Election 2017: What Can Voters Expect?

University of Otago Politics Professor Janine Hayward, September 14, 2017

Politicians are this year mainly talking about the issues that matter to voters – economics (27%), housing/homelessness (23%), social issues (18%), human rights (13%) and the environment (10%) and are discussing more policy than they did in 2014, Janine says.

And elections are more important in New Zealand than many other democracies because MPs are so powerful, because the lack of an entrenched constitution means they can change most policy settings with just a simple majority of 61 votes.

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Trump, Brexit, the rise (and fall?) of post-truth politics and their influence on the New Zealand election

University of Otago Politics Professor Robert Patman, August 27, 2017.

Brexit and Trump’s election as US president shared globalisation as a springboard of discontent – but, says Prof Patman, globalisation is not something that can be “undone”. Nor would a small country like NZ want it – or the liberal world order on which it is based – to be. We rely on rules supported by international organisations – as shown by our seven out of seven score against trading partners in cases taken to the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

The Brexit vote was “statistically, almost a draw,” yet it has propelled the UK along a path that will put 44% of its exports and almost 3 million jobs at risk, as the EU divorce moves the UK from a market of 520 million to just 63 million. UK politicians were deluded in their belief that companies wouldn’t move their head offices to Europe from London – Lloyds of London has already moved to Dublin, American companies have had exit plans in hand since Brexit discussions began.

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Japan’s Foreign Policy Options in the Trump Era – and Ramifications for NZ?

Professor Toshihiro Nakayama, August 14, 2017.

American president Donald Trump is the “most talked about American ever,” bigger than Elvis, Michael Jackson or even Gen MacArthur, who occupied Japan.

And despite discomfort about him, Japan is still “one of the most pro-American countries in the world,” Prof Nakayama said. “There is the sense that Japan and America are on the same plane … so we have to root for the person who is steering it.”

Japan’s underlying unease about the future of what had, under Obama, been a positive relationship with America is because Japan’s reliance on and power relationship with the US is unsymmetrical. Japan doesn’t have the hard power to shape the international environment, so wants it to be predictable. This predictability relies heavily on US support for international norms, structures and order. The Japan- US alliance was based on shared values, upholding this international order and thus regional stability.

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Something in the Water – Why Should I Care?

University of Otago Winter Symposium, August 8, 2017

Four fabulous panellists spoke to the subject then answered a myriad of varied questions from the 130-strong audience. This review briefly summarises freshwater scientist Marc Schallenberg’s presentation – apologies we couldn’t fit reviews of all four presentations.

In environmental management, the problem of “shifting baselines” is a concept used to explain how precious environments have been allowed to degrade.

The question is, how can we recognise, monitor and respond to these shifting baselines – which over time, lead to incremental, creeping degradation that is unnoticed until our lakes’ natural resilience becomes exhausted – to stop our lakes breaching their environmental tipping point?

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What’s Going on and What’s Next in the Middle East?

Prof Bill Harris, University of Otago Politics Department, July 18, 2017

Despite a “massively unbalanced” PR spend by the ‘evet’ (yes) camp of Pres Erdogan, and a last-minute Electoral Commission decision to count unsealed (and therefore legally invalid) votes that predominantly were probably in the yes camp, Turkey’s president extended his powers in the recent “hyper presidency” referendum by a vote of just 51%.

Prof Harris, recently returned from observing the referendum, said Erdogan claimed his divided country needed a strong man to rule it. But Erdogan was himself in part responsible for inflaming the main rifts (opposition parties, Kurds, religious camps) that are causing the apparent divides.

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The Politics of International Immigration and Refugees

July 4, 2017

The politics of international immigration – highlighted by the ongoing European refugee crisis and the drama of the first six months of Donald Trump’s presidency – was the subject of Prof Mark Miller’s American Independence Day Catalyst Trust talk.

US-Mexico tensions had escalated in the wake of Trump’s plan to build a 2000 mile wall – but, he says “walls don’t work and Mexico won’t pay for it”.

Mexicans had served as a bogeyman throughout his campaign – leading to the worst relationship between the two neighbours in Prof Miller’s memory.

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Trump on Thin Ice … Fresh Hope for Climate Change?

Screening and discussion on July 2, 2017

Thin Ice – the Inside Story of Climate Science is an exploration of the science behind global warming, an intimate portrait of a global community of researchers racing to understand our planet’s changing climate. Executive producer and Antarctic researcher Peter Barrett said the science since then has simply strengthened the film’s principle conclusion – that we need to reduce fossil carbon emissions into the atmosphere to zero well before 2100 to preserve the ice sheets and keep the world as we know it.

After screening the film and updating the latest science, Peter explained why he felt optimistic about global climate change responses despite President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement.

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The Culture of Sport and Cheating

May 19, 2017

Professor Alison Heather, who heads up the ‘Heather Lab’ in the Department of Physiology at the University of Otago, discussed how cheating is now almost expected in sports. Athletes try to win by using performance enhancing drugs and then cheating on drug tests. Rules are no longer guidelines for the game but rather barriers to overcome. Cheating has become a game within the games.

Sports doping goes back to Roman times, when a concoction of bull testicles and mushrooms was the drug of choice. The Greeks even fed their honey alcohol to their gladiatorial horses as well. Drug testing began at the Olympics in 1968, but tests did not become sensitive until 15 years later with mass spectrometry of urine samples. As a result, 21 medals (11 gold) were stripped at the Pan American games and 31% of athletes chose not to show up once they found out that the drug tests would be held.

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Worldwide Vision – from Syria’s Crisis to Poverty in the Pacific

March 28, 2017

How to humanise the refugee crisis that has seen a record 65.3 million people displaced? World Vision CEO Chris Clarke did so by portraying the tale of 12 year old Syrian refugee Adel, who he met in a makeshift Lebanon refugee camp with his widowed mother and five younger sisters.

At 12, he was digging potatoes for 12 hours a day to pay back the farmer for the pocket handkerchief of land they had built their leaking plywood and plastic shelter on. When they met, he had 75 more days to clear the debt. His sisters were suffering post-traumatic stress disorder. Nightmares of gun toting soldiers they had seen back home had one sister often run from their paltry shelter in the middle of the night, screaming and terrified. It was Adel who had to chase after her, bring her back, comfort her till she could sleep again.

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Avoiding Conservation by Numbers and How Genetics Can Help

February 21, 2017

Did you know the little spotted Kiwi was nearly lost when just 5 individuals remained? A conservation program saw its numbers grow. But a bigger population is not enough. Dr Helen Taylor, research fellow in conservation genetics at the University of Otago, is tackling what happens when a population crashes and inbreeding – a threat to even thriving populations – affects the survival and reproduction of subsequent generations.

Dr Taylor discussed how conservation is often considered to be a numbers game – if we increase the size of a threatened species’ population, we think this a conservation success. Unfortunately, population growth is not always the full story; factors such as genetics have a big part to play in whether or not a species will survive.

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