Water: how much and how clean

Where the Manuherekia joins the Clutha.

Water is a major issue for Otago.

With most of the population living on the coast, there is little awareness of human impact on water in our favourite recreational areas.

For most of us water is where we recreate. We ignore the effects of sewerage, of stormwater. We do not understand what infrastructure brings water to our household taps, until it breaks down. It is the invisible essential.

Our ignorance of water has contributed to its steady degradation and growing scarcity. I write this looking out to the heads of Otago Harbour.

The issue of clean rivers and enough water for the health of our rivers is one facing the Otago region. There have been a range of attempts to manage land and water use over the years but this management has become urgent.

Sometimes the urgency is manifest in unwelcome algae growing in lakes, that can harm our pets and our skin. And while there might be some short term solutions, we must always look to what has happened on the land surrounding the lake. Have there been subdivisions, with consequent soil erosion and disturbance, which can cause the flow of sediment into lakes? That sediment might carry unwelcome chemicals such as phosphorus.

In those new subdivisions is there an infrastructure for sewerage, for stormwater. Or do we rely on septic tanks? Do they leak into the lakes? For so long we have regarded it as our right for that solo bach or crib. We have valued the independence of being free of rules …but those rules are to protect the balance between humans and the eco-system.

When it comes to rivers..well. Some argue the water is wasted if we let it flow out to the sea. We want to take some out of the river for human water use, for agriculture…watering the soil. The question is how much do we take from the river? How much does the natural life in the river need?

And just like the lakes….what is happening along the banks of the river. If water is taken from the river, when it returns as run-off from those fields, what else is being added to the river such as sediment and natural waste from animals, and residue from the products added to the soil?

This is what has been concerning me since the beginning of 2020. I have walked around Lake Hayes. I have visited a range of sites in the Manuherekia catchment. I have listened to the opposing views of irrigators and ecologists. We have some very difficult decisions to make in the coming weeks on the Otago Regional Council.

And then there are rabbits, and wilding pines, and dirty air in our Ports, and our campaign to get people out of cars and on to public or active transport.

To Bike the talk, I have bought an electric bike. And on my second day I fell off while waiting at the lights!! But now to the workshop to fix the bike, so as I can get back on it.

My first ride!

climate change, Uncategorized, water quality

Back in the Saddle

Much has happened since I last posted in 2015.

On the personal level I nursed my partner until his death in November 2016. And it has taken since then to regain some equilibrium…but many experiences have helped along the way!!

From my “Hobbitlearning” title, it will be understood that education is a driving force in my life. I loved teaching. I loved being a school principal just as much: same but different and equally creative. So I was thrilled to be asked by current Minister of Education to serve on the Guardians of the Education Conversation for the last two years. new Zealanders as users of the education system needed to share their reaction to what they experienced and it has been my delight to hear, watch, read all those reactions and then to check that the reforms proposed meet and measure up to those conversations. The reforms will take a while to settle in, but the work has been begun.

One of the sad things to observe has been the mistrust between public and government, such as teachers wanting to retain the competitive model because they did not want to cede power to a collaborative system where state agencies might have a role. Rebuilding trust in a  collaborative state system , rather than a competitive system is going to be an enormous task.

But in these intervening years, I have had two more grandchildren born, and my commitment to environmental improvement has become more urgent. So I stood for the Otago Regional Council, and won a seat and then was elected Chair of the Council. And now my work begins. I want to improve public transportation so as we reduce carbon emissions. I must work to clean up our lakes and rivers and restore wetlands. I want to restore and protect our biodiversity in Otago, New Zealand. There are other goals, but these are my main ones for the next three years.

I will try to blog on here weekly over the next three years to share what we as a Council have accomplished, the problems we face, and ask for ways ahead. So this is a move from major comment on education to local response to climate change, to water and to biodiversity.

I will welcome comment.

not a military response., Peace

A Plea to John Key

Dear John Key,

New Zealand has had a mixed history in our foreign affairs.

Mostly when National forms the government there is an accent on being members of a largely white man’s club.

But then we had Kirk and Lange and we walked from ANZUS, the ultimate of “clubs” and began again to paddle our own waka, even into the French Testing zone in the Pacific.

We wisely stood against the invasion of Iraq. We won people’s trust in Timor Leste and in the Solomons.

Today we need to regain our independence.

We must look for other means of disabling ISIS.

Can we work with others to stem the money flowing into ISIS?

Can we support the work in refugee camps? And thus demonstrate our partnership with the victims of war.

Anywhere that “the club” has been in the last few years has not had a sustained positive outcome.

As a New Zealand citizen and a former Associate Minister of Foreign Affairs, I make the plea: Please, John Key, Think Again. Make us proud by finding a cleverer way to challenge the power of ISIS.

leadership, Ministerial responsibility, New Zealand, New Zealand Politics

When does a Minister stop being responsible?

I write this as a former Minister. I have worked with the understanding of what “ministerial responsibility” is.

But I am stunned on my return to New Zealand to watch Ministers blame their departmental officials and never take responsibility themselves…even if it were just to apologise.

Here in NZ, a report from the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security has been released. It is a report on information released by the Security Intelligence Service in July and August 2011. This was in the lead up to the General Election held on the 26 November. This is relevant because the release concerned the depth of a SIS briefing to the leader of the Opposition and the issue assumed significance in the election.

The report notes in para 15 that “there was a consequent failure on the part of the Director to take all reasonable steps to safeguard the political neutrality of the NZSIS, as required by….the New Zealand Security Intelligence Act 1969.”

The Prime Minister in 2011 was the Minister in Charge of the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service.  The Prime Minister was the Minister responsible for the actions of that department.

But who apologises? Both the retired Director and the current Director have apologised for the failures of the SIS in this matter.

The Minister responsible has not apologised for failings in his department.

Instead John Key has dodged many questions with an attack on other politicians and on his former department, making much of the fact that the Department officials gave him incomplete, inaccurate and misleading information, on which he based his attack on Mr Goff.

So what is the job of Ministers? Do they not have responsibility for the work of their departments? When he sat down with them at their regular meetings, did he not discuss performance objectives for that department? Did he not raise questions as to how they were meeting their obligations under the applicable laws?

Question Time in the House is when Ministers are held to account for the actions of their Ministries/departments. It is not a time for shrugging the elegant shoulders and passing the buck to the department.

I know. I was always nervous of Question time. On the personal level it was because, in my nervousness, I would forget names/terms or have an unfortunate confusion as in “hazardous orgasms” instead of “hazardous organisms”. On the ministerial level you were nervous of what’d been unearthed of some failure within your departments. In my eighteen months as Minister of Biosecurity I had at least six snakes, some dead, arrive in the country….a serious breach of our biosecurity systems!  But I had to take responsibility. I had to accept that this had happened and commit to improvements.

In this current issue of Prime Ministerial response to a report criticising his previous department, I have not heard take any responsibility for what happened. Instead he has focussed on the lack of evidence to prove “political collusion” by the SIS. He has conveniently ignored the findings in paragraphs 9 to 21.

I want to live in a democracy. I pay taxes. I want those taxes to be spent wisely. I want those Cabinet Ministers responsible for the wise spending of our money to be accountable for that.

At the moment, they are not.  In recent times Ministers have been held to account for their behaviour, but not for the actions of their departments. This is what the Westminster style of government is based on.

Please, Mr Key, act in accordance with our unwritten constitution. Accept those findings. Apologise for the transgressions of the SIS, your department at that time, and for the impact on the political debate in 2011. And show us what you will do to ensure that this never happens again. The Director of NZSIS has accepted all eight recommendations…but the new Minister should also be committing to ensuring that these are followed through.

That is the minimum that should be done. The maximum would be your resignation. But I am a realist…

New Zealand labour party

Democracy in danger.How do we relearn to work together?

No I am not talking about uniting the NZLabour Party or the UKLabour Party: I am talking about the community.As neighbours, workmates, friends we have to relearn how to work together on common issues.

Our grandparents in the 1930’s joined unions, co-operatives, political parties. In the 1960’s some of us joined communes and set up alternative schools. But since the 1960’s these “teams” have been weakened. Union membership has fallen.

Membership of political parties has fallen dramatically in England and in New Zealand.

Society has been individualised.

Competition has been sanctified.

Co-operation has been demonised…..it is winner takes all.

The result has been that individuals struggle for themselves and their immediate families. Rarely do they have many successes, because they are often alone in a never-ending struggle.

Unions and political parties have become machines distant from the average citizen. A comparatively small group works enthusiastically FOR others, but not WITH the disengaged. And we end up with little participation in the political process, because it has no impact on our immediate lives. Last election in New Zealand in September 2014 a quarter of the voters on the roll did not vote. But almost that number again did not enrol.So we have serious disengagement.

We need to close the gap between those engaged in our Party and those who we think want houses, jobs, good health and effective education but who do not talk with us. Lobbyists and NGOs do, but probably one third of New Zealanders do not vote, because we are seen as irrelevant to their struggles.

As a retired teacher ( and MP) I am ineligible to work for more effective unions, but I can still work for an effective political mechanism.

Imagine an electorate with about thirty communities, each undertaking an issue agreed by that community and making some progress.It might be finding a local community answer to elder loneliness, or working with local council to provide safety for cyclists. But it should be an issue/problem that can be improved by community working together.

Taking that first step will be difficult. And we, the political activists will need to support each other.We want to build a series of communities in which people work together and achieve their aims.

In supporting each other, maybe representatives of each of those communities meet regularly to share their stories and experiences.

My aim is not just to reconnect the Labour Party, but to rebuild successful political activity.

If any readers have other models for reconnecting members of our communities to different ways of working together please respond.

I am seriously worried about disengagement. Those who have power are not interested in sharing. It is those who do not have power that we need to work with. Otherwise divided we are being rolled by those who have the power for the few.


No one has claimed that reducing classroom size is a magic potion, but…..

No one has claimed that New Zealand Labour’s commitment to reduce class sizes over the next three years will automatically lift student progress.

The Labour Party was quick to link reduction in class sizes with a range of other plans to support the training and continuing professional growth of all teachers, such as the building of a school advisory service and a College of School Leadership.

What class size reduction does do is reduce the workload for all teachers and increase the teacher contact for the students.  I keep hearing National Party spokespeople talking of multi-teacher classrooms….but the student work still has to be marked by one teacher. In these multi-class rooms, there is still one teacher responsible for a group of children. If I were back with a load of six classes, this reduction would result in an overall reduction of 18 “books” to mark over each week…and that is three hours saved. And marking is just one aspect….18 fewer reports to write and I could go on.

A classroom with 29 eleven year olds is often very squashed to get around: 26 students is easier to move around and be able to spend that much more time with each student.

What has happened to our schools in this mad campaign to prove progress has been unbelievable pressure on teachers. Labour’s commitment is a commitment to reduce that pressure. It is not a walk away from improving student learning: it is the reverse. The fear of the present emphasis is a constraint against risk taking to try different approaches with different students. Labour commits to reducing the pressure while working with teachers to support change and development.

One part of rebuilding that self-belief in teachers  is this commitment to reduce class sizes. Well Done!


Military spending, nuclear disarmament

What could we do if…….

…we did not spend so so much on the military.

About twelve years ago a Minister was hosting a dinner for ambassadors from South and Central America. It was after Brazil had decided that it would not proceed with the development of nuclear weapons. When asked why, several countries noted that with the growth of democracies, the people had been listened to, and previous money spent on weapons was redirected to housing, education, health and infrastructure.

If only that message was acted upon around the world.

Last year global military spending exceeded $1.7 trillion(US dollars)…that’s more than $4.6 billion a day, more than a dozen times what the world spent on official development assistance.

But it’s not just military spending versus aid, but think of the serious problems facing us: replacement of hydrocarbon fuels and the cost of transition; child poverty and the costs to remove this; an ageing population with the rising healthcare costs and availability of clean water for all.

What could we do if we did not spend this horrendous amount of money on the military industry? I am not sure of the percentage that is wages, but I think I feel sure in asserting that it will be the cost of the weaponry and the delivery mechanisms that will make up the highest part of that bill.

Working for peace is not just some pipe dream. Peace is positive. It is about life and enhancing the opportunities for every human. It is not an impossibility. It is economic good sense.

Disparaging peace activists with the term “peacenik” is the same as disparaging those who struggle to maintain eco systems as “tree huggers”. It is a standard technique of those who do not want change to disparage the activist, to patronise them, even to create a bogey that is feared.

I am proud to be a peace activist. I am proud to be a New Zealand citizen, who had the privilege of being one of the few Ministers for Disarmament in the world.

But I am very much aware that rather than leading the struggle for world disarmament New Zealand rather rests on its laurels and does not work as strongly as it could in all the forums available to pursue this goal. And in the interests of trade negotiations we have fallen for the emphasis on non-proliferation of nuclear weapons rather than pursuing relentlessly disarmament of all weapons of mass destruction.

Non-proliferation is the emphasis taken by USA and others holding nuclear weapons. So the media focuses on Iran, as it enriched uranium, but ignored Israel, which is said to have already nuclear weapons and the capacity to deliver them.

Under the  Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty there is a balance. Those that had weapons must disarm. And in return, those without such weapons would not work to get them. But all would have access to nuclear energy.

The problem is that those who promised to disarm did not write a timetable into this, nor did they establish a system to verify what weapons are destroyed and what new ones may be replacing those that are old. Yes there has been some disarmament, but it has been clothed in secrecy. In 1987 there were reportedly about 62,000 nuclear weapons in the world. Today, according to Kristensen and Norris (2013), that number is believed to be about 20,000.

BUT, there are robust, well-funded plans to modernise existing nuclear weapons and their delivery systems. And no-one seems to know exactly how many nuclear weapons really exist in the world. Some countries report essentially nothing about their weapons capabilities, in terms of numbers of weapons, delivery vehicles, and amounts of fissile material.We have some bilateral treaties that set limits on deployments of strategic nuclear weapons of the Russian Federation and the United States, but no requirements for verified destruction, and no treaties addressing the possession, production or foreign deployment of non-strategic nuclear weapons.

Strategic nuclear weapons are those that are essentially long range, i.e. can be used to destroy cities across  continents: i.e. New York from somewhere in Russia, or Moscow from the Rocky Mountains. Non strategic (or tactical) nuclear weapons have a shorter range and lower yield. They can be delivered by planes, submarines. Their targets are weapons factories, stockpiles, raw material, transportation systems, power systems. But the destruction of such targets by nuclear weapons does not lessen the horrific humanitarian effects of the the use of such weapons on the environment, human and ecology  around those facilities. Just think of the effect of the tsunami on Fukushima and consequent effect on the area around this. Non-strategic weapons have been reduced, but they have also been modernised.

In the 201o Nuclear Posture Review, the Obama administration indicated that the US Air Force would retain the capability to deliver both nuclear and conventional weapons as it replaced ageing F-16 aircraft with the new F-35 Joint Striker Fighter and that  a “full scope” life extension programme for the B61 bomb, the weapon that is currently deployed in at least six European states, “to ensure its functionality wit the F-35”.

So we are faced with no effective disarmament of nuclear weapons…and this is what we need to focus on, to persuade our fellow citizens that disarmament is still a real issue, whose solution could well free up money to address our other pressing issues.

As New Zealanders we value our stand, but we should take our beliefs out there to the world with conviction and strength. We developed a way of growing community support at town and community level for the non nuclear message. It is a style that meets with a positive reaction from many other activists. The town of Portsmouth in England has voted not to be the replacement port for the nuclear fleet if an independent Scotland asks the fleet to shift from its current Scottish base.

So as we remember those who died in the World Wars and the conflicts that have followed, let us also remember the power and opportunity that comes from peace. What could we spend $1.7 trillion on next year? That’s not just a nice idea: that is an incentive.


climate change, climate change refugees, Uncategorized

So…climate change! Where do we begin?

Last night I went to a meeting in Dunedin where people gathered to discuss whether we should be agreeing to the exploration of our waters for oil and gas.

We did focus a little on the risks from exploration and later from the actual wells.

But something troubled me.

We seemed to be missing the basic question. Why are we actually looking for more hydrocarbons?

Why is not our focus on replacement of these hydrocarbons. Let’s manage this replacement as quickly as possible.

The only Green MP in England, Caroline Lucas has made a similar comment, but hers is on fracking.

“For Lucas, the big problem with fracking has nothing to do with the risk that it will cause earthquakes, contaminate the water table or pollute the soil. In fact, she thinks it possible that stringent regulations could minimise those risks. “It’s not that fracking itself is necessarily worse than ordinary gas extraction. It’s the fact that we’re just about to put into place a whole new infrastructure for a whole new fossil-fuel industry, at exactly the time when we need to be reducing our emissions.” The problem, in other words, is climate change”

In New Zealand, our households and industry are mostly powered by renewable energy, although we should be growing that percentage much much faster.

But it is our transport that is fuelled by oil and gas. Where is the research on alternative fuels? Why are we not harnessing the methane produced by hour livestock? What about the use of algae?

I want a clear statement from political parties on the way forward to reduce our dependence on oil and gas and the timeline in which we are going to do this.


Further to Charter Schools…..

…….and why they distract and take from the many to support a few.

I have rarely ever met a teacher who does not want to change and improve either what is happening in their classroom, or school, or system.

And yet as TV3 presented its saga on Charter Schools last night, it made it look as though the system was deliberately not responding to the needs of certain students and that the only way through was to set up a free school and offer something different.

As I tried to show in my last blog, it is possible to do that within the system. The old way of an existing school sponsoring an experiment,  meant it could happen without endangering students in existing schools. But even then extra resources were needed. And that would need strong justification in today’s tight budgeting.

The best way is to support an existing school to change to meet the needs of its students. Or for a group of schools to combine resources to promote some specialised curriculum or environment for the students. A simple example is how schools combine to staff an outdoor education centre to provide what would be too costly for one school to do alone.

With fewer resources and a narrower curriculum, dominated by National Standards, this provision for the whole range of students is even less likely to happen.

That is what is enraging teachers. They get condemned for not meeting needs and yet see money siphoned away from their schools to support charter schools.

Kia kaha, PPTA! You are working hard for the many, for a better way of providing for all the different needs of our students.


Charter schools, Free Schools

A True Story of a 1960’s “Charter” School in NZ

Way back in the 1970’s I was a young teacher, living in an urban commune in Christchurch! The commune was, and still is, Chippenham!

We were often visited by young secondary students interested in all that we were doing. One of them was  Rod Donald.

As a young teacher I was perturbed by what we were providing in terms of a learning experience. Together a small group of us designed a school. We read and listened to Paulo Freire. We explored Summerhill. But the one that caught our interest was Parkway in Philadelphia. It was a “School Without Walls”, using the community as a classroom.

We then approached the then Department of Education. We had to persuade an existing school to “give birth ” to us. We met with Ian Leggat at a wonderfully alternative meal in the commune. Ian was the Principal of Hagley High. He was persuaded. And then we focussed on Phil Amos, the then Labour Minister of Education. He came and stayed the night at the commune…ministerial car and all! He agreed and in 1975, Four Avenues Alternative High School was born.

It lasted at least ten years and then changed into a alternate school for students in trouble and lasted as that for another ten years. I learnt much in that whole process. The school was great for some students. There were successes and failures in terms of meeting the varied needs of the students. But this is not the blog to explore that in.

I am not sure whether it had the unfair funding that PPTA has so eloquently explained in terms of comparative per pupil finding for current charter schools,but it was seen by existing principals as an experiment, which they were prepared to support.

I returned to mainstream teaching and did some rethinking. What we had done, I thought, was provide a safety valve, which somehow delayed the necessary changes to take place mainstream. And it honoured its original ideas only as long as the commitment of the original team.

It all came back to me, when as a local government officer I was instructed to attend a public meeting on proposed free schools ( UK charter schools) in Northamptonshire. Here I saw models of different communities trying to promote their philosophies, be it drama as the means of learning or a Hindi school. They wanted funding from the state and freedom from the state!

Towards the end of the evening I talked with the young Tory advisers from Gove’s office and asked them what they would do to maintain the schools once the enthusiasm of the founders had died away, and new leaders could not be found. They admitted that they had given this no thought!

Neither has the current National Government in New Zealand given this any thought. Nor have they made it an even playing field. We are in a competitive education system. Parents will choose smaller classes…so might teachers.Chris Hipkins has shown that the per pupil formula is weighted extravagantly in favour of the charter schools, so that  charter school teachers can be paid more.

And then there is this awful contradiction. well another one! We are still closing schools because they are too small. Yet we exacerbate this problem in both NZ and UK, by allowing free schools to open willy-nilly without thinking about the effect on neighbouring schools.

Choice has become a mantra. And great if we all have choice. We can have that by having a flexible, dynamic, well-funded inclusive education system paid for from our taxes. anything else must be paid for from the pockets of the promoters.

Charter schools are just wasting taxpayers money. There are far better ways of experimenting and testing out new ideas and solutions. This is uncontrolled and will likely live only as long as the wonderfully energised promoters are involved.