Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Our children, our future, National's failure!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

False fears used to justify the unjustifiable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

NZ Police Politicised and Corrupt

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

NZ Government policy reflects those who make it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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