Letters February 16 2013

by The Listener / 07 February, 2013
Novopay; alcohol; and sexism.


I was intrigued by news coverage of the failures of Novopay to pay all teachers correctly and even more so when a Government minister said it may take up to two years to fix. Payroll was one of the first applications to be computerised more than 50 years ago, as it was a relatively simple exercise. In short, take gross pay, calculate and extract various deductions resulting in net pay, produce reports and keep an accurate record. New systems were tested in parallel with existing ones until shown to be working correctly. It can be argued that some computer programs are so complicated that it is not possible or costeffective to completely debug them. A payroll system should not be in that category. I’m sure many people, not least IT professionals, would be interested to know what it is about the teachers’ payroll system that makes it so difficult, and expensive, to get right. Taxpayers, and especially affected teachers, deserve a full explanation.
David Clark


Gareth Morgan’s recent pronouncements on the feline population have raised interesting questions, and feline hackles, that our legislators will avoid for fear of upsetting those who elect them. Domestic cats are still wild animals with all the inbred evolutionary survival skills that have made them successful. They are hunters, and no matter what their owners say, they do not differentiate between birds, rodents or any other small animal. And they hunt for pleasure. It is time cat owners were made to take responsibility for their pets. There is no reason they should not be bound by the same legislation that governs dogs. Cats should be registered. They should not be let out without a leash. They should not be allowed to roam at will. I can hear the outcry now: “it is not natural to contain a cat or not possible”. It wasn’t for dogs, either, but we made it happen. Some enterprising company would soon develop a fence attachment to keep cats on the owner’s property, and how pleasant it would be to see cat owners exercising their pets on a leash. It should be possible to add cats to our dog legislation if there is a legislator brave enough to carry this forward. I doubt there is.
TE Martin
(Green Bay, Auckland)

The best way to cope with people who take extreme views is to ignore them. Morgan exemplifies such in his crusade about cats. Just let him rant. Bullying, browbeating and ridicule as methods of forcing your opinions on others never achieve their objective, because they’re ill-judged and inflammatory and they simply alienate people. So, New Zealand, continue to support the SPCA, let the anti-cat brigade rave and enjoy your moggy as we do. Oh, and when our puss dies, we’ll get another cat, probably two, and yes, we have dozens of happy native birds in our garden.
JR Goddard


Hamish Keith (Cultural curmudgeon, February 9) should not be surprised by Christopher Finlayson’s crassness towards the parliamentary art collection. It is more proof that George Bernard Shaw did not go far enough when he declared, “He who can, does; he who cannot, teaches.” Shaw should have added that the truly incapable politic.
John Mihaljevic
(Te Atatu South, Auckland)


Rebecca Macfie’s article “Fears of mass destruction” (January 26) took a fresh look at issues faced by owners of heritage buildings and the country as a whole; accessibility to insurance, the number of earthquake-prone buildings and the potential costs for managing this issue. It also presented ways in which owners can be supported, including many the New Zealand Historic Places Trust has advocated for over recent years. So it was disheartening to read the side article, “Between a rock and a historic place”. Haskell House, the focus of this piece, is a category 1 historic place, much loved by owners who face losing it, along with the years of effort and care they’ve invested in it. The NZ Historic Places Trust (NZHPT) has provided expert advice to the owners to help identify options that could prevent that loss, including funding sources that, we understand, they have not explored. The application to demolish Haskell House is required under the Resource Management Act, as the building is protected in the Waimakariri Council’s District Plan and is also subject to a covenant registered against the title, requiring protection of the building. For such significant heritage places, the NZHPT seeks to ensure all practicable options for retention are considered. Because the trust is not yet satisfied that demolition is necessary in this case, our submission says we do not support the application. The consent application will enable these matters to be fully and fairly considered and an appropriate decision made. The trust is pragmatic in its approach to these situations, we look for solutions that work, and we are very aware of the financial hardship many owners of heritage and other buildings face. Nevertheless, it is important that these questions are posed so that significant heritage buildings are not unnecessarily lost, especially as we have already lost so much of our precious heritage in recent years.
Rob Hall
General manager, southern region, New Zealand Historic Places Trust


Rather than focusing on the negative (Money, January 26), perhaps it’s time to accentuate the positive. Although mainstream commentators tend to focus on productivity and GDP growth as the primary measures of a nation’s progress, there is increasing recognition among academic economists and policymakers that other measures of performance are equally important. On many of these measures New Zealand performs exceptionally well. For example, New Zealand is:

  • ranked fifth overall in the United Nations’ Human Development Index;

  • the highest-ranked Western nation in the New Economic Foundation’s Happy Planet Index;

  • the least-corrupt nation (alongside Denmark and Finland), according to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index; and

  • the second most-peaceful nation (alongside Denmark and behind Iceland), according to Vision of Humanity’s Global Peace Index.

These results point towards a nation performing consider ably better than the impression given by comparisons of national income alone. As noted by the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress, GDP is not, nor has it ever been, a measure of economic well-being. It is time the mainstream narrative was reframed in terms of these broader, more balanced measures of economic performance. Perhaps, then, fewer New Zealanders would be tempted by the allure of a “better” life overseas.
Christopher M Fleming
(Brisbane, Australia)


Well done, Roger Hall (Letters, February 2), for rekindling the alcohol law reform debate. The failure of the Nationalled Government to do anything signifi cant to ameliorate the alcohol-related damage being infl icted will be a disgraceful legacy. Highlights of its response include: Simon Power’s construction of a bill that omitted almost all key elements of the Law Commission’s recommendations in line with what the alcohol industry wanted; John Key’s insistence that price is irrelevant in the bid to reduce harm from heavy drinking, in direct contradiction to the international evidence and his own science adviser’s assessment that price is one of the most important reforms required; Steven Joyce’s rejection of his Ministry of Transport’s advice to lower the adult driving limit (based on over 300 studies) and kicking the issue to touch by requiring “more research”; and Peter Dunne’s stream of utterances on alcohol, so “sensible”, “practical” and “balanced” in appearance, but in reality just defending the commercial freedom of alcohol companies to manipulate people and mine wealth from this drug’s widespread overuse. Most New Zealanders oppose the intrusion of the alcohol industry into their lives and are sick of the deception and foolishness that politicians are engaging in to maintain the business status quo. However, the widespread public opposition is generally too quiet and passive to be strongly felt by MPs. Congratulations, therefore, to Hall for putting his head above the parapet and calling for urgent parliamentary action.
Professor Doug Sellman
Psychiatry and addiction medicine, director of the National Addiction Centre, University of Otago, Christchurch

In his excellent letter Roger Hall said, “Maybe it’s time some society or movement is established to try to alter New Zealand’s attitude to alcohol over the next few years.” I have been making complaints about liquor advertisements and seeking a ban on liquor advertising for more than 30 years. Until recently an active society, Group Against Liquor Advertising, had the same objective. Doug Sellman toured the country in a campaign over four months in late 2009 and early 2010, speaking about “10 things the alcohol industry doesn’t want you to know about alcohol”. As a result of this effort, he now leads Alcohol Action New Zealand. There is a wind of change blowing through the country. It has been evidenced by the fact that no one, apart from National Party apologists, appears to have a good word for the Government’s latest alcohol legislation. But Hall makes a valid point: we need still more people and organisations making still more noise so that eventually even the politicians will see the light.
Cliff Turner


Guy Wellwood’s letter (February 2) about National MP Josiah Hanan, who became a mayor at 28, raises the point that at 30 Labour’s Norman Kirk was not, as previously stated, the country’s youngest mayor. Another young mayor was Liberal’s Joseph Ward, who became Mayor of Bluff in 1880, aged 25. Ward later became Postmaster- General in Seddon’s Government, receiving a knighthood in the 1901 New Year’s Honours List for introducing Penny Post to New Zealand. He is the country’s longest-serving Cabinet Minister and Finance Minister. As Prime Minister, he set up the world’s first Health and Tourist ministries and became the world’s first Health Minister. Unfortunately, all that we are now told about Ward mostly references the preelection propaganda put out about him that prompted the Libel Amendment Act 1910. However, as the prominent United PM George Forbes said, “He was the soul of honour, and in every way maintained a very high standard”, and even Michael Savage agreed that “he set a standard that will not be easy for others to reach, a man among men”.
A Ward
(St Heliers, Auckland)


Thank you for the refreshing article on benevolent sexism (“The princess and the plea”, January 19). After living in Scandinavia for six years, I am perpetually frustrated by Kiwi attitudes to gender roles. These attitudes do a disservice to men, women and society as a whole. It is a waste of talent to tell people what they can’t do. We start this instruction as children come out of the womb: girls will communicate better, so we talk to them; boys are more physical, so we play with them; girls need protecting so they are never expected to be as tough; boys will be providers and protectors so they shouldn’t exhibit weakness, etc. No wonder all these tendencies are prevalent in adults. Two outcomes are that Kiwi women earn less and they are more likely to take time off work to raise children. Irrespective of any complex psychological factors, this financial imbalance will always produce a power imbalance in relationships that skews people’s judgment and narrows their options. This lack of financial independence is often mirrored by a lack of emotional or social independence driven by the same attitude set. We all need to exercise a bit more imagination. When there are more female engineers and male nurses, both professions will be enriched and some of the existing pay disparity will ease. I suggest there is another reason for the correlation between benevolently sexist and struggling relationships. The same personality that blindly accepts prescribed definitions of their abilities and roles in relationships is also likely to fall prey to clichés about how antagonistic relationships should be. This personality is less likely to believe in a relationship where equal input of equal worth gives equal rights and invest in a constructive partnership where both partners are genuinely interested in the well-being of the other. Everyone should be able to prepare food, change a tyre, keep a clean house, back a trailer, etc. There is no physical reason that we shouldn’t. Once everyone can do everything, we are likely to be smarter and (as in the work environment) ensure that both the tasks and those who do them are given equal worth.
Miriam Odlin
(Mourea, Rotorua)

The article omitted a crucial component of the modern-day puzzle: the biological clock. It noted that in traditional roles, the female may feel more “invested” in the relationship, as she is dependent on the man for her financial (and perhaps social) security and position in life. What is different nowadays, is that in their twenties, many of my female friends out-earn our male peers. We were more driven at university and felt we had more to prove coming out of university. So while our male counterparts gallivanted around the world, we put our heads down and worked hard. Very hard. Then we hit our late twenties and the guys come back from their amazing OEs and start to contemplate settling down. They dabble in a serious relationship for a year or two, but it is the female who feels she has more invested in the relationship. Her biological clock is ticking. Everywhere we turn, there are doctors, media and scientific literature telling us that once we hit “the big 3-0”, our chances of successfully conceiving are reduced. This is the true unleveller in our society. Women can’t wait as long as men to start trying for a family, which means when women invest one to three years in a relationship in their late twenties or thirties, they feel they are investing more than their male partner. They have more to lose than men, because they have less time than men to start a family. Until science evens this playing field, gender roles will never be balanced.
Ngaio Fletcher
(Lower Hutt)

Reg Fowles’s letter (January 26) was a thinly disguised rehash of the old “she was asking for it” argument, which tries to make women responsible for others’ inability to control themselves. The only people responsible for violence against women are those who perpetrate it. Rather than telling women how to talk, how to dress and how to behave, Fowles would be better advised to teach the young men in his life that violence is never okay.
Annelise Schroeder


An item in Health Briefs (January 12) said two cups of cow’s milk a day is sufficient to maintain the vitamin D levels needed for children’s health. A quick search on the internet suggests this assertion comes from a study in the US, where milk is fortified with vitamin D. Two cups of milk is good for us, particularly for bone health, but the US findings do not apply to unadulterated New Zealand milk, which is not fortified with vitamin D. For most New Zealanders, maintaining optimal vitamin D throughout the year requires some exposure to UV radiation (and possibly some dietary vitamin D supplementation in winter).
Richard McKenzie
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