Thursday, 22 December 2011

That light at the end of the tunnel is sounding its horn

Now that the dust from the collapse of the Laboured Party has begun to clear and their new bright hope has been anointed, we can see a few things a little better.

One such thing is the brighter future Jianqi and his band of merry revellers offered us once they regained access to the slush fund – I mean treasury benches.

Education is a wonderful thing, isn’t it? At least it can be if you can actually get a decent one. The National Disgrace has given us a glimpse of what the brighter future they have in mind for education is.

Jianqi and I agree on one thing; our current education system is failing far too many people. However when it comes to fixing that system we clearly have a different idea about that. For example I wouldn’t have thought a positive way to fix the education system would be to appoint a disgraced school principal to a specialist advisory role with the Ministry of Education. I especially would not if that unprincipled principal had tried to cover up some naughty noodlings of her husband with an underage pupil and was still subject to disciplinary action. What sort of a lesson is that?

I also wouldn’t have thought it a great lesson for the then Education Minister Anne Folly to lie to media about it, either. But hey, the Ministry of Ed knows best and as they very cleverly explain it; Folly was asked if they had a suspended principal working in the role, but as Mrs Mutu had resigned from her role she wasn’t technically suspended at that time. I guess I just keep forgetting it’s a dynamic environment!

Charter schools are not something I would have put forward as a fix for our education system either. This is partly because until a couple of weeks ago I had not heard of charter schools. I suspect I am not alone in this and I am pretty sure that if we were to conduct a poll of every New Zealander who was eligible to vote at the last election we would find very few who had. I am equally sure almost none would have heard so much as a whisper of charter schools during the election campaign.

This raises a couple of questions: What is a charter school and why the secrecy?

In answer to the first of these, as far as I can tell a charter school (in the USA, anyway) is a school that is funded by both the state and possibly private funders. It does not have to adhere to the national curriculum, but cannot charge tuition fees as it is still a part of the state system. I don’t know how accurate that is, nor what is envisaged by Jianqi and Heck Yeah and Banquo, but I’m buggered if I can see what it would achieve. I have heard talk of it picking up the kids who fall through the cracks in the current system, but surely a re-jig of the current system and regional support services assisting the schools would be better. Why re-invent the wheel, especially if that wheel has had a habit of falling off wherever it has previously been fitted?

As for the secrecy; you can only conclude there is something about them they know we won’t like. They must have been afraid it would have made some of their voters nervous, because if it was such a whizz-bang great idea, why weren’t they boring us to death with it all through the election campaign?

It has also become blindingly clear that Jianqi and his government are hell-bent on passing legislation through OUR parliament to please other nations. A really creepy example of this is the NZ Food Bill.

I am working my way through the ramifications of this and I can tell you it is one helluva doorstop. So far I have picked up that ‘Food Safety Officers’ would be given the power of search without the need for a warrant and the Minister may adopt a joint food standard (for example aligning us with some other country’s regulations). There is a little waffle about him ‘being satisfied adequate consultation has taken place under the Food Standards Australia New Zealand Act 1991 (Australia)’. However it could just as easily be rammed through during a holiday period or rushed through under urgency with the excuse it was ‘vital to trade.’ They’ve already tied us into Australia’s medicines legislation and I really don’t think we want to surrender any more of what little sovereignty we appear to have.

I also notice the Minister will be able to designate some standards for New Zealand only while others will link in with Australia’s. Now that should make things blindingly clear – having two different Acts to keep an eye on! I have yet to find any references to seeds as has been claimed by opponents of the Bill, but as I said it is a weighty tome and I’ve barely scraped it’s slimy sides. However it is quite apparent the intention is to regulate us a lot more and there could be some tricky issues surrounding the harmless bartering of goods with neighbours. In any event; I think this Bill has enough things wrong with it for it to be a worry and I urge everyone to sign the petition that is trying to stop it in its tracks. You can find more about the Bill at

And finally the brightest future appears to have been saved as usual by the National Disgrace Government for those in our society who are most vulnerable – and no I’m not talking about those struggling CEO’s like the one at Christchurch City Council.

I am of course talking about the children of the nation – those who come under the ‘care and protection’ of that wonderful generous and efficient organisation run by Paula Bumfat. This week we saw how much Bumfat cares as she faced the nation, upper lip trembling to try and explain how it wasn’t her fault or that of the wonderful people at CYFS that a 9-year-old Auckland girl was given a taste of Abu Ghraib in the Waitakeres.

And of course it wasn’t. We all know that a monster a.k.a. the child’s mother inflicted all the injuries and has been jailed this week for those acts. But what should have happened is that various individuals from the 25 agencies that had been dealing with this family since the child was a few months old should be sharing her cell for their abject failure to come to grips with what was plain for anyone to see.

Bumfat was blubbing about how ‘manipulative’ the woman and her partner were and wants us to believe they managed to cleverly pull the wool over the eyes of all the so-called experts and even the Minister herself.

That is just ten foot deep bullshit. Granted many of the social workers involved WOULD have been taken in; but not because the woman was so smart. How smart can an uneducated dropkick with a bunch of kids who have all been taken away from her at one time or another and who probably only has a vague notion of who fathered whom amongst those kids, be? Lets’ face it; she is another scumbag (probably from some sort of local Westie scumbag dynasty) that anyone other than a brain-dead CYFS employee would have sussed out in five minutes. The CYFS personnel aren’t all so stupid, though; some would have been only too aware of what was going on, but too hidebound by ridiculous internal procedures to do anything meaningful (or timely) about it. As for Bumfat, she like most useless Ministers would simply have seen what she wanted to see. The scummy beater should get some credit for asking for help (albeit the serious abuse was already occurring), but letters like that need to go to opposition spokespeople. Sitting ministers never do anything that might uncover a slip up on their watch.

It is unfortunate the new Parliament only sat for the one day and there wasn’t time for the opposition parties to make a meal of Bumfat’s situation. Hopefully they will get together and give her a hard time when they come back next year. And as for the lame report by former ombudsman Mel Smith; stupid shit like better communication between departments and better training are just fatuous school kid comments. The best way to sort that particular department out is to de-politicise the entire health and welfare sector. Only that way will they be able to get the workers focussing on needs rather than political agendas. Professional standards of conduct would need to be raised, so strong and focussed management would be needed to change the slack ‘civil service’ culture that exists today. Finally individuals (and that includes Ministers) would have to be accountable for their actions or lack of them.

So we have already seen a glimpse of this bright new future and I have to say it looks about as dim as those who voted for this lot must have been on November 26. And I haven’t even mentioned the fact Jianqi is still standing in that Egyptian river over asset sales. Let’s hope he doesn’t notice how quickly the waters are rising – until it’s too late.

Have a great Christmas everyone and recharge your batteries for the battering we are in for in 2012. Either that or the battering we will give the government. It’s your choice.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Just supposing.........

I’ve been watching with increasing concern as those responsible for the Rena disaster seem to be successfully dodging all the bullets. Furthermore they have amassed an enviable arsenal of their own which they have turned upon those already hurt by their negligence.

Costamare Inc and Daina Shipping have been able to limit their liability to an outrageous extent, due in part to the carelessness of our Government. I say carelessness, but this is a rather generous view for me to take as the more likely scenario is that if we were to probe the issue deeply we would find some kind of concession for some kind of politician ‘coincidentally’ occurred after we agreed to the ridiculous piece of legislation that allows liability for such ‘accidents’ to be limited

Of course there is far more than money at stake in cases such as this. Damage to the environment and the wildlife that live in it are beyond mere dollars. Once animals are dead, money can’t replace them and once an environment is polluted by oil the consequences can last for decades.

So no sooner had our environment been assaulted by what will undoubtedly be found to have been a grossly careless act than we felt the cold steel up us as we learned the ship’s owners would have their liability for damages limited to $12.1M, and WE the people who played absolutely no part whatsoever in the grounding of this ship would have to pay the rest. Now to most of us $12.1M sounds like a lot of money, but to put it into perspective consider these reports:

·         As at 17 October 2011  (just 12 days after the grounding) the costs of the clean-up had reached $4M (NZ Herald)

·         By 27 October the costs of the clean-up had risen to $10M (ODT)

·         As of December 7, then Transport minister Steven Joyce said the cost had risen to $19.5M (NZ Herald)

So as of a week ago the costs had already exceeded the owners’ liability limits by more than 50 percent and we already had to fork out $7.5M of our own money to fund the clean-up which won’t be over for many months yet.

Of course additionally a lot of businesses lost a fortune in revenue over this matter, too. Tourist operations, fishermen, and water sports enthusiasts have all suffered a great deal since Captain Pugwash crashed his tub onto Astrolabe Reef. Some have suffered fatal financial losses and have basically no comeback apart from a few empty promises made a couple of months ago by Ministers keen to get re-elected. Good luck there.

But the latest kick in the guts that delivered to New Zealanders over this sorry saga has been the ransom demands made by the salvors to those unfortunate enough to have cargo onboard. At first they sent out demands to every person with goods on the ship, including private individuals whose cargo was made up entirely of personal effects. Then following a bit of shouting from their customers they made a small tactical withdrawal. They claimed the letters had been sent to individuals in error and should only have been sent to those with commercial cargo on board. It sounds like classic ‘softening up’ tactics to me.

But in any event I can’t see a huge amount of difference here. Both private individuals and businesses have already paid for their goods to be delivered to them. So why should they have to pay for the cost of salvage? Effectively Svitzer is trying to extract payment from the owners of the goods rather than the owners of the ship.

Now some might say this is a non-issue and as most people have insurance they can leave it to their insurance company to sort out. But we all know what happens following a load of insurance claims; premiums go up so the insurance company can recoup its payout. But what on earth could anyone do about it? These massive corporations are too big for a fight by a little man and it would seem the insurance companies can’t be bothered arguing about it. Why would they when they can simply increase their premiums and carry on as normal? Let’s not forget who it was that crashed this tub. Costamare and the rest should be relying on THEIR insurance company for cover.

But what if.....what if somebody found a way to challenge these modern day pirates and mounted a test case against them? It would be expensive and the only way it could ever happen would be through the philanthropy of somebody who cares enough about justice and hates highway robbers.

I don’t know if there is someone or a group of people who would love to give these guys a fright – probably not, but it would be great. I have a theory that is untried, but just might be the path towards how one could unravel this mess.

Consider this; the shipping company entered into a contract with their customers to ship their goods to them. The contract wasn’t to sail them all the way to Tauranga Harbour and then leave them out on a reef. It was to deliver them to the port and then forward them via land based carriers to their destination. 

Failure to do this is surely a breach of contract? The usual effect of a breach of contract is to bring that contract to an end. When this happens the defaulting party is usually expected to pay some kind of compensation to the person whose goods they have failed to deliver. Normally this would involve replacement of the goods concerned and/or a full or partial refund of the freight costs.

So my contention is that the shipping company would have no right to recover the costs of salvage from the shippers because that is simply an incidental cost they have incurred through their own negligence. Negligence that furthermore could be said to go beyond the bounds of a simple accident given the criminal charges filed against the owners and the crew.

It might be a lengthy bow I’ve drawn, and I am sure that even if I’m right there is probably nobody with the funds or determination to take these guys on. But just supposing someone did; wouldn’t it be fantastic for the common man?

Monday, 5 December 2011

The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades

Well Jianqi has corralled his lambs and just about got his coalition organised. And when you think of it; coalition is a good name for it since it will be putting out a lot of heat and black smoke and it will bring tears to your eyes before very long.

So what is that blinding light on the horizon? Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Of course not, you silly buggers; it’s that brighter new future we were promised so many times during the last month.

What’s that? You can’t see it? With all due respect, I think you need to take the blinkers off NOW, because Jianqi’s brighter future is here and just keeps getting brighter each day.

Take the economy for example (I wish someone would...). Is that bright or what? Treasury figures are just out on the country’s operating deficit for the four months to Oct 31, 2011. Treasury gave all us voters the low down on how this would work out six weeks ago and now we find they were absolutely...wrong. It was out by 4.1 percent, which doesn’t sound much, but considering this prediction was only made six weeks ago (and half-way through the period in question) it is not particularly bright.

They tell us it was down due to lower Crown revenue and a smaller tax and GST take. So the taxation policy is working well, then...NOT. They can hardly blame the economy on Labour now they’ve been in total control for the last three years!

Maybe we should check out the brighter health outlooks instead. I see National Disgrace is promising to provide even more elective surgery. Goodness me, that sounds great. Furthermore they have a goal of all patients booked for elective surgery to wait no more than four months. Wow – two months less than now. Or is it? Actually no. The whole waiting times issue is a load of lies and deceptions.

You see the current system ‘guarantees’ patients on the list will be seen in six months, but how can they guarantee this, you might ask? Easy, I answer. If they don’t think they can see you in six months; then you don’t get put on the list. This was exposed on National Radio’s Nine to Noon programme of 10 November 2011 where surgeons told Kathryn Ryan exactly how it works and why we have Charity Hospitals in Auckland, New Plymouth and Christchurch performing much needed varicose vein and hernia operations as well as many other surgeries for painful conditions that the DHBs are ignoring.

Okay then let’s look at the brighter future for jobs. That’s always one to get everyone excited. Jianqi tells us the abolition of the youth rates lost us 9000 jobs in one fell swoop. Let’s suspend judgment on that for a moment while we check out the Nats’ brighter future answer to this.

They are going to introduce what they have dubbed a ‘starting-out wage’ which apply to 16 and 17-year-olds beginning work and 18-19 year-olds who have just come off a designated benefit as well as 16-19 year-olds in training in certain recognised industry training courses. It will be equivalent to 80 percent of the minimum wage (wow $10.40 before tax -such generosity). For new young workers this will apply for the first six months with the same employer. Which means if for some reason their employer decided to toss them out after three months (and what is to stop him/her?) they have to start again with their next employer at $10.40 for another period of six months. You see after six months the employer is obliged to pay them the adult rate, so with an easy out at three months it is easy to see what will happen to many.

So what is really giving us a brighter future Jianqi? Certainly nothing in this lot. But perhaps it is your plan for asset sales ... er sorry ‘the mixed ownership model’? Now in the lead up to the election we were told the change to the ‘mixed ownership model’ would net us $7B. That sounds quite a tidy sum, but how did the Nats arrive at it? Well, unfortunately we don’t know because they muzzled treasury and the Ombudsman before the election. I can think of only one reason why they would do that, and it has nothing to do with ‘commercial sensitivity’. It is ‘political sensitivity’ because when you discover the whole concept has been built upon figures that don’t add up, it suddenly becomes a far more worrying matter than simply losing the income from these assets. After all that pain was supposed to bring gain. But realistically what sort of gain could it ever bring other than a very brief elation rather like when you sell your house and have a whole lot of money ....but nowhere to live, because you didn’t get as much as you thought for it.

I am the first to admit that my understanding of economics is rudimentary at best, although lately I have begun to realise I share this level of expertise with those in treasury who get paid far more than I could hope to earn. So at this point I should defer to those who actually work in the money market.

Auckland financial analyst Brent Sheather, and NZ Herald business columnist Brian Fallow have both laid out a very convincing analysis of the situation You can find details of their analysis at but in a nutshell Sheather says To get these asset sales, the Government will need to price the companies at price-earnings multiples of somewhere around 14 to 16 times, which implies after-tax earnings yields of 6 to 7 per cent. The 7% is the profits of the company after tax. So the company could pay out 4% as tax free profit, and re-invest the other 3% for more growth. Either way, that’s going to be nearly twice the 4% cost [of the borrowing option.]. Again, these sums indicate that ordinary New Zealanders stand to lose by selling down the assets.

 Both commentators seem to be of the opinion their views are pretty widely shared within the financial community, who is pulling Jianqi’s chain? And more to the point; where is this brighter future coming from?

Maybe it’s coming through the communication companies who are rolling out faster broadband ‘all over the country’. Wow! But wouldn’t it be better if all of us had decent cellphone coverage and television reception first? I mean how fast does broadband have to be? You can only type or click so fast.

Or maybe it’s coming from those nice mining companies. You know the ones. . These guys bring lots of work – they are the good guys. We’ve got a mining inspector so it’s okay. The companies are responsible people. It’s just that they don’t need all that health and safety nonsense because they employ real men, not cry-baby scaredy-cats who worry about being entombed in their workplace, or blown to smithereens.

But wouldn’t our future be so much brighter if everyone just stopped complaining about silly things such as child poverty child abuse, drunk drivers, lousy employers, a failed health system, dirty dairying, degraded environment and a failed education system and just got on with helping Jianqi to help us?

Yeah, right! I might as well toss my shades away for the next three years.