Red Alert

Archive for the ‘human rights’ Category

Party Leadership : What Labour values drive your work for New Zealand? Labour Leadership Q&A #11

Posted by on September 13th, 2013

14 Questions for 2014

Virtual Hustings Meeting – Question 11

Party Leadership : What key Labour values drive your work for New Zealand?

Question : Why did you join the Labour Party over other parties and what are the key Labour values and principles that drive your work for Labour and New Zealand?

Submitted by : Annalise Roache, Auckland

******

Explanatory Note: From September 10th to 14th 2013 as part of the official selection process for a new leader the New Zealand Labour Party is holding a “Virtual Hustings Meeting” hosted by Red Alert and organised by Scoop Amplifier. Over 7 days questions were solicited from eligible voters in the election. The questions and answers are now being posted as a set of 14 posts at the Red Alert Labour Party Blog. This started Tuesday 10th September, and continues till Friday 13th September. At Red Alert all-comers are welcome to discuss the answers in the comment section of the blog. The candidates are expected to participate in these discussions at times over the five days till Saturday 14th September.

*******

LABOUR LEADERSHIP CANDIDATES’ ANSWERS

Answer from David Cunliffe

My values are Labour values. I know that all I am now and all I ever will be came from the opportunities New Zealand gave me when I was growing up.

I was born in Te Aroha, a small town in the heart of the Waikato. I grew up in a vicarage and some earliest memories are of mixing with the wealthiest families in the district, and with those who were doing it tough.

In Te Kuiti, when the cement works closed and the milling tapered off, unemployment and poverty were all around us.

I remember proud and good people, who through no fault of their own, were thrown into a situation of having nothing.

Not that my family was rich by any means. We knew what it was like to struggle.

As a teenager, my Dad lived with serious illness and there was little to spare. I worked evenings and weekends in a fish and chip shop, and I mucked out pig pens for a dollar an hour.

But I was also given huge opportunities thanks to a great education at the local state school. This was the foundation of all my opportunities that followed.

I have been incredibly lucky in my life and I am really committed to making sure that the same opportunities are open to all New Zealanders.

I want to build a fairer, more inclusive New Zealand with a future that is full of opportunities for our kids; a good public education; housing; free health care and a secure retirement.

A decent New Zealand. That is what Labour stands for and that’s why I am Labour.

******

Answer from Shane Jones

I joined the Labour Party because of its history of reform. It has championed the interests of Maori and other minorities.

Fairness and collective responsibility for all sectors in our society is a key principle for Labour and New Zealand.

This motivates me.

******

Answer from Grant Robertson

I never really considered joining another political party. My family’s links with Labour meant it was part of my DNA.

But as I was leaving school at the end of the 1980s I felt I could not join the Labour Party given the direction it was taking under Rogernomics.

I settled for campaigning against user pays in education for the next few years, but under Helen Clark’s leadership I saw that there was an opportunity for Labour to re-build New Zealand and so I joined in the late 1990s.

For me the values that drew me to Labour still hold dear today- fairness, solidarity and opportunity.

I believe that your success on life should not be determined by who your parents are or where you are born, but by your hard work and the collective support we can provide.

I believe that everyone’s contribution should be valued, that a fair day’s work deserves a fair day’s pay, and that we have obligations to care for each other.

Those are Labour values and they are enduring, but I believe we must give them a modern, strong and clear voice that connects with the lives of New Zealanders.

I represent a new generation of leadership that can be that voice.

ENDS


Disability Issues : Would you create a Ministry for Disability? Labour Leadership Q&A #7

Posted by on September 12th, 2013

14 Questions for 2014

Virtual Hustings Meeting – Question 7

Disability Issues : Would you create a Ministry for Disability?

Question : Under your leadership would a Labour-led Government commit to de-medicalising disability support services by shifting them to a new Ministry for Disability Issues which has a minister in cabinet and a chief executive who is committed to the social model of disability and, preferably, has lived experience of disability?

Submitted by : Hilary Stace, Wellington

******

Explanatory Note: From September 10th to 14th 2013 as part of the official selection process for a new leader the New Zealand Labour Party is holding a “Virtual Hustings Meeting” hosted by Red Alert and organised by Scoop Amplifier. Over 7 days questions were solicited from eligible voters in the election. The questions and answers are now being posted as a set of 14 posts at the Red Alert Labour Party Blog. This started Tuesday 10th September, and continues till Friday 13th September. At Red Alert all-comers are welcome to discuss the answers in the comment section of the blog. The candidates are expected to participate in these discussions at times over the five days till Saturday 14th September.

*******

LABOUR LEADERSHIP CANDIDATES’ ANSWERS

Answer from Shane Jones

I will not be supportive in establishing a new Disability Ministry.

I realise how important the disability issues are across society.

The building code is an area where further work needs to be done.

It is important we keep a strong degree of visibility on these issues in our future Cabinet.

******

Answer from Grant Robertson

I will do everything possible to ensure that this is a country where disabled people have meaningful lives within their communities based on respect and equality, where disabled people have their diversity recognised and rights protected.

An important part of that is making sure that those with disabilities have a strong voice in Government. I would be prepared to look at a new structure for providing disability policy and support services, but I am wary of creating new bureaucratic structures.

One of the issues we urgently need to address is the squeeze on funding for front-line services for Austism which has happened under this Government.

Included in that is a review of the definition of disability that dictates the eligibility for government support – which currently excludes people with autism.

******

Answer from David Cunliffe

It is important that we support those with a disability to follow their aspirations, to make choices, and lead a quality life.

Those with a disability should be recognised as individuals, with their own set of needs and aspirations.

Our approach is based on the New Zealand Disability Strategy and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

I support having a Minister for Disability Issues.

However, there is still a long way to go before all disabled people are living in a fully inclusive society that values them and enhances their position.

I am supportive of improved public education and information sharing so that wider public better understands disability issues so that people with disabilities can truly participate in a fairer, more inclusive society with more independence.

ENDS


Equal pay : What would you do about gender pay discrimination? Labour Leadership Q&A #4

Posted by on September 11th, 2013

14 Questions for 2014

Virtual Hustings Meeting – Question 4

Equal pay : What would you do about gender pay discrimination?

Explanatory Note: From September 10th to 14th 2013 as part of the official selection process for a new leader the New Zealand Labour Party is holding a “Virtual Hustings Meeting” hosted by Red Alert and organised by Scoop Amplifier. Over 7 days questions were solicited from eligible voters in the election. The questions and answers are now being posted as a set of 14 posts at the Red Alert Labour Party Blog starting yesterday (Tuesday 10th September), till Friday 13th September. At Red Alert all-comers are welcome to discuss the answers in the comment section of the blog. The three candidates are expected to participate in these discussions at times over the five days till Saturday 14th September.

******

Question : Gender pay discrimination in NZ is a reality. The recent ruling in the Kristine Bartlett/SFWU case gives some hope. How would your leadership promote progress on achieving equal pay for work of equal value?

Submitted by : Lesley Soper, Invercargill

*******

LABOUR LEADERSHIP CANDIDATES’ ANSWERS

Answer from Shane Jones

The previous Labour Government made progress in this area.

It increased the wages of nurses.

I will use my position of leadership to ensure that the States resources are spent to give concrete improvement towards pay equity.

This is a core feature of Labour Party strategy and will not be neglected if I am leader.

******

Answer from Grant Robertson

I am really proud of the work of SFWU, Kristine and her lawyer Peter Cranney in getting that ruling.

It offers the prospect that equal pay will now become a matter of common law, and we will not need legislation to ensure it.

But we must be vigilant. National has no commitment to equal pay, and if legislation is needed, just as previous Labour governments have done we will pass it.

An immediate increase to the minimum wage, scrapping the Youth Rates, support for the Living Wage campaign and re-establishment of the Pay and Employment Equity Unit within government are also important parts of ensuring that we achieve equal pay for work of equal value

******

Answer from David Cunliffe

I believe we need to lead by example. National has not been ambitious for women. When National took office, there were 1153 women in boardroom positions. Today, there are only 1059, and falling. Government has a role to play in setting a leadership example, that is why I am committed to no less 50 % of the Labour caucus being women by no later than 2017.

Labour has a strong record of working to address gender pay inequality.

I am committed to investigating legislative and policy changes to close the gap based on the work of the Human Rights Commission and the Pay and Employment Equity Unit. This includes, recognising the right to equal pay, a positive duty to advance equality, and a mechanism to determine work of equal value.

I am also supportive of ensuring information about pay rates are made available so that comparisons can be made and unfair inequalities in pay rates between men and women are revealed.

ENDS


Cartoons irresponsible and racist

Posted by on May 31st, 2013

 I believe the two cartoons in the Christchurch Press and the Marlborough Express were a clumsy and objectionable attempt to draw attention and raise debate about an important issue.  The approach taken is indefensible and potentially damaging.

 The cartoon depicts two stereotypes.  The first is that those who access food in schools have the financial resources to feed their children but would rather spend the money on gambling, smoking, booze and a lavish life style.  While there may be some people who fall in this category there are many who don’t and who just simply can’t make ends meet either on a low income or on a benefit.  These depictions refuse to accept that. The second is that most of those who fall in this category are brown, overweight and irresponsible.

 Like all stereotypes the depictions malign those parents who access food in schools most of whom the cartoons depict as Māori and Pacific Islanders.  Therefore they are offensive.  The defence that the cartoons depict people of different ethnic background is just plain unbelievable.  The figures are overwhelmingly brown and overweight, gamble, smoke, drink and have a flash lifestyle.

 If the cartoonist’s message was that in New Zealand everyone should be able to feed their children because we are a welfare state, he failed miserably in getting that across.  Rather the cartoons accidentally or deliberately discount the fact that for whatever reason a good number of children live in poverty and they come to school hungry and in no position to take advantage of the education offered.  Any perspective that had an understanding of the needs of children would not depict the programme to feed our hungry children in this way. 

 The alternative surely can’t be to let the children go hungry or take them away from their parents?  Neither option is realistic and shows little appreciation of the real financial pressures on many families who are not in work or who are in poorly paid jobs.

 The second stereotype is even more troubling.  Some would say it incites racial disharmony.  It certainly does not assist positive race relations.  If the cartoons had asked people to take negative action on the parents, who it believes are brown, it would have breached the Human Rights Act for inciting racial disharmony.  As such it would have led to the commencement of the process of mediation and even eventual prosecution.  I accept that it does not reach that threshold.

 The cartoonist does have a responsibility to present issues fairly.  Satire is fine but there is a fine line.  There are many complex issues behind child poverty.  The cartoons should also show an appreciation of the impact of the depictions on minority ethnic groups.  Instead they trivialise these two issues and as such the two papers ought to print a retraction.  The Race Relations Commissioner should also take a much stronger line to discredit this approach and to caution cartonists who periodically stay into this style.

 Dr Rajen Prasad MP

 

 


Why I voted this way?

Posted by on March 13th, 2013

[From 19:30 - 21:55, Wednesday, I made NINE attempts but still could not secure an opportunity to take a call at the Bill's second reading. The following is what I wished to say:]

To those who have accused me of sitting on the fence at the Bill’s first reading, I say to them they were right. Because I was torn between two extreme and opposing views, and I found both views to be very convincing. I therefore decided not to vote at the Bill’s first reading.

Following steps of a rather informal consultation with my fellow Asian constituents, and also constituents of wider communities, I’ve now decided to vote in favour of this Bill, for the following reasons:

Firstly, I would like to quote David Do, who is New Zealand born, but of Chinese-Vietnamese descent. He told the Parliamentary Select Committee that it was wrong to simply imagine Kiwis of European descent supported gay marriage, while those of Asian or Pacific background opposed it. He said many people within immigrant families supported gay marriage, but could not speak out.  And he went on to say, and I quote:

“At least one thing that obviously unites the diverse Asian community is a desire to live free from discrimination, and to ensure everyone, regardless of their background, has the equal opportunity to succeed and live free lives.”

I believe it is very important for KiwiAsians to be informed, to be aware of the issues, so they can be knowledgeable participants in our democratic process. To be an informed participant, no matter how strongly they feel about the Bill – either for or against it – the decision is theirs and their decision should be respected.

To that extent I would like to thank Louisa Wall, Charles Chauvel and Asian Rainbow Community members especially David Do and Wai Ho for having their opinion pieces translated and published in the Asian media and having their voice heard. Because it is important that when, as a society, we make these far-reaching decisions, we also make sure that all the voices, and all the views, are heard in open dialogue.

Had I not followed such process and read some of the submissions from both sides, I would not be able to make up my mind now.

Secondly, we must look at how opinion on the marriage equality issue around the world is shifting quite rapidly at the moment.

Recently we have seen either voting in favour, or at least a major shift of opinion, in countries including the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, France, Germany and Ireland. Support in the United States has gone from 25 % in 1996 to 53 % today.

Just a few weeks ago, our former Speaker, The Right Honorable Dr Lockwood Smith, stated how much he now regretted voting against homosexual law reform. And the Prime Minister John Key was quoted as indirectly indicating that he regrets voting against civil unions – he says he was following his electorate, not his own views.

Do we want to be on the wrong side of history? I’ve found the following statement is very convincing:

In 15 years’ time, new voters especially will struggle to understand how their local MP voted against allowing their friends who are happily married, to get married. It may be a bit like an MP in 1908 explaining to female voters why they were against them having a vote in 1893!”

As MP Nikki Kaye said in the first reading that New Zealand has a proud history of leading in issues of equality and passing a piece of legislation like this one will strengthen the rights and freedoms of a significant group of New Zealanders.

And I was also encouraged by Dr Paul Hutchison. At the first reading he spoke of his initial reticence but finally said he had not constructed strong enough intellectual, moral, health or even spiritual arguments against it. In the end it boiled down to the premise that all New Zealanders should have the right to civil marriage, irrespective of race, sex or gender.

I want to thank Young Labour, Young National and representatives from all other parties in Parliament for their contributions. It is rare and unprecedented that youth representatives from all eight parties in Parliament had come together to show their support for marriage equality.

Thirdly I want to express my sincere respect to those who remain opposed to this Bill. I want to thank the 204 people who sent letters to me and hundreds of others who emailed me and those who spoke to me about their strong views on why this Bill should not proceed.

I respect their views, and they can be assured I weighed up the opposing views very carefully. I salute my Labour colleagues Sua William Sio, Ross Robertson and Damien O’Connor for their courage and determination. Isn’t that wonderful that we live in this beautiful country where colleagues and everyone can express their different views and agree to disagree. That’s what democracy is all about!

I have decided not to sit on the fence because I am convinced that the issue is about equality, justice and human rights. And supporting these values tips the balance in favour of the Bill.

To conclude, I would like to quote a UK MP, a Conservative MP Nick Herbert:

“Are the marriages of millions of straight people about to be threatened because a few thousand gay people are permitted to join? Will they say: ‘Darling our marriage is over, because Sir Elton John has just become engaged to David Furnish’?”

The answer is obviously no. Neither will the institution of marriage become redundant when Lynda Topp marries her fiancée, Donna Luxton. To the contrary, we should be offering them our congratulations because marriage is about love and commitment, and this is the basis of any successful marriage.


Aung San Suu Kyi to NZ – was anybody listening?

Posted by on November 25th, 2012

What was Aung San Suu Kyi’s word to the west during her recent European tour? “Yes – we welcome foreign investment, but ethical investment and people-centred aid please.” Did John Key hear any of this before he swanned off for another photo opp?

His post-Burma visit interview with Audrey Young was a lesson in how to learn nothing from one of the world’s greatest and most principled democratic leaders. It was like watching a child trying to speak adult language. And as for the Boy’s Own Annual approach to Foreign Affairs -  of the East Asia Summit: “It was a pretty interesting meeting just generally….I know…all these guys. I’ve met them lots now” – one wonders what Key thinks he is there for. And did he not know how ASSK might react to the name Myanmar?

Key announced $7 million in aid to go to Burma – $1 million in humanitarian aid to Rakhine state and $6 million in agricultural reforms. I blogged positively on the fact that he announced aid at all. But Key’s and National’s obsession with Foreign Affairs being reduced to trade shone through his announcement as did his disregard for everything for which ASSK stands – democracy, poverty elimination, reliable and accessible health care, accountable structures, rule of law, credible governance, anti-corruption.

Contrast Key with Obama’s brave and principled leadership shown in his speech at the University of Yangon: “Above all, when your voices are heard in government, it’s far more likely that your basic needs will be met. And that’s why reform must reach the daily lives of those who are hungry and those who are ill, and those who live without electricity or water.”

$6 million in agricultural reform assistance is another way of saying how can the NZ government make life easy for our biggest company, Fonterra? Somewhere down the track, that may be an appropriate question. Right now, instead of the developed nations circling like vultures over the next and possibly last untapped market in the world, why aren’t we concentrating on what Burma needs in order to get its people back on their feet so they can trade their riches of oil, gas, gems such as rubies and other minerals, as well as their fertile land, on their own terms and for the benefit of their people?

What business needs to flourish is the rule of law, transparency, a lack of corruption and democratic accountability. US businesses are not lining up to flood into Burma yet because they know the banking system is embryonic and capricious (crisp US bills only please, no bank accounts for foreigners, cash only). Check out what US businesses are saying here.

But to get to that stage, Burma will need health care and education. Our UnionAID programme training young Burmese leaders ($175,000!) is more likely to be effective in the long term than opportunities for NZ businesses. Getting some of the basics such as human rights, health care and education sorted are the priorities, not laying the ground for us to do well out of Burma in the future. Journos can see that. A real leader would see that.


Aid to Burma

Posted by on November 23rd, 2012

I am pleased that John Key has announced $7million in aid funding is to go to Burma, during his visit to that emerging country today. $1 million is to go to the strife-torn province of Rakhine in the western part of the country, where the Muslim Rohingya people remain stateless and in the most appalling need of aid and humanitarian support. I am pleased Key has been able to utter the words ‘human rights’ in Burma – how many decades of tyranny does it take for him to recognise that humans rights abuses exist?? – because he didn’t seem to be able to do so in Cambodia.

I was in Burma two weeks ago with the GAVI Alliance which distributes vaccines to the poorest parts of the world. 650,000 children will receive a new pentavaccine (diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, hepatitis B and influenza B) in the next 6 months and 1.5 million children will get their second measles vaccination in the next 12 months. I saw it starting in poor, rural villages outside of Nya Pyi Taw. NZ doesn’t contribute to that. That would be a better to place to start than agricultural development in my view. Fonterra can be left to do that, because it will for its own interests – government aid money could more usefully go to the primary needs for health care for the next generation.

I came away from Burma convinced that the new President and some of his Ministers are indeed committed to reform. I hold more hope for the progress of democracy than I have ever had before. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will take her rightful place as the elected leader of Burma in my lifetime – something that has felt like a distant dream for such a long time.  It is time for NZ to stand alongside the real efforts being made to lift Burma out of poverty and deprivation. I know agricultural reform can help there. I don’t deny that. But health care for women and babies is always a good investment in the long term.

I just hope that Key also decides to continue putting $175,000 into a valuable NZ-based UnionAid programme which takes 6 young Burmese leaders every year and gives them English language training at VUW and exposure to democratic structures and community organisations. It is a small investment with big results. I met with some of these interns while I was in Yangon. They are in a think tank advising the President on monetary policy, taxation, fiscal policy and writing of budgets. They are working for the ILO on its Freedom of Association project setting up trade unions under our own Ross Wilson, or on training others for leadership roles. It would be a shame if Murray McCully axed this small but significant programme when he should be doubling it. He is considering axing it apparently because one of the interns refused to go home last time and was granted asylum by Immigration NZ. Fix the process, Murray. Don’t axe the programme.

And by the way, Mr Key, don’t call it Myanmar in front of ASSK. That was an embarrassment you could have avoided with a little thought or experience.


Red Cross takes up anti-nuke agenda

Posted by on November 5th, 2012

Last Saturday I spoke at the Australian Red Cross conference in Adelaide called “Towards Eliminating Nuclear Weapons”. You can read my speech here.

It is a wonderful thing that the International Red Cross movement has chosen to take up and advance the nuclear non-proliferation agenda. Here is an organisation with well over a century’s history and experience in every modern theatre of war you can imagine, bringing its substantial reputation and credibility to the advancement of peace, on the grounds of humanitarianism. They are wading into the mixed international political agenda on grounds which are entirely irrefutable.

This is the first century of human existence when people have had the ability to destroy ourselves globally. This is the first century which has begun with nuclear weapons as a fact of life. The imperative to advance non-nuclear proliferation and the reduction of nuclear weapons to zero is greater now than it has ever been. Listening to one of the speakers talk about the impact of even a limited regional nuclear conflagration on the atmosphere, environment and crop production was enough to scare you witless.

We launched the NZ Red Cross branch of the campaign “Make nuclear weapons the target” earlier this year in Parliament. I was pleased to see so many young people getting in on this campaign. It is about their future after all. Try #targetnuclearweapons for starters.


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.


Hibakusha and a nuclear-free convention

Posted by on August 9th, 2012

When I taught English a lifetime ago, I used to teach John Hersey’s “Hiroshima”. This week I met two hibakusha (survivors of the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki) in person for the first time in my life. It was very affecting. She was 80; he was 73.  She is Shigeko Sasamori and he is Michi Hirata. They were inspiring. If you want to see some pictures of their visit, go to Mary Wareham’s flickr page . Thanks to Mary for those pics. To hear their stories is to go back to my 5th form English class and revisit why it was a good idea that Hersey’s work was part of the curriculum. It is still  a good idea.

 Today is the anniversary of the Nagasaki bomb. The Hiroshima bomb was dropped on 6 August 1945. On Sunday of this week (Aug 5), Grant Robertson and I attended the annual commemoration of the dropping of those bombs on Japan in 1945. At the commemoration, students from Heretaunga College spoke about why they, who have only ever been told stories and read stuff, are ardently in favour of a nuclear-free world. They were inspiring too.

Next week, Parliament will receive a report from the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee – an all-party report, with no minority report - proposing that New Zealand join with other like-minded countries to advance a convention prohibiting the development, stockpiling, transfer and use of nuclear weapons. This is in response to a petition from Edwina Hughes on behalf of the Peace Movement Aoteaora.  Officials advised us against it, as something which would not be supported by the major powers.  Sure, that might be so. Should that stop us from aiming for the stars? The committee said no. Officials said that about cluster munitions at the time, and we got a treaty on that. This could just be the start of the next step towards a nuclear-free world. Too idealistic? God (or someone) protect us from politicians without ideals. You can read the report here. I await the government’s response in 90 days.

Happy anniversary.

 

 

 

 


End of Life Choice bill in ballot

Posted by on July 23rd, 2012

I have, after 6 months’ work, finished my End of Life Choice Bill. You can find it here. I think the social conversation has moved on from the last time such a bill was debated in 2003 and lost 60-58. The two missing votes at that time were one abstention and one voted not lodged. So that was close. I hope I have enough specificity and enough safeguards in place for people to support it this time. I am sure it can be improved. I am equally sure that is time that we approached this issue with compassion and gave people the right to be as self-determining at their point of death as they have been in life. It would only apply to people who were of sound mind and suffered from a terminal illness, or an irreversible condition which made their life unbearable, in their own view. It also provides for people to register End of Life Directives in the event that these situations occur and they are unable to communicate their wishes to receive life-ending medication.  Other features include: the need for two medical practitioners to attest that the person is of sound mind, has the condition they say they have and have not been coerced into their decision; the need for counselling and a period of reflection; and a Review Body to examine the law after a period of time to ensure it is not being abused and is operating correctly. It will go into the ballot this week. Let me know your thoughts.


Let’s rid the world of landmines!

Posted by on April 4th, 2012

Landmines are a dangerous legacy of too many conflicts and must be banned world-wide. It is 13 years since the treaty banning antipersonnel landmines became international binding law, yet there are countries including Cambodia and Colombia where people continue to be killed and maimed by landmines.

Today, 4 April, is a day of international action to promote the Mine Ban Treaty and to apply more pressure to cleaning up those parts of the world where landmines continue to wreak havoc. 80 per cent of the world’s countries have banned landmines and millions of mines have been removed from the ground and destroyed, but there is still more to do. The Lend Your Leg video currently on YouTube is a good illustration of this (link above). New Zealand has started the international action today with a Lend Your Leg activity on the steps of Parliament. MPs have rolled up their trousers to ‘Lend Your Leg’ to the campaign. Even I, who will go to almost any lengths usually NOT to reveal my legs, was moved to participate and roll up my trousers for the occasion!

We may no longer have a Minister for Disarmament in New Zealand, but we still have people who care about these issues and care about New Zealand’s performance on them internationally.


Time for a difficult conversation, again

Posted by on March 27th, 2012

End of Life Choice bill  (TVNZ Breakfast Show video from today)

I am preparing a bill which I am calling “End of Life Choice”. It arose out of a meeting in Nelson last year with a group of people who all want to be able to exercise the same control over the end of their lives as they are enjoying during their lives. It is as much about human rights as it is about dignity, autonomy and compassion.

Three levels of protection are necessary:

1 – for the patient or person themselves – from family who would either exploit them or overturn their wishes in extremis, and from insurance companies or anyone else who might exploit them;

2 – for any attending physicians, and there would need to be 2 – from any coercion to breach their own ethics or criminal liability if all procedures were observed;

3 – for any family members who assist in the final moments – from criminal liability.

The first time this was voted on was 1995 (Michael Laws’ bill), it was defeated 61-29. The second time, in 2003 (Peter Brown’s bill), it was defeated 60-57  and of the three who made the difference,  two did not vote  (John Tamihere and Heather Roy) and one abstained (Dail Jones). It will always be a conscience vote.

I think the time has come for this question to be revisited. I think the social conversation needs to happen again. I think the numbers would be different this time.

Am I right?


Diabetics unite!

Posted by on March 21st, 2012

Pharmac has signed a provisional contract with an Auckland company to be the sole supplier of new glucose meters for diabetics. About 150,000 people are affected. Problem: no consumer testing – no backlight on the new one which is a bit tough when you are having a hypo event in the middle of the night; not enough memory to record history of blood sugar levels; batteries which conk out under 10C; sole supply out of Korea – the most stable peninsula we know? Tony Ryall is pressuring them to save $10 million through this contract. He ducked answering questions in the House today about this by exiting to comfort his upset mate, Nick Smith. Watch Campbell Live on TV3 tonight for this item.


Total Employment Change from 2008 Reveals Imminent Crisis

Posted by on February 21st, 2012

Increase in unemployment under National

Increase in unemployment under National

The Household Labour Force Survey Survey report of the December 2011 Quarter released last week revealed that our unemployment rate slipped slightly to 6.3% from 6.6%. While a rate of 6.3% in itself doesn’t necessarily mean we have reached crisis levels, the focus on the overall unemployment rate does conceal detail about our employment situation that if brought to the surface will shine light on what I believe is an immiment crisis looming in our economic horizon.

Since JohnKey’s National took office in November 2008, 53,000 New Zealanders have joined the unemployment ranks. That’s a 54% increase in the number of people unemployed to a total of 150,000. For these people, National’s promise of a ‘brighter future’ has utterly failed to materialise, especially if you have a mortgage and teenage children you are supporting through school.

While the impact of the recession cannot be ignored, the number of people unemployed has actually increased since the recession officially ended in mid-2009. The official unemployment figures only tell part of the story. Many more people are without work but are not counted as being unemployed. Many are described by the Salvation Army as being “discouraged unemployed”. They would like to work and would accept a job offer if given, but they would not be deemed as actively seeking work because for instance looking for work through a newspaper does not meet the threshold of “actively seeking work”. The number of Kiwis jobless has increased by almost 100,000 under National’s watch to now 261,300 people as of December 2011. In the meantime 59,964 people are receiving the Unemployment Benefit as at December 2011 a fall of 7% from 67,084 as of the December 2010.
So is this it? Is this the brighter future promised to all New Zealanders?

Number of people jobless


Foreign Affairs = more than trade

Posted by on October 21st, 2011

You could be forgiven for thinking that our only interest in other countries under this government, is how much money we can make out of them.

Yesterday, at an NZIIA seminar at Victoria University, I released our Foreign Affairs policy. MurrayMcCully had given the opening speech and every country or region he mentioned was couched in terms of our Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with them, an emerging FTA with them, the desirability of an FTA or other bilateral economic agreement with them and how well we were doing because of them.

Don’t get me wrong – I am a great supporter of FTAs as long as we don’t concede our sovereignty and they can be negotiated in a more open way which engages the non-government sector as well. But for Labour, Foreign Affairs is also about peace, security, conflict resolution, disarmament, multilateralism, human rights, climate change, environmental protection and restoration, disaster relief, good governance and democratic representation, and most importantly, people to people exchanges and relationships.

Without a viable and secure planet, all the global supply chains you can think of count for nothing.

Our independent foreign policy is a source of great pride for us. It has been most enhanced in our history by great Labour Prime Ministers: Peter Fraser, Norman Kirk, David Lange and Helen Clark. We will build on that tradition.

We will bring human rights and a commitment to multilateral international decision-making back to the fore again. They have been languishing on the back burner under the National government.

Have a look at the policy – comments are welcomed.

Oh – and for those who wonder why there is no mention of Afghanistan – that is simply because our position on that is well known, has been well reported and has been the same since late 2005. In case you have missed it (!) : Labour would not have sent the fourth rotation of SAS troops back to Afghanistan. The SAS should no longer be deployed there. A Labour government will bring them home. We will progressively withdraw our Provincial Reconstruction Team as well, in an exit strategy worked out in consultation with other forces with whom we are working in Bamyan. The fight can only be won in Afghanistan if the government there wins the hearts and minds of the people. That hasn’t happened. Time to come home.


Release of Foreign Affairs policy pending

Posted by on October 20th, 2011

I will be releasing Labour’s Foreign Affairs policy this afternoon at 2pm. It will include our role in the world and particularly in the Pacific, as well as our views on disarmament, human rights, the United Nations and MFAT reform. I released our Overseas Development Assistance policy separately two weeks ago – www.ownourfuture.co.nz/overseas-development-assistance.

I will post a more expansive blog later today.


Restoring the Refugee Study Grant

Posted by on October 15th, 2011

In Labour’s tertiary education policy announced by David Shearer earlier this week was a small, but very important commitment from Labour. If elected to government we will restore the Refugee Study Grant. This grant was canned by the National Government in the 2009 Budget with effect from this year. When I was Tertiary Education Spokesperson for a while I met several people who had greatly benefited from the grant, and I am so pleased that we have committed to restoring it.

What the grant has provided is support for refugees mainly for bridging courses or other courses to meet pre-requisites. While as permanent residents refugees can access student loans, many need support to get to the level to be able to undertake tertiary study. Not having the support can mean that opportunities are missed and refugees dont get the kick start that can allow them to achieve their potential.

Mohammed Amri is one example. He was one of the Tampa boat boys. A bright guy, but with little experience of English or learning in a New Zealand environment, who took language, reading and writing skill courses that got him his start on the way to a degree. Another example is a young woman I met, who’s story is included in the publication by Changemakers Refugee Forum as part of their campaign to see refugees recognised as an equity group. She was 19 and still at school here trying to catch up with her peers. She did well, but was not ready to do tertiary study. She was losing motivation for school, doing long hours working at a supermarket, acting as an interpreter for her family, and wanted to get on with her life. She accessed the refugee study grant, got the support to lift her literacy skills, understand the pecularities of New Zealand langauge, and gain entry to a degree at Victoria University. She’s doing really well.

All of this came from a fund that used about $1.3 million a year. In the grand scheme of the Budget, not that much. But it was a lower priority for National in that particular Budget than extra funding for private schools. I am really proud that Labour is saying we will give some extra support to people who have had to flee their homes, who have endured hardship, so that they may achieve their potential, have a fair go at owning their future, and fully contribute to our society. Its the right thing to do.


Release of Overseas Aid policy

Posted by on October 11th, 2011

Today I released our Overseas Development Assistance policy. This is one point of distinct difference we have from the Nats in the Foreign Affairs basket of interests and issues. The points are simple:

1. Restore poverty elimination as the primary focus of overseas aid, as opposed to economic development, as the Nats have prioritised. Get back on board with achieving the Millennium Development Goals, especially here in the Pacific, and that includes education to improve literacy, access to health services like maternal and child health, HIV/AIDS prevention programmes, sexual and reproductive health programmes.  Stop handing aid dollars out to business friends without tender, so they can line their own pockets AND feel good about themselves at the same time.

2. Redevelop a strategic partnership with the NGO sector and develop best practice again, as we were known for previously. If there are inefficiencies in aid delivery through NGOs, let’s sort that out, but let’s not alienate some of our experts by adopting McCully’s “4 legs good, 2 legs bad” approach to the sector. In other words, if it comes out of the private sector, it must be good. If it comes out of the not for profit or, god forbid, the public sector, it must be bad.

3. We will set up NZAID with semi-autonomous status, taken back out of MFAT and based on sound principles of development analysis and research. Stop the blurring of the boundaries between aid and foreign policy objectives where it is too easy to slip into chequebook diplomacy.

4. We will build on our experience in reconstruction and peace-making to develop a specialist capability in mediation and conflict resolution.

Those are the main points. You can see the whole thing here. Comments welcome.


Aid to Libya – what about the Horn of Africa?

Posted by on August 26th, 2011

A few days ago, John Key announced that NZ would be giving “millions” to the National Transitional Council representing the rebels in Libya, ahead of UN recognition of the NTC and any request from them for such aid.

What the hell is this about? Libya is an oil-rich country. The UN is right now moving to lift the freeze on Libyan assets to the tune of $US1.5 billion, so why does the NTC need money from NZ? Who is pulling Key’s strings here? And did he tell his Foreign Affairs Minister? Where is the money coming from? Are we going to cut even more of the aid programmes in the Pacific to divert money to a country which doesn’t need it? These questions need answering.

Don’t get me wrong – I think we should assist Libya as it moves towards democracy, even if it is not as we know it. They will need assistance by way of training people in the maintenance of the rule of law, the establishment of accountable public structures which are transparent to the people, governance matters, etc. That’s where we can help.

And while John Key is distributing unnecessary largesse to an organisation which has yet to get full international recognition, Murray McCully has been dragging his heels in disbursing aid promised 6 weeks ago to the relief effort in the Horn of Africa. Children are dying by the thousands from the worst drought in 20 years and a call on our aid budget in this respect is legitimate and compelled by any humanitarian impulse.

But McCully has dicked about with disbursing this money – only just an hour or two ago, putting out a release that says he has made the decision on which NGOs will get the $1million promised 6 weeks ago. Provoked by bad press. How principled. What about the $1million promised to the World Food Programme? When did that get paid, if it has been?

Not good enough, Murray.