Sunday, September 28, 2014

Homelessness Hidden, Ignored and Punished


Homelessness is generally associated with people who are suffering from mental health issues or drug and alcohol abuse. Wellington's infamous Blanket Man was an example of a stereotypical homeless person who made a personal choice to live rough despite offers of accommodation. Homelessness is also regarded to be a feature of large urban centres and not likely to occur in places like Invercargill. While I am sure there are homeless people who still live on the streets because of a personal choice to do so, New Zealand is experiencing growing numbers of homeless people who hadn't planned to live this way, but have limited choices.

To me it seems inconceivable that a country with a relatively small population, and as resource rich as New Zealand, should struggle to house those desperate for shelter. But times have changed and housing is no longer considered a human right and homeless shelters and emergency accommodation are being closed in many centres despite the demand.

The two environments where one would expect a dregree of homelessness would be in our largest city where we are already aware of a housing shortage and Christchurch where the earthquake recovery is ongoing. Surprisingly most cities in New Zealand actually have growing levels of homelessness. Palmerston North and Invercargill both have a homeless problem due to a shortage of emergency housing and support services for the homeless are experiencing funding cuts. Invercargill City Councillor Alan Dennis expressed concern that money can be found to look after stray animals but not people.

The homeless problem can be an invisible one, with many sleeping rough outside hidden from view or couch surfing and in Christchurch's case many are using abandoned houses.

It is bad enough that we appear to be ignoring the problem and making little effort to find or build emergency accommodation around the country, but homelessness is also being associated with criminality. While I am sure there will be an element of criminal behaviour with some homeless, it is a dangerous to assume that the two are always related and it is leading to human rights abuses.

Police in Christchurch are issuing non-association orders to stop the homeless from congregating and this is clearly a breech of their rights especially if the criminality they are attempting to manage involves breaking into empty houses for shelter. The worst story I've heard about homelessness in Christchurch involves a pregnant woman being forced to sleep rough because there is no accommodation available. Despite the woman's background it is heartless in the extreme to cast a vulnerable person and her unborn baby aside like this.

Compassion is something that is quickly becoming a rare quality in this country for those who are struggling and it appears designing a new flag has a higher priority than providing all New Zealanders a roof over their heads. Key obviously wants his legacy to be a piece of cloth on a flag pole rather than building homes for the homeless and lifting 25% of our children out of poverty. Appalling!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Greens Immediately Become the Opposition.


I admit that I was disappointed and slightly gutted that I wasn't part of the new Green Caucus this week, the way we were polling the week before it looked as though I had a real chance. It never happened and the celebratory feeling at the beginning of our election night party slowly morphed into a that of a wake when we realized that the 10% wasn't going to grow.

I actually ended up grieving, not for myself, but for our party. We had put together an amazing team of people to lead our campaign and fundraising and we had worked extremely hard since 2011 in becoming prepared to govern. Our aspirational policies had been shaped into practical first steps of a transition to a cleaner, fairer, smarter future. We were the only party to have a clearly expressed economic vision that was independently reviewed. Our 6000 volunteers, door knocked, phone called, leaflet dropped and put up more billboards than ever before. Our online campaign was impressive and we easily out interneted the Internet Party.

I have already shared my views regarding where things went wrong, but a number of things went well. I couldn't work out initially why our membership in Invercargill had doubled since 2011, a heap more people were volunteering and yet our vote didn't increase. What I think has happened is that our committed Green voters actually strengthened. I have had more people tell me proudly, in voices loud enough for others to hear, that they had voted Green. Even the taxi driver who took me to the airport this morning told me he had voted Green and wants a billboard on his fence for the next election. In 2011 most told me this privately (with nervous looks behind them) that they had voted for us and in 2008 people who had quietly promised to vote for us couldn't make eye contact afterwards. There has been a noticeable acceptance of the Greens as player in mainstream politics and voting Green has become more than a protest vote.

The remains of Labour's caucus will have to spend some time licking its collective wounds and trying to sort out a leader under the constant scrutiny of the media sharks. It may result in Labour ending up having four different leaders during the last four years and this instability and distraction does not lead to strong opposition. National loves to neuter each incoming leader before they can settle into the role and there will obviously be a replacement for Jason Ede (positioned somewhere near Key's Office) to continue the work that has proved successful in the past. Once they finally confirm a leader (a lengthy process now), Labour will be too busy fighting yet more innuendo and character assassinations to function effectively in opposition.

Even with the experienced Ron Mark joining New Zealand First's new lineup, over half of Winston's new team lack parliamentary experience and one even has a secret past. New Zealand First will be mainly relying on their leader, yet again, to lead their opposition and few will be effective in select committees for some time. Winston will also have his hands full appointing more staff and working out what kind of team he has brought in this time round. 

There is also a good possibility that we Greens will retain fourteen MPs after the overseas votes are included in the total, thirteen of them are experienced and joined by the talented James Shaw (who will hit the ground running). We are the only opposition party largely intact and ready for immediate action. We are stronger, smarter and more able than at the beginning of 2011 and National's frontline has taken some hits over the last few months. With the likes of David Seymour as an associate minister the Green opposition team are bound to wipe some smug smiles off a number of Government faces and the work has already begun.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Bugger!


This election campaign was a roller-coaster of unexpected revelations and controversy. For the Greens this meant our strategy of running a clean campaign, sticking to a clear plan and releasing properly costed, practical policies never made the impression it should have.

We never actually put a foot wrong, our leaders always conducted themselves well in all debates and media, and were widely praised by political commentators for their performances. Our television advertising was professional and appealing and, while some of our billboards may have been a little obtuse for many, we didn't get the same level of vandalism that others received. We were able to mobilize 6,000 volunteers and our door knocking and phone calling was at the level of a major party. In Invercargill the scrutineers we placed in our most significant booths were often sitting alone.

There will be a detailed analysis of the campaign by our review team in time but I thought I would record my initial views and conversations that I have had during the immediate postmortem.

Election campaigns generally end up as a battle between the good side and the bad. Under normal circumstances National would have been considered dirty and tainted and this should have shifted support to the left. The presence of Kim Dotcom, however, enabled National to create the impression that it was him who personified evil and they were the real victims of a dirty campaign. Despite Internet/Mana revealing the fact that New Zealanders are being subjected to mass surveillance through the XKeyscore system the much promoted big hit against Key from Dotcom was a fizzer. He became focus of negative press instead and the interviews with his unhappy staff sealed his fate and Internet/Mana were dragged down with him.

Winston Peters is always the wildcard element in any election campaign and while few will be able to  describe many of New Zealand First's policies, he is the consummate politician. Winston has an ear for popular opinion and can read an audience better than most. Being the leader of a personality based party he is able to make policy on the hoof and quickly respond to situations as they arise to gain maximum support. You only have to read his responses to Family First's survey to know that he has shaped the answers to fit the audience and is likely to say something completely different to another group. New Zealand First has limited party resources and lacked visibility in Invercargill during most of the campaign (few billboards or leaflets etc) and yet in the last week Winston attracted around 120 people to a public meeting here and captured 3,525 votes in the preliminary results (1,300 more than 2011). Many of these votes would have come from past Labour supporters.

Voters were starved of any real policy analysis in the MSM. Few people in Invercargill who I spoke to were aware of our newborn baby pack and yet I thought it was a superb final policy release. The Southland Times made no obvious reference to it. We ended up with another presidential race between an experienced incumbent Prime Minister against a Labour leader who was under attack from the moment his name was screwed to his office door. It always takes a while for any new leader to find their feet and their natural voice and Key was no different in his first year or so (remember his possum in headlight moments explaining his shares in Transrail?). National's strategy of kicking the Labour leader before he can properly stand has been a successful one and being able to keep the experienced Green Party leaders out of the mix was part of that.

The Greens could hardly be called a minor party any more (something noted by many commentators) and yet during the campaign the Greens constantly ended up in the 'minor party' debates with parties that generally polled below the 5% threshold. For a good part of the last three years the Greens have been referred to as the real opposition as Labour was distracted with internal reviews and leadership changes. It does seem rather unfair to relegate a party that has been effective in opposition (and maintained double figures in opinion polls) with those that struggle to reach 1% and maintain full party status. The Green Party's previous centre stage position was manipulated back into the political wings and many voters have short memories.

Labour had a lackluster campaign, their 'Vote Positive' theme didn't resonate as well as the Green's 'Love New Zealand' and they even started ditching their predetermined 'Family, Work, Home' priorities and I often heard them using the Greens 'fairer, cleaner, smarter' language instead. The differences between the parties could be easily seen online, Labour's website had all the sophistication of a minor party, while the Green's site had great imagery and high impact. Labour's decision to campaign alone was the wrong one as commentators and voters already saw the two parties as a package deal and coordinating compatible policy releases, as we did with the electricity price controls, would have countered Key's strategy of suggesting an unworkable relationship. Labour needed the Greens to add the sophistication they lacked and we needed them to lift us out of the minor party fringes where we were continually being placed.

National did run a well organised, on the ground, campaign. Key's public appearances were managed like a rock star's and groupies in blue T shirts were organised well ahead of each visit. Blue billboards were almost as common as dairy cows and electorate candidates were well supported. National's lack of policy was replaced with busy candidates and a high level of public exposure. In Invercargill the new National candidate was paraded like royalty at almost every local event possible. While the regions had been starved of funding for many years suddenly there was a lot more spare cash to throw around and Southland's new sports stadium had a cool two million strategically thrown at it to help cover the cost over-runs.

Candidate forums and debates have largely lost their significance and I would love it if Wellington's Aro Valley meetings could be replicated around the country. Those that do occur are generally poorly attended and there is little comprehensive reporting of candidate performance by the media. Many voters enter polling booths armed with little other than what they saw on TV the night before and if it was Winston (as he often was), then so be it.

In the end there is little I think we Greens could have done differently, we were largely the victims of circumstance and in a less tumultuous campaign our goal of 15% could have been achieved. We had a goal of 10% in 2011 and in 2014, with more paid staff, much larger membership and volunteer capacity, gaining another 5% wasn't unreasonable.

Bugger!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

2014 Party Gender Balance


Out of interest I have looked at each party's list rankings and worked the ratio and percentage of women who would be elected if they got the best possible vote. I compared the parties on the so called 'left' and 'right' of the political spectrum and those that consider themselves in the centre.

RIGHT

ACT                             1/5                20%            

Conservatives              2/5                40%

National                       17/60            27%


CENTRE

United Future              0/1                 0%  

Maori Party                 2/5                 40%

New Zealand First      2/10               20%


LEFT

Labour                       21/40              52.5%

Greens                        9/20               45% (it was 50% before Holly Walker withdrew)

Internet Mana             2/5                 40%

Some time ago I wrote a blog post on the importance of gender balance in governance situations.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Complicit, Compliant and Corrupt



The big issue with what is being revealed by Kim Dotcom and Glenn Greenwald is not so much that metadata is being accessed from ordinary New Zealanders (although this is huge) but the lack of reassurance that the very person who monitors the activities of our spy agencies' activities can't be trusted. It was bad enough that he lied about the appointment of Fletcher to lead the GCSB but the evasiveness about their activities and his claims that he had no knowledge of some of them defies credibility. The way Key has lashed out at Greenwald by calling him a "loser" and "Dotcom's henchman" when he has an international reputation as an honest and capable journalist is not what a true diplomat and world leader would do. We will never know the real truth (or have faith in what we are told) behind our relationship with the Five Eyes or what the GCSB is really up to while John Key is sole person who has the authority to provide that information. 
New Zealand’s SIS and GCSB have never had a particularly good reputation. Keith Locke was spied on since the age of 11 and it is clear that the main uses of cyber spying currently is to protect commercial interests and to listen to those who oppose the policies of the government of the day. Actual terrorism has never been a serious issue for New Zealand and the US has more to fear from its own mentally disturbed mass killers than any terrorist. The death toll from the Twin Towers pales in comparison from those killed in the US by their fellow citizens.
New Zealand’s most recent act of terrorism (Rainbow Warrior) was actually from a friendly country and our police, not our secret service, caught those involved because our spies were too busy documenting what Keith Locke was eating for lunch.
The US is involved in mass surveillance and at any hint of activity that it doesn’t like it sends in a drone and takes people out with no attempt to verify guilt or innocence. It has even been caught tracking the mobile phone calls of allied leaders. Obviously we have dangerous people who threaten the peace and stability of the world but I do not accept ignoring basic human rights and the rule of the law to achieve control. In many cases it just generates more hatred and opposition to the west when innocent people are killed on a regular basis.

Our spy agencies should be more transparent to the New Zealand people about the extent of their activities (not the detail) and any domestic activity should be under the control of the police. Do we really want to be complicit in state sanctioned spying on our allies (as is currently occurring) to get an unfair advantage in commercial markets and trade negotiations? What is X-Keyscore actually doing and why does Key desperately try to divert attention away from it? 
A few years ago China was one of the most dangerous threats to world peace and democracy and now they are our major trading partner. Anyone who tries to question their treatment of the people of Tibet are shouted down and we even bow to Chinese wishes about not supporting Falun Gong members. The fact that members of the Five Eyes Alliance are possibly more likely to spy on their own citizens than China is a worrying hint that something rotten is happening within our democracies.
We have lost our moral compass and I do not agree with the idea that we need to support the Five Eyes because everyone else is spying too. The same flawed argument was used about nuclear weaponry and I suggest that people listen to David Lange’s excellent Oxford speech for a lesson on morality. The argument of using mass surveillance to ensure world peace and security is very similar to that of justifying nuclear weapons, and it is a hollow one.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Ten Reasons for Voting Green


Obviously as a Green candidate I have a strong loyalty for my own party, but I do follow the media and I do have an insider's advantage of knowing how my party operates. The Green Party has never been so strong and we have spent the last few years preparing ourselves to be fit to govern.

Here are ten reasons, in no particular order, why Party Voting Green is a wise choice:

1) Strong and Stable Leadership. The combined thirteen years of leadership experience (Russel eight, Metiria five) has meant that the Greens have rarely been embarrassed by the the sort of gaffes over policy and discipline that many other parties have suffered. Our leaders have come away from debates and interviews with high praise from the media. Even Mike Hosking praises Russel Norman for his statesman like presence and Metiria impresses with her sharp mind and good humour. The Greens have the most detailed and properly costed policies of any party and our leadership have rarely faltered in promoting it.

2) Capable Candidates. Our current fourteen MPs have performed solidly over the last three years and have shown to be a disciplined team. The fact that many people can name more Green MPs than Labour or National is proof of their effectiveness. Whether it be the asset sales, child poverty, ACC failures, animal welfare, economics, problem gambling, climate change or transport, Green MPs have been at the forefront of the debates. We have a very rigorous candidate selection process and the party expects a high level of discipline and adherence to our principles. All 60 of our candidates have impressive CVs.

3) Fiscally Responsible. We have very detailed and fully costed policies that are practical and achievable. No other Party has had its policies independently scrutinized to the extent of the Green Party. We will not spend money unless we have generated the revenue first and will have larger surpluses and pay down debt well before National would.

4) Economic Vision. The Greens have the most progressive and future focused economic policies. A reliance on primary commodities such as milk powder and logs leave us vulnerable to the fluctuations of those markets. Unless we invest and support research and development and value added industries we will continue to have a low wage economy and lack the resilience that a diverse and sophisticated economy will provide. The industries with the strongest growth are in green technology and we would be foolish not to aim to be a leader in the global green markets. Rather than a high tax, high spend approach we have a moderate but smart plan for generating income by focusing on incentives and investments to grow the economy across a broad range of sectors.

5) Lifting Children out of Poverty. For a small country that is rich in resources, and has supposedly come out of the economic recession better than most, it seems criminal that 285,000 children should be suffering from various degrees of poverty. The early years set the foundation for the adult of the future so there cannot be any delay in making sure every child has appropriate food, clothing and a warm healthy home. The Greens have properly targeted policies that will see our most vulnerable children get the support they urgently need.

6) Rescuing Our Environment. The Current Government has sacrificed our rivers, native species and natural environments for short-term economic gain. Our marine habitats and conservation estate have never been under greater threat. Our clean green environment is an important part of our export branding (75% of our exports are dependent on it) and our clean environment is an important factor in our quality of life. We should be able to swim in our rivers, and enjoy clean beaches. Our children and grandchildren should still be able to enjoy the diversity of native species and experience our wild places as we did. Economic success does not have to depend on environmental destruction and we need to make some strong adjustments to ensure that we have a sustainable economy that rewards and supports sustainable business practices.

7) Clean, Transparent Politics. The Green Party has a track record of clean politics in Parliament that is strongly influenced by our Principles. Unethical and corrupt practices have been able to flourish under this Government and democratic process and human rights have been sidelined time and time again. A fully independent Royal Commission of Inquiry is needed to restore the public's faith in our Government and let some sunlight and fresh air into our democracy. The Greens' principle of appropriate decision making will mean that those most affected by any decision should have a significant role in making that decision. Under a Green Government we would not have the kind of debacle that occurred with the closing of Christchurch schools and government services will again listen and address the needs of New Zealanders and not publicly shame those who have alternative views.

8) A Fairer Society. New Zealand has had the fastest growing inequity of incomes in the OECD for some years and we now have a wealthy elite who have greater access to our resources and services than the majority of New Zealanders. We need to address inequality by ensuring that the basics for a comfortable and healthy life are available to all. This means healthy food, healthy homes, quality education and strong communities. It doesn't mean handouts but providing the support and assistance necessary to help families and communities to function independently and be self determining.

9) Infrastructure that works. Anyone who travels overseas, especially in Europe, becomes aware about how limited our transport options are. We are practically forced to use our cars because our public transport cannot be relied on and walking and cycling is often too dangerous to consider. The spending of the last Government has almost been entirely on a few expensive motorways and our cities and regions have suffered. Our children should be able to bike or walk to school independently and safely (as many of us once did) and investing in trains and buses will make travel more efficient and our roads less congested.

The latest North and South magazine has an article that reveals that although we have amongst cheapest and cleanest power production in the world it actually costs New Zealand consumers almost double than most. Power charges now support excessive and unnecessary profits for power companies and their shareholders and have become a form of taxation for our Government. The people who have to pay the most for their power can afford it the least. 40,000 homes had their power cut off last year because of unpaid bills and yet it is poor families living in cold damp homes that have to use the most electricity. Respiratory illness amongst children is growing at an alarming rate, we need to make power costs fair and affordable again.

10) Be Part of the Change. There is the old saying that 'you get what you vote for' and even a non-vote is a form of voting if you choose not to exercise it. The National Party only just had enough to govern in the last election, partly due to the fact that 25% of voters did not vote. If you are unhappy with the direction of the country and feel that you have not had a fair share of our 'Rock Star' economy, then you have an opportunity for change. If you want a healthier, cleaner environment and feel comfortable that your children and grandchildren will have a secure future then your vote can lead to that outcome. Think of how you would feel after September 20 if the Government that results enables a real future we can look forward to and your vote had a part in it.

If you really love New Zealand and want a cleaner, fairer, smarter future...
PARTY VOTE GREEN! 


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Whale Oil and Tolley Attacked Principals and Myself


Dirty Politics keeps giving and giving and the latest revelation is a possible link between Anne Tolley and Cameron Slater. Anne Tolley was Education Minister when National Standards were first introduced and, as with all education changes under this government, there was no real consultation and the concerns of the profession were ignored. Teachers wanted the system to be trailled first and there was a nationwide protest when this commonsense request was ignored. The National Government legislated the Standards into law which made any refusal to implement the Standards illegal and Tolley threatened to sack boards and principals who did not comply.

Just like Novopay the Standards were introduced half baked while Education Ministry staff desperately tried to create the system as it was in operation. Teachers were forced to attend professional development where the material being presented by facilitators had already been superseded by the constantly changing information online.

Some of the strongest opposition came from Southland principals and there were times when passions resulted in some emotive comments. It did seem odd at the time that any unfortunate throwaway comment made by any Principal made it to national media and the individuals concerned heavily criticized. Cameron Slater obviously had the job of looking out for anything coming out of the schools and principals who attempted to boycott the standards and attack them.

As has been pointed out by many, no individual could keep up the volume of content on Whale Oil without help and the research involved in getting the names and backgrounds of targeted individuals would also be time consuming. It was clear in the emails that supported Hager's book that the names and backgrounds were being passed on to Slater from Government staff and possibly even Ministers.

When Anne Tolley visited Invercargill in 2011, local Principals were keen to present an open letter to the Minister that expressed their professional concerns about the National Standards. At that time I was  on the executive of the New Zealand Educational Institute and was working part time as a special needs teacher. I had the time to co-ordinate the letter and collect the signatures of the 12 principals involved. Unfortunately I was unable to present the letter in person due to reasonable objections from the school being visited, so it was then sent to Anne Tolley's office and the Southland Times.

The Southland Times contacted the Minister for her comments and although I wasn't a signatory and had no personal contact with her it was me she attacked not the Principals. Tolley refused to engage with the content of the letter and claimed it was just a political stunt from myself as a Green Party and NZEI executive member (as if all the Invercargill principals were under my influence). I regularly had letters published in the Southland Times and the Listener that were critical of the Government's education policies and it was clear that I was an identified activist.

Two years later I happened to make a comment critical of Charter Schools on the Whale Oil blog and shortly afterwards Slater put up a post identifying me as a member of NZEI's National Executive and including a derogatory comment regarding my character. I find it hard to believe that Slater himself had the time to research each person who provided a contrary view to his own unless he already had some outside support and the names at hand.