Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Punch And Plunket

On Sunday mornings there are two competing current affairs programs to tempt your appetite, TV1’s “Q&A” and TV3’s “The Nation”. Somewhat surprisingly, there seems to be some cross dressing on both channels going on. The publicly owned TV1 appears to have taken a commercial approach and overseas owned TV3 has chosen the more focused and public service style that might be expected from TV1.

Q&A is fronted by the irrepressible Paul Holmes who carries on with his usual hyperactive flair that has made him famous in various roles on TV, commercial radio and satirical reviews. I first saw him acting while I was at Victoria University in the late nineteen sixties and if my memory serves me well he had an Afro hairdo like Jimmy Hendrix.

Even then I could see he was a superb actor – bright, quick witted and knew how to work an audience. Alas, I feel that his entertaining talents do not necessarily make him a good current affairs presenter dealing with serious issues.

Paul Holmes might argue that his style gives colour and energy to the show. Indeed it does, however I would enjoy it more if he used his obvious skills in a satirical show instead. We could certainly do with more programmes on TV starring him and other comedians before he retires (hopefully a long time from now).

TV3’s The Nation is quite another kettle of fish. Sean Plunket seems to take his role as presenter very seriously. He might not have the entertaining charisma of Paul Holmes, but he makes up for it in spades with a crisp delivery and penetrating questions. No doubt his background as a former Radio New Zealand interviewer helps a lot.

The layout of the show has a weekend paper feel about it with its arts and business section and fewer panelists. I also like the way the guests and Sean Plunket sit and chat in a more relaxed fashion than they do on Q&A. The conversations in The Nation seem to have more depth, whereas Paul Holmes rattles rapidly through a heap of topics with guests who stand uncomfortably at podiums like electioneering politicians.

In spite of being shown at an in convenient times, both shows are worth a look and fans of Paul Holmes will not be disappointed. If TV1 thinks that there would be no show without Punch worth looking at (Sundays at 9am) – they are wrong. ‘The Nation’ on TV3 is delivering the goods on Saturday at 11am and 8 am on Sundays.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Taking A Punt

Democracy in New Zealand is in danger. The turnout for district council elections has been declining for some time now and it troubles me that so many residents are not bothering to make the effort. In 1992, 52% of eligible voters returned voting forms for regional councils and district council elections attracted 61%. In 2007 these declined to 43% and 49% respectively.

As the voting figures drop below 50%, some people are suggesting that consideration should be given to compulsory voting like they have in Australia. After all, politicians who claim a mandate for carrying out policies can hardly do so if they are being ignored by a majority of their constituents.

This sounds attractive, until you realize that people in this country value the right to choose to abstain if they wish. Compulsory voting is like demanding that everyone should drink the usual brands of milk, or be made to buy some other registered beverage. I am sure those who prefer their own rainwater would certainly oppose laws making that choice illegal.

A Saatchi and Saatchi poll points towards the source of the problem of low turnouts, by finding that 51% of local body voters are over 55. This suggests that younger people are opting out and efforts should be made to re-engage them. Generations X, Y and so on, are probably less aware of the sacrifices that were made to create and defend democracy than Baby Boomers and their parents – and appear quite happy to leave voting to older folk.

No doubt they are influenced also by the fact that they find it much harder to get into their own rate paying houses than their forebears were able to. In my opinion, any efforts to increase their interest to vote will be bound to fail until greater numbers of younger citizens are able to buy property. Land prices are absurdly high and unjustifiable when you realize that we live in one of the least populated countries in the World.

I hope that a higher turnout will take place this time in the Kaipara. There are some interesting new faces and a couple of popular and quite different personalities are engaged in a tussle for the mayoralty. The high profile Kaipara candidates for the Northland Regional Council are well known too. Graeme Ramsey (currently CEO of The Problem Gambling Foundation) is taking on the widely respected sitting NRC councilor Mark Farnsworth, who has been there since 1992.

Graeme Ramsey is well known for his two term stint as a Kaipara Mayor. I can imagine that Mark Farnsworth will not relish a challenge from his younger opponent along with Mangawhai resident Charles Cooke. Local body government is likely to change soon in Northland. The NRC will have to be in the negotiations and further opportunities will undoubtedly open up for experienced and popular politicians. Whoever gets the Kaipara seat on the NRC might have an even greater role ahead of them to guide the Kaipara Waka across some very treacherous waters.

Out For A Duck

The Aussies are at it again. For many years now, they have been protecting their trade surplus with New Zealand and their latest effort is to keep our apples out of their home market. This has been going on for over eighty years and NZ growers are doggedly pursuing a just settlement.

A break through of some sort occurred recently when the World Trade Organization (WTO) finally rejected the Australian reasons for denying access for NZ apples. The Aussie growers claimed that New Zealand apples would pose a bio-security risk and carry Fire-blight, European Canker and Apple Leaf Curling Midges.

The WTO ruling is not at all surprising. Australia already has fire prone gum trees, too many European immigrants and roll-your-own dwarfs in their Parliament who like to blow smoke into the eyes of kiwi orchardists. The Aussies are “a peeling” the WTO ruling.

They also have far more pests, such as snakes, crop munching parrots, poisonous spiders and ravenous insects. In spite of Aussie assurances, these unwanted pests regularly turn up at our airports and wharves. Therefore, to protect our biosecurity status and in the interest of promoting fair trade practices, perhaps we should demand that all their produce undergo the same treatment they demand of our apples.

This would mean asking them to wash all Australian agricultural products in insecticide or a chlorine based disinfectant (such as ‘Nappysan’) and store them away in quarantine here for several weeks until we are satisfied they are absolutely safe. Of course that is totally unrealistic, Australia has much more clout than we do and so we let them get away with minimal restrictions.

When it comes to international trade, size matters. China is getting its apples into Australia unchlorinated and the Australian Government seems to kowtow to their demands in order to get other products into China. I guess there is a long term strategy at work here, but it does seem odd to give concessions to a country whose agricultural quality control is a lot less rigorous than ours.

The Chinese Government is also an expert in manipulating international trade in their favour and lending its trade surpluses back to its customers to weaken them with debt. Australia does much the same to us and somehow we need to send a message that all traders understand – like stop buying their products until they behave better.

The real losers are Australian consumers who eat only half the amount of apples per head than kiwis do each year. This is very likely because apple orchards over there are apparently still producing old fashioned varieties at prices way above the levels our orchardists have to live with.

Maybe that is a reason why more Aussie tourists are coming here each year. Is it possible they secretly pigging out on our new apple varieties and secretly discovering what they are missing out on back home? If so, like communism, Aussie trade restrictions on kiwi apples will hopefully fade away soon when the people demand a better deal.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Getting Ryalled

Way back in the in the mid-nineteen hundreds, I spent many hours watching our first TV in vivid tones of black and white. My father called it “The Idiot Box” and I guess he was right a lot of the time because I watched so many comedy shows that brightened up our rather austere lifestyle. Cartoons interested me the most, but I also got addicted to a few of the early American and British sitcoms.

One of my favourites was the James Bond/detective spoof, “Get Smart” which starred Don Adams as Maxwell Smart and Barbara Felden as his sidekick, Agent 99. Max would get himself into all sorts of trouble and Agent 99 (with assistance from their Chief) would help him muddle his way out somehow.

Max had all sorts of goofy gadgets that were supposed to help him outsmart his archenemies at KAOS and the most famous was probably his shoe phone. This was seen as very futuristic at the time, because there were of course no cell phones about. For those who have not seen the “Get Smart” series the nearest equivalent might be today’s ASB ads.

When I heard that our Minister of Health, the Hon. Tony Ryall, was making unannounced visits to hospitals in his spare time, for some reason memories of the programme “Get Smart” came flooding back to me. Like Maxwell Smart, Tony Ryall is very conscientious and obviously has an earnest personality.

This can get him in and out of trouble at times with the public and now hospital staff have been discussing whether they like the idea of his impromptu visits. Some has expressed support, but others are furious about being spied upon by a Minister of the Crown who uses ‘secret shopper’ practices to gain information.

All hospitals have good and bad days and I can imagine how annoying it would be if Tony Ryall popped in during a real emergency, where all the staff were under intense pressure. I know accidents and misunderstandings can happen anywhere and may God forbid the day when Tony becomes a victim of his own curiosity.

There are quite a few conscientious ministers in the National Cabinet and I wonder if Tony Ryall’s fact finding sorties will copied by other ministers. After all, “official visits” are usually set up to impress rather than to inform and ministers can easily become distanced from reality.

They should be warned of the dangers however. There might be adverse reactions if Education Minister Anne Tolley dropped in without warning to classrooms on Friday afternoons or if Corrections Minister Judith Collins had unannounced meetings with inmates to discuss the smoking ban.

Mind you, they might be able exchange notes with Tony Ryall as they were being wheeled into the local hospital’s A & E unit. He might help them write a note to John Key explaining why they will not be at the next Cabinet meeting. Maxwell Smart’s famous apology might help – “Ahhh, sorry about that Chief!”

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Phil Gets Edgy

I doubt if there are many people in Parliament who would like to be Phil. Goff right now. His standing in the preferred prime minister polls is abysmal and he leads a party that is not getting enough public support to win the next election. Like Prince Charles, the prospects of getting the job that he probably thought he was born for, have been fading in the shadow of a powerful woman.

Most politicians and commentators seem to agree that Phil Goff is a decent, likeable and very competent man. His academic record and behaviour in public service positions are certainly praiseworthy, so why is he doing so badly in the polls?

I put it down to several vital factors that Kiwis do not seem to like in their leaders – persistent adherence to unpopular (or failed) ideologies and a lack depth in their personality and life experience.

Phil Goff appears to remain an unrepentant monetarist and my correspondence with him confirms this. I am sure that he was very influential in persuading Helen Clark’s Labour Government to keep some of the misguided economic reforms of the 1980’s intact. In my opinion, these policies have contributed to our current economic woes. Like Don Brash, he appears to think that there is nothing wrong with his ideas and the rest of us should understand how right he is.

John Key on the other hand, appears to be more pragmatic and I think most of us prefer our politicians that way. Phil Goff also appears to me to be more aloof and detached than Key – rather like the bureaucrats he works with every day. On camera, John Key comes across as relaxed and tunes in to the audience. Phil Goff’s approach is more defensive and guarded and (to put it mildly) not very inspiring.

When it came to choosing a replacement for Helen Clark, the Labour Party was obviously wedded to that seductive 1980’s siren called TINA – There Is No Alternative. Which is why Phil Goff got the job I suspect. Not everybody was pleased though, because we have just witnessed the extraordinary outbursts of Labour MP Chris Carter on TV stating the obvious. “Phil Goff is a very nice guy, but he is just not going to win (the election).”

Oddly enough, Chris Carter has probably done more to cement in Phil Goff’s leadership by his ridiculous anti-Goff note writing behaviour. Anyone raising the issue now, is bound to be labeled a follower of Carter.

It looks very likely then, that the next election will be game, set and match to John Key. The only wild card entry could be a resurgent Winston Peters backed by a rejuvenated New Zealand First Party. If National allows widespread foreign ownership of New Zealand land and businesses this year, resentment is bound to spread across the country. Phil Goff might not topple Key, but NZ First and the Greens just might get Labour within reach of the holy grail of power.

Friday, August 13, 2010

North! The Rush Is On!

I never realized how lucky Northlanders are. According to Far North Mayor Wayne Brown, “We could be living on a goldmine!” This is news to me. I thought the region had been well surveyed in the past and all the economically viable mineral deposits had been and are being utilized.

There have been numerous government surveys done in the past and Northland’s incredibly diverse geological make up has revealed small pockets of interest but nothing substantial – apart from china clays, silica sand and limestone etc. Wayne Brown’s enthusiasm probably stems from the new, two million dollar government survey that will use the same aeromagnetic and radiometric technology which opened up Australia’s mineral boom.

Aircraft will carry aeromagnetic sensors that will help locate any underlying metal bearing rock structures, by detecting the differences in the Earth’s magnetic field. Radiometric devices will be taken as well. These will measure naturally occurring patterns of surface radiation and will be useful for exploiting geothermal resources. Both lots of data are going to be very handy for Councils, mapmakers and land users.

The Far North and Northland Regional Councils are chipping in with $100,000 and according to NRC Chairman Mark Farnsworth, “The results will be made public.” Which sounds good to a me, because I have found some geological information in the past has been locked away and only accessible to those able to pay huge fees.

Mark Farnsworth has also stated that they will, “ensure areas of environmental importance will be protected,” which should reassure many Greenies I know. There is a large amount of land in Northland’s Conservation Estate being surveyed and concern has been expressed that it will be devalued in the future with open cast mines etc.

I expect that there will some folk in Northland who will see an even wider conspiracy taking place. I can imagine them saying that the Government will be poking their sticky beaks into our privacy – just like Google did when it collected Wifi data along with their Street View pictures. After all, rocks are not the only objects that emit radiation and alter the Earth’s magnetic field.

Some of these people might have stuff and activities of interest to the men and women in blue - and of course to council inspectors as well. Others might have spiritual gatherings of mystics emitting energy fields that might be misinterpreted. This could possibly result in expensive drilling rigs searching in the wrong places and wounding Mother Earth as well as disrupting celestial harmonies.

Treaty of Waitangi claims are bound to made too, if any precious metals or hydrocarbons are found. Maori leaders like Margaret Mutu in Northland have been reported as saying, “The Land is ours, not the Crown’s…if we allow any mining, there will inevitably be conditions – and we will be paid for it.” Obviously, lawyers will be swooping in like mynas to a fig tree, if there really is any gold in “them thar hills.”