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Can you feel it?

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People

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The Arab Spring, the Occupation Movement, Turkey, Brazil… something is happening. We are witnessing history being made. Those who Rule and those who Profit are being challenged…

The 21st Century is where it begins… (apologies to ‘Torchwood’ for nicking their slogan)

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National dragged kicking and screaming to the breakfast table

23 June 2013 3 comments

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We all instinctively know that hungry kids aren’t happy and healthy kids.  I want this to be the first of many schools and businesses that we put together.  I’m interested in what works and I am humbled by the support this idea has received already.  We are going to put together the package while in Opposition. We are not waiting to be in Government, because all our kids deserve better.”  –  John Key, 4 February 2007

Mounting pressure on National has finally yielded results; Prime Minister Key today announced that funding would be provided for some food in schools.

It’s a limited programme;

  1. Increasing the ‘KickStart’ School breakfast programmes from two to five days a week
  2. $9.5 million over five years from the State
  3. A further $9.5 million to be sought from Fonterra and Sanitarium
  4. $1.5 million to Kidscan over three years to provide clothes, health and hygiene products to children from poor families
  5. Targetting  schools with decile rating 1-4. (“Higher decile schools that want and need it, can opt in during 2014“, says Paula Bennett. see:  Breakfast programme part of the solution)

It’s a basic breakfast, weetbix and milk. But it’s a damn sight better than nothing. Anything that gives hungry children a better chance at some basic nutrition and a better chance at learning, has to be welcomed.

Never mind National’s core-support naysayers. They most likely never had to endure any degree of hunger (except maybe getting home late to a dinner of salmon, courgettes, greek-style salad, with a decent pinot gris).

The only thing that worries me is that this $19 million programme relies heavily on support from private companies; Fonterra and Sanitarium. Either one of those companies could pull the plug, citing commercial reasons; shareholder dissatisfaction;  or no particular reasons at all.

This happened in mid 2011, when the Countdown Supermarket chain withdrew it’s support from a Red Cross-operated programme. As the Herald report on 27 May 2011;

Child poverty campaigners want the Government to take over feeding hungry children in low-income schools after the supermarket chain Countdown torpedoed a Red Cross breakfast programme.

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Countdown spokesman Luke Schepen said the supermarket chain gave more than $1 million in food and other help to the Red Cross breakfast programme from its start in 2007 until the end of last year.

It advised the schools to apply to the Kickstart programme run by Fonterra and Sanitarium, which provides milk and cereal to more than 400 schools twice a week.

Acknowledgment – NZ Herald – Govt urged to take over school food programme

It’s interesting that Countdown began it’s assistance in 2007. That was the year that then-leader of the Opposition, John Key, launched National’s own Food in Schools  initiative;

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National launches its Food in Schools programme

Acknowledgment – Scoop – National launches its Food in Schools programme

Two years after Key released the policy statement above, Countdown withdrew from the programme. A cynic might suggest that Countdown had fulfilled it’s bargain with National and could safely walk away.

Is that what we’ll see with Fonterra and/or Sanitarium? That, after a couple of years, when the issue of hungry kids has faded from public consciousness, Fonterra and/or Sanitarium will announce their withdrawal from the ‘KickStart’ programme?

Considering that Fonterra is a farmers co-op and the rural community have traditionally voted National; and considering that the Seventh Day Adventist church is a conservative religious group, whose members most likely also vote National – these are natural allies to the Tories.

Let’s hope that this is not a cunning trick by National to down-play this problem and  create a false assurance to the public that the government is “doing something”. That really would be cynical.

Some final points…

The Polls

Of all the reassuring events recently, two polls on TV1 and TV3 reconfirmed my faith in the generosity of most New zealanders. Both  showed over-whelming support for introducing food in schools;

TV1

In favour: 70%

Opposed: 26%

Undecided: 4%

TV3

In favour: 74%

Opposed: 23%

Undecided: 3%

Most surprisingly, Patrick Gower revealed that 66% of National voters were in favour of a Food In Schools programmes, with only a “hard core” of one third opposing it.

Well done those 66%. You folk still have a soul and a heart.

The Naysayers

Your naked selfishness and utter  lack of empathy verges on the  sociopathic. You would condemn innocent children to hunger simply because of some twisted, perverted desire to punish  parents who don’t measure up to your own precious ‘standards’.

Really, go fuck yourselves.

The Public

As Hone Harawire pointed out yesterday (27 May) on TV3, it was public pressure that forced National to pay attention to this growing problem in our society, and to come up with something – anything! – as a solution.

It is inconceivable that we  cannot do something for the children of the poorest families in our own country. Especially when Sweden, the UK, Canada, etc, already offer this most basic service.

Why do we call New Zealand “Godzone” if not to practice what we preach in terms of egalitarianism and helping one another.

This achievement was the result of  a broad people’s movement. Whether it was Bryan Bruce and his incredible  documentary, “Inside Child Poverty“- or individual citizens such as this Facebook user wrote,

The simplest way to address this would be to increase the minimum wage, my wife teaches in a decile 1 school many parents who are working are struggling. Living in the eastern bay of plenty average incomes here are the lowest in NZ. Parents working as pickets or packers in the kiwifruit industry earn bugger all. The myth that those struggling to feed their kids are on the dole is exacting that, many are working long hours , but if you are on the minimum hourly rate in NZ, you only need a doctors bill, or. Car repairs and your family budget is negatively impacted. The concentration of wealth in New Zealand was never better illustrated, than when recently it was revealed that, the CEO of solid energy NZ was suspended on indefinite leave on full pay at home gardening on $5,000 a week. Contrast that with people working 40 hours plus a week and end up with less that $350.00. Lift the minimum hourly rate so working parents don’t have to struggle to put food in the table…” – Alex Dobie

– Thousands of New Zealanders put unrelenting pressure on National and sent one, simple, message to John Key; do the right thing.

The Message

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from:     Frank M <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to:     Sunday Star Times <letters@star-times.co.nz>
date:     Tue, May 28, 2013 at 12:36 PM
subject:     Letters to the editor

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The Editor
SUNDAY STAR TIMES
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Sir/madam,

National’s “food in schools” programme relies heavily on the private sector (Sanitarium, Fonterra, etc) to provide breakfasts in schools.

The problem with this policy is that a private business offering charity can walk away any time it decides, leaving the programme unsupported.

Prime Minister Key says,

“This is something that corporates do because they have a corporate social responsibility. So I’d imagine there are situations where they could walk away but they’re pretty unlikely to because it’s pretty good for their brand – because it’s genuinely a nice thing that they’re doing.” (28 May)

“Pretty unlikely”? Really?

That is precisely what happened in mid-2011 when the Countdown supermarket chain withdrew contributing to the Red Cross’s food in school programme.

Let’s hope we don’t see a replay of that event.

On a related note, it is appropriate for Sanitarium to be contributing to a Food in Schools programme. Being owned by the Seventh Day Adventist church, Sanitarium pays little or  no taxes because it’s owner (the church) has charity status.

At least now Sanitarium can put something back into the community.

-Frank Macskasy

(address and phone number supplied)

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The Children

Whatever reservations I might have on National’s motivation and long-term agenda, the main thing here is that more children will  be fed at schools. That is a positive step, and one to be encouraged.

Until a Labour-Greens-Mana coalition can implement Hone Harawira’s Food In Schools Bill, National’s programme is better than nothing.

At least it will put nutrition into young, empty bellies. And really, that is what counts.

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“Please, Mr Key, sir, may I have some more?”

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 28 May 2013.

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Previous related blogposts

National on Child Poverty?!

On child poverty, to the Sunday Star Times…

Budget 2013: Suffer the little children… to starve

Budget 2013: Child poverty, food in schools, and National’s response

References

Scoop:  National launches its Food in Schools programme  (

NZ Herald: Govt urged to take over school food programme (27 May 2011)

Beehive: Breakfast programme part of the solution (28 May 2013)

Dominion Post:  Key: Food in schools here to stay  (28 May 2013)

NZ Herald:  Schools gets $9.5m breakfast funding boost (28 May 2013)

Radio NZ:  Govt gives $9.5m to expand food in schools programme (28 May 2013)

Dominion Post: Govt rolls out expanded food in schools (28 May 2013)

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Westpac, Peter Dunne, & Edward Snowden…

23 June 2013 7 comments

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Edward Snowden Charged With Espionage Over NSA Leaks

Acknowledgement: Huffington Post –  Edward Snowden Charged With Espionage Over NSA Leaks

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Are we  witnessing the first green buds of the Earth Spring?  All over the world, the winds of change are blowing harder and harder.

The Arab Spring was first, and people rose up against dictators in Algeria, Egypt, and Libya. In Syria, a similar popular uprising  turned into a bloody sectarian war, claiming nearly a hundred thousand lives. Dictator Assad will not give up power easily.

In the West, the Occupation movement flowered for a brief moment, but has become dormant again… for a while.

In Turkey and Brazil, people have come out onto the streets to oppose their  governments. Even democratically elected governments are feeling the brunt of popular discontent.

In the US, even as a once great symbol of freedom devolves into a police surveillance state, individuals are risking personal safety and rebelling.

Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden are two such men.

Manning was arrested in May 2010, and is currently facing a military trial (and we know how that will turn out).

Now, Edward Snowden is the latest whistleblower to be charged by an American system that is becoming more and more despotic.

When a government fears it’s own people, it is well past it’s Use By date.

Bradley and Snowden: history books will be kinder to them than the politicians who persecuted them.

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Dunne hasn't made up mind about GCSB bill

Acknowledgement: Radio NZ –  Dunne hasn’t made up mind about GCSB bill

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Edward Snowden made public information that revealed that US intelligence agencies were spying on citizens in countries around the world. He revealed that no one’s privacy  was safe.

Meanwhile, here in New Zealand, the National led government is rushing a Bill through Parliament that would permit the GCSB to do precisely that; spy on New Zealanders.

We have moved from a nation that barely tolerated the State from prying into our lives – to one that is surveilling us; storing vast quantities of data on us; and now wants more power to spy on us.

There is barely a murmur in response.

Even the Right Wing – the political spectrum that is  (supposedly) the most intolerant and suspicious of  the growth of  State power – seems to be practically comatose. Though in reality that may be because National is proposing the law-change, and not Labour. If it were a Labour government…

Peter Dunne, fresh from  resigning his ministerial portfolios for allegely leaking the Kitteridge Report (or, more accurately, breaking an embargo, since it was one week away from being released anyway), has yesterday  announced that he might not support National’s  Government Communications Security Bureau and Related Legislation Amendment Bill.

Whilst I’m not about to look a gift-moa in the mouth and happily support Dunne on this – it does raise a few questions.

Questions like… why?!?! Up till now he has been  the obedient lap-cat of the National Party, so why all of a sudden has the Coiffured One grown a pair, and practically thrown his lot in with the Snowdens and Mannings of this world?

Martyn Bradbury on The Daily Blog has been speculating on Dunne’s motivations in his part of the GCSB Affair in a series called The Dunne & Vance Theory.

Whatever is going on – I hope Dunne votes against the Bill. We don’t need to empower our spy agencies any more than they are already. We need to remember that the State is our servant – not the other way around.

We don’t need to be constantly surveilled, in case one of us happens to nick a pen or spray-paints ‘Key Sucks’ on the footpaths outside Parliament.

Up until the 21st century, the State pursued crooks after they committed wrong-doing. Now, the State seems intent on watching us all – in case someone, somewhere, is naughty.

Isn’t that… Big Brother?

I support Dunne on this dire issue. It is time to call a halt to the rise of the Surveillance State.

Dunne may well be the man to do it.

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Govt move to tender banking gets Green approval

Acknowledgement: Radio NZ – Govt move to tender banking gets Green approval

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I’ve always wondered…

Why have successive governments (Labour as well as National)  used Australian-owned Westpac Bank to hold government accounts – known as the ‘Master Banking Contract’?   The Master Banking Contract has been held by  Westpac for 23 years despite never  being tendered out.  It covers all government departments (except  Crown entities and  SOEs).

According to Alex Tarrant,

  • In the late 1980s, Treasury undertook an open tender to select one bank to provide the Crown’s domestic banking services. Westpac was selected to provide these services and a deed entered into in January 1989.
  • A new master agreement was signed in November 2004 and, since 2005, the Crown has negotiated ongoing contractual price reductions for contract services.
  • The contract covers only the core banking services associated with operating Government departments’ bank accounts for processing domestic receipt and payment transaction banking business in New Zealand.
  • An increasing array of banking services have developed over time that are not covered by the master banking agreement with Westpac. Banking services that are not covered by the contract are regularly tendered by the departments concerned.
  • The contract applies only to Government departments, not Crown Entities or SOEs.
  • The Treasury regularly consults with key departments over pricing and service levels relating to the contract, including the possibility of conducting a future tender of the Crown’s banking arrangements.
  • The contract has not been re-tendered to date because the costs of doing so outweigh the expected benefits given the complexity of arrangements with departments and the price reductions negotiated under the existing contract.  Departments do, however, tender for a range of supplementary banking services not covered by the master banking agreement with Westpac.
  • The fee arrangements between the Crown and Westpac are commercially sensitive and are not made public.

Acknowledgement: Interest.co.nz – Government considers future of Westpac’s key 21 year-old banking deal

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Here are two further points to consider,

  1. Last year Westpac NZ  reported   $707 million in after-tax profit  –  a 22 %  increase from 2011. (See: Westpac profit rises 22pc to $707m )
  2. In October 2009, the IRD won a lawsuit against Westpac which had been  taken to Court for tax avoidance. Not only did Westpace lose, but it ended up owing $961 million in back taxes and accrued interest. (See: Westpac loses massive tax case on all counts)

So, Mr Key or Mr English – just remind us again why the NZ Government still has a Master Contract for State banking, with a convicted tax avoider, that actively conspired to scam the tax-payer for nearly one billion dollars?!

How is that being a Good Corporate Citizen?

Perhaps we should just let the Russian Mafia tender for our banking services – the result would be the same.

So not only is Westpace making huge profits – $707 in 2012 alone – but they’re screwing us by not paying their share of tax, as the law demands.

Have I left anything out?

Screw the tender process.

Just give the Master Contract to Kiwi Bank. The benefits would be obvious to all but the most strident, dogmatic  right winger;

  1. No more tax avoidance – the Crown-appointed Board  (with Ministerial over-sight) would see to that,
  2. Kiwibank would make bigger profits and therefore pay a bigger dividend to the government,
  3. All profits remain in New Zealand and not shipped of overseas (to Australia in Westpac’s case)
  4. Less profits remitted overseas will help of balance of payments

Win/win/win/win.

I’m just gobsmacked that no politician – whether Labour or National – has ever seen the blindingly obvious nature of this commercial cock-up.

And strangely enough, it’s left-wing parties – Mana and the Greens – thay have to point this out to the more capitalist-minded Nats?!

Though the reasons why the Nats have stayed ‘sweet’ with Westpac seem to be less than commercially sensible and more to do with a good night out…

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Greens say govt must tender master banking contract with Westpac after Ministers reveal corporate hospitality accepted from the bank

Acknowledgement: Interest.co.nz – Greens say govt must tender master banking contract with Westpac after Ministers reveal corporate hospitality accepted from the bank

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Just to remind folks: New Zealand is the “least corrupt nation” on Earth. And government ministers are not corrupt, nor easily bought off by corporate parasites.

I can’t say otherwise.

Otherwise I’d be sued for telling the truth.

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Government Communications Security Bureau and Related Legislation Amendment Bill. – See more at: http://thedailyblog.co.nz/2013/06/21/surveillance-laws-strikebreaking-subversive-groups/#sthash.ky4ZiKiZ.dpuf