Ministers hiding from the truth?


I have been watching the Chernobyl miniseries, which is based on the 1986 meltdown of Reactor No. 4 at Chernobyl nuclear power station in Ukraine, when it was part of the former U.S.S.R. Constantly coming out of the series is the determination of the Communist government to cover up the disaster even though the scale of it makes that impossible, even though the radioactive cloud drifting across Europe has been detected in multiple countries.

The lack of transparency and the corruption within the Communist system was a major contributor to its eventual downfall in 1989. It took their ineptness at Chernobyl in a rigid system hell bent on preservation at all cost including locking up those who knew too much to start its unravelling.

Midway through its first term in office, the number of inept Ministers in the Labour-led Government of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is startling. And as National looks at the 2020 election as a chance to take back the Beehive, we see them shying away from taking questions. We see them ducking behind the public service officials who are meant to keep them up to speed.

Fortunately New Zealand could not be more different from the Cold War era U.S.S.R. It is a nation that enjoys very high ratings with Transparency International, which focuses on the accountability of elected officials, the ability to obtain information and the freedom of the press. Using a scale of 1-100 where 100 is completely transparent, T.I. have graded countries around the world. The current rating is 2. Only Denmark has a higher score. However, both countries have slipped from a ratings a few years ago in the very low 90’s. Last year New Zealand topped the list at 89 and in 2016, 90. Russia and Ukraine by contrast only scored 29 in 2018.

Whilst this is still a very good score for New Zealand and one worth celebrating, at the same time the gradual downwards drift needs correcting. New Zealand continues to maintain a somewhat laissez faire approach to oversight of its authorities and there is room for improvement in terms of having a watchdog overseeing the Privacy Commission and Human Rights Commission, among others who have been dogged in recent years by conduct completely unbecoming of such important bodies.

Recently we have seen the sort of activity that might be behind the gradual downwards drift in our score. At Chernobyl we saw nuclear scientists trying to persuade Communist officials more intent on saving their own skin and the system they worked under about the grave threat Chernobyl posed. They were constantly monitored, threatened and on occasion, even detained. It would lead the chief scientist Valery Legasov to take his own life, rocking the Communist apparatus in a way even the hardliners struggled to ignore.

In New Zealand we have seen Ministers ducking for cover. Phil Twyford is the prime example, as a man who knows Kiwi Build is a failure but instead of being upfront and saying so has retreated from interviews about it. A second example is Shane Jones. What was he doing lobbying Minister of Immigration on behalf of Stan Semenoff and the transport company he owns so they could get accredited employer status and employ Filipino workers? And a third will be the Minister of Immigration himself and the Karl Sroubek snafu where a Czech man wanted by Czech Republic authorities fled to New Zealand, claiming he would die if he went back to the Republic.

So far none of them come close to matching the ineptness of Comrade Dyatlov who had control of Reactor No. 4 on that fatal night. Nor do the consequences involve the threat of getting the KGB involved. But they do involve massive loss of personal reputation. They do raise questions about how in control of her Government Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern really is, and a failure to improve might be the downfall of this Labour-led Government just as Chernobyl probably caused the downfall of Communism.

 

The year in which the Government must deliver


There is such a vast broad platform of policy on which this Labour-led Government is promising to deliver, that it is a bit difficult to know where to start. There are some Ministers holding substantial portfolio’s such as Social Welfare and smaller yet critical ones like Local Government who have yet to pop their heads above the parapet. Maybe they have significant work in progress that is simply not ready to face the harsh glare of the voting public, but it would be good to know that they are not “Missing In Action”.

This is a year in which Labour and its New Zealand First and Green Party cabinet colleagues will need start delivering significant policy. Reviews can only go for so long before they start to imply that the incumbent government is frozen on policy making.Such a freeze tends to send a clear signal to the voting public that the Government does not know what it is doing, which 18 months into its first term would be a really dangerous sign.

It has so far been a year where the major call has been to scrap a capital gains tax which will give attempts at equality reform the wobbles. This move will pile on the pressure in terms of expecting the minimum wage increases the state of a living wage to perform. It potentially locks away billions of dollars in tax that could be used to help fund projects that might now struggle to be seen or heard. And it is a move I am disappointed to see happen.

There are things that I am expecting the Government to deliver or start work on in this term:

  1. A comprehensive waste recycling programme that covers wood, paper, glass, plastics and aluminium – we have the know how, but do we have the will?
  2. Announcing how it will reform New Zealand’s schools 30 years after Tomorrow’s Schools, which was seen as a visionary programme in 1989, but is not so now
  3. Reform of Ministry of Social Development – I have mentioned in the past, the failings of this Ministry, which is straight jacketed by a legislative framework
  4. Reform of the justice system, which has lost the confidence of victims of crime and seems to be failing to address the reoffending of youth
  5. Sustainability – we might be phasing out oil and gas, but is electricity able to sustain New Zealand’s energy needs on its own; the reduction of carbon emissions affects the marine ecosystem; fresh water quality and usage is not sustainable
  6. Transport – a much larger investment in railways is needed; New Zealand also needs to look at a long term plan for the sea going merchant ships

Of course the terrorist attacks have overtaken all of this and we need to revisit how we gather and use state intelligence. We will need to revisit our constitutional arrangements sometime in the next decade or whenever the Head of State, Queen Elizabeth II passes on. And if that is not enough the West Coast flood event of 25-27 March 2019 raised some alarming questions about the readiness of the West Coast for a bigger disaster.

Much going on, but how is the Government going at delivering? Find out this year (and next).

Stand with Christchurch


Yesterday, Friday 15 March 2019, white supremacists committed acts of terrorism against multiple Mosques in Christchurch where people were peacefully going about their prayers. In the ensuing attacks, 49 people were murdered. Improvised explosive devices were found by Police near the scene of at least one attack.

This is NOT what Christchurch stands for. This is NOT what New Zealand stands for. We are horrified beyond belief that such utter cowardice could be perpetrated against people carrying out totally legitimate activities.

Because of that, Will New Zealand Be Right will not publish until Sunday 17 March 2019. Stay safe. Reach out to any any friends you have in ethnic communities. Give thanks to the Police for the magnificent job they are doing bringing these people to justice.

Arohanui.

I.A.G.’s insurance earthquake has implications for N.Z


I.A.G., owner of New Zealand Insurance, A.M.I. and State has announced that a more conservative approach will be taken in allowing customers to take out new insurance policies. The announcement from New Zealand’s largest insurance group means that insurance premiums are likely to increase as a result of a decision to turn some Wellingtonians away from new policies due to the high seismic risk in the area.

From I.A.G.’s perspective it might not be so surprising. As the largest player in the Wellington market, they have about 65% of all insurance customers, which leaves them spread rather thinly in terms of coverage and in an attempt to correct that exposure, perhaps we should not be so surprised.

And yet, I am sure many people will be. It was not a physical earthquake as such, but it might just as well have been as far as the wallet and insurance premiums are concerned. Despite two large earthquakes causing billions of dollars in claims, there are still complacent customers who have purchased insurance and probably locked the documents away thinking that they are all covered, as well as non-customers on a wing and a prayer hoping nothing of consequence happens in their life time.

One thing that needs to be pointed out is that the E.Q.C. cap of $100,000 has not been raised in its existence and even though it is going up to $150,000 later this year, that is only really a half hearted increase. An ideal cap would be $300,000+ – or completely removed altogether.

So, where does all of this leave New Zealand and New Zealanders in the long run? Will it encourage other companies to have second thoughts about who they insure; whether they too, are over-exposed in the market; can they meet their obligations in an emergency? Is it possible that perhaps these insurance companies are trying to pay nice, and are really only doing this because big international insurers refuse to take on any more risk in New Zealand? These questions and others will be demanding answers that might not be to the public’s liking.

I do not know the answer to any of this. However I am aware that the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences discovered that the Wellington Fault, widely thought to be the highest risk fault in Wellington, is actually less frequently active than thought and that the last event on it was more recent than previously thought. The quake risk to Wellington, whilst still significant is from other faults such as the Hikurangi Trench, the Alpine Fault and whatever is lurking under Cook Strait.

I would like to see the methodology of how I.A.G. and other insurance companies calibrate their risk assessments. When doing the risk assessment for say a particular fault line, do they look at the entire known palaeoseismic record of the fault line or just a small part? When new research is released do they revise the risk component for that particular fault?

Is Nelson fire a sign of future


In the last several years there have been a number of increasingly damaging fires around New Zealand. Prolonged dry conditions, combined with excess vegetation growth that has not been checked, that is often quite flammable in nature can prove the perfect recipe for fires. The are a range of potential triggers ranging from sparks from trains going down railway tracks, farm machinery contacting stones whilst ploughing paddocks, burn offs gone wrong, not to mention human error or arson.

The Port Hills fire event of 2017 is the most destructive thus far in terms of property and lives lost with one person killed and 11 houses lost.

Following that event there was an inquiry into the fires and what could be learnt so as to prevent a repeat. Two years later with a much larger fire now threatening Wakefield, with a population of 2,500 near Nelson, three days after it started on a paddock in Pigeon Valley, how much have New Zealanders learnt and what has been done?

I asked this question a year ago in an earlier article. It found some basic problems with who was in charge when the fires started as they traversed numerous political boundaries. Depending on whose boundary it is in the nature of the likely response will change as different authorities will have different processes. There were also concerns with basic information flow between authorities and civilians, which meant some testy exchanges between the two parties.

Could a changing climate also have something to do with the potential danger posed by such fires? Whilst last year was very hot during summer, it was tempered by big and quite sudden swings to stormy weather with considerable rain in tow that kept the risk of drought and the subsequent risk of fire in check. In 2013 and 2017 when there were fire outbreaks that caused property loss, the damaging fires were caused by prolonged, intense dry warm weather with high sunshine hours. Coming out of a very wet 2018, few in November would have imagined that by the end of January parts of New Zealand would be a tinderbox, but that is what happened.

Questions around planning laws around what kind of vegetation should be permitted to grow were also raised. Around the Nelson and Tasman areas there is a range of temperate trees such as pinus radiata and eucalyptus, both of which have high natural oil content. At the time I mentioned that research into the suitability of different vegetation types had been conducted. For such vegetation to have a positive effect it needs to be planted on a large scale and not limited to a few homes. It might also be worthwhile having vegetation breaks where there are either no trees or vegetation or the vegetation is a belt of fire resistant species that are low in volatility when lit.

But the biggest concern was – and probably still is – how much planning pre-event has been done by regional, district or city councils to understand how this phenomena starts. Understanding it is but one aspect of the 4 R’s: Reduction, Readiness, Response, Recovery.

Putting that understanding to good effect by taking steps to mitigate the potential hazard is REDUCTION. Making sure emergency services and the authorities can be ready to move at short notice and encourage the public to have emergency survival plans and the necessary resources – food, water, medicine, clothes, transistor radio, torch with batteries and so forth – is READINESS. The execution of the plans and being able to adapt to circumstances on the day will determine the RESPONSE. Putting lives and communities back together and creating something approach as normal as possible is RECOVERY.