Letters 15 December 2012

by Listener Archive / 06 December, 2012
Electric cars; fracking; and teachers' pay.


The broad findings of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment’s interim report on fracking, especially the emphasis on improving regulatory processes and public engagement, are welcomed by the New Zealand Association for Impact Assessment (NZAIA) . However, earning a “social licence” means more than improving company PR: local communities need well-founded and accessible information about the possible effects of activities such as fracking on their environment, livelihoods, culture and the well-being of their families. As the International Energy Agency notes in the “Golden Rules”, referred to in commissioner Jan Wright’s report, the early and effective use of environmental impact assessment is critical to improving information flow to local people and earning that social licence. Impact assessment processes are built into the Resource Management Act (RMA) and other legislation, and will be a key part of the new Exclusive Economic Zone environmental management process. The problem we frequently face is the poor use of the available impact assessment tools to provide the information that decision-makers need to deal with proposals and that local people need to “provide for their social, economic and cultural well-being, and their health and safety” (RMA, s5). This problem is not confined to the oil and gas industry: mining is being heavily promoted by the Government in the interests of national economic well-being. But many proposals run into local opposition as a result of inadequate engagement with communities and inadequate provision of key information. With these issues in mind, the association is hosting a conference from December 10-11 to discuss the use of impact assessment by oil, gas and mining industries, with a view to identifying where improvements are needed and how to respond to challenges in a rapidly changing sector.
Professor Richard Morgan
Chair of the New Zealand Association for Impact Assessment


With all the ongoing drama that New Zealand schools are experiencing with this new payroll system, no one seems to be asking why an Australian company was chosen to provide this key service. Perhaps Hekia Parata, Lesley Longstone or John Key could explain why the education authorities chose to export jobs and profits to an Australian company, Talent2.
Ivan Stanton
(Glen Eden, Auckland)

Why does a government department with more than 100,000 staff continue to contract out a vital payroll system and service? Over 20 years ago, when the now-defunct education boards, secondary school councils and colleges of education administered payrolls, the time frame for pay changes was admittedly slow, but it worked. And such mismanagement as has been going on recently never occurred. We are paying dearly so that what is left of the Ministry of Education can happily employ the services of as many contractors and project managers as it takes to then downsize its schools and internal structure. Roll on charter schools and charter payroll. Just don’t expect to be paid for your work.
Glenda Fraser


Jane Clifton is one of my favourite writers. I’d rank her along with Katharine Whitehorn as one of the best journalists I’ve ever read. So, it’s with hesitation I suggest some of her comments (Politics, December 1) on the Labour leadership debate are a little astray. One of the unusual things about this debate is that it isn’t about policy differences. Caucus and party members alike are showing a remarkable degree of unity on policy direction. This debate is about leadership style. That’s a reflection of the presidential approach that has been creeping into our politics for some time and that increasingly dominates both campaigning and press coverage. Although the public’s preferred prime minister ratings continue to seem so consistently oblivious to actual policy decisions and to focus so emphatically on personality, Labour and indeed any political party today cannot avoid a concern with leadership image. That’s the issue, and for Labour supporters that’s where David Shearer has so far fallen worryingly short. One way or another, that’s a problem that has to be faced. There’s one other curious thing about this debate. There wasn’t actually a leadership challenge at the conference. Certainly, it was implicit that this could happen with the more democratic leadership selection process in the future, but there was no suggestion such a challenge was being put forward then and there. That came entirely from the media. Apparently frustrated by the lack of such a newsworthy event, journalists surrounded David Cunliffe and demanded to know if he was immediately mounting a challenge. When he said he wasn’t, they demanded to know if he would do so in February. When he said, with possibly more honesty than political nous, he couldn’t yet say one way or the other, it was turned into a definite happening. I was there, and I saw how he was pressured and what was made of it, at the cost of real attention to the far-reaching policies that were being put forward. I hope the leadership issue can be firmly and finally resolved in February with input from both the caucus and members. Then we can concentrate on what is so vital for all of us in our voting decisions: discussion of the policies being offered to guide our nation’s future.
Rosemary Cathcart


Two words ejected me from the world of the Listener, a place in which I have felt encouraged and included; a place that reflects my life. I look to you for ideas and analysis, and you give me chardonnay vinegar (Food, December 1). Please let me
come back inside again.
Adam Doughty


The November 10 Editorial that criticises the statement that we can no longer claim to have a world-class public education system was way off the mark. Our education system, when measured against what we actually need for social and economic needs, is a failure. We produce truckloads of graduates capable of identifying problems and how we should “feel” about them, but few capable of solving anything or producing solutions to meet the challenges ahead. By way of illustration, last year our universities produced 58 agricultural science graduates – and this for a country largely dependent on food production. Until we produce school leavers with an exacting education in mathematics, chemistry, biology and physics, how do we hope to produce plant, soil and animal scientists and engineers to overcome the threat of pollution, global warming and poverty? How can we maximise the sustainable use of resources through scientific development without scientists? We have “rounded” school leavers aplenty. We need focused ones, products of rigorous intellectual endeavour. You opine that the public school system needs to concentrate on the tail. Everything has a tail. What we need is a system, alternative if need be, that concentrates on the head, producing the school leavers that become the scientists who can benefit our economic and environmental good.
Mervyn Cave


I agree with Fiona Bullivant (Letters, December 1) that a couple with $2.6 million in assets should not get the aged care subsidy just because they started a family trust. But sadly the system is leveraged in their favour, as nearly 80% of all Government MPs and most ministers, if not all, hold one. This creates a possible self-interest, so all those 46 Government MPs must, of course, abstain from the vote on the overdue Trust Reform Bill after next February; otherwise it will be done to still favour trust holders and not hard-working taxpayers who don’t have one. Apart from Working for Families and aged care, the other drain on Government handouts is student allowances. To make the coming reform fair, it must exclude those three multimillion- dollar handouts from all those holding a family trust, so assets and income are in future measured fairly across all taxpayers, not as done now. There are more deserving causes.
Murray Hunter
(Titirangi, Waitakere City)


The promoters of electric cars (Technology, December 1) are being misleading when they say that our electricity mix makes the car environmentally friendly. Despite our large share of hydro electricity, the marginal unit of electricity comes – with rare exceptions – from a fossil-fuel power station. Counting the losses of power station, transformers, transmission lines and battery charger into the equation, an electric car – despite its own efficiency – does little to reduce carbon emissions. It merely shifts the carbon-dioxide output from the tailpipe to the smoke stack. So far, the electric car is no more than a tax avoidance scheme, because its owner does not pay excise tax or road user charges, despite using the roads like everybody else. Hybrids aren’t the answer, either. A conventional car is wasting fuel in two ways: when idling, and when turning kinetic (motion) energy into waste heat at the brakes. A hybrid minimises these losses: while idling or coasting, the battery (or capacitor) is being charged. The car is braked by switching the electric motor to generation mode, thus storing the energy for a new acceleration process. From that, it is clear a hybrid is most effective in city traffic. On long stretches of highway, a hybrid is pretty much a wasted effort. Hybrids, and electric cars with a range extender, have two propulsion systems that use significantly more energy in the production process. In other words, when it takes 200,000km to recoup the higher purchase price through fuel savings, it will take a similar amount of travel to recoup the extra production energy. To save the environment, give me a lightweight turbocharged diesel any day.
KH Peter Kammler
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