Is Christchurch and Canterbury ready to move on from the quakes?

Nearly nine years after that first earthquake came rumbling into the lives of thousands of Cantabrians, questions are being asked about whether Christchurch is ready to finally close the chapter on the Canterbury Earthquakes 2010-11. According to Andrea Vance, a journalist for Stuff, Labour have read the “tea leaves” and believe that Christchurch wants to resume a normal relationship with the Government.

Only when the last person has settled with their insurance company will the job be done – Southern Response, with scores of outstanding insurance claims still to settle is shutting down at the end of 2019, claiming its job is done. Earthquake Commission claims at the end of May 2019 still numbered 2037, which E.Q.C. said was down from 3,529 the previous year whilst acknowledging that there is scope for improvement.

Only when all of the major crown rebuild projects have had their futures finalized  will the job be done – $3 billion remains to be spent, and numerous projects that had been agreed to are yet to be finished. There is no idea yet when a stadium will be built or what it will look like.  The Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament on Barbadoes Street which is one of the finest architectural gems in Christchurch is not going to be saved, which has ensured that there will be a protracted court fight as it is a Class 1 Heritage Building.

Currently under construction is Te Pae, the Christchurch Convention Centre. It is going to be owned by the Crown under the global settlement whose details were released a couple of weeks ago. Te Pae is due for completion in the middle of next year.

Christchurch Cathedral is still in limbo, and its uncertainty is one of the primary causes for a relative lack of development around Cathedral Square in the southwest, southern and northeastern corners. The land that the old Warners Hotel and the Bailies Irish Bar and Restaurant on the ground floor used to occupy is still vacant (Bailies moved to Edgeware in 2012). So is the land in the southwest where various gift shops and a theatre used to be.

Only when all of the above are complete or have a definitive future, will Christchurch be able to fully move on from the dark days of 2010-11. Then we can all turn to face head on the events of the future in the knowledge that when a major disaster next hits a New Zealand city authorities will have a rough idea of what to do (and not to do).

The major problems for Christchurch rate payers are not ones that the Crown has agreed to handle. One consequence of reaching the settlement we have with the Crown is that $800 million is going to have to be found for turning the old civilian red zone into something more useful. Similarly $1.2 billion will need to be found for fixing damage under the road network. These two expenditures combined with a need to concentrate on neglected green spaces that have become weedy and overgrown and a host of smaller issues that have been less of a priority because of the earthquakes is expected to cause Christchurch a few more headaches yet.

Christchurch may be nearly ready to end its special post-quake recovery relationship with the Government, but there are internal scars as well as physical ones that will never recover. Move on we will. Forget we will never.


Boosting the economy

One of the continuing frustrations of National and Labour governments is that both parties are guilty of incessantly arguing over how to divide up the tax pie. Yet neither party seems to think about how to grow that pie.

My view of New Zealand economics is therefore perhaps not so much left-wing or right-wing as it is about a third way type of response. In explaining this, two assumptions need to be made. The first is we assume that a conservative response is to loosen regulations on things such as the environment (Resource Management Act), employ laws that businesses might be complaining about and cutting government expenditure on social issues to fund tax cuts. The second is that a socialist response is the reverse – tighten up these laws, increase expenditure on social issues and raise tax to pay for this.

I take a third view. New Zealand has long prided itself on its “No. 8 wire ingenuity”, which is great, but along with that perception of resourcefulness and creativity, there has been a systemic and on going underfunding of research, technology and science. That needs to stop. Our percentage of G.D.P. spent on such research is at the lower end of the spectrum for O.E.C.D. nations.

Also, how the money that is available for research is spread too thinly and across too many fields. New Zealand is trying to dabble in everything instead of building up a few based on our strengths. Instead of putting small sums of money into a dozen or more fields, we need to be building up not more than say four or five main strands of research that get say 80% of all funding. If expenditure needs to increase on anything it is on Research Science and Technology. The 1.1% we spend on this is roughly half of what some nations at the top end of the investment spectrum are putting into this field. The word investment is used to signify an understanding that R.T.S. cannot grow without sustained financial input.

If New Zealand wants to be a country that moves its median income per hour from around $23/hr to $35-40/hr or more, then we need to start taking science and mathematics more seriously at school. I have described in prior posts an undeclared war on science that was started during the government of former Prime Minister Helen Clark, but waged by the National Government of Prime Minister John Key, where because science does not care for political agenda’s it was derided and distrusted.

What I have described above will grow the pie so that when future arguments happen about how to divvy up the tax pie, whilst there will be a cost to the coffers or to the taxpayer, it might not be the heavy blow that it would have been on a lower income.

It is not just investment in science that we can improve on. Too little is being done to improve the base range of export products we send to other nations. Farming, forestry, horticulture, mining, fishing and forestry are our major industries. With the exception of mining, all are at risk from biological organisms. One only needs to see the damage caused in Britain in 2001 when Mad Cow Disease forced the massive scale slaughter of millions of livestock, which crippled Britain’s dairy industry. Another risk is a full blown varroa bee mite outbreak, which would be disastrous for horticulture and potentially damaging to other industries as well given the reliance on bees for pollenation.

We have shown in many emerging fields that New Zealand has the know how to contribute. For example a company specializing in the extraction of rare elements from electronic waste called Mint potentially has a way of removing rare elements whose role in electrical components and gadgets would otherwise require substantial mining.

The knowledge and the means to do something useful with our economy that does not necessarily involve raising or lowering taxes is there. But are the politicians willing to put their personal and party agenda’s aside for New Zealand’s sake and come to the party?

The jury is out on that count.


Economic blues for New Zealand: Is it entirely our fault?

The announcement yesterday that the Reserve Bank has lowered the Official Cash Rate to 1.0% reinforces what is obvious to many people – the economy is stalling. But how much of this stalling is a result of New Zealand economic policy as opposed to the rather gloomy international economic environment we find ourselves in?

As has been made clear in the past, there is not a lot that we can do about the following conditions, all of which are impacting on the global environment at the moment:

  1. United States vs China trade war, which has seen hundreds of billions of dollars slapped on each others products as well as an increasingly bitter war of words about how China and the U.S. conduct themselves
  2. The Brexit deadline – which Boris Johnson insists will not be extended again, but which is likely to make for a brutal landing on 01 November 2019
  3. The likely impact on the E.U. should Britain’s exit from the Union be a hard one
  4. Tensions in the Persian Gulf and the tanker tit-for-tat seizures going on between Iran, the United States and Britain which are driving up oil prices both in New Zealand and abroad
  5. Continued sluggish European economic growth, which has not significantly changed in several years

The trade war going on between the United States and China is causing significant turbulence in the financial markets. The other day the Down Jones dropped over 500 points in a single day, which would have seen billions of dollars disappear in a matter of hours from the value of companies.  That in turn has helped to drive down the New Zealand dollar, which is currently sitting at U.S.$0.65c. Since this is unlikely to improve in the immediate future, I expect the N.Z.$ to drop further, which will be useful for exporters.

Around Brexit it is hard to know who really means what. I think it can be safely said though, that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is determined to leave, deal or no deal – how serious will he be about a quick trade agreement with New Zealand after a hard landing when much more pressing problems such as regaining E.U. access will remain? Will a British exit from the E.U. have implications for how we trade with the larger E.U.?

There is always the risk in the Middle East that a tit-for-tat action between Iran and the United States or other countries with shipping in the Persian Gulf might suddenly turn into something more serious. If Iran attempted to close the Straits of Hormuz, how long could it maintain that stance before some sort of international intervention, either through military means, the use of political and economic weapons such as sanctions?

Brexit or no Brexit, the rate of economic growth in Europe over the last few years have seen Greece have issues with whether or not it wants to drop the Euro. Several years later, whilst Greece’s economy seems to be showing signs of economic recovery, it has significant work to do in diversifying its output. How much has the Union learnt from the darker days when watching to see which radical would emerge victorious and full of promises to shake up the establishment? Is the establishment too established?

Looking at the problems confronting the world economy, I think it could be argued New Zealand is in relatively good condition. Low Crown debt, sluggish growth even if National and A.C.T. want us to believe economic armageddon is coming, it is much better than Venezuela where the economy has all but collapsed.

N.Z.F. wants abortion referendum, but legislation has the numbers

New Zealand First wants the recently announced abortion legislation to go to a referendum. The move came as the pro and anti-abortion lobby groups marshal their forces for the coming scrap. This may sound like a description of foes getting ready for war, but when one looks at how quickly abortion can turn into an intensely personal argument, in many ways it might just as well be.

Per New Zealand First’s 15 Fundamental Principles, all substantive issues not recorded in in the party manifesto shall go to a referendum. When I asked about this whilst a New Zealand First member it was explained that this was intended to be the party’s way of saying don’t rely on us to make your minds up on this: Have your Say!

Some have told me that this is a cop out by Members of Parliament too scared to take a side. I guess though in response New Zealand First could argue that the conscience vote is a cop out – is a Member of Parliament in your electorate with totally different views to yours deciding “NO” on something you want them to say “YES” to, really working for you?

I get that there are concerns that there might be abuse of abortion if it the law changes. I wonder how many women were given all the information they needed and had the process fully explained to them before they made their minds up. At the same time though, I noticed that there were people who said that they were basically made to be dishonest so that the doctors who had to make the decision would proceed with a procedure that in many cases the woman actually did need.

But what has always annoyed me is the inevitable accusations of murder that come out of the mouths of the conservative anti-abortion lobby. Well, wouldn’t knowingly letting a woman die from complications caused by a pregnancy gone wrong also be murder? I am certainly aware of cases where a woman would have died had she not terminated her unborn. And we also have to ask, what message is that sending a loving partner/fiance/husband/wife of the pregnant lady should have to lose their forever person just to appease someone with no reasonable stake in the matter?

But it is not the one that annoys me the most. That will be forever and always, those cases that arise out of sexual violence. In that case the decision is solely that of the victim. No one else has a stake in the matter.

So, I look forward to seeing this legislation pass. New Zealand First might have meant well sending it to a referendum, and maybe it will go there, but if it does I hope New Zealanders come together to decisively support a long overdue change in very outdated legislation.

Police right to savage “volunteer” constabulary in rural N.Z.

When one joins the Police force they know that there might be a moment when someone high on drugs or armed, or otherwise dangerous tries to put the officer attempting to arrest them in grave danger. The 9,000+ sworn officers on duty understand this and have been trained to do deal with such instances. They have families or partners that they want to go home to at the end of their shift; friends that they want to see again and a Police force that needs the expertise they bring.

Which is why I am loss to understand the rationale behind a New Zealand First proposal that got savaged by the Police for the introduction of a volunteer rural constabulary. Being a rural Police officer is risky enough. Being one who is there because s/he volunteered to be a rural officer is in my opinion plain nuts.

Whilst the rural communities were right to be concerned about rustling of stock, which has been on the rise in recent years as well as security of property from vandalism, the theft of honey, this was not an appropriate way to address it. New Zealand First’s significant rural membership might have proposed this by way of remitry at the Party convention that year and if so, it must have survived the vote at the end of the remit. However that does not change the fact that it was not properly thought through and raised as many questions as it managed to answer.

Minister of Police, Stuart Nash, received a briefing paper that he refused to release. Stuff, and National M.P. and shadow spokesperson for Police Chris Bishop also requested a copy. Both were turned down.

The Police rebuttal of this idea went along the lines of:

“Police does not recommend introducing a Special Constabulary in New Zealand. Recruiting volunteers to undertake policing operations and apply police powers comes with a range of significant risks for the community and the volunteers,”

The Police said that it would be perceived as policing on the cheap, with risks exacerbated in the community without proper constabulary support. Concerns were raised about the sort of training that they would be given, the support that would be available in complex situations and what kind of resourcing they would be given.

I further imagine that complex concerns in terms of access to appropriate vehicles, weapons training, understanding and interpretation of their rights and responsibilities as volunteers would also arise. What type of hold would constitute reasonable force if they were confronted by an aggressive person? Would they have access to the digitized police radio channels and if not, who would pass the message on in an emergency?

It would also raise ethical questions. To be a member of the Police force is not a minor thing. It means one has made it through a significant period of training, but also has attributes and mental stamina that a lot of people would struggle with. Is it fit and proper to be developing a voluntary force of officers whose interpretation of their job is not as precise as what would be expected of a sworn officer? I am not sure that it is.