Red Alert

Archive for March, 2010

Time to reduce the gap between rich and poor

Posted by on March 31st, 2010

Interesting article in today’s Herald (the same one referred to by Jacinda Ardern) reporting on a New Zealand Institute report which shows that New Zealand has a high disadvantage rate. Only six countries have a worse disadvantage rate (the gap between rich and poor) among the 30 developed countries that make up the OECD. It was correctly noted that our country became much less equal in the 1990s under the last National Government.

The policies of the current National Government will no doubt worsen this situation. One of the earliest acts of this Government was to give tax cuts favouring the rich (30% of the cuts went to the top 3% of salary earners).  We are likely to see further unfair tax changes in the May budget with increases to the regressive GST and further cuts in personal tax for high income earners. Access to lifelong learning opportunities which can assist people in many ways including improving their job opportunities such as Adult and Community Education and the Training Incentive Allowance have been cut.

The Government has placed scant attention on economic stimulus to create jobs or invest in skills.

A recent Salvation Army report ‘Road to Recovery’ stated that: “…there is no denying that the recession is taking a social toll. Unemployment is at a five year high, gains made over the last five years in reducing child poverty have probably been lost, and there are signs of a widening income gap between the well paid and the poorly paid”

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Filed under: inequality

ECANed

Posted by on March 31st, 2010

About an hour ago, the last speech was given and Environment Canterbury was consigned to the dustbin. In 30 hours flat, Cantabrians lost their right to vote for a council making major decisions about their lives. This is the first such axing of a council  in our history – the Rodney district council asked for a review ten years ago.

Make no mistake, for all the posturing and Nick Smith’s third speech crocodile condolences to staff and councillors, we will not see ECAN return, certainly not under this government. And Jo Goodhew, MP for Rangitata and Junior Govt Whip, did not deny repeated claims in the House that it was her approach to Timaru mayor Janie Annear that triggered the Mayoral Forum criticism of ECAN. That came  right on the eve of the vote which bowled former Labour MP Sir Kerry Burke as ECAN chair in favour of Alec Neill.  Not that it did him much good – six months as chair and his Government’s rejection of his compromise that councillors work alongside commissioners. We put up amendments to this effect-  and many others – but to no avail.

With ECAN gone, the Government can get on with the business of rapidly allocating new water.  Sad thing is, that will put at real risk the Canterbury Water Management Strategy which gave us a once-in-a-lifetime chance of getting a win/win. Trouble is, although the strategy is attached as a schedule to the axe-ECAN bill,  its first priority of environmental balance and first phase water quality restoration before new allocation, is not the Government’s agenda.


The headline that says it all.

Posted by on March 31st, 2010

Today the Herald printed an article headed ‘NZ Youth losing out in health, education, jobs.’ The article is based on the NZ institute’s latest report, which found that New Zealand has:

-The second-highest proportion of the unemployed who are aged 15 to 19

-The highest teen suicide rate

-One of the highest school dropout rates

The Institue Director, Dr Rick Boven, makes special mention of New Zealand’s high levels of inequality as a contributing factor. He also talks about the lack of transition into different forms of education and the need to match training and education with areas where we have workforce shortages.

Couple of things struck me from this report and the article itself.  Alternative forms of education are necessary and important. Why then are there threats that our alternative education programmes might be cut?

If matching education to the areas where we have a skills shortages is so crucial, why did the Government dump the skills strategy?

And if the health of young people is an issue, surely it would be wise for a Government to properly fund our youth health one stop shops, who provide help with general health needs, drug and alcohol abuse, and mental health issues. Currently up to three of these services have faced closure this year alone, despite a Government commissioned report that they are providing a useful and necessary service for young people, who might otherwise not be catered for.

So the headline really does says it all. The Government’s response on some of these issues probably does too.


Random acts of Labour-ness

Posted by on March 31st, 2010

Here’s a great little video from the Te Tai Tonga Labour folks who did the Easter thing for Wellington’s cleaners.


$300k for a patronage & a photo

Posted by on March 31st, 2010

A few weeks ago John Key announced that the All Whites would be getting $300k from the taxpayer to help with the media management of their World Cup bid in South Africa.

As Trevor Mallard pointed out at the time, the All Whites are already getting $10 million just for participating in the tournament, with their costs only likely to be about $4 million.

So how does John Key justify they extra $300k from the taxpayer? Today we finally got the answer. Key has just been made patron of the All Whites.

Will all sports teams who offer to make the PM their patron and pose for a photo with him also get $300k?

Like all kiwis, I’m really thrilled the All Whites are going to the World Cup. I was at the game in Wellington when they qualified and I thought the atmosphere was electric. But FIFA is giving them $10 million. They don’t need taxpayer money that could be better spent on grassroots sport.


Could a Living Wage be an Auckland election issue?

Posted by on March 31st, 2010

There’s a fantastic organisation in London called London Citizens which is a grassroots charity campaigning on social, economic and environmental justice.  They organise by training people of all ages, faiths and backgrounds to take action together for change.  After twelve years of organising, their membership includes over one hundred civil society organisations across London and some significant victories.

The stand-out campaign for London Citizens is their Living Wage campaign.

Since its launch back in 2001, the campaign has put an estimated £24 million back in the pockets of low-waged workers.

The London Living Wage Unit was established by the previous mayor, Ken Livingstone who calculated that Londoners need an hourly wage rate of 16% above the national minimum wage rate to lift them above the poverty level.

While many employers, contractors and councils have signed up, most impressive of all is the support for the London Living Wage from Conservative Mayor, Boris Johnson.

Boris has no powers to impose the proposed wage on London businesses, but says it is not only “morally right” but also good for companies keen to retain a motivated and productive workforce.

“During these testing times, it is vital that we invest in order to pay Londoners a fair and decent wage,” Johnson says.

Living Wage is about more than wages. Employers also agree to ethical employment and ethical procurement practice, along with 20 days holidays a year, plus bank holidays, 10 days full sick pay a year and recognition of trade union rights.

Although I’m wary of regional rates, it would great to see any candidate for the Auckland supercity take up the wages and conditions of workers, particularly low paid workers across Auckland as part of their election manifesto.


Flip flop/belly flop… what ever you want to call it – Paula is doing it again

Posted by on March 31st, 2010

This certainly isn’t the first time that the Minister of Social Development has pushed legislation/policy changes that contradict statements she made in the past.

The cuts to the TIA are the most memorable – given that she has said on numerous occassions that would ‘back those women everytime’… those women being those solo mums – and then she reduced the support to them to train… support that she herself had received.

Now her new move is to work test DPB recipients – because (as she stated on numerous ocassions in the house yesterday), ‘it is far better that they are working’. The Attorney General has come out saying very clearly that the new ‘future focus welfare reforms’ discrimate against sole parents on the basis of gender; family status and martial status.

It’s interesting that Paula is so staunchly pushing for sole parents to be out in the workforce, given that this is what she said in her maiden speech:

“More women are in paid employment than ever before, and their contribution is immeasurable. However, when we hear of someone, currently working, who becomes pregnant, one of our first questions is: “How long will she be taking off work?” There is a subtle—and sometimes not so subtle—push for women to return to the workforce as soon as possible. But I ask members not to misunderstand me. I advocate for choice —for women to work part time or full time in paid work, or not at all, or to stay at home and raise their children.”

Now when she states that, “More women are in paid employment than ever before, and their contribution is immeasurable”… we all know that this was the case under labour (keep in mind that her maiden speech was given in 2005).

Mostly what I do wonder, is – what happened to her desire to see women given the CHOICE to stay home with kids OR take up full-time or part-time employment. Why is she now (on paper at least) introducing work testing to push women (cos lets face it – most of them will be women) out in the to a workforce WHERE THERE IS NO WORK!


Democracy under attack?

Posted by on March 31st, 2010

That was the headline that greeted readers of the New Zealand Herald for much of 2008. The Electoral Finance Act was a less than perfect piece of legislation, but the hyperbole that surrounded the campaign against it was extraordinary. So where are those who ran this campaign now, in the face of this

The Government has cancelled an October regional council election, depriving 378,512 Kiwis of a vote for the next 3 1/2 years.

That is how the Dominion Post described the government’s decision to replace the elected Council with commissioners, and in a move that defies belief to not hold elections until 2013. That means that the people of the greater Canterbury region will not get a vote along with other local authorities later this year.

Why? Well Nick Smith gives us an insight in this morning’s Timaru Herald

Dr Smith said part of the reason he replaced the council with commissioners – rather than appointing a commissioner adviser to oversee water management issues, as ECan suggested – was he was wary of the outcome of the October elections.

That’s right, Nick Smith is wary of the outcome of an election. That’s right, in Nick Smith’s view you can’t trust democracy.  An election can throw up results you don’t like , but that does not mean you get to cancel it!

This has been a really week for democracy (not to mention that last few months in terms of Auckland). Last week amid the understandable focus on mining and welfare changes there was not a lot of debate on the government’s decision to not have a spending cap for the MMP referendum.  Despite there being a cap for citizens initiated referenda, there is not one for this one.  I well remember the first referendum where Peter Shirtcliffe and his mates poured money into the anti-MMP campaign, and very nearly pulled off a result.

This is an issue of fairness.   We have to balance participant equality and participant freedom, and that requires a spending limit.


McCully’s temper tantrum

Posted by on March 31st, 2010

I received a call today informing me that this morning’s 10am MFAT briefing on John Key’s confusing whaling policy, organised by Foreign Minister McCully for the Opposition and to be presented by NZ’s International Whaling Commission representative Sir Geoffrey Palmer, has been cancelled. The reason given – the Minister was so “upset” with my posting of yesterday. In that posting I revealed from undisclosed sources in DOC and MFAT that the Government was about to quietly dump the proposal to promote a return to limited commercial whaling to appease the Japanese because traditional allies at the IWC didn’t support it and neither did a majority of the NZ public. I guess McCully’s little hissy fit this morning confirms the information. This whole shambles around NZ’s position on whaling smacks of diplomatic amateurism and will have harmed our 100% Pure international reputation. This is one flip-flop Labour would agree with. We don’t want any commercial whaling.


ODT – Tolley’s Monday meeting and a thoughtful op-ed

Posted by on March 31st, 2010

Comments to Anne Tolley and her response this week from an ODT report.

“We’re not militant, we’re middle class. We care for this nation, and for the children…”

To jeers and laughter, Mrs Tolley said: “I’ve listened to [the concerns] but rejected it.”

It was a minister’s prerogative to make the final decision, she maintained, and then advised those unhappy with that situation to stand for Parliament themselves.

And here is an op-ed from a retired principal who’s been round the block and got a bit of wisdom.


Tolley in the House – well below average, no progress this year

Posted by on March 31st, 2010

Anne Tolley refusing to admit that you can’t have national standards without inter school moderation. And Louise Upston is the backbencher who a year into her job was silly enough to read out the patsy supplementary question that Tolley had written down for her three times notwithstanding she had been told it was out of order twice.

Particularly telling is the way Joyce and Finlayson have their heads down as she answers. They appear to have given up even pretending that she is doing a good job.

For those without broadband – answer below.

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The importance of the ‘backroom’

Posted by on March 30th, 2010

A very good column from Gay Keating from the Public Health Association in today’s Dominion Post commenting on the importance of so-called ‘backroom’ staff to the functioning of the health system.

We absolutely need the doctors and nurses, physios and psychotherapists, dialysis technicians and radiotherapists. But we also need the computer staff, the pay clerks and the hospital cleaners. Having adequate support staff allows clinical staff to get on with their jobs. Otherwise, it’s the doctors and nurses who end up having to order equipment and fill out paperwork.

This is the major concern expressed to me by people right across our public services. Those on the ‘frontline’ are only able to do their jobs properly if they have good support.

As Gay points out those considered backroom are in fact involved in the frontline of providing health services.

So called “backroom bureaucrats” play a vital role in keeping us safe and healthy. They set food-handling standards and inspect cafes so customers don’t get food poisoning. They check that people’s immunisations are up to date, that women are having their breast screening and cervical smears, that middle-aged men are getting their blood pressure checked, that people with diabetes are having their eyes checked, that older people are getting their flu shots. Every year we need bureaucrats and lab technicians to make sure the flu jab has the right mix of virus strains. And for every vaccine, it’s bureaucrats who make sure the products are transported and stored safely.

Exactly. Good, efficient, public services require a balance of staff who are seen and not seen by the public. making artificial distinctions for political reasons as National is doing will not lead to better public services.


Todd McClay says that beneficiaries are more likely to murder children

Posted by on March 30th, 2010

Todd went down the wrong path when he disrespectfully brought Nia Glassie in to the debate.  He went in to a rant abour how she was surrounded by people on benefits and therefore (in his mind) this led to her murder.

This was not only bad taste but it was offensive.  Not only is the Govt trying to stigmatise beneficiaries as lazy; dole bludgers, ripping off the system BUT NOW they are adding – child abusers and even child murderers – to the stigma.

I personally take great offence to this inference.


2010 – 50 years of Princes Street

Posted by on March 30th, 2010

I’m looking forward to attending a very special celebration of  an important part of Labour Party history.

In August this year, the Princes Street branch of the Party will celebrate its 50th anniversary.   Many current and former Labour MPs including Helen Clark and Phil Goff were members of the branch.  I was its chair in 1987/8.  The branch is looking to hold a formal celebration in Auckland and wants to hear from former members to join their Alumni contact list.

If you have been a member of Princes St branch, please email 50years@princes-st.org.nz and register your name on the mailing list.


First Auckland, now Canterbury

Posted by on March 30th, 2010

Rodney Hide has clearly won the upper hand again today with the complete rogering of Environment Canterbury, the regional council.  It is to be replaced in coming weeks by 5-7 commissioners headed by the steely veteran Dame Margaret Bazley.

Whereas the rush-job Creech review – chaired by ex Nat deputy Wyatt – suggested only taking water managment off the councillors, today’s announcement will see an end to any democratic decision-making at ECAN for the next 3 and a half years. All the councillors have been sacked, even the new chair, little known former National backbench MP Alec Neill.

Word was from sources close to Nick Smith that the Government wouldn’t go this far as Rodney had already cost the Government big-time with the similar Auckland rort of democratic decision-making.

Today’s announcement violates that fundamental principle upheld by the Right that there should be no taxation (rates) without representation. It axes a democratically-elected body without any public input for the first time at least in recent history. It forces through this bill under urgency from later this afo with no chance for Cantabrians or anyone else to comment. And while it gives the locally-driven Canterbury Water Management Strategy some status there is no legal requirement to adopt its principles . This takes place in a context where the PM has said he wants new water schemes built next year in Canterbury. Nick Smith confirmed today there is no no accompanying legislation to today’s bill to reinforce requirements to improve water quality and  environmental outcomes from that new round of water allocation.

Whatever their views on the performance of ECAN on water,  many Cantabrians believe that decisions on our water deserve to be made locally and accountably, not by Cabinet appointees .


A whale of a diplomatic mess

Posted by on March 30th, 2010

The Prime Minister’s habit of announcing policy off the cuff has seen some New Zealand diplomats start some not-entirely-diplomatic whispers.

The scuttlebutt inside both MFAT and DOC has been that John Key has now doubly-humiliated his officials with his muddled proposal to restart commercial whaling.

To recap: In January the Prime Minister was looking forward to a visit from the US Secretary of State. He blithely announced a grand new initiative to stop Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean – the details of which he’d fully reveal only once the Secretary was on the ground and our Press Gallery were paying maximum attention.

Concerned that the PM was demonstrating no real understanding of the polarised politics of whaling, officials rushed to ask Key what his proposal was. After a bit of too-ing and fro-ing the policy, apparently, Mr Key struck on was legalising limited commercial whaling. Essentially killing the endangered whales as a sop to the Japanese whaling industry might paradoxically save the whales.

Lo and behold our representative to the International Whaling Commission, Sir Geoffrey Palmer, was dispatched to Florida to make Key’s vision a reality. I can only imagine how Sir Geoffrey must have felt; a long-time champion of whale conservation, respected Chair of the IWC, and former Labour Prime Minister to boot, he now had the unenviable task of selling a pro-whaling message on behalf of Key’s National Government!

I found out about the inside story almost immediately. Our diplomats knew they were breaking basic principles of diplomacy (and they knew their negotiating partners knew it too); the NZ side was conceding to the vested commercial interests of Japan’s whaling industry without any concrete promise of reciprocal concessions whatsoever. The many Conservation NGO organisations with branches in New Zealand phoned me from Florida as the farce was unfolding.

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Farrar on election timetable

Posted by on March 30th, 2010

The Nats pollster DPF has posted his view on the election timetable. Hard to tell whether he is testing the possibility of pre World Cup election or not. He makes it clear that post Cup election is possible. It will be interesting to see if Key decides to take the risk. Here it is:-

“If 26 November is picked, here are my guesses for the key dates:

  1.  
    1. RWC Final Sat 22 Oct
    2. Parliament adjournment debate Wed 26 Oct
    3. Dissolution of Parliament Thu 27 Oct
    4. Writ Day Fri 28 Oct
    5. Nominations Day Thu 3 Nov
    6. Election Day Sat 26 Nov
    7. Official Results Tue 6 Dec
    8. Deadline for Recounts Fri 9 Dec
    9. Return of Writs Tue 13 Dec
    10. MPs sworn in, elects Speaker Tue 20 Dec
    11. Parliament resumes, elects Deputy Speakers Wed 21 Dec
    12. Parliament adjourns Thu 22 Dec”

Inspirational leader in science required

Posted by on March 30th, 2010

Last week Wayne Mapp announced the amalgamation of Foundation for Research,Science and Technology (FRST) and the Ministry of Science Research and Technology (MoRST).

This could provide a real opportunity, but only if Mapp seizes it.

For most NZers, these changes seem pretty arcane. There are two relatively minor issues: 1) Separating science funding from overall science policy raises issues, though the Govt’s Cabinet paper recommends some safeguards. 2) The money it will save is pretty negligible – perhaps $2 million, but the costs of the transition, inevitable confusion and lack of productivity probably cancel those savings out for some years to come.

It’s really shuffling deck chairs, giving the appearance of being busy and reformist.

The big decision – and opportunity – is still to come. Who will head the new organisation? This is a chance for the Govt to look globally to hire an inspired and proven science and innovation specialist who can bring experience from say, Finland, Singapore, Denmark to apply their world leading expertise here.

That could turn the new organisation into something dynamic and world leading to really power NZ’s science and link it to innovation and commercialisation.

Watch this space. But don’t be surprised if a Wellington insider, in true State Services fashion, is appointed.

Mapp needs to make his preference known … if he’s thought about it that is. This is an acid test of how serious the Govt really is.


Jobs for Kiwis: Rail

Posted by on March 30th, 2010

Hope this will be the first of many posts about the opportunities there are to invest in jobs for New Zealanders. Not only jobs, but the industry that supports those jobs, the skills that build industries and the spin offs through the economy.

Late last year, the National Govt approved a $500 million loan to Kiwirail to be spent on the electrification of Auckland’s rail system. Note the money is a loan and must be paid back.

Don’t you think that $500m would be best spent inside New Zealand than outside? As an investment in New Zealand’s rail system and in the highly innovative and skilled industry and workforce that supports it.

There’s a growing group in who support this concept. There’s an economic case to be made. Both the Hillside Workshops in Dunedin and Woburn Workshops in the Hutt can and should bid.

Last week Steven Joyce, as Minister, was asked his view in the House on the importance of this work going to Kiwi workers.

Darren Hughes: What steps will the Government be taking to ensure that all or a substantial number of these units are built or assembled here in New Zealand, either at the Hillside railway workshops in Dunedin or at Woburn in the Hutt Valley?

STEVEN JOYCE: This will be a competitive tender process, and, of course, KiwiRail will have the opportunity to bid for that process. The most important thing, however, is getting the right value for money for taxpayers in developing the trains and ensuring that we can obtain the trains within the $500 million budget that has been set.

Equivocal in terms of how the tender will be decided, but unequivocal in that Kiwirail can bid.

If rail is a part of our future, then surely the industry that underpins it is as important. The skills base in NZ is considerable, but it has a questionable future. Unless there is investment in it.

Interesting that the tender time frame is so short. Hope Kiwis get the chance to seriously bid for this work and be considered on their merit.


McCully lacks ambition

Posted by on March 30th, 2010

The Minister for the Rugby World Cup has hinted that he thinks that this is the last time it will come here.

I think if we didn’t get it this time or next he would have been correct.

Whether we get it again depends on how well we go next year.  And it looks like McCully has lost interest.

Labour wanted it to be subsidised by overseas taxpayers through trips here being tax deductible – especially in the UK and South Africa, and to a lesser extent in the other three nations, Australia and Japan. That meant at least a pretense of work related activity. It is what drove the economic success of the Americas Cup here in 2003.

Went looking for the conference programme associated with the Cup on the websites. Nothing there.

But then again McCully didn’t even ask Key and English for a few hundred thousand in seed money to get this going a year ago.

Maybe he doesn’t want the big spenders here next year.

Or does he just lack ambition for New Zealand.

For the record I think we could do it again probably in the 2030s and it will depend on getting a decent stadium with proper trqansport links in Auckland.