Lessons from Europe and Singapore


Over the next few articles, I am going to share with you a few things I learnt whilst overseas. I had experiences that helped to enrich my understanding of the world around me and realize that whilst New Zealand does very well in many aspects of life, there are some we can learn from – and can teach others about.

I have just returned from four weeks in Europe, during which time I visited the U.K., Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands and had a brief foray into northern France. Aside from having a nice holiday and test driving some very nice Belgian beer and comparing our drinking habits with theirs (another article) and seeing all sorts of fascinating tourist attractions.

On the way back to New Zealand I stopped for a few days in Singapore for my first visit there. It was a chance to see how an island city state of 5 million people – all of New Zealand’s population and about another 900,000 people on top of that – get on. I will focus onĀ  tourism, which is the core of Singapore’s economy and examine the challenges and opportunities that such a small nation faces.

Over the course of the articles I will cover public transport in major cities, as I stayed in several large European cities. They included London, Brussels, Amsterdam, Stockholm and Gothenburg. I will explore the tourism industries in these locations, where tourism has been a thing for periods of time longer than European knowledge of New Zealand’s existence. I will also explore living, as time was also spent staying in rented apartments in Brugge and Ypres.

 

Religious instruction in schools not new


When I was in Year 6, we were told that parent permitting, for an hour each Friday, our class would have religious instruction.

It was 1991. I was at Waimairi Primary School and we were learning about Christianity. Each lesson would start with a prayer to God. I occasionally said one – just for participations sake, rather than anything else – and it was always for peace.

Just as I do not now, I did not believe in God then. S/he is a higher being to some, but not I. What others believe in as far as I am concerned is up to them and not me. If they want to invite people to join them in prayer, there is no problem with that. My parents never told me what to believe. And at Waimairi, teachers had to obtain a written permission slip that was sent home with students and had to be signed by their parents or caregiver, permitting them to partake in the class. Those who were not granted permission were sent to the library for its duration.

Apparently religious instruction happens in 600 schools across New Zealand, so it is hardly rare or restricted to just a few places. Nor is it just Catholic or Christian churches that want New Zealand schools to give instruction. There are schools such as Hagley Community College in Christchurch that have a prayer room, mainly used by Muslim students.

My stance on religion is simple and non-negotiable. Believe what you want, but do not force it upon me or anyone else.

It has been an interesting debate. I have been told by Muslims that I am a non-believer and somehow inferior; by Christians and Catholics that I will go to hell for my non belief in a higher being. The creationists among the God based religions have tried to argue with me that the Earth is only 6,000 years old. There is no persuading me on that count – the theory of evolution is very much what I believe in.

Should one take precedence? Absolutely not. New Zealand is supposed to be a tolerant, welcoming and open minded society where anyone – provided they abide by our law and customs – is welcome.

In their own time and way I have seen progress in the Church. It might not like the idea of same sex marriage but at the end of the day, the sun has continued to rise in the east; your teenage daughter if you have one will continue arguing like she knows everything and you will still have to pay tax – in other words life will go on.

So, there is nothing wrong with religion being taught in New Zealand schools as long as no one faith is given precedence. As long as any parent who does not wish their child to be involved in such instruction is given the chance to withdraw them.

Stop dragging the chain on asylum seekers and refugees


On Tuesday Minister of Foreign Affairs, Winston Peters said that no commitment to raising the quota on refugees had been made.

Mr Peters seems to forget comments he made in May 2015. New Zealand needs to stop dragging the chain on asylum seekers and refugees. New Zealand has an official annual quota of 750 refugees, but some years does not even take that many.

Critics of taking refugees are being hypocritical as many of them did not flee by choice to other countries. Some would have admittedly left because the economic situation did not offer them a future. But many have left because the domestic situation in the country they were fleeing from was too dangerous to stay – might have known Government secrets; be from a persecuted group that was actively being attacked, such as the Rohingya in Myanmar who are being relentlessly persecuted by the military there. The hypocrisy lies in them not wanting any fears of internal destabilization to be realized in New Zealand from accepting refugees, yet often supporting Governments that have turned a blind eye to or even supported such activities in the countries the refugees are coming from.

Yes, there will be the odd one here and there who are not going to integrate. But this is why New Zealand has one of the most comprehensive refugee screening programmes in the first world. A refugee cannot simply just walk off a ship or plane and expect to immediately become an official asylum seeker, though that will not stop them trying. The refugees that come here have all passed through the Mangere facility where refugees must spend several weeks being conditioned for life in New Zealand. Before even that happens, customs and immigration will have looked through their histories for evidence of criminal activity, potential risks posed to New Zealand’s security.

It is also not entirely true that refugees take jobs, drive up house prices and refuse to integrate. Again, there will be a few who will not integrate. There will be a few who commit crime and people will rightfully wonder why we let them in, but they are the minority rather than the majority. The vast majority if the examples I am going to post below, and which there have been more mentioned in the newspapers recently, are anything to go by will be profoundly grateful for being given a second chance and will be determined to show their value in New Zealand.

The understanding of what is a refugee leaves a lot to be desired among people. The idea for example that Middle East nations take no refugees is completely wrong. Some of them have refugee populations larger than the total human population in Wellington. The total number of refugees thought to be internally displaced in Middle East countries is comparable with the population of Seattle (3.5 million people).

Let us double the quota. 1,500 people is still only 0.25% of the SYRIAN refugee population in Jordan. Let us not support any country that wants to continue waging war there. And let us stop believing those who seem to think that one refugee behaving badly represents all.

There are many grateful refugees in New Zealand from a range of countries: Laos, Somalia, among others, and they have been highly successful.

 

8 years since first Canterbury quake; Insurance still fiddling and farting


530,000 Cantabrians went to sleep on the night of 03-04 September 2010 thinking tomorrow would be just another day. Probably not a single person thought about the fault lines lurking underneath the alluvial gravel plains that Canterbury and Christchurch sit on. But many, many people will remember that freight train like rumble coming through the night, the frantic staggering to the doorway as the house began to shake.

When the shaking stopped about a minute later, it was immediately obvious a major earthquake had hit. The power was out, as was water and sewerage. A steady stream of aftershocks continued bolting through in the remaining hours of darkness and into the day, the days, the weeks and months.

Within days aftershocks of a human kind had started. Completely overwhelmed by the magnitude of the disaster that had befallen them, E.Q.C. had the rabbit in a headlight look – frozen, not knowing what to do and completely unable to assist customers. With every big aftershock a new claim would have to be lodged. With each one, new reports and inspections would be needed. New case managers would need to be assigned or reassigned.

Whilst there were initially 240,539 claims needing to be solved, of which 240,021 have been, 8 years of putting ones life on hold whilst waiting for a Government agency to get its act together is quite shocking. But that was the case of one lady in Christchurch on the consumer affairs programme Fair Go last night.

8 years, many more earthquakes later and it is now obvious that E.Q.C. actually DOES know what they are supposed to be doing. They just do not want to. For reasons only understood by their bureaucracy it is somehow not in their interests to wrap up the remaining several thousand Christchurch earthquake claims that should have been wrapped up by my guess not later than the start of 2015.

Imagine that.

Let us be honest. Earthquake Commission, and the major insurance companies have no intention whatsoever of finalizing the remaining claims and New Zealanders should stop deluding themselves into thinking otherwise.

90 days or see you in court, is what I say the Government should tell them. During that time they should prepare the necessary legal documents for the court, and on the 91st, these should be served.

There is no excuse for any of the on going delays. There is only so many times a report can be written without covering material covered in previous reports. There is only so many times an inspection can be done before the inspectors see that they are looking at things they have already sighted. There is only so many times anyone trying to get to the bottom of this should ever have to put up with bureaucracy before they have a case to make against the officials in question.

That time has long since come for E.Q.C. and the insurance companies.

Antarctica’s geopolitical storm: With New Zealand in the eye


New Zealand is a critical jump off point for nations sending supplies, personnel to Antarctic research facilities. Christchurch International Airport hosts the New Zealand and American Antarctic operations. It is an ideal location as one of the closest airports in the Southern Hemisphere able to land Antarctic bound aircraft with the American McMurdo base near to the New Zealand Scott Base, named after British explorer Robert Falcon Scott, who died in an ill fated expedition to beat Norwegian explorer Roald Amunsden to the South Pole in 1912.

With oil and mineral resources on the wane in some parts of the world, nations are starting to eye up Antarctica. Exploration has not yet shown what minerals or energy sources exist down there, but the untapped reserves are thought to be considerable. With the potential for a minerals race in which nations try to find a way around the legal and physical hurdles, a very real thing, it the last geographic bastion free from economic development may be in jeopardy.

Nations such as China are becoming interested in what exists down there. China has no claim to the ice and no national presence in the way that New Zealand or the United States have, but that has not stopped significant interest being expressed.

New Zealand’s Ross Sea Dependency is about to have its sovereignty tested. With more international interest in the area, the potential for finding ships that have no good reason to be in those waters is going to increase. With that comes the potential for conflict. Thousands of kilometres away from civilization and in some of the coldest, most hostile waters in the world Royal New Zealand Navy frigates might find themselves confronting ships from bigger, more aggressive powers who have not the same regard as we do for the rule of international law.

How would we react? Would we escort them out of the area? Arrest them? Open fire?

The Ross Sea has a range of important marine species in its waters, some of which are in serious decline elsewhere. Opening up Antarctica would potentially threaten them.

But there also exists the potential for a major environmental disaster. Aside from many nations not having the same regard for the Antarctic environment that New Zealand does, many are also less prepared for dealing with the stark environmental challenges of doing anything at all down there. If, for example there was a major oil or fuel leak from a ship or rig or other facility somewhere, it could be days before any ships could reach it, days before anyone could know the actual nature and extent of the emergency, during which time, the ability to control the damage would have significantly decreased.

We might be a small, peaceful nation trying to make our way responsibly in this world, and well done for doing so, but we need to have an honest conversation about our role in looking after Antarctica. One that needs to happen sooner rather than later.