Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Sideswipe

Sheep Magazine, "the voice of the independent flockmaster", is published in Wisconsin by Countryside Publications. Sister publications include the topical Backyard Poultry Magazine and the fascinating Dairy Goat Journal Magazine. True.

By Ana Samways

Kath Kennedy, who left her car at the DVD shop, walked back to work and then thought it had been stolen, is not alone. Tooki Proctor of Titirangi did something similar. "When I was a nanny I did the very same thing with the dog. Went in back entrance of supermarket, tied dog up outside. Came out front of supermarket, visited other shops, walked home the other way and got there to find dog missing ... moment of panic, then back to supermarket to find patient mutt with head resting on paws and a forlorn look in his eyes."

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Wet And Forget guy Rod Jenden, who was gently lambasted in Sideswipe for his take-no-prisoners approach to insect extermination (What would Ruud Kleinpaste say?), wants his right of reply. "As usual some of the radio listeners have selective hearing. I regularly explain on radio that we do not endorse the wholesale slaughter of spiders. We are talking control in selective areas ... where they build webs all over the weatherboards or where we get white-tailed spiders living in the wood pile ... If you give me the complaining reader's address I will send him a pack of Miss Muffet's Revenge so he can take care of the bug lodged in his backside."

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Yesterday Sideswipe had a go at Winston Peters being confused and thinking Fiji is part of Polynesia. Te Kohu Douglas begs to differ. He writes ... "Does Polynesia describe a cultural area or a physical geography? Whether you classify Fiji by its social structure, linguistically, by its culture, or by the physical (somatic) type of its indigenous people, it is part of Polynesia. The western boundaries of Polynesia are not as clearcut as most school maps would have us believe, and this applies especially to Fiji, which straddles a rather indistinct boundary. Whatever measure you use, the east of Fiji is Polynesian and the further west you go, the more Melanesia (and Asian) the people and landmass becomes. Besides all that, if you think Fiji is not Polynesian because of its Melanesian links, then Mt Roskill is not Polynesian either because of its Pakeha (and more recent) Asian and African links."

Sideswipe replies: The answer is a physical area. Unless someone changes the geographical map boundaries of Polynesia, Melanesia or indeed Micronesia, that's where it is. If the map's wrong, how come the planes land there OK?

John Armstrong: Great speech - pity about the delivery

It was several minutes of abject failure punctuated by a few moments of utter triumph - but how sweet that triumph must have been for National.

Don Brash's speech on the first day of Parliament had long loomed as a major test. But National's post-mortem on his reply to the Prime Minister's formal statement of her Government's plans should take heart from what went right rather than dwell on what went wrong.

Though Dr Brash appeared to have been mowed down by Labour's version of the St Valentine's Day Massacre, he effectively carried the day. For the first time in his short parliamentary career, Dr Brash really took the fight to the Prime Minister, questioning her integrity after Labour's cynical use of the public purse to top up its election campaign funding.

He noted she had put her signature to Labour's pledge card, whose production and distribution the taxpayer funded to the tune of nearly $450,000. Observing that Helen Clark had once proudly stressed she was accountable for the card, he challenged her to be as good as her word and pay the money back and apologise.

The smirk on the Prime Minister's face remained fixed, but Labour's relentless barracking of Dr Brash suddenly came to an abrupt halt, if only momentarily.

And it was the attack on Helen Clark that made last night's television news bulletins, giving National a victory outside the House even though Labour understandably believes it otherwise walloped Dr Brash inside.

Crucially for National, Dr Brash has confronted his reluctance to recognise Parliament as a vital platform into the country's living rooms.

Yesterday witnessed the first outing of the new, angry Brash - jabbing his fingers on his benchtop for effect.

Labour's response was to mock him more. As Pete Hodgson noted, Dr Brash does not do angry very well.

Dr Brash did struggle to match the anger levels in what was the best parliamentary speech he has written or had written for him.

On paper, it was an absolute cracker. Unfortunately, no one in the House could hear much of it.

Labour MPs indulged in a barrage of interjections to drown him out. They succeeded in fazing him. He ploughed on as if it was a race to finish first. His delivery became mechanical, the passion fizzled and he lost his timing on many punchlines.

Last year, colleagues would have come to his rescue, raising points of order and demanding the Speaker silence those making the noise.

But doing that would have made it look like he couldn't look after himself. Dr Brash and his colleagues seemed to have decided he was on his own. It was sink or swim time.

He should have confronted his tormentors by pausing and glaring at Margaret Wilson to bring the House to order. But Dr Brash still has difficulty thinking on his feet.

Winston Peters summed things up when he spoke following Dr Brash.

"It is one thing to fumble your way through a staged, captive audience like at a Rotary Club meeting. It is quite something else to turn up here and front up and perform."

Which, of course, Mr Peters proceeded to do with consummate ease before joking that while it might be the Chinese Year of the Dog, for National, it was the Year of the Lame Duck.

That was harsh judgment. In Parliament, Dr Brash is now not so much swimming like a duck as dog-paddling.

It isn't pretty, but on yesterday's evidence, he might start getting somewhere.

Editorial: Election spending deception

Nothing arouses public cynicism of politicians quite so much as the issue of election spending. And nothing could be calculated to cultivate it more than the aftermath of the 2005 poll. A court challenge in the Tauranga seat that focused on the question of allowable spending had barely concluded when the National Party admitted it had spent $112,000 more than it should have on broadcasting. Now, the police are investigating the $446,000 of parliamentary funding that the Labour Party spent on its pledge cards.

Accompanying all this has been a barrage of weak excuses and fudging: it was an accident, the law is unclear, the law is outdated, or that is only what we have done in the past. What a long-suffering public draws from this is that when it comes to election spending, no holds are barred. Parties will stoop to virtually anything to exploit what they see as a loophole, real or potential, in the electoral law.

It is equally clear that shortcomings exist because politicians of all persuasions want them to. They, after all, are the law-makers. It is they who have tinkered endlessly with electoral legislation and they who revel in a system possessing the clarity of mud.

For that very reason, they are now happy to repeat the exercise. After the High Court decision confirming National's Bob Clarkson as the victor in Tauranga, Deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen said he expected the justice and electoral select committee to look at the spending rules. Again, a token gesture or two can be expected but, still, the boundaries will remain hazy, because it is in the interests of all parties that they are so.

A stop must be put to this deceitful cycle. That can be done only if reform of election spending is, in the first instance, taken from the hands of politicians. This would be accomplished if the Law Commission, acting in concert with the Electoral Commission, was asked to draw up a set of unequivocal rules. Canada's Law Commission has made recommendations on electoral reform. There is no reason why its counterpart here should not delve into the same area as part of its brief to provide independent reviews of areas of the law that need updating, reforming or developing.

It would take courage for any Government to initiate this. Relinquishing control is never easy. But the step must be taken, given last year's critical report by the Auditor-General, the heightened stakes associated with a police investigation and the degree of public disenchantment. Equally, it is unsatisfactory for the judiciary to have to wade through such murky territory, as was the case with the Tauranga seat.

The High Court reached the correct decision in that instance, but clarification of the spending law would render it redundant or, at the very least, make its task far easier.

In the final analysis, of course, it would still be up to Parliament to accept the advice of an independent review and to frame it in legislation. Thus, there would always be the opportunity for prevarication or backsliding. Just how great the temptation would be is indicated by the extent of multiparty agreement on the issue, and the disinclination to extract serious political capital from the present instances of discomfort.

All that can temper that urge is an acknowledgment by politicians of the public disdain for the present situation. And a recognition of the pressure for the implementation of serious reform. That must be forthcoming. Even then, vigilance will be required to ensure there is no abuse of the new law. Old habits die hard, the more so when much is thought to be at stake.

Brian Rudman: Just what we need - another transport body

From today's birth and deaths notices: "Cullen-Parker. The Hon. Michael and Hon. David are delighted to announce, as ministers of Finance and Transport, they have conceived a new miracle child to help solve Auckland's transport problems, the Auckland Passenger Rail Reference Group. Birth to be induced, 31 March 2006.

"News of the impending arrival is being greeted with much excitement and surprise by AUPRARG's many brothers and sisters, including ARTNL, ARTA, Ontrack, ARC, TPC, ATPAG, Transit NZ, Land Transport NZ and all the cousins at Toll, Connex and various territorial councils."

No doubt some tears were shed too, of despair, I suspect, rather than delight.

The ministers wants the new body to provide "a more formal mechanism for resolving differences" among the Auckland Regional Transport Authority, Ontrack, the government agency controlling the rail tracks, and Land Transport New Zealand, the government funding agency.

It's part of the pre-Christmas hurry-up package delivered to the regional council and the regional transport authority (ARTA) by the ministers demanding some short term action on the rail front. Their priority, say the ministers in a letter presented to yesterday's regional transport policy committee meeting, is "significant improvements in passenger rail services ... over the next three years." They say leave the long-term stuff until later. That includes electrification.

If, after six years in power, Dr Cullen is looking for some action on the rail front, then so would most Aucklanders. But is another body dreamed up in Wellington to referee the disputes of three earlier Wellington-created organisations going to help? We just want some new trains running on under-used rail corridors, fast-tracking of the bus corridors, and completion of crucial and long-delayed roading projects.

Given that all the orders on this subject - and much of the money - seems to comes out of Dr Cullen's office, maybe it's time to drop the pretence of diverse "independent" bodies making "independent" decisions on Auckland's transport future. Why doesn't the Government just bite the bullet and set up one all-encompassing regional transport authority (which ARTA was sold as), come to a deal with local politicians about who will fund what, and then let the new authority get on with it?

Prime Minister Helen Clark also had a few words to say about Auckland's transport infrastructure in yesterday's state of the nation speech. Nothing in the way of a solution, just breast-beating about Auckland not being able to realise its potential "if people and goods cannot move rapidly through it".

She seemed to be softening us up for road tolling, worrying that "high oil prices have reduced fuel consumption, and therefore reduced revenue from fuel tax" and that "pressure on construction capacity has been escalating costs."

But on the road front at least, it mightn't be quite as gloomy as the Prime Minister makes out.

A report by ARC analysts to yesterday's transport policy committee suggests there's very little correlation as far as Auckland motorists are concerned between fuel price and consumption. Between July 2004 and October 2005 anyway. Sure, there was a decline in volume sold between July-September last year when prices rose, but that proved to be a seasonal thing, not price related.

The boffins then got out their crystal ball and calculated what might happened when petrol prices really soared - up by 50 per cent to 200 per cent of today's prices.

Unsurprisingly, congestion on the roads fell as usage dropped and vehicle speeds - for those who could still afford to drive - improved by 3 per cent to 14 per cent in the morning peak. Another plus was that injury crashes and pollution levels dramatically declined.

The modelling also predicted passenger transport demand increasing by up to 21 per cent by the time fuel prices trebled.

We all know Peak Oil - the time when demand for petrol outstrips nature's ability to supply - is nigh. The only question is when. A US Department of Energy graph lists dates stretching from 2006 through Shell Oil's "2025 or later" to someone's optimistic "no visible peak."

Helen Clark says the Government will be "working closely with transport agencies, local government and Auckland stakeholders and communities to meet the goals we have set for major improvements [in Auckland land transport infrastructure] over the next decade".

Of course an alternative would be to keep consulting and forming committees and praying Peak Oil strikes sooner than later. With luck, road congestion would then cure itself.

It's a pity, though, that no one got round to electrifying the rail for all those who could no longer afford petrol.

Fran O'Sullivan: Without urgency, they're simply words

Prime Minister Helen Clark wants business to believe the Government is finally up for changing the wheels on the 747.

In Clark's words, that translates to moving to "the next level in the economic transformation agenda" to ensure more globally competitive firms, higher productivity, investment and skills levels and more innovation.

But if the Government wants the business sector to believe it is intent on a "step change" (the Government's cliche, not mine) it needs to go a lot further than simply staking out the intentions Clark enunciated through yesterday's speech from the throne.

She road-tested Labour's so-called New Agenda at a recent briefing for chief executives who are members of the Hugo Group. Some CEOs, particularly those the Prime Minister consulted as she formed her post-election Cabinet, believe she is showing renewed determination to grapple with the key issues facing New Zealand.

Others believe that while she is sprinkling her rhetoric with worthy pledges to deliver, for instance, "world-class" infrastructure for Auckland and "generally lifting the level of ambition of what can be achieved for our country", there is no real evidence that the proposed policy changes will result in anything other than a snow job. Or that the Government will set national goals and measure its own performance against forecast outcomes on an annual basis.

It is fair to point out that while Clark was briefing the select group of CEOs, longtime Finance Minister Michael Cullen was preparing the ground for a rhetorical shift of his own - from promoting a Government economic agenda that has become captured by process to a more outcomes-oriented agenda, not of the reformist hues of the 1980s/1990s, but to a more internationally oriented policy process. There is little difference between the pair at rhetorical level, judging by yesterday's speech and the the content Cullen is divulging in his one-on-one briefings.

But CEOs should ask for more than the happy-clappy stuff so far on view.

If you think this is harsh, look at how Clark singled out the Hui Taumata (a big election year talkfest for Maoridom) as an indication of how the Government could attack economic change.

Nearly 12 months after the hui, there is precious little evidence that the stirring rhetoric has led to action that goes any way at all towards addressing the changes Maoridom must make to move on from institutionalised victimhood.

If business is not to fall into the trap, again, of simply being a Government cheerleader, it needs to hold the Clark Administration's feet to the fire over the economic priorities the Prime Minister has staked out.

First: A major review of the "structure" of business taxation.

Yesterday's speech omitted the words "bold" and "urgent", or indeed any changes United Future leader Peter Dunne (now Revenue Minister) spoke of when he first promoted the big concession he gained from his post-election support deal with Labour.

Clark said proposals would be prepared for public consultation mid-year. But far from being implemented next year, as Dunne last month indicated was still his plan, the proposed implementation date has already slipped to be April 2008 - coincidentally election year.

Cullen indicated the changes would be creative and bold. Not simply cuts at the margin for the company tax rate, which would make New Zealand more competitive against Australia, but a company rate which is more competitive on an international scale.

This is frankly not good enough, given that New Zealand is now so far behind other OECD countries and the Asia-Pacific nations at the headline rate level. A Government intent on bold changes would have ensured officials, augmented by private sector secondees, burned the midnight oil over the Christmas break to ensure legislation was ready to introduce this year. The outstanding issue, and probably the one that really matters, is whether Cullen can do "bold" after years of holding up the status quo.

The bold outcome would be to wipe company tax altogether and use a raft of indirect taxes to make up the revenue shortfall, including those that would promote the switch to using capital (not just cheap labour) to re-engineer the economy.

Second: A fresh look at regulatory frameworks.

Clark said feedback from the business sector suggested that higher-quality regulation would lead to more growth and investment and "we want to engage with business" on how to achieve that.

Note: The emphasis is on "quality" not on reducing regulation.

Third: New initiatives to get faster internet access and at more competitive prices.

The Government has finally woken up to the fact that Telecom's failure to deliver broadband and internet services at an internationally competitive rate is a major economic roadblock. In truth, the Government compounded the problem by not dealing to Telecom two year ago when it was already armed with sufficient evidence to become a legislative trust-buster.

Yesterday, Clark played up the international metrics which show how New Zealand has continued down the path to being a technological laggard. She portrayed, and this will be welcome by business, an intention to deal with the issue "as a matter of urgency" by addressing policy, legislative and regulatory settings.

The major challenge, as Cullen made clear, is how to deal to Telecom without attracting a major legal retaliation from the army of lawyers it has assembled: "It's the 800-pound gorilla - they're powerful, we've got to be careful what we say."

Fourth: Science and research funding will be boosted.

No detail is attached to the Government's intention to develop a more secure funding path. Its rhetoric is still focused on its own asset base, not on the type of radical tax changes that would help to pave the way for the private sector to commercialise more innovations. Business needs to push harder.

Fifth: The Government will refocus spending programmes to more directly affect productivity, innovation and export potential.

Frankly, after the instances of the Government's own mates sucking at the state teat, a change is long overdue. But even more Government spending should not be at the expense of changes such as the reduction in company taxes, which will ensure a more neutral outcome.

Sixth: Sector strategy development alongside industry will be important in key areas such as food and beverages, where a taskforce is working, and in primary sectors that face challenging international market conditions.

These are code words for reintroducing policies that look suspiciously like a rerun of the state-trading enterprises. It will be difficult to make sensible changes on this score without attracting a backlash at WTO level from the European Union, which puts such help, mischievously, on the same level as export subsidies. A more useful policy would be to refocus New Zealand Trade and Enterprise.

Seventh: Rolling out major infrastructure programmes.

What Clark neglected to point out yesterday was that the critical decision "on how best to guarantee power to Auckland for the longer term" was supposed to take place before last year's election.

It was put to one side because the Government was worried about the electoral effect of television footage showing farmers protesting at Transpower's plan to put major new transmission lines across prime Waikato and South Auckland properties.

If the Government was really intent that Auckland should be a "world-class" city, the "firm decisions" would have been taken last year.

The Government has also signalled an intention to deliver on long-promised roading projects. But already the rising oil price has reduced fuel consumption and excise revenues, and construction costs are escalating. Imagine the outcome if the Government had cleared the roadblocks earlier.

Eighth: Meeting New Zealand's Kyoto commitments and maintaining the integrity of our environment.

Cynics will note that Clark even gave US President George Bush a tick for saying the "United States must end its addiction to oil".

She said New Zealand must also be at the forefront of the new, cleaner technologies and biofuels, and of sustainable development. But she omitted moves that would matter, such as a bid to join the US-led Partnership on Climate Change, which is focused on the new technologies, or getting out of the Kyoto Agreement.

There's plenty more of interest to business - such as the Government's intention to lift the value of the tertiary education spend and move ahead on trade agreements.

But the Government will have to make a much bigger "step change" and apply some urgency to convince business that what is on offer is a "New Agenda" and not simply "Catch-up Time".

Jim Eagles: Why we are waiting

One aspect of travel that really irritates me is being told to report to the airport hours before the flight, then having to spend most of the time wandering around the shops looking at things I'm never going to buy, having cups of coffee I don't need, or sitting bored in some sterile departure lounge.

Why do the airlines ask you to get there two hours - or three in the case of the United States - before your flight when your check-in takes only a few minutes?

I have sometimes suspected it's a cunning ploy to force passengers to spend money in the airport shops.

But the other morning I reported two hours in advance for a red-eye flight from Auckland to Melbourne and not only was it too early for the customs and immigration officers but most of the shops and cafes hadn't opened.

Why did the airline tell me to turn up so early that the airport wasn't ready for me? Why couldn't they let me sleep in?

For that matter, what is the point of airlines having bigger and faster planes, or introducing fancy internet booking and electronic check-in systems if the end result is that you spend more time in the terminal?

Ed Sims, general manager of Air New Zealand's international airline, says the answer to all my questions is that the extra time spent waiting is necessary to comply with security regulations - especially those emanating from the United States since September 11, which can be "very time-consuming".

"Sure, sometimes you'll have the experience where there are no problems and you're whizzed straight through with a lot of time to spare. But other times, if there's a hiccup of some sort, even three hours may not be enough."

Sims, and other airline people, point out that there's a lot that has to be allowed for in the two or three hours, including:

* The possibility of check-in delays because of a sudden rush of passengers (at Auckland International Airport the biggest bottlenecks are from 9am to noon).

* The need to allow time for extended family farewells before checked-in passengers head to the departure area.

* The requirement for check-in staff to carry out more thorough identity checks and, in the case of the US, for passengers to provide a street address, including a zipcode, for where they'll be staying.

"This is adding considerably to check-in times because a lot of people don't know about the requirement and sometimes don't actually know exactly where they'll be staying," Sims says.

* The requirement to send information on each passenger to the US Transport Safety Authority so checks can be carried out before the aircraft arrives.

* The requirement to x-ray all bags, and check each piece of luggage and reconcile it with the passenger list for each aircraft - especially if there are problems with the automated baggage system, as has happened at Sydney and Auckland.

* The possibility of bottlenecks at border control at peak times, although passenger flow has been improved by the new facilities at Auckland.

* The need to allow time for passengers to do their duty-free shopping.

"There are always some people who think they have more time than they really do, or who get so immersed in the shopping that they forget about time altogether." Sims says.

* The need to allow time for people who forget their gate number or have difficulty finding their way there.

* The requirement to do a further passport and identity check in the departure lounge before passengers board the aircraft, which has extended the boarding time.

* The time needed to get between 300 and 400 people on board a plane, a problem which will be exacerbated when the new Airbus A380 planes, capable of seating up to 600, come into service.

* The reality that some passengers will arrive late and have to be rushed on board. "People don't very often miss out," says Sims. "That's one of the advantages of an airport the size of Auckland. The queue-combing for late passengers is effective and we almost always can rush latecomers through - though we don't recommend passengers counting on it."

* The fact that aircraft doors have to close 10 minutes before departure time.

When you go through that list, it's hardly surprising that, although the regulatory authorities don't actually decree how long before the departure time passengers should report, the airlines feel, as Sims puts it, "they have filled us so full of requirements that have to be complied with that we don't have much room for manoeuvre".

So it seems in the short term there's no great prospect of that changing.

Sims says New Zealanders will just have to join the rest of the world and accept that they can no longer turn up at the last minute.

"In the United States or Britain, people are so used to congestion that they build in extra checking-in time to allow for the fact they they will be held up at some point.

"I'm afraid that in the present security environment Kiwis are going to have to be educated to do the same and turn up when they are asked to."

But, in the long term, there is some hope. Sims reckons the advent of fully automated baggage checking, increased online booking and seat allocation, and greater use of electronic systems for check-in will save time eventually.

In the meantime, the good news is that something may at least be done to make the gate lounge a better place to wait.

"Part of our thinking in terms of encouraging people to go to the gate earlier is to work with the airport companies to make the lounges more enjoyable environments," Sims says.

"That's obviously a matter for the airport company but it's also a matter of us indicating what sort of investment we'd like them to put in.

"For instance, when we know there are going to be delays we already move plasma screens into the lounge to give people something to look at, but I think that should become standard practice."

Until that happens, your best bet is probably to take an extra book to read in the lounge because, unless you're a keen duty-free shopper, you're likely to be spending a lot more time in the gate lounge.

Ian Spellerberg: Built-in designs to take out the trash

Guy Salmon, the long-serving campaigner for the environment, has floated the idea that New Zealanders rethink their approach to environmental policy and try being a bit more Nordic.
It's an interesting notion - one that might make many people rather defensive - to suggest that we are in some way less capable of environment stewardship than the Swedes, Finns and Norwegians.

However, there is much information to suggest that the Nordic nations are indeed consistently more successful in achieving their environmental policy objectives. New Zealand's performance has been patchy at best.

Salmon, and others, have hit on one of the issues in environmental policy that is frequently overlooked - the need for clear targets and the milestones we need to reach along the way. The Nordic countries set high level goals, with cross-party agreement, and hand over the implementation of environmental policy to an independent board comprising some of the country's most trusted individuals. They set the targets and milestones and implement the necessary policy initiatives.

It is not my intention to advocate for one system over another - simply to stress that there are many approaches to policy development and implementation. Ours might be the best. Or then again it might not be. Surely we would do well to look above the minutiae of our current process, beyond the detail of discretionary hearing timeframes, permitted activity lists and suchlike, and consider the alternatives.

An alternative might focus more on setting bold national targets. Sweden and Norway have these, but by and large New Zealand does not.

I am reminded of the role of targets not only by research, but also by the practical experience of working through a waste minimisation project for tertiary education providers in Canterbury. All of the Big Four providers - Lincoln University, University of Canterbury, the College of Education and the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology - are working on waste minimisation together.

It's an enormous task for the education sector, with a student population constantly on the move. And what becomes clear immediately is that so much of the effort that goes into a waste minimisation programme is providing "end of pipeline solutions".

It makes you wonder what the Swedes and Danes would do.

I would hazard a guess that they would spend little time on collecting, separating and sorting the torrent of waste materials that comes out of a university or polytechnic. If you are constantly dealing with the outflow, it becomes too hard to reach the next waste reduction target.

I suspect the Scandinavians would focus on designing waste out of the system, by requiring goods to be designed for reuse, disassembly, or for total recovery using Design-for-Environment (DFE) principles.

This would inevitably require some form of regulatory response. In the Nordic countries, which all have strong market-led economies, it's likely that a mandate against wasteful designing would be supported - because of its direct connection with the country's high-level environmental goals. One can only wonder how this idea would be received by the business sector in New Zealand.

Waste minimisation in New Zealand is full of economic complexities and behavioural issues and the fear for companies and organisations is that, without clear targets and milestones, their efforts could be a waste of time.

Companies will benefit from an immediate reduction in waste disposal costs, and fulfil a moral obligation to divert wasted resources from landfill built at huge cost.

But how can they be effective in the long term when there is such a heavy dependence on voluntary compliance and the exercising of individual choices? Why shouldn't there be some assistance in the form of design standards?

All it would take is a directive from Government that the business sector must provide products that deliver safety, functionality, environmental sustainability and aesthetics - and in that order of priority. In other words, nothing should be designed, manufactured and sold until such standards have been reached.

If that could be achieved, we might also see a major shift in the way products are promoted and the type of attitudes to waste that commonly prevail. We need to look no further than prime-time television to see how wasting and wastefulness has become institutionalised in our lifestyles.

Think of the rash of home improvement programmes that hurl tonnes of materials into rubbish skips, as they race against time to get the job done.

The message conveyed is that it's okay to buy new materials, scrap the old ones and bury anything we don't want in a very large pit, for our grandchildren to deal with when we're gone.
Environmental responsibility depends on so many drivers - from product design, to responsible consumption, effective targets and the setting of behavioural norms through, for example, the content of programmes beamed into our homes.

Canterbury's tertiary institutions are demonstrating their natural inclination towards what environmental policy people and Nordic folk refer to "long-termism" - thinking about how our activities today will impact on people in the future - and swinging into action together to scale the waste mountain.

One can only hope that other sectors will start thinking differently too, and set their sights considerably higher than the soft waste targets and non-targets in our current national policy framework.

* Ian Spellerberg is Professor of Conservation at Lincoln University, and chairs the University's Environmental Task Force.

Tapu Misa: Judgment a balancing act

It's not often that a television commercial gets us giggling and thinking in our household, but that "togs, togs, togs, undies" Trumpet ad is that rarity.

We even remember that it's advertising icecream and not "budgie-smugglers" - those immodest, stretchy bits of fabric that my boys, who prefer the more discreet boxers and board shorts, are too cool to wear.

The ad asks a profoundly important question for our times: when do togs become undies? It answers it by showing a young man walking away from a beach in his skimpy Speedos - togs, togs, togs - and wandering the streets - undies, undies, undies - causing consternation among parents of young children and old ladies.

When do togs cross the line into undies? When you can't see the sea. Treat that budgie-smugglers rule with respect, says the voice-over, and we'll all be happier. Or words to that effect.

Simple, really. In matters of Speedo-exposure as with so much else, it's all about context and perspective. How things look almost always depends on where you happen to be standing.

You can take it as read that we're not talking here about clearly demarcated rights and wrongs - black and white issues on which we can all agree. It's those problematic grey areas where the lines aren't drawn in thick, black, rigid strokes (unless you happen to live somewhere like Iran) but in invisible ink (which can change position, inconveniently for those who like absolutes and certainty), that cause the most angst. Like fault lines, we're only ever aware of them when the earthquake hits.

Which makes it difficult to always know when the line has been crossed. When does something cross that apparently fine line from decent to indecent, from provocative to incendiary, from persuasive to bullying, from challenging to gratuitously, grossly, unacceptably offensive?

The unsatisfying answer is: it depends. Which brings me, belatedly, and somewhat reluctantly, to that cartoon business. I say reluctantly, not because I fear for my welfare or the country's trade prospects (the latter, as far as I'm concerned should never enter into any journalist's consideration), but because there's no clear line to be drawn here. And for that, I am profoundly grateful.

Fence-sitting? Perhaps I am, but this is what comes of arriving at the issue late, and catching up on a week's developments and commentary in one online-sitting. The upside is that you get an instant overview (big surprise: Muslims are almost as divided on this as the West). The downside is that after reading umpteen opinion pieces, I'm already tired of it.

Should the Dominion Post and the Press be condemned for publishing those Danish cartoons? I went in search of the offending cartoons so I could make up my own mind, so who am I to criticise those editors for allowing their readers to make the same judgment?

But should this mean that the media outlets which did not reproduce the cartoons - the Herald, Britain's Fleet St (were they displaying previously unheard of sensitivity or making a commercial decision not to offend their Muslim readership?), and most major American newspapers - are a bunch of spineless wusses who've sacrificed free speech to appease the most brutish element of the Islamic world?

Call me boringly reasonable, but I don't think so. Neither position seemed indefensible to me, even if some of the justification offered up for public consumption looked self-serving on close inspection.

I find it comforting that, in a free society, people of good conscience made up their own minds and came to different conclusions. We don't have a clearly marked line, beyond which we should fear to tread. That our media failed to react with one mind, whether or not we agree with the decisions they reached, is an outcome that should please us all. There is no correct conclusion. There are only judgment calls.

This won't please those who feel in their bones that religion should be a no-go area for cartoonists, satirists and media. I don't agree with them. Implicit in the right to worship and revere, is the right not to. I can't help feeling that God, Jesus, Mohammed and religion in general, including the Catholic Church, are big enough to take a joke, even a tasteless and poorly executed one. I'm more concerned with the cartoons' racist overtones.

Those who see the decision not to publish as pandering to extremist demands, and yet another example of Western civilisation imploding from an excess of misplaced tolerance, sensitivity and niceness, won't be thrilled, either. But the right to free speech, though a precious one, has never been absolute.

Even Salman Rushdie, whose 1988 book The Satanic Verses put his life on the line, appears to concede this. Writing in the UK Independent this week, Rushdie claimed a victory for the champions of free speech, for having won critical amendments to the Racial and Religious Hatred Act passed in Britain last week. The legislation now provides a legally binding expression of British freedom of speech that is extremely broad and deep. Unless an intent to provoke hatred can be proved, British citizens now have the statutory right to express their views, no matter how offensive those views may be to others. The so-called right not to be offended, which never really existed, has been abolished by law.

Balancing rights with potential harm isn't an exact science, but a British judge had no trouble drawing the line in the case of the radical Muslim cleric, Abu Hamza, whom he sentenced to seven years' jail last week for soliciting murder and inciting racial hatred during his vitriolic sermons.

Mr Justice Hughes told Hamza: You are entitled to your views and in this country you are entitled to express them, up to the point where you incite murder or incite racial hatred.

Phil Rennie: Bad manners to blame politicians

As an exuberant child of the 1980s I had many excuses for my misbehaviours and public rudeness. But I never thought to blame David Lange or Roger Douglas.

Sociology Professor David Bedggood says rudeness and boorishness are increasing in New Zealand society, as a consequence of economic reforms of the 1980s and a ruthless every-man-for-himself attitude.

But is this true? Are we really a more selfish society? And if so, is it all the fault of market reforms?

There's no doubt that publicly acceptable standards of behaviour have changed.

For example, it is no longer rude to address someone you have just met by their first name, but it is considered highly offensive to light up a cigarette in their house. This wasn't the case even 30 years ago.

But proving there has been a definite decline in our civility towards each other is more difficult.

Research by the Centre for Independent Studies in 2002 shows that measuring civility is a slippery task. There are a range of different measures we could look at - things like the rise of abusive language, violence, the level of donations to charity, and membership of sports and voluntary groups - but even then the data can be conflicting and the causes hard to separate and quantify.

Even if we accept that New Zealand is a ruder and more selfish society, it is drawing a long bow to blame things such as road rage and obnoxious behaviour on market reforms.

Bedggood claims that New Zealanders now have a much more ruthless attitude to collective responsibility and the welfare state. But the welfare state in New Zealand is bigger now than it has ever been.

Despite rising prosperity and jobs, we still have nearly 300,000 working-age adults dependent on benefits. This hardly makes us a more caring society.

Anyway, do free-market policies necessarily encourage selfishness and bad behaviour? I doubt it. You don't become successful in a market economy by trampling over people, as the tired old Marxists believe. You succeed through trading your products and/or skills, which entails building good relationships and taking responsibility for your actions.

Bedggood even acknowledges this, when he says the answer is to take more control over our own lives. Unfortunately his solution, rejecting a market economy in favour of collective control, does the opposite.

Frank Field, a British Labour MP and anti-poverty campaigner, blames the welfare state for a decline in the ethic of respect and the rise of Britain's yob culture.

He takes the view that behaviour worsens when people know they won't have to take responsibility for their actions, because they know that the state will support and reward them, no matter what.

Largely though, Field places the blame on family breakdown and the lack of good role models for children. The large rise of single-parent female-headed families means that many boys grow up without mature, responsible male role-models.

It is within family life that people first learn about consideration for others, not from economic policies introduced 20 years ago.

As family life has collapsed for large proportions of our society, so too has civil virtue, says Field.

It's certainly more convincing than blaming everything on politicians.

* Phil Rennie is a Policy Analyst with the New Zealand Policy Unit of the Centre for Independent Studies, an Australia-based public policy think-tank.