The year is rapidly disappearing. Dunedin television’s Rebecca Meek asked me how I thought the year had gone, and how things are shaping up for election year. Dunedin North’s electorate boundaries are set to shift further north. Labour has surged in support since the leadership competition. Party membership is up. But what will it take to get Labour into Government in 2014? I offered my responses to Rebecca’s questions…
Everything beginning with ‘B’. Book launch; Breast Cancer collection; Brockville Community Orchard opening x2; Buddy Day with Child protection diploma students, Birthday – 90th anniversary for Labour’s Dunedin Women’s Branch; Book a tour at Olveston; Board of Methodist Mission.
There’s always heaps going on in our Dunedin communities. Here’s a few photos from recent events in Dunedin North: with Ambassador Huebner and Young Leaders at Otago University; with Jenny Clarke at Opoho School Fair; at Botanic Gardens’ 150th Anniversary Market Day; Otago Childcare Centre Fair at St John’s Roslyn; Guess the number of balloons in the mini at Wakari School Fair; with Rod Galloway at George Street Normal School.
Last night, the second of two spy bills was passed through our Parliament. The passing of these laws leaves these agencies less accountable than they should be, and does nothing to restore New Zealander’s faith in their role.
When the GCSB Bill was first introduced to Parliament, I was surprised by the depth of public feeling on the powers and practices of New Zealand spy agencies. When I was out knocking on doors, I received plenty of unsolicited views on the dangers of spying and the way it impinges on individual freedoms.
More than anything, I was surprised by the way concern was spread across society, and felt particularly strongly by middle-aged and retired folk. In short, everyday people were concerned that the Government, in the name of security, was giving itself seemingly unlimited license to impinge on privacy and personal freedoms.
After plenty of conversations and a little reflection, I realised why this feeling is so strong and widespread. First, much private business that was once conducted in person, is now conducted online (think personal email conversations with spouses and sensitive discussions with ill relatives). Also business transactions that were once isolated events are now searchable data-points indicating hobbies and preferences. Second, the lack of effective oversight and the unwillingness to review, even by a hand-picked panel, seem to hint at something unseemly that doesn’t wish to be examined lest it be found wanting. Third, all of this happened against a background where surveys show a widespread personal distrust of John Key - despite continuing to enjoy relative popularity (his drop in popularity is a topic for another time). More on this background in the text below.
Our spy agencies need robust oversight. They have had a terrible run under Key. As the Minister responsible for GCSB, he has overseen scandal upon scandal. The illegal spying on Kim DotCom was the tip of an iceberg, with the details of dozens of similar cases still suppressed.
Suspicion of John Key’s involvement with the spy agencies provides part of the reason for piqued public interest. For starters, his role in appointing the chief spy was dragged out of him over an extended period of time. At first he was vague and couldn’t recall, but eventually it became clear that he had not only appointed a good friend’s brother to the position, but in fact he had been responsible for encouraging him to apply. No immediate problem with any declared conflicts of interest in an appointment process, but why try to hide it?
The leaking of the Kitteridge Report, and the keeping of journalists phone records, all preceded the final passing of bills designed to *make legal* spying on NZ citizens and residents that was previously illegal. The Law Society didn’t let up on the criticisms registered in its original submission on the bill.
The two pieces of law (GCSB and TICS Bills) fail to provide appropriate checks and balances for the increased spying powers. We cannot be sure the agencies are acting in the New Zealand public interest. A full review of the agencies should have been scheduled, and an oversight body ought to have been enshrined in law. The unnatural haste – politically motivated – further added to a bad process. And bad processes seldom make good law.
It was terrific to have the whole Labour caucus visit Dunedin for two days earlier this month. The Monday was run as a retreat at Warrington with the surf lifesaving club providing the perfect venue for strategic planning. It was also a chance for the caucus to gather in a less formal environment after the intensity of the leadership selection the previous month. The caucus emerged united and energised with a common understanding of the task ahead. A gathering of members and supporters at Toitu rounded out the day. Tuesday’s activities were focused on visits to local businesses, community groups and the like. My group visited Cadbury, the University, Cargill Enterprises and Invermay. Other groups visited R&D intensive firms, tourism operations, schools, social service providers and more.
I’m still receiving positive feedback about the Labour caucus’ Dunedin visit. I was proud to show off our part of the world. And dozens of local NGOs, businesses, schools and community organisations appreciated the opportunity to give direct feedback to visiting MPs. The MPs enjoyed their stay too. My colleagues have asked that their gratitude be passed on; the direct feedback they received during their visit to the South feeds directly into understanding of the areas for which they carry responsibility. So there you have it - Thank you Dunedin.
It has been terrific to have a full caucus gathering in Dunedin this week. I am sure it is something no other significant political party has done in recent times. Dunedin is incredibly important to Labour, and Labour-leader David Cunliffe is adamant it is being neglected by the National Government.
Cunliffe’s incisive comments on the challenges facing the Dunedin economy have been well covered on local television.
Stand Up Otago: Together we’re stronger! I’ve had some fun spreading the message via an aeroplane banner, and in my everyday - supporting events like the George Street Normal School Fair, the McGlashan Fete, the Southern Sinfonia’s Mozart and Dvorak concert, and the Port Chalmers Seafood Festival.
In AgResearch’s last Corporate Statement of Intent, Bill English as Shareholding Minister signed off on a new footprint for AgResearch that clearly foreshadowed the subsequent announcement on Dunedin job cuts. On the face of it, either English was happy to sacrifice rural productivity in the South for other Cabinet wins, or he was simply outmaneuvered by Steven Joyce.
Whatever the case, I would be first in line to congratulate the Government if it had a serious rethink.
The proposed shift to Lincoln represents a phenomenal waste of taxpayer money. Not only would a highly productive local hub of students, researchers and successful companies be destroyed, but the costs of building a new one (north of the $17 million to build the current facility which was built to state of the art specifications just 5 years ago) will be borne (all over again!) by the taxpayer.
We need high value, high wage jobs in regional New Zealand. Dunedin needs *more* of the type of research and industry clustered around Invermay, not less.
Last time AgResearch went down a similar path, it expected 25 scientists to shift from Wallaceville to Invermay. In the end just 7/25 made the move: a trifling 28%. Those close to the action this time around are predicting similar outcomes if the new proposal goes ahead. Around 70% of staff say they won’t shift. Top scientists will head overseas, or will cast about for jobs in top-ranked research universities like Otago.
If this hub is dismantled, not only Dunedin, but NZ as a whole will be the poorer.
This Government’s arbitrary decision to reverse its understanding of rules governing access to a free bus service, is producing perverse outcomes and creating financial stress for families.
Teenage years can be challenging. No parent who has settled a student into a school wants to disrupt the friendships and support networks their child draws on to ensure a positive learning environment.
Natural justice would dictate that at very least, those currently enrolled will be supported with the same service throughout their schooling. But the Government is ignoring these concerns.
Blueskin Bay community families with children settled in Dunedin Schools are facing a tough choice: financial stress caused by an approximately $2000 per student transport bill, or costs and relationship stresses caused by forcing their children to change schools.