Red Alert

Archive for September, 2012

National Promotes Divide and Rule – One Size Fits All for Christchurch

Posted by on September 28th, 2012

The National Government appears to have adopted the age old tactic of divide and rule in Christchurch. Proposing sweeping education reforms of schools closures and merge options totally contradict the message that the Government will ‘consult with’ and ‘listen to’ the community. Yeah Right!

Unless you live in Christchurch it is very hard to comprehend the daily stress families cope with to carry on in a ‘new normal’ scenario. Many continue to wait for insurance claims to be confirmed, rebuild projects to commence, and for some greater certainty about job security. This is just a surface snapshot as there is so much more happening in peoples lives.

Instead of listening and working with the community constructively, the Minister of Education bowls her way though with an inefficient consultation process, questionable data and shallow analysis of submissions to justify broad sweeping changes. This is a trend that should worry any community.

There is no coherence to the network provision of education from early childhood options, through to schooling and tertiary pathways. This is a problem. The rebuild in Christchurch will be done over a number of years, if done well, the city will be an attractive place for business, to live, raise a famility and pursue tertiary education offerings. It doesn’t seem like the Minister has her eye on the future. Her short-sighted cost saving approach will lead to an educaiton network that is ill-equipped for 21st century learning or the prospect of coping with an influx of people prepared to rebuild and possibly live in the city.

What is particularly disturbing is the Economic Recovery Plan for Christchurch has not been revealed. It doesn’t make any sense to address the education issues without having a clear picture of the economic growth potential of Christchurch.

More cause for concern all the way around! The good people of Christchurch deserve more than political window dressing and opportunistic point scoring. Childrens futures hang in the balance. They need a well thought through system of education network provision.

Things can be done differently. The community want to be engaged in 21st solutions for the city rebuild. Parents want greater assurance that their aspiration to have a world class education for their child is not thwarted by the Government using the earthquake as an excuse to save money. Children in Christchurch deserve more – how different will the final proposal for Christchurch schools really be? Your thoughts?


Fifty Years on, role of Ombudsman under threat

Posted by on September 28th, 2012

Monday, 1 October marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Office of Ombudsman in New Zealand.

The Office provides Parliament and the New Zealand public with an independent and impartial check on the quality, fairness and integrity of administrative practices in the state sector.

We can proudly say that we were the first English speaking country to set up such an office, albeit long after the concept was first developed in Sweden in the nineteenth century.

It is a critical mechanism for ensuring the accountability of elected and non-elected public officials to the broader public.

Since 1962 its role has been extended to cover Local Government; the provision of official information on the principle that this should be publically disclosed unless there is a good reason specified for withholding it; and support for whistle-blowers who follow a specified procedure.

The Ombudsman’s Office has undoubtedly enhanced the quality of our democracy, and traditionally has received bipartisan support.

Sadly, on its 50th Anniversary, the office has more recently come under threat from a Government which has deliberately set out to limit and undermine its effectiveness.

A partisan statement?

No. Concern about Government actions come from the Chief Ombudsman, Dame Beverly Wakem, herself.

Dame Beverley is a formidable woman, determinedly independent and with an impressive track record.

Most recently, she warned of “highly dangerous” moves by the Government to keep information secret by drafting laws to avoid the Official Information Act (OIA).

She highlighted “reprehensible” attempts to remove from the Act state assets where there are partial share sales, charter schools and change to mining permits.

Earlier this year, Dame Beverly told a Parliamentary Select Committee that the Office was “in crisis.”  An inadequate budget was incapable of meeting the Ombudsman’s work load, justice was being denied, and starving her Office of funding prevented the Office from ensuring that government spending was of high quality.

One reason for the Office’s excessive work load is the increasing arrogance of power by Ministers who deliberately ignore the legal requirements on them to disclose information under the OIA, and the Ombudsman has to be called in to put pressure on them.

Murray McCully is a prime culprit.  The Auditor General revealed that he failed to meet the deadline for OIA requests on over 50% of the requests.

I have in front of him a number of requests that remain unanswered months after he was legally obliged to do so.

He was the only Minister to withhold Treasury budget information on his Ministerial portfolio and withheld two thirds of the briefing to him as an incoming Minister.

It’s absolute arrogance from a Minister who is a control freak who refuses to subject his performance to scrutiny and to be held accountable.

Little wonder when you consider the botched job he did on restructuring his Ministry.


Genuine consultation – yeah right!

Posted by on September 28th, 2012

Yesterday John Key tried to ease the concerns of Cantabrians by saying that final decisions hasn’t been made about school mergers and closures in Christchurch. Today Hekia Parata formally wrote to school boards of trustees to formally begin the closure/merger process. Cantabrians can be forgiven for thinking that the fate of their local schools has already been sealed.

Schools have been given until 7 December to provide feedback on proposals for closures and mergers, the first two weeks of that time will be school holidays and for senior students, exams will dominate the rest of the school year. In that time boards are expected to run a formal consultation process with parents, students, and others with an interest. It’s a sham.

We know from the Dotcom case that John Key and Bill English have a breakdown in communication. It’s clear now that the Prime Minister and his Minister of Education are also completely out of step. John Key is out there trying to tell Cantabrians that the consultation process is a genuine one, yet his Minister of forging ahead with the legal process to implement decisions that appear to have already been made.

This consultation charade would be funny if it wasn’t about something so incredibly important to the families of Canterbury. The Government needs to get this right but it’s a turning it into a bigger shambles than their plan to increase class sizes.


By the Numbers

Posted by on September 28th, 2012

500,000 – dollars worth of pyrotechnics that went into the biggest fireworks display the country – but not the GCSB et al – had ever seen, put on by Dotcom on New Year’s Eve 2010 to celebrate his NZ residency.

15 – meetings John Key has so far had with the GCSB this year, during which its surveillance of Dotcom was never mentioned, apparently.

3 – years old: the immigration legislation stating the GCSB couldn’t spy on NZ residents.

2  - apologies from John Key  – to Dotcom and the NZ public – for the appalling behaviour of our top spy agency and the various other officials involved in the case, most of whom the PM is ultimately responsible for.

1 - giant rhinoceros on the lawn of Dotcom’s Coatesville mansion, possibly arrived by cabbage boat courtesy of a former Auckland mayor.

 


Government Mandated Data Promotes “Shon-key’ League Tables

Posted by on September 28th, 2012

The media need to be more accountable to parents who are looking for robust and reliable data about how well their children are doing in school. Over the past two weeks the media have collected national standards and compiled this information as a league table ranking local schools – sadly the information used is ‘ropey’ and will not give an accurate picture of what really matters to parents.

The Minister is pushing ahead with her agenda to report ‘ropey’ national standards data, she is stepping back from any responsibility for league tables being promoted by newspapers and will push to have performance pay based on limited student achievement data.

I received a concerned email from the Principal of Porritt School in Hawkes Bay. The figures used by Hawkes Bay Today (HBT) were very different from the actual data held by the school. In reading for example the media derived figures reported the level at 37% when the schools verified figures were 77%. In reading and math HBT reported 42% when in fact the verified data was 84%.

Sadly the damage has been done, the impression of where Porritt School ranks alongside other schools will be negative and this is the unfair aspect of ranking schools.

Parents deserve reliable and robust data about how well their child is doing at school, parents also deserve good information about how their local school is catering to the education needs of their children.

National standards and league tables will do nothing to improve a child’s learning or tell the real story about what happens within a school.

For Porritt School the need to set the record straight is important because their children deserve the best. Instead they are in damage control trying explain to parents how badly their school information has been misrepresented.

National’s agenda in education to establish national standards, league tables and performance pay will erode confidence in the public education system – in readiness for a Charter School model that will privatise profit from the public purse.

Join our fight to expose this destructive attempt!


Gossip from the Beehive

Posted by on September 27th, 2012

National is trying to get Dotcom and large job losses off the headlines.

Amy Adams, with her Minister for the Environment hat on, was called to an emergency meeting yesterday evening with Steven Joyce and others to discuss pushing through the proposed Bathhurst mine on the west coast, and making other changes to the RMA.

Bereft of policies to deal with our overvalued exchange rates and aware of rising discontent on export job losses and record numbers going to Australia, they are desperate to get out of the headlights.

Having lost ingloriously on their earlier plans to mine National Parks, they turned to selling SOEs as the major part of their economic plan for this term. Now the wheels have fallen off that, its back to mining.

Mining has a proper place outside  National Parks and other schedule 4 areas. It of course raises environmental issues under the RMA and mineral legislation that can only be dealt with on a case by case basis. This has long been Labour’s policy, and despite Steven Joyce’s attempts to misrepresent it, still is. 

Because of  their woes, National is trying to blame others.

Rumour has it they discussed  empowering legislation to either override normal rules or speed up the process for the Bathhurst mine.  

I don’t know where they ended with that, but it has led to the proposal to limit resource consent process times to six months for major projects. Given that mining has gone off the boil (in part because of an inflated NZ dollar), this change will do little to improve the economy.

Once again, National’s economic plan can be seen to be inadequate. They have put off limits pro-growth tax reform, universal workplace savings and changes to monetary policy under the Reserve Bank, all steps that exporters say would help them export and create jobs.

As they lurch from scandle to bungle – tea tapes, ACC, John Key’s electorate chairman on NZ on Air/the Broadcasting Commission interfering politically, pokie machines for convention centres, the budget centre piece (larger class sizes to improve student outcomes!), Banks’ campaign donations, Dotcom, SOE sales derailed - they are losing the confidence of the country.

 


Another Hekia Parata train wreck

Posted by on September 26th, 2012

Today in the House I questioned Hekia Parata about the consultation process around school closures and mergers in Christchurch. It would be fair to say it took quite a few attempts before I got any answers, and even then I’m not sure I’m any clearer after her comments such as “I consulted the submissions that had been submitted”.

The government’s current consultation process around the future of schooling in greater Christchurch is a total sham. Hekia Parata began an ‘open consultation’ on 13 September but confirmed in the House today that she will be writing to school boards within days to formally begin the legal process to implement her plan to close and merge schools.

To make matters worse, documents from the Ministry of Education tabled in the House today suggest they only envisage a formal consultation process of five to six weeks, which just so happens to coincide with school holidays and senior student exams.

There is no way the Government can get meaningful information from teachers, parents and children during the exam and holiday period. This whole process looks like a sham and sounds like a sham, because it is a sham. Hekia Parata has clearly already made her mind up.

This is another classic Hekia Parata botch up. The people of Christchurch have been through enough trauma in the past two years. Rather than engaging in a meaningful way with those affected, Hekia Parata seems determined to add to the stress.


Hungry for change

Posted by on September 26th, 2012

Last time I took part in an Oxfam fundraising campaign, the 100 km Trailwalker,  I had to be nursed back to life afterwards. At most Living Below the Line this week threatens a mild headache from caffeine withdrawal. More manageable, and a small price to pay for supporting the excellent work of the leading anti-poverty NGOs.

A team of Labour MPs has signed up to live Monday-Friday this week on $2.25 a day to support the campaign – $2.25 being the World Bank’s extreme poverty line converted to NZ dollars. It is good having a team for moral support – we divided up the budget and menu and are sharing some meals. (Pictured in my office eating potato and spinach curry.)

One of the most memorable times from my 15 years with Oxfam pre-politics was a visit to the highlands of northern Ethiopia during a drought in 1997. I took part in a mission looking at micro-finance and relief work by a local NGO using funds donated by New Zealanders. I talked with farmers scratching a living from land that looked like a desert to me. I spoke with farmers who had walked off the land and needed food aid to survive, and others who had also walked off the land but with loans from the micro-finance fund had set up small businesses including a bar, a furniture workshop and a chicken farm.

Ordinary people surviving day to day against the odds.

The thing about taking part in a campaign like Living Below The Line is that the small discomfort is a constant reminder over 5 days of how people in poverty face hunger, and what a debilitating thing that must be.  It’s also a way to support the grassroots development work and anti-poverty advocacy of these great NGOs.

You can donate to support their work by sponsoring any of us: Grant Robertson, David Parker, Jacinda Ardern, Annette King, Phil Twyford.


Assisted dying – the social conversation

Posted by on September 25th, 2012

So much has been said recently about my End-of-Life Choice bill which is sitting in the ballot waiting against the odds to be drawn out.  The conversation has been stimulated again by Evans Mott’s trial (discharged without conviction for helping his wife to prepare for her lonely suicide), and the death of Gretha Appleby (pronounced by the coroner recently to be self-inflicted, which is what she always said she would do when she thought the moment had come for her). Here is Tony Nicklinson’s story, as told by his daughter. Read it and tell me if you don’t understand yet. Then keep talking.


Visit by Leon Panetta

Posted by on September 24th, 2012

US Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta was well informed and engaging.  The meeting David Shearer and I had with him was scheduled for 15 minutes on Saturday morning.  It went for three times that long.

Fresh from the Otara market collecting signatures for the petition against state asset sales, I had changed into a suit expecting a relatively formal meeting.

He turned up wearing jeans and a casual shirt.

The meeting was an open and substantive one, involving a discussion ranging from Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Asia and the Pacific to the US Presidential election.

Panetta has a long and distinguished career including Director of the Office for Civil Rights, 16 years in Congress, Chair of the House Committee on the Budget, Clinton’s White House Chief of Staff and Director of the CIA before assuming his current position.

In the first visit in 30 years by a US Secretary of Defense, he took a significant step towards removing the last remnants of US sanctions imposed on New Zealand for declaring itself nuclear free under the Lange Labour Government.

Building on progress over the last decade, it was a welcome further move.  A strong and warm relationship with the US makes sense given its influence in the world and shared commitments on values like democracy and human rights.

But from my and Labour’s perspective, it does not place us on a path to resume alliance commitments, or nuclear ship visits.

New Zealand has moved on from there. Labour’s strong belief in speaking with an independent voice based on our values and interests has become part of the mainstream New Zealand belief system.

That’s why even though it might prefer to do so, National won’t openly signal a move back to alliances and nuclear ship visits.

As a small country, New Zealand gains respect and influence not by echoing anyone else’s voice but by taking considered and principled stands on international issues.

Nuclear ship visits, return to ANZUS or permanent stationing of US troops here would not be compatible with New Zealand’s desire to be seen as having an independent voice.


The roads to nowhere

Posted by on September 21st, 2012

National’s flagship Roads of National Significance policy has come in for a load of criticism. Interestingly, given it is the brainchild of National’s political “genius” Steven Joyce, the policy’s main selling point – its claim as a boost to economic growth – is also it’s great weakness.  Gerry Brownlee and Steven Joyce before him have tried to sell these jumbo motorway projects as an investment in economic development but their economic value is dodgy to say the least.

While there should be no argument that we should be investing in transport infrastructure to make our export supply chain more efficient, we should surely be making sure the investments are wise before we spend billions of dollars of taxpayers money.

In a speech this week I summarised the various ways the RoNS fall short of the Government’s claims for them as some sort of economic development policy:

1. National have over-sold their likely economic impact, misleadingly suggesting that the Benefit Cost Ratios are an indicator of economic development impact. In fact, the BCR simply puts a dollar value on things like reduced journey times and deaths prevented by reducing accidents.

2. By hand picking these huge projects and giving them the green light even before the most basic economic assessment had been done on some of them; by elevating projects with such low Benefit Cost Ratios that a few years ago would never have been built; and by pouring so much money into what is patently a political project the Government has undermined the credibility of the system we use for assessing, prioritising and deciding on new state highway projects.

3. The Government’s obsession with these big roads projects means that other modes for moving freight around like rail and coastal shipping aren’t getting a look in, even though they can more efficiently carry certain types of freight. The Government cut Labour’s policy of support to coastal shipping, and under its unrealistic rail policy Kiwirail is forced to do ridiculous things like laying off 200 staff and deferring three years of network maintenance.

4. The Government is running down the existing road network to free up the funds to build new state highways. This is a common phenomenon overseas where politicians try to woo voters with big shiny new projects while allowing existing infrastructure to fall into disrepair. It’s bad asset management.

5. New public transport projects have been cut for the next three years, even though in Auckland particularly public transport is the only way to keep the state highway network from grinding to a halt. For example the Northern Busway which has taken the equivalent of two lanes of traffic off the Harbour Bridge every morning.

What would Labour do?

We will take a much more hard-headed look at the economic value of new transport projects.

We will reform the funding and assessment processes and criteria to ensure when new projects are being considered that alternative solutions are weighed up.

We are committed to an evidence based approach, investing where it will make a difference.

We will look to invest strategically in all modes of transport, and their connections, to deliver the greatest efficiency for the export supply chain.

We will restore prudent asset management so that we are not running down one part of the network (like local roads) in order to pour money into another (like new state highways).

A Labour-led Government will build a transport system that moves people and freight with maximum efficiency, supporting an economy that allows New Zealanders to do what they do best – come up with world leading ideas and put them into action.

Read on for the full speech. (more…)

Filed under: transport

By The Numbers

Posted by on September 21st, 2012

39,956 - the record net number of Kiwis who left NZ for better opportunities in Oz in the year to  August 2012.

11 - more billionaires who this week said they would follow in the footsteps of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett and donate half their fortunes to charity.

1.50 -  the dollar amount National and its coalition partners couldn’t see fit to give to our lowest paid workers as they voted down my member’s Bill.

1 - gold medal back in the hands of its rightful owner.

0 - successful attempts at humour from a constipated Mr Key.


Exodus honesty

Posted by on September 21st, 2012


166,000 loved ones gone to Australia since Key became PM – and counting…

Yet another all-time record has been set for the number of Kiwis leaving for Australia. The National Government just cannot continue with this dishonest head-in-the-sand approach to what can only be described as an exodus.

The latest figures show a net loss of 39,956 people to Australia in the year to August 2012 – the biggest loss ever.

More than 166,000 Kiwis have given up on a future in this country and moved to Australia since John Key became the Prime Minister. That’s the equivalent of three Invercargills and then some!

In 2008 National candidates promised over and over again to reverse the brain drain. But since they’ve gotten into Government they’ve: cut wages, cut access to education, cut services, increased GST on the poorest so they could pay for tax breaks for their mates, and thrown thousands and thousands and thousands of New Zealanders on the unemployment scrapheap.

It just seems National is unwilling to take the steps that New Zealanders know are needed to get out economy moving again. Things like:

  1.  Rebuilding our export and manufacturing heart through monetary reforms that will drive a more stable and realistic exchange rate, instead of heading for dollar parity with the US dollar,
  2. Creating more local savings available for positive local businesses to grow and employ Kiwis who might otherwise jump the ditch, through measures like universal KiwiSaver and pro-growth tax reform,
  3. Revving up our innovation engine through R&D tax credits, increased direct investment, and better linking out research institutes, universities and businesses together,
  4. Building high performance work places that enhance productivity and pay good wages with decent conditions. Finance Minister Bill English actually seems to love the idea of a “low cost” and low waged economy. Everyone else wants New Zealand to be a high value economy,
  5. Actively partnering with regions and industry sectors to create sustainable growth and strong communities all around New Zealand.

Unless we do these things, unless we have the courage to make changes, then the terrible slide currently underway will continue and the numbers of skilled young Kiwis giving up on a future here will continue to grow. These are not just words. We are talking about real humans struggling through an economic crisis, and unless New Zealand has a government that is prepared to act strongly and decisively to deal with it then we are on a road to ruin.

Ultimately this emigration crisis cannot be sustained, either by New Zealand or by Australia.

There is a terrible hollowing out of young people who want to make a contribution, and this will jeopardise Kiwi healthcare and superannuation in the decades to come.

Even the Australians are fed up. Across the ditch Government MP Kelvin Thompson is working to stop the free movement of people between our countries. If he is successful, without any jobs or hope at home, then the result could potentially be serious unrest in New Zealand.

John Key has had four years and the evidence is clear. National’s dishonest promises are not matched by workable policies. That party need to pull their heads out of the sand and look at how out of whack they’ve gotten New Zealand with the OECD orthodoxy.

How many Kiwis need to head for the departure lounges before this Government wakes up? How much damage has to be done to New Zealand and our shared future before they take off the ideological blinkers?

How much hope needs to be destroyed before National takes the responsibility they promised to take when they were trying to win the election?


To their fullest potential

Posted by on September 20th, 2012

Tonight at Waikowhai Intermediate in my electorate Gifted Kids are holding a Sharing Night.  It’s about showcasing the projects they have been working on and I’m looking forward to attending.

The goal of Gifted Kids is to let our talented and creative children, particularly those from low socio-economic communities, develop their talents, strengths and abilities to the full.

Way back in 1938, at the time of the First Labour Government, then Education Minister Peter Fraser gave a landmark speech.  He said the Government’s role in education was to ensure all people, whatever their ability, wealth or place of residence, enjoy a free education to enable them to achieve to their highest potential.

That is or should be the on-going core principle governing our education system.

We want no-one to fall short of their potential because they come from a disadvantaged background.  We want those who have gifts to be fully extended and to achieve excellence.

It’s about individuals being the best they can and the community collectively benefitting from what they can achieve.

Gifted Kids at present give 600 young people attending 150 mainly low income schools the opportunity to be challenged and to develop their skills to the maximum.

What I can’t understand is why in the last two years the National Government has halved the budget for Gifted and Talented Education as a whole and given no funding at all to the Gifted Kids Project since 2010.

When they are putting more money into private education for the most advantaged, where are their priorities?


Today’s Members’ Bill Ballot

Posted by on September 20th, 2012

Today at midday there’ll be a ballot for members’ bills, with two places available on the Order Paper. A preliminary ballot will be held to determine which of the following bills will be entered in the main ballot:

20. Education (Breakfast and Lunch Programmes in Schools) Amendment Bill – Hone Harawira
22. Education (Food in Schools) Amendment Bill – David Shearer

In my view, the Clerk’s decision to conduct a preliminary ballot to determine which of these two bills, which have similar aims, goes into the ballot is the wrong one. While the goals of the two bills are similar, the means of achieving them a very different. The test needs to be whether the bills are substantially the same in their ‘content’, not whether they are the same in the outcome they seek to achieve.

For example, if two bills were put up around the transportation of goods from Wellington to Auckland, and one sought to do so via rail and one via road, if we used ‘outcome’ as the criteria for determining whether they were the same, only one bill would go in the ballot, yet clearly the bills are very different in their content. We’ll be relitigating this for sure, but for today at least, only one of these bills will make it into the ballot.

You can see the full list of bills in today’s ballot after the break. I’ll post the results just after midday.

Update: Hone Harawira’s Bill made it into the ballot and the following were drawn:

Conservation Natural Heritage Protection Bill – Jacqui Dean
Electricity (Renewable Preference) Amendment Bill – Charles Chauvel

(more…)


US Virgin

Posted by on September 19th, 2012

Tomorrow I take my first trip to the US. I am enormously privileged to be part of a group of people from multiple nations who will consider the importance of intellectual property rights in the global trade and business communities.

For some of you that might sound deadly dull. For me, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime to have look at the impact of technology on how we live our lives and how our new economy is emerging. And how a thinker, a policy maker and legislator from New Zealand might be able to absorb information, get a few ideas, have a few arguments and come up with some concepts that could add value to New Zealand.

I am sponsored by the US State Department.

I will post some thoughts along the way.


National’s New Stance on Why They Oppose 6 Months Paid Parental Leave

Posted by on September 19th, 2012

Courtesy of Melissa Lee, on Suffrage Day …


Today they’re terrified

Posted by on September 19th, 2012

Today is Women’s Suffrage Day. It’s a day to remember how New Zealand blazed the path of progress and extended the vote to all women, regardless of wealth, family background or ethnic makeup. It’s a day to be proud to be a Kiwi.

But, sadly, New Zealand today is in a terrible economic rut. The median household is at least $900 worse off than a couple of years ago. Jobs and hope are being lost everywhere – and today, of all days, it should be remembered that downturns in the job market have a disproportionate impact on women. Kids are going to school with empty tummies, and anyone who doesn’t believe how bad things have gotten under the National Government needs to watch this.

The structural tax imbalance which is delivering another Auckland residential property bubble is a contributor to the economic doom and gloom.

But a huge factor is National’s not-my-responsibility approach to the over-inflated and over-speculated New Zealand dollar. Manufacturers and exporters and now even the bankers know it’s just not sustainable for things to go on as before.

Today should be a day for action. Instead it’s shaping up as a day when National will vote down Winston Peters’ Reserve Bank of New Zealand (Amending Primary Function of Bank) Amendment Bill at first reading.

The New Zealand First leader has a flair with words, and I expect he’ll accept that the language of his Bill can be moderated and polished.

However, the purpose of Mr Peters’ Bill is valid:

The simple fact is that interest rates, the only tool available to the Governor of the Reserve Bank to combat inflation, impacts on far more than just inflation—it is not a siloed effect. Most obviously it impacts on the exchange rate…. A far more co-ordinated approach between monetary and fiscal policy is required to both combat inflation and keep the economy balanced.

What’s crucial is expanding the scope of the independent Reserve Bank Governor to take action based on measures of New Zealand’s welfare additional to inflation – measures such as the strength of the dollar, the external balance, GDP growth and the level of unemployment.

There are several stages to passing a Bill in the New Zealand Parliament. The only thing that is being voted on today is whether Winston Peters’ Bill will be sent to a Select Committee for review and expert and public submissions, or whether it will be chucked in the bin.

If National are so confident in their ideology then they should vote for the first reading of the Bill today. If Winston Peters has gotten it wrong then this should come out in the Select Committee process.

But, as my colleague David Parker has rightly pointed out, National are terrified because they know their approach is on the wrong side of today’s orthodoxy. They seem to think they can vote to shut down the debate. But things are going from bad to worse and the head-in-the-sand approach isn’t durable.

Today is a day when New Zealanders are reflecting with pride on our country’s trailblazing progressive legacy. Today the conservative National Party should do the same, for once, and support the Reserve Bank of New Zealand (Amending Primary Function of Bank) Amendment Bill at first reading, so it can be examined by Select Committee.


Where’s the Plan for Children?

Posted by on September 19th, 2012

On Monday, I visited Christchurch to check out how early childhood education is holding up under the huge pressures it faces.
Not only have they had to deal with the Government’s budget cuts that came into effect in January 2011 which took $400m out of ECE, but they have had falling rolls which also affects their funding.
Unlike Canterbury schools, ECE services didnt get the 12 months’ funding at pre-earthquake roll levels.
They have had to struggle on with the double-whammy of reduced funding, while providing critical support to the youngest children and their families.
Staff have reduced hours, taken wage cuts and gone the extra mile. Providers have kept fees low or free because they understand the plight families face.
Like other Cantabrians, they havent complained, they have got on and done it because they care about the children and families they work with.
So, imagine how they feel at being treated like an afterthought in last Thurday’s announcement by the Government on Christchurch.
They were expecting innovation and a valuing of early childhood education – what they got was more uncertainty and being regarded as an afterthought to the compulsory sector.
The ECE meeting to notify them of the “firm” proposals wasnt even held until 2 hours after the rest of NZ was officially told.
It was the ideal opportunity for the Government to develop community hubs with ECE services – the concept that other social and support services for families co-locate with ECE services to make things easier and more accessible for the community.
Instead the Government proposed to close and merge schools that these ECE services currently feed into.
For the local Kindergarten Association, 36 out of their 58 Christchurch kindys are affected by those decisions.
Once again, this Government has demonstrated by its actions how low early childhood education is on its list of priorities.
What would Kate Sheppard think? #wwkst

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Opportunity plus Innovation??? Christchurch school closures and sums that don’t add up

Posted by on September 19th, 2012

Last night I attended the Board of Trustees meeting at Manning Intermediate in Christchurch. It was a difficult meeting, and just as difficult as the school visits and talking with parents, teachers and students that I have been doing since last Thursday’s education bombshell was dropped on our communities.

In the last few days I have seen a look in people’s eyes that I recognise only too well. A look I have realised I have not been seeing for a few months now – one that comes with each major quake or aftershock. It is a look that is a mix of fear, anxiety, helplessness, and an inability to control what is happening around us. Last Thursday’s education announcement double act by Ministers Brownlee and Parata has been as destablising to communities and neighborhoods as any aftershock.

Manning is one of the four intermediate schools across the city earmarked for closure. It is one of ten schools in the Wigram electorate directly impacted by last Thursday’s announcement – two are to close (Manning and Branston Intermediates), one is to relocate to a new site (South Hornby), two are to merge with another school (Gilberthorpes and Te Kura Kaupapa Maori O Te Whanau Tahi) and a further four to recapitate,or move from being years 1-6 to being years 1-8 (Hoon Hay, Spreydon, West Spreydon, and Rowley Avenue), and Hornby High is to move from catering for years 9-13 to catering for year 7-13 students.

Inevitable, some might say? Christchurch has suffered major damage and,while there is no doubt that some changes are needed, there is nothing inevitable about what has been proposed. The schools in my electorate earmarked for closure, merger and relocation are in some of the least physically damaged neighbourhoods in the City. Many have had very little earthquake damage. In fact, under the proposal, South Hornby is to move on to the site vacated by Branston. Communities spared by the earthquakes are now being destroyed by the Government’s decision to close their schools.

Already much ink has been spilt and many keys pressed on how badly the Government handled the announcement. None of the school communities in my electorate saw this coming. They thought that being in projected population growth areas (due to the relative stability of the land) they would survive. This is not the case.

These communities have had no input into these decisions and initially read the Minister’s “firm proposals” as pretty much final decisions.

Here is some news for Hekia Parata and John Key. These communities are not battle weary, rather the last two years has made them battle hardened. They are not going to take these assaults on their communities without a fight. They have read your proposals and they say “thanks but no thanks”. They even have some ideas of their own that make sense in their neighbourhoods that they would like you to listen to.

Simply, they want their voices heard and they want a chance to have a say on the kind of education that is offered to their children. The document issued to schools is entitled “Opportunities plus Innovation: Education Renewal in greater Christchurch”,  but I struggle to find either opportunity or innovation in shutting communities out of decisions about their futures. As their local MP, I will be there standing with our communities across the electorate as they make their views clear. As will my Labour colleagues across the city.

If you are outside of Christchurch reading this and thinking “poor Christchurch” and “look what the terrible earthquakes have caused”, think again. In fact, be afraid, very very afraid, because the Minister has made it clear that Christchurch is to be the exemplar for the rest of the country. This treatment could be coming to a community near you no matter where you are in New Zealand.