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.

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.

South Island being short changed by Government


“Everybody south of the Bombay Hills” is a common reference to everyone not living in Auckland. It is generally used in the context of political commentary on Government decisions where New Zealanders not living in Auckland are likely to come distant second in Government funding or policy announcements.

The recent announcement by Minister of Transport Phil Twyford that billions of dollars are to be spent on Auckland and other North Island transport projects was a rude jolt for many in the South Island. Whilst an announcement on funding for the Southern Motorway was made for Christchurch, there was precious little else for the South Island to be happy with. It broke a promise that Labour made to spend $100 million on trains for Christchurch. It ignored the West Coast, Otago, Nelson, Marlborough and Southland completely.

But worst of all it sent a message to people south of Cook Strait that they are not important.

Yet people wonder why the South Island is getting so frustrated. Much of the power that is generated in the South Island goes to the North Island This has been the case for years and I am assured by a friend in the know that the Police keep a permanent watch on the Cook Strait cable to make sure no one interferes with it.

I am not so surprised by the resentment. It has been around for years and at times has gotten strong enough as to give rise to small political parties that have the vision of separating the South Island or at least making much more effort to include South Island interests on the Government agenda. It has given rise to internet based groups that have – among other things looked at alternative flag designs for the South Island.

Richard Prosser, former New Zealand First list Member of Parliament might have seemed a lone wolf in the mist when he advocated for South Island separatism before entering Parliament. However he was not the first. Nor the last. In 1999 the South Island Party stood at the General Election and got 2,622 votes. Not many, but the fact that it became a verified party with 500+ paying members suggests that such sentiment is capable of becoming more organized. The South Island Party disbanded and another party that replaced it never got enough paying members to be verified as a legitimate party.

Still, one cannot help but wonder what it would take for South Island nationalism to start creeping back into the fringes of New Zealand politics. How many more policy and budget announcements that short change the 1.1 million New Zealanders south of Cook Strait could be tolerated?

The answer might not be as many as people think.

A ban too far: Don Brash’s Massey University ban


I will call it from the outset. Dr Don Brash’s speaking ban at Massey University was a ban too far.

Given that we never got to hear what Dr Brash was going to say, though we could make a reasonably good guess as to the subject matter, the decision by the Massey Vice Chancellor was not only a gross over reaction it was premature.

The other day the controversial Canadian activists Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux were stopped from an event they were to talk about their opposition to immigration and their activism on the right of the political spectrum. Coming days after Ms Southern and Mr Molyneux’s controversial speaking engagement being cancelled, perhaps the Vice Chancellor of Massey University thought it was just not the time. Perhaps she thought, as she apparently did, that there would be a security threat or some other problem.

To ban Dr Brash, however divisive whatever he had to say might have been, from speaking at Massey speaks of a University that is scared to champion freedom of speech. It speaks of a University unable to tolerate something thousands of New Zealanders laid their lives down for in two world wars.

Do we actually know if what he was going to say is even divisive or not? Suspicions are one thing, facts are quite another – we do not know for fact that he actually had something divisive in mind.

I know a few people on the right. I disagree with them on most things, but not this. Not when the right to freedom of speech however horrible, wrong and improper whatever the speaker/s of the day might have to say is being challenged. That is not okay.

But my real beef is with Massey University. What on earth was the Vice Chancellor thinking? This will be damaging for the university as one of New Zealand’s tertiary institutions. People will look at Massey and wonder if it is going the same way that Berkeley University in California has gone – a place rocked by division and now loaded with tension, split along sharply partisan lines. I do not believe that the V.C. should resign, as others are calling for her to do, but to have a cold hard look at ones professional self in the mirror would be a very good idea.

I do not want to see any New Zealand institution, tertiary or otherwise go the direction that Berkeley has gone in California. For a land that prides itself on civility and a fair go, that would be a dreadful state of affairs to find ourselves in. But it is a direction we might be going if incidents like what happened at Massey with Dr Brash play out elsewhere in New Zealand.

Why the lack of confidence in New Zealand economy?


Stuff reporter Tracy Watkins wrote in The Press that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has five major problems upon her return to work. One of those problems is dealing with an apparent elephant in the room called business confidence.

Apparently it is at a ten year low. Supposedly the economy is somehow at risk, which I find a bit rich, given that this Government has:

  • Not even been in office a year and has not had time to undo the social consequences of the previous Government
  • Is addressing socio-economic concerns that have seen more and more New Zealanders at risk of falling through the cracks caused by unsustainable increases in the costs of living

Contrary to what National and A.C.T. would have one believe, many of the problems assailing the New Zealand economy at the moment are actually not of the Governments making. As a relatively minor, albeit respected player in the global economy, New Zealand’s ability to influence the likes of larger nations such as the United States, Russia, China and so forth is limited.

New Zealand did not ask for the trade wars that have been starting up, or which threaten to start up. It did not ask to be a victim of large nations slapping tariffs on each others products – the decisions by United States President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping were always going to have a negative flow on effect.

New Zealand did not ask for the high level of political tension in the Middle East that has seen frequent threats of war being bandied about between the United States, Israel and Iran. The very high petrol prices at the moment are a reflection of the fact that fiery rhetoric is starting to be matched, ominously, by military movements in form of U.S. and Iranian military assets being moved into the Gulf region.

Nor have we asked for the winding back of necessary checks put in place after the 2007-09 Global Financial Crisis to make sure that the banking system cannot destroy itself. The Dodd-Frank Act of the United States has been challenged by Republicans trying to assure their place in the 2018 midterm results. The Act was passed by President Barak Obama to end the notion of “too big to fail” which had seen large banks such as Lehman collapse, and ensure fiscal stability and accountability. With concerns mounting that the banking sector may be on the edge of another failure there is little sense in removing these checks and balances.

As for New Zealand economic symptoms, significant reinvestment in health, education, the social welfare system as well as transport and other sectors can only be a good thing. After years of relentlessly chipping away at these sectors, gaps are showing in mental health, housing, affordability of every day necessities. Such investment will help to keep many people who are at the lower end of the wealth spectrum in a position where they do not become destitute, and pay for itself in the longer term by enabling them to find work.

The significant investment in railways and public transport will help to reduce congestion on major routes, but also take more freight off roads and enable it to be moved in bulk. Some roads in New Zealand, such as the State Highway 1 coastal section south of Kaikoura are simply not meant to take the large trucks that are driven along a twisty, narrow route that have tunnels with low ceilings.

Nor should there be concerns about changes to labour legislation to ensure that the exploitation of workers cannot go unchallenged. As a nation that prides itself on giving everyone a fair go, that means giving workers fair working conditions. Common sense, really.