New Zealand Fiscal Budget 2020


New Zealand Treasurer Grant Robertson must have been a tangle of emotions on the night before the 2020 Fiscal Budget which was delivered on 14 May at 1400 hours. So much riding on probably the single most important budget in a generation: the one that gets New Zealand out of the COVID19 mud pit.

New Zealand’s economy has taken a battering. Of that, there is no doubt. Unemployment may reach nearly double digit percentage figures, with Air New Zealand shedding 3750 jobs; 150+ at the Hermitage Hotel in Mount Cook Village; 300 at Ngai Tahu; and another 240 when Bauer collapsed the New Zealand magazine industry. Thousands more are going in the hospitality sector where the forced closure as a result of COVID19 has sent many restaurants, bars and cafes to the wall.

On one hand he had an unprecedented licence to spend on measures to get the economy going again. On the other Mr Robertson would have been nervous about whether he got the balance right between a big spend up and having enough in the bank for 2021, in case COVID19 did not clear out as fast as hoped for and to cover unforeseen emergency expenditure. And then some how dancing between the two hands, the knowledge that no matter which way he sliced and diced the pie, someone would not get enough support and might have valid reasons to be grumpy.

So, what did Mr Robertson’s Fiscal Budget 2020 do:

  • For people like me finding out that the Government has thrown another $3.2 billion in wage subsidies to businesses was very welcome news – most budgets do little for me, but this one honestly has
  • Kainga Ora has been allocated funding to build another 8,000 houses
  • 11,000 additional jobs will be created with a $1.1 billion fund to support environmental projects’
  • $1.6 billion for vocational training for those out of work and school leavers

Notably the Government had $50 billion it could have spent on New Zealand yesterday. It appears to have allocated around $30 billion of that money, leaving $20 billion in reserve. If I had to guess, Mr Robertson is wanting to make sure that there is enough in the Treasury in case COVID19 is not as finished as we think and a second wave – God forbid! – hits, in which case that is very sensible thinking.

Whilst no Fiscal Budget ever pleases EVERYONE, that was more so the case today. So many people and industrial sectors needing significant help and simply not enough money to help them all, whilst still having enough in the Treasury for a rainy day situation in 2021. Also New Zealand is very vulnerable at the moment. We are busy trying to deal with a damaging economic hit caused by a pandemic that has already taken nearly 5% off the economy, so should we have a major disaster like an earthquake or large volcanic eruption, it would be catastrophic.

Whilst not on the Government’s agenda, there are other ways we could help grow the fiscal pie, which the Government needs to consider in the near future:

  • Increase investment in research, science and technology to 2% of G.D.P. – with money being prioritized for medicine, renewable energy, alternatives to finite resources
  • Bringing back a permanent nation wide apprenticeship scheme
  • Legalize cannabis and establish the industry in poorer regions such as Gisborne, Northland and the West Coast
  • Redefine infrastructure as energy, railways, merchant marine, and invest accordingly instead of just building roads

So whilst the Government has played a largely welcome Budget in 2020, as always there are things that it could have improved on or been willing to give a try. Many New Zealanders want to see meaningful socio-economic change and are sick of the neoliberal model that only supports the very wealthy, and those with greater means than others. This cannot happen if the Government is not prepared to make changes.

 

N.Z. in lock down: DAY 29


Yesterday was DAY 29 of New Zealand in lock down as we try to fight the COVID19 pandemic.

One of the most constant – and least surprising – conversations that is being had is about the effect of the lock down on the economy.

As a Christchurch lad who witnessed the devastation of the 04 September 2010 earthquake, along with the February 2011 and June 2011 aftershocks, I think I have an idea of what could constitute grim times. It is certainly true that the pandemic has not physically destroyed any buildings, but the number of businesses closing around Christchurch, the jarring uncertainty about whether they will reopen, the massive job losses that are occurring, certainly have brought on a feeling of deja vu about it all.

I have huge sympathy for the many many people who have lost jobs, who do not know if they will have a job to go back to when most of New Zealand goes back to work. I know that the socio-economic toll grows the longer we keep the country in lock down and I agree that we cannot stay in it forever.

But that is where the doom and gloom ends. I am optimistic about New Zealand coming thundering back from all of this. Will it happen overnight? No, but with no past experience on shutting a country down and restarting it again, it was never going to happen overnight.

I am optimistic because there is a massive, almost unparalleled opportunity for an economic revolution right now in New Zealand. Earlier this year I wrote consecutive blog articles about why neoliberalism is a massive, abject failure here and why we need to be rid of it. Here now is that perfect opportunity to do exactly that. But not only is there a unique opportunity to get rid of an economic model that has failed the vast majority of New Zealand, the potential model that could go in its place is even more thrilling.

So what is that model that could replace the failed neoliberal experiment?

The model I am calling for is a massive investment in skilled trades; niche industries backed by a complete overhaul of the New Zealand no. 8 wire model of research. It will be green, it will be designed by New Zealanders and it will work for New Zealand and New Zealanders.

We have hundreds of tradies in bad need of a steady work stream. One thing that could sort a significant number of them out is refurbishing all of the state house inventory so that they have 21st century standards of warmth and dryness. This will indirectly partially pay for itself by helping reduce the problems many New Zealanders have around asthma and other respiratory ailments.

Another one is seismic retrofitting large buildings in high seismic risk areas with shock absorbers so that the buildings can sway backwards and forth, whilst the absorbers take the seismic energy. With hundreds of buildings in the South and North Island in urgent need of this and no idea how long before the next big earthquake hits, this is a priority we should take note of.

But it is not just singular buildings or jobs for a couple of people per site that we need. New Zealand is critically behind on infrastructure. We need a comprehensive overhaul of our railway system; we could be building a hydrogen plant and investing in that instead of fossil fuel; maybe a hemp crete research facility to help cut the carbon emissions of the concrete industry, which I understand puts out about 8% of total carbon emissions.

Much of the knowledge for these ideas is already there. But is the political willpower to do something truly radical?

You tell me.

 

 

N.Z. in lock down: DAY 17


Yesterday was DAY 17 of New Zealand in lock down as we try to fight the COVID19 pandemic.

In the coming few days, once the Government resumes working following the Easter staycation, the plan for how to manage New Zealand coming off LEVEL 4 will be released.

I expect that there will be some holes in the plan. No one should be surprised as this is the first time New Zealand has been locked down and then made to start from cold. Logistically it will be a major feat in itself. Many nations overseas will be watching to see how we go.

To me it will be like turning on a power station after it has been turned off for a long time. It is not simple case of simply flicking a couple of switches so that the fuel or water that is used to generate electricity simply starts flowing into the turbine and setting the generator in motion. After four weeks the system will need to be primed. The technicians will not be able to bring it up to full capacity immediately and other triggers.

In the same sense, businesses will not be able to immediately open because they will need to figure out how many staff to recall and when; get stock in if they need to; establish which functions of their operation are going to be operating and which ones will have to wait longer, and so on. Further up the supply chain, the suppliers will need to figure out how to get their systems and functions going again. And then there are the staff, who will have to get their lock down lives in order – arrange who will look after dependents, such as elderly relatives, children or anyone else they were looking after.

There will be some to-ing and fro-ing between Government and businesses as the latter seek clarity about what they can and cannot do. After a successful lock down period no one will be rushing to do anything that might risk undoing all of what was achieved by spending four weeks to shut down COVID19.

And with the reopening of businesses I expect as I wrote on Saturday, that the rules around hygiene will have changed. Even if bars, restaurants, cafes, and such cannot open their face-to-face functions immediately, any forward looking owner/manager would have given thought about how they can reduce the risk to staff and patrons alike.

The operating environment that businesses find themselves will have changed dramatically in four weeks. Whilst their functions will be essentially the same in many ways, the realisation that a biological menace like COVID19 can cripple the country will be the long over impetus to undertake programmes of building resilience – something that should have happened after events like the Christchurch/Canterbury earthquakes, which whilst being geological rather than biological provided a severe local test.

Businesses open with a business as usual approach I suspect will be the most vulnerable. They will probably be the first to go to the wall should we have some kind of relapse.

This will take time. It will take patience and some hiccups are inevitable. We survived the Christchurch and Canterbury earthquakes with the many problems that arose out of them, some of which still exist today. To think that COVID19’s mark on New Zealand will disappear overnight is straight out fantasy. I suspect even if the rest of the 2020’s is relatively painless, the economic recovery and the socio-economic rebuilding of our society will probably still be casting a shadow of some kind in December 2029.

But if you think we can do better and know how, show me. Show New Zealand. Show the world.

The need to reform employment assistance in New Zealand


A few months after finishing my Graduate Diploma of Sustainable Management I find myself in a familiar situation: trying to figure out how to wield my latest academic acquisition to the best effect, in a constantly changing job market where sometimes it seems I am always behind the 8-ball.

If we wind the clock back to 2004, I was in a similar situation. I completed my undergraduate degree (Bachelor of Science)in Geography. My G.P.A. was poor – about 3.5, but I was finished in 3.5 years, which for someone who needed assistance with note taking and had a writer for exams was probably not a bad achievement.

The job market had moved a bit in that time. Not necessarily a problem at that point, because I had always intended to go back and try postgraduate study part time at some point, which I started in 2005 and completed in 2006 with a G.P.A. of around 4.5

By the time I finished though the job market was about to experience the effects of the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-2009. The market for environmental/planning/natural hazard jobs dried up. A solitary job came up in September 2008, which I went for, lost at the interview stage, but got offered a temporary job anyway.

When I took my job at Environment Canterbury it was a summer student job that was meant to end at the end of February 2009. It lasted until mid April 2011. During that time I discovered the limitations of my office skills – I was fine on Word, but not Excel, my report writing style was substandard.

So, after the quake whilst casting around for a job I enrolled at Vision College to do a Certificate of Business Administration. The course content addressed all of those deficiencies and a few I did not realize I had.

Re-entering the job market was still not any easier. Thousands of jobs had been lost in Christchurch in the quake and the market had changed considerably. The agencies normally tasked with helping people find work or re-enter the work force found and – I suspect still find – themselves grinding against straight-jacketed social welfare law.

For example, between February 2017 and October 2018 I was working on a Graduate Diploma of Sustainable Management. The purpose of gaining this Diploma was three fold:

  1. Renew dormant research skills that I know I have, but which my current employment does not allow the use of
  2. Show employers that I am still capable of learning
  3. Do original research

Now as I seek once more to try to change my employment direction, I realize that this might be my final throw of the academic dice – it is certainly my best. I do not know what my G.P.A. is, but my guess is that a high end B average is probably nearly 7.0.

I wonder what the future holds for those who are being rehabilitated back into the work force. Employers want to know – rightfully – why one has not been working for extended periods of time. However they often take an unnecessarily conservative approach that I think costs them potentially very loyal employees who not only would stick around, but who could be developed into people capable of bigger roles such as team leaders or managers.

Yes some of these people have had a prior criminal history. They might have been on drugs in their youth after leaving school with no qualifications and have committed a crime 25 years ago. But what if they have done the time, renounced the drugs, got a stable partner, gone back to school or some other educational institution and done a trade or a degree?

Well done to them for rebuilding their lives. Do they not deserve a chance? I think they do. Otherwise it is not only they who suffer, but if it leads to a relapse in their condition then the whole of society suffers.

Some people have medical history, like me. Diagnosed at age 8 with severe hypertension. Coupled with hearing impairment, I have struggled for work in the fields of academic endeavour that I studied in. Part of it might be because employers, seeing that I have hypertension possibly suddenly become nervous about hiring someone that they worry might have an accident on their watch. It is kind of interesting that I hold a steady 40 hour a week job in the rental car sector, a sector I knew nothing about and had no connections in. I have now been in it for nearly 5.5 years.

Will this continue to limit me? I hope not. In some respects I have been lucky to have good parental support, a good current employer, but not everyone is like that.

 

 

 

A clean out needed at Russell McVeagh?


A report came out yesterday about Russell McVeagh’s toxic work culture. And it was a damning one at that.

The firm, which has handled legal duties for a range of Government departments, will be doing some considerable soul searching over the next several days as it comes to grips with the news that sexual harassment is a major problem in its offices.

So will the chair of Russell McVeagh, Marttin Crotty now apologize to the staff, to the legal profession in full? if he does, will he also step aside or follow as directed any recommendations made by the report of Dame Margaret Bazley who was assigned responsibility for investigating the claims?

That remains to be seen.

Action is inevitable if New Zealand’s legal profession wishes to avoid significant damage to its overall reputation. It is not acceptable to be enabling or giving the appearance of enabling the culture of behaviour that Russell McVeagh stand accused of. From groping junior female staff, to making sexually suggestive comments and gestures; from turning a blind eye to complaints of such inappropriate behaviour to suggesting that its the way to advance a career in law, clearly a major problem exists at R.M.

There might well be a culture of excessive drinking which needs to be curved, but that is not an explanation or justification for the abuse that has been alleged to have gone on. Drunk or not, it is not okay ever to grope or otherwise feel up someone in a sexual manner without their permission. It is not okay to make lewd remarks about a persons body in a professional environment.

And this is 2018. It is not the middle of the 20th Century. It is not a time when such behaviour was simply ignored, or a time when a whole profession should be able to behave as if sexual harassment is not an issue.  It is a time when #MeToo is making people in nations big and small, rich and poor, wake up and realize that sexual harassment is a major and ongoing problem in the film industry. Will it be fully resolved in my lifetime to everyone’s satisfaction? Unlikely, but do nothing is not an option. It is a time that is long overdue.

No doubt the last few days have been hugely embarrassing for Mr Crotty as he takes stock of the cutting criticism. Sitting in a room telling the media with hand over his heart that there is not a sexual harassment problem, as Mr McVeagh first did in 2017, only to be found otherwise is hugely damaging. I sincerely doubt Mr Crotty did not know at least some of what was going on.

I will wait to see what happens, but my guess is that he will be made to walk.

But simply making the Chair walk might not be enough. What about the senior partners who supposedly knew better than to harass those female workers? None of them should survive this. What about the people who knew stuff was happening but failed to report it? Should they go as well?

But even if all of these resignations/sackings happen, will that clear out the toxic elements of the work environment? If not, then Russell McVeagh might be in bigger trouble than we thought.