Auckland – A pioneering arable farming tech trial is expected to make a quantum leap to help boost New Zealand’s primary export revenue.
New Zealand has a low understanding of how the internet of things (IoT) can assist with farm management and sustainability and adoption of precision agriculture techniques also remains low.
New Zealand’s primary industry export revenue is forecast to reach $43.8 billion for the year to June 2019, an increase of 2.5 percent from 2018.
The latest Ministry for Primary Industries Situation and Outlook report gives an encouraging assessment of the major primary sectors which continue to grow, up $1.1 billion from the previous year.
The IoT tech trial at Kowhai Farm is a New Zealand IoT Alliance pilot in collaboration with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE).
The pilot aims to demonstrate that with the better use of digital technologies New Zealand primary sector businesses will be more productive and more competitive irrespective of their size or the sector they are operating in, NZ IoT Alliance executive director Kriv Naicker says.
“Worldwide, the adoption and implementation of precision agriculture has become possible because of the development of sophisticated sensors, robots and sensor networks combined with procedures to link mapped variables to appropriate farming management actions,” he says.
“Sensors, either wired or wireless, integrated into an IoT system gather essential data needed for cost effective and sustainable farm management.
“The IoT demonstration pilot is being undertaken on a site administered by the Foundation for Arable Research. The pilot is showcasing the technology needed for precision agriculture methods and techniques in a hands-on pilot demonstration that will be monitored and evaluated by the foundation.
“The trial aims to get farmers to see the value in deploying technology which is rapidly evolving and we feel that 2019 could be the tipping the point for New Zealand and the farming export sector,” Naicker says.
With the environmental impact of agriculture on the New Zealand landscape being a concern, farmers are improving their practices to minimise possible impacts. The installation of nitrate sensors in groundwater monitoring wells will help monitor the dynamics of nitrates.
Using the IoT technology to provide a low cost and effective infrastructure to deliver nitrate readings to the cloud will allow groups of farmers to monitor their collective performance and work together to develop further mitigations if required.
A monitoring bore near Kowhai Farm has been instrumented with a Hydrometrics nitrate sensor. On the property Aquaflex soil moisture sensors, climate and plant sensors are also installed to
demonstrate what is possible.
Four technology companies are working together in the first phase of the trial. The Tru Track consortium consists of Tru Track, Lincoln Agritech, Met Technology Limited and Aquaflex NZ, which is a division of Streat Instruments. The current demonstration is using the Sigfox network to deliver the data.
MBIE digital economy policy advisor Sandra Laws says the next phase of the pilot will see Spark and KotahiNet deploy a range of their sensors.
“This will further add to the data we’re collecting on growing conditions. Overall, the pilot will provide valuable insight into the potential of these emerging technologies, which could help boost the
productivity and sustainability of New Zealand farm management practices,” she says.
For further information contact Make Lemonade NZ editor-in-chief Kip Brook on 0275 030188. Photo: Kriv Naicker
Political Roundup: Behind the junior doctors’ strike
by Dr Bryce Edwards
Get ready for more industrial action in public hospitals this year. The junior doctors’ dispute with the District Health Boards is set to continue, with acrimony ramping up, as well as some rather bitter infighting between trade unions. One political commentator is even comparing the significance of the hospital battle to the infamous Waihi Miners’ Strike of 1912.
The 48-hour doctors’ strike last week was the first major industrial action of the year, and the next round is due in a week’s time, with another 48-hour strike scheduled for 29-30 January. And a month after that, on 28 February, the existing employment contract between most junior doctors and the District Health Boards (DHBs) is set to expire, which is at the centre of what could be a long-running and nasty dispute.
At the crux of the matter is a major disagreement about the work rosters for junior doctors in the hospitals. The DHBs want to weaken some of the conditions that the main doctors’ union say prevent them from over-working in an unsafe way. The DHBs disagree, and argue “that they want local clinicians and hospital managers to make decisions about rosters, not the union’s head office” – see RNZ’s District health boards reject claims made by striking doctors’ union.
But there’s much more to it than this. According to the Resident Doctors Association (RDA), which is the union that the overwhelming majority of junior doctors belong to, the DHBs are actually attempting to avoid settling the dispute so that they can use a provision in employment law to automatically start shifting doctors onto an inferior employment contract.
Some of this is explained in an editorial in The Press, which says: “The forthcoming strike by junior doctors is more complicated than most because there are not one but two unions in play, each with different perspectives on what junior doctors want” – see: Divided unions drive doctors’ strike.
The editorial explains that back in 2017, the main junior doctors’ union, the RDA, managed to negotiate what it saw as a much safer roster system, but that led to a breakaway union being established: “The new deal that followed said junior doctors could not work more than 10 days in a row, reduced from 12 days. But not all doctors agreed, with some claiming that the new rosters were inflexible and had been “imposed” and “enforced” by the RDA. They argued that important training time was reduced, leading to the formation of a breakaway union, the Specialty Trainees of New Zealand (SToNZ), which emerged about six months ago. That group agreed to work 12 consecutive days in order to have more training time”.
Due to the existence of the small breakaway SToNZ union, which the RDA say has negotiated a vastly inferior employment contract, the DHBs can effectively force new doctors, and those shifting between hospitals – which is highly common for training doctors – to go onto the inferior SToNZ contract.
Another union is involved – the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS) – which supports the junior doctors. ASMS executive director, Ian Powell argues that the DHBs have set out with this “cunning” plan to effectively snooker the junior doctors and therefore just “bludgeon their way to victory” – see his opinion piece, Blame DHBs, not the unions, for the junior doctors’ strike.
Ian Powell says that “The DHBs have foolishly embarked upon a bargaining strategy that requires a ‘winner takes all’ outcome, which is disastrous where there is an ongoing employment relationship between the employers and their captive employees”.
But Powell also argues that the situation is much more complicated than might be immediately presumed, because some doctors – essentially those who have broken away from the RDA – do not actually want their working week restricted, as they rely on these longer hours for their training and advancement.
Hence, the ASMS tried to broker a deal with the hospitals and junior doctors: “We invited the DHBs and RDA to meet with us to explore how we might do this, as the issues are too complex to address through the blunt instrument of collective bargaining. The RDA responded positively to our initiative, but the DHBs declined, preferring an adversarial process. ASMS and RDA are progressing this work on our own, but it is disappointing that the DHBs have abrogated their responsibility. Had they agreed to participate, the industrial confrontation could have been avoided.”
The picture gets even more complicated with union rivalries given the involvement of the Public Service Association (PSA) in the various disputes. It turns out that the PSA has played a key role in fostering the small SToNZ breakaway union. And so, although other unions, such as the Nurses Organisation, are supporting the junior doctors’ industrial action, the PSA – together with the Council of Trade Unions (CTU) – have held back any public support for the strikes.
As reported by Kirk, the RDA has responded to these claims by accusing the PSA of undermining an existing union by supporting a breakaway new union, which for some in the union movement is tantamount to “scabbing” (or betraying other employees in their struggle against employers).
The national secretary for the RDA, Deborah Powell – no relation to Ian Powell – is quoted as criticising the PSA for encouraging and assisting the rival junior doctors’ union: “The PSA was supporting them. The rest of the trade union movement did not believe the PSA should because they perceived StoNZ to be an employer’s union – too close to the employer… The problem with unions that are too close to the employer is that it leads to employment agreements that disadvantage employees. That’s exactly what’s happened. StoNZ has settled a collective agreement with the District Health Boards, with vastly inferior terms and conditions to that of the RDA collective”.
Longtime leftwing commentator and unionist Chris Trotter has also reacted with astonishment at what has been going on, suggesting that the PSA has been essentially playing into the hands of the DHB employers, because legally they can now use the existence of the PSA-created union as a way to refuse doctors the ability to retain their existing working conditions – see: Silence of The Lambs: Why Is the CTU saying so little about the Resident Doctors’ Struggle?
Trotter’s blogpost from Friday condemns the facilitation of “the formation of a minority union which employers later use to break the industrial resistance of the union representing the overwhelming majority of workers in dispute”. He argues that “Union rivalries should not be allowed to obscure the very real threat posed to the New Zealand trade union movement by the DHBs’ divide-and-rule strategy.”
To Trotter, what the DHBs are doing is similar to what happened in the infamous Waihi Miners’ strike: “The strategy adopted by the DHBs’ negotiators bears an alarming similarity to that adopted 107 years ago by the Waihi Gold Mining Company. Step 1: Encourage the establishment of a small rival union. Step 2: Use it to undermine the position of the much larger union resisting the employer’s demands. It was a strategy which led directly to one of the most bitterly contested industrial disputes in New Zealand labour history.”
The concern for unions is that other employers will end up emulating what the DHBs are doing: “employers in other sectors of the economy will not be slow to follow the DHBs’ lead. The precedent established at Waihi: establishing a ‘scab’ union to facilitate the crushing of a real one; instantly became the template for the destruction of militant unionism in New Zealand.”
Trotter also wonders if the apparent refusal of the CTU to intervene or to even show any solidarity with the junior doctors “has anything at all to do with the fact that the current CTU President, Richard Wagstaff, is a former National Secretary of the PSA.”
For a similar analysis, but with more in depth background on what has led to the junior doctors’ dispute with the DHBs it’s worth reading Peggy Stewart’s Why resident doctors are striking. She bemoans that “established public sector unions may be using this opportunity to settle old scores, making resident doctors pay the price in significantly-reduced conditions and less employment protections.”
This article also draws attention, not just to the PSA’s alleged hostility to the doctors’ union, but also that of the CTU, pointing out that in 2009 the CTU came out against the then strike actions in hospitals, with Helen Kelly arguing that striking doctors might “give unions a bad name”.
The article raises further questions about whether the current DHB strategy against the junior doctors is endorsed by government officials or indeed by Labour in Government: “It seems likely that the DHBs collective bargaining strategy has been given at least tacit approval by the Ministry of Health. The degree of involvement of Labour’s Minister of Health, David Clark, in directing this strategy is unknown, but he cannot be unaware. It is appalling that public sector workers are facing such a clawback in their hard-fought for working conditions, under a supposedly worker-friendly Labour-led government.”
Finally, although the PSA itself organised strikes last year at MBIE, Inland Revenue and the Ministry of Justice, it may be that the nature of modern unionism means there is less inclination to show solidarity with other striking workers. In this respect it’s worth reading last year’s Listener feature on the head of the PSA: Union leader Erin Polaczuk opens up about the future of the movement. In this, Polaczuk explains that the union movement is “smarter now” than it was in the 1970s, that the “feminisation of the union movement has changed things”, which means “We are not guys coming in and having a punch-up”, and strikes are a “last resort” in this “mature era”.
Political Roundup: New-look Pride Parade under threat
by Dr Bryce Edwards
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has always been an enthusiastic supporter of and participant in Auckland’s annual Pride Parade. This year, however, she seems inclined to give the controversial “new-look” event a swerve.
Last week, the organisers of the Pride Festival finally announced what they have planned for next month’s festivities, with the customary central event – the Pride Parade – taking a much smaller role in the week. And although the event is being promoted as being more political in nature, it seems likely that many political people and politicians will be actively avoiding it.
Jacinda Ardern did her best to keep out of the controversy last year over whether uniformed police could march in the parade, saying simply that she believed the experience was “at its best when it’s an inclusive event”. But she seems unlikely to attend herself, telling the Express magazine that “We haven’t set the schedule for 2019. I am hoping to participate in Pride week in some form” – see her interview: Mother of the nation: Express talks to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Ardern made a highly-diplomatic statement to the magazine that is, no doubt, designed to carefully appeal to both sides of the dispute about police involvement in the parade: “I would be happy to see a time when Pride Parade organisers feel happy to include them… For me, the Pride parade is a celebration of diversity and equality for all. It’s also rightly been a place where history – how far we’ve come and what work still needs to be done – has been acknowledged too.”
The magazine reports that Ardern is unlikely to attend this year’s pride parade: “when asked if she would be participating in 2019’s scaled down march, she appears less determined to be involved with this year’s effort”. Furthermore, in a move reminiscent of John Key avoiding Waitangi for Waitangi Day, the Prime Minister appears to be getting around the problem by “removing her gaze from purely being focused on Auckland Pride and looking to support celebrations around the country.”
The “new-look” pride parade was announced on Thursday as an “inclusive” walk replacing the previous celebration. The organisers who have, controversially, banned police from marching in uniform, have come up with a very different event to the traditional one after some confusion about whether the event would even take place, and whether it would be a celebration or protest march.
Many of the details are still unannounced, but the organisers have made the key decision to shift the event from Ponsonby to downtown Auckland. According to Melanie Earley, “The walk will take place on February 9, beginning at Albert Park in the central city and ending at Myers Park” with organisers explaining that “although the parade was traditionally held in Ponsonby many Pride members felt alienated from the suburb” – see: Auckland Pride Board reincarnates parade as walk.
Ponsonby is viewed by some as too mainstream and affluent. Hence, “The decision was intended to encourage all members of the rainbow communities to feel safe and included in the event.” Significantly, the traditional backers of the Parade, the Ponsonby Business Association, had withdrawn their support for the event in light of the ban on police.
The new walking event is being promoted as more engaged with the queer community than corporates, and generally being more “edgy”. Auckland Pride board’s Zakk d’Larté has said the focus would be on getting people to participate, as it would be “less of a spectacle, with floats, for people to watch from the sidelines”. And as well as being “queer, rainbow, beautiful and gayer than ever” the organisers say “It’s going to be a grassroots-led parade”.
But will there actually be much participation? Given the radical change in orientation of the event, together with the loss of corporate sponsorship, and the controversy over uniformed police being banned, some are predicting that it will be a flop. For instance, blogger Martyn Bradbury predicts that the walk “will be poorly attended and media coverage will be deeply negative.” He says that this “could all have a terrible backlash”, as many in the queer community and supportive public might be alienated by the organisers’ actions.
Bradbury has derided the organisers as producing an event for a liberal, politically correct elite rather than for everyday people. In one blogpost, he reflects: “so this is what woke politics leads to, a walk for pride with the Green caucus, half a dozen reporters from The Spinoff covering it and a handful of Action Station activists from Wellington coming up in a bus? This could be the first pride parade in history that actually goes backwards!” He sees “an enormous boycott of the event” taking place.
In fact, broadcaster Duncan Garner has called on the queer community to boycott the event. In an interview last month with Rainbow NZ chair Gresham Bradley (who said there had been a “political takeover” of the Pride Parade), Garner claimed that the current organisers retained their positions through undemocratic means – see: ‘Farcical stitch-up’: Calls to boycott Auckland Pride parade after board wins vote.
Here’s the key part: “Auckland Council employees have been told they will not be participating in the February 9th March in any official capacity. Auckland Council employees have been told the Council will not be participating in next month’s Pride march which has replaced the traditional parade. Council employees are still able to participate but it must be in a private capacity with no council logos to be displayed.”
The same article also confirms that the parade is no longer being funded by the Auckland Council: “The news follows Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED) pulling their funding for the event as the new format of a ‘march’ did not meet Auckland Pride’s previously agreed outcomes with the council authority.”
It seems that the overall Pride Festival still has official Council support, but the new-look parade is now officially separate from the week of celebrations. On the Auckland Pride website all references to the parade have been removed, and when the Pride Festival publicity was released on Thursday, it contained nothing about what is usually the main event.
The Auckland Pride organising board has clearly been through a difficult time. But in December they survived an attempt to get them removed by a vote of no confidence. Discussing this, the board chair, Cissy Rock, told TVNZ Breakfast that the backlash on the police-ban had been stronger than she had expected: “I expected it to have repercussions but I didn’t think it was going to be like wildfire through the whole community” – see 1News’ After surviving coup, Auckland Pride Board chair remains defiant on police uniform ban, corporate backlash.
The same news item also gives the views of an opponent, Stacey Kerapa, who had previously been on the board organising the Hero Parade, and had worked as a sex worker and transgender advocate for decades.
Her experiences and opinions are also covered well in a very interesting article by Julie Hill: ‘They’re about to destroy nearly 35 years of gay progress with the police’. According to this, “Kerapa has bitter first-hand experience of how brutal police are capable of being to Māori trans people, but the progress made over the years means that the decision to ban uniformed cops is a huge mistake”.
There have also been plenty of activists standing up for the new-look parade and the right of organisers to ban police. For example, PR professional David Cormack has written about the “commodification of the rainbow culture” and “sickening corporate ownership” which has attempted to pressure the organisers not to ban the police – see: The price of Pride.
And for a sympathetic account of the background to the decision to ban uniformed police from the march, see Sarah Murphy’s Pride and police: The history, issues and decisions behind the debate. She emphasises that this is about long-existing issues coming to the surface of the queer community, including: racism, transphobia, safety concerns, and “pinkwashing”. She points out that much of the debate has excluded young generations in the movement, “with those speaking out generally being older community members and people who are accustomed to having a platform”.
Political Roundup: Will the Government fix spying in the public service?
by Dr Bryce Edwards
The week before Christmas was dominated by what may actually have been the most important political issue of the year in New Zealand – revelations that government agencies have spied on New Zealanders through the use of private investigators. The matter ended up being somewhat buried in the end-of-year chaos, and perhaps conveniently forgotten about by politicians with an interest in the issue remaining unresolved.
Yet the story isn’t going away. Today, the Herald published revelations about how the private investigations firm Thompson & Clark was previously employed by government-owned Southern Response insurance to review Official Information Act answers about the use of the private investigations firm itself – see Lucy Bennett’s Megan Woods seeks answers on Southern Response’s use of private investigators.
Here’s the key part of the story: “In January 2017, when Woods was the opposition spokeswoman on the Christchurch quake recovery, Thompson & Clark Investigations Ltd (TCIL) invoiced Southern Response $2070 for reviewing a response to an Official Information Act request from the Labour Party research unit on its use of TCIL.”
The article reports on how “TCIL also appears to advise Southern Response on how to circumvent public scrutiny.” For example, Thompson & Clark gave the following advice to Southern Response’s chief executive: “to get around disclosure, privacy and OIA issues, we normally set up a discreet email address for you – in Gmail or similar … do you want us to set up a discreet email account for you – or do you want to?”
The original “explosive” SSC report
Despite the State Services Commission report being released during the busy period just prior to Christmas – leading to what some see as a lack of media coverage and scrutiny of the issues – there have been some excellent articles and columns published about it.
Andrea Vance produced some of the best coverage of the report and the aftermath. Her first report, Security firm spied on politicians, activists and earthquake victims, detailed the full extent of what had been uncovered by the report into government agencies using private investigators. Overall, she said that the “explosive report details a slew of damning revelations”.
Vance followed this up with an in-depth article, Public service bosses ignored warnings about Thompson & Clark for years, which revealed that “for a decade public service bosses ignored the warnings about Thompson & Clark. Their tentacles were everywhere. Dozens of ministries and agencies used their services – and yet no-one in the upper echelons of the public service questioned their reach or influence.”
According to Vance, “officials became drunk on the power of the information offered up by security firms like Thompson & Clark. It allowed them to keep tabs on their critics and stave off any reputational damage.” She also argues that “A cavalier attitude to personal and sensitive information, and a troubling disregard for the democratic right to protest, was allowed to flourish within the public service over 15 years and successive governments.”
Hamish Rutherford produced some excellent analysis, explaining: “In an age where the use of contractors is already under scrutiny, a string of government agencies have effectively outsourced snooping, in some cases for highly questionable reasons. In some cases this was done with a lack of clear contracts, creating a fertile atmosphere for mission creep” – see: Use of private investigators exposes carelessness about role of the government.
Rutherford writes about how remarkable it is that public servants weren’t aware (according to the report) that what was going on was unacceptable. He therefore concludes: “we are reading about public servants who appeared to be seduced by private investigators, who decided to make their job easier without considering the implications for democratic rights, or the need to remain neutral. Weeding out improper behaviour may take work, but it seems the report exposes examples where public servants need to be told what their job involves, which would be a far more fundamental problem.”
RNZ’s Tim Watkin also has some strong analysis of what occurred, saying that the report on the state snooping “is a bit of a page-turner and a terrifying read for anyone who cares about the integrity of the public sector” – see: Heart of Darkness in the public sector.
According to Watkin, the situation is perplexing, given the risk-averse nature of the public service: “My concern is what this says about the culture at the heart of our public service. How did leaders who are by the very definition of their roles meant to be servants of the public decide that this level of covert surveillance was a good idea? Government agencies are typically so risk averse these days that they have multiple managers signing off press statements and an inability to make a decision on which pencils or toilet paper to buy without first clearing it with the minister’s office. Yet they are willing to subject those ‘ordinary New Zealanders” to secret surveillance.”
Possibly, Watkin says it’s the very risk-averse nature of the current public service that has caused them to be more open to snooping on citizens: “there seems to be a deep-seated sense of butt-covering and paranoia”. This is the very point made by Gordon Campbell in his blogpost, On why Thompson + Clark are just the tip of the iceberg.
In recent years, according to Campbell, the public service has become politicised, meaning that public servants have become more sensitive to the political needs of their ministers rather than the public good. This means that snooping on citizens and protestors starts becoming sensible, and to dissent against breaches of ethics in the public service has become much more dangerous for your career.
Not surprisingly, some of the strongest condemnation of state snooping on citizens has come from those organisations known to be affected – especially environmental groups. Former Green co-leader, and now Greenpeace head, Russel Norman emphasises the anti-democratic nature of what has been going on: “The chilling effect of being under constant and intrusive surveillance for simply campaigning on important social issues, fundamentally corrodes what it means to live in a free and democratic society. We’ve learnt that under the previous government, no-one was safe from being spied on if they disagreed with government policy” – see: Rotten to the core: The chilling truth revealed by the SSC report.
Norman concludes: “The State Services Commission (SSC) investigation may well be one of the most important examinations into the inner workings of the state that we’ve seen in New Zealand. I’d go as far as to call it our Watergate moment.”
If that sounds like the expected complaints of an activist, then it’s also worth reading what former United Future leader Peter Dunne had to say in his column, Only a first step in the data battle.
Dunne explains what has occurred as being “a gross breach of that implicit covenant between the Government and its citizens”, and he raises serious questions about how much more privacy is being curtailed by government agencies. In particular: “Was any information provided, formally or informally, to the intelligence services by Thompson and Clark, and was any information gathered at the behest of the intelligence services?”
Newspaper editorials have also condemned what has been uncovered in the public service. The Otago Daily Times has a strongly-worded editorial about the dangers to democracy uncovered in the report: “It blasts a warning about the insidious nature of state power and the need for vigilance and protection. Those who would disregard civil liberties for what they might think is the greater good should think again. Big brother and big sister are an ever-present threat. This is even more so in the electronic age. It was first thought the internet might lead to more freedom and more opportunity for dissent. But the massive losses of privacy, the ease with which data is collected and modern data analysis all hand more potential power and surveillance ability to big business and big government” – see: An ‘affront to democracy’.
In Christchurch, The Press has been asking important questions about what the report has revealed – see the editorial: More questions about spies and the public service. Here are the concluding questions: “The public needs to know more about this scandal that is so contrary to the way we expect our public servants to behave on our behalf. The public wants to know who approved of this surveillance, why it was considered necessary in a democracy and, perhaps most important of all, how much was really known about it by the ministers in charge.”
Will anything actually be done about the spying scandal?
The biggest risk to arise out of the controversial investigation into government agencies’ misuse of spying on citizens is that nothing further will now occur. So despite new stories being published about the state surveillance, there’s a danger that we are coming towards the end of the scandal, with no significant reform being offered to correct the problems.
Although the Thompson & Clark firm has been discredited by the scandal, many are arguing that they are not actually the real problem. For example, Andrea Vance says: “although they took advantage, Thompson & Clark aren’t responsible for public service culture and the undermining of democratic rights. That lies with Peter Hughes. For public confidence to be fully restored, the public service must demonstrate accountability and accept culpability, starting from the top down.”
Perhaps it’s time for a proper official and independent commission of inquiry into the spying problems in the public service. Security analyst Paul Buchanan has been arguing for this. And Gordon Campbell agrees: “given that the Thompson+ Clark problem is a by-product of the politicisation of the public service, security analyst Paul Buchanan is dead right in calling for a public inquiry. Only a wide-ranging investigation can address the attitudinal issues and power relationships between ministerial staff and public servants, of which Thompson + Clark are merely one of the end results.”
Tim Watkin has also argued that more needs to happen: “The proper response to this report is not a few hours of tut-tuting, the Prime Minister expressing formulaic concern that the spying was “disturbing” and the symbolic resignation of a single chair. No, the proper response is a change to the public sector culture. So who will lead that?”
Other activists – especially those affected by the state spying – put forward proposals for reform in Jessie Chiang’s article, Environmental groups call for change after security firm revelations. For example, Russel Norman calls for prosecutions of those involved, and for the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment to be broken up. And Kevin Hague from Forest and Bird says: “I’m encouraging state services to go back to [learning] how to operate as a state service… and your obligations to the public and not just to the government of the day”.
For more thorough reform suggestions, also see blogger No Right Turn’s A private Stasi. He says “Businesses like Thompson and Clark, whose service is explicitly anti-democratic, need to be made illegal and put out of business.”
Finally, there’s the issue of the breaches of rules by Crown Law when working for the Ministry of Social Development – which Andrea Vance has described as “one of the most shocking findings”. The chief executive of MSD at the time was Peter Hughes, who of course is now chief executive of the State Services Commission, and therefore in charge of the whole of the public service. There will therefore be suspicions of conflicts of interest in terms of resolving that issue, and Hughes has handed the ongoing task to his own deputy at the SSC. For the best discussion of all this, see Aaron Smale’s Hypocrisy at the highest levels.
Political Roundup: Should rodeos be banned in New Zealand?
by Dr Bryce Edwards
The Summer rodeo season is in full swing. And so protesters are, once again, drawing attention to what they regard as the cruel and archaic nature of this “entertainment sport”. This is leading to clashes between rodeo supporters and protesters.
A few days ago, the group Save Animals from Exploitation (SAFE) revealed that two animals had recently died at a rodeo in Gisborne. Rodeo organisers had already acknowledged that a bull had been killed, but a whistle-blower alerted the animal rights group to the fact that a horse had also been killed at the event – see Karoline Tuckey’s Second animal death at Gisborne rodeo ‘freakish’.
SAFE accused the rodeo of a cover-up over the death and claimed that, in general, it “highlighted a lack of transparency” in rodeos. But the president of the New Zealand Rodeo and Cowboys’ Association (NZRCA), Lyal Cocks, explained the silence over the death, saying that his organisation “has understandably become cautious [about] speaking out in an environment of extreme negativity towards rodeos, which appears to be promoted by most media organisations.”
Cocks also explained the horse’s death at the rodeo: “After it competed it went out into the yards out the back, and for some inexplicable reason it went into a post and died, it was instantaneous – it was very strange, freakish.” Similarly, when another bull died at a Martinborough rodeo last year, after breaking its leg, at the time Cocks described this as “freak accident”.
Latest rodeo protests
Tensions are rising between supporters and protesters of rodeos, with an altercation taking place a few days ago at a Whangarei event – see Esther Taunton’s Protesters ‘assaulted like the animals’ at rodeo, animal rights group says. Some of this tension revolves around animal welfare activists attending rodeos and filming events, with organisers trying to ban the use of cameras.
One of the organisers of the Northland rodeo, Dianna Bradshaw, explained: “The camera ban was due to the possibility of footage being used out of context”. She added: “These people have an agenda, they’re not coming to these events with an open mind.”
According to one of the activists, Josh Howell, “There was particular emphasis on not being able to film the roping event – the calf roping event – because they acknowledge that it’s particularly controversial… They said we don’t want you filming at all even on your phones the calf-roping because one image can be taken out of context” – see RNZ’s Rodeo protesters consider police action after supporters confront them at event.
A number of other rodeos and protests have occurred in recent weeks. For example, about 24 people from the Queenstown Animal Activist group picketed outside a Wanaka event at the start of the month, calling for an end to “legalised animal abuse” – see Michael Hayward’s About 5000 attend Wanaka Rodeo despite protests.
Call for a rodeo ban
Animal rights activists are demanding that rodeos be outlawed in New Zealand. However, this demand has already been considered by the current Government and rejected. Until she was sacked for alleged mistreatment of staff, Meka Whaitiri was the minister responsible for animal welfare (as the associate Minister of Agriculture), and she made a decision not to introduce a ban on rodeos.
The decision was announced in March of last year, with Tess Nichol reporting that “Whaitiri didn’t believe rodeos were harmful enough to justify a ban” – see: Government won’t ban rodeo, animal welfare Minister says. According to this report: “She acknowledged public concern, but said rodeos were popular in many communities. The Ikaroa-Rāwhiti Māori electorate MP grew up on the East Coast of the North Island and said rodeos were common there – she had attended several herself.”
In lieu of a ban, the minister announced that she would work to strengthen regulations, and said she had asked the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee “to fast track further advice on rodeos this year”. It’s unclear, however, if this came to anything, and after Whaitiri was dismissed as a minister the Prime Minister decided to leave the ministerial portfolio of animal welfare unfilled.
Animal welfare organisations have been unimpressed with the Government’s lack of action on rodeos. The SPCA has responded by saying that “more needs to be done” and reiterated its support for a rodeo ban. The SPCA has also reminded the Government that it promised to do more: “They need to take this very seriously and uphold their election promise, which was to ban the use of animals under 12 months, flank straps, rope burning and the use of electronic prods” – see Newshub’s Govt won’t ban rodeos but will look into improving animal welfare.
This article also draws attention to corporate sponsors pulling out of involvement with rodeos: “Foodstuffs, LJ Hooker New Zealand, Saddlery Warehouse, Stuff, Meridian Energy, House of Travel, Bayleys, and Harcourts, all withdrew sponsorship in relation to the animal cruelty claims made by advocacy groups.”
There has, however, been some reform of the rules and regulations governing how rodeos treat animals. According to Michael Hayward, reporting in September, “The New Zealand Rodeo Cowboys Association announced four key changes to improve animal safety, which were confirmed at their recent AGM”, and he details these – see: New rodeo animal welfare rules ‘crisis management’, critics say.
Rodeo debate heating up this summer
This week Green Party MP Gareth Hughes has written an opinion piece making the moral arguments against rodeos: “Do this to a companion animal like a cat and a dog and you would be jailed. Do this on a farm and you could be investigated and prosecuted. Do it in front of a crowd at a rodeo and it is called entertainment. This summer in New Zealand, animals are being terrified, hurt and killed for fun” – see: Rodeo is animal cruelty dressed up as entertainment.
There is a growing sense of inevitability in much of the debate about rodeos being eventually consigned to history. Much of this escalation of concern started towards the end of last summer, with plenty of articles and opinion pieces forecasting a rodeo-free future. For example, the Hawkes Bay Today newspaper ran an article last February reporting on the growing activism following on from animal deaths at rodeos – see: Rodeo in the spotlight: Could Hawke’s Bay incidents be the beginning of the end?
In this, SAFE campaigns manager Marianne Macdonald is quoted saying “Year by year more and more people are speaking out strongly against rodeo. It’s really not something that New Zealand, in 2018, wants. It’s something that really needs to be consigned to the history books.” She adds: “Rodeos are banned in the UK, the Netherlands and parts of Australia, the United States and Canada. It’s time for New Zealand to make a change.”
In contrast, however, the Rodeo Association’s Lyal Cocks points out: “Judging by the increased crowd sizes this season… there are many more people who would like to see rodeo continue as a sport in NZ than those who would like it banned.”
In fact, the Rodeo Association estimates that about 100,000 people attended events last summer. And the sport has been fighting back against bad publicity, even employing former MP Michael Laws as a spokesperson, and getting Government MPs and ministers along to events – last February New Zealand First MPs Ron Mark and Mark Patterson were special guests at rodeo events.
This escalating ideological battle was well covered last year by Philip Matthews in his feature article, Cowboys and injuries: The end of rodeo? In this, he points to changing societal attitudes to the use of animals in sport, and cites survey evidence: “a Horizon Research survey commissioned by Safe and the SPCA found that 59 per cent of people wanted an end to animals in rodeo, 63 per cent wanted calf roping banned and 66 per cent wanted an end to use of flank straps, which cause animals to buck.”
Last year, newspaper editorials also weighed in on the issue – with the Dominion Post asking “Is this really how we want to have fun in a supposedly civilised country in the 21st century?” – see: Rodeos pitting humans against animals belong in the past. In contrast, the Otago Daily Times sat on the fence on the issue, pointing out the right to protest and right to participate in rodeos, and emphasising that both sides need to acknowledge the rights and concerns of the others – see: The rights of rodeos and animals.
For an indication of the turning tide on rodeos, it’s well worth reading Rachel Stewart’s mea culpa on the sport, in which she declares that “As a kid, I rode steers at my rural district sport’s day” but “we all know in our hearts that rodeo is wrong” – see: Rodeo doomed to bite the dust.
Stewart concludes: “Rodeo is on the way out. It’s on the wrong side of history, and the likes of Michael Laws won’t save it. In fact, unwittingly, he’s likely the best thing to happen to the anti-rodeo movement. Because “the truth of the matter is” that rodeo is toast. Yee-ha!”
Similarly, another columnist from the provinces, Tom O’Connor, says “In my brash youth I rode bulls at various rodeos around the country” but “I have come to question the attitude of my youth” – see: All the fun of the rodeo not worth any animal’s pain. He concludes “Like bull fighting, rodeos belong to history, as enjoyable as they might have been.”
For a counter to all this, writing a year ago, Michael Laws argued that concerns about rodeo animals are misplaced: “The science suggests animals suffer no long-term harm. And rodeo injury rates for participating animals are less than for many other animal events. Therefore, NZ Rodeo believes that animal activists are fundamentally misinformed and misguided” – see: Rodeo’s critics ignore findings that it’s not cruel.
Finally, for those wanting to enjoy the rodeo, or to protest its existence, the Rodeo and Cowboys’ Association has listed its upcoming events here: 2018/2019 Rodeo Dates.