition won 4.33 per cent of the party vote, a hair’s breadth from the magic threshold. But it failed to win in any electorate – so bad luck, no MPs.

There are two issues. Firstly, is the 5 per cent threshold too high? The commission that recommended MMP preferred 4 per cent, but the two major parties argued for a higher threshold. Those fears have proved unfounded. In fact, as much as MMP has delivered a more diverse Parliament, only one new party (Act) has broken in since the switch to MMP. The others have all been created around a sitting member.

But is the electorate threshold too low? In Germany, a party must win three electorates before qualifying for list seats. Adopting a three-electorates or 5 per cent criterion at the 2005 election would have seen five parties able to get in list MPs.

United Future and Act would have been restricted to Peter Dunne and Rodney Hide. As Jim Anderton couldn’t bring in a list MP under current arrangements, the Progressives would have been unaffected. Since none of those three parties attracted more than 2.6 per cent of the party vote, is that an unfair result?

And then there is the Maori vote. Last election, the Maori Party won 2.12 per cent of the party vote and four electorates, hence it has four MPs. This coming election it may win more electorates even though polling indicates its party vote will be no higher.

Since the number of Maori seats grows in accordance with the number on the Maori roll, it is entirely possible that over time this disparity between the number of MPs elected and the party’s proportion of the party vote will grow. That will mean a larger and larger over-hang and the leading party will need to garner not 61 votes to govern, but 63, 64, 65. Is this what we want?

These are all valid issues in need of debate. But they do not fit the yes-no format of a referendum. Nor do they provide evidence that MMP itself is beyond repair.

What they point to is the need for a considered review of the electoral system. Learning the lessons of the Electoral Finance Act, this should be conducted in a non-partisan way with a clearly stated purpose of seeking greater fairness.

In the spirit of fairness, perhaps such a review should also look at the Prime Minister’s prerogative to set the election date. Or the length of the political term; four years might be more productive.

The problem is that these changes require MPs to vote against their own interest. History tells us MPs don’t do that. Which is why a simplistic question in a referendum is so appealing. It looks as if something substantive is being done, even if it isn’t.

But concerns about MMP’s peculiarities are genuine and a more considered review would be more constructive.

I agree a considered review if not instead of, at least before, a referendum would serve us better than the blunt instrument of for or against vote in isolation.


%d bloggers like this: