Rolf Harris convicted of historic sex offences in UK court

A court in UK has recently found Australian born entertainer Rolf Harris, guilty of a string of sex offences that the court was told occurred between 1968 and 1986. Mr Harris is now in his 80’s and is liable to a prison sentence of many years.

I am always worried when I hear about cases where there is no actual corroborating evidence, simply a conflicting testimony of “he said, she said” about events that allegedly occurred some 20 or more years ago.

Maybe I’ve seen too many episodes of “C.S.I.” on TV, but I want to see DNA tests, surveillance video, still photos of injuries or other evidence and doctors examination reports.

If the person, in this case Rolf Harris, was accused of possessing a stolen TV back in the 1980’s, a far more minor crime, it would never have gotten into court, and certainly never have won in court, because of “lack of evidence”.

I am concerned that someone can be sentenced to 15 years in jail for rape or other sexual offences, on a charge where there isn’t enough evidence to send them to jail for 3 months (if they were being accused of just having possessed a stolen telly, 20 years ago).

Up until just a few years ago, almost all western nations had a “statue of limitations” which for offences other than murder, generally ran for about 7 to 10 years. This limitation had been brought in many decades (or a century or more ?) earlier in part at least, because of the recognition that it is far harder for an accused person to mount a satisfactory defence after such a long period of time.

Governments the world over, have entire departments dedicated to do nothing but store records (things like police files and other documents, receipts and diaries etc). Most average citizens have nothing more flash than a shoebox full of receipts in the hall cupboard. When moving houses things often get lost. People that own their own home live an average of 7 years at each address, people who rent are often forced to move VERY much more often.

What chance does a person have to prove “No Your Honour, I was 700 kms away on that day, at a concert, here is my ticket stub from May 13th 1963″. The statute of limitations existed for a good reason. If you want to claim that someone has done you wrong, it is my opinion that you should have only 10 years to lodge a legal complaint. Just how long does it take someone to get down to their local cop-shop ! (Or to put it in wedding-like words “If anyone knows of any lawful impediment, let them speak now, or forever hold their peace”).

It’s simply too easy for someone to come up with a story about something that supposedly happened 20 or 50 years ago, and ruin someone’s life (even if the accused person is later exonerated in court).

I remember many years back, seeing the State Premier of South Australia, strutting on TV news like a rooster, saying he was proud that they were taking cases to court that were 50 years old, on the basis of “he said, she said” and where there was no corroborating evidence.

To deliver justice to all accused persons, legal systems need to be arranged so that those accused, have a fair chance to mount a proper legal defence.

Perhaps governments should provide a free archiving safe storage service, so we can all take our cartons of receipts, diaries, calendars and ticket-stubs etc in, and have the government look after them at their expense ?

UPDATED… Rolf Harris is 84 years old (and as frail as you would expect a man of that age) and the court sentenced him to 5 years and 9 months in jail (although an appeal has already been lodged claiming that is too lenient a sentence). The current sentence might allow him to be released in 3 years under a form of probation known in the UK as “licence”.

Rising Islamic militancy, a worry for us all

Firstly, I don’t want people to think I’m just here to “knock the muslims”. I have worked with many Muslim people helping them to learn English. To them their faith was as genuine and valid as any practicing Christian’s.

Recently there has been another armed attack in Kenya, where Islamic militants went door to door killing men who identified themselves as Christian or who could not display enough knowledge of the Koran or speak in a language dialect that the gunmen considered acceptable.

Don’t get me wrong, supposedly “Christian” militant groups have performed terrible atrocities, and I’m NOT talking about the inquisition and witch burnings of hundreds of years ago.

In Rwanda in 1994, many of those involved in the genocidal attacks and deliberate maimings and rapes were, up until they got involved in the violence, “good Christian” people

East Africa’s LRA (“Lord’s Resistance Army”) is a militant group also dedicated to murder and maimings, rape and child slavery, yet it is an ostensibly a “Christian” organisation.

Even in the United States of American, in past years, fundamentalist Christian extremists have bombed health clinics that were performing abortions and deliberately gunned down doctors and nurses who work there (one doctor actually got shot dead inside his church).

However Islamic militancy seems to be storming across the an ever increasing portion of the globe, and nothing seems to be being done to stop it.

Since 1978 the Paris to Dakar rally, held annual events as cars, motorcycles and 4 wheeldrive trucks raced through France, Spain and all of Northern Africa. Indeed in 1992 it raced down the entire Western strip finally finishing in CapeTown in South Africa.

I’m sure that locals benefitted from the rally going through their area, as a substantial contingent of support crew accompanies every rally. Fees and government licencing charges would have brought a welcome boost to struggling local economies.

However the rise of militant Islamists meant the 2008 rally was cancelled at short notice. Northwest Africa had simply become ‘too unsafe’. It was effectively a ‘no-go’ zone for Europeans, other Westerners and anyone who identifies as Christian or non-Muslim.

I am told that the Koran does not actually require all people to convert to the Islamic faith or be killed. I have been told there is a specific place in the faith for Christian people to be accommodated. (Keep in mind that Muslims believe in the same God and the same Old Testament prophets as Christians and Jews. They even believe in Jesus Christ, but consider him to be a lesser prophet than Muhammed).

The rally has been run in South America since 2009. So now it neither starts nor finishes in Paris or Dakar.

But what of the rest of the world and the way things are heading ? Southern France has a substantial population of North African immigrants many of whom are practicing Muslims. Are there those among them being radicalised who will later go on to perform bombings or other atrocities against the Christian European majority of the population ? Does France’s future face bombings in Paris or gangs of Muslim youths performing rape attacks on women wearing short skirts and other western style clothing ? (In Kenya they’re going door to door with machine guns… it’s not such a large step).

Without impinging on the rights of peace loving, Muslim people to go about their lives freely, practicing their faith and soliciting for converts (just like Christian groups do), I really do think the whole world needs to sit up and take notice of increasing Islamic militancy and violence and nip this ever increasing problem, in the bud. Despite untold TRILLIONS of dollars being poured into weapons manufacturers and dealers, and the vastly increased military presence of the USA and other countries, the world is a very much LESS safe place than it was on September 11, 2001. (At least back then you could run a blimmin’ car rally through the African bush, and not worry about being kidnapped and beheaded).

Here’s a link to the latest acts of violence in Kenya, from the Fairfax/Stuff newspaper website.

Housing crisis… ‘tiny houses’ miss the point entirely

Many cities in Australia and New Zealand are currently experiencing a housing crisis. There is both a lack of supply and what is available is very expensive (when wages and taxes are considered).

From my experience, in the last 25 years, the price of “starter” houses, the very cheapest you could find to buy, in the Christchurch metro area has increased about 15-fold. Gross wages have about trebled (but are now taxed more highly anyway).

This has made things very much harder for people to get “onto the property ladder” (ooh I just HATE that term), especially for one income households, including single people, as well as lower income earners

The main problem, throughout both Australian and New Zealand’s major cities (and even some major country towns) has been the shortage of land.

New Zealand for example has about same land area as the United Kingdom but with only one 15th of the population of the United Kingdom, yet we are suffering a “land shortage”. Yes, Australia and NZ do have a lot more land tied up in National Parks and other wild places, which is why tourists from all around the world flock to see our countries’ natural beauty. There are also vast tracts of land set aside under various “native title” and Aboriginal land reserves.

But among at least some other commentators, I am left with the conclusion that it is the deliberate strangulation and limitation of the supply of new land for housing developments, which is a major cause of the crisis we find ourselves in today. In 1986 land for a housing section (block or plot) on Perth’s outer edge, could be purchased for less than $10,000. Buy 2007 that price had increased to $170,000. Now ‘supply and demand’ effects and often controls the price of, well almost everything. From new toothbrushes to cocaine. Yes the population has increased a bit. But certainly NOT 17-fold.

Restrictions seem to happen at every level, but local councils have perhaps the biggest part to play. Trying to maintain a pleasant GREEN BELT of hobby-farms and lifestyle-blocks on the edge of cities (“with room for a pony” as Hyacinth Bouquet, the Bucket woman, would say) is a laudable idea. Except that we live in a society where as well as immigration, we have a growing population.

Society needs to sit down and have a serious talk. If People are allowed to have more than 2 children in their lifetime, then those children need places to live and work when they grow up.Perhaps if we are to allow unfettered reproduction, we need to allow unfettered development of new “greenfields” lands and new housing ?

There have been some articles lately on television and I was moved to make these comments in relation to a newspaper item.

People seem to think that making tiny houses is the answer. Often to comply with local zoning laws, these tiny houses are fitted with wheels, although they are not intended as road-going caravans. They are NOT licenced to travel on the roads and cannot be towed along or moved unless they have a special transport permit, and often extra wheels fitted.

Now don’t get me wrong, us Western Worlders need to start living more lightly on the planet, and having smaller homes is a part of that equation.

But spending the same amount of a house deposit and months of labour, constructing what amounts to a wooden caravan, is not the answer.

Where are you going to park the blimming thing ?

What few caravan and holiday parks exist are already full of people living in caravans because there aren’t enough houses for people to live in. And more and more, because of the government’s strangulation of new land supply, the caravan and holiday parks that exist are being sold off for other developments and the tenants there thrown out onto the street.

Another factor affecting the price of new housing is entirely unnecessary red tape from local councils.

Now I support building codes. One reason for the minimal casualties that occurred in residential houses during Christchurch’s devastating earthquakes of 2011, is because our houses, especially those of 2 or more stories, must be earthquake resistant.

Soon after arriving back here, I visited a building company and described a housing style I had seen in Australia, but not New Zealand. The guy showed me some catalogues and yes they had similar things available here. A one or two-storey house could indeed be constructed in less than 6 weeks instead of the usual 8 months, and the cost per square metre of floor area was less than 2/3 the normal price (in Australia it’s less than half). “Oh, but you’d never get a building consent to build one in Christchurch” he said “someone at the council doesn’t like the look of them.”

Well “I” don’t like the look of rose bushes in people’s front gardens, should I be allowed to ban them city-wide ?

Keep in mind these houses would comply with all required building, health and safety, fire safety and earthquake resistance codes. Someone at the local council just “doesn’t like the look” of certain housing styles, so EVERYONE has to pay 33% or 50% more for their new houses and has less choice of style !

For many decades now, throughout most major Australian and New Zealand cities, there has been very little new housing built “at the cheaper end of the spectrum”. Some new land subdivisions even have covenants on the title which actively forbid cheaper homes from being constructed.

In due course, and with only expensive houses and land coming on to the market, even years later, what few older and cheaper houses that do exist, get snapped up (often by “developers”, in the case of Auckland, land supply is so tight that even fully refurbished homes which have just had $100,000 in renovations, are often being bought just to be bulldozed, so the land can be used for a new, and even more expensive house build. So there are even LESS older cheaper homes, what used to be the “starter” home for a “first home” buyer.

Here’s a link to the article and following on are my two main comments relating to it. (This was originally published elsewhere and has been edited and extended for publication here).

(1) Sorry it is still dearer than a large caravan and double the price of a 54m2 “4 car garage” that could also be converted and used for housing. The $50,000 price is indeed DEARER than a house deposit for some cheaper Chch houses and you still need a section to park the tiny house or caravan on ! If you have $ 50 k, buy the cheapest house you can and you have room to park 10 caravans or tiny wheeled houses…. and charge all the residents therein $150 a week each in ground-rent. Unfortunately this guy has got a lot wrong. I wonder if it is because he is coming from a background of wealth and privilege and I think he has largely “missed the point”. Note…in principle I am a huge supporter of folks living in tiny houses, caravans and other alternative structures. This guy still needs a section with an un-condemned house on it, to be allowed to park it there and to stay in the wooden-caravan he’s made legally.

(2) Here’s a place that before the earthquakes of 2011 would have sold for about $375,000. It suffered some damage in the earthquakes but is still a completely livable home. The owners have accepted a cash payout from their insurers but chosen NOT to repair the damage. As such the house is being sold “as is, where is, uninsured and uninsurable” for little more than land value only. Repairs can easily run to $100,000 if new earthquake resistant foundations need to be installed underneath an existing house. (URL below, sorry but it no longer works) A beautiful 3 bedroom house in Papanui. It has a “land value” of $151,000 and the entirely livable house will probably sell at auction tomorrow for about $170,000k. That would require about $50,000 deposit. The section land size is under 600m2 so only enough room to park 7 caravans or tiny houses. Still that’s $1050 a week rental income and the mortgage repayments would be $182 a week. So that’s $800 a week in profit or pay off your house freehold in two and a half years ! Thanks Catherine you’ve saved the day yet again. Why are you the lone voice crying in the wilderness and no-one listening to you ! (ok so I cheated slightly, I didn’t consider income tax obligations, but that’s what family trusts are there to avoid eh !)

Note the auction was held on 12 June 2014, I do not know what price it reached at auction. Often in NZ, even at mortgagee auctions, houses get “passed in” and the mortgage holder simply refuses to accept the highest bid, as they are seeking a higher price still.

Here is a link to the advertisement but the way NZ’s Trademe auction website works, is that the advertisement will no longer display.

Land grab continues, people tricked into selling $350,000 home to Govt for $81,500

I reckon these people are IDIOTS. Can you believe they sold their house, on a full sized section of land, to the GOVT for just $81,000 ! Surely they could have sold it for WAY more than that on the private market ! Even Earthquake damaged “insurance write-off” houses and land sell for double, and more, of that amount.

They had inadvertantly allowed their insurance policy to lapse. After the less damaging, September 2010 Earthquake, insurance companies put a freeze on new policies in Christchurch. Then came the devastating February 2011 EQ. As “uninsured” the Government’s ‘voluntery’ offer to buy their “Red Zone” house was half the land value. Before the EQs the place was probably worth a total of $350,000 (house and land together).

They have accepted the government offer and sold the land to the government (note “Red Zone” is a purely abitrary government invention. With a stroke of the government’s pen, the land could be un-red zoned tomorrow, and the government can then sell it for 4 times the price they bought it for !

They say they had to move out because the place was draughty and leaking. I say that $10,000 of repairs can fix up an awful lot of draughts and leaks ! Anyway they chose to buy a complete, another house, (curiously also an EQ write-off, but they chose one in Bexley, in an area subject to flooding, even before the earthquakes, and doubly subject to flooding now).

Sorry but I have little sympathy for these people, for considerably less than the cost of buying another entire EQ write-off house and land, they could simply have done essential repairs to their existing house (and continued to live in an area with less danger of flooding, every time we get a decent dump of rain).

Note the auction below is NOT for the land, which they have already sold to the governemnt, it’s just for a brick and tile house (so very little value in salvagable materials there, but you could get the door and windows and internal fittings from the bathroom and kitchen etc). Going by the only picture that accompanies the article, it looks like quite a new house. (UPDATED, see bottom of this article)

It’s worth noting that many of the “Red Zone” houses that were sold to the government, were entirely undamaged or had only minor cosmetic damage.

Something around 5,000 houses across several neighbouring NE Christchurch suburbs, have been sold to the GOVT and demolished, leaving the land as open parkland, with scattered trees and shrubs. Less than 140 homes have been retained by their owners. Arguably, those few houses left, in private ownership, in the “residential Red Zone”, could well be worth (to some people) a lot MORE than they were previously. With all the city services of sealed road, water, electricity and telecommunications (which agencies are not allowed to just withdraw) and yet 97% of houses having been removed, means that people with only a residential sized lot to garden and care for around their house, have access to what has become a huge surrounding parkland. The Govt are required to maintain this land at their expense.

I believe that people accepting Red Zone offers by the Govt of half of land value, have been cheated out of their land. They have been absolute suckers. Golly even in the old days, people would get some beads and blankets and Bibles for their land ! I am very sure that history will look back on this sort of thing as just utter land-grab-thefts by the government.

Here is a link to the Christchurch Press newspaper’s website.

UPDATED 26 June 2014… The house (well the right to strip it for salvage) ultimately sold at auction for $10,500. Plus extra money was donated to the elderly couple. Here’s a link to the NZHerald’s article.

House of Squalor or Student Flat ?

How clean is your house ? People who know me know that I’m not the most fastidious housekeeper, but my place is many orders of magnitude above the standard of a “student flat”. (Figure of speech, No offence is intended to those students that keep a tidy house).

Late last year year a friend from Australia stayed for awhile while he was visiting NZ. My previous flatmate had moved out some weeks prior and I had already done some considerable extra cleaning (as he often left food in his room and for the first time ever in this flat, we got mice). When my friend arrived he instituted even stricter cleaning measures, and I didn’t mind. He was prepared to put in the effort himself and do at least 50% of the extra effort, and with his encouragement, I lifted my housekeeping game a little higher than it normally is.

Yesterday I had cause to visit a friends house. Well what an absolute disgrace. I cannot understand how teenage and twenty-something-year-old students live in squalor and mess.. perhaps because their brains are so addled by alcohol and other drugs… and I cannot even fathom how a mature age woman could live like this.

I noticed half a loaf of bread sitting out on the bench as flies buzzed around. The top of the bag hadn’t even been folded over. Certainly the bread could have been put away in the fridge. I checked, the fridge was almost empty, just a few yoghurt pottles. However opening the fridge door, it was clear from the smell that it needed cleaning. Golly even just a decent wipe out with a warm soapy dish-cloth and wiping the interior, and removing some scraps of detritus, would have taken less than 5 minutes and the job would be done.

On the kitchen floor, amongst all the other mess that’s permanently there, is the tangled mess of a long electrical extension cord that has sat there since last week. There was a bottle of cool drink. Still new and sealed, some kind of sugary half-poison, or perhaps artificially sweetened even more poison kind of lolly-water. Well for fruck sake alive why not just put the frucking thing away in the big empty fridge !

To be fair, the cool drink bottle may have originally been left amongst all the other clutter of the bench-top, but been knocked down by the cats. Yes the place has enough cats to open your own branch of the RSPCA and they’re breeding like rabbits. The cats seem to be fed mostly on tinned soft meats and the smell of that goes right through the place. There was possibly some cat’s whoopsies on the carpet too, I dunno, I never saw or stepped in any. But the place certainly had plenty of L’Odour de Pussy.

Look it’s not rocket science… take the clean and dry dishes already sitting in the draining rack and put them away inside cupboards or drawers. Don’t just put dirty dishes in the sink and leave them there…Use the sink to wash all the dirty dishes, which also get dried and put away. I shouldn’t need to tell a mature adult how to do dishes. Don’t leave food out on the benches. Put all plates and cooking pots etc away so cats aren’t climbing all over them. If cupboard space is short, use some storage boxes or put pots inside the oven when not in use.

Not sure whether the basket of laundry sitting cluttering up the floor in the already small kitchen was clean or dirty, but why is it there at all ? A convenient play area for the kittens sure. And what are new packets of sewing pins doing inside the rice cooker ? (I think that by that factor alone, this house beats all so far in the “student flat” category).

Now don’t get me wrong, I know the homeowner works hard and for very much more than 40 hours a week, but goodness me, how can you live in such conditions ?

One reason for making this post is because I care about my friend, I don’t want them to die of some rampaging tummy-bug. I have deliberately NOT named them and suggest it may be better if they DO NOT post a response under this thread. Look I’ll happily come over and help in some way with a clean-up, but yesterday I was wearing white, so tried not to touch anything or sit anywhere (otherwise I would have ripped into it and in half an hour, I would have had that kitchen throughly cleaned and the fridge all clean and fresh smelling). I did exactly that when visiting a friend in Australia once. I arrived while she was away and her house-sitters had let the place go “student flat” style. I only had good clothes in my suitcase, so stripped off to underwear and a sarong as I cleaned the kitchen and fridge (the trays and shelves needed to soak in water to get the crud off).

To my friend I say… Arrange a working bee and I will come and help you clean up. But you’ll need to corral the kittens to stop them getting accidentally squished under our feet as we work.

Get in a mini-skip, ensure it arrives one morning when you’ll be home and is removed that afternoon, (otherwise the neighbourhood will simply use your place as a dumping ground for their rubbish).

Oh and I haven’t even mentioned the main entry / living room and the bathroom. I didn’t make any attempt to look in any of the bedrooms or the large lounge. The remains of the once beautiful front verandah, covered in absolute rubbish, makes the place look like a crack-house from the street.

Another day, another tragedy. Young lives just thrown away.

Unfortunately it’s happened again, I guess you could just say ‘well it’s THIS week’s bad car crash’.

Down Dunedin way, about 3am on Sunday morning 18 May 2014 a horrific crash occurred on the Southern motorway.

Although police investigations are ongoing, it seems that a modified Honda Integra car had been travelling at 180 kmh (almost double the 100 kmh speed limit). NOTE: please see update at bottom of this article.

The five young people in the car had been attending a party. Police have said alcohol was a factor in the crash.

Three teenage girls were sitting in the back seat. All three had apparently chosen NOT to wear their seatbelts.

Danielle Kiriau, 17, was killed, and her friends Courtney Donald, 17, and Caitlin Adams, 16, were injured.

Shannon James Kiriau, 22, brother to Danielle, was sitting in the front passenger seat and was also killed in the crash.

The driver of the car was Cameron Presland. The 20-year-old suffered major injuries.

Mercifully, Caitlin Adams’ injuries were the least of all. She managed to call her mother from the crash site and after being treated in hospital was released to go home later that same day.

In the initial aftermath of the crash, there was confusion about which of the girls had died at the scene and which had survived with injuries. This mix-up was later sorted out at the hospital but undoubtedly caused extra upset to the parents. Police have apologised, but to be fair, their job is extremely difficult especially in the case of a major crash in a car with multiple occupants.

Much has been made in the mainstream media about how the car was “unroadworthy” because it had not passed New Zealand’s 6-monthly Warrant of Fitness inspection since 2012.

Sorry but I have a small problem with that. The car may have had bald tyres and faulty brakes (that would certainly be “unroadworthy” and increase the chances of a crash occurring), but it may have been below WOF standard because the horn didn’t work and one of its five brake-lamp bulbs was blown. Defects like that would not have had ANY effect on the car being liable to crash last Sunday morning.

The car also had an non-approved modification. It had a turbocharger fitted (originally this model had either no turbocharger fitted or a smaller approved turbocharger installed). Sometimes car enthusiasts install (larger) turbochargers to increase the performance available.

Keep in mind a turbocharged car doesn’t HAVE to travel at 180 kmh. It can cruise very nicely at 25 kmh or 50 kmh, or 100 kmh.

Turbocharged or not, it’s the driver’s right foot pushing down on the gas pedal that regulates the car’s speed.

The Fairfax/Stuff news website (associated with the Christchurch Press) has given quite detailed coverage of this tragic event, over the last few days. (Note: Joe Howey is a friend of the driver Cameron Presland and visited him in hospital). Here’s a short quote.

“…Presland was protective of Danielle, Howey said. The couple had dated for 2 years and were in love, he said.

“They were pretty crazy about each other . . . He’s just devastated. He can’t believe it.”

Presland was told in hospital on Sunday afternoon that she was dead.

“It’s really sad. He’s a mess.” (quote ends)

Sorry but if someone gets as pissed as a chook, and then gets in a car driving at night at almost double the speed limit, while your girlfriend’s in the back seat WITHOUT wearing her seatbelt… I’m sorry you are NOT “protecting” them at all.

If the driver was really “protecting” the girl (who he supposedly loved), then he would not have commenced his journey until all passengers had their seatbelts on, he would be driving sober and within the speed limit. Even if the car had had a larger than approved turbocharger fitted, or if the horn or one brake-lamp was defective and the car had not passed a WOF since 2012 , everyone in the car would have gotten safely to their destination that night. No injuries and no incurred costs of, what’s probably hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars of expenses to be borne by the taxpayer.

Also “He’s a mess.” Well the girl and her bro’s not doing too blimmin’ good either mate. They’re wooden box material now.

(another quote) “…The dead siblings’ parents, Nai Kiriau and Beverley De Blecourt, said they did not want to play the “blame game” towards Presland…”

Umm, methinks they SHOULD be playing the blame game, at least a bit. It’s true that nothing can bring back those tragically killed, but the driver needs to take responsibility for his actions.

Car accidents can happen at any time. Even a well maintained car with an up to date WOF can suffer mechanical or tyre defects and that may lead to a crash. Over the years, I’ve had a handful of tyres just blow out instantaneously with no warning and I’ve even had cars where entire stub axles snapped off so I lost not only the wheel but the entire hub as well, resulting in almost total loss of control (fortunately those events happened at very low “parking” speeds and my car simply ground to a halt).

Some accidents do “just happen”. But in this recent tragedy no other vehicles were involved and as far as we know, the car did not suffer a catastrophic mechanical failure (like a broken axle) precipitating the crash.

The driver simply “lost it” on a gentle bend and the car spun out hitting a pole and a tree. (Investigations are undoubtedly continuing, but I think it’s a fair guess that the pole and the tree were not “at fault”).

I will not let passengers ride in my car UNLESS they are wearing a seatbelt. I am very upset if as a passenger, whoever’s driving me, starts off before I have my seatbelt fastened. I only drive when 100% sober (ie NOT “just a little bit drunk”, like the law does allow) and I consider posted speed limits to be the MAXIMUM speed one can drive at (not the minimum speed for that stretch of road).

It is hard to imagine the grief the parents of the dead siblings feel, and to lose a son and a daughter at the same time… words just cannot express. There will be mourning too amongst the greater family/whanau, school friends and work colleagues, the list is almost endless.

Three people survived the crash and some of their injuries may be lifelong and permanent. Fortunately on their side they have youth. People in their teens and twenties have a phenomenal ability for physical healing. In New Zealand we are blessed with a First World hospital system. Various rehabilitation therapies will be available.

I wish the three young survivors the best in their recovery. But the driver should feel the burden of having taken the lives of two young people in their prime of life.

And on a purely practical level, the guy’s new car, his pride and joy one assumes, is now a twisted wreck, so munted it’s not even worth stripping for parts.

If he’d driven more sensibly he could have restored the car to legal roadworthy condition, (may have required getting the turbocharger certified) renewed the WOF and enjoyed many years using it to drive himself and his friends around safely, going to the beach, parties, whatever. And then when he did want to go for a bit of a blatt, he could have taken it to one of the race circuits around during one of their public track days (here in Christchurch we have Ruapuna, I am guessing there’s something similar down Dunedin way).

Dunedin and New Zealand are now the poorer, for the loss of two healthy young people who could have gone on to do their bit in society. There is nothing any of us can do that will bring them back. But can we all do our best to make them the last young people, whose lives have been thrown away so cheaply.

Here is a link to one of the recent articles on the Stuff website.

UPDATE… One of those to survive the crash, Caitlin Adams is now recovering at home and has been quoted as saying that the steering wheel appeared to lock-up just prior to the crash. Further, she says the driver was NOT travelling at anything like 180 kmh and that although the driver had had 2 or 3 drinks that evening, he wasn’t drunk. The driver Cameron Presland had swapped his registered and WOF and modification-complianced van for the car just 2 days earlier. He’d been told the Honda car was safe and roadworthy. Caitlin Adams said she normally didn’t wear her seatbelt.

There is perhaps a warning here that others can heed. Often a vehicle can be bought for a bargain price, but the car needs some fixing up to be reliable, safe and to comply with various legal requirements (such as a WOF inspection or modification certifications). That’s all fine and dandy, as long as people, the buyer, are aware that the car needs repairs before being used on the road. If you are buying (or obtaining through a swap etc) a car that does not have a current WOF and registration then people should be very careful. If someone wants to sell you a car without a WOF and tells you “Oh it’s all safe, it will pass a WOF test, it just needs… blah blah” then potential buyers should take those statements with a very large pinch of salt.

When I bought my last car, although it had a current WOF, I insisted on a brand new WOF inspection and that it be conducted at my choice of VTNZ testing station. If a seller refuses to pay $40 for a test, to confirm the sale of a car, you’d be right to be suspicious about what else they’re trying to hide.

Here’s a link to the Stuff website’s later article.

Serious concerns expressed over inner city housing

The “central city” area of Christchurch was particularly badly affected by the earthquakes of 2011. On Monday 28 April 2014, Tony Milne facilitated a meeting with local residents and some other interested parties.

Although most of those involved in the meeting, were happy to be photographed or recorded, I was unable to get permission from everyone before the meeting started. Therefore no recordings were made by me, or by any others.

That was unfortunate as a more complete record of the evening would have served better, the interests of those members of the public who were unable to attend on the night. This report therefore is taken from my written notes.

Held at the Oxford Terrace Baptist church (now in a refurbished hall, since their main church collapsed in the February 2011 earthquake), the pouring rain from earlier in the day, had stopped, although it was still a bleak and wet evening.

The turnout was about 35 people in all, many walking from their homes nearby. Included in the audience was Megan Woods the current Labour Party MP for Wigram and Phil Clearwater, a councillor with the Christchurch City Council. Starting a few minutes after 7pm, Tony Milne gave a brief introduction.

The first speaker I shall refer to as “Ms S.” She’s lived in the local area for 10 years but expressed concerns over how the government would achieve their stated aim of getting 20,000 people to live in the central city. (Before the earthquakes, the inner city population was about 7,500, it is currently about 4,500).

Where are they going to live, she asked, especially when some of the current residential zoned land is being re-purposed for commercial interests. Ms S. has had meetings with Mike Greer (a well known name in house construction in Christchurch). One thing that had improved, since the earthquakes though, was the sense of community amongst local residents.

David Thornley was next up and he spoke about the population of the Inner City West area. The population there, he said, had dropped by some 46% after the earthquakes (far worse than the 27% loss of housing in the Northern and Eastern CBD areas).

Going by CERA (Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority) figures, of some 15,000 homes lost city-wide, Mr Thornley heavily criticised the CERA/Brownlow policy of having opened up so much new land in greenfields developments (greenfields = previous farmland on the outskirts of the city, being rezoned for big new luxury housing developments). He said that that policy had further hamstrung rebuilding of housing in the inner city and closer-in suburbs.

“We need 8,000 to 10,000 new homes” Mr Thornley said, and that CBD land currently designated residential must remain as residential ONLY and NOT be taken over for commercial use and development. We need to have LESS central government control and MORE community involvement.

Di Lucas was next up and used a range of powerpoint slides on the big screen to illustrate her points.

She reckons we should be making far more use of wood especially “engineered timbers” in the rebuild. She’s been heavily involved in the proposed Peterborough Village redevelopment. They had also done studies on using timber products for earthquake resistant foundations, and that information was available for all, on their website.

One powerpoint slide did give concern though. It was the Tonkin and Taylor diagram from November 2013 showing likely flooding if there was a one metre rise in sea-level.The Peterborough Village would be at risk of flooding. (This is the second time I’ve seen that slide recently. It was part of the presentation at Canterbury University just a few weeks ago, that public lecture was covered elsewhere on this blog).

Marjorie Manthei from the Victoria Neighbourhood Association described the area she was from as being bounded by Bealey Ave, Victoria Street and Colombo. She expressed concern at how many houses had been temporarily permitted to be used as business premises in the immediate aftermath of the earthquakes.

Temporary permits had been issued by the council, valid for 5 years. She was concerned though that there was no central database. Would it therefore require a door-knock of ever house in the area to ensure that, after the 5 years was up, the house was returned to residential purposes ?

She echoed earlier concerns that previously residential zoned land was being re-purposed. The Cranmer Courts land has been bought by the Majestic Church group. (One assumes, for a new church building, they were originally based at the old Majestic Cinema building on Manchester Street). However it suffered earthquake damage and the government has seized the land and intends to demolish the building as part of their “frame” blueprint.

Since shortly after the earthquakes, Majestic Church have operated from a converted car sales lot on Moorhouse Avenue. It has been reported elsewhere that it would cost just $ 15 million to repair the Majestic House building in Manchester Street and bring it up to modern standards. However to build an equivalent replacement would cost about $ 60 million. (If those figures are right, it would seem to me to be a ‘no-brainer’ that the building should be repaired instead of demolished).

Marjorie Manthei also brought up two other subjects in her talk. One was the effect of late night liquor licences on the residentsof the Victoria neighbourhood, and the other thing she mentioned was that local residents were VERY HEAVY users of the free yellow bus service.

(EXPLANATION: Prior to the earthquakes a free bus service called The SHUTTLE, did a closed circuit loop covering a large part of the inner city area. As well as stopping right in the middle, Cathedral Square, the bus stopped at several major shopping and ‘high foot-traffic’ locations including the South City Mall, Pak n Save supermarket and outside the CPIT polytech. This service has not run at all since the earthquakes. Melbourne had a somewhat similar free tram service running in a loop around their inner city area and Perth had 4 free coloured “Clipper” bus routes, that later evolved into the Urban CAT free service (Central Area Transit). As an inner city resident, I can say that I sorely miss the free Shuttle bus service. It now costs $2.50 to ride just a few stops, ie walking distance, down the road using regular bus routes.)

Phil Twyford MP for Te Atatu (Auckland), was the final speaker. He is the (opposition) Labour Party’s housing spokesman.

He claimed that some failings in the earthquake rebuild and repair strategies could be left soundly at the feet of the current government it’s “just too damn slow… it’s shocking” he said, about people who were “now facing their fourth Winter since the earthquakes.”

“60% of the over threshold repairs, are still not done.”

(EXPLANATION: Many houses suffered comparatively minor damage in the earthquakes. Minor items of a cosmetic nature such as some cracks in wall plaster. To fix those places, they basically just get some polyfiller over the cracks, a coat of fresh paint on the ceiling and some new wallpaper. Job done, and the insurance companies can crow about how they have fixed up 80% (or whatever % figure) of all the damaged houses. However many houses suffered major damage, in some cases shifting off foundations, or foundations slumping, or whole large sections of walls separating. Those houses suffering such “major damage”, or requiring a full rebuild, can be described as being “over threshold”.)

The government wasn’t entirely to blame though, as “most of the delays can be attributed to the insurers” he said. But he criticised the National Party government’s paradigm that “we’ll let the market fix itself”.

“The Government has left people out of the equation” Phil Twyford said, there was “not nearly enough emphasis on building homes for people.” He referred to the “human toll” of “people living in substandard and overcrowded conditions, for their fourth Winter.”

There was no coherent plan for a rebuild of the city that its residents wanted, he said. Some potential investors in CBD redevelopments, had simply walked away because it was just too hard to work with the government.

He claimed that a Labour led government would do things differently. He said they would be using “the levers of government” and would be building 10,000 houses per year for the first few years. He claimed that, there had been very little affordable housing in the rebuilding efforts so far.

Phil Twyford criticised the government for not mandating a percentage of affordable housing in new developments. This has led to large developments of new land for housing, but all at the premium, pricey end of the spectrum.

What was needed, to “unlock the rebuild” was for government to put the infrastructure in place and take a lead in overall design. This would reduce the risk for those private developers who would build the actual housing.

Some time was then allowed for questions from the audience.

One man who said that there had been 5 sawmills closed down recently, because they couldn’t get enough logs to mill. Yet raw logs were being shipped ‘not value added’, to China. “Is the free market, causing the high cost of housing?”

Phil Twyford responded. He said there were several problems that made New Zealand housing more expensive (than in overseas countries). Lack of scale and lack of competition. He went on to say that In California, treated “4×2″ Radiata pine timber can be purchased for one quarter the price that Kiwis have to pay for it. (Known as “Four by Two” in NZ, from it’s old measurement in inches, this is a common size of timber used in constructing structural framing for houses, garages and small commercial premises of 1 and 2 storeys height.)

In response to a woman’s question, it was said that the government, Bill English in particular, had turned down at least 6 applications for development funding, regarding engineered timber construction systems, which could greatly benefit the Christchurch rebuild.

Another woman spoke about her difficulties in trying to get her small inner city home rebuilt. She specifically wanted a “7 star” Homestar economy rating.

Another woman spoke about the government selling unremediated TC3 land for $ 750 per square metre. She said that would mean that newly constructed residences would therefore work out to be about $ 800,000 each, which is an awful long way from “affordable housing”.

Phil Twyford replied “the (free) market will NEVER EVER deliver affordable housing!”

That’s probably a good point to finish on, and indeed that was the end of the public question time. Tea and bikkies were served and many people remained afterwards and spoke to the panellists.

Later that night, after the meeting had finished, the rain started pouring down again. Local residents were not surprised to wake the following morning to flooding (especially in the Flockton Basin area) and with shops busily sandbagging and police closing roads.

Tony Milne is a candidate for the Labour Party, for the Christchurch Central electorate. The next election is due in late 2014. This ‘blog is not related to any political party and will gladly cover other public meetings arranged by others involved in local issues, whichever political party they may be from.