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Upping The Standard

Posted on 24 Jul 2009

Labour Party blog The Standard has been posting some graphs about the growth in the GDP per capita gap between Australia and New Zealand, suggesting that the gap has widened as a result of the reforms between 1984 – 1993.

First, their figures are wrong. There are two ways to calculate the GDP Per Capita gap between Australia and New Zealand – one uses Australia as the base, one uses New Zealand. It is clear from the language they use – 'Australia’s economy was 17 percent per person larger than ours' – that they are using New Zealand as the base. Even if they were using Australia as their base, the percentage difference shows a lower, not a higher, percentage difference.

Below is a graph that shows the percentage difference on the data I have obtained:

Their graph has the gap over 40 percent at times, but the data I have obtained suggests it only ever got as high as 35.7 percent. Perhaps they have data that suggests otherwise, but they never directed us to anything more concrete than the IMF’s 'World Economic Outlook', of which there are over 30. No one can actually easily check their figures. For a blog that calls itself The Standard, it sure seems to lack them.

Second, drawing conclusions from a graph like this without considering important events means you may miss the relevant trends. Take 1998 for example. In 1998 there was an Asian Financial Crisis which had severe effects for New Zealand in the short term. But one of the things that we saw moving out of the crisis is that our economy was sufficiently flexible that we adjusted quickly and moved out of recession with pace.

Equally, the increasing size of the gap between Australia and New Zealand between 1984 and 1992 is easily explained by the fact that we had rising unemployment. Of course, some may blame this on the reforms, but I think a more plausible story is that the inability of the fourth Labour Government to deregulate the Labour market created unemployment problems. That is why, after the passage of the Employment Contracts Act, unemployment fell from almost 11 percent to 6 percent in just 4 years.

Third, everyone is aware that policy does not have immediate effects. Take Working for Families. In the first year, it was given to just 39,000 adults. Today it is estimated to go to 688,000 adults. Policies take time to have a full effect – be they good or bad.

I believe a better reading of the data is that by 1992/3, New Zealand had essentially stopped the gap widening, other than in the event of sudden and adverse shocks, such as the Asian Financial Crisis. But ever since big spending returned in 1996, we saw a greater gap emerge that remained persistent, and started to grow around 2005/6.

If you don’t agree with me, that’s fine – data is often hard to interpret, especially because looking at country specific data often means you miss general trends. If you want to see the general trends across all OECD countries, check out the graph on page 9 of this report – it seems to me that the size of Government does influence the rate of economic growth.

For the data and another graph, click here.

An Enriching Experience

Posted on 23 Jul 2009

While I was in Invercargill this week I popped in to visit 'enrich@ilt' - part of the Gifted Kids Programme.

'Enrich@ailt' belongs to the network of One Day Schools, and opened during the recent Gifted Awareness week in June this year.

There, I met Scott (10) – a gifted and very friendly young man who took time out of his busy schedule to show me a computer video he had made, and to explain some of the techniques he had used. Wednesday's Southland Times' featured a photo of the two of us together.

New Zealand has many gifted and talented children in our schools who have needs every bit as real as those other children who have unmet needs. Gifted children face many obstacles - one of the biggest is simply being recognised as such.

Many become isolated from other children, while other gifted children are over-looked at school because they may have learning problems - such as dyslexia - or problems with co-ordination.

These children often become confused, lonely and frustrated. They can become bored at school and feel they don't belong - which in turn leads to low self-esteem, or behavioural problems and under-achievement. Some are teased or bullied at school and others - especially girls - under-achieve to fit in with their peers. That's why it's so important that they're able to access programmes like the one Scott does - so they can meet others like themselves.

Below is a webcam photo Scott and I took in which our images are super-imposed on a roller coaster. In the computer programme we were taking a virtual ride - just about as realistic as the real thing, but with a little less risk of motion sickness! I have quite some way to go before I can match Scott's computer skills.
Photo 11

The best thing about visiting 'enrich@ilt' was the clear delight that these particular gifted children were taking in their 'out of the box' tasks, and the enjoyment of each others company.

Guide To Fine Dining in Invercargill

Posted on 22 Jul 2009

Ask any fine dining connoisseur and they'll tell you: sometimes it is the lesser-known restaurants, tucked away from public places, which offer the best culinary experiences.

Invercargill's best-kept secret is the premier fine dining establishment: the Ruru School 'flat'. The flat is used by the schools senior students for life skills training. They decorate the flat, are responsible for cleaning it, and as I discovered on Tuesday this week, develop very credible hospitality skills there.

A sophisticated lunch for six was prepared and served by Ruru school's Jamie, Aaron, Zach and Stefan. With help from tutor Maggie – these senior students treated Ruru School principal Erin Cairns, Board of Trustees Chair Robyn Palmer, my Chief of Staff and I to one of the best three course meal I've had in ages.

The well thought out menu was perfect for a cold Southland southerly blast.
Creamy Pumpkin Soup served with garlic bread hit the spot nicely as a starter, followed by a choice of Filo Chicken Roll or Filo Salmon Roll. They both looked divine so I had a (small) slice of each with salad. The Pavlova desert was to die for. Sparkling grape juice complimented the meal beautifully. A lot of thought had clearly gone in to presentation of the food and the table setting, in keeping with the quality of the meal, was very tasteful.

I'll be highly recommending this particular restaurant to my parliamentary colleagues when they visit Invercargill.

Cold Weather, Warm Hospitality

Posted on 22 Jul 2009

I've spent the past two days in the South - Dunedin and Invercargill - visiting schools offering options for students with special education needs and defence buildings and estate.

In Dunedin on Monday I visited the Special Education options offered by Sara Cohen Special School, Forbury School (Primary) and Bayfield High school – the latter two are mainstreaming their special needs pupils.

While Invercargill was buffeted by some spectacular storms on Tuesday, the hospitality was as warms as it has always been. Visits to James Hargest High School's Student Support Centre, Waihopi School's Park Syndicate and Ruru Special School – as well as the schools in Dunedin – showed that these children with special needs are receiving excellent support from the teachers, teacher aides and other staff responsible for their education.

I was also invited to lunch by four of Ruru School's senior students, who cooked and served an impressive three-course fine dining experience for six. I was one of the very impressed guests. (see next blog post)

Photos of my visits can be viewed on my Flickr site.

Farewell To Op Rata II (10) Deployment

Posted on 18 Jul 2009

Today I farewelled the 10th rotation of NZDF personnel to the Solomon Islands. The 44 person deployment consists of 31 reserve force personnel from 3 Auckland Northern Region, 6 Hauraki, 5 Wellington West Coast Taranaki(my unit) and 7 Wellington Hawkes Bay TF units and 13 regular force soldiers and sailors.

Their were a few tearful goodbyes, brief speeches by Commander Joint Forces NZ AVM Peter Stockwell, RSA President AVM (rtd)Robin Klitscher and myself, followed by a pretty moving Haka. I had a chance to talk to some of the deployment and their families, who also today embarked on a tour of duty of their own with gaps left in their lives by loved ones deploying.

I visited the contingent while they were on pre-deployment training and am looking forward to joining them for a couple of days 'in theatre' in early September. By then they will be well settled in their routines of supporting the Participating Police Force operations and will be in a good position to demonstrate their tasks to this particular sapper!

The photo's below show the enthusiasm of the Haka performance and me farewelling the contingent after they had cleared customs - that's right, no-one escapes customs.

Solomons Haka

Solomons girls

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