Take Waitangi Day on tour?

While many people attending Waitangi Day celebrations think it is a great occasion much of the country sees it as a media circus giving a few Ngāpuhi activists some attention at the cost of political and national inclusiveness.

David Seymour has suggested a solution to the ongoing antics at Waitangi Day – move the celebrations around the country.

PM should take Waitangi Day ceremonies on tour

Te Tii Marae’s continued failure to respectfully host the Government on Waitangi Day should prompt the Prime Minister to visit a different marae each year, says ACT Leader David Seymour.

“The behaviour of a small group of perpetually-grumpy activists has turned Waitangi Day into an annual political circus, denying Kiwis a national day we can all enjoy,” says Mr Seymour.

“It’s never been clear why one iwi gets to monopolise the celebrations. The Treaty wasn’t just signed at Waitangi, it went on tour and was signed by chiefs all over the country.

“If an iwi is going to host representatives of the Crown to symbolise this 177-year-old relationship, why not rotate the host iwi and location? It could be in a different place each year, perhaps following the path that the Treaty took during 1840.

“Ngāpuhi activists have denied the whole country a proud national day a few times too many. Let’s take this show on the road. There were 20-odd signing locations so it’ll return to Te Tii Marae in around 2037.

“A bit of competition among locations might help to lift standards of behaviour, bringing some dignity and joy back to this special day.”

Today’s ODT editorial thinks that this has merit – from The importance of Waitangi Day:

Act New Zealand leader David Seymour suggested the continued failure by Ti Tii to respectfully host the Government on Waitangi Day should prompt the prime minister of the day to visit a different marae each year.

It has never been clear why one iwi – Ngapuhi – gets to monopolise the celebrations.

And that hasn’t been working out very well – it seems to have become more about them and less about the country.

The Treaty was not signed just at Waitangi; it went on tour and was signed by chiefs throughout the country. He suggests the celebration of the Treaty signing could follow the path the Treaty took in 1840.

Waitangi Day is quickly slipping from relevancy for many New Zealanders who are just looking forward to a day of holiday when, in fact, the Treaty is considered New Zealand’s founding document.

Those who attend the Waitangi Day events often say it is overall a very good occasion, if you ignore a few attention seekers and media obsessions and distractions.

But currently for me and I think for many others Waitangi Day is a contentious circus hijacked by a few activists.

If it was celebrated in different places more it may become a country focussed occasion rather than a local leer up.

Treasury delays Dunedin hospital rebuild

Last year the Government tried to speed up the process to rebuild Dunedin Hospital but Treasury slowed things down. Existing buildings are deteriorating, particularly the clinical services block which includes operating theatres.

ODT: Brakes put on hospital

The Treasury has managed to slow down the Dunedin Hospital rebuild, despite the  clinical services building being at risk of abrupt clinical failure. Advice released under the Official Information Act shows the Treasury warned Finance Minister Bill English that haste was a “major risk to a successful outcome”.

Last year, Health Minister Dr Jonathan Coleman told officials to try to speed things up. In response, health officials proposed shortening the lengthy Treasury-approval process by six months.

But the Treasury told Mr English: “The [Southern Partnership Group] and the Ministry [of Health] are coming under pressure to expedite timelines for the business case process. We see this as a major risk to a successful outcome.”

The March advice was not the first such warning from the Treasury, but the Otago Daily Times has ascertained that its advice meant a move to speed up the project was scrapped.

Late last year, the ODTreported  Treasury had warned both Mr English and Dr Coleman against speeding up the timeframe.

Southern Partnership Group chairman Andrew Blair, in a statement to the Otago Daily Times, said the group settled on a slightly slower timeframe which struck an “appropriate balance”.

A new hospital is more than seven years from completion. The ministry has said it is looking at the entire hospital campus, and it has not said exactly what will be built, nor the site.

An official assessment of the clinical services building says it is “crumbling” and at risk of a significant defect that causes its abrupt closure.

The clinical services block in particular has a number of problems. In 2014 there were major leak problems in the operating theatres.

ODT: Q&A: The Hospital rebuild

The clinical services building is crumbling and suffered years of maintenance neglect.

It does not meet standards for electrical wiring, infection control, and management of dirty laundry. 

Its asbestos problem means even though there’s a special budget now for deferred maintenance, some areas are no-go.

Built in the 1960s, it’s at risk of abrupt clinical failure.

There are concerns it would not withstand a significant earthquake.

What about the ward block?

Even though it’s younger (built in the 1970s and commissioned in 1980) the ward block has suffered from the same deferred maintenance as the CSB.

It needs “substantial renovation”.

A 2012 assessment deemed its remaining “service life” at just under 16 years.

It “needs systematic re-lifing or will otherwise stumble through with reactive upgrades as building systems fail” according to an official assessment.

Unusually good looking ODT website

The Otago Daily Times has a new look website, and it looks unusually good for a news website.

While the home page packs in a lot of information it looks simple, clean and uncluttered, it’s easy to browse and it has a very modest and unobtrusive amount of advertising. This is unusual for a news website.

ODTNewWebsite

If you click on a link to a story this page is also clean and clear, also with relatively unobtrusive advertising. So far very good. But there is a big BUT.

In the top right of the screen are three links:Subscribe |Log in /Register

It looks like they have moved to their promised partial paywall. At this stage I can access news pages but presume there will either be a time limit or a number of links limit.

Subscribe

It is very easy to start your Otago Daily Times home delivery and/or digital edition subscriptions.

From as little as $5.76 per week you can have home delivery six days a week of the ODT plus access to the digital edition.

For each option below, digital access is available for no additional price. If you live outside the delivery area or you do not want to receive a paper copy of the ODT, the digital only subscriptions are available at the same price.

This is where I raise my eyebrows. The digital only subscription is “available at the same price” as the print plus digital.

I guess this is to try and stop people from dropping the print edition and going digital only. So from a retention of circulation point of view it may make sense, but I think it may deter many people from going digital only when it is presumably simpler and cheaper to deliver but costs the same for less.

And something that’s quite peculiar:

If you would like to set up a digital only subscription please call our circulation team…

Ringing up to arrange an online subscription seems bizarre. I can guess again, perhaps they want to force you to talk to a sales person to give them the opportunity to try and sell you up to a full print+digital subscription.

But I think that the people most likely to want a digital only subscription are less likely to bother to ring, especially if they are overseas.

Register

I’ve been able to register a User Accoun…

  • Your account has been granted temporary access. You will need to click on the link in the account verification email to set a password and complete the account registration process.

  • Registration successful. You are now logged in.

but I haven’t received a confirmation email yet so I can’t complete the set up. If I can eventually complete…

If you are a subscriber to print or e-edition you will get unrestricted access to ODT online.

I don’t know what restricted access means.

My initial impression is that the new ODT website is unusually good looking for a news website, but it will take time to see whether the subscription options encourage or deter readers of both print and digital editions.

While I can’t find any news information about the ODT upgrade this story in March indicated where they were headed:

ODT Online relaunching with paywall

The Otago Daily Times plans to introduce a metered paywall for its online content next month as part of an exciting relaunch of its website.

The metered paywall will allow online users to read a certain number of free articles each month, after which they will be required to pay.

Existing print subscribers will get full access to www.odt.co.nz at no additional cost to their print subscription. Subscribers will also continue to enjoy free access to the ODT tablet (iPad/Android) edition, which is a replica of the printed newspaper.

The new website will be optimised to mobile and tablet devices as well as offer a refreshed look and feel.

It looks like this has just been implemented.

Otago Daily Times profile

A very interesting profile of the Otago Daily Times via a Listener interview with managing director Julian Smith.

Interview: Sir Julian Smith

If you want to know what New Zealand newspaper offices used to be like, a visit to the Otago Daily Times should do the trick. The clunky Imperial typewriters have been replaced by computer keyboards, but in almost every other respect the ODT building is like a time capsule: a rabbit warren of corridors and poky ante-rooms that bear evidence of having been subjected, in time-honoured newspaper industry tradition, to decades of ad hoc alterations.

The whole article provides worthwhile insights into the newspaper industry in New Zealand.

Smith is an old school publisher and the ODT stands out as an old school newspaper surviving in an increasingly turbulent industry (media generally, not just newspapers). In New Zealand print news has become dominated by overseas interests, with both the major players, Fairfax and APN, owned by Australian companies.

My respect for the ODT goes back half a century, having been a regular reader. I reluctantly ditched my print subscription last year but a bit ironically read more of it now, online.

There’s more to Allied Press than the ODT as they publish a number of community papers, they have a majority share in the Greymouth Star and run two regional TV stations, CTV in Christchurch and Channel 9 in Dunedin (which I can’t watch because there’s no signal where I live).

The ODT has adapted less than most other newspapers to the digital age but has survived better, so far. Time wil tell whether they keep up with change enough or get left behind.

Paying for decent journalism

Strong journalism is essential in a strong democracy, but in some respects at least it appears that serious journalism is going down the gurgler.

Even attempts at serious journalism are questionable. Multiple news organisations put significant resources over the last couple of weeks into trying to analyse and report on the Panama papers.

Newsrooms cried wolf, in collaboration with a political activist, and seemingly in collaboration with opposition parties.

The result was overblown, a public turn off and proved and probably achieved very little.

Big news this week (amongst journalists) was the proposed merger of Fairfax Media and APN. Who knows whether that will turn journalism around or just dump a few more reporters on the scrapheap, reduce choice and impose paywalls (which will probably reduce choice further).

Today’s ODT editorial: Adapt, collaborate, or die?

Now of course, in the digital age, there is the expectation from the public that journalists will be everywhere, at all hours, that news, entertainment and opinion should be accessible at the touch of a screen, on a variety of platforms, online, live and instantaneous.

The mediums have changed. Technology has made news-gathering and presentation exciting, innovative, fast-paced, constantly evolving and challenging. It certainly does not allow for complacency, the enemy of good journalism.

Sadly, what has changed is that today’s “audiences” want and expect everything immediately – and for nothing. If they can’t get it for free, they’ll go somewhere they can.

But if good journalism is not valued, there is a huge cost – to media companies, and ultimately to the public they serve. The public often bemoan what is perceived as dropping standards of journalism, yet it is fuelling the change.

As long as the watchdog role of the fourth estate is undervalued in every sense, the democratic ideals of transparency and accountability are at risk. The ultimate winners of this race to the bottom? Those already at the top, who are striving to stay there: the Government, churches, judiciary, police, army, big business.

If a merger allows the new major entity to put up a paywall for digital content, it may safeguard its future – and that of others seeking to do the same, such as this newspaper.

We all need to go back to the future to a certain extent: back to valuing journalism and the work that goes into producing content – and back to paying for it (on whatever platform). Now more than ever, in an age of spin doctors, gatekeepers and public relations staff, we need a healthy, competent, independent and well-resourced media.

The ODT is keen on paywalled news, I thought they had announced they would have moved to subscription news by now.

How much is decent journalism worth?

I used to subscribe to the ODT but stopped that last year when I realised I was hardly ever reading it. I do most of my reading online.

I guess I pay indirectly by having to navigate a mass of advertising online – but I can’t remember if I have ever bought something prompted by an online advertisement.

I’m very practised at ignoring them and I don’t impulse shop anyway. I’m far more inclined towards research shopping online, comparing products and prices, looking for reviews and opinions.

I have subscribed to Consumer online for this purpose, but occasionally  ponder whether that’s good value for money. I think I probably get a return on that investment.

I have subscribed to a couple of overseas publications but underutilised them and am unlikely to do it again, probably.

The problem for me with paying for a print subscription for online access to the ODT is that it would only be a small part of my news sourcing.

If a joint APN/Fairfax media also paywalled that would be an additional cost – and I would still want to view other news sources.

One of the key things I do is research across multiple sources, and I don’t feel inclined to subscribe to a heap of them. Publicly funded and free (currently) RNZ would get more attractive, but I would want much wider coverage.

I value good journalism and good news, and detest a lot of the media junk food.

I’m an on again off again subscriber to Sky and hate all the crap and self promotion (advertising on a subscription service).

I don’t think a bunch of separate news subscriptions are the answer. Especially when they want print prices for online access, that just doesn’t add up to me.

I would happily pay something for good journalism and good news and analysis, up to a point.

But I have seen nothing yet that attracts my custom.

And I really have no idea what would. I haven’t seen any yet that’s attractive.

I’d really like to hear other opinions on this. I think it’s an important issue with no obvious or easy answers.

New Zealand’s reputation at stake

Today’s ODT editorial says that “New Zealand is not a tax haven in the way many countries in the world operate” but the country’s reputation is at stake over the Panama papers revelations.

NZ’s reputation at stake

Prime Minister John Key is moving to protect the international reputation of New Zealand as a place to do business, with the release of the Panama Papers forcing his hand.

The Panama Papers have proved to Kiwis that this country is being used by foreign business people and global leaders as a way to pervert the tax laws of their home countries.

Let’s be clear, however. New Zealand is not a tax haven in the way many countries in the world operate. Our foreign tax laws may be used by overseas people to defraud their own countries of tax, but our tax base is not being exploited. Nothing about those trusts is illegal in this country with most apparently meeting our tax laws.

Nothing relating to new Zealand has been found to be illegal – yet – but if overseas people can use New Zealand’s trust laws to hide illegal activity or avoid tax illegally then it looks bad for New Zealand.

However it should be noted that if New Zealand wasn’t being used for questionable trusts other countries would be used – as they are, far more than New Zealand is.

What is at stake is New Zealand’s reputation which is seen around the world transparent and stable. We are consistently at the top of tables about the ease of doing business, the least corrupt country and one of the most transparent.

Mr Key is indicating a second phase of anti-money laundering measures may be brought forward in the wake of the Panama Papers. He denies the papers are evidence New Zealand is a tax haven, in line with tax experts. Here the foreign trusts need to provide information to Inland Revenue and the trustee fills out an annual return. In tax havens, little or no information is supplied to authorities.

If there is potential reputational damage then something needs to be seen to being done about it.

There has been no indication any of the people named were acting illegally, just that they were involved in some way or another. The tall-poppy syndrome is never far from sight in this country. The latest name dump is guilt by association, without context.

That is also a major issue that could affect reputations of those implicating named people in shady dealings.

Labour leader Andrew Little is saying Mr Key has damaged New Zealand’s reputation by siding with those people keen to limit their tax obligations. Labour will abolish foreign trusts but it needs to be said the current regime was put in place by former Labour finance minister Sir Michael Cullen in 2005.

Sir Michael required foreign trusts with New Zealand resident trustees to provide some tax information to Inland Revenue – exactly what is currently happening.

Thanks to the past Labour led government and the current National led government New Zealand’s tax and trust laws are (or have been) highly regarded. That is apparently a part of the problem, our reputation is being exploited by some people who want to use trusts.

The Government has appointed well-regarded accountant John Shewan to undertake an independent review of disclosure rules covering the foreign trusts in New Zealand. Mr Key indicated the Government is open to any changes Mr Shewan may suggest.

So far, New Zealand has complied with every information request from its treaty partners to the standard set by the OECD and $205 million has been invested since Budget 2012 to strengthen compliance work by Inland Revenue.

Reputational damage is hard to repair and Mr Key will be wise to act quickly on recommendations coming from both Mr Shewan and Inland Revenue.

The spotlight will be on Shewan’s report in particular. Somethig needs to be seen to being done.

For the good of New Zealand’s reputation Labour need to work positively with this with the Government to ensure our good tax and trust laws are improved.

No easy foreign trust and tax fix

It’s easy for opposition parties to jump on the ‘foreign trust bad, foreign companies bad, fix it now!’ bandwagon.

It’s a lot more difficult to do anything worthwhile that will address the problems.

Dene Mackenzie at ODT points this out in No easy foreign trust fix seen.

Changing New Zealand’s tax laws relating to foreign trusts will not be easy, despite calls from opposition MPs and others calling for tax loopholes to be closed.

The easiest way to solve the problem would be for overseas countries to adopt tax rules similar to New Zealand’s, rather than trying to change the trust laws in this country, tax professionals say.

It would obviously be easiest for new Zealand to do nothing and have other countries change, but that’s not just going to happen on it’s own.

Labour Party leader Andrew Little…

…yesterday lambasted the Government’s inquiry into foreign trusts saying Transparency International had warned the inquiry into trust disclosure rules failed to address fundamental issues raised by the Panama Papers.

Transparency International warned the narrow terms of reference meant the inquiry “will merely investigate foreign trusts rather than tackle the broader spectrum of financial crime risks associated with New Zealand companies and trusts”, he said.

But beyond the Opposition rhetoric:

Tax professionals contacted by the ODT said the problem was not so simple.

“I think it’s fair to say they [opposition MPs] sense a political opportunity to fire a shot at the PM without understanding the big picture. It’s not unusual for IRD to have things on their work list and then remove them just as quickly as other priorities come up,” one expert said.

Governments around the world were concerned about big companies circumventing tax laws by parking profits offshore and about multinationals not paying enough tax.

But Governments around the world a struggling to find effective ways of improving things.

New Zealand’s foreign trust laws had a loophole that could be exploited by overseas people, despite the law being in place to protect New Zealand’s tax base.

Because of the way New Zealand’s law worked, overseas people could set up a New Zealand foreign trust to park profits that New Zealand could not tax.

If the trust had no New Zealand resident beneficiaries, no tax would be paid.

And because the trusts had to be set up and administered correctly under New Zealand law, some New Zealanders had made money by setting up trustee services to run the trusts.

Some New Zealanders are now saying this country should be seen as having a regime that allows tax avoidance.

But unlike a tax haven, which attracts capital, the foreign trust regime was not put in place to do that, tax professionals said.

“This is not easy to change as it is a fundamental building block of our tax system. We want New Zealand residents to pay tax here.”

Foreign trusts are not really a New Zealand problem…

Most tax experts believed the foreign trust issue was not a New Zealand problem and the Government should be telling overseas administrations to tighten their rules which allowed their residents to set up foreign trusts to avoid paying tax.

Even if New Zealanders had investments in a tax haven overseas, eventually the money could find its way back to New Zealand and be taxed.

…but Opposition politicians are trying hard to make it a political problem here.

One of the worst things that could happen as a result is making changes to try and appease voters but that weaken our tax and trust laws.

It’s good to see some balanced analyse of the overseas trust and foreign company tax issues from the ODT.

RMA and democracy

Dunedin City Councillors have expressed concerns about aspects of the latest proposals to reform the Resource Management Act.

Today’s ODT editorial looks at some pros and cons in Democracy not negotiable:

Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith introduced the Bill by citing widespread reports of the RMA’s “cumbersome planning processes and the time and cost of consenting”.

The proposed changes would reduce that time and cost in many cases while tightening rules around which affected parties were entitled to inclusion in a given consenting process.

The result, Dr Smith said, was an enhanced Resource Management Act improving both environmental management and economic growth.

These are goals most New Zealanders would readily support and applaud.

There is widespread acknowledgement that RMA improvements are needed – but a sound democratic process is also very important.

Councillors have said they fear environmental benchmarks will become too flexible under the proposed changes while the powers of a local body’s own district plan would be watered down.

They are also concerned the Bill will centralise power in Wellington at the expense of local bodies, but the biggest stumbling block is their concern citizens affected by a given development could be shut out of consent hearings.

Under the Bill, non-expert submitters could be cast aside.

The result, councillors fear, is residents wanting to be heard on a development they believed would affect them would not have that chance unless they possessed expert knowledge or could afford to hire someone who did.

And here lies the conundrum.

It is a conundrum. There are examples of ‘non-expert’ submitters influencing RMA decisions for what some would say are fairly trivial objections, like how a development would look from a distance.

At an Dunedin RMA hearing last week one objection was that an apartment block would increase traffic on the street – that would probably be minor, central city apartments tend to reduce the need to travel by car, especially compared to dwellers in distant suburbs were urban sprawl is likely to occur.

There will be few New Zealanders who disagree with what Dr Smith says the Bill will do: improve environmental management and economic growth.

There will be few New Zealanders who can’t bring to mind examples of infuriating, expensive and protracted RMA hearings.

But there are a few New Zealanders whose hobby seems to be frivolous RMA objections.

But there would also be few Kiwis who don’t cling steadfastly to New Zealand remaining a fair, democratic country offering access and voice to all citizens, not just those highly skilled, educated or deep-pocketed enough to have their opinions considered valid.

Hearings panels already have the power to ignore submissions they consider frivolous or vexatious.

Are further limits to submissions required?

Democracy has been consistently championed, fought for and celebrated by New Zealanders.

But not because we hold it as the cheapest or most efficient form of government.

It is neither.

Democracy is difficult and comes with a hefty price tag.

While efficiencies should be sought wherever possible, we should be wary when they come at the expense of democracy.

We should certainly do what we can to protect democracy.

But as much of a problem as eroding democratic processes is the trend for activist individuals or groups to misuse and abuse submission processes to try and impose minority ideals on the majority.

Getting the right balance won’t be easy.

Sugar tax? Fat? Salt?

After the Conservative government in the UK announced a sugary drink tax it reignited calls for something similar here.

Green health spokesperson asked Health Minister Jonathan Coleman about it in question time:

How much tax would be enough to make a difference? Would it just shift consumption to alternative sweet and fattening foods?

An ODT editorial asks questions about it in Sweet as? Will NZ follow?

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne announced the plans as part of the 2016 Budget.

The soft drinks industry would be charged a levy which would then be used to double the funding for sports in primary schools – raising an extra $NZ1billion per year.

It is hoped the industry will reduce the levels of sugar in manufactured drinks, not simply absorb the cost of the levy or pass it on to consumers.

Likewise, it is hoped consumers will baulk at the price increase (about 17c for a can of Coca-Cola, for example) and go for healthier options (milk products and natural fruit juices will not be subject to the levy).

There are no guarantees of either, of course.

Several countries have already imposed similar levies, with mixed results. But health experts believe it is an important start, if only one measure in the fight against obesity.

But it still looks unlikely here.

But would it ever see the light of day here?

The Government has consistently said a tax on soft drinks is unpalatable.

If the tax works, and consumers do reduce their sugar intake, that must have some impact on obesity, diabetes, heart disease and dental health.

If taxing sugar is seen to work in the UK and elsewhere (that could take some time) will it happen here? And where could it lead with other fattening foods.

There are certainly economic implications, and arguments about freedom of choice and personal responsibility to consider.

Governments are increasingly unable to carry the social and health burdens associated with certain products, however.

And if grossly unhealthy products saturate the market, and are the easiest, most accessible and cheapest options, encouraging good behaviour alone is never going to work.

New Zealand weighs in with the third-highest rate of adult obesity in the developed world; almost a third of adults and 10% of children are obese.

The long-term implications for individuals and the health system certainly require more than a one-trick pony solution.

So the questions will remain for the moment.

Can a sugar tax be legally implemented here?

Will it be done here?

Will it be effective?

And what’s next on (or rather off) the menu?

Salt or fat?

One of the problems with food taxes, apart from making food more expensive, is that it’s very hard to enforce smaller diets no matter what foods are made more expensive by the Government.

 

More on the ODT paywall

Tim Murphy at The Spinoff has more details on the ODT plans for putting up a paywall on a new news website.

There will be a lot of interest in seeing how it goes by other media who contemplate the pros and cons of paywalls versus click based advertising.

Watch this space: ODT takes the paywall plunge

From mid-April, Dunedin’s leading newsroom will introduce a metered paywall offering between 15 and 30 free stories a month before readers have to cough up about $27 a month as a subscriber. Print subscribers already pay that figure monthly and will get the digital subscription free.

Charging the same amount as the print version (whose subscribers also get an online subscription) may be aimed at bolstering print circulation but it doesn’t make sense.

It will be the first major news publisher in New Zealand to do so, following many in the United States, Europe and Australia. And it could be in the right place, at the right time, to make it work.

Two smaller New Zealand regional papers have introduced paywalls. TheAshburton Guardian makes visitors to its Guardian Online site pay from the get-go to read its stories. The Gisborne Herald allows seven free reads of stories before seeking a subscription payment.

The Listener and NBR already operate with subscription paywalls.

The two big players in this country, stuff.co.nz, owned by Fairfax, and nzherald.co.nz, run by NZME, have vowed not to go there any time soon with paywalls – both are intent on earning money from their digital content by attracting advertisers through ever-rising audience numbers.

Which means a move towards more click bait trivia.

Its chief, Sir Julian Smith, leads a business which still has a total editorial staff of almost 80 and an overall headcount of 400 or so – a big presence in both senses in Dunedin and the province.

Sir Julian will be hoping a Meclab survey finding from the US this month on willingness to pay – that “respondents point above all to the ability to gain access to exclusive content unavailable from other news orgs, including arts and culture and local news” – will be reflected in the south.

Everyone further north will be watching.

Will enough of those in the south pay?