Saturday, May 12, 2007

You can get out any time you like, but you can never leave

It's very interesting to see how Australia is handling the planned Australian Cricket team's tour of Zimbabwe, especially when compared with New Zealand's more hands off approach to the same issue.
John Howard has announced that the Australian Government will ban the Australian players from going on the tour, apparently by using government "powers over [players'] passports".
While I think it is great that the tour won't be going ahead, and its even better that Mugabe won't be receiving the proceeds of the contractual fine which would otherwise be levied on the ACB by the ICC (unless the Zimbabwean government or the ICC are able to make the Australian government liable for the fine), this is still pretty worrying.
In this case, it seems pretty clear that the ACB, and the individual players are not keen to take part in this tour, and that the travel ban will probably be welcome. However, the prospect of a government banning people from leaving the country on political grounds is quite disturbing. While I sympathise with Howard's objectives here (and no, I never thought I would say that either!), I think it could have been achieved in a much less disturbing way, either by the australian Gvoernment issuing a travel advisory recommending the avoidance of travel to Zimbabwe, which the ACB could then use as an excuse not to tour, or by the Australian government agreeing to indemnify the ACB for any losses or fines incurred. This would also have allowed the ACB to make a principled stand on their decision to not tour Zimbabwe, rather than pretending it is not really their idea not to tour!

Friday, May 11, 2007

It all depends on where you look....

So Winston has found another stick to beat immigrants with. He is right to say that immigration leads to increased inflation, as spending by immigrants pushes up prices, especially for housing. While he is right about this, it is a pretty typical case of looking at only part of the picture, in order to get the answer he wants.
Firstly he is ignoring the beneficial side of the money immigrants bring to this country. The inflationary impacts of this really are just an unfortunate by-product of the extra spending, which is necessary for our economy. If asked to choose between an economy that is growing, along with a little inflation, and an economy where there is no inflation, and no growth, I would be very quick to choose the former. He is also ignroing all the other benefits that immigrants bring, both in terms of their (usually skilled and motivated) labour, and the intangible benfits of diversity.
Finally, I think he is overstating the extent to which inflation is really a problem. Inflation in NZ is lower, and tracking down. I think Winston is quite right to say that the Reserve Bank Act needs to be change to broaden the focus of monetary policy, in order to require a focus on New Zealand's wider economic interests, rather than solely on inflation. However, I think that viewing immigration as a negative thing because of its inflationary impact, while ignoring its wider benefits, while accusing Alan Bollard of being too narrow in his focus, is quite ironic, and unwarranted! Its actually a shame that the useful remarks Winston has made on inflation will inevitably be overshadowed by this latest dog-whistle on immigration.

Thursday, May 10, 2007


Much amazement has been available in the slowly unfolding car wreck that has been Subway's handling of one of their employees sharing a drink with her friend. Not only have Subway apparently entirely misjudged the amount and nature of public interest and feeling in this issue, they also seem to have blundered badly in terms of their adherence to employment law.
On the first count, it has been interesting to see the apparently cross-partisan support for this unfortunate woman. Even DPF has come out in support of her. One can only imagine what the other Subway franchisees think about their Dunedin-based counterpart dragging their brand through the mud!
I initially assumed that this dismissal would be substantively ok, procedurally dodgy, and politically stupid. Turns out though, this dismissal looks like being as substantively illegal as it was unwise. Trawling through various employment law databases as I was today, I found a case which was quite similar to the Subway case, and which suggests that unless Subway settle this pretty promptly, they might be in for an embarrassing time in the ERA/Employment Court.* Of course, thanks to the legendary minginess of our courts, any award given is fairly unlikely to be overly generous!
Essentially the case cited above involves a Hoyts employee who ate some popcorn without authorisation. The ERA was pretty scathing of the employer's conduct, and despite the occurrence of a technical theft, reinstatement was ordered. The amazing thing is that the Subway franchisees in question apparently haven't chosen to check the legal situation before sacking this woman. One can only assume that a person with the capital to buy a Subway franchise could afford a couple of hours of a lawyer's time to devise a plausible disciplinary proceedure. come to think of it, why didn't Subway head office either have a proceedure in place themselves, or at least intervene at an early stage to rescue their brand from the inevitable damage.
For the record, the employer in Hoyts actually followed a stronger proceedure than in the Subway case, and had a stronger substantive case too. As such, it seems likely that Subway are either going to have to settle, or fac an embarrasing and public day in court.
*Here's the citation, if you're into that sort of thing. HOYTS CINEMAS (NZ) LTD (HOYTS MOORHOUSE) v JACOB [[2002] 2 ERNZ 638] (Palmer J, 20 December 2002, Employment Court, Christchurch ( CC29/02))

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Silver linings

It was hardly surprising when the black caps were eliminated in the semi-finals of the cricket world cup by Sri Lanka, they reach the semi finals frequently, but are yet to advance into a final.
Less predictable though, was today's feeling of relief that they were eliminated before the final! At least that way, they did not have to be involved in today's farcical final. The match was stopped for bad light three overs before the end, and the scoreboard declared Australia the winners. Ground staff even started erecting the podium for the presentations. The umpires then decided the match was not over, and either play would have to resume, or the game would have to be completed tomorrow, despite the fact that an Australian victory was a foregone conclusion. Eventually the Sri Lankan players returned and play was resumed, in near darkness.
Technically, the umpires were correct, but the whole thing was just so disorganised, as if their was no co-ordination, or any plans as to what to do if the light deteriorated. surely twilight is foreseeable? How can the ICC hope to have the confidence of the cricketing world, or hope to expand cricket into new territories if it cannot co-ordinate the showpiece of its own major tournament? The other question is, why was the game scheduled for a venue without lights?

Friday, April 6, 2007

Great Easter Traditions

We have a few Easter traditions in New Zealand; Creme eggs, hot cross buns....and whining about the Easter trading laws!
Why is it that people just find it so hard to deal with the shops being closed for two (non-consecutive) days? I am not at all religious, but I think Easter is a really important chance for people to have a break with their friends and family, and maybe even discover that not all pastimes have to involve the purchasing of consumer goods. And of course, if you really need to buy some stuff, you could always do it on one of the other 361.5 days of the year when the shops are allowed to open!
It also really irritates me that people frame this as a freedom of choice issue, given that the staff who would be forced to work at Easter would not have any real choice in the matter. They will be directed to work, simple as that. Personally, I remember my father having to work publc holidays, and he was never "asked" to work. He just had to work.
In fact I would like to see the list of exceptions to easter closing narrowed, and the fines for breaching the laws increased. I think the fine should be a certain percentage of sales for the day, and the exceptions should be reduced to only include fuel and restricted hours for small shops and restaurants. If that inconveniences some tourists, well, thats sad, but can't they find something to do outdoors? Surely they can cope with waiting one day to buy that greenstone pendant?

Monday, March 26, 2007

Patching it up

What an unedifying spectacle Michael Laws provided on Campbell Live tonight. Campbell had a reasonable go at holding him to account, but the item really did show up the futility of trying to discuss even a simple political story in five or six minutes.
Laws seemed to have two justifications for banning gang patches, a measure which combines that oh so appealing mix of freedom abridgement and ineffectiveness!
1) Gang members commit lots of crimes, so we really ought to introduce a law to allow us to prosecute them. The question one has to ask is, if they are committing so many crimes, why can't the police prosecute them for those crimes? Is this just providing a handy stick with which a lazy/incompetent police force can beat the gangs?
2) Gang members intimidate people, even when they arent committing crimes. The problem here is twofold. Why should we criminalise a certain form of dress, just because it makes others uncomfortable? Also, does Laws imagine the average Mongrel Mob member is going to stop being intimidating, just because their patch is removed? He might have to ban tattoos, leather jackets, bandanas and menacing expressions as well. Maybe we should just have a Laws approved dress code and be done with it!
I don't have any affection for the gangs. But the thing about civil liberties is, you can't just protect them for people you happen to like.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Another thing I have been thinking about recently, which is linked to climate change, is New Zealand's power generation methods. Currently we rely on big power plants, be they Hydro, gas, geo-thermal or coal. This is quite inefficient, as much of the power generated is lost in transit. This is especially so in the case of the big South Island Hydro plants, which are located well away from New Zealand’s main population centres.

It seems to me that we ought to move to smaller, local projects to reduce this wastage, and to reduce our dependence on one particular type of energy. Currently, if there is a drought in the South Island, we are in deep trouble! This does not mean that we will generate less electrical from the big Hydro projects, just that they will produce a lower proportion of our power.

Specifically, I think we should be increasing our use of commercial wind farms, and investigating tide-based generation. These forms of generation are clean, and will help to diversify our sources of power. Also, they can be sited closer to centres of population. The Kaipara and Manukau Harbours spring to mind as good sites for tidal power, close to Auckland. Ultimately, I think people are going to have to accept the widespread installation of wind generators, as part of the price of continued secure, cheap, and cleaner energy.

We should also be encouraging households to install solar and small wind generators on their own properties. If each household could generate even 10-20 per cent of their own power, this would significantly reduce our dependence on large, new developments. As it stands now, solar generation is already cheaper than other forms of generation. A solar panel pays for itself in 3 to 5 years of operation. The only losers from households generating their own power are the commercial generators and retailers of power.

By giving incentives to households to install their own clean, cheap power source, we can reduce our reliance on big, central projects, lower the cost of electricity, and reduce our carbon footprint. Ideally, we might be able to permanently decommission our coal and gas plants, possibly retaining them as back-up generation options.

These options seem to me to be a pretty easy choice to make. Cheap, cleaner energy, with greater efficiency and security.