Tuesday, 27 December 2016

CentrePort dredging put on hold

CentrePort has put work for dredging Wellington's harbour on hold following November's earthquake. This appears to be because the business is now in some trouble due to a number of its property developments - such as the BNZ building and Statistics NZ building - either requiring demolition or serious remedial work. There's talk of the port requring a bail-out from ratepayers or taxpayers.

This isn't to be celebrated, but again it raises the question of the Regional Council's ownership of the port company, and the structure of New Zealand's seaports generally. We have a listed (and partially regional council-owned) port company, Port of Tauranga, taking more an more market share off other ports such as CentrePort through inland ports, strategic alliances (NorthPort and PrimePort) and a sharper understanding of the market than its competitors. The Ministry of Transport points to this trend accelerating as more 6,000+ TEU "megaships" start to visit New Zealand and the international shipping lines rationalise their services down to fewer port visits.

The sensible thing for the Regional Council to do would be float CentrePort. If that results in Port of Tauranga or another port operator taking a share, then so be it. We're heading to port consolidation anyway.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Housing: it's supply

Residential housing consents 1970-2015
In launching his party's tax policy, Gareth Morgan claims that increasing the supply of new houses won't help. The above graph shows otherwise - we clearly aren't building as many houses as we did in the 1970s - and there are far more of us (New Zealand's population in 1973 was 2.9m) and we're not building enough houses.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Whakatiki St SH2 intersection update

Back in August I launched a petition to the NZTA regarding the Whakatiki St intersection. I am still waiting on a response from NZTA on this... watch this space!

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

TPP without the United States is still worth it

Donald Trump's election to the US presidency has effectively scuttled any chance of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement being ratified. Plenty of commentators and critics of the agreement have said that TPP is now effectively "dead".

In a way, declaring the agreement dead because the United States might not ratify it gives a great insight into the thinking of the critics of the agreement - TPP isn't all about the United States, and never was. Yet opposition to TPP has obsessively focused on the United States.

MFAT's TPP information demonstrates the market opportunities for New Zealand's exporters to the other members of the agreement. For example, exporters of value-added New Zealand wood products to Japan for example are in for a major windfall. That's not something we should walk away from. New Zealand depends on international trade for our prosperity.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Trump is the product of [insert self-serving explanation here]

I'm loathe to discuss Trump's victory at this year's US Presidential election. Plenty of ink has already been spilled. However I think a number of the explanations being put on the result are simply self-serving, e.g. Trump won because the disenchanted working class, left behind by neoliberalism and globalisation, abandoned the Democrats and voted Republican. Therefore, to prevent a Trump we must reject these things too.

Firstly, the analysis of the results (so far) shows that the reason Trump won was because Democrats didn't come out in sufficient numbers in the right states to vote. Hillary Clinton has managed to win the popular vote (47.8% to 47.3%), but that is meaningless in the US as it's winning states that matters.

Secondly, Trump won the votes of people you'd expect to vote Republican anyway - men, whites, those 45 years plus. He did slightly worse than Mitt Romney among those earning $50,000 plus a year, but they still voted for him overwhelmingly, and slightly better among those earning less than $50,000 a year, but they still voted Democrat overwhelmingly. He did much better among those outside of a union than within.

All of this points to the Democrats not putting up their strongest candidate. Don't get me wrong, I wanted Hillary to win - I think Trump is awful, his business acumen is totally overblown, he has basically no experience in government, he'll push back progress made on climate change, free trade (and ironically labour rights guaranteed by such agreements, although maybe that's the point), without even mentioning his awful attitude towards women, the disabled, Blacks and Latinos. But Hillary carried so much baggage - much of it unfairly heaped on her - that she was always going to struggle.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Back to the 1950s we go!

The group Hobson's Pledge is clearly some sort of joke. One minor point on their views on our national anthem proves it - on their website, under the heading "indoctrination" they say:
Older New Zealanders would remember going to the movies and being required to stand for a rendition of the British national anthem God Save the Queen, singing Anglican hymns and reading the Bible at school prize givings and listening to a speech by some dignitary on the opening of anything official.
You'd think from the above paragraph that Hobson's Pledge are taking issue with the stuffy officialdom of old and the days when we had that Land of Hope and Glory and Jerusalem nonsense defining New Zealand: an insular, homogeneous, backward colonial backwater with an economy based on selling primary production to the "mother" country (who eventually moved on and joined the common market). It seems from the next paragraph that's not their view at all:
All that has changed. Any rendition of the New Zealand national anthem requires us to mumble through the first verse in Maori before singing the widely understood English words. School prize givings and university graduations require a traditional Maori welcome (powhiri). Openings of anything official require an incantation in Maori (karakia).
God Defend New Zealand didn't become our national anthem until 1977, even though it was written by Thomas Bracken and Joseph John Woods in the 1870s (interestingly both Maori and English versions came about at the same time - the English version was first performed in 1876, while the Te Reo Maori verses were added in 1878, so it was a true partnership, something the Hobson's Pledgers don't like). Even then it is technically only with "equal" standing to God Save the Queen, another one of those stupid historical compromises no-one remembers, which has been rendered obsolete by the mists of time.

The specific issue the pledgers take with God Defend New Zealand is that the don't know how to sing it in Maori. The strange thing is it's not hard to sing God Defend New Zealand in Maori, and it's not hard to learn. The Ministry of Culture and Heritage also provides handy YouTube videos on how to sing in Maori. I'm guessing the pledgers will see this as more indoctrination.

It seems in these two paragraphs, the pledgers assert that things were better in the 1950s because they were more Anglo-centric. That is a damning insight into their thinking. The do not believe in civic nationalism they allege - the idea that all New Zealanders are equal - at all. They believe that being British is superior, and our own home-grown identity, expressed in both the Maori and English verses of God Defend New Zealand is inferior. They apparently want to go back to the 1950s and not be bothered by the realities of being a post-colonial state.

Friday, 16 September 2016

Only two things are inevitable in life...

As the old saying goes, there are only two things that are inevitable in life: death and taxes. In his recent column, Liam Hehir writes that a New Zealand republic is "less than inevitable", even after what you'd think is a fairly good poll result for those of us who support a New Zealander as head of State. Liam challenges me to a wager (I'm guessing as former chairman of New Zealand Republic Inc) that a New Zealand republic is not inevitable. The wager has something to do with painting his house.

It's not a bet I'll accept, not because I don't like painting (did plenty when I was younger, not so into it anymore) but because Liam is right: a New Zealand republic is not inevitable. And it's very odd to me that over the years many people have expressed surprise that I take that view. But in many ways the poll result Liam discusses re-enforces it. Some people think I'm defeatist by saying this, and I'm sure plenty of monarchists take comfort from it.

It turns out that the things that are inevitable - dying and paying tax for the privilege of doing so - are some of the sort of issues that matter most to the public. Inevitably, we're all focused on what affects us the most in life: whether there's a decent job for you to earn a living from, a good public health service if you get sick, a decent school to send your children to, a house to live in and transport between all four. The nature of our head of State is as Liam states a pretty minor issue that, like his weatherboards, may eventually get some attention.

And when it does, it will most likely be just as contentious as the nightmare that became the flag debate and referendums. But ten times worse, because a republic not only touches the thorny issues of national identity and constitutional change, but also the Treaty of Waitangi and the interrelated issue of the legal nature of the state (that is, whether we keep referring to the Government of New Zealand by a shorthand name for a piece of feudal headdress).

Then there's the issue - highlighted in the poll - that while support for both of the republic models is above the golden 50% mark, that doesn't mean (as Liam accurately points out) there's a majority for change, much the same as the final weeks of the flag debate, when UMR polling found a majority of voters supported change, but only 40% wanted the particular flag on offer. It gets even worse when you analyse the motivations - as I did in this Spinoff article - for direct election of the head of State versus parliamentary election, and the huge contradiction of the public's distaste for a politician being head of State, and 44% support for the system (direct election) most likely to result in one.

Unsurprisingly I don't accept Liam's analysis of the reasons for change. To my mind, the case for keeping the monarchy is weak, being built almost entirely on misinformation and nostalgia for a time when we were a part of the British Empire and economically provided for; dependent, apathetic, insular and disengaged from the world (as I discovered during the flag debate, there's a large group of people who view any change to the flag, head of state, anthem etc as moving away from the grand old days of Fortress New Zealand, replete with its pre-EEC economy and welfare state).

The case for a New Zealand head of state, and building a national identity around a narrative of being independent and standing on our own two feet, is much stronger. The claims of an inferiority complex are nonsense - if anything, our failure to make a New Zealander our head of state is the ultimate symbol of tall poppy syndrome.

The good news for Liam though is that the difficulties of change - and the public's general lack of any appetite to deal with them - mean there will be significant barriers to change for some time. The bad news is that the barriers can be removed, and are likely to be in the coming years. Take the Treaty for example: it's highly likely there will be some sort of clarity constitutionally once the remaining Treaty settlements are made. The process for choosing our head of State can be sorted out now at the Governor-General level.

But all this is speculative of course. Like everything else in life, nothing but death and taxes are inevitable.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Upper Hutt City Council elections 2016 candidates survey

The Dom Post reports there are two candidates for Mayor of Upper Hutt and 20 for our 10 council seats.

So I've created a candidate's survey based on KiwiBlog's idea. If you're a candidate for the 2016 local elections, please fill out the survey. I will post the answers here on my website.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Whakatiki Street intersection

I've sent my petition to NZTA to fix the Whakatiki St intersection - thank you to the nearly 1,000 residents who signed! I'll post updates here when I hear back from the NZTA.

Monday, 18 July 2016

NZTA: fix Whakatiki St Intersection!

After this weekend's crash, I've started a petition to NZTA to get improvements to the Whakatiki St intersection underway ASAP.

It's listed as a project on the NZTA website, but no other detail is available.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Elite inferiority complex

Does New Zealand's elite have an inferiority complex? Does that matter if they do?

Having a New Zealander as our head of State is a legally simple, straightforward change for us to make, yet it attracts a lot of unneeded baggage and irrelevant issues. It often seems to me that the arguments for retaining the status quo tend to re-enforce exactly why we need to change: that an institution which is moribund and irrelevant to New Zealand is seen as key to our democracy - and that a New Zealander in the role would be inferior - underlines the exact attitudinal change having a New Zealand citizen as head of State would bring about.

While on holiday in the United Kingdom recently I shared an article published in the New Zealand Herald from the Queen's Birthday weekend on the need for a constitutional discussion in New Zealand, starting with the head of State. Liam Hehir - of Firing Line column fame - made the point that he saw support for a New Zealand republic as an "elite inferiority complex". This is a new line of argument which again underlines my thinking.

In my experience, our "elite" - politicians, judiciary and leaders in culture, business, sports etc - are just as divided on this issue as the rest of the country. In other words, most don't really care about it with two small camps of monarchists and republicans slogging it out. There is, however, a strongly dismissive line on our head of State, because the issue is considered unimportant and a base distraction only of interest to the small-minded. This attitude was typified to me in a recent speech by the Chief Justice, Dame Sian Elias, to a conference on the Magna Carta:
"...the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta may be a good time to take stock of how well they are serving our society. It is puzzling, I think, that the constitutional conversation we have had to date seems largely hung up on the identity of the head of state..."
Dame Sian added the New Zealand public:
"...seems reluctant to engage with bigger ideas, such as the fulfillment of the ideas set loose at Runnymede in the circumstances of today."
This attitude is by far the most common among New Zealand's political and judicial elites.

So if you support change, do you suffer from some sort of inferiority complex? I don't think so. Sure, there's an element - a tiny element - who feel inferior because of the monarchy. But it's the type who are vehemently and irrationally against the Royal family simply because they're Royal. By and large the arguments for change are rational and focus simply on our maturity as a country. That's not inferiority, if anything it's frustration at our insularity and insecurity.

I would add here too that I see that insecurity over and over again in this debate, and in the flag debate more recently. It's strange to me that a fairly well known New Zealand historian made the argument that without the Union Jack on our flag, New Zealanders would forget that we were once a British colony, or that most of our institutions were inherited from the United Kingdom. It's as though the mere thought of one part of that colonial heritage no longer being an official symbol means all other parts and institutions would disappear.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Happy Birthday, Your Majesty

Most people would expect this post to be a negative one - but I genuinely do wish the Queen a happy 90th birthday.

As I've long argued, the Queen is our head of State, yet the head of State issue in New Zealand is not actually about the Queen or the Royals generally. If New Zealand had a head of State of its own, the Royals would still be around and in our media. That would be the case even if Britain became a republic. So there's no reason to be mean-spirited on birthdays or other family events. Happy birthday Your Majesty.

Friday, 25 March 2016

Flag referendum: postmortem pending

I'll do a full postmortem in time on the flag referendum, but for now I've got to write one for Radio New Zealand... will post a link here once it's up.

Monday, 8 February 2016

Friday, 22 January 2016

The Greens and science

The Greens have launched a campaign to ban the use of glyphosate weed killers in public parks and streets, probably as a precursor to a total ban. While often claiming to be the party of science, more often than not the Greens are suckered into advocating policies I would politely describe as junk science.

On glyphosate, the scientific community has reacted strongly. Experts on weed science (it exists) state that the carcinogenic risks are "...the same level of warning as burning wood in the fireplace at home, upsetting circadian rhythms by doing shift work, or being a hairdresser." Sciblogs has a further refutation of the Greens' claims on glyphosate.

This policy is being driven by Steffan Browning, the MP previously famous for signing a petition calling for the testing of homeopathy to cure ebola. When questioned on this, Steffan said that he was "not opposed" to homeopathy. Steffan is free to be "not opposed" to whatever unscientific nonsense he likes - but trying to solve serious health issues (such as the excessive use of weed killers or the ebola virus) with what appear to be internet-meme inspired nonsense is embarrassing. Greens co-leader, James Shaw, seems to have let this one get past the keeper.

But it isn't just Steffan Browning. The Greens have a continually confused for and against stance on smart meters as well. Smart meters are essential for a smart grid to enable wider use of renewable energy sources. However now former Green MP Sue Kedgely was dead against them, claiming electro-magnetic field (EMF) radiation poses a serious health risk. This stance was later modified (once Sue had left parliament) to oppose smart meters for privacy reasons. Yet Dave Clendon was, about the same time, pushing a members' bill that would essentially make smart meters compulsory.

This appears to be a more fundamental issue within the Green movement between those who accept scientific orthodoxy and those who don't. As usual in politics, this appears to be a broad split between the party's MPs and its members. Take the issue of genetic modification. In Australia recently the leader of the Federal Greens, a former medical doctor, said he "does not believe genetically modified crops pose a significant risk to human health." This sent a number of Green members into conniptions.

I suspect there will be more of this sort of confusion as the Greens try to position themselves as a serious coalition partner for Labour. James Shaw certainly has his work cut out for him.

Monday, 18 January 2016

NZ First wrong again

NZ First MPs are shopping around this article from a former Reserve Bank economist, claiming it proves they're right about immigration slowing down the economy. Except this former Reserve Bank economist can't get basic facts right. He claims:
"We've brought in tens of thousands of people a year for the last 25 years and we've just continued to slowly drift behind the rest of the world."
This is wrong. A quick search of the GDP per capita statistics from the OECD shows this isn't even slightly correct:

While we did fall behind the OECD average (the black line) in the mid 1980s, we've been rapidly catching up - something we've managed to do very well recently (also notice that dip from 2007-2010 in the black line? That's the recession. Notice how New Zealand's line stays flat.)

Friday, 15 January 2016

A Kiwi civic nationalism

Elsewhere on the internet I've been accused of advocating "cultural Marxism" when it comes to my views on changing the New Zealand flag or a republic, all the usual nonsense. I'm not going to link to the blog in question, and I wouldn't normally dignify anonymous diatribes with a response, but it's worthwhile in this instance to set the record straight.

I'm for civic nationalism, that is nationalism that advocates freedom, tolerance, equality and rights of the individual. Civic nationalism contrasts with ethnic or cultural nationalism. Civic nationalism pre-dates Marxism, and goes back to the Enlightenment. The accusation is puerile and irrelevant.

I'm for changing New Zealand's flag because our flag ought to be made up of symbols that include all New Zealanders. It should be inclusive. Our current flag clearly is the product of ethnic, if not cultural nationalism - a nationalism for Britain and its Empire. That may have once been the basis of the New Zealand state, and the instigator of it. But states, like societies and humans themselves evolve.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Everyone is wrong about poverty

...well maybe not. But that's the feeling I got reading the recent opinion articles back and forth in the past weeks - first from former ACT leader Jamie Whyte and columnist Dave Armstrong.

Whyte argued that there is no poverty in New Zealand, and that the definition of poverty often quoted (leading to the claim one in three kids live in poverty) is useless for measuring poverty, being a relative one based on an arbitrary yardstick (i.e. a household which earns 50% of the national median income after tax and housing costs). I disagree on the first point but agree on the second.

There is poverty in New Zealand, which Armstrong helpfully goes to the Oxford English Dictionary to define. The definition of the venerable OED of poverty - being material deprivation - is, funnily enough, more useful. And the Ministry of Social Development has been monitoring material deprivation rates across the entire population. Here's an interesting graph:

Figure E.1
Trends in material hardship rates for the whole population, using five different thresholds
The MSD research shows the economic recession of 2007-2010 increased hardship. To my mind, debate about poverty should be focused on this measure, and not a relative income measure. The services that Jamie Whyte mentions in his article need to be held against this standard, especially where they're falling short, and how they can be targeted to reduce hardship. The MSD's research has been used for the policy design of the government's 2015 child hardship package, for example.

Right at the end of his article, Armstrong adds that Jamie Whyte must remember the days when there were hardly any foodbanks or homeless because he would "...remember those "dark" days because you couldn't move money quickly offshore, it took months to import an espresso machine and foreign boutique beers cost more than local."

This is an odd comment in the context of poverty, but I guess Dave thinks its related. In a way it is. The "dark days" he mentions were when New Zealand ranked highly in OECD rankings for per capita income - you know, before Britain joined the EEC and the oil crisis' of the 70s struck. The absurd import regime he mentions was part and parcel of Fortress New Zealand. The prosperity paid for a massive, inefficient state which employed thousands and acted as an extension of the welfare state.

Increases in hardship were the inevitable result of the inevitable end of Fortress New Zealand. Getting back to that sort of prosperity to help our most vulnerable ought to be our policy focus.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

New Year

It's 2016! I've not kept my blog as up to date as I would've liked. I'm looking to do a rebuild of my website in the coming months, watch this space!