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Archive for August, 2015

Letter to the editor – When 41% of houses are bought by speculators

26 August 2015 6 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: Mon, Aug 24, 2015
subject: Letter to the editor

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The editor
Dominion Post

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If what Deputy Governor, Grant Spencer, says is true that investor-speculators are buying up to 41% of Auckland house purchases – then we have a major problem on our hands.

No matter how many houses are built; no matter how far Auckland spawls; no matter how many parks are swallowed up; no matter what kind of LVR restrictions the Reserve Bank implements; no matter how much money is thrown at the problem – nearly half of all houses will be snapped up by speculators.

Whether those speculators come from Berlin, Boston, or Beijing – or even just north of the Bombay Hills – does not matter one jot.

This government has shown itself to be utterly hopeless at controlling speculation, and the horrendous fact that housing prices have risen 24% over the last year in Auckland is evidence of their incompetance.

Meanwhile young couples wanting to buy their first home are locked out of the market because of the relentless greed of a few.

This is not what I thought New Zealand would look like in the 21st century.

It is not the flag we should be looking at changing – but our blase attitude to something very wrong with our society.

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-Frank Macskasy

[address and phone number supplied]

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References

TVNZ News: The Reserve Bank has again raised concerns about investors driving up the Auckland housing market

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Public opposition grows against TPPA – Wellington

22 August 2015 7 comments

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NZ, Wellington, 15 August – In an otherwise grey, gloomy sky, much-heralded  rain made only a brief appearance with a few drops of moisture, as Wellingtonians and citizens from further afar congregated at Midland Park in the heart of the city. The first sign was held aloft on the footpath, just outside the park proper – an indication of what lay ahead;

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - 15 august 2015

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Some artistry adorning poster roundels;

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - 15 august 2015

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A damned good question posed on this placard;

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - 15 august 2015

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A wide variety of other placards awaited bearers;

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - 15 august 2015

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John Key has said that even if the medicines that Pharmac buys “cost a little bit more“, that government will pay for it and citizens will not have to pay a cent extra;

“If it did pay a little bit more, then the Government would fund that and New Zealanders would pay the same amount.”

Firstly – where does Key think the money comes from that Government would use to top up Pharmac’s drugs-bill in the event that the TPPA pushed up the costs of medication?  From the bloody tax-payer, you Tory Twat!

Secondly, having to pay for increased costs of medicines would mean that other areas of healthcare would inevitably  have their budgets cut.

And thirdly, Key is in no position to promise anything on keeping the cost of medicines down. His government has already  increased the cost of Pharmac medicines in 2012 from $3  to $5.

Who on Earth would trust Key not to do it again?

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - 15 august 2015

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The ‘Brass Razoo‘ band entertained the crowd, with “Uncle Scam” danced to the ominous sounding “Star Wars Imperial Theme“;

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - 15 august 2015

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New Zealanders voicing their concerns over the secrecy over the TPPA;

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - 15 august 2015

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If the deal is so good – why is the National Government keeping it secret from us? Negotiators from all participating counties know exactly what is in the texts. Only the public are not privy to the same information.

From a phrase that TPPA negotiator, Minister  Tim Groser, has been known to use;

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - 15 august 2015

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“Obama” being “arrested” by “pirates”, and charged with “treason”;

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - 15 august 2015

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The media was well represented, and both TV channels gave good coverage of the protests up and down the country;

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - 15 august 2015

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From younger to older generations;

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - 15 august 2015

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The Park quickly filled. Numbers swelled well beyond previous anti-TPPA protests;

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - 15 august 2015

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Marchers moved through Wellington’s CBD, growing in number along the way;

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - 15 august 2015

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Traffic came to a standstill, as the procession wound along the length of Lambton Quay, toward Parliament;

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - 15 august 2015

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Past the Cenotaph, where we commemorate fallen soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice for our sovereignty;

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - 15 august 2015

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Once again, as with past protest marches,  the main gates to Parliament were firmly locked…

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - 15 august 2015

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… forcing thousands of citizens to squeeze through two narrow side gates. The contempt shown by those in ‘Authority’, to the New Zealand people exercising their lawful right to protest,  is unmistakeable.

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - 15 august 2015

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With young citizens leading the way…

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - 15 august 2015

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– the grounds rapidly filled with people;

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - 15 august 2015

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Numbers ranged from   Radio NZ’s 3,000 to Fairfax’s 5,000 in attendance. The northward view;

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - 15 august 2015

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The southward view;

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - 15 august 2015

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It was interesting (and refreshing) to  see the large numbers of families and young people present. This was not simply a turn-out of the usual, committed, anti-TPPA activists – these were citizens expressing their disquiet (and outright opposition) over a deal being negotiated in secret, and which would have far-reaching ramifications for our society.

Tangata Whenua showed their concerns at the secret TPPA deal-making that was going on in our name, behind closed doors;

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - 15 august 2015

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Secretary of the NZ Council of Trade Unions, Sam Huggard, explained why the TPPA would be bad for workers rights. He gave the example of trans-national corporations suing the Egyptian government for merely trying to implement a minimum wage;

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - 15 august 2015

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The big corporations, when they were cooking up this agreement in their high rises in Wall Street and Washington DC, and the politicians like John Key and Tim Groser who do their bidding, were hoping that the agreement would go through without this level of dissent.  We weren’t meant to have a say, that wasn’t in their model.
They weren’t counting on the health sector mobilising over access to medicines.  They didn’t want Maori mobilising to question how Treaty of Waitangi protections were being affected by this secret agreement.  They were hoping the tech sector wouldn’t get organised around the impact on copyright laws.   And they didn’t want to see unions critiquing the anti-worker provisions in the TPPA, like the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions, provisions that were recently used against the government of Egypt – sued by French multinational Veolia Group in response to Egypt increasing the minimum wage.
None of this was part of the plan.  They wanted the agreement to go through quietly.  But we wont let that happen.

Gay Keating, from Doctors for Healthy Trade, explaining why the TPPA will harm healthcare in New Zealand;

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - 15 august 2015

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Someone did the sums that its going to cost a billion over ten years if they stretch out the costs for the length of patents.

[…]

One of the things that’s pushed so many people in the health sector into being absolutely furious about this agreement is that is the wayit’s going to push people who are healthy, into sickness.

And it’s the processes which make it more difficult for countries to bring in controls on unhealthy products.

You’ve all heard about the $50 million pricetag that Australia’s facing in terms of Stage One of the fightback [by] the tobacco companies.

That’s what we’re signing up to in this agreement.

[…]

The biggest health threat of our century and our children’s century and our moko’s century is climate change.

We need to be able to control greenhouse gases and we need not be handcuffed.

Our government must not be handcuffed for health.

Todd Rippon, from Actors Equity NZ, detailed how a previous “free trade” agreement had reduced the amount of locally produced drama on our television screens. He said the TPPA would be even worse;

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - 15 august 2015

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Performer’s lives are directly affected by trade policy. We have been hit hard with the blunt end of a big stick by that World Trade Organisation deal.

We know what it feels like to be cast aside to make way for extremely rich US corporations. I think you know what I’m talking about, yeah?

Signing the TPPA will not only make a bad situation worse for us performers, but it’ll make it worse for virtually every aspect our beautiful country.

Every aspect of our beautiful, tiny, vulnerable country.

Nothing will be untouched.

You name it; health, environment, education, Treaty obligations – no way. They will be wiped out in the name of international profiteering.

Don’t let that happen!

Documentary producer, Bryan Bruce, was well-received by the crowd and spoke well about the nature and problems of the TPPA. He condemned the potential eight to ten year extension of patents for medicines, saying that this would inevitably lead to people dying needlessly for want of treatment;

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - 15 august 2015

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What’s on the table is human misery. The poor have as much right to health as the rich.

Bryan  concluded with this warning for National if they went ahead and passed the TPPA;

We will not forget and we will not forgive them.

To  listen to Bryan’s thought-provoking speech, go to  Mick McCrohon’s video on Youtube.

Blues singer, Darren Watson and Delia Shanly on drums entertained the assembly with a rendition of  ‘Planet Key’. The  words were slightly amended to reflect on the issue-of-the-day. He also sang another of his original songs, ‘I Got Your Office Right Here‘, full of satire and good natured poking-fun-at-John Key.

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - 15 august 2015

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One lone female protestor managed to evade the barriers and Parliamentary security. She made her way to the top of the steps and sat down, adopting a peaceful meditating-position;

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - 15 august 2015

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Other protestors also jumped or skirted the barriers to dance on the Parliamentary forecourt, as Mick McCrohon’s video on Youtube  shows.

It should be pointed out that though protestors “breached the security cordon”, they did not – as the Police and Mainstream Media have reported – try to “storm the steps of Parliament”. That never happened. (In fact, if any mainstream media were present when this occurred, I did not witness their presence.)

A video-recording in my possession clearly shows young people rushing to the steps, and then sitting down on the first half dozen steps  – before police arrived to reinforce the half-dozen Parliamentary security guards standing over the protestors. The handful of protestors made no effort to “storm” the steps, as some have mistakenly claimed. They stopped and sat down before Police arrived (which my video also clearly shows).

See: Citizens face Police armed with tasers at Wellington TPPA protest march

Eventually, the protest ended and the good people of Wellington (and further afield) dispersed;

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - 15 august 2015

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As they arrived, they departed; in peace.

Let us hope that this National government has received the message they left.

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References

Parliament: Little, Andrew – Oral Questions — Questions to Ministers

Fairfax media: Prescription cost to rise to help pay for Budget

Parliament: 7. Trans-Pacific Partnership—Scope of Negotiations and Release of Information

Huffington Post: Corporate Courts – A Big Red Flag on ‘Trade’ Agreements

Youtube: TPPA PROTEST Wellington 15th.August 2015 Speaker Bryan Bruce

Youtube: TPPA Protest – Dancers Storm The Barricades At NZ Parliament Building

Acknowledgement

Appreciation to Mick McCrohons Youtube video’s, to complete this report.

Main Stream Media

Fairfax media: Thousands march against TPP trade agreement

NZ Herald: Thousands rally against TPP across New Zealand

Otago Daily Times: Thousands turn up to rally against TPP

RadioLive: Thousands urge govt. to ditch TPPA

Radio NZ: Thousands turn out to protest TPP

TV3 News: Thousands march against TPPA deal

TVNZ News: TPP protesters push through barriers at Parliament

Previous related blogposts

Roosting chickens

Citizen A – 29 Nov 2012 – TPPA Special

TPPA: Business launches propaganda campaign

TPPA: Doomsday scenarios, Critics, and flights of fancy

Open message to the Middle Classes about the threat of the TPPA

Nationwide Rally Against the TPPA – Day of Action!

They marched against the TPPA and the threat to our sovereignty (part tahi)

They marched against the TPPA and the threat to our sovereignty (part rua)

The Mendacities of Mr Key #5: Has Tim Groser shown the P.M. to be a liar on the TPPA?

Nationwide Day of Protest Captures Public Attention on TPPA

Opposing the TPPA – the Heavens hold their deluge ’till the People speak

Citizens face Police armed with tasers at Wellington TPPA protest march

Other blogs

No Right Turn: Help end TPP secrecy

Theocracidal: Thousands Protest TPPA, Cthulhu’s office minions hide under desks

The Standard: Groser – an arrogant git with a tin ear

The Standard: TPPA Protest review

Support groups

Facebook: Oil Free Wellington

Facebook: It’s Our Future – Kiwis concerned about the TPPA

Website:  It’s Our Future

Facebook: Aotearoa is Not for Sale

Action Stations: A Secret Trade Deal So Terrifying That Parliament Isn’t Even Allowed To Know What It Says

Facebook: TPPA Action Group – Wellington

OraTaiao New Zealand Climate and Health Council

Copyright (c) Notice

All images stamped ‘fmacskasy.wordpress.com’ are freely available to be used, with following provisos,

» Use must be for non-commercial purposes.
» Where purpose of use is commercial, a donation to Child Poverty Action Group is requested.
» At all times, images must be used only in context, and not to denigrate individuals or groups.
» Acknowledgement of source is requested.

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Screen-Shot-2015-07-30-at-6.08.04-am

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 17 August 2015.

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Citizens face Police armed with tasers at Wellington TPPA protest march

21 August 2015 3 comments

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NZ, Wellington, 15  August – Anti-TPPA protesters, many of them young people in their teens and early 20s, faced off against police armed with tasers on the steps of Parliament.

Believed to be the first time that armed police have deployed tasers in a non-violent, non-threatening situation, at least five police officers were visibly carrying the potentially lethal devices on their belts;

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - 15 august 2015

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - 15 august 2015

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - 15 august 2015

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - 15 august 2015

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At least five  weapons were clearly visible, with other policemen and woman wearing bulky jackets that may or may not have concealed more of the devices.

Though there was some minor jostling between one protester and a Parliamentary security guard, there was no violence or any other physical contact between police and members of the public.

The confrontation began when a lone protester made her way to the top of the Parliamentary steps, and seated herself, adopting a meditating position. For a short time, three police attempted to persuade her to move, though no force was used.

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - 15 august 2015

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She was followed by others, who also jumped or skirted around the security fence separating the grassy area from the paved Parliamentary forecourt.

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - 15 august 2015

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As their numbers swelled to approximately a hundred, extra police arrived quickly and with Parliamentary Security, formed a cordon across the steps leading up to Parliament.

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - 15 august 2015

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March organisors and Marshalls attempted to quell the situation by asking people to move back from the steps, without much success.

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - 15 august 2015

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Eventually,  jostling and shouting gave way to a calmer atmosphere as March organisors encouraged a constant stream of speakers to address the crowd. The tiny volatile minority, numbering perhaps half a dozen, joined others seated on the steps. One activist played his guitar and sang songs, though at one point he declined a request for “anything by Dave Dobbin“.

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - 15 august 2015

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After about a hour, the crowd on the Parliamentary forecourt dispersed of their own volition. Police numbers also reduced, with officers leaving the scene.

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TPPA - trans pacific partnership agreement - protest march - wellington - 15 august 2015

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There was no apparent reason for tasers to be deployed on this occasion. The sight of these weapons incited many in the crowd to angry outbursts toward the police.

More than one person was overheard asking what possible use  four or five tasers would have been against a crowd numbering in the hundreds.

One person, who requested anonymity,  said to this blogger;

“Whoever authorised these guns to be brought out needs their head read. It’s a grim day when cops feel the need to show these things when they’re faced with ordinary New Zealanders engaged in lawful protest. It’s like something out of ‘Sleeping Dogs’.  Really, is this where we’ve ended up, armed cops facing off against women and kids? God help us.”

On this occasion, a tense situation was prevented from escalation not by show of force, but by the wit of organisors who distracted the ‘hot heads’ and encouraged dialogue and engagement.

The best strategy in this stand-off was patience.

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Previous related blogposts

Citizen A – 29 Nov 2012 – TPPA Special

TPPA: Business launches propaganda campaign

TPPA: Doomsday scenarios, Critics, and flights of fancy

Open message to the Middle Classes about the threat of the TPPA

Nationwide Rally Against the TPPA – Day of Action!

They marched against the TPPA and the threat to our sovereignty (part tahi)

They marched against the TPPA and the threat to our sovereignty (part rua)

The Mendacities of Mr Key #5: Has Tim Groser shown the P.M. to be a liar on the TPPA?

Nationwide Day of Protest Captures Public Attention on TPPA

Opposing the TPPA – the Heavens hold their deluge ’till the People speak

Citizens face Police armed with tasers at Wellington TPPA protest march

Support groups

Facebook: Oil Free Wellington

Facebook: It’s Our Future – Kiwis concerned about the TPPA

Website:  It’s Our Future

Facebook: Aotearoa is Not for Sale

Action Stations: A Secret Trade Deal So Terrifying That Parliament Isn’t Even Allowed To Know What It Says

Facebook: TPPA Action Group – Wellington

OraTaiao New Zealand Climate and Health Council

Copyright (c) Notice

All images stamped ‘fmacskasy.wordpress.com’ are freely available to be used, with following provisos,

» Use must be for non-commercial purposes.
» Where purpose of use is commercial, a donation to Child Poverty Action Group is requested.
» At all times, images must be used only in context, and not to denigrate individuals or groups.
» Acknowledgement of source is requested.

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TPPA-cartoon-trans pacific partnership

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 16 August 2015.

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Socially-sanctioned psychopathy harnessed for good

13 August 2015 2 comments

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screenshot-lrg-09

“Smile!”

 

Killing people en-masse is frowned upon in most parts of the world. Serial killing is a definite no-no.

Instead, psychopaths satiate their bloodlust by more legal means.

One option is to participate as a combatant in one of several officially designated War Zones around the planet (Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, several parts of West Africa, Texas, etc). The down-side is that you can be sure that several hundred other combatants will be shooting back at you. Not good.

Another option is a much safer bet for our friendly, neighbourhood psychopath;

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Giraffes are dangerous -  another trophy hunter under fire after defending hobby

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Corgatelli’s killing of the giraffe follows Minnesota dentist, Walter Palmer’s, slaughter of Zimbabwe’s iconic lion, Cecil;

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Cecil the lion hunter Walter Palmer faces calls for prosecution

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An unknown number of other hunters are also shooting and slaughtering their way across the African continent and other parts of the world.  In their sights; animals that are not armed with high-tech killing gear. It is hardly an equal “sport”, if one can remotely call it that.

There is definitely a reduced Occupational Hazard of returned fire that combatants in War Zones have to face.

Trying to peer into the psyche of these so-called “hunters”, some of Corgatelli’s remarks gave a chilling insight. From her Facebook page;

Everybody thinks we’re cold-hearted killers and it’s not that.There is a connection to the animal and just because we hunt them doesn’t mean we don’t have a respect for them.”

Day #2 I got a amazing old Giraffe. Such a amazing animal!! I couldn’t be any happier!! My emotion after getting him was a feeling I will never forget!!!

“ 13 inch wart hog!! What a fun hunt!!!

Yesterday was day 1 an amazing day!!! Got my beautiful beautiful Kudu!! It was my #1 want on my list and I got him on the first day!!! Loving it there!!

Corgatelli’s undisguised joy at killing is disturbing. In some instances, her pleasure seems almost  sexual in nature.

Also worrying is the number of messages on her facebook page highly critical of her destructive behaviour – and to which she appears totally oblivious. This is clearly someone out of touch with social norms, including public odium of  her public revelling in killing wild animals.

Not only does she lack any empathy with the creatures she targets – but seems thoroughly unphased by the torrent of criticism directed at her. There seems to be  a distinct disconnect with her emotions.

People like Palmer and Corgatelli are, unfortunately, not alone in the world. There are plenty like them. People who cannot empathise with others, whether human or non-human.

Some become serial killers. Some become despotic leaders (think Hitler, Stalin, Pinochet, Pol Pot, et al). Others, who are wary of a date with the executioner or spending their lives in a cell, look to other prey.

Same psycopathy. Different victims. And like the killers who murdered their victims at a  movie theater or a school, they prefer their targets to be defenceless. Preferably at a distance, so the targetted animal – or humans in at least one instance – cannot hope to fight back.

Psycopaths; cowards, as well as comfortable around lethal weapons.

Well, I have a solution that protects defenceless animals but meets the inate homicidal needs of psychopaths-cloaked-as-hunters: Survivor Hunter Island!

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survivor island

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That’s right – we set aside an island devoted to hunters. Real hunters. Hunters who pit themselves against each other. Hunters who take on the ultimate quarry: other human beings!

We put a dozen hunters in and they indulge their passion to seek out their prey and blast away to their hearts’ content. No rules; twelve go in; one comes out.

Last man (or woman, in Ms Corgatelli’s case) standing wins a prize. (A KFC voucher?)

Fitting into our current craze for Reality TV (you can see where this is heading), the hunt could be televised using carefully secreted cameras and Autonomous Flying Vehicles, and broadcast throughout the world. (We can put television sets on the African veldt, in case any lions or giraffes want to watch proceedings.)

The revenue from advertising and sponsorship (the NRA would surely be lining up as a bell-weather sponsor) for Survivor Hunter Island could be used for conservation projects around the world. Hunters, after all,  are staunch supporters of conservation, as Ms Corgatelli claimed.

Hunters and billionaire libertarians could even share their islands as libertarians plan their little tax-free havens somewhere out in the middle of the ocean;

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AndrasGyorfi

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Bag a brace of hunters and a couple of  billionaires?

I’d pay good money to watch that.

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References

The Guardian:  ‘Giraffes are dangerous’: another trophy hunter under fire after defending hobby

The Guardian: Cecil the lion hunter Walter Palmer faces calls for prosecution

Facebook: Sabrina Corgatelli

CNN: James Holmes found guilty of murder in Colorado theater shooting

CNN: Sandy Hook shooting – What happened?

Washington Post: Lee Boyd Malvo, 10 years after D.C. area sniper shootings – ‘I was a monster’

Utopianist.com: Tech Billionaire Donates $1.25 Million to Create Libertarian Islands

Disclosure

The author confesses to being a meat-eater;

I pay homage to my carnivorous ancestors,” admitted Frank Macskasy, “But I don’t kill for pleasure. Even when a tele-marketer calls or Jehovah’s Witness comes to the door during ‘Dr Who’, I resist the urge. Killing for food is part of Nature’s less-glamorous ‘circle-of-life’. Killing for pure pleasure indicates a deep need for psychiatric care. Apologies to vegetarians, Vegans, and all the chooks, sheep, and cows, I’ve eaten in my life.

In my next life I’ll probably come back as a chicken in a Tegel barn.

Or celery. I hate celery.

 

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 8 August 2015.

 

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Is this the defining quote for the 21st Century?

10 August 2015 1 comment

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615 rich poor Gina Sanders shutterstock

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Create a society that values material things above all else. Strip it of industry. Raise taxes for the poor and reduce them for the rich and for corporations. Prop up failed financial institutions with public money. Ask for more tax, while vastly reducing public services. Put adverts everywhere, regardless of people’s ability to afford the things they advertise. Allow the cost of food and housing to eclipse people’s ability to pay for them. Light blue touch paper.” –  Andrew Maxwell, Irish comedian

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If it’s not, it must come pretty damn close.

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Categories: Social Issues Tags:

Letter to the editor – let’s hear it for really, really, daft ideas

9 August 2015 3 comments

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Frank Macskasy - letters to the editor - Frankly Speaking

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From a recent letter to the editor;

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letters to editor - dominion post - bruce welsh

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My response;

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from: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to: Dominion Post <letters@dompost.co.nz>
date: Thu, Aug 6, 2015
subject: Letter to the editor

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The Editor
Dominion Post

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It’s all very good for Bruce Welsh to be offering impractical suggestions that “people need to open windows daily and ventilate a house” – but having a well ventilated house is pointless if the occupants are going to freeze solid in the middle of a Wellington winter. (Letters, 4 August)

It may be balmy and tropical in Kilbirnie, but the rest of New Zealand has been enjoying more traditional cold, frosts, and horizontal rain.

So taking Mr Welsh’s barmy (not balmy) suggestion might give us well-ventilated houses – but the tenants wouldn’t thaw out till spring.

Any other bright ideas?

Here’s an off-the-wall thought; why not heat the houses? In fact, I hear they’ve recently invented something called a “heater”.

Heating a house reduces mould and cold-related illnesses. And we don’t end up with tenants in some science fiction scenario of cold-induced suspended animation.

Radical, I know. And best of all, it doesn’t involve “ethnic cleansing” of poor folk in this country simply because certain individuals have a penchant for impractical “solutions”.

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-Frank Macskasy

[address and phone number supplied]

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In reality, what this was, was a prime example of victim-bashing; blaming the poor for being poor, and ending up in sub-standard housing. Right-wingers, moralistic conservatives, and bigots do it all the time.

It means they don’t have to think too deeply about real problems and coming up with real solutions.

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To Annette King – we’ll hold you to that!

7 August 2015 1 comment

 

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Right up until last week, National’s ‘spin’ on the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) was that it would not be permitted to impact on Pharmac or it’s ability to buy cheap, generic medicines.

Four years ago;

We have laid down the fundamentals of a position which says our public health system is not up for negotiation, not part of any trade negotiation, and I can’t conceive of any New Zealand government that would change that view.

Pharmac is an incredibly valuable institution that provides high quality medicines to many New Zealanders at very, very highly subsidised, reasonable prices. The fundamentals of that model are not up for negotiation. ” – Tim Groser, 16 November 2011

Three years ago;

If the Government agreed completely with the demands of American pharmaceutical companies, the negotiation would probably be over. It is not. It is a long, complex negotiation, and the New Zealand Government’s position is to preserve the role and effectiveness of Pharmac. ” – Bill English, 6 December 2012

Two years ago;

I think it’ll have a very marginal impact, at the end of the day.  It certainly won’t result in higher prices for pharmaceutical products for New Zealanders.  This is really about protecting the model of Pharmac to ensure that they’re in a tough negotiating position with international pharmaceutical companies, and we’ve got some very good negotiators who are doing just that. ” – Tim Groser, 

Last year;

There will be no fundamental change in Pharmac’s operations as a result of the trade agreement.”

You’ll have to wait to see the final agreement but any decisions we take in terms of trade-offs will protect the essential public health system of this country.” – Tim Groser, 22 October 2014

And this year, only a week ago;

“…yes, I can guarantee that we’ve made it absolutely clear that we are not going to dismantle the fundamental of Pharmac. The provisions that guarantee affordable medicines – we don’t want to change the system of health we’ve got in our country so that people can get medicines only if they can afford it. We’ve got a very good system, and we’re not going to let any trade agreement interfere with that.” – Tim Groser, 25 July 2015

Barely three days later, there was this startling admission from our esteemed Dear Leader, John Key,  that all was not quite so ‘rosy’ in the Land of Free Trade Deals;

That means the Government will have to pay for the original drug rather than the generic for a little bit longer. But for consumers that won’t make any difference because, you know, on subsidised drugs you pay $5 for your prescription so the Government may incur slightly more costs there.

Which vividly illustrates how, for the past four years, National has been lying to us, the New Zealand public.

It was only as TPPA negotiations drew to a close, that Key had to finally concede that there would be an impact on Pharmac and it’s ability to purchase low-cost generic medicines. The same TPPA will also impact on non-subsidised medicines purchased by New Zealanders, as not all attract subsidies by Pharmac.

On 29 July, Labour’s response was damning of the TPPA, and Health Spokesperson, Annette King stated matter-of factly;

Some people are going to pay with their lives because if they extend the patent, particularly on drugs for cancer and heart disease, and we can’t get access to the generic drugs for longer, then people are not going to get that access and they won’t have the opportunity to extend their lives.

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“Some people are going to pay with their lives.” - Labour's Health Spokesperson, Annette King

“Some people are going to pay with their lives.” – Labour’s Health Spokesperson, Annette King

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In which case, an incoming Labour Government has two options;

1. Raise taxes for those New Zealanders who voted National last year.

This is their responsibility, and should foot the bill for any increases to Pharmac’s purchasing budget. After all, National maintains itself as the “Party of Personal Responsibility“, so National voters should bear the costs of this mess; ie, ‘You voted for it, you pay for it’.

But since it is difficult to ascertain who voted for National last year, this option may not be practical.

2. Withdraw from the TPPA.

We simply cannot be party to an international trade agreement (or any other agreement for that matter) where “some people are going to pay with their lives”. That is simply untenable – especially for a Labourled government.

The seriousness of the TPPA’s effects on Pharmac (and non-subsidised medicines) is such that Labour must not be allowed to back-track on it’s criticisms, and has a duty to  withdraw from this appalling “trade” agreement.

If “some people are going to pay with their lives because … they extend the patent, particularly on drugs for cancer and heart disease”, then the TPPA must go. No New Zealander’s life is worth a “trade” agreement, no matter how much milk-powder we might sell overseas.

National ministers such as John Key, Tim Groser, Bill English, et al, have consistently, unashamedly, lied to us over the years. I do not expect Labour to follow in those footsteps.

This will be an issue I will be following, and I will be relentless in pursuing it, post-2017 (or earlier).

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TPPA action 8 august 2015

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Wednesday, August 12
at 12:00pm
New Zealand Parliament Buildings
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Friday, August 14
at 5:00pm
Palmerston North City Library
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Saturday, August 15
at 1:00pm
Midland Park, Lambton Quay
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Saturday, August 15
at 1:00pm
Napier
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Saturday, August 15
at 1:00pm
Timaru
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Saturday, August 15
at 11:00am
Kohukohu Village Green

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Saturday, August 15
at 1:00pm
School of Dentistry, Great King Street, Dunedin (near the Museum)
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References

Interest.co.nz: Pharmac fundamentals not on TPP table, Trade Minister Groser

Parliament: Hansards – 5. Trans-Pacific Partnership – Forecast Economic Benefits, Potential Effect on Pharmac, and Investor-State Dispute Provisions

Scoop media/TV1: Tim Groser adamant Trans-Pacific Partnership good for NZ

Radio NZ: Medicines ‘won’t cost more under TPP’

TV3: The Nation – Transcript – Trade Minister Tim Groser

Radio NZ:  TPP – Key admits medicine costs will rise

Radio NZ: Govt warned TPP could put lives at risk

National Party: About National

Previous related blogposts

Citizen A – 29 Nov 2012 – TPPA Special

TPPA: Business launches propaganda campaign

TPPA: Doomsday scenarios, Critics, and flights of fancy

Open message to the Middle Classes about the threat of the TPPA

Nationwide Rally Against the TPPA – Day of Action!

They marched against the TPPA and the threat to our sovereignty (part tahi)

They marched against the TPPA and the threat to our sovereignty (part rua)

The Mendacities of Mr Key #5: Has Tim Groser shown the P.M. to be a liar on the TPPA?

Nationwide Day of Protest Captures Public Attention on TPPA

Opposing the TPPA – the Heavens hold their deluge ’till the People speak

Letter to the editor – More reassurances from our esteemed Dear Leader?

Action

Facebook: Lunchtime rally against TPPA WELLINGTON

Facebook: It’s Our Future – Kiwis concerned about the TPPA

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Trust me fellow kiwis - John Key

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 1 August 2015.

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Steven Joyce – Hypocrite of the Week

6 August 2015 8 comments

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Fun Fact #1: Student loan stood at $14.235 billion, as at 30 June 2014 – up from 9.573 billion in 2008.

Fun Fact #2: As at 30 June 2013, 721,437 people had an outstanding student loan, registered with Inland Revenue. That’s roughly 16% of the population.

Fun Fact #3: Approximately 1.2 million people – roughly a quarter of the population –  have taken out  student loans.

Fun Fact #4: Students have borrowed $20.119 billion of which  $9.157 billion has been collected in loan repayments.  More than 415,000 loans have been fully repaid.

Fun Fact #5: $1.031.7 billion in loan repayments were received, $22.2 million less than last year. The total number of students completing formal qualifications reached 144,000 in 2013 – a decrease of 0.6% from 2012. The number of people enrolled in tertiary education has dropped, from  504,000 in 2005 to  about 420,000 (in 2014).

Fun Fact #6: The student fees/debt system began in 1992. Prior to that, students had access to Bursaries and Student Allowances and tuition fees were minimal.

Sources: Ministry of Education, Beehive, NBR, and The Wireless

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During Bill English’s Budget speech on 16 May 2013, the Finance Minister made perhaps the most  extraordinary announcement that I have ever heard from a New Zealand politician;

Introducing the ability to arrest non-compliant borrowers who are about to leave New Zealand

Making it a criminal offence to knowingly default on an overseas-based repayment obligation will allow Inland Revenue to request an arrest warrant to prevent the most non-compliant borrowers from leaving New Zealand. Similar provisions already exist under the Child Support Act. This will be included in a bill later this year.

It was extraordinary on at least two levels.

The first is because a loan defaulter does not normally fall under the Crimes Act. It is what is known as a Civil matter.

If, for example, you, the reader, default on your mortgage, rent, or hire purchase, the Lender does not involve the Police (unless deliberate fraud is involved). Instead, they apply to the Courts for a remedy.

The Tenancy Tribunal and Small Claims Court are examples where litigants can take their cases before a Court, and make their claims. Police are not involved. In the Tenancy Tribunal, there are not even any lawyers (generally).

For National to intend issuing arrest warrants, for student loan defaulters, takes the matter of a civil contract into the realm of the Crimes Act.

Secondly, this law – if enacted – would not stop people leaving New Zealand. It would prevent people returning to New Zealand.

The law targets ex-students with loans  who had moved overseas; who had defaulted on their loan repayments whilst overseas; and who then returned to New Zealand (perhaps for a funeral, holiday, or visit family). Only then were were they to be  arrested at an airport as they attempted to board a plane to fly out of the country again.

Shades of former USSR and it’s Eastern Europe satellite-states!

Under such circumstances; what loan-defaulting New Zealander in their right mind would ever consider coming back to this country?

The law was enacted, and as Alex Fensome reported for Fairfax Media last year;

However, others believe the increase [in former students declaring bankruptcy whilst overseas] is down to the Government’s more aggressive pursuit of recalcitrant debtors, and an attempt by some of the borrowers to wipe their New Zealand slate clean.

Student-loan defaulters can be arrested if they try to enter or leave New Zealand, under legislation passed last year.

A few days ago, it was reported;

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IRD monitoring 20 for possible arrest in student loan repayment crackdown - student debt - steven joyce.

To complete National’s Soviet-style crack-down on loan defaulters, the story also reported;

Ministers have also considered refusing to renew passports for those who do not engage with Inland Revenue.

As Finance Minister Bill English desperately tries to balance the government’s books and return to a Budget Surplus, it appears that National Ministers are prepared to go to any extraordinary lengths to claw back cash from New Zealanders. Whether those New Zealanders are low-paid paper-delivery boys and girls or the sick needing medication or ex-pat New Zealanders living overseas – this government is reaching deep into peoples’ pockets.

Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce said this about issuing warrants-to-arrest for loans defaulters;

Just because people have left New Zealand it doesn’t mean they can leave behind their debt.  The New Zealand taxpayer helped to fund their education and they have an obligation to repay it so the scheme can continue to support future generations of students.

Which, when one looks into Joyce’s background, finds something curious.

Steven Joyce,  benefitted from a free, tax-payer funded, University education, with no debt incurred from his  tuition.

The facts are simple;

  1. Steven Joyce, born: 1963.
  2. After completing a zoology degree at Massey University, Steven started his first radio station, Energy FM, in his home town of New Plymouth, at age 21 (1984).
  3. Student Loan system is started: 1992.

Joyce completed his University studies and gained his degree eight years before the Bolger-led National government introduced student fees/debt in 1992.

Joyce’s university education was mostly free, except for minimal course fees. He was most likely  also eligible for a bursary and/or student allowance, as well, to assist his living costs.

As Joyce was reported in the Fairfax story;  “The New Zealand taxpayer helped to fund their education and they have an obligation to repay it so the scheme can continue to support future generations of students.

Will Joyce repay the cost of his University studies?

Or will he simply be one of those who benefitted from a near-free University education – paid by other hard-working taxpayers at the time  – and now insisting that others pay for their own tuition, racking up huge debts in the process?

Another case of a Baby Boomer telling Gen X to “do as I say, not as I do”?

Neither Joyce, nor Revenue Minister Todd McClay, have any moral authority to demand payment for tertiary education from any New Zealander.

Both men are hypocrites.

No one should take them seriously.

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References

National Business Review: Budget 2015 – student loans – does the government dare to act?

Ministry of Education: Student Loan Scheme Annual Report 2014

Beehive.govt.nz: Celebrating student support under Labour

IRD: Budget 2013 announcements

Fairfax  media: Wipe your student loan – go bankrupt

Fairfax media: IRD monitoring 20 for possible arrest in student loan repayment crackdown

NZ Herald: Budget 2012 – ‘Paper boy tax’ on small earnings stuns Labour

Fairfax media: Prescription cost to rise to help pay for Budget

Wikipedia: Steven Joyce

National Party: Steven Joyce

Additional

Salient: A short history of tertiary education funding in New Zealand

NZ Herald: Minister to students – ‘keep your heads down’

Previous related blogposts

Greed is good?

It’s official: Political Dissent Discouraged in NZ!

Shafting our own children’s future? Hell yeah, why not!

Budget 2013: How NOT to deal with Student loan defaulters

Budget 2013: Student debt, politicians, and “social contracts”

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 1 August 2015.

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Signs of the times…?

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Noticed around Wellington, this last week…

Firstly at the well-known pub-restaurant, ‘The Backbencher‘, just across the road from Parliament. The famous eating establishment is well-known for it’s near-life-size puppet-caricatures of Party leaders. The one below is ‘John Key’;

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sign of the times - john key - ponytail pulling (1)

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One of the waitresses pointed out what was held in the John Key puppet’s hand;

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sign of the times - john key - ponytail pulling (2)

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Yup – an imitation pony-tail!

Meanwhile, across town, at the Heaven Woodfire Pizza restaurant in Upper Cuba Street, were these signs in their windows;

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sign of the times - john key - ponytail pulling (3)

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Notice the red “ban” sign at the left?

Methinks a certain pony-tail pulling incident has entered into popular culture and will be around for a wee while yet…

Not quite the “legacy” our esteemed Dear Leader wished for?

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 31 July 2015.

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Questions over Serco’s “independent” monitors and it’s Contract with the Crown

4 August 2015 4 comments

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Questions have arisen regarding the  supposed “safe-guards” Monitors at Mt Eden Prison, and at least one aspect of the Serco-Corrections Dept Contract.

According to section 21.2 of the contract between Corrections and Serco, between two to three Monitors were tasked with;

(a) compliance with this agreement;

(b) the accuracy of the Contractor’s invoices or reports relating to the Services;

(c) processes and procedures of the Contractor or any subcontractor relevant to the provision of the Services;

(d) anything else relating to the Services.

Also according to the contract, the monitors were ostensibly appointed by Corrections, though whether they are paid by Corrections or Serco depended on “… if the Service Audit reveals that the Contractor has breached this agreement” (p21.3), in which case “then the Contractor must pay the Crown’s costs in relation to the Service Audit“.

However, on 2 May, TV3’s ‘The Nation’ interview between Lisa Owen and Corrections Minister Sam Lotu-Iiga had this interesting exchange;

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Corrections Minister Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga on The Nation

Corrections Minister Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga on TV3’s ‘The Nation‘, 2 May 2015

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Owen: Okay, well, who’s monitoring their performance? Who makes sure that they reach their targets and that they’re assessing themselves fairly?

Lotu-Iiga: Okay, they are actually more scrutinised than any public prison. They’ve got two monitors— there will be two prison monitors in each of the prisons.

Owen: Who employs those monitors? Who employs the monitor in the prison?

Lotu-Iiga: There will be— If I can just finish, there will be an ombudsman. They will be subject to complaints—

Owen: So the monitor in the prison, Minister, just to be clear, the monitor in the prison; who employs the monitor?

Lotu-Iiga: My understand is that the monitors are based in the prisons, but they report to the Department of Corrections.

Owen: Who employs the monitor and pays their wages, Minister?

Lotu-Iiga: Well, I don’t have those facts on me, but they do report—

Owen: Well, I do. The person who employs the monitor— the person who employs the monitor is the company, Serco. They employ the monitor, and pay their wages.

Lotu-Iiga: Okay, can I just finish—

Owen: So how is that an independent analysis?

Lotu-Iiga: Well, they’re reporting to the Department of Corrections. We have the ombudsman as well. We have the chief inspectorate, if I can say, the chief inspectorate is based in the Department of Corrections. They will be also subject to the scrutiny and the questioning and the examination through the chief inspectorate. That is no different, can I say, to any other prison.

Owen: But you’ve just told me that they’re going to have a higher level of assessment monitoring—

Lotu-Iiga: Well, they do.

Owen: —by saying that they’ve got this person in the prison. But they’re actually employed by the people who run the prison.

Lotu-Iiga: They’re employed by Serco, but they are reporting back to, as I’ve just said, someone in the Department of Corrections. So they’ve got not only two monitors, they’ve got the ombudsman, they’ve got the chief inspectorate and also the office of the Auditor General. That’s no different to any other prison in this country.

Whoever employs (employed?) the Monitors at Mt Eden, they do not appear to have forwarded Incident Reports of violence and other criminal activity taking place at the facility. The prompt forwarding of Incident Reports is also a prime feature of the contract between Serco and Corrections;

22.2 Incident reporting requirements:
If an Incident occurs, the Contractor must report the Incident in accordance with the requirements set out in Schedule 5.

[…]

Schedule 5
Appendix 1
Timecode1

Immediate notification to “Incident Line” (04) 473 1745 anytime day or night, followed by IOMS incident report (or in the event of IOMS being unavailable an E.08.01.F1 Notification of  incident form (which is contained in the Department PPM)) within 2 hours of the incident being advised.

The prevalence of violence (including alleged  “dropping”); “fightclubs”;  injuries; at least one death; drug use; home-brew production*; contraband such as cell-phones; and now three prisoners arrested for involvement in gang-related drug activities – does not seem to have impacted on Mt Eden’s high ranking on Corrections’ Prison Performance Table – the most recent being for twelve months ending March this year;

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Mt Eden prison - prison performance table - corrections department - serco

(Hat-tip: Martyn Bradbury, for above chart)

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Since April 2014, Mt Eden has rated “Exceptional” in previous performance grades. It’s rehabilitation rates at 96.75% – which in itself is odd, as Mt Eden is also a Remand Prison, and 676 out of 952 prisoners (as at 31 December 2014) are on remand; awaiting trial;  and have not been convicted of any crime.

It is fairly obvious that as more and more stories of violence and other criminal activity emerge, Serco’s statistics cannot be taken at face value.  As the Herald’s David Fisher reported on 27 July;

Serco had previously been rated at the highest levels of safety despite the allegations of violence inside Mt Eden prison. It was contracted to carry out its own performance management reviews – and was also responsible for telling the Department of Corrections when its pay should be docked.

One means by which assault figures could be ‘fudged’ by Serco was illustrated by Fisher in the same report;

Over the past week, cases have emerged of prisoners being transported from the Serco prison to other institutions arriving with serious injuries.

The Weekend Herald reported a case in March this year in which a prisoner sent to Manawatu prison was found to be needing urgent hospital care when he arrived.

There are  six questions that beg to be answered by the various inquiries currently under way;

1.

Why did the Monitors at Mt Eden not report incidences of violence – including one death – as well as other criminal activity? Monitors were tasked with reporting untoward events such as assaults to the Corrections Department. Why was this not done so?

2.

Considering the assaults, drug taking, and other other instances of illegal activity taking place at Mt Eden, how could that facility gain a high “Exceptional” rating on the Prison Performance Table? Do Corrections Dept officials, and the Corrections Minister have faith in the accuracy of Prison Performance data? And why did the Monitors not challenge those high rankings?

3.

Why did the Monitors not report that injured prisoners were being transferred out from Mt Eden to other correctional facilities? Why did they not advise the Chief Executive of Corrections (Ray Smith) that by transferring out injured prisoners, that this would inevitably result in favourable statistics for Mt Eden.

4.

Who were the Monitors directly responsible to; Serco or Corrections?

5.

Was there a deliberate, organised policy of silence, between Serco, Corrections Dept, and Minister Sam Lotu-Iiga’s office, to suppress reports of violence and other criminal activity at Mt Eden, because otherwise disclosure of the truth would damage the credibility of this government to pursue it’s agenda for further privatisation of services?

6.

There is provision in the contract between Serco and Corrections for a good faith relationship between the parties;

SCHEDULE 1
WORKING TOGETHER

2.1
In recognising the significance of the relationship between the Crown and the Contractor from an operational and contractual perspective, the parties agree to work cooperatively and collaboratively.

The parties will:

(a) ensure that their communications are open and honest;
(b) proactively raise, and respond to, issues with a view to prompt and efficient resolution;
(c) take a constructive and open minded approach to points of difference; and
(d) treat each other with respect at all times.

The degree to which Serco has with-held information from it’s partner – the Crown – should be seen by many as being far from “open and honest“; has failed to “proactively raise, and respond to, issues“; and certainly not treated the Crown “with respect at all times”.

So why is Schedule 1 not grounds to break the contract with Serco?

Not only has Serco apparently circumvented the spirit, as well as the intent, on their contract with Corrections, but it has apparently connived to suppress information, as Kim Vinnell reported for TV3 on 24 July;

There are fresh revelations private prison operator Serco went out of its way to make sure its squeaky clean record stayed that way.

In Mt Eden prison where inmates are king, are guards who say they’re understaffed and afraid.

“It’s about time we all spoke out and say what it’s actually like,” says one guard, who spoke to 3 News on the condition of anonymity.

He says when prisoners or guards break the rules, management would rather official reports tell a different story.

“You’re told to state the facts, but to leave all other things out of it.

“They go missing off the system several times, or they get edited and you’re not told that they’re edited.”

The Government says it didn’t know what was going on, despite the fact three prison monitors – who are Corrections employees – have been there since Serco’s first day.

Under the Corrections Act, prison monitors must report to the chief executive at least every four months. The sole purpose of their job is to report on prison management and any concerns they may have about the prison’s running.

The government claims “it didn’t know what was going on“.

In which case, not only was the Correction Minister’s office kept in the dark – but also the entire Corrections Department. Is this feasible?

It is inconceivable that National Ministers did not know the depth of problems afflicting Mt Eden and Serco.

In which case, this government was actively complicit in a cover-up, to protect it’s credibility with voters – and to  safeguard it’s privatisation agenda.

This scandal may yet engulf the government and bring it down, forcing an early election.

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* Note: Home-brew involves fermentation to produce alcohol. The process creates carbon dioxide and strong odours. How is it that staff at Mt Eden could not smell fermentation processes within the facility?

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Addendum1

Email to Corrections Minister, Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga, on 28 July;

Kia ora Minister  Lotu-Iiga,

I am querying the appointment on Monitors for Mt Eden Prison, which up till yesterday (27 July), was managed by Serco.

Can you please advise  regarding the following;

1. Who employs the Monitors? Is it Serco or the Corrections Department?

2. Who do they report to; Serco or the Corrections Department?

3. Who pays their salaries; Serco or the Corrections Department?

4. Are the Monitors responsible for providing information to Corrections, which forms the Prison Performance Table? If not, who provides that information?

5. Are the Monitors still employed at Mt Eden? If not, why not?

6. Have the monitors made any Incident Reports to Corrections, as required Prison under the Management Contract for Mt Eden Corrections Facility (para 22.2). If so, what Incidents were reported and when?

Please respond asap to this OIA request, as this is a matter of some urgency.

A response from  Minister  Lotu-Iiga’s Private Secretary acknowledged  my email on the 29th, advising;

As the information you have requested is held by the Department of Corrections, I have transferred your request to the Department. This decision is in accordance with section 14 of the Official Information Act 1982.

The Department is required to provide you with a response within 20 working days of receipt of my transfer letter.

It is likely that Corrections Dept will use a provision within the Official Information Act to request an extension to the 20 Working Day time-limit.

Addendum2

Schedule 11 (Information Requests) of the Serco-Corrections Dept Contract, stipulates;

Official Information Act (OIA) requests

These can often be requested by journalists wishing to probe deeper into issues they believe the public may be interested in. Requests under the OIA are managed within the statutory timeframes described in the legislation – this is generally 20 Working Days for a response.

OIA requests, by law, must be facilitated as soon as possible. The “20 Working Days” option is a maximum – not a target response time to work to.

Part 2, Section 15 of the Act clearly and explicitly states that responses to OIA requests “shall, as soon as reasonably practicable, and in any case not later than 20 working days after the day on which the request is received” be “given or posted to the person who made the request notice of the decision on the request“.

It is unclear how the Serco-Corrections Dept Contract complies with requirements contained within the Official Information Act to provide responses “ as soon as reasonably practicable“.

Addendum3

Considering that the Schedule 11 (Information Requests) of the Serco-Corrections Dept Contract, appears to contravene the spirit, intent,  and letter of the Official Information Act (Part 2, Section 15), I wrote to the Office of the Ombudsman to seek their advice;

Kia ora,

I understand that your Office has been looking into a possible actions by various government Ministers to willfully and deliberately delay replying to OIA requests. Part 2, Section 15 of the Official Information Act states that responses to OIA requests;

“…shall, as soon as reasonably practicable, and in any case not later than 20 working days after the day on which the request is received” be “given or posted to the person who made the request notice of the decision on the request“.

I have recently been looking into the Prison Management Contract for Mt Eden Corrections Facility   that applies between the Corrections Dept (acting on behalf of The Crown) and a private company, Serco.

Schedule 11 (Information Requests) of the Serco-Corrections Dept Contract, stipulates;

Official Information Act (OIA) requests

These can often be requested by journalists wishing to probe deeper into issues they believe the public may be interested in. Requests under the OIA are managed within the statutory timeframes described in the legislation – this is generally 20 Working Days for a response.

It is my contention that the Contract’s reference to “Requests under the OIA are managed within the statutory timeframes described in the legislation – this is generally 20 Working Days for a responseis counter  to the spirit, intent, and letter of the Official Information Act.
The Act clearly states that OIA requests should be actioned “as soon as reasonably practicable” and that “20 working days” is a maximum time limit, not a target time-frame to work toward.
In your view, is the Contract accurately reflecting the Official Information  Act?
If not, how does that impact on the legality of the Contract itself?
I would welcome your advice on this matter.
This blogger will keep readers advised on further developments.

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References

Corrections Dept: Prison Management Contract for Mt Eden Corrections Facility

Scoop  media:  The Nation – Corrections Minister Sam Lotu-Iiga

NZ Herald: Head Hunters raids – Police investigating former Mt Eden prison guard

Corrections Dept: Prison Performance Table

NZ Herald: Serco docked $565k over violence in prisons

Corrections Dept:  Prison facts and statistics – December 2014

TV3: Mt Eden prison guards ‘understaffed, afraid’

Legislation.govt.nz: Official Information Act 1982

Previous related blogposts

The closure of three prisons and loss of 262 jobs – five issues for the National govt

“The Nation” reveals gobsmacking incompetence by Ministers English and Lotu-Iiga

Letter to the editor – If Serco was the answer, what was the question?

On private prisons

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 30 July 2015.

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Awash with alcohol and lies in the Internet Age

3 August 2015 3 comments

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Kilbirnie Pak 'n Save in booze ban after selling to pair of 16-year-olds

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Our country has been described as “awash by alcohol” by more than one observer. In New Zealand, buying alcohol is easier than buying a car fuse at a petrol station. (I know this, I’ve tried.)

On Tuesday 29 July, I noticed the following signage at Kilbirnie’s busy Pak’N’Save supermarket;

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Indeed, the entire liquor section at the supermarket – a not inconsiderable area of the complex – had been blockaded by a Great Wall of Loopaper,  chippies, sugary soft-drinks, and other highly-processed, salted snack-foods;

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Perhaps what really caught my attention was the wording of the yellow signage, at regular intervals adorning the Great Wall;

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Liquor products are currently unavailable.

Liquor products are currently unavailable due

to an issue with our liquor license. This will be

resolved by Thursday  30th July.

We would like to apologise for the inconvenience

this issue has caused and we appreciate your

understanding.

Pak N Save

Kilbirnie

 

Really?

Breaking the law and selling liquor to sixteen year olds is defined as an “issue” by Pak N Save’s management?

The term “issue” has supplanted the previous terms that might also be applicable in this case; “problem”; “stuff-up”; or simply, “breaking the terms of our liquor license by illegally selling to young people under 18”.

Any one of those terms would be more honest than a hazy veil of euphemism, referring to losing a liquor license for five days as an “issue”.

Forgetting to reapply for a liquor license might be deemed an “issue”. Selling to under-age kids is a major screw-up. (Also somewhat illegal.)

I wonder if the supermarket’s owner would be as forgiving of a shoplifter caught with a dozen Whittaker’s chocolate bars (Whittakers being better quality than Cadbury, any day) down her blouse, casually apologising for the “issue” of not paying for the goods?

There seems to be a casual – almost dishonest manner – by which the supermarket has presented their transgression to the public. As if National had loaned Pak N Save a couple of their spin-doctors, to minimise any public disapproval of the “issue”.

Our government has the very best of spin-doctors, and we are daily mis-informed; distracted; deflected; and outright lied to by Ministers who have been caught engaged in questionable activities.

John Key’s assertion that a prisoner at Mt Eden Prison “fell” of the balcony, rather than being pushed by fellow in-mates, was his version of Pak N Save’s “issue” with their liquor license;

“One of the claims that had been made, I think, was that someone had been thrown off a balcony – in fact, actually, Serco say that the person jumped off the balcony, or tripped, or fell.”

It is ironic that in the Age of the Internet; of near instantaneous communication and super highways of information, that we have more misinformation; half-truths; “spin”;  and sheer lies thrown at us than ever before.

It is not just alcohol we are awash with – it’s lies.

In the case of politics, the irony is that we, the tax-payer, pay spin-doctors to help government ministers, to lie to us.

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References

Fairfax media: Kilbirnie Pak ‘n Save in booze ban after selling to pair of 16-year-olds

Fairfax media: Corrections Minister looking at options for Serco-run prisons after allegations of ill-treatment

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key's credibility takes a hit

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 29 July 2015.

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The slow dismantling of a Prime Minister continues

2 August 2015 7 comments

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Continued from:  The slow dismantling of a populist prime minister

Amidst the latest scandal swirling around this increasingly desperate National government, the chaos at Serco-run Mt Eden prison is just the latest in a long line of ministerial botch-ups.

Lost in the growing shocking stories of violence, drug-taking, and even prisoner deaths – the latest 3News/Reid Research Poll paints a strikingly clear picture of a third-term government fast losing public support.

As was reported previously, the personal popularity of our esteemed Dear Leader, John Key, has been in slow free-fall since 2009;

Oct/Nov 08: 36.4%

(Source)

Feb 2009: 52.1%

April 2009: 51.1%

Aug 2009: 51.6%

Oct 2009: 55.8%

Feb 2010: 49.4%

April 2010: 49.0%

June 2010: 49.6%

Jul/Aug 2010: 48.7%

Sept/Oct 2010: 50.6%

Nov/Dec 2010: 54.1%

Feb 2011: 49.1%

April 2011: 52.4%

May 2011: 48.2%

Jun/Jul 2011: 50.5%

Aug 2011: 53.3%

Sept 2011: 54.5%

Oct 2011: 52.7%

1-8 Nov 2011: 50.0%

9-16 Nov 2011: 49.4%

16-23 Nov 2011: 48.9%

Feb 2012: 45.8%

April 2012: 44.2%

May/Jun 2012: 40.5%

July: 43.2%

(Source)

Feb 2013: 41.0%

April 2013: 38.0%

May 2013: 41.0%

Jul 2013: 42.0%

Nov 2013: 40.9%

Jan 2014: 38.9%

Mar 2014: 42.6%

May 2014: 43.1%

Jun 2014: 46.7%

Jul 2014: 43.8%

5-3 Aug 2014: 44.1%

19-25 Aug 2014: 41.4%

26 Aug-1 Sept 2014: 45.1%

2-8 Sept 2014: 45.3%

9-15 Sept 2014: 44.1%

Jan 2015: 44.0%

May 2015: 39.4%

(Source)

The most recent 3News/Reid Research Poll is no better for John Key. His PPM ranking has slipped again;

July 2015: 38.3%

From the rarified-atmosphere heights of 55.8% (2009), Key has dropped 17.5 percentage points in the Preferred Prime Minister rankings by July of this year.

The artificial construct of the  relaxed, “blokey”, apolitical, public persona of John Key worked well for the first two terms. But scandal after scandal; a sense that National lacks any firm economic direction (except for asset sales and more roads); and a growing perception amongst New Zealanders that the most basic of Kiwi Dreams – owning your own home – is slipping from our grasp, has put National precisely where it was in the later 1990s, under Jenny Shipley’s stewardship.

People are looking for answers and they are not finding it from Key’s  easy-going approach, nor  National’s message of the Big Aspirational Dream. Both are wearing thin. And irritating to more and more people who, once-upon-a-time, voted for him.

Especially if you happen to be a young person looking to buy  their first home in Auckland.

The fact that the housing bubble is occurring in Auckland is significant for a critical reason;  it is often said that when it comes to general elections, where Auckland goes, the rest of the country follows.

Key has done nothing to address the Auckland housing bubble and the perception/reality that foreign investors are snapping up properties will continue to  gnaw away on his remaining popularity.

When Key utters sentiments such as;

“But the point here is simply this – I don’t want to ban foreigners from buying residential property.”

– most New Zealanders hearing that will be wondering to themselves if their elected Prime Minister is more concerned with the interests  of foreign  investors  speculating on our houses, pushing up prices and locking out young New Zealanders from home-ownership – then he is with the aspirations of those same young New Zealanders.

If New Zealanders, en masse,  begin to believe that multi-millionaire John Key is no longer empathetic to their needs, and instead prefers to justify the rights and interests of wealthy foreign speculators, then their support for him will decline further. The perception that John Key, living the life of a millionaire, in a multi-million-dollar mansion, expressing sympathy for other millionaires to buy houses that we see as rightfully our heritage, will be a toxic one.

Make no mistake; this is an ideological viewpoint from our esteemed Prime Minister, and most New Zealanders will see it as being divorced from their daily realities of living, working, paying bills, trying to get ahead, etc.

Also ideological, is Key’s commitment to Serco. Despite Key’s assurance that “all hell will break loose” if Serco does not improve it’s performance at Mt Eden Prison, there is no possibility – either in Hell or Heaven – that it will loose it’s contract. None whatsoever.

Quite simply, if National were to cancel the contract and dump Serco, it would be a massive admission of failure  that privatisation of social services is fraught with risk and no guarantee that “private is better”. It would set the right wing agenda, to out-source government activities, back by a decade.

It would also highlight to the voting public that National was engaged in risky experiments to push it’s privatisation/neo-liberal agenda. And funded by our taxes, to boot.

The housing crisis in Auckland will be a major test for National. Especially when the next bit of bad news hits the headlines;

Auckland house prices could hit $1 million within 18 months if interest rates continue falling, experts predict.

Geoff Barnett, national manager of real estate agency chain Century 21, said sales price growth patterns gave a strong indication that the magic million could be hit soon.

“If you look at the growth in the last 18 months of over $200,000, and if we had the same amount of growth over the next 18 months, we could get to $1 million in Auckland. If interest rates keep coming down, we could easily get there,” Barnett said.

The  3News/Reid Research Poll also asked respondents what their views were on foreign investors buying up properties. The results were predictable;

Should the Government should ban “foreign buyers”, people who are not residents or citizens, from buying houses?

Yes – 61%
No – 35%
Don’t Know – 4%

More critical for Key, even the majority of National voters supported a ban;

National voters

Yes – 54%
No – 43%
Don’t know – 3%

When the Prime Minister is so out-of-touch with the majority of his own supporters, and is more concerned with endorsing and maintaining a free market  ideology that supports foreigners’ interests rather than New Zealanders’ aspirations – then it is Game Over.

Unless Key does a complete 180 degree back-flip, and bans foreign investors from buying houses, this will be his last term.

National – the party of aspiration – undone and defeated when it could not meet that most basic aspiration of New Zealanders: owning your own Quarter Acre Pavlova Paradise.

Addendum1

From Radio NZ;

Combined support for Labour and the Greens has overtaken National in the latest four-poll average, covering polls taken during July. And Labour has crept back up to 32.4 %, its highest since March 2014.

[…]

National is down to 44.5%. That is its lowest since October 2013. Still, it remains far ahead of all other parties and not far below its election score of 47.0%.

But Labour’s trend seems to be up and National’s down (for now). And Labour and the Greens combined lead National by 0.9% for the first time since February 2014. Around budget time National led by 8.8%.

Winston Peters’ New Zealand First would decide which of the two sides would lead a government.

Source: Poll of Polls, Radio NZ

 

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References

TV3:  Poll – 61pct want to ban foreign buyers

Scoop media: TVNZ Q+A Transcript – PM – I don’t want to ban foreign buyers from buying

TV3: The Nation – Interview – Prime Minister John Key

NZ Herald: When will Auckland break $1m median?

 

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9. John Key Tenants in our own country

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 28 July 2015.

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So what is the rationale for private prisons?

1 August 2015 3 comments

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Justice not for sale logo

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On 14 December, 2010, there was great excitement and jubilation  in the Beehive when then-Corrections Minister Judith Collins announced;

This Government is committed to a world-class Corrections system in New Zealand. To achieve that, we must have access to world-class innovation and expertise.

The appointment of Serco as the contract manager for Mt Eden/ACRP will bring in new ideas and international best practice which will benefit the entire corrections sector.

Serco has a strong track record in managing prisons. I’m confident that the company will bring the high standards of professionalism, safety, rehabilitation and security expected by the Government to Mt Eden/ACRP.”

(Acknowledgement: TV3 The Nation and  )

The rational for the gradual privatisation of our prisons – traditionally the responsibility of the State – was to provide “ a world-class Corrections system in New Zealand“; to “bring in new ideas and international best practice“, and implement “high standards of professionalism, safety, rehabilitation and security“.

According to National/ACT ideology, Private is better.

On 21 July, nearly five years after Collins’ gushing endorsement of Serco, Labour’s Kelvin Davis revealed to the country a series of events at Mt Eden – nominally under the “control” of Serco;

Speaking first in the heated debate, Mr Davis claims that Mt Eden prisoners with severe injuries had been transferred to public prisons so that the cases did not show up in Serco’s assault statistics.

He told a story of a prisoner named only as Evans who arrived at Ngawha prison in Northland with a punctured lung.

“He was in such bad shape that almost immediately the guards at Ngawha transferred him to Whangarei Hospital where he subsequently passed away,” Mr Davis said.

Since then, we have seen video-clips on social media showing fight-clubs and drug-taking, as well as  stories of extortion, “dropping”, rape, etc, etc. Mt Eden prison is so badly run that the Corrections Dept will take control of the facility today (27 July).

Not since the collapse of Air New Zealand, and hasty re-nationalisation by the Clark-led Labour government in October 2001, has the State had to step in to salvage an organisation from mis-management and chaos.

Since then, our esteemed Prime Minister has made several statements, attempting to minimise the violence and drug-taking at Mt Eden;

And so the point will be, I think what it will show is on reported instances , that SERCO ‘s about consistant with the others [prisons]… as far as sexual assaults and violent assaults, I think you’ll see Mt Eden’s pretty similar to the other prisons.” – TVNZ Q+A, @ 2.50

 

Mr Key defended National’s prison privatisation policy, saying that violence was not limited to private jails. – NZ Herald

Now here’s the salient point which our esteemed Prime Minister, Judith Collins, Corrections Minister Sam Lotu-Iiga, and other National MPs and Ministers might care to ponder:

1. If, as Key, et al, assert, that “violence was not limited to private jails” and “Mt Eden’s pretty similar to the other prisons” – then what is the point of privatisation of prison services if private providers are no different to State administration?

2. Why are we, the tax-payer, paying huge profits to a company like Serco, if “violence was not limited to private jails” and “Mt Eden’s pretty similar to the other prisons“? What, exactly, are we paying for?

3. If Private Prividers are no better than the State at running correctional facilities – why not cut out the “middle man” (Serco), and simply invest the profit that would have gone to the corporation, for more drug rehabilitation; literacy courses; skills training; and comprehensive re-integration into society?

Because if there is no difference to the Private or State management of our prisons, then giving hundreds of millions of tax-dollars to Serco makes no sense.

None whatsoever.

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Addendum1

One of the claims that had been made, I think, was that someone had been thrown off a balcony – in fact, actually, Serco say that the person jumped off the balcony, or tripped, or fell.” – John Key, 23 July 2015

Really, Mr Key?

So the prisoner picked himself up and threw himself over the balcony, for no apparent reason? Or “tripped”? Or “fell”?

I am reminded of the tragic fate of many anti-apartheid activists in South Africa, during the apartheid years;

More than 100 other people suspected of anti-apartheid activities died in security police custody in South Africa and tribal homelands. In some cases, authorities said the suspects died of natural causes, however implausible. A larger number were reported to have hanged themselves. Others “fell down stairs” and died. Or fell out of windows and died. Or were “injured in scuffles.” Or “fell in shower.” Except for Dr. Neil Aggett, a 29-year-old physician who became a trade union official, all the dead detainees were black.

What say you now, Mr Key?

Addendum2

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References

Beehive.govt.nz: Mt Eden/ACRP contract manager announced

NZ Herald:MP: ‘Ill’ prisoner died after ‘dropping’

National Business Review: Corrections snatches Mt Eden Prison back from Serco

World Socialist Website: Another airline crisis—the case of Air New Zealand

TVNZ Q+A: TPP and National Party’s future – PM

NZ Herald: Serco hauled before minister

Fairfax media: Corrections Minister looking at options for Serco-run prisons after allegations of ill-treatment

Baltimore Sun: Biko and the goons of state security Power – The reopened case of Steve Biko

Previous related blogposts

The closure of three prisons and loss of 262 jobs – five issues for the National govt

“The Nation” reveals gobsmacking incompetence by Ministers English and Lotu-Iiga

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140105-housing-in-prisons

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 27 July 2015.

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