Kiwi Build needs to get a grip

During the previous Government housing was a major headache for a lot of people. Market oriented policies, increased international pressure and poor domestic policy making all combined to overheat something that was supposed to keep prices competitive. And at the end of the day, the working man was the one who paid the price. But a year after National exited office, there still seem to be unrealistic expectations of what New Zealanders can afford – or are prepared to pay.

Kiwi Build need to get realistic about the ability of people to afford their offerings. The simple fact of the matter is that our incomes, combined with their unrealistic prices and the high demand which means competition to get into one will be strong.

Some of the houses on offer are going for more than N.Z.$650,000 which is simply too much. It might be fine if one is on a high income, but what about the many who do not earn six digit figure incomes even before tax? What about those who cannot afford to put down a deposit, which is what is often needed in order to buy a house?

I earn $17.76/hr before tax. After income tax, but before further deductions for Kiwi Saver and ACC and so on are made I have $14.65/hr. What hits my bank is therefore not quite what I start of with before tax. Add in board and $125 per week for long term savings and what I have is significantly less than the $36,900 before I started divvying and subtracting. That says nothing about all the other weekly costs most people would have to pay.

Yes, Kiwi Build is meant to target New Zealanders wanting to get on to the property ladder and own their first house. But right now the cost to many New Zealanders is simply out of their current reach, but likely future reach even with higher incomes or sharing the costs with a spouse.

Minister in charge Phil Twyford is making a botch of the issue. At no point has Mr Twyford seemed like he is in full control of this very important portfolio, with a range of concerns:

  1. Lack of ambition – an arguable one, but it was raised by economist Shamubeel Eaqub
  2. An apparent lack of effort to engage the designers of microhousing, which has minimal floor space and could be an option for those not wanting a full house, but one that is suitable for just being a place to eat and sleep
  3. How to counter urban sprawl and get councils to promote apartment living

In fairness to him each house has other costs associated with it such as getting resource consents, paying the tradesmen to put it up and including the necessary services such as electricity, running water, sewerage and a driveway of some sort. Paying for these as well as allowing for competing market demands means that even if Mr Twyford is able to get the housing portfolio down pat his hands maybe somewhat tied by forces out of his control.

But that does not change the fact that as Minister in charge Mr Twyford has to take ownership of the problems posed and do his best to fix them.

Australian politicians can learn from New Zealand

Every so often I tune into Australian Sky News to see what is happening in Australian politics. As our closest neighbour of influence, Australia and New Zealand have close political, economic and security ties. Australian politicians have commended the strength of the relationship and M.P.’s from both countries Parliaments have sat in on sittings of the other country’s Parliament.

What New Zealand M.P.’s have learned is one thing. But what they might remember Australia for is not so much the policy making, but the prickly tortuous, apparently all consuming politicking that has made their Federal level politics almost morbidly fascinating.

New Zealand is lucky. Here at least, despite the at times menagerie like behaviour of the New Zealand Parliament, it at least works – none of the parties are engulfed by crippling indecision on what to debate next. Despite the grumblings in the National Party about the leadership of Simon Bridges, even National is not lead by a pack of senior M.P.’s who are so consumed by their own ambitions that they have forgotten who they are meant to be representing. And the Labour party rumbles of 2008-2017 all happened on the Opposition benches, and therefore had no significant impact on the day to day running of New Zealand. All have ideas of where they want to take New Zealand, and all have Members of Parliament actively working in their communities.

Not so in in Australia. The Liberal Party of Australia and its Australian National Party allies are crippled by fear of the Australian Labor Party managing to pass legislation that would have ensured medical assistance for the refugees and asylum seekers on the island Republic of Nauru.. So much so that as of yesterday they have given up any hope of passing legislation in 2018 and have gone to an early Christmas

How is it possible to govern when the governing party lives from one day to the next in fear of another coup or something happening that forces them to call an election? New Zealand, in the absence of such strife, can only wonder. It can look at how Tony Abbott, a politician whose sole mission in oppositionĀ other than to deny climate change, oppose same sex marriage and campaign for ever increasing tax cuts, was to destroy Ms Gillard’s Government, completely failed. Having led the Liberals to victory in 2013, Mr Abbott had no plans for Australia. If one follows the trail, the failures of Mr Abbott soon become those of his successor Malcolm Turnbull, whose weak leadership finds him likewise struggling. So poor was his leadership that the gains the Liberal Party made in the 2013 election almost completely disappeared in the 2016 election.

Rattled, the more ambitious began plotting against him for Australia’s top job. Peter Dutton, the toxic power hungry Minister of Home Affairs is one. Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott is another. The former Deputy Prime Minister Joyce whose affair and involvement in the dual citizenship fiasco that saw numerous politicians resign nearly cost him his job, is a third. And a fourth was Scott Morrison, the former treasurer under Mr Abbott. In October this year it came to a head, when, having failed to gain any traction as Prime Minister, was rolled by Scott Morrison, only to cause a Labor party surge in the polls.

During the three years since, the Australian Labor Party has led in every single Two Party Preferred poll that has been taken. It has never had in all that time a score of less than 51% and at times a score as high as 57%. With such support it would be able to comfortably govern on its own without any input from its Green Party friends.

It is not that the Australian Labor Party has had it easy itself. In 2007, Labor swept to power after the Liberals under John Howard lost the election. The newly elected Prime Minister Kevin Rudd lasted just a couple of years before being toppled by the ambitious Julia Gillard who narrowly survived the 2010 election and led the Labor Party until 2013 after continual infighting between the two, when Mr Rudd had a go at getting his old job back. Ms Gillard promptly retired from Parliament. Mr Rudd followed in the aftermath of the defeat to the Liberals.

But with the Parliamentary year in Australia effectively over, the Liberals will be going to summer break nervous about what the New Year will bring. Labor will be going into it with high hopes of ending an increasingly pathetic game of charades.


Renewed calls to raise drinking age

An on going debate in New Zealand about what the drinking age should be has flared up again. Renewed calls from paramedics and others suggesting that the drinking age is too low have surfaced after a spate of incidents. But as we shall see, they ignore a problem that is as old as the existence of a legal drinking age.

The calls are coming after a Coroner suggested that the age should be raised back to 20 years, where it was up to the end of 1999.

This ignores an age old issue that was true even when I was at high school in 1999. Teenagers see alcohol as cool and until and unless that perception changes, minors will continue trying to find ways to get alcohol. They will get older family members or friends who are of legal age to do it for them. They will continue trying to slip into bars and night clubs that are not permitted to have them on their premises. These social pressures and dares are just quite simply something that happens. I was offered alcohol by mates when I was under age. I went to parties where there was alcohol present – I did not drink any except under parental supervision because my hypertension means I am on medication, which at the time I was concerned would react badly with it.

When I went to my Year 13 high school ball I had drinks at a mates place, along with about 14 others who were also going. Then the age to be consuming alcohol was still 20.

There are other things that can be done which would be more effective (all of which I have argued the case for in prior articles):

  1. Removing alcohol from supermarkets and restricting it to alcohol stores and licenced cafes, bars and restaurants
  2. Removing advertising from the media – can only be displayed on premises
  3. Tighten the penalties for non compliance

Of the sad case of Matthew Kyte who drove drunk on a regular basis, just like the man who was recently in court for his 12th drunk driving charge and who had killed 4 people, here is a guy who should have had his licence permanently revoked. The Police said of the case that Mr Kyte would have been potentially charged with murder had he hit two people who he narrowly missed on his last drunken drive.

Intoxicated crowds also seem to be becoming a problem at accidents. In the last few years there have been numerous instances of police, paramedics and fire fighters being abused by drunken crowds at parties where things have gone wrong. Some of the cases have involved violence, whilst others have involved items being thrown at the emergency services, who have had to call up Police to deal with the trouble makers.

But none of this will be fixed by changing the drinking age. Ones age is a bit different from ones intelligence quotient, or more specifically here, ones maturity quotient.

The renaissance of the Crusher

Judith Anne Collins, Member of Parliament for Papakura, former Minister of the Crown and National Party attack dog is on the hunt for the leadership of the National Party once more.

Ms Collins, known as Crusher for her promise to put the confiscated cars of boy racers into a crusher, is staging a renaissance in the National Party. Her revival as one of the key members of the party, pursuing a clear blue agenda has excited the conservative wing of National.

At 6% in the latest Colmar Brunton poll, she is only 1% point behind her boss and Leader of the Opposition, Simon Bridges. Mr Bridges has been wallowing at 7% in the polls and has been unable to gain any traction against Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. At 6% she is even ahead of Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of New Zealand First, Winston Peters.

Ms Collins has time on her side. Barring a major scandal or highly improbable failure to pass a budget, it will be 2020 before an election is called. That gives her time to build up her support, have a think about the direction she would like to take the National should she launch a successful bid to roll Mr Bridges. Any Collins leadership is sure to take National to the right and see a harder line on crime and justice; a more aggressive approach in Parliament and a willingness to dish the dirt.

I anticipate that Ms Collins will place less emphasis on the environment, cannabis reform – despite it being linked to a lot of minor (and not so minor)crime – as well as social welfare, health and education. The latter based on her voting record, suggests she would support the revival of charter schools and tax cuts.

But Ms Collins also has baggage. Her co-operation with blogger Cameron Slater’s dishing the most grubby and smelly mud has not endeared her to the political purists or the New Zealand public in many respects. Her involvement in the Oravida scandal for which she was dismissed from her Ministerial portfolio’s for a period of time.

For now though Mr Bridges hangs onto his leadership of the National Party. He would be reluctant to surrender it because those who surrender the leadership of National or Labour, unless they have done it to support a more popular candidate like former Labour Leader Andrew Little did last year, are generally seen as being in the twilight of their Parliamentary careers. Mr Little’s three immediate predecessors Phil Goff, David Shearer and David Cunliffe were all gone at the end of the Parliamentary term in which they surrendered the leadership.

So, as we settle in to watch this space, perhaps the bigger academic question to ask based on National and Simon Bridges fortunes, when Ms Collins will make her next move?

Time to burn plastic?

The debate over whether to burn plastic in New Zealand has come to the surface again. The debate, whilst not new, comes back to light as the country tries to grapple with a plastic overload.

There are several potential reasons for doing so. It is a very cost effective way to dispose of waste and there are numerous instances of overseas countries, particularly in Scandinavia doing so. Another reason is that waste can be burnt to create energy, thereby potentially supplying heat to heat water as is done in Denmark or generate electricity.

In the first instance, no, I do not believe we should be burning plastic. There are several reasons for this:

  1. Plastics may release dioxins, which are potentially cancer causing into the atmosphere
  2. Plastics have recyclable uses such as being used as bitumen on roads, according to trials carried out in India
  3. Reducing the plastic in our lives should come down to the question of what purposes we really need it for and making all that we deem necessary to have recyclable

But just for a couple of minutes, let us suppose we did decide burning plastics was necessary. New Zealand has strong rules under the Resource Management Act 1991 around the discharge of pollutants into the atmosphere.

A couple of potential issues exist around what kind of incinerator could be used. The first one concerns the use of incinerators. There are only three high powered incinerators (those that can burn material at temperatures above 800Ā°C in New Zealand and the National Environmental Standards for Air Quality (2004) forbids the construction of any more. Lower powered incinerators are known to exist, but would they be powerful enough to do the job?

The same N.E.S.A.Q. set limits on Ozone, Sulphur Dioxide, Nitrogen Dioxide and Carbon Monoxide as these are significant contributors to air pollution. They have a range of potential health effects in large quantities.

The second concerns our international obligations including, but not limited to climate change. Would we be in breach of those obligations by having incinerators simply burning up plastic waste?

Various attempts to get such plans underway have been canned in the past. In one such case Olivine, , was attempting to recommission the mothballed Meremere coal fired power station as a waste to energy plant that among other waste, would have used plastics. That was in 2000.

Perhaps the biggest challenge is a combination of government policy, but also the fact that in the last few years the range of plastics that can be recycled in New Zealand has been significantly increased. When the recycling triangle scheme where a triangle with a number between 1-6 signifying its suitability for recycling first appeared on plastics, the range was quite poor with only Classes 1-2 being eligible – 3,4,5,6 had to wait. It has improved now – only to be replaced by a laissez faire attitude to recycling .

New Zealand needs to address these issues before it can make a decision on whether or not to burn plastic.