Answering the question: WILL NEW ZEALAND BE RIGHT?

When I first established this blog I wanted it to be asking a critical question of New Zealand. The question needed to be critical – it needed to bring a focus on the ability of New Zealand as a nation to be all that it can be and not just what the country currently is; to in the first instance be the best small nation in the world.

I chose the title of my blog as a play on the well known saying used in Australia and New Zealand, “She’ll be right mate”. It is a way of saying “Don’t worry – everything will be fine”. It also encapsulates an attitude that has become too prevalent in all aspects of life, that leaving things to chance instead of going the extra distance and making sure that whatever the problem is, goes away on its own. It undermines the ethos of being a New Zealander. It undermines the narrative of being a small resourceful nation that loves its peace and maiantains good reputation among the global powers.

The “She’ll be right” attitude has also helped to give rise to some worrying traits in terms of how New Zealanders handle political promises and the politicians who make them. Frequently there are cases of politicians vowing to make good on an opportunity to right wrongs, possibly meaning well, but also possibly meaning to score political points that show they are acknowledging concerns. Except that there is nearly always some sort of hitch including those writing the policy thinking they know best, a significantly weakened version written by politicians with a preference for being middle of tthe road. To figure this out one needs the skill of reading between the li(n)es and spotting the real message.

One problem that has been passed through the last two generations of New Zealanders is the deliberate running down of the lower and middle class. The methodology is subtle. Slow but sustained stretching of New Zealanders to breaking point is the name of the game. It is to  make sure that they are too tired after a busy week to stay informed and generally ignore the latest legislation going through Parliament. The need to earn money is hampered by resistance to.meaningful wage rises and improvements in working conditions, usually because of an alleged hike in costs to the employer –  true or otherwise.

Thus we come to a bit of a rat race, where the population are working harder and harder but continue to fail to get ahead. Politicians prove unable or – just as likely – unwilling to get meaningful measures in place, lest it yank their snouts out of the trough. They have the know how and the means, but they lack the will.

New Zealand tough to invade say Swedish analysts

The other day a report came out. It was by Swedish analysts who had analysed the difficulty of invading countries. As it turns out, New Zealand is one of the hardest. But are we?

While it is true that New Zealand poses little military threat to other countries, our still relatively clean environment, well developed infrastructure and good communications would make us an attractive target for resource hungry nations. We have mineral resources untapped that are attracting the interest of significant mining operators and have large oil and gas reserves. And with the Ross Ocean prone to preying trawlers operating without permission in the Ross Dependency, there are significant marine resources at stake as well. All this needs to protected.

So to do our little island neighbours, who are too small to protect themselves. Whether it is a policing operation such as the joint RAMSI mission in the Solomon Islands in 2005, a disaster relief operation, or a military operation against militant infiltration from elsewhere, few if any of these nations are able to look after themselves.

The catch for an potential invader is not so much in our military, which is barely able to perform the basic training we expect it to undertake, let alone mount any prolonged large scale operation – in war or peacetime – outside of New Zealand.  Indeed perhaps the largest military deployment in the last two decades was providing security for the Christchurch C.B.D. red zone during the relief and recovery efforts post-earthquake.

I cannot remember hearing of the 2 light infantry battalions in the army for example ever being at full strength. The Royal New Zealand Airforce is looking to replace very old transport planes and surveillance aircraft that were both first manufactured in the late 1950’s. The Defence Force is planning to spend $15-20 billion over the next 15-20 years overhauling its equipment – an expenditure that has caught flak from people on the left unable or unwilling to understand you cannot run a Defence Force, just like anything else, unless you invest in it.

Our strength lies in our geography. We are 2100km at least from Australia, our closest geographic neighbour. Logistically supporting an invasion of another country so far from supply bases across potentially very stormy seas would be problematic for just about any nation.

And, let us be honest here. Unless is a United Nations sanctioned military operation – as far fetched as that sounds – are New Zealanders actually likely to support the use of our military for anything other than disaster relief or protecting our immediate assets? Most New Zealanders including myself for example did not support the army being in Afghanistan when the alleged fire fight took place several years ago. Nor have we particularly smiled upon the Iraq operation, as with good reason, many believing that it was an extension of the war that started with the U.S. led invasion in 2003.

A lot of the terrorism around the world exists for simple reasons:

  1. Alleged injustices being perpetrated by foreign powers of a grave nature and a reluctance among the perpetrators to address it, causing anger and stoking ill will
  2. Religious fanatics – groups such as Islamic State trying to wage holy war or jihad
  3. Deliberate destabilization of Governments or societies in order to achieve some sort of dominance leading to armed conflict with a loose – if even existent – respect for international legal norms

Since New Zealand does not generally support these types of activities, either by other governments or entities, it has managed to stay safe when few nations in the west have managed to escape militant strikes – Spain in 2004; Britain in 2005 and 2017; France in 2015; various attacks in Germany and smaller incidents in Australia, Belgium, Sweden, United States and so on. New Zealand needs to remain careful and continue screening people before we let them settle here.


New Zealand fisheries shame

The tuna that you eat might look good and taste good. But is the story of how it got to your plate nearly as good?

Not likely, as a Stuff investigation (see story of Tunago 61)into employment practices on ships fishing in New Zealand waters has found out. It would appear that even a decade after even more tragic events took place on the high seas off the east coast of the South Island that much is still to be learnt by the companies fishing in New Zealand waters.

In the early part of this decade trawlers operating out of Lyttelton were found to have almost slave like working conditions on board. The range of criminal offences ranged from sexual and physical assault to dishonesty about what was caught and how much, as well as dumping excess and non-compliance with an arrest order that was supposed to have one trawler tied up at port.

The trawlers involved were F.C.V.’s which were operated by Sajo Oyang Corporation from South Korea. They were under the command of Korean officers and often had an Indonesian crew. The captain of Oyang 75 was charged with a range of offences that took place on the ship that was under his command. During the trial period his ship put to sea in breach of the arrest order that was held against it. Fortunately a Royal New Zealand Navy ship was on exercises off the coast, spotted the ship and rearrested it.

Less fortunate was Oyang 70 which sank in stormy weather in the Southern Ocean taking three crew to the bottom with three more found dead in their life-jackets. An inquiry into what happened on Oyang 70 would find appalling work conditions contrary to what the crew who survived had been led to believe they would get.

At the time of the 2013 findings, a Bill of Parliament was before the House of Representatives to consider the necessity of flagging all fishing vessels with the New Zealand flag. Under maritime law, this would have made the crews of these ships immediately answerable to New Zealand authorities. The Bill of Parliament became an Act of Parliament in 2014.

I had hoped that the Foreign Chartered Vessel scandal of slave ships working the high seas off the coast of New Zealand was in a bygone era. However two articles of late have me second guessing myself

And then there is this. An investigation by Stuff into the tragic case of Tunago 61 and the deaths of two Indonesians on Fu Tzu Chiun, a long liner trawler that sailed from Taiwan, set against a grim backdrop of near certain slavery going on ships that have sailed from non-New Zealand ports, but which operate in New Zealand waters.

So, just ask yourself again:

Is that lovely tuna you are tucking into – or any other fish caugh commercially in New Zealand waters – the result of legitimate fishing activities, or the work of modern day slaves?

Teachers to march in the streets?

The recent Fiscal Budget by Grant Robertson is one that many consider to have played to the rules set down prior to the election to show Labour is capable of fiscal responsibility. It was even dubbed “National-lite” by one commentator despite the raft of announcements made over the past few months allocating vast sums of money:

  • $28 billion to fix Auckland transport
  • $3 billion for regional development
  • $1 billion for foreign aid and diplomatic relations

And yet one of the major sectors, traditionally aligned with Labour, has dipped out significantly. Teachers, who in their own words had had a gutsful of National in the last nine years were expecting something significant in the Budget handed down last week and were understandably surprised and disappointed when no major sweetener materialized.

I think significant changes need to be made in the New Zealand education system, including:

  • Support for men wanting to teach in Early Childhood Education – the Christchurch creche case that saw David Ellis clock up decades in prison for indecent assault and other sexual abuse of young children in a creche where he worked has caused a prolonged chilling effect on men working in this sector
  • A review of teaching practices – teachers should be teaching and not filing huge wads of paperwork, and being impromptu social workers; parents and so forth
  • An overhaul of disciplinary processes – much of the abuse that happens now is because individual responsibility has failed and the idea that one should own their actions is foreign to some
  • Going back to basics – how many children can read, write and count on paper, because this is something that they should be able to do before they can use electronic media

This is not an exhaustive list and nor is it meant to be. It is only supposed to be an indicator of things that could be improved. These changes and others that I have not thought of are internal practices that, when combined with the overhaul I support of the assessment regimes will hopefully lead to a more stable, productive and happier teaching/learning environment for both teachers and their students.

As a result of the poor treatment they got in the Budget, teachers have signalled that they might consider industrial action in the future. The concerns stem from lack of significant pay rises in the last few years, meaning that teachers are struggling to keep up with the rate of inflation.

This is shown in examples coming out of Auckland where some teachers are paying such high rent that much of their after tax wages simply disappear in rent. This is causing a shortage of teachers to exist in some schools because they cannot find teachers who can afford their living costs.

It just might be as one said, that the time will come soon when teachers simply don’t come to classes that they are supposed because the stress is simply too much to ignore.


Shutting down Human Rights Commission wrong solution

In the last few months, the Human Rights Commission has found itself under the public glare as it tries to address the problem of serious misconduct by its managers. The misconduct, which appears to represent the tip of an iceberg of larger abuse problems in the H.R.C., has attracted the ire of some commentators.

The hypocrisy of the Human Rights Commission management is stinky, but the solution proposed by one commentator, Damien Grant is not the answer. Mr Grant proposes shutting down the H.R.C. altogether. He claims that the place to deal with bullying is not the Human Rights Commission, but rather the unions.

By focusing on its bullying issue, which is admittedly quite severe, Mr Grant is ignoring the larger mandate of the Human Rights Commission. This is a Government agency that is supposed to deal with all human rights abuses, complaints, advocacy work and promotion. This is for human rights, what the Privacy Commission is for issues relating to ones privacy. Without the Human Rights Commission there is no agency formally advocating for the human rights of New Zealanders.

By taking the example of Taika Waititi and distorting it, Mr Grant ignores the reasons that Mr Waititi made the comments in the first place. Mr Grant further – quite amazingly given the thunder of the MeToo movement – strides to suggest that New Zealand is not a sexist country.

Mr Grant is certainly entitled to his opinion and I will protect that and that of others who break ranks and play the devils advocate – something I occasionally do (and quite enjoy) – providing an outspoken voice. But all things considered, Mr Grant should not be surprised that there is resistance to his idea and bewilderment that he concludes something that hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders, myself included, completely disagree with him on.

New Zealand DOES have a race problem. And you only have to go into a bar on Friday night to see rampant sexism in action – pretty looking bar staff being ogled, inappropriate comments being made, general put downs.

In a world where dystopian forces increasingly challenge the rights of humans by creating a climate of fear and intimidation, the Human Rights Commission not only has a major role to play, but that role is becoming more important. The fear of diversity, has been propagated by politicians who are afraid of what a peaceful stable world would mean for them. Many of these have connections with the security or armaments industry. They are using media with significant financial resources behind them to suggest that minority groups such as refugees and asylum seekers are somehow dangerous.Overseas and in Australia, politicians, such as Australian Minister for Home Affairs of Australia, Peter Dutton use the climate of fear that is being stoked to bring in more and more draconian laws, such as the right of Police to eject from any airport anyone with no identification.

New Zealand does not seem to be following that trajectory, but that does not mean we should be complacent.

The Human Rights Commission does much advocacy work on behalf of New Zealanders, ensuring that there is an understanding of our most basic rights – freedom of association; speech; peaceful assembly and so forth.

So, what do I recommend, since I do not advocate closing it down?

  • For starters a complete management clear out, because it is clear that there are many who are not fit for purpose
  • And training of new managers to understand that the H.R.C. has to practice what it preaches
  • An internal whistle blowing system enabling serious misconduct requiring disciplinary action, bad practice – willful or not – to be reported would also not go astray