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.

 

Our national attitude is a national disgrace


She’ll be right

It is a favourite New Zealand and Australian phrase. Normally used to mean everything is going to be alright, “she’ll be right” it has long been a commonly used by people in an optimistic or apathetic tense to dispel what might be perceived as unjustified concern about something. But after the White Island eruption, people are asking whether we are too casual in our outlook and understanding of risk. Has the time come to rein in our laid back attitude to safety and well being?

I have long been concerned about this attitude. In fact it was the primary inspiration for the name of this blog. I wanted an attitude or something else that would have a definitive  aspect of New Zealand culture in it, something catchy or likely to make people stop and think about the purpose of the blog.

We have long been too casual in many respects in my opinion when it comes to a whole range of issues. From racism towards new arrivals in New Zealand to how we prepare for natural disasters; from understanding how our constitutional framework operates to whether we are serious about ending poverty in this country – underlying the ad hoc efforts made by successive governments with no real idea about what they need to do or the rationale for those steps is a deep seated undercurrent of “she’ll be right”, that New Zealanders ought to stop worrying.

New Zealand was found to be short on mining expertise, proper enforceable regulations to ensure that due monitoring is carried out. The Royal Commission found a host of problems, many of which could be linked to years of mismanagement that had given rise to a culture of unaccountability, dollars being more important than humans. Nine years later though I am not sure how much attention has been paid to making sure the recommendations are being followed through. Was this the “she’ll be right” attitude kicking in because people just wanted it to come to a close, or because they genuinely honestly things had come to a close?

Then we had the Christchurch earthquakes. Buildings that were meant to have been evacuated following the Boxing Day 2010 aftershock or earlier events, collapsed killing people devastating families and prompting ourselves to undergo an examination of how we address such events. Both the authorities and land lords were found to have short comings. But nearly 9 years on because the apathy strand of our “she’ll be right” attitude is still carrying influence, slowly eroding the meaningful progress. Some people it turns out just do not want systemic changes to happen.

So, I am calling it out for what it is: a national disgrace that is dragging the country and its reputation through the muck. A few decades ago when this country was still relatively unknown to the world and the reputation, how we present ourselves as a nation might have been embarrassing, but if the world did not get a hold of news about the blemish, we might live to fight another day in the same state. With globalized 24 hour saturation media coverage – if an event that happened here is not being mentioned in New Zealand media, Al Jazeera, C.N.N., the Guardian, B.B.C., or an Australian media outlet could well be picking it up and broadcasting it to unknown millions.

So, if I may put the question to you, the reader, upon reading the above, do you agree with the statement below:

New Zealand will not be right if we allow the “she’ll be right” mentality to function at the highest levels.

Dealing with N.I.M.B.Y.ism in New Zealand


N.I.M.B.Y.ism officially has two different categories of people who use the term:

  1. The business and industrial sector in times of exasperation in attempting to classify the people who are opposed to a development in their neighbourhood
  2. The local community activists who perhaps for reasons of social conscience or a general concern about the likely environmental impacts likely to be caused by a proposed project such as a waste-to-energy plant

However I imagine there to be more than just these two groups, and I describe later in this article other types of N.I.M.B.Y.ists. I also wonder how accurate these classifications are – yes business and industry might be exasperated with opposition to a major project that has aesthetically, environmentally and socially displeasing characteristics, but it is what is driving that opposition that we should be looking at.

In New Zealand the Resource Management Act requires that applicants of a proposed activity seek approval from the neighbouring property owners. A large dam creating a reservoir and generating power is obviously going to affect numerous land owners, need numerous resource consents. The consents will also need in depth Assessments of Environmental Effects filled out, engineering reports into the suitability of the land on which the dam will be built and so forth. There will be recreationalist’s concerned about the impact on fishing and boating; environmentalists will be concerned about the trapping of sediment behind the dam and the flooding of a valley when the lake fills up; communities will be affected in that property prices might change and the character of communities nearby will be altered. No one can blame them for opposing something like this in their backyard.

At the other end  of the scale construction of a three bedroom house will most likely only need one resource consent – maybe two if its fence is non compliant with the local plan. A house being built is significantly less likely to attract the attention of local activists. It will probably relative unobtrusive. The scale of the earthworks and environmental effects will be able to be summarised in a few pages as well as the mitigatory measures that will be taken.

Sometimes the people who fall in the N.I.M.B.Y. classifications have credible points. Maybe the project is not suited to its proposed location. Maybe the communities and the environment really will suffer. These N.I.M.B.Y.ists might not be so much opposed to the activity as they just recognize that the proposal is poorly thought out.

But there are some who will probably protest for the sake of protesting. These are what I call dead end N.I.M.B.Y.ists. These are not necessarily the ones that engage with the intention of helping a cause or because they see some significant injustice. In the same way one makes no progress going down a dead end street, one should not expect to make progress in dealing with a dead end N.I.M.B.Y.ist. They are there to shut down a proposed activity or project at any cost. No amount of reasoning, no number of fact or truths will persuade them that ones proposed activity is somehow beneficial.

If one thinks about the various aspects of a major infrastructure project like a wind turbine installation, it is possible that a fourth group exists. One might call these the environmental/ecological N.I.M.B.Y.ists. They generally approve of the type of project, but because certain bird life live near the wind turbines it is not appropriate there. The problem then becomes a questions of where is appropriate.

But is it possible that there are business or industrial N.I.M.B.Y.ists? These could be those who object to activities, that they perceive as not being business friendly, such as the conservation estate.

So, what is a N.I.M.B.Y. to you?

New Zealand’s $1.4 billion money laundering problem


New Zealand has long been viewed as a soft spot for money laundering, high end fraud, among other crimes. Across the last few years numerous examples of money laundering activity in New Zealand or linked to New Zealand businesses have appeared

  • In 2016 an expert said that New Zealand banks were missing large numbers of suspicious monetary transactions
  • Also in 2016 the so called Panama papers showed how a steady flow of foreign cash into New Zealand became a flood as its holders sought to avoid it being taxed in the proper jurisdictions
  • The same year John Shewan’s report found 12,000 foreign trusts existed in New Zealand – a number that plummeted to 3,000 within a year suggesting many were used for money laundering or other improper monetary purposes
  • In August 2019 $9 million was seized in an anti-money laundering sting in Auckland
  • Just a few days ago the Chief Executive Officer of Westpac resigned after allegations that Westpac failed to pick up 23 million individual breaches including payments to Philippine based child exploiters

Now it has emerged that New Zealand has a N.Z.$1.4 billion money laundering problem. This estimate does not include the domestic cheats who do not pay due taxes to Inland Revenue Department. Globally it is part of what the International Monetary Fund believes to be a $6.5 trillion problem.

New Zealand needs to crack down hard on money laundering. As the resignation of Mr Hartzer shows, money laundering can be linked to some extremely dark criminal activities including child exploitation. A significant part of the crack down would need to ensure a long term budget increase for the police unit investigating financial crime. There would also need to be a revisit of the amendments made to the Anti Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism Act 2009.

The Government seems to be rising to the challenge. It has made changes that took effect in January for real estate agents. In August changes for the racing industry and businesses with high value products regarding the need to comply with the A.M.L.C.F.T. Act took effect. In 2018 the obligations for businesses providing trust services, lawyers, conveyances and accountants were changed.

But there is more that can be done. I believe that tightening the sentencing regime for those convicted of money laundering, conspiracy to participate in money laundering and providing support for those involved in it can be tightened up. Whereas many of the people who commit offences against the human body are disturbed, come from messed up backgrounds or may simply not have had a loving family to show them right from wrong, organized crime is quite different. The victims of money laundering – although individual victims certainly exist – are whole communities, businesses and in the worst cases the reputation of entire nations.

Whereas the impacts of rape, murder and so forth – certainly not trying to put any of these crimes down in terms of their gravity – on the individual, the family and their lives are well documented, how well do people know about the absolute worst of white collar crime? How well do we know what we as a society, as a nation and as a people are missing out on by not tackling money laundering and the people who engage in this kind of activity?

I fear the answer is not very well at all.

National’s lack of ideas not helping


Here we go again. National trotting out the tired old mantra of cracking down on crime and gangs in the equally tired belief that more punitive measures that seek to lessen the prisoners as people are somehow necessary. Certainly in the world of National leader Simon Bridges this is what one is expected to believe.

The problem is lowering taxes and getting tough on prisoners and gangs is so unoriginal, the radical aspect of them might be just how unoriginal these ideas are.

How many past National Governments have promised to “get tough on gangs” or “crack down on crime”? Mr Bridges is certainly not the first to promise that if elected to office – and given National’s apparent desire to remain stuck in the 1900’s – probably not the last either.

Mr Bridges might do well to talk to a few people, including former National Party Members of Parliament such as Bill English that have realised that after all this time, the “get tough on crime/gangs” mantra just is not delivering any more. They have realised that the ambulance is at the bottom of the cliff in terms of treating potential criminals and vulnerable people who might be influenced by criminal activity when it should be at the top.

It is all very well that Mr Bridges was a Crown Prosecutor and that he would have seen some nasty cases whilst in court. I do not blame him for being horrified at the social cost to society and the victims, but I honestly wonder if he prosecuted in any cases where the offender offended because jail was the best place s/he had been in their lives. They do happen and are damning yet sad cases that point to systemic failure right through the societal system – did they have a troubled childhood including expulsion or suspension from school; were they abused; what sort of parental figures did they have in their lives; did they have to be put in the care of the state?

Another idea that is old and ratty, yet one that National push every election is to lower taxes. One of the oldest and most sacred ideas of the right-wing of politics is also one of the ones that has never really realised its stated potential. I never hear anything about making sure that the New Zealand tax code is fit for purpose or that measures are being taken to close as many tax loopholes as possible. Nor do we hear of politicians working to  ensure that corporations and wealthy individuals pay in full what is expected of them at the time it is due.

National says benefit fraud costs the nation dearly. This is rather rich considering if all wealthy figures and companies paid their tax in New Zealand in full and on time, there would be around another N.Z.$7 billion in additional funds available to the Crown. The same party says that it will clamp down on welfare, which again is hypocritical when one looks at the support that goes to corporations and wealthy individuals who in some cases completely ignore their tax obligations.

How keen is National to win the next election one might wonder after reading this. Good question, because announcing same old ratty dust covered policies that make even the worst second hand books look rather more exciting is the political definition of insanity. But if you believe Simon Bridges, the liberal 21st Century ideas of giving prisoners doing shorter jail sentences their voting rights back is somehow going to aid and abet crime.