Letters February 23 2013by The Listener
Featuring Mainzeal, Gareth Morgan, Novopay, and problem drinking.
DEATH TO CATS?
We don’t know how lucky we are to have someone as influential as Gareth Morgan to speak out bluntly on a range of issues, especially conservation (“Capitalist with a cause”, February 16). I couldn’t care less how much his wealth has to do with all the attention he gets. Unlike Bob Jones, who has used his millionaire status to pontificate in a bigoted fashion, Morgan is passionately committed to the environment and uses his wealth to practical purpose, while the rest of us are flapping around doing our best, but are frustrated by slow progress. Few of us on the left want to admit we may have to work with business to rescue the environment, but last year Morgan stood up at the Forest & Bird conference and said just that to a large gathering of tree-huggers. He shows courage in his willingness to be brusque, if that’s what it takes. I salute Morgan and am grateful to have him on our side, because he is a driving force to clean up the environment and save our flora and fauna, and thankfully, he has the money to make a difference.
Morgan gives us a perfect example of how a little knowledge can be dangerous, especially when taken out of context. The statistics published in the US generalise birds and mammals. The percentage of kills may be the same in New Zealand, but remember that a large number of birds caught here are thrushes and starlings; and most mammals caught are rats, mice and baby rabbits. A cat can have at most four litters a year, with an average of five kittens. A rabbit can have 10 litters a year, with an average of eight kittens. A rat can have a litter of pups every 21 days, with an average of 10 pups. Cats mature to breeding age at about nine months; rats are old enough to breed at 70 days. You do the maths. Rats are also a big threat to our native species. If we get rid of all the cats, do we use poison to control an exploding rat population, thereby destroying more of the environment and perhaps making it unsafe for native species?
The cat crowd may not appreciate Morgan’s attempts to save bird life, but they can easily join him and wife Joanne in his Unicef projects, attempting to improve and save the lives of children on Pacific islands and in Asia, Africa and South America. In New Zealand, they sponsor Unicef luncheons to attract folk who would like to contribute, but who aren’t able to just now, by encouraging them to leave something to Unicef in their wills. To those of us who are suspicious of how much of our “charity” gets to those in need, Morgan has the answer. He personally visits each project and insists on accounting.
(Red Beach, Orewa)
Where are all the bees and wasps that used to sting me in the 50s? Where are the magpies that would dive-bomb me in spring? Where are the white butterfly caterpillars I could earn a penny-for-three by plucking them off the cabbages? Why did all the monarch caterpillars turn into black heaps on my windowsill, where they were being protected from predators, when the painted apple moth was being targeted by aerial spraying in Auckland a decade ago? Why are they shrivelling half-grown this year and the swan plants flourishing unsullied? In the early 80s, over 20 bird species were noted on our Henderson property during spring. In the 30 years since then, my moggies have proudly presented me with well under 50 birds among their trophies; they lost interest in birds as they aged and got fat. They have never shown interest in eggs, either. Attacking cats is cowardly; author Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” is nearly here. Why doesn’t Morgan redirect his power-aim at the huge agricultural-chemical companies? They could fine-tune their products far more than they have done. The open-season availability of garden chemicals could be more closely examined, too.
(Pt Chevalier, Auckland)
WARRANT OF FITNESS
The Slane cartoon (Politics, February 9) got me thinking. In the early 70s I drove tour coaches carrying visitors mainly from the US and Australia. I also drove school buses. The coaches were maintained to a high standard and warranted every six to 12 months. There was also a compulsory annual medical to confirm that I, too, was in good shape. The coaches still have a stringent annual inspection, but some years ago the annual driver’s medical was changed to five-yearly. Now I am old, overweight and physically inactive and I smoke and drink. My last medical was over four years ago. Will I pass the next one? I continue to drive and hope for the best.
Much of the research into improving conception and pregnancy health for the baby seems focused on the mother. Little mention of the father’s role (“Eating for baby”, February 9). Surely the father’s behaviour and lifestyle before conception are also important. Alcohol-soaked, drugged-up, smoked, couch-potato sperm does not lead to a good outcome for the baby.
A FOUR-YEAR TERM
A four-year parliamentary term has a logical appeal, but it is unsuitable for this country because – almost alone among Western democracies – we have no upper house and no written constitution. Certainly, MMP should save us from any repetition of the cynical contempt for the electorate that we saw under Rob Muldoon and David Lange, but our relatively short term is the only legally guaranteed sanction we are able to impose on the government of the day. Interesting, too, that in the same week National and Labour want an extra year of power, they also oppose the extension of the Official Information Act to cover their activities. The arrogance of either of these moves is bad enough; together they should be seen as a clear warning that we need to keep a tight rein on these people.
Education Minister Hekia Parata keeps saying “hindsight is a wonderful thing”, and indeed it is. Unfortunately for Parata, what we need, and what we have a right to expect from our elected representatives, is some foresight.
Several things about Novopay puzzle me. PAYE tables are tied to remuneration, so if teachers are not being paid or are getting lower pay, does this mean Inland Revenue (IRD) and, consequently, the Government are missing out on income? If schools are paying back-up salaries out of school funds, are they deducting tax? When this problem is solved, will anyone be charged late-payment fees by the IRD for incorrect returns? If this is not settled early, how can the Finance Minister budget if the IRD does not know how much it will receive?
OUR ATTITUDE TO ALCOHOL
If people are serious about reducing the adverse effects of alcohol, especially on young people, then something more radical is needed than altering the legal drinking age. We require a multi-pronged approach that reduces the pressure on young people and deals with the consequences of addiction and the bad habits developed by older members of society. Adults need to set a better example and show that people can have fun without getting drunk. Here are a couple of radical suggestions, in addition to the commonly voiced restrictions on late-night bar opening hours and the number and distribution of liquor outlets. No advertising of drinks containing alcohol. Articles about beer and wine, etc, permitted, but without pictures. Zero blood-alcohol level if driving.
(Mt Wellington, Auckland)
John Key is being a bit selective with his insistence that “price is irrelevant” in the bid to reduce harm from heavy drinking. A couple of years ago, when the road toll was significantly down, Key opined it was probably the result of the high cost of petrol causing people to cut back on their driving. Also, the current campaign on reducing cigarette consumption is almost entirely predicated on increasing the price of cigarettes and tobacco via excise tax rises. Politicians at large, particularly those in power, seem ready to gloss over the fact that alcohol abuse affects New Zealanders at a direct cost of $5 billion a year. Of course, this does not take into account the untold misery inflicted on the victims of alcohol abuse, those affected by domestic violence, road smashes, unwanted pregnancies and the like. Justice Minister Judith Collins was right when she said minimum pricing would not work, as it would only put money into the pockets of the alcohol industry. An easy solution would be to double the excise tax on alcohol – if the Government had the backbone to do it. If, as Key suggests, this excise-tax increase has no effect on binge drinking and alcohol consumption in general, there would be a significant boost to Government coffers. This extra money could be used by, for example, hospitals and schools.
(Glen Eden, Auckland)
The February 9 Editorial about the suggested cut in postal services brought a wry grin to my face, especially the comment about rural communities being not too cruelly affected by a reduction to deliveries three days a week. We have had a two-days-a-week service for ever – some neighbours get mail only once a week. If we’re lucky, our Listener arrives on Tuesdays, otherwise it gets here on Fridays, when the next one is already out. Our local daily papers come in batches – the Friday and Monday ones on a Tuesday; the Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday ones on a Friday. By then at least it’s too late to worry about bad news. We are almost three hours from town, so the rural postie also brings milk, groceries and prescriptions, ferries punctured tyres back and forth and returns library books, among a myriad other services. So it’s about rather more than just mail delivery.
(Pelorus Sound, Marlborough)
The fallout from the Mainzeal collapse illustrates yet again the powerless position subcontractors and tradesmen find themselves in when a building project runs aground. They are treated as unsecured creditors, behind banks and the IRD. Yet in many cases they have provided the building materials that have been incorporated into the property and are usually not recoverable. The tradesman is left out of pocket not only for his labour, but also for the materials he has bought and supplied to the job. One has to question the reasoning behind the Lange/Douglas Government’s repeal of much of the Wages Protection and Contractors’ Liens Act in 1987. The repeal of the bulk of that Act passed with barely a mention, leaving only a right of sale where a common law possessory lien was held on a chattel. The Act had, until the Repeal Act of 1987, provided tradesmen with the right to register a lien on the title to property where work had been done but no payment had been received. That lien acted in the same way as a caveat or charging order, meaning the owner of the land could not sell it without repaying those liens and obtaining releases of them. That the subcontractors in the Mainzeal case have been struggling even to recover their tools of trade indicates law reform is needed.
Mainzeal contractors are suffering as a result of the Government’s lack of will to put in place a builders’ or contractors’ trust fund to hold the payments of large developers and overseas companies so that when their other financial ventures go belly-up, our hard-working subcontractors aren’t left in the lurch. Developers should be required to lodge covering funds in a trust account once proof is received from a subcontractor that materials are on-site. Then only the contractor can access those funds. Simple. On another front, when is the Government going to address the problem of the Fire Service levy not being paid by too many households and commercial building owners? The solution is also straightforward. Move the collection of the levy away from the insurance industry (optional) and include it in local body rates (not optional), then everyone would be more likely to pay his or her fair share.
Barry E Sherwood
THERE’S AN ART TO IT
As Hamish Keith points out (Cultural curmudgeon, February 9), politicians should keep out of art and leave the state-appointed agency, Creative NZ, to handle the business. This is for several reasons, but the best one might be that art must remain independent of government influence so that dissenting views and ideas may be seen and heard. History is full of art becoming propaganda for state interests. Art is a vehicle for dissent, and is an important warning sign and safety valve societally. Governments are already beholden to corporate interests, and so, increasingly, is the art market. Ideally, the public is owed some small segment of art production that is not about commercial interests, and this should be served through Creative NZ. Ministers of the Crown, already implicated as cultural vandals in the destruction of historical Christchurch, should act as disinterested protectors of culture.
Michael R Armstrong
A MATTER OF TASTE
Thank you, Paul Yates, for reminding me of the risks of eating blindly from a French menu (“Just the two of us”, February 9). We were in Lyons, the culinary capital of France. Where better to experience regional cuisine? Like Yates, I chose the andouillette, because it sounded so sweet on the tongue. It was, my better half declared, “too gamy”, so I ate the challenging sausage as a matter of culinary pride. It was only later, thanks to Google, that I discovered I had successfully eaten a pig’s anal-sphincter sausage. I consoled myself with the realisation it was no worse than spending an evening with some of our current parliamentarians – and at least I could afford a coffee to wash away the taste.
DRUGS IN SPORT
Responding to a major revelation in Australia of widespread use of drugs across many sports codes, our new chef de mission, Rob Waddell, says we don’t have a doping problem in New Zealand sport. Perhaps he should have first looked at the Wikipedia site that lists athletes who have been involved with doping offences, mostly in the past decade. Not surprisingly, New Zealand makes the list. Using Wikipedia as the reference source, it would seem, on a population basis, doping here is about the same as it is in Australia, and of First World countries implementing World Anti-Doping Agency testing, the two countries rank highly, with one exposed cheat per million citizens. Canada, France, Germany and the UK rank lower, with one cheat per 2-3 million, and the US has one per 1.6 million. Japan is an example of a First World country at the low end, with one per 20 million. Although this doesn’t tell us whether the Australasian numbers simply reflect better screening than in other countries or that the rates of doping really are higher, it doesn’t mean we don’t have a “drugs in sport” problem. The close ties New Zealand sportspeople have with Australia, as well as the incentives to gain a competitive edge in transtasman competitions, suggests the initiative by our Government to determine the necessity for a drugs in sports probe here may be well founded.
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