Saturday, May 30, 2009

Leaky Building Syndrome Goes Sky High

The Nautilus Building, some call it a blot on the Orewa landscape, others are less kind.

You can't miss it - it's the tallest and most out of character construction for miles around, rising from the low lying urban sprawl of the little seaside town like a carbuncle that would have a Prince of the House of Windsor reaching for a well oiled lance. Many of the residents would too.

In common with many homes of its era the Nautilus is said to be suffering from the bete noir of the NZ building industry - Leaky Building Syndrome and its going to cost millions to put it right, that is once the combatants have worked out who to pin the blame on. Mr Martin, of the Cornerstone Group who developed the building is blaming in on Brookfield Multiplex who built it and on maintenance that hadn't been done properly.

Many would ask if its worth spending another cent on, perhaps it's better to draw a veil over the whole sorry saga, demolish it build something decent in its place. Something worthy of the 21 Century but more in keeping with its surroundings.

A report in the Herald said that "Mr Martin said three years ago that out of more than 1000 units he had built, only about 100 leaked."

But three years ago the Herald reported Mr Martin also saying that three Cornerstone Group apartment projects on the North Shore had leak problems

"The 41-unit Oyster Cove at Gulf Harbour on the Whangaparaoa peninsula, the 40-unit complex at 282 Main Beach at Orewa, and an Albany apartment project all leaked to varying degrees, he says.

Claddings were a major contributor to problem, and he has banned the use of all fibre-cement plaster-coated monolithic sheet cladding products from all projects.

"I wouldn't put another sheet of that stuff up. There will never be a sheet of monolithic cladding put on anything we do. We're paranoid about it."

This is how the OREWA RATEPAYERS & RESIDENTS ASSOCIATION Committee saw the Nautilus in 2006.

"We know that some of the developers are going to miss out on their million dollars profit, but “you speculate in the hope to accumulate, but sometimes you lose” This is what has to happen in Orewa if we are to survive the onslaught of vulgar, ill-built high-rise buildings like the Nautilus – which has been an eyesore since it was built and virtually empty ever since with only about 40% occupancy – this must tell the developers that people do not want high-rise. "

I have a feeling this one will run and run.

Friday, May 29, 2009

North and South Islands Could Be Renamed

The New Zealand geographic society, the body charged with gazetting place names, have stumbled upon an interesting fact - North and South Island were never officially named.

The board said
it was going to consult Maori and then put suggestions forward for the public to decide on in 2010.

Present Maori names are Te Ika a Maui or "the fish of Maui" for the North Island and
Te Wai Pounamu or "place of greenstone" after the South Island's outcrops of jade.

Zion Wildlife Gardens Closed by MAF

MAF has closed Zion Wildlife Gardens - the animal reserve at which keeper Dalu Mncube was mauled to death by a rare white tiger on Wednesday.

The Department of Labour has served two health and safety improvement notices on the park, one requiring the park to meet MAF standards for animal enclosures and the other requiring safety measures to protect staff where segregation from animals isn't possible.

Too little too late
The park was already under investigation at the time of Mr Mncube's death why weren't these notices issued as soon as inspectors reasonably believed that there were breaches of Health and Safety regulations - why did it take an avoidable fatality to spur them into action?

There had already been two close calls in the last year. Weren't those sufficient reasons to take enforcement action?

The full text of the MAF / Dept of Labour statement on the closure appears below:

MAF Biosecurity New Zealand and Department of Labour Statement – Zion Wildlife Gardens

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) has today enacted powers under the Biosecurity Act 1993 and temporarily closed the Zion Wildlife Gardens near Whangarei to the public in the wake of this week’s death of a keeper at the park.

The park will be closed until MAF is satisfied that it is able to consistently comply with the animal welfare and enclosure requirements for zoos and wildlife parks. At this point in time, MAF is ensuring that the welfare of the animals is not compromised and the park is being well managed. There is no intention to euthanase any of the animals.

The Department of Labour has also served two Improvement Notices on the park and the Department will be working with the park to ensure compliance with the notices.

The first notice requires the park to meet MAF standards for animal enclosures. The second requires the park to institute interim safety measures to protect staff where segregation from animals is not possible.

Improvement notices require a workplace to improve its health and safety so people are not put at risk of harm. More information is available at:

The management of Zion Wildlife Gardens is fully co-operating with the measures.

By way of background, zoos and wildlife parks in New Zealand are subject to legal requirements set out in the Containment Facilities Standard for Zoo Animals. This document is available on the MAF Biosecurity New Zealand website:

MAF was well through a scheduled review of the zoo standard at the time of this week’s incident. This review includes the guidelines for close animal contact and ‘encounters’ but was not prompted by any specific event. As part of the standard review, MAF is working closely with New Zealand’s zoo industry and international experts in the field. The zoo standard review will be informed by the outcomes of any MAF or Department of Labour investigations."

Armed Robbery At Girls High School

The story couldn't be sat on any longer and press reports were buzzing today with news of an armed hold up just after the lunch break two days ago (Wednesday, can this be news when it's already two days old?) at Epsom Girls Grammar School in the centre of Auckland.

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An Armourguard employee was threatened with a gun by two men who stole a security box that contained the week's takings from the school.

The guard gave chase in his van but the getaway vehicle (a stolen Nissan Elgrand) was later found abandoned in a nearby Almorah Road, a quiet residential street. It's frightening to think that an armed robbery occured in such a densely populated area in broad daylight. There are some reports that two students were narrowly missed by the stolen van as it sped away from the school, which then went in to lockdown.

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Armed hold-ups have been prevalent in New Zealand for some time but this is thought to be the first time that a school has been targeted during the day.

Security guards and police officers do not carry firearms in New Zealand.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

National Reneges on Tax Cuts Promises, AA Plus Rating Could be Under Threat

In today's budget New Zealand's National Party Government announced it intends to scrap tax cuts promised at the last election and will suspend $2 billion in annual contributions to the NZ Superannuation Fund for the next 10 years.

The promises were made despite National knowing back in Feb 2008 that the operating balance was shrinking fast - already down by a third, and that the superannuation fund had already suffered significant loses due to falling stock market with worse still to come.

At the time Labour party's Minister of Finance Dr Michael Cullen said his party would "not offer tax cuts that result in additional Government borrowing, or which cause cuts to services, increase inflationary pressures or inequalities."

National's budget today announted that new government spending is to be reduced to $1.45 billion for the coming year and reduced to $1.1 billion per year following that.

The budget deficit is the largest for 25 years and expected to stay in the red for 10 years, peaking at $12.5 billion in 2011 which is approximately 7% of GDP

Before the budget Standard and Poor had said that the country's AA plus rating was under threat because of rising deficits and increasing debt burden. It envisaged a downgrade to AA minus saying that the government needed a "credible medium term fiscal plan.”

It remains to be seen if this is it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Rare White Tiger Kills Keeper, Destroyed

There are only 120 white tigers left in the world and none in the wild, there was one less today.

Dalu Mncube, a South African keeper at Zion Wildlife Gardens Whangarei, entered the white tiger enclosure this morning and was mauled to death in front of a group of horrified French and British tourists.

Zoo staff were unable to free the keeper in time and he died in the enclosure, the tiger was destroyed soon after.

This was the third mauling incident at the park in the last year.

In a cruel twist of fate Mr Mncube bravely prised apart the mouth of the same tiger in February when it savaged Demetri Price.

Demetri Price, a senior zoo-keeper, laughed off the attack at the time, saying he had "no worry at all" about the zoo's safety.

"The danger involved in this kind of work ... is all relative," he told NZ television. "The way we go about this kind of work, generally you are pretty damn safe," he said.

In another incident in July 2008 Lisa Baxter, a Scottish teenager who worked at the park, was bitten by a white lion called Timba after putting her hands through a hole in the fence. She was left with permanent scarring to both her hands:

(she) knew that if she screamed it would wake the rest of the pack and she would be killed, so she quietly worked to free her hands from the piercing bite of 18 month old Timba, the lion. Lisa, of Gullane, East Lothian, said: "I was stroking Timba's nose when he just grabbed my hand. His teeth were razorsharp and went straight through my skin." Later she added, "My hands were so swollen, I thought they were going to explode."

The park was later criticised after Mr Busch failed to tell the Dept of Labour about the attack.

Care and Safety Standards Had Slipped
The park had been made famous by the TV series 'Lion Man'. According to the 'Australian' the Lion Man TV series "followed the work of Craig Busch, who was dismissed from the park controlled by his mother last year.

On Tuesday, Busch claimed in a court hearing over his dismissal that animal care and safety standards had slipped at the park since the breakdown of his relationship with his mother.

"I became very concerned with animal welfare issues," he said.

Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry documents released to Television New Zealand last year expressed concerns over animals kept in crowded, unsanitary conditions.

Inspectors were at one stage so concerned by conditions at Zion Wildlife Gardens they considered having 40 lions and tigers put down."


"Things started really coming apart after they got the last tape off from the third [television] series," Mr Busch said at an Employment Relations Authority hearing yesterday.

"After that, they stopped staff from working with me, they wouldn't let me discuss anything with them about the park. I became very concerned with animal welfare issues."

A Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry investigation expressed concern that animals were kept in crowded, insanitary conditions.

Mr Busch's lawyer Daniel Erickson today refuted reports that an ERA hearing was under way at the park at the time of today's attack. Mr Erickson acknowledged that one of the issues raised at the authority by Mr Busch yesterday was safety."

It seems that no lessons were learned from the two recent near misses and this incident is going to raise serious questions about workplace health safety provisions and practices at the zoo. Why exactly weren't more stringent precautions being taken with a tiger that had already attacked a human?

At present the park is closed and legal proceedings may well follow.

It's an absolute tragedy that both a man and a rare tiger have lost their lives in what may well have been a totally preventable, if not foreseeable, incident. Wildlife parks should be about conservation, not treating wild animals like circus performers, leading cubs around on leashes and getting into enclosures with dangerous top predators. Enough of it - either return the park to a genuine conservation facility or close it down and re-home the 'side-shows' to facilities that know how to treat them properly.

What right has a conservation organisation got to shoot an animal for doing what comes naturally?


A big cat mauling also occurred at Wellington Zoo in January 2006, when an unlocked door allowed 2 lions to get into an enclosure whilst the keeper, Bob Bennett, was setting out food. He too was mauled in front of shocked visitors and spent three days in hospital following the 20 minute attack

Battered Scottish Man Flies Home

Monday, May 25, 2009

Inefficient Immigration System Still Ruining Immigrants' Lives

The news report about the the Habr family, resident in New Zealand for five years and so messed around by the Immigration Service whilst trying to obtain permanent resident visas that they decided to take their skills to a more appreciative country shows that despite a lot of spin to the contrary the NZ immigration service still seems to be in disarray: Link Stuff. Indeed, little if nothing, seems to have changed since the election.

The immigration service, part of which has been referred to as having a "fiefdom mentality", has come in for a lot of criticism in recent years for its perceived inefficiency, secrecy, and inconsistencies. Don Brash, ex leader of the National party drew attention to how the lives of some ordinary, hardworking people were being adversely affected. And it's not just Asian people that get treated abominably, all races seem to get the same degree of indifference and incompetence, even Kiwis in their own country.

These are some quotes Don Brash made a while ago.

Dr Dean Kenny, former All Black.
"He complained that the Immigration Service had initially turned down the application of his Welsh-born wife even though they had been married for nine years and had two daughters, both of whom had New Zealand passports. The Service had asked for photos of him and his wife together, copies of letters, proof of shared income, shared bank accounts and evidence of public or family recognition of the relationship. The Asian spouses of New Zealand citizens encounter the same problem routinely."

Mrs M Taylor
"Described in a letter she wrote to the Listener. New Zealand-born herself, she decided after 20 years overseas to return to New Zealand. She described gaining residency for her non-New Zealand husband as "an appalling trial, financially and emotionally.

Married for 12 years and now with three children, we sent our wedding certificates, children's birth certificates and family photographs to immigration, only for them to be returned and we were told that we hadn't fulfilled the requirements of our application and further proof of the validity of our marriage was required, not less proof that we were sexually exclusive during our marriage....

It's understandable that there needs to be a rigorous system", she wrote, "but why are born-and-bred New Zealand passport holders put through this?"

Dutch expert in growing hydroponic tomatoes under glass
"Desperately needed to ensure the commercial viability of an operation employing hundreds of people, but kept waiting for months and months with his Dutch wife and young New Zealand-born children while the Immigration Service pondered whether to grant him permanent residence."

Last year 'North & South' Magazine run an in-depth story into INZ's problems titled:

"Can Immigration NZ Be Fixed?"

"Our immigration service is dogged by claims of incompetence and corruption, its last head (Mary Anne Thompson) resigned after allegations of nepotism and faked qualification, and the department is subject of a wide ranging inquiry by the Auditor-General."

These are just some of the many issues that that Caroline Courtney highlighted in the article:

Staff training
NZ immigration staff spend about 5 days in the classroom undergoing training , compared to British immigration officers taking a 10 weeks course of initial training with six weeks in a lecture room.

No confidence in the Service Head
Earlier in the year the then head of Immigration, Mary Ann Thomspon, was alleged to have doctored her CV, in which she claimed to have a PhD from the London School of Economics. Revelations also emerged that three of her Kiribati relatives were granted residency after the quota for Kiribati relatives had been met.

Excessive Workloads and mistakes
An immigration officer had written anonymously to the Auditor-General blowing the whistle on excessive workloads, bosses obsessed with staff meeting output targets, permits being issued to high risk applicants with fake job offers, insufficient time to properly check relationships and a mindset that referred to applicants as "widgets"

Migrants Messed Around, Humiliation and Stress
Anh Van Do 44, a self employed drain layer who'd been in NZ for 10 years had permanent residency and wanted his wife and 2 year old daughter to come and live with him in New Zealand. For almost three years INZ refused to accept that theirs was a genuine relationship.

INZ turned down his wife's application for both a work visa and then a visitor's permit.

Then his wife fell pregnant and when the baby was found to be wasn't found to be developing normally a medical assessor said the child was likely to present significant costs to the NZ health service.

When the magazine contacted INZ they were told that if Anh's wife and child wanted to apply to visit they would have to show further evidence of their relationship, and have the child's health reassessed - despite INZ already having declined the child a medical waiver. Anh, who has found the whole protracted situation incredibly stressful, had visited his family in Vietnam 8 times and spent over $15,000 on phone calls alone. He was adamant that he would be able to provide financial security for his family.

"John" a South African had been in New Zealand with his family for three and a half years years when they were invited to apply for permanent residence but the application was halted when the wrong police records* were assigned to his name.

John had been waiting weeks for a fresh work permit so that he could start a new job with as a tradesman with a local authority, he'd already lost 3 weeks income and risked losing his job offer if the permit didn't come through soon. Desperation kicked in and after multiple calls to INZ's call centre he dumped himself in their local office until someone finally saw him and granted him a 3 month limited purposes work visa.

*Back to those police records - when N&S contacted NZIS they found that someone else's police record had been assigned to his application: namely
1. A South African police docket for a person with a completely different name, and
2. An "arrest warrant" without an official letterhead and with a handwritten abbreviation of his name.

Incredibly, the application for the "warrant" was made after the date the warrant was signed. John said "Immigration's total incompetence has cost me and my family three and a half years of humiliation and stress"

Later, after N&S had sent the article to press John emailed the magazine to say that MP Gordon Copeland had granted him a "character waiver" and his families residencies have been approved "subject to any further immigration requirements" But he wasn't holding his breath - INZ had then told him to undergo another full medical and that his family needs to apply for new temporary visas while the dept processes their resident application.

Private immigration consultant John Horan gave an account of how NZIS middle managers who "use their positions to manipulate policies and cause untold stress" and said that verification officers "run around like secret police" - eg. tracking down foreign chefs at work to assess their spoken English.

Horan had been battling INZ for 4 years to try to get PR for two South Korean children now aged 16 and 17 who have lived with their adoptive mother mother who was a permanent resident.

INZ refused to recognise the children's legal adoptions in South Korea. So far Horan had carried out $20,000 worth of pro bono work because the mother couldn't afford the costs. Twice he'd taken the case to the Residence Review Board who referred it back to INZ for "correct Assessment" but with no luck, despite precedents for granting PR to other children adopted in South Korea as recently as 2007.

Further reading:

News reports about the corruption trial of Tito Phillip Field: Link
"Former Cabinet minister Taito Phillip Field got several Thai nationals to work on his houses for little or no money in exchange for immigration help and then tried to derail investigations into them, a jury has been told."

see also: Web reports about Helen Clark's sacking/the resignation of Leanne Dalziel, former immigration minister:

NZ Immigration Minister Quits
"New Zealand Immigration Minister Lianne Dalziel has been forced to resign after she was shown to have lied about leaking a document to the media.

Ms Dalziel had denied knowing about the leak, but later admitted she authorised giving the document to the media.

Prime Minister Helen Clark accepted the resignation after Ms Dalziel's comments were shown to have gone from "being misleading to being untrue", she said.

The document related to a controversial asylum bid involving a Sri Lankan girl.

The document was from the Refugee Status Appeals Authority, which lawyer Carole Curtis took with her to show her client, a 16-year-old Sri Lankan girl, at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre last June .

The girl claimed that she had been sexually abused in Sri Lanka, and was seeking asylum. To comfort her, Ms Curtis drew a guinea pig on the letter and made some handwritten notes, including "If all fails: Media. "

It was not clear how the letter came into the hands of the immigration ministry, but it has since confirmed it passed it on to a New Zealand TV channel, on Ms Dalziel's authorisation. "


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