Economic direction of New Zealand MUST change

For a combined six terms of Government, the two major parties have talked about an economic overhaul for New Zealand.

Under the previous Labour Government of Prime Minister Helen Clark with Dr Michael Cullen as Treasurer, we heard about a “knowledge economy”. In that time – admittedly a stable one with no major natural disasters and only the 11 September terrorist attacks on the world stage, until the Global Financial Crisis – the surplus grew to $10 billion. Two major entities – Kiwi Saver and Kiwi Bank – were implemented by Labour. Despite this though, there were no huge improvements in wage growth or social indicators.

Under National, we have had a vast growth in dairy farming, with Fonterra now contributing about $13 billion to the G.D.P. per annum. There has been a major increase in road infrastructure being built, and trade deals have been negotiated with numerous countries. Despite their promise of “a brighter future” truancy and youth crime are up, suicide and mental health issues are prevalent and 80,000 young people are not in training or education.

Six terms later and not much has changed. And there is much that does need to change. Business as usual is simply not good enough any more.

Since we have seen what the major parties are (not)prepared to do, below I mention what I advocate. But before we look at my suggestions it is important to know about the challenges that the New Zealand economy faces. Major challenges to the economy include:

  1. A failure to get more young New Zealanders into education or training
  2. Housing prices that are so high that many New Zealanders are simply priced out of the market; and whose rates are so high that people spend their wages just paying the rent
  3. A fear of science – fear of research and development and a distrust of the people who carry this out is stopping New Zealand from becoming a technological leader
  4. The neoliberal attack of the last 30-35 years has undermined New Zealand – market economics have only had modest success at best

But these are the things that need to happen in order to make the New Zealand economy more resilient:

  1. We limit our exports too severely – New Zealand needs to diversify and more niche export industries need to develop
  2. We have a dangerous over reliance on dairy farming – we might be a farming nation, but it is an unequal spread with too much emphasis on dairy and not enough on other forms
  3. The war on science needs to stop and Government investment needs to increase substantially; the process for research grants needs to be simplified
  4. The emphasis on road transport is outmoded, hugely biased and significant investment in railways and the merchant marine needs to happen
  5. Restrict property ownership to New Zealand Permanent Residents and Citizens
  6. Apply a levy – maybe $100 at the border on each tourist, which goes straight into a fund for building appropriate infrastructure in districts too small to be able to afford it themselves (Grey, Buller, Westland, etc)

Contrary to popular belief, there is nothing wrong on the whole with the Resource Management Act. The complaints about it from both the right and the left of the political spectrum suggest that it is working. There are improvements that can be made, but on the whole it works.

We have plentiful untapped energy potential in solar and tidal energy. The price for solar panels has diminished substantially and if the energy companies would permit people to sell back excess power that their panels generate, individual households could create significant savings. This could generate flow on effects into other parts of the economy, such as a greater demand for electricians and other trades people.

So, when New Zealand First leader Winston Peters decides who he is going with, given that many of my suggestions above mirror N.Z.F. policy, I hope to see in the next three years some of these implemented.

Road toll is a matter of common sense

There is a section of State Highway 1 between Hamilton and Auckland which looks quite ordinary. Well travelled, just like the rest of New Zealand’s longest road, yet a complete and horrible mystery to locals, the emergency services and transport planners alike. This section of road passes through rural areas and small towns such as Mercer, Huntly and Ngaruawahia and is the deadliest stretch of road in the country.

As a kid trying to pass time on the drive from Taupo to Auckland during one holiday, I was looking out the window and started counting white crosses. Each one represents a life lost. When I did this in the 1990’s, the number was already quite depressing then – I counted at least 20. Some of them them were in groups. Others were in clusters. Some were well looked after, with photographs and flowers and others were barely visible. Someone’s mother or son, father or daughter….

As I think about them whilst typing this I wonder how it is after years of steady progress, the toll is suddenly running in reverse. Why are safety campaigns, law enforcement and social messages no longer working? Why do people not seem to be heeding the warnings?

Recently – about six weeks ago – I and a few others stopped a drunk from becoming a drunk driver. He was kicked out from a bar I was at. A few others I knew had been trying to talk him out of driving. Then he simply got up and staggered to his truck and tried to start the ignition. I took the key off him whilst another stood in front of his truck to stop him moving. I wondered at the time how often at bars around the country this sort of incident plays out. Sadly the answer is probably too frequently.

Speeding on roads that are clearly not designed for speed defies common sense. But we do it. Running red lights, failing to give way, not indicating are all things that happen far too frequently. Safety advocates campaign for New measures. The police and other emergency services beg for restraint and occasionally politicians vow action. But nothing happens and perhaps there is a good reason for it.

Perhaps, just perhaps it is because this surge in the road toll is caused a loss of common sense. Perhaps if people did not run those red lights, remembered to indicate and gave way instead of sailing through the toll might be lower. Perhaps less of those crosses I gave up counting would exist on the roadside. Perhaps the volunteer fire fighter at a family barbecue might not have his Christmas Day interrupted because a head on collision has taken two lives.

The time has come to stop blaming non New Zealanders for our own crap driving. Until we take responsibility and make the matching steps in exercising that responsibility, the road toll will continue to be a black stain on New Zealand. We can have the best roads, the best road code and the best driving tests, but if a person gets through all of that and decides they want to be a callous numpty and kill someone, they’ll find a way of doing that.

Is that too much common sense to ask for?

I think not.

Passchendaele – 100 years since New Zealand’s bloodiest day

It is 100 years to the day since New Zealand suffered its bloodiest day in military history. On no other day than 12 October 1917 has New Zealand lost so many service personnel than it did in the muddy hell that was Passchendaele. Widely considered by Germans and non-Germans alike to be the worst of the worst in terms of World War 1 battles, it was a quagmire that both sides came to detest.

Take a moment today to stop and remember who went to war and never came home. Has your family lost anyone in war and if so, where and when did they die? Who did they leave behind?

The famous lines from Binyon become appropriate as we give thanks and remember what for a little island nation half a world away, was the worst day of World War 1.

The shall grow not old

As we that are left grow old

Age shall not weary them

Nor the years condemn

At the going down of the sun

And in the morning

We will remember them

A question mark over suitability of N.Z. armaments expo

Yesterday and today, the New Zealand Defence Industry Association Annual Forum is being held in Wellington. It is an annual event where the defence industry from around the world meet in New Zealand to find out what is going on in the New Zealand sector.

I find myself in the middle. On one hand the defence industry have as much of a right to host such an event as any other sector – the petroleum industry does so from time to time as does the farming sector and others. But as with petroleum there are ethical side issues that get raised such as the fact that military grade weapons have one purpose only: war. But also the ambivalence towards war crimes that tends to be demonstrated. Therefore I find that I am sitting on the fence regarding the protests at the armaments expo.

On one hand the protesters are right to be angry at such an expo being held in New Zealand. Some of the participants – this is sponsored by none other than Lockheed Martin, who whilst giving us the C-130, also develop the Trident missile – are part of the U.S. military industrial complex. The defence industry – not so much in New Zealand, but certainly overseas is an industrial sector that wields a massive amount of influence on government policy making. It has a slick and persuasive corporate media machine that has huge financial resources and advertising punch. Sometimes that influence can be corrupting and a politician is found to have agreed to support one project or another, after wining and dining top executives who have then made huge donations. It is wary about the rule of international law as this can result in particular munitions or weapon types being outlawed.

One group that do not get mentioned are important agencies such as Customs, without whom our border control would be toast. These agencies are not so likely to be after weapons systems as they are likely to be after monitoring and data processing technology that makes enforcing the law at the border easier to do. For them this is more likely to be about networking with other such agencies and finding out new techniques as well.

On the other hand I wonder how many of the protesters have thought about how the N.Z. Defence Force acquires its equipment. Do they expect that the Minister of Defence to simply say to a prospective seller “oh, we heard about ________ and want to buy some”, because if so some particularly serious tax payer money wastage is in the offing. Some how, somewhere the industry has to display the latest advances and talk about issues of the day.

I think there is also misunderstanding about defence spending. Some of this I think is deliberate and some of it is simply people not understanding how Defence Force procurement works. The figure $15-20 billion that is being bandied about is *proposed* spending, as in it has not yet been allocated in a budget. The second thing about this figure is that it is spread over 15-20 years, which suggests to me that no annual defence budget increase is planned. It comes out at about $1 billion a year, which is roughly what we spend now.

This is not an endorsement of the expo.

I also need to be honest. There are three circumstances and three circumstances only when I believe there is a case for military action:

  1. You get attacked by a foreign power
  2. The United Nations authorizes it
  3. A conflict spills over into your territory

New Zealand is lucky that compared to many other parts of the world we are in a *relatively* (here is where Helen Clark fell down)bening strategic environment. Not a totally benign one where everyone is singing Kumbaya, but one that compared with the Middle East, Korean Peninsula or a host of other places is fairly peaceful.

However we need to be prepared to help as the United Nations requires. The likelihood of a direct attack on New Zealand is remote, but there is the prospect we may need to shut down – possibly by force – a conflict at some point in the Solomon Islands or if Pacific island neighbours destabilize we might have to intervene and sort out armed factions.

Make addressing violent crime a priority

So, another dairy has been robbed. An occurrence happening all too frequently the length and breadth of New Zealand with the perpetrators getting away just as frequently.

But the worst part of this horror show is the courts. Soft as butter judges playing namby pamby games with peoples lives and livelihoods. The conservative parts of society might call for a return to the gravel pits for such offenders, but this fails to address the core societal issues that are leading to these horrendous crimes in the first place. By this I am talking about the lack of role models in their lives and the presence of drugs; their failure in the school system and a lack of a job.

But at the same time the courts have a job to do and they are failing at it in an abject way. It is almost like in some cases the judges do not care any more. I find it hard to believe that human rights laws for children have advanced to the degree that some say they have and that as a result the judges somehow have their hands tied.

I wonder if part of the justice process, a judge has ever asked an offender what their ambitions in life are. I am certainly not suggesting showing sympathy, but almost none of these offenders have probably thought about where they want to go in life. Maybe – I could be totally wrong, but just assume for a moment I am not – they simply need someone in a position of authority to show them right from wrong. If they don’t care, then that is a different story.

So, what are some of the steps that need to be taken? Several steps:

  • For starters I think Civics/Legal Studies needs to be compulsory in Year 12. Students need to know how the law works because at some point they are going to have to deal with it, so they better learn.
  • A youth policing section needs to be established so that young people learn to work with the police and see that they will only be in their lives if they commit crime or are the victims of crime
  • Synthetic cannabis needs to be banned immediately and all shops given one weeks grace to hand over their stock – all in possession of it should be given an equally short grace period to hand over their private stock
  • Small amounts of cannabis should be decriminalized – police are wasting their time and resources dealing with anything under say 5 grams
  • Importers/dealers and manufacturers of illegal substances should have a 10 year starting jail sentence plus anything purchased using the profits of their criminal activity should be seized and sold – money raised goes to funding drug treatment; non New Zealanders should be deported and permanently barred from reentering

But none of this will work if there is not a co-ordinated approach involving the co-operation of the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Social Welfare and the Ministry of Education.

If a rise in tax is necessary to fund this, do it. Done properly, it will pay for itself in time.