Monday, December 12, 2005

Sideswipe



By Ana Samways

Sideswipe gift recommendation #5: Vinyl Record Snack Tray (pictured above). The snack trays are created from 30cm vinyl albums featuring classic rock artists such as The Kinks and Fleetwood Mac. Perfect for fruit, chips, dry snacks, the shallow tray has the original label intact and protected with a clear mylar seal. (Source: www.modernartisans.com).

The modern beggar: Seen in Queen St yesterday sitting on the footpath was a scruffy-looking male with a cardboard box at his feet which had "breakfast" written on the side. And what was he doing while waiting for enough funds to buy a modest breakfast? Listening to his ipod, of course.

An electrical supervisor working on a large building project in the inner city resigned his job a couple of weeks ago to look for an exciting new role that paid more money. One smoko, as he was working out his notice period, he read the Herald job ads and called out to his mates: "Would you look at that. A job's come up in senior management in the construction industry, specialising in the electrical area. A hundred grand package! Who would have believed it. Just when I've started looking! It's the perfect job." Excited, he called the agency and asked what the job entailed. It sounded strangely familiar. Sure enough, when pressed, the agency admitted it was his old job, with the package rounded up to include a car and benefits. "You'd be surprised how often this happens," the consultant told him. So he's still looking for that perfect job.

Terrance Alexander was fired by the Atlanta Police Department after he pulled a woman from her car, threw her to the ground, handcuffed and arrested her for stopping too long at the airport while she was picking up her 78-year-old mother. Alexander was not assigned to the airport but was working a second job directing traffic. The woman settled a lawsuit against the police department for $350,000, but a civil service board ordered the department to reinstate Alexander. (Source: Reason.com)

Editorial: Changing priorities for kindies

Kindergarten teachers do not normally march in the streets, at least not over something as apparently trifling as an extra hour of teaching every day. The Ministry of Education and kindergarten associations want the teachers to be with the children for 35 hours a week in full-day kindergartens; the teachers want to do no more than 30 hours of "contact" a week. They also want to be guaranteed the same holidays as primary schools while their employers want "flexibility" in holiday entitlements to better meet the needs of working parents.

That summary sounds like a fairly standard industrial dispute, not enough surely to have kindy teachers marching and chanting and stopping traffic in 22 towns and cities last week and threatening more of the same this week. But behind the issues of contact hours and holidays this seems to be a dispute about the future of kindergartens in an age of working parents.

The free kindergarten movement was the pioneer of preschool education in this country. It offered children a few hours a day of professionally supervised activities that were intended to prepare them educationally and socially for compulsory schooling. A half-day of stimulating activity was said to be all that could be expected of infants, but today's working parents need and expect full day child care. Something has to give. Will it be the educational values of the traditional kindergarten that must give way to the child-minding priorities of working couples? The kindy teachers are saying no, which is one reason their banners and chants are about the quality of their work rather than their pay and conditions.

But the teachers are often working parents themselves and they will be sympathetic to the demand for full day care. They need to explain, to parents and the public whose support they seek on the streets, how kindergartens are supposed to provide a full service with teachers who will do only 30 contact hours a week. Who can be hired to do the extra 10 hours of child minding and who pays?

Already kindergartens are compromising their character to compete in the booming new industry of child care. Some are introducing compulsory fees, ending a 100-year tradition of free kindergarten, to cope with reduced rolls, fewer volunteers and full day services. But that will change the year after next when the Government intends to begin funding 20 hours of free early-childhood education for all breeds of child care that meet a certain standard of staff training and qualifications. Kindergartens are steadily losing their distinction and that is regrettable if, as the striking teachers claim, they are also giving away some of their educational quality.

Not all couples with children put them in day care from infancy. Those who sacrifice some income to look after a child at home would value the traditional sessional kindergarten which is geared to educational activity rather than day-long care. Possibly there are too few stay-home parents now to sustain sessional kindergartens but, if so, the country has lost something precious.

It would be good to believe that, with the right balance of teachers' contact and preparation hours, infants who spend all day at a kindergarten could gain as much educational value as they used to in a more concentrated span, but it seems unlikely. Children who attend care centres all day every day come sometimes in a condition that would cause a non-working parent to keep the child at home.

The teachers might hope to be employed on the same terms as primary school teachers but they are being drawn remorselessly into the day-care industry. That is sad for them, and for preschool education.

Brian Rudman: Crocodile tears won't bring back destroyed tree

I know justice these days is supposed to be about teary hugs at dawn between the victim and the wrong-doer, but it is great, from time to time, to see a bit of good old-fashioned finger-pointing.

So congratulations to Auckland city's regulatory committee chairwoman, Glenda Fryer, for telling developer George Bernard Shaw to shove his "sincere" apology for illegally destroying a 100-year-old protected pohutukawa.

Of course, I suppose it is possible that Mr Shaw is "deeply regretful and genuinely remorseful and ashamed" about "the very bad error of judgment and big mistake" he made in having the scheduled Royal Oak landmark destroyed last January. But his past "accidents" with protected trees on building sites suggest it's going to take more than a momentary grovel to convince the rest of us.

It's easier to believe his regrets are about getting caught. This is the man who told the local paper straight after the incident that he was "gutted" by this "straight-out vandalism", and took nearly a year to admit he was one of those involved. The actual chain-saw operator has gone bush, with a warrant outstanding.

Mr Shaw's history of bad errors of judgment began in 1993 when three protected trees tumbled on his development site in Alpers Ave. The council did not prosecute.

In 1997, he appeared before the Environment Court and pleaded guilty to the unlawful felling of trees on development sites in Epsom and Mt Roskill.

Judge Richard Bollard fined Mr Shaw $18,000 plus costs and warned if he reoffended, "The court will not treat such matters as lightly". He said the "experienced property developer ... has not seen fit to express remorse".

This time round we've certainly got the remorse. In addition, Mr Shaw has promised to contribute financially to a community tree-planting project and has paid $50,000 towards council costs.

Destruction of a "scheduled" tree - one specifically listed for protection under the district plan - is punishable by a fine of up to $200,000 or two years' in prison. Additional penalties are available for up to three times the value of any commercial gain derived from a breach.

On Friday, the council received independent specialist advice that the 1m-high remaining stump was "highly unlikely to recover its former structure or status". In other words, it is surviving on borrowed time and will never return to its 11m high by 20m spread, glory days.

With the tree occupying a site in an area zoned for intensive development, Ms Fryer despairs that whatever Mr Shaw's punishment, "eventually he will gain thousands [of dollars] as a result of this illegal action".

But possibly not. In 1992 the Clutha District Council took advantage of the new Resource Management Act to punish a developer for destroying a heritage site without a demolition permit or resource consent.

The destroyers of the unique Benhar Hoffman kiln were not only fined $56,500 for their illegal activities, but were ordered to repair the damage by rebuilding what had been knocked down - a costly exercise for those involved, and a salutary warning for any others who might be considering the pre-emptive demolition short-cut.

It seems there's no reason why the Benhar kiln model can't be followed in the case of illegally felled trees. City council heritage manager George Farrant says this is why the council takes development bonds of $50,000 to $250,000. That's so mature trees - not saplings - can be brought in to replace a damaged one.

In Herne Bay recently, he had to deal with a mature native tree that had been deliberately poisoned - 19 holes in the trunk. The owner said he loved the tree and was mystified by its fate. That being so, Mr Farrant got him to agree to replace it with a mature tree. To protect it further, a 4m-diameter circle, with the tree at the centre, will be permanently scheduled in the district plan.

This seems a solution that fits the Royal Oak site to perfection. A new mature tree for the neighbourhood with a magic "no development" zone round it to allow the replacement to spread - and to ensure no one profits from Mr Shaw's self-confessed "bad error of judgment".

Indeed, if he were to voluntarily agree to this, maybe even Ms Fryer could be moved to accept his apology.

Claire Harvey: If you can't ask mum, tune into Supernanny

Now remember," said the midwife, smiling that benign smile they must teach at midwifery courses, "walk or talk, don't shake."

The midwife, Sally, had come to visit a dear girlfriend of mine and her week-old baby, and we were all sitting in the living room having a cup of tea and listening to Sally say "mmm" (another midwifery-school trait) as my friend detailed the baby's progress.

Sally didn't look at either of us while she delivered her unexpected advice, just kept smiling directly at the still-squashed newborn face, dozing in the crook of her right arm.

It took a few moments for the meaning of this gentle warning to become apparent. What Sally's catchy little phrase meant was "no matter how vile and monstrous this baby becomes, don't you dare shake her". But there was no apparent evidence to suggest either of us was a closet baby-shaker, and the powdery snoozing rosebud didn't look capable of doing anything to provoke even mild irritation, let alone violence.

Neither of us could think of anything to say in response, so we all kept sipping tea in slightly embarrassed silence, apart from Sally's occasional "mmming" to the baby.

Sally wasn't accusing my friend of being a child abuser; she was just doing her job and making sure we knew that shaking babies was not a good idea.

Perhaps she felt a little self-conscious about having to say it at all, hence the averted eyes and gentle sing-song tone she used.

It was a little difficult not to take offence - of course we knew not to shake a baby, how could she even think such a thing? - but that quiet remark was an interesting insight into the world of parenthood.

Paediatric professionals must deal every day with new mothers and fathers who know practically nothing about children.

Fifty years ago, young women like my friend and I could be safely assumed to be reasonably competent child-wranglers. If we didn't already have children of our own, we would have at least watched and helped our own mothers and sisters dealing with babies.

We would have changed nappies and administered rusks and extracted scissors from small sticky fists, and observed that you can't stop the crying with a vigorous shake, no matter how tempting it might seem.

Today, many new parents must effectively teach themselves how to raise children, and cope with fevers and rashes and choking episodes without a grandparent or auntie or sister to call on for advice.

Humans have spent centuries acquiring all the little tricks of parenthood and passing that knowledge down the generations, but now many parents must learn it from scratch, alone or with just an equally uninformed partner for support; a prospect as terrifying for them as it must be for midwives.

That is where reality television comes in - the genre the TV snobs loathe most, the type of programming which is supposed to represent everything that is lowbrow and dumb about modern mass entertainment.

At first, shows such as Supernanny and Little Angels look like little more than more pseudo-documentary prurience, the opportunity for viewers to sneer with smug satisfaction at the sight of others' misfortune and bad behaviour.

There is definitely an element of that sort of schadenfreude on these shows; harried parents trying to deal with the hideous screechings of ankle-biters so savage and foul-mouthed they would be more suited to the parliamentary cross-benches than to kindergarten.

You might think exposing this kind of extreme carnage would turn prospective parents off having children, much as the horrors of Celebrity Treasure Island would turn off any sensible viewer from travelling to Fiji with washed-up rugby league players.

But the real message of Supernanny is that every child is potentially wonderful, with the right kind of parenting.

The real message is redemption; no matter how revolting the children are at the beginning of the show (like last week's mini-Satan, aged 5, who called his mother a bitch and split her lip with his right hook), Supernanny invariably proves that underneath they are just tiny souls in search of the right kind of love, the firm and safe and reliable kind. These kids want their parents to take charge; they're miserable at being allowed to go so wild that nobody can get close enough to hug them.

That's where this kind of telly is more than just entertainment, it's the education and support many of us don't get from our familial or social networks .

Reality programming might not have been what the drafters of TVNZ's lofty charter were thinking of when they exhorted "programming of an educational nature that support[s] learning and the personal development of New Zealanders", but the supernannies are a good deal more useful than some more superficially worthy shows which purport to inform or educate.

Peter Lyons: New terminology to describe old practice

The New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) has encountered a problem with an English standard in NCEA. Too many students were not achieving the standard. It has solved the problem by re-marking the students' papers, apparently according to an expected profile of how many students should pass.

To a jaded observer, "expected profiles of pass rates" seems to bear a remarkable resemblance to old-fashioned scaling. The situation would be farcical if there wasn't such a huge wastage of resources involved in chasing an elusive dream.

Standards-based assessment for a National Qualification such as NCEA suffer from a fundamental flaw. This could be called "the conundrum of consistency".

Pure standards-based assessment will never provide consistency between standards, subjects or different year groups on a national level.

There will be large variations between achievement rates within subjects, between subjects and between different groups of students each year.

This is not NZQA's fault. No matter how many CEOs are replaced or directives and clarifications are issued, the problem can never be resolved.

The issue has puzzled humans for thousands of years. Philosophers from early Greece through to the modern age have debated it. The problem is "what is knowledge?" and "what is truth?" As yet, no human being has been able to give a definitive answer to these questions despite thousands of years of debate and discussion.

This all sounds academic and obscure, yet the impossibility of answering these questions has been played out vividly in New Zealand in the ongoing debate about the merits of NCEA and standards-based assessment.

Countless meetings of teachers have argued the correct answer to various questions in their subject areas and there is always variance. Some will be far more stringent than others in their expectations and analysis of what is the appropriate answer.

To obtain unanimous agreement is impossible unless, as sometimes occurs, a strong character prevails and dictates the accepted answer. Debate is usually settled with a tea break and a concession that each teacher should apply his or her professional judgment. This is the nature of knowledge. It is open to debate about absolute truths.

The only discipline that lends itself to absolute truths tends to be mathematics. For this reason, some early Greek philosophers, such as the Pythagoreans, regarded mathematics as the essence of the universe and the source of true knowledge and understanding. Some maths teachers still believe this.

Without being dismissive, it would be a big call for NZQA and the New Zealand teaching fraternity to resolve an issue that has perplexed many of the greatest thinkers in human history. This leaves NZQA will a limited set of options as to how to solve the "Conundrum of Consistency" as it relates to assessment results.

The first option is to ignore the problem. This seemed to work well until the scholarship debacle last year brought the issue of inconsistencies of results to public attention. Ignoring the problem also leads to students making subject choices based on the perceived ease of passing.

This leads to distortions in subject choices and ultimately career choices. Inconsistencies in pass rates also quickly demotivate teachers and students.

Another option is to specify clearly the required knowledge for each standard. Teachers are told exactly what students must write or do to achieve the various levels of each standard. Teaching would be prescriptive based on the requirements of the assessment system.

This method of tightly controlled education has an interesting precedent from Europe's Middle Ages. During this period, knowledge and learning was rigorously controlled by the Roman Catholic church.

The church dictated what was meant by knowledge and truth. Learning was prescribed by the church hierarchy to prevent heresy. This system became known as scholasticism. It was stultifying and retarded any major advancement in knowledge for many centuries. It was eventually overthrown with the advent of the Renaissance and Reformation.

If education authorities in New Zealand decide to solve this issue of inconsistency using a prescriptive approach to defining accepted knowledge, the probable result will be a stagnant, moribund learning environment in our secondary schools.

Students will be taught the exact required answers for meeting the various standards. Original thinking will be discouraged because this will lead to failure.

There is anecdotal evidence this is starting to happen.

The least damaging option available to NZQA to ensure consistency of assessment is to profile expected student outcomes to ensure there is a degree of consistency in pass rates within and between subjects.

* Peter Lyons lectures in Foundation Studies at Otago University.

Winter now killing quake survivors

By Georgina Newman

A group of children huddle around a cooking stove as a weak winter sun starts to climb behind the foothills of the Himalayas. This is dawn at Mira Camp on the valley floor of the Lai Mountains in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan.

Winter has arrived and with it aid workers' worst fears. This week six children have died from the cold, the latest a three-month-old baby boy. It's the cruellest of ironies to survive the devastating earthquake of October 8 only to die a few weeks later just for the want of some blankets and winterised tents.

Things are only going to get worse in the weeks ahead. The United Nations Children Fund (Unicef) fears that at least 120,000 children are still without any aid in the inaccessible mountain villages and 10,000 children will perish of hunger, hypothermia and disease if they are not reached soon. The clock is ticking and winter's guillotine is poised to fall, severing all aid routes until the thaw next spring.

Already at Mira camp the grass is brittle with frost and overhead hang pallid yellow snow clouds. Cocooned by soaring mountains, Mira Camp is one of the few expanses of flat land in this region, which is why thousands of people have swarmed here for sanctuary against the encroaching winter.

Many of the inhabitants have either come from the smashed town of Balakot, or have trickled down from villages above the snowline. That trickle looks to turn into an avalanche as the bitter Himalayan winter sets in.

Memories of the earthquake are still raw - survivors need to tell their stories in a cathartic deluge of human misery and loss. Nisreen, a young woman recalls what happened that day.

She remembers: "People were agonising in front of us. Nobody cared about other people. There was no way we could help, surrounded by corpses, threatened by stones rolling from the mountains. Nobody dared to move.

"Later on, we tried to pull out the bodies, but they were putrefied. We had to tie on the arms and legs. It was constantly raining. We managed to make shelters from the bales of harvested crops. We laid out circles on the ground with our clothes to bring the attention of helicopters."

Nisreen tells me: "We all eat, but rations are barely enough. Still, I prefer to be here than in the first place we went. That was a spontaneous camp, which did not have tents - and there were only plastic sheets to cover us at night. It rained and the children were hungry for two consecutive days."

Nisreen is still worried. "There are still people up there. Last year we had three metres of snow, a long, hard winter - and this one will be much worse," she warns.

It is a chilling thought looking back up at the ominous mountains that surround Mira Camp to contemplate those who have been left behind, wounded, orphaned and unable to make the journey down the mountain. According to United Nations figures there are a million homeless, only 100,000 are in official Government relief camps and 800,000 are sleeping in the open.

Unicef teams have trekked into the highlands with vaccines to reach the most vulnerable and used barges to sail to the Black Mountains, never before reached by the outside world. Bundles of blankets and warm clothes are being heaved up mountainsides on mules or dropped by helicopters which swarm the skies.

These are all good signs, but fears remain that it's not enough. No matter how much aid is dropped, or money is raised nothing can stop the winter from coming.

Nisreen's main concern is to get her house back, but she needs security. "We had a piece of land and some animals, but it's all vanished. Somebody has to go there and ensure us that stones will not fall again from the mountainside." With her eyes fixed on the floor she says: "I am tired of being worried, I am tired of thinking about the future."

Admittedly the immediate future looks pretty grim. Although aid is gearing up, this region is a logistical nightmare. UN emergency relief chief Jan Egeland said: "We thought the tsunami was the worst we could get. This is worse."

Aid agencies are preparing people as best they can. Unicef has immunised 700,000 children against killer diseases such as measles that will take a child's life in a few hours in these conditions. They are also distributing a warm clothes kit for 53,000 children with a further 50,000 to follow in a few days.

Although official relief camps are primitive, they are at least providing the necessities to sustain life through winter. Many camps have established schools for children. For many this will be their first taste of education, especially for girls. Most importantly it gets children away from grieving parents and gives them a respite from the horror of the past two months.

There is no work for the men of the mountains. With their beards dyed saffron red they sit together and talk about the mass graves they left behind and how the rubble of their homes are now mausoleums.

"I want to go back, but I cannot," says camp resident Shafidal.

"The mountain was cut in half and my land has disappeared," he says from the dim interior of his tent. "The tents are too hot by day and too cold by night. The children wet themselves and there is no ventilation.

"We are not allowed to burn wood so we are only given a small, slow-burning cooker. How are we supposed to cook enough food for 10 people on this little stove?"

Shafidal squats down and rocks from his heels to the balls of his feet. He closes his eyes and says magnanimously: "We see this as a temporary situation that will pass. We trust in God that times ahead will be better".

* Georgina Newman is a journalist for Unicef NZ

Amalia Fawcett: Child poverty too complicated to respond to a quick fix

Following the news that 470 former Indian child labourers await a decision about their fate while factory owners pose as relatives to get them back to work, we need to ask why the causes of child labour have not been tackled.

These specific child labourers, who are being housed in a night shelter while the Government wonders what to do with them, bear a striking resemblance to children in Bangladesh who were removed from child labour in 1992.

About 180 million children around the world are involved in some of the worst forms of child labour. Although it is not the only cause, poverty plays a major role.

It is a fact that child labour is a transgression of human rights. It is also a fact that these boys in India, who range in age from 5 to 14, now have nowhere to go. Because the poverty causing them to work has not been dealt with, they risk being pushed into more dangerous occupations now they have lost their embroidery jobs.

This is what happened when the Child Labour Deterrence Act, commonly referred to as the Harkin Bill, was pushed through the US senate. It aimed to ban garments that were made using child labour from being imported into the US from Bangladesh. The bill was successful, monitors were trained and garment factories were inspected regularly to ensure no child labour was used.

Eight and a half thousand children left the garment factories, almost overnight, but the poverty that pushed them into work in the first place was still present and many ended up in increasingly risky money-earning schemes.

The children believed the campaign that lost them their jobs was an act of hatred, and many, like those locked up in India, wanted to work to help support their families.

It was considered a lesson learned. Officials involved in implementing the Harkin Bill admitted that they needed to have schemes in place to be sure when children are removed from child labour they have safe alternatives, their families have some steady income-generation schemes, and schooling is available.

Above all, the reasons they work must be addressed. Yet only 13 years after the Harkin Bill was first set in motion, the lesson is being ignored in India. If a family's income source is stabilised and schooling is provided for the children, they are less likely to be forced to send their kids to work.

Other schemes to free children from child labour have been successful because they target the reasons children are pushed into work. Programmes such as World Vision's Born to be Free initiative in Tamil Nadu state includes income-generation schemes for families whose children have been working.

Once a child is freed from the labour, they are sent to a transit school to help them catch up in their studies so they can join their peers in school or be retrained in a skill that can provide a steady income.

Schemes such as these acknowledge the situations of the families and the wishes of the children and target poverty at one of its sources by providing training and education for the next generation.

Poverty is a transgression of children's human rights and it results in other rights, such as education, freedom, a family life and the right to play, being taken away. But a solution is not simply to remove the children from work and send them home - it must target poverty and provide viable alternatives to child labour for families to gain an income.

* Amalia Fawcett is an advocacy/policy analyst for World Vision New Zealand.

Dr David Skilling: NZ must globalise its exports to survive

One of the most notable worldwide trends of the past 15 years has been the rapid, substantial increase in international trade and investment flows.

This intense international activity has allowed firms to substantially expand beyond their domestic borders and access new growth opportunities, generating much productivity growth.

The benefits that such economic activity generate are likely to be particularly significant for New Zealand, given the small size of our domestic market.

Indeed, increasing New Zealand's exporting and international investing activity is vital to raising New Zealand's productivity growth rate. But New Zealand has not been participating in globalisation to nearly the same extent as most other small developed countries.

Despite strong trade growth internationally, New Zealand's exports to GDP ratio has gone sideways over the past two decades. At 29 per cent of GDP, it is at the same level as in 1983. And since 1990, New Zealand's exports to GDP ratio has increased by just 2 percentage points, compared with an OECD average increase of 12 percentage points.

New Zealand's relatively sluggish export performance is not just a recent phenomenon, driven by the high value of the dollar. Of the 24 OECD member countries in 1971, New Zealand's export growth ranked 23rd over the next few decades. And, if anything, this trend has become more pronounced over the past 15 years.

As a result, the level of exports to GDP is low relative to other developed countries. This is particularly the case relative to other small developed countries that are more reliant on exporting to generate national income.

The average level of exports to GDP in OECD countries with populations of 10 million or less is 54 per cent, almost twice the level in New Zealand.

New Zealand's export composition is an important reason for the slow growth, with 81 per cent of its exports by value being in categories that have grown less rapidly than average world export growth.

It is also losing export market share in more categories than it is gaining share. And compared with the type of change observed in other countries, there has been relatively little movement in New Zealand towards higher growth goods and services over the past few decades.

New Zealand firms can also go global by investing directly abroad, either by making new investments or by buying foreign firms. However, its international investing performance does not compare well with other developed countries. At 9.5 per cent of GDP, New Zealand's stock of outward foreign direct investment (FDI) is about one-third of the developed country average.

Uniquely among OECD countries, New Zealand's stock of outward FDI has reduced since 1990, from about 15 per cent of GDP. This is due to retrenchment by many New Zealand companies, the sale of New Zealand companies to foreign investors, and FDI outflows that have been among the lowest in the OECD.

This reduction in New Zealand's outward FDI contrasts sharply with what the OECD describes as "rampant cross-border activity" by developed countries over the past 15 years. The level of outward FDI has more than tripled across the developed world, from 10 per cent in 1990 to 27 per cent in 2004.

The bulk of the New Zealand economy is domestically focused and few New Zealand firms generate the majority of their earnings from overseas. Over the past 12 months, only 50 New Zealand firms exported more than $75 million and only 361 firms exported more than $25 million. New Zealand's exporting and foreign investing activity is dominated by a small number of large companies, such as Fonterra, Zespri, and PPCS.

As a result of this domestic focus, the potential size of many New Zealand firms is constrained by the scale of the the domestic market. Although many of New Zealand's listed firms have some international component to their earnings, it is rare for these firms to be internationally focused with a majority of their earnings coming from offshore.

Indeed, New Zealand has very few genuine multinationals compared with other countries of similar size. To illustrate this point, New Zealand has just one company on the Forbes Global 2000, whereas Ireland has 8, Finland 15, Singapore 13 and Australia 38.

Overall, New Zealand's international performance over the past 15 years in terms of exporting and outward FDI does not compare well with other developed countries. New Zealand's international performance has not kept pace with the substantial increases in international trade and investment flows across the world.

And worryingly, this divergence seems to be growing rather than shrinking. Bluntly put, the world is globalising but the New Zealand economy is not.

Given the importance of meaningful international engagement for improved productivity growth in New Zealand, these outcomes are of real concern. Although there are some positive developments in terms of companies competing successfully in international markets, the materiality of this activity needs to be significantly increased.

Going forward, the pace of change and the intensity of competition are likely to increase further as China and India continue to integrate into the global economy and as companies become increasingly global in reach.

These developments will increasingly impact on New Zealand's exporting and investing performance. This globalisation process provides a substantial opportunity but it is simultaneously a major challenge.

The world is not hanging around for New Zealand and a change in New Zealand's course and speed is urgently required.

The good news is that achieving a significant improvement in its international performance in a short period of time is possible. Many small developed countries have substantially increased their exporting and investing activities over the past decade, and there is no reason that New Zealand cannot do likewise.

However, this will not happen spontaneously. And it will not happen if our response is limited to listing the reasons for New Zealand's relatively low levels of international economic activity, such as our isolation from major markets. Rather, the focus must be on identifying the actions that will lead to a substantially increased level of exporting and international investing by New Zealand firms given the challenges of going global from a small, remote country.

This is not an easy task. Improving New Zealand's international performance in a material way will require deliberate, sustained attention and action from both business and Government. But making progress here is fundamental to New Zealand's economic prospects. And the sooner we start, the better - New Zealand needs to get back in the race.

* Dr David Skilling is the chief executive of the New Zealand Institute, a think tank comprising business, community and education leaders. The Institute's reports are available at www.nzinstitute.org

Allan Barber: Weak dollar prospects cheer farmers as global commodity prices soften

The best news for the agricultural sector is that the long predicted fall in the exchange rate is looking more likely reasonably early in the New Year.

The overseas markets for New Zealand's commodities are all looking softer than for some time and, while there will be some that do better than others, the general prospects are not as exciting as before.

The report published last week by the New Zealand Institute highlighted that two-thirds of our exports are farm and forestry based compared with world trade being 75 per cent in manufactured goods and components. There has been little change in the composition of New Zealand's exports, which have remained static as a percentage of GDP, only 29 per cent compared with Ireland at 80 per cent.

It's time to lift the overall performance of an economy in which only 10 firms account for half our exports. Although this figure ignores the fact that the agricultural companies are supplied with produce by thousands of individual businesses - dairy, pastoral, horticultural and forestry producers - it indicates an unbalanced, if not one-dimensional, business environment.

This should not be taken as a criticism of commodity exports or the agricultural sector, without which the economy would have been in a much sorrier state than it is.

Nor does it suggest that agriculture should lose focus on improving its product specifications, food standards compliance and environmental performance.

The challenges for next year are not just about maximising market prices for the benefit of farmers, producers, processors and workers, in the face of a rampant dollar.

It appears that the structural imbalance within our economy, which has driven a boom in consumer expenditure for the last few years, will finally be redressed, which will put pressure on businesses and the Government to invest in improved productivity to stimulate employment.

Besides the concern of the market and the exchange rate, the agricultural sector also faces the challenges of water supply, extremes of climate, resistance to animal health remedies, soil sustainability and the supply of scientists and skilled workers.

Results of meat processors and exporters show that 2005 was a lot harder than 2004, although this had as much to do with the weather conditions and the flow of livestock, as with the market.

Fonterra succeeded in meeting member expectations for a payout above $4, but this depended on some stringent overhead cost reductions, more than any lift in the market price.

Kiwifruit has done well to hang onto good sales in the European and Asian markets, but the dollar has ravaged returns to growers by 20 per cent as against last year.

We are well aware of the sad state of the apple industry caused by oversupply of fruit in major markets.

The success of our wine industry only represents a drop in the bucket, depending as it does on premium prices for small volumes into the main markets.

The reality is that agricultural exports cannot continue to take the place of further processed, manufactured production.

The amount we export is seriously constrained by our productive capacity and how much the market is willing to absorb.

In fact the actual volumes of product grown and exported have decreased over 50 years - New Zealand no longer sends thousands of tonnes of frozen meat, unprocessed wool and milk powder overseas with little added value, but the product mix, quality and value have changed markedly.

But it needs more than a fair exchange rate and some high technology exports to supplement the efforts of the rural sector.

* Allan Barber is a freelance writer and business consultant and former chief operating officer at Affco.