No inspiration for New Zealand watching Clinton/Trump debate


So, who watched the debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump? What did you think?

Neither Mrs Clinton or Mr Trump did or said anything in the debate that gave me reason to believe that New Zealand as a nation might draw inspiration from their presidency. Neither landed an apparent knock out blow. Both repeated well known lies, an act that further chips away at their trustworthiness. There is no doubt both seriously want to become President of the United States, or that they want the U.S. to believe they can restore America’s place in the world.

And both have polarized America like no other Republican Democrat contestants.

But the similarities end there. Mrs Clinton is running a campaign many believe is linked to high profile bankers. Mr Trump’s campaign is self funded by himself. One is an establishment politician whose husband used to do the job she now wants. The other is a maverick billionaire businessman. For neither the Republicans or the Democrats is there strong mainstream voter support. Disenfranchised Americans number in the tens of millions, the major of which will not be likely to vote, though if they all voted for a third candidate the political earthquake to hit the U.S. would be as big as any seismic one to have done so.

In their millions, mainland America has rejected the idea og Democrats as being currently of the stripe that made Harry S. Truman and Franklin Delano Roosevelt a pair of the most respected Democrat Presidents. The name Clinton used to link to her husband Bill, who despite the allegations that Monica Lewinsky is by no means the only woman he had intercourse with, remains very popular in the Democrats. His Presidency will unfortunately be best remembered for his act of perjury.

It is true that Clinton Mk II is asking for trouble. The deaths of four people in a diplomatic compound that was attacked by Islamic State in 2012, when Mrs Clinton was Secretary of State is jumped on with glee by Fox News and conservative commentators on a regular basis. On top of that a questionable e-mail server and what Mrs Clinton did with potentially thousands of e-mails that . Mrs Clinton may or may not be charged with a Federal offence for this, but her reputation for carelessness will cost her more votes than she will admit to.

Likewise the nomination of Mr Trump shows the extent to which the voting population has lost trust in establishment Republicans. Far from wanting a mainstream politician who embodies mainstream Republican politics such as the Newt Gingrich’s, the Paul Ryan’s and the George Bush’s, conservative America and – so I am told – some right leaning Democrats –  Americans have gone for Mr Trump, the wall building billionaire who wants to ban Muslims from coming to the United States.

But like Mrs Clinton, Mr Trump has his problems. For a man who appears to make policy on the hoof, displays remarkable ignorance about global affairs and who refuses to release his tax returns and seen non-American politicians comment negatively on his proposed policies even before the election, his first foray into politics has angered as many as it has delighted. How will Americans react to a Trump victory? Will his supporters show credible restraint win or lose?

Like it or not, despite the wholly uninspirational showing by both, by the end of 2 November New Zealand Time, one of these two people is going to be the 45th President of the United States.

 

Middle class New Zealand being priced out of Auckland?


You might be a policeman. Perhaps you are a teacher at the local primary school. Or what about a nurse working at the hospital. The place you call home is in Mount Eden and the rent for it per week swallows two thirds of your weekly income. What is left is chewed up by food, transport and common expenses. Going out even once a month is expensive. Your partner is no better off and for want of starting a family you are starting to realize that you cannot make ends meet in Auckland, despite loving the city climate, culture and attractions.

Sound familiar?

Auckland businessman and Chair of Vector and a senior partner in KordaMentha, Michael Stiassny believes Auckland is becoming unsustainably expensive for the middle class worker. He is right. A modest house with three bedrooms should not cost $1,000,000. Nor should rent be so high that particular socio-economic classes are priced out of the city, for without them essential services necessary for the maintenance of life in a modern city would not be provided.

I cannot see a City Councillor, a multi-national company C.E. or Minister of the Crown cleaning hospital corridors or teaching pre schoolers. I cannot see them patrolling the streets at stupid hours of the night or day running the risk of running into someone high on methamphetamine making an arse of himself, who may turn on them with a knife. But people have to do these jobs. And in order for people to do those jobs they must be able to live somewhere they feel safe, be able to afford the basics of life.

In other countries with similar problems, populist politics is on the march because of it. In Australia, the United States, England and elsewhere parties claiming to be working for the common person are gaining in the polls because of disenfranchisement among the voting population with the mainstream parties. The manifestations vary considerably – in the United States, Donald Trump might be standing for President as the Republican nominee, but his rejection of establishment politics has caught the imagination of millions of Americans.

In New Zealand, populism has not caught on in the way it has in the United States. However, that is most certainly not to say it does not exist. The rise of New Zealand First, under Winston Peters in the polls, is a result of growing angst at the establishment parties of National and Labour. The unaffordable nature of buying/renting in Auckland, the costly rental market in other major urban areas, and the problems with accommodation in post-earthquake Christchurch have combined to make housing a potential election winner for the right party.

The housing market might be overheated beyond Auckland, but it is there that voters will make their feelings most loudly known on election night 2017. A failure to fix Auckland’s market might well decide the election.

Overhauling democracy in New Zealand


Despite the insistence of the political parties in Parliament saying otherwise, I have the distinct impression that New Zealand democracy is under attack. There are some good reasons for saying this. One good example the number of Bills of Parliament that have been forced through under urgency when there was no legitimate case. Urgency and extraordinary urgency to me should only be used when a law may be about to  expire, or situation exist where a rapid legal change is necessary to avoid significant and immediate adverse effects.

New Zealand once had a bicameral Parliament, that is a two level Parliament from 1852, which as established under the Constitution Act of that year. The lower house was known as the General Assembly, and the upper one as the Legislative Council. It was abolished in 1951 when Parliament became the current unicameral structure known today.

I believe that there is a case for restoring the bicameral legislature. However before that happens, the 1997 referendum on reducing New Zealand’s Parliament size to 100, which turned out 83% support should be honoured. The reduced number of Members of Parliament can make way for perhaps an upper house with two senators from each province. To enable this, there would need to be a binding referendum asking New Zealanders whether or not they support a bicameral Parliament.

A Parliamentary priority should be the entrenching of the Human Rights Act, Privacy Act and Constitution Act. I say this on the grounds that concerns about potential terrorist activities, changes in technology – particularly drones and smart phones – are potentially eroding ones liberty. Dictatorships and terrorism both win when people are fearful and willing to let Government run roughshod over established rights in supposed pursuit of justice. It is also said because there will always be a small minority of people with a malicious intent when they purchse devices capable of storing significant data or prying on others.

security

In light of recent proposed changes to local governance legislation, and experiences of Canterbury and Auckland where the elected Regional Council was replaced – or in Auckland’s case, disbanded completely – it is time for legislative change. The Local Government Act, 2002 needs to be strengthened so that the only way an elected Council can be voted out is either at the end of the three yearly election cycle, or via a recall vote. It is common knowledge that a Wellington based bureaucrat will never have certain knowledge about regional planning and governance issues, because that is vested in the local population – which most probably does not reside in Wellington.

Without depriving ourselves of a working law enforcement and national security apparatus, New Zealanders need to know that there are checks and balances in place to make sure Mr Dinosaur does not eat Ms Liberty. These steps would go some way towards achieving that and also improving our image as a democratic nation.

Trouble in Ngapuhi as Government seeks treaty settlements by 2020


After months of growing unrest, the first signs of a potential implosion in the largest Maori tribe are emerging. Ngapuhi, the northern most Iwi (tribe), has long held out on settling its Treaty of Waitangi grievances with the Crown. But with the Crown setting a deadline to wind up treaty negotiations nationwide the Iwi has begun to splinter along Hapu (sub tribe) lines.

As a New Zealander I have taken time to understand the treaty settlements from both the perspective of the Iwi and their Hapu, as well as the Crown. I believe settling them needs to be fair, full, and final. By fair I mean that the Crown and the negotiating Iwi/Hapu are both happy with the final settlement. By full, I mean all applicable grievances have been addressed. By final, I mean both the Crown and the Iwi/Hapu accept that there is no changing or going back. This  is the only way forward and that failure to do so leaves the Crown, the Iwi whose settlement has collapsed and the New Zealand public at large worse off.

Ngapuhi’s ancestral lands cover Hokianga, the Bay of Islands and Whangarei. They have the largest affiliation of any Iwi and have 150 Hapu. Ngapuhi claim to have never ceded sovereignty to the British when the Treaty of Waitangi was signed, and this was backed up by a report resulting from an inquiry into the meaning and effect of the treaty for the Crown and Maori.

Whereas the other major Iwi have settled, or are in the later stage of settling their Treaty of Waitangi grievances with the Crown, Ngapuhi have stalled because of infighting and unfortunate incidents clouding the judgement of the Board. Tuhoronuku, which is the Board that was set up to oversee the allocation of the settlement is divided following years of infighting among the Hapu. This is angering the Government, which has set a deadline of 2020 to settle all Treaty negotiations and the Attorney General, Chris Finlayson has indicated he considers Tuhoronuku to have failed. A timeline of events goes something like this:

  • September 2008: Ngapuhi offered an early hearing into Treaty of Waitangi claim
  • March 2009: Treaty settlement process begins
  • August 2011: Ngapuhi vote on new board
  • March 2014: Infighting delaying treaty negotiations
  • June 2015: Ngapuhi chairman Sonny Tau caught with dead Kereru (protected birds)by Customs; fails to step down
  • September 2015: Claims emerge that Tuhoronuku is unfit to to oversee Ngapuhi treaty settlement; questions arise about (mis)use of $500,000 loan
  • October 2015: Tuhoronuku put on notice by Minister for Treaty Negotiations
  • September 2016: Renewed infighting as vote on how to proceed with treaty negotiations looms
  • September 2016: Minister tell Tuhoronuku it has failed; may sack/bypass the Board

Ngapuhi need to settle. The Iwi needs to stop fighting. It needs to unite behind a board and move forward. The longer it takes for this to happen, the costlier it will be for the Iwi, the Hapu, the Crown and ultimately New Zealand.

Carbon dioxide not th only gas threat to climate


Over the last 17 years there has been a growing focus on the threat posed by the emission of carbon based gases to the climate. Whilst much of the concern is merited, it has by and large ignored methane. With concern starting to grow about the potential impact of large scale methane releases, it is time to re-evaluate the threat that this gas poses.

Before one tackles the problem methane poses, we need to be aware of its composition. To be clear, methane itself is a carbon based gas (1 atom of carbon with 4 atoms of hydrogen attached).  Compare this to carbon dioxide (one carbon atom with 2 oxygen atoms attached), Methane has numerous sources, both natural and artificial. Livestock contribute significantly to the problem across the world, especially in India where slaughter of cows is banned in all but two states and the low income of farmers mean they cannot afford fodder that reduces belching.

In a New Zealand context, carbon dioxide is not our largest greenhouse gas contributor to the international greenhouse equation. The primary gas New Zealand contributes is methane, This is why agriculture was the key focus of New Zealand efforts to address climate change under the Helen Clark-led Labour Government – and perhaps why farmers got significant sympathy from National when in opposition. Politics aside though, despite both parties seeming to think that largely symbolic agreements in front of the media are action, and the lack of policy initiatives at home to back them up, there has been a general acceptance that climate change is a credible issue, despite questions about the science.

However there is a major threat that is largely unnoticed by everyone, including the environmental lobby, which poses a much bigger threat than carbon dioxide will if it is realized. This is the melting of the permafrost in the Arctic, which traps huge volumes of methane. One estimate of the carbon trapped in the permafrost is as high as 1,700 gigatons ( 1gt is a billion metric tons), compared with 730gt in the Earth’s atmosphere, and 650gt trapped in vegetation. If the world is to achieve the goal of no more than 2°C global warming, it cannot have more than an estimated 1,000gt of carbon in the atmosphere).

As the permafrost melts, the biological plant and animal matter that has been stored safely under its icy wrap resumes the biological process of bacterial decay. This will cause carbon and methane discharge to start. Methane has a shorter life time as a gas in the atmosphere, but it is many times more potent because it has a short term warming effect. The Global Warming Potential index is a measure of a gas’ potential impact on the climate, with carbon having a reading of GWP 1, as it is the base line indicator against which the others are measured. Methane over 20 years has a reading of GWP 34 and over 100 years a reading of GWP 72. The release of methane may happen in several ways. Scientists researching the gas have noticed random deep holes in the ground in northern Siberia, and have wondered if these were caused by pockets of methane being released explosively. Although there is no suggestion that the permafrost will suddenly completely disappear, if caused by methane no longer being trapped, these holes will become more common the future.

But most terrifying of all, is once melted, there is no way to refreeze the permafrost – no way to retrap in the icy enthralls of Siberia and the Arctic all of that methane and carbon dioxide. For possibly the first time, climate change is reaching a tipping from where there is no return.