Newsroom journalists detained by police in Fiji

Newsroom journalists detained in Fiji

Three Newsroom journalists were detained by police in Suva, Fiji, last night after trying to interview a controversial Chinese resort developer accused of environmental desecration of an island in the tourist jewel of the Mamanucas.

Newsroom co-editor Mark Jennings, investigations editor Melanie Reid and cameraman Hayden Aull were held overnight at the main Suva police station after developer Freesoul Real Estate accused them of criminal trespass.

The journalists had visited Freesoul’s Suva offices seeking an interview but been told to leave. Hours later, while they interviewed a lawyer acting for villagers of the damaged Malolo Island, Fijian police located their rental car and arrived and escorted them to the police station for questioning.

Reid said: “We walked into the Freesoul office in Suva with a camera and asked why they had been operating at Malolo with no permits. We asked to talk to Freesoul director Dickson Peng. We were told to leave and we did.”

Later, after Freesoul staff had been interviewed at the police station, officers told Reid, Jennings and Aull they would be held overnight.

“This is trumped up and ridiculous,” said Reid, a veteran current affairs journalist named reporter of the year at the national media awards last year.

“I’ve worked all over the world and never been taken into custody for asking questions in a public office – questions, I might add, that desperately needed to be asked.”

Without being sure of knowing the full story it’s difficult to judge the actions of the journalists, but taking them into custody for two days with charges pending does seem quite unusual, and potentially chilling.

The lawyer for the villagers, Ken Chambers, who was talking to the Newsroomteam when police located them, said last night the journalists could be held for up to 48 hours before being charged.

“They walked into a public office and could be charged with criminal trespass. It is sort of like a sledgehammer to crack a nut to put them through a 48-hour holding pattern and use the letter of the law to give the Chinese some payback.”

Chambers said the Malolo Island issue “has been really a focus on how the Chinese are interfacing in Fiji”.

There has been more focus on Chinese are interfacing in New Zealand after Jacinda Ardern’s trip to China.

Reuters: Don’t discriminate against our firms, China’s Xi tells New Zealand

President Xi Jinping called upon New Zealand on Monday not to discriminate against Chinese companies during a meeting with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, whose country has rejected a bid by Chinese telecom giant Huawei to build a 5G mobile network.

Ties with China have been tense under Ardern’s government which has openly raised concerns about Beijing’s growing influence in the South Pacific.

Meeting in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, Xi told Ardern that China has always regarded New Zealand as “a sincere friend and partner”.

Both countries must deepen mutual trust and understanding, seek common ground while putting aside differences, and respect each other’s major concerns, Xi said, according to a statement from China’s Foreign Ministry.

“China is willing to continue to support strong companies to invest in New Zealand, and New Zealand should provide a fair, just, non-discriminatory operating environment for Chinese companies,” it paraphrased Xi as saying.

The detaining of New Zealand journalists in Fiji over the actions of a Chinese company investing in a Fijian resort may add to the tensions.

Huge investment in electric vehicles and batteries

World investment in electric vehicle and related battery technology looks set to surge, with Germany’s Volkswagen prominent, and nearly have the overall investment targeting the Chinese market.

A Reuters analysis of 29 global automakers found that they are investing at least $300 billion in electric vehicles, with more than 45 percent of that earmarked for China.

Global automakers are planning an unprecedented level of spending to develop and procure batteries and electric vehicles over the next five to 10 years, with a significant portion of their budgets targeted at China, according to a Reuters analysis of public data released by those companies.

Automakers’ plans to spend at least $300 billion on EVs are driven largely by environmental concerns and government policy, and supported by rapid technological advances that have improved battery cost, range and charging time. The accelerated rate of industry spending — much of it led by Germany’s Volkswagen — is greater than the economies of Egypt or Chile.

 

A significant portion of the global industry’s planned EV investment and procurement budget — more than $135 billion — will be spent in China, which is heavily promoting the production and sale of electric vehicles through a system of government-mandated quotas, credits and incentives. As a result, EV spending by major Chinese automakers from SAIC to Great Wall Motors could be matched or even exceeded by multinational joint-venture partners such Volkswagen, Daimler and General Motors.

The Reuters analysis details the EV investment plans of major manufacturers.

A lot of technology has already been developed for full electric and hybrid vehicles, but battery technology is still holding back the market, with vehicle range and recharging times still a deterrence, as well as the cost of EVs (although hybrids are now competitively priced, with Toyota Corolla hybrids similarly priced to standard models).

EE Times: The Race for a Better EV Battery

The race to dominate the electric car market hinges as much on battery technology and improved recharging infrastructure as it does on sticker price, software updates, and styling. Which is why Chinese companies are investing massive sums in matching and surpassing Tesla’s industry-leading battery technology and manufacturing capacity.

Nearly all of that capacity is focused on lithium-ion technology, but other approaches are emerging that promise to change the battery technology landscape to extend the range of electric vehicles. Increasing driving range to, say, the equivalent of a tank of gas could provide the inflection point that at last accelerates electric drivetrains past the internal combustion engine.

Aluminum- and zinc-air batteries
As new battery technologies emerge, new wireless schemes are also being demonstrated that could make recharging electric vehicle batteries as fast as filling a gas tank.

With lithium-ion battery technology perhaps approaching its own Moore’s Law ceiling, researchers are branching out to pursue technologies like aluminum- and zinc-air batteries that are just now entering the market. The key to those emerging technologies is boosting recharging capability while demonstrating the ability to lower energy storage cost to the baseline of roughly $100 per kilowatt-hour.

By some estimates, zinc-air batteries could hit the electric car market by as early as 2019 and eventually could be cheaper, lighter, and safer than lithium-ion.

Meanwhile, Tesla continues to ramp up lithium-ion battery production at its Gigafactory in Nevada and a planned battery factory in China — Tesla and battery partner Panasonic claim about 60% of global electric vehicle battery output.

A range of battery technologies are discussed in Future batteries, coming soon: Charge in seconds, last months and power over the air

The range of EVs, the recharging times and the availability of fast charge stations all need to improve before electric vehicles take over the car market. Up front cost of EVs is also a deterrence, as is the the cost of replacement batteries.

But all of this looks like changing quite rapidly if the large investments pay off.

This will raise another issue – where is all the electric power going to come from?

EV’s are still expensive and novelties in New Zealand. Drive Electric details makes and models available here, as well as costs. It includes plug in hybrids (which are also quite expensive).

There are just 10,000 electric vehicles on the road in New Zealand, just 0.25% of the total number of vehicles – see Increase in electric vehicle numbers, fleet still tiny.

 

Foreign investors buy $2.1b of NZ assets in five months, but…

It pays to read past the headline and opening paragraph.

Newstalk ZB (NZH) report: Foreign investors snap up $2.1b of NZ assets in five months

Foreigners got consent to buy $2.1 billion of New Zealand assets classed as rural, sensitive or worth $100m-plus in the first five months of the year.

But this is ‘a sharp decline’.

The Overseas Investment Office has just released its list of decisions made between January and May, and the figures show a sharp decline from the $4.6b recorded over the same period last year.

And:

It’s also worth noting that New Zealand has survived and thrived on foreign investment for two hundred years.

Super Fund proposal to build and operate Auckland light rail

The Government has revealed an ‘unsolicited proposal’ from the New Zealand Super Fund to design, build and operate two light rail projects in Auckland.

Grant Robertson and Phil Twyford: Auckland light rail a step closer

A modern, rapid transit light rail network to transform Auckland is a step closer with Cabinet agreeing to launch a procurement process, Transport Minister Phil Twyford and Finance Minister Grant Robertson announced today.

“The Government is committed to progressing light rail to transform Auckland. It will be a magnet for private investment in urban renewal and will be able to carry 11,000 commuters per hour – the equivalent of four lanes of motorway,” Phil Twyford says.

“We are investigating innovative solutions to tackle congestion and build a vibrant and modern city.”

“The New Zealand Transport Agency will now set up a robust process to explore a range of possible procurement, financing and project delivery options. This process will invite and assess all potential proposals and report back to the Ministers of Finance and Transport. The Transport Agency will work with the Treasury and the Ministry of Transport in this process,” Grant Robertson says.

The procurement process covers both the city to Mangere and the city to North West lines. The recently announced 10-year transport plan for Auckland earmarked $1.8 billion in seed funding with the option of securing private investment in the network.

“Last month, the Government received an unsolicited proposal from the New Zealand Superannuation Fund, which proposed they would form an international consortium to design, build and operate Auckland’s light rail network,” Phil Twyford says.

“The Government will not be commenting further on the proposal other than to say that we welcome the strong interest in light rail and acknowledge that any investors will require a reasonable commercial return. The procurement process agreed by Cabinet will review all other proposals in the same way as the Super Fund’s proposal is assessed.

“It’s good to see that investors recognise this project will be a game-changer for Auckland commuters and the first step in tackling Auckland’s ever-increasing congestion,” Phil Twyford says.

This would be a variation on a public-private partnership, with in involvement in the Super Fund  working alongside international investors in a consortium.

The Super Fund is a Government owned fund – that means a taxpayer owned fund. The new Government has just resumed putting more money into the fund after the National Government suspended payments when the Global Financial Crisis struck – it didn’t make sense to borrow heavily and put money aside as an investment at the same time.

The Super Fund explains it’s purpose and mandate:

In response to the challenge of New Zealand’s ageing population, the NZ Superannuation and Retirement Income Act 2001 established:

  • the New Zealand Superannuation Fund, a pool of assets on the Crown’s balance sheet; and
  • the Guardians of New Zealand Superannuation, a Crown entity charged with managing the Fund.

The Government uses the Fund to save now in order to help pay for the future cost of providing universal superannuation. In this way the Fund helps smooth the cost of superannuation between today’s taxpayers and future generations.

The Guardians of New Zealand Superannuation is the Crown entity charged with managing and administering the Fund. It operates by investing initial Government contributions – and returns generated from these investments – in New Zealand and internationally, in order to grow the size of the Fund over the long term.

Government contributions to the Super Fund were suspended between 2009 and 2017. In December 2017 contributions resumed, with an initial payment of $500 million planned for the financial year to 2018. From around 2035/36, the Government will begin to withdraw money from the Fund to help pay for New Zealand Superannuation. The Fund will continue to grow until it peaks in size in 2070s.

The Fund is therefore a long-term, growth-oriented, global investment fund.

So for the Super Fund to invest in Auckland’s light rail projects they would have to see them as growth orientated. This would be a financial risk, unless the Government guaranteed a reasonable rate of return.

If light rail gets superceded by other more flexible and more economic forms of transport like electric buses and cars, or if less centralised work arrangements (like working from home) become more prevalanet, it could become an expensive white elephant. The Government could end up propping up light rail to protect the Super Fund investment.

How unsolicited was the Super Fund proposal? Investing in New Zealand infrastructure projects has been proposed before – by Winston Peters.

On re-establishing contributions on 18 July 2017:  Only One Party Can Be Trusted on NZ Super

“Labour, like National, has a record of flip flopping on NZ Super,” says New Zealand First Leader and Northland MP Rt Hon Winston Peters.

“No party can be trusted on NZ Super, except NZ Super’s long standing friend – New Zealand First.

“We’ll restore contributions in full to the NZ Superannuation Fund, so there will be a nest egg to cushion demand, which was the original purpose for its establishment.”

On investing in infrastructure on 28 September 2017: Cullen Fund Performs, But National Taxes It

“New Zealand First would encourage the fund’s managers to invest in infrastructure in New Zealand so it works for New Zealand’s long term interests,” says Mr Peters.

Maybe that’s where the NZ Super Fund got the idea from.

Investing in Auckland light rail will only be in New Zealand’s long term interests if it is financially viable.

Will the NZ Super Fund only consider big city projects, or will they also consider investing in regional projects?

They will need to be careful they don’t come to rely too much on local government projects. Andy investment fund should spread it’s risks.

60% rates rise proposed

It’s not uncommon for mayors and councils to play down rates rises. Like this:

Wellington Rates Snippet.png

Gwynn Compton:  Spin cycle shrinks rates as well as clothes

But for Wellington City Council, an attempt to spin the merits of reducing a potential 7.1% rates rise down to 3.9% has ended up with an announcement that they’re reducing rates down to 3.9%, which would be a 96.1% cut!

In this case, the words “rise” or “increase” appear to have been omitted from the article.

In contrast, in the ODT today:  Rates must rise to maintain momentum, mayor says

Dunedin faces a 7.3% rates rise as the Dunedin City Council eyes a decade of increased investment, but Mayor Dave Cull says it is essential for the city to keep riding a wave of activity.

Mr Cull was commenting before today’s start of public consultation on the council’s latest 10-year plan, which outlined proposed spending for the decade to 2028.

However that is a bit misleading too – the 7.3% rise is proposed for the first of ten years. More detail:

Rates would rise by 7.3% in the 2018-19 year,
by 5% the following year,
and by 4.5% each year
until 2027 when the increases would drop to 4%.

That amounts to about 60% over ten years.

Modest rates of $2000 would rise to $3190 after ten years.

2018   2,000.00
2019 7.3%   2,146.00
2020 5.0%   2,253.30
2021 4.5%   2,354.70
2022 4.5%   2,460.66
2023 4.5%   2,571.39
2024 4.5%   2,687.10
2025 4.5%   2,808.02
2026 4.5%   2,934.38
2027 4.5%   3,066.43
2028 4.0%   3,189.09

And that is without any knowledge of future inflation, which would presumably add to the increases.

The council had come out of a period of austerity, during which rates increases were limited to 3% and spending was cut, as the focus shifted to driving core council debt down below $230 million.

Rates had still risen faster than inflation over the last ten years.

At the same time, core council debt – excluding companies – was forecast to climb from just over $200 million now to $285 million by 2028.

So debt is forecast to rise despite the large rates rises.

Not helping, from ODT at the same time: Tender troubles mean more delays for cycleway

Dunedin City Council staff have voiced frustration after a call for tenders to complete an Otago Peninsula safety improvement and shared pathway project came in $20 million over an already-inflated budget.

The council last year announced a revised budget to complete the project alongside Portobello Rd and Harington Point Rd, which rose from an estimated $20 million to $49 million.

This is not the first ‘shared pathway project’ (cycleway) where the costs have blown out.

So even with large rates rises there must be little confidence that the ‘increased investment’ wouldn’t increase substantially more.

This was Mayor Cull’s pledge last election:

In the six years I have led our Dunedin City Council we have reduced rate increases.

That’s much like the Wellington example above – rates increases were ‘reduced’ to above inflation.

I wonder how what he will pledge if he stands again in next year’s local body election.

Rental housing market risk

Many people rely on rental accommodation, through choice or financial necessity (they can’t afford to but their own house). People who buy houses and rent them out provide a vital service. The Government cannot provide homes for everyone.

The rental market and landlords have received a lot of attention from politicians over the last few years as housing prices escalated again after recovery from the Global Financial Crisis – property values had already doubled when the Clark government was in power.

A lot of that attention has been negative, in part for political and campaign purposes.

The Government is set to make changes that will significantly affect housing investments. This poses a risk to the whole housing market if it deters too many people from staying in or getting into property investment.

RNZ:  Landlords bail on rental market: ‘It is just not worth it’

Many private landlords are bailing out of the rental market because they are worried about the new government’s housing policies, say property experts.

If too many landlords sell up, and not enough new investors step in, housing values are at risk of dropping, and there could be a shortage of rental housing.

The experts say landlords are being tempted to take their capital gain and run, before harsh new rules undermine the value of their investments.

The concerns have arisen as the government moves to implement dramatic reforms of the housing market.

The looming changes include:

* A capital gains tax on second homes, depending on the outcome of a special tax inquiry.

* The imposition of ‘ring-fencing rules’, which would reduce tax deductibility for rental houses, by ensuring losses cannot be set off against other income.

* An extension of the ‘bright line test’, under which anyone selling a rental home within five years would be deemed a trader and would therefore be taxed.

Property Investors Federation executive officer Andrew King said these planned changes were scaring off investors from the property market.

He said the personal hostility directed against landlords was another issue.

“There’s been a lot of animosity against rental property owners. There is a lot of misinformation about their tax situation, a lot of people think it is easy money when it is not.

“There are also changes to the how the property can be managed, and there are a lot of increased costs.

“A lot of people are thinking it is just not worth it and are looking at getting out.”

If too many do get out of property investment it will create different problems for the Government – and potentially for for people who have purchased high valued property with large mortgages.

The government has dismissed criticism of its policies as anecdotal.

It said its housing policies were aimed at overcoming accommodation shortages.

Landlords are an essential part of providing accommodation – and that’s not anecdotal.

Land tax too little too late?

Herald: The Land Tax proposal, too little too late?

We haven’t got any land tax yet so it’s not even too little, it’s currently nothing but a possibility.

The Herald also addresses the land tax proposal in their editorial today:

Vacant land the proper focus for tax

The Prime Minister’s talk of a new tax on land is a sign that he is worried by the resurgence in house prices, as he should be.

A land tax, should it be adopted, will need to apply to all investment housing, and arguably it should.

Not just foreign owned property, but this gets a bit complex with local property investments.

Land is the precious commodity, not housing. Land values are the rising element in real estate prices.

The Government has long blamed the scarcity entirely on the Auckland Council’s efforts to contain the city’s sprawl but it was never that simple. A great deal of land zoned residential spends many years lying unused as its value appreciates. Vacant residential sites can be bought and sold and amalgamated and sold again, returning good profits for no investment in buildings or any other improvements. Its value purely reflects the popularity, or potential popularity, of its location, which in turn reflects the investment others have made in that area, individually by building homes, collectively by supporting schools and other public amenities.

An annual land tax could recover some of the added value that owners of idle land are reaping for no effort on their part. Just as important, it could entice them to build on the land in order to obtain more value from it.

Landowners will point out they already pay a land tax in the form of rates to local bodies, which all households pay. But an additional land tax was studied by a tax working group for the Government six years ago as a way of taxing those who can avoid income tax and found its value for that purpose limited because, like capital gains tax which the group also considered, it is liable to be riddled with political exemptions. John Key would exempt houses owned by New Zealanders living overseas – trade agreements permitting – if the tax is to be imposed only on non-resident buyers.

But there is no case for exempting expatriates, or indeed investors domiciled here. If a land tax is to help increase the supply of houses it needs to be applied to all property lying vacant and accumulating unearned wealth.

But it sounds like a land tax is only under consideration so is presumably quite a way off, if it happens at all.

Unless the Government is trying to hide their intentions in next month’s budget.

 

Child Poverty Action

There’s no doubt that many of the poorest families struggle not just with a lack of money but also with housing and health  related issues.

We can quibble about numbers of children derived from statistics but that doesn’t address real problems and disadvantages for many children.

A caring society will look after the most vulnerable. The hard questions are how and how much.

Susan St John is spokesperson for the Child Poverty Action Group and writes about it at NZ Herald: Child poverty measures short-change families.

She doesn’t detail the numbers of families and children in real need, but complains about the lack of Government action, and makes some suggestions.

Our group has strongly recommended radical changes to Working for Families to end the discrimination and give every child a better chance of a healthy and fulfilling life.

These changes include much needed simplification so that there is just one weekly tax credit, the Family Tax Credit paid to the caregiver. In practice this will have the effect of increasing child assistance by $72.50 a week for the very poorest families. This is a very cost-effective measure as it does not affect families further up the income scale.

Then there are those 34,000 newborns who get no extra help at all from paid parental leave. Our group says add $100 a week to the newborn’s Family Tax Credit for one year for those who don’t get paid parental leave. As well, all parts of Working for Families must be increased annually to reflect both inflation and growth in wages.

Recent attacks on Working for Families has seen it scaled back over time affecting those on very low wages. These changes must be reversed.

Of course there would be a cost for all of this.

Overall, spending of an extra $1 billion per annum is required immediately. This is what an “investment approach” to child poverty should look like.

It won’t happen immediately. It would be unlikely any Government would make changes like this outside of an annual budget.

What St John doesn’t do is make any case for her suggested ‘investments’.

Would it be just a social investment?

Or would reductions in other costs more than cover the increase in expenditure?

Healthier children and adults would mean lower healthcare costs, but the benefits would be spread over decades, over lifetimes, so it is difficult to predict the financial benefits.

Healthier children would also mean potentially better education outcomes and the follow on from that is better employment prospects. That’s also long term.

There’s also potential benefits from lowering crime, which doesn’t just affect costs of policing, the justice system and the prison and parole systems but impacts on the victims of crime.

Add to the the chances of reducing drug, alcohol and tobacco abuse.

And reducing family and societal violence.

There are many potential benefits, both social and financial.

But St John doesn’t try make an investment  case, so claiming a vague “investment approach” doesn’t help her arguments.

St John is also vague about an important aspect of the approach her group favours versus the more targeted approach of the current Government.

This was discussed in a CPAG briefing paper in May – Prevention: The Best Way To Address Child Poverty.

Targeting at risk children implies social services are reactionary measures delivered to complex families, rather than social support that ensures allchildren in all families can have the best start in life. Malnutrition, inadequate clothing and footwear, degenerate housing and lack of social interaction and support may not register on any PRM radar. While it is important to support those who need specialist social services intervention, that intervention would be less necessary if broader, preventative social measures formed the basis of our welfare system.

Targeting at risk children reinforces stigmatism of the very children it is attempting to support. Such punitive, reactionary measures will inevitably lead to more and more children being removed from their families. The assumption implied is that child abuse or neglect is a treatable disease, fixed through targeting individual children within individual families while ignoring the extensive poverty faced by too many families.

The social investment government refers to is not investment in children or childhood but rather allocating funding to increase the level of monitoring and surveillance of families before going on to treat individual ‘pathology’.

The government’s welfare reforms will legitimize the monitoring and surveillence of beneficiaries, for those already marginalized. In that respect it can be seen as a continuation of the cycle of poverty.

Targeting an individual child, in an individual family, with an individual history and an individual current situation may help to bring attention to the ‘problems’ that child faces. This model offers the pretence of state participation in community welfare when in fact the elephant in the room is poverty and inequality.

CPAG suggests a blanket approach, providing more money without targeting to 25% of the child population.

That won’t change their statistical count of how many children are ‘in poverty’.

Some might see this as more like socialism by stealth, using ‘think of the the poor children’ as justification – or emotional pressure.

The approach adopted by government aimed at simply reducing the number of beneficiaries is focussed on the symptoms rather than addressing the underlying issues.

I think the Government approach is far more complex than that. It includes providing better early childhood care and education through to encouraging more who have had schooling problems into tertiary education and jobs.

Getting people off welfare and into employment must be a major aim, surely. Working people can struggle financially too, but people in work have better self esteem and better prospects than those who remain unemployed.

While some children and families need additional and special support and assistance, an effective policy for New Zealand’s children requires a genuine commitment to prevent child poverty to ensure that all children have the best possible chance of a fulfilling life. We cannot afford to do less.

That conclusion sounds like a grand vision but is vague and potentially quite flawed.

For example it can be very difficult to “ensure that all children have the best possible chance of a fulfilling life” when there are parents who are incapable of playing their part adequately, and their role is one of the most important.

We should look seriously at what can and should be done to give children ‘in poverty’ a better chance of having better lives. We will all benefit from that.

But it is a very complex thing.

The National Government is not going to just give a lot more money to a lot of people, no questions asked, no targeting.

I doubt whether a Labour led government would do that either.

St John complains about the delayed implementation of increased  benefits planned by the current government, but at least that’s the first increase in a long time under any government.

The biggest question is whether any government will consider a social revolution, or even a socialist revolution, or whether we will continue to see incremental tweaks.