The slow burning Labour Government

The Government have several substantial projects on the go at this time. All of these are actually quite slow burning in that the time stamp from start to finish will be considerable. A few of the larger ones are:

  • The R.M.A. reform bill that Minister for Environment, David Parker has before Parliament
  • The education reforms announced by Minister of Education Chris Hipkins, which include an end to National Standards, established by National and a revisitation of the Tomorrow’s Schools framework established in 1989 to guide schools into the then foreseeable future
  • Social welfare changes being overseen by Minister of Social Development, Carmel Sepuloni

The Resource Management Act Amendment Bill is the most comprehensive reform of the R.M.A. in its history. The Act which was introduced by Labour in 1990 and finished by National in 1991 when it entered law has been dogged by controversy since Day 1, with the Green Party saying it is not strong enough whilst the A.C.T. Party has campaigned for its abolition – with no suggestion about what may replace it – and National have campaigned for a thorough streamlining of it. In the 28 years since it became law, the Act has doubled in length with both Labour and National led Governments adding half cooked amendments to it that have failed to address the core problems. With the dissolution of Parliament for the elections just weeks away I doubt that this will be passed before the election.

Many of the problems blamed on the R.M.A. actually have nothing to do with it and are more the product of a poor understanding of how the Act works. Common problems keep coming out time and again, such as Section 92 requests for more information. These stem from the council with whom a resource consent application has been lodged not been given enough information about the application to make a judgement. Others stem from councils not appropriately notifying a consent application – something that should have been publically notified might have been partially notified or not notified at all. Again, not the Act’s fault that the council made the mistake.

Chris Hipkins and his Labour Party colleagues railed against the National Standards when they were in Opposition. Too complex; children that young should not be examined academically like that; sent the wrong messages to students and parents alike. Like many I am not sorry to see the National Standards go, but I would hope that the equally useless National Certificate of Educational Achievement will follow it out the door and be replaced with an assessment regime that has both internal and external assessment for all courses.

I had experience with Unit Standards in Year 12 and Year 13 Tourism; Year 12 history and Year 11 Maths. You cannot blame the system prior to N.C.E.A. for my results. I was a student with a minimalist attitude who did what I had to pass and not much more. I thought it was a fair system. Some say that the grading was not fair, and perhaps that is true – I do not know why grading was introduced in the first place; if the pass rate is too high then perhaps the assessment is not sufficiently challenging for that year group.

The 1989 Tomorrow’s Schools blueprint was considered visionary at the time of its release. However the learning needs of students, the challenges they face and the diversification of communities that schools serve mean that its time has come to be replaced or comprehensively overhauled. Mr Hipkins has announced his intention to revisit T.S., but no big announcements have been made yet.

Perhaps the biggest question mark is over the reforms announced by Ms Sepuloni. I have heard little about their detail, which is concerning as we approach the end of her first term in office. We have no idea whether Ms Sepuloni intends to tackle the inept and outdated Work and Income New Zealand, which one of the small parties outside of Parliament – Prosperity Party – said they would support the breaking up of. Nor do we know whether any major reforms that come will tackle the monstrosity that is the legal framework of our social welfare system, which is rigid, encourages a toxic culture in the umbrella agencies it was designed for and whose Social Welfare Act has not been substantially revisited since 1956.

Labour are by far the better performing of the big two parties in Parliament. However their policy programme is rather slow burning. I had thought that at least one of these – among other major reforms – would have been passed through Parliament by now. It is fair to say that with COVID19, the Christchurch mosques attack, that Labour have had their hands full handling other crises. It is also true that three party coalitions can be unwieldy things. But that – in particular in Ms Sepuloni’s case – does not mean that the tempo cannot be cranked up a bit.

Challenges facing New Zealand in the 2020’s

As we enter the 2020’s with bush fire smoke descending on New Zealand from our Australian neighbours and the world watches U.S.-Iranian relations deteriorate further (more on that tomorrow), it is important to note our own considerable challenges. They cover a broad smorgasbord of issues that without significant action in the near future, have the potential to cause significant grief in years and decades to come. I briefly look at what I consider to be the major challenges here:

CONSTITUTION: Whilst our current framework gives New Zealand flexibility that an entrenched constitution such as that of the United States does not, the latter has some features that we should consider adding. The framework which consists of seven significant Acts of Parliament includes the Bill of Rights Act 1990, the Human Rights Act 1986 and the Constitution Act

There have been challenges in Parliament in recent years to the framework that need to be addressed before one renders it useless. They include incidents where Parliament has voted to remove a Commissioner without doing due diligence; legislation passed that directly undermines the legal right in the Human Rights Act 1986 to peaceful assembly . Such steps are not only highly improper, they pass into grey areas of New Zealand law and potentially set a dangerous precedent.

ECONOMY: Since 2016 the economy of New Zealand has been stuttering along, partially caused by global uncertainty as the situation in the Middle East continues to deteriorate; uncertainty over Britain and Brexit and the U.S.-Chinese trade war. But we cannot blame it all on international concerns.

Long standing concerns about the lack of diversity in the economy and a lack of emphasis in terms of investment in science research and technology still exist. New Zealand will not become one of the higher wage earning nations in the west until they are.

EDUCATION: Whilst this Government is on the right track having another look at Tomorrow’s Schools, I am concerned that the students are missing some very basic teaching in the rush to embrace digital technology. Many students struggle to show mathematical working on paper; construct basic sentences and that not enough is being done to embrace books. Whether the Minister will address this remains to be seen.

The tertiary education sector also faces a number of challenges. They include the sector reforms announced by Chris Hipkins, who has embarked on what I consider to be an overly radical reform whereby all of the institutions are merged into a mega institute. The push back is understandable, though some of the smaller institutes that are vulnerable to failure should be closed before they implode.

ENVIRONMENT: Since Labour came to office there has been a welcome escalation in the war on waste. To the Government’s credit it has banned plastic bags, announced a phase out of fossil fuels and acknowledged that water quality is a major issue. This is one somewhat brighter area despite the many and considerable challenges facing the natural environment.

But the Government must step up the tempo. The review of the Resource Management Act, whilst a good idea is in danger of just adding to the confused 800 page beast it already is. It needs to announce how it is going to tackle the phase out of fossil fuels in conjunction with economic and social leaders, and the war on waste is really only just beginning.

FOREIGN POLICY: New Zealand foreign policy is largely correct in my book, with four significant exceptions. Two are super powers competing for our attention and support. The third is the willingness to continue to put New Zealand first by taking a third way as opposed to a Chinese way or an American way.

It is the fourth that should concern us the most as we need to do more to help our Pasifika neighbours. The Samoan medical emergency caused by measles has shown it does not have the ability to cope with this all on its own. They also need to be reassured that New Zealand takes their environmental concerns seriously and will push them at the United Nations.

POVERTY: This is really a combination of social, background, medical and education factors working (or not working) together. Neither National or Labour have really tried to acknowledge this. Nor have they tried to address the neoliberal economic model that favours a small select group of people and ignores the rest. Trickle down economics is a myth perpetuated to make people believe that market economics work for all. They do not and poverty is a significant consequence of it.


Time to regulate freedom campers

Bex Hill is a tour operator in Dunedin. The other day she saw a people mover turned freedom camper vehicle with a self containment sticker on it. The problem is, it was not self contained.

If there is an issue that divides New Zealand during the summer tourism season, it must surely be what to do about “Freedom Campers”, campers whose transport – often an old Toyota Previa or similar – doubles as their home, and who refuse to camp in regular camping grounds. For many such campers the vehicle is also where they claim to have a toilet, so that they are able to access camping grounds without sanitary facilities.

The majority of them are no problem and will comply with requests. However it needs to be said that there will always be a small percentage for whom no amount reasoning will work – they think that by some higher entitlement they can be in a particular place and do as they wish. New Zealand, contrary to popular belief – does have minimum standards for self containment in vehicles – they just are not that well known or enforced. They are set out in full below (see New Zealand Motor Caravan Association):


The Standard requires sanitary, safe installations:

  1. Fresh water tanks: 4 L per person per day (12 L per person minimum); eg. 24 litres is required for 2 people for 3 days & 48 litres is required for 4 people for 3 days;

  2. A sink: (via a smell trap/water trap connected to a water tight sealed waste water tank;

  3. Grey/black waste water tank: 4 L per person per day (12 L per person minimum, vented and monitored if capacity is less than the fresh water tank);

  4. Evacuation hose: (3 m for fitted tanks) or long enough to connect to a sealed portable tank;

  5. Sealable refuse container (rubbish bin with a lid).

  6. Toilet (portable or fixed): Minimum capacity 1 L per person per day (3 L net holding tank capacity per person minimum);

A portable toilet must be adequately restrained or secured when travelling. The portable toilet shall be usable within the motor caravan or caravan, including sufficient head and elbow room whenever required, even with the bed made up.  Where permanent toilets are installed, this shall be in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions and comply with the sanitary requirements in section 3 of the Standard (plumbing requirements).

When these conditions are met, a portable toilet may be used externally e.g. within a toilet tent or awning, where it is appropriate and convenient to do so.

I had time for them, but now my patience – and I think that of many many New Zealanders – is running out. It is time to regulate their vehicles as being supposedly fit for over nighting in places where camping is generally forbidden is often not what one thinks it is. Far too often we now hear of campers becoming aggressive when challenged about the suitability of their vehicle to be parked in a non camping area. Far too often we find freedom campers parked in parts of towns and rural areas where they should not be.

Aside from being disgusting and unsightly in the extreme to see other peoples faeces, it is a particularly poor look on the part of a country that prides itself on being clean and green. Yes everyone needs to answer a call of nature at some point and that there will most certainly be cases where it cannot be done in a proper toilet.

Is it inappropriate to remind them that they are in New Zealand and are therefore expected to comply with New Zealand law (which admittedly needs to be clarified and tightened up, but that is beyond the scope of this article)? I think not. When other campers cannot get access to a particular site because it is blocked and the campers are aggressive, whose fault is that?

I do not believe I am being unnecessarily harsh when I say that the only vehicles that should be permitted for this purpose should have an enforceable certificate of self containment. But before we do that, there has to be a regime with appropriate agencies involved and a way of making the enforcement stick. This will require the co-operation of rental car and other rental vehicle agencies, the N.Z.T.A. and local councils.

Then, may be people like Bex Hill will not have to see such sights again.

Challenges for New Zealand in 2019

A range of social, economic, political and environmental challenges loom large on New Zealand’s horizon as the year 2019 gets underway. In a turbulent world and stressed domestic situation New Zealand finds itself trying to live up to the international reputation bestowed on it as a clean, friendly and – for the most part – safe place to visit, live and do business. Addressing these challenges will go some distance towards improving our future. So, what are those challenges?

Environmental challenges are numerous. But they also present some opportunities which are beyond the scope of this article, and which will be discussed at a later time.

  • Our fresh water continues to be stressed by the demand placed on it by domestic consumption, dairying, industrial and other uses. Despite increased acknowledgement of the threat posed to it there is still resistance in some economic and social sectors, who view it as green wishy washy politics.
  • Waste is a rapidly growing problem and despite moves to tackle plastic bags, it ignores significant other sources such as electronic waste, food waste, packaging and our poor recycling. This may threaten our reputation for being clean.
  • The level of carbon in our atmosphere is the highest it has been for 3 million years. Whether one believes in climate change or not, this carbon is having serious effects on the marine environment, peoples health through air pollution and potentially cancerous dioxins

Economic challenges exist both on the world stage and domestically. Some are challenges that are decades old and some are challenges that have only arisen in the last few years:

  • A trade war between the United States and China might have flow on effects for New Zealand and other trade partners of these two countries – no immediate talks on ending the hostilities which started last year seem likely in the near future
  • A continuing reluctance to diversify our economy so that fewer eggs are in the same proverbial basket means opportunities to develop niche sectors such as recycling and environmentally friendly technologies are being passed up
  • New Zealand is supposed to be carbon neutral by 2050, but the Ministry for Environment and the Ministry of Energy and Resources have not given thought as to what a long term blue print for this might look like.

Tackling social challenges might be one of the bigger success stories of the Sixth Labour Government. In adopting a policy of greater kindness and compassion, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern took a great step forward in including the more vulnerable parts of society that have been marginalized by market economics. But challenges remain:

  • Whilst moving to address the effects of drugs on society is a laudable action, clearly some such as heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine have more damaging effects on individual than cannabis – having a referendum on cannabis will not address the need to be firm on the manufacturers, importers and sellers of these more damaging substances
  • Our road toll – what a disaster it has been these last few years and too much of it caused by offenders thinking that a wet bus ticket judicial system is a licence to reoffend. Whilst true simple ownership of attitudes will also go some distance towards lowering the road toll as well.
  • Reform of the labour laws is necessary to stop New Zealand developing a wild west reputation for employing non-New Zealanders and then exploiting their likely lack of knowledge about their rights and responsibilities under our laws

New Zealand has some serious decisions to make in the near future politically. What sort of constitutional system do we want? Is our flag still relevant? Do we want Prince Charles as our head of state?

An alternative New Zealand flag. Designed by R. GLENNIE

The above is a flag design that I conceived over Christmas and New Year. Whilst I supported the New Zealand flag in the referendum, that was not so much because I like the design of the existing one, as I found it suspicious that replacing it should suddenly be a raging priority. The time to have that debate is when we are forced to address the constitutional issue, which I suspect will be when Queen Elizabeth II passes on.


Rebuilding forestry in New Zealand

Re-establishing the New Zealand Forestry Service is a noble move. As one of the larger primary industries in New Zealand, having a purpose built agency to maintain our forests in a sustainable manner is a no brainer. With a plan to plant 1 billion trees over the next several years, the likes of Carter Holt Harvey and other major companies with an interest in timber need to be on board.

Perhaps also the Forestry service can stop more events like the recent flood in Tolaga Bay, Gisborne where clear felling in a plantation left a slope overly exposed. The slope then failed disastrously during prolonged heavy rain and swept mud, floodwaters and timber debris through several properties. Could a forestry agency with oversight have foreseen the danger and taken steps to mitigate it? Quite possibly.

There are not only potential economic gains to be had, but also biological gains. Plantation forestry has been found to support a wide range of biodiversity on its floor. This has been found in the Kaingaroa Plantation on the volcanic plateau of the central North Island where pumiceous soils readily support pinus radiata.

In terms of climate change, whilst the pledge to plant 1 billion trees is very welcome, little has been revealed about how, when and where this is going to happen. Who is going to fund it; do the work; source the appropriate trees. So, I have come up with a solution:

  1. Give prisoners at Rangipo and other rural prisons something to do by getting them to plant the trees – in return this may contribute towards rewards such as extra visits; more R&R time inside the prison grounds and so forth
  2. Buy back land that is too damaged or unstable as a result of hydrothermal activity, or man made activity to be built or developed on and stabilize it with some sort of plantation
  3. Talk to Iwi about possibly allowing them to have buy-in into the forestry
  4. If economically permissible build a railway line to somewhere like Kawerau to get the logs onto rail and sent straight to the Port of Tauranga
  5. Examine whether restoration of native forest can lead to a minor scale logging operation, acknowledging the value of our Totara, Kauri, Rimu and Rata

At least one of these plantations should be a large carbon sink to soak up as much of New Zealand’s carbon based gas emission as possible. Whilst carbon emission trading schemes have constantly run into political or economic problems, perhaps that is more because the politicians and economists are not looking at the larger picture – politicians primary jobs are to represent their constituents and get the best deal possible for them (and of course get re-elected); economists as their titles suggest are better trained to look at the picture from the perspective of how it will affect a country’s economic performance.

Whilst one might say, that is where environmentalists step in, and it is, again, they are advocates. I guess one could say the same for the planners caught in the cross fire, but planners have to look at the overall picture and weigh up the differing arguments. In this case, is a National Policy Statement or other planning instrument on Forestry needed? I think so. No such instrument specific to forestry exists at the moment and having one would enable regional councils to give direction on how they envisage related.