Monday, January 6, 2014
Ordinary New Zealanders Losing Basic Rights
It is becoming increasingly obvious that there is growing disregard for the rights and status of ordinary New Zealanders, while our wealthy elite are treated very differently.
The privacy of individuals is no longer sacrosanct, Government Ministers get away with revealing personal information to make political points and there has been a huge increase in privacy breaches from and between government departments. According to the Privacy Commissioner, almost half the 54 agreements to share information were not compliant and 10 contained serious breeches. Personal information seems easy to acquire for the Government but if a private individual wishes to access information that directly effects them (like reasons for a school closure) it is almost impossible.
Schools that serve ordinary New Zealanders, or those with high needs, are illegally closed while elite private schools have millions made available despite advice to the contrary. The Education Minister is currently looking at removing the main avenue for providing some equity for schools in less affluent communities, yet removing decile ratings should only occur if there is something to replace them.
There is little support and leeway given to those New Zealanders who devote their lives to serving others and caring for our most vulnerable. Most home carers and rest home workers are on the lowest incomes and those providing overnight care have only recently begun to be paid for this work. A long protracted legal battle won recognition for those who choose to provide full-time care for a disabled family member and yet the Government removed the right of future legal action. To limit Government liability basic rights and due process has been ignored.
Geoffrey Palmer laments in his recent autobiography that:
"The cost of legal services has increased exponentially and this has damaged the accessibility of the law for ordinary people in a most unfortunate way. In O'Flynn & Christie we acted for ordinary people and they could have their disputes determined according to law without acute difficulty arising. I worry very much about the future of the rule of law in a society where legal aid is being cut and many people effectively have no redress."
Government departments and commercial interests can silence individuals by using the legal system to their own advantage with little fear of opposition. It is wealth that can often decide legal outcomes and ordinary New Zealanders, like the determined Mike Dixon-McIvor (pictured above), have to go to extraordinary lengths to get justice.
Beneficiary fraud is chased up with much greater energy than tax evasion, despite the fact that the cost to the Government of tax evasion is 150 times greater.
Our major banks are also guilty of waiving charges for those with the most money and excessively charging those with the least. A class action is being taken to recover some of the $1 billion in unnecessary fees.
Those with the very least also have little choice in the standard of housing they are able to afford. The Government has devolved much of the provision of state supported housing to private landlords but there is little expectation that the housing should be of an acceptable standard. Providing a housing supplement has effectively created an inflated market and made it very profitable for a few.
The median income from all sources is a lowly $29,900 ($575 pw) and around a third of working New Zealanders are now not able to earn a living wage. Compared to Australia our wealthy are taxed less and our poor earn less and are taxed more. The working conditions of ordinary workers are being eroded with an increase of causualisation and the potential removal of basic rights such as tea breaks and good faith collective bargaining. New Zealand now has income inequality growing at one of the fastest rates in the OECD:
forestry industry and there are increasing numbers of accidents caused by tired employees.
For a growing number of New Zealanders the claimed economic improvement has had little positive impact on them and is unlikely to under the current Government. A large proportion of working people now earn less, have fewer employment and legal rights and are forced to live in substandard housing. The quality of education is increasingly based on where you can afford to live and access to higher eduction is also restricted for many. If you are poor, then it is more likely you will remain poor and so will your children. Is this the kind of country we want to live in?