Against the national trend – “target for record low road toll”

With three days to go in the year this is premature, but barring end of year tragedy the Otago road toll is on target to be a modern low, bucking the national trend.

ODT:  On target for record low road toll

The number of deaths on Otago roads this year are on track to be the lowest recorded, as southern police increase their focus on notorious crash corridors.

Nine people have died on Otago roads in the year to December 27, compared with an average of 18 over the corresponding period in each of the previous four years.

The lowest annual road toll recorded in Otago was 11, in 2009, compared with a high of 43 in 1988.

That’s a huge change in three decades, and half the last four year average.

Nationally, 372 people have died on the roads this year, making 2018 the second deadliest year since 2010.

Otago coastal road policing team leader Senior Sergeant Jared Kirk, who began in the role in March, said a greater emphasis on deploying staff to the most lethal roads was a major driver of this year’s low toll, together with road safety improvements made by the NZ Transport Agency.

The majority of fatal crashes in his area happened on State Highway 1 north of Dunedin to Oamaru and south to Balclutha.

One significant aspect of this is that the toll is heavier well away from the increasingly heavy tourist traffic areas of Central Otago including Queenstown and Wanaka.

Government needs to step up and walk their transformational hype in 2019

Over the last year the incoming Labour-led Government had some big challenges, in particular to get themselves in a position to run the country after unexpected success in the 2017 election and subsequent coalition negotiations.

With some notable exceptions, like Clare Curran, Meka Whaitiri, and the difficulties getting Kiwibuild up to speed, they have largely been successful – so far.

2019 poses different challenges. The Government deferred many decisions by setting up a myriad of reviews, inquiries, working groups and whatever else they called their policy-formation-while-in-government devices. Some of these are supposed to address issues that they had claimed were urgent, like housing shortages, homelessness, poverty, mental health, health generally.

They have to be seen to taking semi-urgent action (belated) on a number of things.

Peter Wilson reviews what they have done this year in Year in NZ politics: Promises, scandals, progress (RNZ).

The government began 2018 with a largely inexperienced Cabinet and an ambitious First 100 Days programmeto implement. Parliament and the Beehive were frantic places but it pushed the legislation through.

National’s tax cuts were scrapped and in their place the Families Package was rolled out. Winter energy subsidies for pensioners came in and the billion-dollar-a-year regional development fund was signed off.

During the year the year the government set up its tax working group after promising there would be no changes during its first term in office.

Another flagship policy was introduced, making the first year of tertiary education free. At the beginning of this year, it hadn’t made much difference to enrolments and the government said it would take time to become effective.

Foreigners were banned from buying existing homes, the sale of state houses ended and the Pike River Recovery Agency was set up to supervise re-entry to the mine.

Ms Ardern took personal responsibility for reducing child poverty and holds the Cabinet portfolio.

The promise of KiwiBuild – 100,000 affordable homes in 10 years – began to deliver, but only just. It’s the one flagship policy that could damage the government, and evidence of success is so far elusive.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson presented a cautious Budget in May with an emphasis on rebuilding public services.

With the economy running well and the tax take up he was able to forecast strong surpluses which can be harvested in the next election year.

A healthy and improving economy, and the prudence of Minister of Finance Grant Robertson, have set this Government up for their second year in power.

The government can head into 2019 confident of its stability, but there are some big challenges in the New Year.

It has set up numerous reviews and inquiries into vital issues including health, justice and mental health. The rubber hits the road when those reports come in and ministers have to decide what to actually do about them.

This is, by its own claim, a transformational government. The status quo or minor tweaking won’t do.

It is not a transformational government, yet. Most tweaks so far have been relatively minor.

Prime Minister Ardern (in particular) and her Government talked a lot of talk about what they might do and what urgently needed doing in 2018.

2019 is the year they need to walk the walk, or they could stumble in election year in 2020.

It will probably take until May, budget month, to see how bold and how transformational the Government really wants to be.

And the future of this Government could depend a lot on what comes out of the tax working group. This won’t be easy because it was hobbled before it started looking into possible tax reforms, with some transformational options ruled out by Ardern and Labour.

Ardern has been given an easy ride by journalists so far, even to the extent that some fawn over her, but they need to put aside liking the Prime Minister and her baby and looking seriously into whether Ardern and her Government are going to live up to their PR hype.

That needs to happen in 2019.

Pope urges simpler lest materialistic life – for others

RNZ:  Pope calls for more compassion towards the poor

In his traditional Christmas Eve Mass, the Pope has urged people in the developed world to seek a simpler, less materialistic life and condemned the increasing gap between rich and poor.

“Let us ask ourselves: ‘Do I really need all these material objects and complicated recipes for living? Can I manage without all these unnecessary extras and live a life of greater simplicity?'” Pope Francis said.

“In our day, for many people, life’s meaning is found in possessing, in having an excess of material objects. An insatiable greed marks all human history, even today, when, paradoxically, a few dine luxuriantly while all too many go without the daily bread needed to survive,” he said.

Somewhat ironic given the excessive opulence of St Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican.

Pope Francis celebrates a mass on Christmas eve.

He didn’t say he would sell the huge gold candlesticks behind him and give the proceeds to the poor.

Pope Francis, the first pope from Latin America, has made defending the poor a hallmark of his papacy.

Another person who gets into a position of influence and power and talks the talk, but symbolises a walk in a different direction.

Bland, emotionless Christmas message from the Queen

I watched Queen Elizabeth give her Christmas speech for the first time for many years last night – actually I didn’t, I watched a replay of what was recorded prior, along with edited in video.

Queen Elizabeth II Delivers Her Christmas Speech

The Queen delivered her speech without any sign of emotion. It was bland, with the probable highlights for some being nods to celebrity style events involving ‘my family’. I’m not sure if Prince Philip is still alive, I think so, but he didn’t get a mention.

The speech broadcast started and ended with an all-male chorister and boys choir over-singing some songs in another opulent environment.

Summary from Global News: Queen’s Christmas Message 2018

Queen Elizabeth II delivers her annual Christmas message. The Queen reflected on a year of centenaries including the Armistice and the busy year in the royal family from weddings to children and how faith, family, and friendship continue to be a comfort and reassurance in a world filled with paradoxes.

BBC: The Queen’s Christmas message 2018

The Queen has said the Christian message of “peace on earth and goodwill to all” is “needed as much as ever”, in her Christmas Day broadcast.

She also emphasised the importance of people with opposing views treating each other respectfully.

Riveting and inspirational, not.

Town & Country:  Queen Elizabeth’s Christmas Message Reflects on the Royal Family’s ‘Busy Year’

As is tradition, Queen Elizabeth II addressed her people this afternoon, sharing her annual Christmas message.

I guess I qualify as one of ‘her people’ but I don’t feel any connection to her and her privileged life of opulence and show.

In the speech, the British monarch reflected on the royal family’s busy year, recognizing the weddings of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle and Princess Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank, as well as the births of her two great-grandchildren, Prince Louis and Lena Tindall, and Prince Charles’s 70th birthday.

She also called out the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, remembering her father’s time in the military and honoring all of those who serve. But perhaps most impactful was the Queen’s plea for kindness and respect in our modern society.

“Even with the most deeply held differences, treating the other person with respect and as a fellow human being is always a good first step towards greater understanding,” she said.

“Even the power of faith which frequently inspires great generosity and self-sacrifice can fall victim to tribalism. But through the many changes I have seen over the years: faith, family, and friendship have been not only a constant for me, but a source of personal comfort and reassurance.”

This was just a traditional place holder. Not something that impresses me, but some people like this sort of thing, so here it is.

 

An irreverent review of the 2018 political year

The year of 2018 welcomed a Prime Ministerial baby, the collapse of two Ministerial careers and a kamikaze takedown of the Opposition. Political reporter Craig McCulloch takes an irreverent (by RNZ standards) look back on the biggest stories of 2018.

Audio (RNZ) – Focus on Politics: 2018 in Review

Stuff’s positive political awards

I’ll stick to the positives in Stuff judgment on the political year.

Duncan Garner: 2018 … the good…

Player of the Season: Jacinda Ardern.

When the prime minister settles into a Christmas drink she can deservedly toast herself and not just because she’s had a stellar year.

Being PM means the bullets fly in all directions and then some. It’s largely about damage control but somehow looking pro-active and transformational and surviving while managing what could be a nightmare coalition scenario, and Ardern has done it in her stride and with a wide grin.

Oh, and throw in your first baby and surely she wins the MVP award.

Ardern is nice. She is warm and she is pleasant. It’s a brutal personable cocktail that is easy to like and perhaps she may be the most teflon politician in decades.

There’s little doubt that Ardern has more than survived her first year leading Labour, the Government and the country. The “most teflon politician in decades” is largely thanks applied by an often fawning media, but the Government remains intact and Ardern remains Prime Minister (probably for as long as she likes).

Most improved: Andrew Little.

From Mr Nowhere man to everywhere to be seen. His management of the Pike River mine recovery has been exceptional. He put humanity and people and families first. However, his oversight of new justice laws was less impressive. No Government should allow a “soft on crime” narrative to take hold while in office. However, he’s a rock solid minister in a Cabinet that lacks depth.

Being leader didn’t suit him, but despite some on the job learning hiccups he is generally doing very well as a top performing Cabinet Minister.

Stuff:  2018 political awards

There is quite a bit of snark and brickbatting but some politicians get bouquets.

The safe pair of hands award: To David Parker, who has navigated a foreign buyers ban, a TPP signing, and the beginnings of a freshwater plan with little to no drama. Runners-up: Kris Faafoi, who will be in Cabinet before long

The red carpet award: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who continues to make a splash on the international stage in her first year on the job.

The comeback kid of the year award: Goes to Andrew Little, twice. Little was widely panned as opposition leader before regaining a lot of mana as a new justice minister. Then he got too far ahead of Cabinet and announced the end of the three strikes law, leading to Winston Peters utterly humiliating him in full national view. But, just like he did before, Little put his head down and is now once again one of the most respected ministers in Cabinet.

The Zero to Hero award: Finance Minister Grant Robertson, who seems to have finally turned plummeting business confidence around after his focus on the Budget surplus and a year-long charm offensive talking to business groups.

Rookie on the rise: Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick. She’s already being touted as a future Green Party leader, despite the fact she is half the age of the current ones. Her work on mental health and drug policy has shown exactly how a first-term MP can make a name for themselves.

Backbenchers of the yearChris Bishop and Nicola Willis. This dynamic duo are working it in Opposition, although Bishop would probably be on the front bench if he hadn’t publicly supported Amy Adams in the leadership race. It helps that these Wellingtonians both have years of political experience under their belts from before Parliament.

The country is still chugging away ok so in general our politicians have done reasonable jobs, especially when you consider that the media tends to make a bigger splash out of negative news.

More journalists were killed, abused and subjected to violence in 2018

While murder murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudia Arabia in their Consulate in Turkey received a lot of media attention, attacks on journalists were quite widespread, with:

  • 80 killed
  • 3 missing
  • 60 held hostage
  • 348 detained

That’s alarming, and a record high.

Reporters Without Borders: WORLDWIDE ROUND-UP of journalists killed, detained, held hostage, or missing in 2018 

Although the number of journalists killed in 2017 was less than in previous years, 2018 saw the death toll of journalists rise to a shocking total of 80 journalists killed worldwide (including professional journalists, non-professional journalists and media workers). The number of professional journalists killed rose 15%, from 55 in 2017 to 63 in 2018.

The number of non-professional journalists also rose, from seven last year to 13 this year. Non-professional journalists play a fundamental role in the production of news and information in countries with oppressive regimes and countries at war, where it is hard for professional journalists to operate. In addition to these very alarming figures, there are ten other deaths that RSF is still investigating.

In all, 49 of these journalists (61% of the total) were deliberately targeted because their reporting threatened the interests of certain people in positions of political, economic, or religious power or organized crime. The cases of Ján Kuciak, a Slovak investigative reporter shot dead in his home on 21 February, and Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi columnist murdered in the Consulate of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul on 2 October, show how far some people will go to silence “troublesome” journalists.

Deadliest countries:

  • Afhaanistan 15
  • Syria 11
  • Mexico 9
  • Yemen 8
  • United States 6
  • India 6

The US features due to a single attack in Annapolis, Maryland when four journalists (and one other employee) were shot.

Two others were killed in an accident – a local TV anchor and cameraman, were killed by a falling tree while covering Subtropical Storm Alberto’s extreme weather in North Carolina in May.

Nearly half of the media fatalities were in countries not at war

The world’s five deadliest countries for journalists include three – India, Mexico, and for the first time the United States – where journalists were killed in cold blood although these countries were not at war or in conflict. Once again, Mexico was the deadliest of the countries not at war, with nine journalists murdered in 2018.

Journalism and media are essential components of a free and open society, so attacks on journalists are an attack on freedom.

CNN:  Journalists faced ‘unprecedented’ hostility this year, report says

The findings further highlight the volatility faced by journalists across the world over the past twelve months, a period which has seen high-profile murders and imprisonments as well as verbal attacks on the news media by key global figures, including US President Donald Trump.

“Violence against journalists has reached unprecedented levels this year, and the situation is now critical,” RSF secretary general Christophe Deloire said in a news release accompanying the report.

“The hatred of journalists that is voiced, and sometimes very openly proclaimed, by unscrupulous politicians, religious leaders and businessmen has tragic consequences on the ground, and has been reflected in this disturbing increase in violations against journalists,” he added.

Politicians depend on journalists, but some act poorly when they receive media scrutiny.

Journalists and media are increasingly criticised – some of that criticism is justified, but generally attacks on media are self-interested attacks on a free and open society.

Politician scores for 2018

It’s that time of year when political journalists rate the politicians on their performances.

Tracy Watkins: After a huge year in politics, one politician stands out

  • Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern 9.5

I think that’s very generous. Ardern has done well at some things – especially her public performances and her rapport with journalists – but despite Watykins’ gushing, I think Ardern still has a lot to prove. As has her Government. That it didn’t turn to custard in it’s first year is an achievement, but just. I’d give Ardern a 7.5 but she will need to sort out quite a bit next year.

  • Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters 8.5

Also generous. Peters did an adequate job when standing in as Acting PM, and hasn’t dragged the Government down – yet. But he has also been smarmy, cantankerous and cranky at times. I think he deserves a pass mark but little more.

  • Finance Minister Grant Robertson 8.5

Helped substantially by a healthy economy he inherited Robertson has done pretty well so far so 8.5 is deserved.

  • Deputy Labour Leader Kelvin Davis 5.0

It’s true that Davis has been terrible as a deputy leader, but he was plonked there and although obviously a fish out of water he has been left in that position. It just doesn’t suit him.  But he has been doing a lot of good work out of the spotlight, in particularly he has helped prison numbers drop by 10%, averting a crisis. He seems to work well doing hard yards rather than floozing around with PR and the press. I’d give him a 7.5 for the parts of his job that matter.

  • Trade Minister David Parker 8.0

Parker seems to have done well in Trade – in particular, he switched Labour from opposed to ratifying the TPPA with barely a whimper from protesters who were going ballistic when the National Government nearly got it over the line. A rare commodity in Cabinet – experience.

  • Housing Minister Phil Twyford 6.5

He is also doing Transport. In major roles he is a big risk for Labour, and 6.5 seems ridiculous given Twyford looks like a dipstick out of his depth far too often.

  • Justice Minister Andrew Little 7.0

Little made some mistakes but has learnt from them, and generally seems to be doing a good job, including working towards some promising looking reforms.

  • Climate Change Minister James Shaw 7.0

It’s hard to know how well Shaw has been doing on Climate Change. He has been largely invisible. His year may be judged better after the outcome of the current COP24 climate conference in Poland is known. We are still lacking clarity on what his energy alternatives will look like in practice – phasing out fossil fuels as Shaw proposes leaves a big hole to fill, and that will need more than idealistic dreams. Shaw has also given little priority to leadership of the Greens, and it shows.  His party looks like two parts now, with three Ministers toiling away while the rest of the MPs still acting like they are Opposition activists still. I’d give him a 6.0 but he needs to start showing results.

  • National Leader Simon Bridges 6.5

Generous. He has had internal party problems (Jami-lee Ross in particular). And he continues to fail to impress with his presentation – more cringe than charisma. And he has made some poor policy and attack decisions. I’d give him a 5 for surviving as leader but he has a lot to learn and a lot of improvements to make if he is to succeed.

  • Deputy Paula Bennett 6.5

I’m not sure what Bennett has done apart from transform her physical appearance. I haven’t seen enough of actual political achievements to think of an appropriate number.

  • Finance spokeswoman Amy Adams 6.0

Probably a fair score, competent but unremarkable. She has a difficult job criticising the Government on finance with the economy going well.

  • Housing spokeswoman Judith Collins 8.0

Really? Collins works with media and social media well, but she got nowhere near a serious challenge to Bridges, and she symbolises leadership-coup-in-waiting, probably intentionally, which is not good for National.

  • Justice spokesman Mark Mitchell: 8.0
  • Michael Woodhouse 8.0
  • Paul Goldsmith 7.5

They have adapted from Government to Opposition better than most.

  • Jami-lee Ross 1.0

Generous. I guess he is still an MP, but in name only, he is still on sick leave.

Party front bench ratings:

  • National 7.5
  • Labour 6

Probably fair. Too many of the Labour front bench are struggling. Watkins didn’t rate Megan Woods, Chris Hipkins, Carmel Sepuloni, David Clark, Nanaia Mahuta, Stuart Nash.

I’ll give a special mention to two rooky back benchers who have taken to quite different roles very capably.

Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick has done a lot of hard work, especially on drug law reform, and unlike some of her colleagues hasn’t been looking like an out of place activist. A very promising list MP.

National MP Hamish Walker scored the safe Clutha-Southland electorate that had been very controversial last term when Todd Barclay proved unsuitable as an MP. In contrast Walker has been doing the hard yards in the largest electorate in the country working on things that matter to his constituents. He is a model first term electorate MP – work hard locally and keep out of the national spotlight while you learn the ropes.

 

 

 

‘Human-caused climate change is transforming the Arctic’

The Arctic is experiencing a period of unparalleled warmth “that is unlike any period on record,” according to the 2018 Arctic Report Card from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (United States Department of Commerce).

According to the report  human-caused climate change is transforming the Arctic, both physically through the reduction of sea ice, and biologically through reductions in wildlife populations and introduction of marine toxins and algae.

– Arctic Report Card: Update for 2018 – Tracking recent environmental changes, with 14 essays prepared by an international team of 81 scientists from 12 different countries and an independent peer-review organized by the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme of the Arctic Council.

Temperatures in the Arctic are warming more than twice as fast as the overall planet’s average temperature, with temperatures this year in the highest latitudes (above 60 degrees north) coming in 1.7 degrees Celsius (3.1 degrees Fahrenheit) above the 1981-2010 average. These were the second warmest (behind 2016) air temperatures ever recorded during the Arctic year, which runs from October through September to avoid splitting the winter season.

The five years since 2014 have been warmer than any other years in the historical record, which goes back to 1900. Although Arctic temperatures have been subject to wild swings back and forth through the decades due to natural variability, they have been consistently warmer than average since 2000 and at or near record since 2014, the report states.

“The changes we are witnessing in the Arctic are sufficiently rapid that they cannot be explained without considering our impacts on the chemistry of the atmosphere,” Thomas Mote, a research scientist at the University of Georgia who authored part of the report, told CNN in an email.

The report is yet another study from part of the US government indicating that climate change is real and having a profound impact, despite denials from the President and senior members of his Administration.

 2018 Arctic Report Card peer-reviewed report

Political year review – the parties 2018

A lot of politics and politicians fly under the media radar. Some MPs make the headlines, because the have prominent jobs, because they seek publicity, or because publicity seeks them, or they cock up. Here’s a few of my thoughts and impressions on the 2018 political year.

Party-wise I don’t think there is much of note.

National and Labour have settled into competing for top party status through the year, with the poll lead fluctuating. It’s far too soon to call how this will impact on the 2020 election, with both parties having problems but still in the running.

Greens and NZ First have also settled in to competing for second level party honours. Nothing drastic has gone wrong for either, but they are both struggling to impress in the polls, and they keep flirting with the threshold. again too soon to call how this will impact on the next election.

ACT is virtually invisible, and unless something drastic changes will remain largely an MP rather than a party.

TOP is trying to reinvent itself without Gareth Morgan leading but Morgan is having trouble letting go of his influence. They have a lot of work to do to build a new profile with whoever they choose as new leader. As with any party without an MP they have an uphill battle with media and with the threshold.

The New Conservative Party is not getting any publicity, apart from their deputy leader posting at Whale Oil, which won’t do much for their credibility. The media seem disinterested, which is the kiss of political death.

No other party looks like making an impression.

With NZ First and Greens expected to struggle to maintain support while in Government (as have support parties in the past), one prospect is that the political landscape and the next election will be a two party race, with Labour and National competing to earn the votes to become a single party Government, which would be a first under MMP.

It’s too soon to call on this. A major factor could be whether voters are happy to see support parties fade away out of contention, or whether enough voters decide small party checks on power are important to maintain.

If the latter this may benefit the Greens IF voters aren’t too worried about a Labour+Green coalition who would have confidence in getting more revolutionary with a second term mandate.

For NZ First much may depend on how let down some of their support feels over a lack of living up to their promises on things like immigration and dumping the Maori seats. A lot may also depend on how Winston Peters weathers another term and whether he stands again.

Winners?

Labour have won back a position as a top dog party after struggling for nearly all of the nine years they were in Opposition.

National continue to win a surprising level of support as long as individual MPs aren’t trying to sabotage the party. The Ross rampage is unlikely to be repeated as other MPs will have seen it as little more than self destructive of an individual’s political future.

So joint winners, sort of but with no prize, and no party deserving of a runner-up place.