Challenging dystopia

Over the last several days I have been thinking about the meaning of utopia and how it is applied as a term that describes an ideal world. I have been thinking about utopia in three broad areas:

  • Conflict
  • Waste
  • Corruption

To me utopia is an idealism. It is a vision of a world at some point in the future where conflict does not exist, where waste is minimal and corruption is kept to a minimum. It is polar opposite of a dystopian world where corruption is an acceptable by product of society, conflict is an accepted course of remediation and waste happens because if if does not then “progress” is not happening.

I accept that contrary to what many believe, there will always be conflict. The injustices of some past conflicts run too deep for resolution in anyone’s lifetime. In trying to make peace, one needs to be realistic about the prospects. It is not to say that many conflicts cannot be solved, because they can be – if Colombia can make peace with itself after a brutal and bloody civil war lasting nearly 50 years, perhaps the participants in other conflicts will eventually have second thoughts about war.

Too often proxy wars start between relatively small states fuelled by support from rival powers. This was seen in Afghanistan during the U.S.S.R. incursion in the 1980’s, in the Iran-Iraq war of the same period and is obvious in the more recent Syrian Civil War where the Assad regime has been propped up by Russia, whilst the West support rebels who want nothing less than regime change. No one wins in these wars except the armaments industry.

Much of the conflict that is happening at the moment exists out of fear, an emotion fuelled by media hyping up the dangers of the unknown and politicians using division tactics to get elected to pursue an agenda. Corporate media, such as Fox, but also others such as The Independent and The Daily Mail in the United Kingdom have long been guilty of such fear mongering. One only needs to look at the reaction every time there is a terrorist attack. All too often the Muslim community is made to look like it is complicit by its “silence”, when if any of these outlets actually bothered to do their job, they would see that the Muslim community abhors such behaviour as much as anyone else. When people stop buying into this fear mongering, there will be progress for the divisive agenda of the right will have failed.

There are steps that can be taken to counter this. Constantly reminding these agencies on their social media pages of the facts as opposed to “their facts” will annoy them, but persistence can pay off. Putting up links to stories with alternative views will remind their own audience that the story has at least two sides. Just meekly accepting facts uncritically is apathy.

There will always be resource consumption. There will always be waste generation. The idea that both can somehow be made to disappear is simply that, and one that is not likely to be advanced or developed much further. Waste minimisation becomes critical because the rate of resource consumption is simply not something that the planet can sustain without permanently and substantially degrading the natural environment. If one looks at the waste being produced in New Zealand per person, and compares it to other countries, a New Zealander has an ecological footprint almost as big as an American.

However there are things that can be done to reduce New Zealand’s waste production. The Minister for the Environment, Eugenie Sage has called for a review of New Zealand’s waste minimisation framework. Whilst good news, she has the means to go much further and enact comprehensive waste management reform. Technological advances mean that waste can now be burnt in high powered incinerators, that heat water to drive steam turbines and generate power. Although no such facility yet exists here, there has been talk among developers about the pros and cons of such a project.

There are steps that can be taken at local level such as setting up recycling programmes among businesses. Offices can be encouraged to have recycling bins for waste paper to go into, to invest in . Small N.G.O.’s and charities that cannot afford brand new equipment could make use of old cellphones, lap tops, televisions, printers, scanners, as well as chairs, desks, filing cabinets and so forth. Think global, act local, an activist once told me.


How did Fletcher Building get to this?

For decades Fletcher Building was the face of New Zealand construction. Employing 20,000 people globally including hundreds of New Zealanders, Fletcher Building had a N.Z.$9 billion revenue in 2016. It was involved in the largest building construction projects in New Zealand. So how did Fletcher Building get things so dreadfully wrong.

As a warning of how serious the situation is trading was halted on Fletcher shares on Thursday 8 February 2017 and then extended it on Monday 12 February. When trading halted the price per share was N.Z.$7.70, down from N.Z.$10.00 in February 2017.

The causes of Fletcher Building’s woes are numerous and no one single cause is entirely to blame. Across several different parts of the business – acquisitions, the Christchurch earthquake recovery, requiring contractors to accept full liability – things have gone wrong, which have added up to the current mess. But to understand the mess we need to look at these causes briefly:

  • Fletcher Building had a number of acquisitions, such as the Christchurch Justice Precinct and Auckland’s new International Convention Centre
  • Fletcher had some huge cost blow outs that have severely hampered a number of significant projects which have not gone entirely to plan

So, how rare it is to have the Chair of such a high profile company admit – though certainly very welcome in terms of transparency and honesty – that some frankly incompetent decisions had been made. But that was Ralph Norris, who in his prior life was Chief Executive of AIr New Zealand and Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Managing Director of A.S.B.

The causes of Fletcher Building’s massive slump can be attributed to a number of causes. However it was admitted that some of their acquisitions have turned into liabilities.¬† Their programme of work has been totally cut back and when the existing programme stops, will dry up completely. Quite where that will leave hundreds of workers I have no idea, as a large number of people¬† will be in need of work.

I have concerns about who will fill the void with the with the withdrawal of Fletcher’s Building and Interior unit. Foreign companies might be willing to do the work, but are not so likely to linger when they have finished. Nor are they so likely to have the same values and empathy for their New Zealand clients and the New Zealand building sector at large.

Fletcher Building’s woes extend to the Kiwi Saver schemes that invested in it and thereby thousands of New Zealanders. The extent to which it’s losses will impact on these schemes is not known as there might yet be further losses to come. It will come as a shock to the people who invested in the schemes to ensure that they have funds to dip into in retirement.

The next several days and weeks are going to be critical. The financial year ends on 31 March, at which point I believe that the true nature of the crisis at Fletcher Building will become clear.

Tonga needs comprehensive New Zealand aid

Tonga needs comprehensive New Zealand aid in the wake of Cyclone Gita. The cyclone, which struck Tonga on Monday night New Zealand time is currently veering southwest having missed Fiji and brushed the outer islands. Gita has strengthened to a full Category 5 system. It had sustained winds of 230 kilometres per hour as it passed over Tonga, with gusts reaching 278 kilometres per hour.

So far New Zealand and Australia are the nations to have offered aid to Tonga. Other countries are likely to join the relief effort once the extent of the damage becomes clear.

When a cyclone hits a Pacific island nation one of the first reactions is to get a surveillance aircraft – normally a P3K Orion, a Hercules or B-757 – to fly over and check the damage. An Orion aircraft flew over on Tuesday and reported widespread damage.

Tonga knows it can only help itself so far in situations like these. However, closing on Sunday for religious purposes knowing that the worst Cyclone in potentially living memory is bearing down on the country is beyond silly. But only the people of Tonga can sort those domestic issues out. It also needs to understand that aid packages are not made for lining the pockets of Members of Parliament or people of the Royal Family.

All that put aside, what Tonga needs now from New Zealand, is a comprehensive aid package. I am not talking a $5 million aid package or such, but something like a $50 million package dispersed through a reputable organisation such as the New Zealand Red Cross. That is about $11.00 for each New Zealander. People might balk at the amount of money I am suggesting, but it is not every day a little island nation like Tonga suffers a direct hit from a Category 5 cyclone.

It is easier for money to be donated to the Red Cross and for them to source what equipment, food, water, medicine, shelter and so forth that is needed. Well meaning donations of food, clothing can often cause all sorts of problems because people do not give much thought to the types of clothing or where it is headed. Food that needs to be prepared is not much use unless it can be taken to a canteen with a functional water and power supply

If you want to donate to the Tonga relief at the New Zealand Red Cross, you can do so here.

Wanted: New Leader of the National Party

After 27 years in Parliament, including 8 as Treasurer under Prime Minister John Key as well as one year as Prime Minister, Bill English resigned today. His resignation will take effect on 27 February 2018 and he will leave Parliament on 01 March 2018.

Simon William English entered Parliament in 1990 when National won the F.P.P. election under Jim Bolger. He stood as the candidate for Wallace in 1990 and 1993 before it became Clutha-Southland in 1996. Under the Jim Bolger and Jenny Shipley led National Governments Mr English held Health. After the party’s defeat in 1999, he was shadow spokesperson for Finance and then Leader of the National Party and thus the Opposition, which lasted until 2003 when Dr Don Brash took over. He was reassigned to the Education Spokesperson role before John Key became Leader of the National Party in 2006, whereupon he was restored to the Finance Spokesperson role.

In 2008 Mr English became Treasurer of New Zealand and would hold this role until 2016 when the then Prime Minister John Key stepped down. He gained a reputation as a solid keeper of New Zealand’s finances and when his resignation was announced yesterday there were words of respect from all parts of Parliament about his time as Treasurer.

Shortly before Mr Key resigned, Kaikoura was struck by a large magnitude 7.8 earthquake which caused widespread damage to the town, surrounding regions and transport links. One of Mr English’s first acts as Prime Minister was to announce that the road and railway links would be rebuilt in full. Mr English remained popular, well ahead of his opposite number, Labour Leader Andrew Little until he resigned in August 2017, to pave the way for Jacinda Ardern to lead Labour and now New Zealand.

Mr English’s personal future in Parliament was always in question following the decision of New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters to cast his lot with the Labour Party and the Greens to form a centre left Government. Although he and his National Party presented a united front and lost no time in getting cracking as the Opposition of the 51st Parliament of New Zealand, let there be no doubt that the loss of the Beehive would deeply hurt everyone in the party of Robert Muldoon, Keith Holyoake and so forth.

With Mr English’s departure from Parliament altogether scheduled for later this month, the National Party are in internal election mode sorting out the serious contenders for his job from the fakes. It is widely thought that there are four candidates for the job:

  • Former Minister of Justice Amy Adams
  • Former Minister of Social Development Paula Bennett
  • Former Minister of Health Jonathan Coleman
  • Former Minister of Police Judith Collins

Two outside contenders also exist in the form of Nikki Kaye who was former Minister of Civil Defence and Simon Bridges, former Minister of Energy and Resources.

Former Minister of Justice Amy Adams is viewed as one of the more left-leaning member, which may attract votes from the centre part of the National Party’s political spectrum. Mrs Adam is M.P. for Selwyn, which is a solid blue Canterbury electorate.

Paula Bennett is known as a “westie” because she originally stood for the Auckland electorate of Waitakere. Before Mr English took over, she was Minister for Social Development under Mr Key, where she earnt a reputation for being out of touch with social issues.

Jonathan Coleman was Minister of Health after Tony Ryall left Parliament. During this time a consistent inability to accept an exploding mental health crisis in New Zealand despite a number of high profile cases, the Christchurch and Kaikoura earthquakes and other causes causing record demand for mental health services.

A vote for Judith Collins is a vote to support the core rural constituents of National. Ms Collins was at the centre of the Oravida scandal and was made to walk the plank – some still view her as corrupt, which may tarnish her credibility.

One year after the fires, what has New Zealand learnt?

The first I became aware of the fires on the Port Hills that started one year ago was a fellow staff member coming into the staff room and saying there is a big plume of smoke coming from the Port Hills and that it must be a scrub fire. Thinking it would probably be all over in a matter of hours I went out for a quick look and decided to have a closer look at coverage of it in the media later on. A year later, what have we learnt about fighting such fires?

For awhile an amalgamation of the New Zealand Fire Service and other emergency services has been on the cards. Whilst the individual organizations still exist as such, the umbrella organisation overlooking them has changed to Fire and Emergency New Zealand.

To the average person from one day to the next, that means little. One still obviously dials 111 for emergencies. The Police, Fire and St John still have their distinctive roles to play. What has changed is how events requiring an inter agency response are managed. Too late for the 11 houses that were destroyed in the fires last year, but hopefully not too late to prevent a repeat of such an event somewhere else in New Zealand.

When the fires started, the first on the scene were the Fire Service. But, although it was normally the first to respond to rural fires, the Fire Service jurisdiction lay within urban areas. In a rural fire event, the Fire Service would hand over to the Rural Fire Service when their personnel arrived. With 38 fire districts shared between the F.S. and the N.R.F.S., little wonder perhaps that confusion reigned. With these particular fires traversing the boundaries of Selwyn District, Christchurch City and Department of Conservation land, exactly who was in charge (or not in charge)of what, was a mystery.

People affected have complained of a lack of information being fed to them by Civil Defence or the Fire Service. A lack of intelligence meant when the forecast easterly change on Day 3 happened, the Selwyn District Civil Defence did not get it. Information about fire behaviour and progress all seemed to be missing. The Fire Service acknowledges this.

Whilst progress has been made addressing the command structure of the Fire Service, can the same be said for the replanting of the Port Hills areas burnt by the fire with less fire prone vegetation types. Carrying out this replanting using such vegetation types will help to reduce the risk to properties in the future.

It also raises questions about peoples preparedness for scrub fires that firefighters lose control of. Many people who were forced to move, were made to do so at short notice, meaning valuables, documents such as passports, driver licenses and so forth, ended up being left behind.

Finally one point of interest remains. If one looks at the Crimes Act provisions for arson, a person may be liable for up to 14 years imprisonment if they are found to have caused intentional damage by fire to property knowing a risk to life is likely to ensue; 7 years if found to have caused intentional damage by fire to property that they have no interest in. The Act says nothing about providing for someone found guilty of multiple instances in either case.

With warm weather forecast today, one hopes that fire wise it ends up being a damn sight less eventful than 13 February 2017 and the days following were.