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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:

submissions@lgc.govt.nz

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.