Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Mike Butler: $23m deal recalls Napier's past woes

A $23-million agreement signed last week revives memories of the 1866 Battle of Omarunui, near Napier, and subsequent confiscation of land belonging to Hauhau fighters involved in the battle. This battle is recalled in my recently published book on my great grandfather entitled The First Colonist: Samuel Deighton 1821-1900.

Although the agreement does not mention that battle, Maungaharuru Tangitu Incorporation deputy chairwoman Tania Hopmans was reported, in Friday’s edition of the Hawke’s Bay Today, to have said that: “what sparked the confiscation was a battle at Omarunui where our hapu and our neighbours, Ngati Hinuera, were attacked by government forces in 1866.”

Monday, September 26, 2011

Steve Baron: New Zealand's Upper House of Parliament: Time to re-establish?

When the National Party came to power in 1949 it implemented an election policy to have the Upper House of parliament removed and in 1951 it ceased to exist—New Zealand became a unicameral parliament. This came about because during the first Labour government of 1935-1949, the Upper House had become markedly supportive of Labour and therefore seemed superfluous.

There was little opposition to its removal because Prime Minister Sidney Holland had promised to search for a better type of Upper House. This never eventuated because of a perceived ineffectiveness of the Upper House and over time other parliamentary tools were initiated to constrain the abuse of power (at least to some extent).

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Sara Hudson: Dying before their time

In an Aboriginal settlement of a hundred or so souls, people gathered under trees to escape the heat of the day. Some whiled away the time playing cards, others just sat there doing nothing. Though it was a school day, groups of children roamed the streets, milling with the stray dogs and rubbish. The air of despondency and despair was palpable.

Driving through these communities, I wondered why don’t they pick up their rubbish, look after their houses, and send their children to school. But after a while, I began to realise that perhaps residents were too depressed to care about such mundane things as picking up rubbish and maintaining their homes.

Lindsay Mitchell: Child poverty - what is left unsaid

In the run up to the election, groups wanting the government to solve child poverty have been very active. A mix of academics, political activists, religious lobby groups etc. say that 200,000 New Zealand children are living in poverty thereby significantly increasing their risks of poor health, educational and social outcomes.

But who are these children? The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), authors of the latest report, Left Further Behind, are not specific about the group’s composition. They make observations like, “The[se] poorest children in New Zealand are found disproportionately in sole parent households…” and “Māori children are twice as likely as Pākehā to be living in a poor household … a fact the report identifies as reflecting the relatively high proportion of Maori children living in sole parent beneficiary families and households.” Some of the children also live in two-parent working households apparently.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Roger Kerr: Lessons for Government from Household's Investments Management

At any point in time a household has a collection of assets that it owns – a house, a car, an interest in Kiwisaver, or maybe a some shares or a rental property.  Few people think of their portfolios as fixed forever.

Central government has a range of assets which is much more arbitrary.  Leaving aside those that it would not contemplate selling, like roads, the government has a jumbled collection of assets that reflect history rather than an assessment of the government’s needs in today’s economy.  The same is true of local government.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Mike Butler: ETS report fatally flawed

A government report always gets what it sets out to get by carefully phrased terms of reference and hand-picked review panel members. The Doing New Zealand’s Fair Share. Emissions Trading Scheme Review 2011: Final Report, (1) released on Thursday, carefully avoids embarrassing fundamental questions, and delivers a message intended to placate traditional National Party supporters in the run-up to the election.

The terms of reference are everything in political reports. But first, for those who may have forgotten, and for many more with only have a hazy idea of what it is all about, emissions trading is a market-based approach to control pollution by providing financial incentives for achieving reductions in the emissions of pollutants. (2)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Owen McShane: The Passion for Rail

Local government issues seldom stir the passions of the public, or the media, or anyone else –except maybe the politicians and officials directly involved. Rubbish collections and footpath maintenance rarely generate widespread passions beyond their immediate locality. Sports stadia are an exception to the general rule, as we have seen in Dunedin, and the choice of the Auckland venue for the Rugby World Cup.

However, the world-wide exception to the general rule is the construction and operation of rail systems – including light rail, heavy suburban rail, freight rail, inter-city rail, high-speed rail and tourist or heritage rail. All of these generate large numbers of passionate advocates – and a few skeptics.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Roger Kerr: No Need to Idolise the Rich

Reflecting recently on his experience as a philanthropist, Microsoft founder Bill Gates spoke about the relative failure of his efforts to promote so-called renewable sources of energy. He told Wired magazine that it was ‘cute’ and ‘kind of cool’ to have solar panels on your roof, but that the economics were ‘so, so far from making sense’. And yet, he acknowledged, that’s where the subsidies are going now. Asked if that meant there’d be no solar cells on the roof of the Gates family residence, he replied “Oh, we like to be cute like everyone. For rich people, this is OK.  Rich people can do whatever they want.”

This prompts several observations.  For a start, we should not idolise the rich. We should acknowledge that the rich can spend foolishly and self-indulgently, just as they can be wise and generous philanthropists.

Ron Smith: Scholarship and Truth

The World Extra section of a recent edition of the Waikato Times (September 3) leads with an article taken from The Times of London concerning the situation of academic staff at some American universities (religious foundations) who have lost their jobs because they have challenged the literal truth of certain articles of faith. Specifically, some faculty staff were having difficulty in maintaining their support for the creation story, in general, and, specifically, for the notion that humanity is descended from a single couple, namely Adam and Eve; this in the light of the enormous amount of knowledge, now available, about the evolution of the planet and of life on it.

Behind the Times discussion was the widely-shared assumption, that university scholars should be free to challenge knowledge claims, in whatever domain, and that it is dubious scholarship to attempt to maintain these kinds of myth in the face of overwhelming evidence that they cannot be literally true.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Steve Baron - Free Votes: Can We Trust MPs Morals & Principles?

Free votes (conscience votes) in parliament are not something the average voter ever gives much thought to—yet they often have a dramatic effect on our everyday lives. Many a controversial topic has been decided in parliament via a free vote.

Some of these issues have included; homosexuality law reform, prostitution, gambling, abortion, euthanasia, the regulation of social issues such as pornography, Sunday trading, divorce and matrimonial property, adoption, the sale of alcohol, electoral reform, the compulsory wearing of seat belts, mandating the fencing of swimming pools, smoking in public places, child discipline and compulsory military training.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Luke Malpass: Why bother?

Privatisation in New Zealand is a political swear-word. Its very mention is meant to invoke some scary image of marauding foreign merchant bankers, here to rip off hard working New Zealanders.

It is therefore surprising and a bit gutsy for the Key government to go to the election on 26 November with a promise of partial privatisations of five state owned companies. This has unleashed the usual hysterical fear mongering about ‘it makes no economic sense’ to sell off assets the government is profiting from, and that ‘prices will inevitably rise’ under private ownership. There has even been conspiratorial commentary that treasury is setting the agenda. How 1980s.

Roger Kerr: The Diabolical Student Loan Problem

The student loans scheme was introduced in 1992. It provided loans to tertiary students for tuition fees, and course-related and living costs. The loans were repayable (at the rate of 10 cents in the dollar) only when the borrower's income exceeded a threshold.

The scheme has become hugely politicised and concessional since then. During the 1999 election campaign the Labour Party promised to remove all interest charges while borrowers were in full-time study. In a more outrageous election bribe, the Labour Party promised in 2005, apparently against the objections of finance minister Michael Cullen, to make the loans interest-free over their entire life, provided the borrower resides in New Zealand.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Mike Butler: Cloud formation cosmic ray link

An experiment at CERN, Europe's high-energy physics laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland, is finding tentative evidence that “cosmic rays” from deep space might be creating clouds in Earth's atmosphere and changing the climate. Climate change sceptics have seized upon this as proof that cosmic rays and the sun — not manmade carbon emissions — are the major factors influencing global climate.

But the reports, published on August 24, 2011, in Nature, do stoke a long-running argument over the role of radiation from distant stars in altering the climate, and show that, despite Al Gore’s protestations to the contrary, that the science is far, far from settled.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Mike Butler: Lessons in bungled evictions

What lessons can be learned from Housing New Zealand’s bungled attempt to evict three women from their Lower Hutt houses? Despite five courts ruling in Housing New Zealand’s favour in a battle that spanned more than two years and cost         $1,007, 670, the government landlord has had a change of heart and decided to let the women stay.

Five tenants, including Robyn Winther, Huia Tamaka, and Billy Taylor, were handed 90-day eviction notices after a violent incident involving Mongrel Mob members in Farmer Crescent in February 2009. Three male gang members had allegedly terrorised a woman and her children in their home, leading to the arrest of 10 people.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Owen McShane: When Plans Prevent Planning

The housing shortfall in the Auckland Council area – which generates an employment shortfall in the area – is now a crisis. Given the impact on the whole economy, and on accommodation costs in particular, one would think that this would be the top priority for the whole of Council, its Local Boards and its staff.

You would be wrong. Council does not seem to be concerned and is instead busy on activities that will only make this shortfall worse – and indeed is doing so already. For example the new Auckland Plan confirms the use of MULs (Renamed the Rural Urban Boundary – now there’s the RUB.) The Plan also confirms that Development Contributions will be a major source of financing for the planned projects. These two policies are incompatible with affordable housing (land) (Refer to the two pairs of graphs comparing US States with Prescriptive land use regulation and those with Responsive land use regulation) They guarantee that the massive housing shortfall in Auckland will extend well into the future, and volatility will continue to be the norm. A city is unlikely to be liveable if it is short of houses and jobs and the available housing stock is unaffordable to working and middle classes.

Roger Kerr: Have Business Leaders Lost their Mojo?

I was struck by a recent ‘economic state of the nation’ article by award-winning business journalist, Jenni McManus. The article was a kind of valedictory for McManus, one of this country’s finest journalists, who recently left the media for the corporate world. Her article reported on a survey she had done of the off-the-record views of 40 business people and industry sector leaders on the government’s management of the economy over the past three years. Collectively those interviewed, or their members, employ hundreds of thousands of people in more than 100,000 companies.

Those surveyed, on average, gave the National-led government five out of 10 for its management of the economy during the past three years. I was one of those surveyed and that also happened to be my score. The survey revealed “a widespread perception that the Government has squandered the huge mandate for change it was handed at the 2008 election, opting for timid and incremental tinkering around the edges instead of tackling the big – and contentious – issues such as tax reform, superannuation and welfare.” Respondents had “no confidence" that the Government had a clear economic vision.”