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Insights 38: 15 October 2021
NZ Herald: Roger Partridge on the Covid Delta outbreak and the government's response
 
Podcast: The Government's Emissions Reduction Plan with Eric Crampton and Matt Burgess
 
Submission: Covid-19 Public Health Response Amendment Bill (no 2) by Dr Eric Crampton

Dyslexia Awareness Month
Steen Videbeck | Research Fellow | steen.videbeck@nzinitiative.org.nz
School can be a difficult place for the approximately one-in-ten children affected by dyslexia.

The inability to read the teacher's instructions or questions on tests. The realisation they are falling behind their peers. Being told to just try harder, despite doing their best. Feeling angry at themselves. Worrying about being labelled as dumb. Finding school pointless.

As a teacher, it is especially heartbreaking to hear stories of children struggling. My teacher training in 2013 did not cover dyslexia. I went into the classroom without knowing what dyslexia was, how to recognise it, or the best way to teach children with dyslexia. Looking back, I worry that I was just another teacher who said, 'try harder'. A teacher who didn't understand or help.

Over the last year, I have been researching literacy. The way reading is currently taught in most New Zealand schools is yet another barrier for children with dyslexia.

But there is hope.

Last year the Ministry of Education endorsed the International Dyslexia Association's Structured Literacy approach for students with dyslexia. An expert labelled the move as a breakthrough.

Students with dyslexia have trouble matching the sounds that make up words with the letters representing them. Structured Literacy explicitly teaches children the relationships between sounds and letters. Research shows that this is how all children should learn to read. 

The Ministry is also making positive changes to support all students - increasing teacher professional development, updating funded reading interventions, and putting out structured literacy-aligned decodable books. Of course, more change is needed, but it is encouraging to see a shift in direction from the top.

People passionate about solutions at the grassroots level have done amazing work that has led the way.

For example, Sharon Scurr’s Dyslexia NZ Evidence-Based Support Group helps over 6,500 parents and educators share the latest research on dyslexia via Facebook. This is a much-needed counterbalance to the misinformation that often surrounds dyslexia.

There's also Lifting Literacy Aotearoa, who have been strong advocates for change. The group has developed a useful map of structured literacy schools in New Zealand and thorough case studies of schools that switched. Carla McNeil and Liz Kane are on their steering group. Both are literacy experts who diligently share their knowledge with parents and teachers.

And finally, SPELD NZ, a charity that offers discounted assessments, educator training, tuition, and support.

I look forward to sharing my research on literacy soon.

GIving it away
Matt Burgess | Senior Economist | matt.burgess@nzinitiative.org.nz
Each year, the government gives away millions of emissions units to trade-exposed businesses under its Industrial Allocations (“IAs”) policy.

The policy is narrow but deep. In 2020, just 70 businesses received a whopping 7.7 million units. That is about 18% of the country's emissions which are covered by the Emissions Trading Scheme.

Nearly two-thirds of the gifted units went to three businesses: New Zealand Steel (2 million), the owners of the smelter at Tiwai Point (1.6 million), and Methanex (1.2 million).

With the recent increase in the carbon price, free allocations are now worth $500 million per year.

IAs exist because steel makers and other producers overseas do not pay a carbon price. The free units level the playing field, and stops companies leaving for lower carbon prices elsewhere, a process known as ‘leakage’.

Unfortunately, IAs have become more generous than they need to be. This is down to the formula used to allocate units. It is based not on each firm’s actual emissions, but on a benchmark rate per tonne of output for the sector, multiplied by each firm’s production.

The idea behind the benchmark approach is to preserve incentives to lower emissions. Firms who invest in greener production are not penalised with fewer free units next year.

Benchmarks were fixed in 2010. Since then, firms have indeed cut their emissions. The problem is that many firms now receive free units for more than 100% of their emissions. A recent study commissioned by the Ministry for the Environment looked at this over-allocations problem. Three of the four sectors it surveyed received more free units than the emissions they produced. One (unnamed) sector received three times too many units.

Such excess unfairly shifts the burden of reducing emissions to households and businesses. And with the carbon price at $65 – double its July 2020 value – IAs are putting hundreds of millions of dollars in the pockets of firms for increasingly questionable returns.

The government is now reviewing the IA system. Its reforms should continue to prevent leakage and keep incentives to lower emissions – but stop with the unnecessary giveaways.

We suggest replacing the current fixed benchmarks with sinking lids based on international emissions trends. This change could raise difficult measurement issues. But that is less troubling than gifting free money to high emitters in the name of climate change.

The government should move quickly.

Now for the real news
Ben Craven | External Relations Manager | ben.craven@nzinitiative.org.nz
Public relations is poorly understood.

Much of that is due to the dramas and sitcoms detailing wild story arcs of spin doctors, the dark arts, and political influence.

In reality, practitioners are mostly people trying to share their clients’ good news.

Right now we could do with more PR, not less.

Open up a newspaper. Browse a news website. Watch the 6 o’clock bulletin.

You’ll be confronted by a wall of bad news.

The daily government press conferences provide newsrooms with easy content. And there’s never a shortage of dour epidemiologists to talk to about their newly updated models and grim forecasts.

Add to that anything non-Covid the Government presents at the daily stand-up, and the news agenda is set.

Spare a thought for any PR person trying to pitch a positive story in this environment.

Bad news sells. And at the moment, there seems to be plenty of it.

But it’s all started to feel a bit samey.

Pre-pandemic, the news would follow a familiar recipe.

The 6 o’clock broadcast would contain a carefully curated mix of bad news stories from far-flung countries, a well-known firm or individual punching above their weight on the international stage, and a fair amount of quaint, quirky, and quintessentially Kiwi tales to inspire and delight.

Endless negativity and bleak forecasts can’t be the new normal.

We have to find a way to return to the feel-good stories we never knew we needed.

Now, I’m not suggesting the news becomes lowbrow clickbait. Rather, we need the highbrow content of before, where we could read an article or two and then sound intelligent during polite conversation.

The stories about Kiwi start-ups doing well by catering to a Gen Z’s obsession with the latest consumer fads.

And the thought leadership op-eds from industry figures you haven’t heard of, but that at least look important and authoritative.

Remember the last time you read about an agricultural innovation, a company’s IT overhaul, or the local community group’s environmental initiative?

Chances are a PR practitioner was responsible for that story.

It’s sometimes said that public relations consultants make the bad news good, and the good news even better.

And in a time of doom and gloom, who wouldn’t want more of that?

 
On The Record
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Initiative Activities:
  • Podcast: The Government's Emissions Reduction Plan with Dr Eric Crampton and Matt Burgess
     
  • Podcast: The Illusions of History with Emeritus Professor Gary Hawke and Dr Bryce Wilkinson
     
  • Submission: COVID-19 Public Health Response Amendment Bill (No 2) by Dr Eric Crampton
 
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