Saturday, December 29, 2012
Saturday, December 22, 2012
(First published in the Nelson Mail and Manawatu Standard, December 19.)
Thursday, December 20, 2012
Problem is, the only way to stay onside with the teachers' unions is to allow them to dictate policy - the easy option, but obviously untenable in a democracy. The price of their support is to avoid doing anything that might upset them. No other body of public sector workers behaves like this.
This is not to say that teacher unions don't sometimes have good and legitimate reasons to oppose government policies or lobby for public support. But ultimately we elect governments, not teacher unions, to determine policy. That may be why John Key feels it necessary to stand up for his beleaguered education minister, even when her record so far has been less than stellar.
Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Monday, December 17, 2012
Saturday, December 15, 2012
Nick was one of the unsung backroom heroes of the newspaper business: smart, creative, energetic, committed and endlessly enthusiastic. As chief sub-editor and later news editor at the old Evening Post, he loved nothing more than to hurl himself into a really big, fast-breaking story, marshalling all the paper's resources - words, pictures, headlines, graphics, design - to produce a complete and compelling package. An outstanding example was the Post's coverage of the September 11 terrorist attacks, which conveniently fell in the paper's time. (We were able to make an early start because, being something of an insomniac, I heard of the attacks as they happened in the early hours of the morning and was able to rouse key editorial staff from slumber and get them on deck. Nick and his old mate Mike Aston, the Post's design maestro, were the first people I phoned, knowing they would be the kingpins.)
Nick's finest moment, undoubtedly, was when he organised publication of the Christchurch Press - the Dom Post's sister paper - on the night following the disastrous quake of February 22, 2011. The Press's production systems were put out of action by the quake, though its printing press in the suburbs was still working and reporters and photographers were all on the job. Nick stepped into the breach, masterminding production of the Press's earthquake edition by remote control from Wellington. Christchurch marvelled not only that the paper was able to come out, but that it was able to provide such comprehensive coverage. Readers rarely get to hear of people such as Nick, but good newspapers couldn't happen without them.
He was an admirable figure in more ways than one, facing his terminal illness with inspirational optimism, courage and spirit. The big crowd at his funeral at Old St Paul's on Thursday was testimony to the respect his former colleagues (Nick parted company with the Dom Post last year) felt for him. A Waikato farm boy to the end, he was buried at Ohaupo.
Thursday, December 13, 2012
Friday, December 7, 2012
Wednesday, December 5, 2012
Today's Dominion Post contains an advertisement for the annual Carols by Candelight concert hosted by Nick Tansley at Wellington's Waitangi Park.
It includes the words "Alcohol Free". If that were the case, every freeloading drunk in the lower half of the North Island would be there.
But put a hyphen between those two words and it conveys quite a different meaning - the one I'm sure the organisers intended.
Tuesday, December 4, 2012
It's a veritable door stop. The very first edition of Cooper's annual guide, published in 1992, ran to 280 pages and listed more than 800 wines. The latest edition has 670 pages and reviews 3260 wines.
Whereas you could have stuffed the 1992 edition into your back pocket, at a pinch, while scanning the shelves at your local wine shop, you'd risk a hernia doing the same with the latest version.
Quite apart from being a useful reference book for risk-averse wine lovers, the Buyer's Guide doubles as a chronicle of the New Zealand wine industry. If you want to see how winemaking in New Zealand has evolved and grown, you need only compare the various editions over the years.
Whereas the 1992 edition reviewed only three syrahs, the 2013 edition has 30 pages of them. But the reverse is true too: the inaugural guide reviewed 34 muller-thurgaus (remember them?), but the latest book has only two. Many of the wine varieties listed in the new book - such as albarino, arneis, gruner-veltliner, tempranillo and nebbiolo - were unheard of, other than by wine nerds, when the first edition was published.
The book has evolved too. Cooper reviews the 2012 vintage conditions in the various wine regions (although whether casual wine buyers would be interested in such esoteric detail is a moot point), lists his two best buys of the latest releases (one white, one red - buy the book if you want to know what they are) and continues his practice of nominating "super classic", "classic" and "potential classic" New Zealand wines.
Unsurprisingly, he no longer feels it necessary to include, as he did in 1992, a section discussing the relative merits of cask (aka bag-in-box) and bottled wines. That's another measure of how the wine industry has matured.
Cooper has been writing about wine since the mid-1980s (the first edition of his Wines and Vineyards of New Zealand came out in 1984) and has earned a full-time living from it since 1991, most recently as wine columnist in The Listener. In that time his annual guide has seen off at least two competitors.
His approach has changed little. He's meticulous and conscientious to a fault. For many wine writers, part of the attraction of the job is being schmoozed by wine companies - treated to free trips and lavish lunches, bombarded with free wine and generally made to feel very important (all of which wine companies do very well). But from my observations, Cooper is utterly immune to such blandishments. He has a job to do and he takes it very seriously.
In fact if I have a criticism of him, it's that he takes it a little too earnestly. Wine is about enjoyment, after all, and I sometimes feel that Michael could afford to lighten up a bit. But if that's the most damning thing that can be said about him (and I believe it is), his reputation as "New Zealand's most acclaimed wine writer" (to quote the publisher's blurb) is safe.
[Michael Cooper's Buyer's Guide to New Zealand Wines 2013 is published by Hodder Moa and has a recommended retail price of $39.99.]
It can't be left to the political elite to determine our constitutional arrangements. On this issue, above all others, the public must have the final word - which is pretty much what constitutional law expert Professor James Allan is saying here in a commentary for Muriel Newman's Centre for Political Research.
Sunday, December 2, 2012
The article examines the influence of scientific advice on government policy and notes that the government appears to have ignored the views of chief scientific adviser Sir Peter Gluckman on alcohol law reform.
Commenting on this, Professor Doug Sellman is quoted as saying: "The PM gets advice from all sorts of places, and he's obviously taking his advice from the alcohol industry over his science adviser."
So ... if the government decides not to follow the advice of Sir Peter Gluckman, it can only be because it has been captured by wealthy liquor barons. This conveniently plays to public prejudices in the same way as populist politicians like to blame identifiable "villains" - whether they be black people, immigrants, Jews or foreign powers - for whatever's upsetting people.
But Sellman's statement disregards something that Gluckman himself acknowledges in the same article: namely, that governments have to weigh up all manner of factors in making policy decisions. "Expert" advice is part of that mix, but as Gluckman says: "Science and scientific knowledge is not the only thing that makes policy. We don't live in a technocratically dominated society, we live in a participatory democracy."
Clearly, Gluckman accepts that governments don't make decisions just to gratify "experts". Politicians are often in a position to assess broader factors which academics, with their narrow specialist focus, may ignore or overlook. (If politicians get it wrong, we can vote them out - a fate that taxpayer-funded academics, no matter how flawed their arguments, escape.)
Sellman, on the other hand, suggests that if the government doesn't listen to the increasingly hysterical arguments of the anti-liquor propagandists, the only possible explanation is that evil capitalists have prevailed.
I wonder, does he really believe this? Is he being wilfully dishonest, or is his view of the alcohol issue so black-and-white, so obsessively negative in its focus, that he's incapable of understanding that politicians might have perfectly legitimate and honourable reasons for not listening only to "expert" advisers?
People can make up their own minds on that. But either way, it confirms to me that Sellman is fundamentally an ideologue whose title of professor confers a patina of academic authority.
Saturday, December 1, 2012
Friday, November 30, 2012
The Kapiti Coast District Council, according to today's Dominion Post, has identified 40 "sacred" Maori sites on which owners will not be allowed to subdivide, alter existing buildings, or disturb the land.
As I write this, I'm fervently hoping the citizens of the Kapiti Coast will be laying siege to the council offices and that the mayor, the councillors and the council functionaries (who I suspect are the real villains of the piece, because that's usually the case) will be cowering in terror in a basement panic room.
If not, they certainly should be. But it won't happen, because the populace has become so desensitised to this type of attack on their rights that they have become utterly supine.
According to the Dominion Post, letters were sent to affected Kapiti property owners last month giving them four weeks' notice that the historic status of the "wahi tapu" sites would be included in the new district plan, which takes effect this week.
Landowners appear to have been taken by surprise. One said the letter came out of the blue.
If I correctly interpret a statement by Waikane Community Board chairman Michael Scott, details of sites deemed to be tapu have already been entered on land information memorandums (LIMs) and titles. In other words, property values have potentially been undermined even before owners have had a chance to react.
Affected owners will be able to make submissions on the proposal until March 1, but it looks suspiciously like a fait accompli. After all, it's far easier for a council to defend something that has already been imposed than to convince people beforehand that it's fair, reasonable and necessary. The council bureaucrats will probably count on a high proportion of owners, weakened and demoralised by decades of increasingly brazen encroachments on their rights and freedoms, rolling over and passively accepting it. And they will probably be right.
Now, how did this come about? Well, from what the Dominion Post tells us, the council commissioned three local iwi to look at possible sites of historic interest to them on the Kapiti Coast.
They came up with a list of 400, which has been whittled down to 40 for inclusion in the proposed district plan.
What evidence was required to establish the validity of the iwis' claims? That's not clear, but I'm hoping someone on the Kapiti Coast will have the gumption to file an offical information request demanding to know.
One property owner is quoted as saying Maori researchers believed a pa site and an urupa (burial ground) may have been on his land. But the property had been in European ownership and farmed since 1830, and previous owners had never mentioned a pa site.
The owner is now prevented from carrying out earthworks, modifying existing buildings or subdividing. Just like that.
According to Michael Scott, who is a lawyer, the restrictions mean owners will not be able to dig a hole and put a swimming pool in. A farmer will be allowed to graze stock, but not disturb the land surface.
Does this mean, I wonder, that a property owner will have to pay koha to the local iwi for the right to plant lettuce and tomato plants? I'm not being entirely flippant, because given the now-routine ritual subservience to Maori claims, which can delay a highway construction project because of concerns that a taniwha might be disturbed, anything is possible.
The most obvious objection to what the KCDC is proposing is that it's a flagrant violation of property rights - in other words, the right to determine what to do with one's own assets and possessions. Tragically, this fundamental right has already been so circumscribed that most people have given up trying to defend it. (It says a lot about the architects of our Bill of Rights Act, passed by a Labour government in 1990, that reference to property rights was omitted.)
But even more alarming is the casual acceptance by the Kapiti council that certain people who define themselves as Maori should have the power to determine what other people do with their land - in other words, the conferring of special privilege on the basis of race. Twenty years ago such a proposition would have rightly been regarded as outrageous. But this is the logical and inevitable outcome of a pernicious policy of biculturalism under which people's rights and privileges are determined by the extent to which they can claim, however tenuously, Maori ancestry.
We don't know who these iwi representatives are or on what basis they determined that certain pieces of land are sacred and inviolable. They are not elected and not accountable for the consequences of anything they recommend. It's power without responsibility, the antithesis of democracy.
The real villains, however, are not the local iwi (after all, it's human nature to avail oneself of any special treatment offered) but those in the Kapiti council who have orchestrated this abuse of power. Elected, paid and entrusted by the hapless citizens of Kapiti to ensure their interests are protected and their rights respected, they choose instead to shaft them.
And the worst part about it is that Kapiti represents, in microcosm, what is happening all over New Zealand on a grand scale.
Saturday, November 24, 2012
Friday, November 23, 2012
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
For starters, he has longevity on his side. I first met him when he was No 2 in the Dominion's press gallery team behind Keith Hancox.
That was in 1969. James makes even the Herald's John Armstrong and Newstalk ZB's Barry Soper look like johnnies-come-lately.
That gives him a wider and, dare I say it, more mature perspective than most others covering politics. He's able to evaluate political trends and events within an historical and cultural context that escapes younger journalists.
That's part of what makes him so valuable, but the other factor is that he floats above the daily political drama and takes in the big picture. While other political journalists are reporting from the skirmish lines, amid the blood and severed limbs, James is on a strategic ridge several kilometres back, coolly surveying the scene through binoculars and taking in the broader implications.
For a typical example, check out his latest column in the Otago Daily Times. Other political writers are totally absorbed with Labour's leadership tensions, but James gives them only a passing mention. He's more interested in the latest report of the Land and Water Forum, which has largely been ignored by the rest of the media but may have far more significant long-term ramifications than David Cunliffe's bungled leadership aspirations.
James doesn't write with the flair and wit of a Jane Clifton. Reading his columns requires a mental change of gear, since his style is dry and can be somewhat oblique. But his insights are always interesting and you sense that his judgment is sound.
He's also fair and even-handed. James is one of those political journalists who carries purity to excess (in my view) by choosing not to vote, but in any case it's hard to discern what his personal leanings, if any, might be. Given the intensely partisan nature of much political commentary since the emergence of the blogosphere, that only reinforces his credibility.
Saturday, November 17, 2012
Politicians do this all the time, possibly without even realising it. I remember years ago hearing Helen Clark being interviewed on a youth-oriented radio station in Auckland. It was a different Helen Clark than I’d ever heard before: both her manner of speaking and the language she used were obviously calculated to communicate with that particular audience.
No one can seriously accuse Mr Key of being anti-gay. How quickly his critics forget that he has ingratiated himself with gay men too – for example, by speaking at the Big Gay Out rally in Auckland last February and posing for photographs with transvestites and bare-chested gay men.
* * *
Friday, November 16, 2012
These ongoing liabilities include the outrageous "top-ups" built in to the Tainui and Ngai Tahu settlements, whereby what were considered fair compensation sums at the time they were negotiated get ratcheted up to ensure some sort of spurious relativity is retained.
Here's the most salient bit from Bowden's analysis:
Let’s start with the annual appropriations for running costs, covering such things as negotiation costs, the Waitangi Tribunal & representation, and disbursements under the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Act. The 2012 budget request is $169,969m. The same annual sum (can it ever diminish?) capitalised over 10 years at the current NZ govt bond yield, as the opportunity cost of capital, comes to $1,409m.
Bowden concludes by saying: "The conclusion is inescapable. We need the partial asset sales to finance the soaring costs of the Treaty industry."
All of which raises the question that no politician seems willing to confront: how far can New Zealand continue wading into this morass before it becomes completely unaffordable (if it isn't already)?
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
It seems that anyone who doesn't fall into line with strident far-left agitators in the blogosphere or the unions - and that means people like John Tamihere, David Shearer and Pagani herself - can expect to be exposed to ugly personal campaigns of vilification.
This of course will come as good news to the right, because if the hard-core socialists in Labour prevail, they will render the party unelectable.
Monday, November 12, 2012
I have a theory about this, albeit one that’s completely unscientific.
Saturday, November 10, 2012
Thursday, November 8, 2012
Whatever the subject – whether climate change or alcohol law reform, to choose two topical examples – many academics are inclined to cherry-pick the theories that suit their political leanings. They often give the game away by indulging in extravagant rhetoric that is more emotive than scientific.
Well, today I formally recant.
The boy wonder, as I like to call him, was recently posted to New York as TVNZ's correspondent in America. And over the past week, in particular, he has proved himself up to the job.
His coverage of super storm Sandy was first-class. Like all good reporters, Tame thrives on big stories. He was popping up all over New York - rather like a jack-in-the-box, if you'll pardon the pun - and seemed to be on the job around the clock.
He segued from Sandy into another demanding assignment, the presidential election, and did a similarly impressive job. He still has that puppyish enthusiasm (and that grating Kiwi accent), but he reports with clarity and authority. He's relaxed on camera and ad libs fluently.
Now, if he could just work on that voice ....