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A Dolphin’s Tale

24 September 2012 11 comments

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To our great shame, one of the world’s most endangered species, the Maui’s Dolphin, now has less than 55 individuals left.  The species is 54 deaths away from extinction.

See: Forest & Bird – Hector’s & Maui’s dolphins

It’s close cousin, the Hector’s Dolphin, numbers around  7,000-8,000 – a drop from 30,000 in the 1970s.

Each year 23 Hector’s dolphins are drowned in fisher’s nets.

See: Hector’s dolphins on course for extinction

Set nets have all but destroyed these air-breathing mammals in our insatiable rush to strip the seas of edible fish.

On 28 June, Primary Industries Minister David Carter announced,

I have decided to extend the recreational and commercial set net ban in the Taranaki area, from Pariokariwa Point south  to Hawera, with an offshore boundary of 2 nautical miles (nm)…

In addition, due to the level of uncertainty in information relating to Maui’s dolphin presence in the area, I have decided to prohibit the use of commercial set nets between 2 nm and 7 nm in this area without an observer onboard.

Observers will:

  •  report start and end positions of nets set between 2 and 7 nm from shore; and
  •  report dolphins sightings to DOC.”

See:  David Carter – Maui Dolphin Decision Letter

See:  Set net restrictions to protect Maui’s dolphins

Which seemed remarkably less than what was required to save Maui’s dolphin and prevent Hector’s dolphin from sliding further toward extinction.

On 21 September, Radio NZ featured a report about New Zealand’s governmental delegation to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s conference, held in Korea. Shockingly, our delegation   voted against  strengthening measures to protect  Maui’s and Hector’s dolphins,

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Full story

Radio NZ:  Listen to more on Morning Report

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It must be one of the few  occassions  in our history that New Zealand has voted against a conservation measure in an international forum, focusing  specifically on  an endangered species within our own territory.

There must have been several raised eyebrows at that Conference.

How much longer can call ourselves “100% Pure – Clean & Green”? (Maybe 70%?)

On 12 June, John Key fronted a “Live Chat”, hosted by Fairfax media, where he answered questions put to him by readers.

See Previous blogpost: Fairfax – an hour with Dear Leader

One of the questions put to him referred to endangered dolphins in our waters,

12:28  Moderator:
Anna asks:
What is the govt doing to prevent the extinction of the Maui dolphins? DETAILS! Not just “we’re working on it” NZ wants answers. We want a moratorium on set net fishing.

12:28  John Key:
We are very close to making an announcement in relation to that issue. Stay posted.

That tantalising hint of  “an announcement in relation to that issue” raised hopes that National was set to take firm,  decisive action to preserve both species from the abyss of permanent extinction.

No such luck.

By now we should be used to National stating lofty goals – and taking the lowest road possible to the easiest, cheapest outcome. An outcome we live to regret later.

In two years, Maui’s dolphin may be extinct.

That’s one hell of a “legacy” for John Key’s Prime Ministership to be remembered by.

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Take Action

Forest & Bird: Hector’s Dolphins: Distribution

Previous Related Blogpost

An Open Letter to John Key

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Three Jokers and an Ace

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This has been one of those strange weeks that only a National-led government can give us. Part of that strangeness has been described in a previous blog, with the antics of  Paula Bennett, Pita Sharples, and a slow train-wreck called ACT.

See: 20 May: End of the Week Bouquets, Brickbats, & Epic Fails

But before the weekend was over, there was more neo-liberal nonsense to follow. One thing you can always count on with the Nats – they’re good for a facepalm on a regular basis…

First Joker: David Carter

Local Government Minister, David Carter’s performance on TVNZ’s  Q+A, on  20 May,  was an exercise in National’s  ‘Daddy State‘ policies revving up several notches.

Not content with forcing assets sales, fracking, and deep sea drilling on us – the NPPB (National Party Politburo of Bunnies)  is now issuing diktats from on-high to local body councils.

Firstly, Kommissar Karter instructed local bodies what was  acceptable “core services” by local body councils,

GREG

Okay, core services – what on earth are core services? Because there seems to be a lot of scope in what a core service is and what a council should be taking care of.

DAVID

Well, it’s certainly clear what core services are, and they are rates and rubbish and water, et cetera. But this legislation’s not about saying to councils, ‘You can only embark on core services.’ It is still the responsibility of the council to engage with its community and find out what services that community wants. But we want that debate to be far more transparent than it has been in the past.

GREG

Well, hold on. It sounds like the Government’s wanting a bob each way in this. They’re wanting to say they keep in touch with what’s happening with the rates, but they’re only to go and do core services at a local level or not. Which way is it to go?

DAVID

We are not saying that councils can only do core services. If you take my Christchurch City Council, for example, and it runs the Ellerslie Flower Show in Hagley Park. You could argue that’s not a core service. The council has determined that there is value in delivering that show for the people of Christchurch, and, frankly, I meet a lot of people on planes who are travelling from all over New Zealand to come to that. The council’s decision is to run the Ellerslie Flower Show, and that is a decision for the council to make. It’s certainly not a decision for central government to make or for myself as minister.  “

Then the Minister advised the Great Unwashed what was not acceptable “core services”,

”  DAVID

We’re certainly going to get local government to be far more focused on what activities it undertakes. In the past, some councils have stepped too far and undertaken activities, Hamilton city, for example, with the Grand Prix racing. I think that was an activity that went far beyond where local government should have gone. It cost local government in that area a lot of money. We’re not saying you cannot run race cars; we’re saying you need to think very very carefully before undertaking that activity. And by putting these financial management tests in place, I think councils will think more carefully about some of those longer-term extraneous activities they’re undertaking than they did in the past.  “

So according to Kommissar Karter,

  • V8 car races – out
  • Flower shows – in
  • Asset sales – in
  • local democracy to choose our own expenditure: out
  • centralised, National Party control over expenditure: in
  • core service by councils – tba

The Minister then added, for good measure in case the proles had not understood his Diktat from On High,

”  DAVID

You’re hitting on the essence of the relationship that should be between local government and central government. It has to be truly a partnership, but it’s not on for local government then to step into the space which is clearly central government’s role. And it is central government’s role to establish the education system in this country. It is central government’s role to establish parameters of measuring the success of that. We can then work with Len Brown and his council, particularly as he tries to develop solutions to some of the social problems in South Auckland, and we’re happy to work with him in a partnership. But the core responsibility still remains with central government.

Which, if implemented, would mean that Otorohanga’s Council-led  and community-based initiatives – which has seen unemployment and youth problems plummet – would not be a core Council responsibility?

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Frank Macskasy Frankly Speaking Blog

Full story

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Had National’s policy of curtailing Council activities been in full-force, youth unemployment and associated problems would remain unchanged, or probably much worse in that small town.

See also:  Youth unemployment a growing problem

Or was the Minister expecting Otorohanga to wait for Central Government to address the worsening crisis of youth unemployment? Youth unemployment which has rocketed from 58,000 to 87,000 this year?

How would National’s policy, to “reign in” local Councils,  impact on other towns and cities that attempted to take steps to address our growing social problems? Would Auckland prohibited from pursuing a programme similar to Otorohanga?

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Frankly Speaking Frank Macskasy Blog

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David Carter’s performance on Q+A was simply breath-taking. If anyone thought that Labour was guilty of  creating a “Nanny State” – they had to watch Carter to see National go several steps further. In effect, central government will be dictating to local bodies what they can or can’t do.

Democracy? Not in our towns or cities, according to Minister Carter.

National is taking over. Curfew at 7PM.

See transcript: Q+ALocal Government Minister David Carter interview

See video:   Q+A: Local Government Minister David Carter (15:28)

The irony here is that whilst National stands by and watches unemployment soar, local communities, through their elected representatives,  are taking steps to address this growing problem.

Meanwhile, National’s response to unemployment is not to implement job creation programmes – their  response is to fiddle with welfare.

Which leads us to the next issue…

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Second Joker: Paula Rebstock

Q+A’s interview with Paula Rebstock – appointed by Welfare Minister Paula Bennett to head a board to oversee the implementation of National’s welfare “reforms” – is continuing National’s mission to demonise the unemployed; widows; solo-mums (but never solo-dads), and others who rely on social welfare to survive.

Since National has no job-creation plan,  Dear Leader and Paula Bennett are shifting responsibility for lack of jobs onto welfare beneficiaries. (Because we know that welfare pays for the mansion, limousine in the drive-way, and the beach house in Hawaii. Oh, wait, no, that’s John Key.)

It is a most pernicious form of scape-goating.

It is shameful, and panders to the nasty prejudices that reside in the dark depths of our vestigial reptilian hind-brain. For the Working and Middle Classes, who have always had the sneaking suspicion that welfare offers an opulent lifestyle – until they themselves are made redundant – only to then discover the true nature of just how paltry welfare actually is.

To put this issue into some context, New Zealand’s unemployment doubled after the global financial crisis and resulting recession,

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Frank Macskasy Frankly Speaking Blog

Source

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Rebstock headed the infamous “Welfare Working Group” in 2010. Some of the  recommendations of the WWG were so punitive and inhumane as to return to the Victorian Era. Even John Key was moved to reject many of Rebstock’s extreme proposals.

In November 2010, Rebstock was interviewed by Paul Holmes on Q+A,

”  PAUL

So that means a bit of government intervention, that means government providing these [jobs], presumably.

PAULA

Well, I don’t know if it does, and I think this is a really important point. If we look at how the labour market in New Zealand has performed, it is true we’ve been in a recession and we’re now moving into a slow recovery and jobs have been an issue, but since 1986 this economy has created more than 500,000 jobs. Now, it responded as well as almost any economy in the world to the economic environment. We had one of the highest employment rates in the OECD. I think that it is a little bit of a cop-out to say that we can’t deal to some of the issues around long-term benefit dependency because of the job market.

PAUL

Oh, come on, Paula, the jobs simply aren’t there. I mean, if you look at 2006, there was a 30,000 net gain of jobs. In 2008 it had gone down a bit – 9,000 net gain. God knows what it is this year.

PAULA

We actually are experiencing a gain in jobs. The labour statistics that came out last week show that. I’m not saying that we haven’t been in a recession, Paul, but this is the time right now to prepare people for the recovery. They need to be ready to take the jobs that are there.  “

See:  Holmes interviews Paula Rebstock (15 November 2010)

Unfortunately for everyone, the jobs were not “out there”.  With the recession is full swing, exports were down, and companies were laying off staff in their hundreds.

Unemployment in November 2010 was 6.4%. By January 2011, it had reach 6.8%. The rate moved up and down, and currently sits on 6.7%.

See:  Unemployment rate lifts to 6.7pc

Fast forward 18 months, and despite the economy continuing to stagnate, National is pursuing it’s scape-goating of unemployed and solo-mothers (but never solo-dads), and Rebstock and Bennett are both  still ‘singing the same song’.

On 16 May, Bennett said,

The cost of today’s total number of beneficiaries is estimated at $45 billion. It makes good economic and social sense to provide targeted support up front to get more people into work sooner.

This new approach will be embedded at all levels of the welfare system and the board will be responsible for ensuring accountability and overseeing the delivery of reforms that will see fewer people on welfare for long periods.

See:  Minister defends new welfare board

Not. One. Word. About. Job. Creation.

National is displaying an almost Obsessive-Compulsive antipathy on welfare issues.  Their sole focus is on welfare and welfare beneficiaries.

As if 80,000+ New Zealanders decided to chuck in their jobs in the last few years, and instead live the life of luxury on $204.96 a week (net).

See:   WINZ  Unemployment Benefit (current)

Yet, not too long ago (29 April), Social Welfare Minister Paula Bennett actually admitted,

PAULA         
No. There’s not a job for everyone that would want one right now, or else we wouldn’t have the unemployment figures that we do.

See:  TVNZ Q+A: Transcript of Paula Bennett interview (29 April)

So why is National spending $1.1 million on Rebstock’s ‘Work and Income Board’ to oversee WINZ – when it ain’t welfare that’s broke. It’s the job market that is 160,000 jobs short?!

See:  Rebstock to head welfare watchdog panel

Bennett goes on to say,

”  I’ve got fantastic frontline staff, I’ve got fantastic upper and middle management that are working hands on with policy changes and implementing that frontline.  “

“Fantastic front line staff”.

“Fantastic upper and middle management”.

“Working hands on with policy changes”.

But no jobs.

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Third Joker: John Key

National’s “Gateway” scheme had its origins during the Mana by-election, in 2010. As some will recall, it was National’s grand plan to beat the Labour candidate, Kris Faafoi.

National’s candidate was… Hekia Parata – the current Minister for Education.

Ms Parata lost by 1,406 votes to Labour’s candidate. (The margin widens when adding centre-left votes for the Greens and Matt McCarten.)

See: Mana By-election 2010

It appears that the “Gateway” scheme was little more than an election bribe for Mana voters; a “lolly” to entice people to vote for Parata.  National lost, and were stuck with fulfilling their policy pledge.

(Damned inconvenient when that happens, I guess.)

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Full Story

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Heatley touted the scheme, grandly proclaiming,

It is important the government provides opportunities for people to move into home ownership. Affordable homes schemes such as Gateway is another way we can assist more people into a home of their own.”

But by May of this year, it seems that it was ‘no longer important the government provides opportunities for people to move into home ownership’.

John Key announced it’s cancellation last week.

For a man who was raised in a taxpayer funded, and subsidised, state home with his siblings and widowed mum, and who benefitted from a societal  value that decent housing was a basic human right – John Key has some very strange attitudes toward providing shelter for the poor and vulnerable,

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Full story

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The Gateway scheme details,

GATEWAY SCHEME
* For first home buyers earning under $100,000 a year
* They can get a mortgage to build or buy a house on state land
* Must have at least a 10% deposit
* Have 10 years to buy the land

It’s interesting to note that Key is unable to deliver “low cost” housing for couples earning under$100,000 and says,

The Government has looked at that programme and decided that’s now not the most effective way of going forward.

So we think the capacity for lower income New Zealanders to own their own home is greatly enhanced by the fact interest rates are lower.

“If you have a look at the average home owner in New Zealand, they are paying about $200 a week less in interest than they were under the previous Labour Government.” – Ibid

His comments raises several issues,

  1. It says a lot about Key’s impression of what constitutes “lower income New Zealanders” when the threshold is up to $100,000 per couple. Perhaps by his multi-million dollar standards, a couple on $100,000 is “poor”?
  2. Derides the previous Labour government and claims credit for lower interest rates, by stating “they are paying about $200 a week less in interest than they were under the previous Labour Government“. As if current low interest rates are a result of National’s intervention? (Interest rates are determined by the Reserve Bank, and are currently low because our economy is stagnant. National can take credit for the latter, but not the former.)
  3. How can  providing decent, affordable housing for low income earners  be “not the most effective way of going forward” ?
  4. Key is living in a millionaire’s fantasyland if he seriously believes that “ the capacity for lower income New Zealanders to own their own home is greatly enhanced by the fact interest rates are lower“.  Dear Leader doesn’t understand that the interest rate can be irrelevant if people can’t afford to buy a home in the first place.

If ever there was ever an instance of the Silver Spoon mentality – look no further than our current Prime Minister, the Rt Honourable John Key.

New Zealanders are deluded if they think this man can relate to their ordinary, everyday, lives.

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The Ace: John Tamihere

As mentioned in a previous blogpost, John Tamihere is hosting an excellent, low-key, intelligent, current affairs chat show on TV3 (Sunday mornings) called “Think Tank“.  Last Sunday’s (20 May) episode focused on child poverty in New Zealand and what practical steps were required to address this growing social crisis.

Last week, it was pokie machines and their effects on communities.

As the show’s name suggests, the goal is not just to look into critical social issues – but to come up with solutions.  The show’s panel of four people offers solutions; and the guests scrutinises each suggestion.

It’s a chat show for sure – but instead of superficial inanities, the conversation is serious and fit for adult consumption.

This is good television. This treats the viewer as   intelligent and capable of considering complex issues.

This blogger can only live in hope that this is the turning point of 21st century television, and we are seeing an end (or at least slow reduction) of the execrable rubbish we have been served up, since  commercialisation and dumbing down became the norm for broadcasting in this country.

John Tamihere is perfect for the role of host for the show. Not a polished or trained media front-person, John Tamihere has walked the hard yards in life and has moved from the tough neighbourhoods of South Auckland to the halls of power in Parliament. He’s lived life. He’s seen things that Middle Class New Zealand has no wish to see or experience, outside of comfortable television shows.

This blogger’s only criticisms revolve around scheduling and lack of promotion.

Scheduling “Think Tank” on Sunday mornings ghettoises the show. It relegates it almost as an ‘after thought’.  It would be an act of naked political subversion to broadcast it during prime time viewing. (That should give National’s/NZ on Air’s,   Stephen McElrea something to howl about!)

The show also needs more promo on TV3. This blogger discovered it only by sheer fluke. Not promoting it leaves us wondering if TV3 doesn’t really want to draw attention to it? Perhaps doesn’t want to draw the ire of certain National Party ministers?

One hopes not.

TV3, as your print-media colleagues used to say, Publish and be damned !

It’s a good show.

Be proud of it.

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Media sources

Loans for housing on crown land

Holmes interviews Paula Rebstock (15 November 2010)

Otorohanga’s success story

Council goes solo to help young jobless

Key backs cut-off for cheap homes plan

Minister defends new welfare board

TVNZ  Q+A: Local Government Minister David Carter (video)

Reserve Bank to keep OCR unchanged though hikes flicker on horizon

References

Official Cash Rate (OCR) decisions and current rate

Previous blogposts

Fear and loathing in the Fascist State of New Zealand

Bennett confirms: there are not enough jobs!

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Bugs and balls-ups!

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Three years ago, in July 2009, the Public Service Association issued this prescient media release to the country,

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Risks involved in cutting MAF Biosecurity jobs

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Wednesday, 8 July 2009, 9:44 am
Press Release: Public Service Association

Significant risks involved in cutting MAF Biosecurity jobs

The Public Service Association is concerned about the significant risks involved in cutting jobs at MAF Biosecurity, whose staff work on our borders protecting New Zealand’s multi-billion dollar agriculture sector from pests and diseases.

MAF Biosecurity has today announced that’s its disestablishing around 60 jobs by cutting 30 filled positions and disestablishing 30 vacant positions. MAF Biosecurity says the job cuts are in response to falling trade and passenger volumes.

“But the government is also responsible for these job losses as it cut the baseline funding for MAF Biosecurity by $1.9 million in the Budget delivered in May,” says PSA national secretary Richard Wagstaff.

“Our concern is that the New Zealand’s economy depends on our farming and horticulture industries that could be decimated if diseases like foot and mouth and fruit fly got into the country.”

“MAF Biosecurity staff work to prevent these diseases and pests from crossing our borders so it’s vital that these job cuts don’t weaken our defences in this area,” says Richard Wagstaff.

MAF Biosecurity says if foot and mouth reached New Zealand virtually all exports of meat, animal by-products and dairy products would stop. They would not resume until at least three months after the slaughter of the last infected animal. The country’s trade reputation would be damaged, unemployment would rise by about 20,000 and Gross Domestic Product would be cut by $10 billion over a two year period.

“We are not opposed to public service staffing being linked to demand for public services,” says Richard Wagstaff.

“But this should work both ways and staff numbers should be increased when demand for public services rises,” says Richard Wagstaff.

The PSA has been consulted about the proposed job cuts at MAF Biosecurity.

“As well as being concerned about the risk to our biosecurity we’re concerned the job cuts could actually push up MAF Biosecurity costs if staff have to do extra overtime or staff who are cut have to be brought back as the workload increases,” says Richard Wagstaff.

Source

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Being the clever folk that we New Zealanders generally are, we undertook  the usual response when confronted with a warning about an  imprudent government policy.

New Zealanders ignored it.

We were too busy. It was someone else’s problem. And that nice, smiling  man,  John Key,  had just been elected  promising us lots of lovely money  by way of tax cuts.

Of course, being such trusting sheep people, we ignored warnings that the recession was biting hard into our economy and tax cuts could only be sustained by massive borrowings from overseas… and cuts to government services. We didn’t seem to care. We just wanted tax cuts. It didn’t seem to matter to most folk that John Key’s government was sacking state sector workers and cutting back on essential services.

Services like… bio-security.

Even as government was instructing MAF’s Biosecurity New Zealand to sack sixty of it’s staff,  container traffic was increasing into the country,

Port Taranaki CEO Roy Weaver said it had been a record year for containers at the port.

Mr Weaver said more than 65,100 containers had gone through the port to the year ended June 30, up from 60,000 the previous year.

Port Taranaki was primarily an export port. Mr Weaver said containers arriving at the port from high-risk countries were targeted by MAF staff.”

Source

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It seems inconceivable that MAF’s 700 staff could inspect 65,100 containers just at Port Taranaki alone – never mind ports at Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, and Dunedin. Plus international airports at Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch. Plus dozens of cruise ships every summer.

But government was determined. They wanted 60 staff sacked.

All to save $1.9 million dollars. That’s right, folks; one point nine million dollars.

Richard Wagstaff from the PSA pointed out,  that the farming and horticulture industries could be ruined if diseases such as foot and mouth and pests such a fruitfly got into the country. (Daily News, 9 July 2009)

It’s vital that these job cuts don’t weaken our defences in this area.  A foot-and-mouth incursion could cut 20,000 jobs and reduce gross domestic product by $10 billion over a two-year period.”

In September 2009, as the Biosecurity Amendment Bill was being debated in Parliament, Labour’s Brendon Burns (MP, Christchurch Central) had this warning to make,

I am very pleased to take a short call on the Biosecurity Amendment Bill, and, yes, Labour supports this bill going to the Primary Production Committee, of which I am a member. We welcome the proposal to increase the fines available for those who breach our biosecurity regulations.

As has been mentioned, however, there are some very real fears in that the Government is giving, if you like, some stiffening to the biosecurity regulations, but it is taking with the other arm, in the sense that we are losing 54 biosecurity staff. Those staff are the thin green line that protects and preserves our $20 billion – plus agricultural production export base. It is a very thin line. I have spoken to Christchurch biosecurity staff; they tell me it is already very hard to do their job properly, and this is before we see the loss of staff that is currently taking place. If those staff are not able to do their job properly, then goodness help this nation, because everything we have and hold dear is reliant upon their being able to do their best to protect and preserve our borders….”

Source

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As Burns also stated,

“...the varroa mite is estimated to have cost this nation between $273 million and $486 million in lost production, jobs, and exports.”

By May of this year, Richard Wagstaff reported that 500 jobs had been cut in the biosecurity service since his organisation first issued that dire, prophetic warning three years ago.

All done to “save” a few million bucks.

Now, we have the prospect of  having entire suburbs in Auckland being contained in some kind of loose “quarantine”, after a Queensland fruit fly was caught in a pest surveillance trap,

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NOT WANTED: Queensland Fruit Fly

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Considering that the Queensland fruit fly costs the Australian economy approximately  $160 million a year, this is a very real threat  to New Zealand’s own $5 billion annual horticultural industry.

Five billion dollars, per year, every year. All under threat because this government wanted to save a few million bucks by employing fewer biosecurity staff.

As if the discovery of a  painted apple moth in 1999; the varroa mite infestation of our honey hives in 2000; and other isolated instances of pests found in this country did not serve as a warning to us – National  proceeded to cut back on biosecurity staffing.

This blogger wonders sometimes (actually, all the time) what goes through the minds of our esteemed Honourable Ministers of Her Majesty’s Government. These are supposedly well-educated men and women, with support from thousands of University-educated advisors – and yet they still manage to accomplish the most incredibly moronic decisions conceivable.

National has put at risk this country’s  $5 billion industry – simply to save a few million dollars.

They have risked horticulturalist’s businesses; workers their jobs; and all the down-stream economic activity – to save a small percentage of billions.

This blogger has three pieces of advice for all concerned,

  1. John Key must  accept the resignation of  David Carter, Minister for Bio-security immediatly.
  2. National must reinstate biosecurity services to pre-2009 levels.
  3. Horticulturalists (and others who own farms and other agricultural businesses) should carefully consider whether National is working on their behalf – or for the sake of implementing false economies. What is the point of an orchardist voting for National – if National is going to screw his/her business by cutting back on essential government services such as biosecurity?!?!

Hopefully, this  fruit fly is a lone bug; perhaps a stowaway in someone’s bag or in a container offloaded at Ports of Auckland.

If so, once again we’ve been lucky.

But how long will our  luck hold out?

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Addendum

A quote from a poster on another blog,

Attack building regulations and get a leaky homes disaster.

Attack banking regulations and get a global financial crisis.

Attack mine safety regulations and get 29 dead men at Pike River.

Attack bio-security regulations and get a fruit fly disaster.” – ‘vto’, The Standard, 12 May 2012

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References

Scoop:  Risks involved in cutting MAF Biosecurity jobs

Daily News:  Farming at risk if biosecurity jobs cut, PSA warns

TVNZ:  Minister warned about biosecurity concerns

Fairfax News:  Fruit restrictions in place

Dominion Post:  Biosecurity savings ‘false economy’

Biosecurity NZ webpage

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A Slave By Any Other Name…

9 March 2012 5 comments

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slavery

slav·er·y

[sley-vuh-ree, sleyv-ree]
noun
1. the condition of a slave;  bondage.
2. the keeping of slaves  as a practice or institution.
3. a state of subjection like that of a slave: He was kept in slavery by drugs.
4. severe toil; drudgery.
Origin:
1545–55; slave  + -ery

Related forms
pre·slav·er·y, adjective, noun

Synonyms
1.  thralldom, enthrallment. Slavery, bondage, servitude  refer to involuntary subjection to another or others. Slavery  emphasizes the idea of complete ownership and control by a master: to be sold into slavery. Bondage  indicates a state of subjugation or captivity often involving burdensome and degrading labor: in bondage to a cruel master. Servitude  is compulsory service, often such as is required by a legal penalty: penal servitude. 4.  moil, labor.

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doublethink

dou·ble·think

[duhb-uhl-thingk]
noun
the acceptance of two contradictory ideas or beliefs at the same time.
Origin:
double  + think;  coined by George Orwell in his novel 1984  (1949)

– n    
deliberate, perverse, or unconscious acceptance or promulgation of conflicting facts, principles, etc

Dictionary.com

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Last week, right-wing blogger; pollster; and National Party activist, David Farrar wrote this eye-opening piece for the NZ Herald,

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Full Story

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The story revolves around abuse, violence,  and exploitation of foreign seamen on Foreign Charter Vessels, as this Department of Labour media statement outlined on 5 March,

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Department of Labour takes tough action against Foreign Charter Vessel

The Department of Labour has found that there was major non-compliance with the Code of Practice on Foreign Fishing Crew and the Approval in Principle (AIP) to employ foreign crew by the New Zealand charterers of the ship, the Shin Ji.

The Department started its investigation into the Shin Ji after crew walked off the ship in protest at the conditions they were facing last June.

The Code of Practice requires payment of the minimum wage plus $2 per hour for actual hours worked, but in no case less than 42 hours per week over the course of the engagement. Deductions may not take wages below the minimum wage for all hours worked.

The New Zealand Charter Party is required to keep accurate records and make these records available to the Department on request, but insufficient documents were provided to make a full financial assessment on crew remuneration. As a result the Department was unable to verify whether the crew of the Shin Ji had been paid their minimum requirements or whether AIP and Code of Practice conditions were met.

In addition, there were allegations of mistreatment made by several crew that present a prima facie case that the provisions of the Code of Practice in relation to fishers’ welfare were not met. A final conclusion could not be made in this area as the New Zealand Charter Party Administrator, Tu’ere Fishing, failed to respond to these allegations.

The Department has now decided that all work visas under the most recent AIP will be cancelled.

The acting head of Immigration New Zealand, Steve Stuart, says the sanctions imposed by the Department show how seriously breaches of the Code of Practice are taken and reflect a tougher approach by the Department.

“Our auditors have carried out a meticulous and thorough investigation and it shows very clearly that the New Zealand Charter Party failed to comply with the Code,” Mr Stuart says.

The Government has already accepted a recommendation by the Ministerial Inquiry into Foreign Charter Vessels (FCVs) to update the Code of Practice and strengthen the immigration approval process for crew.

The Department is also to strengthen the monitoring and enforcement of FCVs and increase the thoroughness of inspections. The Department has improved its auditing system, with the first audits being undertaken by external auditors next month.

Source

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A Ministerial Inquiry released a similar report, highly critical of crew-abuses on FCVs,

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Foreign Charter Vessels Inquiry report released

Thursday, 1 March 2012, 12:43 pm
Press Release: New Zealand Government

Hon David Carter
Minister for Primary Industries
Hon Kate Wilkinson
Minister of Labour

The Government has resolved to take a stronger line on the operation of foreign charter vessels (FCVs) in New Zealand waters, say Primary Industries Minister David Carter and Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson.

The Ministers today released the report of the Ministerial Inquiry into Foreign Charter Vessels.

The Inquiry, which was initiated by the Government last year, focused on several issues, including labour standards and protecting New Zealand’s reputation.

Mr Carter says the Inquiry panel has done a thorough job.

“The report is clear that the issues are not widespread in the New Zealand commercial fishing industry, but they are serious where they occur and need to be addressed in a co-ordinated manner, backed by legislative change,” says Mr Carter.

The 15 recommendations touch on a wide range of ministerial portfolios, including fisheries, labour, immigration, transport and foreign affairs and trade.

The Government has already decided to accept in principle, and act on, the Inquiry Panel’s first six recommendations.

The first three recommendations are for practical improvements that can be addressed quickly, and in some cases are already being made.

“The recommendations include updating the Code of Practice and strengthening the immigration approval process – both of which will help ensure better conditions for workers on FCVs,” says Ms Wilkinson.

“We will also be adopting a recommendation that the New Zealand fishing companies chartering foreign vessels have to show the Code is being followed. This is a significant move as it puts the onus on those companies, rather than the Department of Labour, which currently has to prove the Code has been breached.”

The Department of Labour is also to strengthen monitoring and enforcement of FCVs and increase the frequency and thoroughness of inspections.

MAF is to strengthen monitoring and enforcement of FCVs, including placing an observer on all FCVs fishing in New Zealand waters and considering non-fisheries offences when making FCV registration decisions.

Maritime New Zealand is to strengthen enforcement of FCV compliance with maritime safety standards.

Recommendations 4 to 6 propose closer inter-agency co-operation, to be overseen by an inter-agency steering group. This includes setting up a pilot programme for at-sea monitoring of compliance with fisheries, vessel safety and labour standards – targeting high-risk FCVs.

The remaining recommendations cover legislative amendments, ratifying international conventions, and significant policy changes. The Government is further considering the Inquiry Panel’s report and these recommendations before announcing any decisions.

View Ministerial Inquiry into Foreign Charter Vessels Report:

http://www.dol.govt.nz/News/Media/2012/foreign-charter-vessels-2012-ministerial.asp

http://www.maf.govt.nz/news-resources/news

Source

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Foreign Charter Vessels are a means for local fishing companies to use cheap labour to fish New Zealand’s 200km territorial waters. It can be a profitable operation, paying crews from mostly Third World or developing countries such as Indonesia, much lower rates of pay than their New Zealand counterparts. (Congratulations to ourselves – we’ve found a way to import “sweat shops” from Asia to our territorial waters.)

The Seafood Industry Council (SEAFic) made this statement about Foreign Charter Vessels on their website. It is important to note that, as SEAFic stated quite clearly,

A charter vessel from another country is not foreign countries catching our fish – it is a hired vessel working for a New Zealand-owned company.

This is important because although the “charter vessel is from another country” – it is still covered by New Zealand law. That includes labour legislation such as minimum wages. The crew cannot be paid under the minimum wage ($13.50 per hour) whilst operating in our territory. SEAFic goes on to’paint a picture’ outlining the obligations of Foreign Charter Vessels to follow NZ law,

Chartering a vessel to catch your quota is like hiring a bus to get your sports team to another town.  You wouldn’t buy a bus just for the one trip.  The bus driver, who is trained and qualified to do the job, comes with the bus.  You cannot ask the driver to do anything outside the law.  You cannot, for example, let the driver continue driving without break for excessive hours, even if he or she wants to.

Furthermore, as SEAFic explained,

The crews of charter vessels are entitled to the same employment rights and conditions as anyone working in New Zealand. However, the crews do not qualify for social support services or ACC and therefore do not cost the taxpayer.

And,

The crews of charter vessels are entitled to the same employment rights and conditions as anyone working in New Zealand. However, the crews do not qualify for social support services or ACC and therefore do not cost the taxpayer.

The Ministerial Inquiry found that not only were FCVs violently abusing their crews, but were not paying them properly. Any complaint from a crewmember often resulted in that crewman being removed from the Vessel; shipped back home; and not paid for any of his work,

The terms of the first contract, the “real” one, would later haunt him. In it, IMS spelled out terms with no rights. In addition to the agent’s commission, Yusril would surrender 30 percent of his salary, which IMS would hold unless the work was completed. He would be paid nothing for the first three months, and if the job were not finished to the fishing company’s satisfaction, Yusril would be sent home and charged more than $1,000 for the airfare. The meaning of “satisfactory” was left vague. The contract said only that Yusril would have to work whatever hours the boat operators demanded. ” – Source

Crew members were also abused, assaulted, and sexually harassed,

The boatswain would grab crew members’ genitals as they worked or slept. When the captain of the ship drank, he molested some of the crew, kicking those who resisted. As nets hauled in the catch — squid, ling, hoki, hake, grouper, southern blue whiting, jack mackerel, and barracuda — the officers shouted orders from the bridge. They often compelled the Indonesians to work without proper safety equipment for up to 30 hours, swearing at them if they so much as asked for coffee or a bathroom break. Even when fishermen were not hauling catches, 16-hour workdays were standard. ” – Ibid

This abuse came to the attention of the US media and various companies that bought the product that had been caught and processed by FCV crews. The article below was written for a major US business website, and reveals cases of violence and exploitation on FCVs contracted to New Zealand companies, and working in New Zealand’s territorial waters. I encourage people to read it,

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Full Story

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To put it mildly, American clients and the US government were not happy. No company wants to have it’s reputation tarnished by allegations of slave labour associated with their product. Customers tend to feel queasy buying something they know was produced by another human being who was treated as a slave. Not a good look.

And up till now, New Zealand has being getting away with it because,

Asked about allegations that FCVs in New Zealand employ slave labor, [Ashley] Hawkins said [U.S. supermarket chain] Whole Foods is “in compliance with the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, New Zealand is not considered high-risk.” “- Ibid

It seems that our luck has run out, and National has had to sit up and take notice,

“The Government has resolved to take a stronger line on the operation of foreign charter vessels (FCVs) in New Zealand waters, say Primary Industries Minister David Carter and Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson.

The Ministers today released the report of the Ministerial Inquiry into Foreign Charter Vessels.

The Inquiry, which was initiated by the Government last year, focused on several issues, including labour standards and protecting New Zealand’s reputation.

Mr Carter says the Inquiry panel has done a thorough job.

“The report is clear that the issues are not widespread in the New Zealand commercial fishing industry, but they are serious where they occur and need to be addressed in a co-ordinated manner, backed by legislative change,” says Mr Carter.” – Source

Which brings us back to Mr Farrar’s opinion-piece in the NZ Herald on 2 March.

As described at the beginning of this piece, Farrar is a right wing blogger and National Party activist. Which makes his ‘Herald’ opinion piece somewhat more surprising.

Farrar repeats the background litany of abuse that the FCV fishermen have been subjected to,

A failure to pay minimum wages under NZ law (which the FCVs have agreed to do) is the least of the abuses. They get told they will lose the little pay they do get unless they lie to the NZ authorities about how much they are paid. Any complaints can see them lose bonds worth more than their earnings. They are forced to work long and dangerous hours with no regard for safety.

But even worse than there, there are several documented cases of physical violence, sexual abuse and even rape of the (mainly Indonesian) staff who work on these vessels. They are basically treated as slaves during their incarceration on the vessels. Actually many slaves in the Roman republic were treated better, than what has happened to these workers in our territorial waters.

At this point, it is worth reminding ourselves that Farrar is a member of National – a right wing political party that does not like trade unions very much. As National MP, Jami-Lee Ross, said on 11 January, about the Ports of Auckland industrial dispute,

This is in fact a story of the Maritime Union biting the hand that feeds them. It is a story of industrial action that, if left to go on much longer, could have disastrous consequences for the Ports of Auckland…

Up until recently, cool heads and rational people sitting around negotiating tables have meant that little focus has been placed on the role that unions play in society. However, with the bare-faced mockery that the Maritime Union is making of civilised negotiations New Zealanders will soon begin to question what position unions should hold in the modern Kiwi workplace.” – Source

Traditionally, National  has always been anti-Union and pro-business. That’s just the way it is.

Farrar has stated that,

“I do not regard National as always right, but it is the party which I believe gives me the greatest opportunity to achieve the New Zealand I want.” – Source

So what to make of Farrar lamenting the condition of workers on FCVs,

These abuses have gone on for far too long. New Zealand has even ended up on the watch list of the US State Department whose annual Trafficking in Persons Report mentions fishing in New Zealand as a problem area.”

Or this part, which bears a remarkable similarity to Union-style concerns,

New Zealand law and policies require staff on board FCVs to be paid the at least $2 an hour over the New Zealand minimum wage, or $2,700 a month gross for a 42 hour week. But in reality many of the Indonesian fishers get paid little more than $150 a month or less than $1 an hour. They get told they must sign two employment contracts – one for the NZ authorities, and the real one which details a much lower rate of pay.”

If one were to be generous, it could be asumed that the sickening abuse of FCV fishermen is a step too far even for a hardened rightwinger like Farrar. A free labour market market is one thing – but slavery? Nah, that’s the line he will not cross. In fact, Farrar even says,

“They are basically treated as slaves during their incarceration on the vessels. Actually many slaves in the Roman republic were treated better, than what has happened to these workers in our territorial waters.

It is interesting that Farrar uses the term “slaves” – twice! – and once in the title of his opinion piece! – but more on that shortly.

If, however, one were to read “between the lines”, certain aspects of his piece offer another motive for his (faux?) concerns,

These vessels fish in our exclusive economic zone, on behalf of NZ companies that have quota allocations in different fish stocks…

New Zealand has even ended up on the watch list of the US State Department whose annual Trafficking in Persons Report mentions fishing in New Zealand as a problem area…

The Ministerial inquiry has not recommended phasing out the use of FCVs. The main reason for this is it seems there is not enough capacity in New Zealand to fish all of our quota ourselves. This surprises me with so many people unemployed, but I guess not many people want to be out at sea for weeks or months at a time. There are also issues of capital and specialist equipment…

This means that even these changes may prove ineffective, and the eventual solution may have to be require all vessels fishing in our EEZ to be New Zealand flagged ships. This would have adverse economic consequences…”

Taking these comments into consideration, the subtext appears to be  one that is more alligned with economic concerns – i.e. “adverse economic consequences” as Farrar himself says at the end.

So, which is it; a hidden streak of concern for workers and their rights which heretofore has never been seen in David Farrar?

Or a deep concern that these abuses are an annoying distraction which might have “adverse economic consequences” on our profit/loss end-of-year bottomline?

Luckily, we have Mr Farrar’s own blog, Kiwiblog, upon which to draw further insights from.

David Shearer says Labour is not taking sides the in Ports of Auckland dispute, but here are two of his MPs on the picket line.

I guess they have no choice as the Maritime Union is actually an affiliate member of the Labour Party, and one of their donors. Not even the documented examples of union hostility to female and non European workers is enough to shake their support of the union.” – Labour Not taking sides, 27 February 2012

Strangely, Farrar states that “here are two of his MPs on the picket line” at the Maritime Union/Ports of Auckland Ltd (POAL) dispute – as if it were a bad thing?

Can it be that Mr Farrar disapproves, or may even be hostile, to the POAL workers who are on strike? Let’s keep reading further blogposts from Mr Farrar,

Phil Twyford blogs:

Len Brown was elected the people’s mayor on a wave of support across west and south Auckland. People opted decisively for his plan for public transport, and a modern inclusive vision for the city that embraced the young, the brown and working people.

Which makes it puzzling that he is choosing to stand by and watch while his port subsidiary tries to contract out 300 jobs. …

It is all the more puzzling given the Mayor’s commitment to reducing social inequality, reflected in the excellent Auckland Plan. It is hard to see how we are going to build a more prosperous and inclusive city by stripping the city’s employees of their work rights and job security. …

It is time for Len Brown and his Council to rethink their demand for a 12% return, and replace it with something reasonable and not excessive. He should tell the port company casualisation is not an acceptable approach to employment relations in a port owned by the people of Auckland.

This is the same Phil Twyford who spent years saying that Wellington should not dictate to Auckland, yet is now trying to bully Len Brown into putting the interests of the Labour Party (for the Maritime Union is part of the Labour Party) ahead of the interests of Auckland.

Len knows he would be toast if he kneecapped a Council subsidiary, just to please the Labour caucus in Wellington.” – Maritime Union wants total control, 29 February 2012

After weeks and months of strikes, and a growing loss of business to other ports, it was inevitable that Ports of Auckland would go down the only viable path left to them, which is contracting out.

The Herald reports:

Ports of Auckland said the decision to introduce “competitive stevedoring ” was partly the result of the impact of long running industrial action on its business.

Redundancies would begin later next week, with striking staff encouraged to apply for new positions, he said.

“This decision has not been made lightly, but we believe it is vital to ensuring a successful and sustainable future for the Port, including protecting jobs over the long term,” he said.

Ports of Auckland Chairman Richard Pearson said the company’s priority was to win back lost business.

“This decision will reassure the wider market and customers that we plan to achieve a sustainable lift in the port’s competitiveness as soon as possible.

One can’t continue with a situation where you get paid for 43 hours and only actually work 28.” – Maritime Union succeeds in getting their workers sacked, 7 March 2012

Oh, dear, not looking terribly good for poor Mr Farrar. His comments above do not seem to be very sympathetic to striking workers – workers who are not seeking higher pay as their main claim, but are desperately trying  to stop POAL employers from casualising the work force and contracting out their jobs to stevedoring companies.

And next,

Last night on 3 News they interviewed a couple of staff working at the Port of Tauranga. What a stark difference it was to the Ports of Auckland. They talked of a culture of getting the job done, and even pride about increasing efficiency.  An extract:

Throughout the Auckland dispute, the Port Of Tauranga has been held up as an example of how Auckland could operate – profits are at a record high, and the port seems to have a contented workforce which gets the job done quickly and efficiently.

David Hone has worked at the port for 18 years and, like 90 percent of employees, is a shareholder in the company.

He says “working in a place that you’re part owner [of]” means he’s more invested in the success of the business.

It’s one of the key reasons the port is so successful, according to chief executive Mark Cairns.

“If you have a stake in a company your behaviour changes when you’re an employee,” he says.

I’m a huge fan of employees being shareholders, and POT seem to be a great example of how well this can work. It is such a shame that Mike Lee a few years back deprived POAL employees of this opportunity.

Profits and efficiency do not need to be the enemy of having a happy workforce. It is just when dinosaur unions get in the way, that it does not happen. Look what has happened at POAL since the unionised staff went off the job:

Ports of Auckland chairman Richard Pearson says flexible rosters increase productivity and the 50 non-union workers have proved that.

“We’re operating at a 25 percent production improvement on what we were achieving 3 or 4 weeks ago before the strike,” he says.

“They don’t want to go slow so they can get another shift, they just want to work.”

Imagine the incentive at the moment. If you can delay a ship for another 90 minutes, then you get an extra eight hours pay.

There’s a lot of focus at the moment on the possible expansion of the Port into the harbour more. POAL makes the point that if they can lift labour productivity by a conservative 20% it would give them the equivalent of two new berths, allowing the Port to accommodate five extra ship calls each week.” – What a difference, 8 March 2012

Ok, it’s fairly clear that David Farrar has little or no concern for workers on the Ports of Auckland – workers who are his fellow Kiwis.

So one has to view his faux concern for workers rights on Foreign Charter Vessels with a little more than just a passing suspicion.

Farrar stated that,

“They are basically treated as slaves during their incarceration on the vessels. Actually many slaves in the Roman republic were treated better, than what has happened to these workers in our territorial waters.

It is interesting that Farrar refer to the term “slaves” in the context of the Indonesian fishermen on Korean FCVs.

The Maritime Union – representing it’s members – is struggling to preserve hard-won conditions that have been built up over the years. Without a Union, workers in this country would be abused; cheated out of wages – or paid a subsistance sum; exploited; over-worked; expected to work in dangerous conditions, risking injury or worse; and generally treated like… slaves.

The Indonesian fishermen had no Union to protect their rights. And strangely, New Zealand observers had reportedly “seen nothing untoward,

When asked for comment, Chief Executive Officer Eric Barratt said Sanford’s observers, which the company placed on all their foreign-chartered vessels (FCVs), reported that the ships “don’t have any issues with labor abuse.” – Source

Remarkably, Farrar sees nothing incongruous with his clearly-stated anti-Union beliefs.

Either he is incredibly naive – or else is a skilled practitioner at the art of ‘doublethink’. Perhaps he truly believes that workers do not need the protection of trade unions? And that all employers will treat their workers fairly?

Shall we ask some crewmen from Korean FCVs whether they need a Union or not?

Or perhaps they can rely on their Korean ‘masters’ to treat them well and pay them fairly?

What say you, Mr Farrar?

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Addendum

In October last year,  SEAFic stated,

‘We need more cheap foreign fishermen’

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New Zealand’s fishing industry needs more cheap Asian labour not less, the Seafood Industry Council (SeaFIC) told a ministerial inquiry into the use of foreign charter vessels.

FCVs, flagged in mainly Asian states, operate New Zealand’s deep sea fishery with around 2000 low wage crews from Third World countries.

SeaFIC says New Zealand-flagged fishing boats cannot get local crews and they now want to import low wage labour as well.” – Source

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* * *

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Previous Blogposts

Is this where New Zealand is heading?

Foreign fishing boats, Hobbits, and the National Guvmint

Additional Reading

Radio NZ: Parliament debates Hobbit law change

Helen Kelly (NZ Council of Trade Unions): The Hobbit Dispute

Employment Relations (Film Production Work) Amendment Bill

Legislative History: Employment Relations (Film Production Work) Amendment Act 2010 No 120, Public Act

Slavery and Food Security: The Fishing Fleet

‘Model’ fishers face grim charges

References

NZ Govt: Ministerial inquiry into Foreign Charter Vessels

Seafood Industry Council: Charter Vessels

Seafood Industry Council (SeaFIC) Foreign Charter Vessels Submission

Seafood industry fact file

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Foreign fishing boats, Hobbits, and the National Guvmint…

2 March 2012 7 comments

… what could be the link, you wonder?

Those of us with reasonably long-term memories can recall the industrial dispute between Actor’s Equity and Peter Jackson, which became public on 27 September 2010.

The s**t quickly hit the fan, with allegations; counter-allegations; hysterical threats; and quite a bit of egoism.

There was even a panic that “The Hobbit” would be taken out of New Zealand and made in Eastern Europe, or Kazahkstan, or Outer Mongolia. None of it was true, as an email dated 18 October 2010, between Jackson and Economic Minister, Gerry Brownlee clearly stated.

But it certainly ramped up the public hysteria; the moral panic against the “hairy arm of unionism”; and seemingly threatened our very national identity.

In response, the government did something quite extraordinary; they passed legislation to change the status of all employees  “so that workers involved with film production work will be independent contractors rather than employees“.

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It was done unilaterally and it was done within twenty hours. Assent by the Governor General was given the following day,

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Legislative history

28 October 2010 Introduction (Bill 229–1), first reading, second reading, committee of the whole House, third reading
29 October 2010 Royal assent


Reference

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It usually takes a natural disaster of cataclysmic proportions, or a Declaration of War, (or the passing of MP’s superannuation regulations in the deads of night) to effect legislation at such breathtaking speed.

Legislation usually takes months to pass, from First Reading; to Select Committee;  to the last Reading; passing; and enactment.

The last time Parliament passed legislation at near light-speed was in the late 1980s, when they passed a law regarding their superannuation entitlements. That was done late at night; when the media were absent; most of us were asleep; and took a matter of hours.

(When the media  discovered this, and duly reported it, public odium was heaped upon politicians – even more than usual.)

So it was unusual and quite bizarre that National passed what was called the “Hobbit Law” in one day flat.

Something must’ve spooked the horses. Perhaps our politicians were dazzled by the bright lights of Hollywood glamour?

Korean and Indonesian fishing boats, by comparison, are not quite so dazzling and glamourous. In fact, they stink of fish; the crew look wretched; and the fishing boats themselves are dangerous rust-buckets that will sink with little provocation.

Yet, in the last couple of weeks, the fishing industry and our use of FCV (Foreign Charter Vessels), with the cheap, exploited labour of their Korean, Indonesian, and other nationals’ crews, has hit the international headlines. All of a sudden, the New Zealand fishing industry was in the global media spotlight – and for all the wrong reasons.

The world had discovered that we were using cheap, exploited labour to do our dirty work. The New Zealand fishing industry was practically engaging in slave labour,

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On March 25, 2011, Yusril became a slave. That afternoon he went to the East Jakarta offices of Indah Megah Sari (IMS), an agency that hires crews to work on foreign fishing vessels. He was offered a job on the Melilla 203, a South Korea-flagged ship that trawls in the waters off New Zealand. “Hurry up,” said the agent, holding a pen over a thick stack of contracts in a windowless conference room with water-stained walls. Waving at a pile of green Indonesian passports of other prospective fishermen, he added: “You really can’t waste time reading this. There are a lot of others waiting, and the plane leaves tomorrow.”

[abridged]

The experiences of the fishermen on the Melilla 203 were not unique. In a six-month investigation, Bloomberg Businessweek found cases of debt bondage on the Melilla 203 and at least nine other ships that have operated in New Zealand’s waters. As recently as November 2011, fish from the Melilla 203 and other suspect vessels were bought and processed by United Fisheries, New Zealand’s eighth-largest seafood company, which sold the same kinds of fish in that period to distributors operating in the U.S. (The U.S. imports 86 percent of its seafood.) The distributors in turn sold the fish to major U.S. companies. Those companies — which include some of the country’s biggest retailers and restaurants — sold the seafood to American consumers.”

Full Story

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On the 25th of this month,

The Government has received a report from the ministerial inquiry into the use and operation of Foreign Charter Vessels. Primary Industries Minister David Carter and Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson said they would consider its recommendations before announcing any decisions. The inquiry was charged with looking at labour, immigration, maritime safety and fisheries laws around the use and operation of fishing boats. Former labour minister Paul Swain chaired the panel, launched after a series of damning revelations about slave labour conditions and abuse. ” (Source)

Five days later, the report from the Ministerial Inquiry was released  to the public,

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Source

Radio NZ: Listen to more from Checkpoint

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There we have it;

  • New Zealand had been using slave labour to fish it’s territorial waters, and exploiting the crews of FCVs for our profit,
  • Fishing companies like Sanford deny that any problem of abuse and exploitation is occurring,
  • and most astonishingly, our government is dragging it’s feet on this horrendous situation and implementing only  six of fifteen recommendations from the Ministerial Inquiry’s report.

In an interview on Radio NZ’s “Checkpoint“, on 1 March, the Minister for Primary Industries, David Carter, had this to say in response to being questioned on this issue,

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RNZ: “So fifteen recommendations – you’re acting on the first six? Why not take them all onboard?”

Carter: “Because some of the others require two things; legislative change and we need to investigate how we can progress that through the House. And equally importantly, some of them would have, or potentialy could have, economic impacts on the industry.

That is why we have released the Report today. We want the industry to comment on the other recommendations so that we can do some more work on them and take something back for a Cabinet process [interuption] in a couple of months.”

RNZ: “In the future do you see that these recommendations  will be taken on?”

Carter: “I think a good number of those recommendations will be taken on.”

RNZ: “How many?”

Carter: “Well at this stage we’ve, ah, ah, we’ve certainly kicked of the first six because they’ve been able to be done without legislation. As I say, the others now need further investigation to find out what their impact will be  before we agree to do them. But one thing the government is absolutely determined to do is raise the standards so there is no chance for abusive labour practices occurring on foreign charter vessels whilst they’re in New Zealand waters.”

RNZ: ” Will you take on the recommendations that have – that may cause problems economically? Make it unviable?”

Carter: “What we want to do is… the first thing I’d like to make is that foreign charter vessels operate and improve the efficiency of the New Zealand fishing industry. We therefore want to know what would be the economic impacts of these further changes.

Radio NZ: Minister talks about crackdown on foreign fishing vessels

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What comes out of David Carter’s comments is that,

  1. The governments wants to consult with fishing companies before implementing any further recommendations. These would be (some of) the same fishing companies that contracted and used Foreign Charter Vessels to catch fish for them, to sell for big profits to overseas markets.
  2. The govermnment “want[s] to know what would be the economic impacts of thse further changes – before implementing any further recommendations. Obviously, “economic impact” is more important than the maltreatment, abuse, and exploitation of other human beings?
  3. According to Carter, the government will have to “investigate” the recommendations further as “ some of them would have, or potentialy could have, economic impacts on the industry“?

Two months?!

And yet this is the same government that passed legislation through the House in one day, to satisfy the demands of Warner Bros corporate executives!

Where were the concerns of government on that issue? Where was the investigation into what “economic impact” that would, or could be, in fast-tracking law through Parliament at a speed rarely seen in this country?

Where was the desire for thegovernment to seek comment from the  film industry, before considering  legislation”?

What we are seeing here is the amorality of a government that values the glitter and glamour of a Hollywood “epic” movie above  the fact that modern-day slavery is taking place in our territorial waters, and New Zealand companies are profiting from the misery and violence   inflicted on other human beings.

The NZ Seafood Industry Council laid it all out last October (but we were too pre-occupied with lost penguins and hillside signs, to take note of this news item,

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‘We need more cheap foreign fishermen’

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New Zealand’s fishing industry needs more cheap Asian labour not less, the Seafood Industry Council (SeaFIC) told a ministerial inquiry into the use of foreign charter vessels.

FCVs, flagged in mainly Asian states, operate New Zealand’s deep sea fishery with around 2000 low wage crews from Third World countries.

SeaFIC says New Zealand-flagged fishing boats cannot get local crews and they now want to import low wage labour as well.

Despite high unemployment it was hard to get New Zealanders to work on fishing boats.

New Zealanders did not like being at sea for weeks at a time, working in uncomfortable conditions and living in an isolated and enforced alcohol and drug free environment.

“It is not seen as an attractive work place for many people.”

SeaFIC says FCVs hiring Asian crews was no different to companies going to low wage countries.

“Many New Zealand businesses have exported jobs previously done in New Zealand to other countries with wage rates considerably less than minimum wage rates in New Zealand.”

It named Fisher & Paykel, Fonterra and Icebreaker.

Air New Zealand uses Chinese crew on its China service who are paid less than New Zealanders doing the same jobs.

Without referring to the Rena grounding it said most ships operating on the New Zealand coast are crewed by people from the same low wage countries used by FCVs.

It said New Zealand was seen in other countries as a source of cheap skilled labour and pointed to Qantas hiring New Zealand crews at rates lower than Australians would get. The New Zealand film industry was based on cheap labour, SeaFIC said. 

There were not enough New Zealanders to fill vacancies created if FCVs were ordered out.

The inquiry opened public submissions in Wellington today. It will hold hearings in Auckland, Nelson and Christchurch.

It was set up following a University of Auckland study into FCVs and media reports citing cases of labour abuse and exploitation.

Last year an aged FCV, Oyang 70, sank off the Otago coast, killing six.

The government in setting up the inquiry said they were concerned at the damage to reputation New Zealand was suffering over FCVs and allegations it  was a form of human trafficking.

SeaFIC say there is no evidence that FCV companies are failing to pay their crews according a code of practice which requires crews to receive the New Zealand minimum wage.

New Zealand’s reputation is not a function of compliance by the companies, but the result of public opinion.

“The intensity of comment in the media, whether based on fact or allegation, may present risk to international reputation.”

FCV crews do not pay tax or Accident Compensation levies.

“A tax paying, single New Zealand resident not entitled to any additional tax or welfare assistance would need to earn $37,650 gross ($32,760 net) to be better paid than a crewman on a FCV.”

Through FCVs, the fishing industry was transferring over $65 million annually to citizens of developing countries.

By comparison, it said, the New Zealand Government gave just $31 million to Oxfam and Volunteer Service Aboard to work in such countries.

SeaFIC admitted that their submission was not supported by all its members and amounted only to a majority view of fishing quota owners who use FCVs.

Source

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Words fail me.

Actually, no. I do have words.

On this issue, the people and government of New Zealand  has let itself down badly. For the pursuit of money, we have turned a blind eye to naked, brutal, exploitation. We have lost sight of  simple, common decency and how to treat foreign workers.

As far as I’m concerned, if the U.S. government, or Europe, decided to boycott our seafood exports – then we richly deserve it.

This is what happens when a society is governed by the dictates of the “free market”.

Where do we go from here, as a society? Do we continue down the road of valuing profit before human dignity? Or do we reassess our priorities and decide that we need to regain some of the basic  values of fairness that we seem to have forgotten in the last 27 years?

It’s our call.

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Previous Blogpost

Roosting Chickens

Is this where New Zealand is heading?

Additional Reading

Radio NZ: Parliament debates Hobbit law change

Helen Kelly (NZ Council of Trade Unions): The Hobbit Dispute

Employment Relations (Film Production Work) Amendment Bill

Legislative History: Employment Relations (Film Production Work) Amendment Act 2010 No 120, Public Act

Slavery and Food Security: The Fishing Fleet

 

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High milk prices? Well, now we know why…

26 August 2011 5 comments

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I guess this explains why milk, other dairy products, tomatoes, etc,  are so expensive.

And the Minister for Agriculture, David Carter, can save taxpayers the expense of a Parliamentary inquiry into why milk is so expensive here in NZ…

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I guess it wasn’t such a bright idea to allow supermarkets to buy each other up, until we had only two, nation-wide chains remaining. Duopolies are not noted for promoting competition and keeping prices down.

New Zealand’s supermarket duopoly:

Progressive Enterprises

Foodstuffs

Chalk up yet another cock-up for the free market, unregulated economy?

I think so.

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+++ Updates +++

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Parliament’s Commerce Select Committee inquiry into milk prices gets under way,

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Full Story

Full Story

Full Story

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Related issues

Why did the fat kiwi cross the road?

Hey, People! Leave our kids alone!

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Are we being milked? asks Minister…

7 August 2011 3 comments

So the Commerce Commission decided not to hold an inquiry into milk pricing in New Zealand?

But Minister of Agriculture, David Carter, still wants a Parliamentary inquiry to investigate the matter?

Hmmmm…  it’s not because the election is only three months away, and National is fearful that Labour and the Greens will be making this an election issue? Surely, politicians can’t be that cynical and manipulative?

Of course not.

What was I thinking.

Perhaps if I might be so bold, and offer Mr Carter a word of explanation as to milk pricing. The price of milk is determined by the free market. The same free market that National endorses, advocates, and embraces with all it’s manly  ‘love’.  The same free market that National has ordered TVNZ to pursue, by cancelling it’s Public Charter. The same free market it chases with the Trans Pacific Partnership free-trade negotiations.

Yes, National is the party of the Free Market. As John Key told our American cuzzies on 22 July,

“At the most basic level, we share a commitment to the democratic, capitalist system.”

So there you have it, folks.  In a nut-sell. Or milk bottle, if you prefer. We are a capitalist system,which means that the price of milk is determined by what you, the public, are willing to pay for it.

Something to consider of 26 November – Election Day.

As for Mr Carter’s call for a  Parliamentary Inquiry – my money is on nothing ever coming off it. Much like National’s much-vaunted Jobs Summit in February, 2009.

Remember that little farce?

Postscript #1;

On TVNZ’s Q + A,  David Carter was interviewed by Guyon Espiner, who asked the Minister if two supermarket chains offered enough competition at the retail end of milk distribution. Carter replied that there was competition and said,

“Well, if people want to buy the expensive brands, they can pay $4.80 up to $5.40. They can buy a cheaper brand at that supermarket for $3.30. They can go round the corner to a dairy, quite often, depending on where they live, and perhaps buy that for $2.90. What I’m saying is there’s a big variation on the retail price of milk.”

‘Scuse me?!?!

Milk is cheaper at corner dairy’s, and on sale for $2.90?!?!

Pray tell, Mr Carter – what colour is the sky on your planet? Because on our world, corner dairy-stores are the more expensive option to buy goods.

National members of parliament – out of touch with reality since 1936.

Full transcript of interview

Postscript #2;

Postscript #3;

*sighs* I didn’t have to be Ken Ring to know this was going to happen (though Ken would’ve been a month wrong in his predictions).  It’s Election Year. This is when politicians play silly buggers up to November 26th…