Economic direction of New Zealand MUST change

For a combined six terms of Government, the two major parties have talked about an economic overhaul for New Zealand.

Under the previous Labour Government of Prime Minister Helen Clark with Dr Michael Cullen as Treasurer, we heard about a “knowledge economy”. In that time – admittedly a stable one with no major natural disasters and only the 11 September terrorist attacks on the world stage, until the Global Financial Crisis – the surplus grew to $10 billion. Two major entities – Kiwi Saver and Kiwi Bank – were implemented by Labour. Despite this though, there were no huge improvements in wage growth or social indicators.

Under National, we have had a vast growth in dairy farming, with Fonterra now contributing about $13 billion to the G.D.P. per annum. There has been a major increase in road infrastructure being built, and trade deals have been negotiated with numerous countries. Despite their promise of “a brighter future” truancy and youth crime are up, suicide and mental health issues are prevalent and 80,000 young people are not in training or education.

Six terms later and not much has changed. And there is much that does need to change. Business as usual is simply not good enough any more.

Since we have seen what the major parties are (not)prepared to do, below I mention what I advocate. But before we look at my suggestions it is important to know about the challenges that the New Zealand economy faces. Major challenges to the economy include:

  1. A failure to get more young New Zealanders into education or training
  2. Housing prices that are so high that many New Zealanders are simply priced out of the market; and whose rates are so high that people spend their wages just paying the rent
  3. A fear of science – fear of research and development and a distrust of the people who carry this out is stopping New Zealand from becoming a technological leader
  4. The neoliberal attack of the last 30-35 years has undermined New Zealand – market economics have only had modest success at best

But these are the things that need to happen in order to make the New Zealand economy more resilient:

  1. We limit our exports too severely – New Zealand needs to diversify and more niche export industries need to develop
  2. We have a dangerous over reliance on dairy farming – we might be a farming nation, but it is an unequal spread with too much emphasis on dairy and not enough on other forms
  3. The war on science needs to stop and Government investment needs to increase substantially; the process for research grants needs to be simplified
  4. The emphasis on road transport is outmoded, hugely biased and significant investment in railways and the merchant marine needs to happen
  5. Restrict property ownership to New Zealand Permanent Residents and Citizens
  6. Apply a levy – maybe $100 at the border on each tourist, which goes straight into a fund for building appropriate infrastructure in districts too small to be able to afford it themselves (Grey, Buller, Westland, etc)

Contrary to popular belief, there is nothing wrong on the whole with the Resource Management Act. The complaints about it from both the right and the left of the political spectrum suggest that it is working. There are improvements that can be made, but on the whole it works.

We have plentiful untapped energy potential in solar and tidal energy. The price for solar panels has diminished substantially and if the energy companies would permit people to sell back excess power that their panels generate, individual households could create significant savings. This could generate flow on effects into other parts of the economy, such as a greater demand for electricians and other trades people.

So, when New Zealand First leader Winston Peters decides who he is going with, given that many of my suggestions above mirror N.Z.F. policy, I hope to see in the next three years some of these implemented.

Road toll is a matter of common sense

There is a section of State Highway 1 between Hamilton and Auckland which looks quite ordinary. Well travelled, just like the rest of New Zealand’s longest road, yet a complete and horrible mystery to locals, the emergency services and transport planners alike. This section of road passes through rural areas and small towns such as Mercer, Huntly and Ngaruawahia and is the deadliest stretch of road in the country.

As a kid trying to pass time on the drive from Taupo to Auckland during one holiday, I was looking out the window and started counting white crosses. Each one represents a life lost. When I did this in the 1990’s, the number was already quite depressing then – I counted at least 20. Some of them them were in groups. Others were in clusters. Some were well looked after, with photographs and flowers and others were barely visible. Someone’s mother or son, father or daughter….

As I think about them whilst typing this I wonder how it is after years of steady progress, the toll is suddenly running in reverse. Why are safety campaigns, law enforcement and social messages no longer working? Why do people not seem to be heeding the warnings?

Recently – about six weeks ago – I and a few others stopped a drunk from becoming a drunk driver. He was kicked out from a bar I was at. A few others I knew had been trying to talk him out of driving. Then he simply got up and staggered to his truck and tried to start the ignition. I took the key off him whilst another stood in front of his truck to stop him moving. I wondered at the time how often at bars around the country this sort of incident plays out. Sadly the answer is probably too frequently.

Speeding on roads that are clearly not designed for speed defies common sense. But we do it. Running red lights, failing to give way, not indicating are all things that happen far too frequently. Safety advocates campaign for New measures. The police and other emergency services beg for restraint and occasionally politicians vow action. But nothing happens and perhaps there is a good reason for it.

Perhaps, just perhaps it is because this surge in the road toll is caused a loss of common sense. Perhaps if people did not run those red lights, remembered to indicate and gave way instead of sailing through the toll might be lower. Perhaps less of those crosses I gave up counting would exist on the roadside. Perhaps the volunteer fire fighter at a family barbecue might not have his Christmas Day interrupted because a head on collision has taken two lives.

The time has come to stop blaming non New Zealanders for our own crap driving. Until we take responsibility and make the matching steps in exercising that responsibility, the road toll will continue to be a black stain on New Zealand. We can have the best roads, the best road code and the best driving tests, but if a person gets through all of that and decides they want to be a callous numpty and kill someone, they’ll find a way of doing that.

Is that too much common sense to ask for?

I think not.

Time running out for Wellington to reinforce buildings

In February 2017, the Government set a deadline of the end of February 2018 for Wellington buildings with unreinforced masonry to have done appropriate strengthening work. With less than 6 months to go, not one of the 98 building owners singled out have completed the work and Wellington City Council is starting to get uncomfortable about it.

The deadline was imposed in the wake of the Kaikoura earthquake which affected numerous buildings in Wellington. A few have had to be demolished. Others have had to be closed whilst urgent strengthening work is done. Some needed cosmetic repairs and were able to open again relatively quickly.

But there are 98 building owners out there who – if an earthquake struck Wellington dead on tomorrow – would be in breach of their duty of care to anyone walking past their building should it collapse. In fact the building does not even need to collapse. Below are photos I took of quake damaged parapets in Christchurch after the September 2010 and February 2011 earthquakes. All of these buildings shown below were red stickered  – i.e. they had suffered damage that meant it was not safe to enter.

39 of the 185 people killed on or as a result of the 22 February 2011 aftershock were struck by collapsing parapets. These parapets might not have been initially weakened in the first aftershocks following the 04 September 2010 earthquake. However by the time the aftershock sequence reached February 2011 there would have been thousands including numerous magnitude 5.0+ aftershocks, all of which would have contributed to their weakened state.

This building was red stickered on 04 September 2010 and was demolished on 24 February 2011.

Damage to building front. Note the cracks below the damaged masonry. (R. Glennie)

The tragic consequences. One of the 39 deaths happened here.

I understand that it will be expensive and that this is a burden on building owners. Perhaps, but you knew when you purchased this building – if you did you homework – that it would be vulnerable in an earthquake. Now, having had two magnitude 7.0+ events causing significant damage in a decade, surely you have noticed the public mood for accountability has changed?

The engineer who checked the building that collapsed in the bottom photo must have trouble sleeping at night in the knowledge he said it was safe, not once, but twice – even when there were staff walking around in the building with hard hats on. Perhaps it is because the Sunday programme exposed what happened and people want answers.

National and Labour economic with truth about fuel pipeline

But one thing has become clear in the course of this story. National and Labour are both being economic with the truth how a fuel line came to be leaking 80m³ of fuel. Perhaps it is fitting for the final week of a chaotic election campaign that has seen wild swings in the polls from Labour to National and back to Labour.

Trying to make sense of who is involved is another matter. National and Labour are blaming each other, though if one looks at who knows what, it has been known since 2005. This means that for the last three years of the previous Labour Government and the entire duration of this Government it has been known that there is a problem with the pipe. And a more recent report from 2012 suggesting that there should be a back up plan does not help the situation either.

Airlines flying in and out of Auckland International Airport are being constricted by the lack of fuel. And thousands of passengers have suffered delays. No doubt this has included politicians trying to get to meetings and last week campaign events.

To show how serious the issue is being taken, a Royal New Zealand Navy tanker has been drafted in to deliver fuel.

What I find perhaps surprising is the lack of alarm being shown by the Department of Conservation in having so much fuel leak into the environment.

For a Government that has spent billions on roads and talks about infrastructure being critical to New Zealand’s development, and also given its support for oil, the lack of emphasis on maintaining this infrastructure – or getting the parties responsible for it to do so – is perhaps the most surprising aspect.

But as we progress through the final days of the N.Z. election campaign, I doubt this is going to change voters minds. The ones that have already made their minds up will just be hardened further.

The only thing that can really be debated is how this will impact on New Zealand’s reputation. Some say we just need to stay came and let the authorities get on top of it. Others will be less impressed – especially if they find their flight taking a several thousand kilometre detour because there is not enough fuel to get out of Auckland. And the saying goes one disgruntled customer will tell for people – if they then tell four more each, it is easy to see how this could spiral out of control if not dealt with quickly.

Job creation: my view

Every election we hear about promises to get the economy moving again. New Zealanders hear the parties talking about how they will how get people off welfare and into jobs or training that can potentially lead to jobs. Both major parties are guilty of over promising and under delivering, which is something they know well, but admitting so would be to admit their last stint in office was a failure.

We need more people in the trades. Of that there is no doubt – drain layers and plumbers, electricians and carpenters. Without them, New Zealand cannot have the quality homes they need and the assurance that the basic services in the house that they hope to grow old in . I do not think that there will ever be an over supply of trades people in New Zealand without completely choking academia and telling academics to retrain. Perhaps the biggest problem is the chequered records of many with a run in with the cops here, a bit of drug dealing there – and maybe a bit of a side habit to boot – seemingly unaware or ignorant of the curtailment effect this may have on future plans to travel

New Zealand also needs academic researchers at universities. Contrary to the ill informed view for example that Labour leader Jacinda Ardern has never held a real job down and is called “just an academic”, is to ignore the fact that she used to work in the office of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

With potential for developing hemp based building materials, I think a whole industry potentially awaits for companies wanting to revolutionize their products and not just think about concrete and steel. I am not sure what the Building Code says about hemp products, but if there is no provision made for it, then – assuming a certified testing regime could be developed – perhaps the Building Code is in need of an overhaul.

Another example where I think New Zealanders could significantly improve job opportunities is through investigating the use of waste material as potential fuel sources. Biofuel is one that particularly fascinates me. It follows from research done sometime ago where a south Canterbury couple with a fish and chip shop were able to develop a blend of biofuel suitable for their vehicle. They used the waste oil and cooking fat from their deep frying unit. Given New Zealanders propensity for fish and chips and so forth on some nights, the economics of a nation wide – or at least an our bigger cities – biofuel programme might be worth investigating.

Doing the research into all of this and certifying the results will create desk based jobs of various sorts – data entry, administrator, project manager, accountant – as the reporting requirements develop in complexity.

It is not just scientists and tradespeople that New Zealand needs though. Police, doctors, teachers and care givers all have hugely important roles to play. I have dealt with these in other articles at some point or another.

But there is one group that New Zealanders say that they care much for, yet employers and individuals seem hugely judgemental towards. That is the disabled, unwell and intellectually impaired. Yes they might not cope with a full time job, but many of them are able to do lesser jobs.

I therefore propose that:

  • Funding for the sciences increase from 1% of G.D.P. to 2%
  • Narrow funding to a few main streams, such as renewables development and medicine
  • Have a touring science expo go to every high school in New Zealand as a joint project between the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment
  • A job programme for disabled and unwell people,  such as mowing the lawns and weeding gardens and do administrative tasks.
  • A rate of financial compensation for special needs jobs would need to be negotiated and it should supplement their social welfare support rather than be a part of it
  • Remove the discriminatory wages that were introduced by National for those in training