Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Why we shouldn't sign the TPPA

Tomorrow the initial signing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement will occur in Sky City, Auckland. It does seem appropriate that a gambling venue was chosen for the occasion as this Government is certainly gambling with our country's future by signing us up to this. There will be further protests around the country as we take another step on the journey to committing ourselves to this far reaching agreement.

I will be supporting a day long protest action in Invercargill tomorrow. We have already had a march, rallies and public meetings regarding the TPPA here, but the big problem continues to be getting information out to ordinary people. To this end I have put together a small flier and I am grateful for some useful input from Prof Jane Kelsey, Bill Rosenburg (Economist and Director of Policy for the CTU) and other TPPA activists.

I have attempted to summarise important information I have drawn from peer reviewed papers that have been written since the documents have been released for public scrutiny.

Why we shouldn’t sign the TPPA

The economic benefits are minimal:
  • Without the TPPA our GDP will grow by 47% by 2030 (based on current growth rates), the TPPA will only add around 0.9%.
  • Tariff reductions of 1.3% on average by 2030 will be dwarfed by commodity price volatility and fluctuating exchange rates.
  • The TPPA did not open agricultural markets for our dairy production, one of the key drivers for signing.
  • The Trade distortions because of agricultural subsidies have not been addressed and these will continue to disadvantage New Zealand.
  • The TPPA may reinforce our position as a commodity producer and restrict our ability to progress up the added value chain.
  • The agreement will cost New Zealand around $79 million a year through eliminated tariffs and extended copyright rules.
Constitutional and regulatory implications:
  • The New Zealand constitution is a collection of statutes, court decisions and conventions and free trade agreements become an integrated part of that.
  • The TPPA will likely restrict the freedom of future Governments to implement regulatory and industrial policies in the public interest. It will also restrict SOEs and public owned entities from acting in the public interest.
  • The investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions will become a greater concern when we become part of a multi-national agreement. The average cost of defending a case is around $8 million and there is a real risk of the taxpayer having to fund massive compensation bills.
Impacts on ordinary New Zealanders and businesses:
  • The Government won’t be able to support Buy Kiwi preferences to encourage and protect local businesses and employment.
  • The TPPA will support a privatised model of health, education and social housing that includes PPPs. Medicine costs will rise.
  • Policies to improve housing affordability will be severely restricted, such as non-resident ownership of New Zealand property.
Environmental consequences:
  • Climate change is the environmental crisis of our time and shifting to a low carbon, global economy is essential. The TPPA does not address this in any meaningful way, despite the importance of trade as a key mechanism to lower carbon emissions.
Visit the website: for more information and updates

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Thursday, January 28, 2016

Charter Schools are an expensive mistake

When the Government introduced Charter Schools through pretending it was just part of an Act Party coalition agreement, it was actually a long term attempt to break New Zealand's public education model. The privatisation of public services is always a goal of National Governments and there has been a long time animosity towards the education unions. NZEI and PPTA are two of the strongest, high density membership unions in New Zealand and any system that could weaken their collective agreements and reduce their influence was worth a try.

Lesley Longstone had been appointed to head the Ministry of Education well before the ACT coalition agreement was being negotiated. Her past job was the implementation of the Charter School system in the UK and it was clear at that stage what the Government's intentions were. The simplistic approach of the National Government blinkered them to the wider functions of the Ministry and Longstone struggled to get to grips with leading the New Zealand system.

Te Pumanawa o te Wairua was one of the original five Charter Schools chosen as flagships of the new public/private system. The quality of all the Charter School applicants was concerning and although there seemed to be a lack of experience within the Te Pumanawa o te Wairua Trust it was one of the better ones of a bad bunch and there was obviously the belief that it could be supported into a successful operation.

Right from the beginning the school caused concerns, it spent $1.3 million on a farm with some of the setting up funds and struggled to meet basic expectations as a school. The original 60 students that started in the expensive experiment quickly dropped to 40 and the schools was allowed to bumble on for two years while providing a substandard education for the remaining students.

Education Minister Hekia Parata has finally pulled the plug on Te Pumanawa o te Wairua and many of the problems she listed that led to the failure of the school are problems that all public schools in low decile communities experience, such as recruitment and retention of staff.  The Government's theory of shifting outside the public system to find solutions for supporting struggling children in low decile communities was similar to buying a ticket in a lottery, there was always a slim chance that one or two may be successful. Without relying on professional experience and a fully-qualified staff, the chances of failure were actually so much greater than within the public system.

Taking a gamble on a system that has had mixed success in other countries (ranked beneath us in international assessments of achievement) seemed dodgy at the time, and dodgy it has proven to be. Ideology has always trumped evidence for this Government and although promising not to introduce more Charter Schools until the original five proved their worth we now have nine and 25 more schools have applied.

Over the two years of Te Pumanawa o te Wairua's operation the expenditure amounted to around $60,000 per student each year. When the overall expenditure per student in New Zealand is only between $7,000 and $9,000 per annum one can only wonder at how that money could have been better used if directed to existing schools. Parata says that the setting up of any new school costs a considerable amount, however many of the Charter Schools are being funded to set up where public schools already exist. Surely those schools would benefit from the money going to them and provide better value than spending it on a new school in the same area that may or may not deliver good outcomes.

Over the last few years the National Government has squandered over $110 million on Novopay and over $14 million on a handful of Charter Schools. At the same time special education is underfunded, leaky schools are going to cost $1.5 billion to fix and around $6 billion is needed to build new schools and to address maintenance (often delayed) of existing ones.

The amount of energy and expense necessary to further drive an ideological idea, with such a poor track record, is unjustifiable when so much is needed to maintain existing public schools and support the children in them. New Zealand's public education system continues to be attacked by National.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Embracing Diversity

While New Zealand has made considerable social progress over the past 100 years we are still a country where affluent white heterosexual males dominate. Our laws may prohibit discrimination related to gender, sexuality, race, culture and income but it takes more than a law to change thinking.

Two stories since the New Year has made me aware just how far we still need go as a society.

The first regarded a Portuguese visitor to our country who was deported back to his home as soon as he arrived here. This man met all requirements as a visitor to our country, he had a return ticket, insurance, money and did not need a special visa. Airport immigration officers refused him entry because they believed he was intending to work here despite a lack of concrete evidence that he was.

Not only was this a humiliating experience for the man and his friends but it exposed possible cultural bias on behalf of immigration officers. I am fairly sure that had he come from the UK, Holland or the US there would have been little problem. I have heard a number of similar stories from people of different cultural backgrounds who have suffered because of a clear bias in our system. A local medical specialist, who happens to be Libyan, discovered that his brother was not allowed to visit him purely because of the country he came from.

In the colonisation of New Zealand we did have a white only policy and although the written policy has changed it seems as if this has really been to accommodate the likes of wealthy Chinese and cheap labour from the Pacific islands and the Philippines. The bias against ordinary people who may not come from the previously preferred nations seems to have continued to some extent.

Mai Chen has been leading a Superdiversity Stocktake and is recommending we embrace diversity to enrich our culture and to energise our economy. After a very successful and high profile legal career Chen still finds that she is treated as a visitor by many European New Zealanders (this is despite the fact that there has been a substantial Chinese community here for well over 100 years).

It seems that the knowledge and skills those from different cultures have are not properly appreciated. Recently the Invercargill City Council sent a team to China to negotiate the purchase of some new Christmas lights and it was never thought advantageous to include a local Chinese person as part of the team.

The other story involves two top former students of Auckland Grammar who had to wait until they had left the school before coming out as gay. Despite their academic excellence and general success (one was the 2012 Dux, the other was the Head Prefect for the same year) both had to hide their natural sexuality and suffered considerable stress because of it.

The school website describes a safe environment for students of different cultural or socio-economic backgrounds but makes no mention of sexual orientation or individual emotional needs. Sadly we have one of the highest youth suicide rates in the OECD and many of those who take their own life are young members of the LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex and Asexual) community. Given that around 5-10% of people would identify as LGBTQIA it would mean that up to 251 students would feel challenged and not supported by Auckland Grammar's dominantly heterosexual culture.

I remember discussing a student as part of the senior management team of a local intermediate some years ago. Others of the team were concerned about a male student who openly stated his wish to have a sex change. He was a very popular student whose personalty enabled him to rise above any potential teasing through a great sense of humour and a very likable personality.  Most of the senior staff questioned the naturalness of the boy's behaviour and wanted him to receive psychological counseling. I voiced the opinion that the teachers needed counseling more because they couldn't accept that the student concerned was managing his sexual identity extremely positively. I can imagine many schools would still have staff that would hold similar concerns in the same situation.

Henry and Joel have since created a website to support others like themselves but I can't help wondering why in this day and age the school leadership couldn't display greater awareness and compassion.

The world didn't end when we had female Prime Ministers just like it wouldn't end if we had one who was Gay or possibly Iranian at birth. Talent just doesn't come out of white European heterosexual males and by not celebrating and accepting the diversity within our population we are effectively limiting our potential as a nation.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Our children, our future, National's failure!

More than 300,000 children in New Zealand now suffer from income related poverty according to the Children's Commissioner. This is 45,000 children more than what was documented in his previous report a year ago and brings the poverty percentage up from 24% of children to 29%. We are almost at the point when 1 out of every 3 children lives in an income deprived household.

The future of our society and our economy is dependent on the support we provide oncoming generations and yet a growing proportion are starting life in environments that are detrimental to their health and development. The first five years of life practically determine a child's future and serious respiratory illness or rheumatic fever in the early years generally results in a life time disability.

There is also a connection between poverty and domestic violence and in 2014 there were 102,000 family violence investigations (up 7% from 2013). On average the police are being called out to a family violence incident every five and a half minutes. New Zealand has one of the worst records for child welfare in the OECD and one of the highest youth suicide rates. Alcohol consumption is also related to a large percent of violent and criminal behaviour.

The physical and psychological damage being caused to many of our children is extreme and the organisation charged with protecting our most vulnerable has been found wanting in a recent report. Most children ending up under Child Youth and Family care end up no better off than they were in their previous circumstances because of a culture described as "dump and run".  State care stops at age 17 and these youth are abandoned to survive on their own on minimal benefits. We have one of the highest imprisonment rates in the world and 83% of inmates under 20 have a care and protection record with CYF.

We also have a severe housing problem (currently 15,000 homes short in Auckland and rising to an estimated 25,000 by 2018) and the growing numbers of homeless families living in garages, cars, on the streets or crammed into already overcrowded homes are reflecting this. However, many of those lucky enough to get a house find that they are poorly insulated, damp and unhealthy and the cause of growing hospital presentations and even death.

1/3 of our children are overweight or obese and those children living in deprived circumstances are five times more likely to be obese than those in the least deprived areas. Pasifika families are amongst our poorest families and 30% of Pacific children are obese.

Mai Chen is leading the Superdiversity Socktake and under the current population trends, Europeans will soon be a minority in New Zealand, with Maori, Pasifika and Asian communities dominating in the decades ahead. Poverty and poor health affect Maori and Pasifika children more than others and they are becoming a larger percentage of our population.

The Government has refused to measure child poverty in any meaningful way and has desperately tried to hide the true extent of the problem. Nothing that they have done over the last seven years effectively addresses the causes of poverty. Rather than ensuring children are able to live in healthy, loving environments where their parents earn an adequate income to meet their physical and educational needs they have thrown bandaids at the problem. Anne Tolley's list of government responses are just reactionary tinkerings around the edges and for every new initiative that is funded, another is removed. Surprisingly children from wealthy homes are more likely to receive support than those who are are not, 25% of Kings College students received special education support when sitting NCEA.

Inequality is a large part of the problem and, while wealthy New Zealanders have seen their incomes dramatically rise under a National Government, those on the lowest incomes have seen their spending power stagnate and drop. Our economy recovered from the great financial crisis quicker than most and little of that recovery was shared with those who needed it most. The most recent example of the the extent of inequality was when our elected representatives were provided with pay increases at least double the median increase received by most workers. Our Prime Minister received a 3.11% pay rise or $13,000 more onto his annual income, this contrasts with the biggest increase that beneficiaries had received for some time ($25 a week) which will see them gain $1,300 a year.

Our children can't vote and have no political power and yet they are hugely significant in determining the future of our country. A lack of investment in our children will seriously limit our long term resilience and directly impact on the kind of society we will have in the future. 300,000 children desperately need safe and healthy homes, good food and their educational needs met. Their parents can only provide these if they earn enough and decent affordable homes are readily available. This National Government can't fob off responsibility any longer, substantial and urgent action is needed right now. The cost of doing little is substantial.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

False fears used to justify the unjustifiable

The level of threat to New Zealand of a terrorist attack is currently considered 'low', this has changed from the 'very low' level of threat that existed before the ISIS (or Daesh) crisis in Syria and Iraq.

Our involvement with the Five Eyes alliance has been partly justified because of the potential threat of a Daesh connected terrorist attack and the SIS has been consistent in telling us that there are 40 people on their watch list that they consider potentially dangerous. The Prime Minister and the SIS refuse to divulge the criteria used to define what they consider dangerous and given they have had people on their watch list in the past who were no threat at all makes me doubt the real danger they pose. Green MP Keith Lock was spied on from the age of 11 years (and as an MP) only because of his family's and his own political views.

It is clear that the Prime Minister wants to ramp up the feeling of threat from possible terrorism. When SIS Director Rebecca Kitteridge reported to an annual Intelligence and Security Committee meeting she expressed concern at the number of women traveling to the Islamic State controlled areas. She admitted that they had no information regarding their intent and what they would be doing there and that it only involved around a dozen individuals:

"It's difficult to see what they do when they go. We definitely do have intelligence that they went. Whether they are going to fight or whether they are going to support other fighters is not clear."

The information was very vague about these women, some may very well be part of aid programmes or be returning for family reasons. To assume that they wished to be part of the fighting or that they are radicalised is only supposition. However John Key used this information to make the public statement that that Jihadi Brides were becoming more common and implied that this was what these women were. When pushed he admitted only two were 'believed' to have become the wives of militants. Given that few of these women are unlikely to re-enter the country without substantial scrutiny I find it difficult to understand the level risk to our security that these women pose. The use of the term 'believed' means that the evidence of New Zealand Jihadi Brides is not conclusive.

New Zealand has been involved, directly or indirectly, in past Middle East conflicts for many years and yet the last terrorist attack we experienced was the French attack on the Rainbow Warrior. Key's intention in highlighting this issue is clearly to justify our military presence in Iraq, our involvement with Five Eyes and increased levels of surveillance.

The Paris attack and the mass shooting in San Bernadino, California, has ramped up fears in the West well beyond the relative risk. While both events were tragic and shocking the average French or US citizen has probably more to fear from someone in their own community than a Daesh terrorist. Donald Trump's wish to ban all Muslims from entering the US and constant calls for the wider Islamic community to take responsibility for IS extremists is hypocritical. The black community has more to fear in the US from the police shooting them than any terrorist (100 unarmed blacks were killed by police in 2014 alone). There are also more mass shootings in the US then there are days (350 so far for 2015), and less than 1% can be attributed to Islamic terrorists.

If we want a dangerous world to live in then all we need to do is marginalise and persecute communities and supply them with advanced assault weapons. Given the West's approach to the Middle East, and lack of an articulated strategy, it is clear that conciliation and peace have never been seriously pursued. It is always useful for Governments to create an external perceived threat to their own security to distract attention from their internal problems and justify surveillance human rights abuses. Key understands this well.

Postscript: A young Muslim woman found herself questioned on her return from Iraq after visiting family members with her parents, her story makes interesting reading.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

NZ Police Politicised and Corrupt

I recently had a long chat to a local policeman who will remain nameless because of his vulnerability if it was ever revealed that he had spoken out about the day to day realities of frontline policing. He explained to me about the management heavy structure, the shortage of frontline police, the poor performance of centralised communication systems and the frustration of losing the community policing approach that used to work. I was also told that the records they contribute to are managed so that the statistics look good for their superiors and fit with Government targets.

This policeman hated mental health callouts, he had no training to deal with those suffering from mental health events and was uncomfortable about the physicality of their management. Mental health sufferers were often locked up in cells as if they were criminals as secure mental health facilities are in short supply. He also explained how many of the offenders he was having to deal with were the product of failed systems. One of the worst he had recent contact with had experienced over fifty homes as a state ward and then abandoned at age 17 with few skills. He had become a bitter young man, who trusted no one, and was a constant offender.

Our police are having to deal with the consequences of poor health and welfare policy while they themselves are under resourced.

The police are also assisting with the implementation of unreasonable Government policy, protecting the Government's image and shutting down any scrutiny of their own operations. Here are some examples:
  1. Bradley Ambrose was the photographer who inadvertently recorded the teacup conversation between John Key and John Banks. There was no evidence that it was a deliberate act and no charges were laid. John Key demanded that Ambrose be investigated for intent and the police took the extraordinary steps of seizing 323 txt messages in the days before and after the incident. Many of the txt messages were conversations between Ambrose and his Lawyer in breech of lawyer client privilege. 
  2. Glen Innes state house removals were supported by the police who took an aggressive approach to managing the protesters. It was clear that they went well beyond what was necessary with regards to John Minto who hardly posed a physical threat. 
  3. The Government's target driven management throughout the public sector creates considerable pressure on managers and the police are expected to produce data showing reductions in crime. This has been achieved (with a supposed 30% reduction since 2008) but there is evidence that the reliability of the data is in question. In an effort to meet targets Counties Manukau recoded 700 burglaries as incidents between 2009 and 2012. While this was presented as an isolated incident, it was revealed on The Nation that police at the highest level don't want their statistics scrutinised (starting 6:45 in an interview with the Chief Ombudsman, Dame Beverly Wakem) . A OIA request from a TV producer for information regarding South Auckland police doctoring burglary data was delayed for over two years. A job sheet surfaced that revealed that the then Deputy Commissioner Mike Bush (now in the top job) advised that the OIA request was to be left and not responded to. 
  4. Nicky Hager severely embarrassed the Government with his Dirty Politics revelations and as a result the police spent 10 hours searching his house and removed his computer despite no criminal charges being laid. Hager's bank records were also accessed by the Police without official court approval. This description of the raid on Hager's house is particularly disturbing, especially the treatment of his daughter.
  5. Heather du Plessis-Allan embarrassed the police by revealing how poor their systems were to monitor gun purchases and vet purchasers. As a part of a TV3 Story investigation she provided fake details to purchase a gun to prove how easy it was to do so online, without a license. She then handed the details of what she did and the gun to the police. As a result the Police sent a team from Auckland to Wellington with a warrant to search her house. There seems no rational reason to have done it, other than to make a point that they don't like to be publicly embarrassed. The police had already been informed about the issue that du Plessis-Allan had exposed some time before but had done nothing to address it. 
  6. Censoring Dr Jarrod Glibert from accessing police data because he once published research on gangs is well beyond what should be allowed in an open and free society. Insisting that any researcher has to sign an agreement that will not allow anything to be published that will negatively impact on the police is one step towards a police state. Academic freedom and robust research is a necessary part of protecting our society from abuse through state controlled institutions.
  7. One would have thought after the police corruption exposed in the Arthur Allan Thomas and Louise Nicholas cases, that the police would have cleaned up their act. However the Scott Watson interview in the North & South raises questions again about manipulated evidence and vendetta's. Commissioner Mike Bush was also forced to apologise for his eulogy at the funeral of corrupt cop Bruce Hutton (who planted the evidence that wrongfully convicted Thomas). In that eulogy he praised Hutton's integrity. 
I have the utmost respect for many frontline police who are forced to work in many challenging and difficult situations, but I find the amount of political influence over their activities concerning. I also think that the current Commissioner's honesty and integrity are questionable. We need to be able to trust our police to treat us fairly and impartially and I don't think we can. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

NZ Government policy reflects those who make it.

I am privileged. I was was lucky to grow up in a supportive and loving family. I inherited genes that provided me with good health and the ability to gain a tertiary qualification. Because I am male, European and heterosexual I have suffered few prejudices or barriers to achieving what I have in life. I live in a relatively affluent neighbourhood, my children are successful and my wife and I are still married after almost 23 years (and she still tolerates me). We own our home and can afford the essentials of life without worrying about our income, life is good.

Those elected to government roles, both locally and nationally reflect my background. The majority are aged between 45 and 65 years, are European, well educated, relatively affluent and few have experienced real hardship. Most of us believe we got here through our own abilities and hard work. Our experiences of this country are a reflection of our affluence and the communities we live and operate in. If we remain within these communities, and our comfort zone, then Aotearoa is a paradise.

A growing percentage of New Zealanders do not share my experience or circumstances. According to the last census, 25% of us were born overseas, almost 14% of us were born in Asia, 15% of us are Maori and 7% have Pacific ethnicity. Males make up 48.7% of the population and once we are older than 65 years then two thirds are female.

None of our demographic have tried to rent a house as a young Maori woman; have experienced bringing up children on a benefit or minimum waged job; have been beaten by our partner; or have English as a second language. Few of us would have found problems finding jobs that fitted our experience or qualifications.

Once we remove all the other gender and cultural demographics other than educated, affluent European males aged between 45-65 years, we probably make up less than 5% of the population. Research has revealed that wealth reduces compassion and those within this group, who currently lead our Government, are probably amongst the wealthiest who have ever held those roles. At this point I remove myself from this demographic, and those left probably make up less than 1% of the population.

The last seven years has seen an incredible growth of wealth and influence for rich white men and a decline in the circumstances of Pasifika or Maori women and children. The priorities for this Government clearly meet the needs of a small sector of society with billions spent on roads for Beamers to drive on and much less for maintaining schools in low decile communities, building social housing or lifting the minimum wage.

If Metiria Turei, Eugenie Sage, Catherine Delahunty, Julie Anne Genter, Mojo Mathers, Jane Logie, Denise Roche and Marama Davidson had leading roles in the next Government we would see some major shifts in priorities. It's probably that simple.