Editorials 21 April 2010

April 21st, 2010 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Three editorials on the UN Declaration. First the Herald:

When the previous Labour Government was confronted with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, it quailed.

The potential political backlash, rather than the practical outcome of signing a non-binding document, was uppermost in its mind.

At its behest, New Zealand joined a group of only four UN members opposed to the declaration. It was a nonsensical state of affairs for a country whose record on indigenous rights is far superior to the vast majority of those who had signed up. …

If New Zealand does certain things differently to the ideal scenario alluded to by the declaration, that is of no great practical consequence. The focus should be on its record on indigenous relations, which places it in the international vanguard.

The work of the Waitangi Tribunal, which since 1975 has served as an effective sounding board for iwi to relate their stories of land loss, has been an integral part of that.

New Zealand has always spoken from a position of strength on matters of indigenous rights because it comes closer than most to meeting the aspirations espoused in the UN declaration.

Signing that document was, as Dr Sharples suggests, a small step but one that has symbolic value domestically and internationally.

There may, indeed, be no practical impact. That does not mean, however, that grasping this nettle was not worthwhile.

So Herald very supportive.

The Press:

The Maori Party chalked up another victory this week with the announcement that the Government will support the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Although this decision is largely symbolic, support for the declaration had been a long-standing goal of the party and a source of friction between it and the previous Labour-led administration.

From a political perspective, support for the declaration makes sense for both the Maori Party and National. The Maori Party can add this to a growing list of policy concessions by National, including retaining the Maori seats and flying the Maori flag on Waitangi Day. In addition, the hated foreshore and seabed law will be repealed and the Maori Party’s flagship Whanau Ora policy will be introduced.

For National, these concessions have the effect of tying the Maori Party closer to it and creating the prospect that a support relationship between the two could endure past this term. In particular, it creates a point of difference with Labour, which justified its position as one of just four nations to oppose the declaration in 2007 by saying that it was at odds with New Zealand’s constitutional and legal framework. …

There is a risk that the declaration could be the basis of future attacks on this nation’s human rights record. But New Zealand governments have shown themselves capable of shrugging off previous criticism from bodies such as the UN Commission on Human Rights.

It might be argued, as Labour has done, that there was little point in endorsing the declaration if it would have no practical effect. It is, however, a symbol of New Zealand’s support for indigenous peoples across the globe.

And it was always incongruous that the vast majority of nations, many of which have appalling human rights records compared with New Zealand, voted for the bill, and that this nation did not.

Two in favour.

The Dom Post:

Recognising blah blah blah, affirming waffle waffle waffle. As a contribution to the human rights canon, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples leaves something to be desired.

It reads like a 48-page wish list assembled by a committee, which is exactly what it is – a committee which debated the merits of additional clauses, full stops and commas for 22 years. Drafting began in 1985, but the final wording was not approved by the United Nations General Assembly until 2007.

Heh sounds typical.

However, its drawn-out conception is not a reason to oppose it. Nor is its verbosity. The declaration is a flawed document – an assemblage of truisms and platitudes that imposes no obligations on signatories but contains fishhooks for nations that try to honour it.

It is actually to the last government’s credit that it declined to endorse a document it knew it could not implement. Amid the verbiage are a handful of articles that confer rights on indigenous peoples that are denied to other citizens. They include the right to veto government decisions and reclaim ownership of traditional lands – a right that, in New Zealand’s case, could be interpreted as covering the entire country.

New Zealand does not need to pay lip service to unworkable statements to demonstrate its good intent. …

However, there is value in restating the special status of Maori as New Zealand’s indigenous people, acknowledging the importance of Maori culture, affirming the Treaty of Waitangi’s place as New Zealand’s founding document and acknowledging the historic injustices suffered by Maori.

The negotiations between the Maori Party and National have enabled the Government to do so in a way which does not expose it to accusations of bad faith.

New Zealand’s declaration of support explicitly reaffirms the legal and constitutional frameworks that underpin the legal system and notes that those frameworks define the bounds of New Zealand’s engagement with the UN declaration. In other words, New Zealand law takes precedence over the declaration.

A momentous occasion as the Maori Party has suggested? Perhaps not, but a welcome opportunity to remove a source of friction between Maori and the Government and to put New Zealand back in the international mainstream. Of the four countries that initially opposed the declaration – New Zealand, the United States, Australia and Canada – only the US now stands outside the declaration. Australia changed its position last year and Canada has said it will do so.

Luke warm, but broadly supportive.

The ODT focuses on volcanic fallout:

If there is a lesson to be learned – again – from the billowing clouds of volcanic ash in the skies over Europe, it is the latent power of nature.

In 1783, the eruption of the volcano Laki in Iceland lasted for about eight months.

The effects of the layers of dust it threw into the atmosphere have been linked, among other things, to the failure of crops in France, and subsequent famine.

The fallout, Dr Stephen Edwards of the Department of Earth Sciences at University College London told the London Observer at the weekend, may have been one of a number of factors that led to the French Revolution. …

The interruption to normal service is costing the airline industry alone almost $NZ500 million a day, according to a conservative estimate by the International Air Transport Association.

The knock-on effects to a world economy just beginning to witness the signs of a fragile recovery from the recent recession, could be considerably amplified beyond the immediate consequences of cancelled flights.

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Editorials 4 March 2010

March 4th, 2010 at 10:43 am by David Farrar

The Herald calls for PPPs to hasten infrastructure projects:

Finance Minister Bill English calls his National Infrastructure Plan an important step towards better infrastructure management. “Even a small improvement in this area could reap gains worth billions – making our infrastructure dollars go further and ensuring a better return for taxpayers,” he says.

The multibillion-dollar sums sprinkled throughout the plan leave no doubt about the size of the commitment. Equally, the OECD’s view that investment in infrastructure, especially transport and communications, boosts long-term economic output more than other kinds of physical investment emphasises this is a road that must be travelled.

The Government, like its predecessor, does not seem sold on fixing this by adopting the bold option of build, own, operate, transfer (Boot) schemes, even though they have been widely used in Australia. The plan is not specific, talking only of PPPs expanding “the scope for innovation in design, construction and management of new assets”.

But it also pays attention to their potential downsides. These include the “reduced flexibility due to the long-term nature of the contract, and the cost that arises from unanticipated contract variations”. The latter can, of course, be mitigated by precise framing, so the private partner is in no doubt about the risk to itself.

Far more emphasis should have been placed on the advantages of PPPs at a time when, despite the squeeze on its finances, the Government is eyeing spending $8 billion to $9.6 billion on designated roads of national significance over the next decade. These pluses include not only the reduced cost to the Crown but the economic value of private investment decisions if they have to carry a fair share of the risk.

Transmission Gully would be a fine candidate for a PPP.

The Dom Post looks at waterfront democracy:

Democracy can be a messy, expensive and lengthy business, as Wellington City Council is finding as it tries to push ahead with its plans for the waterfront. It also provides the best chance of the public ending up with with something it finds acceptable.

Wellington Mayor Kerry Prendergast’s sense of frustration at the appeals against Variation 11 is palpable. In broad terms, Waterfront Watch and the Historic Places Trust believe the variation, which allows buildings under certain heights to go ahead on part of the waterfront without any public consultation, is not stringent enough, and will mean the loss of transparency in the process. Queens Wharf Holdings, on the other hand, believes the proposed restrictions are too stringent. …

Ms Prendergast hopes a solution can be found through mediation. That, based on past experience, is unlikely. The dispute over the proper role for the waterfront has dragged on too long and the positions are too entrenched to hope with any sense of realism for a negotiated settlement. Instead, it seems inevitable that both sides will remain in their trenches, lobbing legal grenades at each other. That is not ideal, but it is the price paid for having a democracy where everyone can have their say and test their case.

It’s ridicolous that after almost two decades we still have no agreed upon plan implemented for the waterfront.

The Press looks at the proposed driving changes:

Despite clear evidence that younger drivers are over-represented in crash statistics, successive governments had for too long placed the controversial issue of the driving age in the too-hard basket.

Finally the present administration has decided to act by accepting the recommendation in the Safer Journeys discussion document to raise the age to 16. And, in another welcome move, the Government has announced that there will be a zero-alcohol limit for drivers under 20. …

And the ODT also looks at the driving changes:

Fifteen is too young to be out and about on the road in cars.

Once, of course, cars in this country were a relatively expensive commodity, owned only after years of hard work and saving.

It might be surmised that a degree of maturity and good sense would have been inculcated in the individual in that time.

There were no cheap Japanese imports, the banks operated under much stricter lending criteria, and there were no such entities as finance companies as might be recognised today; certainly none especially designed to propel young men and women, barely past puberty, into the ownership of fast cars.

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Editorials 3 March 2010

March 3rd, 2010 at 1:01 pm by David Farrar

The NZ Herald wants the driving age raised even further:

This is a very conservative Government. If there was any doubt about the caution of John Key’s Cabinet it has been dispelled by its decision on the driving age.

Last year its transport officials floated the possibility of raising the age from 15 to 16 or 17 with restrictions until age 18. In January the Herald canvassed its readers on the subject.

The vast majority, 80 per cent of a Nielsen survey of 2300 people, thought the age should be at least 18. A few, 6.5 per cent, thought it should be 20. The Government’s decision: 16.

Personally I am glad the Government did not raise the age to 18 because of responses to an online survey.

I’ve always said tying it to the school leaving age is sensible,

The Dom Post says welfare is a safety net not a right

First it was Christchurch’s Harris family. Theirs is one of the homes into which the taxpayer deposits about $1000 a week in welfare benefits, and who have gained $30,000 extra in “special” benefits since 2000, because they persuaded Work and Income that they “needed” new tyres for their 2007 Chrysler saloon, and to fence a swimming pool at a property they own in the city.

Now it is Benjamin Easton, a man who cheerfully admitted last week that he was quite capable of earning, but who has chosen instead to live on the dole and rent a council flat. He was doing so, he said, so he could bring “the people’s challenge to the courts”

Benjamin will be having his say at Backbenches tonight, and of course he is also commenter here.

The Press examines South Canterbury Finance:

Since the company known today as South Canterbury Finance (SCF) made its first loan in 1926, it has grown to become one the largest finance companies in New Zealand.

Over this period it has played an important role in providing capital to businesses and individuals, especially in the South Island. Like so many other finance companies, however, SCF has struggled during the recent recession, and made a loss of $154.9 million in the second half of last year. But unlike many of these other companies, it is controlled by a millionaire in Allan Hubbard, who has the confidence and the means to produce a rescue package for SCF.

The deal announced this week is consistent with the commitment given by Hubbard last year when he said he would be prepared to use his personal wealth, which the National Business Review “rich list” put at $550m last year, to back his company. …

Hubbard is renowned not for high-living but for being a generous philanthropist and a businessman with integrity. And that integrity was visible this week in the rescue package for SCF and its 40,000 investors.

Give that man a knighthood!

The ODT is not impressed with Airways Corp:

Dunedin International Airport chief executive John McCall has every reason to be outraged after jet flights last Thursday night were diverted to Invercargill because no traffic controller was available.

Here is an essential service, supplied by the government-owned Airways Corporation, that did not deliver.

That failure not only inconvenienced 237 passengers and many of their friends and relatives, but also trashed the reputation of the airport and the city.

Diverting the passengers to Invercargill is surely cruel and inhumane punishment!

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Editorials 23 February 2010

February 23rd, 2010 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald says RNZ savings are not worth it:

Radio NZ’s budget last year was just $38.2 million, of which $34.2 million was public money. That points to the swingeing nature of the Government’s programme. While it is reasonable that all state-funded bodies should tighten their belts, it seems excessive to be waving a big stick at organisations where the potential savings are trifling.

The same penchant was, however, evident in last year’s Budget. Most controversially, cuts were made to adult night school programmes.

Again, the savings seemed hardly worth the trouble. Community education takes just 0.6 per cent of the tertiary education allocation, and the canned programmes provided value for money, if only because they gave hands-on instruction at schools that would, otherwise, not have been in use.

The Herald may be right that politically it might not be smart to take a lot of political heat, for relatively small fiscal savings. However I think it is more complex than that. If the Govt goes soft on one or two state agencies, then it is harder to keep fiscal discipline with the rest of them. State sector CEOs will find ways to live within means if they think everyone is doing so. But if you start giving into media campaigns for more funding, it incentivises other agencies to do the same. And then you end up having to borrow even more than $240 million a week.

The Press talks protecting police:

In response to the weekend violence the Government is considering introducing extra penalties for offenders who assault police officers, as is the case in Western Australia. Such a move might not deter drugged or drunken offenders from attacking officers, however.

Yet, it is still worth considering, as it would reinforce the special position the police have in our society to uphold the rule of law. It would also acknowledge the real, every-day risks faced by officers as they perform their duties.

If the Government did move to strengthen penalties it would have to be determined whether the new law would apply to off-duty officers who intervened in an incident. But because the public expects off-duty officers to respond to crimes they come across, and they would not be wearing anti-stab vests, they too should have the protection of such a law.

I favour increased penalties for assaults on Police. The Police get assaulted, basically on our behalf. They deal with the criminals and risk their lives often doing so.

The Dom Post flicks at Wellington parking wardens:

Of all the low-down, mean, sneaky tricks … While football fans were cheering the Wellington Phoenix to a nail-biting victory at Westpac Stadium on Sunday evening, parking wardens were ticketing the vehicles of 61 fans who had exceeded the maximum parking time outside the ground – because the match went into extra time, then a penalty shootout.

To its credit, Wellington City Council has waived the tickets, which threatened to turn the Phoenix’s triumph into a public relations disaster. But coming on top of other recent instances of over-zealous ticketing, the incident suggests something is amiss with parking operations. Proposals to install Big Brother-style parking surveillance cameras in Courtenay Place add weight to the theory.

The purpose of parking restrictions should be to ensure that as many people as possible can park in city and suburban streets, do their business and be on their way. It should not be to fatten the coffers of Tenix, the private company which manages Wellington parking, Parkwise, the Armourguard subsidiary to which Tenix contracts ticketing, or the council itself.

Hear hear. The incentives are all about revenue maximization, not giving parkers a fair go.

And the ODT looks at water woes in Canterbury:

Seldom has a local authority received such a slating as that just given to Canterbury’s regional council, Environment Canterbury (ECan), by a Government review panel.

The panel says the gap between what ECan does and what it should do is enormous and unprecedented. …

Yet some argue no change is needed.

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Dom Post on Lawyers

September 26th, 2009 at 9:25 am by David Farrar

Friday’s Dom Post:

Once upon a time, the National Party caucus principally comprised farmers and lawyers. Few cockies remain in the Key-led Government’s serried ranks but legal eagles sit at the Cabinet table. Justice Minister Simon Power is one; so, too, is Attorney-General Chris Finlayson.

And neither, it seems, is afraid to challenge one-time colleagues.

Earlier this month, Mr Power published a discussion document that, in part, criticises counsel who earn some of their income from the legal aid budget. Some defence lawyers are unimpressed.

Last week, it was the attorney-general’s turn, although he seemed to be gunning for lawyers who undertake civil cases as well as those practising in the criminal courts. The tragedy for all lawyers, he told the Bar Association, was that “some of our number let us all down … they cannot even get the basics right. We have tolerated them for too long”.

He didn’t stop there: “If litigation, both civil and criminal, has reached a crisis … in this country, it is at least partly because some in our ranks are simply not up to the job. Either they shape up or ship out.”

It is commonplace for a National-led administration to lambast parts of the trade union movement, for example, but rarer for ministers of a blue hue to challenge the professions, particularly lawyers and doctors. But Mr Power and Mr Finlayson are at one on this.

I think it is called governing in the national interest.

The justice minister is on record as saying that one of his priorities is for the justice system to be refocused on the participants who don’t earn their living from it. That removes from centre stage, but puts into a more uncomfortable spotlight, lawyers of every stripe, including those who practise civil law.

Anyone involved in civil litigation knows about the time it takes and the prohibitive expense. It is why some cases find resolution via arbitration, and the number of civil actions is falling.

At a seminar for civil litigators early last year, former Bar Association president Jim Farmer, QC, said no-one could sensibly argue that the cost of civil litigation was reasonable, blaming complex and prescriptive court rules, grinding “discovery” practices, too much paperwork, judges failing to rein in litigators, and a shift to lawyers billing by the hour. Chapman Tripp’s Jack Hodder backed him up: “…the mainstream civil justice system is profoundly flawed and offers depressingly little value to any litigant …”

No wonder ministers are speaking frankly. They know that, when courts take aeons to hear a case, justice is more than delayed. It undermines public confidence in the justice system.

Hopefully there will be some results in due time, in terms of shorter delays etc.

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Dom Post on extra staff for big electorates

March 13th, 2009 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post has covered the story about funding a third staff member for MPs with very large electorates.

Their story is a significant improvement on the beatup on TV3 last night. They correctly identify that this was part of the confidence and supply deal made last year. What they failed to do though is to mention that it was implementing a recommendation made by an independent reviewer of parliamentary resources. That is a key ingredient in this story.

They also confirmed that Tamaki Makaurau did not get any extra resource as it is relatively small. I am glad of that, because that was part of my criticism of the agreement last November, that it should not go to all seven Maori seats.

The Dom Post does make one clear factual error:

Under the coalition deal with the Maori Party, National agreed to fund extra staff members for the large Maori electorates, but the Cabinet extended the funding to include others in the same boat, such as Mr English and Mr Auchinvole, whose Clutha-Southland and West Coast electorates were equally vast.

Nope. The coalition deal always specified that extra resources should go to both the Maori electorates and electorates over 20,000 sq kms. Cabinet did not extend the funding beyond that deal. And that coverage is exactly what the Goulter Review recommended. Cabinet actually restricted the funding by excluding Tamaki Makaurau.

Having corrected the facts, it is worth now considering the merits of the decision. It is certainly open to criticism about whether or not it is a priority with belt tightening elsewhere due to the recession. But I would suggest some caution about just seeing this as a perk for MPs.

When you are an electorate MP, your electorate staff spend a huge amount of time working on constituent issues who are having problems with Immigration, WINZ, ACC, and other agencies. People might be amazed at how much time a good MP and their staff spend on constituent assistance.

Now people do like to actually go into an MPs office and meet with the MP or their staff. In urban areas this is easy as you can get to the office within minutes.

In rural areas it can take over an hour to get to the closest office – sometimes well beyond that. And almost every rural MP already has two offices (as they get funded for two staff) so constituents have less distance to to travel.  More offices actually means more travel for the MPs as they have to make appearances at all of them, but less for constituents needing assistance.

Now six of the Maori seats are huge. Te Tai Tonga is the entire South Island and Wellington. So a third staffer means you can have an office in Christchurch, Dunedin and Wellington. Even then constituents can end up having to drive hours to get to their MPs office.

The West Coast-Tasman electorate can take 13 hours to drive from one end to another.

Now as I said, one can criticise this as badly timed with the recession. However it is worth considering that in a recession more constituents end up needing to enlist the help of an MP when trying to get assistance from various govt agencies.

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Another blog story not credited

March 9th, 2009 at 6:54 pm by David Farrar

As I blogged earlier, Whale Oil broke the story of the DIA misleading journalists in relation to inquiries over Winston’s ministerial car.

TV3 covered the story tonight, which was great. But it is regrettable they didn’t credit Whale Oil with the story. As far as I know, no-one else had the documents he obtained. Maybe they sourced it independently, but I know the blog post in question had been seen by them.

TV3 got Dom Post Deputy Editor on camera saying it was a cover up. Godo on them for not mincing words. I do wonder why the Dom Post did not publish at their time, their belief DIA misled them, let alone ask for documents under the OIA?

I enjoyed Phil Goff criticising DIA for the cover up. Who would have ever though a story started by Whale Oil would end up having Phil Goff agreeing with it :-)

UPDATE: A TV3 staffer has confirmed with me that they did receive the DIA documents independently, and were not reliant on the blog story. Hence the issue of credit does not apply. Appreciate the update from them.

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Dom Post on Two New Zealands

February 12th, 2009 at 10:50 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial looks at two contrasting New Zealands:

One was the New Zealand of Paula McCutcheon, the young mother widowed last month when her husband, Mark, was stabbed while trying to help a woman who was being assaulted outside a Hawke’s Bay pub. Hers is the New Zealand most inhabit a land in which citizens go to work each morning, take pride in standing on their own feet, abide by the law and teach their children to respect others.

The other was the New Zealand of Victoria Stevens. It is a New Zealand in which adults healthy enough to rob and to steal, and to wrestle with the police, prefer to claim benefits than to go to work and in which mothers show their love for their sons by barking like dogs. To most New Zealanders theirs is a foreign country, but it is a foreign country that coexists alongside mainstream New Zealand.

Not so much a foreign country, but almost a foreign species.

And then focusing back on Stevens:

Although reliant on her fellow citizens to feed and clothe her, she acknowledges no reciprocal obligation to abide by the law or to treat others with respect. Is it any wonder her son now finds himself in the dock?

Unfortunately, she is not alone. As Prime Minister John Key has identified, there is a growing underclass in New Zealand, the members of which scorn notions of responsibility, respect and decency. Its ranks include those who made Nia Glassie’s short life a living hell and the dysfunctional Kahui clan, which closed ranks to shield its adult members from the police but totally failed to protect three-month-old twins Chris and Cru Kahui from whoever it was that inflicted the head injuries that killed them. It is a group too many of whose members are Maori.

And, despite the best efforts of academics and social workers, it is a group that no one has yet discovered how to reintegrate into society.

One thing is clear, however. Paying benefits year after year to people who flout the law, choose not to work and accept no reciprocal obligation for the aid they receive, has not worked.

It is time for Mr Key’s Government to take a rigorous look at the other New Zealand the one in which the evils of intergenerational welfare dependency are becoming more and more apparent.

Sadly, some people dispute there is any problem with generations of a family being on welfare. They see it as a right, not to be challenged.

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Dom Post on crime levy

January 26th, 2009 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post criticises National’s levy on criminals:

New Justice Minister Simon Power is either a born optimist or ingenuous. Despite the deep flaws in his policy to fund reparations for victims of crime, he seems determined to proceed with a pre-election promise to levy a so-called crime tax of $50 on everyone convicted in a New Zealand court, The Dominion Post writes.

The scheme aims to offer one-off payments to cover the unexpected costs crime victims encounter that are not met by other government agencies, such as ACC.

This is one promise the Government could have quietly dropped. And that is not because it has no superficial appeal.

I always enjoy the media encouraging political parties to renege on their promises.

The major drawback of Mr Power’s proposal one he himself should see is the reality that those who refuse to pay what they owe now are those who will not pay under his new scheme, which hapless Courts Minister Georgina te Heuheu must help administer.

Conceding that the levy might lift the outstanding debt, she said last week that she hoped some proposals being worked on would help “minimise this increasing figure”. How loyal.

But greater enforcement, should it be achievable, will not tackle the inequity of the Government’s proposal. Why should a woman who unsuccessfully contests a $120 speeding fine pay the same levy as, say, a man convicted of mass murder?

There is no doubt that some criminals will not pay the levy. But some, maybe many will. And if enough pay that it provides a useful amount of money for assistance for victims, then it will have achieved some good.

As for the equity issue, I think the Dom Post overlooks this is not a scheme to further punish criminals. It is about raising money to help assist victims of crime. Hence it does not matter that it is a flat levy, as it is set so low. The sentence is the main punishment. This is a trivial extra fine which might help cover costs for some of the victims.

It is possible it may not work well. But it is too early to know. A key question will be what proportion of the fines/levies are actually paid. Is it over 50%? over 70%? over 80%?

And the other key question will be how much does it cost to administer the scheme. Will the costs of staff administering it, be grather than the amount collected? This is the bigger worry to me. But again, too early to know.

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Food prices

April 16th, 2008 at 11:44 am by David Farrar

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The Dom Post shows how much more effective a picture can be to highlight a problem.

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