Monday, November 21, 2005

Deborah Coddington: Yet another backtrack by Peters

Look who's talking up Asian imports now - the Rt Hon Winston Peters, no less. The former member for Tauranga has had an extreme makeover. Since becoming foreign affairs minister, he's decided that attracting international students, especially from China, is not such a bad idea.

Last week Peters went overseas for the first time in his official role, to an Apec meeting in South Korea. On his departure he told NZPA he would discuss with a Chinese representative how to reverse the worrying decline in the number of Chinese students coming to New Zealand for their education.

"There was an irresponsible side of capitalism on export education. I regard that as a lessening of the obligation to China which we promised. I don't blame the Government for that. This was an industry that called for these changes, I think with hindsight we could have monitored their performance more closely," he said, presumably with a straight face.

One might question whether it was irresponsible capitalism or irresponsible politics that contributed to the declining number of Asian students. While it's true some private tertiary education institutes, including English language schools, went bust in a very public way - as Modern Age Institute of Learning and Carich did - that's hardly an example of irresponsible capitalism.

Some state-owned polytechnics have massively overspent their budgets but they get bailed out by the taxpayers, or merged with other state institutions, so the public don't get to hear complaints from out-of-pocket students left floundering with no qualifications.

The Sars scare didn't help (remember Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, the bird-flu of 2003 that panicked us into wearing surgical masks?), but arguably it was Winston Peters' attacks on Asian immigration that did much to contribute to this country's reputation in China as hostile and insular.

Before 2003, international education was one of our largest earners of foreign exchange - $2.2 billion a year - after dairy, tourism and meat. In other words, the "Asian invasion" that Peters railed against gave us all a better standard of living, right down to the country's poorest who rely on publicly funded health, education, welfare and housing. Scare investment away and we all suffer, but that's exactly what happened.

Three years ago Winston Peters was singing from a different sheet, compared to last week's tune. In August 2002, for instance, he reckoned immigrants were necrophiliacs, triple murderers, rapists, fraudsters or HIV carriers.

In November of the same year he gave a speech saying New Zealanders were witnessing - nay encouraging - the Balkanisation of their own country.

Ever the master of sophistry, Peters will now say he was talking only about immigrants, not international students, but his emotional hysteria affected students nonetheless. We went from hosting 50,000 Chinese students in the year to March 2002, to roughly half that number in 2003.

And did Winston care?

Not that it showed - in Parliament he quoted approvingly from a letter published in the New Zealand Herald claiming Chinese students were responsible for "theft, fraud, fighting, assault, intimidation, vehicle crashes, disorder, domestic stabbings and a sideline of extortion and weapon-carrying".

When the then-Education Minister Trevor Mallard suggested we try to attract students from countries in the Gulf, Predictable Peters waffled on about terrorist threats and said the Government should "stop promoting New Zealand to overseas markets as the system is already buckling under the pressure of numbers".

"The Government should stop this idiocy and educate our own people and stop trying to make out that this level of imported students is some sort of salvation for New Zealand's economy," he added.

As John Tamihere says, Peters takes more positions than the Kama Sutra.

Predictably, the leader of New Zealand First, our Minister of Foreign Affairs who's not in the Government, is saying he has been "misconstrued".

He will blame the pesky media for this latest u-turn - he's been misquoted, his words have been twisted, taken out of context. Whatever, Winston - you're right and we're wrong.

You know, the Government knows, everyone in New Zealand knows you adore Arab and Asian immigrants, you'd never accept baubles of power, you love free trade, and Brad Tattersfield - speedily transferred from MFAT as your minder - has absolutely nothing to do with the new you.

Peter Griffin: Sony faces the music

There'll be plenty of heated conference calls taking place in the plush Madison Ave, New York, office of Thomas Hesse this week. The head of music label Sony BMG's digital business is fighting fires all over after introducing defective copyright-protection software on his company's CDs.

The music industry should have learned by now how unforgiving the public is when dodgy anti-piracy measures are forced on them.

We've had anti-copying encoding that could be erased with a felt-tip pen and protected disks that froze the drives of Apple Macs. Cracking other copy-protection measures has been just a quick search and software download away. The measures have done little to protect artists but have raised the hackles of music lovers already bitter at the prices of new releases.

Now Sony BMG has taken the prize for most badly executed anti-piracy measure in music history. When Hesse was in New Zealand in July, he told me about the company's plans to encode all future releases with anti-piracy software that would stop people from ripping multiple copies at will.

It sounded reasonable. A move to limit casual piracy that still allows owners of the albums to make a limited number of copies of them for their computer and music player.

Twenty albums have been released overseas with a flavour of the protective software called XCP (extended copy protection), but it has proved a potential timebomb for computer users.

Undetectable by your antivirus software and firewall, XCP hides on your computer and keeps track of the copies you make, preventing you from burning disks at will. There's a reason it's hard to find - so you can't track it down, delete it and get around the copy protection.

But the internet security industry claims its invisibility has allowed virus writers to design Trojans which can allow remote and unauthorised access to your computer and can go undetected.

Sony BMG is facing a class-action lawsuit over the debacle, with a New York attorney filing a federal case against the label and First4Internet, the company behind the software. It follows the filing of a lawsuit in California over the same issue.

The lawsuits aim to prevent Sony BMG from using the technology in future releases, although the company would be committing commercial suicide to do so anyway. It's pulled the two million or so XCP-enabled albums that haven't been sold and will replace the other two million copies that have been sold with new versions. But it is committed to copy protection in principle.

Hesse gave me a copy of country rock act Van Zant's Get Right with the Man, an album that features the nasty software. It's such a bad album that I didn't rip it to my computer. If I had, I could have opened up the exploit which, thankfully, is now being rooted out by Microsoft's free AntiSpyware programme.

There's an annoying process you have to go through in ripping Stand Up to your computer in Windows Media Player. But I haven't had any problems with those albums which use a different technology from a company called SunnComm.

However, there are now suggestions that that software has spyware traits as well. If it wasn't hard enough keeping our computers secure, now we've got multinationals booby-trapping them for us.

Kerre Woodham: Hard-working kids deserve better than last year's NCEA fiasco

I remember studying for School C like it was yesterday. Twenty-five chapters of Caesar's Gallic conquests were memorised for one last-gasp effort to get through my Latin exam before being dumped from my memory cells forever. Same with science and maths. Once I'd spilled out what I needed to know to pass, that was it. Gone forever and good riddance too.

And that was the last of the exams until I enrolled at uni as a mature student. Oh, there were school exams, but I got UE accredited, as did most of my friends, so we never had the stress of external exams once we'd got through School C.

The kids today have to work so much harder. If their school is conducting NCEA properly, the young ones are constantly being assessed. My daughter is in the middle of level 2 exams and I'm in awe of how much work she and her friends have done throughout the year.

I hope the boffins at NZQA will match the commitment shown by so many teenagers and ensure the students are marked fairly and evenly. We don't want a repeat of last year's debacle. Our kids deserve better and so do the people who will eventually employ them.

Kerre Woodham: Cup triumph just the beginning

The tidings of great joy came a month early this year. News that New Zealand has won the rights to host the 2011 Rugby World Cup was largely unexpected and absolutely brilliant. Everything seemed to be against us - our size, our location, our unclean stadia, Nick Farr-Jones, the bookies - yet tradition and the All Blacks' mana won out.

Congratulations must go to Jock Hobbs and Chris Moller whose whistlestop tour around the rugby-playing world was a huge success. These two men are intelligent, passionate and persuasive - they were an excellent advance guard for the bid. Then, on the eve of the pitch, the reinforcements gathered.

Helen Clark made it with minutes to spare after her Qantas flight had to turn back to Auckland. Note that it was an Australian aircraft she was on, an Aussie aircraft that nearly caused her to miss that all-important meeting. If you had a suspicious mind, you could put that right up there with Suzy the waitress and the shooter on the grassy knoll.

The Prime Minister, with an open cheque book and a promise to underwrite the bid, undoubtedly bolstered New Zealand's chances, but those who were there say it was the big men, Colin Meads and Tana Umaga, who swayed it our way. Colin did a great job during the Lions Tour selling the concept of New Zealand as host for the 2011 Cup.

During the debates that preceded the Lions tests, he took to the stage and asked the Lions supporters whether they'd had a good time. Yes, they all roared. Would they go back and tell all their friends what a great time they'd had in New Zealand? Yes, came the roar. And then Colin told them to ask themselves whether they would have as good a time in Japan.

No doubt Syd Millar, the head of the IRB, took on board the rave reviews from the British and Irish fans, but Chris Moller believes it was Tana Umaga's speech from the heart that swayed the suits.

In these days of hard-headed number crunching and bean counting, it seems almost unbelievable that old-fashioned values like tradition and commitment can count for anything, but obviously the board members of rugby's governing body have liniment in their veins after all.

We owe a debt to the South Africans, too, who swung in behind New Zealand's bid when they were eliminated in the first round of voting, and really, how many Japanese mums are going to let their little boys take to the field just because the World Cup is being played in their backyard? In fact, how many Japanese would know or care that the Rugby World Cup was heading their way?

The New Zealand delegation has done all the hard work - and now it's up to the rest of us to make sure that the 2011 World Cup is a success on every level.

Realistically, we'll never have a chance of hosting a bigger-ticket event than this, so let's make sure the 60-odd thousand visitors here have a ball. Now we have to pay back the rugby gods.

And if that means having to go to pool games between Estonia and Japan in order to provide a great atmosphere, if that means billeting a rugby-mad family from Inverness, if that means we have to offer the lion's share of the tickets to the visitors, then so be it. I'll do my bit.