Letters 6 October 2012

by Listener Archive / 06 October, 2012
Gay marriage; education; and welfare reforms.


New Zealand’s response to climate change is ineffectual (“Sea change”, September 22). Setting aside the recalcitrance and backsliding of the Government (and that is to set aside a lot), we still have other big impediments to an effective response. The first is statistical. There is an unaccountable misreading of data on our greenhouse gas emissions. We read gross emissions, and plan accordingly. We should be reading net emissions. When we do, we see energy use, including that of the transport sector, accounts for 70% – overwhelmingly the largest net emitter. Agricultural and other land-based activities, which on a gross reading of the statistics contribute about 50% to emissions, drop dramatically in a net emissions reading because they are biological systems capable of significant reabsorption of greenhouse gases. On this reading, they emit just 18% of our real (ie, net) emissions. Transport produces 19% of net emissions, and road transport is responsible for 90% of that fi gure (source: Ministry for the Environment’s “Greenhouse Gas Inventory 1990-2008”). The implications are immediate. They make the Government’s unrelenting development of road transport more of a folly than it is already known to be, and make its damaging of rail similarly unhinged. Given road transport is such a huge net contributor to emissions, we should be moving both freight and passengers onto rail, short-haul and long-distance, as much as possible. That we do the opposite is the next impediment. We are car addicts and have lost the culture of using public transport, particularly rail, in the huge numbers necessary to make change. How many people use the rapidly shrinking rail passenger service between Auckland and Wellington? I would guess virtually none. This cultural problem is a mass habit for which we cannot entirely blame the Government, although it has been a significant contributor to it. We are collectively liable for our addiction to the car as a mass transit system as we are to the overuse of planes for domestic travel. Ruth Laugesen alluded to this in her article. It is, with our odd reading of public statistics, a major failure in adapting to climate change.
Denys Trussell
Transport spokesman, Friends of the Earth, NZ

In Rebecca Priestley’s article (“The rise and rise of sea level predictions”, September 22), the one sentence that took my attention was “… 125,000 years ago, global temperatures were about 2°C higher than they are now and the sea level was 6-9m higher”. Does that mean an ancient civilisation was also guilty of greenhouse gas emissions, and if so, what action did they take to bring down the temperature and sea levels to present levels? Did they introduce a system of buying and selling carbon credits, or did they simply wait until the natural cycle did it for them?
ML Matthews
(Palmerston North)

Climate Change Issues Minister Tim Groser says the carbon price would have to be extremely high for New Zealanders to use their cars less. However, the reality is New Zealanders are already driving less. The Ministry of Transport advises the total number of vehicle-kilometres travelled each year peaked in 2007. Ministry figures also show our per capita vehicle ownership is declining. There are many reasons for this, including higher fuel prices, better public transport and more people choosing to live in city centres rather than suburbs. This is not unique to New Zealand; “peak car use”, as it is called by transport planners, is happening in developed countries all over the world. What’s tragic is our Government’s insistence on spending more of our taxes on new roading projects. Meanwhile, the increasingly popular modes of public transport, walking and cycling, get short-changed as the Government allocates them a smaller share of the transport budget. Transport has been our fastest-growing source of carbon emissions since 1990. This could be reversed if the Government got serious about improved public transport, walking and cycling. Imagine how much more pleasant our cities would be to live in. What a shame these factors don’t feature in the Government’s calculated benefit/cost ratios, which are used to justify all the new roads.
Bevan Woodward


Diana Wichtel struck a perfect note with her “A Ridge to nowhere” critique of the ridiculous series The Ridges (Television, September 29). After one viewing, I considered it a Ridge Too Far.
Garth Gilmour
(Milford, Auckland)

The day the first episode of The Ridges was to screen, my wife asked a friend if she was going to watch it. The reply: “I don’t think so. If I’m going to be bored, I would prefer to be bored Ridgeless.”
John L R Allum

Now that Diana Wichtel has written the longest-ever review of The Ridges, perhaps the Listener could declare itself a “Ridge-free publication”.
Sylvia Diprose


I wish the Government had introduced the new conditions for receiving a benefit when I was a child (Politics, September 22). Then maybe I wouldn’t have had a childhood plagued with preventable illness, illness that has continued to affect me into adulthood. Perhaps I would have gone to school. Maybe even learnt to value education and understand what it meant for my future. Maybe I would have stayed at school and gone on to university. Moved up the socio-economic ladder. Perhaps I would have felt someone cared about what happened to me. Unless you’ve lived the life, you don’t understand it. Beneficiaries are a different category of citizen. They lose themselves in the day-to-day dysfunction and chaos of their lives; their children’s health and welfare are often not a priority. All the do-gooders out there tut-tutting about the Government’s decision need to get a reality check. When it comes to a taxpayer-funded benefit, the rights of the parents don’t come into it. The priority should always be the health and welfare of the children.
Pipi Barton
(Frankton, Hamilton)

Those of us who abhor the Government’s welfare reforms might not have reacted so strongly had they been delivered differently. Social Development Minister Paula Bennett had the opportunity to approach the whole exercise from a much more understanding and compassionate place. She could have acknowledged the vast majority of beneficiaries who manage their lives very well on their meagre incomes. She could have presented a much more balanced picture of the lives of those dependent on State assistance. But she chose not to. Instead, she gave voice to her peers’ sweeping judgments made from the lofty heights of their moneyed world, and those of her constituents who sit in their ignorant comfort listening to talkback radio. She has drawn the now-familiar picture of thousands of lazy, immoral, profligate wastrels who “choose” to live off the state. She uses words like “encourage” and “support” when clearly she means to “compel” and “punish”. The exercise is aimed at saving money, of course, not actually helping people, although I daresay some will benefit. Those of us who have spent our lives working with people on benefits, or the poor in general, have been here before. We know the net result will be more social harm and more work for us. And probably not that much money saved in the long run.
Philip McConkey


Robin Robins’s letter (September 29) strikes an alltoo- familiar note. Forty hours of independent architects’ and engineers’ inspections this year have still to produce an inkling of what might happen to my home. With water pouring into the bedroom and through the floor into the lounge, I watched the Olympics surrounded by six buckets. I hoped and prayed the electrics wouldn’t fuse as we won another gold, or even get me when I turned the lights or TV on/off. They did fuse and I lost power to the top half of the house … until I botched a repair. Faults reported on July 31 have yet to receive action. The EQC ministerial office told my MP over two weeks ago the repairs had been done. They phoned me to apologise for the delay and check on the quality of the emergency repairs. I heard the caller’s jaw hit his desk when I said nothing had been done. He said the builders had already submitted their bill. He now fails to return my calls. On a positive note, the weather has been dry recently. I look down the barrel of insanity, bankruptcy and liver damage and can see no light. I fear for myself and my friends and neighbours.
Tom Davies
(Mt Pleasant, Christchurch)


The Editorial (September 8) about the increasing levels of poverty, especially in more remote areas of New Zealand, made dismal reading. What has happened? Is it joblessness, an unwillingness to find work or a genuine lack of work experience? There is always work, no matter how basic. In hard times, a community should form groups to grow food and look at other needs such as work sharing. The idea is as old as history. Polynesian groups sailed over the vast Pacific to find new job opportunities. Once at their new destination, it must have been difficult to start anew, yet they succeeded in sustaining the well-being of their people without government handouts. Times have changed, and food is available at supermarkets, which, of course, costs a lot of money. The spirit of pioneering is long gone. We cannot afford to treat underprivileged people as zoo animals by hand-feeding them. Rather than handouts, wouldn’t it be better to educate people to look after themselves?
Dick Endt
(Oratia, Auckland)


US Secretary of Defense and former CIA head Leon Panetta made it plain the US would look kindly on a New Zealand request to station marines here. Is it that in Wellington and Washington this is seen as a gracious quid pro quo to repay the US for upgrading our navy’s berthing status to that of ally at Honolulu and elsewhere? Behind the veil of affability, it would appear this is the case. Apart from the Key Government and the coterie of business interests it represents promoting the Trans-Pacific Partnership, who in their right mind would want US troops on our soil? Have we learnt nothing about the disastrous nature of US interventionism in Korea, Indo-China, the Americas, Iraq and now Afghanistan? By allowing a marine base here, we would make ourselves ever more open to every new military doctrine, threat scenario, weapons-interoperability argument and sales pitch Washington hatches. We are drowning under a tsunami of extreme film, television and video violence of a military and police nature from the US. It is called entertainment. It has created a generation of young people fascinated by the modalities and technology of war, but ignorant of its political roots. They know little of the struggle waged only a generation ago by young people to reorient New Zealand away from confrontation with Asia. A marine presence here would provide yet another platform to popularise US war-fighting doctrines among the impressionable. As with its bases elsewhere in the world, there would be a Status of Forces Agreement. Under this, any US personnel committing serious crimes would not submit to New Zealand law. Ask any Japanese citizen what he or she thinks of this abridgement of sovereignty. New Zealanders, through the widest process of consultation, should decide whether we are to become, like Australia, another US trophy state.
W Robinson


Plaudits to Diana Wichtel (“Who’s afraid of Vagina Wolf?”, September 29) for yet
another incisive, nuanced, stylish interview – this time with the illustrious (and slightly unhinged) Naomi Wolf. Wolf has truly met her match.
Jon Oien
(Upper Hutt)

Pity Naomi Wolf. “Every single day women hear jokes about their vaginas or satire of their sexuality or jokes about rape.” She must keep bad company. In 25 years of work I’ve never heard such “jokes”. Her words are an insult to the wonderful men I work with and the gorgeous man I live with. If you lie down with dogs, you catch fleas.
Liz Huckerby

I agree with Bill Ralston (Life, September 22) that there is an excess of black clothing in this country. No wonder we are all so depressed. The problem is that retailers only seem to stock black for men. A campaign is well overdue to get more colour back into formal clothing. And don’t start me on black flags.
JW Haldane


Students are assessed against numeracy and literacy standards and their schools are implicitly ranked on the basis of such assessment, but numeracy and literacy are only part of two learning areas: mathematics/statistics and English. The other six learning areas (the arts, health and physical education, languages, science, social sciences and technology) are ignored. In addition, education is concerned with much more than subject knowledge and the New Zealand Curriculum acknowledges this by identifying five key competencies: thinking; using language, symbols and texts; managing self; relating to others; and participating and contributing. Although numeracy and literacy relate to “using language, symbols and texts”, the other four competencies are ignored. If one took this approach at the Olympic Games, one could judge the decathlon on only two events. If we are concerned about education adding value in all learning areas and contributing to all the key competencies, we need to rethink the nature of schools. Questions we might ask include: Should schools be modelled on mass-production factories or bespoke workshops? Should education be subject-centred or person-centred? Do schools contribute to social growth as well as academic growth? From my perspective, bigger is not better, schools should serve local communities, 600 students is an ideal maximum size and all schools should cater for the full range of students, from age five to 17. The rethinking about education in Christchurch offers an opportunity to radically rethink schooling. This should involve community consultation and not be based on pressure from principals or the convenience of bureaucracies. Education is an investment in our future and we all have shares in this enterprise.
Andy Begg
(Takapuna, Auckland)


The controversy over Maori water rights has revived the spectre of the foreshore and seabed debate that divided the country. Many of the same arguments exist. That is, do Maori have customary ownership rights? New Zealand’s current constitutional arrangements allow the infringement of Maori customary rights. The Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Act 2011 makes it nearly impossible for iwi to assert their customary title. This legislation has not overturned the discriminatory aspects of the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004. Maori rights in respect of the coastal areas should be enshrined in supreme law. The current legislative process operates in a way that undermines entrenching Maori customary rights in supreme law. Our constitutional arrangements should be modified to provide for this. This would promote a healthier relationship between the Crown and Maori. As illustrated through the Foreshore and Seabed Act and the current water rights debate, the Crown is not upholding its responsibilities under the Treaty of Waitangi. Perhaps we need to educate ourselves to try to understand the deeply rooted spiritual connection Maori have with the land and water, which, in turn, would lead us to a better future.
Lauren Koch
(Tawa, Wellington)


Recently on One News, Garth McVicar, speaking at the Sensible Sentencing Trust AGM, claimed there is no organisation other than the trust that looks after victims of crime. Has he never heard of Restorative Justice? As an RJ facilitator of long experience, I can assure him RJ does care about the victim, indeed, that is our main focus. We agree there are some offenders (murderers, perpetrators of horrific crimes of violence) who need to be locked up, sometimes for a long time, for their own and society’s protection. However, in many cases, if victims are willing to engage in the RJ process, it can help them in more imaginative ways than by simply locking up the offender. Victims often suggest that the important thing, instead of or in addition to imprisonment, is to provide ways of changing behaviour, such as addressing addiction or tendencies to violence. Reparation, too, for damage done or harm caused, is important. If these can be achieved, victims can move on, and as a bonus, there will be less recidivism. Victims we encounter have usually been pleased to have attended the Restorative Justice meeting. We need fewer prisons and more rehabilitation centres.
Philip Macdiarmid
(Thames )


Julian Fellowes (“An element of fun”, September 29) muddies
the water by portraying British egalitarianism as hostility to ability, achievement and success. He elegantly sidesteps the fact the class system is based on birth – inherited title, land, wealth –which often facilitates success. Further, the class system is an English construct, although it has polluted the rest of the UK. After all, he, an Englishman, could play Lord Kilwillie, an upper-class “Scottish” twit with a plummy English accent, and not an eyebrow was raised. In Scotland, there has always been a tradition of support for and respect of the person of ability, whether he or she is rich or poor. As for inherited title, Robert Burns summed up the attitude: “The man of independent mind, He looks and laughs at a’ that.” Nevertheless, Baron Fellowes should take heart. The empire is striking back. Multimillionaire and Tory Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell recently told two policemen they were “ f---ing plebs” who should “learn their place”.
Jim Colvine
(Mangawhai Heads)

S Edwards’s letter (September 15) against any form of marriage painted a gloomy picture. It’s not the institution that’s at fault, but some people who, sadly, develop irreconcilable differences. What options we have: holy matrimony, secular, common law, partnerships, civil union and the new kid on the block, “gay marriage”. Surely we are spoilt for choice?
Peter Chapman
(Halswell, Christchurch)

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