Labour sidelines its own Health Committee

Labour voted in Parliament for the bill that will do the biggest ever restructuring of the health system not to go to the Health Committee. Instead they set up a special select committee to consider it.

Here’s who Labour has on the Health Select Committee:

  • Dr Liz Craig (doctor, public health specialist)
  • Tracey McLellan (psychologist, nurses union)
  • Dr Anae Neru Leavasa (doctor, GP)
  • Sarah Pallett (midwife, midwifery lecturer)
  • Dr Gaurav Sharma (dcotor, GP)
  • Tangi Utikere (Deputy Mayor)

So five of the six Labour MPs on the Health Select Committee are health professionals. There was obviously a huge risk they might actually ask questions they were not meant to, so instead it has gone to a new committee. The Government really doesn’t like independence.

The “diplomat” who isn’t

The Herald reported:

Covid 19 Delta outbreak: Kiwi diplomat pleads for MIQ space to attend world democracy forum

Auckland diplomat and consultant Andrew Lesā is desperately trying to secure an MIQ spot so he can attend the World Forum for Democracy in Strasbourg, France next month.

The 30-year-old policy consultant for the Asian Development Bank and board member of various Crown entities, has been trying for months to secure a place in MIQ so he can represent New Zealand and the Pacific at the forum.

Lesā points out that one of the criteria for an emergency MIQ space is based on matters of national interest and argues that attending a forum with high-level officials at a time when New Zealand is negotiating a free-trade agreement with the European Union is important. …

Over the past few months Lesā has tried repeatedly to book an MIQ place.

“I’m always at the very rear of the queue. It’s absolutely frustrating.”

He has also contacted ministers, senior MBIE staff, and his local MP and pleaded his case with an MIQ co-ordinator. …

Last week Lesā, who is fully vaccinated as are his family, managed to get in touch with the office of the Prime Minister.

“They are prepared to write a support letter for my emergency MIQ application.” …

The forum is not the first time Lesā has represented New Zealand in an official capacity. In 2012 he was the youngest member of a delegation on a state visit to Samoa, led by then Prime Minister John Key. And in 2019 he accompanied Energy and Resources Minister Megan Woods to energy meetings in Canada.

Describing himself as a diplomat, he is a director of the Crown, sits on a string of boards including charities, Unitec, Manukau Institute of Technology, the New Zealand Maritime School, Emerge Aotearoa, and holds various community appointments.

He may describe himself as a diplomat, but he is not. A diplomat is an official representative of the Government. They are not self-appointed. They are empowered to both represent the Government and negotiate on behalf of the Government.

He may have been on the Pacific branch of the Labour Party, but he is not employed by MFAT and I understand they have not authorized him to represent New Zealand.

UPDATE: Fale Andrew Lesa has e-mailed to clarify that “Fale Andrew Lesa JP was invited as an individual in relation to his experience in public policy and governance.” and he made this clear to the Herald.

A great summary

Matt Burgess at the NZ Initiative writes:

This week, Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta recorded a lengthy podcast with the Taxpayers’ Union. If you missed it, or do not want to spend 32 minutes unpicking platitudes, here is a summary:

Taxpayers’ Union: How does taking water assets off councils save money?
Nanaia Mahuta: Because of economies of scale. We need to solve under-investment. Water has to be financially sustainable. We’re not taking the assets.

What do mean you’re not taking the assets? Councils lose ownership except in name.
Councils will own the assets. We have to prevent privatisation. Economies of scale.

What ownership rights will councils have?
Councils will set strategic performance expectations. There will be good governance. Water won’t compete with other council services for funding.

Can you rule out iwi groups receiving water royalties?
We have to prevent privatisation. Iwi cannot sell the assets. Iwi care about the long term.

You said iwi won’t have a veto right. But iwi will be 50% of boards and major decisions require a 75% majority. So, iwi hold a veto, correct?
No.

Given 61 of 67 councils oppose your reform, how has consultation shaped your reform?
First, we need public ownership. Second, we must prevent privatisation. Third, we need solutions. Fourth, we want good governance.

Will ratepayers be represented on the working group?
Only through councils.

You signed off a Cabinet paper on the reform on 18 October. Four days later, your office received a summary of council submissions. Was your consultation a sham?
I received regular feedback from DIA and LGNZ through that period.

Why are the reforms so unpopular?
The current system does not work.

61 of 67 mayors oppose your reform.
It’s about the ratepayers.

Ratepayers hate your reforms. Have you seen our poll? It’s three to one against.
It’s about economies of scale.

Castalia has rubbished your cost modelling.
Castalia accepts privatisation. We must prevent privatisation.

Your cost savings are based on Scottish data which was not adjusted for New Zealand.
It was adjusted.

You are promising operating cost savings of 50% and [up to 9,000] more jobs in water. How does that make sense?
Economies of scale. Better funding.

You only looked at new statutory entities, not the existing Council Controlled Organisations (CCO) model. Why?
Because water needs to be able to borrow off council balance sheets. There is no way to do that with a CCO. Economies of scale. Prevent privatisation. Good governance. Affordable services.

Why is the Treaty relevant when we’re talking about pipes not water?
Excellent question. Iwi will achieve better environmental and drinking water outcomes for the whole community.

How are Māori more connected to the environment than anybody else?
They’re not. But Māori are very connected to the environment.

Why not leave water with councils and guarantee their debt instead?
Economies of scale.

It’s almost comical!

Another faker caught

The NY Post reports:

She’s Sitting Bulls-t.

A Canadian medical researcher who rose to become the nation’s top voice on indigenous health has been ousted from her government job and her university professorship — after suspicious colleagues investigated her increasingly fanciful claims of Native American heritage and learned she was a fraud.

Carrie Bourassa, a public health expert who served as scientific director of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research’s Institute of Indigenous Peoples’ Health, was suspended on Nov. 1, five days after the state-owned Canadian Broadcasting Corporation published a lengthy expose on her background.

Far from being a member of the Métis nation, as she had long claimed, a laborious trace of Bourassa’s family tree revealed that her supposedly indigenous ancestors were in fact immigrant farmers who hailed from Russia, Poland, and Czechoslovakia.

“It makes you feel a bit sick,” said Janet Smylie, a Métis professor at the University of Toronto who worked with Bourassa on a book about indigenous parenting.

“To have an impostor who is speaking on behalf of Métis and indigenous people to the country about literally what it means to be Métis … that’s very disturbing and upsetting and harmful.”

Colleagues began to doubt Bourassa’s story as she began to add claims of Anishinaabe and Tlingit heritage to her tale — and took to dressing in stereotypically indigenous fashion.

It started to unravel in 2019, when she appeared in full tribal regalia — draped in an electric blue shawl, with a feather in her partially braided hair — to give a TEDx Talk at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon.

“My name is Morning Star Bear,” she said tearfully as the crowd cheered.

I suspect this is just going to become more common over time.

Home detention not enough

The Herald reported:

An attack on a lifeguard at Gore’s swimming pool has been described by the local council’s chief executive as the most disturbing episode he has seen in nearly 30 years of service in the local government sector.

McGregor Tioti Tume, 44, of Mataura, appeared in the Gore District Court this week and was sentenced to 10 and a half months’ home detention, to be served in Whanganui, with six months’ post-release conditions.

Tume admitted threatening to kill, impeding breathing or circulation, behaving threateningly and injuring with intent to injure after the incident on April 16.

A police summary of facts, read at an earlier court appearance, said the defendant was swimming at the Gore Aquatic Centre in a lane which had been booked.

The victim, who worked as a lifeguard, made multiple attempts to get Tume’s attention to shift into another lane.

After being unable to gain his attention she used a common technique and lightly touched Tume’s head to gain his attention.

He then climbed out of the pool and aggressively confronted the lifeguard before grabbing her and tackling her to the ground.

Tume dragged her into the leisure pool and submerged her head under the water for about seven seconds, using his weight to press her down.

As the victim was surprised by the attack she did not have time to hold her breath.

“At this point the victim felt that she was going to die,” the summary said.

This is a horrific attack. This man has, to put it mildly, serious anger issues. Dragging a staffer to a pool and forcing her head under is beyond cruel. It is brutal. I do not understand how he only gets home detention.

Trevett on Luxon

Claire Trevett writes:

But Luxon’s first press conference as National Party leader showed why Key had such confidence in him. He was assured and answered most questions succinctly and with confidence.

His first speech could almost have been delivered by Key.

It spoke of Luxon’s belief that while New Zealand was small, it had ambition. It spoke of opportunities and prosperity. There was even a reference to boats. In an interview afterward, his answers on the economy and debt could also have been delivered by Key.

He was inevitably asked about his religion – it is pointed to as a liability for him, mainly by those who sit on the other side of politics but also some in his own tent.

It will be to Luxon what the “rich prick investment banker” tag was to Key – always there but as time passes it will become increasingly irrelevant unless his religion does indeed intrude on his politics.

The target of his first speech was clear in his reference to the 413,000 voters National had lost since the last election.

He told them he would win them back. He is not John Key, but on his first day he certainly put on a good impression of being Key – and that may not be a bad thing.

It could give him a chance of hauling back those old National voters who will see him as representing the stable National they used to know in the Key days – not the fetid mess it has become since.

Luxon was very good yesterday. It was the right mixture of ambition for the future, while pointing out the current failures.

National now has a great opportunity to attract back traditional supporters and even gain those who voted for Labour on the basis of their promises, and have realised they have no capacity to deliver.

Guest Post: In support of three waters reforms

A guest post by Murray Gibb, a former CE of Water NZ:

Opposition to the three waters reform policy is 180 degrees wrong. You should be supporting it except for one point. I’ll deal with that one last.

Firstly, you argue that what is proposed is an anti – democratic power grab. Wrong. Local democratic input adds no value whatsoever to water services. Rather, the reverse is true.  It gets in the way of good decision making, because the short term demands of the ballot box coupled with the invisibility of pipes and pumps, means that local politicians prioritise more visible, and therefore more electorally attractive, spending. 

It is undeniable that we have a large water infrastructure deficit and that a circuit breaker is needed to improve matters. It has been around for decades and has been well known in informed circles. Former Commissioner for the Environment Morgan Williams identified it in his report ‘Aging Pipes and Murky Waters’ back in 2000.  Google it at

https://www.pce.parliament.nz/publications/archive/1997-2006/ageing-pipes-and-murky-waters-urban-water-system-issues-for-the-21st-century

and also his subsequent report ‘Beyond Aging Pipes: Urban Water Systems for the 21st century.’

How many sports arenas, council buildings and town halls round the country have been funded from money that was taken from ratepayers for water assets?  I’m a ratepayer in the Horowhenua.  The flashiest edifice by far in the district is the Council office in Levin. With 1/3 of their business going when these reforms go through it will be a white elephant.

Drinking and wastewater services are classic utilities, along with gas and electricity reticulation. Apply the counterfactual. If, as is being argued, the former require local government input to provide proper accountability, then logically the same should apply to the latter. There is no debate round taking gas and electricity assets and putting them in the hands of councils. The reason is obvious – competency. Would you trust the councillors running Wellington at the moment with gas and electricity?

Councils exist in the main, to provide public goods. By definition drinking and wastewater services are private goods. There is rivalry in consumption and non-payers can be excluded. There is a public good element (health risk) round the consequences of poor drainage, but that exists for many other private goods, for example the food industry. That risk is managed using different tools.

Stormwater services do sit in the public domain. They are lumped in with the other two because of the synergies in the engineering skills required to build and run them.

Conclusion: Removing local democracy from control of water services is a good thing.

Secondly, scale is required to achieve the capacity and capability necessary to deliver good quality water services. They are capital intensive and long lived. The wastewater pipes, installed in London after the Great Stink of 1858, still provide the backbone for that city’s drainage system.

What is being proposed in New Zealand follows a well – trodden path taken in many other countries which have faced exactly the same problems we have here. The general rule of thumb is that 200,000 connections (servicing about 500,000 people) are required to be able to employ the range of engineering and related skills necessary to deliver good quality service. We have 67 councils supplying 5 million people. By contrast Scotland now has one serving 5.4 million, Wales has one serving 3 million and England has 19 serving 54 million.

The Scottish example is instructive. Over 200 local councils previously provided water services. Standards were abysmal. In 1967 these were amalgamated into 13 regional water boards, which were reduced to three, and finally one in 2002. It is owned by the Parliament and has a one on one independent economic regulator. Previously substandard infrastructure has been upgraded, and today it is reckoned to be the fourth best performing water business in Britain. Importantly because of the economies of scale it has been able to achieve this while cutting costs by 40%.

That pattern has been repeated in other jurisdictions which have gone down the path proposed for New Zealand. So arguments that costs will go up with rationalisation in New Zealand will prove wrong. 

Conclusion: Scaling up water services results in better and more cost efficient service.

Thirdly, taking these services from local government and placing them in stand – alone businesses billing customers directly; changes the nature of the relationship between provider and user. It puts it on a business footing. That does two things:

  1. It ups the expectations of both parties on each other. It becomes a business relationship rather than an administrative one. It can be contractually based as it is with electricity and gas supply; and
  2. It improves transparency. The money taken from customers has to be spent on the business. At the moment that is not the case.  How much money supposedly taken from ratepayers for water services is currently used to prop up other council activities?

Conclusion: Putting water services into stand – alone entities improves transparency and accountability.

Fourthly, rationalisation of services allows for cross – subsidisation. On the face of it that might seem a bad thing, particularly in light of what I have argued above, but it is a common feature of well performing water businesses. The cost of reticulating these services to far flung customers in smaller centres is vastly more expensive than those in the centre of cities. Auckland, our largest metropolitan centres’ drinking and wastewater infrastructure isn’t too bad. Not so with those provided by smaller councils. None of the others meet the rule of thumb enumerated above.

Standardised charging for utility services irrespective of location is well accepted policy, and provides a way for funding upgrading sub – standard water infrastructure in smaller districts. 

To illustrate this point, the Banks Peninsula District Council faced a massive and unaffordable bill in upgrading its water ‘assets’ (in fact they were a nett liability as I suspect are those in many of our smaller districts). Knowing this it amalgamated with the Christchurch City in 2006. A rating base from a population of 8500 was just too small to fund the capital expenditure required to get things up to speed. Joining Christchurch allowed the required capex to be spread across a rating base from 360,000 people. Subsequently despite having just over 2 percent of the population, more than 10 percent of Christchurch’s annual water capex has at times been allocated to Banks Peninsula.

This pattern has been repeated wherever reform has occurred. In Scotland, Glasgow and Edinburgh citizens have funded the capital expenditure for the sparsely populated and far flung towns and villages in the Highlands. It is going on in Tasmania and Ireland at the moment.

Conclusion: Scaling up provides a mechanism for funding substandard water infrastructure.

Fifthly, there is fear that reform is a gigantic property/power grab by the Government. It is argued that assets built up by the voters in local districts over generations will be confiscated. That fear is misplaced.  Look to international experience. There are numerous examples of water infrastructure ownership models both public and private. Some are successful, some not so. The common feature of the well performing ones is not ownership models but the four points set out above.

Take Britain for example.

The Thatcher government privatised England’s water services in the 1980’s. 19 privately owned businesses there now perform to a far higher standard than those here. Incidentally, the reason why Margaret Thatcher did privatise water utilities, was that the national balance sheet was in such bad shape that it couldn’t bear the added debt required to get the utilities up to adequate service levels.  Does anyone fancy adding a couple of hundred extra billion dollars to New Zealand’s public debt?  That is one estimate of the bill for getting things up to speed over the next 30 years.

By contrast Scotland’s single water utility is publicly owned by the Parliament. It too is performing well.

Wales has a third model. The single water utility there is a mutual. If you buy a house there that has reticulated water services you are deemed to be an owner, in the same way that mutuals operate in New Zealand.

Conclusion: Successfully operating water services can operate under a variety of ownership models. Except where scale can be achieved, direct council ownership models fail to deliver high standards.

I think the Tasmanian model is best fitted for New Zealand.  The 29 councils that previously owned the assets are shareholders in TasWater, the amalgamated entity that now provides these services for the whole island.

Fear of future privatisation of these assets in New Zealand is misplaced. We’re a pretty left wing country and any move to sell off water infrastructure would simply be unacceptable to our electorate.

That all said, operationally, the way this proposal has been promoted has been ham fisted.

Good policy does not need childish propaganda in newspapers. Local government was always going to oppose it. Anything that reduces the size of councils reach will always attract their opposition.  The last round of local government reforms in 1989 were similarly bitterly opposed by them. (Anyone in favour of resurrecting the Eastbourne Borough Council now?).

A more adroit Government would not have attempted to buy off councils with a billion dollar plus bribe. It should have been clearer earlier with its proposed ownership model.  The Tasmanian model should have been rolled out at the start. That would have pre-empted the argument that it is expropriating Council assets.

There is one area where the government has completely mucked up with its proposals, and that is in governance. Having 50 percent of Board members being appointed by Iwi is just simply nonsense. Tribal governance systems have no place in modern capitalist democracies.  I hope they abandon that proposal and press on ahead with these reforms.

They are long overdue.

It’s Luxon

Simon Bridges has just announced that after meeting Christopher Luxon this morning he is withdrawing from the leadership contest and backing Luxon who he says will be a brilliant leader and PM.

Very pleased to see the leadership issue resolved, and looking forward to seeing a strong frontbench

They’re just doing communism wrong strikes again!

The Telegraph reports:

Wikipedia entry detailing “mass killings under Communist regimes” faces being purged from the platform over fears about bias.

The page outlining the deaths of millions in one-party states including the Soviet Union and China has been flagged for deletion, with some users responsible for maintaining the site taking issue with blaming mass murder on Communist ideology.

This is a variant on the usual hard left argument that marxism and communism is a wonderful system, and that it has only failed in every country that has implemented it because they didn’t do it correctly.

In this case they are arguing that the 100 to 150 million killed by communist governments is a bug, not a feature. It is purely by chance that governments slaughtered millions of their own citizens in the USSR, China, Tibet, Cambodia, Bulgaria, East Germany, Romania, Yugoslavia, North Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, Ethiopia etc.

The green mirage

Regions that have not had a single Covid-19 case in 12 months are being placed at Level Orange rather than Level Green. Even the Chatham Islands is at Level Orange. If they don’t qualify for Level Green, who possibly could?

In fact the official Covid-19 website doesn’t even have a page for Life at Green. Doesn’t that suggest that Green is a mirage, that this Government will never ever shift a region to?

RIP Jake Millar

Stuff reports:

Jake Millar, founder of startup businesses Unfiltered and Oompher. has died in Kenya.

Millar set up the business as a teenager and received millions of dollars in investments from high-profile businesspeople. It was estimated to be worth $360 million in 2019.

But it was announced this year that he had sold the business to Crimson Education for $120,000 in cash and shares in a deal that is understood to have upset investors.

Former National Party leader Don Brash was interviewed by Millar as part of the Unfiltered project and has been in regular contact with Millar over the years. He said he was shocked at the news of his death.

“He had visited New Zealand early this year and I’d seen him several times then .,. but clearly things went wrong.”

This is very sad. Jake has immense potential, and has died so very young.

Like many entrepreneurs he had experienced great success and failure. There are few entrepreneurs who do not fail at some stage. Risk is always tied to reward.

Crimson Education chief executive and co-founder Jamie Beaton said he still remembered his first meeting with Millar, a virtual one via Skype in 2013.

“His searing ambitions – to be prime minister, to build transformative companies, to explore life to its fullest – radiated.

“I remember leaving the call feeling totally wowed. New Zealand too often suffocates ambition in its young people, but Jake burned bright. I had never met anyone in New Zealand like Jake Millar.”

Beaton praised Millar’s ability to knock on the doors of some of the most successful people on the planet, such as Virgin founder and billionaire, Richard Branson.

“I bet on Jake and I would keep betting on Jake because with Jake the question is never ‘if’ but ‘when’.”

My condolences to Jake’s family and friends.

Geddis on the constitutional disgrace

Andrew Geddis writes:

I’m not alone in regarding this lawmaking process as being a “constitutional disgrace”, as my VUW colleague Dean Knight has so appositely put it. I mean, let’s go back to the last time we had major legislation put in place to govern the creation of a new system of Covid controls – the enactment of the Covid-19 Public Health Response Act 2020, back in the now-halcyon days of our first national lockdown. At the time, I criticised the “ridiculous speed” with which it became law after the bill had been made available for some comment 18 hours before its introduction and then debated over a full two-day period. Now, having had the chance to reflect on that lawmaking process, the government appears to have decided on a “more cowbell” approach and moved even more quickly when enacting its new Covid-19 Response (Vaccinations Legislation) Bill.

So having abused urgency last time, they are now ramming major law changes through at even greater speed.

Remember, this is a bill that authorises the government to set constraints on who can and cannot take part in large parts of social life for the foreseeable future, that specifically permits it to require people in certain occupations to be vaccinated, and that is going to authorise other workplaces to decide if their employees have to be vaccinated or else lose their jobs. It’s getting pretty close to effectively mandating that people accept a vaccination, even if it isn’t imposing direct penalties on them for not doing so. 

That may well be fine to do. I’m double-vaxxed, my kids are/will be when the age limits shift, and the science is the science. But, still, legislation that allows the state to say “put this in your body or else largely forgo social interactions” is a big step. And it’s one that ought to be taken with due respect; given time for proper scrutiny and debate, with input from an informed public.

Worse of all, those who will lose many rights under this law, are not even being allowed to submit on it. No wonder they become angry and do marches that breach lockdown rules.

Indeed, if you were trying to construct a lawmaking process to set off the conspiracy minded and undermine the social licence needed for success, it would look something like this. Hide the information that’s informed your legislation, introduce it at the very last moment, whip it through the House overnight, and present it as a fait accompli the next day.

Exactly.

Guest Article: A professor without honour in his own country

A guest article by Graham Adams:

Renowned psychologist Steven Pinker marked the death of his former teacher New Zealander Michael Corballis with a laudatory tweet. NZ’s Royal Society — of which Corballis was a Fellow and recipient of its most prestigious award — still hasn’t hasn’t provided an obituary after putting him under investigation for his views on mātauranga Māori. Graham Adams reports.

After Auckland University emeritus professor Michael Corballis died on November 13, the celebrity scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker tweeted to his 736,000 followers:

“Sad to learn of the death of cognitive psychologist Michael Corballis, who taught me stats at McGill (I cite his lectures in Rationality) & did brilliant work on handedness, mental rotation, & [evolution] of lang. Also urbane, charming, witty, irreverent.”

The Harvard University professor of psychology expressed similar sentiments last December when Corballis published his autobiography, “Adventures of a Psychologist: Reflections on What Made Up the Mind”, which tracked his brilliant career from growing up on a sheep farm in New Zealand to teaching at McGill University in Canada before returning to Auckland University.

Pinker: “Michael Corballis is among the world’s deepest and most creative cognitive scientists, and he illuminates every subject he takes on with insight, wit, and charm. We’re fortunate that he has stepped back to and applied these gifts to the science of mind.”

Five years ago, the Royal Society of New Zealand thought very highly of Corballis too. In 2016, it awarded him the Rutherford Medal, its most prestigious award, for his work on brain asymmetries, handedness, mental imagery, language, and mental time travel.

The award — named after Ernest Rutherford, our most famous scientist and Nobel laureate, who pioneered the orbital theory of the atom — bestows a medal and prize of $100,000.

In its statement, the awards panel outlined Professor Corballis’s achievements: “He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Association of Psychological Scientists, the American Psychological Association and the Royal Society of New Zealand.

“He is an Honorary Fellow of the International Neuropsychology Symposium and the New Zealand Psychological Society. He was awarded the Shorland Medal from the New Zealand Association of Scientists in 1999, a James Cook Research Fellowship from the Royal Society of New Zealand in 2000 and the Hunter Award from the New Zealand Psychological Society in 2006.”

The panel also noted: “Professor Corballis has written a string of popular books including: The Lopsided Ape, From Hand to Mouth, The Recursive Mind, Pieces of Mind and The Wandering Mind. These titles have made the latest thinking on difficult topics such as the origins of human language, mental time travel and the question of human uniqueness easily accessible to a broad audience.” 

Some senior academics say Corballis was the best chance Auckland University has ever had to snare a Nobel Prize given that he was arguably the leading authority in the world on left-hemisphere / right hemisphere issues in neuropsychology.

Yet — despite having awarded him the Rutherford Medal — a full fortnight after his death the society had still not written an obituary.

Unfortunately, Corballis had lately been relegated to zero from hero. His crime was effectively one of heresy.

At the time of his death, he was being investigated by the Royal Society — along with two other Fellows, Professors Robert Nola and Garth Cooper — with a view to expulsion.

They were among seven eminent professors who signed a letter published in the Listener in July that objected to mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) being given equal status in the school science curriculum with what an NCEA working group referred to as “Western” science.

The Royal Society quickly denounced the professors: “The recent suggestion by a group of University of Auckland academics that mātauranga Māori is not a valid form of knowledge is utterly rejected by Royal Society – Te Apārangi.

“The society strongly upholds the value of mātauranga Māori and rejects the narrow and outmoded definition of science outlined in The Listener letter to the editor. It deeply regrets the harm such a misguided view can cause.”

What was baffling about the society’s statement — apart from the fact it felt moved to make one at all — is that it appeared to be responding to a letter the professors hadn’t actually written.

They never said anything that implied mātauranga Māori isn’t a “valid truth” — whatever that means — but simply that, in their opinion, it isn’t science.

The professors also upheld “the value of mātauranga Māori” in their letter, stating that, “Indigenous knowledge is critical for the preservation and perpetuation of culture and local practices, and plays key roles in management and policy.”

They also acknowledged that “Indigenous knowledge may indeed help advance scientific knowledge” — even if “it is not science”.

The society’s assertion that the professors were using a “narrow and outmoded definition of science” also seems odd given that the society itself didn’t go as far as to claim mātauranga Māori is scientific — even if its statement implies it might be able to be roped into a more expansive and more modish view of science than the one the professors hold.

The society has dropped its charges against Corballis posthumously but Professors Nola and Cooper are still in its sights.

Unsurprisingly, the issue is causing deep divisions within the Royal Society.

The Wellington branch of the society wrote last week on its website (in a post that now appears to have been deleted):

“Our view is that the seven experts gave their professional opinions in good faith and with which nobody is obliged to agree. However, in the subsequent debate they have been accused variously of racism, protection of their privilege and advancing a narrow and outmoded view of science.

“One of them, Professor Douglas Elliffe, has resigned as [acting dean of science]. Whether this action was voluntary or forced upon him is not clear.”

Theoretical chemist Peter Schwerdtfeger added a comment. He is a German scientist, who holds a chair in theoretical chemistry at Massey University in Auckland. He is the Director of the Centre for Theoretical Chemistry and Physics, is the head of the New Zealand Institute for Advanced Study, and is a former president of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, one of Germany’s premier scientific and research institutes.

He was awarded the Rutherford Medal in 2014.

Schwerdtfeger: “This witch hunt against the authors of the Listener article has to stop immediately. And shame on those who are drawing the racist card without even having allowed for a much needed and timely discussion on the involvement of mātauranga Māori in science teaching.

“Many of my colleagues are too scared to speak out because they are attacked by the post-modernist ideologists. As a (yet) Fellow of the Royal Society, I am deeply embarrassed and shocked about this investigation, and perhaps a review of the Royal Society NZ is required to avoid leaving a sizeable stain in their history books.”

It is an open question whether the Royal Society can survive this scandal. Like  other organisations that have abandoned their founding principles for more fashionable standards, oblivion and irrelevance awaits.

As the Wellington branch pointed out, “There can be little doubt the society has breached its own Code of Professional Standards and Ethics toward the seven letter signatories.

“In particular, its Code states that:

  1. justice requires that people are treated fairly and equitably
  2. respect for persons means respecting an individual’s right to make choices and hold views, and to take actions based on their own values and beliefs
  3. duty of care describes the obligations that a reasonable person owes to others who may be affected by their acts or omissions.”

Perhaps what is particularly telling about the nature of this “witch hunt” is that it has been reported that three of the five complainants to the society dropped out when it became clear they would have to be identified for the inquiry to proceed.

It seems they were happy to help damage others’ careers and reputations anonymously but not quite as keen to put their own on the line by coming forward in public.

In contrast, in an interview with Kim Hill on RNZ on Saturday, Pinker made his own position very public.

“Silencing or punishing someone for an opinion runs counter to reason. … No one is infallible; no one is omniscient. The only way our species has been able to do anything worthwhile is by voicing opinions and allowing them to be criticised…

“If you’ve got a regime where merely voicing an opinion gets you silenced or punished then we’ve turned off the only mechanism we have of discovering knowledge. It is a way of locking ourselves into error…

“If we have a regime that can subject someone to an investigation based on an opinion, we know from history that’s the way totalitarian autocracies work and oppressive theocracies work.

“We know that the countries that have done well — the liberal democracies — have had freedom of speech and freedom of inquiry.” Later in the interview, Pinker made it explicit who he was referring to as having been silenced: “My beloved former professor Michael Corballis…”

Another scathing Roche report

NewstalkZB reports:

An independent expert group told the Government in September that the borders cannot start to reopen until vaccination coverage was “well over” 90 per cent and the shortfall for Māori was addressed. 

A September 23 letter from Sir Brian Roche, head of the Government’s independent continuous improvement group, also said bolstering testing and contact tracing was an urgent priority, and the Delta outbreak had shown a “very poor level of preparedness of hospitals”. 

So vaccinations were a fail, testing was a fail, contact testing was a fail and hospital preparedness was a fail – but otherwise everything was great!

Roche said more movement across the border was “essential … to address escalating economic and social harms”, including alternatives to MIQ and more saliva testing and rapid antigen testing. 

Roche has previously implored the Government for more widespread use of different testing methods, including in a report from September 2020. 

So 12 months later, still little progress.

Woods blamed the market, but the fault was with the state owned monopoly

Hamish Rutherford reports:

A review into why tens of thousands of households faced power cuts on the coldest night of the year found it only happened because Transpower did not understand how much demand was happy to be shut down. …

On August 9 around 34,000 households had their power turned off, after Transpower instructed local lines companies to shed load to prevent wider outages.

Initially, attention focused on record electricity demand and the behaviour of generators, with thermal power stations operated by Contact and Genesis not running on the evening in question.

Energy Minister Megan Woods initially claimed “commercial decisions” were behind the problem.

So Woods blamed the partially privatised generators and the market.

But a review by former Labour MP Pete Hodgson and technical adviser Erik Westergaard concluded that irrespective of the demand and availability of generation, there was no need for the cuts to happen at all.

“Forced disconnection of household electricity was entirely avoidable,” the report said.

Hodgson and Westergaard found that there was enough “discretionary load” – effectively users prepared to turn off if the system needed it – to cope in the circumstances, but Transpower did not understand what it had at its disposal.

So the fault was entirely with the state owned monopoly.

Will the Minister apologise to the generators?

Fake vaccine certificates will flourish

Newsroom reports:

The Government won’t require businesses to make sure that vaccine certificates are actually legitimate under the traffic light system, leaving the door open to widespread rule-breaking, Marc Daalder reports

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield says the rules of the traffic light system could be circumvented because businesses aren’t required to verify the legitimacy of their patrons’ vaccine passes.

Under the new system, a wide range of venues – from restaurants to pubs to gyms – will have capacity limits if they allow unvaccinated people to enter. Those which require proof of vaccination will generally be able to operate without limitation (except at the red setting, in which they’ll be capped at 100 vaccinated patrons).

The Government released on Tuesday a verifier app that can scan any vaccine pass to determine whether it is legitimate or forged. But businesses won’t be required to use this app and could instead let customers in after only looking at their passes.

All those enterprising students who make fake IDs so people can drink underage will make some good money selling fake vaccine passes.

It seems very stupid to not require businesses to verify the passes.

Health Minister too busy cycling to meet Pfizer over vaccines?

The Herald reports:

Labour Minister David Clark was sent a key Pfizer letter on June 30 last year, in which the drug company pressed the head of New Zealand’s “vaccine taskforce” to meet and discuss its vaccine candidate.

Taskforce officials, however, were not equipped at the time to begin talks with the drug company, and over six weeks elapsed before a first meeting took place.

The Cabinet finally armed the taskforce with funds both to contract specialist negotiation expertise and to make vaccine purchases on August 10; officials signed a non-disclosure agreement with Pfizer on August 13 and a first meeting with the company took place the following day, on August 14.

Clark, the then Health Minister, refused to answer questions about the letter, including whether he read it at the time and whether he made any effort to hasten the readiness of the taskforce to begin meetings and negotiations with the drug company.

You’re the Minister of Health. You’re in the middle of a global pandemic. The company developing the most promising vaccine wants to meet with your Government, and you do nothing for six weeks. Incredible.

Guest post: Dr Ardern knows best

The Government did a significant document dump yesterday. Of course yesterday was Friday, Parliament has risen on Thursday afternoon for a one-week recess before the final sitting block of the year, and most in the media were obsessing over the latest woes within the National Party. It was the perfect time to dump documents!

That was, until Newshub found something:

Newshub can reveal Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield advised the Government “the rest of New Zealand could move to Alert Level 1” back in September. 

The Government dropped a heap of documents related to the COVID-19 Delta outbreak response on Friday, revealing behind-the-scenes advice from the Ministry of Health that informed alert level decisions. 

In a document dated September 12, Dr Bloomfield advised Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her Cabinet that Auckland could shift to alert level 3 while “the rest of New Zealand could move to Alert Level 1”. 

He advised the shift down the alert levels despite 43 new community cases of COVID-19 announced that day, more than 2260 active cases in the community, and just 63 percent of the eligible population fully vaccinated. 

“I consider that the outbreak in Auckland is becoming contained,” Dr Bloomfield wrote in his advice. “Cabinet could agree to move the rest of the country to Alert Level 1, pending no escalation in Auckland’s COVID-19 risk.”

The Government did not shift the rest of the country to alert level 1, which basically lifts all restrictions except for the border. While it would have been welcome news from hospitality businesses, the rest of New Zealand has been kept at alert level 2. 

The Government did, however, shift Auckland down to alert level 3. 

https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/politics/2021/11/director-general-of-health-ashley-bloomfield-proposed-rest-of-new-zealand-move-to-alert-level-1-in-september.html

I can remember at the time the PMK making a comment that her Government would only allow a one level difference between Auckland and any other area, including the South Island. That was despite the growing chorus of pleas, especially from areas where there was no Covid, such as the South Island, which had been Covid-free for almost a year!

Now it has been revealed that this was the decision of the Prime Minister and her Cabinet, and counteracted the advice received from her most senior health official and advisor, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, the Director-General of Health. Do the PM and her Ministers think they know more about medical issues than Dr Bloomfield and his team of health professionals from the Ministry of Health?

The consequences of keeping all of New Zealand south of Waikato in Alert Level Two have been significant. Businesses have gone under, especially in the hospitality sector. Numerous events of significance have been cancelled; the Horse of the Year in Hawke’s Bay was cancelled, costing the region an estimated $5 million in revenue. Cup and Show Week in Canterbury went ahead, but without spectators. Dozens of other sporting, cultural and community events have been cancelled, which had the PM and Cabinet accepted Dr Bloomfield’s recommendation, could have taken place. And through it all, people’s wellbeing has suffered.

Could this have been avoided, had the Government followed the advice of Dr Bloomfield and his team? I’m sure, much of it could, but instead businesses have suffered, the level of stress being experienced by business owners around the country has been magnified, and losses incurred during this period will, in all probability, never be recovered.

Sadly, the next opportunity to publicly interrogate the Prime Minister about this will be her post-Cabinet presser on Monday. And of course the major item on the agenda there will be the move to the Traffic Light system at the end of next week. So she and her Ministers are likely to escape scrutiny for a decision which has negatively affected more than two thirds of New Zealand’s population. So much for the Team of Five Million, and Be Kind!

Issues like this, and the report of Sir Brian Roche which was made public yesterday (which was highly critical of the Government’s preparedness for the Delta outbreak) reinforce the need for a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Government’s complete response to the Covide-19 pandemic, covering the period from 1 January 2020. The pandemic has been the single most expensive episode in New Zealand’s history, and deserves the intensive, independent scrutiny that a Royal Commission, with wide Terms of Reference would provide. National and Act have already asked for a Royal Commission, but their calls to date have fallen on deaf ears.

Criticism of the Ardern Government has increased markedly in the last six months or so. Could an issue like Cabinet’s “we know best” decision in September actually be a rallying cry for all of those who are dissatisfied with the Government’s handling of the Covid pandemic, and in particular, the ongoing restrictions imposed by a government which has desperately clung to a level of control over its citizens, which even their top medical adviser believed was unjustified?

Kudos to Zane Small from Newshub for making this story public. Is it too much to hope that other media outlets might pick this up, and ask the Prime Minister some very direct questions?

A good guilty verdict in the US

AP report:

Three men were convicted of murder Wednesday in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, the Black man who was running empty-handed through a Georgia subdivision when the white strangers chased him, trapped him on a quiet street and blasted him with a shotgun.

I don’t know why so many of the left in the US were focused on the Rittenhouse case, rather than this one. On the facts Rittenhouse had a solid defence of self-defence. But this case is very henious.

Arbery’s only crime that day was being black and running. For some reason these three men decided he was a criminal and chased him down in their trucks, confronted him and shot him.

In the Rittenhouse case Rittenhouse was being chased by the men he shot. In this case they were chasing Arbery, and caused the confrontation.

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