Archive

Archive for 18 March 2012

An Expensive Lesson?

18 March 2012 5 comments

|

Full Story

|

Once upon a time, New Zealand had free education. (Including free university education as well.)

Then, madness set upon us in the 1980s and 1990s.

We welcomed bribes from successive centrist or right wing governments who gave us seven tax cuts from 1986.  As a society, we were warned by the like of Jane Kelsey, Jim Anderton, and many others that this would not end well; that tax cuts demanded corresponding cuts in social services and more and more User Pays.

As Jim Anderton often said at public meetings,

User pays means that if you can’t pay for it, you can’t use it!”

Students and their families  are discovering that truism the hard way.

User pays;

Free medical prescriptions (remember those?) went out the door.

Free University education – now not free. We have a massive mountain of student debt, with 834,000 students having borrowed $13.9 billion since 1992.

In 2005, Otago Polytechnic Student’s Association President, Rachel Dibble said,

This debt will have an outrageous effect on the country. There will be a flow on cost to services supplied by graduates, and drive the cost of living higher. The current brain drain overseas will worsen.

School fees – once voluntary, to pay for “extras”, are now chased up by schools using debt collectors.  No longer used for “extras”  like trips away, they are now a critical part of school operations.  Fees  buy toilet paper and chalk.

A recent media report stated,

Family First NZ says that parents have paid over $1 billion in school donations over the past four years to prop up state school budgets – and low income families in low decile schools are also paying significant amounts.

According to information gained under the Official Information Act, the total amount of school voluntary donations/fees actually paid by families in the last four years has been $234m (2007), $247m (2008), $272m (2009), and $266m (2010) – totaling $1.02b.” – Source

The latest news in our ongoing  saga of education’s self-destruction in this country is that now NZQA is denying thousands of students from being awarded NCEA credits that they have achieved through their studies.

This is not just unfair; it is a lunatic policy enabled by an insular right wing National government that is so far out of touch with mainstream New Zealand, that it was last sighted by the Hubble telescope passing the orbit of Pluto, and heading further out into Deep Space.

But metaphors aside, New Zealanders need to take stock and ask themselves: where the hell are we headed? When further barriers are erected in front of disadvantaged families and their childre; to make it harder to take up opportunities to better themselves – just what the hell are we trying to achieve here?!

Earlier today, before I read the article above, I wrote this piece;  What will be her future? The piece was about three possible futures for a young child.

By no means do I blame schools, Universities, or the NZQA. Even successive governments – to a degree – are only doing what they can get away with,  using tax cuts to  chase after our  votes.

No, the responsibility lies with  voters who have permitted this sad state of affairs to happen and to get progressively worse. Too many people have been seduced by the offerings of politicians without questioning some pretty basic issues;

  • If we accept tax cuts – how will we pay for essential social services? Funding for these services do not materialise out of thin air, at the wave of Harry Potter’s magic wand. These services require cold, hard cash – taxes.
  • Is an ever-increasing User Pays in education helping or hindering? How will the disadvantaged cope? Do we even care?
  • If we don’t care about the disadvantaged in our society – why should they care about society itself? And how does a society survive and prosper if the majority care more about what elected politicians can do for them (eg, tax cuts) – rather than what those same politicians should be doing for the country as a whole?

A wise man  (or, his speech writers) once remarked,

“…ask not what your country can do for you — ask what can you do for your country.”

It seems we have forgotten that very simple philosophy.

This current government is rotten. It has no inkling of how to address the critical social problems plaguing our society. It is more concerned with shuffling ministries; cutting the state sector; sacking workers; cutting taxes (for some); and cutting social services. Expect no sensible solutions from them.

If we look at the political alternatives, it is up to each and every New Zealander to tell the leaders of Labour, Greens, NZ First, and Mana what kind of  society we want. And that we are willing to pay for it.

I may be a left-winger, but even I know a simple truth; there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. If we want free education and free healthcare, we better be prepared to pay for it. (And that includes those who have escaped taxation because their wealth is not in the form of taxable income.)

The solution is in our own hands.

* * *

“Please Explain” email sent to Education Minister, Hekia Parata,

|

From:      “Frank Macskasy” <fmacskasy@yahoo.com>
To:            hekia.parata@parliament.govt.nz
Date:        Sunday, 18 March, 2012 11:31 PM
Subject:  NCEA fees demanded from students

Kia ora Ms Parata,

I noted a recent media article which stated that “a $76.70 fee is stopping thousands of students from being awarded NCEA credits they have achieved” and that “all high school pupils who sit NCEA must pay the fee to their school and those who don’t will not have their achievements formally awarded, meaning some students have to re-sit assessments in order to complete NCEA levels. In 2010 more than 3000 students did not have their achievements formally awarded”.

Could you please comment on this issue and explain why, when we supposedly have free education in this country, that NZQA is demanding a fee from students in return for awarding their NCEA  Credits?

Is this National policy and does the government stand by this?

Link: http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/education/6593846/NCEA-fee-shuts-out-hard-up-students

-Frank Macskasy
Blogger,
Frankly Speaking

|

* * *

|

Related Blogpost

What will be her future?

|

|

= fs =

Advertisements

What will be her future?

18 March 2012 4 comments

|

|

I was looking at several images taken from the March 10 rally and the port picket lines, and for some reason, this one stuck in my mind. The more I look at the image of this young Kiwi girl (I hope I haven’t got that wrong!),  it eventually came to me.

In my mind, I was wondering; what will be her future?

Depending very much on what my generation (“Baby Boomers”) and Gen X does now, in the Present, she probably has three likely futures ahead of her…

Future 1

More of the same. Casualisation of jobs; wages driven downward as businesses compete with each other, and overseas providers of goods and services;  few job opportunities except in  low-paid fast food, care-sector, cleaning, and suchlike. A wealth/income gap that has become so vast that even the Middle Class are now designated as the Shrinking Class. Top earners and asset-holders – the Privileged Class – are paying less and less tax; low income earners having to pay more and more; with fewer social services  readily available. More user-pays; more alienation; less engagement with the electoral process.

This young lass cannot escape to Australia as she is either unemployed or under-employed. She is part of a growing Struggling Class that is resented by the Shrinking Class, and viewed with disdain by the Privileged Class, though grudgingly accepted as a useful pool of cheap labour.

The Shrinking Class know in their heart-of-hearts that they are living under a failed economic system that benefits only a few. But they are too frightened to vote for an alternative centre-left Party; they fear the back-lash from an angry under-class only too happy to exact revenge.

Meanwhile, the Baby Boomer generation has hit retirement – but there are few skilled care-workers left in New Zealand. So the government imports migrant workers from Third World countries under a bonded-system (so they cannot, in turn, escape to Australia). Taxation levels are now so low that government subsidies have ceased and  full user-pays is now in effect for Rest homes. Baby boomers are selling up their residences and investment properties; the market is flooded with cheaper and cheaper houses – but with incomes so low, few can afford to buy them. Those that are sold reap less and less capital gains.

Future 2

More of the same, but she has been fortunate enough to be able to find resources and support from whanau over-seas – and she is of to Australia.

In Australia, she finds a relatively good job with decent pay. Her work conditions are protected by a strong Union; she has access to decent social services; and the government assists her and her new partner to build a house. They are both working; earning higher and higher incomes; and contributing to Australia’s economy and tax-base.

In a year or two, she helps other members of her family escape from New Zealand.

They leave behind a no-longer-smiling Prime Minister who is promising to “revitalise the economy” to “entice overseas Kiwis to come back” – then cuts another  1,000 workers from the State Sector and sells the last remaining profitable State Owned Enterprise.

Future 3

New Zealanders’ appetite for New Right, minimalist government, that has produced very few gains or benefits – has come to an end. The Smile & Wave Prime Minister is thrown out at the next election where he retires to his Hawaiian beach house, and is forgotten.

Meanwhile, a new centre-Left government takes stock and adopts a Scandinavian model of governance, taxation, and social services. The new government starts off with a crash programme of building 10,000 new state houses.  Free school meals for breakfast and lunch starts in the first year. Free doctor’s visits and boosting immunisation rates up to 99% follows. New Zealand returns to a system of free education. (Howls of protest from a few remaining New Right supporters are either ignored or ridiculed. Some are offered a free plane flight to a Libertarian-run state of their own choosing – if they can find one.)

Amongst this “radical” social democratic reform, the young girl above is supported by well-resourced local community groups and by strengthened state social services to journey through the education system. A new “Social Contract” requires that all young people will be in education; a job; or serving in a new New Zealand Civic Corp, which involves fair pay for working on major  infra-structure projects and ongoing tertiary/polytech education.

A Capital Gains Tax and Financial Transactions Tax,  is a first step toward capturing heretofore un-taxed wealth and assets. As returns from these taxes kick in, the government makes the first $11,000 of income tax free. As incomes increase, government looks at Gareth Morgan’s “negative tax” system.

The young girl has grown, graduated, and is now working in the community in the children’s health sector. Her education is on-going, as the State encourages workers to undertake further tertiary education. This increases her productivity and value to society, and she is paying more in tax as her income rises. She is a saving some of her pay in an expanded Kiwisaver Account;  spending more; and local businesses are benefitting from her expenditure. She meets a young man who is finishing his Builder’s Certificate through the NZ Civic Corp.

Together, they have a family.  One stays at home to care for the family, the other remains in paid work. The negative taxation system advocated by Gareth Morgan has been implemented and the stay-at-home parent still recieves an income from the State. People are not disincentivised to have children; raise a family;  who then grow up to be the next generation of tax-paying citizens.

With none of the pressures that young families are currently facing, their home is not stressed because of financial pressures and job uncertainty/insecurity, and the children are raised in a stable, relaxed environment. The children’s future ahead of them is reassured; early childhood education; schooling; tertiary education; and finally tax-paying citizens.

In this reformed society, children are number one on the list and will always have first recourse to resources. The Prime Minister is Minister for Children.

In school, civics is part of the curriculum, and young people are taught recent history of our country; the mistakes we have made; and how they can hold politicians to account.

Meanwhile, she has persuaded some of her whanau to return to New Zealand. They like what they see and can feel themselves ready to become a part of a true, inclusive New Zealand Society.

* * *

The best thing about the three futures I’ve described above? The power to choose which one we’ll have is entirely in our hands. No one else can give or take it away from us.

Which is it to be, I wonder?

|

|

= fs =

Categories: Social Issues Tags:

It’s becoming fairly apparent that…

18 March 2012 1 comment

… whatever John Key says, the opposite will occur.

Just sayin’.

|

|

= fs =

Categories: The Body Politic Tags: ,

Port Dispute Updates

|

|

15 March

From Save Our Port.Com,

Ports of Auckland workers will be boosted by several displays of support and solidarity this weekend, the Maritime Union said today.

And  on Saturday, workers will enjoy a very relevant musical show.

Chris Prowse, the musician behind the Trouble on the Waterfront album and show which was used to mark the 60th anniversary of the 1951 Waterfront Dispute, will perform at Teal Park around 11am on Sunday.

On Thursday, Bishop Muru Walters of Wellington visited the Teal Park camp along with members of the Anglican Social Justice Commission.

Earlier this week Bishop Walters had said “I am a bishop from the north. When people in the north hurt, I hurt.   When their security is put under threat, so is mine. I will stand in solidarity with the workers on the picket line. We need to remember that people are the most important thing: the security of families and especially children.”

Maritime Union National President Garry Parsloe said Ports workers deeply appreciated the support and solidarity shown by people across Auckland, other parts of New Zealand, and from workers’ unions internationally.”

|

|

* * *

Meanwhile,

The Ports of Auckland has agreed not to take any further action over redundancies ahead of a meeting next week.

The port has agreed with the Employment Court not to take further steps in the redundancy process or engage with contractors until after a judicial settlement conference is held on Monday.

The Maritime Union had gone to the court claiming Ports of Auckland had not followed the correct process when deciding to make 292 workers redundant.” – Port agrees to pause redundancies

This is a reasurring position by POAL management. Hopefully cooler, saner heads have prevailed within POAL’s Board and management team.

In reality, I suspect that pressure brought to bear on POAL is having some effect on otherwise intransigent employer. (Little wonder that Board Chairman Richard Pearson has taken over from CEO Tony Gibson, as the “front person” for the company. Notice how all media contacts are now with Pearson? Normally, it is CEOs that front for an organisation – not Board members nor chairpeople.)

The public rally on 10 March,  with an estimated 5,000 attending, must have sent shock waves through POAL  and the Mayor’s office, who suddenly decided to intervene and offer to mediate.  Still uncompromising, POAL was not prepared to do it’s part,  and POAL chairman, Richard Pearson said:

It’s all over. We’ve made the decision.”

Mr Pearson may have spoken too soon.

* * *

On the same day, the port dispute was firmly on Auckland Council’s agenda at an Extraordinary Meeting.  The “hot”  issues were POAL’s decision to sack 292 Port workers, and the mysterious “12%” ROE figure that was being bandied about.

Note: It’s intriguing that even Gary Swift, CEO of Auckland Council Investments Ltd (ACIL) was unable to explain to Cr Richard Northey just precisely where the “12%” figure had originated from.

In a memo to Mr Swift,  dated 20 January, Cr Richard Northey wrote,

What was the origin and the justification for the above KPI [12%]? The Accountability and Performance Committee on 9 November [2011] was assured that this was an appropriate stretch target, but where did it originate from, and what was the basis and evidence for choosing that number?”

Mr Swift replied, in a memo dated 27 January,

I’m not exactly sure where the return on equity [ROE] target of 12% originated. I know that the current rate of return was universally considered to be far too low and I recall discussions with the Mayor  along those lines as well. The current rate of return is about  6% and a suitable stretch target was that it be doubled. I think Doug McKay may have suggested 12% when he met with the POAL Board. The origin is less important than whether it was achievable.  In discussions  with POAL we asked them whether it was possible and what would have to change to achieve it.

Which is not just intriguing – but critical to this issue, as Board members and Management are performance-assessed on “KPIs” – Key Performance Indicators.  How can a Board member or Management be assessed against a ROE (Return on Equity) – if that figure’s provenance or legal standing – cannot be established?!

Stating that “the origin is less important than whether it was achievable” is a nonsense. Of course it is important! It the responsibility of the Auckland Council to set target goals. Council Organisations (CO) and Council Controlled Organisations (CCO) Boards cannot pluck figures out of thin air and implement shonkey numbers as policy!

Sections 90 and 91 of  Local Government (Auckland Council) Act 2009 state fairly clearly the powers of Auckland Council to make policy to “identify or define any strategic assets in relation to each substantive council-controlled organisation and set out any requirements in relation to the organisation’s management of those assets, including the process by which the organisation may approve major transactions in relation to them” (Section 90/2/e) .

Cr Richard Northey also moved, seconded by Cr Casey,  that,

a) That the attached correspondence between the Chairperson of the Accountability and Performance Committee and the Chief Executive of Auckland Council Investments Limited in January 2012 be received.

b) That the Governing Body endorse the attached statement on the Port dispute made by the Chairperson of the Accountability and Performance Committee at its meeting held on 9 February 2012.

c) That the resolutions from the Albert/Eden, Waitemata and Maungakiekie-Tamaki Local Boards be received.

d) That the Governing Body express to the Ports of Auckland and to the Maritime Union:

i) its strong desire for an immediate return to good faith bargaining aimed at the achievement of a fair collective agreement that further significantly improves port efficiency, and

ii) its opposition to the redundancy and contracting out of 292 port workforce positions as proposed.

( Cr Northey withdrew parts d) i) and ii) with the agreement of the meeting, following legal advice on the role and powers of the Council.)

Cr Casey amended Cr Northey’s motion with this addition,

That the 12% return on equity from Ports of Auckland be reviewed at the earliest opportunity by the Accountability and Performance Committee, at the latest by its meeting of 4 April 2012.

Even though the  motion had been gutted, and the amendment regarding the “12%”  called only for a “review” – it was defeated by five votes to eleven;

For:

Councillors: Dr Cathy Casey
Alf Filipaina
Mike Lee
Richard Northey
Wayne Walker

Against:

Mayor: Len Brown
Councillors:Cameron Brewer
Hon Chris Fletcher
Ann Hartley
Penny Hulse
Des Morrison
Calum Penrose
Dick Quax
Sharon Stewart
Penny Webster
George Wood

Little wonder that Brian Rudman, writing in the NZ Herald, summed up the decision of the Council thusly,

Rhetoric to one side, you have to agree. Auckland’s rulers surrendered power to the unelected yesterday with hardly a whimper.”

Even more incredible was to follow, when the Mayor then put the original motion again, this time  in two parts:

a) That the attached correspondence between the Chairperson of the Accountability
and Performance Committee and the Chief Executive of Auckland Council
Investments Limited in January 2012 be received.

That was carried.

The next part,

b) That the Governing Body endorse the attached statement on the Port dispute made
by the Chairperson of the Accountability and Performance Committee at its meeting
held on 9 February 2012.

… was defeated, 6 votes to 10.  Having moved the motion, Len Brown then voted against it. Silly buggers or what?!

For:

Councillors: Dr Cathy Casey
Alf Filipaina
Penny Hulse
Mike Lee
Richard Northey
Wayne Walker
Against:

Mayor: Len Brown
Councillors: Cameron Brewer
Hon Chris Fletcher
Ann Hartley
Des Morrison
Calum Penrose
Dick Quax
Sharon Stewart
Penny Webster
George Wood

This bit is important. It relates to a report made bt Cr Richard Northey, from the Accountability and Performance Committee , which he chairs. Specifically, the defeated motion refers to a meeting of his Committee held  on 9 February 2012. See document here on page 15. The report states, in part,

“… The Port Company should make every effort to achieve a good new collective agreement because of the potential damage to the Auckland economy that could well result from acting to contract out the workforce.

[abridged]

… “I support the Port Company seeking to make work practices of the Port more flexible to make an already efficient Port of Auckland more efficient and effective. However, keeping a directly employed and fully engaged workforce is preferred because it materially  contributes to that objective much more than contracting it out. “

The full document is worth reading.

That is the report that 10 councillors (including the mayor) voted against. ‘Dem words in Cr Northey’s report – dey must be powerful ju-ju magic, to have rejected it’.

* * *

16 March

A fund-raising event was held in Wellington on Friday evening. Primarily a social gathering, the 200+ who attended were addressed by CTU Secretary, Peter Conway.

Peter spoke with a calm, but confident voice and thanked people for coming to the fund-raiser. He said events like these, to support striking workers whose jobs were under threat,  was a “time when our values are tested“. He acknowledged that we were living in tough times but fundraisers were critical when faced with a well-resourced, determined, and often quite nasty opposition.

He added that for the most part, “workers are not at war with their employers – like some are” and that whilst this government had increased taxes for workers and beneficiaries – that the taxcuts had benefitted mostly the rich.

Peter referred to the manner in which industrial disputes were being fought, and that there was a “dirty” campaign to smear Helen Kelly and others, through certain internet websites. He added that Gary Parslow from the Maritime Union was working hard on behalf of his union members – and had not had a day of or weekend in three months.

Peter added that the good news was that a $2,000 dollar donation had been made to the Meatworkers Union in their fight against Talleys, and that morale on picket lines was still strong. He said we had to fight this, because casualisation would end up with “hours of work being txt-messaged to you – that’s where it’s heading“.

This blogger contributed to the collection-bucket being passed around – which was being filled generously by those in attendance.

|

Nick Kelly, addressing the gathering.

|

Delegates from striking Oceania Rest Home workers addressing the gathering. Morale was high, and workers were prepared for strike action on Monday, throughout the country.

|

17 March

|

And just in case the striking Port workers needed a morale boost, it came in the form of visiting Aussie rugby league players from  the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, who visited Ports of Auckland workers to show their support.

|

Bulldogs on ports of auckland picket line.

|

They also handed over a cheque for $20,000 to assist the workers’ fighting fund.  As some have remarked, Rugby League is the working man’s (and woman’s!) game!

NZ Maritime Union national president Garry Parsloe said,

It was great. They’re all the way over from Australia and came and stood beside working class people that are getting bashed around by their employer.”

Also on the picket line in Auckland, a couple of familiar faces,

|

Bulldogs and actors on Ports of Auckland picket line.

|

And yesterday, that tireless champion of New Zealand workers, Helen Kelly, was out and about on St Patrick’s Day! The power of the Irish be with ye, lassie!
|

|

* * *

Upcoming

OCEANIA NATIONWIDE STOPWORKS

BE FAIR TO THOSE WHO CARE!

Hundreds and hundreds of SFWU and NZNO members from over 50 Oceania rest homes held nationwide stopworks on 14 March. In Auckland our members marched on Oceania Head Office.  Members overwhelmingly endorsed further strike action. More strike action is planned for 19 March.

Support our members standing up for fair pay and quality care. Look out for details of how you can support pickets on 19 March.

|

* * *

|

What You can do to help:

Every little bit mounts up into an irresistable power – People Power!

*

Petition

Ports of Auckland workers are under attack from casualization and contracting out. Port workers have a right to secure employment. We want management to return to negotiations with the workers to agree on an outcome providing for secure employment and a productive and successful Port operation that benefits Aucklanders.”

Sign Petition Here

|

*

Donate to the Fighting Fund,

Internet/Bank Depost:

The Maritime Union of New Zealand has established a fund for supporters of the Save Our Port campaign to make donations to. This is a major dispute and any assistance you can give is appreciated.

Bank of New Zealand account 02-0560-0450165-004

Account name MUNZ NATFIGHTINGFUND

Please make a note of your name and/or organization if you wish to when making your deposit.

If you wish to confirm your donation please email us with the details.

Via 0900 Automatic $5 donation (+ 50 cents charge)

0900 6877 678

*

Buy a T-Shirt!

|

|

We have a limited number of Save Our Port t-shirts left – Men’s sizes S, M, L and XL, $25 each – email julie.fairey@gmail.com to get yours.

*

Stay staunch, folks – justice is on your side!

*

|

|

= fs =