The end of a great XX Commonwealth Games


By the time you read this, the quadrennial Commonwealth Games of the British Commonwealth will have ended. The Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia will be celebrating a job well done hosting the Games. The representatives of 53 nations that make up over 1/4 of the worlds total population will be packing up and on their way back home or on to their next sporting fixture. With a brilliant New Zealand campaign with only a few disappointments coming to an end I thought I would write an article with a lighter tone than the heavy ones of the last while.

To someone not from the British Commonwealth, you might ask, “so what”?

The British Commonwealth may at times seem like a dysfunctional family and in some respects there is an element of truth to that. Some of its member nations have barely functioning Governments, whilst others are wealthy, respected nations of the international community. You might say, “but they are all ex-colonies and want nothing to do with Britain”. Not true. The nations do not need to be monarchies to be in the Commonwealth – the nations just need to be former British colonies. Otherwise the games would be inescapably much different – you would have no India, Pakistan, South Africa, Kenya, Singapore.

But back to the Commonwealth Games 2018.

The Games had it all. From tiny nations Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and Cook Islands picking up their first ever Commonwealth Games medals, to the usual power houses, the range of countries on the dais was impressive. From the sad scene of watching Australian leading the mens marathon only to collapse in agonizing circumstances 2km from the finish and a certain gold to watching the unmitigated glee of the little island nations finally achieving long held dreams, the emotions were there.

For me as a New Zealander this was a chance to watch what for me is a mid term reference point in the four year Olympic cycle. It was a chance to see what progress has been made in the Olympic sports since Rio de Janeiro, but also for a few sports almost exclusive to the British Commonwealth, such as netball to have a good old fashion derby.

From Sophie Pascoe leading the team into the stadium on 05 April 2018 for the Opening Ceremony right through to Stacey Michelsen doing the honours for the Closing Ceremony New Zealand has had a great Games.

There were the “oh-so-close” loss in the womens shotput where Olympic double gold and one time silver medallist Valerie Adams came second. There was also the pleasing progress of Olympic Pole Vault bronze and now Commonwealth Games silver medallist Eliza McCartney, who at 21 has a promising career ahead.

And there were surprises. Some of them lovely and some not so lovely. Of the lovely surprises I think the award has to go to the New Zealand womens hockey team for nabbing New Zealand’s first ever hockey gold – always a nice thing to turn on the television expecting the scores to be tied or the opposition leading and find N.Z. leading 4-1 with just minutes to go.

As for the not so lovely? Actually it was nothing to do with the sport but everything to do with the miserable timing of advertisements, the showing of highlights when live matches with New Zealanders in them were on  Whilst pleased that some free to air screening was allowed, it seemed like it was poorly planned and even more poorly executed. If Television New Zealand are going to host live coverage of events like the Commonwealth Games in future, they need to be better organized and better clued to what is going on, because this really was not good enough.

And then there was just the downright sad. The decline of the Silver Ferns netball team has been hard to watch, but the last ten days have been absolutely brutal. A cascade of bungled matches – Malawi, England, Australia, Jamaica. Although one hopes that the resurgent England, who bet Australia in the gold medal match, points to a brighter future in the international sport, there is much to be despondent about in New Zealand netball at the moment. No doubt there will be decisions over the future of the coach and Silver Ferns captain in the coming days. So, I leave you with a few highlights of the New Zealand campaign:

Syrian crisis shows no major players should be trusted


Around lunch time yesterday (N.Z.T.), France, Britain and the United States launched strikes against chemical weapon targets in Syria. The strikes which come after a chemical weapons attack against defenceless citizens in Douma a few days ago, have inflamed the rhetoric from both Moscow and Washington. But as we wait to see what kind of response Russia will make, it is also clear that the major media agencies in both countries have been far from freely dispensing the truth.

The only thing New Zealand should be relentlessly pushing aside from a truce of some sort is a neutral set of inspectors not from any U.N. Security Council country, being allowed to go in, unfettered and report direct to the Secretary General. I am specifically thinking or Switzerland or Sweden, New Zealand, Brazil and maybe Singapore – nations that are known for maintaining original foreign policy, but also crossing a diverse geographical and ethnic divide.

I do not trust the White House or the Kremlin. Nor do I trust RT or Fox. All of these networks have a degree of bias that undermines journalistic integrity. RT is known – by its own admission to talk direct to Kremlin. Its blind support of the incumbent suggests to me it potentially faces consequences if it writes an original thought. whilst Fox is a neo-conservative  channel that was established by Rupert Murdoch as a sort of light entertainment/news channel. The company they keep in terms of viewers and commentators in their comments section suggest a channel that supports war against Iran and North Korea, ignorant of the consequences and dismissive of anyone who raises a counter argument.

The spiels that the media feed the people, sometimes with a clear government spin, as is the case with Russia should be checked by a fact finder first. In the case of the suspect chemical weapon facilities in Syria, the French, British and Americans should have given the inspectors a chance to confirm them as chemical weapon facilities. Governments by default have the means to hide information so that it cannot be released. All Governments – western or otherwise have an agenda. Some are corrupted by money. Some have huge monetary resources to tap into.

In some respects Syrian President Bashar al-Assad reminds me of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. Mr Castro became well known for his staunch anti-American rhetoric. Mr al-Assad might not be so staunch, but he is becoming well known for his contemptuous regard international norms and human rights. All of this has led me to wonder if he quietly agitates for a major strike by the United States so that Russia is somehow justified in a massive military retaliation – in order to deter the Americans from attacking Mr Castro got the U.S.S.R. to place medium range nuclear missiles on the island knowing there was no way the Americans would tolerate that kind of threat so close by. This is what triggered the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. The Russian ambassador to the United Nations tried to divert attention when confronted at a meeting of the United Nations Security Council.

New Zealand needs to stick to its instincts. As a nation the only assumption we should make is that this is far from over as a crisis and has the potential to get considerably worse.

 

Reforming science in New Zealand


Over the last few years I have posted about Kilauea and other volcanoes. I have done so to atract commenetary walking up to the ridge. New Zealand want to remember the lovely – admittedly very powerful – way in which the front the  cold front shall be very usful at Northland’s shipping centre

One question that seems to be recurring is  whether or not the financial  tools are ready for such a moment. National will never say yes incase it breaks with their principles, but would a party with nothing other than his judgement – which may or may not be there on the day of the incident.

One problem that exists with funding of science in New Zealand is the way it is administered. No clear direction exists in terms of what the country wants to achieve – do we push science funding on a broad front covering everything, a few selected areas into which nearly all funding is directed? Or does New Zealand try some sort of public-private partnership that gets the private sector to stump up some funding? I do not know the answer.

A broad funding approach can ensure all science is funded, but no significant progress is made in a particular field. It also means that the limitations and prospects on growth need to be realistic – something that cannot be granted from  scratch.

Although there is room for a more focussed view on on areas of research that New Zealand science should more focus on, making them fit into a large picture is very important. A more focussed approach would be to restrict nearly all funding to three or four areas. In the case of New Zealand it might be earth sciences, energy sources, biotechnology and maybe medicine. I see this potentially being applied to agriculture, geology and energy.

The third approach would be to ask the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment to open negotiations. These would be based on a shared public-private model with both input from the taxpayer and the private sector. These would be businesses that would gain from the research.

I want to see New Zealand grow. I want to see New Zealand become remembered for more than The Hobbit. A basic respect between North and South Korea seems a tall order for anyone. But others will be aware of the raising and falling lake levels. Unilateral war will not help anyone.

Government to end oil and gas permits


On 12 April Prime Minister Jacinda  Ardern announced that Labour, in agreement with its  coalition partners New Zealand First and the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand is not going to issue any more oil and gas permits.

I am concerned that this is just political machinations at work and that just like the National Party with so many issues, not enough thought has been given to how such an announcement will impact on New Zealand. The Government can say that yes it has delivered on its promises and that means it is getting things done – just like National who I notice parroted every announcement former Prime Ministers John Key or Bill English or one of the Ministers made.

Yes, from an environmental stand point this is good news – a good start at least. But let us get real here. I have a number of questions from pure transport perspectives alone, never mind getting into the potential effects on social policy, the energy sector and so forth. Such as:

What thought has been given to how and where non electric vehicles are going to get their fuel from, other than expensive fuel imports from overseas?

What thought has been given to the fact that New Zealanders are grimly hanging onto their Toyota Corolla’s, Surfs and so forth because newer, cleaner vehicles are too expensive?

Even hybrid’s need to come down in cost before they have a chance of becoming plentiful.

People do not seem all that enthused by the advent of plug on points to charge their cars. And the simple idea of having to plug a car in to charge at some point is likely to turn many off from wanting an electric car. All of you who are applauding today’s announcement understand this don’t you?

Will some sort of road/transport/government working group be established to look at biofuels and alternative sources and the issues that New Zealand may confront if it finds a sustainable source?

The Green Party and Labour surely understand that one is unlikely to ever quite get rid of petroleum and diesel. New Zealand, like most western countries is probably not going to fully wean itself off either and that service stations will still be around for the foreseeable future at least.

I am sorry, but unless you can address these questions and others that will arise, I am NOT on board. This is basic planning for New Zealand’s future. Grand sweeping announcements like this look great, but are completely meaningless unless backed up by solid policy and implementation.

Common sense really.

A division in the Greens?


There was a cartoon by cartoonist Al Nisbet in The Press the other day that got me thinking. Whilst not normally a fan of Nisbet, some of whom’s ideas seem rather dated, his cartoon on of the Greens co-leader election did seem oddly appropriate.

CREDIT: AL NISBET, 10 APRIL 2018

It was of the Greens as a stalk, which had splintered in two threads, each with a head. One was Julie Anne Genter who was challenging Marama Davidson for the co-leadership of the party. And the other was Mrs Davidson.

Each represents a different part of the Green philosophy. One usually thinks of the Greens as being pro social justice/environment/peace. The flip side for the Greens is militarism/market economics/conservative justice.

Mrs Davidson tends towards the social part of the party platform, which is about looking out for the little guy. She tends to social justice issues such as animal rights, human rights whilst dealing with major portfolio’s such as health, education and social welfare. Prior to entering Parliament Mrs Davidson worked for the Human Rights Commission, part time for the Breastfeeding New Zealand and helped to found Te Wharepora Hou Maori Women’s Collective. Working in Mrs Davidson’s favour is her strong Maori heritage, descending from three Iwi which will give her influence across Maoridom.

Ms Genter, who holds a Masters of Planning Practice from University of Auckland leans strongly towards the environmental wing. She focuses on reducing the impact of transport on the environment . Working in her favour are her strong environmental credentials and solid knowledge of policy processes. Perhaps working against Ms Genter is that she is not a New Zealander by birth. This gives her a disadvantage in dealing with Maori and on constitutional issues.

Whilst I hope there are no divisions in the Green Party, I do have concerns that Mrs Davidson will not apply due focus on the environmental wing of the party. I have seen nothing in her record to suggest that she has a major focus on it.  Ms Genter and her colleague Gareth Hughes, who has been working on energy issues are going to have to confront the beast of climate change and the considerable technological and planning challenges that it throws up.

Time – as it is prone to doing so – will tell whether the Greens have made a leadership call as good as their past. Metiria Turei, who preceded Marama Davidson was a solid and popular leader who lasted from Jeanette Fitzsimons’ retirement until she admitted having deceived Work and Income New Zealand last year – her failure to have the issue bottled by paying back the monies owed before she went public was her downfall. Can Mrs Davidson do as well?