Monday, April 30, 2012

Tax Cuts Caused Current Crisis

Russel Norman provides the evidence for what he has been saying for some time, the economic crisis is largely the result of tax cuts to the rich. New Zealand has just been following what has happened in many other so called "developed" countries; the greed of the rich results in a reduction of government revenue and the poor suffer through the introduction of austerity programmes in an attempt to balance the books. Rather than increasing revenue by reintroducing fair taxes the government cuts support to those who need it the most. 
National keeps claiming that an ongoing recession is causing the deteriorating state of the government's books and yet last year New Zealand's richest saw their wealth increase by over 18%, for them the recession ended some time ago. The country's 151 richest people saw their collective wealth reach $45.2 billion last year, up $7 billion from the previous year.
The crisis is a lie, greed and mismanagement is creating the problem!

Russel's media release below:

National's tax cuts at heart of budget 'crisis'

New figures from the Parliamentary Library show the National Government's tax cuts to the top 10 percent of income earners are costing $700 million-$800 million a year while it pleads poverty and cuts services, Green Party Co-leader Russel Norman said today.
Figures from the Crown's Year End Financial Statements for 2010/11 show that National's 2010 tax package cost $1.1 billion in the first nine months. The new data shows that most of that cost is due to the reduction of the 38 percent tax rate to 33 percent, which only benefited the wealthiest 10 percent of New Zealanders.
"It is wrong for the Government to cut important public services and support for people to get an education at the same time it is borrowing $800 million a year for tax cuts for the wealthy," said Dr Norman.
"Two years ago, National told us it could afford these so-called 'fiscally neutral' tax cuts.
"Now, it is crying poverty and telling New Zealanders they will have to pay with cuts to services and student loans.
"National has manufactured a crisis by committing itself to an arbitrary goal of eliminating the deficit in 2014/15 while cutting revenue needed to get there.
"Did National not realise its unaffordable tax cuts for the rich would crash the budget, or did it cynically reduce government revenue to give it an excuse to cuts services in the future?
"Neither option can give New Zealanders confidence in the economic management of their government," said Dr Norman.

Additional Information:

Summary table of cost of reducing the income tax rate over $70,000 from 38% to 33%
RESULTS Estimated $m change (from current state) Estimated cost after offset effects are taken into account ($m)
Estimated income tax - Method 1 ($m) 2010 data 837 708
Estimated income tax - Method 2 ($m) 2010 data 797 675
Estimated income tax - Method 3 ($m) 2011/12 data 862 729
Source: Parliamentary Library 

The Green Party's alternative plan for our economy:

Financial Statements of the Government of New Zealand for the Year Ended 30 June 2011:

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The National Govt. and the Scent of Fish

There is an almost constant odour of fish wafting around this National led government ever since it took over the reins of power in 2008. The following were especially fishy:
  • Key's promise not to raise GST and his attempts to explain why he hadn't broken his word.
  • Key knowing nothing about the purchase of the BMWs despite his test drive and the documentation that passed by his desk.
  • A claimed goal of catching up with the Australian economy while purposefully keeping wages low.
  • The rich get huge tax cuts which deprived the Government of at least $1 billion a year of revenue and increased our already growing inequities of income.
  • Bill English claiming around $40,000 for a housing allowance and claiming it was all above board (but obviously not a moral one).
  • Disestablishing the Pay and Employment equity Unit and Key's own cleaner struggles on a wage barely over the minimum.
  • Key claimed in a BBC interview that NZ is 100% pure when 80% of our lowland rivers are seriously polluted and then openly disputed the claims of environmental degradation by scientist Mike Joy. He claimed he could find a scientist who would provide a different view and hasn't yet.
  • Tolley and Key claiming that National Standards were going well when concerns were being raised at all levels of the teaching profession.
  • Claiming to have a goal of improving public education while cutting funding and the level of qualified early childhood teachers, wiping adult education, cutting funding to universities, introducing Charter Schools, cutting funding to the Ministry of education and giving private schools an extra $35 million.
  • When two beneficiaries complained about cuts in study support Paula Bennett released private information on the two women to the media. This kind of action has been copied by the POAL.
  • The virtual $45 million dollar loan to Steven Joyce's mates at Media Works, while other media companies got crumbs.
  • The Government insists on spending $12 billion on roads when economic projections are not supporting it (traffic numbers are dropping and fuel prices will continue to rise).
  • An actors' union is set up as a threat (that didn't actually exist) to the Hobbit movie to justify changes in employment and immigration law. Peter Jackson has direct contact with a minister of the crown in supporting the subterfuge and getting immediate reports on cabinet decisions.
  • The $800,000 overspend on Key's bodyguards.
  • An energy strategy that talks about green energy but focusses on fossil fuels.
  • The push to mine schedule 4 land and a rewriting of DoCs priorities so that the department gives initial approval to private business proposals of a tunnel and monorail in a World Heritage classified environment.
  • Refusing to provide any policy for National Radio's election website. Beside National's name in every policy section was the word "declined".
  • Supporting the election of an ex National MP and cabinet minister as the sole ACT MP and then including projects in the coalition deal that were their intentions all along (Charter Schools). John Banks now has a fishy smell around him too as his mayoral campaign donations are given closer scrutiny.
  • A number of dairy farms allowed to be sold to an overseas buyer and not broken into smaller units to enable local farmers to purchase them.
  • A deal done with Sky City that is in bad faith to the tendering process for a convention centre and proposed changes to the gambling laws as part of that deal.
  • Bill English states intention to veto a private members bill, that supports an extension of  parental leave, before it had even been before a select committee.
  • The removal of government housing from an area of improving land values to allow developers to profit and the original residents shifted to poorer situations.
  • Cutting over 3,000 jobs in the state service and then spending millions to contract many of the same people to do the work.
  • National's support of market forces to deliver affordable housing has failed dismally, especially in Christchurch.
  • The government claims their re-election was a mandate to sell off state assets despite most polls stating around 70% of New Zealanders are opposed. Experts claim power prices will probably rise as the companies seek good returns for investors.
  • Despite Bill English's promises of a budget surplus the government has increased debt.
Have I missed anything?

Yes I did, I forgot Nick Smith's fabricated crisis with ACC. The claim that ACC was broke was a total beat up and the resulting reduction in entitlements caused widespread suffering, especially in those over fifty. Of course the ongoing cuts and pressure on those working in ACC has also created a culture in the organisation that is cause for concern.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Dodgy Hobbit Deal Revealed

The Official Information Act and complaints to the Ombudsman finally revealed that the union's version of the Hobbit dispute was true all along. The Government, Peter Jackson and Weta Studios had misled the public about the nature of the dispute and the behaviour of Actors Equity. The threat of boycott had already been withdrawn (and had been a reasonable response to employer intransigency) and an agreement made before the march staged by Sir Richard Taylor. Information now reveals that the issue wasn't around actors work conditions at all but about Warner Bros' ability to bring in overseas actors at will.

New Zealand actors have poor conditions of work compared to most overseas actors and, as Robyn Malcolm had claimed, any increase to the low rate of pay that New Zealand actors received was never going to break the budget and was the equivalent of "coffee money" in the big scheme of things. The real threat the actors' union provided was an ability to vet the use of overseas actors when a local could fill the role. Such was the studio's need for control that the New Zealand government's existing ability to override the unions vetting wasn't good enough, Warners wanted an immigration guarantee from the government that the studio could bring in whom they wanted, when they wanted.

The industrial threat was a useful smokescreen to convince the public that urgent action was needed to enable changes that wouldn't have received so much public support. The government and Warners managed to gag the union after an agreement was made and when CTU leader Helen Kelly revealed the deceit on National Radio, Gerry Brownlee accused her of lying. The ongoing blocking of access to the information indicated how desperate the Government is to hide the true events and even at this stage much of that information has not been accessed.

Gerry Brownlee's phone calls to Peter Jackson to keep him informed on cabinet decisions revealed a privileged relationship and influence beyond what would be considered acceptable and, because there is still a good deal of hidden information, one could guess at even greater subterfuge on the government's behalf.

The emotional attachment and pride that New Zealanders share in the success of the Lord of the Rings movies has clouded the realities of the deals done. In effect the government has ensured that; an overseas company can employ New Zealand workers using employment conditions well beneath what would be acceptable in Australia UK or the US; it has enabled the company to bring in workers from overseas to do jobs that could be done by New Zealanders (and potentially overruling immigration law); and it also subsidized the production of the movie with a $13.4 million donation to advertising and $7.5 million in tax breaks.

Gerry Brownlee's defense of his actions demonstrates the level of National's naivety or corrupted moral views when such behaviour could never be seen as acceptable. When you lump the Sky City deal with the Crafar farm sale and add the Warner Bros fiasco it creates such a steaming pile of corporate influence that you would have to wonder who is really governing our country, and for whom.

Gordon Campbell shares his thoughts and outrage and includes useful links here.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Lesley Longstone's Management Style Revealed

I was surprised when someone was appointed to lead the Ministry of Education from outside New Zealand, given that our education system performs amongst the top five internationally and that we have a number of very capable educationalists who could have competently carried out the role and had an in-depth institutional knowledge of our system. I have no doubt that Lesley Longstone is a capable administrator and I can understand why National would wish to appoint someone whose background is implementing government policy and promoting Free Schools (the equivalent of Charter Schools), but I have serious concerns about her ability to lead our quality public education system.

In the days when the Education Ministry was a Department, and had less political interference, it was managed by some astute and forward thinking individuals. Clarence Beeby and Bill Renwick were hugely instrumental in shaping the philosophies and pedagogical approach that led us to being one of the top education systems in the world. Both men were driven by meeting the educational needs of our children so that they would be equipped with the skills and attributes necessary to do well in life and contribute meaningfully to a rapidly changing society. Beeby especially recognized that systems driven by assessment, stifled creativity and the ability of teachers to meet the varying needs of students. He saw teacher education as a key to enhancing the learning process and allowing it to become more accessible to a wider range of learners.

The culture of the Department of Education developed into one that promoted good teaching practice  informed by evidence and research and this culture largely continued when it became a Ministry. The current curriculum was an excellent example of evidence based development and the co-construction process ensured that teachers were fully involved in writing the drafts and the reviewing and critiquing that led to the final document. This collaborative process meant that teachers fully accepted the new curriculum and were committed to the implementation. Beginning with the leadership of Beeby and Renwick, there has developed an implicit understanding that educational change can't be embedded without teachers being fully committed to the process.

Within one parliamentary term the National Party has managed to ignore and sidestep over 70 years of educational history. What little autonomy or professional ethos that had existed in the Ministry has now been squeezed out and what remains is an under staffed, bureaucratic organisation that largely exists to implement the ideological whims of the government. When a good deal of its energy will now be devoted to introducing Charter schools, ostensibly the idea of a Party that got around 1% support in the last election, it demonstrates how little professional integrity must be left in those that remain.

Words like consultation, collaboration and facilitation used to drive educational change now we hear political mandate, dictate and legal prerogative as the dominating language used. Lesley Longstone's response to Moewera School's NCEA results was very simple; poor results, shut down the classes. There was no consultation, no proper assessment of the school's capability or community support. The Principal's requests for meetings were ignored as was her openness for professional support. When the community responded in frustration by continuing with the senior classes, the board was sacked and a commissioner appointed. This action seems cold hearted and overly severe, especially considering the last ERO review of the school praised the leadership team and the efforts of the board and community in meeting the needs of their decile 1 students:

"Since the 2006 ERO review, significant progress has been made in student achievement. Most students in mainstream and immersion classrooms are now achieving at or above nationally expected levels for their age in reading, writing and numeracy. Successes are celebrated and students with learning and developmental needs are catered for through both internal and external support systems. The senior managers are now reviewing the selection and use of assessment tools so that they can report, consistently and over time, to the students, trustees and school community on the achievement of students at the school in comparison with that of students nationally. The school has established a relationship with Northland College to enable the Year 9 and 10 students at Moerewa School to gain NZQA (New Zealand Qualification Authority) credits in a range of subjects.
The principal leads the school effectively. Senior managers, teachers and support staff form a collegial and cohesive team, with a focus on children's wairuatanga, education and achievements. Teachers within whānau teams evaluate the effectiveness of their teaching and have established classroom environments in which good practices of whanaungatanga and atawhai enable students to focus on learning. Teachers plan collaboratively and cater for the different groups levels within the class. It is timely for teachers to increase students' involvement in the learning programme to ensure that all students are reaching their potential.
The board of trustees is supportive of the principal and staff and is committed to improving outcomes for students. Self-review systems are now in place and are beginning to impact positively on the strategic planning and management of the school."
Moewera School is situated in a small, poor rural Northland community and I would have thought there were ample reasons for why NCEA results may not be as strong as other schools. The punitive response from Lesley Longstone will destroy the good will that obviously exists in the community and considering the short time the school had catered for senior classes some professional support should have been the first step if there were any concerns.

I had reserved my judgement of our new CEO, but now that I have witnessed Ms Longstone in action my previous despair has changed to horror. Lesley Longstone, this is not how we do education in New Zealand! 

Postscript: I have just chanced on an article that claims Lesley Longstone's salary is $660,000 a year. There was some criticism of a $20,000 increase to the salary of the  previous Secretary of Education, Karen Sewell, which lifted her to around $500,000. To now know that Longstone earns another $160,000 on top of that is a real concern. Her performance so far hasn't indicated that the government is getting good value for our money.  

Sunday, April 22, 2012

National Hell Bent on Selling New Zealand's Soul For Profit

Steven Joyce dug himself deeper in the political mire on Q & A as he tried to support the Sky City conference centre deal. When he admitted that he didn't know what effect up to 500 new pokie machines would do to the numbers of problem gamblers, it revealed the sinister reality that he just didn't care. Surely if the Government were going to change the law to allow so many new gambling machines they would have researched the down side of the deal.

Comprehensive research has been done in Australia and New Zealand regarding the number of problem gamblers caused by pokie machines and it was found that .8 of a problem gambler is created by each new machine. This would mean that if Sky City was allowed 500 new pokies it would result in around 400 new problem gamblers, an increase in related crime and 400 families who will suffer from their family member's addiction. 5,000 people a year are convicted of gambling related offenses and most crimes of fraud are motivated by gambling problems and it is the 2nd highest cause of property crime. Steven Joyce obviously didn't avail himself of this information and didn't see it was an issue.

Steven Joyce berated the Labour and Green opposition to National's attempts to boost our economy, he claimed they were against the development of a conference centre, against accessing our fossil fuels and against the intensification of farming. He expressed this as if these were the only options for developing our economy and that they were being managed responsibly. The reality is that Steven and the rest of the National Party are not interested in the social, environmental or sustainable nature of any deal they do, at the end of the day it is purely the money that counts. Under National most of their initiatives will benefit mainly corporate interests and most are overseas based.

By implying that the Greens aren't interested in economic development is a huge misrepresentation. In the election campaign the Greens were the only party that put forward a well costed and achievable plan for lifting our economic performance. One of biggest benefits of the Green's plan, other than the environmental and sustainability elements, was that most New Zealanders would profit in some way, not just the wealthy elite.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Rugby Discrimination and Gender Inequality

I caught the end of an interview with Katherine Ryan on Nine to Noon this morning with Richard Boock. Richard was describing his concern at the sexist approach of Otago Rugby in dealing with their constrained   financial situation. The Otago Union has cut support to the Otago women's representative team while maintaining support to all men's rugby. While women's rugby doesn't receive the same recognition as the male version, women are hardly deserving of this treatment and the Black Ferns have a better international record than the All Blacks, having won four consecutive world cups.

It appears that when men dominate leadership positions, and there are economic constraints, it is more likely to be women who suffer from any austerity measures. One of the first things that the National Government wiped on gaining power was the pay equity investigation and then they disestablished the Pay and Employment Equity Unit.

It is also noticeable that jobs and spending that are generally related to women get hit the hardest, we see the DPB being hit harder than other benefits and Early Childhood Education gets drastically cut. Women tend to dominate in the lowest paid jobs and this is largely because the caring roles they often do are not given the same value as male dominated jobs, despite the levels of skill and responsibility that may be involved.

The stereo typical male spends more on their "toys" than their family (I am probably also guilty of this) and our male dominated government makes sure our America's Cup contender is well supported but hasn't enough money to extend parental leave provisions.

It isn't often that I find myself agreeing with a National Party politician, both past or present, but I did find myself grudgingly agreeing with ex National Prime Minister, Dame Jenny Shipley. She questioned the value that the Employers and Manufacturers Association (EMA) placed on women in leadership roles, especially after the surprisingly archaic and chauvinistic views expressed by their past head, Alasdair Thompson.

Dame Jenny is is currently the chair of Global Women, an organisation that actively promotes women for leadership roles, and they have some very convincing statistics to support their cause. Internationally 51% of university graduates are women and they represent over 47% of the New Zealand workforce. The levels of representation of women in leadership roles are low and dropping. Only 19% of NZ women are in CEO/MD roles, down from 22% in 2006 and only 8.65% of Board of Director positions are held by women. In 2004 New Zealand ranked 4th in the world for female representation in business management and now we have dropped six places to 10th.

The reduction in female influence in business leadership roles is short sighted, especially in light of a McKinsey report that found companies that had strong representation of women at a senior level and diverse management teams had a 35.1% higher return on equity. Generally speaking men are inclined to take more risks while women are more likely to be risk averse, having a balanced approach and a mix of skills would logically lead to more robust decisions. It's hard to ignore the fact that all the directors of the collapsed investment companies are male.

Our current National led Government lacks gender balance and there were only three women in the top fifteen of their Party list. The current governance approach reeks of the "old boy's club" culture, but instead of smoky Victorian clubrooms, deals are done in expensive resorts, casinos or the golf course. The most obvious example of this is the appalling Sky City deal.

While this post is very pro female I am not advocating for the dominance of women, especially when I work in primary education and find the lack of males is a real concern. I am writing this post because generally speaking it is women who suffer higher levels of discrimination and inequity then men, what we need is greater balance. The Green Party has 8 female MPs out of a total of 14 while National's eighth female, Nikki Kay, was 33rd on their list. At all levels of the Geen Party we encourage gender balance and male and female co-leadership and, judging by our current success, it works.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Police Image Tarnished Again

I had hoped we had finally moved on from the police violence of the 70's Dawn Raids, the 1981 Springbok Tour and the more recent anti-terror raids. When the police were asked to remove Occupy protestors from the city centres of Auckland and Dunedin, the police took a very principled stand and refused to do the bidding of the authorities when no public good would be served by such removal. I was especially gratified by Inspector Greg Sparrow's statement that to remove the protestors did not meet "the test of balancing the rights and freedoms of all parties".

Sadly with the Glen Innes protest the police have returned to previous behaviors and used physical force, well beyond what was necessary, to remove people protesting the removal of the homes. They also deliberately roughed up the well known advocate and protestor for human rights, John Minto. Here are some first hand accounts of the police brutality: interview one, interview two.

The Glen Innes state houses being removed are sound homes and the main reason for their removal is that the land values of the area have increased and it has become popular area for more affluent people to live. The occupants of the state houses have been placed into poorer houses in less prestigious areas.

There is no proper planning involved in this process as there have been no extra state houses built to accommodate those being removed from their homes. The only people who look to benefit immediately from the process are the developers who will be able to take advantage of the availability of land in an area of growing values. A stable and strong community is being dismantled to support the growing wealth of New Zealand's rich elite yet again. Apparently poor people don't deserve to live in communities of growing affluence.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Proof that National Despises Our Public Education System.

Chris Trotter wrote an excellent post regarding Craig Foss's appalling inability to explain how public private partnerships (PPPs) will actually produce positive benefits to the school communities that have been forced to accept them. I wrote a comment in support of the post and got the following response.

Would bsprout be kind enough as to produce evidence of "Not only does National openly despise public education systems...."

Albert-As soon as they became Government National gave private schools $35 million and are currently providing Wanganui Collegiate with $800,000 while they negotiate to become an integrated school. They are dismantling our state system by introducing charter schools and are committing to PPPs even though Treasury has advised there are few benefits. The Government also supports secondary schools that adopt assessment systems that aren't compatible with our National Curriculum. 

Our public education system is internationally rated in the top five and therefore must be judged as a successful system by world standards. Despite this Anne Tolley stated at last year's National Party conference that the system needed systemic change and private models are being introduced to progress that change. Although New Zealand administrators are well regarded internationally the new CEO of the Education Ministry is from the UK and led the introduction of the equivalent of Charter Schools there.

Organisations like NZPF that represents most Primary Principals from public schools (and are a professional group, not a union) have their opinions ignored and is publicly denigrated.

National clearly doesn't like our public school system, or those who work within it, and wants to replace it with private models from the US and UK, countries that are ranked well below us internationally. If National liked and supported our successful public education system they would not treat it with such disdain.

National Rejects Broadening MoU With Greens.

While the Green Party has always been open about the unlikely event of granting confidence and supply to a National led Government the party has always been open about working with them on projects that support Green Policy. Last term a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with National included the Healthy Homes Project, the clean up of the toxic Tui Mine site and some useful research into pest eradication. All of these joint projects were viewed as successful and, in the case of the Health Homes Project, added real economic value by creating employment and contributing to a reduction in health spending.

It is interesting that for this term the National Government had no interest in broadening the MoU and wouldn't consider any of the new projects the Greens put on the table, apparently the priorities and philosophies are now too dissimilar. National rejected the Greens suggestion of implementing aspects of the Green Growth Advisory Report, wasn't interested in emphasizing sustainability in government procurement and rejected providing support for small and medium-sized businesses that embraced green economic opportunities.

The Government's rejection of the the Green's proposals clearly indicates that it has no more interest in pretending that it cares about sustainability, supporting small businesses or re-establishing our clean green brand. In National's zero budget/austerity plan there is no extra funding for new projects or even to support government services at current levels and yet there is still money being splashed out on overseas trips, golf tournaments, the Prime Minister's protection squad and National's roads of insignificance.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Dairy Farmers and Bullying Tactics

Dear Sir
I would like to congratulate this year's winners of the Southland Ballance Farm Environmental Awards. Michael and Karen Blomfield clearly demonstrated it is possible to farm in an environmentally sensitive manner and still run a profitable dairy farm. It is disappointing when there are so many great examples of responsible practice that could be celebrated that the industry lets itself down with bullying tactics and arrogant behaviour.

Environment Southland's new rules would create few challenges for responsible farmers like the Blomfields and Hugh Gardyne's speech to Environment Southland quite rightly recognized the importance of having some bottom line expectations for new conversions. The dairy farmers who walked out of the Environment Southland meeting have not directly criticised the points made in Mr Gardyne's speech but appear to object to anything other than self-regulation and want the external costs of their industry continue to be subsidized by ratepayers and taxpayers.

It is difficult to trust the dairy industry when such promising initiatives like the Dairying and Clean Streams Accord are not always supported in good faith. MAF investigations recently revealed that the claimed 69% of Tasman dairy farmers who had met the requirements of the accord was an exaggeration and the actual figure of compliance was only 17%. According to MAFs most recent report on the progress of the accord, Southland has one of the worst provincial records for effluent discharge compliance. Only 40% of farms were recorded as fully compliant and 20% were seriously noncompliant.

Even considering any dispute around the definition of what should reasonably be called noncompliance the dairy industry have some way to go before they should be trusted with self regulation and I fully support Environment Southland's new rules. 

Yours sincerely...

It is especially concerning that Bill English has jumped in to support the dairy farmers actions and is critical of Environment Southland without first checking the facts.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Future of New Zealand Politics is Green.

It is interesting reading the blogs of the left at present because a common theme keeps appearing, the rise of the Greens as an increasingly credible political force.

The Standard blog is a reinterpretation of the old labour movement newspaper and its contemporary contributors tend to favour the Labour Party with the odd grudging acknowledgement to a Green success. This week one of The Standard's more able commentators, Anthony Robins, provocatively asked "will the Greens lead the next government?". The 195 comments that followed rarely attempted to refute this possibility and many made particular mention of evidence to support the suggestion:

"In effect,the Greens are close to having the required influence to be able to have the messes of the past cleaned up and sanitized by those who made them,(thus teaching both National and Labour what it is to be Green)"

"All that may come to pass if Labour don’t get their A into G. The Greens are definitely attracting a lot of talented operators at the mo."

"I was particularly impressed with Julie Ann Gender (sic) this week taking on and showing up Brownlee on roading issues in Parliament and on TV as I knew nothing about her previously."

"...and besides… the Greens have been saying this stuff for years and slowly but surely people are realising that they’re right...Plus some damned good talent attracted into their ranks."

"They got me. As far as I am concerned Labour needs a huge clean out. Something that will not happen so I and a few people I know are leaving Labour (you can’t call it deserting). as they did not listen to us the voters (and get rid of Goff, Sykes, Mallard, and the others of this ilk) So Green here we come. So don’t blame me when Labour becomes just another also ran party. It’s their own fault for not listening."

"I’ve floated between Greens and National (and Labour), I’m sure there are a few who would switch National to Green directly, possibly quite a few."

"Part of what is driving this shift to the Greens is also a frustration with personality politics, and right now, the Greens are the only party that’s not playing that game..."

"...the Greens environmental and economic policy has really come of age recently, mainly because it has to."

Chris Trotter was often dismissive of the Greens during the election campaign, claiming that they had purged themselves of their left leaning MPs and their deliberate move to the right made them logical coalition partners with National. In his latest post Mr Trotter revises his view with an acknowledgement that, with the appointment of Laila Harre, the Greens had captured "one of the Left's most intelligent and articulate spokespeople." He also makes this startling claim:
"What we are witnessing is a fascinating historical reversal. Labour conquered power by first organising the working-class vote, and only then extending its reach into the educated middle-class and small proprietors. The Greens are expanding in the opposite direction: from their core base of support among the educated middle-class; to the small proprietor; to the working-class; and potentially to the much-despised “underclass” of beneficiaries and alienated youth."

Mr Trotter finishes with the observation:

"A crucial aspect of the Greens’ success as a political movement has been the open and transparent nature of its decision-making processes. In short, it’s commitment to democracy. If Labour’s membership wishes to make progress on those “fundamental issues of difference” between their party and the Greens, they must demonstrate an equally vigorous commitment to democratic values."

Even the very measured and articulate "ruminator" , Robert Winter,  makes the following observation: "This is not scientific, but, as I talk to people on the Left, the move to the Greens is palpable..." 

Influential elements of the left are recognizing the growing strength and credibility of the Greens and it is even becoming apparent in the media . It is Russel Norman who is asked to provide his take on the Crafar farm sales, Kennedy Graham is interviewed regarding chinese refugees, Gareth Hughes gains support from the Environment Commissioner regarding a review of fracking, and the drawing of Holly Walker's private member's bill, aimed at the registration of lobbyists, receives widespread attention. 

Green MP's, new and experienced, are popping up all over the place...our political future is becoming Green.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Crafar Farm Sale Threatens Sovereignty

The Government has a difficult decision to make regarding the sale of the Crafar Farms. The Overseas Investment Office approved the sale but a high court decision demanded a rethink and a final decision needs to be made.

The arguments supporting the sale are largely about the gains from overseas investment and strengthening our relationship with China. There is also a view that to refuse the sale could be seen as xenophobic and we wouldn't want to upset our largest market for our dairy sales.

Russel Norman argued a strong case on Q&A today. The stand from the Greens has always been that there should be no land sales to other than New Zealanders and New Zealand residents and we even opposed the sale of land to Shania Twain. The long term importance of maintaining sovereignty over our productive land is very important leading into the future, we don't want to end up as tenants in our own country. We have already seen the risks of selling off strategic assets to overseas interests, not only does income derived from the asset shift offshore but the use and development of the resource may not always be in the best interests of our country. Russel also pointed out that there is no threat to our trade interests if the sale was refused because China is desperate for protein and after the melamine scare demand for clean sources of milk boosted our exports considerably.

There was also some criticism from Federated Farmers regarding the farms being sold as one lot, this effectively priced the properties beyond most New Zealanders and blocked local aspiring farmers from owning their own farms. The price of land is one of the reasons why many farmers are struggling financially even though the industry as a whole is booming. Continuing to allow overseas interests to buy our land will only increase values further and continue to push farm ownership beyond the reach of New Zealanders.

There is always a danger of being lured by a short term influx of money and this National Government, more than most, is attracted to such gains like a moth to a light bulb, but such temptation needs to be ignored to ensure the prosperity of our future generations.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Easter Poll and New Beginnings?

Achieving 17% support in the latest Roy Morgan Poll is a deserved boost for the Greens leading in to this Easter Break. The Greens have performed especially well in opposition so far, with some stirling efforts from some of our newest and youngest MPs.

National has had an easy run with the press and while they have had scandal after debacle, blame has been effectively deflected elsewhere in most cases. If this current term sees the media developing greater intellectual rigor and a backbone we will see National implode like Act as their leadership struggle for personal survival on their sinking ship and start blaming each other. With Collins being forced to fund her own legal costs, this process is already beginning.

The party mix after the next election will be partly due to the sort of media coverage that will occur. The Greens have always polled well leading up to an election but have been shut out of mainstream media coverage in the last weeks. Some polls put the Greens at 15% before the last election but Winston's tea cup pronouncements dominated TV and newspapers in the last two weeks. Cheap political shots have generally  dominated over substance.

There can be no justification for the Greens to be shut out of the leader's debates next time when we are so close to 20% support. In the 2002 election, National only achieved 20% of the vote and the Greens are only 3 percentage points away from that mark.

Labour has some talented MPs and I am sure that when they actually decide what their policy bottom lines are they will pick up in performance, however because the Greens have hit the ground running they will be playing catchup for some time.

It is dangerous to make predictions but judging by current performance we could very well see Labour achieving around 40% of the vote and the Greens breaking 20%. If the Greens can get more than twenty MPs into government I'm sure the resulting Labour/Green coalition will be very robust and National's mantra of achieving a balance between economic, social and environmental determiners will become a different reality.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Rough Guess Governance Exposed.

The teaching profession (pre National Standards) improves practice and developes curriculum based on research and evidence. Scientists use research and peer review to develop new knowledge and technologists use research and modeling before developing the final prototype. Lawyers use Acts, Regulations, Statutes and case law to progress their cases and Doctors use years of training, on going professional development and professional texts and journals to guide diagnoses. The National Government, having the responsibility for governing the economic, social and environmental health of our nation, routinely ignores research, science and professional advice and admits to "rough guess" decisions. Examples abound:

1) The value of our state assets before committing them for sale - rough guess.
2) The justification for spending $12 billion on Roads of National Significance - a guess and huge assumptions.
3) The justification for gutting our foreign service - No research or consultation, a McCully guess.
4) The introduction of National Standards - Little research, most professional advice ignored, an ideological stab in the dark.

New Green MP, Julie Anne Genter exposed the shocking reality of National's decision making with some sharp questioning today. The following exchange makes enlightening reading (full transcript and video linked above) :

Julie Anne Genter: Why does the Government claim that the roads of so-called national significance have been selected because of their economic importance, when the projects were announced in early 2009, well before the business cases had been undertaken?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I think the point is that a Government comes in with a programme and does what it thinks is necessary to create the environment for economic growth. There is not a successful economy in the world that has achieved results by stopping roading progress.
Julie Anne Genter: What evidence supports the claim that the roads of national significance will increase economic productivity, given that they have not been updated to reflect the reality of higher oil prices and stagnant traffic volumes?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I think the roads of national significance are going to have a massive effect on economic growth in New Zealand. And I think it is very hard to argue against history, where you would find not one country in the world that has abandoned roading projects and achieved economic success.
Julie Anne Genter: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question quite clear. It said “What evidence supports the claim … ?”. It did not ask for an opinion. The Minister did give his opinion—he thinks these projects will be good for the economy—but I asked—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Because I could not hear the member’s question very well because of the noise—mainly on my left, I must confess, on this occasion—I invite the member to repeat her question.
Julie Anne Genter: What evidence supports the claim that the roads of national significance will increase economic productivity, given that they have not been updated to reflect the reality of higher oil prices and stagnant traffic volumes?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Those last two criteria are very cyclical, so there is no reason to believe that in the long term, they would make a difference to the business case.
The real joke was at the end of the exchange when the ex woodwork teacher accused Julie Anne of not being an expert in the field of transportation. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Grass Roots of Union Movement Strengthening

I've just come back from a meeting of the Invercargill Branch of the CTU and having been largely in recess a couple of years ago it is now meeting monthly with most local unions being represented. We started the meeting with organisers and representatives giving a quick overview of what is happening in their sector and it was like a state of the nation overview, but from the perspective of ordinary New Zealanders.

We heard from the MUNZ rep about his experiences supporting his fellow members up in Auckland how amazing it was to feel the support of other unions (including many overseas), political parties and ordinary New Zealanders. The blatant lack of good faith from POAL and the huge losses incurred through the forced inactivity of the port made it very clear that the management were more interested in crushing the union than maintaining profits.

We heard about the Affco's blatant locking out of 480 workers to avoid paying statutory pay for Good Friday and Easter Monday. Talley's, Affco's owners, stand to save hundreds of thousands of dollars through this heavy handed, crass action.

We heard about the Oceania aged care workers who earn barely over the minimum rate and are being refused the DHB funding that is supposed go to their wages. Other rest home providers have passed this funding on to their workers but Oceania is using the money to pay off debt instead.

We heard about the fireman's 18 month negotiations where all offers do not match cost of living increases and casualisation of the service is being threatened.

We heard about the huge cuts to the public service and the stress around constant restructuring and increased workloads.

And finally we heard from the education unions and their concerns about the misinformation being promulgated by the government to create a sense of crisis where none exists. The nonexistent crisis is being used to bring in flawed performance pay measures, Charter Schools and an increase in class sizes.

Familiar themes run through these disputes:
  • Wages forcibly kept as low as possible to ensure corporate profits.
  • Casualisation of workforces to reduce the employer's employment responsibilities and enable them to turn on and off worker supply as they wish. Workers will no longer have consistency of employment or certainty of income.
  • The breaking of collective agreements and shift to individual contracts.
  • The further limiting of unions' abilities to represent their workers.
  • Continued austerity measures to cut government spending and make up for the billions of revenue lost through providing tax cuts to the rich.
  • Deliberate misinformation from employers and the Government to demonise workers through the media. 
This isn't a simple battle between employers and unions, this is about a concerted attack on ordinary New Zealanders; firefighters, teachers, rest home workers, public servants, watersiders and meat workers. These are people with families and financial commitments, who just want to lead decent lives and be respected and valued for what they do. They are people who want "good faith" to mean good faith, they want a future for their children and they want the state assets created through their taxes to kept in state ownership. These are decent and reasonable aspirations yet the behaviour of many employers and this government is neither decent nor reasonable. 

Our meeting attendees discussed how we could provide support for each other in our respective battles and also talked about our shared concern regarding the sale of state assets. In my life time I have never seen such unified commitment across unions, the grass roots are stirring...