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:
Despite Pike River creating a stronger focus on worker safety, it is still a huge issue, workers are being seen as expendable in the 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?


Philip Todd said…
And sadly most of what has happened has been predicted. A mine inspector from Australia told of the reasons we must have people looking after safety in mines away back in the 1990,s. However we had the Birch era which had the ideological thinking that business knows best how to run their business. We did not need a government formal training scheme because business would train the people they needed. They actively promoted the thinking that everyone would be better off without union involvement in the workplace and so it went on. What we have seen is one fiasco after another such as the leaky buildings, lack of qualified workers, workers being bullied to keep quiet, workers being killed in ever increasing numbers and real wage rates steadily going back. The next attack from the right will be in education as again its an ideological thought that we only need to educate for business requirements. You can only wonder how long before people wake up and understand the economics of greed are about actual greedy people who want things without understanding why they want it. With such short term thinking there is only one direction we will continue to go. Once everything is sold and the money is all spent where to then?
bsprout said…
"The next attack from the right will be in education…"
It's already happening, Philip. The private schools are getting more funding, support for special needs and advisors have been cut and our wonderful holistic curriculum has been reduced to focusing on literacy and numeracy and collecting data.
Philip Todd said…
Yes it is happening Once best education in the world. Once best apprentice training in the world. Why stuff it up?
The right wing theory is to treat everything as a commodity including workers and school pupils. To do that we need to understand that our childrens education and workers training needs to be focused on a very few measures. It maddens me that the Labour party will not come out and challenge what is going on and attack the policies behind it all. NZ is lacking a real leader like Norman Kirk or even Rob Muldoon. Have to wash my mouth out after saying the muldoon word but he was genuine in wanting the country to be a better place and never let the Reserve bank theorists be any more than theorists.
The Greens are the only party putting forward substantive alternative economic policies and after 60 years I will probably vote for them. I think Labour has lost its way and needs to get back to some simple values and expand policies from there. And be prepared to attack the greedies when it needs to rather than sit and hope to be part of the gravy train once they are retired politicians.
Armchair Critic said…
Over the break I read the Pike River book (R. Macfie) and it's clearly one you would be interested in. I would, usually, say you will enjoy it, but it's a horrific story and all the worse for being true; anyone with an ounce of humanity will not derive any pleasure from reading it.
There's an exceptionally well phrased paragraph at the end of one of the last chapters that summarises how comprehensively the protections for the people involved failed. It's worth reading for this paragraph, which has similar sentiments to your post, alone.
If you don't care to read the book I'll give a precis. Pike River was, in almost every sense, a disaster. The people involved who were least responsible paid the highest price (29 of them died, ffs, and in completely avoidable circumstances) and those who were most responsible have got away with it. It's completely outrageous.
bsprout said…
AC, I actually read Macfie's over the break as well. What appalled me most was that Whittle was the driving force behind the operation and has escaped with little financial cost to himself. He is still able to work in the mining industry.

The Government also needs to shoulder more responsibility as over time both National and Labour have underfunded the inspectorate and removed unions from involvement in health and safety. Even with the new legislation, unions are largely shut out of the role they should have in representing their members regarding health and safety concerns. The fact that unions are largely absent from many worksites also means that there is no organisation that looks out for health and safety in many working environments.
Armchair Critic said…
I couldn't care less about the financial impacts on the responsible individuals; it's not about money.
Fact is 29 people went to work one day and never came back. It wasn't "an accident" or "an act of god". A whole group of people repeatedly and knowingly did the wrong thing, and in doing so killed these workers. It is unbelievable that the consequence is, well, nothing.
bsprout said…
You're right, AC, what would give some closure for the miners' families would by those responsible being convicted or accepting fault. Whittle does not accept fault and yet he was central to the whole enterprise and while Kate Wilkinson did resign, the Government are claiming that they have no more responsibility. As you say, the whole story is outrageous.
Philip Todd said…
AC I think the only thing that seems to stop these people is the thought of being held to account through their bank accounts. The reason they are happily snubbing their noses at the present labour laws is because they see some financial gain in taking short cuts.
But what annoys me most of all is that the champion of the workers, The Labour Party has almost gone missing when they should hounding those who should be accountable and screaming for someone to hold their hand up.
Now we have people able to put dollar values onto workers lives with the approval of the courts and government. outrageous is understating the facts. Its criminal!
Armchair Critic said…
The management of the company should be in gaol, for decades.
The board of directors should be in gaol, for years.
Kate Wilkinson should have resigned. Not just one ministerial post but all of them and also her seat in parliament.
There's no "almost" about the labour party, Philip, they were out and out missing. It's another mea culpa they are due to issue, perhaps after the big one, which will go something like "dear NZ sorry about that neoliberalism crap we brought here thirty or so years back."
Philip Todd said…
North and South magazine has an interesting article this month on the demise of unions in NZ. The OECD has found NZ workers have one of the lowest proportions of the countries wealth receiving less than half the share of the national income. Take heart though we are still just in front of Mexico, Turkey and Slovak Republic. For how long is the question the needs to be asked of John Key.

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