The week that was 30 April - 6 May | The Jackal

6 May 2011

The week that was 30 April - 6 May

New Zealand has the third-highest rate of children living in single-parent homes, an OECD study says. This means nearly one in four Kiwi children are growing up in single-parent homes as more marriages break up and single women choose to enter motherhood on their own. Of twenty seven industrialised countries, New Zealand ranked third in the Doing Better for Families study, with 23.7 per cent of children living in a one-parent household, compared with the 14.9 per cent average across all countries.

Children's Commissioner John Angus said Kiwi children were four times more likely to be living under the poverty line if a single parent was raising them.

As of December last year, any person or organisation that provides financial service to a member of the public has to register with the Companies Office as a financial service provider and belong to an approved dispute resolution scheme like FSCL. The new responsible lending guidelines launched this week could prove a deterrent to loan sharking practices as they can be used to look into complaints made against lending companies whether they signed up to the guidelines or not, a dispute resolution provider says.

Child Poverty Action Group executive member Claire Dale said its good to see consumers will be able to access free information about the dispute resolution services but she objects to "the pretence that the guidelines will address the issues of finance companies making loans with cripplingly high interest rates, punitive default conditions, and excessive security and powers of repossession".

"New Zealand is one of the few countries in the OECD who has continued to deny the most vulnerable citizens the protection of a capped interest rate. The guidelines slap loan sharks with a dead fish, and sidestep the very real need for the government to cap interest rates," Ms Dale said.

The Law Commission issued a report on the 35-year-old drug laws, saying there was room for "a more flexible approach to small-scale dealing and personal drug use", particularly when linked to addiction. The report also suggests that the Government should carry out clinical trials on the effectiveness of cannabis for medicinal purposes.

A new system of warnings for personal possession and "social dealing" of drugs is proposed, with three warnings for a class C drug offence before an offender would be ordered to attend "a brief intervention session". Two warnings would apply for class B drug offences, and one for class A. There should also be a presumption against imprisonment for those prosecuted for "social dealing" that had no profit for the dealer, the report says.

Nearly half of New Zealand's adult population has used cannabis at some point in their lives and about one in seven were classified as current users in 2006. The report says there should be no changes that dilute prohibition of drug use. "However, there is room for taking a more flexible approach to small-scale dealing and personal possession and use." The police submission on the report, obtained by Fairfax, objects to the proposals for a "cautioning" approach. Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said too many resources were directed into criminalising people rather than providing them with medical help.

"This new approach, if adopted, will actually save money, enabling greater resources to be directed into health services for breaking the cycle of drug abuse and addiction. It will also free police to tackle more serious crime." Metiria said.

On Monday Greenpeace activists began blocking the construction of the European Pressurized Nuclear Reactor (EPR) being built at Flamanville, France. Two trucks were anchored to the ground, blockading the entrance carrying activists. More activists scaled four cranes, attempting to impede further construction work at the site.

The EPR design in particular has a number of safety risks similar to Fukushima, as the French nuclear safety authority ASN pointed out a few weeks ago. The regulator must now act and enforce a moratorium on the site.

Click image for Fukushima status.
Worldwide concerns surrounding radioactivity continue after the Fukushima Dai-ichi meltdowns, with both levels in the atmosphere and sea water surrounding the plant containing higher than normal levels, and more concerns over the radioactivity which may have entered the food and drinking water systems.

In Germany, the Christian Democratic Union, blamed the Fukushima meltdown for a regional election loss. Seven of the county's oldest plants were temporarily shut down in the immediate aftermath of the event and protests have taken place in Hamburg, Berlin, Cologne and Munich, where 200,000 people gathered to demand the closure of all Germany’s reactors.

Austria's environment minister called for stress tests to make sure Europe’s nuclear facilities are earthquake-proof. The European Commission also agreed that in the wake of the disaster, stress tests should be performed on power stations in the EU to test how robust their safety systems are. EU Energy Commissioner Gunter Oettinger raised doubts that all the 143 reactors in Europe would get approval under the review.

In China, one of the biggest builders of new nuclear, has suspended building on its new reactors, pending new safety regulations. The Bangladeshi government on the other hand has announced they will go ahead with their new power station, while in India a safety review has been announced, although no shift looks likely in their pro-nuclear policy.
Customs officials in Chile detected radiation in cars that arrived from Japan onboard the Hyundai 106 cargo ship. Twenty-one of the 2,500 cars that arrived in Iquique, Chile from the Japanese port of Yokohama have been found to have low levels of radiation. Nearly one hundred port workers have protested the arrival of the shipment and subsequent exposure, claiming their health was at risk.

Global anti-corruption coalition Transparency International (TI) has released the ‘Global Corruption Report: Climate Change’, which presented guidelines to prevent corruption which could undermine climate change remedy actions. 

"Where huge amounts of money flow through new and untested financial markets and mechanisms, there is always a risk of corruption. Some estimate total climate change investments in mitigation efforts alone at almost $700-billion by 2020. Public investments of no less than $250-billion a year will eventually flow through new, relatively uncoordinated and untested channels. In addition, pressure already exists to ‘fast-track’ solutions, further enhancing the risk of corruption,” said the report.

It called on governments, international organisations, businesses and civil society to ensure good governance in climate policy, because under global climate agreements, substantial funding would be gathered to finance mitigation of emissions, such as renewable energy projects, and adaptation to impacts, such as construction of sea walls, irrigation systems and disaster-ready housing.

Conservation Department staff have been told to expect job losses as part of a wide-ranging review and restructure of the organisation. Director-general Al Morrison has told staff of the review, which follows a year of mergers and job cuts after the department had its budget slashed in 2009. It is refusing to say how many jobs may be at risk, saying it is too early and that the restructure is still in a "design phase".

The restructure could affect teams who process permits and concessions, mapping staff, resource management planners, and legal, payroll and administrative staff. Scientific and technical officer jobs were also being looked at as part of the review. Public Service Association national secretary Brenda Pilott said the review was being done to save money. The union did not know how many job losses there would be. In the 2009 Budget, DOC had $54 million cut from its budget over four years.

John Key is adamant that the NZDF has done nothing wrong in Afghanistan and continues to refuse an independent enquiry into allegations made in John Stephenson’s recent article in Metro Magazine, which accuses the NZSAS of being complicit in the torture of Afghan Civilians. This has resulted in the Greens saying;

"If the Prime Minister John Key and Governor General Designate Jerry Mataparae have nothing to hide, then they should welcome an enquiry as an opportunity for their version of the truth to be confirmed. If they continue to stonewall an investigation, and throw mud at the messenger, then the New Zealand public will have no choice but to assume that the SAS are in fact guilty as accused, and that the Governor General Designate and Prime Minister have deliberately lied the New Zealand public on several occasions" The Green Party said.
The Governor General Designate Jerry Mataparae and Prime Minister John Key.
John Key publicly attacked John Stephenson's journalistic credibility over the NZSAS Metro article. Mr Key also said Mr Stephenson made a phone call to him and alleges Mr Stephenson impersonated Duncan Garner, a well known TV3 right wing journalist.  The public attack by the Prime Minister as well as statements made by Rhys Jones, the chief of defence force - will possibly be the subject of legal action undertaken by Mr Stephenson.

New Zealand has the highest incidence of melanoma in the world, which is the most likely cause of cancer in Kiwi men aged 25 to 44, and those over 60 are most at risk. One in 13 men will get melanoma in their lifetime, compared with one in 18 women. Melanoma unit surgeon and Melanoma Foundation trustee Richard Martin says continued exposure to the sun for a long period, as in the case of farmers, means a higher risk later in life. The foundation says melanoma is a deadly skin cancer that has a devastating impact on 2000 New Zealanders and their families every year.

Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer. While it is not the most common skin cancer, it causes the most deaths. Melanoma is most common in white-skinned individuals, but it may develop in those with dark skin as well. About one in 15 white-skinned New Zealanders are expected to develop melanoma in their lifetime, and Australia and New Zealand have the highest reported rates of melanoma in the world. It was the third most common cancer registration in New Zealand in females and the fourth most common cancer for males in 2000.

Arts, Culture and Heritage Minister Christopher Finlayson welcomed the beginning of the 11th New Zealand Music Month, saying it was a great way to sample from the full range of local music offerings with events nationwide.

“New Zealand musicians are consistently recognised on the international stage, from contemporary acts at the annual SXSW music fair in Austin, Texas to the NZSO performing in Vienna. We can take advantage of the fact we have thriving live music scenes across many genres right on our door-steps during May. New Zealand Music Month is an excellent opportunity to get out of the house and see our world class musicians in their natural environment, whether that is Auckland’s Aotea Centre or Karangahape Road, the Wellington Opera House or Cuba Street,” Mr Finlayson said.

Sir Bob Geldof was honored for his humanitarian work at the Gulf Intelligence Food Security Forum held in Abu Dhabi on Thursday. According to statistics presented at the conference, the number of people suffering from chronic hunger surpassed one billion for the first time last year. At the same time, food prices hit a new high in February 2011, surpassing the previous peak prices of December 2010.

“Countries such as the UAE that control vital natural resources like oil should take a stand and put pressure on other nations to ensure food security for all,” Sir Bob Geldof said.

Speaking on the occasion, Shaikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research in the UAE, said ensuring world food security called for innovative and scientific solutions to the problem. 

"Food security is a complicated problem. Higher standards of living and better health care are signs of development, but they also increase the demand for food. We therefore need to increase food production and supply in ways that do not pose a threat to development, as well as ensure that development does not increase food security concerns," Shaikh Nahyan said.

There are reports of many civilians being massacred in the small Syrian town of Tel Kalakh, with reports that the Syrian army's 4th Brigade fired into unarmed protesters. Almost half the Sunni Muslim population fled over the river frontier into Lebanon, babes in arms, old people in wheelchairs, pushed through the shallow waters of the Nahr el-Kbir.

As many as 4,000 of the Syrian Sunnis made it to the safety of Lebanon to be given food, shelter and blankets by relatives and by strangers and they were there yesterday – 80 living in one house alone scarcely 20m from Syria, desperate to praise the kindness of the Lebanese, fearful of the things they had seen, ferocious in their anger against their president.

The men responsible for the killings in Tel Kalakh were members of the Syrian army's 4th Brigade, the same unit, commanded by President Bashar al-Assad's little brother Maher, that is besieging the southern city of Deraa, along with government snipers and "shabiha" thugs from the Alawi mountains. Dressed in black, the latter spent some time, according to Syrian refugee women, tearing the veils off girls and trying to kidnap them.

Muammar Gaddafi meets Barack Obama.
NATO undertook an attack on a Libyan building which killed Gaddafi's youngest son Saif al-Arab Gaddafi, and three of his grandchildren. This occurred despite the UN resolution 1973, which prohibits attacks on civilians. Nato maintains that it was not an assassination attempt and that the building was used to support military personnel. Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said;

"The house of Mr Saif al-Arab Gaddafi was attacked tonight with full power. The leader with his wife was there in the house with other friends and relatives. The leader himself is in good health, he wasn't harmed, however this is a direct operation to assassinate the leader of this country. This is not permitted by international law. It is not permitted by any moral code or principle." the spokesman said, adding that Gaddafi's wife was also unharmed.