How many trees?

November 23, 2017

We visited a farm 10 years ago and listened in bemusement as the owner explained his plan to plant trees.

The land had been cleared of scrub and planted as pasture when the then-government was encouraging such development in the 1970s.

But in spite of the fertiliser poured onto it, sheep didn’t thrive on the pastures.

The farmer looked at other options and settled on trees.

We went back again last week and were no longer bemused. In the decade since we’d first visited, many hectares had been converted from pasture to forestry and trees were thriving where sheep wouldn’t.

There will be other properties where forestry with, or instead of, farming is a good option.

But the government’s pledge to plant a billion trees in 10 years seemed at best optimistic if not unrealistic.

It’s not surprising that the number has already halved:

Regional Development Minister Shane Jones is already backtracking from his promise to plant a billion trees in 10 years, National Party Economic Development Spokesperson Simon Bridges says.

“From his statements earlier today it appears he’s realised that the pledge of a billion new trees is entirely unachievable and now he’s attempting to back away from it,” Mr Bridges says.

“His problem is that the target is recorded unambiguously in both the Labour-New Zealand First coalition agreement and the Speech from the Throne on the new Government’s programme.

“Now he wants to count around 50 million trees that are already planted every year, about half of the billion he’s committed to over a decade. These are happening regardless of his slush fund or the kind of Government in power.

“So his first action is to cut his target in half. Not exactly impressive.

“He needs to immediately stop using his slogan of 1 billion trees to be planted because it’s completely untrue. He should also stand up in Parliament and correct the Speech.

“This backsliding is becoming a pattern for this Government. They want to count trees that are already being planted in their tree target and houses already being built in their housing target. It’s all very underwhelming.

“The reality for Mr Jones is that even planting 500 million trees over a decade, if that’s what the new marketing catch-cry will be, is unlikely.

“After all, the new Government has also committed to slashing the necessary immigration needed for our workforce and the nurseries will find it difficult to gear up for both private and public sector forestry expansion

“All he will do is displace existing private sector activity. The forestry industry should tell him he’s dreaming.”

Doubling current planting, whether it’s done by the private or public sector will require a lot of land, a lot of labour and a lot of seedlings.

The pledge will deliver a new bureaucracy but it will need a lot more than that to plant even half a billion more trees.

And the experience of the farm forester we visited shows that landowners are best to make decisions on what’s best for their land without political encouragement.

 

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Labour’s got wrong priority for education

November 17, 2017

The biggest priority for education spending is the long tail of under-achieving children, especially those who don’t manage even basic literacy and numeracy.

The National-led government spent a lot of money working with young people who were destined for a lifetime on benefits knowing investing more now would save much more in both financial and social costs over their lifetimes.

This approach ought to be taken with education, giving one-on-one help to the children who aren’t school-ready when they turn five.

That’s the children who can’t speak English or have poor language skills, even if English is their first language; those who come to school hungry and with other health needs; those who haven’t had the emotional, intellectual and material support all children deserve and need to ensure they are ready and able to learn when they get to school.

At the same time, children already at school who are struggling with numeracy and literacy need more help.

Then there’s children with special needs who for their sake and others in their classes need more help than a single teacher with a room full of children can possibly give them.

Helping these children requires more teachers and teacher-aides. It also requires better teachers.

Teacher unions insist all teachers are good teachers. They’re not, like any other group. They are spread on the bell curve with some excellent ones, some duds and most in the middle.

Putting more money into more training and support to improve teaching standards is another priority.

Teachers aren’t particularly well-paid in comparison with other professions. Part of the fault for that lies in the union insistence that all teachers are equal and refusal to countenance performance pay.

That aside, pay rates that make teacher salaries competitive with pay rates for other occupations which compete with them for recruitment would help.

The new government is determined to alleviate child poverty. Ensuring all children achieve at school so they have what they need to succeed when they grow up should be part of that.

Instead, Labour’s first priority is spending even more on those who mostly need it least, tertiary students.

The taxpayer already pays more than 70% of the cost of tertiary study.

If more help is needed, it should be targeted at those who really need it; at areas of study where there are graduate-shortages and in loan write-offs for professionals willing to work in hard-to-staff places.

The average graduate earns around $1.5 million more over a lifetime than non-graduates who will be paying more tax to help them into better paid jobs.

In opposition the parties in government were strident about the ills of inequality.

How hypocritical that one of their first moves, giving tertiary students fee-free education will make inequality worse.

 


Higher spending, tax, debt

November 16, 2017

Economists are warning that the Labour-led government’d Debt will be billions more than planned.

. . . In Opposition Labour laid out a fiscal plan which would borrow around $11 billion more than National had proposed, but still cut debt as a share of the total economic output from 24 per cent to 20 per cent by 2022.

The plan formed a major point of contention during the election campaign, as National finance spokesman Steven Joyce was widely mocked for his claim that Robertson’s plan had a major “fiscal hole”.

This is a very good argument for independent costing of party policies before an election.

But bank economists, who monitor the likely issuance of government bonds, are warning of pressure for Treasury to borrow billions more than Labour had signalled because of new spending promises.

ANZ has forecast that Labour will borrow $13 billion more than Treasury’s pre-election fiscal update maintained the former Government would over the next four years, although around $3b of that would go to the NZ Super Fund.

Borrowing to contribute to the super fund is as reckless as borrowing to play the share market instead of paying off a mortgage.

This would see net Crown debt at 23 per cent of gross domestic product, 3 percentage points higher than Labour’s plan.

Outgoing ANZ chief economist Cameron Bagrie said the estimates for new spending were “conservative”, including an assumption that the new $1b a year regional development fund would come entirely from existing budgets. . . 

BNZ senior economist Craig Ebert said the figures were hard to determine so early in the term, but borrowing “could amount to a number of billion dollars” more than Labour had outlined. . . 

During question time in Parliament on Tuesday, Robertson maintained that the Government was sticking to its pre-election debt plan.

“But what we’re not prepared to put up with is a situation where we do not have enough affordable homes, where we have not made contributions to the [NZ] Super Fund, and where an enormous social deficit is growing,” Robertson said.

“In those circumstances a slower debt repayment track is totally appropriate.”

A much more disciplined approach to spending would be wiser.

National took office when the kitty was empty and Treasury was forecasting a decade of deficits.

In spite of the GFC and natural and financial disasters, it returned the books to surplus without a slash and burn approach to social spending.

This government has taken over with plenty of money in the kitty and forecasts of continuing surpluses.

With careful management, it should be able to

Labour and many on the left talk about the “failed policies of the 80s”.

They never look at the cause of the problems which precipitated those radical policies – higher spending, higher taxes and higher borrowing.

Those were the failed policies.

Unless the new government takes a much more careful approach, it will take path New Zealand down that path again.


Who knows best?

November 15, 2017

The last Labour government was criticised for nanny-statism and the new one is already in danger of courting the same criticism:

Parenting 101 from your friendly Labour Government.

New parents may relish the idea of both parents being home together, able to bond as a family in those first few weeks of a newborn’s life.

But the Government advises “no”, that’s not necessarily in the interests of your baby.

That’s why it intends to vote down a National Party amendment to the Government’s paid parental leave extension, that would let both parents take their paid leave together.

“Our concern with that is the likelihood it would reduce the amount of time that baby has to bond with their primary caregiver,” said Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Iain Lees-Galloway.

Who knows best what’s best for babies and their parents – the parents or the government?

If both parents were off at the same time, it would reduce the total amount of time that baby’s parents would be on leave. National’s amendment would allow for parents to make a choice – it does not compel them to take leave at the same time.

There’s no compulsion, no we-know-best. It would just give flexibility to parents who could choose to take none, some or all of the leave at the same time, depending on what suited them and their babies.

In all likelihood, Labour doesn’t really believe it knows better than parents what suits them.

So they’d put politics before parents, and babies and risk the accusation of nanny-statism because it’s not their idea.

That’s simply pettiness.


Don’t know or won’t tell?

October 31, 2017

Labour is being loud about what it wants to do, but quiet about what it will cost:

New Finance Minister Grant Robertson needs to front up on the new coalition government’s spending plans and not make inaccurate excuses, National Party Finance Spokesperson Steven Joyce says.

“Mr Robertson has done two long-form interviews over this weekend and yet New Zealanders are still none the wiser about the cost of the coalition’s programme and the impact on their back pockets.

“Saying that he won’t reveal the numbers because he didn’t have access to the public service to prepare them as he did on TV3’s The Nation, is just not good enough,” Mr Joyce says.

“All parties in post-election coalition negotiations were given access to the public service to cost their commitments so that excuse just doesn’t wash.

“That sounds like someone who simply doesn’t want to reveal the numbers.

“He’s either had them costed and doesn’t like what they add up to, or not had them costed. Either way it’s not a reassuring start.

“New Zealand’s healthy government accounts are the product of the hard work of millions of Kiwis. They are entitled to know how much has gone out of their collective pockets in the process of forming this government.

“They also have a right to know whether the new government’s spending plans in actual dollars will match the cast-iron commitments Labour repeatedly made before the election.

“Mr Robertson is already acknowledging his budget is ‘very tight’ and ‘ambitious’.

He needs to front up quickly with the cost of this coalition.”

Whether it’s fair or not, Labour is perceived to be weak on  financial literacy. This silence on costs adds evidence to that perception.

Either they know and won’t say, which begs the question, what are they hiding?

Or they simply don’t know, which is irresponsible and incompetent.

The outgoing National-led government left the government books in a very healthy state with plenty in the kitty and forecasts of on-going surpluses.

The incoming government either can’t work out how much they’re planning to spend, or have worked it out and won’t tell us, both of which are unacceptable.


A snap in time

July 22, 2016

This month’s Roy Morgan poll shows a big jump in support for National and a slump in support for Labour:

During July support for National jumped a large 10% to 53%, now well ahead of a potential Labour/Greens alliance 37% (down 5.5%). If a New Zealand Election was held now the latest NZ Roy Morgan Poll shows National, with their biggest lead since May 2015, would win easily.

However, support for the National partners was down slightly with the Maori Party down 1.5% to 0.5%, Act NZ was up 0.5% to 1% and United Future was 0% (unchanged).

Support fell for all three Parliamentary Opposition parties; Labour’s support was 25.5% (down 2.5%) – the lowest support for Labour since May 2015; Greens support was 11.5% (down 3%) and NZ First 7% (down 2%). Of parties outside Parliament the Conservative Party of NZ was 0.5% (down 0.5%), the Mana Party was 0.5% (unchanged) and support for Independent/ Other was 0.5% (down 0.5%).

rmp

The NZ Roy Morgan Government Confidence Rating has increased to 127pts (up 6.5pts) in July with 57.5% (up 3%) of NZ electors saying NZ is ‘heading in the right direction’ compared to 30.5% (down 3.5%) that say NZ is ‘heading in the wrong direction’. . . 

Any poll is only a snap in time.

Last month’s snap showed a larger drop in support for the government, this month’s shows a larger increase.

This result indicates those snapped are more confident in the government and its direction in spite of the slew of negative headlines in the last few weeks.

It could indicate that people accept that problems a long time in the making will be a long time in the solving and aren’t looking to the government for miracles.

It could indicate that people looking at instability in so many other parts of the world are opting for stability here.

Whatever it indicates, it is only a snap in time and the next snap could be very different.


Flag changes

May 8, 2015

Sir Brian Lochore, a member of the Flag Consideration Panel is urging New Zealanders to keep open minds:

. . . Sir Brian would not say what his personal view was, but pointed to changes in flags across the Commonwealth during the past 50 years. Of the 54 Commonwealth members, 45 no longer had a Union Jack on their flag. “A lot of countries have changed. So I guess if I have a view I would like New Zealanders to open their mind and see what’s there, and then clearly vote how they feel. Because we haven’t ever had a chance at deciding on our flag, here is an opportunity for New Zealanders to have a look. That’s all I ask. If it goes back to the status quo, so be it.” . . .

Wise words.

The process has started and it won’t be stopped.

The least we can do, whatever our views on the flag and the process being undertaken to determine whether or not it’s changed, is to keep an open mind.

This shows the flags of some the of the Commonwealth countries which have changed their flags and some which haven’t:

Change the NZ Flag's photo.

The panel is doing a road show to encourage people to participate in the process. the schedule is here.

The select committee has started hearing submissions on the flag change process and Claire Trevett says the real danger to the process is politics.

. . . This is where Labour comes in, apparently determined to sabotage the process. Labour is a relatively pro-republic party in which most MPs favour a change of flag. Despite that, it has set about political point-scoring, even if doing so undermines the very process that might result in that flag change.

Their primary objection is the order of the questions in the referendums. They argue New Zealanders should first be asked whether they want a change – and have a second referendum only if the majority want change.

Labour claims it is an effort to save money. What codswallop. Labour’s objections are an effort to rain on the Prime Minister’s parade and get headlines.

The Ministry of Justice advised against putting the change question first. That was because for many people not entrenched in either camp, the final decision will depend on what the alternative is.

Had the Government gone against that advice, Labour would probably now be accusing it of penny pinching over a matter of national identity. Labour’s approach is rather selfish and short-sighted and if it has the effect of tainting the entire process, the party might rue it.

It could well save $9 million to $13 million in the costs of a second referendum. But that short-term saving would come at a bigger cost in the long term. Once this is over, it will be a long time before anyone dares to raise the issue again.

Labour has also taken to feeding the perception that it is a “vanity project” for John Key. This primarily comes down to sour grapes. Labour wants a new flag. But they don’t want Key to be the one whose name is linked to it. They want it for themselves.

The government has done all it can to ensure this isn’t party political and involve all parties in the process. But Labour’s burning desire to score points against the Prime Minister John Key is blinding them to that.

Questioning referendums is one thing, but trying to influence people’s votes out of puerile political spite is a different matter. It may be true that Key is keen on a legacy, but it should be irrelevant. The referendums are on the flag, not on the political parties or personalities.

In reality, Key has a better chance of securing the change than Labour would. Key is a monarchist so there is far less suspicion about his longer-term motives. It is not being seen as the thin end of the wedge to republicanism. Labour’s current leader, Andrew Little, favours a flag change as part of a wider move towards a republic. Yet NZ is likely to inch towards republicanism rather than gallop. . .

The referendums are a treacherous enough process. The officials’ advice also pointed to the risk of “tactical voting”, in which those opposed to change vote for the least appealing option – so the current flag had a better chance of winning.

The referendum process is now before a select committee and the Flag Consideration Panel has started its work of consulting about an alternative. This is the first chance New Zealanders have had to vote on the flag. The politicians would do New Zealand a favour by simply shutting up and letting the public get on with it for themselves.

The chances of change are compromised by politics because not just Labour but the left in general will vote against change to spite the PM. Add them to those who genuinely prefer the status quo and it will be hard to get a majority for change.

That is a pity.

Whether the flag changes or not, the one we have at the end of the process will be New Zealand’s long after most who vote in the referendum are dead.

Whether that is the flag we have or a new one, people should vote with open minds for what they think is best not for political point scoring.

 


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