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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.



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.


Poverty : How would you ensure no one needs to live in poverty? Labour Leadership Q&A #2

Posted by on September 10th, 2013

14 Questions for 2014

Virtual Hustings Meeting – Question 2

Poverty : How would you ensure no one needs to live in poverty?

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 the past 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 today (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 candidates are expected to participate in these discussions at times over the five days till Saturday 14th September.


Question : What strategies would you wish to put in place to ensure no one needed to live in poverty? What steps would you advocate to significantly reduce the gap between the rich and the poor?

Submitted by : Ken Hutchison, Hastings and Bob Kirk, Auckland


Answer From David Cunliffe

Inequality is one of the biggest issues we face and we must strive to build a fairer, more inclusive New Zealand.

I am committed to a top tax rate of 39 per cent, the introduction of a capital gains tax, and making sure the wealthiest New Zealanders pay their share of tax. I will repeal National’s changes to the Employment Relations Act and I’ll ensure that we have fair employment laws, starting with industry standard agreements. I’ll raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour in the first 100 days of a Labour Government and I’ll also invest in a living wage for all Kiwis – our government will set the standard.

We will need to create decent well-paid jobs. My aim is full employment, with every New Zealander who is ready, willing and able to work in a job or training for one. Creating these jobs will require an economic development package that gets Government off the side-lines and into new partnerships with the community, the regions, and local government to create economic and social value.


Answer from Shane Jones

The minimum wage should be lifted to $15per hour. However as our housing policy, power policy, early childhood education, primary health care improvements roll out, household budgets will improve.

A review of supermarket behaviour is vital because the cost of food in NZ is absurdly high. The cost of rental property must come down.

I understand the need for a living wage. I would start by implementing such a policy in the aged care sector as per the report by Judy McGregor.

I do not have the fiscal data to offer an open ended commitment beyond that point. I am concerned that this policy could be seen as good for State employees but will not apply to those in the private sector. We must remember it will be paid for by tax payers not employed by the Government.


Answer from Grant Robertson

Growing inequality is the most urgent issue facing our country.

We must have the courage to be bold and tackle it head on. This includes giving all children a good start in life in a warm, dry safe home. And it means lifting wages.

We can directly influence this by lifting the minimum wage immediately to $15 per hour, and supporting the Living Wage Campaign.

The government should show leadership to lift the wages of those who work for us, and send the clear signal that anyone who contracts to government should pay the Living Wage.

We also need to build a productive, people centred economy that will deliver higher wages. This includes giving workers back some power in wage negotiations through collective bargaining and industry standard agreements.

I will introduce legislation in my first 100 days, developed with unions to make this happen. We must also use the tax system to ensure everyone pays their fair share. This includes a capital gains tax, cracking down on tax evasion and lifting the top rate for high income earners. If everyone pays their fair share, everyone can have a fair go.


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



Where are they?

Posted by on February 17th, 2013

Last year, Labour questioned why a company called King Facade Ltd had been given approval in principle from Immigration New Zealand to bring in 110 “Facade Installers” from China on the basis that there were no New Zealanders skilled enough to do the work. There were  questions about the granting of this approval that were not satisfactorily answered by either the Minister of Immigration or Immigration New Zealand, with only a cursory attempt to find New Zealand workers, and a exaggeration of the skills required ensuring that any Kiwis would not meet the requirements.

The parent company of King Facade Ltd is Mainzeal, and this week King Facade Ltd also went into voluntary liquidation.

The then Associate Minister of Immigration, Kate Wilkinson gave assurances that the parent company Mainzeal had a good record with Work and Income. Another big justification from the government was that King Facade would work with Mainzeal and the Industry Training Organisation to develop a Facade Installer Apprenticeship programme, so New Zealanders would be skilled to do the work in future.

Well that’s all fallen over, along with the collapse of Mainzeal, the loss of jobs and contractors out of pocket.

Who knows what’s happened to the poor Chinese Migrant workers, who were promised a three year employment contract.

My guess is they were on the next flight home, with no pay in their pockets for the work they have done.


David Shearer and Clayton Cosgrove announced today that Labour will legislate for a fairer deal for subbies.

New Year Hangover brought to you by the letters N.A.T….

Posted by on January 1st, 2013

If you thought that your hangover was starting to fade, National has made New Year’s Day a cracker for short sighted, unfair and just plain dumb policies to come into force.

Prescription Charges Up. Today is the day prescriptions rise from $3 to $5. Might not seem much from the comfort of Tony Ryall’s viewpoint, but a trip to a pharmacy in any low income area will tell you a different story. Many people struggle to pay for their medicine now, let alone with the price increase. Maryan Street has covered it really well here. Unfair, and just plain wrong.

Student Allowances Abolished for Postgrads. I have covered this a few times on Red Alert, but from today no postgraduate student will be eligible for allowances. Shortsighted, and likely to drive many bright hopes overseas. And so unfair to those in the middle of programmes who had no warning of this from National. Like my constituent who simply can’t afford to complete her Clinical Psychology qualification because even using a student loan she is $75 a week down in “income” and can’t afford to look after her daughter on that. Shame.

No more Kyoto. From today the government has abandoned our commitment to the Kyoto Protocol in favour of our own “voluntary” commitments. We used to be respected in the world for our work on climate change, but National has systematically undermined that through changes to ETS and now this. Our reputation with small island states will take a major hit. We are now seen as not only not a leader, but not even doing our fair share.

In fairness today also marks another increase in tax on tobacco. Labour supports this, as the international evidence shows price is one of the most successful ways of stopping people smoking. But it has to go along with access to other treatments to help people kick their addiction.

So, its Happy New Year from National. But actually I am feeling really positive today. 2013 will be the year we see New Zealanders come together to find a fairer, more hopeful and compassionate future for our country. That is Labour’s way and that is our goal.

Now for something completely different

Posted by on November 2nd, 2012

Next Members’ Day, my bill, the Local Government (Public Libraries) Amendment bill will have its first reading in parliament.

The bill, originally drafted by Labour MP Grant Robertson, was drawn from the ballot a couple of months back and as its sponsor, I’ve been on an exploration of the wonderful services our Public Libraries and librarians provide.

I admit that while I’ve been a fan of public libraries for years, going back to my childhood and the childhood of my son, I haven’t been a regular visitor recently. So this bill has re-ignited my passion for libraries, for books, for knowledge, for history. It’s been wonderful seeing the national treasure of our public library services, from the small local library to those with bigger collections.  These are indeed national taonga.

Public libraries play an important role in our communities. They give everyone access to information and improve literacy and reading.  They are community hubs for a range of activities, and they help strength local communities.

Who could ever imagine that our libraries could be at risk, yet with the government’s focus on Local Government costs, with a nasty bill due to be reported back soon, increasingly, strapped Local Authorities may turn their attention to library services and more charges.

New Zealand has no legislation that guarantees free public libraries. We are out of step internationally with countries such as Australia, the United Kingdom and Canada – all of which protect free public library services via legislation. We are not meeting UNESCO guidelines where public libraries in principle should be free of charge and the responsibility of local and national authorities, financed by national and local governments.

My bill will help New Zealand meet UNESCO guidelines, address the issue of user charges and ensure that NZ’s public libraries are an essential component of any long-term strategy for culture, information provision, literacy and education.

Our Library services should not be bound by an individual’s ability to pay, but that is becoming increasingly the case. Statistics show that introduction of user charges result in lower usage of public libraries and this in turn directly impacts on our communities’ literacy outcomes – it adds to inequality by denying access to those who can least afford to pay.

Then there’s our precious collections, which store our history.  Imagine these being developed on a user pays basis?  Do we really want unbalanced, profit-driven libraries that cater only for immediate, popular choices, rather than non-profitable alternatives?

We are becoming an e-society, but without libraries and free access to e-government and other services, the digital divide will expand.  It’s almost impossible to do anything these days without access to the internet – even looking for a job, where advertisements and applications are usually done on-line. Information about government services are increasingly only available through the internet.

Libraries play an important role in bridging the digital divide for those without personal computers or other devices.

There’s many reasons for this bill, but the most important one is keeping our public libraries free for all users.

If you want to support the bill, go to the Keep Public Libraries free facebook page or the website for the Library Information Association of NZ (Lianza)

Most important of all, let your MP know where you stand on this issue.

Employment law changes – 6A just part of it

Posted by on October 31st, 2012

Some people seem to think the government has cleverly covered up its employment law changes with its announcement on Part 6A yesterday.

I guess I was assuming people would remember the rest of the changes on employment law were revealed way back in May this year, when a cabinet paper dropped off the back of a truck and the Minister of Labour was forced to confirm the government’s plans – that’s after saying I was making it all up first!  The changes will impact on the pay and conditions of hundreds of thousands of workers whose wages and conditions are set by union agreements – whether or not they join the union. They will contribute to the growing income inequality gap and add to our abysmal child poverty record.

They are the actions of a government that thinks that picking on the workers and unions and driving wages down is the answer to our economic woes.

Here’s a summary of the changes I did back in May.

We have yet to see legislation – but there will be strong opposition from me and Labour.

And for the record – Labour will repeal these changes – I didn’t think I needed to say it, but apparently I do.


Living below the line

Posted by on September 17th, 2012

MPs’ notoriously unhealthy eating habits will take a whole new turn next week when a bunch of us live from Monday to Friday on $2.25 a day.

We are living below the line – below the extreme poverty line that is – in a symbolic show of solidarity with the world’s poor. This is a new campaign from the international development agencies to give a glimpse into the lives of 1.4 billion people who have no choice but to live below the line every day – and who have to make $2.25 cover a lot more than food.

The Labour team corralled into action by Jacinda Ardern, also includes Grant Robertson, David Parker, Annette King and me.  You can sponsor our efforts by clicking on our names.

The NGOs backing this campaign are all worth supporting. Behind the promotional pizzazz of a campaign like this they are doing grassroots development work as well as campaigning against the policies and structures that keep people poor.

And who knows what surprises might come from five days on strict rations? You won’t find the Labour team producing recipe books with cheerful meals that the unemployed can live on after Paula Bennett has cut their benefits…that’s more of a Tory thing. But it might be worth keeping an eye on speeches in the House next week as the mind-altering effects of hunger kick in.

You can give here.


Minimum wage bill gathers traction

Posted by on August 1st, 2012

I’ve already put some of the arguments in favour of raising the minimum wage.  Here are a few more:

– A minimum wage of $15 an hour will mean extra earnings of $427 million a year for our lowest paid workers.  Most of that money will be spent on essentials – food, clothing and health-care – and will go straight back into the economy.

– David Parker rightly points out that the minimum wage has to be one families can live on, that rewards hard-work, and that helps stem the flow of thousands of people to Australia where wages are much higher.

– Minimum wage increases have lagged behind productivity increases over last 20 years.  For the health of our communities they need to increase in a sustainable fashion.

– If Government future ambitions for growth are to be realised, the fruits will need to be shared.  My bill helps ensure that is the case.

– Inequalities are growing since National’s 2010 tax package which increased GST, and gave the biggest tax cuts to those already wealthy. These growing inequalities begin to be addressed by my bill.  Women, Māori, Pacific people, youth and part-time workers are more likely to benefit from an increase in the minimum wage.

If you’re new to this debate, Ch9 News in Dunedin has a background piece on my bill. It’s worth a look.

Why the Minimum Wage Needs to Rise

Posted by on July 26th, 2012

I’m stoked that my Mondayising Members Bill has successfully proceeded to select committee.  Members Bills provide the opportunity to pass legislation against the Government.  A sensible idea and sufficient luck mean positive change becomes possible from the opposition benches.

It looks like the heavens are smiling on me.  I have just now heard that I’ve had a second bill drawn.  This time I aim to raise the minimum wage to $15/hour.

I’m convinced that the minimum wage needs to go up sooner rather than later.  There is too much inequality in NZ. The poverty inequality drives is destroying lives and wasting the opportunity to get the best out of our people.  I’ve previously explained how this has come to pass and why it is hurting us.

Critics argue that too high a minimum wage risks growing unemployment.  At some point this is undoubtedly true.  If the minimum wage went up to $30/hour, a bunch of businesses would go under.  That wouldn’t be good.  On the other hand, if the minimum wage is too low, the Government ends up dishing out subsidies to families to keep them out of poverty (or worse, it chooses not to give out subsidies to keep them out of poverty). 

A direct link between minimum wage and employment has never been successfully drawn.  Expect a Nobel Prize for any economist who manages it.  What we do know is that a lot of the rhetoric does not match reality.  National raised the minimum wage just 70 cents in their last 9 years in Government and unemployment soared.  Labour raised it $5 in their last 9 years and towards the end of their time enjoyed the lowest unemployment in the Western World.

A $15/hour minimum wage seems to have consensus in New Zealand as a figure that will not cause unemployment, but comes closer to a living wage. 

Interestingly, a lot of small and medium businesses routinely pay this wage because they know their workers, believe in them and understand how close to the poverty line they live.  It tends to be a few rogue larger firms that screw their workers down to the lowest common denominator. 

The costs of treating poverty related illnesses low-paid workers and their families bear are carried by all of us through the health system too.  So we effectively as taxpayers end up subsidising rogue employers and their bad practices.  This is bad for NZ socially and economically and it needs to stop.

I argue for increases in the minimum wage over time on the basis that it stops bad employers from exploiting low wages as a means of generating wealth.  Instead they have to explore ways of working smarter and increasing productivity. Most employers get this.

But fresh thinking from those who subscribe to a mean understanding of human nature suggest that even they should support minimum wage increases.  Of particular interest to me this week is a recent article written from a very conservative economic perspective that shows why even Act Party acolytes ought to get in behind this change.

The One Percent

Posted by on June 5th, 2012

Our economy is stagnant under National. Or worse.

Like an opossum in headlights, the Government continues to chart the same economic course.  It is not clear whether this inertia is due to a lack of courage, or a lack of imagination.  Either way, the Government has proven unwilling to tackle the structural problems that underlie our economy – preferring instead to stare down the oncoming train.  We continue to import more than we earn in exports, and no credible plan to change our course is currently being entertained.

In New Zealand, the average value of our individual earnings has dropped during National’s first three and a half years in office.  Real GDP per capita is lower than it was in 2008.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

The Government members continue to blame everyone but themselves.  Their excuses don’t stack up.

Growth in Canterbury is outstripping other parts of the economy, so National’s attempts to blame Christchurch don’t make sense.  Nor do attempts to lay all of the blame at the foot of the Global Financial Crisis.  Our biggest trading partners have enjoyed growth stronger than most over recent years.

The basis of  a more plausible explanation for National’s failure is found in Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz’s latest article in Vanity Fair.  It’s titled ‘The One Percent’.

National has made bad choices.  It has failed to develop and implement pro-growth policies.

For starters, National passed over a huge opportunity to stimulate the economy.  The latest Treasury figures estimate the cost of income tax cuts made by the National Government in 2010 at around $11 or $12 Billion.

If 44% of the value of the cuts went to the top 10% of earners, around $5 Billion of the 2010 tax cuts went to those who needed them least.  The Prime Minister received about $1000 more in the hand per week.  Others received more.  These tax cuts for the wealthiest New Zealanders came at the cost of income tax cuts for the other 90%: middle and lower income earners. This was not good for our economy. An example Stiglitz uses illustrates this point:

Consider someone like Mitt Romney, whose income in 2010 was $21.7 million. Even if Romney chose to live a much more indulgent lifestyle, he would spend only a fraction of that sum in a typical year to support himself and his wife in their several homes. But take the same amount of money and divide it among 500 people—say, in the form of jobs paying $43,400 apiece—and you’ll find that almost all of the money gets spent.”

Sir Michael Cullen’s 2008 tax package was more strongly directed towards lower and middle income earners.  But the new Government unpicked the changes and wound the spend into a new package which underestimated the need for stimulus.  In doing so, National failed to support growth in the New Zealand economy.

The 2010 tax package worked negatively in another way.  It grew inequalities.  Greater inequality undermines trust.  Those not in the very highest income brackets feel less motivated to work in a system that favours those who are already well-off.  I’ve covered that ground before – commenting on an earlier Stiglitz piece in Vanity Fair. That article explained in simple terms why growing inequality is bad for all of us.

But all is not lost.  Opportunities for pro-growth tax reform are still available.  A capital gains tax would push money away from the speculative sector and towards the productive economy.  Unfortunately, National has so far refused to entertain pro-growth proposals that would support our hard-working export sector.

And there are other pro-growth policies that could be adopted.  They’ll be the subject of further blogs.  Labour will take a suite of them to the next election.

The contrast between the records of the two major parties couldn’t be starker.  Labour grew real incomes (after inflation is stripped away) by 25% over its most recent nine years in Government.  Since then real GDP per capita has fallen back.  Population growth, in the absence of economic policy, has driven our economy over the past four years.  This needs to change.

National Government failing Women

Posted by on May 3rd, 2012

Today’s unemployment figures show the female unemployment rate to be 7.1% – the highest it’s been since 1998.
This bad news follows hard on the heels of the Government’s announcement that they will veto extensions to paid parental leave; their mother-bashing proposals under the so-called “welfare reforms” banner and the news that Police will no longer report family violence data in their annual report.
So it’s time to ask a few questions.
Why is Minister of Women’s Affairs, Jo Goodhew, sitting on her hands while her Government fails the women of New Zealand?
Why have two CEO’s resigned from the Ministry of Women’s Affairs in the three years that National has been the Government? (MWA CEO Rowena Phair has just announced her resignation this week)
What does National have against women and mothers in particular?
They can’t say they didnt know women were suffering. In March, EEO Commissioner, Dr Judy McGregor warned that the cuts to public service jobs; the disproportionate loss of retail, accommodation and food service jobs in Christchurch and the reliance on construction in Christchurch to lift employment would all lead to increasing unemployment for women.
Women are bearing the brunt of the Government’s inability to pull the economy out of recession.
Not only are women losing jobs, but they bear the brunt of the emerging housing crisis, the fire-at-will bill and short-sighted cuts in early childhood and tertiary education.
And as the economic mismangement puts financial pressure on the family budget, guess who cops it then? Shockingly, sometimes in a physical way.
But of course the Police annual stats will hide that fact and we can all go back to pretending that domestic violence doesnt exist.
Meanwhile, the Minister of Women’s Affairs sits quietly outside of Cabinet and that’s just the way the National Party like it.

Economic development ideas

Posted by on April 29th, 2012

During the recess I have been working to fill out some ideas around economic development.

These personal views build on caucus discussions and our 2011 manifesto, and take on board feedback from party and business circles as I have been listening and engaging over the last few months.

This oped, published in the Herald on Friday, argues for lifting sustainable economic growth through a more ‘can do’, positive partnership with between government and business. It argues for a clear and credible strategy that integrates economy-wide, sector-driven and regional initiaitives. It warns of the dangers of the kind of one-off ‘deals’ with indvidual corporates now so typical of National.

This speech, delivered today to a meeting hosted by the New Lynn Women’s Branch of the NZLP, goes back to first principles. It argues that, post GFC, the “invisible hand” of neoliberal economics has failed, that New Zealand cannot cut or sell our way out of a hole, and that Labour must therefore present a clear alternative economic approach to the current government based on our own enduring values.

Hope you enjoy them.

Youth NEETs change since 2008

Posted by on February 26th, 2012
Youth NEETs

Youth NEETs

Despite the foodhardy belief by some that all is well with New Zealand employment under National, if they would just pull their heads out of John Key’s armpits for a second and took seriously that our unemployment rate from Dec 2008 to Dec 2011 has doubled, and these are NOT just numbers but REAL people with families to support, then perhaps they might get a sense of the looming employment crisis that I’m talking about. Take note of the job losses so far announced with MFAT, Air NZ, and a host of other companies that have laid off workers in the last few months.

What should also compoud our collective concern is the increasing numbers of Youth Not in Employment, Education or Training. As of December 2011 they numbered 83,000 as highlighted in the graph above.

Some might be providing homecare to family members but I suspect the vast majority are drifting doing nothing. These are our future leaders – now mostly at risk. Without work, without skills and without the hope for a better future, what will be the chances of them slipping into drugs, alchoholism, crime and benefit dependency? If these trends continue to worsen, what is there to stop it from becoming a ticking time bomb making New Zealand susceptible to the kinds of riots we’ve witnessed on TV occuring in Europe and the likes.

The NZ Institute who released proposals last year of reducing youth disadvantage estimated that the cost of youth unemployment, youth incarceration, youth on the sole parent benefit and taxes forgone, is around $900 million per year. Youth Not in Employment, Education or Training is not only a tragic waste of talent and potential, but we also all carry the cost.

We should also be worried that Maori & Pasefika youth make up a large number of NEETS. While the 6.3% unemployment rate in NZ is worrying, its not at the crisis levels of the PIGS. But the 6.3% unemployment rate hides the fact that for some parts of New Zealand unemployment truly is at crisis levels. I’ve shown int the graph below the figures by HLFS showing 43.3% of Pasifika 15-19 year olds are unemployed. That’s a shocking figure, right up there with the worst youth unemployment rates of Europe.

Pasifika & Maori Youth Unemployment

Pasifika & Maori Youth Unemployment

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

A Big Ask

Posted by on February 12th, 2012

I knew it was a big ask.

Simon Collins’ provocative Herald series on inequality was closing with “Bridging the Wealth Gap“.  Would it rail against the changes to our tax and workplace laws that have driven the widening gap?  Would cry from the heart like “Ill Fares The Land”?

Would it call for a fundamental change of direction? Would it unpick the platitudes around “equality of opportunity”?

Ah, no.

Instead it levers off the new Auckland Council’s Spatial Plan, including targets to reduce inequality.  Worthy, sure.  Right track? Undoubtedly.   Sufficient condition for change?   No way.

Collins explains ” how we got there” by condensing modern economic history into one sentence:

“The driving forces have been both technological changes, which have strengthened the power of the skilled at the expense of the unskilled; and policy changes, which have weakened unions, opened markets to free trade, cut taxes on the rich and imposed new taxes on spending that bear most heavily on the poor.”

Although the outcome is “not immutable”, neoliberalism dodges the bullet.

The genial Michael Barnett and the earnest Allan Johnston represent the “competitiveness” vs “compassion” debate.

But has Collins not read The Spirit Level?  There is a strong case that more equal societies do better. Including economically.  If so, fairness ain’t just compassion, it’s common sense.

The bottom line is that rampant inequality is driven by the combination of unfettered capitalism and neoliberal government policy.

So if Kiwis want a change they will need to vote for it at national as well as council levels.

Yet voter turnout was the lowest in decades this last election, despite inequality being at its worst.

We have more to do to make a reasoned case for a clear alternative.

We have made a good start: capital gains tax, tax free zone at the bottom (which could be abated over a certain income level like Working for Families), raising the top tax rate, decile weighted education  investment, and public health and housing programmes to promote healthy families and kids.  There will be more to come.

We have to balance this with a clear narrative, based on sound strategy, for growing the pie for all.  That means encouraging Kiwi businesses.  Helping markets when they work well.  And sorting out the mess when they don’t.  I will be blogging more about economic growth, as it must partner efforts to reducing inequality by raising income levels for all.

And we need to expose the tricks this Government uses to lull hard working Kiwis into apathy or submission; the smile and wave routine; their dog whistles that turn Kiwis against their neighbours; their sly deals and cronyism to maintain control.

So reversing inequality will take more than a newspaper series, it will take winning the country for a new direction for us all.

Inequality hurts all of us

Posted by on February 8th, 2012


Richard Wilkinson, a co-author of The Spirit Level, presents one of the Ted Talks on income inequality and how selfishness and greed hurt everyone, poor and rich alike.

We feel instinctively that societies with huge income gaps are somehow going wrong. Richard Wilkinson charts the hard data on economic inequality, and shows what gets worse when rich and poor are too far apart: real effects on health, lifespan, even such basic values as trust.

Watch it. (17 mins) it’s worth it.

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.

The Sad State of Key’s Nation

Posted by on January 27th, 2012

There is an old joke about the politician who dies, and arrives in heaven to find that market forces have taken hold, and that heaven and hell are offering one day trials so that he can decide where to spend eternity. The politician takes up the offer and spends a delightful, restful day in heaven listening to harp music. He goes down to Hell and has a great time partying, eating, drinking and generally having fun. He goes back to heaven and tells St Peter his decision’s made, its Hell for him. When he gets back there he finds none of the fun, but just a brutal, cold, barren landscape. He seeks out Satan, and asks what’s happened to the Hell he saw the day before, and Satan says, ” you’re a politician you should understand, yesterday we were campaigning, today we’re in office.”

In the election campaign we have just had, the paying down of debt and the return to surplus were big issues. The “show me the money” moment was just one where John Key brandished his credentials to lead us to the promised land of surplus by 2014-15. It was a certainty, and it could happen even earlier. Yet, six weeks on, the dampners are on. Key now says its only a “reasonable probability”. Another $1 billion have been knocked off the forecast. Truth is little is different in the challenging global environment now from when the promises were made, except the PM is not campaigning any more, he is in office. Not for the first time he gave the public the message they wanted to hear about economic growth, but now its time to lower expectations.

The so-called State of the Nation speech from the PM yesterday was a dull and miserable affair. Gone is the brighter future we were all promised just a few weeks ago. What plan there is has at is centrepiece more cuts to the public service. Regardless of the wisdom of those, they will be a drop in the bucket of improving the government’s finances.

No one is underestimating the challenge in front of the government. But what’s happened to the sunny optimisim of our PM? Actually there is every reason to be optimistic about New Zealand’s future if the government is prepared to do things differently. The world has changed, will the government? There is opportunity to reset fiscal and economic policy, and make the investments that will support innovative growing companies, grow our skills base and ensure that everyone reaches their potential.

But there was none of that in the speech. Not just a lack of economic vision either. And as Pita Sharples (yes, he is a Minister in the government) points out nothing on dealing with poverty or inequality. Nothing on the issues that need to be dealt with to unlock the potential of thousands of New Zealanders.

It was a defeatist, sad and tired effort. A bit like an old joke.

Happy New Year everyone

Posted by on December 31st, 2011

Counting our blessings as we move into 2012.

It’s been a hard year for so many New Zealanders. But we are a plucky country.

There’s lots to be done this (next) year. Let’s take more care of each other. Life’s too short not to.

I’ve chosen three songs to mark the occasion. Happy New Year x