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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

NZ road rules - second to none

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NZ had finally decided to change its antiquated road rules. In its wisdom some years ago, NZ bureaucrats decided to develop a set of unique road rules which even its smartest intellectuals would not abide by. These road rules are interesting because they attempt to embody 'politeness' into driver road rules. The scheme was a blatant failure. Why? Because people are inherently self-interested. The 'polite society' succumbed to the realities of human nature.
I am not even going to bother describing these silly road rules. Why? Because they are so counter-intuitive, you will start to have nightmares. But get this - these road rules - which no one follows - will not be changed for another 2 years. You might wonder why because the logic is that they should come in after the 2012 Rugby World Club. Why? I guess because NZ loves the opportunity to suffer longer, and because it wants to utterly confuse foreigners with its 'unique culture'. And I guess it does not mind losing a few more lives in senseless accidents. Oh, and I guess it never occurred to people that what comes naturally to people will be an easy adjustment. Expatriate NZ'ers will thank you for sparing them any more confusion.
Rather than waiting until 2012 to apply the changes, why not simply send every household a brochure about the road changes. i.e. 1.5 million households x $2 = $3mil plus costs. This is a lot cheaper than the $70 mil in losses due to increased road accidents. NZ could also do with the resulting lives for population growth, and it might even improve the country's rankings in the international relevance index.

Important news for Australian & NZ investors

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If you are a foreigner interested in investing in NZ, you should read this, particularly if you are an Australian or a NZ planning to go to Australia. Most people will not have the breadth of knowledge to generate these insights. It encompasses a mix of finance, economics, mining engineering, metallurgy, geology, politics, and a touch of critical thinking....and its all sugar coated. Anyway, what type of analyst looks 20 years into the future. Yep, there are not too many futurists around.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Xenophobia in NZ - Chinese owned farms?

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According to a NZ Herald article, NZ is displaying the same 'xenophobia' that we have seen in other countries over the years. Noteworthy cases are Japan and Australia. It is apparently the ultimate effrontery to have people or enterprises from another country to buy property in your country. In the 1970s to 1980s Australians were worried about Japanese companies and individuals buying up a lot of properties on the Gold Coast. In Hawaii, Americans were wary of Japanese buying up housing as well, sending prices higher. Apparently it was forcing people out of homes. The 'property boom' collapsed and most of those Japanese were caught out selling their properties at record low prices. It was a coup for Australian and US investors. For NZ, the Chinese have perhaps a better case to make. They will probably end up buying productive dairy assets and selling them as lifestyle blocks to another set of foreigners in 20 years. Good deal? That ultimately depends on the opportunities explored and seized by the NZ investors who sold the land. What will they do with their money? Build more profitable businesses for NZ? We don't know. We might look at the financial literacy of the people concerned. I must say this is a current time of high prices for milk, and Chinese demand is taking off. Is this a time to sell dairy farms? Probably not. So why don't those concerned buy the assets? No money? I guess its just not their time, or maybe they never got the chance.

Anyway, its a nice rationalisation ! The Chinese are prepared to pay 40% above market price for the asset. Maybe they will export any produce as raw material. Is that your concern? That's because it makes sense to process the stuff in China because that is the market, and they have the lowest processing costs in the world.
Fearful of selling off the NZ farm? Seen it all before. Selling off under-performing assets, and NZ farming is not terribly profitable, releases NZ savings to invest in other businesses with greater profit potential. If you are lucky you might get another google, but at least you will be giving another NZ'er a chance to try. So my for freedom, when you can strike down a sellers 'good deal', or disable his ability to try. Farming is the 'old NZ', you need to wake up to yourself and allow people to invest in the new.

There are some reasons for concern. It could see the dairy cows switched to China in future. That is the nature of markets though. NZ ought to be investing in higher value businesses....not 'ancient' farming practices, nor even labour-intensive modern practices. That ship has sailed. We ought to do it as long as it is competitive, then we ought to be either buying farms in China, or building niche technology and web-service businesses.

That is not to say Chinese businesses ought to be allowed to buy 'open slather' in NZ. There ought to be restrictions on the nature of the enterprising. You don't want NZ enterprise to be competing with Chinese state (possibly subsidised) enterprises. If this was the case, then I think some requirements are needed. i.e. The buyer has to dilute Chinese government equity to less than 20% within 2 years. The reality is that such investments are not technologically strategic, and China will greatly improve its farming anyway, so NZ'ers ought not to be prevented from selling out.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Is NZ a welfare state?

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Mainland Western European countries are famous for their welfare programs. These programs have long been the bane of business who argue that it leaves them with uncompetitive wage structures, less able to finance development and generally tending to incite welfare dependency and cultures. In these countries, government spending can account for around 50% of GDP - half of the entire economy. Some countries have even higher levels of domination.
One might ask is NZ the same - and are there any possibilities of this changing. Consider that:
1. NZ has increased its goods & services tax from 12.5% to 15%
2. NZ local government land rates are relatively high at $1250-1800/annum - because govt provides localised welfare services.
3. NZ has relatively under-funded infrastructure spending

The evidence suggests that NZ is not a welfare state to the same degree as European countries. Government spending as a proportion of GDP I recall being around 30% for the Federal government. It could be better, and its certainly not conveying the right trend with the increase in GST. It did however cut some fat from the bureaucracy.

A prosperous outlook for NZ - an energy boom?

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There are of course numerous factors you look at when you decide a place to invest, a place to live, or a place to holiday. For these activities NZ has a great deal of appeal because its low-income per capita has decimated the currency. It has often lagged between 0.5-0.75 USD for the last few decades. This collapse occurred after the 1960s commodities boom. In days gone, countries like Australia and NZ were among the richest countries in the world.

I can see a time in about 10-15 years when the NZ currency will be stronger. It is possible that NZ will capture some of that long-lost glory. That is a long time off. I am expecting NZ to have an energy boom. i.e. Methane hydrates mined from the sea floor, lignite pellets, and perhaps even conventional gas. With offshore oceanix areas the size of the EU, and a stagnant population of just 4.2 million, there is economic potential in those 1000-metre deep southern seas. It will take time to find, delineate and develop these resources, however one good discovery will compel a great many other explorers because China and India need energy. That is a lot of wealth for such a small country. Expect it to have its own 'Norwegian-style' economic miracle.

Cost of living in NZ - what is expensive?

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The NZ Herald did a story recently on the cost of living in NZ after complaints from foreigners tourists. Top 5 on their list were:
1. Books from stores
2. Fish from retail chains
3. Wine from restaurants
4. Dental services
5. Mobile phone charges

They did however fail to pick up on two items which I think are expensive:
6. Energy costs. Gas and electricity might be competitive internationally, but consider that NZ'ers paid much less for publicly owned power, and they now pay $1/day for electricity & gas connection - that is for each connection. NZ retail gas prices have the highest mark-up over industrial prices in the world. Electricity is almost produced for free, and with 75% hydro generating capacity, and those plants built decades ago, there is no reason why profit margins couldn't be slimmer...if there was real competition. No one enters the market because there are no low-cost hydro sites anymore. Basically, privatisation in NZ was a hidden form of tax. The government locked us into a 'high-priced' cost structure to bring forward tax revenues. An utter scam.
7. Petrol strikes me as expensive too. You pay $1.76/litre. This is a 30% premium compared to Australia, and represents higher tax (56c/litre), a wholesale regulated price, and thus a lack of competition.
8. Land rates are very expensive. There is a lack of skills at local council level, so you see councillors agreeing to buy struggling private sector assets like power companies, as they struggle to keep jobs. This is however only true for rural areas. It is typical to pay $1300-1600 per annum for local govt rates in NZ, plus a further $100-200 for regional government rates. This does include various welfare services, which means NZ departs from the more typical 'user pays' regime for rates. Often those rates exclude garbage collection.
9. Building materials from your local hardware. Hardwares have a cozy relationship with builders and other tradespersons, so any bulk discount of up to 30-50% is passed onto the tradesperson rather than the customer. The implication is that the tradesperson gets the benefit, and this helps them finance a 3-day working week, or holidays in Tuscany. Just joking. None of them would know where that is. They buy jet boats and other toys. It is one of the rip-offs in NZ.
10. Bank fees in NZ were not as bad as Australia, until the Australian banks faced law suits. They will charge a $25-35 fee for a overdrawn account. Such punitive charges are not typical for private companies; but then banks have always functioned more like governments.

Reflecting on what is cheap - nothing much comes to mind except:
1. Cars - bought from a local auction - these cars are often Japanese imports
2. Buses are reasonably priced.
3. Rental cars are cheap - understandably given that cars are cheap.
4. Currency is cheap. The NZD is just 0.73 USD or 0.76 AUD, so if you are living on offshore income it remains the place to spend. This will not always be the case.

Food prices are reasonable. They are generally 15-20% more expensive than Australia, though the currency is 25-30% weaker, so they are not too different. Mind you, given that Australian average incomes are 30% higher, you might expect a greater concession.

Monday, September 20, 2010

NZ savings disappoint but there are opportunities

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We have long identified lack of savings as a problem for the NZ economy. Rabo Direct has performed a survey of 1000 NZ'ers and found that they are dismal savers. The more important question is why don't they save. I have a number of suggestions for this problem:
1. Lack of investment opportunities: There are few investment vehicles in NZ, i.e. The equity market is pretty thinly traded and is dominated by just a few stocks.
2. Lack of business opportunities: NZ is at the arse-end of the world with a small market. You would have to go to Easter Island to find a country with worse investment demographics.
3. Population demographics: NZ is home to welfare dependents, unaspiring lifestylers and retirees waiting to die. If you are looking for career opportunities, business opportunities in NZ, you are not likely to maximise your possibilities here.
4. Access to the Australian market: NZ really needs improved access to the Australian market. Of course it is coming, but Australia is not going to rush because its better for NZ given that Australian incomes are 30% higher. Mind you, it probably balances out because Australian savings are probably 30% higher. i.e. There disposable income to spend on NZ products is probably similar.
5. NZ financial literacy is pretty low: Most NZ'ers do not participate in financial markets from an early age, so they are less inclined to have stocks, and will take longer before they have a house. If they do invest in any property they would probably buy a 'batch' pad and they would not even consider it an investment, even if it is a poor store of wealth.
6. Slim job prospects: It is hard for NZ's to find jobs. There are few job creation opportunities, few people in this population demographic are going to be consummate spenders, so there is little economic activity. Depopulated rural towns struggle to even support their proprietors.

All of these factors are better in the cities where there is population is growing, its more international, better educated, more aspirational and wealthier in terms of their appreciating assets and disposable savings. But the culture does not match Australia because its not as pervasive. A big factor is rising incomes and property prices. NZ needs to move into higher value job creation which will generate more export earnings. It desperately needs to seamlessly integrate with Australia if it can swing that. It needs better communications (data-VoIP) capacities.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Persistent Maori land right issues in NZ

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The British Empire was a collectivists regime which displayed the same contempt for individual rights that we might associate with China, or sadly the modern state. Individuals were not called 'subjects' for no reason. Personal interests were subjugated to the collective interests. In the case of NZ, Maori land rights were not honoured; lands were seized. Some tracts of lands were given back in certain circumstances, but others missed out. The process for seizing lands was pragmatic; the process for compensation is arbitrary and as unfair as the process for seizing the land originally.
NZ really does need to step up and recognise the rights of Maori to those lands which are not privately owned. No one needs to gain at others expense. I must say however that 'occupation' is a rather loose concept of ownership. There is no reason for a group to be placed in a position to extort value from others for lands which they scarcely use, because they were there first. The notion of 'first occupant' sets the rules does not recognise the common nature and needs of humanity, and does not respect the healthy basis upon which relationships between people ought to be defined.
The problem however is that the existing legislation for dealing with Maori land right claims is inherently flawed. See this NZ Herald article for more information.

Cheap living and avoiding tax in NZ

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The NZ tax system greatly relies on indirect taxes. There are a number of things you can do in order to reduce costs:
1. Buy your clothes overseas - particularly if you are an expat who spends casual time in NZ
2. Grow your own fruit and vegetables and trade the balance with neighbours. NZ has good rainfall and soils, so its very easy to grow food and flowers. You can also save money by composting the household vegetable matter for your garden fertiliser.
3. Catch your own fish, shoot your own deer, pig or rabbit. You need a licence and the approval of landowners, but it makes more sense than paying $25-40/kg for fish in the store.
4. Ride a bike rather than drive a car. NZ petrol taxes are very high at 58c a litre. Fortunately you don't really need to use a car very often, there is nothing to do in most towns. A car makes sense in NZ though because of unreliable weather. It rains a lot.
5. Retain your offshore passive income - as an immigrant for 4 years before you have to pay tax on it. This is a particularly lucrative strategy if the NZ dollar is weak against your home currency.
6. Insulate your body, not the home: Where warm clothes rather than pay high gas and electricity prices space heating homes with poor insulation. Better to just wear a very warm jacket. NZ has the highest energy prices in the world. It is a particular sham considering it has the lowest generating cost for electricity in the world. Failing that consider using an open fire as the wood is cheaper than paying $1/day for gas connection, on top of the $1/day you already pay for electricity, whether you are living there or on holidays, 1 person or 10. This is clearly an incentive to share your home.
7. Buy most products online from TradeMe, online specialist stores in NZ or abroad; whether second hand or new. Local stores have limited range and there is a lack of competition.
8. Buy an existing house rather than building: Old houses in NZ are far cheaper to buy than building a new one. Labour is overpriced and the industry is over-regulated, and unfair pricing terms for house builders and renovators means you will pay too much for materials. Its a scam that results in builders pocketing a profit on building materials through the major warehouse chains, and you subsidising their 3-day working week lifestyle.
9. Online entertainment makes more sense than buying your music and movies from a store. The same can be said for reading materials.
10. Outside activities can be expensive, but this need not be the case. Anything which you can do in a social setting is preferred. My philosophy group costs me just $2/week, Toastmasters $70/year, tennis $70 per 6 months. Fishing is $100 for a year licence I think, and walking in the local gardens and at the beach is free.

It is apparent that the same path to tax reduction is the same path to reducing your carbon footprint. Should you be concerned about either? Only if you are grasping for money or air. But some people take pride in their ability to survive independently. The reality however is that labour specialisation is not a 'sin', but rather a very productive and meaningful way for people to relate to each other. Trade is based on the mutual respect of each others contribution. i.e. Value for value. Compare that with the grudging annual tradition of exchanging unwanted Xmas presents, or the passing off of presents you don't want, or the resentment felt by some having to race through crowded shops to please indifferent souls. Is it all worth it? No. Just do what is natural and you will be far happier. An economy structured on the basis of some arbitrary government policy is destined to make you unhappy.

Check out how much tax New Zealanders pay on petrol - 58c in the litre - that's about one-third of the final retail cost.

None of these suggestions is going to greatly contribute to the NZ economy. I would however argue that any (and every) country that considers you a slave to the interests of those who need you, ought to treat you with more respect. The unconditional extortion of wealth from those who possess it is surely the reason why social values are in their current state. Such is the nature of altruism. Unconditional value judgements = non-accountability.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Rural life in Australia and NZ

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I very much enjoy living in NZ. By many measures living in Australia is a far more pleasurable experience, and perhaps the fact that net migration favours Australia is perhaps evidence enough of that.....nevertheless I am currently living in NZ. The question is why?
Each person is different - they each have their own personal context. The things I most appreciate about NZ was:
1. Cheap housing - it was an opportunity to buy very cheap housing at a time when the USD was very low (0.53-0.55) against the NZD. Its now 0.73, so it was a good financial decision.
2. Climate - NZ climate is fairly similar since its an elongated island, however it gets colder as you go south of course. If you are coming from Chicago or the UK, it will be a pleasant change. For most Australians or anyone coming from a tropical climate, winter might be intolerably cold. I find it bearable from Sept to April, however most people stay indoors I guess in winter. It is also very wet. In Wanganui it rains a lot, and its often very windy. The good news is that it tends to rain overnight, which is rather peaceful if you have an uninsulated roof, and 0.5mil houses in NZ don't have insulation. The winds are fresh, which makes them refreshing if you are well-clothed. I constantly hear that Wanganui has the mildest climate anywhere. This is a statistically deceptive piece of inflation. It is because clouds accumulate over the land at night keeping the place relatively warm overnight. The mildness is a result of cloudiness. A feature people might not applaud during the day. In Sydney, I do not miss the sun. In Wanganui, I am lucky if I see the sun for days. In the last 2 weeks I have seen about 5 hours of sun and received about 1500mm of rain. Based on two years living here, that is not unusual. We did have an usually dry and sunny Spring last year. Winter was particularly wet with gail winds.
Australia has of course greater climatic variability and balance. Tasmania's climate is similar, but Sydney is mild 9 months a year, with a pleasant rainfall of 1200mm. Other areas tend to be drier.
3. People: People vary of course but I find people generally very friendly. There is a high crime rate, so I find people only relate through groups or group activities. I have joined Toastmasters and a philosophy group in town, and enjoy those. I think NZ still retains those small-town values that it always has. I think even rural towns in Australia have lost that warmth....unless they are very small, dying towns, in which you are probably less inclined to live.
4. Activities & nature: NZ does have splendid natural settings. I find the problem however is that it is inconveniently divided by an expensive ferry shuttle, and the low road density, and the under-provisioning for use of those natural features is a problem. They are many trails in Australia all over the country. In NZ, there are very few, and they are poorly marked. Australia is beautiful too of course in a very different way, but the distances make seeing everything an obstacle. Sydney and Melbourne are well positioned to enjoy a lot, but its all spread out. For NZ, unfortunately the more temperate climate is on the North Island (Bay of Plenty & Napier), but the splendid mountains are on the South Island.
5. Income and cost of living: Australia and NZ have fairly similar costs of living. The recent increase in GST in NZ, probably gives Australia a 15% advantage. But Australia has a 30% advantage on pay rates, so clearly wins by this measure. Australia offers a wider diversity of job opportunities too, which means you are more likely to get the job you are trained for, and thus more likely to get the salary you are 'worth'.

If I make this article purely about comparing rural living in Australia and NZ, then one has to acknowledge that you will pay a lot more to live near a major city in Australia. In NZ, you can get a $60-80K house within a few 100kms of a major city, in Australia its 5-6 hours. This is because these city people like their lifestyle farms, so you have to get out of commuting distance. i.e. Land releases are restricted severely because your job as a tax slave in Australia is to keep the economy pumping along. Restricted land releases artificially keep land prices high. Why? The greater land prices are, the harder you have to work to pay it off....or live in the distant rural areas.

For me, living in NZ has been a very desirable experience. I do intend to live here for a few years, at least until I can become a dual citizen, and then I will make a reassessment. I will I think always have a house here, and perhaps I will commute between Australia and NZ. But I find Japan very special as well, and I have family in the Philippines.

Oh! I don't believe it. The rain has stopped! The clouds have parted, and its time to leave. :)
I must say the opportunity to experience a new country was part of the appeal of NZ. I'm not disappointed, however Australia overall does offer a more desirable experience. I do however have a lot of frustration with the way the country is governed, so I choose not to live there for now. Australia must have the unfairest tax system in the world, a punitive government, and unprincipled politicians who make unilateral decisions to impose or change taxes at a moments notice. You cannot plan for anything. I have seen criminals show greater empathy and respect for people's rights...if we ever had them.

Oh! Too late...after editing...the sun has disappeared.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Maoris to lose rights to seabed and more...

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NZ Maoris are fighting to retain their rights to the seabed. You might have thought this silly. How possibly could the Maoris have the rights to the seabed. Well, I agree. There is no practical way that Maoris could have rights which would deny access for white NZ'ers. The problem however is that there are greater issues involved, and the Maori Party is quickly digging itself into a hole, where they will be slaves (like British 'subjects') to the govt. In fact they are already appeasing government, but very soon they will be surrendering their moral agency or legitimacy to a court system which will not interpret the law in their favour.
The National Party wants them to cede control of the sebed in exchange for the opportunity to negotiate individual claims on a case by case basis. The Maoris after decades of failed negotiations are desperate for a win. Its showing, because they are about to be sold a lemon. The govt realises that if they can sell this agreement to Maori, they would have side-stepped the implications. Why? There are several strategic advantages for the govt:
1. They will not have to deal with the issue
2. The courts will decide the outcomes
3. People will not know the merits of specific cases, so any public sympathy will be muted.

This is a dangerous agreement for Maori, but also for all NZ'ers. Why? The best prospect that white NZ'ers have for getting rights is if Maoris are recognised as having them. After all, if a minority are recognised as having rights, pretty soon NZ whites will want them as well.

The Maori Party is self-serving, like all politicians. Their credibility they think rests on getting an agreement. the reality is that they will win a battle, but cede the war. That is bad for everyone. So what can we expect from this agreement. Well, Maoris will retain certain allocation rights for fishing, but they will lose control of important mineral districts like the titanomagnetite beach sands stretching from Wanganui to Huntley, on the North Island.

Maori Party MP Te Ururoa Flavell said the bill was the best the party could negotiate in the circumstances and it was possible there would be "another time for our people to come back and have another go in the future".
There is no chance in hell of that happening. This is a sell-out. The best chance Maoris have is through the courts. They ought not be seeking a parliamentary outcome. The party is happy to repeal the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004 and restoring the right for iwi to go to court to seek customary title through the courts or in negotiations with the Government. They have six years to make any claims. Good luck with that.
Maori Party MP Hone Harawira is the only one objecting to aspects of the new regime. The problem is that he is opposing issues he cannot reasonably expect. There needs to be a single objective act governing all people. They ought to be fighting for common rights, not Maori ownership. What is the difference - Maori tyranny is just as worrying as a govt one.

The Labour Party is playing the same game of course, arguing that "the party does not wish to play politics on the matter". Surprisingly it is the Green Party woh are opposing it. Co-leader Metiria Turei said "it did not address the fundamental injustice of Maori losing ownership rights". Who would have thought that a collectivist organisation like the Greens would be advocating rights. Well, of course its not an objective concept of rights, its the subjective type which enslaves. It just so happens on this occasion, they are supporting Maori because they have a legitimate gripe with the govt. Rest assured they will be throwing wealthy people under a bus on another day for some poverty stricken soul, neglecting human nature in the process....appealing to some court term emotive need, rather than policies which actually fix problems.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Wanganui local government election debate

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I have had the opportunity to get to know some of the candidates for mayor in the lead-up to the Wanganui District Council elections. First of all, whilst I am passionate about ideas, I cannot say I really have much interest in the day-to-day politicking. Having attended one candidates election meeting, and the debate between the top 6 (of 12) candidates, I am really only interested in the process for local elections, as well as the issues which are impacting on Wanganui. I have only been in Wanganui for 2 years, so this was an opportunity to learn more.
I must say the meeting in the Wanganui Memorial Hall was more comic than anything else. How may election campaigns have a self-proclaimed ignoramus who thinks he can learn it on the job, and a boy-wonder (21yo) transvestite. What one realises about politics is that there is a lot of self-promotion. Being a mayor or councillor is a means to get business profile through politics. For this reason, it just might make more sense to reduce the number of councillors from 12 part-time members to 6 full-time members. Why? This would discourage the practice of using politics for business purposes, as well as attracting committed public servants, as well as a higher quality of candidate. Wanganui is a small place. If a 21yo kid is a serious contender then we need to raise the standard.
People will say that kids need representation. True enough, but at 21yo, you have spent more time with a dummy in your mouth than as an independent human being. That is not to say this guy is not smarter than 50% of the population. He is very smart and funny. But lets wait until he has at least learned a few life lessons. He displayed little understanding of economics. Sadly, neither did any of the other candidates.
Phillipa Hogan-Rice (?) opened with by far the best speech, but she really lost it for the impromptu questions. She spent most of the time talking about her sporting career, and how being a parent would make her a better mayor. She even said she was tough because she had to fight her brothers. This is no playground leadership issue. Again...low standards. She was even shown up by the 'smart kid'. Her sole solid position was her initial presentation and her position on EnergyDirect. I would have voted for her if she endured, but she really did lose credibility in the end. She actually undersold her skills on committees as a prior councillor. I think she lost her confidence under attack by 'boy wonder'.
Annette Main actually had a poor initial presentation. The problem was it was generic and boring. She did however recover in the impromptu questionnaire, and clearly has the most skill as a speaker, and the best leadership skills. She has abodes in Wanganui City and rural Wanganui, she owns a business, she manages the city market, and has a lot of connections in the City. She has a lot of committee and regional government experience. She did not really faulter. She did not have the personality of any of the other candidates, but that might come with more confidence, and I see it as less important. The most important issue is economic management, and as 'boy wonder' noted, Philippa is 'off-track' promoting an expensive velodrome which will 'maybe' used by 50 new residents. Life prospective Olympians have much money to invest in Wanganui. Starved for cash, and such facilities will attract people for just a week a year. Silly idea. The 'boy wonder' had a good suggestion - an ice rink. Though I have no info on such facilities. It would be far cheaper to build. So 'boy wonder' is a smart kid.
Dot McKinnon is the other serious contender by virtue of her position as Deputy Mayor. The problem with her is that she is boring and inept. She has been a patsy for outgoing Michael Law. She has little understanding of the issues, when as Deputy Mayor, she ought to be the strongest of the speakers. She was saying 'training' was the key to increasing employment growth in Wanganui. Actually training will actually reduce the population because it will encourage skilled people to leave for higher incomes and opportunities elsewhere. Job creation or demand is the critical issue, so increasing services, and increasing promotion of this great city is the key. i.e. It is about attracting foreigners and city people with money. The lifestylers like authors and early retirees are the key, including those internet savvy business operators from abroad who can earn USDs. Training = emigration to Australia or Auckland. She lack of market realism reminds me of those annoying bureaucrats. She reminds me of Kevin Rudd. Uninspiring!

In conclusion, I am worried that Annette Main is a 'soft' humanist, however I think she is the most promising person, with a lot of capable people behind her.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Natural disaster risk in NZ - volcanoes and earthquakes

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Want to know the risks and latest natural disaster news in New Zealand. Perhaps the best website to visit is the one maintained by GeoNet.
There is a range of information you can obtain from this site. Perhaps the most important is:
1. The location of the most recent earthquakes - the pattern might give you a sense of the risk you are taking buying a house. The risk does not need to preclude buying a house, but simply managing the risk on a local scale, i.e. Avoiding sandy, low-lying flats subject to liquefaction, river plains subject to fault-induced flooding, cliff lines subject to collapse. You would want to make sure you are covered for earthquake damage if you are just about to buy a house in a 'quake-vulnerable' area.
2. The location of historical earthquakes - to give you an idea of what is possible.
3. List of earthquakes in your area - you can get a details picture of the earthquakes in the area you define, over the time period you define.
4. The characteristics of NZ quakes - this page will give you a basic overview of the nature of NZ earthquakes.

Volcanic eruption risk
There are also hazards posed by volcanic eruptions in NZ, so you will want to be aware of the risks posed by these. Eruptions can happen as frequently as every 10 years, or more typically every 300-400 years. Some volcanoes like Mauna Loa in Hawaii erupt every year and the eruption can continue for months. The only active volcanoes in NZ extend from Mt Ruepehu to White Island on the North Island. The volcanoes occur in the Taupo Volcanic Zone, which extends into the Bay of Plenty. For more information, refer to the following sources
1. List of NZ's active volcanoes. This page provides a geographic reference as well as information on the current level of volcanic activity. i.e. There is an alert level for different levels of activity. You can also correlate the level of localised earthquakes which often relate to movement of subterranean molten rock. i.e. Often an escalation of such activity is a precursor to a volcanic eruption.
2. The risks posed by volcanoes: Volcanic eruptions can eject water, rock and ask into the atmosphere, which can fall on nearby and distant regions. Most of the ash will fall down-wind on the days of the active emissions. The force and point of ejection will also matter. Some eruptions occur from a side vent, often due to a collapse of the volcano. e.g. Mt St Helens in the USA. The eruption of lava is less common, but a real risk. The greatest risk comes from volcaniclastic and lahar mudflows, as ash mixes with snow melt and the rainfall caused by ash clouds raising water droplet nucleation rates in the atmosphere, which encourages rainfall, flooding and mud-sponsors damage to settlement in river valleys. The ash cloud does not simply go up, but blows out from the flanks of the volcano in the direction of the eruption, and of course is influenced by the wind direction.

Tsunamis in NZ
I would be less concerned by tsunamis in NZ. The greatest risks are on the north and southern extremities of the archipelago, as well as the Pacific 'east' coast. The risk on the west coast is far low. There are tsunami warning stations in NZ. For more information refer to GeoNet. The risk posed is of course on the lowest-lying coastlines.

Rock falls
Earthquakes, high rainfall, frost-thaw and volcanic eruptions can cause rock falls or land slides. Be careful to avoid driving past such hazards in such times of active earthquakes. Rocks are more inclined to dislodge at night due to contraction. Rock falls which block rivers can also cause flooding, however the prospect of this is less of a threat.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Should you immigrate to Australia or NZ?

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Someone used our Gtalk chat feature to ask me if they should move to Australia or NZ. This is never a simple question, and of course it depends on your personal context.
My experience to answer this question comes from living in NZ two years and Australia 30 years. My response is that:

New Zealand is best if you are a retiree looking for a place to live out the last remnants of your life. Some people from the UK are particularly keen on this option because they live in the UK in summer, and NZ in summer. Regardless, NZ is appealing because it has good services, idyllic lifestyle, favorable tax laws for expatriates (4yrs tax free on passive offshore income), similar climate and low currency. Houses here are cheap, most particularly if its only a summer house. If you are buying a house as a permanent residence, make sure you get one which is insulated, as many are not. I personally like the old Federation homes, and they withstand the earthquakes better.....particularly those on concrete or wooden piles as they have been stress release. Avoid houses built on sand as the sand suffers liquefaction during any earthquake, so your house sinks into it. e.g. Christchurch being a case in point. Having said that, NZ is far less vulnerable than Japan. The population of NZ is fairly static, but it grows nominally in the major cities.

Australia I thinks more sense if you are looking for a warmer climate, you are looking for work, and you want to introduce family to a more progressive society. The appeal of Australia is that the average income is 30% higher than NZ, and the job skills level is probably higher there, and you are more likely to get a job.

If you are an immigrant in Asia, you will experience less discrimination in Australia, and I think still less so in the cities. It is still rare to see Asians in professional services, and where they are, it tends to be in banking & accounting. So those glass ceilings are still there.

Be careful going to some forums for opinions because people are inclined to mislead. I was thrown out of a NZ forum for suggesting Australia was better in a number of respects. The reason of course is that those people want you to share the 'pain' of living in NZ. But that I don't mean to imply that NZ is a bad place to live, I mean to say that for salary earners its worse, and hard to justify. I frankly prefer the NZ lifestyle if you like the country town life. If you like cities then I'd probably live in Tokyo or Sydney, as I have done before. If I wanted to live on a beach, it would be in Port Macquarie, Port Stephens or Stockton (Newcastle), NSW, Australia.
The population of Australia is growing 1-2%, with most of those people going to the major cities, so the cities are probably growing in population by 4%. The government has long restricted property zoning so property prices are set to stay high....so you will be a slave to an expensive house, but in the long term it will appreciate. The country is well-endowed with minerals and energy, which makes for easy money for a nation of just 21mil, so its an idyllic place to raise a family, knowing mining royalties will underwrite the welfare state. Mind you, such benefits tend to undermine personal motivation.
NZ is wetter and greener, Australia is generally dry with endless blue skies. Australia has 42,000 white sand beaches, most of them uninhabited. NZ probably has 50 white sand beaches, and its mostly too cold to swim at the black ones. NZ has wonderful gardens, Australia for beaches. Australian facilities are better developed, i.e. parks, bush walks, etc. NZ is not so developed. Hardly any roads and aside from your standard tourist 'extreme sports' and town clubs, there is very little to do.
Having said that, there is plenty of cricket, rugby, tennis clubs, etc. I even found a philosophy group in my town, but its all foreign immigrants....no NZ'ers.

Hope that helps. Might think of more to say. Australia for the money. NZ for dying. :) Or a dislike of Australians.

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