Friday, October 31, 2008

Tuatara Re-Establish Mainland Nests in New Zealand

Adult male tuatara, Karori Wildlife Sanctuary

In the terrific news category, tuatara - with a little help from their human friends - have re-established themselves on the New Zealand mainland, nesting for the first time in over 200 years.

Relegated to offshore islands after egg predation by invasive species such by rats, most notably the the kiore or Polynesian rat, the tuatara were re-introduced to the North Island in December 2005 when 70 tuatara were released into the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary on the outskirts of Wellington, the capital city. A further 130 tuatara were released into the sanctuary in 2007.

The Karori Wildlife Sanctuary is an ecological island of 225 hectares or just under a square mile bordered by a pest-exclusion fence to prevent non-native predators of native birds and reptiles decimating the native species.

Now, during routine maintenance work on the fence, Sanctuary workers have discovered the first known tuatara nest on the mainland. The nest contains 4 eggs. These may hatch anytime between now and sometime in March.

The first four tuatara eggs to be found in the wild on mainland New Zealand

The tuatara is endemic to New Zealand and is often referred to as "a living fossil" because all other species close to the tuatara became extinct about 60 million years ago.

The reproduction rate of tuatara is very low, even without threats from predators, because they breed only every 2-4 years and female tuatara only become fertile around 13 years of age. Their average life span is about 60 years, though some have lived to over 100 years of age.

The tuatara has a legendary "third eye" on top of its head, actually a parietal eye that may play a role in detecting light or in processing UV light to make vitamin D. This "eye" is only visible in the young tuatara, becoming covered over at about 3-4 months of age.

CONGRATULATIONS to the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary for this major contribution towards restoring the Tuatara to the New Zealand Mainland!!!!

New Zealand Gains Currency Swap Facility with Federal Reserve as New Zealand Election Looms

Much under-reported by the New Zealand news media and certainly overlooked for its significance, the Reserve Bank of New Zealand announced on 29 October in a short press release that the US Federal Reserve's Federal Open Market Committee had approved a US$15 billion (NZ$26 billion) temporary reciprocal currency swap facility.

The currency swap will permit the provision of US dollar liquidity to New Zealand markets up to $15 billion through to 30 April 2009.

The currency swap, though modest by international standards, is similar to those used in the past month or two to ensure liquidity in the European Union, Japan, and elsewhere, where the Fed has essentially adopted a de facto international lender of last resort function.

When combined with evidence of tightening liquidity in New Zealand and the mis-management of the introduction of the recent introduced deposit guarantee system, the currency swap facility is no doubt an important lifeline for the Reserve Bank in its liquidity management in the months ahead.

Evidence is mounting of emerging liquidity problems. Expectations are that New Zealand trading banks which raise loan funds from issuing short-term commercial paper in London, a market that has effectively dried up in the short run, are very likely to have problems raising funds in the months ahead.

Reserve Bank data shows that $100 million of funds have been drawn down from the Reserve Bank's mortgage-backed securities liquidity facility recently. And the major trading banks have been quick to sign up for the government's deposit guarantee system.

Managed funds outside the deposit guarantee system are now experiencing a flight of funds to guaranteed deposits in other institutions, causing AXA New Zealand to freeze three of its mortgage-backed funds with $225 million under management.

Problems with the coverage of the Australian deposit guarantee system has seen Australian managed funds freeze more than A$24 billion in order to remain solvent.

Within the next 24 hours, the New Zealand government is also expected to announce its plans for a guarantee system for wholesale deposits to shore up the liquidity concerns surrounding the inability of the trading banks to secure funds in the London market for their lending operations within New Zealand. This should, perhaps, have been a first step in any deposit guarantee system rather than the retail deposit guarantee, especially as there was no imminent threat of a depositer run on banks.

Ports of Lyttelton and Otago in Early Merger Talks

Port Lyttelton from the cemetery, 2007

The Ports of Lyttelton and Otago (Port Chalmers) in the South Island have announced they are in the early stage of merger talks.

Between them the two ports handled 22.5 percent of New Zealand's total exports in the June year ending 2007 (Otago, 13.6 percent; Lyttelton, 8.7 percent).

Combined they handled 9.4 percent of New Zealand's imports in 2007 (Otago 1.1 percent, Lyttelton 8.3 percent).

These export and import flows reflect the relative importance of the ports as shippers of South Island exports as well as the lower population density in the South Island hence the lower share of imports moving through the two ports.

The two ports are local government trading enterprises: Lyttelton Port of Christchurch, LPC, is majority-owned by the Christchurch City Council's investment arm, Christchurch City Holdings. Port Otago is owned by the Otago regional council.

New Zealand ports are under pressure from shipping lines to rationalize by reducing the number of ports handling international trade to boost productivity in order to reduce freight rates. See earlier post here on merger talks between Ports of Auckland and Tauranga in the North Island.

The two port companies were at loggerheads two years ago when Lyttelton attempted a deal with a Hong Kong-based ports operator but Otago moved to block the deal by buying a strategic bloc of shares in Lyttelton Port to stall the deal.

These were seen as defensive moves to counter the perceived intent the Maersk shipping line, which handles 60 percent of New Zealand's container trade, to force a re-organization of New Zealand ports into a hub-spokes system in which hub ports in the two or three major ports would carry the bulk of the international shipping trade.

In the South Island this would translate into either Lyttelton or Otago becoming the hub port, but not both. One would be relegated to a feeder port status, serving as a feeder port to the hub ports or lose significant traffic.

Now it seems the ports have patched up their differences to try a new attempt to secure a merger between the two main southern ports, perhaps as a strategic defensive move to countervail pressures from shipping companies to force the elimination of one or the other port from hub status.

The benefits claimed from integration of the two ports operations are reduced duplication of capital - and one would assume labour, a touchy subject on the waterfront, environmental benefits from better road and rail transport to and from the ports, increased productivity, and the joint development of new services.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

National's Emergency Worker Assistance $42 million Package in New Zealand Election Campaign

National leader John Key unveiled the party's emergency economic assistance policy for those who become unemployed as a result of the economic crisis.

For families eligible for tax credits under Working For Families, the in-work tax credit, valued at $60 per week, will continue for up to 16 weeks after a worker is laid off. Additionally, the accommodation supplement available to unemployed workers will be raised up to $100 per week to assist in making rent and mortgage payments.

The package is estimated by National to cost $42 million.

In addressing the distribution of benefits received by banks and the unemployed, Key reminded banks that the taxpayer was funding the deposit guarantee system and there was an expectation that banks would "be very careful about the manner in which they deal with customers who may, as a consequence of the global financial crisis, find it hard to meet their obligations."

As the election campaign heads into its final week, the economic policies of the two major parties are becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish from one another. This may pose a greater risk for National as it attempts to secure a vote sufficient to give it a clear majority to govern without relying on support from minor parties such as the Maori Party.

Halloween in New Zealand - Cultural Fusion or Confusion?

Halloween is a relatively recent import into New Zealand popular culture. Here's one take on the cultural fusion - or confusion - it unleashes in a multi-cultural society in the South Pacific.

Overseas Votes Could Make The Difference in New Zealand General Election

"On current trends, about 50 percent more Kiwis overseas are likely to vote this year than in 2005," according to Ivan Moss, chief executive of the Kiwi Expats Association (Kea) network.

As of Wednesday, 56,152 overseas New Zealanders had enrolled to vote, and if patterns seen in previous elections are repeated, this will rise to around 60,000 by election day. This is, however, just a 10th of Kiwis living abroad.

If only 70 percent of those enrolled vote, that will make a record 42,000 overseas votes in this year's election, compared with 28,000 in 2005.

A recent paper by Kiwi Alan Gamlen, working on his PhD in political geography at Oxford University, shows that relatively small numbers of overseas votes have changed previous elections.

As is well-known by even the casual student of NZ history, the overseas vote of soldiers still abroad after World War I defeated the 1919 prohibition referendum. In 1943, the overseas vote, again largely military, tipped the balance and ensured the re-election of the Fraser-led Labour Government.

More recently, Gamlen suggests that in 1993 overseas votes appeared to be "the feather that tipped the final result in National's favour" in the decisive Waitaki electorate which resulted in a National party majority of one in parliament.

"Because overseas voting patterns tend to be different, Kiwis overseas could make a real difference in this year's election," said Mr Moss.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Labour Steals A March Over National on Emergency Unemployment Policy in Election Campaign

Stealing a march on National which is expected to announce its policy to respond to the effects of the global economic crisis, Labour's leader Helen Clark released details of her party's emergency unemployment benefit today.

The normal waiting period for unemployment benefits will be reduced to 1-2 weeks and means-testing will not be applied to the first 13 weeks of benefit payment. Only those laid off or made redundant would be eligible.

Labour estimates the cost of the transitional assistance package at $50 million, with the funding coming from within existing government revenues.

Green Co-Leader Blind Sides Key Taking New Zealand General Election to the Mall

Seeking to confront National leader John Key on his party's apparent backsliding on the Kyoto Protocol to combat global climate change and statements that farmers will be exempt from an emissions trading scheme (ETS) under a National government, Green Party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons went shopping for Key at a Kapiti Coast mall.

According to Fitzsimons, National MPs in Hawkes Bay have been telling farmers that these positions are part of National's environmental policy.

Key told Fitzsimons that National's policy is to remain committed to the Kyoto Protocol but that National will be reviewing how the ETS affects farmers. Nonetheless, National will be retaining some form of ETS.

Since both leaders of the majority parties have refused to appear on the same campaign platform as minor party leaders, Fitzsimons decided to take matters in her own hands to get to speak with Key directly.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

New Zealand On Screen - Video on Demand!

Last week saw the opening of an on-line treasure chest of New Zealand video and film by NZ On Air, the agency that funds local production of New Zealand content for broadcast.

Since 1989 NZ On Air has funded over 15,000 hours of local television production. Now its putting a lot of it on-line. So far over 250 titles are up, with more to come.

Dip into the treasure trove to sample the wide range of topics and people that are New Zealand-Aotearoa.

For a taste of Kiwiana - the icons that symbolize Kiwi life, for a touch of nostalgia see:

Kiwiana (1996) - the pavlova, the jandal...

Or if you just want a bit of demolition derby, take a look at Kaikohe Demolition, for stock car mayhem and the people that make it happen. (This is for my cousin John, the ancient "stockie" who races stock cars at Woodford Glen just outside Christchurch).

Kaikohe Demolition (2004) - meet a Northland community that loves its stock car racing.

Don't get mud on your ice cream!!!

One of the best demo entries I've seen is the outhouse on a trailer entry at Ellesmere, Canterbury a few years back.

Labour Party's Stance on Entrenching Maori Seats

Helen Clark, Labour Party leader, has said "I don't have any particular difficulty with entrenching those" Maori seats that are created on the basis of the numbers of voters registered on the Maori electoral rolls.

She clarified that she meant entrenching the seats through the electoral option rather than entrenching a set number of seats.

Entrenching the Maori seats means that a 75 percent majority of parliament would be required to abolish the seats.

The Maori Party, likely to play a pivotal role in any coalition or support agreement with a major party post-election, has made it a condition of support for a major party to form a government that the Maori seats be entrenched.

The political problem is less with Labour and more with National since National has declared it will seek to abolish the Maori seats by 2014, although National leader John Key has said during the election campaign that this position is "not the bottom line" on the issue.

Monday, October 27, 2008

National's Infrastructure Policy in the New Zealand Election

National party leader John Key announced his party's election policy on infrastructure on Monday. More details here.

A National government would spend $8.55 billion on new infrastructure over the next six years, some $3.7 billion more than the Labour's infrastructure policy provides for.

National sees its policy as part of a "stepped up" capital spending plan to act as a counter-cyclical macroeconomic management plan to deal with the forecast decline in economic activity resulting from the global financial crisis.

Key identified several major projects, already announced as part of National's election policy, that would expand New Zealand's infrastructure. Expanding the broadband network will be the single largest project, costing $1.5 billion over six years. Roading and other transport projects, including the Waikato expressway, will total $750 million and additional prison facilities at a cost of $315 million will be constructed. National will also increase the building programme for schools by $500 million over three years.

Further infrastructure projects will be announced later this week.

Infrastructure projects will be funded in part by capital channeled through the 40 percent of contributions in the New Zealand Superannuation Fund being directed to the purchase of NZ-based assets. Key has been reluctant to state whether the deposit guarantee fees payable by the major trading banks, estimated at $100 million, will be used to help finance infrastructure despite speculation that National will do so. Key has said National will not borrow to finance infrastructure.

National pledges to streamline and speed up resource consents required under the Resource Management Act (RMA). A "Priority Consent" will be introduced to streamline resource consents for major infrastructure projects of "critical national importance". While environmental assessment will still be required, consents will be removed to the national level with local councils no longer involved in the priority consent process. A decision on priority consents will be required within 9 months.

Older voters, and students of recent NZ economic history, will recall National's "fast track procedure" that was rammed through in the National Development Act of 1979, an environmental impact assessment being required as a response to appease public resistance to fast tracking projects in the "national interest" that might otherwise be subject to insufficient public oversight.

Although only three projects were fast-tracked before the legislation was repealed by a Labour government in 1986, a National government in 1981 narrowed the basis for environmental assessment and the grounds for judicial review of such reports. Voters might well be best advised to adopt a "once bitten, twice shy" approach to this particular element of National's infrastructure policy.

Labour's Infrastructure Policy in the New Zealand General Election

The Labour party's infrastructure policy released during the New Zealand election campaign envisions a a twenty year plan for sustainable infrastructure development. More details here.

Over that time period, Labour would seek to achieve a 90% renewable electricity generation target, work with local government to set priorities for local infrastructure investment, and improve New Zealand's water quality and sustainability of water usage.

Having re-nationalised rail track and then rail operations into the Kiwi Rail state-owned enterprise, Labour intends to expand long-haul rail freight as part of its plan for a more sustainable transportation policy. It will also support creation of a electricified rail network for the greater Auckland metro area including the North Shore to expand commuter rail and ease road congestion in the country's largest urban area.

Like National, Labour will also accelerate the pace of investment in the broadband network to improve productivity in business, government, universities, hospitals, and schools.

To fund its long term infrastructure plan, Labour will issue long-term infrastructure bonds which have a tax-free inflation-indexed element. Additionally, public-private partnerships will be adopted where it is cost-effective to do so to reduce the burden on the taxpayer of financing projects where infrastructure bond funds are insufficient.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Old Marching "Girls" Told To Wear Pants

CRAIG SIMCOX/The Dominion Post

In another ageist attack, women in the masters grade of Marching Girls (women over 30) in New Zealand have been told by Marching NZ, the national organisation, to cover up those legs.

Marching NZ claims that some marching "girls" have been put off joining by the short skirt requirement, but traditionalists argue that the legs must be visible in order to assess leg action as part of judging the quality of the marching performance.

Marching girls is a competitive marching activity invented in the 1930s to encourage teenage girls & young women to improve their fitness and health during the Great Depression. It was heavily influenced by military standards with respect to marching and uniforms. The sport has declined significantly in recent years as other pastimes lure young women away, ironically centred around "couch potato" lifestyles.

The Glenbrae marching team of Palmerston North, comprised of master grade marchers ranging in age from 32 to 65 with an average age of 40 something, go through their paces above.

Tartan trousers anyone?

Note: The term "marching girls" is still used by those participating in this activity.

Labour Narrows the Gap - Colmar Brunton Poll on New Zealand General Election

The latest TVNZ Colmar Brunton poll suggests Labour is closing the gap on National with less than a fortnight to go till the General Election in New Zealand.

National dropped 3 percent to 47 percent support in the latest poll while Labour dropped 1 to 35 percent - a gap of 12 percent.

But the real gap closer is the surge in support for the Greens - up 3 to 8 percent (a level mirrored in other recent polls) and the Maori Party, up 1 to 3 percent but the latter has a strong chance of securing most of the 7 Maori electorate seats. The Colmar-Brunton polls assumes the Maori Party will take four of those seats. ACT support was unchanged on 2 percent, while NZ First moved up 1 to 3 percent.

Based on these poll results, and United Future's declaration yesterday that it will support National to form a government after the election, National could govern with 59 seats + 3 ACT + 1 United Future in a 122 seat Parliament.

A Labour-led coalition of 44 seats + 10 Greens + 1 Progressive = 55, would leave Labour needing the 4 or more Maori Party seats and possibly 1 NZ First seat (Winston Peters) but still short of a majority.

But it would take only a swing of 2-3 percent towards Labour and its support parties for a coalition to be possible.

An election on a knife edge, indeed. And one in which overseas Kiwi votes might count more than ever in affecting the result. Soooooooooooo - GET OUT THE VOTE, whoever you decide to vote for!

What Deserts A Sinking Ship? United Future Opts for National in New Zealand General Election

United Future, or more precisely, its leader, Peter Dunne does.

United Future leader & one-man band, Peter Dunne, has brokered a deal with the National Party to support National in any post-election governance arrangement. Currently serving in the Labour government as Minister of Revenue, Dunne has rejected Labour - with effect after the election, of course.

Applying the Peter Principle - reworked by Mr Dunne as "What's good for Peter, is good for the party and nation" - he has negotiated himself a nice cabinet spot in any National government after the election.

Apparently after three years at the public trough collecting a minister's salary & perks it has dawned on Mr Dunne that Labour is no longer for him or United Future.

While arguing that a Labour-Green coalition allied with the Maori Party would pull government too far left of centre, Mr Dunne is no doubt more worried that such a multi-party coalition would squeeze him out of another run at the trough with the larger minority parties getting ahead in the queue for ministerial spots. And he has said as much, cloaked in the code of United Future having difficulty getting its policies addressed.

United Future is barely posting electoral support at 0.4 percent of the party vote; only Dunne's electorate seat keeps the party represented in parliament.

Even with 1 United Future seat on their side, National may still have a struggle to form a government without the Maori Party as latest polls show the gap between National and Labour coalitions narrowing.

Reserve Bank Approves Purchase of Mortgage-Backed Securities from Two Banks

The Reserve Bank has agreed to purchase NZ$8.7 billion of residential mortgage-backed securities from the ANZ National and Westpac banks should they require a liquidity injection.

Tightening liquidity in New Zealand does not stem from problems with domestic
residential mortgage-backed securities since the problems of US-type sub-prime lending have not been permitted to occur in New Zealand. The problem, however, is in banks re-financing their needs in global financial markets where credit has become extremely tight. The parent companies of the major trading banks in New Zealand, headquartered in Australia, have, however, been writing down bad loans in recent quarters.

In early May this year, the Reserve Bank expanded its lender of last resort facility to trading banks by permitting residential mortgage-backed securities to be posted as collateral in return for Reserve Bank loans.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Canterbury Takes Air New Zealand Rugby Cup Final

In a cliff-hanger final, Canterbury kept a nose ahead of Wellington in the Air New Zealand Cup final to win 7-6 in wet and slippery conditions in Wellington that contributed to an error riddled game.

Resolute defence, a hallmark of this year's team, made all the difference in Canterbury's favour in a low scoring game played in poor weather conditions.

Canterbury now adds the Cup to the Super 14 trophy the Canterbury Crusaders won earlier in the season and can justifiably claim to be New Zealand's champion provincial side.

Opinion Polls Come Thick & Fast But Unclear Predictors of New Zealand Election Outcome

Political opinion polls released at the end of this week show varying results creating difficulties for interpreting post-election outcomes.

Results of the various polls can be seen here, though the latest Morgan poll data doesn't seem to have been added yet (at time of this posting).

Following on from a TV3 poll that showed National gaining 59 seats, short of a majority in the next parliament, requiring National to gain the Maori Party's support to govern, came a NZ Herald Digipoll and a Morgan poll.

The Herald poll showed National dropping a percent to 50.4 percent of voter support, but still sufficient for National to govern alone. Labour support was recorded by the pollsters as up 1.3 percent to 37 percent with the Greens at 5.5 percent support.

The Morgan poll shows National with an 11 percent lead over Labour: National, 43 percent - up 2.5 points, with Labour dropping5.5 points to 32 percent.

Despite the 11 point gap, the Morgan poll suggests that the gap between a National coalition or grouping and a Labour-led one was much narrower thanks to a surge of support for the Greens rising to 11.5 percent as Labour supporters seemed to abandon Labour for the Greens.

Thus, a National plus ACT grouping would have 46.5 percent support with 43.5 percent for Labour and the Greens, a gap of only 3 percent.

On these polls, it's going to be a close finish with the Maori Party likely to be the pivotal factor in determining which of the two major parties will form a new government - or maybe not!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Kakapo Recovers from Lead Poisoning

Lee, a male kakapo (the world's only flightless parrot species), has responded to treatment for lead poisoning at the Auckland Zoo’s New Zealand Centre for Conservation Medicine (NZCCM).

Transferred in April from Codfish Island, off Stewart Island, to Anchor Island in Fiordland, Lee was discovered to have lost a kilogram of weight by August, dropping his weight to 1.2 kg. He was then removed to Auckland Zoo for emergency treatment. Blood tests established that Lee had lead poisoning and treatment was commenced to remove the lead from his system by use of calcium compounds. The lead poisoning may have resulted from a fishing sinker or shotgun pellets in the environment.

Lee is now up to 1.7 kg bodyweight and will be returned to Codfish Island, his home of 25 years, instead of Anchor Island.

Lee is one of only 91 known kakapo in the world.

TV3 Poll Shows New Zealand Election Tightening Up

The latest TV3 opinion poll of voter preferences in the New Zealand General Election shows the race tightening up, thanks to the MMP voting system, on who will be able to govern after 8 November.

While Labour's support falls to 37.4 percent with National's remaining unchanged at 45.1 percent, the Greens have surged to 8.8 percent in the poll likely reflecting disaffected center-left voters transferring their party vote from Labour to the Greens.

This transfer of support has not been lost on Labour leader Helen Clark who is exhorting: "My message to Labour supporters is if you want a Labour-led government please vote Labour and give us the strength to negotiate later."

The poll results suggest that the new parliament will have an overhang of 123 seats: 57 for National and 47 for Labour, insufficient for either party to command a majority to govern alone.

National could likely cobble together a coalition of support with ACT (2) and United Future (1), giving a total of 60, but still not enough to govern.

National has ruled out an alliance with Winston Peters' NZ First party, which might only provide 1 additional seat. NZ First support grew to 3.5 percent in the latest poll but not enough to cross the 5 percent threshold for the party vote to ensure list representation in parliament.

Labour, on the other hand, has more "friends", having been careful at least to keep the flap open on the big tent. The Greens have announced this week (see earlier post) that their objectives are more closely aligned to Labour's policies.

The Maori Party co-leader Dr Pita Sharples, responding to Maori voter preferences for a coalition agreement with Labour rather than National, is also leaning in Labour's direction while his co-leader Turiana Turia is keeping the door open to National.

Turia has even been ready to forgive and forget within a day or so the racist comments of National's Immigration spokesman, Lockwood Smith, about Asian and Pasifika workers. Quite what she expects to achieve in terms of significant policy advances for Maori with a National-led government is at this stage largely left unexplained by Ms Turia.

Labour, then, could cobble together a coalition: Labour (47), Progressives (1), Greens (11), totalling 59 seats. Again, insufficient to command a majority in parliament and therefore the power to govern.

Thus, the Maori Party with a likely 6 to 7 seats will hold the balance of power, being the king - or queen - maker in the new parliament, determining who sits on the Treasury benches.

For National, leader John Key is going to have to work hard on damage-control as some of his dinosaur shadow cabinet members make racist comments or insist on drawing attention to road toll schemes that would cost the average citizen as much per week as the National tax cut they would receive.

In the remaining time before the election, Key will also have to start showing a more conciliatory and bridge-building stance towards Maori, something that will be a high wire act - perhaps beyond his abilities or inclination - as steps in this direction will likely alienate many of his core National voters.

For the Maori Party leadership the stakes are high. If they follow their voter support, they will gather under Labour's big tent where they could count on the Greens as allies to exert significant pressure on Labour to improve their performance on Maori issues.

Or Maori Party leadership can get out in front of their base support and align with National. This bears grave risks: National is likely to disappoint on Maori issues and the Maori Party faces a rout in three years time when disaffected voters in the Maori electorates could very well toss out Maori Party MPs in favour of Labour ones, returning to a longer term alliance of Maori electoral support for Labour and setting back the Maori Party cause.

Negative Equity in New Zealand Homes Rises

The Press reports that Chris Eves, Professor of Property Studies at Lincoln University, estimates that more than 130,000 households may have dipped into negative equity as property values drop below mortgage amounts owed on the property.

The problem is of greatest consequence for homeowners who hold mortgages amounting to 80 per cent of the value of a home. As economic activity stalls, an increasing number of households experiencing negative equity will find it increasingly difficult to meet mortgage payments and risk a mortgagee sale (foreclosure).

Median prices nationwide have dropped nearly 6 percent in the year ending September 2008, according to the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand, but larger declines may be expected as the recession bites harder in the year ahead. Some forecasts suggest a further 20 percent drop in property values.

Real Estate Institute of New Zealand

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Reserve Bank Chops OCR Interest Rate by Full 1 Percent

Comparative Central Bank Interest Rates - New Zealand, Australia, United States
Fairfax Media

Reserve Bank Governor, Alan Bollard, has chopped the Official Cash Rate by a full one percent to 6.5 percent in his October review of monetary conditions. It was the single largest cut in the rate since the OCR was introduced in 1999. The OCR is the rate at which the Reserve Bank lends to or borrows from the NZ banking system.

With the increasing impact of the global economic crisis showing up in New Zealand's domestic recession in the form of weakening export demand, the Reserve Bank's hand was forced into a large cut. Market sentiment is that a further 0.75 percent can be expected in the next few months.

Domestically, the weakening of the housing market, tightening credit, a decline in Fonterra's payout to dairy farmers next year, and increasing unemployment are combining to shift the Reserve Bank's concern to offsetting weakening demand from inflation control as price increases are moderating.

New Zealand Deposit Insurance Capped at $1 million Per Account

John Whitehead, Secretary to the Treasury, has announced that New Zealand's opt-in two year limited deposit guarantee scheme will cap the size of deposit that is covered by the guarantee to NZ$1 million per depositor per guaranteed institution.

The contingent liability of the deposit guarantee is estimated at NZ$450 billion.

The Reserve Bank and the Treasury have yet to announce whether wholesale deposits between banks will be subject to a deposit guarantee. Thus far, the government has held that such a guarantee is not necessary.

Maori Party Leadership Division As General Election Heats Up?

Maori Party co-leader Dr. Pita Sharples appears to be getting the message loud and clear from the Maori electorate that voters prefer a post-election agreement with Labour rather than National.

"We would prefer in the first instance that Labour got the higher share of the vote, because that's what our people want," Dr Sharples told The Press in Christchurch.

His co-leader Turiana Turia expressed surprise at Dr Sharples comment, continuing to take the line that the Maori Party remains interested in talking to all political parties about post-election arrangements.

Polls indicate that the Maori Party is likely to win 6 or 7 of the 7 Maori seats.

Maori Party Seeks Entrenched Maori Seats, Complicates Post - General Election Deal with National

The Maori Party has released its Treaty of Waitangi policy which includes a policy to entrench in law the Maori seats in parliament. This would mean a 75 per cent majority vote in parliament would be required to repeal the seats. The current law permits a repeal by simple majority.

The party is also opposed to any repeal without Maori consent through either a referendum or constitutional review.

Co-leader Tariana Turia has made it clear that support for a member's bill entrenching the seats would be a requirement of any agreement with a major party seeking support from the Maori Party in any post-election arrangement to form a government or seek supply & support.

This requirement makes even more difficult any post-election agreement between National, expected to gain the most seats in the new parliament though short of a working majority, and the Maori Party. National has declared its intent to abolish the Maori Seats by 2014; however, National leader John Key has said his party's Maori seat policy is not a bottom line.

The Maori Party's policy would seek to extend Maori representation to different levels of government. At the local level, separate Maori representation would occur on local government councils. At the national level, Maori representation would be created on the boards of state-owned enterprises, crown companies, crown entities, crown research institutes and district health boards.

Kaikoura Kicks Off Electorate Campaign As Part of General Election

The Marlborough Express reports that the battle for the votes of electors in the Kaikoura electorate got off to a calm start when the six candidates addressed a small crowd of 20 citizens.

Colin King, National Party MP for Kaikoura, accused the Greens of policy "bordering on loopiness" after Green candidate Steffan Browning confronted the major party candidates about their poor performance and policy proposals on the environment. All candidates rejected the use nuclear energy to meet the country's future energy needs. Only the Labour and Green candidates supported retention of the current MMP voting system.

Kaikoura is well-known for its marine environment, including whales, seal colony, dolphins, and seabirds.

At the sound of politicking, the sperm whales likely took a deep dive into the Kaikoura Canyon while the Dusky dolphins trapped closer to the surface probably tried to divert themselves by "playing games'.

Racist Comments Inflame New Zealand Election Campaign

National Party spokesman on Immigration, Lockwood Smith, made the following remarks to the Marlborough Express about Asian and Pasifika immigrant farm workers:

“There are some skills in the vineyard that some people are perhaps better at, for example some of the pruning … some of the Asian workers have been more productive … because their hands are smaller. Some of them [employers] are having to teach them [Pasifika seasonal workers] things like how to use a toilet or shower.”

Smith has been charged with racism by his political opponents and has been required by his leader, John Key, to issue a public apology. The Maori Party, likely to be vital to National to form a voting block to form a majority in the new parliament, has criticised the comments as racist and questioned whether Smith is fit to serve as a Minister of Immigration in a new cabinet.

No doubt Lockwood thinks 5 year olds are suitable orchard workers too since they have small hands compared to adults. Will National be repealing child labour laws if elected? Is horticultural work "women's work" because women generally have smaller hands than men? And what's the fascination with showers and toilets? Surely, employers are not incapable of assisting employees to adapt technologically and culturally? Perhaps they need to adapt too.

The remarks rekindle memories of the Muldoon National government of the 1970s - early 1980s in which a number of Cabinet ministers uttered fatuous, racist comments without much political consequence. Hopefully, New Zealand society has evolved sufficiently since then to no longer tolerate such nonsense.

Black Caps Save Face in First Test Cricket Against Bangladesh

The New Zealand Black Caps saved face in the first test of their series against Bangladesh in Bangladesh. After a weak batting effort in their first innings, the Black Caps compiled their highest total in a 4th innings in a test on foreign soil in a 343-test history. Full scorecard at

Needing 317 to win, opener Aaron Redmond (79), Daniel Vettori (76) and Daniel Flynn (49) provided the necessary backbone to position Oram and Mills to add the final few runs to complete the victory.

Vettori provided a stable and experienced presence for his younger batsmen in the middle after he came in as nightwatchman near the close of the 4th day. This settled the innings and turned the innings in New Zealand's favour as the Vettori and Flynn partnership consolidated then chipped away at the run total.

Given the level of youth and inexperience in the Caps' batting line up, more thought should be given to Vettori moving up the batting line-up to play the kind of role he played in this test that would likely not only improve game results but also bring on the younger batsmen's development at a faster pace.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Christchurch Past & Present #8 Sumner Cave Rock Tuawera

Cave Rock - Tuawera, Sumner, circa 1905 - on signal day?
Click on images for larger view.

An elevated view looking east of Sumner Beach, Cave Rock-Tuawera, and Scarborough Head in far background, circa 1905

Cave Rock, known to Maori as Tuawera, is the distinctive landmark at Sumner Beach at the mouth of the Avon-Heathcote Estuary in Christchurch, New Zealand. It has been scrambled over by generations of children on their holidays or weekends over the past hundred years or more.

The signal station atop Cave Rock was used to signal vessels approaching the Sumner bar when the wharf at Ferrymead further up the Estuary was used to unload cargo for Christchurch in the nineteenth century. One of the postcard views shows flags arrayed on lines at the signal station. Given the multitude of flags shown it's likely that these were displayed for some festive occasion rather than for signaling purposes that day.

Sumner Pier & Lifeboat Slip, Cave Rock-Tuawera, circa 1905.
Click on the image to seek crowded pier and numerous people on Cave Rock itself.

The building on the pier and slipway are those of the Sumner Lifeboat Institution, formally constituted since 1898, but informally in existence since 1867 when Joseph Day was appointed signalman and later pilot at Sumner. Day used his pilot boat on many occasions to effect rescues all the way up to his retirement & death soon thereafter in 1912. The lifeboat service is now located at Scarborough, up the beach, and is justifiably proud of its more than 2000 rescues since 1898.

Cave Rock - Tuawera, from beach level, circa 1910s or early 1920s.

The Maori name for Cave Rock is Tuawera - "Destroyed by Fire" - and is derived from the following account. The chief Turakipo of Opawaho pa was rejected in love by Hineao, daughter to the chief Te Ake of Akaroa further around the coast of Banks Peninsula.

(Opawaho is the Maori name for the Heathcote River, one of the two rivers that runs into the Estuary and the present day suburb of Opawa is where the pa was located on the banks of the river).

The spurned Turakipo who was also a tohunga skilled in makutu (black magic; witchcraft) used his powers to will the death of Hineao. Te Ake, devastated by the loss of his daughter, sought utu (revenge) and went to seek training in makutu on the West Coast from the tohunga at Patea.

Upon his return several years later, Te Ake climbed to the top of the hill that overlooks Cave Rock and cast makutu on Turakipo and his people.

Within a very short time, a whale became stranded on the beach beside the Rock. The news quickly spread to Turakipo's people and they flocked to the shore to feast on the rich whale flesh. Turakipo, skilled in makutu, was suspicious and did not feast with his people. After they had eaten, people fell into a deep sleep from which they never awakened. Turakipo and his few followers who were away that day were hunted down and killed by Te Ake's iwi or tribe.

To commemorate this event, the rock became known as Tuawera - "Destroyed by Fire" - an expression symbolising the destruction of an iwi or hapu as though it were a tree felled by kindling fire in holes at its base to weaken its foundation and bring it crashing down.

Source: A W Reed, rev R Calman, Reed Book of Maori Mythology, (Reed, 2004), pp. 429-430.

Greens Labour to Left in New Zealand Post-Election Coalition Speculation

The Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand, with 6 MPs in the current parliament, has evaluated its options for a coalition agreement with one of the two major political parties, concluding it could work with Labour but not National (Green Party press release and 12 point checklist here).

It has nevertheless concluded that the two major parties are closer to each other in terms of green policies than to The Greens.

The Party assessed Labour and National's policies and public statements against a check list of 12 key Green Policy objectives such as reduced fossil fuel use and emissions, increased public transport investment, cleaning up waterways, protecting endangered species and ecosystems, and building a genuine Treaty partnership with Maori.

While neither of the main parties has substantially advanced Green policies, the Greens found that Labour's initiatives to eventually price carbon emissions through the Emissions Trading System, to fund new rail investment, the 40 percent increase in funding for the Department of Conservation since 2005, the increase in the minimum wage, the introduction of Working for Families assistance to low-income families, cumulatively weighed in Labour's favour for Green support.

The Greens concluded, however, that in the area of building a genuine partnership with Maori, Labour's performance is mediocre. Only National's worse performance, eg its declared policy of abolishing the Maori seats by 2014, saves the day for Labour.

While the Greens found some examples of National policy in accord with their own, eg. requiring the New Zealand Superannuation Fund to invest more in New Zealand, Green co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons said that too many of National's policies "headed off down a dead end street. This means that we cannot form a government with National, or support them on confidence and supply, although we could work with them in areas where we have common ground."

Labour leader & PM, Helen Clark, will see a glimmer of hope in the Greens' position. If Labour can close the gap on National then there may be a chance of Labour forming a Labour-Green coalition something that did not result after the 2005 election.

The Greens are the only one of the smaller parties that consistently poll over 5 percent of the party vote in the MMP system required to secure party list seats in parliament. Recent polls show their support at 7 - 9 percent of party support among voters indicating the Greens are likely to retain their 6 seats and possibly gain more.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Law and Order the Key - National Plans Police Increase as Part of Election Policy

On the campaign trail in Auckland, National Party leader John Key announced his party's plan to increase police numbers by 600 by the end of 2011, with 300 to be allocated to high crime rate South Auckland and the other 300 to the rest of New Zealand.

Key criticised the Labour government for only adding 210 front-line officers since 2005 despite an agreement with NZ First to add 1000 front-line officers by mid 2009.

Official police statistics show that since the 2005 general election, the New Zealand Police have recruited 1250 officers of which more 500 are classified as front-line: 210 are assigned general duties, but a further 193 are assigned to fighting organized crime, and 133 others are assigned to traffic policing duties. A police spokesman suggests that some of the 273 community-policing officers could also be regarded as front-line officers.

The New Zealand Police are a national police force organized in 12 decentralized districts. While the force generally remains unarmed, batons may be carried while firearms are carried in limited circumstances by some officers assigned to particular squads or duties and may be carried in some police vehicles. Recently, tasers have been trialed by the New Zealand police and wider adoption of tasers by the police is likely.

Thoroughly Modern Helen Fails to Impress Young Would-Be Voter in New Zealand Election Campaign

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark was taken aback on the election campaign trail when chatting with a class of 10 to 11 year old pupils at Owairaka Primary School in Auckland.

One young lad, Nami, asked the PM: "When is New Zealand going to be modern?"

"Modern?" a startled Helen responded.

Apparently Nami was none too impressed when Thoroughly Modern Helen gave a long response related to improvements being made in broadband delivery, an area of information technology in which New Zealand has lagged in recent years despite very high rates of internet use in the country.

This is in part a result of Telecom NZ, the largest telecom provider, taking short run profits rather than invest in expanding and improving the broadband network until the Government had to resort to increased regulation.

No word on what Nami considers to fall under the heading of "modern", but his elders might have a few thoughts.

Inflation Surges as New Zealand General Election Nears

New Zealand's inflation rate, as measured by the consumer price index, spiked 1.5 percent in the September quarter.

The annual rate inflation is now 5.1 percent, clearly above the level of the inflation target of 1 to 3 percent over the medium term incorporated in the Policy Targets Agreement between the Minister of Finance and the Governor of the Reserve Bank.

Of course, the medium term inflation target has become secondary in the short run to the policy objective of combating the current economic recession and maintaining the stability of New Zealand's financial system in the present global crisis.

Inflation is expected to moderate as the global recession feeds through into the New Zealand economy and as oil prices in particular fall. Offsetting this trend may be the depreciation of the Kiwi dollar but importers will be under pressure to shave profit margins instead of passing on rising costs as domestic demand weakens.

Kiwis Overseas Time to Vote in New Zealand General Election Approaches

Kiwis living overseas who are enrolled to vote may start voting in the New Zealand General Election on Wednesday 22 October 2008, New Zealand Time.

For those of us living on the wrong side of the International Dateline that means sometime Tuesday, 21 October.

Voting continues through 8 November 2008 New Zealand Time, though again, that means for many overseas Kiwis the deadline is sometime on Friday, 7 November.

If you are not enrolled, you may still request a special declaration vote from the Chief Electoral Office at

As of 16 October, the Chief Electoral Office estimates 93.7 percent of New Zealand’s eligible population is enrolled.

Kea New Zealand estimates that the enrolment percentage is closer to 79 percent when the 500,000 Kiwis living abroad are included, only 51,500 or so of whom had enrolled by 23 September.

In the 2005 election only some 28,000 overseas Kiwis voted.

It's time to step up and support democracy back home!

Kea New Zealand has set up Every Vote Counts, a non-partisan
site to assist Kiwis abroad with voting procedures & to encourage them to vote.

The official
Elections New Zealand website of the Chief Electoral Office is the place to download your ballot papers as well as to enroll for a special declaration vote if you are not on the printed rolls.

There are four ways you can vote if you are overseas on Election Day:

  • Cast an advance vote. If you will be in New Zealand from Wednesday 22 October, you can cast an advance vote at any advance voting place.
  • Download voting papers. If you are overseas and enrolled you will be able to download your voting papers from Wednesday 22 October. This is the quickest and easiest way to obtain your ballot paper. Ballots must be returned by fax or post. Email or other electronic submission is NOT accepted. The Chief Electoral Office fax number for ballots is +64 4 494 2300.
  • Apply for a postal vote. You can apply to have voting papers posted to you. These are normally sent from New Zealand approximately three weeks before election day. This may not be practical now – there are less than 3 weeks to the election!
  • Vote in person. You will be able to vote in person at a number of overseas posts.
See the official Elections New Zealand website for more details.



Sunday, October 19, 2008

Labour Closing Gap, Time Running Short in New Zealand General Election - Colmar-Brunton Poll

Labour is closing the gap on National in this week's Colmar-Brunton poll, but time is running out and other polls are not showing a similar closing of the gap.

National's lead closed to 14 percent over Labour compared to last week's poll showing an 18 percent gap.

National's support among voters dropped by one percent to 50 percent, while Labour rose 3 to 36 percent. The Greens fell from 8 percent to 5 percent, with none of the other smaller parties crossing the party list threshold of 5 percent. The Maori Party dropped from 3 to 2 percent support, as did NZ First.

Preferred Prime Minister support for National's John Key rose a point to 40 percent, while that for Helen Clark moved up 3 percent to 34 percent.

National Seeks Bipartisan Approach to Financial Regulation

National Party leader, John Key, has announced that his party is willing to engage in a bi-partisan approach to financial regulation policy with the Labour government in the run up to the General Election on 8 November.

Labour's announcement of the introduction of a deposit guarantee scheme for retail deposits last week caught National somewhat off guard but National quickly agreed in principle to the scheme and National finance spokesman, Bill English, received briefings from the Labour government.

Labour's Minister of Finance, Michael Cullen, has responded to Key by saying that it continues to provide briefings on the developing situation to Bill English on behalf of National.

Reflecting the high degree of Trans-Tasman economic integration between Australia and New Zealand, a policy divergence between the countries in recent days on the issue of whether wholesale deposits should also be guaranteed has emerged. New Zealand's government announced last week that interbank deposits would not be guaranteed but the Australian government has decided that such deposits will be.

National is signaling that it will not seek to make political capital out of a Labour government reversal of last week's position should Labour choose to provide a guarantee of interbank lending to harmonize this area of Trans-Tasman financial regulation policy.

Both Labour and National see the New Zealand banking system as sound given the strong balance sheets and more cautious lending policies of the major trading banks compared to their international counterparts. Nonetheless, the policy dilemma is that failing to guarantee the wholesale deposits while important economic neighbour Australia does, is to face the high risk of capital flight to guaranteed deposits in Australia and elsewhere in these uncertain economic times.

Once again, as previously pointed out here, emergency economic policy making procedures in New Zealand have proven to be inadequate in a rapidly changing global economic climate. The deposit guarantee policy as it has unfolded in the past week or so has left more questions unanswered than answered. This reveals a failure to think more than two or possibly three steps ahead.

Post-election a new government will need to launch a major review of the failure to activate and engage effective policymaking to cope with what have been demonstrated to be more external than domestic economic problems.

It is all very well to sit back with self-satisfaction and pride that New Zealand's economic house is in order, but when the economic crisis reaches your doorstep you had better have the sandbags, mops, and more affirmative instruments ready to go. And you best have thought out a train of steps ahead to respond to rapidly changing circumstances if the house threatens to be washed away.

Turia Reiterates Maori Party Happy to Deal with National

Turiana Turia, co-leader of the Maori Party, has re-iterated that her party is happy to work with the National Party to form a coalition government following the General Election in New Zealand on 8 November.

She made the comment following opinion poll results in Maori electorates that reinforced earlier polling that Maori voters are pressing the Maori Party to strike a deal with Labour rather than National after the election should either of the major parties fail to gain a majority in parliament.

Marae Digipolls surveys show the Maori Party holding on to its 4 Maori seats, having a good shot at winning the other three seats from Labour, and taking more of the party vote than Labour among Maori voters, a significant loss for Labour.

The Maori Party risks winning some short term tactical gains in a deal with National that could backfire among the Maori electorate if during the next government's term of office little is done to achieve Maori goals. A 70 plus year National history of lacklustre and negative policy towards Maori is playing on the minds of the Maori electorate that realizes, despite some significant setbacks such as the Foreshore and Seabed legislation in the last few years with Labour governments, the greatest gains have occurred for Maori under Labour administrations.

Striking a pact with the current National Party that has announced policies of rapidly winding-up Treaty of Waitangi settlement claims and abolishing the Maori parliamentary seats by 2014 is likely to appear to many Maori voters to be striking a deal with the devil.

The risk for the Maori Party is that it might have some short term three year gains but alienate itself from the Maori electorate and watch its electoral support whither away allowing other parties to reclaim Maori support.

New Zealand Brass Bands

New Zealand's brass bands evolved out of English band traditions with many of the early bands being formed between the 1860s and 1880s, first as military bands then industry-related bands. These were later joined by municipal or city bands.

Brass bands are closely linked to working class culture during the English Industrial Revolution. An unbalanced focus on rapid industrialization and urbanization did not provide for much in the way of recreational opportunities. In the UK, more enlightened owners of textile mills, mines (colliery bands), foundries, and factories sponsored brass bands to encourage recreation and provide entertainment for the larger community. The Salvation Army also found the brass band a powerful tool in its evangelizing efforts; however, the Army's spiritual mission precludes its bands from participating in band competitions.

English immigrants to New Zealand continued the tradition, forming brass bands linked to the military, especially after the New Zealand Wars of the 1860s, and industry. For example, The Addington Workshops band of Christchurch was financed by a subscription that all of the railway workshops employees levied on themselves. Woolston Brass was sponsored for many years by Skellerup Industries, a rubber goods manufacturer in the Christchurch suburb of Woolston.

Woolston Brass is to many the premier band in New Zealand, particularly as consistent First Grade street march competition performers (web page here). Watch the tight turn executed at the intersection in the video below.

Woolston Brass: Street March, "Queensbury", Christchurch, NZ.

The New Zealand Army Band has a well- deserved international reputation for its musical ability, versatility, and creativity.

The New Zealand Army Band - Marching display - medley - at Main Parade Ground, Burnham Military Camp, outside Christchurch, June 2007.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Canterbury Through to Air New Zealand Cup Rugby Final

Canterbury fought off Hawke's Bay, 31-21, in their Air NZ Cup semi-final to move through to the final next weekend against Wellington.

In a tightly contested game, the Magpies proved themselves worthy opponents with the score tied at 14-14 midway through the second half. But the Red n' Blacks' two tries within two minutes of each other sealed the game in Canterbury's favour.

Canterbury will have its work cut out to get the better of Wellington in the final, although the Lions had difficulty putting their stamp on their semi-final with Southland till the last ten minutes, pulling through 28-19.

The underdogs have youth, enthusiasm and determination with a fair amount of skill on their side and that might make all the difference in the final.

Meantime, the Silver Ferns netball team turned up the heat on England in the 3rd and decisive test with a scorching 61-22 win in Palmerston North. Having inexplicably crashed 38-40 against England in the 2nd test after a comprehensive 1st test win, the Silver Ferns pulled things around in time to head off to Australia where a much greater challenge awaits them in the form of the 2007 World Champions in a two test series starting next Sunday.

Obama Takes Early Lead in New Zealand General Election

Perhaps reflecting the fatigue of younger Kiwi citizens with local politics as well as their impressionable TV viewing habits, 10 year olds at the Manurewa swimming pools stopped National Leader John Key in his tracks when he asked them if they knew about the big election on 8 November.

"I'm going to vote for Obama," he was told.

No word from the Obama campaign yet on whether or not they'll be contesting the New Zealand General Election some 4 days after the US one. ACORN is said to be sending representatives to register new voters at the Manurewa pools.

While their parents may not be too enthusiastic about New Zealand becoming the 51st state - some would claim Australia was accorded that honor about 7 years ago - they might be more interested in a free trade agreement with the United States so that they have one just like Australia's.

The Workers Party of New Zealand - General Election

In case you might otherwise miss them since their voter support will be much less than the margin of error, here is the Workers Party of New Zealand. Party website here.

All credit to the Workers Party for an imaginative theme song in defence of worker interests:

A more conventional party political TV ad from the Workers:

Christchurch Past & Present #7 Sumner by Tram

At the turn of the last century, residents of Christchurch would seek an escape from the city to the seaside suburb of Sumner to enjoy the surf and sea breezes, a dip in the ocean, a walk along the beach, with a cup of tea or an ice cream at the tearooms before catching the late afternoon tram back into the city. Click on pics for larger image.

Nine car steam tram excursion about to leave Cathedral Square in central Christchurch for Sumner, circa 1909.

Holiday Excursion by Steam Tram to Sumner. Shag Rock, Rapanui, far right background, 1908.

Donkey Rides on Sumner Beach, 1907. Today the donkeys might not meet environmental & hygiene standards

Home again on the late afternoon tram - this time by electric tram, circa 1910.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Latest Fairfax-Nielsen Poll - National Leads Labour by Wide Margin

The latest Fairfax - Nielsen political opinion poll suggests that Labour has not made a dent in National's large lead in voter support. National dropped a percent to 51 percent, Labour also dropping 1 to 33 percent. The Greens, the only other party to cross the 5 percent threshold for seats on the party list, jumped 2 to 7 percent.

Christchurch Past & Present #6 Sumner Clifton Hill

Northerly view from Clifton Hill, Sumner looking across Estuary mouth to South Brighton Spit, home of the godwit / kuaka

The kuaka

Birdseye view looking north, Clifton in centre bottom, looking north along New Brighton dunes & beach.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

National Comes Out of Closet - We're All Socialists Now

Some of us remember the 1975 New Zealand General Election campaign featuring an animated National Party TV ad of "Dancing Cossacks" suggesting the then Labour Government's New Zealand Superannuation Fund's purchases of stocks of NZ companies was creeping socialism that would result in a state-controlled economy. National won the election.

So, imagine the surprise of those whose memory is still functional, when National leader John Key announced yesterday that if elected National will require the current New Zealand Superannuation Fund to invest 40 percent of its assets within New Zealand.

After 33 years, National has come out. It has declared its socialist ways.

The late Rob Muldoon, chief attack dog for National in 1975, later Prime Minister, and state capitalist, must be spinning in his grave.

Deposit Insurance to be Tightened Up for Finance Companies

In a sloppy exercise in policy formation, the Reserve Bank and the Treasury have belatedly moved to tighten up the deposit insurance regulations that will apply to finance companies following trading bank representations.

Finance companies that are rated BB or below or are unrated will now have to pay a fee set at 300 basis points each year on cumulative deposits to receive a deposit guarantee.

Non banks will also face tighter regulatory requirements, reporting standards, and be subject to government inspection.

Non-resident depositor accounts will be covered by the deposit guarantee but they will be capped at the 12 October account level plus 10 percent per year (for the two year guarantee period) to allow for interest and deposit variations. Foreign depositors note: there is, therefore, a limit to the guarantee on your deposits! Reserve Bank revised regulations press release here.

No doubt this limit on the guarantee on non-resident deposits will have a chilling effect on foreign deposit inflows into New Zealand. This is hardly a reassuring signal at a time when credit availability is tight in NZ financial markets and offshore funds are necessary to continue financing credit lines in New Zealand.

The Green Party has criticised the failure of the monetary authorities to regulate lending by finanicial institutions and the institutions themselves for profligate lending (Green Party statement here). The Greens have also demanded that deposit guarantee regulations be accompanied by reciprocal guarantees of responsible lending practices and social responsibility by financial institutions.

As argued in a previous post, a privilege granted by a government - a deposit guarantee - should be accompanied by a duty - including a risk-based fee - on the part of the financial institutions to comply with tightened regulations on lending activity and balance sheet management, something that was largely missing from the first draft of the deposit guarantee policy released to the public.

Maori Party Claims National Leader Key Promised Not to Abolish Maori Seats

Dr Pita Sharples, Maori Party co-leader, says that National Party leader, John Key, gave assurances to the Maori Party in a meeting between the parties that National would not abolish the Maori electorate seats without Maori agreement. Harry Walker, Sharples' chief of staff, recalls Mr Key saying that National would put the issue on the back burner.

Mr Key & his deputy leader, Bill English, have denied making such an assurance and that no agreements will be made with other parties before the election. National's declared policy on the seats is that the seats would be abolished around 2014 because all outstanding Treaty of Waitangi claims should be settled by then.

Labour leader & PM Helen Clark has weighed in to the controversy saying she believed Sharples' claim: "I believe Pita Sharples. I have not always agreed with him as you know but I believe he is an honest man".

By making public the alleged assurance, the Maori Party may be trying to manoeuvre National into a corner on the Maori seats while trying to appease supporters in the Maori electorates that have been telling the Maori Party to seek a post-election coalition agreement with Labour rather than National because of National's policy to abolish the seats.

Speights - Southern Brew - New Zealand

Speight's Brewery was established in 1876 in Dunedin, Otago. It is owned by Lion Nathans today and doesn't actually brew beer in the South anymore. Bottle and can products are brewed further north in Auckland and Christchurch.

That doesn't stop corporate myth-makers creating "The Southern Man" in a series of TV ads, a rugged sheep musterer used to the loneliness of the high country, a male of few words - and fewer tastes - who sparingly offers encouragement with a "good on yer mate":

Good on yer mate! cheers.

Marching Girls in New Zealand

One of the historical oddities of New Zealand - and Australia - is the phenomenon of "Marching Girls" (a term, I might add, hastily, that these young women still use to describe their style of marching).

Wards Marching Team, Gisborne, NZ, circa 1930s.

Marching Girls involves competitive teams of young women engaging in precision marching wearing military-style uniforms. It began in the 1930s during the Great Depression as a way to encourage teenage girls to keep fit and healthy. It has its predecessors in various similar male activities - eg, boys' cadets, bugle corps, brass bands etc. - in an earlier age when militaristic training and patriotic fervor were felt to be good for one's character.

The numbers participating in Marching Girls have declined in recent years, reflecting competing claims for young women's time & attention, no doubt. But competitions still draw teams and a crowd, even if somewhat smaller than yesteryear.

Pacific Beat Street takes a look at Marching Girls (audio & pics are annoyingly out of sync, but that doesn't affect what's important - the military precision marching):

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Sports Roundup - Black Caps, Black Ferns

The Black Caps won their third & final ODI game with Bangladesh by 79 runs, sealing a wobbly series win. Ross Taylor and Jamie How stepped up for the top order with a century for Taylor (103 runs in 119 balls) and How (73). The rest of the batting order posted a mediocre performance. But the Taylor - How partnership was enough to post a total of 249 that Bangladesh could not match in their 50 overs, batting through to 170 for 8 at the close.

And news that fast bowler Shane Bond may become eligible again to play for New Zealand will be greeted enthusiastically by cricket fans. Bond was banned last year from representing New Zealand when he joined the "rebel" Twenty20 Indian Cricket Leagus (ICL) contrary to the policy of the International Cricket Council (ICC).

The Black Ferns, New Zealand's womens rugby team, overwhelmed the Wallaroos, the Australian team by 37-3 in Canberra. The Ferns extended their unbeaten record against Australia to 9 games since the first Trans-Tasman international in 1994.

New Zealand General Election Leaders TV Debate

The Labour and National party leaders, PM Helen Clark and John Key, sparred in the first leaders debate of the New Zealand General Election campaign.

The two main party leaders colluded to exclude minor party leaders from the debates, so you'll have to find their views elsewhere. Committed to democratic participation, we'll do our best to provide some coverage here.

Watch the debate on YouTube here.

A segment on the economy below:

Maori Party Policy to Introduce Development Bank

The Maori Party unveiled its Family Issues and Economic policies at Te Aranga Marae in Hastings in the Hawkes Bay on Tuesday afternoon.

On tax policy, the party would eliminate income tax on the first $25,000 of income and reduce the business tax on small businesses with net income of less than $100,000 from 32 percent to 25 percent.

A community development bank would also be established to finance whanau and family business to promote economic development. The bank would be funded by re-channeling resources currently flowing through the Ministry of Economic Development to Maori.

ACT Can Work With Maori Party

In remarks after his opening campaign speech in Auckland on 12 October, ACT leader Rodney Hide said ACT could work with the Maori Party should a coalition government be necessary in order for the National Party to govern after the 8 November General Election.

New Zealand Banks Flock to Deposit Insurance

As expected, the major trading banks have flocked to sign up for the New Zealand government's deposit guarantee scheme that will cover the deposits, without limits, of banks, building societies, credit unions, and finance companies for the next two years.

ANZ-National, BNZ, ASB, Westpac, TSB, SBS Bank and Government-owned Kiwibank have all indicated they will sign up. Only institutions with deposit liabilities in excess of $5 billion are required to pay a fee for the guarantee. That fee will likely run at around $15 million for most of the larger insitutions. The fee structure does not allow for any risk-based pricing.

The scheme is being criticised because it affords finance companies that have engaged in riskier behavior than other financial institutions the same level of protection without an associated hike in the insurance premium they pay. Moreover, finance companies that have gone into receivership because of mismanagement in the last few years could be revived, and if found to be in compliance with their trust deeds, eligible for new deposit insurance coverage. Reserve Bank Governor, Alan Bollard, has confirmed this but also pointed out that deposit insurance is not retrospective - it does not cover deposits lost in financial collapses prior to introduction of the guarantee.

As for the two year limit on the deposit guarantee, it would be a brave, some might save foolhardy, government that sought to remove the guarantee at the end of two years, even in prosperous economic times. It would likely have the same destabilising effect as the removal of wage and price controls has: despite all assurances, it could be expected that depositors would engage in flight to a safer haven for their funds.