New Zealand's abundant rivers have been central to its reputation as a land of natural beauty – but are its waterways as sparkling as the tourist ads suggest? by Naashon Zalk 31 AUGUST 2017   I had lived in New Zealand for two years in the early 2000's. In 2015, I moved back here. I was astonished to see how much the country had changed in those 15 years. It has become wealthier on the back of an urban property boom, mass immigration and the explosive growth of intensive dairy farming which began back in the 1990s. I also discovered that the country is harbouring a disturbing secret, little known to the rest of the world: its freshwater is in severe crisis. Two-thirds of New Zealand's rivers are too polluted to swim in and half its lakes are irreversibly damaged. This pollution, say many independent environmentalists, scientists and economists, is primarily a by-product of the laissez faire growth of the country's dairy industry. The government, dairy industry, and irrigation lobby disagree. They say it's a legacy of over 100 years of farming.  I set out to investigate why New Zealand, a country which markets itself as a clean, green paradise, has in fact got disturbing water pollution problems which only appear to be getting worse.  While I was researching the story an event happened which I believe has been pivotal in awakening New Zealanders to the dire state of their freshwater. In August 2016, the tiny town of Havelock North, on the east coast of the country's North Island, was incapacitated by an outbreak of campylobacter in their drinking water. Over 5,000 of its 15,000 inhabitants were made ill by the bug and three deaths were later linked to the outbreak.  Upon investigating the Havelock North water poisoning I was alerted to an even bigger, and more pertinent story in the wider Hawke's Bay area. The regional council had been striving for years to get a controversial billion-dollar irrigation scheme off the ground, called the Ruataniwha Water Storage Scheme. But as I found, local and national opposition to the dam, especially after the Havelock North contamination outbreak, was becoming more vocal.  I quickly realised that this was a crucial part of the story. The growth of New Zealand's highly profitable dairy industry has, to a large extent, been made possible by irrigation schemes which deliver the massive volumes of water needed to produce milk. Every litre of milk produced requires about 1,000 litres of water. The most irrigated region of New Zealand is Canterbury, on the east coast of the country's South Island. It has seen significant economic growth on the back of dairy farming but, over the same period of time, has also seen a drastic decline in the quality of its waterways. Opponents of the dam in Hawke's Bay were worried that the same environmental degradation would take place in their region if it went ahead. They were also concerned that the council, hell-bent on the scheme, were ignoring glaring flaws in the dam's business case. New Zealand, a country which markets itself as a clean, green paradise, has disturbing water pollution problems which only appear to be getting worse [People & Power] Freshwater pollution A regional election, coming only a month after the Havelock North debacle, was gearing up to become a referendum on the dam and it gave me the perfect vehicle to explore the arguments. At the time, the nine-member council was divided between five pro- and four anti-dam representatives. All it would take to thwart the dam was for anti-dam councillors to win a single seat. And the winning of that seat would have national repercussions, because the Ruataniwha project was seen as the poster child for other planned irrigations schemes, most of them along New Zealand's drought prone east coast.  Eager to understand their vastly opposing views I followed the election campaigns of two local politicians. Alan Dick, a regional councillor, was one of the dam project's originators. The other, Paul Bailey, is a former bank manager turned green politician. He was running for office for the first time under the slogan "Can The Dam".  On the surface, the arguments of the pro-dam lobby sounded very reasonable. I was told the dam would alleviate drought concerns, boost economic growth and improve the quality of rivers it fed into by flushing away pollution. In tandem with constructing the dam, much stricter environmental regulations would come into play to keep contamination below an environmental limit which was set by the Environmental Protection Agency.  But as I investigated further I found what seemed to be serious flaws in their arguments. And indeed, upon examination, the commercial case for the dam didn't seem to add up either. As you'll see, these are documented in the first film - and continue into the second episode in which I also look at allegations of high-level political interference in the project and other related issues.  Over the many months, I've spent investigating this story, anxiety and anger about freshwater pollution has grown to make it New Zealand's top environmental concern - and now, reflecting many of the same arguments I'd encountered in Hawke's Bay, it's also become a key issue in the country's current and ongoing general election campaign, which reaches a climax on September 23. Barely a day goes by without the problem being reported in the media here and seemingly everyone has an opinion - whether they be environmentalists arguing for a better way of managing a vital natural resource or dairy farmers who are angry at what they see as grossly unfair criticism of their role in the crisis. The fury of the latter - and they are a powerful lobby in New Zealand - was brought home to us several times on location when our attempts to film generic roadside shots of dairy cattle were interrupted by the animals' suspicious owners.  My main hope is that some of the questions raised by these films will contribute to the debate around New Zealand's freshwater problems - problems that all agree will have to be addressed by whichever party takes office after the election. One thing is certain, urgent action on pollution cannot be delayed. Editor's note: On August 30, as these two films were being prepared for broadcast, Hawke's Bay Regional Council announced it was withdrawing support for the Ruataniwha dam, leaving the project's future in some doubt. Nevertheless, with the current New Zealand government and many in the powerful dairy industry continuing to be strong supporters of irrigation schemes, it may be too soon to write the scheme off entirely.   Source: Al Jazeera News

By Sonya Bateson Whether voting for National or Labour, we all want what is best for our country. Photo/file     In five days' time, we will find out who will be running our country for the next three years. At this point in the race, there's no clear winner. Some polls have National ahead, others Labour and, when you add the minor parties into the mix, it really appears like either major party could form a government. The suddenly tight race seems to have bought out the worst in many people. It was once a point of pride among New Zealanders that we would choose who to vote for based on a party's policies rather than which side of the political spectrum the party claimed. It's not unusual to hear of people who have voted for different parties throughout their lifetimes. This may be the first close race we've had in almost a decade but the amount of hate people have been throwing at those with differing political views seems to have risen exponentially. I believe it's partly a hangover from the American election. We got caught up in the hype and everyone had a view on whether Hilary Clinton or Donald Trump would be a better president, which then translated into what type of person you supposedly were. The rhetoric used by American voters is seeping into New Zealand - it's not unusual to hear the very American-sounding insults snowflake, fascist and libtard being bandied around by Kiwis. The last thing we need in New Zealand is to become partisan like in America, where the party you vote for becomes a part of your intrinsic identity rather than a reasoned choice. At the end of the day, we all want what is best for our country, regardless of our political views. We can each have our own beliefs while showing respect for others who think differently. Source: Bay of Plenty Times

Laureates have grave concerns about Trump's anti-science agenda as well as his recent rhetoric on nuclear war by Julia Conley   Trump's brand of populism was named as a major threat to scientific advances in a survey of 50 Nobel Laureates. (Photo: Michael Vadon/Flickr/cc)   Along with nuclear war and climate change, President Donald Trump has made the list of what Nobel Laureates consider to be major risks to the world population. In a survey of 50 Nobel Prize winners in the sciences, medicine, and economics, more than a third of the respondents said damage to the environment brought about by issues like over-population and climate change, was the biggest threat to mankind. Twenty-three percent said nuclear war was their top concern, while six percent said theirs was "the ignorance of political leaders"—with two of the winners naming Trump specifically. Peter Agre, winner of the chemistry Prize in 2003, told the Times Higher Education, which conducted the poll and released the results Thursday, that "Trump could play a villain in a Batman movie—everything he does is wicked or selfish." He also called the president "extraordinarily uninformed." The survey also found serious concerns among the respondents about the brand of populism pushed by Trump as well as right-wing European leaders. Forty percent of the Nobel winners called Trump-style populism, characterized by his distrust of climate science and the media, and political polarization "a grave threat to scientific progress, while 30 percent say that they are a serious threat." "Today, facts seem to be questioned by many people who prefer to believe rumors rather than well-established scientific facts," said Jean-Pierre Sauvage, who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry last year. Another laureate added, "it is a disaster when people start believing things that are false and, even worse, when governments induce them to believe facts that are evidently wrong and ignore all evidence-based, scientifically proven data." The Times Higher Education noted that "Agre is particularly worried by how Trump 'flaunts his ignorance' to appeal to a group of Americans who are happy to dismiss the opinions of scientists." It's not the first time some of the world's top scientists and doctors have publicly expressed disapproval of the president. Earlier this year, 62 Nobel Laureates signed a petition denouncing Trump's executive order directing U.S. agencies to ban travellers from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.     Source: Common Dream

Sarah Pilcher Policy Fellow, Mitchell Institute, Victoria UniversitySeptember 10, 2017 3.41pm EDT Australia still lags behind comparable OECD countries in the participation of younger children – particularly three year olds. Shutterstock/Photographee.euQuality early education can set a child up for life, allowing them to develop to their full potential. High quality and affordable early learning opportunities need to be a reality for all children in Australia. A new report from the Early Learning Everyone Benefits campaign (ELEB) tracks progress across a range of different early childhood education and care (ECEC) measures. It shows that while the National Partnership on Universal Access to Early Education has driven significant rises in preschool participation in the year before full time school, Australia still lags behind comparable OECD countries in the participation of younger children – particularly three year olds. It also highlights the persistent correlation between socioeconomic status and early childhood outcomes in Australia, as well as the diversity and fragmented nature of our early childhood sector. Child development Research shows a strong correlation between socioeconomic status and developmental vulnerability at the start of school. In 2015, one in five children started school developmentally vulnerable. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds are more than twice as likely to be developmentally vulnerable at the start of school, and this number increases to two in five for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. The effect of disadvantage is evident across all areas of development, and is not changing over time. This gap between the most advantaged and least advantaged children, in both learning and well-being, creates significant challenges for an education system already struggling to reduce the gap in achievement. Participation The ELEB report shows the National Partnership on Universal Access to Early Educationhas driven significant rises in preschool participation in the year before full-time school. In 2015, 91% of children participated in 15 hours per week, which is within reach of the 95% target. All states and territories, except New South Wales, met the target in 2015. However, it shows Australia still lags behind comparable OECD countries in the participation of younger children – particularly three-year-olds. Only 89% of four- year-olds, 62% of three-year-olds and 35% of Australian children aged birth to two participated in early childhood education and care in 2015. We continue to rank below the OECD average for the participation of three-year-olds and four-year-olds, although we have had the fastest growth of any OECD country over the past decade. The low rate of participation among three year olds in Australia is of particular concern. Research indicates that two years of a high-quality preschool program delivers better outcomes than one year, especially for children who are developmentally vulnerable. Diversity, complexity and quality improvement The Australian ECEC sector is complex, with a diverse mix of funding streams (all levels of government and families contribute), provider types (for profit, not-for-profit, government, community managed and private) and delivery settings (long day care, family day care, sessional preschool and school-based). There are strengths to this diversity, but it can create challenges for coherent policy. State and territory governments share responsibility for early childhood education with the federal government. Early education systems across each state and territory are varied and have differing proportions of community, private and state education department providers. Although the National Quality Framework (NQF) has laid a solid foundation on which to build quality in the sector, the process of assessing all early learning and care providers has taken time. At the end of March 2017, 88% of services had been assessed, with 73% “meeting” or “above” the National Quality Standard. In addition, competing policy objectives continue to create complexity for policy implementation. For example, the federal government’s new Jobs for Families Child Care Package, centred on reform of the childcare subsidy scheme, has a focus on parents’ workforce participation. But the NQF focuses on improving learning outcomes, and the National Partnership Agreement focuses on building participation. Unaligned policy objectives can result in tensions, such as between raising standards of care and ensuring childcare is affordable. They can also deliver adverse policy outcomes: for example, when eligibility requirements for funding reduce access to early learning. Investment Australian governments are recognising the benefits of early childhood education, which is reflected in their investment. Total Commonwealth, state and territory government expenditure on ECEC services was $9.1 billion in 2015–16, compared with $8.8 billion in 2014–15. Federal Government spending on early childhood services has grown rapidly over the past decade, from $2.9 billion in 2006–07 to $7.4 billion in 2015–16. State and territory government spending on early childhood services has also seen an upwards trend. However, it should be noted this has included funding received from the federal government through the National Partnership Agreement. Western Australia and South Australia spend the greatest proportion of total budget expenditure on early childhood services. New South Wales spends the lowest. When it comes to per-child spending on early childhood services, the Northern Territory spends the most, at $1,116 per child aged birth to 12 years in 2015-16. Again, New South Wales spends the least, at $246 per child. Where to from here? While Australia has lagged behind comparable countries over recent decades, the National Partnership Agreement has been a significant turning point. This long-overdue investment from governments to provide all Australian children with access to 600 hours of preschool education in the year before school has paid off enormously. It also shows what can be achieved when federal, state and territory governments work together. However, there is more to do. Now is the time not only to continue this commitment, but to extend that access to high-quality, age-appropriate early education programs for three-year-olds. We need a system that can deliver two years of quality preschool programs, as well as access for all Australian children during their crucial first five years of early development - wherever they live and whatever their family circumstances. Source: The Conversation AU

Even this self-consciously egalitarian society, which was first to give women the vote in 1893, is not immune to social and economic inequality  'Wild west' coast north of Greymouth on South Island, New Zealand. Photograph: Alamy ​​​​​​​Michael White   What's it like in paradise these days? It's a good question to ask in the dark days of winter, especially since I am currently in a position to give a tentative answer. Did I say that I have been in New Zealand for a month and that the summer there, often as unreliable as our own, has been terrific this January and February? We encountered only one wet day in a month. It sounds pretty good and it was. But as the poetic paradise specialist John Milton could have predicted – he was a young man when the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman first encountered the Maori "land of the long white cloud" in 1642 – paradise has its problems too. Many of them are much like ours. It's a point worth making during a cold European February in the fifth year of economic gloom. Of course, some things are peculiar to New Zealand, slightly larger than Britain but with a population of just 4.4 million. There are blood-sucking sandflies (yet not a single predator that kills humans) and regular earthquakes, occasionally lethal like Christchurch's double hit. The shattered city centre is still boarded up like a war zone, though downtown shops have reopened in portable buildings. On the remote South Island beach where we attended a family wedding, there was a tsunami warning a few days after we left. Possums, a preserved species 900 miles away in Australia, are regarded as vermin in New Zealand to which they were exported (and where they thrived). Thanks to the Kiwi film director Peter Jackson, Hobbits are a more popular import. The Middle Earth location site is now a tourist attraction. As for relations between whites and Maoris (14% of the population) they are complex and can sometimes be tense. Yet the latter have a more prominent and secure place in the life and culture of their shared country than any pre-Columbian native people that comes to mind elsewhere. Where else are ex-colonialist whites content to refer to themselves as pakeha, the word the Maoris use? In any case, it may be Asians – 9.2% of the population and a growing chunk of the tourist market – who most shape the country's long-term future in the coming Pacific century. It must look very green, warm and attractive to Japanese and Chinese tourists. Empty, too. But NZ's similarities with our own north Atlantic archipelago are also striking. The day I arrived, the New Zealand Herald's spread of stories included a plea for Pharmac, the Kiwi equivalent of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, to sanction use of a costly new miracle drug and a boast by the conservative prime minister, John Key, that his move to weaken trade union bargaining rights had clinched the deal to film The Hobbit locally (along with a controversial cash subsidy). The edition also noted rising concern over luxury house prices and a simmering culture war over gay marriage. Sounds familiar? David Cameron's EU referendum pledge also got a decent show – for old times' sake. New Zealand is still far more British – and less American – than Australia, but the old ties have steadily weakened since the UK joined the embryonic EU in 1973 and forced NZ to look to wider agricultural markets in Asia and to economic diversification. It has tackled the challenge with serious ups and downs but overall success. New Zealand is a much more outward-looking and sophisticated place than it was. What else? There was a contaminated milk scare which alarmed New Zealand's customers in China (which has had far worse milk scares of its own) and a loudmouth Ukip-style MP called Richard Prosser also gained news coverage overseas – as we say down under – for suggesting that young Muslim males from "Wogistan" should be barred from using respectable airlines. The ensuing uproar was much as it would be in Britain. In my experience you never see poverty in New Zealand as you might in poorer neighbourhoods in the US or Europe. Mainly Maori towns have a subdued quality (says me) and health and education, income and crime stats all point to lower achievement. But it's not Detroit or even Tower Hamlets. This remains an unflashy society, basically decent, social democratic in tone, one which gave women the right to vote in 1893 – the first country to do so in modern times – and pioneered many social reforms. It also reversed some of them in the 80s. International studies today confirm that even self-consciously egalitarian societies such as New Zealand and France (where women got the vote in 1944) are not immune to global trends towards social and economic inequality. Swimming on one of NZ's wide sandy beaches – you can often get one to yourself – the visitor can't help but notice how grand some of the second homes are now becoming. What were once simple wooden huts – known locally as baches – are now transformed into three-storey mansions, self-consciously glamorous. The flip side of this is a coalition of unions and community groups campaigning for a "living wage" of NZ$18.40 an hour which, at current exchange rates of around $2 to the pound (it was $3 last time I was there) is around £27,000 a year for a couple with two children. Although the country is an efficient food producer Kiwi food does not feel cheap. Nor does its lovely wine. Unemployment is slightly lower than in the UK, but a lot of kids grow up poor. I could go on, but won't. You get my drift. There's a row over the exemption of charter schools from freedom of information requests, another over perceived weakening of the country's "clean, green" environmental standards, so important to Hobbit-seeking tourists. The rising dollar – NZ is another of those elusive "safe havens" for foreign savings – hurts exports and investment. "We can't grow more agricultural land," one farmer reminded me. Mainzeal, the third biggest construction firm in the country, has just gone into administration, the victim of overambitious financial engineering by a Chinese-Kiwi owner and of a string of carelessly sealed flat roofs which have generated crippling bills for leak repairs in major buildings. It's not always sunny in paradise; it's often very wet indeed. And it was design and construction flaws in the local TV building that accounted for more than half the 185 deaths in the Christchurch earthquake. Did I mention the Royal NZ Navy depending on Australian sailors – "cobbers" to Kiwi headline writers – to keep afloat? Or overcharging by telecom monopolies in both countries, which governments threaten to tackle, as governments do? I don't think I mentioned NovoPay, the newly computerised system which has wreaked havoc with Kiwi teachers' payslips for months. And there's familiar concern about stabbings, muggings and murders; 12 killings so far this year – which is a lot among 4.4 million people. None of which detracted from the family wedding at a hippie-ish place called Gentle Annie on the "wild west" coast north of Greymouth where the Pike river mine disaster cost 29 miners' lives in 2010. Most of the 120 wedding guests were outdoor types who arrived in 4x4 vehicles with surfboards, rafts, kayaks, kids and dogs, even a pony with its own portable electric fence. They camped, swam, fished and celebrated, then left much as Bedouin tribesmen might. Lovely. The bridegroom, a thoughtful mining geologist and migrant from Clay Cross in Derbyshire, drew my attention to dark smoke emanating from the nearby coalfields which feed China's voracious steel industry. There's been a fire raging underground there for 40 years, he explained. Even in a remote corner of paradise, the finger of global pollution disfigures the blue sky.   Source: The Guardian

Mateship is what makes Australians happy and the over 65s are the happiest, according to a new national survey on the nation's emotional wellbeing. The Australian Psychological Society's (APS) Compass for Life survey has found people who connect with family, socialise with colleagues and are actively involved in their local community are the happiest people in Australia. Those who spend a lot of time on social media, which is designed to bring people closer together, feel higher levels of loneliness and negative emotions. Out of the 1000 adults and more than 500 adolescents, aged 13 to 17, who took part in the survey, those aged 65 or older scored significantly higher levels of wellbeing and lower levels of loneliness and negative emotions than the rest of the population. People aged 25-34 scored significantly higher on loneliness than adults 35 years and over. Although money and wealth were rated in the top three things that come to mind when asked what makes a good life, household income was unrelated to wellbeing. Overall, most reported a positive sense of wellbeing and 75 per cent reported human connections and social relationships as being key to happiness. Other factors respondents linked to a more satisfied life included: getting a good night's sleep, keeping active, engaging in relaxation, eating well, having a hobby and 'living in the moment'. APS executive director, Professor Lyn Littlefield says its encouraging to know many Australians know how to enjoy the moment rather than re-living bad things or worrying about the future. "I think we've learnt to focus on what we're doing at the time and get what we can in terms of enjoyment and pleasure and achievement." Prof Littlefield says the survey results highlight how important it is, even in our busy lives, to get a better balance to ensure we foster relationships. "For human beings social connections are really important and for people who don't have them that's something we should help them foster and develop and you need to put effort and time into it."   Source: Sarah Wiedersehn, Australian Associated Press

Echo Voices is now on mobile

Download our app to stay online every where you go

Download Echo Voices on App Store Download Echo Voices on Google Play