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I have seen one future, and it is bleak

31 October 2014 3 comments

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nz national party magazine cover

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Way back in March, 2012,  I wrote this story regarding a march to support striking workers at Ports of Auckland. It appears there was some prescience about some of my observations at the time…

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18 March 2012 – 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?

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Perhaps nothing better illustrates the three possible futures for the toddler pictured above than the all-too real – and thought-provoking – story of Aroha Ireland, formerly of low-income area, McGehan Close.

In February 2007, Key shamelessly exploited Aroha’s situation to attack the then-Labour-led government;

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Aroha Ireland, John Key, McGehan Close, Waitangi Day

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As I further reported on 23 November 2012 on Key’s cynical publicity stunt,

It’s somewhat disturbing to note that National list MP Jackie Blue, who had a close personal  relationship with Aroha’s family, played along with the photo-op. That was despite reservations expressed by some,

“Labour list MP Dover Samuels was the only one publicly labelling Mr Key’s invitation a stunt yesterday, but others quietly voiced similar concerns.”

The family, though, seemed blissfully unaware that they were little more than pawns in National’s pre-election grand strategy and expressed their comfort with events,

“…Mrs Nathan told Close Up last night that the invitation had given her daughter a good opportunity.

She continued to disagree with some of Mr Key’s views on McGehan Close, but she believed he was trying to push for positive changes.”

The 2007 episode ended badly for Aroha and her mother, as the NZ Herald reported on 10 February 2010,

The mother of the 12-year-old girl John Key took to Waitangi three years ago says she has been let down by the Prime Minister, and her daughter now wants nothing to do with him.

Joan Nathan said she and her family were worse off since National won the election.

She’d lost her job with National list MP Jackie Blue, arranged by Key, and a training allowance she received had been cut.

“They gave me the job to sweeten the deal, and then as soon as they got elected I got the sack,” she said.

“I’m pretty anti-Mr Key at the moment”..

[…]

“He’s just made everything worse for us and made it easier for ones that are higher up. I’m struggling every week.”

 

On 7 September this year, Fairfax Media published this up-dated story on  Aroha Ireland, formerly of  McGehan Close, and now residing comfortably in Australia;

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Aroha of McGehan Close flees NZ

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In his story above, Fairfax reporter Simon Day wrote,

Three years later Aroha, now 20, feels she was used by Key – and the Prime Minister won’t be getting her vote.

“The last time I spoke to him was when he took me to Waitangi Day. After that I have never heard from him again. I absolutely believe that I was used as a publicity stunt,” she says. “I wouldn’t vote for National.”

[…]

Now, she says, the opportunities she has in Australia just aren’t available here.

“I have a full time job that pays good, $38 an hour,” she says. “I have a house, rent is cheap, about $265 a week for 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, double garage, me and my husband are close to buying our own house. Life couldn’t be any better. There was nothing left in New Zealand.

“All this from someone who came from a ‘dead end’ street, right?”

She recently returned home to visit her mother. She couldn’t believe how expensive the price of living in New Zealand was compared to Australia.

“Petrol has shot up – $2 for petrol, really? I also brought about seven or eight items from one of the supermarkets and it came to a total of $78. No wonder people can’t fill their fridges. I’m glad I got out of New Zealand when I did.”

Over the past four years she has seen her mother’s financial situation worsen. “My mum works full time and she is still struggling really bad,” she says. “It is like she is worse off.”

“I have everything that I would never ever have in New Zealand. I would probably still be on the benefit if I lived in NZ right now.”

It seems that for Ms Ireland, of the three possible futures I outlined in 2012 – voters have chosen this path to follow;

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.

The economy in Australia may be slowing – but it still offers job prospects, housing opportunities, and social services that we here in New Zealand seem to be losing on a daily basis.

Especially when our housing crisis is worsening; child poverty continues to be a blight on our society; wages and wealth disparity continues to widen; social services are being pared back; and government is planning to introduce so-called “labour market reforms” that will further drive down wages, conditions, safety, etc.

This is what voters chose on 20 September.

However, be that as it may, there is one thing that every student of Quantum Theory understands – the future is never set in concrete.

The future can be changed.

Because it must.

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References

Fairfax media:  Aroha of McGehan Close flees NZ

NZ Herald: A Day Out with Friends In High Places

NZ Herald: Family still on struggle street after Key leaves

Scoop Media: Employment Relations Amendment Bill

Additional

NZ Herald: ‘No point’ in new state houses – Bill English

Acknowledgements

Election Commission: Orange Guy

Previous related blogposts

John Key: When propaganda photo-ops go wrong

National Housing propaganda – McGehan Close Revisited

What will be her future?

Other Blogs

The Daily Blog: Chocolate milk shortage and creepy Santa? Let’s talk about real news

The Daily Blog: Ideological Blitzkrieg – Privatization of state housing, more charter schools & more union crushing employment law

The Standard: Poverty and the need to belong

The Standard: No point in state houses

 

 


 

 

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 27 October 2014

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Guest Author: An Open Letter to John Key – Why should the PM be any different?

– Tim O’Shea

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Up Yours, New Zealand

 

 

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Dear John

This is a message for you – please refer to the attached photo.

I just wanted to make it clear that this is from me personally, as an individual, as a person, as someone’s brother, cousin, father and uncle. I’m not going to hide behind a weak excuse that I am instead doing this as an employee, as a professional, or any other weak as piss argument.

We are all accountable for our words and actions – we can not, with any credibility or integrity, even half-reasonably suggest that we can somehow separate or distance ourselves from inappropriate actions and behaviour on the basis that we did it as an individual, or “in the line of duty”, or vice versa!

We expect high standards from our All Blacks, or for that matter, anyone representing New Zealand. Would we accept the excuse that “I got pissed the night before a test match as an individual, not as an AB”?

Why should the PM be any different? This is the most important and prestigious (and in theory, most honourable and respected) position in the country. Why should we accept such low standards of behaviour and integrity from you, Mr Key?

I’m quite surprised that Bill Clinton didn’t just say “I put my willy where I shouldn’t have as an individual, and not as the President”. Of course, no one would have accepted this as a reasonable defence, and Bill Clinton wouldn’t dare to insult people’s intelligence with such a farcical argument.

However, Mr Key, you expect us all to accept much lower standards. You treat all New Zealanders like idiots.

What goes round comes around. Your time will come.

 

– Tim O’Shea

Letter to the editor – Key paints a dirty, great, big bullseye on our country!

25 October 2014 5 comments

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Frank Macskasy - letters to the editor - Frankly Speaking

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from: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to: Dominion Post <letters@dompost.co.nz>
date: Thu, Oct 23, 2014
subject: Letter to the editor

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The editor
Dominion Post

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On Radio NZ, on 23 October, I was gobsmacked to hear this from  our esteemed leader, John Key, when he spoke in relation to joining the US in some kind of military action against ISIS;

 

“What we’re doing is all humanitarian but if that position was to change, the advice we’ve had is there wouldn’t be a material change to the risk that New Zealanders face.

In other words, we potentially already face some international, regional, and who knows, even domestic risks and those don’t dramatically change.”

 

No “ material change to the risk that New Zealanders face” ? He actually thinks “we potentially already face some international, regional, and who knows, even domestic risks and those don’t dramatically change“!

Has he lost his mind?

We all know that Key is renowned for being “relaxed” and “comfortable”. I guess that’s what holidaying on a beach in Hawaii will do for a person.

But it beggars belief that a man of Key’s supposed education and awareness of world affairs believes  that participating in another American-inspired war would not paint a dirty big bullseye on New Zealand.

He is either (a) grossly ignorant (b) badly misinformed, or (c) playing us for fools.

-Frank Macskasy

[name and address supplied]

 

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References

Radio NZ: Access to Parliament to be restricted

Radio NZ: Listen to more on Checkpoint ( 2 min 58 sec )


 

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Skipping voting is not rebellion its surrender

Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen/Lurch Left Memes

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Letter to the editor – when a Terror Alert really was needed!

19 October 2014 4 comments

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Frank Macskasy - letters to the editor - Frankly Speaking

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from: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to: Sunday Star Times <letters@star-times.co.nz>
date: Tue, Oct 14, 2014
subject: Letter to the editor

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The editor
Sunday Star Times
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Our esteemed Prime Minister announces that our Terror Alert has “risen” from “very low risk” of a terror attack to a “low risk”. He says,

“We are moving up. So it’s as I’ve been saying, we wouldn’t want to overstate the risk, but New Zealand is becoming riskier,”

Perhaps there was a time, not too long ago, when a Terror Alert was necessary – but was not activated.

In October 2007, the good folk of Ruatoki  would have appreciated an alert that a gang of armed gun-men – commonly referred to as the ” Armed Offenders Squad” and “Special Tactics Group” were about to descend on their community and subject them to several days of terror.

It is supreme irony that the only acts of terror in this country, in living memory, were carried out by an ally bombing a ship in one of our harbours, and armed police descending in force on a peaceful village in the Ureweras.
It is not Islamic extremists that worry me as much as our so-called “friends” and our own government and State para-military.

A Terror Alert in such cases should always be set at Maximum Warning: Don’t trust the bastards.

-Frank Macskasy

 

 

[address & phone number supplied]

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References

TVNZ News: NZ ‘becoming riskier’ as terror alert raised


 

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Skipping voting is not rebellion its surrender

Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen/Lurch Left Memes

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Housing; broken promises, families in cars, and ideological idiocy (Part Rua)

18 October 2014 17 comments

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1949 state house in Taita

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Continued from: Housing; broken promises, families in cars, and ideological idiocy (Part Tahi)

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National’s housing development project: ‘Gateway’ to confusion

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Perhaps nothing better illustrates National’s lack of a coherent housing programme than the ‘circus’ that is their “Gateway” policy. The history of this project has to be seen to be believed. As I reported in November 2012;

October 2010: Gateway Project ON!

On 10 August 2010,  the resignation of  former Labour Pacific Island Affairs Minister, Winnie Laban,  triggered a by-election in the Mana electorate. National stood Hekia Parata, a List MP, as their candidate.

As part of National’s campaign to win Mana from Labour, Housing Minister Phil Heatley announced a new housing programme called the “Gateway Housing Assistance“. According to their press release,

Housing Minister Phil Heatley has today launched a new programme which will make it easier for first-time buyers and those on lower incomes to build or purchase their own homes.

Gateway Housing Assistance allows purchasers to build or buy a property but defer payment on the land.

“It is important the Government provides opportunities for people to move into home ownership. Affordable homes schemes such as Gateway is another way we can assist more people into a home of their own,” says Mr Heatley.

“Under Gateway full and final payment for the land can be deferred for up to ten years. This ten year period allows people on lower incomes to concentrate on designing and building, or buying, their homes before they assume the additional burden of paying for the land,” says Mr Heatley.”

It was an election stunt, of course. Much like National’s “sudden interest” in upgrading State housing in the Porirua area.

Three months, the by-election was won by  Kris Faafoi.

May 2012: Gateway Project OFF!

Having lost the 2010 Mana by-election, and as National scrambled to cut  state services; close schools; and scrap any  projects it could get away with (avoiding any public backlash in the process)  the “Gateway Housing Assistanceprogramme became a casualty,

John Key has defended a decision to cancel sales of affordable housing in an Auckland development, saying low interest rates are making it easier for first-time buyers and people on low incomes to afford their own homes.

The Hobsonville Point development, started in 2009, allocated up to 100 of 3000 houses under the Gateway scheme, a helping hand for lower-income first-home buyers who could not afford to buy in Auckland.

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The Prime Minister defended the decision not to include more of the Hobsonville development in the Gateway scheme.

“The Government has looked at that programme and decided that’s now not the most effective way of going forward”.”

Key added,

He said one of the positive stories at the moment was that mortgage rates had fallen.

“So we think the capacity for lower income New Zealanders to own their own home is greatly enhanced by the fact interest rates are lower.

“If you have a look at the average home owner in New Zealand, they are paying about $200 a week less in interest than they were under the previous Labour Government”.”

November 2012: Gateway Project ON (again)!

On 18 November, Labour Leader David Shearer delivered a speech to  his Party conference, promising to implement a mass-construction project to build 100,000 homes for desperate families.

Having gotten ‘wind’ of Shearer’s plans for “Kiwi Build”, National scrambled to dust off it’s Gateway Project, three days before the Labour leader’s speech,

The Government has reinstated plans to allocate a percentage of the houses at Hobsonville Point in Auckland as affordable homes priced under $485,000.”

Then Housing Minister, Phil Heatley, was keen to reassure the voting public that National would “do it’s bit” to help Kiwi “mums and dads” into their own homes – something that has become a distant dream during National’s term.

Even pro-National columnist, John Armstrong, was less than  impressed at the time,

“…when it comes to increasing the housing stock, there is not a lot central government can do unless it is willing to spend big bikkies.”

As was widely reported at the time, the so-called “Gateway Project” was less than a stirling success;

“In 2009, 100 of the 3000 homes at the development were tagged as affordable under the Gateway scheme, giving lower-income first-home buyers a helping hand.

Only 17 were sold, 14 for less that $400,000.”

As I pointed out two years ago – and not much seems to have changed in the interim under this government –

One aspect to Housing Minister Heatley’s press release (Hobsonville Point a boost for Auckland housing) that is painfully evident, is National’s luke-warm approach to the housing problem in this country.  Having read it, one cannot avoid the conclusion that their heart simply isn’t in it, and each word in their press release must have felt like pulling teeth.

Just by comparing the two releases of housing policies, one could easily gauge which Party was more enthusiatic;

National: a press release

Labour: a major policy speech,  given by the Leader of the Labour Party, at the Party annual conference, and released via television, internet, newspapers, etc.

National was not interested in assisting New Zealanders into their own homes. In this instance, National was more interested in trying to up-stage and undermine Labour’s release of  a major policy initiative.

October 2014: Gateway Project –  Status Unknown

As at this point, the status of Housing NZ’s ‘Gate Way‘ assistance project is uncertain, with a previous page on Housing NZ’s website now apparently a dead-link;

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Housing  NZ - Gateway assistance project - webpage

 

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“We’re sorry, but that page doesn’t exist” – is appropriate. The Gateway Project – after only seventeen homes sold under the scheme – seems to have been quietly canned. But as John Armstrong pointed out in 2012, the purpose of National’s quasi-housing “scheme” was not to build new homes for struggling New Zealanders;

“… the Government has finally steered political debate on to something it wishes to talk about, rather than being hostage to what Opposition parties would prefer to debate.”

High rents; growing unaffordability; a shortage of social housing; and growing homelessness – all impacted on our notion of having a decent roof over one’s head. News that,

“…more than half of New Zealand’s homeless were under 25, and a quarter were children. Most lived temporarily with friends or family, squeezed into living-rooms or garages, rather than on the streets.”

– was not what New Zealanders wanted to hear. Not in a nation that once prided itself on high rate of home ownership and the “quarter acre pavlova paradise” was deeply ingrained in the Kiwi psyche. That Paradise was fast disappearing, according to Richard Long, writing in the Dominion Post in 2012,

“So much for our quarter-acre pavlova paradise. The Government belatedly has come to the conclusion that something needs to be done about the failure of the housing market to provide the necessary land; and for resources, somehow, to be directed to providing low-cost housing instead of the present concentration on the expensive stuff.

All this is hardly new. I recall Helen Clark, when prime minister, lecturing me at a Wellington Cup meeting more than a decade ago about the need for land to be made available – at a reasonable price – to address the crisis. She surmised then that speculators were holding on to the land to gain higher returns. And she fingered, quite prophetically, the absurdity of house construction costing 30 per cent more in New Zealand than in Australia.

As the 2014 Election rolled closer, housing once again became a major election-issue. As Long wrote,

Now the Nats are going to have a go at solving the problem, with Finance Minister Bill English basically admitting the market system has failed.”

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Key’s promise – 25 February

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The sell-down of Air New Zealand, Genesis Energy, Mighty River Power, and Meridian raised approximately  $4.67 billion. This was a far cry from earlier expectations of   between $5 billion and $7 billion – and way below Key’s initial, wildly-optimistic forecast of $7 billion to $10 billion in January 2011,

“If we could do that with those five entities … if we can make some savings in terms of what were looking at in the budget and maybe a little on the upside you’re talking about somewhere in the order of $7 to $10 billion less borrowing that the Government could undertake.”

On 25 February 2014, Key announced an end to National’s asset sales programme,

“The truth is that there aren’t a lot of other assets that would fit in the category where they would be either appealing to take to the market or of a size that would warrant a further programme. Or they sit in the category where they are very large, like Transpower, but are a monopoly asset and so aren’t suited I think.”

He explained,

“Just as we did before the last election we’re making our position on share sales clear to New Zealanders before we go to the polls later this year.

We’ve achieved what we wanted with the share offers in energy companies and Air NZ. We’re now returning to a business-as-usual approach when it comes to [state-owned enterprises].”

Why was Key making such a clear promise to the electorate?

An earlier Roy Morgan Poll on 22 January 2014 – one month before Key announced a cessation of asset sales – would have sent National’s back-room strategists into a screaming tail-spin;

National: 43.5%

Labour: 33.5%

Greens: 12.5%

Those were heady days for National’s opponents, and a change in government seemed inevitable.

By committing National to an end to asset sales, Key was being strategic. He knew state asset sales were deeply unpopular with the public, and National did not want to risk giving opposition parties any further ammunition during what was then considered to be an up-coming, closely-fought election.

The polls (at the time) had forced National’s hand to acquiesce to public pressure. It would prove to be a pre-election promise they would regret later.

National made its panic-driven decision to abandon further asset sales at the same time that Fonterra announced at the end of February this year that it would be boosting it’s payout to dairy farmers,

Fonterra’s 35 cent lift in its milk price for the 2013-14 season to $8.65/kg milk solids means an extra half a billion in revenue for New Zealand.

The new forecast is a record payout from the co-operative and with the 10 cent kg/MS dividend on top, meant potential cash in hand for a fully shared up Fonterra farmer-shareholder of $8.75 kg/MS.

Federated Farmers’ dairy chairperson, Willy Leferink, was ebullient,

”In 2010, the NZIER said a $1 kg/MS rise in Fonterra’s payout makes every New Zealander nearly $300 better off.  Given this latest 35 cent kg/MS uplift, every New Zealander could be $100 better off as a result of what we do.”

It was also no doubt something that National was casting a keen eye over, as an increased Fonterra payout meant more tax revenue. National was ‘banking’ on high dairy prices to get it back to surplus by next year, 2015.

It would be a slim surplus of $372 million.

By 24 September, Fonterra had slashed it’s forecast payout down to $5.30/kg.

Prime Minister John Key was candid in the implications for the economy and the  government’s tax-take;

“It can have some impact because if that’s the final payout, the impact would be as large as NZ$5 billion for the economy overall, and you would expect that to flow through to the tax revenue, both for the 14/15 year and the 15/16 year. My understanding is Treasury is working on those numbers for the incoming Minister of Finance, which fortunately is the same as the outgoing Minister of Finance as well.

They are giving him (English) a bit of an assessment of what impact that might have. There’s a lot of different factors that go into that surplus. We expect it to have some impact and it’s a very narrow surplus. That doesn’t mean that we won’t achieve surplus. It means the Government will have to think through all of the issues here. There may be other options we choose to take.”

Bill English was already working on those “other options“. He needed to find $5 billion dollars to fill a hole left by collapsing international dairy prices.

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National’s pre-election policy: 2014

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National’s housing policies for the 20 September  election were ‘divvied’ up between first home buyers and ‘social’ housing. Note that throughout National’s policy document, they refer to “social housing” and “state housing” is referred to as “state houses”  only in terms of properties, not as a policy term.

For first home buyers, National was prepared to allow Kiwisaver investors to effectively ‘raid’ their savings and use the funds for a deposit for a house purchase. Aside from further pushing up the price of a limited availability of properties, this is hardly what Dr Michael Cullen had in mind when he set up Kiwisaver in July 2007. Saving for home ownership and saving for retirement are not necessarily the same thing.

On 24 August 2014, Key stated in a speech,

“The policy will help tens of thousands more first home buyers achieve their dream of home ownership. It will get young families started building what for most will be their biggest asset.

National backs young Kiwis who are disciplined, save up and want to put a deposit down on a house.  National values home ownership.  That’s because it provides stability for families, strength for communities and security in retirement.”

However, not all New Zealanders  are fortunate enough to be in high-paying jobs where they can afford to “save up and want to put a deposit down on a house” – and pay high rent whilst doing so in rented accomodation.

Whether the houses are actually there to buy is also a moot point.

To date, this country has been woefully short of supplying new, mid-priced homes, to meet demand. Instead, ” the majority of new homes today are upmarket affairs“, as Rebecca Macfie reported for ‘The Listener‘ in July 2012.

The problem, simply, is insufficient supply to meet demand – especially of affordable properties. According to National’s policy, they need to find “ 90,000 lower and middle income first home buyers into their own home over the next five years” – a policy sounding remarkably similar to Labour’s 100,000 new homes over a space of ten years.

National’s social housing policy was more vague, with passing reference only to social housing providers other than Housing NZ;

What we will do next…

Continue helping those in most need

Support a growing role for community housing providers in delivering social housing through the social housing fund and Housing New Zealand.

In case the page mysteriously disappears (as have other National Party policy releases), the relevent section of the  Social Housing page   is posted here;

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National Party - 2014 election - social housing policy - Housing NZ

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There was  no mention of things to come once the election was over. Certainly no mention of a mass housing sell-off,  which could also be described as  a partial asset-sale of Housing NZ.

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English Blames Everyone Else

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On 7 October, as the National government faced increasing pressure over New Zealand’s growing economic and housing problems, Finance Minister Bill English made this bizarre accusation against local bodies;

“The growth in housing costs over time, to the point where you’re seeing families spending 50 or 60 percent of their income on housing – that’s pretty devastating at the low end.

So councils need to understand that when they run these policies that restrict the availability of land and the opportunity for lower value housing they are causing poverty.”

It was an accusation that startled city leaders from one end of the country to the other, from Auckland to Christchurch.

Green co-leader Metiria Turei was speaking for hundreds of local body elected leaders when she quite rightly pointed out,

“Nowhere in any report from any non-government organisation or Government department has urban planning been blamed for child poverty.

What I think is happening is Bill English is trying to divert attention from the fact that the solutions are obvious and within the power of the Government to implement, but they don’t want to.”

Interestingly, as reported in the same Radio NZ story,

ANZ chief economist Cameron Bagrie said restrictions around the availability of land had affected housing affordability but it wasn’t the only factor to blame for poverty.

He said there were a lot of other challenges behind the scenes, and there was no one-size-fits-all solution to make houses more affordable.

Mr Bagrie said housing unaffordability was possibly due to wages being too low.

In essence, if workers’ remuneration is too low, they cannot purchase the consumer goods and services their society produces.

English, though, was not blaming Councils simply because he was having on “off day”. His diatribe was part of a carefully-calculated agenda, and National’s attack on Local Bodies was  part of a slowly unfolding plan.

He was looking for $5 billion, and there was precious little loose change behind the sofa cushions in the Beehive. Also, as Key had promised on 25 February 2014, National’s asset sales programme had been completed, and there would be no further full-scale privatisation of SOEs.

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Key’s promise – 6 October

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On 6 October, both Key and English made public statements that, on the face of things, seemed to be at variance with each other.

Key said that the government would not “you know, go crazy” selling Housing New Zealand homes

Yet, at the same time, he made clear what his interest in Housing NZ was;

“Housing’s a big issue, I think, for the Government; it’s a big issue for New Zealand and there’s specific parts to that.

So what we’ve done there is to have Bill English as the Minister of Finance responsible for what is a very big asset now in the Government’s balance sheet: Housing New Zealand. About NZ$15 billion worth of assets there.”

Now, in theory, with the income related rents there is a cash flow there that should allow them to actually go and build their housing stock. That is at way too slow a rate than what the government would like to see. So if you think NZ$15.5 billion sitting there for Housing New Zealand and NZ$100 million sitting in social housing, that mix is wrong and I think there is a real opportunity here to potentially change that dynamic and I want to see a lot more work done in that area.”

Part of National’s new agenda was Key’s intention to create a ministerial team compromising of Bill English, Paula Bennett and Nick Smith. The three ministers “would work together on housing issues”.  But the crucial, critical appointment was Bill English, who would take responsibility for Housing New Zealand.

Bill English; Finance Minister and now also Minister Responsible for HNZC (Housing New Zealand Corporation)?  What was the connection between the two portfolios?

As well as eying up the multi-billion asset that is Housing NZ and the additional millions in cash-flow, Key padded his speech with a litany of alleged “faults” with the Corporation;

  • too slow “ to actually go and build their housing stock”
  • “the mix is wrong”
  • the asset is often in the wrong place
  • governments of “successive persuasions have struggled with”  State housing flexibility
  • there was too much ” capital tied up in Housing New Zealand stock
  • they are not always terribly flexible
  • the previous government completely ignored the upkeep of those homes

The implications from repeated rhetoric is clear; Housing NZ has allegedly “mis-managed” their stock, and the State “struggles” with being a suitable landlord.

In his speech, Key failed to mention that National (and previous governments) have been using Housing NZ as a “cash cow”, demanding huge cash dividends from the corporation. As Nick Smith admitted in Parliament on 8 May,

“The average dividend under the 5 years so far of this Government has been $88 million. The dividend this year is $90 million.”

Sucking an average $88 million per year from Housing NZ – a government body charged with assisting the poorest people in our communities – was bound to have negative consequences. Key’s “litany of faults” was wholly predictable – a result of government self-interest to balance their books, at the expense of Housing NZ tenants.

It is not the first time National has used a SOE as a cash cow – or perhaps more akin to a lethal parasitic organism – to the  SOE’s eventual detriment (see: Solid Energy – A solid drama of facts, fibs, and fall-guys).

At any rate, Key’s 6 October speech was laying the groundwork for National’s new State housing policy – which Bill English was making public the very same day. After all, as Tom Scott so astutely pointed out in 2012, Key was renowned as “the Great Salesman” for good reason;

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Chairman Key - The Dear Leader

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Who better to “pitch the deal” to the public, than the most trusted, popular, apolitical  Prime Minister since perhaps David Lange?

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Real Reason for sell-off?

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Meanwhile, Bill English was outlining National’s true agenda, whilst Key was putting on his benign face to the New Zealand public.  As TV3’s Brook Sabin reported,

“A big state-house sell-off is on the way, and up to $5 billion-worth of homes could be put on the block.

The shake-up of the Government’s housing stock will be a key focus for the next three years, with Finance Minister Bill English to lead it.

On the block is everything from a tiny 75 square metre two-bedroom state house in Auckland’s Remuera, on the market for $740,000, to a three-bedroom home in Taumarunui for just $38,000. Thousands more properties will soon hit the market.”

The reason for putting up to  $5 billion-worth of homes  on the block?

Crashing dairy prices had left a gaping hole in the National Government’s books, and their much-vaunted Budget surplus next year was under threat. Remember that  Key was candid in the implications for the economy and the  government’s tax-take; when he stated – also on 6 October;

“It can have some impact because if that’s the final payout, the impact would be as large as NZ$5 billion for the economy overall, and you would expect that to flow through to the tax revenue, both for the 14/15 year and the 15/16 year. My understanding is Treasury is working on those numbers for the incoming Minister of Finance, which fortunately is the same as the outgoing Minister of Finance as well.

A day later, on 7 October, Fairfax’s Vernon Small reported on English reiterating the government’s parlous fiscal position;

The Government has posted a Budget deficit of $2.9 billion in the year to June 30, $338m worse than forecast in the pre-election opening of the books.

Finance Minister Bill English said the result was the third consecutive narrowing of the deficit before gains and losses (Obegal) and was further evidence careful fiscal management was producing consistent gains over time.

However it compared with the forecast deficit of $2b in the 2013 Budget.

The major changes since the pre-election picture were a decline in tax revenue, an increase in treaty settlement costs and an increase in earthquake rebuild expenses.

[…]

English said the economy faced some headwinds, including lower dairy prices, uncertain tax revenue, global risks in China and Europe and the impact of the Auckland housing market.

It was therefore rank hypocrisy when English justified the massive sell-of of state housing by linking it to impoverished families’ needs,

“There will be state house sales because we need to move a lot faster if we’re going to provide enough houses for low-income families,” says Mr English.

English’s planned $5 billion sale of State houses is a panic-driven measure by the National Government to plug the gap left by falling dairy prices and concomitant falling taxation revenue.

National’s re-election on 20 September was predicated on it’s undeserved reputation for being a “prudent fiscal manager” of the country’s economy. It was not just their surplus that was at risk – it was their carefully cultivated public perception at being better at managing the economy than Labour.

If National could not deliver a surplus – as it had promised – what good was it as a fiscal steward? It would prove to be a major mill-stone around their neck for the 2017 election.

In the meantime;

Housing New Zealand figures show that at the end of March 5563 people were on the waiting list, compared with 4495 at the same time last year and 4637 the year before.

Our poorest schools are swapping nearly half their pupils a year, as transient families chase work or flee debt.

Some schools say they have taught 7-year-olds who have been through eight schools in their first two years.

Many transient children also have learning difficulties but are often uprooted before schools can bring in extra support.

A decile 1 school will, on average, have twice the student “churn” of a decile 10 school, according to Ministry of Education figures. During the 2013 school year, a typical school in a highly deprived area would have lost and gained the equivalent of nearly half its roll.

A decile 10 school typically has a much more stable roll, with about a quarter coming or going last year. This does not include pupils starting or finishing their schooling.

The transience was even worse in primary schools, hitting children at a time when experts say moving schools is the most harmful.

The figures, released under the Official Information Act, show Russell School, a decile 1 primary in Porirua, had the highest level of pupil turnover in the Wellington region two years ago.

Principal Sose Annandale said a Housing New Zealand shake-up was probably partly responsible for the high turnover that year, but transient families continued to be a big problem.

[…]

The higher level of transience in low-decile schools was not surprising, as deprived families were more likely to move for housing or work.

“Many of these transient families do not have a fixed abode. They are just staying with whanau for a while, until they have to move on again.

As  the Salvation Army’s  Major Campbell Roberts, stated with matter-of-fact bluntness;

“We, at the present in New Zealand, don’t have enough social housing, so to reduce that number further would be a major problem. What there needs to be is an increase in the numbers of social houses.”

In his story, TV3’s Brooke Sabin raised the question,

“So a big cull of state houses is about to get underway, but the crucial question is: Will all that money make its way back into social housing or will some be pocketed by the Government? The official response is that hasn’t been worked out yet.”

Yes, it has, Mr Sabin.

The money will indeed be “pocketed by the government”.

For no other reason than their re-election in 2017 depends on it.

 

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References – Part 2

Scoop media: Gateway to improve housing affordability

Hekia Parata: State housing improved in Porirua

NZ Herald:  Key backs cut-off for cheap homes plan

Labour Party: Speech – New Zealand – A new direction

NZ Herald:  Quota reintroduced for Hobsonville housing development

NZ Herald: John Armstrong – National’s affordable housing package lacks any substantial detail

Housing NZ: Gateway Project

Dominion Post: Richard Long – So much for our quarter-acre paradise

Radio NZ: PM rules out more asset sales

NZ Herald: PM – no more SOEs to sell after Genesis

Fairfax Media: Labour spits over National’s asset sale figures

Fairfax Media: John Key reveals plan for asset sales

Roy Morgan: Poll – January 22 2014

National: Helping first home buyers

National: National to help 90,000 first home buyers

The Listener: Why it’s more expensive to build in NZ than in Australia

Otago Daily Times: Labour – 100,000 more affordable homes

National: Social housing

Radio NZ: Councils reject blame for poverty

Fairfax Media: Fonterra forecast worth an extra $500m to NZ

NBR: BUDGET 2014 – Government surplus meets global rating agency expectations

Interest.co.nz:  Fonterra cuts milk payout forecast for 2014/15 to NZ$5.30/kg

Hive News: Treasury re-crunching Budget numbers for low Fonterra payout

Interest.co.nz:  Key signals big shift towards community-provided social housing from pure state housing in creating ‘super group’ of housing ministers

Radio NZ: John Key reveals new Cabinet lineup

Parliament: Hansards – Housing, Affordable—Progress and Management of Housing New Zealand

TV3 News: State housing sell-off worth $5B

Fairfax Media: Government deficit widens

Fairfax Media: Housing NZ waiting lists swamped

Radio NZ: Govt pushes on with state house sales

Dominion Post: Kids dragged from school to school (See also: Housing policy will destabilise life for children)

Additional references

Dominion Post: Housing policy will destabilise life for children

Fairfax media: Over-crowded house blamed for baby’s death

TVNZ News: Thousands of Kiwi kids homeless

Previous related blogposts

Review: TV3′s The Nation – “Let them eat ice cream!”

Previous related blogposts

Can we do it? Bloody oath we can!

Budget 2013: State Housing and the War on Poor

Budget 2013: State Housing and the War on Poor

National recycles Housing Policy and produces good manure!

Our growing housing problem

National Housing propaganda – McGehan Close Revisited

Solid Energy – A solid drama of facts, fibs, and fall-guys

Social Groups

Facebook: Affordable Housing For All

Facebook: Housing NZ Tenants Forum

Facebook: Tamaki Housing Group- Defend Glen Innes

Other blogs

The Jackal: More homelessness under National (30 July 2012)

The Standard: Unaffordable housing & the culture of greed

No Right Turn:  A surprise policy


 

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 14 October 2014

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Letter to the editor – John Key should lead by example

17 October 2014 1 comment

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Frank Macskasy - letters to the editor - Frankly Speaking

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from: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to: Listener <letters@listener.co.nz>
date: Fri, Oct 17, 2014
subject: Letter to the editor

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The editor
THE  LISTENER

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Many young folk looking to become foreign fighters for the  IS may be impressionable. They are also perceptive.

They probably understand the vicious nature of this group – but when they look at the West, do they see much better? We may not engage in widespread destruction like IS – but the American Empire is noted for thumbing it’s nose at international law in it’s own way;

* An invasion of Iraq based on lies (non-existent “weapons of mass destruction”)

* torture techniques such as water-boarding

* abuse of prisoners, eg, Abu Ghraib

* detention without due legal process at Guantanamo Bay

* ‘extraordinary rendition’, the apprehension and extrajudicial transfer of a person, to avoid due process of the law

* and extra-judicial killings using “drone strikes”, with only Presidential over-sight.

We may not be quite as in-your-face as IS/ISIS/ISIL, but whether you’re a hapless prisoner about to be executed by “Jihadi John”, or a carload of “extremists” about to be blown to bits by an unmanned aerial vehicle armed with deadly missiles, the question asked by many young people must be,

“Explain to us how we are any better?”

We currently have the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002, Search and Surveillance Act 2012, Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Act 2013,  and the Government Communications Security Bureau and Related Legislation Amendment Act 2013. How much more does our esteemed Prime Minister need to control us?John Key can implement all the Soviet-style mass surveillance;  restrictions on travel; cancelling passports;  etc, he likes. He can fill our jails with political detainees. But in the end, if we give young people nothing better to believe in, it will all be pointless.

Leading by example will achieve much more than restricting our liberties, invading our privacy, and monitoring our communications as part of  creeping authoritarian legislation.
The eventual failure of the Soviet police apparatus and reliance on propaganda to suppress it’s populace should have  been a salient lesson for this government.

-Frank Macskasy

[Address & phone number supplied]

 

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References

Radio NZ: PM says NZ part of ‘broader’ coalition

 


 

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Skipping voting is not rebellion its surrender

Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen/Lurch Left Memes

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Letter to the editor – Daleks, Kim Jong-un, Elvis, and Roger Douglas

17 October 2014 2 comments

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Frank Macskasy - letters to the editor - Frankly Speaking

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from: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to: NZ Herald <letters@herald.co.nz>
date: Tue, Oct 14, 2014
subject: Letter to the editor

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The editor
NZ Herald
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Our esteemed Prime Minister announces that our Terror Alert has “risen” from “very low risk” of a terror attack to a “low risk”. (13 Oct)Key states that our risk of a “terror attack” has gone from “unlikely” to “possible but not expected”.

I could add a few more “possible but not expected” terror scenarios;

* Daleks landing at the United Nations, demanding our immediate surrender or face extermination,

* an asteroid smacking into our planet, wiping out 99% of the human race and civilisation,

* Kim Jong-un decides to replace North Korea’s totalitarian state with a 1960s-style hippie free-love commune

* Elvis really is alive and working at a KFC outlet in Huntly.
* Roger Douglas recanting.
When one thinks about it, anything is “possible but not [necessarily]  expected”.
Hardly a sound reason for the Prime Minister to be needlessly creating anxiety with the public? Anyone would think that our government was trying to instill fear  in people so as to justify expanding state power?
-Frank Macskasy

[address & phone number supplied]

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References

TVNZ News: NZ ‘becoming riskier’ as terror alert raised


 

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Skipping voting is not rebellion its surrender

Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen/Lurch Left Memes

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