Monday, 21 October 2013

NZ immigration, or the absolute inanity of trying to get Kiwis back home with the current procedures

Well, I finally got to relocate back to NZ in September. And I am determined this time is for good. No more airline "dinners" for me, early morning transfers and cruddy hotels. I'm home, and so glad to be here.

Except for one thing. NZ Immigration (NZIS) are, to not put too fine a point on it, a bunch of bean counting, pen pushing, box ticking, life sucking, international phone bill vacuuming bureaucratic morons. Indeed, the "I" in NZIS could stand for anything from "inane" to "idiotic" through to "imbecilic", and still be way far off the reality.

If I can take you back to the beginning. I had been living in Thailand for a few years, while running my business from NZ. Yep, all invoices went through NZ, paid both company and personal taxes in NZ, primarily because we have one of the simplest systems there is out there. Yes, IRD can be a pain to get hold of from time to time, but really our tax related compliance costs (and time costs) are dead minimal compared to most other countries. Did basically everything online.

So, decided to relocate to NZ in early 2013, with the wife and the new baby (born November 2012). Got the process started by getting NZ Citizenship for the baby (duly granted by DIA, no problems there), and then started on the paperwork for the wife.

First problem. Downloaded paperwork in March 2013. Went and did all the police checks, medical checks etc., and submitted in July 2013. Get a message back that the paperwork we had downloaded has expired, have to re-submit.

No expiry date on the originals. How the hell are we to know that the forms have expired?

Then we go through various minor trials and tribulations, a right royal pain in the arse, but we get ourselves back to NZ in September 2013, the wife on a tourist visa, awaiting approval of residence.

And now the fun really starts.

According to the New Zealand Imbecilic Service, we have to prove we have been in a relationship for at least 12 months. They ask for all sorts of stuff (photos, shared accounts such as power, property leases, bank accounts etc.). And here we hit the most idiotic of walls.

You can't open any account in Thailand in a joint name. It has to be in one name only, and that person must be a Thai Resident or Citizen. As I was neither, everything went under the wife's name.

Scroll on a few months, we are here in NZ, but now NZIS decides they want more proof that we are in a relationship. Here is the proof we have provided so far (that they have decided is not enough):

- NZIS approved my partner for a tourist visa in 2010 and 2011 to NZ on the basis that she was my partner. We had a couple of great holidays here that convinced her to relocate.

- Provide a letter dated 2011 from my partner's parents stating we have been in relationship for at least 12 months prior.

- We had a child together born November 2012 that was awarded NZ Citizenship by Descent. Do the math, we must have been having sex in February 2012 to make this baby (i.e. been in a relationship), so that is well over 12 months by now.

But NZIS decides we have not provided enough proof that we were in a relationship for 12 months. And to cap it all off:

In the letter requesting further details, NZIS provides a Thailand phone number as a supposed direct line to the Immigration Official responsible (Literally: "If you have any questions you can call me on (phone number)").

Call the number, find out that since February 2013 this number is invalid, and we have to call TTS in Bangkok (the processing company contracted by NZIS to manage all visa applications).

Call TTS in Bangkok, get told that the person we want to talk to works for NZIS and not for TTS and there is no way I can talk to this person!!!!

I'm sorry, but WTF?? They can't even give the right phone number after it changed 9 months ago? NZIS says that having a child is not proof of having a relationship? NZIS says that we acknowledge your relationship from 2010 and 2011, but it is now no longer valid??

Like I said before, if KEA is really serious about supporting Kiwis coming home, then the first thing they need to do is give NZIS a seriously big kick in the arse and tell them to GET REAL. In the real world, people are focussed on building businesses, creating wealth, and developing relationships, not on ensuring they check every last bean counting little check box of a bureaucracy that is becoming less and less relevant by the day.

Seriously, we were recognised by NZIS as partners on her visa in 2010 and 2011, and then we had a baby in 2012, but now in 2013 we are not in a relationship???

Now I have probably shot myself well and truly in the foot with this one. But hopefully I can get enough likes and comments so that the powers that be actually take notice and the next poor sod returning expat Kiwi doesn't have to go through the time and expense that we went though.

Monday, 22 April 2013

NZ Power, the folly of the NZ Greens and the NZ Labour Party

I really don't know what to believe with this one. Greens/Labour announce a policy to create a new govt. entity called NZ Power to compulsorily purchase all electricity from producers at a set rate, to then on-sell to the electricity retailers.

Am I confused about whether it is a good idea or a bad one? Nope. It is a total idiot of an idea, an absolute pearler of economic vandalism (to borrow a phrase from Cameron Slater at Whaleoil). What I am confused about is whether this is a genuine loopy left, command economy, let's reintroduce failed socialist economics kind of policy, or if this is an inside job by the big boy corporates to allow them to continue hiking prices and offload the PR damage onto the government of the day?

So allow me the privilege of talking myself through it all. Just to clear my mind, to make sure I have things straight.

As a clear disclaimer, I am dead set against the sale of state assets that produce, year in, year out, dividends to the State. No brainer. Keep em, they are making a buck. Why? Because the dividend means your and my direct (PAYE, GST etc.) and indirect tax (Government borrowings) are kept down.   Good thing that, because I can control my electricity usage (and hence cost) myself, but I can't control my PAYE rate (that is an Act of God, as an insurance company would say).

So what will NZ Power do? Basically, it will sit in between the producers of electricity (the hydro dam, windfarm, thermal power plant etc. owners) and the retailers of electricity (Genesis, Mercury, Meridian etc., you know, the nice logos on your power bill). NZ Power will "negotiate" a rate for electricity from said producers, and then sell all electricity at said rate to the retailers. By virtue of its monopoly on raw power purchase, NZ Power will be able to get a "discount" rate; how they calculate that discount is yet to be seen.

As an analogy, if we had a Government entity called "NZ Bandwidth", it would compulsorily buy all of the internet bandwidth available within NZ (from Chorus, United Networks etc.), and then on-sell it to bandwidth retailers (your ISP; Vodafone, Orcon, Slingshot etc. you know, the nice logos on your internet bill). Because NZ Bandwidth is the only authorised purchaser, the idea is NZ Bandwidth gets to negotiate and set the price, which should be cheaper, right?

Makes sense for all of about 15 seconds. Nah, not even that.

The argument for NZ Power has so many holes in it I am sure you could make money from a windfarm on the other side.

Firstly, the primary economic argument the Greens/Labour had against selling Mighty River Power (MRP) was because of the dividends it produced for the state. In short, it made a profit, and from that profit paid out handsomely to the government, year in year out. Just like the other SOEs in the electricity sector (Genesis, Meridian etc.). That's good, right? Because it keeps our direct taxes (PAYE, GST etc.) down.

Well, now NZ Power will directly reduce those SOEs profits by demanding a reduction in electricity prices, reducing the dividend to the State. Meaning either increased direct taxation, or increased borrowing by the government (a tax on you and me in another name, because it is still us (or our kids/grandkids) that have to pay those borrowings back). In effect, what they reduce (if anything) from your power bill, they will have to claw back somewhere else.

Shot in the foot #1. Don't sell MRP because it pays such good dividends. Introduce a policy that guarantees lower dividends.

Secondly, your, my and the Governments balance sheet damage. All of us who have Kiwisaver accounts, all of our grandparents who have small superannuation schemes or private shareholdings, they are likely to hold one or more NZ Electricity company. And they will be hit. Contact Energy went from $5.80 pre-announcement, to $5.15 post announcement. That's a 12% drop on a possibility that the NZ Power proposal will come true. At the same time the Government (i.e. you and me) owns 51% of these companies; that is a balance sheet hit for them (i.e. you and me) too! God forbid that Labour/Greens should actually make the Government benches; if it looks like a Labour/Greens win get your money out fast.

Shot in the foot #2. Promote debt reduction, personal savings and Kiwisaver. Introduce policy that promotes debt increase and damages personal savings and Kiwisaver.

Thirdly, what if the electricity generators don't like the price set by NZ Power? What if a company says "Nah, that price is too low, we can't make a buck on that. Stuff ya, we will just turn off the switch"? As a business, do you have to sell to me at a price I set? No you don't. It may make more economic sense to just mothball the hydro dam for the meantime until prices rise. And remember, NZ is a small country. All of the Boards (and probably most of the senior management) of the electricity producers in NZ will be on a first name basis. You think they won't talk to each other, discuss strategies, look for ways to maximise their returns in a fiat environment? Of course they will, thinking otherwise is just head in the sand stuff. After all, that is their job, to run a business to maximise return for their shareholders. Which, paradoxically, means they will be fighting against the Government (their shareholder) because they want to give more money to the Government! How nuts is that? Much like the Great Depression, when food rotted in the ground because it wasn't economic to harvest and transport it while people starved in the streets, water will be flushed from full dams while we suffer through power cuts.

Shot in the foot #3. Sorry, left and right foot shot out from underneath me. Nothing left to stand on.

Which leads me to the conclude the following. Neither the Greens, nor Labour, should be stupid. Most of the people who have made it into the higher echelons of their respective parties should (in theory) be quite smart. But they desperately wanted to derail the MRP sale. I (the author) am personally 100% against the sale of dividend producing state assets (such as MRP). But I cannot go past the destruction in value this NZ Power policy creates, and the fact that it will never lead to lower power prices.

Ask yourself, when was the last time a Government enacted a monopoly on something and prices went down? Ummm, errrr....

So the REAL question is, WHO BENEFITS FROM THIS POLICY? You and me and our power bills? Debatable, as outlined above, what we don't pay in power bills we will have to pay somewhere else. Shareholders? No way, already seen destruction of value on just the possibility this becomes real! Electricity security of supply? You gotta be joking, if it was my business and I couldn't run at a profit I would turn it off too.

So I have to conclude that the only ones who can possibly benefit from this policy, are the electricity producers themselves. No Government will ever risk a price induced (read politically induced) power cut; it is political suicide. But price hikes? Oh well, that can be explained away.

Should NZ Power be enacted, any power price hike will no longer be the producers problem. It will be NZ Power (i.e. the Government's) problem. Entire corporate PR departments can be eliminated. Mercury, Contact, MRP, all of them no longer have anything to fear from the public. "The Government sets the price" they will say. The subscript being (and quite rightly so), "If we don't like the price, we just turn the lights off". The electricity producers must be sitting there laughing their heads off.

And if Manapouri or Clyde Dam should fail? The destruction, the devastation? I can see the first press release now: "NZ Power forced rates down so low we could not keep up basic maintenance".

The whole point of SOEs (i.e. Govt. owned businesses, not forgetting that Govt. owned means you and me owned) is to create responsibility; to create a business that looks both to its profits today, and to its maintenance in the long term, as a protector of shareholder value and long term infrastructure reliability as a return on investment (your and my investment, through our taxes that paid for it in the first place).

Look at it seriously, and ask yourselves "Who actually comes out better off?" Power prices will continue to go up; the cost of production and the maintenance of the infrastructure has to keep going up. Just common sense. But the blame for any failures can be shifted.

Labour, Greens, you've been had, big time. Someone has done a magnificent inside job on you guys. You were just so keen to derail the MRP float, and someone came along with a solution, but you couldn't see the dam for the water. So you gave them the perfect answer to their problem of how to absolve themselves of any responsibility for increasing power prices or lack of maintenance. Sucked it all up, headwater, dam and turbine.

And you, fellow voter? If you vote for the advocates of this policy, then you are a sucker. As you read this article, I have no doubt the leaders of the power companies are supping on Chateau Lafitte, congratulating each other on the greatest hoodwink in NZ's political and economic history.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

A Parody: The entire country has now been declared a high New Zealand Dollar zone

The entire country's SME sector has officially been declared a High New Zealand Dollar Zone (HNZDZ).
The announcement was made at a Penrose fabrication factory by Minister for Economic Development Steven Joyce this morning.
Previously Manufacturing and Export Education had already been declared to be in HNZDZ.
Tourism and Services have now been added to that list.
The declaration means that SME exporters in these sectors will be entitled to receive Government assistance.
The HNZDZ is predicted to cost the economy $5 billion as hard-hit export dollar earners struggle to earn enough foreign exchange to allow the country to pay its residential mortgages bills.
Fabrication plant owner Mr. Going Broke, with 70% of turnover coming from exports, said the declaration was a welcome recognition by the Government of their struggle.
"When everyone recognises you're having a hard time you probably feel a little bit better about yourself, whereas if there's not that recognition there's probably people out there that think it's their fault and they just need to harden up.
This shows that they've done what they can but they're dealing with something that's beyond their control."
The hardest hit were tourism operators. Some were discounting hard, but many operators were already working on very tight margins.
The other key issue was a lack of export and R&D tax breaks, compounded by the proposed car park and iPad fringe benefit tax compliance costs.
"Normally in a High NZD situation you'll find maybe the local economy is doing alright, and your input costs such as imported fuel and raw materials are decreasing, but this is not the case currently."
Extra Government funding will be available to manufacturing, tourism and export associations who work closely with SMEs, providing support and guidance.
There will also be SME exporter assistance payments - equivalent to the unemployment benefit - available from Work and Income to those in extreme hardship.
"Many SME people can be reluctant to ask for help, but it is important for them to know that support is available," Mr Joyce said.
"This is a difficult time for SME families and they need to know that the Government and all New Zealanders are behind them.
"Some break in the high NZD is forecast next year, which is welcome news. However we will need more than this to help prepare for our economic future.
"Parts of the Agriculture sector are also very HNZDZ, in particular beef and wool. We are keeping a close watch on all further sectors."
SME owners should contact their accountants or the IRD if they need help or flexibility with making tax payments, Mr Joyce said. Standard hardship assistance is available from Work and Income.
SME spokesperson said he could not recall a time when the entire economy had been in HNZDZ.
He said Government financial assistance would be a drop in the ocean compared to what SMEs had lost or were going to lose but the emotional support the declaration offered was very welcome.
"These are people that are suffering through no fault of their own, through an act of God. We have real concerns about the emotional stress and difficulties that many families are coping with and that's the predominant benefit that comes from a HNZDZ declaration.
"It doesn't mean any money directly to SMEs, it's just about having some competent, expert people out there who are able to be at the end of the phone, or to sit around the industrial tools lathe and talk it through."
Forex specialist J. Key  said yesterday that NZ had not experienced a HNZDZ so severe for 20 years, and warned that such events could become more frequent.
Note: a parody of todays (15/03/13) article in the NZ Herald on the drought declaration at

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Couldn't resist this

Having worked in the translation industry for more than 10 years, just couldn't resist posting this. The perfect example of what going for the lowest cost translation, and/or software/machine driven translation can do to your brand!

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Working for Families, or WTF?

I am a parent. I have benefited financially from Working for Families Tax Credits (WFF for short), and I cannot really fault a government for trying to support parents financially in raising children. But I am, quite literally, about to bite the hand that feeds me. Certain things about both the WFF system, and the underlying thinking behind it, I have never been able to agree with, and on balance I think the whole system should be done away with.

WFF was introduced back in 2005. In budget 2011 the WFF was projected to cost $2.7 billion.  This is roughly 9% of the total social security budget (pensions, DPB etc.), but more importantly 11% of the total "individuals" tax revenue (PAYE, non-corporate taxes, and excluding GST revenue) generated.

So 11% of your individual tax payments are redistributed via WFF. To put this is context, the WFF spend is higher than the entire Government Transport and Communications budget. WFF spend is equivalent to 75% of the Law and Order budget. It is more than 20% of the Education budget. It is 13 (yes thirteen) times the entire budget of the Department of Conservation.

By any means this is a lot of money, and for the life of me I cannot fathom the logic for this programme to even exist. My objections are as follows.

WFF is for parents supporting parents with children up to the age of 18. Ergo, if you don't have children, or your children are over 18, your taxes are directly subsidising people who have children. But having children is a lifestyle choice, some of us choose to have children, some of us don't. Why should you, who perhaps chose not to have children, subsidise me, who choses to have them? If my lifetime passion is butterfly collecting, should your taxes subsidise that as well? WFF makes you financially responsible for my personal lifestyle choices. This is blatantly unfair and unjust.

WFF is incredibly complicated. It is divided into 4 categories; Family Tax Credit (FTC), In-work Tax Credit (IWTC), Minimum Family Tax Credit (MFTC), and Parental tax Credit (PTC). It is administered in part by WINZ and in part by IRD.

How much does it cost to administer? Answer: No-one knows!

The In-work Tax Credit (IWTC) is specifically meant to create a strong financial incentive for the unemployed to seek employment. But it doesn't. It only creates an incentive for the unemployed with children to seem employment. All those unemployed, childless ones, receive no such financial incentive to take on minimum wage jobs (jobs that are often unsuitable for parents due to the hours of work required or the transient nature of the work, such as in horticulture or agriculture).

WFF is paid to the principal caregiver. This is defined as "The principal child carer is the eligible parent or the person responsible for the day to day care of the children." All well and good. But what of non-custodial parents paying child support? Child support is calculated by IRD on the basis of the non-custodial parent's income. No matter how much child support you may pay, the child support receiver still gathers all of the WFF benefit, while the non-custodial, child support paying parent receives nothing. Again, this is manifestly unfair. If the non-custodial parent is making financial contributions to the welfare of the children, surely that parent should also be eligible to some of the benefit from any government largess?

In the year to June 2012, the median income from those receiving salaries or wages was $41912.00 per year. On that you would pay $6354.60 in income tax.  Of that, 11% or $698.94 goes to WFTC payments.

So what could we do with that WFF money?

If we got rid of WFF, we could reduce the 17.5% income tax bracket to 15%. The income tax for earnings between $14,001 and $48,000 could be reduced by 2.5%. This would have an immediate and beneficial impact on all full time wage earners in NZ.

We could employ over 38,000 people as police, teachers or nurses on a salary of $70,000 per year. By way of comparison, there are currently less than 8,500 sworn police officers in NZ. There were 51,000 teachers employed at state schools in 2011. There are 47,000 nurses currently practicing in NZ. How about we double the number of police, and increase the number of teachers by 20%? That would leave us about $1.3 billion to, oh I don't know, maybe pay doctors and nurses a decent salary so they don't have to leave the country to pay back their student loans?

Isn't that what we should be doing, rather you than subsidising my lifestyle choice?

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

The online GST rort; or why doesn't Google pay GST on advertising sales?

Recently there has been a fair bit of news about how multinational corporations manipulate income sources in order to book that income in the lowest tax jurisdiction they can. Most of that has focussed on corporate income tax, but there is a serious issue with GST/sales tax that concerns me for New Zealand businesses. Now while I am no great friend of the tax man, in order for NZ companies to operate on a level playing field internationally, there definitely needs to be some work done in the area of GST.

Most large international web platforms (Google, Facebook, LinkedIn etc.) generate a significant portion of their revenue from advertising. So do some our biggest NZ platforms (TradeMe, NZHerald, Stuff etc.). All no doubt attempt corporate income tax minimisation to the nth degree. But the one key difference is that while those onshore platforms (think TradeMe) pay GST on NZ derived AND NZ targeted advertising sales, those offshore platforms (think Google) don't pay GST on EITHER.

Hold on a minute. IRD states specifically on their latest GST guide:
“GST is a 15% tax on the supply (sale) of most goods and services in New Zealand...”

How can this be so?

I want to illustrate the unfairness of the current system by comparing Google and TradeMe. Both essentially make money from selling advertising; Google through Adwords PPC, TradeMe via listing and success fees. 

While TradeMe is specifically NZ, advertisers on Google can choose where in the world their ads are displayed, including NZ only. For the sake of this discussion I will talk about NZ and offshore businesses that specifically target NZ consumers via Google Adwords.

So for this discussion, the advertising service in both cases is provided in NZ, to target NZ consumers. 

So why is the offshore advertising platform, be that Google PPC or Facebook advertising, GST exempt,  while the onshore advertising platform (NZ Herald, radio station, NZ search engine etc.) is forced to charge GST? All of these companies are selling a product (advertising) within NZ, focussed on NZ consumers. Surely they should all be paying GST on those sales?

I think this is blatantly unfair on NZ businesses for the following reasons:
  • Any NZ online advertising platform (i.e. TradeMe) who wants to compete within NZ against an international online advertiser is automatically at a 15% pricing disadvantage, because they have to charge GST while Google etc. do not. 
  • Any NZ online advertising platform (i.e. TradeMe) who wants to compete outside NZ against an international online advertiser will also have to charge GST to their NZ advertising customers, while the offshore platform does not. 
  • Should a NZ business choose to use a NZ company to manage its PPC campaign, it will be charged GST on PPC fees. But should they use an offshore company, they won't be charged GST.
  • An overseas advertiser wins twice;  they don't pay GST on their advertising costs, and they don't pay GST on the sale of their product/service (but the poor consumer does if they get pinged by customs).
The fact is the advertising service is provided in NZ focussed on the NZ consumer; as such GST should be payable on the advertising cost.

So what of the cost? I think the costs fall as follows:
  • Disincentive for NZ companies to develop online advertising/trading platforms, or websites that derive income from advertising sold within NZ (much better to set up offshore with a
  • Financial incentive for NZ advertisers to go with the international platforms over local platforms
  • Disincentive for NZ companies to use local online advertising management services
  • B2C unfair competition in product and service sellers from overseas for the NZ consumer
  • Revenue loss for IRD from advertising supplies provided solely in NZ

So, to summarise, Google, being offshore, is not required to charge GST for revenue earned from ads that specifically target New Zealand, yet TradeMe is required to charge GST, irrespective of where the advertiser (or ad viewer) is from. How is this a fair system?

The benefits of enforcing a GST charge on all online advertising targeting NZ would be:

  1. Offshore advertisers would have to pay GST on their advertising costs to NZ consumers, evening things up a little with local NZ businesses
  2. NZ developers would be in a fairer position when it came to developing web properties that rely on advertising revenue
  3. IRD would increase the tax take. In 2009 Google NZ earned an estimated $150 million from NZ advertising; even if only 50% of that was ads targeted to within NZ, then there is revenue to be had, and a lot of it would be foreign exchange (offshore advertisers targeting NZ consumers). Add in Amazon, Facebook, YouTube etc. and target their advertising earnings from ads to NZ and this could be considerable.
By any stretch of the imagination, advertising targeted to be displayed within NZ is a service provided within NZ. It would be a very simple matter for e.g. Google to add GST to any PPC charges earned from within NZ. Why isn’t the government chasing this revenue?

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Whaling time again

The battle against Japan's so-called "scientific whaling" program has been going on for well over 20 years now, Japan using loopholes to venture into the Antarctic and the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary to harvest whales. Personally I am not anti-whaling per se; I eat meat and fish, and can see no reason why whales, along with any other wild stocks if managed sustainably and humanely, should not be part of the diet of those who chose to eat them. I lived for 15 years in Japan, working for many years as a scuba instructor, and spent many evenings sitting in small coastal village bars alongside crusty old fishermen, debating the finer points of whaling over a bottle of sake.

I do object however to Japan coming down to our neck of the woods, and despite the vociferous objections of virtually all of the locals (from NZ to Chile to South Africa to Australia), exert their economic and political clout and blatant arrogance to ignore, in basically an Imperial fashion, what are quite obviously resources over which we and our neighbours should hold kaitiaki, or primary responsibility.

I view it as a clear cut case of cultural imperialism by Japan against the smaller, weaker nations that border the Southern Ocean.

The problem is, to date, we have seen bugger all progress negotiating with Japan. Both Government and so-called "Green" groups have followed an absolutist policy for decades; no whaling whatsoever, wherever, anytime. This is doomed to fail in Japan's case, where their feeling of being the victims of cultural imperialism themselves (along the lines of "Kiwis eat cows, so why can't we eat whales?") and the massive loss of face by high ranking politicians any submission to this policy would entail, makes it a cultural and political impossibility.

But the general awareness in Japan about the facts of whaling is extremely poor, especially the economics. Rarely discussed, even less often eaten, anything to do with whales are generally a non-event in Japan, except when some nationalist politician tries to drum up support by banging the Japan-bashing drum. So I thought I would lay out a few facts about Japan's whaling industry, and then a strategy for perhaps overcoming their opposition.

Japanese whaling has in recent years become a virtually nationalised industry. While the company operating the whaling ships is a private business, fully 90% of the costs of whaling (including ship-owners profit!) are guaranteed by the national Government, with only 10% of the annual whaling cost actually covered by sales of harvested whale products. In 2011, the Japanese Government drew some USD$30 million OUT of the dedicated Fukushima Tsunami recovery budget to subsidise that season's whaling expedition. Almost 2 years on from the disaster, people are still awaiting emergency housing in some areas, while their own Government takes that money and uses it to refit the whaling fleet.

Whaling home base
The home port for the Antarctic whaling fleet in Japan is Shimonoseki. In a press release, the Japanese Ministry of Fisheries stated that the reason for using Tsunami relief funds to subsidise the whaling expedition was to help rebuild the industry of the devastated Fukushima region.

Shimonoseki is in the far south-western corner of Japan; approximately 1500km by road from Fukushima, which is in the north-east. On Japan's main island, you couldn't get any further from Fukushima than Shimonoseki. Perhaps those in the Japanese Ministry of Fisheries should have spent some tsunami relief money on a map.

Whale watching in Japan
Whale watching is a growth industry in Japan, growing at around 6.4% per year, in a country that has been mired in deflation for over 20 years. In 2008 it generated USD$22 million in revenue, small cheese admittedly, but this is almost all generated in some of the poorest regions (and yes, there is real poverty in many coastal towns in Japan) such as Wakayama and Okinawa.

Whale meat stockpiles
Japan cannot sell the whale meat it harvests. They are reduced to giving it away to staff, or storing it in warehouses. Almost 90% of respondents in a survey in Japan stated they had not bought whale meat in the last 12 months. In 2012, Japanese whalers failed to sell 908 of 1211 tons harvested. That's 75% of the catch could not find a buyer. No wonder they are bleeding cash and have to go to Government cap in hand.

Current warehouse stockpiles of whale meat sit at around 5,000 tons.

Cultural right
Japan has a long history of whaling and eating whale meat, just as most coastal cultures do. Yet Japan never ventured to the South Pacific until the mid-1930s, let alone Antarctica, and when it did it was harvesting whale oil to sell to its ally Nazi Germany. A very short history indeed of whaling in Antarctica.

Putting aside history, any claim by Japan to have a cultural right to harvest whales from outside its own territory in 2013 would be the same as the French claiming a cultural right to harvest sturgeon for caviar from the Caspian, the Vietnamese claiming rights to harvest Rhino horn from South Africa, or the English demanding their right to harvest beaver pelts from Canada. Quite blatantly ridiculous.

Why just Japan and not Norway or Iceland?
Japan is not the only nation conducting whaling. Norway and Iceland both have active whaling fleets. Japan frequently complains that is is being unfairly picked on, and that opposition to Japanese whaling is "cultural imperialism" or "Japan bashing".

The crucial difference is neither Iceland nor Norway conduct whaling at the opposite end of the planet from where they are. They don't come to Antarctica to whale in the International Whale sanctuary. They whale within their own waters, and Iceland at least is open that it kills whales for food. And as far as I am concerned that is totally legitimate, as long as it is done sustainably.

Whale meat is toxic
Research has shown again and again that whales and dolphins inevitably concentrate high levels of toxins. Researchers from Hokkaido University in Japan found concentrations of mercury 900 times the Japanese government limit from supermarket sold whale meat.

Independent local council members in Taiji, Japan, where dolphins and pilot whales are regularly harvested, had dolphin meat from a local supermarket independently tested. It showed concentrations of mercury 10 times higher than the recommended level.

This from the country that gave the world Minamata disease, one of the worst cases of mass mercury poisoning.

Yet whale and dolphin meat is served in school lunches all over Japan. It is sold to the schools at only 30% of the wholesale price, as a way of promoting Japanese culinary culture.

My point is
If someone wants to eat whale meat, more power to them. I have no objection to Japanese, Norwegians, or anyone else wanting to eat whale (providing they are aware of the toxins in it). Nor do I object to Koreans eating dog, Thais eating snake, Kiwis eating lamb or Arabs eating goat. I would just ask that any animal's life is taken with respect, and that nothing be wasted.

What I do object to is when a major world power comes down to our back garden, where we have spent years painstakingly trying to repair the damages of another age, and decides they can unilaterally extract whatever they feel like, with absolutely no regard to our opinion. And even more objectionable is when some species are still threatened with extinction; now the Japanese are not only stealing our heritage, but the entire worlds'.

It reeks of arrogance, Imperialism and outright bullying. It really just stinks.

What should we do to get them to stop?
Of course maintaining the diplomatic and political pressure is necessary. The Australians are bringing a case at the World Court. But I think the anti-whaling media, Government and the Green groups have got their approach all wrong. With Japan, the one way to effect change is to remove emotion from the argument entirely. Any reference to whales being "wonderful" "cute" or "sentient", or whale killing being "inhumane" or whatever is just not going to work and just dovetails in with the Japanese feeling of being persecuted. Most Japanese have bought into the "cultural imperialism"/"Japan bashing" propaganda forced down their throat by their politicians and media. If we can remove that from the debate, and stick to facts and logic, we might actually get somewhere.

So stop with the emotion, and just present the facts (which most Japanese won't know). I think many in Japan would be gob-smacked when they find out that, with a Government debt to GDP ratio the highest in the world, a massively expensive reconstruction effort in Fukushima, and a moribund economy, that their Government is wasting money in this fashion. Let's also explain the rational, logical, reasons for opposition, the physical danger of consuming whale meat, and by using analogies such as those above question their cultural "right" to steal something that doesn't belong to them under any pretext.

And then give the politicians and bureaucrats of Japan an option, so that they can save face. Just trying to boot them out of the South Pacific will never, ever work; the loss of face would be inconceivable for those powerful ones who have hoisted their pennant to this particular flagpole. This "face" is all important in Japan, and needs to be respected if we are to make progress. Just banging away with an absolutist approach is never going to solve anything.

I would ask that those concerned consider offering to enhance Japan's whaling quota in her own waters. Trade off the average take from the Southern Ocean of Minke whales (not endangered by any measures) over the last e.g. 3 years against their domestic allocation. Allow them to catch (non-endandgered species) of whales, and proceed to lose money hand over fist, domestically. Bring the industry reality into their backyard. And then let the Japanese whale watchers and Japanese whale killers battle it out domestically, while the debts mount up and the warehouses of unsold whale meat overflow.

Perhaps then we would actually see whaling become an issue for the Japanese public at large, debated by Japanese vs Japanese, rather than the current Japanese vs gaijin (foreigners), removing this most polarising of sentiments in Japan.

I am calling on the Green groups, the Governments and the Media, to exercise some understanding of realpolitik. And eventually, I feel confident, this kind of approach will lead to the collapse of the Japanese whaling industry altogether; because it is a 100% unsustainable business model; because the diehards will, you know, die out; because the whale watching industry will eventually gain the economic upper hand, and most importantly, because hardly any Japanese want to eat the stuff!