Too little, too late

21/01/2022

First the good news:

Rapid antigen testing will be available more widely in New Zealand, and will be used as part of the Government’s Omicron response, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Thursday.

Ardern said there are currently 4.6 million rapid antigen tests (RATs) in New Zealand, and there were “10s of millions on order”. . .

But the bad news is that on order could be too late.

National leader Christopher Luxon said the revelation that there were 4.6 million rapid tests in the country equalled “less than one per person”, and deemed the rollout “appallingly slow”.

“New Zealand has been slow on boosters and slow on vaccines for 5–11-year-olds and now we’re being appallingly slow on rapid tests,” he said.

“To make matters worse, the Prime Minister still can’t outline how they will be used, when they will be available, and what isolation rules will be in place. She even thinks our current contact tracing system will work against Omicron.” . . 

She also thinks tests 48 hours before people board flights to New Zealand is good enough, a point Sir Ian Taylor disputes:

. . . Let’s start with the “unprecedented number of Omicron cases” that have caused the latest “change in plans”.

All of those cases have had to come across our border. To get here, just like Delta before it, Omicron had to hitch a ride with a traveller on a plane or a boat.

One of the reasons it has managed to make that journey to the extent it has, is because we had a testing regime that only required a traveller to test negative 72 hours before boarding a flight. That has subsequently been reduced to 48 hours, but that is still two days to catch the most infectious variant of Covid we have seen to date.

In the “151 Off the Bench” self-isolation programme that I undertook last year with the support of the Business Cross-Sector Border Group, we trialled an alternative to MIQ, which we called Self-Managed Isolation. Focused initially on business travel, this was a system that we believed could be expanded quickly to start bringing our fellow stranded Kiwis home as well; a system that could remain in place no matter what Covid threw at us.

For the 151 Trial, I took my PCR test at LA Airport, before boarding, where I could choose to get my result one hour, three hours or five hours after taking the test. I chose five hours.

Which raises the question: how many of the 300, highly infectious, Omicron cases currently in MIQ would have been picked up in a five-hour window, rather than the current 48 hours?

Perhaps that’s a model Professor Shaun Hendy and his team might test for us.
How different might our situation be now if the Ministry of Health had taken up an offer made in July last year to trial an FDA-approved, PCR equivalent test that has subsequently been approved for official use by countries such as Canada, Israel, Taiwan, the US and Singapore?

The test in question delivers a result in 30 minutes. It costs less than the current approved nasopharyngeal PCR test and independent testing has found that it has “the same diagnostic accuracy as a PCR test,” making it perfect for pre-flight testing, which is what Air Canada uses it for. How many Covid cases might have been detected had we implemented a system that delivered results a matter of hours before boarding, instead of days?

We can’t change the decision made a year and a half ago by the MOH to decline the offer to trial this test, but we can learn from it. Over the Christmas break, the company that made the original offer has confirmed that it still stands. The owner of the company has been coming to New Zealand for 20 years and his connection to this part of the world has meant that New Zealand remains a priority and he is prepared to do whatever is needed to accelerate the trial that he originally offered. . . 

Why wasn’t the trial done last year and why hasn’t the offer to accelerate the trial now been taken up?

There’s been weeks to watch and learn from overseas experience which has pointed very clearly to the need for rapid testing once Omicron takes off and the need to ensure there was no shortage of stock.

But once again the government hasn’t learned and is doing too little, too late.


Omicrony variant

14/01/2022

How not to shut down a story:

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and fiance Clarke Gayford are refusing to answer further questions about the extent to which Gayford tried to get Rapid Antigen Tests (RAT) for his friends.

On Wednesday the Herald reported a pharmacist alleging Gayford had tried to help friends get an RAT via a phone call and being “very unimpressed” when he was told that the health guidance was for a PCR test, rather than an RAT.

The friends were suspected close contacts of a Covid-19 case and current Ministry of Health guidelines say close contacts should get a nasal PCR test, not a rapid test.

The country was facing its first community case of the Omicron variant at the time.

In a Facebook post, the pharmacist alleged Gayford had said the Ministry of Health policy had changed and allowed close contacts to get an RAT.

Gayford admitted a friend had put him on speakerphone while in a pharmacy to discuss RATs, but did not give his version of the phone call. He apologised for any “confusion”.

On Thursday, the Prime Minister’s office refused to answer further questions about the extent to which this was a one-off occurrence, and whether it was appropriate for him to try to get the test.

Is a woman responsible for her fiancée’s actions?

No.

But when the woman is the Prime Minister the questions are legitimate and deserve an answer.

When other media approached the Prime Minister’s office about the story, the office refused to comment, but referred reporters to a statement issued by Gayford’s managers.

But on Thursday morning, Gayford’s managers were not issuing his statement – already published by the Herald – to other media, impeding their ability to cover the story.

In a news story, TVNZ’s 1News said it “approached Gayford’s management team for a response,” after being directed there by the Prime Minister’s office. However, Gayford’s management “refused to comment”.

Only in the afternoon were other media able to obtain the statement – after some had raised the issue with the Prime Minister’s office. Gayford’s management blamed the delay on holidays and staff needing to talk to senior management before sending the statement. 

Gayford’s management refused to answer further questions about the incident. 

How to make a bad story worse – try to keep it quiet, especially when there are so many questions that have yet to be answered.

Questions like:

Why would musicians think calling their mate who just happens to be engaged to the Prime Minister would help him get an RAT?

Why would the mate then try to persuade the pharmacist to give them the test?

This is a particularly nasty case of the Omicrony variant.

Apropos of the Omicrony variant, even if the musician in the pharmacy wasn’t from overseas, how do others in the music industry manage to get to the front of the MIQueue?

How can these people take precedence over New Zealanders desperate to get home and essential workers in sectors including health, agriculture and education which are desperate for staff?

And apropos of those oblivious to the plight of the desperate would-be returnees is the case of Labour list MP Marja Lubeck who spent summer in the Netherlands:

The list MP, who contests Auckland’s Kaipara ki Mahurangi electorate, was born in the Netherlands and later moved to New Zealand.

Lubeck’s trip is possible thanks to her securing an MIQ spot, allowing her to isolate upon her return to New Zealand. But the MIQ system is becoming increasingly controversial; regular releases of MIQ places are almost always oversubscribed, meaning many New Zealanders are barred from returning home. . . 

There is no question that she got that spot by anything other than luck but that is no comfort for the tens of thousands of New Zealanders who are stuck overseas and in far, far greater need of getting to the front of the MIQueue but who have had no luck in the MIQ lottery.

That she could think it was fine to compete against those people for one of the scarce spots shows a serious error of judgment.

Compounding that, what does it say about her judgment that she left the country in spite of the government of which she is a part having a travel advisory that very clearly tells New Zealanders to stay home:

Do not travel overseas at this time due to the COVID-19 pandemic, associated health risks and widespread travel restrictions. This do not travel advisory (level 4 of 4) applies to all destinations except the Cook Islands….Read more . . 

The musician made an error of judgement, Clarke Gayford made a bigger one and Marja Lubeck made two, all of which reflects badly on them and both Gayford and the PM compounded the damage by refusing to answer questions.

Could it be that compromised judgement is one of the symptoms of the Omicrony variant?


Rural round-up

29/11/2021

Which face do we believe – Peter Burke:

When Covid-19 first arrived in New Zealand, PM Jacinda Ardern made great play of the fact that it would be the primary sector – and that means rural NZ – would be the saviour of the economy.

Agriculture and the supporting processing and supply chain workers and farmers were deemed essential, and to their great credit these people have delivered 100% and more.

But if perchance, or maybe out of morbid curiosity, you tune into Jacinda’s daily sermons from the Beehive, you would struggle to hear the word ‘rural’ mentioned these days.

The vaccine roll-out has been urban driven with percentage rates in Auckland hailed and glorified. It seems to be all about high population numbers, which also means votes, or is that being too cynical? . .

Residents take up arms in Central Otago as rampant rabbits ruin land– Olivia Caldwell:

A plague of rabbits has destroyed thousands of grape vines, chewed through fence posts and rose gardens and left properties in Central Otago potted with holes, costing landowners thousands of dollars.

The trail of destruction has driven some to take up arms – despite never having owned a gun before – and shoot them from their front lawns.

The local authority says the responsibility for dealing with the pests lies with homeowners – a stance which has infuriated some, who say the buck should stop with the council, not them.

In recent months the Otago Regional Council (ORC) has visited more than 300 properties across the rabbit-prone areas of Lake Hayes, Morven Hill, Dalefield, Gibbston Valley and Hawea, and has now emailed hundreds of letters to landowners asking them to come up with their own compliance plan to get rid of rabbits. . . 

Bank opts for woollen carpet – Country Life:

The chief executive of Rabobank was so determined its new Hamilton HQ would have wool carpet he arranged for it to be craned in.

Todd Charteris says it was suggested synthetic carpet squares would be more appropriate because rolls of carpet were too big to be carried in the lift.

He wasn’t having a bar of it.

Rabobank specialises in rural banking and is relocating its head office from Wellington to the third and fourth floors of a central Hamilton building. . . 

Native dairy farmer – Country Life:

A Waikato farming couple will be hanging up their tennis racquets this year after transforming the farm’s tennis court into a native plant nursery.

Dave Swney and Alice Trevelyan started The Native Dairy Farmer and spent the latest Waikato lockdown potting up 22,000 plants now neatly lined up on the court.

Alice estimates they moved about 16 cubic metres of compost.

“Heaps of shovelling,” says Dave. “Some of us farmers have fatter fingers and probably aren’t as good on some of the more delicate jobs but we can get on the end of a shovel and shove a bit of compost.” . . 

First year EIT student chosen as Young Vintner of the Year:

Maddison Airey, a 23-year-old first year Bachelor of Viticulture and Wine Science (BVWSci) student from EIT, has won the Hawke’s Bay A&P Society & Craggy Range Young Vintners Scholarship for 2021.

Maddison received her award at the Hawke’s Bay A&P Bayleys Wine Awards dinner last night.

As part of the scholarship, Maddison wins $2,000 funding from the Hawke’s Bay A&P Society and a vintage position at Craggy Range Winery for the harvest season of ’22, and she will also be an associate judge for the Hawke’s Bay A&P Bayleys Wine Awards next year.

Maddison says she is excited about the scholarship and the opportunities it will offer her. . . 

‘I’m afraid we’re going to have a food crisis’: The energy crunch has made fertilizer too expensive to produce, says Yara CEO – Katherine Dunn:

The world is facing the prospect of a dramatic shortfall in food production as rising energy prices cascade through global agriculture, the CEO of Norwegian fertilizer giant Yara International says.

“I want to say this loud and clear right now, that we risk a very low crop in the next harvest,” said Svein Tore Holsether, the CEO and president of the Oslo-based company. “I’m afraid we’re going to have a food crisis.”

Speaking to Fortune on the sidelines of the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, Holsether said that the sharp rise in energy prices this summer and autumn had already resulted in fertilizer prices roughly tripling.

In Europe, the natural-gas benchmark hit an all-time high in September, with the price more than tripling from June to October alone. Yara is a major producer of ammonia, a key ingredient in synthetic fertilizer, which increases crop yields. The process of creating ammonia currently relies on hydropower or natural gas. . .


Can’t get in, can’t get out

04/11/2021

Aucklanders’ hopes of being able to get out of the city by Christmas have been dashed:

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s admission on radio today that the hard border around Auckland is set to remain in place over summer to unvaccinated people proves she’s prepared play The Grinch in order to mask her Government’s failures, says Leader of the Opposition Judith Collins.

She came without packages, she came without bags, she went on the radio, to make Christmas hopes sag.

“Speaking to ZM, the Prime Minister said: ‘We are looking at how, if you are adding on a testing regime, how you would manage that number and that scale of people being tested, but also, yes, using vaccine certificates is part of that, so, while we are still working on it if anyone wants to make sure they are able to leave over the summer, it’s another reason to get vaccinated’.

“The PM should be explicitly clear on whether Aucklanders will be free travel this summer.

“She says there are still issues being worked through on, if and how Aucklanders will be able to travel this Christmas.

“This just isn’t good enough. 

“National has called for easing MIQ so that Kiwis can come home for Christmas. Now we hear that Labour might not even allow Aucklanders to travel for Christmas.

“There are no excuses for the Government to still be working on major aspects of their so-called traffic light system.

“New Zealanders need certainty. People are planning their summers now. Families want to know if they will see each other at Christmas. If they don’t know what the situation at the Auckland border will be many people simply will not plan a family Christmas or summer holiday.

“Not only will that keep loved ones separated, a closed border will be dire for the tourism industries of places such as Coromandel and Northland that rely on visitors from Auckland.

“Most Kiwis have done the right thing and got vaccinated. We can’t lock up Auckland forever because the Government has set a vaccination target that is more ambitious than anywhere else in the world.

“National’s ‘Back in Business’ plan calls for regional boundaries to be abolished once an 85-90 per cent vaccination milestone is met, or December 1, whatever comes first.

“Labour’s target of 90 per cent for every single DHB is impossibly high, and some DHBs are so far behind it’s impossible to see the target being met anytime soon.

“Kiwis need a path back to normality. Summer is what we’ve been looking forward to. But it seems the PM wants to play The Grinch and keep us locked up forever.”

Tens of thousands of people can’t come home because of the shambles that is MIQueue and now Aucklanders aren’t going to be able to get out of their city when they want to:

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins told Checkpoint the government is considering the option that Aucklanders have an allocated time slot to leave the region over the summer holidays.

The measure would reduce the risk of queues of traffic at the boundary checkpoints, as vaccination certificates are checked. . .

Reduce queues? How would that work? Another lottery like the MIQueue for people trying to get into the country? And what about the people from north and south of Auckland wanting to get through the city to and from Northland and Waikato?

What was he thinking? Was he even thinking?

National’s Covid-19 spokesperson Chris Bishop told Checkpoint he thinks the potential time allocation for Aucklanders to leave the region in holidays is “the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard”.

“MIQ is bad enough, with the lottery of human misery for Kiwis to come home to their own country. The idea that Aucklanders will be allocated by the government a week away or something, when I first saw it on Twitter… I actually had to reread it about three times. I couldn’t believe it. . . 

This government hasn’t the logistical expertise needed to enable New Zealanders to come home. How on earth do they think they’ll be able to get a workable timetable for Aucklanders to leave their city?

 


Fear and frustration

03/11/2021

Fear has been one of the weapons the government has used to persuade people to adhere to restrictions imposed in an effort to keep the country Covid-free.

It worked and the experience overseas helped fuel the fears.

Some people are still frightened and given that it was only last month we were told 8,000 people might die, that is understandable.

But this week the message changed and we were told that hospitals wouldn’t be overwhelmed.

That is good news, but can we rely on the new message?

Wise people change their minds when the facts change but it is becoming harder to distill the facts from the spin, especially when yesterday we learned that the vaccine taskforce had a big PR role:

. . . The group was to buy enough doses of emerging vaccines to inoculate the population against Covid-19. And it was also to help compose and promote a favourable narrative about those purchases. . . 

Along the way, the public was fed a soothing version of events shaped by outside PR help, the funds for which the Cabinet signed off in May.

Karl Ferguson, a full-time public relations specialist and serial government contractor, through his firm, Arkus Communications, was paid some $133,600 to work with the taskforce, for what MBIE describes as four months of full-time work (contacted by the Herald, Ferguson declined to comment on the work). It bears noting that it wasn’t until August 10 that Cabinet funded Belly Gully negotiators and any actual vaccine purchasing. . .

What does it say about the government’s priorities when PR funding was approved in May, three months before funds for negotiators and purchasing were signed off?

What the Government got from Ferguson was communications that controlled and shaped the flow of information around vaccine procurement. Some of the work entailed co-ordinating the public relations teams across different government agencies, and some of it involved gauging the public’s appetite for vaccines and promoting their ultimate use.

But Ferguson’s work also created Ministers’ messaging, and helped to time and promote it in politicised ways, both through the media and through commentators in wider civil society. Its ultimate effect was to achieve a singular and flattering version of events. It is a picture that emerges from a range of government documents, primarily MBIE’s weekly report for the vaccine strategy, sent to Ministers, and released under the provisions of the Official Information Act.

The report for September 11 notes that Ferguson was even working with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFAT) in order to alert Ministers and officials of developments abroad – likely the signing of advance purchase agreements for vaccines – that might prompt pointed questions about why New Zealand had none at the time. . . 

What does it say about the government’s priorities that PR and politics came before purchasing enough vaccine to protect all of us who wanted it?

Revelations that the Government used PR spin to deceive New Zealanders and mask its failure in securing the Covid vaccine is a disgrace, says Leader of the Opposition Judith Collins.

“That the Government started funding expensive spin doctors three months before it bothered to fund anyone to negotiate to buy the vaccines shows exactly where its priorities lay.

“At a time when the public needed the truth about what was being done to manage the biggest public health issue facing New Zealand and the world, the Government was deceiving us all by using PR and spin to hide its failings.

“Instead of getting on and securing the vaccine as quickly as possible, as the Prime Minister assured us was happening, the Government was in fact focused on spinning the message to shape the story around its failure to get a deal for the vaccine.

“It misled experts and used them as pawns in what was nothing short of cynical, manipulative and dangerous politicking designed to fool New Zealanders and cover up for their ineptitude.

“Ministers were carefully scripted – in short, told how to lie – about how vaccine procurement was going and to create the deceit that everything was going well.

“The truth is procurement wasn’t going well. Despite being told otherwise, New Zealand was in fact a long way behind our peers in the queue to get the vaccine, and the Government knew it.

“But, with the 2020 election on the horizon, the Government couldn’t afford to have New Zealanders know the truth about its failures, so it carefully stage-managed a PR campaign funded by taxpayers to fool us.

“Had the Government put half the effort into actually procuring the vaccine as they did on creating spin and lying to the public, we wouldn’t have had the slowest vaccine rollout in the developed world and more than a million Aucklanders wouldn’t be stuck in an ongoing and draconian lockdown.

“Jacinda Ardern must take responsibility for this deceit. New Zealanders deserve an explanation and an apology.”

Had the vaccine rollout been started earlier and more widely, had the government learned from the experience in other countries and its own mistakes, the latest lockdowns may well have been avoided.

Mike Hosking explains what went wrong:

. . . We were a bit slow on the lock down, but not alarmingly slow.   

So that’s a good start. The rest, sadly, has been a mess.   

From PPE gear, to testing kits, to vaccine roll outs, to MIQ, to decisions that weren’t made, borders that got breached, to the current shambles we find ourselves in.   

It’s been a trail of haphazard unprofessionalism and needless economic and social damage.  

For a brief period, we shone globally, and the Government basked in it, and that was a crime in itself. Their own arrogance led them to become dangerously complacent.   . . 

Last year’s first lockdown secured us time and eventually freedom within New Zealand. But there were warning right from the start that, like a lot of this government’s other initiatives, the spin wasn’t matched by substance.

Sir Bob Jones says:

. . . The gross mismanagement of Covid will mark this government as the most incompetent in our post-war history.  Sadly, authoritarian governments are now the norm world-wide as the evidence is clear that a sizeable timorous section of populations like being told what to do. That’s certainly true of New Zealand. . . 

Frankly, I fear for New Zealand as the disastrous economic and social legacy of this government will take a decade to repair.

Some people are still fearful but there’s a growing number who are becoming more and more frustrated, and not only those in Auckland who are now 10 weeks into lockdown.


Rural round-up

02/11/2021

Farmers want clarity over vaccine mandates – Gerhard Uys:

Farmers and farm advocacy groups say they are not receiving clear guidelines from the Government on how to navigate vaccine mandates and subsequent staff management for farm businesses.

Chris Lewis, national board member and Covid-19 spokesman for Federated Farmers, said Covid guidelines seemed to be a moving target.

“We have had no indication from [Government] what exact guidelines farm employers should follow. Farm businesses are no different to other businesses operating during uncertain times and need clarity. Are we allowed to mix vaccinated and unvaccinated staff, what is safe and not safe, we don’t know,” Lewis said.

Lewis believed that businesses would begin to take the lead in determining requirements, with the Government playing catch up. Corporations like Fonterra have already begun setting some guidelines for milk suppliers to follow. . .

Farmer protest group keen to meet Jacinda Ardern for answers on new rules –  Rachael Kelly:

The leaders behind one of the biggest farmer protest group in New Zealand are seeking a meeting with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, and say they are sick of being ignored.

Groundswell NZ galvanised thousands of farmers in July and protests were held in 50 towns nationwide, but since then the Prime Minister has never directly responded to their concerns about some Government freshwater rules not being practical to implement.

Groundswell NZ founder Bryce McKenzie will be in Wellington next week, and it’ll be the second time the group has tried to get a meeting with Ardern.

“We’re hoping she’ll meet with us this time, because the people of New Zealand that turned out for our last protest have essentially been ignored,’’ McKenzie said. . .

 

A rule of thirds – Neal Wallace:

It was not their original intent, but Central Otago’s Lake Hawea Station is at the sharp end of what some termed contentious innovation. Neal Wallace meets manager David O’Sullivan.

DAVID O’Sullivan admits he needed an open mind as he oversaw the transformation of the Otago high country fine wool property, Lake Hawea Station.

The station manager says a combination of the skills of the staff, input from consultants and the branding and business backgrounds of owners Geoff and Justine Ross, founders of vodka company 42 Below, created a powerful team that is not wedded to a particular farming system.

That diverse thinking reflects the station’s shift to regenerative farming but also a different approach to managing carbon emissions and sequestration.. . 

Sustainability sells: strong wools’ half billion dollar export opportunity:

New Zealand’s strong wool sector is sitting on at least a half a billion dollar opportunity thanks to a wave of eco-consumerism, coupled with innovative Kiwi businesses pushing the limits of wool.

Since the 1980s the export price of strong wool has tanked from a high of around $10 a kilogram, to now just over two dollars. But as eco-consumerism rises and plastic products lose their popularity, a group of New Zealand businesses are ready to drive strong wool’s resurgence.

Strong Wool Action Group executive officer Andy Caughey says for the first time in forty years the market conditions are optimistic for strong wool, a courser fibre than the likes of fine merino, which is exceptionally resilient and versatile in its use for homewares. . .

Ravensdown renews sponsorship of NZDIA :

Entries to the 2022 New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards (NZDIA) continue to be accepted online until December 1st as national sponsors continue to commit to the programme.

NZDIA General Manager Robin Congdon is rapt to confirm that Ravensdown have renewed their sponsorship for the next two years.

“Ravensdown bring a particular style to their sponsorship. They care deeply about farmers and this is obvious through the Relief Milking Fund and that they want to be involved with education and development of farmers’ businesses and careers,” says Robin. . .

DJAARA’s new land acquisition protects country and culture – Annabelle Cleeland:

Culturally significant Buckrabanyule, in North Central Victoria, has been purchased by Traditional Owners and conservationists, in a bid to be protected from further land degradation and development.

Located between Boort and Wedderburn, the land covers 452 hectares, and was recently purchased by conservation group, Bush Heritage, to be jointly managed with Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation (DJAARA).

The land is infested with the invasive wheel cactus, a thorny pest plant that classified as a weed of national significance. Djarrak rangers have spent recent months working at the site to control the weed, using mechanical chemical and bio-control methods. . . 

 


Plank of the Week

29/10/2021

Mike Graham, Laura Dodsworth and Russell Quirk at Talk Radio UK awarded Jacinda Ardern Plank of the Week:

You can watch the whole programme here.


Pravda Project at work

01/10/2021

Is the media biased?

I can understand reluctance to give any oxygen to conspiracy theories, but it is possible to write a story on this extraordinary response without doing that.

 

Could the reluctance to report this have anything to do with the Public Interest Journalism Fund which Karl du Fresne calls the Pravda Project.

. . . Judith Collins and David Seymour were putting the heat on Jacinda Ardern over Labour’s so-called Public Interest Journalism Fund. Collins wanted to know whether the fund – applicants for which must commit to Treaty principles and support for te reo, among other things – was influencing the editorial decisions of media outlets. Seymour more pointedly asked what would happen to a media outlet that had accepted money from the fund but wanted to report something deemed inconsistent with Treaty principles.

Ardern brushed off the questions as if they weren’t worthy of an answer, but that’s by the bye. What interests me is whether the exchange in the House was reported by any media outlet that has accepted, or has its hand out for, money from the fund.

This highlights another potentially disturbing and insidious aspect of the media slush fund. Can we expect mainstream media outlets to report criticism of the fund or possible revelations and concerns about its misuse, or will that be left to independent journalists such as Adams?  

You see what’s happening here? I’m already wondering whether the media are choosing to ignore stories about the fund that might not reflect favourably on it or them. The mere fact that it’s necessary to ask this question shows how media companies compromise their credibility by accepting money from a highly politicised government agency.  

Incidentally, “Public Interest Journalism Fund” strikes me as a bit of a mouthful, and time-consuming to type, besides. So I’m giving it a shorter, punchier name: the Pravda Project, after the old Soviet Union’s esteemed official press organ, on the assumption that the PIJF will exhibit the same fearless independence and unstinting commitment to the truth. 

Michael Basset has similar concerns:

. . . The availability of money, coupled with a completely absent sense of constitutional propriety, appear to offer the divine intervention Ardern and Robertson need going forward. Their gig is to bribe the media in the run-up to the next election in the hope that they will save Labour. This is happening in two ways. First, the direct distribution of cash from the Public Interest Journalism Fund aimed at keeping the media on side until the next election. All the big daily papers have dipped into it already, and applications are now open for a further swag of taxpayer money. The second way the government is trying to keep the media on side is by over-paying them for printing the masses of Covid announcements. I’m reliably informed that the government negotiated none of the regular discounts available to those who advertise on a grand scale in newspapers and TV. The expectation is that none of the media greedies will bite the government hand that feeds them. Or not very hard.

If my information is correct, it is corruption, pure and simple. In normal circumstances there would be rebellion. But in the topsy-turvy world of this pandemic, I’m not sure that anyone any longer cares much about constitutional propriety.

Privately owned media has a lot more leeway in what it chooses to report and how it reports it.

But publicly owned media has a much greater responsibility to be balanced and fair.

Regardless of whether its privately owned or publicly, the Pravda Project makes it look like the media is softer on the government and harder on the opposition which leads it wide open to accusations of bias.


Kindness to theirs not ours

30/09/2021

The litany of woes from people trying to cross Auckland’s boundaries grows by the day.

A Rotorua father faces the prospect of missing the birth of his triplets after his application for an exemption to get through Auckland’s southern border was denied.

The rejection letter leaves Kevin Acutt forced to pick earning a living for his family over one of the most significant moments of his life.

His wife Amber went into premature labour during the nationwide alert level 4 lockdown last month – just 23 weeks into her pregnancy – but staff at Waikato Hospital were able to put a stop to her contractions.

Since then, she’s been having regular scans at Auckland City Hospital’s maternal foetal medicine unit – and last Friday she was admitted there permanently as she requires close monitoring for abnormal umbilical cord flow.

Currently, the triplets are in a stable condition – but the couple have been advised it’s still a high-risk pregnancy, and things could change at any moment.

If one of them takes a turn for the worse, it’ll prompt an emergency procedure requiring swift removal of the babies, and likely the need to promptly resuscitate them. . . 

He is in Auckland with his wife but has to return to his job on Monday.

“We’ve fallen into a category that doesn’t really exist at the moment, because you can go to appointments as a support person, but our appointment has turned into a whole ‘however long she might be’,” he told Newshub. . . 

He’s asking the ministry to show humanity.

“What’s the point? What are we doing this whole COVID lockdown thing for? It’s for the people, it’s for humanity. But what’s the point, if we’re going to lose our humanity along the way?” he said.

“We’re stopping people from burying the dead, from witnessing the birth of new life. What’s the point of carrying on if we’re going to stop doing that?” . . .

It’s not only stopping people at the city boundary where humanity is lacking, there’s a growing problem at the border. Claire Trevett says MIQ is a debacle that has made mincemeat of the promise Kiwis could always come home:

If there was one thing Sir John Key was right about in his critique of the Government’s response to Covid-19, it was his assessment that the MIQ system has become a national embarrassment.

For all the successes in the Government’s handling of Covid-19, there have been failings and the ongoing bottleneck that is the MIQ system is one of them.

MIQ has been largely effective in one of its two core purposes: keeping Covid-19 out.

But its other core purpose was to let New Zealanders come in. The extent to which it is keeping New Zealanders out has now reached an inexcusable level.

It falls well short of the Jacinda Ardern’s promise that, no matter what else happened, New Zealanders would always be able to come back.

The latest draw for MIQ slots highlighted that in the process of trying to make the MIQ booking system fairer, it has done the opposite. It has also been very bad PR for the Government.

The new ‘virtual lobby’ system in which people are randomly selected for places in the queue for rooms makes it abundantly clear just how much the demand is outstripping the supply. . . 

MIQ has become an MIQueue that has left people stuck in other countries without jobs, without homes and with the threat of losing their pensions.

The Government’s response has partly consisted of blaming people for not returning earlier – for not coming, say, in June last year when there were vacancies in MIQ, or for not coming back from Australia when the bubble was open, or for going overseas at all.

That is not good enough. The Government showed it was capable of quick action when it ramped up the vaccines rollout after the Delta outbreak. But it has failed to deliver the same urgency on MIQ.

The delays and uncertainty have flow-on effects.

This week, it was pensioners overseas who were concerned they would not be able to get back within the 30 week window after which their pensions would be halted.

The Ministry of Social Development’s response bordered on heartless:

“Closure of the travel bubble with Australia, other flight limitations due to Covid and difficulty securing a spot in MIQ, were all reasonably foreseeable before departure for anyone who left New Zealand within the past 30 weeks.” . . 

The return of Covid-19 was more than reasonably forseeable, it was inevitable but the government was prepared for that.

Had it been, we’d have had a vaccine rollout not a strollout, testing and tracing would have been much faster and any lockdown would have been shorter, or possibly unnecessary.

The MIQ system was put together in a hurry because it had to be. It was a blunt instrument and it has also been effective. It was not expected then that it would be needed for so long.

But it has not evolved since then. In fact, it seems to have gotten worse – and the downstream consequences have compounded: it is not only New Zealanders trying to get in that are suffering.

It has caused backlogs in immigration and severe worker shortages in many sectors.

That was excusable for a while, but it has dragged on and on and things have hit pressure-cooker levels. . . 

It is no longer excusable. New Zealanders overseas have a right to come home and people here have a right to leave the country without the fear they won’t be able to come back.

Remember the tongue lashing Jacinda Ardern gave Scott Morrison about the way Australia treated illegal immigrants?

She was demanding he show kindness to the people who had become their problem but she, her government and bureaucrats are showing none to our own people.


Clarke and Dawe

27/09/2021

Oh dear, the green’s great Greta isn’t happy with our our Prime Minister.

Greta Thunberg, the originator of the global School Strike for Climate movement, has taken a fresh swipe at Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for a lack of action over climate change. . . 

“It’s funny that people believe Jacinda Ardern and people like that are climate leaders. That just tells you how little people know about the climate crisis.” . . .

Apropos of which:


Spitting Image

23/09/2021


Rural round-up

21/09/2021

Down on the Farm – Paul Gorman:

Rural life has always had its challenges, but environmental politics and the complexities of modern farming have brought new pressures. For some, the load becomes too much to carry.

When he was a kid, Sam Spencer-Bower used to help out his grandfather Marmaduke in his massive vegetable garden, just across from the farm cottage where he lived with his parents. He didn’t realise at the time that his grandad was something of a legend in Canterbury farming. His family had worked on this land ever since great-great-grandfather Marmaduke Dixon came from Claxby in Lincolnshire and in 1852 established a large farm in North Canterbury, near the gravelly north bank of the Waimakariri River.

In fact, Marmaduke Dixon was one of the first in New Zealand to irrigate his land, initiating flood irrigation from the Waimakariri before 1900. Sam’s grandfather, Marmaduke Spencer-Bower, farmed the land until he was about 95 and wrote a book about the farm and Marmaduke Dixon’s legacy. In other words, Sam Spencer-Bower — middle name Marmaduke — had a lot to live up to.

By the time his grandfather died at the age of 98, Spencer-Bower was already well on the road to taking over the fifth-generation family farm. He was studying for a degree in farm management at Lincoln University. That’s where he met his wife, Jo, who was herself from a sixth-generation farming family (her brother is former All Blacks captain Richie McCaw). At the time, Jo recalls, she liked the fact that Sam had a “sensitive side”, that he was “not a big showman”. . .

Flood fund criteria way off the mark :

Nearly four months on from the floods that devastated much of rural Canterbury, the Government has fallen short of the promises it made to local farmers, says National MP Nicola Grigg.

“Jacinda Ardern and Damien O’Connor flew into Ashburton with cameras rolling to announce a $4 million Canterbury Flood Recovery Fund – indicating that it was just a start, that they were still working to establish the full scale and cost of the damage – and that there would be more where that came from,” says Grigg who is MP for Selwyn.

She says the fund offers grants of up to 50% of eligible costs with a total limit of $250,000 and will contribute to uninsurable costs to enable productive land to return to a productive state as quickly as possible.

“Essentially, it can only be used for the clearing up of flood debris such as boulders, gravel, trees, and silt on productive land. Insurable costs, such as replacing fences, have not been targeted by the fund.” . .

Farmers weigh weather impact across islands – Neal Wallace & Colin Willscroft:

A wet spring is proving a major challenge for southern South Island farmers, causing sleepy sickness, forcing dairy farmers to milk once-a-day, feed out supplements or stand cows off paddocks.

While annual rainfall is about average, the pattern in which has fallen, with up to 85mm already falling this month, is causing sodden ground conditions, especially on the Southland coast

Otago Federated Farmers meat and wool section chair and Clinton farmer Logan Wallace says a dry autumn meant he went into winter with low pasture cover, which required his hoggets to be sent to grazing. He says much of South Otago is similarly short of feed.

He applied urea, which provided a brief respite before a recent cold snap reduced its effectiveness, and recorded more than 75mm of rain in the week to the middle of September, equivalent to that month’s average rainfall. . . 

Paddocks ablaze with colour as sales plummet for daffodils – Country Life:

Sweep into Clandon Daffodil’s driveway on the outskirts of Hamilton you’ll be treated to an unusually vibrant spectacle.

This year, because of Covid-19 restrictions tens of thousands of unpicked daffodils are dancing in the paddock, unable to be sent to Auckland’s flower market.

Clandon is one of New Zealand’s biggest daffodil growers and owner Ian Riddell says Auckland usually takes three quarters of its daffodils.

“We’re getting plenty of comments from people who come in and are saying ‘wow it’s amazing’…It certainly is a sight. It probably won’t happen again. . . 

Call for SI specific residency visa – Neal Wallace:

An immigration adviser is calling for a rethink on how long-term migrant workers are treated, saying up to 6000 in the South Island face an uncertain future.

Ashburton-based Maria Jimenez says these migrants are employed in healthcare, hospitals, construction and agriculture and have an expectation they could apply for residency after meeting work criteria.

Because of covid’s impact on the immigration office, the Government suspended Expressions of Interest (EOI) selections for the Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) last year, closing a pathway to residency for many migrants.

The Government is also resetting immigration policy in a move to reduce the reliance on imported workers. . . 

Public back gene-editing tech as climate worries rise :

The public want farmers to have access to new precision breeding techniques such as gene-editing to respond better to climate change, a new survey says.

It indicates rising concern about the environment following a summer of droughts and heat waves, including the hottest temperatures recorded in Europe since records began.

The YouGov survey of over 2,000 adults, carried out on behalf of the Agricultural Biotechnology Council, shows public enthusiasm for new approaches to farming in light of these extremes.

The majority of those surveyed (81%) agreed that farmers should be able to benefit from innovations that could help them play their role in meeting the UK goal of reaching net-zero by 2050. . . 


Democracy locked down

25/08/2021

MPs are regarded as essential workers but the Prime Minister has decreed that parliament won’t sit:

The Prime Minister has advised me that she is unilaterally suspending parliament, Leader of the Opposition Judith Collins says.

“I have expressed that a one week suspension of Parliament is all the National Party will support. However, the Prime Minister has indicated that she expects it will continue longer than that.

“At a time when New Zealanders have the harshest lockdown in the world and have lost our freedoms because of the Government’s failure to vaccinate and secure the border, this move by Jacinda Ardern is unfathomable.

“Look around the world and you will see parliaments managing to continue to function despite challenging circumstances. In the UK they operated virtually for almost a year.  

No-one is suggesting all 120 MPs gather for business as usual but there are alternatives.

Just a few weeks ago the PM chaired an international meeting of APEC virtually. If it’s possible to do that, it’s possible to have a virtual parliament.

“There are important questions that need to be asked as to how Delta got into New Zealand. Suspending Parliament means the Government avoids this scrutiny.

“As Leader of the Opposition I will be reaching out to the ACT and Māori Parties to establish how best we can prevent this shut down of democracy at the very moment we need it the most.

“Additionally, Labour have resisted all calls for the recommencement of the Epidemic Response Committee. Jacinda Ardern clearly thinks that her actions and the actions of her Government should be beyond reproach and is moving to ensure that is the case.

“This is unacceptable and an overreach of power. It leaves New Zealanders with no ability to demand accountability and transparency from the Government.

“Clearly, despite her assurances to govern for all New Zealanders, Jacinda Ardern is unwilling to be accountable to them.

“The National Party will lead the Opposition to demand democracy is retained during this time of crisis. New Zealand cannot and will not become a one-party dictatorship.”

Heather du Plessis Allan is disappointed in the Prime Minister for refusing to allow the opposition the chance to properly scrutinise this lockdown and her decisions about it. 

. . . But there is no reason to refuse permission to set up the epidemic response select committee like Simon Bridges did back in the last level four lockdown. 

That was done via zoom. No one needs to travel. No one needs to congregate. It’s completely safe. 

Yet, it would allow the opposition to control who gets called in to answer questions, who gets to ask questions, and how long questioners get during that select committee. 

It is simply not comparable or good enough to rely on a bunch of existing select committees with labour MPs in charge. 

Especially when the health select committee, arguably the most important one right now, is chaired by the hapless Liz Craig who, along with other labour MPs on that committee, has been so hell bent on wasting time and frustrating Chris Bishop from being able to ask questions that she ended up reprimanded by her own teammate Trevor Mallard.  Does that fill you with confidence?   . .

Day by day as this government shows it hasn’t learned from past mistakes I have less and less confidence in anything it says or does.

The Prime Minister doesn’t need to hog all the media space. 

She already gets up to an hour a day any day she likes beaming straight into Kiwi’s lounge rooms. 

She already gets to pick and choose which media outlets she goes on in a bid to avoid hard questions. 

When she stops meetings from taking place via zoom It goes beyond a health-based decision and becomes a political decision. 

She is playing politics here while she pretends to rise above that. 

It is impossible to respect this decision and her for making it. 

Select Committees are sitting but they are chaired, and dominated, by government MPs. That makes them a very poor second to the Epidemic Response Committee (ERC) that operated so successfully last year.

One extra week of parliament not sitting might be excused but locking down democracy for more than this week without the ERC being reconvened or a virtual sitting of parliament would be an abuse of power.


Foreseen consequences

12/08/2021

All but two sectors recorded reductions in emissions in the year to March and guess which ones went up:

“The year to March 2021 was one of significant upheaval for our economy and society, and that has flowed through to our greenhouse gas emissions,” environmental economic accounts manager Stephen Oakley said.

“In the last year, we’ve seen both the largest annual decrease on record and the most volatile quarterly movements in emissions.” . .

“Electricity, gas, water, and waste services emissions were up due to the greater reliance on fossil fuel use for electricity generation over the year, as New Zealand experienced dry conditions in hydro-generation areas,” Mr Oakley said. . .

The increase in energy emissions was a foreseen consequence of government policy.

They were warned that killing of domestic gas and coal production with no plan for transmission to renewable energy would result in the need to import coal and that’s what’s happened.

The  policy that was supposed to reduce emissions has led to an increase:

I completely agree with the Energy Minister Megan Woods and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in their assessment of the blackouts on Monday as ‘not good enough,’ National’s Energy and Resources spokesperson Barbara Kuriger says.

“It is a pity Labour is committed to proportioning blame to everyone but themselves. As the Energy Minister, the buck stops with you. New Zealanders need to know that they will not be left without electricity on the coldest night of the year.

“Wages aren’t the only thing Labour is freezing. The power outages left many families with no other way to warm their homes. This Government has, after all, told us that wood burners are bad news for the environment.

“This whole incident reveals the weakness in the Labour’s impractical target of 100 per cent renewable electricity and the spur of the moment gas exploration ban issued by Jacinda Ardern last term.

“We have been importing millions of tonnes of Indonesian coal in order to keep our power sources going instead of using our own natural resources and employing a gradual step down from fossil fuels. . . 

The gas ban was virtue signaling greenwash at its worst.

The damage was not just to the environment but to the whole nuclear moment rhetoric with the reaction to this week’s black out by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Energy Minister Megan Woods. Climate change policy was nowhere to be seen when they were asking why energy companies weren’t burning more coal.

And that is how it will be – keeping the lights on, homes warm and manufacturing going now will always be more important than a cleaner, greener world tomorrow.


Submit for free speech

05/08/2021

Vague law is bad law and the proposed legislation on hate speech is very, very vague.

Any speech that intends to excite hostility or ill-will against, or bring into contempt or ridicule, any group of persons in New Zealand on the ground of the colour, race, or ethnic or national origins, sex, marital status is already illegal and covered under the Human Rights Act.

The Free Speech Union briefing paper on proposed legislation spells out the dangers of extending that :

It is impossible to provide statutory protection for every group in society. The Government hasn’t specified which groups they think should be added to protected lists, saying they want the public to decide on that, yet they have referred to the classes of people protected against workplace discrimination – including sex, marital status, religious belief, ethical belief, race, and political opinion.

Blasphemy has only recently been removed as an offence under the law but the government wants to protect religious belief.

Neither Minister Faafoi nor Prime Minister Ardern would clearly exclude political opinion from protection. If included as a protected group, people could be imprisoned for insulting others’ political beliefs, and so the essence of our democracy and free and frank debate would be undermined.

Are we to be no freer than North Korea to debate politics, disagree with political views and poke the borax at politicians?

While bigoted and resentful opinions are perhaps widely considered indefensible or condemnable, that does not mean they should be made
illegal. Belonging to a particular group within society should not privilege individuals or remove the rights of others to hold opinions, whatever they may be, concerning that group. What does it say of certain groups, when they are given particular legal protection? What does it say of others when they are not? Who gets to decide/ re-decide/re-decide again, as
our country continues to change? Increasing the number of groups specifically protected under hate speech law is a fool’s errand, which will never cover enough groups but always cover too many groups, depending on who you ask.

It is entirely unclear how these laws would be applied in competing cases. For example, would a fundamentalist religious aherent’s expressed views on homosexuality, and the Rainbow Community’s response to that religion be equally “hateful”? Do those sentenced then have to share a cell for up to three years?

The “hate speech” law in the United Kingdom, on which the proposed New Zealand legislation is based, has a special section which explicitly states that “…discussion, criticism, or expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse of particular religions or the beliefs or practices of their adherents, or of any other belief system or the beliefs or practices of its adherents…” is exempt from the law. Troublingly, there is no such provision considered by our lawmakers at present.

The proposed changes seek to move the current law from
the Human Rights Act into the Crimes Act. This may sound like a technicality, but it means that Police and courts will be charged with defining “hate speech” and deciding where the line is.

It will see the courts recognise Parliament’s intention for this law to have a more active role in our country, despite the ambiguities related to how it should be applied.

“Hate speech” legislation has always existed outside of the Crimes Act because of the difficulties in defining hate. Both the Prime Minister and the Minister of Justice have been unable to clearly state where the line is. This is an irresponsible way to legislate, and once again reveals the fraught nature of these proposals. For a law to be legitimate, the people it regulates must be able to clearly see what it allows and what it prohibits.

In the past, actions have been illegal. Thought has been considered relevant only to the extent that there is demonstrable, objective evidence to speak to an individual’s intent. However, now sharing your thoughts with others (if they could be interpreted as ‘maintaining or normalising hatred’) could be illegal, absent any action. What you think may become illegal. . . 

The dangerous path down which the proposed legislation would lead police can be seen here:

STREET PREACHING NZ posted a video to the social media platform in July which shows them being approached by a police officer on Karangahape Road.

In the video, the officer tells them “there is a difference between preaching and hate speech and you are very close to crossing the line”.

But the group argued they were only preaching and in fact, the people who had called the police on them had threatened their group.

“These people actually came up and assaulted us,” one member said.

“They have threatened to kill us, they have threatened to beat up these guys and say that we are preaching hate.”

But the police officer responds: “What you guys are saying is very subjective and saying it to people up here could be taken… in a way likely to incite violence, okay?” . . 

Okay?

Without knowing exactly what the people in the group had said we can’t know whether or not it was okay, but the report doesn’t show the officer making any attempt to find out.

If this happens under existing law, it would be much worse under the proposed legislation.

More than 10,000 people have already submitted against the proposed ‘hate speech’ changes:

The Kiwi public has responded loud and clear to the Government’s questions raised in the consultation document on proposed hate speech changes: they don’t want the Government policing their speech, says Jonathan Ayling, Campaign Manager for the Free Speech Union.

More than 10,000 kiwis have submitted to the Ministry of Justice, claiming the ambiguous, unworkable changes amount to an overreach by the Government into our civil liberties. Engagement like this at the consultation phase shows how strongly New Zealander’s feel, and the threat they see to their freedoms in these changes. That us why these changes shouldn’t go forward.

“The website created to facilitate submissions to the Ministry of Justice on this issue, www.FreeSpeechSubmission.com, went live on 17, July, and in a little-over-two-weeks, we have had an overwhelming response from the public endorsingthe submission of the Free Speech Union, and submitting their own views.

“In particular we are encouraged by the huge quantity of feedback from minority communities pointing out that anti-speech laws are far more likely to damage rather than protect social cohesion.”

“Ministers’ inability to to explain what would be criminalised under these proposals reveals the danger they pose to free speech. Vague intention is an irresponsible way to legislate. The Government should listen to the public, and drop these proposed reforms.”

The signatories to this open letter show this is not a left vs right political issue.

It is a matter or right vs wrong ; freedom vs unwarranted restriction, democracy vs dictatorship.

If you haven’t already submitted the link above can help you.

 

 


Who’s standing up for farmers?

30/07/2021

This is funny:

. . . after 20 years of nuking our taste buds with bread that’s mostly sugar, Ronald McDonald’s special sauce, chicken vindaloo, deep-fried chicken and crisps made from artificially flavoured carpet underlay, most of us could not tell a beautiful piece of prime beef from a Walnut Whip.

This is not:

. . . Right. So one day you’re in the supermarket and in front of you are two legs of lamb. One is from the UK and costs £20 and one is from New Zealand and costs £15. So that’s an easy choice. You buy the one from down under. Lovely.

But it isn’t lovely, because animals farmed in New Zealand and America and China and Brazil and Canada and Australia — with which Boris has just done a much-trumpeted trade deal — do not have anything like the happy lives enjoyed by the animals farmed here. . . 

Both come from the pen of Jeremy Clarkson writing in The Times on why the UK should be proud of its animal welfare.

He might be right about that but he’s wrong that New Zealand standards for animal welfare aren’t at least as high as those in the UK.

Ironically that is partly due to the need to meet standards imposed to give access to the UK market when it entered the EU.

But more than anything it is because we’re very good farmers and very good farmers know that animal welfare is paramount.

The Listener has caught up with Clarkson’s criticism and in its editorial (not online) asks: who would we rather have tell the world about New Zealand produce – Jeremy Clarkson of our own government?

Britain’s RSPCA welcomed the trade negotiations, stressing New Zealand alone among the UK’s potential free trade partners has animal welfare standards as good as, and in some cases, better than Britain’s.

But did our Government speak up in our farmers’ defence on animal welfare? Did it point out that this country is also head-and-shoulders the most sustainable producer of dairy and meat – even counting air miles after export to the northern hemisphere? Not a word.

Nor has it ever thanked agriculture for agreeing to arguably disproportionate methane-reduction goals because of the lack of progress on – mostly urban-generated – carbon emissions.

It’s this sense of abandonment and blame that sent farmers with placards to more than 50 towns and cities last week as much as the undeniable burden of new restrictions and compliance obligations they face.

Yes. This government, at least as much as its predecessor in the mid to late 1980s, doesn’t understand farming nor does it champion it. The policies of the 80s were necessary, based on sound economics, and have led to better outcomes. Much current policy is unnecessary, based on political ideology not economics or science and will lead to perverse outcomes.

The government has been damagingly remiss in declining to champion the global competitiveness of this country’s meant and dairy sector. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has had unprecedented global attention, not least for climate advocacy, yet rarely, if ever, has she talked overseas of this economy’s most outstanding sustainability story. As we approach new trade negotiations with the European Union, the United States and Britain, that environmental prowess has never been more relevant. Yet how can we sell our products to other countries’ populations if even our own citizens are under the misapprehension we willfully produce every emissions? . . 

 Farmers here have been doing a lot to improve environmental practices and doing it for some time. But government policies and dictates give no indication they understand or appreciate that.

Urban New Zealander should be encouraged to take pride in the progress the majority of the farm sector is making. Townies are not subject to a fraction of the individual accountability required from farmers for landfill, emissions and water use. . . 

The generally positive response to the Groundswell protests indicates that many urban people do understand and respect what farmers are doing.

It’s a pity the government doesn’t show it has nearly such a positive view and that it is failing to champion farming on the world stage.

 


Plea to learn from history

28/07/2021

Jamie Mackay has written an open letter to the PM with a plea that she learns from her party’s history:

Dear Jacinda,

I’m writing on behalf of New Zealand farmers. . . 

Like you, I was sceptical about the Groundswell protests. But perhaps unlike you, I was taken aback by the scale and unity on show, by the noise made by the silent majority.

Farmers are sometimes chastised for claiming to be the backbone of the economy. I would argue that, these days as our biggest export earner by a country mile, that’s a fair claim, especially with the demise of tourism in the short-to-medium term.

But in reality farmers are a subset of the SMEs (Small and Medium-sized Enterprises) that are the engine of our economy. And that could be the small engineering business employing a dozen workers or your local cafe owner working 70 hours a week.

And the problems that threaten to handicap farmers will have an adverse impact on all those other SMEs that service and supply them.

Groundswell targeted seven pillars of protest. The ute tax was seventh on that list and a convenient calling card to hang a protest hat on. In reality Groundswell was all about the pace of change and the tsunami of regulation hitting, not only farmers, but all SMEs and the productive sector.

So Jacinda, what I’m asking on behalf of farmers is that you look to history for a solution to getting farmers on board to combat the undeniable (sorry CC deniers) threat GHG emissions pose to our planet.

As a keen student of politics, and the history of your own political party, you’ll know all about the biggest economic reforms this country has ever undertaken.

While Michael Joseph Savage and his 1930s formation of the welfare state was right up there, I would argue that the transformative 1980s David Lange-Roger Douglas Government takes the cake. That was until Lange lost his nerve, stopped for a cup of tea, and choked on the cake.

Rogernomics gutted provincial New Zealand. Farming was seen as a sunset industry. Who needed pitch-fork wielding hayseeds on the land when you could invest in Brierley shares? I don’t need to remind you how that ended in tears.

Yet history proves Douglas was a visionary and the man most responsible for where New Zealand agriculture finds itself now – as the most sustainable farming nation on Earth.

Rob Muldoon had taken our country into a death-spiral of interventionism and unsustainable subsidies.

The seeds of the problems that Douglas had to solve were planted over several years. The current government is replanting some of those bad seeds.

Douglas could see there was no future in farm subsidies. So we went cold turkey, almost overnight. Too hard, too early! The collateral damage was huge and the cost horrendous to provincial New Zealand. The cure was worse than the disease. Yet Douglas was right. Only his timeframe was wrong.

And herein, Jacinda, lies the history lesson. Transformation is like Rachel Hunter’s hair. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen.

It is already happening but problems which developed over years can’t be solved overnight.

By all means, incentivise a transformation to lower emission vehicles. But don’t penalise the productive sector, until you have a realistic, practical and “legitimate” alternative.

By all means, incentivise cleaning up our waterways. But recognise farmers who have spent hundreds of thousands of their own money on fencing off waterways, riparian planting and restoring wetlands. And hold urban New Zealand to equal account.

By all means, incentivise the reduction of methane emissions from ruminant livestock. But let’s look to science for the answer such as methane vaccines and new pasture species rather than the sledgehammer of an arbitrary 15 per cent reduction in livestock numbers.

And by all means, use your undeniable profile on the world stage to petition the world’s worst emitters, China, the USA and India to get their collective [green]houses in order. Don’t sacrifice New Zealand and its economy on the altar of climate change.

So Jacinda, to quote from that iconic Aussie movie The Castle, it’s all about the “vibe”. Farmers get the vibe, agree on the end-point but would question the timeframe as to how we get there.

Learn from Rogernomics. Be on the right side of history on this one. Take farmers with you. Be kind. Our collective provincial plea to our PM is; we want Ohakune carrot, not Wellington stick!

Yours faithfully,

Jamie.

Most agree with the goals but many disagree not just with the timeframe but the way the policies are being imposed by people in Wellington dealing with theory rather than working with the people on the ground who understand the practice.

Rather than looking at what’s working and using that as a model to help the laggards follow suit, the government is doing to farmers what it’s done to polytechnics and is threatening to do with three waters.

It’s going for central control and the pace at which it’s trying to impose it is, as Jamie points out, ignoring the mistakes of its own history.


Rural round-up

27/07/2021

Opportunity obscured by rules – Bryan Gibson:

Farmers across the country descended on towns and cities on Friday to protest against the raft of reforms they say unfairly target their livelihoods.

When asked about the protests last week, the Prime Minister agreed that reform was coming thick and fast and that it was a challenging time for those working in the primary industries.

But she maintained that transforming our economy to limit climate change and environmental degradation would only get harder the longer it was left.

That may be true, but what is also true is that if a sector of society feels that its only way forward is to take to the streets, then there’s been a failure of communication and leadership. . .

Buller farmers in recovery mode – Peter Burke:

With calving just a few weeks away, farmers in the Buller district are now busy repairing damage to their properties.

The recent floods caused stock losses, ruined pasture and damaged sheds and tracks on about a dozen farms in the district.

This latest flood is being described as the worst anyone in  Westport has seen in their lifetime but most of the damage is in the town rather than in the rural areas. . .

Labour’s immigration policy could do lasting damage to the Pacific – John Roughan:

Next Sunday Jacinda Ardern is scheduled to make another of those nauseating apologies for the past, this time for the “dawn raids” against suspected overstayers from the Pacific Islands that happened a few years before she was born.

It’s not just the assumed moral superiority of the present that always gets up my nose, it’s also the injustice to people now dead and unable to speak for themselves. It makes me wonder what apologies the future might make for things governments are doing now.

One potentially regrettable project is particularly ironic. The Prime Minister who will apologise for the dawn raids next weekend is presiding over an immigration “reset” that could do far more lasting damage to the Pacific Islands than the clumsy policing their New Zealand expats suffered in the 1970s.

It surprises me that a Labour Government takes a dim view of seasonal work that enables Pacific Islanders to come here and earn some good money picking fruit for a few months. In a recent TVNZ item on our travel bubble with the Cook Islands we heard people there lamenting the loss of their younger people migrating permanently to New Zealand. . .

Spring Seep wins at Dairy Innovation Award – Gerald Piddock:

Spring Sheep Milk has beaten global giants Nestle and China Feihe to win the best infant nutrition category product at the World Dairy Innovation Awards.

The company won the category with its Gentle Sheep infant milk drink, beating Wyeth Nutrition, which is owned by Nestle, Chinese infant formula giant China Feihe and Blueriver Nutrition Co.

Spring Sheep’s general manager of milk supply Thomas Macdonald says they are proud of the achievement.

“They are some pretty big names playing in the infant space globally and a sheep milking company from New Zealand managed to beat them. It also validates the consumer story,” Macdonald said. . .

Direct drilling no-till system good – Shawn McAvinue:

Southern growers featured at the Federated Farmers Arable Industry Awards in Christchurch earlier this month. Shawn McAvinue talks to them about their mixed cropping operations.

The Horrell family has been cropping for five generations in Northern Southland and the future is looking bright.

Grain Grower of the Year winner Morgan Horrell said his great-great-grandfather started the farm in the 1860s.

The chances of his children — Zara (23), Jake (21), Sam (14) and Dan (12) — continuing on for a sixth generation was looking good.

“Sam’s driving tractors already.” . .

New grain legume varieties a step closer to commercial use:

Plant Research (NZ) Ltd is a New Zealand based R&D company specialising in the development of new grain legume varieties.

This summer, the company enters the final stages of development and multiplication of chickpea and soy varieties developed specifically for New Zealand’s maritime environment.

Managing Director and Principal Plant Breeder Adrian Russell says his team have worked through a large number of potential genetics from both programmes to identify varieties that are adapted to our unique environment and have functional traits for product development in the plant protein space. . .

The Golden Goose: Farmer’s poem for Jacinda Ardern – Graeme Williams:

Inspired by the Howl of a Protest last week and concerned with government regulations on the rural sector, East Coast farmer and bush poet Graeme Williams has put pen to paper in a plea to Jacinda Ardern to look out for farmers. He shared his poem, The Golden Goose, with The Country today.

The Golden Goose, by Graeme Williams

Dear Aunty Jacinda,
A moment if I may,
A response I think is needed,
To the protest the other day.

Farmers are generally too busy,
To rally and cause a stink,
But their overwhelming response,
Must have made you stop and think. . .


Look, listen and learn

21/07/2021

Has Groundswell become the Prime Minister’s Voldemort?:

 Organised by lobby group Groundswell NZ, the Howl of a Protest against the government’s environmental regulations — including the “ute tax” — saw convoys of tractors, trucks and utes rumble through main streets from Kaitaia to Invercargill.

The fact the protesters were well behaved and the protests had such a huge turnout made it impossible to dismiss them as the actions of a small number of radicals or perennially disaffected farmers. It was a big swathe of grassroots New Zealand on the move.

A very subdued Ardern spoke directly to voters on Friday evening on her Facebook page. She opened by euphemistically referring to the day’s protests as “activity around the country that broadly relates to our farming community and our primary sector”.

Tens of thousands of people protesting in more than 50 towns and cities is activity? That’s shades of Harry Potter and Voldemort, or he who must not be named.

Defending her government policies, she asserted that “We can’t stand still” in implementing commitments to climate change and freshwater because our trading partners demand it of us. Of course, farmers are not asking to “stand still” but rather believe that the changes are happening too quickly and they are not being adequately consulted. . . 

She said she’d listen but she’s not hearing what’s being said: that the answer to the problems must be practical and should follow models that are already working with farmers and councils working together.

Will she hear what Alice Sanders is saying:

Hey Jacinda Ardern,

I think it’s time to chat.

You see I’ve done a lot of thinking the last few days (moving breaks and pushing sheep up will do that to you). I thought a lot about the farmers at the Groundswell NZ protests (which we couldn’t attend, funny how you tax the people who can’t leave work for the protests isn’t it), I thought a lot about my life and upbringing and I thought a lot about you.

I wondered what your upbringing was like, I wondered if you’d ever spent time on a farm before you were in politics, before anyone knew who you were and it was a photo opp.

My upbringing was great, a real kiwi farming life, we didn’t have heaps but we had everything we needed and we were very loved. But I wondered if you watched your dad come home soaking wet, well after dark, exhausted night after night with his head in his hands after a weather event caused havoc on farm and animals?

Yet he still had the time to give you a cuddle, kiss you and tuck you and your siblings in at night. Do you watch your dad now in his 60’s sitting again with his head in hands as yet another raft of regulations are announced.

Regulations that will cost more and more or even worse in the case of the Crown Pastoral Lease bill could let you take our well loved, well managed land off us if you so desire. None of these regulations have an off set that means there will be further income to fund them, this is to be done with whatever money (if any) in the farming budget.

Do you wonder what the chain of these regulations is? Instead of retirement farmers now have to keep going. Those who have managers have to lift their expectations of those managers who then have to lift the expectations of their staff. This is causing stress beyond anything you could expect any person to endure.

Don’t forget a farmer never leaves the “office” they close the curtains and open them everyday and they are there. What do you think happens when this stress stacks up? You know of course, what happens to families, what happens to relationships, what happens to people. Divorce, domestic violence, suicide happens, all the time!

Let’s ignore that for a minute though (how you can I don’t know, neither does Mike King).

So regulations cost money and don’t make any, how do we free up the money in the farming system? Not lose animal health costs we never would do that.

Lose a labour unit, so instead of Dad coming in at 8 in the dark, it’s 10 in the dark and 6 in the morning start time And what happens to that labour unit who has lost his job and his home (most farm jobs provide accomodation to staff remember).

Well he moves to town, can he find a rental? Of course not, you’ve upped all the healthy home standards and bright line test so that mum and dad investors who make up most of our property “investors” have decided to sell. And who buys those houses? Well middle class white people (like me), so what happens to our most at risk people?

They end up in emergency housing aka motels. These are the people you campaigned to save!

My goodness.

And those farm owners who can’t afford to carry on, they sell up.

But land prices and debts as high as they are, guess who will purchase it. Yup overseas investors, and they are already doing it. Isn’t that who you were trying to stop?

Now going back to those protests, did you show yourself? No. Did your so called agricultural minister Damien O’Connor MP show himself? No.

And what did you say to the farmers who are proven to be the most advanced, most sustainable, forward thinking farmers in the world, who provided for the country not just with food but with export to support the economy and pay for your COVID relief package!

Oh just that you are carrying on with the regulations and in saying that you are saying you just don’t care. We are forever moving forward as a farming community, always working to nourish our lands and our animals so it continues on for our children, our country and I guess your wages and you can’t see that and neither can your party.

It’s not about utes, it’s not about money. It’s about our people, our lives, our country and our economy.

So yes Jacinda, let’s chat. 

 And while farmers chat, look, listen and understand that what works can’t be designed and dictated from desks in Wellington.

What works is already being done on the best of farms and the recipe can be replicated, adapted and applied to others, without the big stick regulations so beloved by this government.


Good law is clear law

29/06/2021

When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.

Fiddling with language in this way might be alright in literature, it isn’t in law making which requires clarity, yet confusion and lack of clarity are what we’ve got with the government’s explanations on its proposed law on hate speech.

Richard Harman writes in Politik the Prime Minister is confused, or confusing:

The Prime Minister yesterday added more confusion to what was contained within the Government’s discussion document on hate speech.

It quite clearly proposes that inciting hatred or hostility against a group on the basis of its political opinion would be grounds for prosecution.  A successful conviction could result in up to three years jail or a $50,000 fine.

However, Jacinda Ardern claimed at her post Cabinet press conference yesterday that the Government had removed political opinion as grounds for prosecution. . . 

But the confusion comes right at the top of the document,  on page four, where there is a summary of the Government’s proposals which it says it has agreed to “in principle”.

“Under this proposal, more groups would be protected by the law if hatred was incited against them due to a characteristic that they have. This may include some or all of the other grounds in the Human Rights Act. These grounds are listed in section 21 of the Act, which is included in Appendix One.”

That section has a long list of grounds that could be invoked, but critically it says in Section 21 (j), “political opinion, which includes the lack of a particular political opinion or any political opinion.”

And herein lies the confusion; the Prime Minister was clearly talking about page 17 while seeming to not know about what was in the summary on page four. . .

Tova O’Brien points out the Prime Minister and Justice Minister don’t understand what they’re proposing:

Jacinda Ardern is wrong about her own hate speech law. Completely and utterly wrong.

Not only is the Prime Minister wrong about the basic facts of the proposal, she was wrong to shut down debate on hate speech on The AM Show this morning with her glib, inaccurate dismissals. 

The Prime Minister and Ministers develop policy and set policy directions for law. If they don’t understand the policy direction and intent of the law, how can they expect the judiciary to interpret and apply the law? 

On Newshub Nation we questioned the Justice Minister about the proposed changes and tested his policy direction and intent with examples. He conceded that, for example, if millennials expressed hatred towards boomers they could potentially be found liable for hate speech. 

Ardern is now contesting that, saying the law will only apply if it ‘incites violence’. That is wrong, the proposed threshold is as low as ‘insulting’ someone. 

The Prime Minister was dismissive about the interview and said we were trivialising the need for the law change – the terror attacks on March 15. 

It is insulting and irresponsible to pit journalists – or anyone who questions or debates the legislation – as somehow being in opposition to the needs of the victims of March 15th. 

If Jacinda Ardern wants to be the only voice who can have a say on the proposed hate speech changes – let’s fact check some of what she said on The AM Show this morning and you can decide whether she should have the only and ultimate say.  . . 

If the Prime Minister doesn’t understand the law how are the rest of us supposed to?

The more that our elected lawmakers talk about the proposed ‘hate speech’ laws, the more concerned New Zealanders should become, according to the Free Speech Union.

“Over the weekend the Minister of Justice, Kris Faafoi, couldn’t clearly say that millennials wouldn’t be up for possibly three years in jail if they wrote something that spoke ill of boomers as blame for not being able to afford a house,” said Dr David Cumin, a Spokesman for the Free Speech Union.

“This morning the Prime Minister told the AM Show the proposed law was to ‘clarify’ the existing legislation, was to stop incitement to violence against groups, and political opinion would not be included as a protected category.”

“The PM’s comments do not match the proposals issued by her Government. If the proposed law change is just about stopping incitement to violence, why is the wording not so clear?”

“And why would our PM allow incitement to violence against people with a certain political opinion? Surely, when the threshold of inciting violence is breached, whoever is the target should be protected. Inciting violence towards anyone is already criminal, and rightly so.”

“Something doesn’t add up. Either the politicians don’t understand what they are doing, or they are misleading Kiwis.”

The Free Speech Union is calling on New Zealanders to join its campaign against the proposed ‘hate speech’ laws at www.fsu.nz/support 

Why, when the law against blasphemy has been repealed, would the government want to introduce a new and confusing law criminalising people who criticise religion.

As the Observer editorial says:

Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right and a cornerstone of democracy, which cannot flourish unless citizens can articulate their opinions and ideas without fear of retaliation, censorship or sanction. . . .

Good law is clear law. The proposed hate speech legislation is neither good nor clear; in threatening free speech it threatens to undermine democracy and neither the PM nor Justice Minister even understand what they’re proposing.


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