Tuesday, 25 March 2014

26 March 2014
Am I alone in feeling that aspects of search for the missing Malaysian airliner, Flight MH370, have taken on the form of an international Dance of the Seven Veils?
From the initial denials of responsibility, through to the drip feeding from various countries of what their satellites had disclosed, followed by the almost shameless rush to the southern Indian Ocean to see which country could get there first and claim the prize of spotting some wreckage, this whole affair has been more about the prestige of the nations involved in the exercise, than the plight of those on the aircraft and their anxious and distraught families. Every country now seems to have known something – more than it was prepared to let be known originally – that it now seems keen to suggest was the real turning point in the hunt for Flight MH370.
Through this whole debacle, the strong impression is left that more was known sooner about the fate of this flight, but that the countries involved did not want to let that be known, for fear of possibly harming their wider surveillance and intelligence gathering operations. However, as more and more information seeped out, those same countries realised they ran the risk of being caught out and therefore, with almost quite indecent haste in recent days, deemed it desirable to share more and more information about the most likely fate of the aircraft, and how long they had known about it.
This cynicism and wariness (“my satellite is better than yours”) approach may have its place in the field of international espionage, but surely has no place in the world of international rescue, where the lives of victims and the circumstances of distraught families ought to hold sway.
The analysis of the particular circumstances of Flight MH370 will continue for years yet. The motivations of the crew, the scouring of the passenger list and cargo manifest for anything suspicious are far from complete. Aircraft engineers and designers will pore over all the data gathered to learn what lessons they can. And the likely legal fall-out will no doubt parallel that of other tragedies like Lockerbie in 1989, or the Korean Airlines flight shot down near Sakhalin Island in 1983.
One area that does require ongoing examination and perhaps the development of new protocols regarding operations and information sharing is that of international rescue. As this case has shown, the international rescue and recovery exercise has been somewhat unclear, with authority being assumed by a variety of countries at different stages of the operation as fresh information became available and aircraft and ships swooped to the newly identified sites, while Prime Ministers took their chance of glory. There must surely be a better way in the future.
However, there is one aspect of all this we should never forget. The bravery, determination and commitment of the rescues crews (our own RNZAF P3 Orion crew especially) who carried on day after day was remarkable. Even more so was the ongoing focus – stated so eloquently on television by a young RNZAF Flying Officer – on the families and their determination to help them find certainty if they could. In the midst of all the other bizarre features of this story, that was inspirational heroism at its best. A focus others could perhaps have done with.        

 


Wednesday, 19 March 2014

20 March 2014
The circus has come to town. At least, you could be forgiven for thinking so following the announcement of the election date, and the mindless braying of vacuous, discredited performers putting on their stale make up yet one more sad time to rant about who they would and would not work with after the election, as if anyone cared. Such pathetic acts are best consigned to the tawdry side shows of an old circus, rather than being treated as serious contributions to the future of our country.
Yet the future of our country is what elections are supposed to be all about. They are the occasion for people to pause and reflect about their country, their own aspirations and their options, and to select the political leaders they consider are best suited to serve them. The credibility of the process is tarnished when it is trivialised and abused the way some have over the last generation.
Norman Kirk’s dictum that the electoral process is the time to put the interests of families first in shaping the national agenda has always been a priority for UnitedFuture. Promoting the diverse interests of families and the communities they live in lies at the heart of our rationale for being in politics at all. While today’s times and circumstances are very different from those of the Kirk era, we continue to share his view about the importance of vibrant, functioning families, as the core of a modern, functional society.
In today’s circumstances, one size does not fit all, so universal solutions to problems are no longer appropriate. But solutions which reflect a commitment to choice and security for as many as possible are. UnitedFuture’s key election policies will reflect that balance.
The debate about household income and associated issues like paid parental leave highlight the differing circumstances of many families today. We will continue to promote 12 months’ paid parental leave as economic circumstances permit, and we will also champion afresh our income sharing policy as the best option for providing flexibility in maximising disposable household income. Our commitment to choice in the age of entitlement and rate of New Zealand Superannuation payments through Flexi Super reflects the same respect for choice when it comes to people planning the best retirement income options for their circumstances.
While income sharing and Flexi Super show respect for the dignity of family circumstances in differing situations, our commitment to enhancing New Zealanders’ access to our outdoor environment through recognising our rights to fish recreationally, or to tramp or hunt in our bush and forests is equally important in supporting the wider environment in which families develop and grow.
These are the sorts of issues that matter to people and are what the election should be focusing upon, rather than the irrelevance of yesteryear’s circus and its pathetic hangers on.       

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

6 March 2014

Every now and then, and usually in hushed tones, the question is asked about how affordable our public health system will be in the future. Especially so as the baby boomers age, and demand more care, and the level of medical knowledge and technical skill continues to grow. And like ice-warnings delivered to the bridge of the Titanic, it is quickly dismissed. After all, thanks to the funding injections of the last two governments, elective surgery waiting lists are largely under control, and health is rarely the front page issue it used to be a decade or so ago. As all is sailing smoothly, why rock the boat?

While there is no immediate crisis, there is no immediate concern. The good ship Public Health is in good hands, sailing serenely on untroubled waters. Or so it seems, Captain Smith.

The one thing any long-term student of health politics quickly understands is that insatiable health demands always outstrip the conventional capacity to provide. So another funding crisis is at some point inevitable, and the application of traditional methods of response, such as the injection of more taxpayer funds, is becoming more and more constrained.

A game-changer is needed. Many governments, in Europe particularly, have already moved towards comprehensive insurance based health care provision. Holland and Spain are prominent examples, but they are by no means alone. Fine Gael, the current lead party of the Irish Government produced its own plan for a comprehensive health insurance scheme a few years ago. Given the similarities between Ireland’s and New Zealand’s economies and societies, Fine Gael’s scheme merits more than passing attention in our country.

And there are other examples, far closer to home, we ought to think about. The most visionary was Australia’s Whitlam Government in the early 1970s with its comprehensive Medicare programme which was never fully realised because of the near decade of  conservative governments after 1975. And New Zealand moved significantly in that direction at about the same time with the introduction of the comprehensive no-fault personal injury Accident Compensation scheme. While the Woodhouse principles on which ACC was founded have been compromised somewhat over the years, the essential framework remains intact.

The opportunity is thus there already to establish a comprehensive national health insurance scheme for all New Zealanders by building on and expanding the coverage provided by ACC.

This will not happen overnight, just as the shift to cradle to grave social security did not automatically follow the election of Michael Joseph Savage in 1935. It will take commitment and dedication, persistence and determination, and possibly a support party pushing for a government to investigate such a scheme as part of a confidence and supply agreement for the idea to get the traction it needs to take off. But as the days start to lengthen, the skies begin to grey, and the whiff of ice increases, the Captain Smiths on the bridge may just start to think this is a course adjustment worth making.