Water safety message still not getting through to New Zealanders


Earlier this week two tourists were rescued from the Huka Falls. They had been swept into a narrow channel only a few tens of metres wide through which hurtles the Waikato River. Just metres from a 15 metre plunge into a seething pool, they were rescued by astonished police, wanting to know what they were – or more likely were not – thinking.

New Zealand has some alarmingly high drowning statistics for a country surrounded by water. And some of the drowning have happened in places where people should not be in the first place, such as irrigation and power station intakes, spill ways, diversion and water races. These places where hidden obstructions, strong under currents, sudden rises and falls in water levels depending on demand may exist are generally well marked.

So, this idea that more signage and other warnings are needed is needed is silly. It is people trying to deflect the fact that they do not know water safety that we should address. This has been shown clearly by instances around water control structures in both the North and South Islands. Two examples at Aratiatia Dam particularly stand out. The dam, whose spill way consists of an over flow channel and a control gate block that opens twice daily for about 30 minutes discharges into a steep rocky channel that creates spectacular rapids. Warning signage, sirens and lights warn people 5 minutes, 2 minutes and immediately prior to the gates opening. But despite all of this, multiple people have died or have had to be rescued for being in the channel.

It is also true that New Zealand has too many drownings at beaches. Many have been where people have got themselves into situations beyond their skill, but also where some have ignored warnings from lifeguards to stay out the sea at beaches that gave been closed. Others have been caught in rips and have tried to swim against the current, thus tiring themselves unnecessarily.

And finally, there are our rivers, particularly in the instance of Canterbury and West Coast Rivers, where avoidable, but also tragic drownings have happened. Some have been cases of not understanding that the heavy rain in the mountains will cause alpine rivers to flood within a matter of hours. On multiple occasions sudden water level changes have caught people out. In one instance a near new rental car hired by foreign tourists was swept away by a rapidly rising Rakaia River. The hirers had ignored warnings from locals that a flood was coming and were shocked when the dry river bed turned into a filthy raging torrent. In another, locals drove onto the Waimakariri River bed and were caught when the river flooded in response to a day of heavy rain.

But perhaps the most tragic was the case of some young men from Afghanistan who had no concept of water safety. They had gone to the Waimakariri River just north of Christchurch on a hot January day to cool off, and seeing some locals in the river, thought they could wade in. Before long one was in trouble having suddenly realised the channel was deeper than him.

New Zealand can do better than this, and we must. We need to reintroduce compulsory swim week, which was something that happened at my primary school in the second or third week of each year. But we also need to talk about water environments that do not involve beaches. When that happens, maybe the death toll will improve.


Political donations issues highlight need to change the law

Over the last few months, questions have been raised about how New Zealand First has handled political donations with regards to the Electoral Finance Act. That has been referred to the Police, who promptly sent it to the Serious Fraud Office. It has led to the Leader of the Opposition, Simon Bridges and his Deputy Paula Bennett both saying that the Government needs to stand down New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters as happened in 2008.

A couple of days ago it emerged National had received two significant donations of $100,000 which had to be declared but are alleged to have been broken into substantially smaller chunks to avoid disclosure laws. Now former Member of Parliament, Member for Howick Jami-Lee Ross has been charged along with three Chinese nationals by the Serious Fraud Office over them.

Mr Ross was hospitalized in 2018 following a mental break down during which time he levelled damaging allegations against the National Party. They after it was revealed that National might not have declared a significant donation from one of the three Chinese nationals, Zhang Yikun. Mr Ross was expelled from the National Party and became an independent whilst continuing to hold the seat of Howick, but as an independent M.P.

These two cases, separate as they are, highlight clearly the need for decisive action on the subject of electoral finance law. Is the Act, which was passed in 2006 following revelations nearly every party in Parliament misused money in the 2005 and had to pay it back, no longer working? If so, what needs to be changed?

These questions and others about our E.F.A. will be asked by more people as we approach the 2020 General Election. With confidence in politicians and the system that elects them to office falling, being seen to want positive changes that make the Act fairer and more accountable to the New Zealand public, is not so much a “good idea” any more as it is essential. Minister of Justice Andrew Little appeared to realize when he told New Zealand that he might bypass the Justice Committee in order to get changes through the House before the 2020 General Election.

The Electoral Commission says that parties must report immediate donations and/or loans in excess of $30,000.

Parties may keep up to $1,500 of any anonymous donation, and up to $1,500 of any donation from an overseas person.

If an anonymous donor gives more than that, the party must pass the extra amount to us within 20 working days. If an overseas person gives more than that, the party must return the extra amount to them or, if that isn’t possible, to us within 20 working days.

However, a party can keep more of an anonymous donation if it is a ‘donation protected from disclosure’. These are payments that we make to the party on behalf of donors that want to remain anonymous. Between two successive elections, parties can receive up to $307,610 in donations protected from disclosure. If a donation will take a party over their limit, we will return the excess to the donor.

Along with the two donation issues mentioned above, there is also concern that China is trying to buy influence in New Zealand politics by getting Members of Parliament involved with Chinese Communist Party activities. At some of these events, I have little doubt that donations are being talked about in a broad sense.

Supporting the Ma and Pa stores in New Zealand

Coming back from a walk this evening I was struck by the number of small businesses in the Papanui business area that had empty premises.

Dowsons Shoes, a New Zealand footwear chain, had a store on Papanui Road for 3 decades. A year ago they closed that store. Next to it, around the same time and due to a life style chain a local jeweller moved his premises. These events would be unremarkable, and for the most part they are, except that in 2020 those premises are no visibly closer to being occupied than they were the day they were vacated.

In that time, a Chinese eatery/takeaway place has also gone under across the road and a popular Egyptian eatery called the “Egyptian Kebab House” appears shuttered. The owner is officially on holiday according to a sign in the window, but was meant to be back in January.

Earlier in the walk, I encountered two other commercial premises that were operating just last week on Holmwood Road that have been, or are going to be terminated. One is a dairy that has gone into liquidation and the other is a small women’s wear clothing shop whose owners are retiring.

These separate occurrences made me think about the challenges of operating a small business in New Zealand. A blog post from Business Success Partners in January asked what business owners in the Small/Medium Enterprise (S.M.E.) range thought the biggest issue facing New Zealand businesses was. Many thought striking a balance between work and lifestyles was the key one, followed by time management. Consensus was widespread that both needed assistance in dealing with.

If a single person business or one run with just a couple of staff, the challenges are considerable. From supply and demand of services to filing taxes, meeting work place safety and environmental obligations and – of course – returning a profit big enough to justify the effort. I think of the bakery down the road run by a Cambodian family. The range of produce they put out each day is truly impressive, and is a seven day a week operation. They have to meet food safety standards, occupational safety and health standards, ensure that their staff all get paid according to New Zealand wage law. As one of the better bakeries in northwest Christchurch, they have a reliable supply of customers.

Yet when we think of businesses a lot of the time we think of corporate entities, whether it is Countdown or B.P., Sea Lord or Meridian. Sure they employ a lot of people and are significant tax contributors to the Government accounts, and sure we use their goods and services, but they have resources and staffing that small businesses do not. They have payroll services, and account managers, human resources and so forth. It is easier for them to find staff.

Not surprising then S.M.E.’s find compliance with our various laws to be a time consuming effort and wonder why we have them. In some respects I can see where they are coming from, but there are good reasons why New Zealand has the employment laws that we do. Much of the contention around them would most likely disappear if the authorities prosecuted more of the cowboy acts who serve only to complicate matters unnecessarily for all of the good, honest businesses.

National’s economic policy lacking originality

Yesterday National Party leader Simon Bridges released his party’s policy for economic growth should National form a government after the 19 September 2020 General Election.

It is almost as if Mr Bridges is determined not to acknowledge that the out worn out National Party formula of tax cuts for what it sees as middle class New Zealanders simply does not work any more. When economists who generally support more liberalised economics start suggesting that social welfare benefits need to be increased and recognize that the market will suffer from a growing portion of New Zealanders simply not being able to participate in it, that is a warning written in red ink.

National claim to be working for ordinary New Zealanders. They claim that their policies are better than those of a government that is “not delivering”, not keeping promises and whose Ministers of the Crown do no know what they are doing. Whilst no one should be surprised – and indeed this is what an Opposition is meant to do – given the lack of progress National made on socio-economic indicators during its nine years in office, the allegations that a not-quite one term Government is failing to deliver ignores a detailed list of smaller announcements.

But even without cutting taxes, Mr Bridges could free up substantial money without too much effort. I and others have long had questions about the fiscal accountability of the District Health Boards, especially after the Minister of Health David Clark found that an audit of the D.H.B.’s had $1.25 billion of red ink. Mr Clark blamed the previous Government for it, but this incident reminded me of an estimate that D.H.B.’s might cost $750 million per annum to run.

Another thing Mr Bridges could have his Government do is make good on the recommendations of any large scale reviews into the Ministry of Social Development, its form and function. It is well known that the unwieldy ways of the Social Welfare Act and associated pieces of legislation go some way towards creating the toxic relationship that sometimes arises between social welfare providers and the recipients.

There are infrastructure projects which could boost some of New Zealand’s not so wealthy provinces, which Mr Bridges could be looking at. They include a Waste-to-Energy plant that could burn waste, and generate electricity in doing so on the West Coast, an idea that has already been mooted by West Coast business leaders, but shot down by Minister for Conservation Eugenie Sage. Another one, which might be of use in Southland would be a hydrogen plant to support New Zealand’s transition to clean energy, and would create hundreds of jobs designing and building the plant, as well as many more operating it.

And then there is tax legislation itself. The tax code is like a leaky hydroelectric dam, constantly leaking and unable to reach full capacity because of said leaks. Closing the loopholes that makes New Zealand get viewed unfavourably when it comes to money laundering and other organized crimes. As well as tax evasion it would not only improve how the rest of the O.E.C.D. view us, but also bring in extra revenue that we were meant to have had all along, but which leaked through the dam.

So, if we look at what I have suggested and what Mr Bridges suggested in his speech, who has the more original approach to economic growth? And why?

Dear Labour Party: 2020 Election

I understand you are coming to the end of three fairly turbulent years in office. A lot of things have happened in New Zealand and abroad, that have kept you and the other coalition parties on their toes. I see that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern continues to enjoy high popularity in the preferred Prime Minister polls and is well ahead of the Leader of the Opposition, Simon Bridges.

A brief review of October 2017 to the present day shows that you have had to:

  • Lead the country in the wake of the Christchurch mosque attacks, setting an example for how to show leadership and compassion, whilst at the same time making sure people are going to be okay
  • Deal with the Whakaari eruption – one of those rare, but ultimately inevitable moments when a New Zealand volcano puts on a lethal eruption
  • Do damage control as Phil Twyford stumbles from one botch up to the next; Stuart Nash struggles with the fact that many New Zealanders are more conservative on crime than we want to admit; acknowledge that there will be push back on the decision to phase out oil and gas
  • Balance the Green fringe and the conservative parts of New Zealand First without causing the Government to collapse

Across the chamber you have an angry National Party, still smarting over the fact that Winston Peters and his New Zealand First party went with Labour instead of choosing the largest party in Parliament. National are ready to fight. They are absolutely certain, despite Mr Bridges misreading of the voting public on housing, crime and a host of other issues, that this Sixth Labour Government is going to be a one term wonder ending on 19 September 2020. With 56 Members of Parliament and a formidable campaign machine that even its most ardent critics have to admire – however grudgingly – you have an opponent that will make you work for your portion of the House of Representatives.

For you to win the 2020 election campaign – which you can, and possibly quite convincingly – Phil Twyford needs to go. I am sure he is a nice guy and a good local Member of Parliament, but as a Minister of the Crown, he simply is not up to the job. I have also lost confidence in Minister for Conservation Eugenie Sage, who seems determined to end any prospect of a Waste to Energy plant on the West Coast. Minister of Social Development Carmel Sepuloni needs to either get on with reforming the M.S.D. or resign. Your Ministers of Corrections, Health, Economic Development also need a rev up. None of them have been very visible in the last 2 1/3 years and the public would be right to wonder where they are, and what they are doing.

But it is not all bad Labour. You have a bunch of competent Ministers, who include Kris Faafoi, Megan Woods, Ron Mark, Winston Peters, Chris Hipkins and Tracey Martin who I believe are making an honest go of their portfolio’s and have delivered some solid outcomes. All are still works in progress in terms of getting their agenda’s delivered, but they are there and they are trying.

Mr Hipkins has bitten off a huge chunk of work, which might go into a third term, and therefore he needs to be realistic about what he can deliver. Ms Martin is trying to make the best of Oranga Tamariki, and is doing work with children that has cross party potential. I hope to see Dr Woods announce some sort of investment in hydrogen fuel cells as an energy source, which would help secure the economic future of Southland. Mr Faafoi’s stumble might be overshadowed by the fight over Concert F.M., whose well being is essential to how Radio New Zealand deliver concert material as many of the sound engineers are involved with the recording and delivery of concerts. But if he and his colleagues are careful, they can deliver the goods Ms Ardern will need to deliver to the electorate before the 52nd Parliament of New Zealand is dissolved.

Because once it is dissolved, the scrap that by then would have been rumbling for weeks will be all on.