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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.


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

UK Labour rethinking welfare state

Posted by on January 3rd, 2012

Liam Byrne is having a look at some sacred cows in an article in today’s Guardian :-

Labour is calling for a radical rethink of the welfare state, arguing that the benefits system has betrayed its founding principles and “skewed social behaviour”.

In a significant redrawing of Labour’s position on welfare, the shadow work and pensions secretary, Liam Byrne, on Tuesday argues that the ballooning of the system has provided support that is unearned, and mislaid the original ideal of providing help to those that contribute.

Heralding a series of speeches over the next few months designed to mark out new territory for Labour, Byrne claims the party must recast the welfare state to meet the original intentions of its founder, William Beveridge.

Do people make it entirely on their own

Posted by on September 27th, 2011


Annette = substance, Bennett = useless spin, play of the day

Posted by on May 6th, 2011

And from what I read she is struggling in Waitakere too.

For those without broadband, the Hansard is below: (more…)

Paula Bennett then and now

Posted by on April 29th, 2011

I came across a YouTube video of Paula Bennett from February 2008 when she was in Opposition.

She says all the right things about kids and families and tries to push all the right buttons. She says how she had just been to a conference with child experts and talks about the role of the state in supporting families to bring up their kids

She also talks about the need for New Zealand to have a national debate – a national conversation about “the issues”. Three years later, the only national conversation she’s having is with herself!

The contrast with her actions while in government and, most recently, her non-appearance at a high-powered gathering of early child development professionals and practitioners is staggering.

The all-day event Programme 18 April 2011 last week in Wellington included a who’s who of New Zealand experts on early child development. Paula Bennett was invited but didn’t bother to reply. In fact, no representative from the National Party turned up.

The PM’s science advisor Sir Peter Gluckman was meant to be there but says his failure at the last minute to appear was because a meeting with a government ministry took longer than expected. He strongly denies he was instructed not to attend by National.

I spoke during the panel discussion and outlined Labour’s vision for kids

It’s an a amazing turnaround by Ms Bennett in just three years – and from a minister who says she worries every day about the mistreatment of children in New Zealand.

Her no-show came a day after she announced an initiative to put “priority on children” – calling for green and white papers on child abuse — once again to start a “national conversation”.

We even have to wait until September, nearly three years after she became a minister, before work begins on the papers. 

The papers will tell us nothing we don’t already know. The work has already been done. Ms Bennett’s super slow reaction delays New Zealand doing anything constructive about the problem for at least a year.

It’s a shameful, do-nothing approach – a stark contrast with her bold words and promises of three years ago.

Tell the Government: Don’t Cut Our Future!

Posted by on April 27th, 2011


t Cut Our Future

My night at the shelter

Posted by on April 21st, 2011

Earlier in the year Mike Leon who runs the Wellington Mens Night Shelter asked if I would come and spend a night staying at the shelter. I have worked with Mike and his team over the last couple of years, and have great respect for what they do, so I said yes. On the condition that I was not taking a bed that someone else needed. That night was last night.

Mike, of course, had an ulterior motive. The Shelter has never been busier, and its resources are stretched beyond breaking point. They would love to do more for those that stay there, but they just dont have the resources to do it. An MP staying was bound to draw attention- and you can see the end result of that on Campbell Live here.

For those that dont know the Shelter caters for homeless men with around 20 dormitory style beds, and another 20 or so hostel rooms upstairs. For the dorm beds you pay $10 a night. There is no food (many of the residents eat at the soup kitchen). It is not luxury. A single bed, with a cabinet. There are partitions that provide some privacy, but certainly do not block out the noise! By all accounts last night was a pretty calm night. It was uncomfortable, noisey, and there was a fairly tense atmosphere. But its a bed and a roof over the head.

I had really good chats with a number of those there. They range in age from early 20s to early 70s. Everyone has a different story. There is Tom (name changed) who’s life took a turn for the worse when he got a brain injury in a car accident a few years back, has chronic alcohol problems and is desperate to get in a rehabilitation facility (more that another day). There is Ian (name changed) who got evicted from his last flat and just can’t get the money together to find another one as he does not have a job. He has a list of places he has applied to, from here to the Kapiti Coast, but nothing is coming his way. There’s Nathan (name changed) recently out of Rimutaka Prison, with nowhere to go. He has a set of health problems that make the mind boggle, and at least at the Shelter the wonderful doctors and nurses from the Te Aro Health Centre come in each week and he can see them.

Mike and his team are a magnificent ambulance at the bottom of the cliff that is homelessness. But we must build the fences at the top. What was clear from almost every conversation I had last night was that the people there have ambitions and dreams. They might be modest in some eyes, but they are about dignity. They want a job, a secure place to live that is theirs and many talked of wanting someone to share it with.

We need to take homelessness seriously. The government would not even have an inquiry when it was proposed by Moana Mackey. That would be just the first step for me. To really tackle homelessness we need to find stable accomodation for these guys, and put in place the support and the programmes that will allow them to live independent lives. That will be easier for some than others. Some will need extensive support to deal with their addictions (did someone say a Wet House), others will need support to get basic life skills and other work skills. But it is worth the investment. Not just for them, but for all of us. It is a social and economic scandal that in a relatively wealthy country people are caught in this cycle. The social cost is huge, the pure economic cost (and loss) is huge.

In the meantime what Mike and his people do is a great service to the community. If you want to support them they need money, blankets and sheets. If you want to donate food, and you live in Wellington the Downtown Community Ministry is desperate for more food for its foodbank. If you want to solve the underlying issues, well, that would politicise this story, but I think you get my drift.

Create your own ‘nice to have’ poster

Posted by on April 7th, 2011

“This is not a time we can afford to indulge in “nice-to-haves”, even though sections of the population feel the loss of those services.” Bill English, 29 March 2011

This quote is from a speech that Bill English gave to public service professionals.

Show Bill and John what would be “nice to have” by going to here to create your own poster, email and share it with friends and family.

Here’s mine:

Nice to have

The Children’s Commissioners Report in stark contrast to Welfare Working Group recommendations

Posted by on March 22nd, 2011

Annette King has been competently working away on Labour’s “Children First” policy behind the scenes and it will certainly form a key plank of our election campaign.  It is not difficult to recognise that much of the content in  Children’s Commissioners Report, aligns nicely with what Labour has proposed.  What must be of concern to New Zealanders is the extent to which the Welfare Working Group recommendations, stand in stark contrast to both Labour’s ‘Children’s First’ policy and the Children’s Commissioners staunch focus on prioritising children’s development.

In this post – I want to discuss the WWG’s recommendations and the contradictions that exist along with the harm that they could cause.

It’s estimated that 222,000 children live in benefit-dependant households. Compared to OECD countries New Zealand has unacceptably high levels of child poverty.  Children are one of the most important stakeholder groups to consider when measuring the impact of any welfare reform, yet are often voiceless.  We need to be do everything we can to safeguard children from the impacts of poverty – a situation outside their control but which can have a huge impact on their future lives.  The Welfare Working Group has stated an attempt to give prominence to the issue of child well-being in its recent report on welfare reform and yet the recommendations are largely short sighted, punitive and may have the unintended consequence of worsening the care and safety of children.

Considering children as a central part of welfare reform requires much more than consideration of the impact on children tagged on after the fact. A child centred policy requires that any likely impacts on children are considered well in advance of implementation and are subject to open debate and thorough scrutiny by all stakeholder groups. It is therefore disturbing to read in the report that assessment of the impact on children will occur post-implementation.  Our children (particularly children who are already disadvantaged by poverty) deserve much better than that.

The recommendations need to be seen in context of the current economic climate and political priorities of the National government.  Two years ago we saw the axe fall on the training incentive allowance – immediately dashing the hopes of higher wages and professional career prospects for many sole parents. It is not only the ability for parents to provide adequately for their children that was jeopardised with this ill-considered move, but also the positive flow on effects to the children’s educational achievement (educated mothers have more highly educated children).

Some of the WWG’s stated priorities sit in stark contrast to the National Government’s cuts.  The WWG says access to approved ECE should be a priority. But the National government has already undermined the possibility of this occurring by slashing ECE spending earlier in the year. The hardest hit by ECE rises will be the families in poverty in most need of quality and affordable education and care for their children.

When this reality is combined with the WWG’s recommendation that sole parents actively seek work when their youngest child turns three or even younger, real concerns arise.  I believe that anyone who wants to work and is in a position to work should be supported into work but each case needs to be dealt with on an individual basis.  Will the push to force sole parents out in to the workforce be premature for some?  Yes, it will.  And that is even before we consider that the jobs just aren’t there.

Not all sole parents will have access to quality and affordable ECE options.  There will be some parents who will be forced to look for alternative care arrangements with family members or even older children which may not ordinarily be considered. That is not ideal and would be a missed opportunity to give our children the best possible start in life. As a sole parent myself, extended family have always played a part in caring for my child but as an educator I know that quality early childhood education by qualified teachers in licensed centres is key to maximising our children’s potential in life.

This year we saw an abysmal rise in the minimum wage, while the cost of living seems to sky rocket — propelled by a hike in GST, rising oil and milk prices and the cost of visiting a doctor. We also seen a government that is failing to create meaningful and flexible employment that might support young families. The recommendations of the WWG to push parents into work do not solve in any constructive way any of the real problems we are facing.  Beneficiaries are not to blame for high levels of unemployment and the rising cost of living.   The Government’s trajectory foretells a certain pathway to poverty for many– underemployed, unemployed or underpaid parents with insufficient support to up-skill or train opportunities, and facing increasingly high costs of living. This is far from the ‘brighter future’ New Zealand was promised by National.

The current political climate with National government’s spending cuts in crucial areas of funding such as education and training for sole parents and ECE makes it difficult to see how any welfare reforms under a National government can really be child-centred, despite what is claimed. Families need to know that they are going to be well supported when raising their young and that society puts a high value on the raising of children.  National must recognise that any welfare reforms that they implement must put children first.  We will be watching.

If ever…

Posted by on February 28th, 2011

.. there was a reason to invest in single parents to allow them to:

  • study and gain qualifications
  • improve their prospects of a job with a future
  • improve their sense of self worth
  • reduce the liklihood of intergenerational welfare dependency

this is it.

This interchange took place tonight on Red Alert in the comments section of Annette King’s post from a couple of days ago.

It’s powerful.

ianmac says:
February 28, 2011 at 5:48 pm  (Edit)

Mother. How do regard yourself in the scheme of things as a mother with two preschoolers and collecting the DPB? Are you a bad person? Or a person giving it her best shot?

A Mother says:
February 28, 2011 at 6:50 pm  (Edit)

Interesting question.

I see myself that I am a strong person, who is doing the best for my children (leaving a relationship that had gone bad due to ’someone’ getting a new job, trying to stay awake to do the work due to odd and long hours then eventually taking what his workmates used (you fill in the gaps) so no warning it was going bad, pre kids, but it got pretty nasty. He has got help since

Moving out with two young children (9 weeks and 16 months at the time), into a house by myself in Aug 2008 and in the same week made enquires into Uni as I knew I had to support them some way. I did Data entry before I had children (stoped work 2 days before I had my oldest) but that wouldn’t support us all. Following Feb started doing a uni prep and cross credited them over. I then started Uni degree part time last year (childcare too expensive) from home, didn’t give up and found a way around the canning of the TIA. It will take me 6 years instead of 3 but I will get there. I will qualify at the end of the year my youngest is 6. I think that doing this was pretty courageous really.

I put my children first. I volunteer at the Playcentre, doing office jobs there etc, helping out on sessions and doing the courses there too, as being involved with the education of my children is important to me. My children are happy, they laugh, are polite (please thank you your welcome) they share and have empathy. They ask questions and can’t think of anything worse than time out. That makes me happy. Playcentre has giving me support, friends with other mothers with children (hardly any of them are single, me and one other?)

I pick myself up and carry on and get things done. I am busy and it doesn’t involve sitting at home and drinking beer or wine. It doesn’t involve going out socialising. It does involve making sacrifices and being able to make money and meals stretch (like the other mothers as most are single income families, it involves sacrifices)

A lot hear I am on the DPB with young children, therefore think I am a bad person and must be lazy. They just hear DPB and the stigma of it is pinned on me. Due to having two little people, I do think some assume I fell pregnant while I was on the benefit and that is not the case.

I have a plan, I will get there, I am not just sitting around. I am busy, I am not lazy. I am who I am.

So I suppose I am giving it my best shot at a new chance of life for the three of us. Wish I didn’t have to collect the DPB and at the moment I am trying to think in my mind that it is the same as the student allowance as I am a student and a collecting a benefit like other students do. If it wasn’t the DPB it would be the student allowance. I know it isn’t the same but it helps ME feel better about the situation.

As Annette says: Making solo mums look for work when their child turns three, instead of five, says paid work is more important than the job of caring for and nurturing young children. I don’t get it.

It’s time all Kiwi children get the start in life they deserve

Posted by on January 17th, 2011

In the lead-up to Christmas when most New Zealanders were winding down and looking forward to a well-earned break, two stories in the media about child suffering stood out.

The first was the release of a Children’s Social Health Monitor study showing there were about 2000 more hospital admissions in 2009 compared to those in 2007 for children with medical conditions that occur more frequently in those living in poverty.

The second was a heart-breaking story of an Auckland girl suffering horrific child abuse.

The unnamed 9-year-old is said to have been regularly beaten at home over nearly two years and even subjected to physical torture. This allegedly occurred under the noses of a host of government agencies, which were meant to be working closely with the girl’s family in order to fix a range of troubles.

Not much more can be said about the specifics of the case while it is before the courts. But it raises many troubling questions.

Some of these – specifically how government agencies missed the abuse – may well be answered by a Child, Youth and Family investigation, which is expected to be on the Social Development Minister’s desk by the end of this month.

A wider probe into how CYF operates has been ruled out by the Minister but Children’s Commissioner John Angus has signalled he may take a deeper, structural look at the sector. This may reveal more answers.

But when all the reports have been compiled and any recommendations enacted, the only things that are likely to change will be operational. The ambulance at the bottom of the cliff might get a new set of wheels.

Labour believes a much wider and deeper change is required; one which fundamentally alters the way government invests social spending by implementing an integrated package of policies that focus on the development needs of Kiwi children in their early years. Such a comprehensive focus on child development is brand new to New Zealand.

Over the past two years, I have led a team of experts, including doctors, academics and frontline workers, to put together a set of connected policies with this aim. These policies are based on the most up to date research available and an understanding of what works.

There’s an old saying: “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. This new philosophy would mean tilting social spending towards the first six years of life – when children’s physical, cognitive and emotional development have the greatest implications for later life.

The productive gains for the country are obvious. Research suggests that targeting resources towards this stage of life results in better health throughout life, better education and jobs, improved social skills and less contact with the criminal justice system.

It’s not about government raising kids – that’s the job of families and wh?nau – it is about the government and the community supporting the work of all families by providing tools and services that build on their strengths and the resilience of parents and caregivers.

For example, during years 0-2 recognising that caring for young children in families is a valuable contribution; and that parents need decent work and care choices.

Resourcing will be provided to give parents the time to care, including for grandparents who undertake care.

Another example is enrolling babies at birth with a Well-Child provider to give new parents support and guidance, particularly in the early months, and making parenting programmes available to all New Zealand families.

In the 3-5 years age, providing every child with access to good quality, free early childhood education, and using early childhood education centres and schools as hubs to support early intervention and community engagement.

Changes will also be made to the benefit system, particularly the DPB which no longer does what is needed. It doesn’t provide properly for the needs and development of children affected, particularly in long-term benefit families.

But rather than blaming young parents for their situation, Labour believes they and those with older children need support to transition them back into work by providing training and education early, backed up by quality childcare and intensive case management.

Our policies are a response to our firm belief that New Zealand should be the best place in the world in which to raise children. As a country we often say such things; but is it really true or can we do better?

I believe we can greatly improve the chances of all our children getting the start in life they deserve if we take a longer term view. The shift can’t happen overnight – but it can and must happen for us to truly reach our potential as a country.

Labour’s new social policies, the first of which will be announced during the next two months, will spell out how this goal can be achieved and how it will be paid for, and in the knowledge that a sustained commitment is required across at least two political terms to get the system working properly.

Politics too often has a short-term perspective where not enough dots are joined. This is failing many of our children and it is time it changed.

Flossie le Mar could change lives…..

Posted by on January 10th, 2011

Don’t often do plugs on Red Alert but this is an issue we still haven’t got our heads around. Self defence for women and especially for girls is an important part of a process that is much more than the physical stuff. I first organised courses in the King Country in the early 1980s. There have been spurts of progress since mainly thanks to a very committed and mainly voluntary group of women. I hope this play helps change the mindset to the point where every girl gets to do at least one self defence course.

I write to interest you in supporting the debut staging of my play The Hooligan and the Lady next Wellington Fringe Festival.  The play is about Florence Warren (1890 – 1951) aka Miss Flossie le Mar, the World’s Famous Ju-Jitsu Girl.  This is the true story of the first woman to teach women’s self-defence in New Zealand – on stage. The play is a period reproduction of an original Edwardian star turn celebrating the achievements of one woman and her campaign to save women from brutes and bullies alike and I seek support to realize it.


London Calling #3 The Pursuit of Happiness

Posted by on November 16th, 2010

These are strange political times in the UK,  it seems that David Cameron’s Tory Government is about to implement one of the most interesting progressive policy ideas of recent times. Moving away from GDP as the only measure of a country’s success, to actually trying to measure people’s happiness and sense of well being.

Darien Fenton blogged about this last year and there has been interest in this idea for some time but it was the push by Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen on behalf of Nicolas Sarkozy that has given it initiative over the last couple of years.  Essentially the Stiglitz concept is about developing measures for the value (and degradation) of all resources, physical and human.  They have proposed reporting on the state of the environment, the equality of incomes, the quality of public services, free services provided within a family or community and the contentment of ordinary citizens.  Its not just Stiglitz and Sarkozy of course, for example Simon Upton is leading some parallel work in the environment directorate at the OECD

 Just how much of this the Cameron government will take up is not yet known.  As the article above notes this is a tricky time in UK politics to be measuring the public mood in the face of massive budget cuts and increased charges.  So, good on them for looking at it.

Why is this important work? Because while GDP has the advantage of being a clear and consistent measure, and tells us about the economic value of goods and services generated in our country, it says nothing about the real impact of the economy and how it interacts with social, environmental and other goals.  After the global financial crisis it is clear that simple measures of economic growth can hide all manner of ills.  To put it another way, as the old story goes, there is nothing so good for GDP as a war.

Of course the ideas are not without their critics or weaknessses.  Some have suggested that if these measures are to become an international index it will put barriers in the path of developing countries achieving greater levels of development.  A major challenge will also be how to integrate a different measure into policy making and be able to demonstrate the links between particular policies and happiness. Moreover, the challenge still remains to create  the jobs that support environmental and social issues as well as more traditional economic goals.  But that is the big challenge of our times, and measuring a broader range of factors is a good first step.

London Calling #2: Society Gone Missing

Posted by on November 15th, 2010

Is 36 hours in a country too soon to make judgements? Well, what are blogs for if not to fire off first impressions. And those impressions are that the coalition government here is on some dodgy ground.  The massive student protest against fee rises has shaken up the establishment. While there is no doubt some protestors went too far, there is a feeling that this is the beginning of something much bigger.

As ever Will Hutton has some wise words to say on the subject.  I don’t agree with everything in here.  I would not say I am in favour of tuition fees.  I reluctantly understand they are part of our tertiary funding system, especially as Hutton points out as part of the massification of tertiary education. For me though I still think we need a vision for tertiary education that emphasises the public good of tertiary education, within the resources we have available.

Hutton also makes the point that the pace and scale of the fee increases are wrong and that the additional money will not be part of improved quality, but quite the opposite. The parallels with the approach of National in New Zealand in the 1990s are striking.

But what struck me about Hutton’s piece was his concern about where social policy is going in the UK. He says

You cannot treat society as an accounting ledger and displace risk and debt on to ordinary people without offering a really good account of why – and with no sense of there being a social bargain. Otherwise, it is just one-way traffic, the state taking away and leaving ordinary people on their own.

and later

The message is explicit: you British are on your own. Buy a house, fend for yourself and now pay your tuition fees. Society is going missing.

That is very much the feeling I get (admittedly from only 24 hours here). We of course went through much of this in the 1980s and 1990s, and got a significant amount back in terms of society under the fifth Labour government. The current government, with the lesson of the 90s under its belt is moving more slowly, but inexorably in the same direction.

Society as Hutton is using it here is about a notion of our common good. That ordinary people, as he terms it, in return for their participation in democracy, paying their taxes and obeying the rule of law, get the life chances that come from social provision. That is a progressive vision. It is one that is under attack here.

Those I have talked to in the political world agree with Hutton’s conclusion that the student protest was only the beginning. If people perceive the social contract to have broken down, the consequences could be dire for the government.

Sometimes, the planets align…..

Posted by on November 4th, 2010

I met Hillary Rodham Clinton today. Two weeks ago, in Washington, I met  Melanne Verveer, Hillary Clinton’s appointee to a new position reporting to her: Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues. I was attending a conference, or seminar really – there were only a dozen of us  from nine different countries – to look at some of those irritating issues of no significance compared with guns and bombs and things, like human trafficking, women’s rights as human rights, getting women to participate in peace talks in the world’s hotspots, maternal and child health, the disproportionate effect of climate change on women, etc  etc.

Then I went to New York. There the UN Security Council was discussing Resolution 1325. I can see your eyes glazing over already! That is a ten year old resolution of the UN calling for action on women’s engagement with security and peace. Like having women at peace negotiating tables in the world’s hotspots.

I mean, how can you negotiate peace in the Congo or Afghanistan or Burma without having some of the victims of rape as a weapon of war being engaged in reconciliation processes? Hillary Clinton made a statement with Ban Ki-Moon (UN Sec Gen) about Resolution 1325 and then went on to make a joint statement a few days later with the Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs on the same theme before they headed off to a conference on it in Denmark.

So I knew what I wanted to talk to SOS Clinton about: how NZ could work more efficiently and effectively with the US in the Pacific on issues like encouraging women to participate in decision-making, elected or otherwise, how to improve maternal and child health, how we could combat HIV and AIDS which are epidemic in the Pacific, how we could build an enduring peace in our difficult areas. So I did.

You know what she said? “This is music to my ears.” I knew it would be.

Labour policy: Let’s spend our money on parenting, not prisons

Posted by on October 16th, 2010

Labour has announced a major piece of policy putting children first. Deputy Leader Annette King gave a powerful speech  at the party conference saying many children don’t have the opportunities they should have for a good start in life.

From birth til six years, children are at their most vulnerable. This is when the most priority should be given for investment.

But she said there has been low investment in early childhood in NZ. And we’re going backwards under the current government.

She said there is strong leadership in the community. But we lack strategic political leadership. Children lack a champion at the highest level. Across all of government.

Labour will provide this. Labour has developed a new fresh family and whanau policy.

We are proposing a six year agenda for change for children.  Good policy often fails to flourish due to a short term cycle.

We will introduce targets to eradicate child poverty in NZ. Free, quality early childhood education. Parenting programmes available to all parents. Breaking the cycle of socio-economic deprivation. Training and education, backed up by quality childcare and support. Transition for paretns into the workforce.

Money spent in early years, means much greater savings later. It’s not bloody rocket science.

Labour proposes  an agenda for change for children. We will make NZ the best place in the world to bring up our children.

Way to go Annette.

Unlocking Our Potential

Posted by on October 4th, 2010

The Canterbury Earthquake, terrible though it was, reminds us of the courage and resilience of New Zealanders in a crisis. 

 If only the same courage and strength could be tapped as part of our normal ‘economic development’, NZ would be able to unlock enormous untapped potential.

 That same courage was evident in many of our forebears: those who voyaged to NZ by waka or ship, and those hacked down the bush to form arable pasture (often on slopes so steep it should not have been touched, but their courage was undeniable).  

 Tapping into that same strength of character to unlock future potential is part of the task that lies before us. 

 Our world is changing.  The old solutions will not work for tomorrows problems.  The old certainties have gone.   The era of guaranteed markets in the UK for our sheep and beef has gone.   The era of free and easy credit has now gone.  

 We are told we face a ‘decade of deleveraging’.  All around us we see growing signs of despair.  

 Just as in the 70’s we were called upon to diversify our markets, in the 80’s to deregulate our economy, and in the 00’s to rebuild our torn social fabric, Labour is now called upon to rise to a new challenge in a new era. Just as Mickey Savage did in the 1930s, we are being called upon to find a better way.

 NZ is currently meandering through the aftermath of the global financial crisis.  We are beset by malaise.  We lack confidence.  We appear unable to define our own future, and even lack awareness of our own potential and character.

 So NZ falls back passively on its proximity to larger Asian growth centres, its traditional bulk agricultural base, and its relationship with its nearest neighbour Australia.

 These are undeniable strategic advantages, but if any are a substitute for owning our own future, they will ultimately undermine our national wellbeing and identity.  

 Our relationship with foreign investment has to change.  As it stands we are becoming more and more deeply indebted to foreigners.  We have been through a phase of selling state assets to cover the interest.  We are now selling our land at the rate of dozens of rugby fields a day.  But still our national debt keeps rising. 

 It was not primarily ‘the government’s’ fault.   Most of this debt is private debt.  Most of it fuelled the private binge on property consumption (it was never really ‘investment’ despite the temporary up-cycle in which much of it happened).

 That we need more foreign investment is undeniable, but it must be channelled into genuinely value-creating and productive activity and not simply transfer the ownership of existing assets to foreigners making our future income deficit worse.   

 A new conversation must begin – one that starts from the proposition that we wish to own and govern our own affairs.

Paula Bennett shamed into releasing full benefit stats

Posted by on September 9th, 2010

National has had a good run convincing Kiwis that it is an “open and transparent” government where “sunlight is the best disinfectant” etc etc.

It’s a tremendous bit of spin. The reality is somewhat different.

For the past 20 months, John Key’s ministers have acted in concert to block access to public information though the Official Information Act and written parliamentary questions. They’ve ducked and dived like sports cheats. It is not just the Opposition that has been thwarted. There is some excellent analysis on No Right Turn about National’s cheating.

Journos too have told me they are getting increasingly frustrated by National’s trickery.

In this context, I’m treating as a win for open government Employment Minister Paula Bennett‘s reaction this week to my media statement of a fortnight ago criticising her for burying bad news.

To recap, she was pinged for sneakily trying to hide bad unemployment data as the economy has slowed. As the jobs news got worse each month, the length of time before she would allow official data to go the Parliamentary Library got longer.

So I am pleased that she has been shamed, at least for now, into ending her dodgy practice. This week, on the same day as issuing her dishonest statement on benefit numbers for August (she said 6000 had come off main benefits – what she didn’t say was the situation had actually worsened again, with more than 8,800 people going on to main benefits over the same month), she quietly released to the Library the full summary of benefit stats for the month. You can see why she’s so shy, it’s pretty grim reading.

I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but whatever next? National Party ministers dispensing with their haughty contempt of the OIA and WPQs?