The Covid mystery deepens … or so we are told

Accuracy is important for the BBC.  Hence the straplines in its reporting yesterday on the origins of Covid-19 in Wuhan, China:

Covid origins may never be known – US intelligence

“But US agencies say the virus, first identified in China, was not developed as a biological weapon.”

“The office that oversees US spy agencies could not establish how the coronavirus pandemic began.”

But the Financial Times thought the same material merited a different angle:

Continue reading “The Covid mystery deepens … or so we are told”

History with many zeros

In some places they measure the past in millennia.  In Athens, history emerges every time you dig a hole.

This year Greece marks the 2,500th anniversary of the battle of Plataea.  Less celebrated than the engagements a year earlier at Thermopylae and Salamis but more decisive in its outcome, it marks the end of the Persian attempt at dominance and the beginning of fifty immortal years for Athens, before the death of Pericles and the hubris of the Peloponnesian war.  

The funerary dedication to the Persian wars endures in marble fragments in the agora:

Continue reading “History with many zeros”

What must be embedded to modernise our research and science system? The treaty, of course (and don’t forget mātauranga Māori)

Latest from the Beehive

What had become a surge of ministerial announcements this time yesterday had turned into a tsunami at time of writing (around noon today).  Frankly, we can’t keep up.

We ended yesterday’s roundup of Beehive announcements with a statement on the PM’s virtual attendance at the East Asia Summit.  Since then, ministers have posted 16 new statements.  Several were Covid-related.

This was a good time for a smart press secretary to unload news of dubious government spending, hoping it will be buried by the other stuff, including Grant Robertson’s latest boast about how well the government’s finances are being managed.

Sure, core Crown expenses at $31 billion were $3.2 billion above forecast in the three months to the end of September – but, hey, that was all to do with Covid and the payment of wage subsidies and COVID-19 resurgence support payments.

But how well is spending being keep under control?

We wonder about this after Associate Education Minister Jan Tinetti got to announce the news we were all bursting to hear – that Fifty Kiwi Kidsongs have been launched through the Ministry of Education’s Arts Online website. The project is a collaboration with Music Education New Zealand Aotearoa (MENZA). Continue reading “What must be embedded to modernise our research and science system? The treaty, of course (and don’t forget mātauranga Māori)”

NZ has yet to announce climate-warming pledge for Glasgow summit but RBNZ is developing guidance for our finance sector

The clock is ticking on global warming, the  Dominion-Post  warned this  week ahead of  the Climate Change Summit in Glasgow. 

The  opening  paragraph  of  the  report  was  ominous: 

“Even after  countries — excluding NZ — unveiled  ambitious new  pledges  to  cut emissions,  it’s still  not  enough to achieve the global of 1.5 degrees  Celsius of climate warming,  a  new  report  found.”

The  article  points  out that NZ  has been  notably  absent   from the burst of  announcements that have been made, but  suggests we may  make our declaration in Glasgow.

It  argues that, as  a  small economy,  NZ’s nationally determined contributions (NDCs) will  not sway  the  dial  much.

But Green  co-leader  James Shaw,  who is  representing  NZ  at  the  conference, may  find anything he says is not  greeted  with applause.  NZ, like  Australia,  is  regarded  as  a  laggard  on  climate  change. Continue reading “NZ has yet to announce climate-warming pledge for Glasgow summit but RBNZ is developing guidance for our finance sector”

Much ado about water, a bill to shake up the health system and an investment in pot (strictly for medicinal purposes)


The PM was strutting the international stage (virtually), the Minister of Agriculture turned to pot, the Minister for Emergency Management was limbering up for a shake-up, and the Minister for the Environment was appointing people to speak for a river that (under our laws) is deemed to be a living entity.  

The Minister for Local Government – awash with confidence in her infallibility, it seems – declared her intent to force the Three Waters reforms on local authorities that have raised a raft of reasonable objections.   The local authorities had better believe her.  She has demonstrated in the past her flair for flushing aside the niceties of good legislative procedure.

To counter any impression the government won’t listen to its citizens, on the other hand, Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister David Clark announced public feedback is being sought on the regulatory safeguards required to ensure consumers and communities receive three waters services that meet their needs.

“The future three waters system needs to promote consumer interests and ensure infrastructure is delivered in a way that is efficient, affordable and resilient. To achieve this, the Government is considering whether economic and consumer protection regulation is needed, and how any new laws could be designed,” David Clark said

Yep.  It was a busy day in the Beehive. Continue reading “Much ado about water, a bill to shake up the health system and an investment in pot (strictly for medicinal purposes)”

Australia aims to stymie China with $US1.6bn telecoms purchase in the Pacific

Australia is to buy the mobile phone networks of Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Nauru, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu from Digicel Group based in Jamaica. Telstra Corp, the country’s biggest telecom operator, will pay $US1.6 billion for the deal backed by $US1.3 billion from the Government’s export finance agency.

Commentators describe this as a significant strategic move to block another potential buyer – China.  Three years ago, Canberra announced it would build an undersea high-speed internet cable to the Solomon Islands, shutting out China’s Huawei Technologies Co. from the project. Australia had earlier banned Huawei from involvement in its own 5G mobile network.

The purchase sits alongside underwater cables Australia has with its Pacific partners.

The Wall Street Journal quotes John Lee, a senior fellow at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, saying,

“It’s ensuring that a potential adversarial power doesn’t own infrastructure which would impact on not just Australia’s communications capabilities, but also its military capabilities. Underwater warfare is increasingly important and these cables are directly relevant to that.” Continue reading “Australia aims to stymie China with $US1.6bn telecoms purchase in the Pacific”

Opposition to Three Waters reforms doesn’t wash with Mahuta: councils and the public should just pipe down

National MP Nicola Willis – we trust – learned a wee bit more about the Government’s Three Waters reforms this morning than she learned from Finance Minister Grant Robertson at Question Time in Parliament yesterday.

Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta today confirmed her determination – and the Government’s – to over-ride widespread public disquiet and local authority objections.  She will press ahead in establishing four publicly owned water entities to take over and look after  our drinking, waste and storm water infrastructure.

“These reforms have been long signalled. In our manifesto we committed to tackling big issues that others have long neglected in order to future-proof New Zealand. We are taking action to ensure safe, clean water for all communities in New Zealand for generations to come, protecting households from ballooning costs, and better preparing for the compounding impacts of climate change,” Nanaia Mahuta said.

Here’s hoping the water that flows from the taps in the restructured system is more palatable than the answer we got when we visited the Labour Party website for whatever it had to say about water reform in its 2020 manifesto.

We typed “water” into a search function box only to be advised: Continue reading “Opposition to Three Waters reforms doesn’t wash with Mahuta: councils and the public should just pipe down”

Paul Hunt brings the govt to heel on mandatory vaccinations – don’t forget the Treaty and our human rights, he urges

Latest from the Beehive

Business responses to the Government’s announcement on vaccination requirements for workers were supportive.  The Human Rights Commission response was more tentative.

It welcomed the announcement but said human rights and Treaty of Waitangi considerations must be examined.

Back in 1840 the examination of those treaty considerations would not have taken long.  The treaty’s three articles can be read in a matter of minutes and none of those articles mentions vaccines.

Nowadays the examination can be expected to take much longer, keeping a small army of academics, lawyers,  social scientists and what-have-you engaged in earnest deliberations on the need to recognise concepts such as “partnership” and “treaty principles” that politicians and the courts have introduced in recent years.

The government’s announcement essentially was that: Continue reading “Paul Hunt brings the govt to heel on mandatory vaccinations – don’t forget the Treaty and our human rights, he urges”

A fillip for farmers from Fonterra’s milk-payment forecast

In    a  timely   boost  to  the  rural regions,  Fonterra has raised its forecast milk payment to farmers for this season to match its previous record high  of  8.45kg/MS, as demand for dairy holds up while supply tightens.

The giant co-operative lifted and narrowed its forecast farmgate milk price range for the 2021/22 season to between $7.90 and $8.90kg/MS from the  initial $7.25 to $8.75  kgMS.

The midpoint of the range on which farmers are paid increased to $8.40 kg/MS, from $8 last  season.  That would match the previous record, paid in the 2013/14 season, and would result in almost $13bn flowing into regional New Zealand.

The  country is heading into its peak milk production period in late spring and output so far is below last season, constrained by poor weather and limits on expansion. Milk production is also soft elsewhere, because  of  poor weather and high feed costs. Continue reading “A fillip for farmers from Fonterra’s milk-payment forecast”

An ABC of science from Megan Woods (but you might need a translation) portends reform of the sector to lift diversity

Latest from the Beehive

A speech from Phil Twyford, speaking as Minister of State for Trade and Export Growth, can be found on the Beehive website today – for those of who relish that sort of thing.

He reminded his Asia Forum audience he has specific responsibility for our trading relationships with Southeast Asia and the Pacific and he addressed them on “the work being done to support economic resilience in the Indo-Pacific” for New Zealand and our partners in the region. 

 But Point of Order was drawn to two science-related announcements, one by Megan Woods, our Minister of Research, Science and Innovation, the other by her associate minister, Ayesha Verrall.

Neither was intended (apparently) to be easily digested by the general public.   

Woods’ announcement was that the latest research, science and innovation system report card is now available, and outlines how the system is performing.

Alas, she couldn’t resist using anagrams acronyms with which she presumably is familiar – but (we suspect) her audience might stumble. Continue reading “An ABC of science from Megan Woods (but you might need a translation) portends reform of the sector to lift diversity”