Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Karl du Fresne: We now know a bit more about John Key - or at least I think we do

I recently watched Sean Plunket interview prime minister John Key on TV3’s The Nation. Plunket’s pre-interview spiel gave the impression we were finally going to learn what drives Key politically – a tantalising prospect, since this is a question that has lots of people scratching their heads.

In fact the interview succeeded only partially in telling us what the nation’s most powerful politician stands for.
That’s not to say Key wasn’t honest, or that the interview wasn’t revealing. But in some ways it only served to deepen the Key enigma, and to remind us how different he is from his predecessors.

Ron Smith: The Effects of Radiation

Nearly thirty years ago an extraordinary accident occurred in a steelworks in Taiwan, as a result of which, a substantial batch of recycled steel became contaminated with radioactive Cobalt-60 from discarded medical isotopes. The resulting steel was used in the construction of apartment buildings, businesses and schools in Taipei and its suburbs. That this had happened was not discovered until nearly ten years later, and the full extent of the radiation exposure was not realised for another ten years. Some people lived in the contaminated apartments for almost twenty years before they were finally evacuated. At about this point, serious systematic studies of the health consequences for long-term inhabitants of the apartments, and users of the schools and businesses, were undertaken by Taiwanese medical academics. They were ultimately published in the Spring 2004 issue of the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Karl du Fresne: Media crucifixions - alive and well

Once again we see how fragile free speech really is in this supposedly liberal democracy. The lesson from Alasdair Thompson’s crucifixion in the media this week couldn’t be clearer: express an opinion at your peril. In the deafening barrage of righteous indignation that followed Thompson’s comment that some women take sick leave when they have their periods, everyone was too busy taking offence to take much notice of what he actually said or the context in which he mentioned it.

The reference to periods came in a radio interview prompted by Green MP Catherine Delahunty’s bill that would require employers to provide information about pay rates, therefore testing whether there is sex discrimination in the workplace. Thompson’s main concern was that this would burden business with more bureaucracy and compliance costs.

Luke Malpass: A Key visit for New Zealand

It was disappointing that Prime Minister John Key’s visit to Australia was dominated by breathless reporting of his remarks about New Zealand’s emissions trading scheme. This was not the main focus of Key’s visit to Australia, nor the substance of his speech to the Australian Parliament, the first by a New Zealand Prime Minister.

No, the main purpose of his visit was to advance the Kiwi government’s agenda of a single economic market with Australia. Australian exports to New Zealand are worth about $8 billion annually, only $1 billion shy of the value exported to America. Australia is the number one tourist destination for Kiwis and vice versa. Fifty percent of New Zealand’s foreign direct investment comes from Australia.

Roger Kerr: Removing Barriers to Employment

The government is evaluating the recommendations of the Welfare Working Group with a view to including welfare reform in its election manifesto.  The group’s report, launched just before Canterbury’s February earthquake, has not yet had the attention it deserves.  The 180-page report and its 43 recommendations take some digesting, but it’s worth the effort. Two strong themes run through the report: the alleviation of child poverty, and a focus on work.

The group was right to highlight child poverty and New Zealand’s sorry record in this area.  We have 220,000 children growing up in benefit- dependent households, and over half of all children are in benefit-reliant households at some time in their first seven years of life. Of 30 OECD countries, New Zealand ranks 29th for child health and safety, 21st for infant mortality and 26th for injury deaths among one to four year olds, along with shameful and deteriorating rates of child health problems such as pneumonia, whooping cough, rheumatic fever and measles immunisation coverage.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Mike Butler: Tinkering with boarding house law

Less than one year after passing the Residential Tenancies Amendment Act 2010, the social services select committee of the current National Party-led government, which handled it, wants to tinker with boarding house law in response to a briefing on homelessness in New Zealand.

Housing Minister Phil Heatley showed his bias when he told NZPA he strongly supported the move. "I'm still suspicious that there is a number of large boarding house operators out there who are housing people in unhealthy and unsafe conditions, and I think it's important that if that's the case they are flushed out."

He said the committee would be able to look at the wider issue, including health, not just housing, and recommend any regulatory changes needed. "At the moment, as minister of housing, we've acted on the residential tenancies side of it, but I'm also interested in the condition tenants are living in, which is not covered by the Residential Tenancies Act, and also building compliance."

Friday, June 17, 2011

Karl du Fresne: The Subversion of Mainstream Journalism

Anyone who has followed my sporadic musings about journalism will know that I have mixed feelings about the academic takeover of journalism training. My misgivings start with the fact that I have been privileged to work with, and learn from, a long list of great journalists who had no academic training. They learned by doing.

Prior to the establishment of the first journalism school at what was then Wellington Polytechnic (now Massey University) in 1967, people drifted into journalism via a variety of routes. Many came straight from school, working their way up from menial jobs as messengers or copyholders in reading rooms. They were generally not the sort of people who had been swots or academic achievers at school but they either had, or soon acquired, the instincts and skills that made them great reporters.

Lindsay Mitchell: National right to put welfare reform at centre of election

A recent NZ Herald editorial suggested the government should be putting the economy at the centre of its election campaign - not welfare reform. Apparently there is some work evasion going on but now is not the time to talk about work-testing because that only highlights unemployment.

The writer overlooks that welfare reform is about much more than addressing work evasion. Primarily it seeks to improve the lives of existing and potential beneficiaries, especially children. According to the Welfare Working Group,"Recent analysis has shown that one in five children spent at least seven years of their childhood in households that rely on benefit income." This during the last period of strong economic growth when New Zealand's unemployment rate plummeted.

Roger Kerr: If We Know What To Do Why Don't We Do It?

Last week journalist Deborah Hill Cone posed an interesting question. If we know what it takes to be a prosperous country, why don’t we do it?, she asked.

It’s certainly the case that we know what makes for prosperity.  For over two hundred years the essential nature of the ‘wealth of nations’ has been understood. Adam Smith didn’t get everything right, and economics has been refined since his time, but his basic insights into the virtues of free markets and limited government have stood the test of time.

Modern economics confirms that the key to prosperity is the institutions (broadly the rules that govern economic and social interactions) and policies that nations adopt. Institutions and policies in democracies are decided through the political process.  Thus it is how people vote that matters, and whether we choose prosperity or not depends ultimately on public understanding.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Ron Smith: Collective Security and the Responsibility to Protect

The United Nations was established in 1945 primarily as a collective security organisation, with an ancillary aspiration towards the security of individuals. This is reflected in the opening words of the Prologue to the Charter. In latter years, this broader aspiration towards human security has been reflected in the formal adoption by the General Assembly of the policy report ‘Responsibility to Protect’. This envisaged collective intervention in cases of oppression or genocide but the notion has always been in tension with the fundamental Charter principle of ‘non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states’.

The project of suppressing aggression has never worked well. Notwithstanding nearly seventy years of aggression, of one sort or another, there have been only two examples of UN action (Korea and Iraq) and both of these depended on an international fluke. In the first case, the Soviet Union was engaged in a boycott of the UN over the non-seating of mainland China and was thus unable to veto the Korean intervention. The 1990 decision to oppose the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait corresponded to the brief honeymoon which followed the collapse of communism. The present UN ‘RTP’ intervention in Libya is also very likely to prove to have been a one-off. Prominent members of the Security Council are either luke-warm, or passively antagonistic.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Frank Newman: Devolution of council consents

Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt wants to start a rebellion. But it’s not a return to his make love not war activism days; it’s not as idealistic. He is fighting against the suggestion to centralise the processing of building consents in New Zealand's major cities. Pretty mundane for an activist, but spending too many terms on a local council tends to do that to people.

The Building and Construction Minister Maurice Williamson has confirmed the government is looking at taking the building consent role away from local government and centralising it into a government agency. The Minister is asking for feedback from the building industry but has not ruled out leaving things as they are.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Karl du Fresne: NZ should not give Mara the time of day

Why did the government even consider granting entry to the shifty Lieutenant-Colonel Tevita Mara? We shouldn’t be giving him the time of day. A man previously happy to align himself closely with the repressive, illegitimate regime of Commodore Frank Bainimarama, he now expects us to believe he has had a road-to-Damascus conversion to the virtues of democracy. How convenient.

Mara, clearly the embittered loser in a power struggle with his former mate, should have been left to stew his own juice. Yet Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully confirmed on TVNZ’s Q+A that the government has granted him an exemption from the travel ban that normally applies to people associated with the Fijian military.

Mike Butler: The king of all Maori or not?

The Maori King is not the king of Maori and certainly not the king of the northern Ngapuhi tribe, according to Ngapuhi leader David Rankin, who has made a claim to the Waitangi Tribunal under clause two of the treaty.

Rankin, whose tribe claims to have 122,000 members and which claims that sovereignty was never ceded when it signed the treaty, argues that calling the head of Tainui the "Maori King" undermines the sovereignty of other tribes.

Is the Maori king the king of Maori?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Roger Kerr: Minimum Wage Claims Make Minimum Sense

The Labour Party is promising to increase the statutory minimum wage to $15/hour (from its present level of $13/hour, an increase of over 15%) if it forms the next government. The announcement gave rise to the usual range of claims and counter-claims. Prime Minister John Key said that “if anyone thinks we can just magically increase the minimum wage with no implications for the labour market or costs to employers, they don’t understand basic economics.”

Labour leader Phil Goff argued that unemployment went down, not up, when the last Labour-led government hiked minimum wages, and that the increased spending power of workers would grow the economy. 

Some simple tests help us to evaluate these claims.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Gerry Eckhoff: The Age of Reason

It could be argued that the turmoil in the Middle East is a sign that the “age of reason” has finally reached those countries. The Arab nations are demanding their political, religious and personal freedoms from the Ayatollahs and the Mullahs. They appear to understand that their economic security will come with personal freedom.

The original “age of reason” refers to the period around the 1750s onward when the population refused to continue to accept the teachings of authority – namely the church who at that time preached the doctrine that the hereafter was all ‘ordinary’ people could look forward to. Myths and superstition were replaced with freedom and the pursuit of knowledge and happiness. As the age of enlightenment took over, any challenge to the conventional wisdom of the day, no longer earned a citizen the title of heretic before being burned at the stake - supposedly to cleanse the body and soul of impurities before entering the after- life.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Don Nicolson: Putting the nanny into state

Parliament voted to increase the minimum age for learning to drive to 16.  Together with a recommended 120 hours of supervision, it effectively makes the minimum age for obtaining a full license 17 and a half.

There are some who will have cheered this as a victory for ‘common sense', while others will have hailed it as another step in combatting that scourge of a good night's sleep, the boy-racer.  Yet why is it that Federated Farmers, the Automobile Association and even the youth arm of the Council of Trade Unions, have all expressed concern that increasing the learner starting age is not a silver bullet.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Kevin Donnelly: Government schools elitist and discriminatory

Dr Kevin Donnelly, one of Australia's leading education commentators and Director of the Melbourne-based Education Standards Institute, writes...

Australian crime novelist Shane Maloney argues that non-government schools are elitist, over-resourced and exclusive and that only government schools are free and open to all.

What critics like Maloney conveniently ignore is that many government schools are even more exclusive than many non-government schools and it is no longer the case that Catholic and independent schools simply represent the top end of town.