Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Mike Butler: Maori MPs breach treaty principle

Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples say they are unhappy a treaty clause may not be applied to asset sales that are up for partial sale. They are threatening to withdraw Maori Party support for the National Party led government.

Mana Party leader Hone Harawira claims that the Treaty of Waitangi could halt the sales process. He said that "Section 9 of the State Owned Enterprises Act says that the Crown must not act in a manner inconsistent with the treaty. And to sell off assets that Maori still have claim over is inconsistent with the Treaty."

Section 9 of the State-Owned Enterprises Act 1986 actually says: “Nothing in this Act shall permit the Crown to act in a manner that was inconsistent with the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi.” So it’s not the treaty Harawira should be talking about, it’s the principles of the treaty. And this is how the president of the Court of Appeal, Justice Robin Cooke, elucidated those principles:

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Mike Butler: Preserving heads debated

Maori are debating whether to revive the practice of preserving human heads, the New Zealand Herald reported. Waikato University professor Pou Temara, who is the chairman of Karanga Aotearoa, Te Papa Museum's repatriation programme, which received 20 toi moko, or preserved tattooed heads, from French institutions said artists have replicated the old methods by experimenting on piglets. Professor Temara said:
In the era before toi moko were traded with Pakeha, they were venerated and mourned. Kawe mate ceremonies, where Maori take photographs of deceased whanau members onto marae to mourn them after a tangi, echo the older practices associated with heads.

OK, who’s going to cut off Mum’s head and process it so it can be carried around at funerals? Photos are a bit more user-friendly, don’t you think? You can use photos of what Mum looked like when she was young and beautiful rather than a shrivelled old, ghastly looking death mask. I remember seeing a couple of dried Maori heads when they were on display in the Napier museum – a ghoulish, fascinating sight.Professor Temara said:

Mike Butler: Ninety Mile Beach tribe accepts $23.7m to end complaints

Far North tribe Te Aupouri on Saturday agreed to end their complaints in return for at least $23.7-million. The mainstream media has provided varying degrees of detail in their reports, but none have detailed the complaints, also referred to as “historical grievance”.

The historical grievances “include claims about the Crown’s handling of pre-Treaty land transactions, surplus lands, pre-1865 Crown purchasing, the operation and impact of the native land laws, 20th century Maori land administration by the Crown, the Crown’s failure to respect, provide for and protect the special relationship between Te Hiku iwi and Ninety Mile Beach (Te Oneroa-a-Töhe), the socio economic effects of colonisation, and the Crown’s failure to deliver the promised benefits of settlement”, according to the summary posted on the Office of Treaty Settlements website.

Mike Butler: Somebody else... to blame

Maori health researcher Dr Fiona Cram blames poverty and racial discrimination for Maori child abuse, according to one of two Families Commission reports that show that 52 per cent of all New Zealand children who have been taken into state care from abusive or neglectful parents are Maori. Dr Cram said:
"Around the world, indigenous children are over-represented in child welfare systems for many reasons: systemic racism, the application of white, middle-class standards and values to [indigenous] communities, and inter-generational fragmentation of the family and community structure."
I would say there are two sides colonisation. The white coloniser brought blankets, British bureaucracy, and endless little pay-offs to keep the colonised happy. The colonised had Stone Age technology, warrior values, and much fear and superstition. Some academics blame the missionaries for introducing corporal punishment, but Maori culture had a tradition of killing unwanted children. Unfortunately, Dr Cram is of the “some one else is to blame” school of thought, which means the abusive, neglectful parents are not responsible and don’t need to change their behaviour.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Gary Judd: Arresting a Dangerous Decline

I have read claims that US capacity for generating entrepreneurship and innovation will be a pathway out of the current crisis and will lead to recovery and reassertion of US’s former economic ascendency. I disagree with that proposition.  If there is recovery it will be temporary and its situation will settle at a lower level of economic activity.

The US is in dangerous state (most of the world is, but in relation to the western world’s recovery, the US is the most important).  US government policies have progressively moved from the nearest any state has been to capitalism towards increasingly socialistic measures including continually increasing restrictions on business.  Companies like Microsoft, Google, Blackberry (RIM) have been able to succeed in spite of these policies, but are constantly under attack through the vicious anti trust laws and other restrictions.

Frank Newman: Time for dog owners to be more responsible

How many more children need to have their faces torn apart or their throats ripped out before regulators and dog owners get real about their responsibilities? It’s not an easy issue to deal with and there is no perfect answer. Most dogs don’t maul people and most people have a mild-mannered dog as a companion not an aggressive breed for protection or status. It’s time for people to get off the fence on this issue.

A common element to most vicious attacks is the dogs breed. Research in the USA shows two-thirds of human deaths and about 60% of attacks on humans are from Rottweilers and pit bull-type dogs. The report concluded “…thus, there appears to be a breed-specific problem with fatalities." It is possible that these breeds are preferred by irresponsible owners and it is the owners rather than the nature of the breed that is the cause for the attacks, but I think that unlikely given a second common element was the response from the dog owner that the attack was said to be “uncharacteristic”.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Steve Baron: Council Rates System Unfair & Inequitable

Let's face it, getting your Council Rates bill in the mail isn't exactly an exciting experience - rather depressing in fact, especially when they tend to increase year after year. USA President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, once said, “Taxes, are the dues that we pay for the privileges of membership in an organized society.” Well that may indeed be the case but Council Rates certainly aren't cheap when the average ratepayer coughs up around $35-$50 a week as their contribution to the millions City and District Councils collect from ratepayers. Rates are becoming forever more difficult to afford as incomes do not appear to be keeping pace with the cost of living. Even for the so called wealthy, given economic conditions that have reduced investment returns substantially, find making Rate payments far more difficult. Neither is it easy for the Council, there are always important projects and expensive projects Councils have to plan for.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Frank Newman: Interest rate decision becoming clear

Some clear signals about interest rates are now emerging, making the decision a little easier for those wondering whether to “fix” their floating rate mortgage. At present about 60% of all mortgages are on variable rate which, according to the ANZ, rises to 84% when fixed rate mortgages maturing within the next year are added. This they say is the highest proportion of short-term mortgages since the early 1990s.

With respect to the merits of switching variable rate loans to fixed rate, they say, “Recent falls in fixed mortgage interest rates have significantly added to the appeal of fixing, with almost nothing separating carded floating, 1 year and 2 year rates. Certainty has therefore just become substantially cheaper. With the OCR unlikely to go lower, it is difficult to imagine the overall term structure of mortgage rates falling much further, suggesting there may be merit in fixing. However, this needs to be weighed up against floating rate discounts that often come up, which may make remaining floating more attractive for a little longer yet.”

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Steve Baron: A longer election term needed?

New Zealand is a progressive nation when it comes to democracy and politics. Our political system has changed and developed over the last millennium and is nothing like it was back in 1853 when we had our first general election. Now that we have come to a final decision regarding our electoral system, perhaps now is the time to consider a longer election term? Yes, a scary thought for some as it is often said that a three year election term is too short for a good government but too long for a bad government—yet there are many aspects about a longer election term that should be considered and debated if we are to continue to improve our democracy. There are many advantages to having a longer election term of say four or even five years. Some of these advantages include cost savings. Think of all the money that could be saved and used for other things if political parties only had to promote their abilities every five years instead of every three years, not to mention the cost savings of staging elections and employing election staff. Voters wouldn't have to be traipsing off to election booths so often so there would be less inconvenience and maybe therefore, more of us might take more interest and actually vote. This is an important aspect given such a low voter turn-out at the last election—a very concerning trend which is only getting worse.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Peter Saunders: Nudge, nudge, here come the Germans

Okay, forget, for a moment the monumental folly of the European common currency, which wasn’t really the Germans’ fault. It was pressed on them by Mitterand as the price for French agreement to reunification. Consider, instead, German social policy. We might all learn something from the way the Germans tackle problems that the Brits (and to some extent the Aussies) struggle with. 

Consider, for example, family policy, and the child support rules for absent fathers. The German civil code establishes a principle called the ‘solidarity of the generations.’ This stipulates that ‘lineal relatives’ (children, parents and grandparents) have a legal obligation to maintain each other. The primary obligation to support dependent children falls on parents, but if they lack the means or will to pay, grandparents become liable. While our politicians voice platitudes about strengthening family life, the Germans give extended families real duties. Before taxpayers are asked to contribute to the costs of maintaining other people’s children, German law insists that the extended family should draw on its own resources.

Richard Epstein: In Private Enterprise We Trust

The persistently fragile economic situation confronting the United States, Europe, and now perhaps Asia presents a grave challenge on how to best reverse the current trend of stagnation through the introduction of sound regulatory and business policies. In dealing with this issue, it is imperative to recognize that the proper response to short-term boom or bust cycles depends on developing those policies and practices that prove sustainable in the long run.

One notable attempt to chart the proper course was found in a recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal by Al Gore and David Blood. It offered one prescription for how both the public and the private sector should work together to act on a “Manifesto for Sustainable Capitalism.” This energetic duo proposed a program calling on businesses to “embrace environmental, social and governance metrics” to turn their firms, and our nation, around. “That means abandoning short-term economic thinking for ‘sustainable capitalism,’” they wrote. The pair should be commended for their willingness to eschew stimulus programs, like the American Jobs Act, which many naïvely believe can revive our national fortunes.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Mike Butler: $105,400 for propaganda

NZ on Air obviously has regretted paying Bryan Bruce $105,400 to create his propaganda piece “Inside Child Poverty”, that screened on TV3 a few days before the November election. Pity they did not think it through before they gave him the money.

Since I have spent 21 years of managing rental properties, including former Housing NZ flats with concrete block firewalls like those shown in the Bruce doco, I was astounded at the ignorance he displayed in the 15 minutes devoted to damp, mouldy flats. Therefore, I argued the issue through the letters section of the Dominion Post at the time.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Mike Butler: Bringing paua to the people

News that prisoners freed on temporary release from the Hawke’s Bay Prison near Hastings have been caught illegally taking seafood from a marine reserve while taking part in a rehabilitation programme is a reminder of sorry relationship between people and paua in the bay.

Spokespeople from the prison and the hapless social service provider were in the hot seat on One News claiming that they went to the Te Angiangi Marine Reserve by mistake. Maybe the inmates and their caregivers were all illiterate because the sign on the beach, clearly visible to all viewers of One News, said that no seafood could be touched.

Steve Baron: Inefficient Economic Policy

A subject that few people have an interest or understanding in, is economics—even though government economic policy can have an immense effect on our everyday lives, in more ways than we realise. But it is something each of us needs to give more thought to and become more informed upon rather than just trusting elected representatives and those with expertise in these areas. Does it ever seem strange to you that when we seem to be doing well as a country, the Reserve Bank jumps in and increases interest rates? This increases the cost of mortgages and business loans which become more difficult to manage which seems a punishment for doing well as a nation and is a strange conundrum.

Steve Baron: The Media - Watchdogs or Lapdogs?

The Code of Conduct for the International Federation of Journalists states: “Respect for the truth and the right of the public to truth is the first duty of the journalist.” With the exposure of the deceitful tactics used by Rupert Murdoch's News of the World publication, the media is now cast in a shadow of distrust and disrepute. This is a real concern as the media is often considered the Fourth Estate, a title that suggests they have an important part to play and that they are one of the cornerstones of our democracy. The media often considers themselves as the watchdogs of society. They seek to expose corruption and inform the public about issues that make a difference in society—yet they have become a part of that corruption.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Frank Newman: Picking winners in 2012

2011 was hardly a vintage year for investors. The success stories in the property market were largely about long-term investors picking up bargains due to the misfortune of others, while the sharemarket hardly gets a mention in investment success stories at all – and for good reason – even the experts find it difficult picking winners.

Each year brokers are asked by the NZ Herald to pick what they believe will be the best sharemarket performers in the year ahead. Given they are experts in this area and they do spend their working days thinking and breathing shares, it’s would be fair and reasonable to expect their picks to be better than the average café dweller, wouldn’t it?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Lindsay Mitchell: Welfare - Is a new vision needed?

On the Labour Party blog, Red Alert, Trevor Mallard recently drew attention to a developing debate among British Labour MPs about a new vision being required for the welfare system. British shadow minister for Work and Pensions, Liam Byrne believes that the architect of Britain's social security system, William Beveridge had neither anticipated nor sought the results of the system largely created under his advocacy during the early 1940s. Mr Mallard did not comment, the significance of which I can only speculate about.

What I can more safely  ponder is whether there is a case for a similar debate here. It was during the late 1930s that New Zealand's Labour government gave the country most of today's welfare benefits under the urging of Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage. So what did Michael Joseph Savage expect from social security bearing in mind the new array of benefits was created only 40 years after the first old age pension which was strictly administrated to exclude people deemed 'undeserving'?

Monday, January 9, 2012

Ron Smith: Iran in 2012

I’ve written about the Iranian nuclear weapon programme before. (In these columns, 6 and 19 September 2009, 6 April 2010, and 1 September 2010.). In some ways the situation has not changed from the first of these. Iran still does not appear to have deployable nuclear capability. On the other hand, its programme is continuing, despite escalating sanctions and the political difficulties those are causing. This is clear from recent reports from the International Atomic Energy Agency, which has referred to continuing enrichment activities (to which the IAEA has not been given access), and experimentation with weapon design and technology. Also continuing, are strong statements about the threat and ‘unacceptability’ of all this, from regional neighbours (especially Israel) and various of the European powers and the USA. So what are the prospects for 2012?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Mike Butler: Taxing the family home

The term “big kahuna” could refer to the Hawaiian surfing god, or could mean “important person” but for economist Gareth Morgan it is part of the title of his new book “The Big Kahuna – Tax and Welfare”. The basic idea is a variation on one that surfaced in New Zealand in 1987 when then Finance Minister Roger Douglas introduced a policy of a 23 percent flat rate of income tax and a new form of income assistance called guaranteed minimum family income.

Morgan’s proposal differs in that his unconditional basic income is available to every individual working or not working -- $8500 a year for those aged 18-20 years and $11,000 for those 21 years and over. This would be funded by a flat tax of 30 percent, as well as a comprehensive capital tax which includes owner-occupied housing.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Richard Epstein: How the FDA Violates Free Speech

In R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. v. U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the District Court for the District of Columbia has blocked for the time being the FDA’s strenuous campaign to issue stringent health warnings on cigarette packaging and advertisements. The 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act gives the FDA the power to “issue regulations that require color graphics depicting the negative health consequences of smoking.”  Pursuant to that authority, the FDA had published regulations that required all tobacco companies to place a set of pictorial and written textual warnings on the packages of all cigarettes sold in the United States, effective in September 2012.

The FDA’s proposed new warnings are graphic and make it appear as if the inhalation of tobacco is tantamount to the inhalation of hydrogen cyanide with its certain and lethal fate. For those who have the stomach to look at these warnings, they are prominently displayed on the FDA website. In one, we see the ghastly image of a male smoker with smoke coming through a hole in his trachea and the anti-climactic words, “Cigarettes are addictive.” Another choice image compares two pink and healthy lungs with two discolored and pitted lungs over the caption “Cigarettes cause fatal lung disease.” The FDA has ordered tobacco companies to place these various warnings on cigarettes packages, where they must cover over 50 percent of the space. To put it mildly, these second-generation warnings amount to a steep upgrade over the current set of tame written warnings, which in one form or another have been a staple of cigarette packages since 1965.

Karl du Fresne: The teacher unions are at it again

Auckland University academic Peter O’Connor at least got the first line right in his overwrought article attacking the proposed charter schools trial. “There is a fight brewing in schools,” he wrote. Yes, there is a fight brewing. But we should be clear about who’s forming the battle lines, and why.

It’s the teachers who are gearing up for a stoush, and the reason is that they see a limited trial of charter schools as a threat to their control of the education system. Teachers believe the only changes governments are entitled to make to education are those that they approve. No other branch of the public service operates in this fashion. The police, the armed forces, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Treasury – all accept that governments are elected to make policy and the job of public servants is to put that policy into practice. Teachers alone consider themselves exempt from this principle.