The long, long list of policy areas M.P.’s are ignoring


I have been reading a book called Fridays with Jim, where David Cohen is interviewing former National Party leader and former Prime Minister Jim Bolger. Aside from being a good book, it raises a number of questions about where New Zealand is headed.

To be clear I am not a National supporter. However Mr Bolger is known for progressive thinking where practicality of policy supersedes political ideology. As such the interviews on which the book is based identify a range of policy areas that are not being addressed by any of the political parties in Parliament, Labour and National included.

This is a list of policy areas/issues no one in Parliament seem to want to talk about, but which are very important to our future as a country.

  • Green technology and science – heard of hempcrete?
  • Constitutional arrangements – Mr Bolger supports a Republic of New Zealand
  • Disabled and vulnerable peoples – not mentioned in the book, but one that I think more effort needs to made to address
  • The loss of jobs to robots and technology – Mr Bolger described a hotel he stayed in in Japan where a robot brought him a towel; supermarkets are becoming self serve
  • Forestry – planting a billion trees is one thing; managing our forests is quite another
  • Men’s welfare, social issues – human rights organizations like Amnesty seem loathe to address them
  • Alternative energy sources such as pump hydro stations, waste to energy and the need for a nation wide plan
  • The future of cars – will there be a hybrid surge before we change to alternative fuels
  • Ending neoliberalism – what are the alternatives, and how do you think we should change?
  • Housing – much noise being made, but clearly no one has answers or a vision
  • Addressing white collar crime, money laundering and shell companies
  • Your privacy in the cyber era – protecting against online threats; social media and how much does your smartphone/etc know about you?

This is not a complete nor comprehensive list. It is merely intended to give you an idea of some topics that are not being discussed – both ones that I identified, and ones that were identified in “Fridays with Jim”. What have I missed that you think should be on here?

Labour employment policy a win-win for all


Yesterday, Labour announced that sick leave for workers would be doubled from 5 to 10 days.

It was one of several changes announced today by Workplace and Safety Relations Minister Andrew Little. It comes in a year when COVID19 has put unprecedented pressure on New Zealanders in their places of employment, where essential workers have been supermarket workers, bus drivers, cleaners as much as police, fire and ambulance personnel. Those other important changes are:

  • Recognising security guards as vulnerable workers to ensure their terms and conditions are protected.
  • Ensuring that Seafarer Welfare Centres provide better services.
  • Raising the age for workers to be allowed to perform hazardous work, and ensure all workers have the right to elect health and safety representatives.
  • Strengthening the Employment Relations Act to make it harder for collective agreements to be undermined.

Ultimately though, it is a win-win for all New Zealanders, because whilst employers in the short term feel the pinch, in the longer term their employees will be more productive because they will not feel the financial pressure to come to work when they need to be recovering. In turn the vast majority of workers will be able to return to work at 100% capacity.

Five days has never been quite enough. I do not get sick very often, but when I do get sick, I have been known to lose an entire working week getting over it, then running at about 3/4 speed for another week after that. That means I could lose all of my sick days in one go, and if I were to get sick again later in the year, I would have no paid sick leave to cover it. If one has a sick child and they have something infectious, it might well be that one needs a couple of days off to get better, but if a person is the solo money earner in the house, that might make finances tight.

There will always be a couple of nit wits who think that the extra days sick leave will give them more opportunities to skive off and go to the beach, or engage in activities that be normally only carried out someone well enough to be working. They deserve to be disciplined. The worst of them deserve to lose their jobs if their absenteeism is becoming a problem. But that will not be the vast majority of workers.

Trade unions, advocates and the Green Party all welcomed the move as a major step forward and said they would work with Labour to make sure that the measures are implemented.

 

The “brain drain” fear is back – or is it?


The “brain drain” fear is back. That old fear/fear mongering of New Zealand losing its best and brightest people – scientists, economists, entrepreneurs, among others – to overseas nations, including and especially Australia, is back.

Or is it? In which case it depends on who you ask. National leader Judith Collins certainly thinks the brain drain danger has returned. For years there was this idea that all of the brightest New Zealanders who could afford to leave were doing so. They were handing in their resignations, chasing up friends who had already left, checking their bank accounts and applying for visas to Canada, Europe, United Kingdom, United States, where they would being a new life working, making money and travelling. Far more serious than a Contiki bus trip that would go to a host of tourist hotspots before the travellers return to their countries of origin, we see people buying one way tickets to another country.

Perhaps the brain drain is simply a National Party attack vehicle to enable them to get at the Government’s economic policies. Perhaps, just as it was heavily used by her National Party predecessors during past stints on the Opposition benches, Ms Collins is using it now to try to gain leverage in a political environment that is not very friendly to unrepentant conservatism. Certainly I can recall former National Party leader Bill English using it during the early part of the 2000’s to criticize the leftist Government of Prime Minister Helen Clark. His successor in that role Dr Don Brash and later former Prime Minister John Key also used it.

In all of these instances it was about the Government’s anti-business attitude; their tax policy; how red tape will ruin New Zealand; how we cannot afford the Treaty of Waitangi settlement process; how our social welfare policy sucks up untold billions. Yet, the moment Labour are not in office, the “brain drain”, is suddenly no longer an issue.

But how seriously do people want to move to Australia at the moment? Since March, New Zealand has gained massive respect from millions of people around the world for its firm line on COVID19. It has seen political commentators who normally have little to do with New Zealand praising the country for its reaction. A response led by Government that for a change put science front and centre. Too often we do not give our scientific community the respect they deserve, and Labour, like National are guilty of using science when it suits them.

Since the Ardern Government began in 2017, new words not normally in political language – kindness and compassion – have entered mainstream political conversations. The 2019 mosque attack, the Whakaari/White Island eruption and now this have all combined to show that whilst Labour-led Governments can be a bit of a challenge to businesses, they address some of the social issues National are less inclined to. So whilst a brain drain is sometimes attached to Labour-led Governments, a social drain sometimes happens on the watch of National-led Governments.

What is New Zealand Public Party doing with its finances?


It has emerged that $255,000 has been donated to the New Zealand Public Party, despite that party never actually registering. But whilst an academic says that this is unprecedented, due to a perceived loop hole in the law, it is entirely illegal.

N.Z.P.P. has been around since June. It was one of a flurry of little parties that started up in early and mid 2020, but unlike the other small parties – Real New Zealand, Prosperity and Hannah Tamaki’s Vision Party – N.Z.P.P. has flourished on the back of its view that COVID19 is a scam; the United Nations has a one world agenda and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is bent on taking away ones rights. Its leader Billy Te Kahika Jnr (not to be confused with his father, a known and respected musician) rose to prominence over lock down for how rapidly he went from embracing it to calling lock down a scam.

In that time its existence has been a wild ride. From leading street protests against lock down to having to answer questions about the state of its finances, policies and association with disgraced former National M.P. Jami-Lee Ross, it has been full on. But today’s announcement might be the biggest hurdle to over come yet, or possibly an embarrassing indictment on our electoral finance laws.

So, a question has to be asked as to whether this is a loop hole in New Zealand electoral law that New Zealand Public Party has taken unethical advantage of. Or is it a case of N.Z.P.P. actually – as Mr Te Kahika claims – not being able to register the party in time?

So, perhaps this is not as straight forward as people are making it out to be. A simple time line of N.Z.P.P.’s history shows that its first meeting was on 11 June. The New Zealand Electoral Commission advises an 8 week wait for a political party to be registered, meaning a party wanting to be registered by the Writ Day, would have to have submitted its registration by 21 June. Writ Day is when Parliament declares an election campaign period to be in progress, and the N.Z.P.P. database shows it would have had 1,200 members at point.

As this was a first registration, it actually IS possible that N.Z.P.P. did run out of time to submit its registration. Compiling the registration and donation details of the 500 members necessary to complete the Party’s application would be difficult enough, never mind another 700 on top of that. From the first meeting to 15 June, which is when Mr Te Kahika said he would have needed to put the application in the post to ensure it arrived in time is four days.

This said, I expect the public will be demanding to know answers about what is going on. There will now be a lot of public scrutiny on what N.Z.P.P. is doing with its finances. There will be pressure on the Electoral Commission to explain the loop hole in the law. As Parliament has dissolved, the 52nd edition of it will not be able to address the matter should a law change be required. Whoever wins will find themselves under pressure to look at appropriate amendments to the Electoral Finance Act to  ensure that no such loop hole exists.

I cannot pass judgement on whether something illegal has happened, but I think New Zealanders would be alarmed that this has managed to happen. Illegal or not, it does raise some interesting questions about the use of finances around election time.

My thoughts on electricity policy in 2020


New Zealand faces numerous environmental and economic challenges going forwards into the 2020’s and beyond. One those challenges is ensuring we have an adequate energy supply without being environmentally irresponsible. This article outlines my thoughts on electricity policy in 2020.

I will start with the most obvious one. Hydroelectric power. Most New Zealanders can probably name at least one hydroelectric power station in this country. I have added a significantly longer, but not complete list below:

  • Waikato River: Aratiatia, Atiamuri, Whakamaru, Waipapa, Maraetai, Ohakuri, Arapuni and Karapiro; Tongariro Power Scheme: Rangipo and Tokaanu
  • Upper Waitaki: Tekapo A and B, Ohau A, B and C, Benmore, Aviemore and Waitaki
  • Clutha River: Clyde and Roxburgh

The contribution of hydroelectric power is substantial with the power stations listed supplying about 3,400 megawatts of electricity and the total contribution being about 60% of our total generating capacity. Whilst there are calls to dam more rivers to supply clean energy, they come at great ecological cost to the rivers and not all of them are suitable for damming even if we did want to.

One possibility is that the out put of Manapouri power station, the largest hydroelectric power station in the country would be diverted to the national grid. This poses challenges as well as opportunities. In terms of challenges, could New Zealand’s grid take another 850 megawatts of electricity and if so, what would it mean for the market – the shares of shareholders in electricity companies would significantly weaken. A flip side would be the ability of thousands of New Zealanders who struggle with electricity bills each year to be able to pay them and stay warm.

Whilst I support the development of renewable energy sources, I am not so keen on the N.I.M.B.Y’ist politics that often go with such developments. The same people who talk about the need for green energy are often ones who grumble about a wind turbine when they see mangled birds on the ground or realize that these things are not altogether quiet. Would they rather another dam was built, thus depriving us of further unspoilt river?

Unlike others, I support the exploration of Waste-to-Energy as a potential source of energy. This is not to say I encourage the continuation of the waste stream just to power a W-t-E facility, but, I believe waste material that cannot be easily recycled should be sent to a W-t-E facility. In terms of where to locate such facilities, I believe the West Coast of the South Island is a good place to start. Whilst the West Coast has numerous rivers that the energy lobby would be interested in damming, there are several good reasons why we should not:

  1. Too many rivers are dammed or have been diverted in New Zealand for electricity generation already;
  2. The West Coast is seismically volatile and a major earthquake of up to magnitude 8 is likely in the working life of any dam built – it would have to be more robustly constructed than might be worth the cost
  3. The best candidates have unique natural characteristics that would be lost along with tourism operations that have been built up along side them

But there are two types of energy that I accept have no future. One is coal fired power. Coal is a sunset industry whose only hope of survival is to power a standby power station that is used when hydro-electric storage lakes are low due to dry conditions. Huntly power station which has four coal/gas units each capable of generating 250 megawatts has started replacing them, with its owner Genesis intending to completely remove coal by 2030.

The other is nuclear power. I have described in other other articles why there is no place for nuclear power in New Zealand, and why establishing such a power station would be prohibitively expensive and resource intensive.

There are other things New Zealand could be doing, which to the best of my knowledge it is not seriously considering. The first is solar energy. There are significant challenges facing solar energy, which include that the panels require rare earth minerals that are sourced from politically unstable parts of the world. The financial return from solar projects also raises questions about the viability of such a power source. Nonetheless that has not stopped a small scheme being established in south Auckland for industrial purposes.

The second we have actually given much political consideration to, for reasons of reducing the cost to householders to stay warm. However little practical thought as to HOW we do it – even though the answers are glaringly obvious – has been given. I am talking about the massive scale insulation of every state house in New Zealand and setting requirements for new houses. Politicians on the right will decry the regulations as red tape whilst politicians on the left will decry the social costs. Yet neither seem interested in a compromise. How, when – if at all – this ever takes place is anyone’s guess.