Wednesday, 31 December 2014

A visit to Waitangi

The flag pole at Waitangi, in front of James Busby's house
(aka the Treaty House)
I'm away in Russell/Kororāreka at the moment to bring in the new year, so we took the chance yesterday to visit the place where our Treaty was signed. I say our Treaty because it is, and shoud be a source of pride for all Kiwis - despite what happened subsequent to its signing. Yesterday's visit emphasised that to me again. It was my third visit to the Treaty grounds and probably the most intriguing in terms of the tour and the reactions of some tourists.

Our tour guide gave the usual speech on te Tiriti and why it was signed, and a fairly prolonged explanation on the meaning of the United Tribes flag, which was stated as being one of New Zealand's two flags. Then came the kicker - questions from the crowd from some Australian tourists on our current flag and the referendum to change it.

The tour guide went in to a prolonged explanation on their view that the current flag - the British Blue Ensign plus southern cross - "wasn't backed by a constitution" and wasn't recognised by a monarch, while the United Tribes flag has a constitution (He Whakaputunga / the Declaration of Independence of 1835) behind it, and was recognised by a monarch (King William IV in 1834). We were then told to avoid arrest or the need for a resource consent from a local council, all we needed to do was state that the flag doesn't have jurisdiction and that the United Tribes flag does.

This clearly confused the tourist, who then asked if when New Zealand gained independence from Britain (in 1907), the current flag had been adopted. At this stage a friend who was on the tour with me jumped in and pointed out the current flag pre-dated Australia's federation (in 1901, being designed by Albert Markham Hastings in 1869 while he was stationed in Sydney). Luckily, the tour guide was aware that New Zealand's current flag pre-dates the Australian federation flag, so it's possible they copied our design, and asked the tourist if that had clarified things. They replied not really.

I'm still not really sure what to make of this. Flag debate aside, the claims about the United Tribes flag and the Declaration of Independence are nothing new, and recently addressed by the Waitangi Tribunal in their first report on the issue. The historical facts the Tribunal went through don't fit the story the tour guide told - the current flag is legally constituted (if you don't think so then you'll probably also claim the New Zealand Government is illegal, another pointless argument made by bush lawyers) and was recogised by a monarch, being King Edward VII, in its progress to becoming New Zealand's national ensign in 1902.

Obviously I'm one who favours a new New Zealand flag that breaks from our colonial past and emphasised geopolitical and social reality that our country is today independent of the United Kingdom (and of course, Australia too). To me, it's a necessary step in nation building. But I'm not going to claim that the current flag is somehow illegitimate or illegal in the process.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas and season's greetings... I'm looking forward to a big 2015.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Megaships and the future of New Zealand's ports

Larger container ships are on their way. As I've written here before, one of the biggest impediments to New Zealand exporters is the cost of shipping our products to their markets -and the government's goal under the Business Growth Agenda of increasing the proportion of Exports to GDP to 40% by 2025 (we're currently sitting at 26%) requires more cost effective transport. According to NZIER  At the moment the median size of container ships visiting New Zealand is 3,000 TEU (Total Equivalent Units). This is set to change rapidly with ships from 2017 to enter international service able to carry up to 8,000 TEU. Because 99.5% of New Zealand's exports are shipped, this is of critical importance.
New Zealand's freight task. Source: Ministry of Transport

This has major implications for our seaports and land transport in New Zealand. On the one hand it means that the cost of transport for New Zealand's exports should decrease as economies of scale are met. But larger ships also have significant costs - particularly resolving bottlenecks in the road, rail and coastal shipping networks.

Recently the Ministry of Transport has released the "Future Freight Scenarios Study". The report, written by consulting firm Deloitte, looks at ten different scenarios for New Zealand's seaports. The scenarios are based on a "hub and spoke" approach to seaports.
  1. Status quo: 10 container ports around New Zealand in Auckland, Tauranga, Napier, Taranaki, Wellington, Nelson, Christchurch, Timaru, Otago and Bluff.
  2. Five hub ports - Auckland, Tauranga, Napier, Lyttelton and Otago. Others cease international trade from 2017, becoming "feeder" ports.
  3. Four hub ports (two per island) - Auckland, Tauranga in the North and Lyttelton and Otago in the south. All others become "feeder" ports.
  4. Three hub ports - Auckland, Tauranga and Lyttelton, all others become "feeder" ports.
  5. Three hub ports - Auckland, Tauranga and Otago, all others become "feeder" ports.
  6. Two hub ports - Auckland and Lyttelton
  7. Two hub ports - Tauranga and Lyttelton
  8. Two hub ports - Auckland and Otago
  9. Two hub ports - Tauranga and Otago
  10. One hub port - Tauranga
The report concludes that the status quo is unlikely to continue with larger ships visiting fewer ports in New Zealand into the future. This creates significant investment requirements in the hub ports. Each scenario is assessed based on the Benefit-Cost Ratio (BCR) methodology. Of the non-status quo scenarios, only scenario 2 has a positive BCR of 0.19 over 30 years with a 6% discount rate. In other words, the other scenarios all have negative economic impacts - the costs outweigh the economic benefits.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Amalgamation: report has landed, get your submissions in!

The Local Government Commission has reported back with its draft proposal for local government in Wellington (useful factsheet here).

Unsurprisingly they've proposed a "super-city" super council for the whole of the current Wellington Region, replacing the Masterton, Carterton, South Wairarapa, Upper Hutt, Hutt City, Kapiti District, Porirua, Wellington City and Wellington Regional councils with a single unitary body.

This body will consist of 21 councillors from across the region. Local Boards, as in Auckland, form part of the "Greater Wellington Council". They are "integrated" with and "work alongside" the governing body.

I am not in favour of a Wellington region super-city. As I said yesterday I think the case for one is weak, and the challenges Wellington faces as a region can be resolved through cross-council organisations.

The next step will be the commission taking submissions - more details on how you can make a submission are below. After that, the hearings on the proposal, the Commission will decide whether to issue a final proposal. If the Commission issues a final proposal, the region can demand a poll. A poll will be held if ten percent of electors in any affected council area sign a petition. The signatures must be gathered within sixty working days of the release of the final proposal. The poll would be held across the entire Wellington region and is binding.

You can make a submission by downloading the form here (Word document), and send it to:

or posted to:

Local Government Commission,
PO Box 5362 ,
Wellington 6145.

Submissions close 4pm Monday 2 March 2015, so get yours in now!

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Amalgamation: a very weak case

The Local Government Commission's report on council amalgamation in Wellington is due out tomorrow. Porirua Mayor and amalgamation advocate Nick Leggett has written an op-ed in today's Dominion Post which in my view shows how weak the case for amalgamation is. 

The issues of transport could easily be managed by cross-council organisatons, without undermining local democracy. We have already achieved major gains through shared services in areas such as water reticulation (through Capacity Infrastructure, which is owned by the main territorial authorities in the metropolitan Wellington region).

I'll be waiting for the report(s) tomorrow.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

The Mighty Totara: The Life and Times of Norman Kirk

A Mighty Totara
During the whole selection/election campaigns there were a number of books that came out which I'm now catching up on - apart from Dirty Politics (of course) at the top of the list was The Mighty Totara: The Life and Times of Norman Kirk by David Grant. I've just finished the book and I'm very impressed.

Coming from a fairly Labour oriented family on my fathers' side I know how venerated and fondly remembered Kirk is. Grant has gone beyond the veneration and myths and given a well balanced account of Kirk's life. Grant gives a fair assessment of the nature of New Zealand politics and doesn't stoop to simple charactarisations of anyone - including the Opposition, even noting the fact that Kirk was the only Labour leader Rob Muldoon said he respected, because of the poverty they both experienced growing up.

The overview of Kirk's life is very well set out and very well researched. The extensive references and footnotes (which are interesting reading themselves) are indicative of this.

Having said this though, a number of points about the book did disappoint me. The first was the fact that Grant left a lot of material about Kirk's private life - specifically his "unhappy marriage" - right up until the end. It is almost as if Grant is embarrassed to have it in the book. It is a shame that the impact of his frenetic workrate is only discussed whenever his health issues are mentioned.

The second point is broader, and my main criticism of the book. I've always been fascinated to know why it was Kirk took up the cause of an independent identity for New Zealand, accepting the geopolitical reality we were faced with in the early 70s with our relationship to the 'mother country'. (Fortunately Grant does note correctly that his view wasn't unique to Kirk, who worked in a bipartisan way while in opposition with Jack Marshall, who himself understood the implications of Britain's EEC membership). To my mind this was his greatest legacy, and certainly the longest lasting.

Kirk was someone who left school at age 12 to find work, and as Grant clearly sets out was always suspicious of anyone with a formal education. So it could not have been a philosophical position for him, but a practical one. There are some cues on this - in Margaret Hayward's book Diary of the Kirk Years (Hayward was Kirks private secretary) it's recalled that Kirk referred to the portraits of the Queen and Prince Phillip in the Prime Minister's office disparagingly and had them removed. Another book of Kirk's quotes mentions the need for New Zealand to re-orient away from trading with Britain towards Asia. I would've liked to have read more about why Kirk specifically took up this cause.

It was not as if - as Grant sets out - Kirk took a great interest in economics. It because clear in The Mighty Totara that this was a critical weakness for his government. Grant appears to lay the blame for Labour's defeat in 1975 largely on the economy. This was a product of Kirk's refusal to listen to his Minister of Finance, Bill Rowling, on the need to take actions to combat galloping inflation (one interesting tid-bit was that Rowling wanted to float the New Zealand Dollar after the end of the Bretton Woods system, something Kirk was dead against). Declining exports (due to our dependence on Britain) and oil shocks didn't help, and Kirk's governments responses (carless days, more public spending) were certainly the orthodox responses - which were of course carried on by the incoming government in 1975.

I'd actually go so far as to say you could make this book into a TV mini-series (New Zealand's answer to The Kennedys perhaps?). In tracking Kirk's life from his tough upbringing to his early start in the workforce, his hobbies (including shooting pigeons at parliament from his office!) and the development of his political career without leaving out the warts makes for compelling reading. I throughly recommend Grant's book to anyone interested in New Zealand politics and history.

Next up is Richard Seddon: King of God's Own by Tom Brooking.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Re-writing founding myths

Bryce Edwards has a good round-up in the National Business Review of the various opinion posts and pieces on the Waitangi Tribunal's report last week from the Te Paparahi o Te Raki Inquiry dealing with sovereignty (chocolate fish for best blog post title goes to No Right Turn for "There was no cession in New Zealand".)

It turns out though that the hysteria I had predicted (and predicated my post on) didn't eventuate. The usual suspects - Dr Paul Moon, Muriel Newman, et al, took issue with the report. But in the main we haven't seen the sort of backlash of, say, 2004. This is a good thing, as it shows perhaps we've either matured as a country, or the Tribunal's ruling was a confirmation of what was known for a while (although the Prime Minister's comments do seem to contradict this!).

The question though, is where to from here? As Morgan Godfery points the report means:
The Crown should – whether out of constitutional, political or emotional necessity – prove its de jure sovereignty.
This is an issue that has been traversed by academics such as Jock Brookfield (especially his book Waitangi and Indigenous Rights), which I suggested to Morgan as an authority on this subject.

In my view it means the acceptance of a different, and maybe uncomfortable for some, founding myth of New Zealand.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

SH58: another upgrade needed.

I'm very pleased to see in the Upper Hutt Leader that SH58 (Hayward's Hill Rd) is to get a $30m upgrade. This is a dangerous road that needs to be upgraded.

 However, it would have been better if NZTA accept that SH58 will become the Hutt Valley's major link to Transmission Gully, when it is due for completion in 2020.

This will be because the proposed Petone-Grenada link won't be completed (even if construction were to start next year) until at least three years after Transmission Gully is completed. If they did then they would need to start planning to make sure that there is another upgrade in the pipeline for SH58 to handle this traffic.

This would include the long proposed grade-separated interchange at Manor Park between SH2 and SH58.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Waitangi Tribunal: hysteria versus nation building

On Friday the Waitangi Tribunal published its first report on Te Paparahi o Te Raki Inquiry. The media immediately declared it to be a "landmark decision". I'm sure there will be a lot of ink spilled over this report (it's hardly a "decision" - the Tribunal issues reports, it doesn't make decisions like a court of law, although it has mana).

Unfortunately the media have now framed the report as being a major shift, as if it changes the nature of sovereignty in New Zealand. It doesn't. It greatly frustrates me the media don't seem to be able to distinguish between an acknowledgement of history (i.e. that the Maori rangatira signing the Treaty did not see it as ceding sovereignty) and contemporary reality. 

As Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson said:
"The Tribunal doesn't reach any conclusion regarding the sovereignty the Crown exercises in New Zealand. Nor does it address the other events considered part of the Crown's acquisition of sovereignty, or how the Treaty relationship should operate today."
I haven't read the full report yet (I've only read the summary) but it addresses the issues around the Declaration of Independence of 1835 (He Whakaputanga) and how it relates to the Treaty of Waitangi, Te Tiriti o Waitangi. I'm going to read the report over this coming week, as I expect thanks to the hysteria now generated by the media, it will be getting a lot of attention...

What saddens me most about all of this is that this report is really a chance to engage in nation building. Accepting that the Rangatira who signed the Treaty (not all iwi did) believed that they would be equals to the British-appointed Governor, as representative of Queen Victoria, is hardly a revolutionary step. The Government of New Zealand is still legitimate in its assumption of sovereignty, as the Treaty Negotiations minister notes, because of other events.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Smart meters essential for a smart grid and smarter economy

The media create certain stereotypes about each political party. There is a stereotype - albeit largely untrue - that the Greens are tin-foil hat wearers. This is why the Greens' remain stuck on the c. 11% party vote mark. Like most stereotypes there's an element of truth to it, which the media are always on the look out to validate whenever they can.

The recent actions of current Green MP Steffan Browning signing a petition on using homeopathy as a cure for Ebola and this article by former Green MP Sue Kedgley only reenforce this stereotype. I'm sure Russel Norman is fuming.

I won't go into the detail of what Sue has said and why it's wrong (just read the comments). It's worth stating though that not only are smart meters required for there to be a smart grid (something we need for solar energy generation, because it's distributed), they're also critical to building a smarter economy. You know, the one the Greens like to talk about.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Solar energy growing regardless of buy-back

Meridian Energy has announced that because of the massive growth in home solar electricity generation, they're reducing the "export rate" (what they pay you for your electricity) and changing the way it's paid. As you'd expect, when it's sunnier they'll pay you less than when it's winter and demand is higher.

I'm a fan of the technology and previously looked at the claims it needs to be subsidised to grow here.

Here's the detail:
Meridian’s current export rates are 25 cents for the first 5 kWh per day and 10 cents thereafter. The new rates will be 7 cents/kWh in summer (1 October to 30 April) and 10 cents//kWh in winter (1 May to 30 September).

Meridian External Relations Manager Guy Waipara says the current rates were set at a time when solar uptake was in its infancy and it was financially viable for Meridian to offer good rates to those exporting into the electricity grid.

“Meridian solar customer numbers have gone from about 50 customers in 2011 to just over 2,500 customers currently. This year alone we have grown our solar residential customer base by about 1,000 customers,” says Guy.

“Unfortunately we can no longer sustain rates that provide huge incentives to sell back onto the grid and that are far greater than wholesale market rates for electricity. Unlike other overseas markets such as Australia, the New Zealand residential solar market is not subsidised. Under the current rates, those who don’t want or can’t afford to install solar are effectively subsidising those who can.
So, more people are installing solar electricity systems on their houses. Great. The downside of  supply increasing is that the price paid for the electricity will fall. This apparently isn't so much of an issue when people consider buying a solar system - according to this article from The Press, they mainly look at the money they save from not drawing electricity off the grid.

Much like subsidising the installation costs of solar systems helps those who can afford them anyway,  keeping the price electricity companies pay for the solar energy high only penalises those who can't afford to install solar systems. But that's what the Greens are proposing to do: legislate over the top of the electricity companies to force the buy-back price up.

There doesn't seem to be any evidence that decreasing the buy-back price will slow the incredible rate of growth solar energy has seen over the last few years. Even the Greens note that the price of Photovoltaic panels falling through the floor has driven demand. There is no sign that that trend will come to an end any time soon.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Hutt City Council poll: amalgamation would be soundly defeated

Hutt City Council has commissioned a region-wide poll on the amalgamation issue. The results are emphatic - we don't want an Auckland-style super city for Wellington. As the image above shows, no territorial authority in the region supports amalgamation. Support was strongest in Kapiti and Porirua, and lowest in the Wairarapa.

This reflects exactly what I said during the campaign: there was no evidence either of the Hutt's city councils would be forced into amalgamating. On the current law, amalgamation would be soundly defeated.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Nation building through flag change

Parliament was formally sworn in today, and the "Speech from the Throne" will follow tomorrow. It's likely that the re-elected Government of John Key will formally commit to passing the legislation for two referendums on New Zealand's flag, to be completed by the end of this parliamentary term. There will be campaigns by both sides, and it won't come as much of a surprise to anyone that I'm involved in the "Yes" side, for change.

A debate that has sporadically cropped up in the last forty years* may finally come to a resolution. It is yet another step in New Zealand's long road to nationhood, an assertion of our independence and identity to the world. I fully understand that many - especially those who have actually served for New Zealand - feel a legitimate sense of connection to the current flag. It would be foolish for anyone supporting change to deny these strong feelings. Those sort of feelings are actually exactly what supporters of change are trying to engender - a shared sense of nationhood, not one that only appeals to one segment of the population.

I realise these reasons are going to be shunned, as they have been often in the past, by the political elite. They will protest there are always more important issues. Child poverty. Climate change. Unemployment. Healthcare. Diversifying the economy. Dealing to ISIS. No-one is claiming any of these issues are more important to the flag, and it's a false dichotomy to claim that debating the flag means any of these issues can't be addressed. It's simply convenient for some segments of our elite to claim that it is.

They will argue it's simply a distraction to enable John Key to push other issues. Or that it's more about the Prime Minister's legacy than a genuine desire to continue the process of nation building (I'm fairly sure from his first speech on the issue it's a mix of both - but then, so what?). Or that it's a waste of taxpayers' money, for a change the public hasn't asked for. These arguments always crop up - it's the context that changes. I remember very vividly the same claims being flung at Helen Clark over the Supreme Court, claims that were untrue.

What they emphasise is that opposition to change, outside of those who have actually served for New Zealand, is largely negative and reactionary. It will focus on proposed alternative flags, cringing as it does at the fact that we could replace a flag designed by someone who apparently never even visited New Zealand** to a flag designed by one of us. I'm confident we'll find a design that appeals and connects to many - and hopefully a majority - of New Zealanders.

We're only talking about New Zealand's national flag. Some may act like we're committing a massive historical or religious disservice. It's worth pointing out to them that everyone still has the right to fly whatever flag they damn well choose. If we need the Union Jack on our flag to remind us we were once a British colony (of course, we don't - the fact I'm writing in English about our Parliamentary democracy shows otherwise), I'd suggest there's deeper problems. And let's be honest, a large part of the motivation for changing New Zealand's current flag is that it really isn't ours. It's the British Blue Ensign.

So I'm going to be campaigning for change over the next two or so years. There are plenty of potential pitfalls - the biggest being division over the alternative flag. This is a positive campaign, and with a strong campaign I'm sure we can earn the support of enough New Zealanders to bring it about.

*The first attempt at having a policy on the issue was a remit that went up - and failed - at Labour's 1973 conference. Oddly, Norman Kirk was previously (while in opposition) in favour of adding a Kiwi to the flag.

**Albert Markham Hastings, the guy who designed the current flag, was stationed at Sydney with the Royal Navy, but I can't find any record that he visited New Zealand.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Wages in Upper Hutt

In this week's Upper Hutt Leader there's a report that Upper Hutt has some of the lowest wages in the Wellington region. The report didn't note these wage rates are for jobs advertised in Upper Hutt, not necessarily what workers living here are paid. A large number of people - about 50% according to the Hutt Chamber of Commerce - live in Upper Hutt but commute daily to work in Wellington City.

The report doesn't take into consideration cost of living either. What the figures do show is that more needs to be done to attract businesses and their well-paid jobs to Upper Hutt. The council's recent economic development incentives are a good start on this.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Labour's leadership election

The Labour leadership election is an ongoing circus, largely driven by the media and personalities involved.

Back in September last year I argued that having the leader directly elected by party membership (and not just the party caucus) was a good thing - a decision made by the wider party would unite them behind the leader and result in a stronger outcome, as had been the case with the UK and Canada's Conservatives, both of whom directly elect their leaders. The same is sort of true for the leader of the UK Labour Party.

Judging by how New Zealand Labour went at the general election and how this leadership election is going for them, I'm not so sure that assessment is correct. As I said last year, the segmentation (i.e. giving the unions a vote as well as members and the caucus) exposes things the party doesn't necessarily want exposed, especially the division between caucus and the rest of the party, which has handicapped David Cunliffe. The UK Labour Party allows individual members of "affiliated" groups (unions and socialist societies*) to vote as if they're ordinary members of the party.

Perhaps a straight "one member, one vote" system along the lines of the sort of system the UK Labour Party uses is best. But that would require NZ Labour to lesson the influence of the unions, not something I think they're likely to do. Either way, it comes down to the personality of the elected leader. So I'm sure the benefits of having members involvement in the election of a new party leader are yet to be seen for NZ Labour - and may not be for some time.

*Apparently they still exist.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

New Zealand's income tax rates over time

During the election campaign it was often asserted by the opposition that New Zealand was a more equal society in the past simply because our personal income tax rates were higher. The pinnacle of this argument was the comparison of John Key's childhood in the 1960s, where it was claimed the welfare state was in a much better state - i.e. it provided more support for those at the bottom - as a result of the alleged higher tax rates. Was this actually the case?

On income tax rates, The Treasury has a fascinating paper from September 2012 looking at ways in which an "Average Marginal Tax Rate" (AMTR) could be calculated for New Zealand's personal income taxes. AMTRs come from a paper by Robert Barro and Chaipat Sahasakul at Harvard University 1983. They are:
..income-weighted average of individual-level marginal tax rates, having first accounted for various factors that allow effective, rather than statutory, marginal tax rates to be estimated.
The critical part of this definition is that the average is an income-weighted average, not simply an average across all taxpayers of the percentage of the all the income tax collected.

Here's what New Zealand's top effective marginal tax rates looked like from 1907-2009:

Top marginal tax rates, 1907-2009
As you can see, the top personal income tax rates appear to validate the claim that income taxes were higher in the past. After all, it's pretty clear from the graph that our top tax rate today is down to about where it was in the 1940s. But this ignores people's incomes and more specifically whether they would actually pay the higher tax rate.

This is where income distribution data comes in. Treasury uses the New Zealand Official Year Book (NZOYB) data up until the early 80s, and IRD data from then on. The factors they look at are:
  1. how income is distributed across the tax brackets/rates for which we have tax schedule information;
  2. how exemptions against tax are distributed across income levels and tax brackets; and
  3. how far NZOYB income distribution data, generally only available for tax filers until the PAYE regime from 1958, can be supplemented to capture non-filers’ incomes.
So what does that mean over time? Does it show that income taxes that people actually paid were higher in the 60s? Here's the paper's key graph:

New Zealand's Average Marginal Tax Rates (AMTR) 1907-2009 Source:
The Treasury
As you can see. AMTRs rouse slowly from the 1920s then rapidly during World War II, but didn't drop substantially. In the 1960s - when John Key was growing up - they dipped substantially and then increased slowly again up to the early 1970s. The 70s saw a rapid rise in AMTRs, largely driven by income tax brackets not being adjusted. The peak was 1982, when the AMTR hit 44%. From then onwards it was sharply down again, bottoming out in the early 1990s and staying at about the 30% mark.

Clearly, the income tax rates people actually pay today are not substantially greater than they were in the 1960s. So it is a myth that when John Key was growing up people paid more income tax. We should bear this in mind whenever it's claimed that a higher rate of income tax means lower inequality and a better welfare state.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Solar energy: a great Kiwi innovation

Source: Calder Stewart Roofing
Since I was on the topic of the explosive growth of solar energy (and why it doesn't need to be subsidised to become everyday technology in our houses) I've chatted to a few people in the industry about it further. It turns out that our own Calder Stewart has created a roofing product called Solar Rib, which is a normal ribbed steel roofing panel that includes a Photo-Voltaic Laminate (PVL) panel in between its grooves.

PVL is certainly a better solution than fixed frame solar panels. From the technical specifications:
Thin film amorphous PV Solar Laminates are flexible solar modules that are bonded directly to the roof. No glass. No frames, no support structure. Using PV Laminates is not only better for your wallet, it is also better for the environment. It takes less energy and few materials to produce a PVL laminate than what would be required for a crystalline module of the same power, making it a more sustainable solution.

What a great example of Kiwi innovation.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Mike Lee on the election result

Mike Lee is a former Auckland Regional Council chairman and currently a councillor on the Auckland Council. Lee was formerly a member of the Alliance Party (remember them?) and is reliably left-leaning. His analysis of Labour's election defeat is the most cogent I've seen - rather than simply blaming the electorate, or calling them stupid, Lee's blog clearly spells out a number of areas where Labour and its policies fall short. He certainly pulls no punches, opening with this comment:
The National propaganda theme of the hapless red and green characters floundering around in a rowboat – all at sea – was not too far off the truth.
Lee takes aim at Labour's policy of increasing the retirement age:
Another reason why core Labour voters voted National, in my opinion is so obvious that I fear it probably doesn’t even register with Labour’s policy makers. Labour’s policy of retrenching national superannuation entitlements from age 65 to 67, was a direct attack on the social entitlement of working people – what used to be called social security.

He continues:
Plainly, most Labour MPs and officials, have very little meaningful contact with manual workers. The people who work on the roads in all weathers, on building sites, cleaning offices and factories at night and driving heavy trucks. These people tend to be physically worn out by the time they reach the age of 65.  Work for them is bloody hard. Labour’s policy makers obviously don’t understand that fact.
 Salient points.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Research and Development growth in the right direction

New Zealand's R&D spending by sector, 2006-2012. From Statistics NZ
In this week's Hutt News the editorial seems to make the case (again) for R&D tax credits - as opposed to National's policy of expanding grants through the likes of MBIE and the Hutt Valley's Callaghan Innovation.

The editorial argues that private enterprise investment in R&D is relatively low in New Zealand, and this is harming New Zealand's economy long-term as our businesses aren't adding as much value to our exports as we could. This is a concern the government shares.

Through initiatives such as Callaghan Innovation and new forms of company incubators, business investment in R&D has greatly expanded. According to Statistics NZ's Survey of Research and Development, overall expenditure on R&D has grown by 23% since 2008 to $2.6 billion. Critically, private sector expenditure has grown by 31% over the same period to $1.2 billion.

This is an excellent trend in the right direction, but more needs to be done. We still lag behind other small economies in terms of the percentage of our GDP spent on R&D. Despite the recent growth we've experienced, our total spend is 1.27% of GDP, versus the OECD average of 2.38%. We're heading in the right direction but it is critical for New Zealand's future that we continue on this path.

Spending on R&D by sector, 2008 - 2012:

 $ million  2008 2010 2012 % change
 Private sector   $       913  $       971  $     1,193 31%
 Government   $       584  $       615  $       596 2%
 Universities   $       643  $       802  $       836 30%
 Total   $     2,140  $     2,388  $     2,625 23%

Monday, 29 September 2014

Waitangi National Trust charges for the Treaty Grounds

Newly elected Te Tai Tokerau MP Kelvin Davis thinks that the $15 fee for New Zealanders to visit the Treaty Grounds at Waitangi is "outrageous". I agree - like Te Papa, New Zealanders should be able to visit the Treaty grounds for free.

Overseas visitors pay $25 to visit. When my wife Jen and I visited the Treaty Grounds back in 2008, it was free for New Zealanders. We only had to show our drivers licenses to get in. From Saturday we would have to pay the $15. In its defence, the Trust that owns and operates the Treaty Grounds (the Waitangi National Trust) points out that it receives no government funding, and international tourist numbers have dropped as a result of the global financial crisis.

According to its 2013 annual report (from the Charities website), the Trust brought in $1.998m from ticket sales, tours and events at the grounds. There were small grants totaling $34,500 and interest and dividends of $427,000 for a total income of . That year, 100,000 people visited the grounds, 55% domestic and 45% international. The Trust made a loss of $298,835 for the 2013 year.

Extrapolating this out, assuming that the same number of people choose to visit the grounds regardless of the price, and that of the 55,000 domestic visitors at least half are adults, you'd net $412,500 in ticket sales at $15 a pop. The Trust would return to surplus with $114,000 to play with.

Grant Robertson and the Waitakere man

Labour leadership contender Grant Robertson states that he wants to be judged on his policies, not his sexuality. Fair enough - most Kiwis wouldn't care about his sexuality either. The oft asked rhetorical question "are we ready for a Gay Prime Minister?" - which the news media have asked us since the 2013 leadership contest - is really nonsense. The Waitakere man - the mythical creation of commentator Christ Trotter, the voting demographic who allegedly would take issue with Grant's sexuality - cares more about the pay in his pocket than the Prime Minister's sexuality.

In my view, Grant's main problem is his policies, not his sexuality. For the Waitakere man, who by Trotter's definition most likely owns his own small business (the "man with a white van"), policies such as a capital gains tax, increasing the minimum wage at a rate they can't afford to pay their staff, and compulsory variable KiwiSaver contributions are what make Grant (and Labour generally) an unattractive prospect.

Friday, 26 September 2014

If solar energy is booming, why does it need subsidies?

Solar uptake in New Zealand. Source
I discovered on the campaign trail that quite a lot of politics these days is simply picking a winning trend, crafting a policy that sounds like you're doing a lot to make that trend happen, then taking credit for what's already happened.

That's the Greens solar energy policies in a nutshell. The other day Gareth Hughes claimed "National eclipsed on solar energy", (ignoring the work done by the government in aid projects across the Pacific) pointing to a report recently by Otago University which shows that the take-up of small scale photovoltaic (PV) cell systems in New Zealand is up 330% in the last two years.

This is great news and a winning trend for New Zealand. The report notes that this increase is in absence of government subsidies for PV installations, which is what the Greens propose.

The report concludes:
This level of interest currently exists with no support from the Government via subsidies and feed - in tariffs, and mostly under business models that require a large upfront investment. New types of business model such as that currently being trialled by Vector may remove some significant barriers to entry and increase the level of interest in installing PV.
Vector is running a lease based system in Auckland, which apparently has strong uptake. Which begs the question: why does solar need subsidies? If uptake is to continue at this rate, will subsidies actually accelerate the trend or simply be pocketed by people who are going to install solar systems anyway? The report doesn't go into these questions, but it does finish with this note:
High levels of grid - connected PV would contribute to renewable generation and may require new approaches to the management of the electricity grid to ensure that New Zealanders continue to have access to safe, reliable, and affordable energy.
I know from friends working in the sector that this is in fact the biggest challenge we face with the introduction of solar energy. According to Transpower, New Zealand's electricity grid was not built to manage a lot of distributed generation of electricity - it was built to facilitate the transmission of electricity mainly from one area (the South Island's hydro stations) to another (north of the North Island, where 50% of New Zealanders now live). So accelerating growth in solar energy is likely to lead to further costs down the line for consumers.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Thank you!

My sincere thanks to everyone who supported myself and National at the general election. We're very pleased that National secured the party vote here in Rimutaka. It was a challenging campaign and one full of great experiences, debates and issues.

We know from the booth-by-booth analysis that we won across central Upper Hutt and the outlying suburbs, including Stokes Valley and Totara Park, both traditional Labour areas. Avalon and Manor Park were 50/50. However the southern booths remain a struggle.

I will remain engaged on the issues that matter to the people of Rimutaka, especially transport, economic development and local authority amalgamation. A number of people have asked if I will stand again - it's too early to say, as that's a decision for the local Rimutaka members of the National Party. If you want to be part of that decision in 2017, you'll need to keep your membership up to date. Please remember to renew!

Over the next three years we will continue to build the electorate organisation, membership and fighting funds for our campaign in 2017. But for now I can say that I'm proud to have represented the party and to have helped many of the residents of Rimutaka.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

The result

My sincere thanks to everyone who helped on our campaign for Rimutaka. Sadly, it wasn't to be on the electorate vote, but National did win the party vote once again, with 42% of the total votes cast.

Election Results -- Rimutaka

Electorate Number:44Final:Yes
Results Counted:58 of 58 (100.0%) Votes Counted:33,067
Less than 6 votes taken in Voting Places:0Special Votes:3,988
Leading Candidate:HIPKINS, Chris (LAB)Majority:5,831
Labour Party10,631HIPKINS, ChrisLAB17,333
National Party13,895HOLDEN, LewisNAT11,502
New Zealand First Party3,426HUNT, AaronNZF1,601
Conservative1,381LYNCH, Philip MichaelCNSP886
Green Party2,693RUTHVEN, SusanneGP1,437
ACT New Zealand115
Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party145
Democrats for Social Credit12
Focus New Zealand4
Internet MANA249
Māori Party128
NZ Independent Coalition18
The Civilian Party18
United Future110
Party Informals159Candidate Informals308

Friday, 19 September 2014

It's over to you now - two ticks National!

New Zealand has come through the GFC and the Christchurch earthquakes with a strong economy that is delivering more for New Zealanders and their families. We need another strong, stable National Government to keep turning that progress into more jobs and long term prosperity.

MMP elections are always close, even with the Opposition in disarray. Labour could still cobble together a government with the Greens, Dotcom, and New Zealand First. That would stall our economy and create economic chaos.

The only way to deliver another strong, stable National Government that will keep New Zealand moving in the right direction is to PARTY VOTE NATIONAL tomorrow.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Economy: growth staying strong

Stats NZ have released the latest GDP (the measure of the size of our economy) figures:
GDP growth for the year ended June 2014 was 3.5 percent. This is the highest annual growth since the September 2007 quarter.
The expenditure measure of GDP rose 0.5 percent in the June 2014 quarter. Domestic demand (spending and investment by New Zealanders) increased 2.2 percent, while exports fell and imports rose.
Interestingly, our current account deficit actually decreased.
The size of the economy (in current prices) was $229 billion for the year ended June 2014. GDP per capita was $51,190 for the same period.
It's very pleasing to see added value industries, such as software development, are expanding.

Monday, 15 September 2014

A stronger economy: Business Growth Agenda

A re-elected National Government will focus on these priorities over the next three years:
  1. Negotiate and sign Free Trade Agreements including Korea, Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the WTO Government Procurement Agreement so our exporters can compete on an equal footing in other economies and further lift our exports.
  2. Introduce and pass the Resource Management Act reform package to provide more certainty, timeliness, and cost-effectiveness in resource allocation decisions.
  3. Hold Kiwi expat Job Fairs in Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne to recruit skilled Kiwis for jobs back in New Zealand and help remove skills constraints for key sectors of the New Zealand economy.
  4. Deliver more skills relevant to industry by setting up three new ICT Graduate Schools across New Zealand and investing to lift the number of engineering graduates available to employers.
  5. Double the level of business R&D to 1 per cent of GDP by 2018 so that more of our innovative high-tech businesses succeed on the world stage.
  6. Lift the footprint of the Ultra-fast Broadband rollout from 75 per cent to 80 per cent of New Zealand and extend the Rural Broadband Initiative so that all parts of New Zealand have world-leading 21st Century broadband coverage.
  7. Complete the passage of the Employment Relations Bill to ensure flexible labour markets that create more jobs for Kiwis.
  8. Deliver Inland Revenue’s Business Transformation Project and simplify the tax system for (small and medium-sized businesses) so that New Zealand businesses spend less time calculating their tax and more time working on their business.
  9. Accelerate petroleum and minerals exploration through our new data acquisition programme so that we increase exploration further from the $1 billion spent last summer.
  10. Roll out the next stages of the Roads of National Significance and key regional roading projects so that we remove chokepoints and improve the resilience of New Zealand's core land transport system.
National understands that it is only by having a strong economy that we can lift opportunities and incomes for Kiwi families, and provide world-leading public services. See more of our plan this election here.
Our Business Growth Agenda, along with our strong economic management and responsible management of the Government’s finances, will help turn the gains of the last few years into a sustained long-term lift in New Zealand's prosperity.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Ambitious for New Zealand

National has always been ambitious for New Zealanders and confident about what we can achieve at home and on the world stage.
Come Saturday, New Zealand voters have an opportunity to build on the significant gains this country has made under National over the past six years, and keep heading in the right direction.
We are a Government with a track record of delivering for New Zealanders.
When we were first elected in 2008, New Zealand had been in recession for almost a year – well before the global financial crisis – and the Government faced never-ending deficits and debt rising into the future. Two years later, Christchurch was rocked by the first devastating earthquake.
Over the past six years, the John Key-led Government has earned the trust of New Zealanders by being clear about our plan for turning things around and delivering on our promises.
We supported the most vulnerable through the recession and set a path back to surplus this year.
We are helping New Zealand businesses become more competitive so they can create more jobs and lift incomes.
We are delivering better public services – educational achievement is rising, more New Zealanders are moving from welfare and into work, and the crime rate is the lowest for 35 years.
And we are continuing to help the people of Christchurch to rebuild their lives.
The next steps in our plan will work to lock in the gains of the last six years to create a long-term lift in New Zealand’s prosperity.
We will keep government spending under control, stay in surplus, and start reducing debt.
We will keep encouraging the investment and enterprise needed to create new jobs and increase incomes.
We will focus on rewarding New Zealanders’ hard work. We’ll do that by further reducing government ACC levies – the equivalent of a tax cut for households and businesses, and by reducing income taxes for lower and middle income earners in 2017, should fiscal conditions allow.
We will work for Kiwi families by investing in teacher quality, free doctors’ visits for under-13s, extending paid parental leave, and helping more Kiwis into their first home.
And we will work for local communities by continuing to support more Kiwis from welfare to work, shorten hospital waiting times, reduce crime, and invest in better roads, broadband, and public transport.
The alternative is changing course with risky, unproven policies that would stall the economy through five new taxes and more wasteful government spending.
This election the choice is stark. Your party vote for National will help keep New Zealand on the path to prosperity. A vote for any other party is a vote to take us in a different direction.
This Saturday, please give your party vote to National.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Seizing our opportunities

National’s clear economic plan and careful financial management is taking New Zealand in the right direction.
Our plan means our economy is growing. We’re creating new jobs and wages are rising. Families are doing better and we’re succeeding on the world stage. 
However, one or two years of good growth does not change the economic prosperity of a nation.  We need to stay on course to really lift our long-term economic performance, and see more New Zealanders in work, owning their own homes, getting the healthcare they need and the opportunities they want for their children.
The only way we can do that and grasp the many opportunities we have as a country is by having a strong, growing economy.
In this election, only National can credibly offer three more years of the strong and stable government that’s needed to keep the economy growing.  Our economic plan is straightforward and we’ve set out our priorities.
A re-elected National Government will return to surplus this year and stay there so we can reduce debt. Reducing government debt puts New Zealand in a better position to cope with any future economic shock or natural disaster.
We’ll cut ACC levies on households and businesses by around 30 per cent. That’s between $700 million to $900 million a year – the equivalent of a tax cut.
And, so long as it’s affordable, we’ll start modestly reducing income taxes for lower and middle income earners from 1 April 2017 because National believes in rewarding New Zealanders’ hard work and enterprise.
We’ll use any further financial headroom to get to our target of 20 per cent net debt to GDP sooner than 2020. Then we can resume contributions to the New Zealand Super Fund.
In addition, National will help to keep interest rates lower for longer by reducing government spending to below 30 per cent of GDP from 35 per cent in 2011. Our focus will remain relentlessly on targeting that spending where it delivers better results for New Zealand families.
New Zealanders have a stark choice this election. They can continue to support National and its clear economic plan that is working for New Zealand, delivering sustainable economic growth, and helping households get ahead
Or they can put all the gains and the growth in jobs and wages at risk by changing course. Under an unstable combination of Labour, the Greens, and Dotcom the economy would stall. They would introduce five new and unnecessary taxes and create a wave of wasteful government spending. They would undermine the confidence necessary for businesses to invest now for future growth and more, higher paying jobs.
National’s clear, straightforward plan will keep New Zealand moving in the right direction.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

SH58: NZTA's consultation

The Dominion Post reports:
...there was "significant" support for upgrading the State Highway 58 route over Haywards Hill rather than developing a Petone-Grenada road.
This was despite the topic of SH58 not technically being part of the consultation process.
This is much the same feedback I've heard while out on the campaign trail.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

National, Labour and debt

Watching the analysis of the Q+A debate between National's Bill English and Labour's David Parker this morning, a quick note stated that National has increased government borrowing, and that Labour's record was paying down debt and running surpluses.

Both statements are true. Like the Bolger/Shipley National Government of the 1990s, the Clark/Cullen Labour Government of the 2000s paid down debt with the surpluses they ran. The current Key/English National Government borrowed money so we could weather the economic storm New Zealand entered (it should always be remembered) before the rest of the developed world in 2007. Then there was the global financial crisis leading to the finance company collapses, Canterbury earthquakes and Pike River to pay for.

The first problem for Labour is that its record was only good for a short time - in its last five years of office spending increased by 50%, this pushed mortgage rates to 11% and causing inflation to exceed 5%. The final PREFU under Labour in 2008 forecast 10 years of persistent government deficits, which would've put the country into billions and billions more debt than has been the case under National. 5 years on from the 2008 forecast, National was able to forecast a small surplus.

The second problem for Labour is that while David Parker might point to Labour's record last time, the party's proposals are to spend all of the next four Budgets, by hiking its new spending to $18.4 billion.

By contrast, National has committed only a small fraction of future Budgets. This will provide us with flexibility to deal with future shocks, speed up debt repayment or provide future tax reductions should there be room to do so.

Friday, 29 August 2014

What we've announed this week

I'm hearing on the doorstep that people want to know what it is that National will do if re-elected on 20 September. Here’s just some of what we announced this week:
  • $150 million boost for rural broadband – to extend the Rural Broadband Initiative and connect more rural businesses, homes and families.
  • Support for free trade agreements and open markets – to boost international trade and economic partnerships, lifting job-creating exports and creating higher incomes.
  • Introduce a new gold standard target for cancer treatment – speeding up cancer diagnosis to ensure faster treatment.
  • $50 million investment for pain reduction and prevention – more investment in primary care and prevention, $30 million to lift our record numbers of orthopaedic operations, and $14 million to deliver extra general surgeries.
  • $11 million for sign language over four years – to support sign language in schools and work with families of newly identified deaf children.
  • $40 million funding boost for Aged Care over four years – to increase rest home bed subsidies and boost dementia care across district health boards and communities.