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):

A SUMMARY OF THE MINIMUM REQUIREMENTS FOR CERTIFIED SELF-CONTAINMENT

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.

The hour of legalized cannabis is approaching


It started with the release of the report into “meth houses”, houses that had been contaminated by methamphetamine production. Within months debate about how New Zealand view drugs and what should be done about them had turned its sights on potentially legalizing cannabis. Now with a referendum set down for 2020, I believe that the hour of cannabis legalization is approaching.

There is, I believe, no escaping the fact that public support for cannabis being legalized is high and rising. A number of reasons for this exist, but I believe in part the driver for change comes down to some basic myths around cannabis and its effects being blown wide open:

  • The so called “War on Drugs”, both in New Zealand and abroad has failed/is failing
  • Numerous other substances such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and synthetic cannabis are much more potent than regular cannabis
  • Judicial systems in New Zealand and abroad have been clogging up with cases big and small
  • Medical marijuana – whilst its legal status is still in limbo – is no longer something that the police are actively prosecuting
  • If done properly, the tax take from legalizing marijuana would be substantial and could be used for funding treatment programmes

A nation wide referendum, scheduled to coincide with the 2020 General Election, and possibly the first in the world to ask such a question, will ask New Zealanders point blank whether they believe cannabis should be legalized.

Synthetic cannabis, also known as “Spice”, is illegal and supermarkets and dairies have been banned from selling legal highs since 2014. It has been linked to several deaths in New Zealand, people being dangerously spaced out with no idea or comprehension of their surroundings and is the cause of considerable public concern.

But for many people a few quite high profile deaths have highlighted the use of cannabis as a medicating agent against chronic pain. One of these cases was that of trade unionist Helen Kelly who was diagnosed with lung cancer, despite never having been a smoker. As a result of these high profile cases and in depth interviews conducted with those suffering, public support for the use of medicinal cannabis has rocketed.

Some opposition inevitably stems from conservative parts of society who are concerned about the effects of liberalizing drug laws and believe that it will have detrimental effects on society.

Some nations, notably the United States, which has long waged an expensive, often violent and now – ultimately – failing “war on drugs”, will also probably express concern. America though is starting to see that Federal law is no longer keeping up with changes in state laws, particularly in states like Colorado and Washington where restrictions on possession, distribution and manufacture of cannabis have been relaxed. A good example of this is in Washington State – my parents visited a friend whose daughter used to work in the first cannabis store in the state. The store had several restrictions on how it could operate, so that it would not be in breach of Federal law these included not being able to take credit cards; banking the earnings from the days business was a problem because banks are bound by Federal laws.

New Zealand is not the United States and there will need to be strict conditions on how we permit stores that sell cannabis to operate cometh the day when buying, selling and manufacturing cannabis  is no longer a criminal offence. But if a few common sense ones are followed such as, strictly 18+; all stores selling registered with authorities and only New Zealand grown product is permitted, maybe it will not be the catastrophe some believe.

Disability sector crisis worsening


What is disability you ask?

According to the State Services Commission disability is not something people have. They have impairments. Disability is the process by which people create barriers by designing a world fit for them without taking into account the impairments of other people. Statistics New Zealand defines disability as any self perceived limitation caused by a long term condition or health problem, expected to last 6 months or more and not completely eliminated by an assisting device.

Having grown up with hand/eye co-ordination issues that are largely resolved other than not being confident driving a manual vehicle and hearing impairment since birth, I have experienced some of the issues that confront people with impairments. My parents and General Practitioner have confronted the issues around finding me suitable support and minimizing those impairments.

One might now say that the disability sector (I am starting to see why advocates do not like the word “disability”) now has an impairment of its own. Despite billions spent on health in New Zealand, the public would be right to ask whether we get dollar for dollar value in our health care, which by world standards is still pretty good.

But there is an impairment in the disability sector. Years of under-funding mean a lot of programmes are run on shoe string budgets and unavoidably force the District Health Boards to use money that they have not necessarily been allocated. That has created a short fall now reaching $150 million.

I find this quite disgusting given that Governments of the centre-left are supposed to support minority groups including those with impairments. For all the hot air coming out of politicians mouths about people with impairments, surprisingly little seems to get done. Two Members of Parliament spending a day working in wheel chairs to demonstrate empathy is 99% show 1% action.

A significant issue is public perception and one of the issues that needs to be tackled at school where students often find that their school has accepted students with mobility issues. Very often ignorance of what constitutes an impairment and what the actual capabilities of a person are – they might have perfect hand/eye co-ordination, but not be able to use their legs. Others might have speech impairments, but be able to communicate on paper, or using electronic media.

A second problem facing people who have mobility issues is quite simple yet fundamental. A person in a wheel chair cannot go very far if their wheels cannot do simple things such as get over the curb at a pedestrian crossing or over the lip of the floor in a door frame. Some of this is simple design of the buildings – when the building was designed there might not have been a requirement to provide for wheel chairs, or mobility scooters.

Am I perfect in terms of going to help someone who is stuck? Absolutely not, but I will go and help a person in obvious need of assistance no questions asked. One such time I saw a guy who had just crossed a major road on his mobility scooter as I drove past, who was stuck on the curb. I pulled over at the first safe spot and went back, but by that time someone else had moved him to safety. And I am reminded also of a gentleman who used to be a teacher aide at my high school. He had multiple sclerosis, which had limited the use of his hands and other muscles were failing too, yet he would also help out with the rifle club that I was a member of. Since he could not get the guns carry bags out himself, the students would do it for him. The school built a ram entrance for each building to enable him access.

But not everyone is so lucky. A family from not so good socio-economic circumstances will struggle to find appropriate support in a straight jacketed system. In a system with a short fall of $150 million that support could be seriously lacking in resources and staffing.

Teachers strike as much about conditions as pay


As New Zealand braces for another wave of teacher strikes, we are getting mixed messages about what is driving the strikes. Some are saying it is wages. Others are saying it is working conditions. The Ministers of Education and Children are saying they have done their best.

Teachers have to be a range of things that they were never trained to do and should not be attempting to do. Among these roles are being de facto parents, part time social workers, and nurses. In other words being made to do – by circumstance – things that they simply should not.

So, I find it a bit disingenuous that the Minister of Education Chris Hipkins and the Minister for Children Tracey Martin can somehow believe that the teachers are simply striking to get as much money as they can.

A teacher, whilst reasonably expected to discipline children when they are naughty or refuse to follow instructions, should not expect to have to put up with the range of behaviours that they are being subject to. These include physical assault, things being thrown at them, inappropriate behaviour such as groping. All of this is not only totally improper has anyone considered the disruption and upset that it must cause students to be witness to this?

When I was at intermediate in 1993 we had a relief teacher one time. She was covering for two days and on the first day, a student was being particularly disruptive. His desk had already been separated and pushed up against a wall by the regular teacher because of his behaviour. On this particular day he was not having a bar of the relief teacher. At some point he had been asked to get on with his work and stubbornly refused. When the teacher came around to tell him off, he leaped out of his chair and pushed her up against the wall. The class captain ran next door to get a teacher to assist. It took about three staff to restrain him and the class had to be sent outside whilst he was calmed down. Then after a meeting with the Principal which saw him suspended on the spot he came back in grabbed his books, dumped them on the floor and slammed the desk lid so hard it broke its hinge.

Things have moved on since 1993. But I think the ability of teachers to sort out unruly students has not improved. There will always be a disruptive core of students in any school who might come from homes where there is no parental guidance. None of the teachers I had reacted excessively to the behaviour of the students in their classes.

But more recently they have also had to be parents of sorts. Some have said that they have children in their classes still wetting themselves; children who have not learnt basic table manners. Some have had to go so far as to take children into their own homes, which creates ethical issues about the limitations of a teachers responsibility and where the State, parents or other body must take charge.

Teachers are also concerned about the lack of help they are getting on children with special needs. Whilst assistance has been provided, concerns linger over the quality of the training, how many hours the teacher aides will be able to do. Special needs students range greatly in terms of needs and dependency. Some are quite high functioning whilst others will have behavioural and language impairments and some will be non verbal.

When one considers these issues individually and collectively, should we really be surprise that teachers are going on strike. The expectations on them have become unrealistic and the resourcing has not kept up. Now we are paying the price.

Lessons from Europe and Singapore: Alcohol consumption


I was in Belgium on my recently completed trip I was fortunate enough to try some of their superb craft beer. Belgium has a well established reputation for craft beer – indeed on a canal boat trip I did with my parents in Brugge, the guide/driver pointed out a place which he said has over 1400 craft beers in it. We initially thought he was joking, but I will let you make you minds up after you look at the photo below (it was considerably longer than this):

The author and the beer wall (part of it) in Brugge, Belgium. (R. GLENNIE)

This and other experiences with alcohol culture in Belgium and other countries around Europe got me thinking about how and why New Zealanders behave in the way they do with alcohol. Is there any way to make New Zealanders drink more responsibly without taking away the pleasure of a beer or wine? Is there a way of having a good time without filling up Accident and Emergency Departments in our hospitals or waking up the following day wishing one had never had that extra round (vomited all over the floor, smashed something, started a fight or other totally improper conduct)?

Belgian craft beer is not weak in alcohol. One might think it does not taste so, but very often I was drinking beers with 8.0-10.0% alcohol. They would be served in 330ml or 500ml glasses. At no point in the trip did I have more than two rounds at a given location and all were accompanied by food or food was consumed prior to alcohol consumption.

I noticed some key differences about the conduct of Europeans around it. I did not not note any seriously drunken behaviour. There were to be sure some loud conversations going on, but a few of the places I had beers at did have acoustic set ups that made things seem louder than they probably were. But I never saw any fights, uncivilized behaviour or police officers arresting anyone.

In many places people would come in, perhaps by bike or on foot, they would order a round and have it. Many would go after just one round. A few would stick around for more. Food was readily available. These establishments would even on Friday generally be shut by 2200-2300, though they were open right through the day.

I did some research. In Belgium 0.05 milligrams of alcohol per millilitre of blood is the limit. Bus drivers and truck drivers, fee paying passenger services – taxi’s, limousines with chauffeurs – have to abide by a 0.2 milligram limit. Compare that with the limits in New Zealand: 0.05 milligrams per 100ml of blood/250 micrograms per litre of breath.

Alcohol limits across the European Union vary considerably. From 0.08 milligrams of alcohol per litre of blood in the United Kingdom, to zero in the Czech Republic and Slovenia (zero generally being interpreted as below detection levels). So do the attendant rules around driver types – some countries set professional drivers (which I take to mean truck, emergency services, etc)low limits such as 0.02 and others make it an offence to drive with any alcohol on board.

Of the wider alcohol problem in New Zealand, I thought about that too. Supermarkets are currently able to sell alcohol. In Europe I saw wine and beer being available in places like service stations, which were more like small scale supermarkets or suprettes. I think that is too liberal and that alcohol should be restricted to alcohol stores, which rigorously enforce the 18+ law. That will take away some of the marketing in front of youths. It will not solve all of the problems with drunkenness, but that was likely to require a societal shift in attitudes anyway.