Letters 17 November 2012

by Listener Archive / 17 November, 2012
Affordable housing; climate change; and online learning.


Jane Clifton’s commentary on housing affordability (Politics, November 10) suggests that planners and local authorities, in combination, are wilfully trying to avoid opening up land for development while trying to shoehorn people in to high-density homes they don’t want. In this debate it is important to look beyond the problems of Auckland and take a New Zealand-wide perspective. In regional centres across the country, local authority planners have worked with communities and local politicians to produce well-thought-out urban expansion plans. As a result, centres like Palmerston North and Napier know the direction their cities will grow in, and can in turn work out how to plan for and finance the required infrastructure. That produces wins for developers and councils alike but cannot address housingcost rises – embedded in building products and banking practices – and perennially low wages. These all contribute substantially to housing affordability. In New Zealand terms, Auckland is an exception and is suffering the consequence of years of poor planning by divided local bodies and extreme levels of growth. Although there is plenty of land, we do need to recognise the opportunity cost of lost productive uses for the land and increased costs for residents through everything from travel costs to higher rates needed to fund the infrastructure expansion. Developed land in Auckland is now sufficiently valuable that no rational developer would do anything but develop it to achieve the highest return possible. That will only rarely be achieved from low-density developments and never from low-cost housing. If we want usable long-term solutions for housing affordability, then we need to go beyond tinkering and blaming planners and ensure we get the results that Clifton and others can support.
Caroline Miller
Planning Programme, School of People, Environment & Planning, Massey University
(Palmerston North)

Jane Clifton is in good company calling the Government’s response to the housing affordability inquiry ‘like it is’. The failure to reform the tax system has been a recurring theme over the last decade. Even Bill English agrees the market is not working. Releasing more land, speeding up consenting, and improving productivity and costs will help a little, but can never offset the upward pressure on prices exerted by investors, not to mention speculators, once the market shows signs of taking off. Not now that New Zealand has such an open economy and banks can borrow as much mortgage finance offshore as they like. That’s like pumping up a balloon till it’s close to bursting – there’s no way land can be subdivided, or housing built quickly enough, once investors surge into the market. Treasury modelling shows that first-home buyers can’t compete with investors. So there needs to be a tax lever to dampen investor demand, while exempting first-time buyers, when the market is overheating. New Zealand has become a property plutocracy. It’s one of the few OECD states, setting aside council rates, where there are none of the following: land tax; a genuine capital gains tax; death duty; inheritance tax; and stamp duty. Some are able to organise their affairs to gain the tax advantage, and now private wealth is even more unevenly distributed than income. Although the Productivity Commission dismisses tax treatments, there has been no shortage of other policy advice over the past decade warning both the Clark and Key governments of the consequences of turning a blind eye to the tax elephant in the room.
Blair Badcock


Further to your November 10 Editorial on charter schools (“A tale of long tails”), this Government continues to exaggerate the “one in five” it claims are failing in public education, while remaining mute on the one in five children growing up in poverty in this country. There is a strong statistically significant relationship between socio-economic status and education outcomes. In New Zealand, the University of Otago’s National Education Monitoring Project has reported on this relationship many times. On the other hand, there is no causal relationship whatever between underachievement as an issue and charter schools as a solution. Proponents of charter schools know this, falling back on arguments about choice. Overseas experience (Ravitch, 2010) shows that although some charter schools perform better than public schools, most do not and some do considerably worse. Those that do better often do so precisely because they exclude students who represent a risk to aggregated test scores. The new Education Amendment Bill represents the most significant political threat to the public education system in my lifetime. Far from creating a small controlled “experiment”, it is clear the ideological agenda behind the move pays no heed to facts. The bill represents the thin end of a wedge of the full privatisation of the state schooling system.
Dylan Braithwaite
(Greytown, Wairarapa)

Thank you for the November 10 Editorial. The media are usually hell-bent on blaming the teacher unions for the uprising against the Government’s education measures to make them look leftish and extreme. This Government did not have a mandate to change education. It is putting in place an ideology with front people like the Education Minister and the Secretary of Education. As far as the education tail goes, it is not to do with teachers, who do a great job. It is mostly to do with dysfunctional families.
Kath Vanderwee
(Te Atatu South, Auckland)


It’s not just universities grappling with new styles of learning (“Whole lotta learnin’”, October 20). Mechanical engineering apprentices have long been intimidated by manuals of theoretical learning. Competenz, the industry training organisation for mechanical engineers and manufacturing, has seen this not as a threat to the institution of industry training but as an opportunity to better meet the needs of its learners and the companies that provide the classroom and teacher for practical learning. We are embracing online learning. We have developed a learning management system to help learners visualise their progress, and our in-house team of resource development specialists has translated bookbased content into interactive online learning. Research from two years ago showed that even then, more than 80% of our apprentices wanted online content in an anywhere, anytime format. Unless we move with the times, the theoretical side of learning in the workplace will be outsourced offshore instead of us leading the way. The mechanical engineering course is just the start, with courses as diverse as sales and locksmithing in development. Dale Stephens is right: dragging people into a classroom and telling them what to study doesn’t embed learning. Learning should be accessible and enjoyable, and if that means learning is interactive and online, we need to make it so.
Fiona Kingsford
General manager trades training, Competenz


Given his apparent expertise in the field of technology, Professor Michael Kelly’s inept analysis of climate-related issues (Letters, October 27) is surprising. Time after time, climate change deniers tend to advance arguments that fly in the face of the facts, so let’s look at his assertions.

“The weather this summer in the US is just that, weather, not climate.” Incorrect. Recent analyses show that in 2011 and 2012 the typical area of extreme summer heat events in the US has increased more than 10 times since the baseline reference period of 1951 to 1980. This is a long term trend. “The globally averaged surface temperature peaked in 1998, and has been on a slight downward trend since then.” Incorrect. Nine of the hottest 10 years in the modern meteorological record have occurred since 2000. By 2011, the globally averaged surface temperature had risen by 0.51°C above the 20th-century baseline value.

“… this (downward) trend will not change until 2025 …” Incorrect. Recent history shows a warming trend (although short-term impacts are always possible).

“… maybe even later if the current low solar activity persists”. Incorrect. Solar activity is at present at a maximum in the 12-year cycle, although the increase in energy from that at solar minimum is only 1.3 watts/sq m, or 0.1%, which has a relatively small but nevertheless important effect on the climate.

“… Antarctic ice is at a recent maximum.” Incorrect. The Antarctic is losing “permanent” ice at about 250 gigatonnes a year. Kelly ignores this to address the sea ice, which grows and shrinks annually. It is true that the maximum area of sea ice this year is about 2.6% greater than the long-term average (but perhaps somewhat offset by thinning) for reasons that are not understood, but have been suggested to be the result of a warming Southern Ocean, and a cooling of the air due to ozone depletion. In any case, it is the ongoing and accelerating loss of ice mass each year from Antarctica and the Arctic that is the major concern in addressing issues such as sealevel increases.

“… proof that man made CO2 is at best weakly coupled to the climate.” Really? About seven gigatonnes of CO2 are released into the carbon cycle by human activity each year, of which an estimated 3.2Gt is retained by the atmosphere. It is a no-brainer that this CO2 traps heat, which has nowhere to go but into the climate system. The admirable optimism that Kelly advocates, with head stuck firmly in the sand, is sadly likely to be an unrewarding exercise.
Gordon Keys

I am always saddened to see scientists such as Michael Kelly cherry-pick data in an attempt to confuse the general public. Firstly, “global warming” is a misnomer. It should properly be called “global climate disruption”. Some areas will have more rainfall, others less. The Arctic will warm, the central Antarctic will cool; more extreme storms, more heatwaves, more flooding. Trying to prove climate change doesn’t exist by pointing out that the dust bowl of the 30s was worse than the current drought in the US is like trying to prove that people aren’t getting taller (they are) because the tallest man ever died in 1940. It seems Kelly has failed to grasp the idea of probability. It is entirely possible that the current weather in the US is just a natural drought, just like the dust bowl. However, due to the changing climate the probability of such extreme events has increased. Based on observations, not models, James Hansen recently re-released his “climate dice” analysis. The six sides of a hypothetical die represent different summer temperatures possibilities (colder than normal, normal, hotter than normal). From 1951-80, two sides of the die represent normal weather, two sides represent hotter than normal weather and two sides represent colder than normal weather. Today, cold weather covers only half of one side, normal covers one side, hot weather covers four sides and extremely hot weather covers half of one side. The dust bowl of the 1930s was an exceedingly rare event. Today, extreme events are all too probable. This is not to say we will not have cold summers (indeed, we expect them), just that on average, we expect more hotter summers than colder summers. Hansen’s conclusion is that human-induced changes such as the burning of fossil fuels account for the bulk of this shift. As for his assertion that the globally averaged surface temperature peaked in 1998 and has been on a slight downward trend ever since, Kelly has once again fallen into the tallest-man trap – 1998 was the third-hottest year on record, but nine of the 10 hottest years have been since then. His artfully arranged short-term trend may show a sight downward slope, but the long-term trend is of rising temperatures. The world does not need people like Kelly confusing the public and lulling them into a false sense of hope when urgent action is needed.
Oscar Dowson
(Auckland Central)

There is a corollary to A Rickard’s analogy of the professor falling from a skyscraper (Letters, November 10): as he hit the ground, a passer-by rushed up and asked “What happened?” “I don’t know, I’ve only just arrived here” was the reply.
Ken Wortelhock


I take umbrage with Fiona Rae’s assertion that INXS had only one good song in Need You Tonight (Television, November 10). They were an awesome band – it’s just that many of their songs sounded similar and they could be repetitive. I recall an evening 10 years ago at a friend’s flat in Chalk Farm, North London, when he suggested we start the night by sampling an expensive bottle of whisky before heading to a gig. We were listening to INXS’s Never Tear Us Apart and decided one would have a nip every time Michael Hutchence sang “I” and the other when he sang “you”. We woke in the morning still in our seats with an empty bottle, two unused gig tickets and neither able to remember the end of the song.
Daisy Paris
(Devonport, Auckland)

CORRECTION: We inadvertently gave the wrong impression about Australian novelist Christopher Koch’s health in “Scars from the past” (October 20). He was suffering from an infection from which he has since recovered. We apologise for the error.
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