Fees-free policy “not a failure” but students threaten backlash

The Government has gotten themselves into a tricky situation with their handling of the news that their tertiary education fees-free scheme has run well under budget.

The scheme was rushed into place as soon as Labour took over the Government in late 2017.

Criticism has stung the government who are quite defensive.

RNZ:  Fees-free tertiary policy not a failure, Grant Robertson says

The Finance Minister insists the fees-free tertiary policy is not a failure, despite reallocating a sizeable part of the funding to polytechs due to low demand.

The policy – a Labour Party campaign promise – has been in place since the start of 2018 and pays for the first year of full-time study for school leavers, and for those who have done fewer than six months’ tertiary study in the past.

Initial estimates were it would cost about $350 million a year, but now about $197m (over four years) will be rediverted due to fewer students taking advantage of the policy than expected.

The government budgeted for 80,000 students when it first launched the policy, but that was revised down to 50,000 once it became apparent the uptake wouldn’t be that high.

In a pre-Budget speech to the Wellington Chamber of Commerce, Finance Minister Grant Robertson said ministers had identified about $1 billion of spending that was no longer a priority.

“One example of this was underspending on the fees-free programme due to enrolments not meeting initial forecasts. This funding … is now to be redirected to the implementation of the reform of vocational education.”

He told reporters afterwards it was “far from” an admission of failure.

“Tens of thousands of New Zealanders have benefited from this scheme, this is simply a recognition that not all of the money that was allocated for it is being used.

“And now we’ve got the opportunity to put that towards a vocational education system that’s delivering people with the skills that they need.”

But the government could have done better communicating who was eligible for a year’s fees-free, said Mr Robertson.

They could also have done a better job communicating the under-performance. They have left themselves trying to defend after the news came out.

And diverting the funds rather than communicating better to prospective students may also be a problem.

RNZ: Coalition faces ‘student backlash’ if no-fee policy revised

A student leader says many students are only at her university because of the new no-fees scheme and has warned the government not to ditch its policy.

Victoria University Students Association president Tamatha Paul warned the Labour coalition not to backtrack on its 2017 election promises to implement the scheme, or face a backlash by students.

Under the scheme, the first year of full-time study for school leavers is paid for, and those who have committed fewer than six months’ tertiary study in the past also qualify.

Labour’s campaign policy in 2017 was to introduce fees-free at the start of 2018, then gradually extend it to two years’ free in 2021 and provide three years’ free in 2024.

Ms Paul told Morning Report the scheme was proving beneficial to students.

“We know that this policy is being extremely helpful,” she said.

“We’re having conversations with students consistently, who are saying they wouldn’t have come to the university if it wasn’t for this policy, especially students coming from disadvantaged backgrounds and especially those getting scholarships who are now dedicated that money towards accommodation and living costs, instead of tertiary fees.”

So some skilful communications may be in order here.

 

 

Low uptake on fees-free scheme, could be scaled back

In 2017 Labour campaigned on there being a number of crises that needed urgent attention after ‘nine years of neglect’. It was surprising that one of the first policies they piled money into was something that seemed less urgent than housing, homelessness, poverty, mental health – they rushed in a tertiary education free fees scheme so that it would be in place by the start of 2018.

It turns out that the uptake hasn’t been anywhere near as high as predicted, so the scheme won’t cost as much as was budgeted. But the Government also seems to be considering scaling back the scheme to divert  budgeted money to more urgent needs (the so-called crises remain largely unaddressed).

Stuff:  Low enrolments sees $200m clawed back from fees-free scheme

The Government is stripping nearly $200 million from its controversial fees-free policy, after the number of people taking up the offer of a year of free tertiary education was below expectations.

Although he denied disappointment with the policy, Finance Minister Grant Robertson appeared to leave the door open to cancelling an extension of the scheme to further years of free education in 2021.

At a speech to the Wellington Chamber of Commerce in Parliament on Tuesday, Robertson said that as part of the upcoming Budget, the Government had identified around $1 billion of the lowest priority initiatives to cancel.

As part of this, $197m allocated for a year of tertiary education was being redirected to changes being made in the vocational education reforms.

Of course if they don’t have to spend everything the budgeted for for fees-free that money will be able to be used elsewhere (if they don’t want to cut government expenditure).

But what is apparent here is that a scheme rushed through as a high priority in 2017 now seems to be regarded as ‘lowest priority’.

Robertson denied the move was an acknowledgement of problems with the policy. The policy assumed a significant uplift in enrolments, which had not materialised. Robertson put this down to the strong labour market which made job opportunities good.

“When you get a period of time when you have employment being very, very low, that traditionally coincides with lower enrolments, in particular in polytechs,” Robertson told reporters, adding that people still had the option of taking up the policy if they chose.

Robertson maintained that it still remained Labour Party policy to extend the scheme for a second and eventually a third year of free education, but appeared to open the door to that happening.

“We’ll take a look at the extensions nearer the time, but I still believe the principle of making sure that people can carry on with study at university or apprenticeships  or work place training is really, really important.”

The plan for a second year of free education did not take place until the next term of Government so there was “plenty of time between now and then to make that call”.

So Robertson certainly seems uncommitted to expanding the scheme as planned.

Robertson’s pre-budget speech to the Wellington Chamber of Commerce:  Wellbeing Budget to tackle long-term challenges

Census failures and political accusations

The 2018 census has been a bit of a disaster, with the first use of extensive online responses, and a large reduction on the number of people who took part. This had led to significant delays in releasing what data they have gathered as Stats NZ has been doing what they can to fill the gaps in data.

The problems may impact on things like health funding, education planning and electoral boundary fixing.

And political accusations are flying, with National blaming the Minister of Statistics James Shaw, and Shaw and PM Jacinda Ardern blaming the last National government for underfunding the budget.

But this has been questioned – the 2013 census budget was $72 million, while the 2018 census budget was $117 million.

Planning for the census started while National were still in Government, but the actual census was done after Labour-Greens-NZ First took over.

RNZ – Census 2018: Stats NZ sets September release for ‘robust’ data

Stats NZ says it has plugged enough of the gaps in last year’s census to be able to start releasing data from September, but some data – including iwi statistics – are too incomplete to be regarded as official statistics.

Using a methodology that combines 89 percent of real census data and 11 percent of other government administrative data, Stats NZ said it now had records for 4.7 million people in the dataset.

In a statement, government statistician Liz MacPherson said the data now met the quality criteria for population structure information, meaning it could be used for planning, population-based funding for DHBs, and electorate boundaries.

“This means Stats NZ will use 2018 Census data to update the official population estimates and projections that many organisations use for their planning,” Ms MacPherson said.

Earlier this month, Ms MacPherson admitted that nearly one in seven people did not complete the census. The low response rate has delayed the data release twice.

“The release of data has been delayed twice because of the complex and careful work required to lift the quality of the census dataset,” Ms MacPherson said.

She said she wanted to make it clear this dataset was reliable, robust, and based on maths, not guesswork.

While government records helped to fill in gaps, Stats NZ said it could not be used for all the census topics and as a result some data might not be released as official statistics.

Newsroom:  Māori miss out in Census 2018

Data relating to iwi affiliation, for example, will not be available for the 2018 Census.

A lack of iwi affiliation data could have an impact on Treaty settlements.

A Te Arawhiti spokesperson told Newsroom it used iwi affiliation to build understanding of the groups it was negotiating with and to create regional profiles and help the public sector with iwi information.

The data was also a “secondary” factor the Crown considered when developing its Treaty settlement offers.

The spokesperson said Te Arawhiti would work with Statistics NZ and iwi to gather the best usable data from 2018.

Data on Māori ethnicity had been collected accurately, and would be able to be used – just not at the level of iwi.

The Government has announced extra funding, and has slammed the last Government for cutting funding.

James Shaw:  Stats Minister confirms funding for Census fix

Extra funding has been confirmed in this year’s Budget to fix issues arising from the 2018 Census and to ensure the next one is the best it can be, the Minister of Statistics announced today.

“Stats NZ has now confirmed it will provide reliable, quality 2018 census data to calculate how many electorates will be needed for next year’s General Election and to revise electorate boundaries where necessary,” James Shaw said.

“It had to delay other work and re-allocate funds to do it.  As a result there’s a shortfall of $5.76 million needed to complete the delayed work, and that’s being covered in this year’s Budget,” James Shaw said.

“There’s also Budget approval this year of $10.36 million to enable Stats NZ to get ahead of the next census. The money will develop the business case for the 2023 Census and start development work on it.

“The previous National-led Government decided to shift the Census to a mostly online survey and, at the same time, directed Stats NZ to cut costs over two census cycles,” Mr Shaw said.

Moving to a mostly online survey has been contentious. It appears that not enough effort was put into making it easy for people to still do it offline.

But the cost cutting accusations have been challenged.

The way data was collated was changing, and that rate of change is being accelerated.

Newsroom:  Annual census could replace five-year form-filling

The five-yearly national census could become an annual affair as the official statistics agency uses more of the data constantly collected by government agencies rather than rely on declining response rates from individual citizens.

The agency had been testing and refining models for use of administrative data for seven years already. It had intended to use an increasing amount of such data from the 2023 census onwards and instead accelerated its modelling processes to create a statistically robust 2018 census result, McPherson said.

Some 1.2 percent fewer people participated in the census than anticipated. Data gaps left by people not completely filling in their forms meant partial information equivalent to around 500,000 citizens was drawn from administrative data sources rather than census forms filled in on census night, March 6 last year.

“The team at Stats NZ has risen to the challenge and delivered a new way of confidently combining the strengths of census and administrative records to create the 2018 census dataset.

“There are now records for approximately 4.7 million people in the census dataset. The number of records is 1.2 percent, or 58,000 people, less than our best estimate of the population on Census Day 6 March 2018. In 2013, the official census undercount was 2.4 percent, or 103,800 people.

McPherson said the 2018 data was robust enough to allow the re-setting of electoral boundaries for the 2020 election and the population funding models used by public hospitals to determine their budgets, contrary to speculation from critics of the census process.

Change was inevitable. The transition seems to have been stuffed up.

 

Auckland rail link budget jumps $1 billion

The same day it was announced that a means of getting additional tax revenue was being ruled out – the CGT backdown – another announcement that a a project committed to will cost another $1 billion more than budgeted.

RNZ: Billion-dollar increase in cost of Auckland’s City Rail Link

The cost of building Auckland’s City Rail Link project has risen from $3.4 billion to $4.4b, it has been confirmed this afternoon.

City Rail Link chief executive Dr Sean Sweeney said a revised cost envelope for the 3.45 kilometre-long train line has been submitted to the Crown and Auckland Council for approval.

“The $1 billion cost increase on the previous $3.4 billion estimate made in 2014 reflects significant changes impacting the project in the past five years,” said Dr Sweeney.

“No-one could have foreseen the competitive pressures that have occurred in the construction industry over the past few years and the impact that has on costs, particularly for a project the scale and complexity of the City Rail Link.

“Last year, a decision was made to increase the scope of the project to accommodate longer, nine-car trains at stations. Planning today for a city that will be much bigger in the future reinforces the benefits the City Rail Link City will deliver to the way people travel, work and live in Auckland.

No one could have foreseen that increasing the scope of the project might increase the cost?

The extra cost will be split between the Government and Auckland City.

City Rail Link is now being constructed by the so-called Link Alliance – a group of six companies including Tonkin + Taylor and Downer NZ.

It said the revised higher cost came from four areas:

  • Contingency and escalation costs ($310m)
  • Construction costs ($327m)
  • Accomodating longer, nine-car trains ($250m)
  • Non-direct cost ($152m)

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said tighter financial management will help fund the additional $500 million requested by City Rail Link Limited.

Like the tighter financial management campaigned on in the last election? Tighter still now?

Ardern explains ‘well-being’ approach to budget, sort of

The Government is promoting it’s next budget (due in May) as a world first ‘well-being’ focussed budget. They may be putting more focus on aspects of well-being, but it’s only the label and the emphasis that is different.

The last National government had a different label – social investment. Their emphasis may have been different but they were trying to address a similar approach to spending decisions.

Jacinda Ardern was asked about her wellbeing approach on Newshub Nation.


The government’s about to deliver the world’s first well-being budget. Okay, so there seems to be concerns from economists that this budget might not be so much based on data. One of the examples that’s come up recently is the Treasury’s cost-benefit analysis, where it puts a figure, a specific value on things like contact with a neighbour or feeling lonely. I mean, how do you put a value on those things that you can’t count?

Incredibly difficult, granted.

Yeah.

Actually, what some of the Treasury have used actually were — some of the modelling, as I understand, was actually developed under the last government, when they were doing social investment. These are all pieces of information that we use in a budget process. But it is not the thing that determines precisely what we then prioritise. It’s an input. It gives us extra information. Because you’re right — some of it— it’s quite hard to build evidence base in some of these areas, and yet we know the economic impact of, actually, some of the social issues we’re trying to address. Now let me give you an example. Internationally, a big discussion around the economic impact of mental health and well-being — we know that there are groups of our society who are experiencing more social disconnection, less contact with the outside world, greater levels of loneliness. Now, that might seem fluffy, but there actually is an economic impact for that downstream. How do we make sure we prioritise investing in the areas that help us from a social perspective, but also, ultimately, economically too.

But some of the, sort of, criteria seem a bit out of whack, as it were. Like, you’ve got minus-$17,000 for loneliness, and that seems to be a greater figure than avoiding a heart attack and all these kinds of things.

And, unfortunately, the Opposition have completely misused the tool that Treasury has created by comparing cost benefit and outputs incorrectly.

Okay.

Treasury have debunked the way that that’s been dealt with, but the primary point I’d like to make is these are just different pieces of data and evidence we can use. Ultimately, though, we are still the ones making the decision over what changes these things at an intergenerational level.

So tell somebody. I mean, it sounds lovely and a bit woolly. So tell someone. It’s a tangible difference about having a well-being budget. What’s a concrete example?

Let me give you an example. So health, for instance. In the past, we’d just tell you how much we’d spent in the health budget. It doesn’t really tell you anything about the well-being or the health of New Zealanders. So then you’ve seen governments over time would instead tell you how many operations we’re purchasing. But, actually, again, that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re investing in a way that saves us money in the long term. What we’re trying to do is factor in, for instance, the fact that children that grow up in poverty are more likely to have health problems as adults just by virtue of that trajectory, and they have the equivalent of what looks like post-traumatic stress. So, actually, if we want to save health dollars here, it makes sense for us to invest in the health and well-being of kids.

Hasn’t that been the motivation of government ministers? Shouldn’t that be the motivation — you know the general well-being of the population from day dot?

It should be, but—

So why do you need the marketing stuff over the top? That should be your primary motivation.

It’s not the way policy is developed or spending decisions are traditionally made. Unfortunately, when you’re a minister — and this has happened through successive governments over decades, and it’s an international problem that was being debated at Davos, for instance —individual ministers, of course, make budget bids in their own area, and so that means that, you know, the Minister of Education might not be thinking about, you know, mental health and well-being issues even though he actually has a role to play in that area. The Minister of Health isn’t necessarily— has the responsibility to deal with what happens with child trauma and child poverty, and yet he picks up the pieces. It’s about trying to get everyone to work together to resolve what are long-term challenges. So, actually, this isn’t about ideology; it’s not about left and right; this is just, I think, a good methodology to use in the future.

“Government is stuck in a fiscal holding pattern”

Bernard Hickey thinks that the Government is “stuck in a fiscal holding pattern” this term due to their commitment to Budget Responsibility Rules, which committed them to get net debt down to 20 percent of GDP and keep the budget in surplus across the economic cycle.

This fiscal straightjacket has been criticised by those who want the Government to launch into significant (and expensive) tax, benefit and social reforms.

Hickey (Newsroom):  ‘Let’s do this’ in a holding pattern

Jacinda Ardern’s first big economic speech of the year warned of global economic headwinds, but it lacked action in response, or a major plan to improve wellbeing. Instead, it exposed how her Government is stuck in a fiscal holding pattern before the 2020 election, when it hopes it can throw off its debt target and capital gains tax shackles.

The breakfast speech to a polite audience of Auckland’s business elite at the Hilton Hotel on the waterfront showed the Prime Minister at the top of her game. She is a smooth operator with a knack for a self-deprecating quip or an aside that can win over even the most sceptical audience.

“Our starting point for the Wellbeing Budget is that while economic growth is important, it alone does not guarantee improvements to New Zealanders’ living standards,” she said, going on to make a strong case to address our obvious wellbeing problems.

“An everyday New Zealander – hearing of the “rock star economy” while their housing costs are skyrocketing, or they can’t afford to send their kids to school with a proper lunch or their mental health is strained – tends to have their faith in the system and in institutions undermined.”

She went on to detail the plans and the priorities for the first Wellbeing Budget in May, and suggested it would help New Zealand cope with economic headwinds from overseas.

“It will ensure that those closest to the margins are protected and that no one is left behind,” she said.

Really?

How can that be true when Kiwibuild is behind schedule and there are massive infrastructure deficits in housing, health, education and transport, which can only be addressed with tens of billions of extra public investment. New Zealand’s population is growing five times faster than the OECD average and Ardern acknowledged in her speech that governments had encouraged population growth without investing in infrastructure to deal with it.

That’s what National had been criticised for (with some justification).

I asked Ardern afterwards if the Government was planning to respond to the slowing economy and higher unemployment by loosening fiscal policy with extra operational or investment spending.

She stuck to the usual line that the Government would keep operating within its Budget Responsibility Rules.

Ardern and right-hand-man and now-Finance Minister Grant Robertson agreed with Green Leader James Shaw shortly after her election as Labour leader to essentially sign up to the same fiscal settings as National had up until earlier that year.

They imposed those rules on themselves to stick with a campaign promise, made to promote Labour as fiscally responsible to combat attempts by National to portray them as loose with money.

Ardern and Robertson are playing a longer game here, but that is frustrating those who want rapid and meaningful reforms.

The only exception to this rule is the need to spend up large to cope with either natural or man-made financial disasters such as the Global Financial Crisis and the Christchurch earthquakes.

The irony is they need a new global financial crisis to give them the excuse to do what they need to do to make a real improvement in wellbeing.

So should the Government use its strong balance sheet to fix New Zealand’s massive infrastructure deficits? Yes should be the answer, but the timing should be now, not in two years time.

Unwilling to break its promise, it is now in a holding pattern and hopes voters keep the faith for long enough to give it a chance to throw off the shackles.

The Government has already committed to some extra spending – they boosted the Families Package, rushed in a tertiary education fees policy, and gave NZ First a $3 billion Provincial Growth Fund kitty. They will also end up with significant increases in teacher and nurse wage bills.

There are pressures to address what Labour had claimed was underfunding in health, but there seems to be no urgency there. They are now seem to be kicking the ‘mental health crisis’ down nine separate working group roads (see Mental health crisis -> 1 working group -> 9 working groups), and have stretched out their promised rebuild of the Dunedin Hospital (now due for completion in ten years).

Ardern has promised big in this year’s ‘wellbeing’ focussed budget, but has also promised small in debt targets, so Grant Robertson will have quite a balancing act to do.

Hickey sees this as a virtual holding pattern for the next two budgets, unless the world economy turns to custard and gives them an out clause.

 

Grant Robertson explains how his ‘wellbeing’ budget will work

Minister of Finance Grant Robertson was interviewed on Q+A  last night on how ‘wellbeing’ will be woven into next year’s budget.

Wellbing in the budget  is described as ‘a new way of delivering public policy and measuring economic success, and now in a world first GDP won’t be the only indicator of our prosperity. Happiness indicators like mental health and poverty will be given weight”.

Is this a new approach? Or is it the ‘social investment’ ambitions of Bill English renamed and repackaged? Possibly a bit of both.

Beehive: Wellbeing of New Zealanders at the heart of Budget priorities

The five Priorities for Budget 2019 are:

  • Creating opportunities for productive businesses, regions, iwi and others to transition to a sustainable and low-emissions economy
  • Supporting a thriving nation in the digital age through innovation, social and economic opportunities
  • Lifting Māori and Pacific incomes, skills and opportunities
  • Reducing child poverty and improving child wellbeing, including addressing family violence
  • Supporting mental wellbeing for all New Zealanders, with a special focus on under 24-year-olds.

“These priorities are focussed on the outcomes that will make real improvements to New Zealanders’ wellbeing,” Grant Robertson said.

“All Ministers and agencies will be collectively responsible for delivering on the priorities. For the first time, they are being tasked with developing their own Budget bids through the lens of the priorities. They are being asked to work together, across portfolios, on initiatives that will deliver the outcomes identified by the priorities.

“New Zealanders will see a difference with next year’s Budget. It will show how we are building an economy that is more productive, more sustainable and more inclusive,” Grant Robertson said.

“Strong economic fundamentals and sustainable economic growth remain integral to New Zealand’s success but they are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. We are widening our Budget focus to look at the wellbeing of our people, the health of our environment and the strength of our communities,” Grant Robertson said.

Q+A:

Robertson:

The caveat to all of this is of course is there are a certain amount of things in a budget that you have to spend on, for example the demand driven expenditure, welfare benefits and funding for children…and that includes some really basic capital needs that we’ve got. And actually we’ve got a lot of left over legacy needs that weren’t invested in.

As any new government does. Labour have kept hammering the ‘lack of investment’ of the last National Government (who kept spending more each year).

Each minister has to put all of their bids for new spending through the lens of wellbeing. There are twelve specific areas (domains) that range all the way from the impact on health to the impact on someone’s life satisfaction…

Who does a budget consider the impact on everyone’s life satisfaction?

These budgets will be based on the evidence of what makes a difference.

Bill English said similar things.

Why is it the Government’s job to address loneliness in the community?

It is never just the Government’s job to do something like that, and I’m absolutely clear about the fact that wellbeing is not something that the Government controls, but by making it part of our purpose therefore we can contribute to supporting an individual or community or a family to reach you know a state of wellbeing that they’re happy with.

We know that if people are disconnected from their communities that can see them becoming unwell, it can see for some people it leads them into mental health issues…

Science or subjective?

There’s no doubt we are putting together here the tangible and the intangible.

What would you do to help someone who is lonely and isolated, what can a Government do to ensure that they’ve got friends?

Well it’s not about ensuring that they’ve got friends, it’s about ensuring they are connected to their communities.

I’m not sure how that will be done via a budget.

ACT Party:

Great question from : “Why is it the Govt’s job to address loneliness?” The Govt’s “wellbeing” approach is about nanny-state politicians and bureaucrats deciding what your best life is, even though every New Zealander is different.

The panel discuss the interview:

Liam Hehir:

It’s all very laudable and unobjectionable in principle.

I do take exception to the idea that it’s the first time the Government has ever been concerned with anything other than GDP, a claim he’s made on several occasions. Governments have always been concerned with the wellbeing of citizens.

I just see this as a mushy PR job.

John Tamihere:

It’s a global movement.

There’s no doubt that the narrative has changed quite dramatically under this government.

The wellbeing, collective impact it’s called, it was championed out of Stanford University 15, 16 years ago, it is running globally and been tested. New South Wales Treasury has been tasked with running a wellbeing budget next year, so there’s a global movement about this wellbeing’s narrative.

It’s a response to supply side economics as the be all and end all, and you’ve got to actually shift your public investments to where you can measure the bang for the buck on whether it’s actually working.

It sounded to me like a great new idea from Labour. Sounds quite similar to where English and National were heading, they just didn’t frame it as “collective impact”.

Jennifer Curtin:

It’s actually about investing in more than economic growth…

You need economic growth to have the money to invest – we have good economic growth at the moment, so a good time to invest.

…and using that as the sole measure of how the country is doing. So it’s about measures. It’s almost a follow on from what Bill English was doing with his social investment strategy.

It’s using the term wellbeing, picks up on what the OECD and what serious economists there are recommending.

I hope it is angled more at ‘collective impact’ than ‘impact on the collective’.

The guidance issued to Ministers and departments:  https://treasury.govt.nz/publications/budget-policy-statement/budget-policy-statement-2019

 

Ardern announces in New York an increase in NZ’s Pacific climate commitment

As a keynote speaker in New York at the launch of Climate Week NYC, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced an  increase in New Zealand’s global climate finance commitment “to $300 million over four years”.

When you read through the press release it is clarified as “a significant increase on our existing commitment of $200m in the four years to 2019” – so an increase of $100m over four years, or $25m per year, from an already announced budget.

Beehive: New Zealand increases climate finance commitment to Pacific

The Prime Minister is in New York attending the United Nations Leaders Week and action on climate change is high on her agenda.

The increased investment is being made from New Zealand’s Overseas Development Assistance, which was increased by nearly 30% ($NZ714 million) in Budget 2018 to support the Pacific Reset.

“This funding allocation will focus on practical action that will help Pacific countries adapt to climate change and build resilience. For example, providing support for coastal adaptation in Tokelau to reduce the risks of coastal inundation;  and continuing our efforts to strengthen water security across the Pacific, building on current initiatives such as those in Kiribati where we are working to provide community rainwater harvesting systems and are investing in desalination,” Jacinda Ardern said.

“New Zealand is fully committed to the Paris Agreement and to taking urgent action to support our transition to a low-carbon and climate resilient economy.

“New Zealand is committing to providing at least $300m over four years in climate-related development assistance, with most of this going to the Pacific.

“We have a responsibility of care for the environment in which we live, but the challenge of climate change requires us to look beyond our domestic borders, and in New Zealand’s case towards the Pacific.

“The focus of this financial support is on creating new areas of growth and opportunity for Pacific communities.  We want to support our Pacific neighbours to make the transition to a low carbon economy without hurting their existing economic base.

“Climate change is a priority area for New Zealand’s Pacific Reset announced by Foreign Minister Peters in February. This commitment of $300m over four years is a significant increase on our existing commitment of $200m in the four years to 2019.

“We recognise our neighbours in the Pacific region are uniquely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. This week I will be making a number of representations alongside our Pacific neighbours to ensure the world is aware of the impact of climate change in our region and the cost of inaction.

“This funding will complement our ongoing support to help developing countries in the Pacific and beyond meet their emissions targets through renewable energy and agriculture initiatives,” Jacinda Ardern said.

Ardern’s speech to the opening ceremony of Climate Week NYC:


Kaitiakitanga: Protecting our planet

President Moïse; Secretary Espinosa; Governor Brown

I’d like to begin with a word often used in New Zealand, that you may not – until now – have ever had the opportunity to hear: kaitiakitanga.

It’s Te Reo Māori, a word in the language of indigenous New Zealanders, and in my mind, it captures the sentiment of why we are here.

It means ‘guardianship’. But not just guardianship, but the responsibility of care for the environment in which we live, and the idea that we have a duty of care that eventually hands to the next generation, and the one after.

We all hold this responsibility in our own nations, but the challenge of climate change requires us to look beyond the domestic. Our duty of care is as global as the challenge of climate change.

In the Pacific, we feel that acutely as do countries like Bangladesh where land is literally being lost, and fresh water is being inundated with salt water due to climate change.

There is no doubt that climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our generation.

Whether there will be enough food and freshwater.  Whether our towns and cities will be free from inundation from rising seas or extreme rainfalls and devastating storms.  Whether the biodiversity that lends our planet its richness and its resilience will survive.  Whether the growth and economic development that provided an incredible path to lift people out of poverty will be stunted by the widespread, systemic impacts of climate change.

There is no country, no region that does not already feel the impacts of climate change.  For New Zealand’s neighbours in the Pacific, who are already losing their soil and freshwater resources to salt from the ocean, these are not hypothetical questions.  They are immediate questions of survival.

Although New Zealand accounts for a tiny percentage of global emissions – only 0.16 percent – we recognise the importance of doing our part.

But more importantly we recognise that global challenges require everyone’s attention and action. And we all have responsibility to care for the earth in the face of climate change.

This is not the time to apportion responsibility, this is the time to work across borders and to do everything we can by working together.

We are working internationally and want to do more to share research and ideas, build opportunities together with other nations.

New Zealand is fully committed to the Paris Agreement and we are taking urgent action to transition to a low-carbon and climate resilient economy.  Our focus is on doing this in a way that creates new areas of growth and opportunity for our communities.

At home, my Minister for Climate Change is this week preparing a Zero Carbon Bill to legislate an ambitious goal that would be fully aligned with the Paris Agreement’s objective for the world to become carbon neutral in the second half of this century. We have already put in place some of the measures to get us there.

We are reviewing New Zealand’s emission trading scheme, to ensure it helps us deliver a net zero-emissions future.

We have a target of planting 1 billion trees over the next decade.

And we are no longer issuing permits for offshore oil and gas exploration.

It has been encouraging to see the groundswell of support for ambitious climate action in New Zealand.  60 CEOs representing half of all New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions have committed to action. Our largest dairy company and major agricultural producers have declared themselves up for the challenge.

Local governments have long-term plans not only to adapt to climate change but to drive deep emissions reductions.  Communities and families are taking up the cause.  New Zealanders understand that it is both the right thing to do and the smart thing to do.

The conversation has shifted dramatically. It was only 10 years ago that I was asked about climate change in a town hall election meeting. When I spoke passionately about our need to respond to this challenge, I was met with a boo that moved across the entire audience.

Now, the debate is no longer whether climate change is a threat, but how we can use our policies, actions and international linkages to drive the move to a low-emissions and inclusive society.  We know that the scale of this transformation is huge, and we are determined to leave no-one behind.  It will be a ‘just transition’ that works with people who might be affected, and turns this challenge into an opportunity.

In New Zealand’s home region of the Pacific we will work with others to support stronger and more resilient infrastructure, strengthened disaster preparedness, and low-carbon economic growth through both our funding commitments and by bringing good ideas to the table.

To support developing countries respond to the impacts of climate change, New Zealand will spend at least $300 million in climate-related development assistance over the next 4 years, with the majority of this to be spent in the Pacific.

We recognise that climate change poses a security threat to vulnerable nations, including our Pacific neighbours.

We understand that climate change brings new challenges to international legal frameworks.

As climate change causes sea-levels to rise, coastal states face the risk of shrinking maritime zones as their baselines move inward.

New Zealand firmly believes that coastal states’ baselines and maritime boundaries should not have to change because of human-induced sea level rise.

We are beginning work on a strategy to achieve the objective of preserving the current balance of rights and obligations under UNCLOS. Our goal is to find a way, as quickly as possible, to provide certainty to vulnerable coastal states that they will not lose access to their marine resources and current entitlements. We seek your support as we work to ensure that these states maintain their rights over their maritime zones in the face of sea-level rise.

You are all here today because you understand the need for global action to solve this global problem.  My government is committed to leadership both at home and abroad.

On the international stage we are pushing for the reform of fossil fuel subsidies; the $460 billion spent each year that works against climate ambition and could be better spent on building resilient societies.

We are leading research and collaboration on climate change and agriculture, including with many of you here today in the Global Research Alliance.  At COP24 we hope to see many of you at a New Zealand-led event on sustainable agriculture and climate change.  We’re aiming to encourage action to capture the ‘triple win’ – increasing agricultural productivity, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and strengthening resilience to climate change impacts.

We are undertaking research in Antarctica to better understand the crucial role it plays in global systems, and the far reaching effects environmental change in Antarctica will have.

We, with the Marshall Islands, Sweden and France are building a Towards Carbon Neutrality Coalition. The 16 countries and 32 cities in the Coalition are developing long-term strategies for deep cuts of emissions in line with the long-term temperature limit goals we all agreed to in the Paris Agreement.

This week President Hilda Heine of the Marshall Islands and I are hosting the first high-level meeting of the Coalition.  We’re going to launch the Coalition’s new Plan of Action and announce new members.

We are proud to join many of you in ambitious initiatives like the High Ambition Coalition, Powering Past Coal and the One Planet Sovereign Wealth Fund Working Group.

And in the UNFCCC we are strong supporters of the Global Climate Action Agenda, with a special focus on agriculture.

Underpinning all of this action is the Paris Agreement and the critical decisions that will be made in Katowice this December. The rules that are agreed must be robust and credible, so that the Paris Agreement is effective and enduring.  The world can only reach the Paris goals if we have clarity and confidence about each other’s commitments and action.

As I have said to my fellow New Zealanders, I refuse to accept that the challenge of climate change is too hard to solve.  So, I join you today necessarily hopeful.  Hopeful that, if we genuinely commit to finding solutions together, no issue is truly unsolvable.

And hopeful that we, the 193 members states of the United Nations, can work towards solutions that deliver for our people.  Peace.  Dignity.  A good quality of life.  A resilient and sustainable future, and fulfilling the responsibility that is kaitiakitanga.

Pike River re-entry costs escalate

A ‘concept plan’ for re-entry into the Pike River mine to recover miners’ bodies has been presented to their families by the Minister responsible for Pike River re-entry Andrew Little (actually three alternative options), but with that is a bigger than previously estimated cost.

RNZ: Pike River re-entry: ‘Concept plan’ presented to families

A plan for re-entering the drift of the Pike River Mine has been presented to victims’ familes in Greymouth this morning.

The plan is being described as a “concept plan” with more detailed planning to follow if it is approved.

Minister responsible for Pike River re-entry Andrew Little, and Pike River Recovery Agency chief executive Dave Gawn have been talking to the relatives of the 29 men killed in the mine in 2010.

Mr Little said the families were now discussing the plan and he hoped to give it the go-ahead on Monday.

However, he said he expected they would approve the concept plan.

“My sense is the families are really happy with the level of work that has been done, the quality of ther work. They seem pretty satisfied with it … They’re keen for the project to continue to make progress, so that we re-enter the drift and recover as much as we can.”

RNZ:  Pike River Mine re-entry narrowed to three options

The planned re-entry to the Pike River mine has been narrowed to three options.

Mining specialists, Pike River Recovery Agency staff and family members of the 29 men killed in the 2010 blast were on the West Coast for a second workshop aimed at coming up with a plan for manned re-entry of the mine drift.

A panel of technical experts will now shift the focus to three scenarios which are now being developed further.

The scenarios include:

  • building a new two by two-metre tunnel around 200m long;
  • drilling a large diameter borehole;
  • re-entering the main drift as it is with no second means of egress (exit).

The aim is to try and find out what happened in order to prevent any further tragedies, to give the families closure and where possible, retrieve any remains found in the drift, the agency said.

Dinghy Pattinson, the recovery agency’s chief operating officer, said he was confident they would get back in.

“Any mining activity has dangers or risks involved, so it’s a matter of just identifying those risks throughout the whole process and having your controls in place,” Mr Pattinson said.

“If there was any real danger then that would be a show-stopper, so at this stage all the risks identified – I feel confident we can manage them.”

Recovery Agency chief executive Dave Gawn said they had made bigger steps during this workshop.

“We still anticipate entering the mine before the end of the year, and we still think that’s achievable. This workshop is only step number two in a number yet to take,” Mr Gawn said.

He said among the steps was a detailed risk analysis of the preferred options.

It sounds like they are still far from certain how to get back into the mine, how risky it would be – and how much it would cost, even they they don’t yet know how they will do it.

Stuff: Pike River re-entry could cost $12m more than $23m budget, minister says

The plan to re-enter the Pike River mine could cost up to $12 milllion more than the $23 million budget, Stuff understands.

The Government had budgeted $7.6 million a year for three years, totalling up to $23m, for the Pike River Recovery Agency and re-entry to the mine.

When asked if he had told Cabinet the agency would need up to $12m more, Little said one of the options could cost up to that amount, but others would be less than that.

“We won’t know exactly what the figures are until more detailed work has been done.

While there remains a lot of doubt about how a re-entry would be achieved the expected cost seems to keep escalating.

I understand that some families really want the bodies of some miners recovered (some families don’t see the need).

What if the option chosen is the more expensive one – $35 million – and they get into the mine and they can’t find or can’t recover all of the bodies? What if bodies unrecovered are from families that most want them recovered? What then? Keep spending until they find and recover them all?

What if they can’t find out the cause of the explosions?

 

Nation: Health Minister David Clark

On Newshub Nation this morning: Budget 2018 pledged around $4 billion to fix the ailing health system. We ask Health Minister David Clark if that’s enough, and what areas are going to take priority.

Unusually Newshub hasn’t tweeted an excerpts of the interview as it happened.

Clark came across ok. he acknowledged that past Governments had dome their best to provide good health services, and New Zealand had one of the best and in some ways cheapest health services in the world, but was due a comprehensive review to try to determine the most cost effective ways of delivering.

Hence the Government are doing a review. And Clark deferred most questions to be being subject to the review. And he repeated several times that he wouldn’t say what might happen in pay negotiations (he is not directly involved) nor with future budgets.

So he competently didn’t really say much about what might change in providing health services.

There was little of value in this interview. Maybe next year, or the year after, Clark will be able to explain how he will improve health services.