Time for N.Z.T.A. overhaul


New Zealand Transport Authority is a Government agency in strife. Racked by resignations, battered by damning staff survey responses and under the microscope internally for failings in the public arena, life must be tough being an N.Z.T.A. staff member.

The onus is on the N.Z.T.A. to acknowledge the harm it is doing to itself and to its staff. It becomes clear that the staff are feeling unappreciated, put down and lacking the empowerment necessary to perform their basic functions. When coupled with serious external failures such as not properly auditing a number of service stations and other automotive repair businesses on their issuance of Warrants of Fitness (W.O.F.), which led to hundreds, possibly thousands of cars being potentially improperly warranted, a issue of public interest is present.

Over the last year or more there has been a major recall of Takata airbags, after potentially fatal flaws were found in them. Takata airbags are found in a lot of New Zealand vehicles and the recall has resulted in thousands of cars having to get their airbags replaced. The recall is ongoing. Whilst this has not been linked to any problems at N.Z.T.A. that I am aware of, it reminds me of other road safety issues that N.Z.T.A. has been slow to act on:

  • Tour buses that are not roadworthy,
  • Bus drivers driving tour buses with little or no understanding or regard for New Zealand roads and conditions
  • Bus drivers who are not licenced
  • Explosion of large and oversized rigs on roads not fit to carry them
  • Dangerously long working hours for long haul drivers across numerous sectors

The safety of people, which should be paramount has been viewed otherwise. After major crashes, the Coroner examines the evidence gathered and makes recommendations. All too often – and this is not a problem unique to the transport sector – they are not fully implemented or simply ignored outright. And people wonder why accidents continue to happen.

The N.Z.T.A. is like any other public organization. It has accountability to the tax payer as much as it has accountability to the Ministry of Transport and the Government. This is in a decade where toxic internal workplace environments and their effects on employees has become a major occupational safety and health issue.Have the N.Z.T.A. got the message that for them to be a good employer, its internal culture, composition and leadership need to improve?

Or is the workplace culture of N.Z.T.A. a bit like the outmoded philosophy that it has operated on for too long now that motorways are king, whilst buses, trains and shipping are second class? I sincerely hope not, but I do wonder.

Assessment of the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon)Bill


As a response to the growing concern about the impact of climate change on New Zealand, and in order to give effect to our commitments under the Paris agreement of 2015, the Government has drafted the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon)Bill. This article attempts to assess the C.C.R. Bill.

The Bill of Parliament is broken into the following parts:

  • Part 1A focuses on the establishment of the Climate Change Commission, its powers/functions/duties, composition and so forth
  • Part 1B focuses on the establishment of the emission reduction targets, the emission budgets and the processes for establishing these budgets, as well as the role of the Commission and the monitoring of the targets
  • Part 1C focuses on adaptation to climate change
  • Part 2 examines consequential amendments

There are good parts in this Bill of Parliament. They include provision for:

  • A Climate Change Commission that will include a range of figures from scientists to people in the business community, as well as those familiar with local government and planning processes
  • Reducing emissions that are not biogenic methane to net zero by 2050; reduce biogenic methane by 24-47% by 2050 and by 10% or more by 2030
  • A sequence of emissions budgets that act as stepping stones towards the above targets
  • Require the Government to develop policies for adaptation and mitigation

There is however significant room for improvement. There does not appear to be any mention of providing for more immediate as well as intermediate steps that do not need substantial policy development and which are already known to work. The lack of urgency around these has been a cause of concern among environmentalists and the Green Party, but are also potentially likely to have useful social outcomes such as improved energy budgets. I have covered all of these concerns in previous articles.

This will need a comprehensive roll out so that all agencies are aware of their obligations, but also the tools and resources at their disposal. One of the biggest problems across policy making in New Zealand and probably true of the world is the number of agencies that do not communicate and whose awareness of where they fit into the larger framework of policy is not new. For policy to be effectively given effect to, this must improve.

I expect that this Bill of Parliament will run into significant resistance when it returns following the closure of submissions. A.C.T. will oppose it point blank. National will want business concessions and be concerned about the impact on the economy and tax payers, some of which might be granted, but not all. New Zealand First as a coalition partner will likely support it, but have significant concerns about the impact on rural communities. Labour and the Greens will support, but will differ over the extent to which they should move, which might cause tensions inside the coalition.

Businesses will have concerns, and some of them will be quite valid. Others will be more about protecting sectors that are considered to be sunset industries, because in a world adapting to climate change they will probably be phased out. As adaptation is the name of the game, technological and procedural innovation are likely to feature strongly in any attempt at staying relevant.

 

Utopia is a dream – or is it?


Imagine a world where there is no war, nuclear/chemical/biological weapons are history and . A world where environmental problems are sustainable and the ecosystem is a healthy happy place. A world where crime is low, men and women of all skin colours and backgrounds get on without fear of discrimination. A world where politicians answer to their constituents.

It sounds great doesn’t it? The utopia envisaged by the Green Party and social justice campaigners is an admirable goal and one we should be striving to get as near as we can to.

The reality is rather more grim. One might have thought with all of the technology and know how in the Western world we might have been entering some sort of age where we are reaching an understanding with the world around us, even if it is rather lopsided. One might have thought after two harrowing World Wars that the international legal framework that began to be developed with the foundation of the United Nations would serve as a template for nations across the world to look up to. One may have hoped with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the subsequent collapse of Communism over the following two years that international rivalries might start to be put aside for a common good.

Sadly that does not seem to have materialized. And indeed after a period of a few years in which fleeting glimpses of progress were few and far apart, progress started rolling backwards. It is possible in the 20 years since 1999 to see how far the world has gone backwards, environmentally, socially, politically, and in the last few years also economically. Several interlinked causes can be identified for this massive failing:

  1. A few very rich people control the media, and are able to influence the narratives – divide and conquer; certain groups in society are the devil you know; fear of a brave new world where peace and reconciliation have a chance
  2. Dollars talk louder than laws and the lobbyist with the fattest bank account is more important to elected officials than the ordinary man who might not be aware of what is happening
  3. Those lobbyists are paying politicians to sabotage social progress by giving them substantial donations for their election expenses
  4. International law, which was something to strive for and uphold during the Cold War and early 1990’s is now some sort of bogeyman – a hindrance to the lobbyist and fearmonger

Environmentally the future is grim. If climate change does not induce massive social breakdown, the complete and utter destruction of the global ecosystem will. The rate of resource consumption has seen half of the known biosphere disappear before human eyes – if geologic time is compressed into a day, humans have been around for one (1) minute, and it is highly improbable we will be around for another.

Socially, the few very rich people in the world are looking for bolt holes. They are looking for places they can go when the socio-economic/environmental collapse that the anthropocene is, becomes reality. The progress on same sex marriage, the feel good banning of plastic bags and attempts to are just fluffy wool stuff being pulled down over our eyes, yet at the same time things that need to happen. Only the demise of neoliberal market economics will change this for the better.

Politically, the Putins, the Trumps and Jinping’s of the world all crave one drug above all else. Power. Cashed up with the huge resources of their individual governments propaganda machines at their disposal, a crumpled opposition that in the case of the first two is arrested, harassed and jailed on trumped up charges, beating them is an almost insurmountable task. And although the United States has not sunk to that level yet, its dysfunctional Electoral College system, the rampant availability of corporate dollars in return for doing as their lobbyists demand, mean their system is far from the free and fair thing it is portrayed as.

New Zealand might be grateful for its isolation at times. But as we are strongly integrated into the neoliberal system, and have been a champion of free trade agreements despite none of them having more than mediocre improvements in terms of our socio-economic well being, we will not be immune. As we have had a conservative Parliament rarely able to see the bigger picture and look beyond three year election cycles, opportunities to break out of the mould have gone by.

We will never be able to undo the damage that has been done to the environment on our own. Nor will ending the failed neoliberal experiment necessarily stop all of the economic impacts likely to happen. But if New Zealand embarks on a bold and brave adventure that I am going to try to describe over the next few days, maybe we can show the world a different way.

Holy Cow! Too many cows in New Zealand


We eat their meat. We drink their milk and make cheese, butter and cream products. We use them to introduce children to agriculture. Its beef is one of our favourite meats at the supermarket. But holy cow, New Zealand has a problem with their environmental footprint.

In Canterbury alone it is estimated that there are about 1.3 million cows, or about 2.1 for every single person living in the province. Each cow will produce the effluent equivalent of about 11 people going to the toilet, or between 14-15 million people in Canterbury. And Canterbury is paying a steep environmental price for it. In 2007, prior to the National Government of Prime Minister John Key taking office, the number of dairy cattle in Canterbury was 754,000. By 2016 that number had risen to 1.27 million.

The province, which is noted for its superb thousands year old ground water in deep aquifers under the Canterbury plains is in danger of having its drinking water supply wrecked by the spread of nitrates. Dr Alistair Humphries believes that in 100 years, it will not be possible to drink the tap water in Canterbury.

Each cow needs many litres of water to ensure it can drink, to ensure that the grass it will eat is adequate. A litre of milk will take about 1,000 litres of water or 1m³ to manufacture. In other words the 2 litre bottle of milk in your fridge takes about 2,000 litres (2m³) of water. In order for a 500 cattle farm to produce the roughly 2 kilogrammes of milk solids that each healthy cow will put out at their peak per day, roughly 1,000,000 litres of water or 1,000m³ will be needed. That has to come from a ground water source or be diverted from a river. As one can imagine in a country where dairy farming contributed $14.4 billion to the New Zealand economy in 2016, the pressures on our freshwater resources both at the surface and in the ground are considerable.

Many farmers are making an honest effort to reduce the impact of their herds on the natural waterways of New Zealand. Measures include fencing off streams so that easily erodible dirt banks are not crumbled, and to stop them defecating and urinating in the water. Some are replanting shelter belts that were torn down when the farm was converted to dairying so that irrigators could move through. Replanting damaged river banks with low level plants that help to anchor the bank is another measure.

However there is a problem. Cows also make a substantial contribution to New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions. The estimated contribution of the dairy sector to New Zealand’s overall climate emissions are about 43% caused by carbon dioxide and about 11% caused by nitrous oxide. The gases mainly come from biological processes – livestock burping in the case of the carbon dioxide and cows urinating in the case of the nitrous oxide.

It has been acknowledged with some resistance on both sides of House of Representatives. Initiatives have been tried such as developing grass that does not induce so much burping, alternative forms of fertilizer to reduce the amount of nitrates going into streams and medical research to see if the nitrous oxide discharge can be reduced.

But for all the good work these farmers are doing, it does not address the core problem with the 10 million cattle in New Zealand – there is simply too many, and the total defecation and urine output from them all would be roughly equivalent to about 140 million people or about 85% of the population of Bangladesh. Large scale depopulation of herds is not something a dairy farmer will want to do and it will be a vote killer for a lot of politicians if they are brave enough to try. Unfortunately the cold nitrate loaded fact of the matter is if New Zealand wants its clean green reputation back, several million cattle are simply going to have to go.

 

Questions about the banking sector after ANZ chief’s departure


In 2008 when the banking sector was reeling from the effects of 32 separate New Zealand financial companies imploding, and much larger implosions happening in the United States, there were calls for bankers to be tried for fraud and jailed. United States President Barak Obama campaigned on banking reform, which he then got Senator Elizabeth Warren to enact. Democrats and the little man applauded, but the least repentant banking corporates cried foul. The rest of the world was cautiously optimistic.

Ten years later against a linger backdrop of economic uncertainty, with many of the factors that caused the 2006-2009 meltdown, it is New Zealand’s turn to question our banking sector. With A.N.Z.’s practices under the spot light how many other banks have questionable goings on in their back offices?

I agree with Sam Stubbs, who has called for a banking sector Royal Commission of Inquiry. The extent to which Mr Hisco appears to be out of touch with the rank and file employees such as the Branch Managers, the Tellers and so forth who are the public face of A.N.Z. is quite telling. Also notable is how the Chair of A.N.Z. and former Prime Minister John Key appears to think that Mr Hisco has been properly held to account and that the penalties he has accrued are somehow sufficient considering what he has done.

Mr Key denies it has had anything to do with the dressing down that A.N.Z. was handed by the Reserve Bank for not having enough capital in May. He said that Mr Hisco would take responsibility for it if he were in a position to do so.

This idea of a major bank not having enough in capital in the event of an emergency, I think quite a few people inside and outside of A.N.Z. and indeed the banking sector would find quite troubling. It suggests to me at a quite basic level in the same way a ship at sea wants to be sure that it has enough fuel to get back to port, someone or some several people who had significant monitoring responsibilities were somehow not doing their job.

I imagine that A.N.Z. rank and file employees would be quite angry with how the matter has been handled. Yes they might not have had the same entitlements and responsibilities as Mr Hisco, but I am sure that if any of them did that they would be fired point blank and not be entitled to any financial compensation, or other supportive measures. Mr Hisco, whilst relinquishing about $6.4 million in equity will be paid a full 12 months salary, which is dramatically more than the $0 that most people get paid when they get fired.

Yes, Mr Key and his Board might think they have done the right thing in letting Mr HIsco go, and in that respect, yes they have. However the $2 million golden handshake, the fact that there might be much more than what has been let on that he misappropriated all point to a bigger story than either Mr Key was willing to tell the media about, and/or which Mr Hisco was willing to tell Mr Key and the Board of A.N.Z. about.

It is hard not to feel sorry for the ordinary staff member at A.N.Z. just trying to do their job as best as they can to the standards expected of them, who must feel like they have been ratted on from the highest echelons in the company. They surely would not have anything like what Mr Hisco got to support them in their post A.N.Z. career, which by my guess on the current estimated income for a bank teller would take them about 40-50 years to earn.