Red Alert

Archive for the ‘Fair Share’ Category

That Guy

Posted by on August 8th, 2013

The Minister of Primary Industries, Hon Nathan Guy, is floundering.

He has had a shocker of a time on why his ministry didn’t pick up earlier on Fonterra’s whey protein botulism scare.  Now Stephen Joyce has been flown in to clean up the mess.

But I reckon his worst errors of judgement have been in Fisheries, and there is a striking pattern emerging.

He botched the Otago/Southland commercial paua take extension: poor consultation, backing commercial at the expense of everyday Kiwis, polarising the community; then kicked for touch.

It was the same story with the North Island East Coast crayfish quota, where commercial interests were again protected and public interests overridden.

Now he wants to slash the recreational snapper bag limit from nine a day to three, while once again giving gold plated protection to big commercial interests.  In doing so he has made a series of blunders:

  • MPI research shows the snapper stock is growing and Guy himself crowed about that here.
  • He said he would consult on options to reduce the commercial take as well as recreational limits, but failed to do so;
  • MPI’s consultation has been flawed: an impenetrable consultation document and no ministry-organised public meetings –so Legasea (the advocacy arm of one of the main sport fishing groups) has taken a lead in doing that for them;
  • Seeking to lock in “proportionality” so that commercial interests get most of the upside on future catch increases – more on this later.
  • Ignoring the opportunities to reduce wasteful by-catch and improve the sustainability of fishing methods (despite allocating $26 million to “precision harvesting” for a consortium of big fishing companies)

All in all this has caused outrage among the wider Kiwi fishing community.  What is proposed is nothing but privatisation of public fishing rights to suit commercial quota holders.

Labour is campaigning hard to bring some fairness to this issue.  You can see statements by our leader here and here and from me here. We are out around the country over the next weeks and stand squarely for defending the public’s right to catch snapper to feed their families.

Feeding our kids

Posted by on February 6th, 2012

$4.28 is less than I paid for the latte I just drank.

That is how much Craig and Carla Bradley can spend to feed each of their kids each day.

After rent, power, petrol and bugger all else.

Thank you to Simon Collins for his excellent reality check on inequality in Auckland in today’s Herald – see Trevor’s post below.

Equally sobering: a “comfortable” family – Anita and Nigel’s – on $150k (an MP’s salary) is close to the top 10% of NZ households. 

Fact is, we live in a poor and divided country.

So our constituency is not just the so-called ‘underclass’; it is most New Zealanders.

No-one wants to be poor. 

Every Kiwi kid deserves good fresh food, a few treats and trips to the beach.

Being poor is grinding and demoralising. 

It takes all your time; and your gut turns when your kids go without.

Most parents strive to do their utmost. 

There is unbelievable sacrifice and heroism all around us.

But most people don’t see the point in politics – they are too busy just living.

Despite this, a  gap this big between the 1% and the rest cannot stand.  It never has…

The change we want is that of Mickey Savage and the New Deal.

Not extremism, or racism; or God forbid, another ‘Great’ War.

So we must be relevant to New Zealanders’ daily struggles:

Feeding our kids; caring for our sick and old;

Making sure there are good schools and jobs for our young;

Looking after our living earth;

Seeking out those doing good stuff in our communities and working with them.

Humble enough to know we don’t have all the answers, because no-one does…

…and going on anyway.

Poor people don’t need much to live on?

Posted by on November 5th, 2011

CTU’s Vote Fairness video :

Occupy Red Alert

Posted by on October 21st, 2011
Dr David Clark is the Labour candidate for Dunedin North

I have been intrigued by the swift spread of the ‘Occupy’ movement.  It’s already a world-wide phenomenon.  While its purpose has not clearly been articulated in the media, it’s got me thinking.

Campbell Jones offers as plausible an explanation and statement of purpose for the movement as any I’ve seen.  His Dom Post article is worth a read. Here’s a taster:

The Occupy movement is, however, not only about economic and political forces, but equally about ideas. It objects not only to the remarkable inequalities between and within countries, but also challenges the ideas that have up until now sought to justify those inequalities.

The movement is fighting the idea that unregulated capitalism somehow benefits everyone, and argues instead that it is a system involving systematic inequality that principally serves the interests of a small elite.

Truth is, it is difficult to escape markets in the modern world. New Zealand sells dairy and other produce in the international market.  Within New Zealand, buying and selling (a market) is our preferred method of distributing goods and services.

Markets have been working – more or less – since the caveman.  (Routine profiteering in markets is relatively new, but that’s another story). Markets are created to efficiently solve distribution issues. But let’s not forget that they are a human construct, to solve human problems.

And markets are not the only solution.

Markets have no intrinsic sense of fairness.   A simple market-economy would allocate the bulk of health and education resources to the highest bidder – likely those with the largest inherited wealth.  And most people don’t think that’s fair.

If we accept that all people should have free access to decent healthcare and a reasonable level of education, it is because we think everyone should have the opportunities that this brings, and because we think our whole society benefits from it.

In the case of healthcare and education, we decide that a market cannot allocate these resources fairly, and so we find another method of allocating them – according to need.

Yes, the Occupy movement is drawing attention to the way in which resources are unevenly distributed, and the way in which they serve entrenched interests.  But the movement is also reminding us that markets are not the only way in which resource allocation questions can be answered.  (Think rapid redistribution of wealth during the French Revolution, for example.)

We should never think that markets are the only option.  And if we think a market is the right option for any given question, we should always ask how it is set up, and whose interests it is designed to serve.  These things can be changed.

In many if not most situations, markets make excellent servants – but terrible masters.

Labour’s plan for lifting wages

Posted by on October 18th, 2011

There’s been a lot of debate and hard thinking in the Labour Party about the current Employment Relations framework and how it could be part of a cohesive whole in building a high wage, high skill, high productivity, high value economy. The Global Finance Crisis has provided, if nothing else, a chance to rethink the last 20 years of our Employment Relations system, which if we are honest, is still pretty deregulated in New Zealand. The IMF, the OECD and a myriad of economists both here and abroad have, in recent times, pointed to low rates of collective bargaining in first world countries, including New Zealand, as a contributor to the global financial crisis and the high ratios of household debt to income.

Despite Labour’s changes to the Employment Relations Act in 2000 (which were pitched as being “extreme” by some in business at the time), only 9% of New Zealand’s workforce in the private sector are covered by collective agreements. Our government, the Minister of Labour and Labour Department officials go merrily off to the International Labour Organisation every year, confidently asserting that New Zealand’s labour laws provide for the freedom to join unions and collective bargaining rights, yet they know that that reality for the vast majority of workers, accessing these rights is high risk and for many, simply not realistic. So, while the Employment Relations Act theoretically provides for collective bargaining as a means of recognising the inequality of bargaining power, the truth is that most workers’ wages and conditions are still set unilaterally by their employer.

Labour’s wages policy reasserts our founding values of fairness at work as fundamental to a fair society. We aim to help lift wages in New Zealand across the board and to help stem the drift to Australia of our workforce. New Zealand’s economy must be lifted from a reliance on low wages and longer hours to an investment in more productive workplaces where high trust, high skill and high wages are the success indicators of New Zealand business and jobs. And we cannot truthfully talk about social policy and tackling poverty unless we talk about low wages and how to deal with them.

A critical first step, and one which will help the lowest-paid workers directly, is an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour, which Labour has long signalled.

But it will take more than improvements to the minimum wage to deliver decent wages for all New Zealand workers. The experience of the past twenty years shows that New Zealand’s current labour market arrangements have led to lower pay for New Zealand workers. Lower pay means New Zealand businesses face fewer incentives to lift productivity and lift investment in workplace, or in workers’ skills and education. It’s a vicious cycle: low wages and low productivity, with New Zealand families bearing the consequences.

Labour’s plan will tackle this long-standing problem. We will amend the Employment Relations Act 2000 to implement a new framework where better pay and standards can be extended through Industry Standard Agreements –  a new form of agreement under the Employment Relations Act (ERA) – that builds on the the existing individual, collective and multi-employer collective agreements that the ERA currently provides for.

An industry union or employer will be able to apply to a Workplace Commission for an Industry Standard Agreement. The Commission would determine the “norm” of the standards already applying in collective agreements in the industry and “extend” those to all those workplaces in the industry where there is no collective agreement.

Employers and unions will still be able to negotiate collective agreements for their enterprise as an alternative to the Industry Standard Agreement. Individual Agreements can still apply, but cannot be less than the Industry Standard. Workers will not have to join unions to be part of an Industry Standard Agreement, but unions will have access to workers in the industry to talk about the standards and other rights, as they do now.

This model of “extension” is widely used in successful economies and the adaptations in Labour’s policy will continue to enable unions and employers to bargain directly with each other when that is the most effective approach. It’s nowhere near the centralised wage fixing approach of Australia.

Industry Standard Agreements are about improving the pay of New Zealand workers. It is part of the wider structural change that needs to occur in the New Zealand economy. Labour has already signalled other changes such as tax, monetary policy, research and development and our yet to be announced savings policy.

There’s a lot more detail to our work and wages policy,  but that will have to wait for further posts.

Foodbanks and the Underclass

Posted by on October 18th, 2011

There have been lots of reasons to feel proud to be a New Zealander lately. We have hosted what looks to me like a brilliant major sporting tournament (the debacle around the opening notwithstanding) where we have fulfiled the “stadium of 4 million” ideal. And what’s more on the field the All Blacks are poised to break the 24 year drought and make us world champions again.

But today I read two stories in the New Zealand Herald that made me ashamed as a New Zealander. The first is the news that the government has slashed the number of food parcels it hands out by 20% in a year at a time when foodbanks are dealing with more and more individuals and families who need support for the very basics of food. Food parcels are not about anything other than people getting the necessities of life.

Last night in Wellington there was a public meeting on poverty issues where Stephanie McIntyre from Downtown Community Ministry talked about the more than 400 clients they dealt with in the three months to June. They do a great job at DCM, making real and substantive differences in people’s lives, but the current government is making their job much harder by changing policies to make it harder to access food grants.

The government’s approach in my view is privatising dealing with poverty, it is an abdication of responsibility and it is morally wrong.

The second story is an acknowledgement from John Key that the “underclass” he talked so much about in the 2008 election campaign has grown under his watch. He can’t deny the evidence, it is all around from the massive increase in foodbank use, the rise in unemployment to health indicators like the 5,000 extra avoidable hospital admissions among children for respiratory illness and skin infections.

So the PM acknowledges it, great. But he is not a spectator here, he is actually running the government. More can and should be done to directly attack the growth in poverty. It is simply not good enough.

Labour has policies that are directly aimed at addressing this, from the increase in the minimum wage to $15, a fairer tax system including making the first $5000 tax free for everyone, increasing the top tax rate and introducing the CGT. We also will have a comprehensive children’s policy, which as Annette King has already announced will include legislating targets for the elimination of child poverty. And for me that must be the goal. Nothing less is acceptable.

At the forum on poverty last night Brian Easton spoke and he said while it was possible to argue on a technical basis about the best policy response to poverty, the real question to be asked is what are the ethical and moral principles that lie behind the policies. It seems to me to be hard to find an ethical principle that lies behind cutting the number of food parcels or letting inequality and poverty grow.

I think Brian’s question is a legitimate one to ask. So here is my answer. The ethical basis for Labour’s policy at this election is fairness, inter-generational responsibility, inclusion and respect and a belief that if we reduce ineqaulity we will harness all our potential, which common sense tells us will benefit us all. So what’s the ethical basis for National’s policy?

My new hero

Posted by on August 17th, 2011

I would never have imagined that my new hero would be a mega-rich American investor. But when Warren Buffett called for rich Americans like himself to pay higher taxes, I started to think that perhaps we are entering a new phase in humanity – where greed is not necessarily seen as good, where some of the wealthy are prepared to share and where the contributions of the not so well off are considered as important as those who have “made it”. Warren Buffet says :

“While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks. These and other blessings are showered upon us by legislators in Washington who feel compelled to protect us, much as if we were spotted owls or some other endangered species. It’s nice to have friends in high places……….

If you make money with money, as some of my super-rich friends do, your percentage may be a bit lower than mine. But if you earn money from a job, your percentage will surely exceed mine — most likely by a lot.”

It reminds me of Sam Morgan who said last year

“The amount of tax people pay in different areas is not fair. The people that pay the most tax are working people.”

Back in the US of A Manhatten Millionaire Lawrence Benenson has joined the call saying :

“How much money do you really need? Give it back to the government, pave some roads.”

Scores of New York’s millionaires have signed on to campaigns encouraging “tax equality,”such as the group Responsible Wealth, that includes Edith Everett, a retired Wall Street stockbroker who says :

“People who are just scrimping and saving to pay their rent, they shouldn’t pay one penny more.  Rich people make their money on the backs of the workers.”

This is refreshing.  May we hear more like it in New Zealand.

No problem with people doing well.  Big problem with not paying fair share.