Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Greens Are Deep In Dirty Politics

I have a confession, as a Green candidate I too have been involved in some dirty politics and it has been filthier than many would expect.

I had someone contact me recently because of his concern about poor service from an SOE but in the resulting conversation he revealed that he worked as a drain and tile layer on farms. As far as he was concerned riparian planting was a cosmetic joke because the drainage systems he was putting in place  just funneled effluent directly into our streams and rivers.

I recently spent a day getting down and dirty with a bunch of 'Bluffies' cleaning up the roadside between Invercargill and our southernmost port. We filled heaps of sacks with rubbish chucked from cars and trucks. It was a pleasure to help Joyce Kolk who has led many teams to clean up our beaches and public places.

Today I spent an afternoon delivering Green Party leaflets and chatting to people as I caught them gardening or cleaning cars in the Spring sunshine. I happened to come across one man who was really pleased to meet me, he was a keen fisherman and whitebaiter and also passionate about our marine and freshwater environments. He was particularly concerned about Oreti Beach, a southern treasure and where Burt Munro raced his famous Indian motorcycle. He was appalled that the beach and sand dunes were being used as a playground for boy racers, motorcycles and four wheel drive vehicles. The area is also being trashed by copious amounts of litter.

The Green Party isn't afraid of making a stand to protect our rivers and beaches from rubbish and effluent that is far worse than anything seen in a Judith Collins email. The politics behind intensive farming and environmental degradation is deeply engrained and very dirty. To clean up our environment we also have to clean up the way we govern it.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Green Election Policy Highly Sophisticated.

As each new election policy is released by the Greens I am impressed by the depth of thinking, costing and multiple benefits that come with them. We have made a convincing impression this election that we are ready to govern and are easily holding our own against the other parties with highly relevant and practical policies.

National's policies look like as if they are just throwing money around where they think they will get some traction, but with no long term vision. Their regional road spending and the building of Auckland schools just look like stuff that they should be doing anyway dressed up to look like new spending and lacking consultation. The carrot of tax cuts is also being dangled in front of voters by Key despite English's reservations that the money exists to do this.

The Green Party are offering tax cuts through our carbon tax policy, we know where the money is coming from because we have generated it first. This policy will future proof our economy by shifting the focus to sustainable business practices and put money in people's pockets at the same time.

Extending our home insulation scheme (that we originally established as part of a memorandum of agreement with the National led Government) will just continue the success of this initiative. Not only are we making families healthier, and less of a drain on our health system, but the scheme supports local businesses and jobs. Like most of our policies this is an investment, not one way spending, as there is a return of $5 for every dollar spent.

Our Green Card is a simple yet effective way of providing financial support for struggling students by saving them around $40 a week in transport costs, reducing traffic and encouraging the use of public transport ouside peak times. It will also allow students to potentially save even more money through renting cheaper flats more distant from their tertiary institutions.

The Safe to School policy is another seemingly simple policy that has multiple benefits. It will allow children to be independent, increase the level of activity for our children to curb our growing child obesity rates, and take traffic off the roads during the congested times before and after school. Councils will be able to access money to make their towns and cities more family friendly without increasing rates.

Another thing I like about our policies is that they are all interrelated and it is our holistic approach that will deliver the 'balance' that National often talks about, but never achieves. A degrading environment, growing inequity and an economy based on borrowing and exporting raw commodities does not constitute balance.

All Green policies make sense because they are grounded in evidence and will force our economy to work for us rather than the other way around. Under National our economy has performed well for only a small section of our society and our environment and our families have had to be unreasonably sacrificed to support it. A well functioning economy should benefit all people and improve our quality of life as well as our environment. Party voting Green will support progressive policies and a cleaner, fairer and smarter future.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Primary Teachers Rise Up!

I have been a primary teacher for 35 years and for over half of that time I have been an active member of the New Zealand Educational Institute, New Zealand's largest education union. NZEI Te Riu Roa represents 50,000 members, including primary teachers and principals, early childhood teachers, special education professionals and support staff in schools. Around three quarters of the membership are female and a large proportion of the work of the union has a professional focus. When the Institute was first formed in 1883 its sole focus was professional but when employment agreements needed to be negotiated it took on this role.

The current Government likes to dismiss the Institute as 'just a union' and implies that any opposition to government policy is based on industrial concerns and self interest. The truth is very different, over its 131 year history NZEI has only resorted to strike action twice and agreement negotiations are approached in good faith and supported by professional evidence. In our current agreement we included the introduction of a new qualification, the Advanced Classroom Expertise Teacher (ACET), this was an attempt to introduce a new career pathway that recognises the importance of keeping good teachers in the classroom. A robust process has been put in place to ensure that teachers must meet important professional criteria to earn the ACET title.

A lack of good faith was demonstrated by the Government when they negotiated this new career pathway into our agreement without giving any indication that they were working on their own idea of recognizing expert teachers. The ACE teacher will earn an extra $5,000 a year after establishing their professional expertise, but shortly after settling the agreement the Government announced that they were introducing a Lead Teacher role that would pay $10,000 and these positions would be a appointed ones. No consultation on these positions or hints about their plans were passed on until their release by the Prime Minister. We were only allowed 800 ACE teachers under our agreement and yet the Government is planning to appoint 5,000 lead teachers using criteria that will probably hinge on willingness to advance policy than based on professional capabilities.

NZEI is full of members who are very focussed on the day to day demands of teaching and to get teachers to attend union meetings, even to negotiate agreements, is sometimes a struggle as their teaching responsibilities generally take priority. Most schools would rather just send a few representatives than all having to attend as there are always things to be done at school. To get 70% of primary teachers and principals to attend meetings across the country is actually remarkable and to have 93% of them reject the Governments plans outright demonstrates a clear consensus.

Having recently resigned from the National Executive of NZEI I was personally surprised at the strength of feeling the came from the membership. Two options had been provided to choose from at the meetings, one was an outright rejection of the Governments plans and the other was to manage the proposed changes through our agreement. The first option was a strong stand, would need wide support and there was always the concern we could be done to anyway. The second option meant accepting much in the plan and negotiating a more positive outcome. My own feeling was that after National Standards was forced on us through legislation (making opposition illegal) that the membership would probably want the protection of using our agreement to enable some way of minimising the damage.

I did not fully appreciate the levels of frustration and anger within the profession after the last five years under this Government. Primary education has weathered hit after hit of ideologically based systemic change and cut services and teachers have had enough. There was a high level of shock when support staff were trying to negotiate an increase to their minimal wages and poor working conditions and were being told that there was just no money available, when suddenly the Government announced $359,000,000 of new spending. This was a huge sum in education terms and when the detail was revealed I remember seeing some of our leadership in tears, little of the spending would address the real needs of our struggling children. Teachers were not interested in the potential of earning more money ($10-40,000 is actually substantial for a teacher or principal) they were just appalled at the lack of appreciation of what actually needed to be addressed in the sector.

In his announcement John Key claimed that teaching makes the biggest difference to lifting achievement when it is clearly not true. All research points to the fact that achievement is closely related to the socio-economic circumstances of the child and 90% of all influences on achievement occur outside the school. Good teaching helps but it can never be the significant solution.

If there was extra money available for our sector then there are things that most teachers could identify that would have nothing to do with paying a few teachers and principals more. This Government's determination not to consult properly with the profession has dominated their governance and teachers have finally had enough. A line in the sand has been drawn and the profession are standing firm. This is not a political stunt, this is about saving our public education system from an arrogant, uncaring Government that has been allowed to get away with too much already.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Government Fails Special Needs

A headline on the front page of The Southland Times on Saturday was Schools 'fail' special needs. The article (under a less emotive heading on Stuff) described how parents of special needs children were leaving Southland because they felt their children were not being well served by Invercargill schools and teachers. One mother claimed that her 7 year old son was also being deliberately excluded. While the article did suggest more training and resourcing for schools was needed from the Ministry the implication was that it was the schools and teachers in Invercargill that were failing the children.

I have already written a number of posts describing how this Government has deliberately favoured private schools with extra funding and under-resourced low decile schools. I angers me when yet again schools and teachers have the finger pointed at them when doing their best in an under-resourced environment where the profession no longer has an influence on Government policy. Teachers are desperately trying to hold together our crumbling public education system while at the same time receiving the majority of the blame for the holes and gaps that are appearing.

This is my letter in response:

The Editor
The Southland Times

Dear Sir

I always feel uncomfortable when I see headlines like the one in Saturday’s paper, Schools ‘fail’ special needs. Such headlines appoint blame on one part of our system while the reality is more complex.

Accommodating children with special needs in a class of 25-30 children requires a lot of skill, patience and often specialist knowledge. Having professional support available to teachers and schools is crucial.

While the numbers of children with high needs are increasing, the funding and support available has not kept up with demand. When the Government cut the Ministry’s funding by $25 million it had negative impact on Special Education Services through a reduction of staffing and resources.

When the Government disbanded Supplementary Learning  Support (SLS) it put an extra load on our Resource Teachers for Learning and Behaviour (RTLBs) and they now struggle to cover the shortfalls from SES and the SLS role.

There are also financial barriers to parents and schools from less affluent communities to access Government funded special needs support. Consequently affluent private schools now capture the largest share of special needs funding and Kings College was able to provide special needs support for 24.4% of their students sitting NCEA last year.

The Government has also closed health camps and residential schools for high needs children and even tried to close Salisbury School illegally

Our education system should be an inclusive one and all children deserve a fair go and the best possible start in life. To enable this to happen we have to ensure that the professional support and resources are provided where it is most needed.

Party voting Green will be a vote for properly resourcing schools and teachers and ensuring that education funding goes to the children who need it the most

Friday, August 15, 2014

Dirty Politics and Cleaning the House

I tried to get a copy of Nicky Hager's latest book Dirty Politics, but Invercargill had sold out by early afternoon and I was put on a waiting list for the next shipment.

Obviously I have yet to read the book but I own and have read most of Hager's earlier five books and they follow a very reliable pattern. Although he stood for the Values Party in his younger years and his books tend to support environmental causes or challenge the politics of the right, his research is impeccable. His last book, Other People's Wars, contained 73 pages of referencing. He is the only New Zealand member of the International Consortium of Investigative journalists and those whom he has exposed in his books have not disproved his facts or even attempted legal action against him.

Most criticisms of Hager's research are around his conclusions. With Dirty Politics, Key, and all others implicated, are not disputing directly what is in the book but are generally attacking the writer and his motivations. It is obvious that Key is worried and his relaxed bravado is missing from recent interviews and Cameron Slater is attempting to shift the attention to Kim Dotcom. Gordon Campbell deals well with the arguments from the right being used to discredit Hager and the book.

New Zealand has always rated well in international rankings for corruption and we have regularly been considered as the least corrupt country in the world. However such rankings are based on perceptions and there is increasing evidence that all is not well with our governance and bureaucracy. New Zealanders have been brought up to believe that we are a fair society and corruption is only something that happens overseas, so we are reluctant to accept otherwise. This perception has been very resilient despite the fact that our financial institutions have been found to be just as corrupt as those offshore and our politicians have often fallen short of basic ethical expectations.

I think most New Zealanders want to believe that we just have the odd rogue politician and many may bend the truth at times, but that is just politics. Generally the worst that happens is a bit of shouting and name calling during question time. Many people actually know MPs on a personal level and most seem approachable, and even helpful. It is hard for us to accept that deliberately organised and orchestrated attack politics, as happens in the US, has been secretly going on under our noses.

Cameron Slater's extraordinary luck to continually find dirt on others was perceived as being his natural skill as a bottom feeding journalist and his brief editorship of Truth fitted that image.  He even won an award as New Zealand's foremost blogger. It now appears that it wasn't his journalistic skills that has made him so successful but his ability to self promote and willingness to be a conduit for rightwing propaganda and corporate interests. Slater's ethics are such that he is happy to put his name to almost anything and doesn't give a damn about who he hurts in the process, these are very useful traits for a hired political assassin.

Rightwing bloggers often used to hunt in packs and when dirt was aired on Whale Oil or Kiwiblog the same material would be reproduced on others. Very quickly a scandalous rumour could be widely disseminated on other blogs, which gave the appearance of legitimacy. This was especially so when some of the other bloggers cultivated an air of respectability that attracted a wider audience (not everyone liked claiming they read Truth either). It is clear this book has been a game changer and other, supposedly respectable, blogging sharks are desperately trying to distance themselves from the fallout.

What hasn't been truly appreciated by many of the voting public (because most won't read Hager's books) is that behind the facade and the smiling friendly face of one of New Zealand's most popular, celebrity Prime Ministers was a gang of thugs. Russel Norman was widely criticized for comparing Key with Muldoon because their public personalities appear very different, but actually Key is far worse than his predecessor. There are some other comparisons that I could make to Key's leadership style but I will leave it up to readers to imagine where else in the world do we have leaders who surround themselves with body guards, enjoy the company of movie moguls and presidents and have others employed to assassinate their enemies in a manner that can't be linked back to them?

This is a style of politics we don't need and or want in New Zealand and I am very supportive of the Green Party's attempts to fully investigate the behaviour of this government through various official bodies, including a Royal Commission. I am looking forward to having a clean Green Government installed, but before we can do this we need to clean out the house.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Greens Riding Above Stormy Seas

As the weeks rapidly rush towards September 20 the campaign is heating up. There is a sense of desperation coming from many parties, especially the smaller ones on the right. ACT is only managing to stand 16 candidates in electorates and United Future has only 11 (when I last checked on Wikipedia), both are unable to get much above 1% in polls. The Maori Party is also struggling with the retirement of their iconic leaders and Te Ururoa Flavell is still trying to establish himself in the leadership role.

The strongest minor party on the right in terms of candidates and organisation is the Conservative Party. Colin Craig is largely financing the party himself and the party has managed to cover 36 electorates with candidates, which makes them the fourth largest party based on numbers. Despite the Conservatives having the most potential on the right, John Key is determined to designate them as the last cab on the rank for any possible coalition. New Zealand is becoming an increasingly liberal society (less than half of all New Zealanders are now associated with a Christian faith) and the Conservatives' policies tend to lean towards Christian fundamentalist views. The conservative Christian vote is a shrinking one and because National is wanting broad appeal it is reluctant to be trapped into that connection.

The National Party itself is rapidly losing its popularity and high standing in the polls. The Party lacks a clear vision for the future other than a continuation of their same approach. The party's reliance on milk powder and logs and market forces to bring prosperity is looking increasingly shaky. The National Party is putting all their money on the popularity of their leader to carry them through and Team Key fronts a campaign of personality rather than substantive policy. Any policy releases seem to be intentionally looking for easy votes rather than part of any clear strategy, for instance; after gutting the funding of regional roads National is relying on short memories by giving some of it back in some popular local projects.

National's focus on John Key (while playing their only obvious strength) has also meant any negative feelings towards the party has been channelled towards him and has increased the focus on personality and personal attacks. John Key has become the face of the National Party and consequently the burning effigy and the f**k John Key chant are symptomatic of the personality politics arena where they have intentionally placed themselves.

National must accept much of the responsibility for the descent into personality politics because they have had a deliberate tactic to continuously question the credibility of the opposition leaders. Despite some very poor performances from a number of their Ministers this year, National has often been able to divert media attention to any misstep from Cunliffe, no matter how minor. Casting stones in this way must inevitably result in some splash back and I struggle to feel any sympathy when National supporters scream foul when they receive a taste of their own medicine.

The National Party's attempt to demonise Dotcom and the Internet Party has probably had the opposite effect than intended on many youth (who have suffered considerably under this government) and in IP they are finding an exciting avenue to vent their anger and frustration. For all that, the Internet Party does appear to be more of a novelty than a growing movement, the crowd it attracted in Invercargill seemed to be there more out of curiosity than anything else.

New Zealand First is vulnerable too, Winston Peters is prepared to grab any single issue that he can benefit from, but his impulsive style can also catch him 'Wong footed'. New Zealand First is still a one man band and and Winston's absence from Parliament for a time revealed the lack of depth in his team and how much the party rely on him for their public profile. This election could very well be the last for the party as an influential political force.

Labour and Cunliffe have come through the rugged process of a change in leadership and rebuilding the party. National's constant attacks have meant Labour has often come across more defensive than an effective opposition. Despite having a shaky start Cunliffe is gradually finding his feet and his party are gaining more credibility as their policies roll out and their organisation gathers momentum.

The Green Party has deliberately avoided getting involved in the sort of reactionary politics that most other parties have been engaging in. The Greens' campaign was put into place some time ago and plans and strategies are being followed in a disciplined manner that is beginning to earn respect. The Greens again have coherent election messaging. In 2011 it was "Rivers, Jobs, Kids" and this time it's,  "A cleaner environment, a fairer society and a smarter economy". While a little more of a mouthful for candidates there has been a steady roll out of policy that hang from these three themes.

Each election policy being released by the Greens is achievable, well costed and will produce wide ranging benefits. Those published so far have been well received by a range of related sectors and even past critics of the Greens are grudgingly recognizing the logic and research behind them.

The Greens' billboards take a bit of engagement and have a harder edge than previous years. The theme "Love New Zealand" appears on all, but the images behind them reflect damage and suffering. The messages are directed at voters who care about the environment, good jobs and ending child poverty. The Green Party has a clearly articulated vision for the future, has many achievable policies and proven, stable leadership. The Party is looking more than ready for being an influential part of the next progressive Government.

I am looking forward to attending our national campaign launch this weekend and riding the Green wave of exciting policy releases to September 20!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

National and the Poverty Deniers

Not only is National the party of preference for those who reject the science behind human induced climate change, it is also the party for poverty deniers. For them real poverty only happens in Africa and in New Zealand poor kids are just the result of bad parents.

Poverty deniers are also adamant that the 'relative' poverty that may exist has been flatlining for some time and the best way of stopping poverty is just getting people into work. They ignore the fact that 40% of children living in poverty have at least one parent in full-time employment. The latest census revealed that our poorest communities have become even poorer since 2006. The median income for the Mangere-Otahuhu local board area dropped by 16% in real terms and is a pitiful $19,700.

Poverty deniers get very defensive when people express concern about the growing wealth of our richest New Zealanders. They claim it is just envy and that our rich have worked hard for their wealth and earned every cent. It is the wealthy, they claim, who will create more jobs and that their generosity will save us all in the end.

Interestingly it is the fast food barons, the rest home moguls and many dairy farmers who actually pay their workers the lowest wages. There is little trickle down to the workers despite the profitability  of each industry.

Consecutive governments have also increased the pay of the CEOs of government departments to amongst the highest in the world and increases of 10% aren't unusual. The Orion head received a triple figure increase while health workers have been told that a .7% increase is all they can expect after 12 months of negotiations.

Poverty deniers are often sick and tired of beneficiaries sucking hard working taxpayers dry and are especially frustrated about the privileges Maori have over ordinary New Zealanders. Act leader Jamie Whyte has been especially critical of pampered Maori and feels that the National Party needs to be even tougher with those minorities claiming to be poor.

The pampered poor queuing outside the Aucland City Mission

To poverty deniers the myth of child poverty is fed by bleeding heart do gooders who are only perpetuating the problem by making excuses for bad parenting. If food parcels weren't given out these parents will be forced grow their own vegetables and stop spending all their money on cigarettes and pokies. Giving more money to poor people is not the answer, cutting support is the best incentive. To poverty deniers, it's that simple.

However, if you believe poverty is caused by low wages, uncaring and underfunded support systems and too many barriers to gaining financial independence and real opportunities, then PARTY VOTE GREEN!