Russell McVeagh abuse report due out today

Hints of “shocking abusive bullying” and “abuses of power” seem to have leaked out in advance of the review of alleged sexual abuse and abuse of power at Russell McVeagh.

RNZ: Russell McVeagh review details to be released today

RNZ understands the review details incidents of “shocking abusive bullying” and “abuses of power”.

Partners at the firm have been walked through the findings in a fraught meeting with Dame Margaret Bazely, with some left in tears.

The review is looking into the sexual harassment claims of 2015/2016 and the firm’s response, any other sexual harassment claims or any other improper conduct and the firm’s response to those claims, the firm’s standards, systems and policies relating to the management of staff, the firm’s implementation of those policies and whether they adequately safeguard staff from sexual harassment and the culture of the firm.

The review will be made public at 10am. Following the release, Dame Margaret Bazely will brief Russell McVeagh staff.

RNZ details the background to revelations being released:

  • On 14 February, Newsroom published a story detailing three sexual assault complaints involving interns and two older male lawyers at leading law firm Russell McVeagh. It was reported the incidents took place two years ago. That summer there were ten clerks on the summer intern programme. Five of the clerks were female and they declined full-time job offers from the firm after the programme.
  • In the following days, Victoria University confirmed several of its students on internships at Russell McVeagh reported being sexually assaulted by lawyers. The police were involved but no charges resulted.
  • At the time, Russell McVeagh senior partner Pip Greenwood said the firm’s board was aware of the allegationsand conducted an internal investigation. The men involved no longer work at the company, she said.
  • Just over a week after the initial story broke, new allegations were made of inappropriate sexual conduct between university students and senior lawyers at Russell McVeagh. In a social media post, AUT law lecturer Khylee Quince said the Auckland University students described an evening where there was heavy drinking between students and lawyers, leading to sex on a boardroom table.
  • At the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s annual review in late February, National MP Melissa Lee raised questions over the government’s continued use of Russell McVeagh.

If the pre-release reports are accurate it sounds like tough times for Russell McVeagh.

At least it appears to be being addressed, so some good may come out of this if it is dealt with properly by the law firm.

Newsroom also pre-empt the release of the report: Four things the Russell McVeagh review must address

Questions have been raised about when Russell McVeagh knew and responded to allegations ranging from sexual assault to rape by five summer interns. The claims relate to at least two incidents and involved two lawyers employed by the firm at the time. Bazley has been tasked with reviewing and giving recommendations relating to the allegations, plus Russell McVeagh’s policies around sexual harassment and the wider culture of the firm.

The main things Bazley’s report must address:

  1. How Russell McVeagh handled the complaints
    Russell McVeagh has ensured the review is independent, but there is no indication whether Bazley has been given full and complete access to all of the firm’s records.
  2. Reference for one of the men involved
    One of the lawyers went on to work at Duncan Cotterill, the other went on to share an office with other lawyers.Duncan Cotterill said it had no idea of the allegations at the time the man was hired. Duncan Cotterill said it was led to believe by a reference check that the incident was minor.
  3. Continuing to use one of the men for legal work 
    One of the men was receiving Russell McVeagh work once he left the firm. Russell McVeagh told Newsroom it was ethically obliged to keep him on a case, even though the law firm had to ban female staff from working on that account and bar the former senior staffer from attending meetings at its office.
  4. Why Russell McVeagh did not inform the Law Society 
    The Law Society was first informed of the claims in October 2016 when one of the women told the society, almost 10 months after the incidents. The firm’s partners may have breached their legal obligations under the Lawyers Conduct and Client Care Rules by failing to report the alleged misconduct immediately.

We may or may not get answers to these questions today.

Report on preventing youth crime

A report written by justice sector science advisor Dr Ian Lambie, titled It is never too early, never too late: A
discussion paper on preventing youth offending in New Zealand, urges agencies to adopt “developmental
crime prevention” model.


Principal Youth Court judge welcomes new report on tackling youth crime

A report on addressing youth crime in New Zealand is a blueprint for change that needs to involve all agencies
and communities, says Principal Youth Court Judge John Walker.

The report found the number of offenders in the youth-justice system is decreasing, but more needed to be
done to understand youth offending.

“With its focus on rehabilitation, reintegration and restorative justice, the report highlights that New Zealand
has an innovative youth justice system that works well to address offending by people aged 14 to 17.

“However, if we really want to be serious about getting to the root causes of youth crime, it shows we need to
tackle those issues when they’re children, not when they turn up in the youth justice system at 14. Too often
in the Youth Court we’re playing “catch up”, dealing with long standing issues that could have been addressed
many years before.”

A key issue the report highlights is that the causes of youth crime are intergenerational and linked to problems
within families and communities, Judge Walker says.

“When the research shows that 80 percent of child and young offenders grow up in homes where family
violence is present, breaking this cycle of violence from one generation to another is critical.

“To address the underlying issues and the well-entrenched behaviours we see in young people and young
adults, we must target every point in the timeline. We need to be pre-emptive, responsive, and adopt longterm
strategies.

“Regular visits to check on the health of toddlers, programmes to help parents and address the mental health
of mothers, tackling challenging behaviour by children and supporting early childhood centres and schools are
just some of the options the report highlights for addressing the issues that lead to youth offending.”

Judge Walker says young people do not grow up in a vacuum.

“Communities play an integral role in providing the framework within which young lives can be
reclaimed. What this report pinpoints is that change does not happen just by what we do, but by what
we do alongside others.”

KickStart Breakfast programme report inconclusive

Lindsay Mitchell points out that there is a lot of uncertainty in a report on the KickStart Breakfast programme in Lots of ‘ifs’ and ‘maybes’

The report: KickStart Breakfasts and Indicators of Child Health in Linked Administrative Data

The existing evidence base

International evidence is that eating a healthy breakfast can lead to improvements in academic performance, appears to improve overall diet quality, and may protect against weight gain.

Existing New Zealand evidence establishes that school breakfast programmes reduce student hunger. Small New Zealand studies suggest provision of milk in schools increases the proportion of children meeting recommended guidelines for dairy intake and improves bone health.

Results from international and New Zealand studies assessing whether school feeding programmes have positive impacts on other student outcomes are mixed, but generally positive.

Evidence from research on dairy consumption and child health suggest that school food programmes that boost dairy intake could have positive effects on a range of measures of child health, with the potential to improve oral and bone health in particular.

What this study adds

This study was commissioned to provide a quantitative assessment of the impact of the KickStart programme on students’ outcomes. The Statistics New Zealand Integrated Data Infrastructure was used in this study.

Informed by the existing evidence base, and by the data available, we focussed on measures of students’ oral and bone health.

We found that after controlling for a range of other factors, students aged under 13 enrolled in schools and kura with higher uptake of KickStart – measured in terms of the average number of breakfasts served per student, per week across three school years – were significantly less likely than their peers to have hospital outpatient visits for dental
surgery.

Etc.

But there is a lot of uncertainty. Mitchell points out some ifs and maybes.

“We see no evidence of a significant association between KickStart intensity and the two administrative indicators of fracture. One possible explanation is that KickStart intensity had no association with bone health. Another is that students who received more KickStart were more active as a result of increased energy intake. Falls may have increased at the same time as the likelihood of fracture upon falling was reduced as a result of improvements in bone health.”.

-KickStart may have improved the nutritional quality of the breakfasts consumed by students. This mechanism is suggested by a study by Bhattacharya et al. (2006) which examined the United States School Breakfast Program.

-The effect of the breakfasts may have been to displace consumption of unhealthy snack foods, including sugary food and drinks, as suggested by the cross-sectional study conducted by Utter and colleagues (2007).

– Reduced pressure on home budgets as a result of KickStart may have allowed families and whānau to purchase higher quality foods to eat at other times of the day and week. Such spillover effects are suggested by the Bhattacharya et al. (2006) study, which found that both adults and preschool children had healthier diets and lower percentages of calories from fat when the School Breakfast Program was available to school-aged children in the household.

If Kickstart caused improvements in diet and caused sugary food and drinks to be displaced, this would suggest that benefits might also include reduced obesity and improvements in learning, health and development (Thornley et al., 2017a), including reductions in rheumatic fever (Thornley et al., 2017b).

There are more uncertainties:

We are unable to draw conclusions about the degree to which reduced outpatient visits for dental surgery were caused by KickStart alone.

…there are plausible mechanisms that could link KickStart and reduced hospital outpatient visits for dental surgery

The limited information available through existing linked de-identified administrative data meant that we were unable to examine some of these wider potential benefits.

No clear association was found between increased exposure to KickStart and administratively sourced measures indicative of bone fractures in students aged under 13.

And that’s before getting to the Introduction. Jumping to…

Conclusion

Schools and kura are overwhelmingly positive about the KickStart programme and report positive effects on students’ health and wellbeing and engagement with school. Our analysis of linked administrative data shows that after controlling for a range of confounders, students enrolled in schools and kura with higher uptake of KickStart – measured in terms of the average number of breakfasts served per student per week across three school years – are significantly less likely than their peers to have hospital outpatient visits for dental surgery.

While plausible causal mechanisms exist, we are unable to draw conclusions about the degree to which this association reflects the causal impact of KickStart.

A report that is unable to draw conclusions seems of limited use.

Another report information wrongly withheld by Auckland Council

RNZ reports on a third case where mayor Phil Goff and the Auckland City Council withheld information requested under the Official Information act that required intervention by the Ombudsman’s Office – Auckland Council stalled release of reports

The release of the $935,000 consultants’ report on a downtown stadium on Friday was the third time RNZ had to resort to the Ombudsman’s Office to extract public information.

The information was eventually found to have been wrongly withheld by Auckland Council.

All three directly involve the mayor Phil Goff.

In the latest case, RNZ had requested at the end of November 2017 the “pre-feasability” study looking at the prospects for a downtown stadium.

Advocacy for a closer look at the stadium had been part of Mr Goff’s election campaign.

Mr Goff personally called for the report soon after he was elected Mayor in October 2016, following 33 years in national politics.

Consultants PwC were engaged in January, although that move was not publicly announced until March, and the draft was delivered on time in June to the council agency Regional Facilities Auckland (RFA).

The council argued initially that the report was only a draft, and therefore not required to be released under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act (LGOIMA).

Wrong, said Ombudsman Leo Donnelly in an opinion he sent to Auckland Council and released to RNZ.

“There is no basis for a blanket withholding of drafts under LGOIMA until they are completed and finalised,” he wrote.

“To have a standard approach of withholding draft reports until they have been fully signed off, leaves the process open to exploitation by agencies who want to hold off release of information until it is most convenient.”

Read the Ombudsman’s opinion on Auckland Council’s arguments here (693.4KB)

In negotiations between the council and the Ombudsman, a senior council legal manager had also rejected the notion that public interest was not a ground for release.

“Any interest in the contents of the Report is tangential to the overall stadium issue, and falls into the category of being interesting to the public as opposed to being of legitimate concern to the public.”

Wrong, opined the Ombudsman.

“This is a project which, were the matter to progress, would involve the use of significant public funds, either through the council or central government,” wrote Leo Donnelly.

“There is a public interest in the Council being transparent at each step of the process.”

If draft reports could be kept secret under the OIA then many reports may never reach a final stage.

RNZ understands that the mayor’s office has been the key player in seeking the withholding of the “draft” report, and it was the mayor’s office which managed the reports’ release on Friday.

It also allowed Mr Goff to have a “conversation” with Finance Minister Grant Robertson on the subject, just a week ago.

It’s a re-run of RNZ’s effort to get a report commissioned by Mr Goff on the future of the vehicle import trade on Auckland’s waterfront.

Again, moving Auckland’s port long-term and the space-hungry vehicle import trade in the shorter term, were Goff campaign battle cries.

Again, fresh in office, Mr Goff ordered a report on the costs and benefits, and a draft was completed in May 2017.

It didn’t support Mr Goff’s view that the trade was a blight on the waterfront. RNZ’s request for a copy in July was declined.

Goff seems to have transferred poor OIA practices of central Government to the Auckland Council.

The outcome of the Ombudsman’s Office investigation into Auckland Council conduct around public information release, is still awaited.

But will it make any difference to Goff’s delaying tactics?

From Goff’s campaign policy document:

Council is regarded as an organisation that needs to cut fat from its system, become more responsive to the needs of its residents and ratepayers, and to be more transparent in how it spends its money.

Transparency seems to have morphed into secrecy. And the fat cutting? Auckland Council paying $45 million for ‘communications and engagement’

A leaked, confidential Auckland Council report has revealed the local body is spending $45 million running its various communications departments which employ 234 staff.

Critics have called for the council to tighten its belt and drastically cut the number of “spin doctors” it employs.

Mayor Phil Goff, who campaigned on tightening the city’s excess spending, addressed the reviews, which he instigated, at a meeting with the North Harbour business community in August.

“I’m spending your money,” he said. “You need to know you’re getting value for money in what we spend.”

Except when Goff wants to use his comms staff to keep things secret.


Goff is being interviewed on RNZ now.

Goff denies playing any part in the withholding of information. He says it follows a process. That process seems to be severely flawed.

He expects the Council to take on board the Ombudsman’s comments but then puts forward reasons (makes excuses) for not releasing information.

 

Building Blocks for improving the wellbeing of children

The Children’s Convention Monitoring Group has released a report called Getting It Right: Building Blocks that details where progress is being made and suggests future action.

Key recommendations:

  • taking children and their views into account when new policies are developed
  • supporting children’s participation in decisions that affect them
  • ensuring children’s privacy and best interests are considered when collecting their information
  • using the Children’s Convention to develop a plan for children and their wellbeing.

So I guess this report was a pre-plan. This sounds quite vague feel-good stuff.

NZH: Children’s Convention Monitoring Group releases report to better child wellbeing

Children’s Commissioner Andrew Becroft said the Government promised 25 years ago to do better for all children when it signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Now New Zealand needed to walk towards that goal.

The convention is a human rights treaty which sets out the civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights of children.

Becroft described past work on child wellbeing as “ad hoc” and this report offered a coherent plan.

“If we’re going to mean business to do better for New Zealand children then this report says we have to put in place some key building blocks to get there.

“These are foundations. If they are not in place welfare is not going to make any real progress … We’re better than this.

“We can do so much better for our children.”

We (New Zealand) should be striving to do better for our children. Most parents and families already strive to do the best they can for their children.

There are 1.1 million children and young people under 18 years old in Aotearoa. Around 20 per cent are not doing well and 10 per cent are really struggling with issues ranging from abuse and neglect, material deprivation and poor health to difficulties learning at school.

In 2016 the United Nations gave New Zealand 47 urgent recommendations to improve child wellbeing, including addressing negative outcomes for Māori and Pasifika children, reducing high rates of violence, abuse and neglect. This report would address that, Becroft said.

Problems of violence, abuse and neglect are adult problems, with children being the victims.

“Recent initiatives such as the Child Poverty Reduction Bill and the proposed Child Wellbeing Strategy are positive steps towards improving the lives of children in New Zealand.

“We need to ensure these are not one-off actions.

Minister for Children Tracey Martin said they were broadly supportive of the report and would assess the viability of the recommendations.

“The Ministry of Social Development is already working on key recommendations including co-ordination, training and tools, children’s participation and raising awareness. MSD will deliver an online Child Impact Assessment tool in the near future.

“NZ is committed to major progress on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.”

Voyce Whakarongo Mai chief executive Dr Ainsleigh Cribb-Su’a expressed excitement over the report.

“It explicitly implores the Government to mandate the incorporation of a child impact analyses on all legislation and policy development processes.

“Seeking out children’s views on service design is essential. It is their future that we are designing, let’s incorporate their views in all that we develop.”

I get a feeling this is largely high level academic type paper pushing. I’m sure some good can come out of it, but there needs to be real life improvements more than ideals on paper.

“Seeking out children’s views on service design” may be essential, but how many kids in deprived living conditions with violent or addicted parents are going to give a toss about “service design’. That just want to feel safe and loved – and this report seems to be way above this basic level of care.

Kids living in bad situations  need help and support, and I feel that fancy words and human rights are way over the top of that, trying to make a few adults feel good about doing something.

Who cares about illegal snooping?

I saw something on this earlier in the week but have had trouble finding anything on it now. After some digging:

Stuff on Tuesday: SIS criticised by government watchdog over ‘unlawfully accessing’ information

The Security Intelligence Service unlawfully accessed information obtained by border security agencies to keep tabs on people entering the country, the country’s security watchdog says.

While the activity is historic, the domestic spy agency comes under fire from Inspector General of Intelligence and Security Cheryl Gwyn, not just over the way it accessed the material but for dragging its feet in responding to her inquiry.

Gwyn reveals discussions stemming back several years relating to information collected by customs and immigration under the Customs and Excise and Immigration acts.

SIS director general Rebecca Kitteridge says the information related to people entering New Zealand  – information that is critical for the work done by the agency.

She blames the criticisms on out of date legislation that has since been updated to make clear that the information can be accessed.

But Gwyn’s criticism raises questions about what should be done with the information obtained by the SIS during the period in question – up till mid 2016. It covers information collected over a period of several years, presumably relating to people who might pose a risk to national security.

In her annual report, released Tuesday, Gwyn says that information was accessed unlawfully by the SIS.  The SIS does not agree it acted unlawfully, however, Gwyn acknowledged. Her full report will be issued as earlier as this week.

She is highly critical of the agency, blaming the “excessive time frame” to complete her final report in part on the delay getting legal advice, but also the fact it was “difficult” getting a “comprehensive and fully reasoned” response from the agency to her initial findings.

“I found the agency was reluctant to engage with my office on the substantive issues. I also observe that while the Service is entitled to have a different view from me on the lawfulness of given activities, whenever lawfulness is in question it should be proactive in obtaining independent legal advice on the specific point.

“Ultimately in this matter the Service advised me of its final view as to the lawfulness of some of its access to information under the Customs and Excise Act as late as August 2017. On that I have a different view, as set out in the review report. I have not been able to satisfactorily resolve with the Service the residual question whether NZSIS can lawfully treat immigration information collected by it previously as if it had been collected under the Direct Access Agreement with Immigration that is now in place.

“Overall, this is an unsatisfactory position. I reiterate the view I expressed in last year’s annual report – to ensure it operates lawfully, the NZSIS must be able to deal with such issues in a much more timely way. ”

Gwyn is also critical of SIS being reluctant to disclose its own internal legal advice, a  factor that “impeded” her ability to do her work.

DomPost editorial via Stuff:  Watchdog bites the SIS for acting illegally

Gwyn is right to call the spies out on this matter and to alert the public to their unlawful activities and their apparent reluctance to face the music. This suggests that certain old habits persist even after Kitteridge herself took over at SIS.

Just what all this means remains somewhat unclear, although Gwyn says she intends to publish a report on the whole business before the end of the year. That might throw more light on the matter.

None of this would have become public knowledge without the diligent and persistent work of the Inspector-General. In effect she is the public’s only real watchdog over the spies. Parliament’s Intelligence Committee lacks her power; the politicians who act as the ministerial overseers of the services habitually become captive to them and have never told the public anything of use.

Democratic society owes Gwyn a debt of gratitude.

But democratic society in New Zealand doesn’t seem to care much about this.

 

 

 

Parliamentary report on medically assisted dying

In June 2015 a petition was presented to Parliament from then MP Hon Maryan Street and 8,974 others requesting:

That the House of Representatives investigate fully public attitudes towards the
introduction of legislation which would permit medically-assisted dying in the event of a terminal illness or an irreversible condition which makes life unbearable.

Parliament’s Health Committee has just released their report on this. It looks in detail into many aspects of assisted dying and euthanasia.

This is a separate process to the Private Members’ Bill of David Seymour that was drawn from the ballot earlier this year, which hasn’t had it’s First Reading in Parliament yet (unlikely before the election).


Report on the petition of Hon Maryan Street presented

During its consideration of the petition, more than 21,000 individuals and organisations submitted their views to the committee. Over 108 hours, 944 people took the opportunity to share their opinions.

The petition requests that the House of Representatives investigate fully public attitudes towards the introduction of legislation which would permit medically-assisted dying in the event of a terminal illness or an irreversible condition that makes life unbearable.

Recommendation:

The Health Committee has considered Petition 2014/18 of Hon Maryan Street and 8,974
others and recommends that the House take note of its report.

This report gives us the opportunity to summarise, for the benefit of the House and the
public, what we heard and considered during our review of more than 21,000 submissions from the petitio extremely contentious. We therefore encourage everyone with an interest in the subject to read the report in full, and to draw their own conclusions based on the evidence presented in it.

Background

The petitioner, Hon Maryan Street, was a member of Parliament between 2005 and 2014.
While a member, she sought to introduce the End of Life Options Bill as a member’s bill.
The purpose of this bill was to provide individuals with a choice about how they end their life and allow them to receive assistance from a medical practitioner to die under certain circumstances. The petition originated with the Voluntary Euthanasia Society of New Zealand (VES) before being adopted formally by Hon Maryan Street. Since leaving
Parliament, Ms Street has become the President of VES.

There have been two first reading debates in Parliament on similar bills. Both were
unsuccessful. In 1995, members voted 61 to 29 against Michael Laws’ Death with Dignity
Bill. In 2003, members voted 60 to 58 against Peter Brown’s Death with Dignity Bill.
The petitioner’s bill was formally removed from the members’ bill ballot in December
2014.

Full report here

Conclusion

We thank the petitioner for bringing this petition before the committee and encouraging us to ascertain the views of New Zealanders on ending one’s life in this country. We appreciate that people come from a range of backgrounds and that this is a subject on which people hold strong views. We believe that the written submission and oral hearing process has provided a platform for people to share these views and discuss the issues with us. This report gives us an opportunity to summarise what we heard for the benefit of the House and the public.

Eighty percent of submitters were opposed to a change in legislation that would allow assisted dying and euthanasia. Submitters primarily argued that the public would be endangered. They cited concern for vulnerable people, such as the elderly and the disabled, those with mental illnesses, and those susceptible to coercion. Others argued that life has an innate value and that introducing assisted dying and euthanasia would explicitly undermine that idea. To do so would suggest that some lives are worth more than others. There were also concerns that, once introduced, eligibility for assisted dying would rapidly expand well beyond what was first intended.

Supporters of assisted dying feared their loss of dignity, independence, and physical and mental capacity. Submitters also spoke about the fear of pain and of having to watch loved ones suffer from a painful death. Supporters stressed their personal autonomy and that they should have the choice as to when to end their life.

Many submitters discussed their experiences of palliative care. We commend the service
given by palliative care providers and hospices. However, we were concerned to hear that there is a lack of awareness about the role of palliative care, that access to it is unequal, and that there are concerns about the sustainability of the workforce. We urge the Government to consider ways in which it can better communicate the excellent services that palliative carers provide, address the unequal access, consider how palliative care is funded, and address the workforce shortages.

The relationship between assisted dying and suicide was a common concern for submitters. Some believe that assisted dying should not be considered until New Zealand’s high suicide rate is reduced. Others believe that the lack of assisted dying legislation means that people are more likely to suicide.

We recognise that a lot of work and investment has gone into suicide prevention programmes and support services. However, we were concerned to hear that people feel that there is a lack of grief counselling. We therefore encourage the Government to investigate improving access to these services.

We have not made any recommendations about introducing assisted dying legislation. We understand that decisions on issues like this are generally a conscience vote.

The petitioner asked us to investigate attitudes towards the introduction of legislation that would permit assisted dying in the event of a terminal illness or an irreversible condition which makes life unbearable. However, some submitters thought that the criteria would or should be broader than terminal illness or an irreversible condition. This has made it difficult for us to consider what the safeguards should be. We were particularly concerned about protecting vulnerable people, such as individuals with dementia or reduced capacity. Some of us remain unconvinced that the models seen overseas provide adequate protection for vulnerable people.

We would like to thank all of the submitters for sharing their stories with us and for the
respect submitters showed for opposing views when they appeared before the committee.

This issue is clearly very complicated, very divisive, and extremely contentious.

We therefore encourage everyone with an interest in the subject to read the report in full and to draw their own conclusions based on the evidence we have presented.

New Zealand First minority view

New Zealand First congratulates the petitioner for bringing this issue before the Select Committee. Medically-assisted dying is a serious matter and is so serious that it is not one that should be taken by temporarily empowered politicians. New Zealand First cannot support such a fundamental change without a clear sign that this is the will of most New Zealanders. That would be achieved by either a binding Citizens’ Initiated Referendum, or a Government Initiated Referendum held with a future General Election thus allowing for a period of informed debate.

Fresh water report

The Ministry for the Environment has just published Our fresh water 2017


Report confirms serious challenges for rivers

New Zealand’s rivers and lakes are under increasing pressure, according to the latest national report from the Ministry for the Environment and Stats NZ about the state of fresh water.

Our fresh water 2017, released today, measures the quality of our waterways; water quantity and flows; biodiversity in rivers and lakes; and the cultural health of fresh water.

Key findings from the report are:

  • nitrogen levels are getting worse at 55 percent and getting better at 28 percent of monitored river sites across New Zealand
  • phosphorus levels are getting better at 42 percent and getting worse at 25 percent of monitored river sites across New Zealand
  • of the 39 native fish species we report on, 72 percent are either threatened with or at risk of extinction
  • E.coli levels are 22 times higher in urban areas and 9.5 times higher in pastoral rivers compared with rivers in native forest areas
  • 51 percent of water allocated for consumptive use is for irrigation, and 65 percent of that is allocated to Canterbury.

Government Statistician Liz MacPherson said the regular environment reports were important in providing a national picture of the state of our environment while acknowledging regional variations.

“This helps us see where the greatest pressures are and where we are performing well,” she said. “Today’s report confirms our freshwater environment faces a number of serious challenges.”

Secretary for the Environment Vicky Robertson said land use clearly affected the state of fresh water in this country. “This report confirms our urban waterways are the most polluted but we are seeing more declining trends in pastoral areas and it’s important we do something about it now and continue to track any progress.”

More information was still needed on fresh water biodiversity. “It’s clear many species are under pressure. Of the 39 native fish species we report on, 72 percent are either threatened with or at risk of extinction. About a third of native freshwater plants and invertebrates are also at risk,” Ms Robertson said.

“Recently there has been a strong focus on how swimmable our waterways are, but that is just part of the story. The implications for our freshwater species are really critical.

“Many of our species are found nowhere else in the world so it is even more crucial we don’t lose any under our watch. We need to consider the resilience of all species in any decisions we make that affect the environment.”

Other recent reports also demonstrated the significant impact from human activity on our fresh water quality and quantity and on our ecosystems, habitats and species, Ms Robertson said.

“The more studies there are, the better we understand the impact people have on fresh water. However, we can’t wait for perfect data to act. This report identifies some key issues we can focus on for actions.”

Ms MacPherson said Our fresh water 2017 used the best available data and was independently quality assured. “Good science, data, and information have the potential to shape our choices and the impact we have on our environment at the national, regional, and community level.”

More work was needed on collecting and reporting consistent data on fresh water, including filling gaps in our knowledge, said Ms MacPherson. “It will take time and effective collaboration to get the reliable, well-structured, and relevant statistics we need and we are continually looking at ways to improve data for future reports.”

Ms MacPherson noted that as with the other reports in the environmental reporting series, Our fresh water 2017 was focused on providing underlying evidence to help inform policy responses and the public debate.

“Past experience shows where we focus our energy, we can make a difference,” said Ms Robertson. “Over time we have become better at identifying and addressing point source pollution in water. Good fertiliser and erosion management in some areas appears to have helped decrease phosphorous in some waterways. We must explore more ways to effectively improve our most vulnerable waterways.”

The report is the second since the Environmental Reporting Act came into effect in June 2016. The next report – about atmosphere and climate – will be out in October 2017. More information:

 

 

 

Government tried to hide housing report

The Government tried to prevent a critical housing report from being revealed but they were overruled by the Ombudsman under the Official Information Act.

The Government has faced a lot of criticism over it’s abuse of disclosure under the OIA. This is just one more example.

RNZ: Govt tried to keep critical housing report secret

A report the government tried to keep secret says its approach to social and affordable housing is fragmented and lacks a robust plan.

The external review of the Social Housing Reform Programme noted that, in Auckland, three ministers and four government agencies lacked an overall plan to boost housing supply.

This isn’t a surprise, the Government has looked disorganised and slow to react to growing housing issues.

The 135-page review, done for Treasury, was finished in December 2015.

Last September, then-Minister of Social Housing Paula Bennett refused to release the report to RNZ.

She said to do so would “prejudice the quality of information received” and “the wider public interest of effective government would not be served”.

RNZ obtained the report only after an appeal to the Ombudsman under the Official Information Act.

It shouldn’t be this difficult to get official information.

The review recommended a Social Housing Programme office, which would answer to key ministers and establish a single agency to manage property sales and the redevelopment of Crown land.

Withholding the report for six months allowed it to be released with a letter from the Ministry of Social Development’s deputy chief executive for social housing Scott Gallacher, which outlined subsequent progress.

The delay ensured more attention would be drawn to the report, and puts it into the public arena in election year. Things like this can nibble away at Government credibility, and could reach a tipping point.

National are looking increasingly vulnerable over housing and trying to keep reports secret and continuing to abuse the OIA won’t help their case.

Little changes Pike River commitment

This week Andrew Little changed his commitments on Pike River, from seeking another expert report and “leave it for the experts”, but two days later said the experts say that safe re-entry can be done and he will make re-entry a priority as Prime Minister.

On Monday Stuff reported: Labour leader Andrew Little not giving ‘false hope’ to Pike River families ahead of visit to the West Coast

Little stands by his promise to seek another report by world-leading experts and make a decision on whether to re-enter the mine based on a third opinion.

To date the Government has a report saying it’s too dangerous while the Pike River families have their own report saying it’s safe.

In response to whether the findings of a third report would be treated as gospel, Little said, yes.

“I’m not going to give false hope to people but I’m not going to deny them realistic hope either.”

He said a third report would mean “you’ve got more experts than not saying what is practical to do”.

You’ve got to leave it for the experts and show respect to them.”

Little is clearly saying he would “leave it for the experts” and abide by a third report in making any decision.

However on Wednesday via the Labour website: Bill English needs to back Pike River Bill

Bill English has been hiding behind the legal excuse that any attempt to re-enter the mine to recover the bodies might place the mine’s owner, Solid Energy Limited, and its directors in breach of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015.

“My Health and Safety at Work (Pike River Recovery) Amendment Bill removes that risk and, therefore, removes the excuse the Prime Minister is using to block recovery operations that international mining experts maintain are feasible and not unduly risky.

“I will be tabling the Bill on the first day of the new Parliamentary session on 7 February and I challenge the Government to back it.

“Bill English can’t hide behind this excuse unless there are other reasons he has for not wanting recovery to happen. He needs to front up and do the right thing for the families of the Pike River miners who have been waiting too long for their men to be returned.

“As I have said all along, Labour supports safe re-entry, which the experts say can be done. I want justice for the families who have suffered the worst workplace tragedy in decades.

“If New Zealanders choose to change the Government this year, re-entering Pike River will be a priority in my first hundred days as Prime Minister,” says Andrew Little.

http://www.labour.org.nz/bill_english_needs_to_back_pike_river_bill

This gives quite a different impression – that Little “supports safe re-entry, which the experts say can be done”, and ” re-entering Pike River will be a priority in my first hundred days as Prime Minister”.

Nothing in that about a third report and leaving it to the experts.