Letters: January 3, 2015by The Listener
Policing road users; public servants' pay; Morning Retort; and why any new flag should not be black.
KEYS TO THE HIGHWAY
My suspicion as to why our police are keen on enforcing speed (and alcohol) limits for motorists (Editorial, December 13) is that it’s a bit like the drunk in the night diligently searching for his keys on the ground beneath a street light – that’s not where he dropped them but it’s the easiest place to look. The existence of devices such as the speed camera and breathalyser make it relatively simple to punish these particular infringements. If only there were some gadget equally as handy for efficiently detecting, say, dangerous levels of driver inconsideration and general ineptitude.
LETTER OF THE WEEK (The letter of the week wins a copy of Listener columnist Michael Cooper’s New Zealand Wines 2015 buyers’ guides, aimed at both wine buffs and the uninitiated.)
You mention high-risk road users as young men on the edge of the law, drunks and motorcyclists. If this was supposed to mean motorcyclists are vulnerable, it certainly didn’t come over that way.
I’ve ridden motorbikes for 40-plus years. They are highly efficient machines for getting around on and most countries now promote their use in helping to relieve congestion, etc. Negative publicity like yours does no one any favours.
I was driving in New Zealand in December during the period of zero-tolerance policing of speed limits. It convinced me that there will be an increase in accidents this holiday season. My attention was constantly being applied to the speedo (which was hidden behind the steering wheel in my hire car) and I was not watching the road as much as I felt I should.
Using the cruise control, the speed still went a couple of kilometres an hour over the limit. Watching the road rather than the speedo seems much safer to me, even if the speedo is a bit over the limit.
However, there is a wider issue at play. I received nothing but aggravation at immigration and every law-related stage of entering and leaving the country. Also noticeable was an increased police presence in general, even to the point of two fully equipped police officers at the door of the aircraft when departing.
I believe this speed enforcement is merely part of an overall process of applying the same pressure on Kiwis that the American government applies to its citizens. It is done in the name of security but in reality is just another form of subjugation.
(Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)
I have had two unscheduled meetings with cars on my bike. I filled out police reports in both cases (required within 24 hours for injury accidents – a fact not appreciated by the drivers, who failed to do so). In both cases I thought the drivers had learnt a lesson: that their inattention had resulted in an accident and they would be more careful in the future so there was no need to request prosecution (a tick box on the form).
After the second accident, the driver did not reply to my request that he pay for my damaged wheel, so I contacted the police to see if they could chase him up. This is where I learnt of the sorry system we have for recording accidents. The police informed me that they could not process the information unless I had ticked the box for further investigation/prosecution. I had naively assumed that the information from the form would be put on a database to help improve cycle safety. This was not the case.
What’s more, the New Zealand Transport Agency is not interested in non-injury accidents. Both of mine involved injury, but because I had not ticked the prosecution box, I gather investigation of the accidents would go no further. In an era where businesses are punished for injuries at work and recording near-misses is seen as a prime tool in injury prevention, why does the NZTA not operate under the same protocol and why aren’t all accident reports fed back to local councils so they can improve roading?
LOCKING RESEARCH AWAY
As a lapsed theoretical chemist, I was delighted to read that the Royal Society has awarded the Rutherford Medal to Professor Peter Schwerdtfeger (“Explaining the unexplained”, December 6). Like him, I too deplore the shift away from basic science to applied science. He is surely right that we need to fund basic science if we want to find solutions to the big problems facing our country and our planet.
However, when I tried to get a copy of his paper on the melting point of mercury, I ran into a pay wall. It would cost me US$59 to download a single copy that I could save and print, but not share with others. Massey University provides an online repository where academic staff can deposit copies of their articles, free for anyone to download, but none of Professor Schwerdtfeger’s publications is available.
It appears that for every taxpayer dollar going to basic research through the Marsden Fund, another dollar goes offshore in subscriptions to academic journals. It’s hard to be sure of this, because although the Marsden Fund is completely transparent about its grants, our universities refuse to say where their journal subscription dollars go. By assigning copyright in their articles to the publishers, researchers participate in a system in which private companies extract monopoly rents for access to the results of publicly funded research.
Science cannot help solve global problems if it’s locked away behind a pay wall, accessible only to the scholarly rich. I invite Massey’s Centre for Theoretical Chemistry and Physics to adopt a policy of publishing only in open access journals, so that the fascinating work it does is accessible to all scholars, rich and poor alike.
PUBLIC SERVANT PAY
I no longer follow proceedings in the District Court as closely as I once did, but I shall hazard a guess that somewhere in this country at least one unfortunate will be before a court this week on a charge of “defrauding the welfare”, or however it is actually framed. A pontificating judge will lecture the defendant in strong and ritual terms, as they have all been required during their training to do, that this is not just theft from the Ministry of Social Development/WINZ, but stealing from the taxpayer, and indeed the public of New Zealand.
If the hapless defendant has a competent lawyer, he or she – and it is frequently a female in the dock – may escape the jail sentence the ministry’s prosecutors almost invariably seek. The convicted person will be ordered by the court to pay back the “stolen” money, and will be sentenced to home detention and community work, which helps to make the paying back all the more difficult, because most people cannot combine such a sentence with paying work. Very many of these defendants (most are from the low socio-economic demographic) will not have acted from any inbred criminality, but from financial desperation.
But in the past couple of weeks, those of us who bother to read have discovered that we, the tax-paying public, are the victims of theft on a far grander scale. It seems that some public servants are being paid far more than we pay the Prime Minister – in at least one case, about twice as much.
Nearly 7200 public servants are being paid more than $100,000 a year. The mind boggles. Especially given we know from media reporting that many of these people on obscenely high salaries cannot actually do their jobs very well.
I suggest a simple, two-part solution: immediately bring in a rule that no public servant – and I include in this those in uniform – is to be paid more than, or even as much as, the Prime Minister; and immediately reduce any salary that offends that rule to a level below the PM’s pay.
There will be screams of outrage, of course. Turn a deaf ear. We taxpayers have all been conned for too long by the self-serving mantra that these huge salaries need to be paid to attract the “best people” from, or to stop public servants going to, the private sector.
Well, it’s judgment day, people. Don’t like it? Head off to the private sector, or overseas, and see how you get on. Best of luck.
Yes, there are others like the Andersons and Youngs of Cromwell who are turning off Radio NZ National’s Morning Report because of the interviewing style of the two presenters (Letters, December 13). We had been listeners to the news programme since the days of Joe Côte (1970s) and later Geoff Robinson, but during the election coverage we couldn’t stand the confrontational style of Guyon Espiner and Susie Ferguson.
One can still ask difficult and challenging questions without being rude, cutting across a reply and preventing people from finishing their answers. We, the audience, end up less well informed. One of our particular beefs is that the Australian corespondents, who had become firm friends of Robinson and us over the years, are also given short shrift by the new interviewers.
Robinson had lightness of touch but he was not lightweight. After listening to him each morning, we would leave the radio at 9am feeling positive and informed.
Mary Buckland and Mike Elliot
To the list of complaints against Morning Report’s presenters I would add trying to put words into people’s mouths, and bullying those being interviewed into giving the answer the interviewer wants to hear. Only Nine to Noon’s Kathryn Ryan, with her excellent interviewing skills and intelligent programme, keeps me tuned to Radio NZ National.
I agree with the comments regarding Morning Report’s presenters, particularly Guyon Espiner. However, I was amused at the suggestion that they need to follow the lead of Checkpoint presenters Mary Wilson and Jim Mora.
I always thought Wilson was something of an attack dog in her approach to interviewing and could not understand why anyone would willingly appear on the programme.
I think Guyon Espiner has got the message from your Cromwell correspondents inasmuch as he does not now repeat the same question over and over when he feels he is not getting the upper hand with the interviewee. So well done, Guyon. Now could we ask Susie Ferguson to refrain from putting the same question a hundred different ways when she is conducting an interview. We may then return to enjoying Morning Report.
SAVED BY MAORI TV
Maori TV is an oasis in a desert of reality-show repeats and crass Christmas commercials. I go there to refresh my brain and senses, to be moved by amazing documentaries and movies and to improve my skimpy knowledge of te reo.
Thank you to entertainment editor Fiona Rae for her four-star critique of Dad’s in Heaven With Nixon (TV Films, December 6). The documentary was wonderful. It made me laugh, it made me cry and took me to another place. Brilliant.
Rumours about the future of Maori Television scare me. Please don’t change.
The tragic events in Sydney under the black flag of an Islamist terror organisation should make us think about our vision to create a new national flag in New Zealand.
Isis and other fanatical Islamist movements have hijacked the colour black. Now and perhaps forever, a black flag will be associated with terror. The silver fern on a black background, one proposal for a new New Zealand flag, has the potential to be confused with this banner.
Perhaps we ought to think again of who we are and how we want the world to see us. The white and green koru flag Friedensreich Hundertwasser dedicated to his beloved New Zealand would be a start. It reflects Maori and Pakeha and displays the mana and strength of this wonderful land in a humble and proud way. It’s a positive, unique flag.
Rebecca Macfie’s climate change story (“Nowhere to hide”, December 6) ends with “there hasn’t been the political driver … to make the difference”.
The Government has an overwhelming driver not to act on climate change thanks to the mandate given to it to prioritise growth.
It’s no use accusing the Government of a lack of action while New Zealanders keep giving the message that they do not prioritise action.
I’m afraid that all the facts Macfie’s article lays out will not change the electorate’s psychological attachment to growth.
Only courageous political leadership can do this and there is no chance of that happening with our present Government.
It is clear that excessive wealth together with low wages for many is damaging to society on many counts, including the economy (“Isn’t it rich”, December 13). How to tackle inequality should be the major question facing us all.
It was refreshing to see reported that the IMF says “there is ‘surprisingly little evidence’ that tax increases have impeded growth in the medium-to-long term. Tax is not the job killer some economists have maintained it is. Rather, countries with the most redistributive policies tend to have faster more durable growth.”
Two of the most efficient ways to reduce inequality are through a steeply progressive tax regime and, by the way, to significantly increase the minimum wage.
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