AG calls for effective public accountability

19/10/2022

Auditor General John Ryan points to a big problem with public accountability:

I am concerned that it is often not clear to the public or Parliament what outcomes are being sought by governments, how that translates into spending, and ultimately what is being achieved with the public money the Government spends – about $150 billion last year. 

We have the government’s word it is aspirational but exactly what it wants to achieve isn’t always clear and the huge gap between what it announces and what is done shows not nearly enough is being achieved and there is far to little value for money.

In my report on the 2020/21 central government audits, I noted that it can be difficult (even with new initiatives) to track how and where new government spending is directed. Reporting is often fragmented and spread between different organisations. It is left to Parliament and the public to piece together both what has been spent and what has been achieved. In many cases, this is not possible from information reported publicly. My Office’s work on the Provincial Growth Fund and Covid-19 spending has also highlighted this. . . 

He says Environment Commissioner Simon Upton’s report gives further exmaples.

The Commissioner’s report looks at the barriers to informed debates about environmental priorities, governments’ plans for achieving them, the spending decisions made, and their consequences.

The report’s messages are important. We need to understand how government decisions relate to the long-term environmental outcomes they are pursuing. But the links between good information, research, and spending are too often tenuous, lack transparency, and focused on the short term.

The challenges the report identifies exist across nearly all areas of public spending. In 2021, my Office reported on the Government’s preparedness to implement the goals that underlie the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. We found that although progress on some goals – such as reducing child poverty and greenhouse gas emissions – is tracked and publicly reported, there was limited information available on what the Government was seeking to achieve in other areas, and how it would go about achieving those goals and measuring progress.

Whole-of-government performance reporting that links government spending to outcomes would help focus debate on the longer-term and on some of the more intractable issues we face as a country. And, of course, help answer for the public and Parliament how well governments are playing their role in addressing them.

The Commissioner’s report provides further evidence of problems that my Office consistently identifies. In my view, a comprehensive review is needed of the arrangements that enable Parliament and the public to understand what governments are seeking to achieve, what is being spent, and what progress is being made. In exchange, this will help the public sector maintain an informed, trusting, and enduring connection with the public they ultimately are there to serve.

An outcome I think we would all support.

The Environment Commissioner asked do we know if we’re making a difference?

The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Simon Upton, is calling for improved public accountability to get better outcomes for the environment.

The Government spends over $2 billion each year on the environment.

“We need to know how our actions are affecting the environment, and whether the actions we are taking to improve the environment are working,” the Commissioner says in a report released today.

The report, Environmental reporting, research and investment: Do we know if we’re making a difference?, completes a cycle of work the Commissioner has undertaken over five years.

The report found that parliamentarians and the public cannot easily get the information they need to hold the Government to account for its environmental expenditure.

“Decision making needs to be better informed by evidence. And those decisions – and their consequences – need to be capable of scrutiny.

“It has become clear that while there are links between the environmental information we collect, the research we undertake and the money we throw at environmental problems, they are often tenuous, lacking in transparency and governed by short-termism,” the Commissioner said.

Failing to respond to environmental issues is not cost-free – it simply defers costs into the future.

Environmental costs tend to compound over time. If they continue to be ignored, the costs of remedying them will eventually become unaffordable.

The public finance system needs to demonstrate links between what is spent and what environmental reporting and research tell us, so that Members of Parliament can judge whether what we spend matches the scale of the environmental challenges we face.

The recommendations in this report are designed to ensure that the actions of the Government are focused on the most important environmental outcomes, and that the effectiveness of those actions can be assessed.

“Members of Parliament and citizens have a right to information underlying our environmental actions and their consequences so they can hold governments to account for decisions made and decisions postponed”, he said.

This final report draws on the learnings of three of the Commissioner’s prior reports and calls for:

    • foundational investments in environmental information
    • clarity about why we are prioritising certain environmental issues (and not others)
    • transparency about what environmental outcomes the Government is aiming for, what the Government plans to do to achieve them and how much it spends as part of that response
    • accountability for the results of that spending.

The report is available here.

His concerns about transparency and accountability apply to almost everything the government is doing.

It is far too easy for politicians to speak about their aspirations and much, much harder for us to understand what they want to achieve, how much it costs and what, if anything is being delivered.

The last National government set targets against which its delivery could be measured. It was also clear that the quality of spending was far more important than the quantity.

This one scrapped targets, appears to believe that more spending is better spending even when it achieves little, and its intention to be the most open and transparent is yet another promise on which it has failed to deliver.


Can’t they join the dots?

18/10/2022

Remember Labour promising to prioritise reducing child poverty? Add that to yet another big promise and bad performance:

Students are suffering as their families’ food budgets shrink, with an increasing number arriving at school ‘hungry, cold, and miserable,’ teachers say. As schools return for term four, the focus for many won’t be teaching – but feeding children who have survived the holidays on limited food. KidsCan has seen a sharp rise in demand, with schools ordering food for over 10,000 more children a day than at the start of the year.

KidsCan surveyed its partner schools on the impact of the rising cost of living, with more than five hundred responses. Teachers said some students were surviving on food provided at school, with cupboards at home empty by the end of each week. They were also helping more families access food banks.

“Parents are having to decide between bills and basic essentials for their children, even with both parents working,” one principal wrote. Another reported one child telling her, ‘Dad was crying last night because he said it’s his job to feed us kids, but he doesn’t get enough money, and everything is so expensive.’ “Children are worried about family money and their parents’ well-being,” she said.

Hungry children can’t learn properly, add worries about their parents and it’s not hard to join the dots between that and increases in young people’s mental health problems.

Some students were living in grim conditions, with increasing overcrowding as families couldn’t afford both rent and enough food. One school reported a child living in a 3-bedroom home with nineteen others. “Sadly, this is not unusual,” the teacher wrote. Petrol costs were affecting attendance, with one school picking up sixty children every day. High schools reported reduced attendance as senior students worked part-time to support their families or left altogether.

Teachers were seeing an impact not just on students’ education, but their wellbeing too. Several schools said they’d seen a drop in the number of students able to participate in sport. School camp letters didn’t make it home if students thought their parents couldn’t afford it.

The increase in demand comes as KidsCan has seen a drop in regular givers, who are having to tighten their own budgets. The charity is now supporting 877 schools nationwide, helping to feed more than 49,000 students a day. A further thirty-nine schools are waiting for help, with most applying since April as costs rose. KidsCan also supports more than 7,000 students in 177 early childhood centres nationwide with food and clothing.

“The situation is pretty dire. We’re seeing record demand for KidsCan food at school, as families go hungry at home,” KidsCan’s founder and CEO Julie Chapman says. “We are bringing in more food to meet the increased demand from our partner schools, while also working to reach those children on our waitlist. But with our costs rising, and a drop in people able to donate every month, we need more help from individuals and businesses too. Too much of the burden is falling on overwhelmed teachers, and they need all the support we can give them.” 

It’s fair to give some of the blame for the cost of living crisis to Covid-19.

But the government is also at fault because, as John MacDonald points out,  it has got its priorities wrong:

When it comes to knowing what it should be prioritising, this government is hopeless.

If you want evidence, where would you like me to start? Centralised control of the health system. A priority? No. Centralising all the polytechs around the country. A priority? Wouldn’t have thought so. Restructuring water services up and down the country. A priority? Maybe in some places, but not everywhere.

That’s just a start. And I actually think there are two headlines in the news today that trump all of those examples. Two headlines that, in just a few words, show how way off beam the Government has got when it comes to knowing what its priorities should be.

The first headline: ‘The worst we’ve ever seen it’: Kidscan’s support for hungry children grows as food prices hit 13-year high’. And the second headline: “Government expects to spend $6 million on contractors working on public media mega-merger”. . .

Remember the Wellbeing Budget?

Is there any measure of wellbeing that has improved since then?

Poverty, for children and adults, certainly hasn’t, nor has the associated problem of homelessness.

There’s little hope of any improvement to hungry children and wider issues of poverty when the government doesn’t appear to be able to join the dots between that and its policies that have fuelled inflation and added costs and complexity to food production.

Fruit and vegetables weren’t harvested because of labour shortages, reducing supply, export income and increasing domestic prices.

That’s due in part to closed borders and Labour’s anti-immigration stance.

It’s also due to the increased minimum wage which means beneficiaries work fewer hours before they hit the ceiling where their benefits are reduced.

The locks have been taken off the border but the number of people coming in who are willing and able to work in horticulture and on farms is well below the number needed.

The situation is made worse by the long and expensive process to employ them. The government mandates that immigrant workers must be paid the median wage which in most cases is more than the going rate for horticulture and farming staff. It shouldn’t be hard to join the dots between higher wages and more expensive food.

The raft of regulations that have hit farming are also part of the problem and if the government succeeds in forcing its butchered version of He Waka Eke Noa on the sector it will add to the problem of less production and higher prices.

Heather du Plessis-Allan says the climate tax will wreck the industry:

The Government can’t force this version of its climate tax on farmers.

It’s economically reckless. It will shut down up to one in five sheep and beef farms.

This is the prediction from the Government’s own models.

It will cause a 24 per cent drop in sheep and beef revenue. That works out at $2.9 billion a year. That’s more than we spend on our entire education system annually.

It will cut jobs, close businesses and kill towns.

It will not only reduce production of meat and milk, it will add to the costs of producing fruit and vegetables too and some of those costs will be passed on to consumers.

The tax breaches the Paris Agreement that demands action “in a manner that does not threaten food production”. This nukes 20 per cent of sheep and beef food production in a food-producing nation.

It is economic sabotage, threatens food security and it won’t help the environment.

Our farmers are the most climate-friendly in the world. If they stop exporting 20 per cent of their meat, some other farmers somewhere else in the world will take up that slack. Those farmers are less climate-friendly. The sheep and cows they farm will hurt the climate more than the sheep and cows we’re getting rid of to help the climate.

This tax will remove 1.6 megatonnes of sheep carbon emissions in New Zealand. Farmers in the rest of the world will replace that with 2.1 megatonnes of sheep carbon emissions. The climate tax will lead to a 133 per cent increase in those emissions. This is the prediction in the Government’s own models.

The Prime Minister claims our farmers will “benefit from being world-leading”. That’s BS. Precious few consumers in London and Perth and even Auckland are wealthy enough to question the climate impact of their meat before buying it. Right now – with inflation soaring internationally – they’re more concerned about the price. . .

People might voice concern for the climate when they’re asked about it but when they’re shopping its quality and price that matters.

It could only get worse when the protests start. Groundswell has announced protests for Thursday in all the major centres.

It may snowball when farming communities realise the impact this will have on those living around sheep and beef farms. Many of those farmers will simply switch to planting trees if their council allows it. People will be replaced by pine. Groundswell predicts, 2368 Kiwi farming families will walk off their land.

Schools, shops and cafes will close. Meat plants won’t have work. It’s predicted one close every year from 2030 and 13,984 red meat sector jobs will be lost. . . 

It’s should be easy to join the dots between the job losses and more hunger but the government doesn’t appear able, or willing to do it.

Unless, or until, they do the headlines showing how badly wrong they’ve got their priorities will worsen.


Rural round-up

15/09/2022

What the ‘F’ is going on? – Mark Daniel:

Rabobank’s Emma Higgins recently outlined some of the current headaches facing the agriculture sector.

At the Tractor and Machinery Association (TAMA) Conference, held in Christchurch, she focused on a number of ‘F’ words – freight, fuel, fertiliser, feed, folk and farmer spending.

Higgins looked at the state of the global shipping industry and what had happened pre- and post-Covid, covering a period from early 2018 to June 2022. She explained that during the pre-Covid era, freight rates had remained largely static with most companies making little or no margin. However, since early 2020, rates had skyrocketed, alliances and consolidations had become the norm and major players were reporting margins approaching 40% or more.

Higgins warned those needing to ship goods in or out of the country not to expect freight costs to return to pre-Covid levels, even though there had been a recent softening of rates. She also noted there is an ongoing problem with scheduling reliability – boats arriving on time. Pre-Covid this was typically at 85%, but more lately was sitting at 35%. . . 

Many flow-on effects if scroll plains classified as wetlands – Shawn McAvinue:

A Maniototo Basin farmer fears proposed new freshwater rules will remove an important tool used to protect a unique scroll plain.

Puketoi Station owner Emma Crutchley said her nearly 3000ha sheep, beef and arable farm was often dry.

About 350mm of rain fell each year on the farm, which is about a 20-minute drive southwest of Ranfurly.

When it tips down, the overflow of the meandering Taieri River transforms a low-lying area of her farm to a “large, slow-moving lake”. . . 

Winter crop consent logjam ‘could reach 10,000’ – Neal Wallace:

Delays in finalising freshwater farm plans threaten bureaucratic snarl-up.

An estimated 10,000 farmers may require resource consent to intensively winter stock on crops next year.

A meeting this week between farming groups and the Ministry for the Environment (MFE) will confirm if a compromise can be found to the consenting requirement, which many fear will overwhelm regional council staff.

It has been estimated that 2000 farmers in Southland and 1000 in Waikato will require resource consent, and farming leaders calculate that nationally, potentially a further 7000 may also need consent. . . 

Ex-Feds dairy boss makes it 3-way battle for DairyNZ board seats – Sudesh Kissun:

Former Federated Farmers leader Chris Lewis is one of three candidates confirmed for DairyNZ director elections.

The Waikato farmer will take on sitting directors Tracy Brown, Waikato and Elaine Cook, Bay of Plenty, both retiring by rotation and seeking re-election.

Voting starts September 19 and ends on October 17. Results will be announced at DairyNZ’s annual meeting in Invercargill the next day.

Lewis, who milks 970 cows at Pukeatua, believes he will bring a farmer’s perspective to the board. . . 

Vets hold the line against M bovis – Mary van Andel :

Local vets are putting the country on track to be the world’s first to eradicate the disease.

Much of the work veterinarians do is behind the scenes but underpins aspects of our economy, environment and way of life. Across New Zealand, veterinarians provide valuable technical expertise and are recognised as trusted advisers on a range of issues, including animal health and welfare, and disease surveillance and investigation. They play a key role in our biosecurity system.

A debt of gratitude is owed to the private veterinarian who first identified Mycoplasma bovis in NZ in 2017. Since those early and often difficult days, private veterinarians have made a significant contribution in identifying the index case and reporting cases of suspected disease, as well as undertaking on-farm testing and supporting their clients affected by the eradication programme. 

If it had been left unchecked, M bovis could have cost the industry $1.2 billion over the first 10 years, with ongoing productivity losses across the farming sector and animal welfare concerns. As we near the halfway mark of our estimated 10-year eradication programme, we are aiming to move from controlling the last known pockets of the disease, to provisional absence. We are on track to become the first country to eradicate M bovis.

An important part of my role at the Ministry for Primary Industries is to identify ways to build relationships that bind our animal health community together to enable successful biosecurity partnerships. MPI is NZ’s largest employer of veterinarians, with 300 working in five of the nine business units, across all regions, including overseas postings.  . . 

Ploughwoman qualifies for national champs – Shawn McAvinue:

Southland ploughwoman Tryphena Carter is going to the National Ploughing Championships next year.

The Waimea Ploughing Club member qualified for the nationals on the first day of the Middlemarch, Taieri and Tokomairiro ploughing matches in Strath Taieri.

“That’s really exciting,” Carter said.

She got podium finishes in the conventional class on all three days — the Tokomairiro match in Sutton on August 26 and the Taieri and Middlemarch matches in Middlemarch on August 27 and 28 respectively. . . 


Freeish

13/09/2022

Almost all the restrictions imposed on us because of Covid-19 were removed at midnight.

We can still choose to wear masks, and people who for a variety of reasons are vulnerable to, or concerned about, infection, will continue to do so.

But fewer people have been using masks recently and most won’t except where they’re still required in health and aged care facilities.

We are now freer and can look forward to life with travel and events with more certainty than we’ve been able to since we were locked down more than two and a half years ago.

But it is freer and freeish rather than completely free of Covid-19 and its impacts.  It is still being transmitted and the human and economic costs of the disease are still with us.

But can we be free of the fear that accompanied it?

In Spain in July masks were required in pharmacies and public transport and we saw a very, very few people wearing them outside. In Scotland and England there were no requirements and again we saw hardly anyone wearing masks.

The impression we got was that people were over the disease, even though it isn’t over, if it ever will be.

We didn’t see daily updates of Covid infections, hospitalisations and deaths in the media and maybe it will take that to happen here before we feel free of the Covid shadow and we’re back to as close to normal as it used to be as we’ll be able to be.


If people want a holiday . . .

13/09/2022

A Bank Holiday to honour Queen Elizabeth makes sense in the UK where it’s being held on the day of her funeral.

That will allow people who want to listen to, and watch, the service live to do so.

A public holiday here makes a lot less sense.

The funeral will take place at 10pm New Zealand time when few of us are working. Watching or listening live to it will mean a late night which could give credence to a day off next day.

But how many people will stay up and need a day off to recover, especially when it would be possible to record the service and watch it at a more convenient time? And if they do why expect their employers to pay for it?

The idea of having a holiday is as a mark of respect for the late Queen but is that the best way of doing it, especially when she was exemplary in putting duty first?

And how many people will use a day off to honour her and how many will treat it as just another day off like most if not all of the 12 other public holidays we have every year?

Anzac and Waitangi Days have public observations. Christians mark Good Friday and Christmas Day with special services. But for most people these are, like the others,  paid days off or, if you have to work, days when you are paid time and a half and get a day off in lieu.

So if most aren’t actually going to honour the Queen, why inflict a public holiday on all the businesses already struggling with rising costs, staff shortages; and on children having missed so much school through Covid-19 illness and isolation?

And if they do want a holiday, there’s a better way than a government prescribed one:

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union says that New Zealanders should take a day of annual leave to mark the passing Queen Elizabeth II rather than have another public holiday.

Taxpayers’ Union Board Member and small business owner Chris Milne said:

“We all mourn the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and recognise her dedicated service to the people of New Zealand over her long reign.

“For small businesses—who are still trying to recover after the pandemic—this is yet another cost loaded on. The owners of these businesses, many small family enterprises, are being told to pay not only for their own respect for the Queen, but also for all the respect shown by their staff. This is inequitable. The Queen was the queen of us all and the cost should fall on all of us.

“Rather than rejecting the idea of an observance to recognise the Queen, the Taxpayers’ Union believes that New Zealanders should, if they wish to do so, take a day of annual leave to mark this historic occasion and an extraordinary life.”

If people want a holiday to mourn the Queen’s death, they can do so without it being a government mandated one with all the costs associated with that.


Meeting the candidates

12/09/2022

Why do people standing for public office not have some coaching in public speaking?

It was a question I often asked myself when working as a journalist and I asked it again on Wednesday at the Rotary Club of Oamaru’s Meet the Candidates forum.

The event was held to give the public a chance to listen to and question candidates for the Waitaki District Council and the Oamaru Licensing Trust.

Some of the candidates did themselves no favours by not either not speaking loudly enough or not using the microphone well enough to be heard clearly. Some too, didn’t understand the importance of making eye contact with the people they were addressing and some didn’t have much to say and didn’t say it well.

Two men are standing for mayor. The incumbent, Gary Kircher is being challenged by Paul Mutch.  I was planning to vote for Gary before I heard either of them speak and Paul’s support for the government’s Three Waters plan confirmed that.

None of the council candidates support the government’s Three Waters Plan. Most gave a straight no when asked if they did, a few said not in the current form. If applause form the audience can be relied on, most agreed with the opposition to the plan.

There was also unanimity from the candidates, and support from the audience, on the need for local solutions to local issues, summed up by one of the candidates, sitting councillor Jim Hopkins, who said the council is there to serve Waitaki, not Wellington.

Most of the audience were pensioners, most of the candidates were quite a bit younger.

Thirteen people are standing for six seats in the Oamaru ward and, judging from what I knew before the meeting and what they said at the meeting, the town is spoilt for choice.

I don’t get a vote in town but do have the choice of four candidates for two positions in the Corriedale ward.

The number of candidates standing, and the calibre of most, is good for democracy, and if the best get in will be good for the council and the District. But democracy not only needs a range of candidates, it needs people to vote and local body elections don’t usually get as much voter participation as they should.

Business South is holding a meet and greet with candidates next Tuesday, you can register for that here.

You can read the candidate profiles here.

P.S. – Apropos of today’s announcement on loosening Covid-19 restrictions, very, very few people at the meeting were wearing masks. Whatever the government decides, people have already made their own choices and the social licence for widespread use of masks has ended.


What else don’t they want us to know?

08/09/2022

A ‘blunder by a Wellington worker’ allowed the women whose trip led the government to put Northland into lockdown last year to enter the province.

It’s taken a long time for that story to come out, including revelations that the women weren’t prostitutes and didn’t have gang links.

It’s not the first time the government has led us to believe someone was at fault when they weren’t. Remember the PM told us a KFC staff member went to work when she should have been isolating and we later found out that the rules didn’t require that?

Then there was Chris Hipkins having to apologise over what he’d said about Charlotte Bellis.

What else has the government got wrong and what else doesn’t it want us to know about its Covid response?

What lessons could – and must – be learned so mistakes aren’t repeated?

Every party in parliament except Labour wants an inquiry into the response and Richard Prebble has added his voice to that call:

. . . Internationally for the first two years of the pandemic, New Zealand’s response was praised. Commentators often frame the discussion as New Zealand v Sweden. Sweden’s refusal to lockdown or issue mandates, relying instead on their citizens’ common sense, was scorned.

Sweden responded saying that in three years their infection and death rates from Covid will be no higher than countries that have locked down, quarantined and issued mandates. Sweden said they will not have deprived people of their liberties, damaged their children’s education or harmed their economy.

Unlike New Zealand, Sweden has held an independent Corona Commission into its response. The Commission was critical of initial inadequate protection to those in care homes that resulted in 90 per cent of all Covid deaths.

The Commission found that the Swedish Covid death rate was lower than European countries that locked down. The Commission determined the no lockdown strategy was correct, saying the state should only limit the liberty of citizens when absolutely necessary.

The Commission praised the decision to keep schools open, noting Swedish pupils have not had their education disrupted. 

In contrast, international researchers have become increasingly critical of New Zealand’s response.

Epidemiologist and health economist at Stanford University School of Medicine, Professor Jay Bhattacharya writes: “New Zealand’s Zero Covid strategy was immoral, incoherent and a grand failure.”

New Zealand has, he says, “experienced more Covid cases per capita throughout the pandemic than the US … there are the enormous economic, psychological and additional health costs of lockdown that the population will pay out for over the coming year.

“New Zealand failed to vaccinate its population with urgency … if it had not dawdled in obtaining the vaccine, New Zealand could have been open by mid-spring 2021,” he continued. . . 

We could excuse mistakes in the early response because so little was known about the disease and what was the right way to respond.

It’s much harder to excuse, or even explain, subsequent failings including shortages of PPE, the delay in getting vaccines and rolling them out and the delay in allowing Rapid Antigen Tests.

There are lots of questions that need answers, including whether the economic, social and other health costs of the lockdowns were justified.

For two years ministers ignored the Simpson/Roche report recommendation to use RATs. Early in the pandemic my nephew in England was issued RATS by the UK Government. He self-tested to detect that he had Covid. When he tested negative he returned to work. He never lost a day off work longer than necessary or needed to see a health professional.

By contrast, tens of thousands of New Zealanders have been isolating when they are not infectious. Thousands have lost their jobs when their vaccine status was only a threat to their own health. Thousands more have had their lives disrupted by MIQ quarantine that continued long after it served any useful purpose.

The cost of Labour’s failed zero Covid policy to citizens, the economy, health and to education has been huge.

The only country still following the New Zealand model of lockdowns, quarantines and mandates is the police state of communist China.

Future generations will be incredulous. No doubt some future Labour Prime Minister into gesture politics will apologise. No comfort to pupils whose lives will be blighted by their education being disrupted.

We need an independent Covid inquiry. Not to apportion blame. It serves no useful purpose. We need an inquiry to be better prepared for the next pandemic.

Covid is now endemic. The Government needs to abandon the New Zealand model; the traffic lights, compulsory isolation and the mandates. Adopt the Swedish model. Trust the people to use their common sense.

If the government had followed its own traffic light system the South Island would have been in red months ago when the number of infections, people in hospital and deaths were climbing.

Perhaps it knew it no longer has the social licence for the measures imposed in that level.

Perhaps that knowledge is also behind the signals that the requirement to wear masks is likely to be dropped soon.

Will that decision be based on the science or politics?

Getting the answer to that question and all the other ones that ought to be asked needs a truly independent inquiry and it needs to be done as soon as possible so that we can be ready for new developments with Covid, or another disease.

The cost of mistakes with this pandemic are too high and we can’t afford to make the same ones again.

Finding out exactly what went wrong, how and why it went wrong and how to do better is necessary to reduce the risk of getting it wrong again.


When politics get personal

16/08/2022

Have you noticed how Labour has started attacking National leader Christopher Luxon?

Richard Prebble explains why:

The commentators are busy writing off National leader Christopher Luxon. One wrote that he is “starting to look more like a Todd Muller“. Another claimed “the number of people who dislike Luxon is very high for a new leader“.

It is total nonsense. Luxon is nothing like the hapless Muller. The only politicians who no one bothers to dislike are those who are totally useless. Around a third of the electorate are committed lefties. They dislike Luxon because they think he can win. Labour would not be testing attack ads if their polling did not say the National Leader is a threat.

Objectively, Luxon’s achievements as a leader are astonishing. When he took over as leader the National caucus was a poisonous bear pit.

It is a remarkable turnaround. He could now boast to his conference that his “MPs have their hopeless Labour counterparts on the run”. He now leads what appears to be a cohesive team.

Luxon has been in Parliament for less than two years and leader for just eight months. It takes most MPs six years and three elections to become effective. What is remarkable is not his occasional slip-up, but that he has made so few.

National received just 25.58 per cent of the vote in the last election. Now it is New Zealand’s most popular party. . .

David Farrar explains just how significant that turnaround is:

I don’t think people realise how remarkable that swing has been. They were 25% behind Labour at the last election and now lead them in every major poll. A swing of 10% is considered significant. A 25% swing is huge. Here’s what the swing has been for every MMP election (gap between  and Labour):

  • 1999: -15%
  • 2002: -12%
  • 2005: +18%
  • 2008: +13%
  • 2011: +9%
  • 2014: +2%
  • 2017: -14%
  • 2020: -32% . . .

Only in the last election, when Labour was assited by Covid-19 and national disfunction has the swing been greater.

Back to Prebble:

Luxon has the great advantage of not only having a good CV, but of looking like a prime minister. Nothing else has changed, so he has to be given the credit for National’s revival.

He has united caucus, gained the support of the wider party and is convincing the voting public that National would lead a much better government than Labour.

The next election is now Luxon’s to lose. Labour’s only hope of re-election is to politically destroy the National leader.

There is a tried and tested formula. Accuse the Opposition Leader of having no policy. And when he does announce some policy, put it on trial and find it guilty.

When Luxon announced a detailed youth unemployment policy on Sunday, some 15 months before the next election, Labour could not wait to find it “guilty”. The attacks would have been more effective if ministers could agree on what is wrong with National’s policy. Minister for Social Development Carmel Sepuloni says it is because the policies have no merit. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says it is because the policies “already exist”. Of course both could be true.

If both exist why is the government expending effort and money on policies that don’t work?

The apparatchiks are surprised Luxon has chosen youth unemployment as that is not an issue in any poll. Luxon also identified the cost of living as a crisis when inflation was not an issue. His identification of the issue and Ardern’s dismissal of any cost of living crisis is the reason why voters now say National is better able to handle the economy.

There is great unease over how the young are faring under Labour. Just 46 per cent of pupils attended school regularly in term one. There is a 49 per cent increase in the number of young people on the Jobseeker benefit. When Luxon says “get the kids back to school” and that young adults need to “find a job and become independent”, the country agrees.

Not getting the kids back to school and not helping them find a job and become independent isn’t just failing them. It’s causing problems that will haunt the country for decades and the high truancy and benefit numbers can’t all be blamed on Covid-19 and winter ‘flu.

Luxon’s statement to the National Party conference that – “as a nation, we all bear the costs when welfare becomes not a safety net to catch people if they fall, but a drag net that pulls the vulnerable in” echoes Norman Kirk. Kirk used to say that welfare needs to be not a safety net that catches, but a springboard that propels back. . . 

Margaret Thatcher said I always cheer up immensely if an attack is particularly wounding because I think, well, if they attack one personally, it means they have not a single political argument left.

Labour’s attacks on Luxon personally and politically reflects well on him and poorly on them.

It shows they recognise how well he’s doing, that they have nothing substantial to criticise him on and no substantial policies to counter his attacks.

The contrast between his decisive reaction to revelations about one of his MPs and Jacinda Ardern’s trade mark equivocation in response to her MP, Dr Gaurav Sharma’s public complaints – ramped up yesterday with screen shots of messages from other MPs –  clearly shows who is the better leader.


Covid strategy an‘immoral, incoherent . . .failure’

10/08/2022

Jay Bhattacharya MD, PhD, is an epidemiologist, health economist, and professor at Stanford University School of Medicine. and he says zero Covid has cost New Zealand dearly :

Jacinda Ardern was never the pandemic heroine she was made out to be.

Throughout much of the pandemic, proponents of Zero Covid and lockdown have promoted the island nation of New Zealand as a success story. Since the beginning of March 2022, however, this success has turned sour. Covid cases in New Zealand have exploded, with cumulative cases per capita now exceeding US levels. If New Zealand case rates continue to grow as they have in the recent past, cumulative per-capita cases will exceed those in the UK and the EU in the coming months. . . 

The early response was praised but how good was it?

Why did New Zealand succeed in those early months in eliminating Covid? It had two significant advantages that many other countries lacked. First, Covid likely first arrived in New Zealand in early 2020 – midsummer in the southern hemisphere. Although it can spread out of season, Covid has a seasonal pattern, and winter is its season. If this highly infectious virus had landed on New Zealand’s shores in its winter, the virus would have spread more readily. Second, New Zealand is an island nation with the majority of international traffic coming in through a single airport in Auckland. Shutting itself off from the rest of the world is possible in New Zealand in a way that is impossible elsewhere.

Intermittent lockdowns and lockdown harms

The Zero Covid success, however, was far from costless or complete. Closed borders meant many ex-pats faced steep hurdles returning home, even to care for sick family members. The two-month-long lockdown at the beginning of the pandemic led many to delay essential health services, subsequently causing overburdened hospital systems and long delays in medical care for tens of thousands of New Zealanders that continue to this day. Despite effectively zero community spread of Covid in 2021, the average of weekly mortality levels was higher than expected, given mortality patterns from before the pandemic.

There was economic damage as well during the Zero Covid period. New Zealand’s typically robust tourist industry collapsed as overseas visitors stopped coming. The New Zealand economy shrank by two per cent in 2020 despite Zero Covid, recovered to grow by 5.6 per cent in 2021, but shrank again in the first quarter of 2022 as Omicron cases spread throughout the nation. In July 2022, inflation reached 7.3 per cent, sharply reducing the purchasing power of New Zealanders. 

Looming over the citizens of New Zealand throughout its Zero Covid glory days was the threat of another lockdown whenever the public-health authorities found even a single case on the island. After 100 days with no community transmission, in August 2020, the emergence of a few cases led Ardern’s government to impose a stay-at-home order in Auckland and restrictions on gatherings in the rest of the country. This pattern repeated itself over and over during the pandemic, often including sharp restrictions on freedom of movement across the country. . .

The advent of vaccines towards the end of 2020 provided a way out.

Delayed vaccination rollout

When the Covid vaccines arrived in December 2020, they offered a way out of the Zero Covid trap that New Zealand found itself in. At great cost, the policy had ‘worked’, but there was no endpoint to it that did not involve isolation from the international community forever. With the advent of the vaccines, New Zealand had a way out.

In fact, the vaccine offered two possible ways out, and New Zealand needed to choose between them. On the one hand, if the vaccine could durably prevent the infection and transmission of the disease, it could be used to effectively protect the island from ever having a sizeable Covid outbreak, as long as a sufficiently large portion of the population were vaccinated. On the other hand, if the vaccine protected against severe disease and death from Covid infection, it could be used to protect high-risk people (the elderly and others). It could be used, in effect, as a tool for the focused protection of the vulnerable, as suggested in the Great Barrington Declaration, which I co-authored back in October 2020. In either case, the vaccine would enable the lifting of the lockdowns.

Despite the impetus for ending the Zero Covid policy as rapidly as possible, the New Zealand government dawdled in its vaccine rollout. While many developed countries vaccinated a significant fraction of their elderly populations by April 2021, New Zealand delayed. As late as October 2021, the Ardern government came under fire for its delays in coming to an agreement with vaccine manufacturers to obtain sufficient doses for the whole population. The government organised an ‘election-style’ vaccination drive throughout October to make up for the problem. Nevertheless, when the Delta wave of the virus hit the world, only a small fraction of New Zealand’s population was vaccinated, so the lockdown restrictions continued.

A failed herd-immunity strategy

Ultimately, New Zealand chose a strategy of vaccinating its population for herd immunity rather than a strategy that primarily focused on protecting the vulnerable and rapidly lifting restrictions. The New Zealand government set a target of immunising 90 per cent of its population as a precondition for ending restrictions. It enforced its policy by requiring large classes of workers – including police, healthcare workers and some educators – to be vaccinated as a condition of employment. It instituted the ‘NZ Covid Tracer’ application for smartphones that businesses could use to monitor the vaccination status of patrons.

Unfortunately, New Zealand bet wrongly on the vaccine-induced herd-immunity approach. The problem is that while the vaccine prevents severe disease and death due to Covid, it does not stop the disease from spreading. This fact was impossible to know with certainty in late 2020.

By late 2021, country after country with high vaccination levels experienced large waves of Covid cases. The only way this was possible was if the vaccine did not stop people from becoming infected and transmitting the disease onward. High-quality papers published in top medical journals demonstrated that vaccination protected against infection for only a few months after vaccination. Boosting with additional vaccine doses – especially in the Omicron era – also does not prevent infection.

From this evidence, it was clear that New Zealand’s herd-immunity strategy would inevitably fail. When it finally opened up, it could expect a significant wave of Covid cases, which is precisely what happened.

And in spite of being told we were being locked down to ensure hospitals weren’t overrun, nothing was done to ensure hospitals could cope.

By February 2022, like other developed countries, New Zealand had successfully vaccinated a large proportion of its population, elderly and young, vulnerable and non-vulnerable alike. The pressure on the government to relax the lockdowns was immense. Finally, even as a wave of new cases hit New Zealand in late February / early March 2022, PM Ardern jettisoned Zero Covid and adopted a ‘suppression’ policy.

Covid infections and deaths surged, and there are still thousands of new cases every day.

Evaluating New Zealand’s Zero Covid strategy

With two-and-a-half years of hindsight, a tentative evaluation of New Zealand’s lockdown-focused Zero Covid strategy is possible. On the plus side of the ledger is that New Zealand’s strategy delayed the inevitable spread of Covid throughout the population to a time after the development, testing and deployment of a vaccine capable of reducing the burden of severe Covid disease. Despite having experienced more Covid cases per capita throughout the pandemic than the US, New Zealand has a tiny proportion of the US’s Covid-attributable deaths per capita.

That is something for which we can be grateful but it has come at a very high economic and social cost.

On the negative side of the ledger is the tremendous burden on the New Zealand population that has come from being isolated from the rest of the world for such a long time, and from the intermittent lockdowns the government imposed on the population. All-cause excess deaths – below baseline levels in 2020 – shot up in 2021 and in 2022. Some weeks, recorded death rates were at 32 per cent above the norm. New Zealand delayed and reduced Covid deaths at the expense of increasing deaths from other causes. And then, of course, there are the enormous economic, psychological and additional health costs of lockdown that the population will pay out for over the coming years.

What was said to be a world-leading response was not.

The strategy itself is also not exportable to other countries. It depended on the good fortune of New Zealand being an isolatable Pacific island in the southern hemisphere. Suppose Covid had hit during New Zealand’s winter rather than its summer. In that case, it is unlikely that the March / April lockdown (instituted late relative to other countries like China or Italy) would have worked to reduce Covid cases to zero during that first wave. And, of course, not every country is located on an island in the Pacific.

After the vaccine arrived, New Zealand’s decision to use it to free itself from its Zero Covid trap and the ever-looming threat of lockdowns was smart. However, New Zealand failed to vaccinate its population with urgency, exposing its people to a full year of Zero Covid harms even after most developed countries had deployed the vaccine successfully. If the government had adopted the Great Barrington Declaration strategy of vaccinating for focused protection instead of for herd immunity, and if it had not dawdled in obtaining the vaccine, New Zealand could have been open by mid-spring 2021 rather than mid-spring 2022.

Finally, New Zealand’s strategy relied entirely on the development and testing of a vaccine outside of its borders. Indeed, the vaccines could never have been tested in 2020 and 2021 within New Zealand because there were insufficient Covid cases to run a meaningful randomised trial. In effect, New Zealand relied on the fact that other countries did not adopt a Zero Covid policy to create conditions that permitted New Zealand to escape from the Zero Covid trap it embraced until spring 2022.

Ultimately, New Zealand’s Zero Covid strategy was immoral, incoherent and a grand failure.

We have just returned from a month in the northern hemisphere.

In Spain masks were required on public transport and in pharmacies. Anywhere else people were free to wear them or not and all but a very few did not.

In the UK there were no rules and only a very small number of people wearing masks.

It is summer there and we’re in the depths of a cold, wet winter but that isn’t the full explanation of why Covid is no longer the big issue it continues to be here.

The government has turned down repeated requests for an inquiry into its response.

Could it be because it knows it isn’t the world-leading one it boasted about for so long and we’re all paying a very high cost for all its mistakes?


Flu tracking

11/07/2022

When I was on a health board a fellow director who was a doctor encouraged us all to get an annual vaccination against the ‘flu.

He said it was important to be a good example for hospital staff and the public.

He also recommended it as sensible for our own health because it could be a very serious illness.

I’ve followed that advice every year but one, and that year I got a dose of the ‘flu that laid me low for several days.

I got a call from my GP’s practice to schedule an appointment only a few days  after I’d recovered from Covid-19.

I asked the nurse if I should postpone the vaccination because of that, she said no, this year’s version was expected to be particularly nasty.

Accounts from people who’ve had it add confirm that, and it’s also widespread.

 

These pictures are from the Ministry of Health’s FluTracking website which uses crowd sourced data to track Covid-19 and influenza:

By taking part, you’ll not only be contributing to scientific research, but you will also be helping to track influenza and COVID-19 in your local community and nation-wide. Over the 16 years the survey ha been running in Australia, and now 4 years in New Zealand, we have grown to over 110,000 participants per week who have collectively completed over 18.2 million surveys!

A simple online survey that takes less than 30 seconds each week during flu season can tell us so much.

The main aims of FluTracking are to develop a system that can provide:

  1. Community level influenza-like illness surveillance
  2. Consistent surveillance of influenza activity across all jurisdictions and over time; and
  3. Year-to-year comparison of the timing, attack rates, and seriousness of influenza in the community. . . .

You can sign up to join the survey here.


Rural round-up

08/07/2022

NZ’s agricultural sector needs to take ‘bold actions’ to help steer ‘food transition’ – Rabobank CEO – The Country

Bold actions are required by New Zealand’s agricultural industry if it’s to take advantage of the global food transition, Rabobank NZ chief executive Todd Charteris has told the sector.

Speaking at the Primary Industries New Zealand Summit in Auckland earlier today, Charteris said New Zealand’s agricultural sector – and others around the world – was currently grappling with how to tackle the twin challenges of increasing food production and lowering greenhouse gas emissions.

With the world population expected to grow to 10 billion by 2050, the global agricultural sector had “a big job on its hands” to ensure everyone had access to sufficient, safe and affordable food, Charteris said.

“But at the same time, the sector also needs to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions stemming from food production that risk warming our entire planet.” . .

Sequestration essential for He Waka Eke Noa :

Rewards for sequestration are an essential part of He Waka Eke Noa, National’s Agriculture spokesperson Barbara Kuriger and Climate Change spokesperson Scott Simpson say.

“National is disappointed the Commission wants to take sequestration out of He Waka Eke Noa and combine it with biodiversity and other environmental outcomes in a new system,” Barbara Kuriger says.

“If farmers are going to be charged for their on-farm emissions they should also be rewarded for on-farm sequestration either through He Waka Eke Noa or the ETS.

“The Commission should not over-complicate things. Its first priority must be emissions.” . . 

Weather hits hort crop hard – Peter Burke:

One of the big issues relating to the current supply of fresh vegetables has been the weather.

Some growers around the country have lost whole crops that were inundated during recent flooding. Leaderbrand is one of the country’s major horticultural producers and has its main base in Gisborne.

The company also has growing sites in Pukekohe, Matamata and Canterbury. Chief executive Richard Burke says in the case of Gisborne, the normal rainfall is about 1100mm a year, but it has already had more than 800mm so far this year.

He says there is nothing unusual about getting rain, but the weather patterns are just sticking around longer and that affects the ability to supply produce. . 

Primary Industries Award recognizes rapid response to feed the hungry and support growers during lockdown :

United Fresh New Zealand Incorporated have been presented the Primary Industries NZ Summit Team Award for their work delivering 300,000 boxes of fresh fruit and vegetables to whānau during the COVID-19 lockdowns.

The management team of five were responsible for the development of the Fruit and Vegetable Box Project, a clever adaption of existing relationships and supply networks to address food shortages and provide an outlet for fresh produce that had been destined for restaurants, tourism outlets, cruise ships and airline catering.

United Fresh General Manager, Paula Dudley, says the award is a recognition of the whole supply chain.

“We’re absolutely thrilled with this award. It’s testament to the long-term relationships between United Fresh members and the professionalism of the food distribution centres that we worked alongside,” she says. . . 

Flocks of sheep are the fire-fighting solution we never knew we needed  – Julia Jacobo, Jp Keenan, and Janet Weinstein:

The answer to managing wildfires may have been hiding in nature all this time.

Wildfires are a natural occurrence in forest ecosystems, but certain fire management practices have also contributed to the scope of fires occurring today, according to experts.

Flocks of sheep are now being used to manage fires as megadroughtexacerbated by climate change contribute to record-breaking fire seasons in the Western U.S.

Climate change is not the only culprit. Six of the seven largest fires in California have occurred in the past two years, and experts including Glen MacDonald, professor of geography and environment sustainability at UCLA say natural fuel is building up in forests, sparking hot, intense and fast-moving fires. . . 

 

 

Farmgate stolen vehicle detection cameras roll our across New Zealand rural towns :

Farmgate announced today they plan to roll out up to 50 roadside stolen vehicle detection cameras across New Zealand, focused in rural communities, for free – in accordance with Farmgate’s social good strategy, says Managing Director Andrew Sing.

“Farmgate has an ambitious goal – to reduce rural crime by 50% through partnering with local rural communities. We are excited to invest in safe rural community strategies over the next 12 months,” said Mr Sing.

Farmgate’s tech uses German-made Mobotix Artificial Intelligence cameras that detect number plates – which are then compared to the NZ Police stolen vehicle database. Police are also notified when a stolen vehicle is picked up on a Farmgate camera.

“Farmgate has invested heavily in the best possible tech to ensure we shut down stolen vehicles entering our rural communities. Stopping criminals before they even start on a crime spree or a ram raid who know we are watching is the best deterrent,” says Sing. . . 

Fierce competition expected for NZYF Tournament Series national titles :

New Zealand Young Farmers Tournament Series finalists have spent the last two months fine-tuning their shooting, debating, stock judging and fencing skills for the national finals.

Hosted alongside the FMG Young Farmer of the Year Grand Final, the NZYF Tournament Series finals will go down on Thursday 7th of July at various locations around Whangarei.

Seven fencing teams competing in pairs will be hammering it in for the Goldpine Fencing title at 540 Millbrook Road, Taipuha from 7:30am to 10:30am.

It will be followed by the MyLivestock Stock Judging at 11am, where 20 NZYF members will be judged on their ability to score a range of animals across beef and dairy cattle, meat and wool breeds and fleece. . .

 


Rural round-up

28/06/2022

Farmers start new dairy season on an encouraging note as Fonterra signals another record milk price – Point of Order:

New  Zealand’s  dairy  industry, which is  proving  again it is  the  backbone of  the  country’s  export industries, has  been  given  fresh encouragement with the big  co-op Fonterra signalling  a  record  milk price for  the  season  that  has  just  opened.

It  comes  as the  payout  for  the  just-finished  season  stands  as  the  highest  since  the  co-op  was  formed in 2001.

So although farmers have  made  decisions for  this  season on  the  number  of  cows  they  are  milking,  they  have the  incentive  to go  hard on production  levels,  despite the  pressure  from  higher  costs  and worries  over climate changes measures, including  projected charges on emissions.

Fonterra’s buoyant  forecast contrasts with  a recent  report  by agribusiness banking specialist Rabobank  which  said that despite global milk production looking set to decrease for the fourth consecutive quarter in Q2 2022, weakening global demand is expected to create a scenario that will see moderate price declines in dairy commodities during the second half of the year. . . 

How we are suckling the sheep milk industry government invests $7.97m in partnership which involves state-owned Landcorp – Point of Order:

Damien O’Connor scored twice – he issued one statement as Minister of Trade and another as Minister of Agriculture – while rookie Emergency Relief Minister Kieran McNulty broke his duck, announcing flood relief for the West Coast.

Covid-19 Response Minister Ayesha Verrall put more runs on the board, too, with a statement about Government work to combat new and more dangerous variants of COVID-19.

In his trade job, O’Connor declared he was pleased with the quick progress of the United Kingdom Free Trade Agreement Legislation Bill that was introduced to the House yesterday.

It would  enable New Zealand to implement its obligations under the FTA and was necessary to bring the FTA into force, he explained. . . 

 

Kiwifruit sector forecasts drop in profits :

The kiwifruit sector is predicting lower profits this year, as yields drop and shipping costs continue to climb.

Kiwifruit marketer Zespri has sent out an update to growers which shows a decent drop in profit is expected this year.

Last year Zespri made a record $361.5 million, but this year that is expected to drop to between $227m and $247m.

Company spokesperson Carol Ward said it had been a difficult season. . . 

Have your say on the Forests Legal harvest Assurance Amendment Bill :

The Chairperson of the Primary Production Committee is now calling for public submissions on the Forests (Legal Harvest Assurance) Amendment Bill.

The bill would amend the Forests Act 1949 to establish a legal harvest system. This system aims to provide assurance that timber supplied and traded has been harvested legally. The legal harvest system would:

· require that log traders, primary processors, importers, and exporters who operate above specified thresholds to be registered

· require harvest information to be supplied to others when trading, and for records of that information to be kept . . 

Groundspread NZ is the new public face for the New Zealand groundspread fetilisers association :

Groundspread NZ (NZGFA) was established in 1956 to promote and protect the interests of both individuals and companies involved in the groundspread fertiliser industry. The Association is made up of 110 voluntary members from throughout New Zealand, with each member committed to promoting best practice fertiliser placement. Precision placement of fertiliser requires skilled operators, sound spreading equipment and appropriate fertilisers.

Groundspreaders are typically the first step in ensuring on-farm productivity, by spreading nutrients accurately and evenly, using the latest technology, finely calibrated vehicles, and highly trained operators, groundspreaders help farmers and growers get the best out of their nutrient spend. The skill involved in groundspreading means that food production in New Zealand gets the best start possible.

The new name and website better share the story of how the Association’s members contribute to on-farm performance. The new name and website are initiatives driven by the Association’s new and ambitious strategic plan, committed to ensuring best practice in the groundspread industry. Farmers and growers can now visit www.groundspreadnz.com to find a spreader in their area, learn more about how the Association supports members to operate at the high level that they do, and learn more about the Spreadmark scheme.

Spreadmark, established by Groundspread NZ (NZGFA) in 1994, was born from a commitment by the Association’s members to improve spreader performance and outcomes for their clients and the environment. Proper placement of fertiliser is of considerable agronomic benefit to farmers and growers and helps protect the environment from the undesirable side effects of poor fertiliser spreading practices. . . 

Greenfern industries attains important industry certification :

Greenfern Industries Limited (GFI:NZX) is pleased to announce it has attained its globally-recognised GACP (Good Agriculture and Collection Practice) certification for its cultivation facility based in Normanby, Taranaki.

“This is a milestone that the team has been working towards for some time since commencing cultivation and research and development in our pilot stage one facility,” said Greenfern’s managing director Dan Casey.

GACP guidelines were developed to create a single supranational framework to ensure appropriate and consistent quality in the cultivation and production of medicinal plant and herbal substances. They were developed by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2003 with the aim of improving the quality of medicinal plants being used in herbal medicines in the commercial market.

Greenfern’s certification was undertaken by Control Union Medicinal Cannabis Standards (CUMCS). Control Union Israel was one of the partners which formulated the Israeli Cannabis Standard, which is a global standard. Since then, they have been involved with the development of the Medical Cannabis Standard GAP. . . 


Regrets, he’s got a few

27/06/2022

Former Covid-19 Minister Chris Hipkins has regrets:

. . . Asked if he had regrets, Hipkins said it is easy to look back with the knowledge we have now, but “you still have to make decisions based on the information that you had at the time.”

Hipkins told Q+A that some restrictions may have gone on too long.

“I think there were probably some areas where we could have moved more quickly to step down some restrictions,” he said.

“I think that lockdown in Auckland at the end of 2021 … I think nerves were pretty frayed by that and we should acknowledge that. Aucklanders paid a big price for our ongoing suppression of Delta while we got our vaccination rates up.” . . 

That begs the questions:

Does he also regret the slow vaccine rollout which is why vaccination rates weren’t nearly as high as they could, and ought to, have been when Delta got into the community?

Does he regret the mental, physical and financial toll the extended lockdown took?

Does he regret the lottery of misery that left people stranded without jobs and homes and kept so many people from coming home to be with seriously ill and dying family and friends, to attend funerals?

Does he regret the unfair and unkind exemption system that let hundreds of foreign DJs in but kept hundreds of pregnant New Zealand women out?

Does he regret the enormous economic and human cost of the extended lockdown and closed borders?

Does he regret the massive debts incurred by the Covid fund and the spending of a lot of it on initiatives that had nothing to do with Covid recovery?

Does he regret the slow approval and import of rapid antigen tests (RATs)?

Doe he regret the time and money his government has, and continues to waste, on restructuring the health system instead of strengthening it to cope with Covid-19 and the usual winter ills?

Does he regret not learning from repeated reports, and implementing the recommendations of them which would have reduced the impact of Delta and Omicron?

Having no playbook explains, and possibly excuses, early mistakes.

It neither explains nor excuses failing to learn from them and do much better, much sooner.


Missed opportunity to learn

16/06/2022

Yet another damning report on the Covid response:

A backlog in Covid-19 PCR testing which led to the country’s systems falling over should have been predicted and prevented by health officials, an independent review has concluded.

Poor communication, data limitations and a failure to learn from international experiences instead led to complacency and meant the country’s laboratories buckled under the strain of requests.

In March, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield admitted the ministry had overestimated the number of Covid-19 PCR tests the country’s laboratories could process as the virus took off in the community.

The revelation came as Kiwis waited upwards of a week for test results and health experts warned of laboratories reaching a crisis point, while months earlier one of the Government’s own groups had raised red flags.

An independent review commissioned by the Ministry of Health and carried out by consultancy Allen and Clarke has now been released, laying bare the failures which led to the crash. . . 

With other countries having similarly faced difficulties with PCR testing in the face of Omicron, opportunities to learn from international experience were “substantial”.

“It is not apparent how these insights were incorporated into testing modelling, planning, or reporting.” . . 

The Ministry, and the Ministers, let us down again because the backlog was predictable:

A report out today shows the backlog of PCR testing was foreseeable and Ministers should take responsibility for a lack of action, National’s Covid-19 Spokesperson Chris Bishop says.

“In the first quarter of this year, 9000 PCR COVID tests were sent to Australia and 32,000 samples were nearly destroyed after laboratories in New Zealand were unable to cope with the demand.

“Today’s COVID-19 PCR Testing Backlog report, which has finally been released by the Government, says the backlog in PCR testing that emerged in February 2022 ‘should have been and was to some degree predictable.’

“The Ministry of Health has been found wanting at critical times during the pandemic.

“Last year, Sir Brian Roche’s Continuous Improvement Group made repeated recommendations to improve the functionality of the Ministry, while the Testing Technical Advisory Group also made a series of recommendations around testing capacity.

That report, and others, changed nothing, and there is little if any hope that the extensive and expensive restructuring of the health system would make it any better.

“In the first quarter of this year Omicron was already prevalent in other countries and as today’s report notes, ‘opportunities to learn from international experience were substantial, particularly in relation to the speed at which positivity rates increase and the impact on pooling’.

“But Ministers failed to act, instead relying on assurances from officials that New Zealand had enough testing capacity.

“A lack of testing capacity had real consequences. As the report notes, without an accurate forecast date when PCR testing capacity would be exceeded, there was no deadline for when the RAT roll-out was required. New Zealand was slow on the uptake of RATs because it was assumed PCR testing capacity would suffice. It didn’t.

“National spent most of the latter part of 2021 calling for a quick roll-out of rapid tests. It was obvious to many that once Omicron took hold in the community, PCR testing would struggle.

“Why weren’t Ministers listening to independent experts who were saying this publicly. How much better would things have been if National’s calls for rapid tests were listened to?

“National has also argued for over a year that saliva testing capacity can and should be used. Saliva testing was outside the scope of today’s report, which says it all.

“The Government has consistently and wilfully ignored the potential of saliva testing to test for COVID-19. It beggars belief that the Government excluded saliva testing from the scope of the report; presumably on the basis that the report would be even more critical than it already is. Instead of utilising saliva testing properly the Government rammed a law through Parliament giving itself the power to confiscate the assets of saliva testing companies like Rako Science.

“Two years into the pandemic, Ministers should stop blaming officials for basic errors and start taking responsibility. The buck stops with them.”

It is difficult to understand how the Ministry couldn’t accurately estimate laboratory capacity:

Those representing the country’s medical lab workforce say the Health Ministry’s estimates of lab capacity during the Omicron peak amounted to “misinformation”.  . . 

Lab scientists knew they’d be overwhelmed as Omicron took hold at the beginning of 2022. The president of the New Zealand Institute of Medical Laboratory Science, Terry Taylor, said the warning signs were well canvassed. 

“It was 100 percent predictable. We’d been warning since early January about our lab capacity and the figures that were being trumpeted around just simply were not there,” he said. 

Just like the PPE shortages, people on the frontline were saying there were problems but the Ministry, and the Ministers, were at best ignoring them, or worse still not believing them.

Those figures relate to January 25 this year, when Minister Ayesha Verrall announced we were “well prepared” for Omicron. 

Testing capacity had “increased to 58,000 tests a day”, and could surge to more than 77,000, she said.   

But official information obtained by Newshub showed no one in the Minister’s office checked the accuracy of the numbers. 

The figures were repeated over, and over. At a press conference on January 25, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern also hailed New Zealand’s level of preparedness when it came to testing. 

“We can do 60,000 tests a day,” she said. 

The messaging infuriated the frontline and Taylor has a message for the politicians and their advisers.  

“Have a think about your frontline health professionals before you start making ridiculous assumptions of what their capability is,” Taylor said.

The secretary of Apex, the union that represents lab workers, Dr Deborah Powell, agrees. 

“The numbers that were being put out in public – it was misinformation and lab workers knew that. They were very upset.” . . 

This is another review that tells the same old under prepared story:

“Not so well prepared” has been a phrase that has accompanied the Government’s Covid response since it started.

That doesn’t mean totally unprepared, but several independent reviews have repeatedly described the response as reactive, not proactive.

So it was again on Tuesday with the release of an independent report into the 32,000 PCR samples that gathered dust for five days in February. This followed repeated Government claims that all was fine and there was plenty of PCR capacity to deal with demand as the Omicron wave started to build.

The report is embarrassing reading for the Health Ministry. . . 

Embarrassing for the Ministry, frustrating for the frontline workers and others whose warnings weren’t listened to, including those who had solutions:

Too little, too late.

That is what Sir Ian Taylor thinks about the Ministry of Health approving the Lucira Covid-19 test kit for use in New Zealand nearly two years after it was first approached about them.

On Wednesday, the ministry published a notice, signed by director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield, in the New Zealand Gazette stating the tests, which return a result in 30 minutes with standard PCR accuracy, had been granted a full exemption for
use in New Zealand.

The kits consisted of a self-administered nasal swab that goes into a tube and is processed in a battery-powered testing device.

United States-based Lucira first approached the New Zealand Government about the tests in 2020, not long after the pandemic started.

Taylor, who had been urging the Government for months to approve them, said while it was great they had been approved, it had come far too late.

The tests could have been a “game-changer” earlier this year when the Omicron variant started to spread around the country which put “massive strain” on the testing laboratories. 

It could have also been used as a tool to wind down managed isolation and quarantine earlier than it was, Taylor said.

“While they have approved it, it’s like a lot of other things, they were late with the vaccinations, they were late with the rapid antigen tests [RATs], and they are late with this.” . . 

The Ministry, and Ministers, missed the opportunities to learn from overseas again.

S much of the Covid response wasn’t hard and early as the government kept telling us, but late and lax, again and again and again at an enormous human and financial cost.


Rural round-up

07/06/2022

Why this is not the time for government to be heaping regulatory costs on farmers and requiring a culling of the dairy herd – Point of Order:

On-farm inflation is at its highest level in almost 40 years, according to Beef + Lamb NZ’s Economic Service, and costs are expected to increase.  Meanwhile Federated  Farmers  says farmers’ satisfaction with their banks is relatively stable but more are feeling under pressure and the costs of finance are rising.

“Inflation is putting many New Zealanders and businesses under pressure, and our food producers are no different,” Feds President and economic spokesperson Andrew Hoggard says.

While Consumer Price Index (CPI) data has the annual inflation rate at 6.9%, the latest on-farm inflation rate has hit 10.2%  – the highest it’s been since 1985-86 (13.2%).

B+LNZ is concerned increasing regulatory requirements from the Government, such as freshwater and biodiversity rules, will stretch farmers even further. . . 

Another solid season looms – Rural News:

 Given what’s happening around the world, New Zealand dairy farmers are on to a pretty good thing with its internationally envied farming system.

A record milk price this season and another solid opening forecast for the new season bodes well for farmers’ income.

Dairy demand is still quite strong and supply remains constrained globally, especially in the US and Europe.

However, there are some short-term challenges: Covid, China’s most recent lockdowns and the unrest in Sri Lanka – a key market for Fonterra milk powder. . .

Tough conditions produce good stock – Shawn McAvinue:

Extreme weather conditions on a high-country station in the Maniototo allow for the best breeding of Charolais cattle in the country, Glen Ayr Station manager Drew Dundass says.

“The cream rises to the top.”

More than 80 people attended the 28th annual Taiaroa & Cotswold Charolais Bull Sale on Glen Ayr Station in Paerau Valley last week.

Of the 28 bulls on offer, 26 sold for an average of $6392, and the top price was $11,500. . . 

Queen’s Birthday honours unofficial mayor of Tarata gets official – Ilona Hanne:

He’s the unofficial mayor of Tarata, and now Bryan Hocken is officially a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM).

Bryan was made an MNZM in the Queen’s Birthday and Platinum Jubilee Honours List 2022, for services to agriculture and the rural community.

Announced on Monday, June 6, it’s an honour he describes as having left him “blown away”.

“I wasn’t expecting it. When I saw the email telling me, I just couldn’t believe it.” . . 

Tea Estate back on the boil – Sudesh Kissun:

New Zealand’s only tea farm is back on the boil.

The 48ha Zealong Tea Estate, near Hamilton, is preparing to welcome back local and international visitors after a two-year hiatus.

Home to 1.2 million tea plants, Zealong is the world’s largest internationally certified organic tea estate. It has a philosophy of enhancing the soil quality using carefully managed organic farm practices.

General manager Sen Kong says the company is excited to start welcoming visitors back after a challenging two years. . . 

RSPCA state New Zealand is judged to have higher welfare than UK – John Sleigh:

Flying largely in the face of what is perceived in the UK, New Zealand is the one country globally that can be judged to have better farm animal welfare standards than the UK – that’s according to animal protection body, the RSCPA.

Animal welfare has been put in the spotlight as the UK and New Zealand thrash out a potential Free Trade Agreement, where it is proposed traded food products must be produced to similar standards. UK opponents have been using the welfare issue as a potential block, citing better standards in the UK.

However, when giving evidence to Westminster’s International Agreements Committee, the RSCPA stated: “New Zealand is the only country with whom the UK is negotiating a Free Trade Agreement where there is broad equivalence on animal welfare standards. In some areas, New Zealand’s farm standards are above the UK’s.”

The RSPCA lists non-stun slaughter, increased lameness in sheep, legal live exports and poorer access to the outdoors for dairy cattle as areas where the UK lags behind on welfare. Whilst in other areas, the charity stated that the UK was ahead of New Zealand with our ban on sow stalls, more free range hens and henhouse cleanliness rules. . . 

 


Rural round-up

30/05/2022

Fonterra announces record opening milk price payment for its farmers next season as demand remains strong – Point of Order:

New Zealand  has  suffered  several  jolts  in  the  past week, not  least a  higher interest rate regime as the Reserve  Bank counters  surging inflation.  But  at least  one  beacon of  light shines through the gloom:  the country’s leading primary  export  industry’s boom   is  moving  to a  second  season  of high prices.

Dairy  giant Fonterra,  which sets  the  pace  for  other dairy processors,  has announced a record opening milk price payment for farmers next season amid expectations of continued strong demand for dairy products and constrained global supply.

The co-op expects to pay farmers between $8.25 and $9.75kg/MS  for the season starting next month.  The mid-point, on which farmers are paid, is $9 kg/MS.

That breaks the previous record set at this time last year, when Fonterra’s opening price for the current season was $7.25 – $8.75kg/MS, with a mid-point of $8kg/MS. . . 

Rural mental health ignored again this budget :

The Government was made well aware of mental health concerns for rural communities in a meeting in December last year, this Budget has neglected to do anything to address this crisis, National’s Agriculture spokesperson Barbara Kuriger says.

“It is dead clear from the minutes we received under the Official Information Act that everyone around the table could see that things were bad and getting worse” Kuriger says

“The minutes note that clear themes emerged from a discussion of the drivers of poor mental health, including: workforce shortages, public perception of farmers, and the pace of new regulations.

“If they didn’t already know, it is clear that in December the Prime Minister and Minister O’Connor knew what was happening to our rural communities and were asked by rural sector leaders for help, they’ve had all this time to make a plan but have still done nothing in this budget to address it. . . 

Zespri global revenue exceeds $NZ 4 billion for first time despite challenging 2021-22 season:

. . . A record crop, ongoing investment in brand-led demand creation, and the industry’s ability to respond and leverage its scale and structure have helped Zespri deliver a record result for the 2021/22 season, with total global fruit sales revenue exceeding NZ$4 billion for the first time.

In spite of the immense challenges faced by the industry this season, Zespri’s 2021/22 Financial Results show total global revenue generated by fruit sales reached NZ$4.03 billion, up 12 percent on the previous year, with total global operating revenue up by 15 percent to NZ$4.47 billion. Global sales volumes also increased 11 percent on the previous year to 201.5 million trays.

The results saw direct returns to the New Zealand industry increase to a record $2.47 billion including loyalty payments, despite the considerable uncertainty generated by the COVID-19 pandemic and cost increases across the supply chain. Earnings were again spread through regional communities including within the Bay of Plenty, Northland, Nelson, Gisborne, and the Waikato. . . 

Grower returns remained strong in a challenging season, with per hectare returns representing our second best on record across all varieties: . . 

Top ploughers head to Ireland to compete in world championship – Kim Moodie:

New Zealand’s best ploughing talent is set to represent the country in Ireland this year at the World Ploughing Championships. 

Ian Woolley and Bob Mehrtens, who took out the top titles at the New Zealand Ploughing Championships in Seddon earlier this month, are now preparing to compete against the world’s best in September.

Woolley, who won the Silver Plough conventional competition, told RNZ he’s excited to compete, and to soak up the atmosphere, as the event draws a huge crowd.

“It’s basically their National Field Days, there’s 100,000-odd people there each day for three days, although the plowing is on the outskirts of where the main show is taking place. . . 

Silver Fern Farms partnership between consumers and farmers key to nature positive food production :

Silver Fern Farms today celebrated the launch of its USDA-approved Net Carbon Zero By Nature 100% Grass-Fed Angus Beef at a New York City event attended by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Held at the Kimpton Hotel Eventi rooftop in Chelsea, the Prime Minister was joined by the visiting New Zealand trade mission, Silver Fern Farms US customers and in-market partners, and New York and U.S. national media. The event was to celebrate the successful introduction of Net Carbon Zero By Nature Angus Beef to the U.S., which is already being sold in supermarkets in the New York Tri-state area, the Midwest, and California.

Silver Fern Farms Chief Executive Simon Limmer says closer partnerships between consumers and farmers through products like Net Carbon Zero beef hold the key to addressing our collective climate and environmental challenges.

“As New Zealand’s largest processor and marketer of red meat, we are in a unique position to build closer partnerships between the needs of discerning customers and our farmers in a way that incentivises nature-positive food production,” says Simon Limmer. . . 

MPI announces finalists in 2022 good employer awards :

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and the Agricultural and Marketing Research and Development Trust (AGMARDT) have announced finalists for the 2022 Primary Industries Good Employer Awards.

Now in their third year, the Awards are run by MPI and AGMARDT to celebrate employers who put their people at the heart of their businesses.

“We received a number of impressive entries,” says MPI’s Director Investment, Skills and Performance, Cheyne Gillooly.

“Central to all of the entries was a real passion shown by businesses towards supporting their employees by putting their health, welfare and wellbeing first.” . . 


Extended orange for Covid or ‘flu?

25/05/2022

Fear of a second wave of Covid is why the government says it’s keeping the country at the Covid orange setting until the end of June:

. . . Hipkins said the orange setting remained appropriate for managing the Covid outbreak.

The arrival of new strains of cold and flu was another reason to remain cautious. . . 

This begs the question: is the extension of the orange setting for Covid or the ‘flu?

The ‘flu usually kills about 500 people a year. That’s more than have died of, as distinct from with, Covid in the last two years but is ‘flu as infectious and isn’t the vaccine reasonably effective?

Whatever the answers to those questions, is the extension because Covid and the ‘flu could put too much pressure on the health system?

If that’s the case, why aren’t ‘flu vaccines free for more people and why hasn’t increasing capacity in the health system been a far higher priority?

Focusing on the front line, including allowing migrant health professionals who are here to fast track residency, allowing more in from overseas and improving pay and conditions to make working here more competitive with Australia would have helped.

It would certainly do a lot more for better health outcomes than the extensive and expensive restructuring of the whole system.


Takers or makers

24/05/2022

This is a government of takers.

They took away our freedom and while the first Covid-19 lockdown was excusable, subsequent ones that were due to the delay in the vaccination rollout were not.

Matthew Hooton writes of the cost of last year’s extended Auckland lockdown:

. . .Then, in late August, our still largely unvaccinated population was hit by Delta. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had no choice but to order what became the long lockdown of 2021/22. It contributed to yesterday’s Budget Economic and Fiscal Update (BEFU) estimating Robertson will end up spending $128.4b to get us through 2021/22.

That’s $13.7b more, or over $7000 for each of New Zealand’s estimated 1.9 million households. The “good news” is that Robertson expects to collect an extra $10.6b in tax this financial year compared with the forecast a year ago, or around $5500 more per household.

Inflation is one reason why, fuelled by both monetary and fiscal stimulus being needed for much longer than if we had been vaccinated before Delta arrived.

That, of course, is only the start of the cost. In Auckland in particular, the preventable lockdown also drove more family businesses broke, ruined a second school year for tens of thousands of students and worsened already fragile mental health.

Yet no one in the Beehive or the bureaucracy has even apologised for the failure to begin our mass vaccination programme six months earlier. . . 

The late rollout also took some of the freedoms we were promised over summer, people without vaccine passes were barred from a lot of places, numbers were restricted for weddings, funerals and other events; and we were all still supposed to sign in.

And let’s not forget taking the freedom to come and go from New Zealand that grounded so many Kiwis overseas, kept others here,  locked out families and friends, is still keeping some migrant families apart and restricting employers ability to get migrant workers.

Then there’s Three Waters and the very real threat that they’ll take away both the assets and control from local authorities and rural water schemes.

And the biggest take away is money  in higher taxes, higher costs through more regulations, and worst of all the loss we’re all having to bear because of inflation that’s adding to the cost of everything and eroding the real value of savings.

Not content with that the government is looking at how to take more from the wealthy, in spite of a promise there would be no new taxes and no wealth tax.

Just think how much better off we’d all be, individually and collectively if they put as much thought in how they could help us to make more instead of how they could take more.

This is a government of takers. The country desperately needs one that understands and supports makers.


3 1/2 months extra MIQeue misery

20/04/2022

How’s this for kindness?

Top health officials agreed in November last year that Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) was “no longer justified” for most returnees, according to a document the Ministry of Health tried to keep secret.

It took another three and a half months, almost 40,000 MIQ stays and seven voucher lotteries before most incoming travellers could enter freely.

At the time the document was signed off, 80 percent of the country’s eligible population had been double-vaccinated and Delta was spreading in the community.

Director of Public Health Dr Caroline McElnay wrote to Director General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield seeking his agreement to an updated Public Health Risk Assessment.

She wanted it to reflect that “the risk posed by international arrivals transmitting Covid-19 is no longer higher than the domestic transmission risk of Covid-19”.

McElnay asked Bloomfield if he agreed the risk was no higher, and if so: “Managed Isolation for border returnees would no longer be justified on public health grounds as the ‘default’ for people travelling to New Zealand,” the document said.

Bloomfield did agree, and he also agreed to brief Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins, and start creating a plan for making ‘self-isolation’ the default requirement for returnees.

The memo noted the government might need to speed up its plan for a phased easing of border restrictions in the first quarter of 2022.

Yet it was not until 2 March, 15 weeks later, before the government lifted MIQ requirement for inbound travellers. 

That’s 15 more weeks of misery for people wanting to come home.

That’s 15 more weeks when people couldn’t get in to farewell the dying and dead or celebrate weddings, birthdays and Christmas with the living.

That’s 15 more weeks when people were stuck overseas, often in desperate financial and or/personal circumstances.

University of Waikato law professor Al Gillespie said the delay raised serious concerns.

“The Public Health Response Act, one of the requirements is that the responses must be proportionate. And the advice that was given was that it was a disproportionate response to continue MIQ. If that’s the case, the government has to answer why did they continue down this path.”

The implications could be vast, he said.

“You’ve had people who’ve had their liberty interrupted. You’ve had people who’ve paid thousands of dollars being in MIQ. And you’ve had thousands of people who haven’t been able to access MIQ.

“If the government cannot show why this was justifiable … then there may be considerations of compensation.” . . .

So why didn’t the government accept the advice, based on the science they kept telling us they were following?

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins responded with a statement.

“The advice considered by ministers at the time said that while the public health risk at the border has changed, there still needs to be a considered transition from Managed Isolation as the ‘default’ setting for most people arriving in New Zealand, to a new approach,” he said.

“It also said the public health risk of any changes to the managed isolation settings needed to be considered and managed alongside the implementation of the Covid-19 Protection Framework and Reconnecting NZ. The timing of the border reopening allowed us the chance to get our vaccination and booster rates up and that’s had a huge impact on our management of the current Omicron outbreak.” . . 

And why wasn’t the vaccination rate already high enough?

Because the government bungled ordering vaccines so the rollout was slow and late.

That was a very costly bungle.

Had the vaccine rollout been earlier and faster it’s probable Auckland wouldn’t have been locked down for so long, if at all when Delta got into the community; the rest of the country could have been at green; thousands of people could have come home without the cost and inconvenience of MIQ and many more would not have had to endure the misery of applying for and missing out on the MIQueue lottery.

That delay in ending MIQ was costly in human and economic terms.

Now we know the MIQeue of misery could have been ended 3 1/2 months sooner darewe hope it will have a high political cost too as once more the government is shown to be anything but kind.


Rural round-up

07/04/2022

Govt tightening screw on rural communities :

In allowing spiralling costs and rampant inflation to hit New Zealand’s most productive sector, the Labour Government is biting the hand that literally feeds it, National’s Rural Communities spokesperson Nicola Grigg says.

“New Zealand’s agricultural sector is seeing a dramatic rise in input costs as farmers and growers grapple with the same cost of living crisis that is impacting us all.

“The increase in costs is being felt particularly badly by our farmers. In the last year, the cost of fuel has risen more than 44 per cent, fertiliser more than 28 per cent, stock feed and grazing more than six per cent, seeds six percent and power 21 per cent.

“If you want to go out and buy a new Toyota Hilux you’ll now be paying an extra $5175 in ‘ute tax’ when registering it – and Labour will soon be introducing legislation requiring employers pay a 1.4 per cent levy on employees’ salaries into a new ‘income insurance scheme’. . . 

Predictable delays for meat processing :

Meat works around the country are struggling to meet demand due to the Government’s failure to keep pace with a vital cog in the supply chain, National’s Agriculture spokesperson Barbara Kuriger says.

“Farmers are being forced to hold onto livestock longer as meat works across the country have wait times stretching up to six weeks. This adds even more pressure to our farmers, with some having to dip into their winter baleage supply early or buy in costly feed supplement alternatives.

“The Agriculture Minister and the Government made assurances that they would take steps to limit any disruption for our essential farming industry, but as predicted, they have failed to do this.

“Labour failed to deliver to bring in the necessary workers due to stringent immigration rules, and they failed to supply the meat works industry with rapid antigen test in a timely manner, causing disruptions to staff. . . 

Nursery aims to make native trees more accessible – Colin Williscroft:

For Adam Thompson, establishing native flora on farmland goes beyond the obvious environmental and biodiversity benefits.

It gives farmers a sense of pride in seeing a piece of marginal, unproductive land transformed into something that complements and enhances their farming operation.

“A lot of farmers are proud of growing food. “We’re helping them do it in a more sustainable way,” Thompson said.

The 35-year-old Cambridge farmer and owner of Restore Native tree nursery wants all farmers to feel that pride by making it as easy and inexpensive as possible to plant and grow native trees on farmland not suited for livestock. . . 

Synlait is confident it is back on the path to pre-2021 profitability levels – Point of Order:

ANZ  reports widespread autumn rain has devastated many arable and fruit crops, but has been welcomed by pastoral farmers.

Food commodities are in short supply globally.  New Zealand will  export less produce than normal this season as production of most  export commodities is impacted for varying reasons including delays with the processing of livestock and the impacts of labour shortages.

So it  was  something of  a  surprise,  but  a  welcome  one,  when Synlait Milk reported  its net profit (excluding the sale of an Auckland property) had risen 128% to $14.5m in the first half.

The  dairy  processing company said it was also on the way to reporting previous levels of profitability in the 2023 financial year after posting a $28.5m loss in 2021. . . 

NZ woolgrowers among sectors hit by China’s Covid-19 restrictions :

A resurgence of Covid-19 within China is causing headaches for some primary sector exporters, with lockdown measures disrupting economic activity and slowing down distribution networks.

China’s ongoing “zero-Covid” strategy uses swift lockdowns and aggressive restrictions to contain any outbreak. As part of this, late last month Shanghai was placed into the biggest city-wide lockdown since the Covid outbreak began more than two years ago.

PGG Wrightson’s South Island wool manager Dave Burridge said demand for wool had dropped off because China’s manufacturing regions had been affected by the Covid-19 restrictions.

“It’s having a direct impact on bottom-line returns to woolgrowers, certainly there is quite a dramatic effect on [prices for] the types [of wool] the Chinese normally buy.” . . 

Almonds a new high-value nut to crack :

Another ‘nutty’ idea could lead to a brand-new almond industry in New Zealand.

Plant & Food Research is embarking on a feasibility study to see if almonds can be grown sustainably in Hawke’s Bay. The project has backing from central and local government, alongside Picot Productions Limited – Kiwi producers of the Pic’s brand nut spreads.

“We’re already supporting peanut growing trials in Northland – now it’s almonds’ turn,” says Steve Penno, Ministry for Primary Industries’ (MPI) director of investment programmes.

“The first step is to see whether we can successfully produce almonds with a low carbon footprint at scale and for a competitive price in New Zealand.” . . 


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