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Archive for July, 2016

Foot in mouth award – Bill English, for his recent “Flat Earth” comment in Parliament

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idiot bill english

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I won’t be wanting to see any hint of arrogance creeping in… One of the big messages I’ll be wanting to give incoming ministers and the caucus is that it is incredibly important that National stays connected with our supporters and connected with the New Zealand public.John Key, 22 September 2014

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It appears that Finance Minister, Bill English did not get the memo from Dear Leader Key’s office:  “Dont get arrogant!”

On 29 June, near two years after Key’s warning, Bill English’s cockiness has landed him in deep, fetid water when he responded to a question from Labour’s Grant Robertson in Parliament;

Grant Robertson: “Does he agree with the statement of Pope Francis I that “Inequality is the root of social evil”,  given that inequality has risen in New Zealand on his watch, and is it not time he got back to confession?”

Hon Bill English: “ There is no evidence that inequality in New Zealand is increasing.

A day later, interviewed by an exasperated Guyon Espiner, English again denied that inequality was increasing in this country. English’s tortuous mental and verbal gymnastics to deny rising inequality was utterly unconvincing and judging by the tone of his own voice, he wasn’t convincing himself either;

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Porirua family can only afford biscuits - bill english - radio nz - inequality - poverty

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English’s assertion that inequality in New Zealand is not rising beggars belief, when nearly every metric used has come precisely to that conclusion.

From the Salvation Army, last year;

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income inequality - salvation army - child poverty

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The Children’s Commissioner reported on increasing child-poverty, rising by  45,000 over a year ago to now 305,000  children now live in poverty;

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A third of NZ children live in poverty - childrens commissioner

 

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Statistics NZ’s report on the problem was unequivocal – “Between 1988 and 2014, income inequality between households with high incomes and those with low incomes widened“;

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income inequality - statistics nz - poverty

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1988 – When Rogernomics began in earnest. What a surprise.

Interestingly,  income inequality fell slightly in 2004, when Working for Families was introduced by the Clark-led Labour Government. Working For Families was the same policy derided by then-Opposition Finance spokesperson, John Key, as “communism by stealth“.

From the last bastion of “radical marxism”, the OECD, came this damning report on rising inequality in New Zealand impacting on our economic growth;

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income inequality - oecd nz - poverty

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The Report stated that “rising inequality is estimated to have knocked more than 10 percentage points off [economic] growth in Mexico and New Zealand“.

And even our Dear Leader once admitted that New Zealand’s “underclasses” was growing;

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key admits underclass still growing - poverty - foodbanks - homelessness

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So, is everybody – including Bill English’s boss – wrong?!

Is Bill English the sole voice-in-the-wilderness trying to spread The Truth, whilst everybody else – including faraway OECD – is wrong?!

Or has he run foul of Dear Leader’s prescient warnings not to become arrogant?

Enjoining the poor to ignore hunger and simply “Let them eat cake” did not work out well for a certain person 223 years ago. Bill English may not lose his head over his obstinate refusal to see the world around him – but he may lose the election next year.

So for Bill English, on behalf of those who are low-paid; homeless; unable to afford to buy a home; unemployed; poor; and will be spending tonight in a car or an alleyway, I nominate Bill English for a Foot In The Mouth Award;

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Foot In Mouth Award

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References

NZ Herald: Election 2014 – Triumphant PM’s strict line with MPs – Don’t get arrogant

Parliament Today: Questions & Answers – June 29

Radio NZ: Porirua family can only afford biscuits (audio)

Fairfax Media: Child poverty progress ‘fails’, Salvation Army says

Radio NZ: A third of NZ children live in poverty

Statistics NZ: Income inequality

MSD: Future Directions – Working for Families

NZ Herald: National accuses Government of communism by stealth

OECD: Trends in Income Inequality and its impact on economic growth

NZ Herald: Key admits underclass still growing

Newstalk ZB: Demand for food banks, emergency housing much higher than before recession

Additional

Office of the Children’s Commissioner:

Previous related blogposts

When National is under attack – Deflect, deflect, deflect!

State house sell-off in Tauranga unravelling?

The Mendacities of Mr English – Fibbing from Finance Minister confirmed

Why is Paula Bennett media-shy all of a sudden?

Park-up in Wellington – People speaking against the scourge of homelessness

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national's free market solution to housing

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 5 July 2016.

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Letter to the editor – Key discovers how to reduce unemployment in NZ

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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: Sun, Jul 3, 2016
subject: Letters to the editor

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The editor
Sunday Star Times

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On 29 June 2016, Statistics NZ announced that it would be changing the definition of what constituted an unemployment person being called a jobseeker;

“Looking at job advertisements on the internet is correctly classified as not actively seeking work. “

So an unemployed person, using the internet to look for work, is no longer considered a jobseeker?

Stats NZ then promptly “reviewed” the current employment rate of 5.7%, revising it down to 5.2%.

Four days later, on TV3’s “The Nation”, our esteemed Prime Minister patted himself on the back for “falling unemployment” saying;

“The unemployment rate in New Zealand is now falling pretty dramatically. “

Well, of course it’s “fallen”! Statistics NZ has ‘cooked’ the numbers! By arbitrarily deciding that any unemployed person using the internet to look for work is no longer considered officially a “jobseeker” – unemployment has “miraculously” dropped!

Now we now how Key’s government plans to reduce unemployment, and it’s not by job-creation.

Lies, damned lies, and statics indeed!

George Orwell would be mightily impressed!

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-Frank Macskasy

[address and phone number supplied]

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References

Statistics NZ: Household Labour Force Survey – Revisions to labour market estimates

Scoop media: On The Nation – Patrick Gower interviews John Key

Previous related blogpost

Lies, Damned lies and Statistical Lies

 

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Lies, Damned lies and Statistical Lies

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ministry-of-truth-update

 

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In the last few years,  my writing has involved a wide range of topics affecting the social/economic/political aspects of our nation. The one common factor in my writing has been the ability to  research facts and figures and put them into some usable context, either for evidential, or high-lighting purposes.

Offering an opinion that the government is hollowing-out Child,Youth, and Family is one thing. Carrying out research; finding information through the ‘net; asking specific questions using the Official Information Act are the means by which hard facts can be mined; refined; and presented to the reader in a form that presents a credible case to the audience. Stories such as  “State house sell-off in Tauranga unravelling?” and “Ongoing jobless tally” are put together using information, quotes, financial and statistical data.

Two stories late last year illustrated how National – with silence or active co-operation by compliant state-sector bosses – has been able to manipulate statistics to present a favourable public perception of it’s management of the country.

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Media stories of the Week - Police Commissioner Mike Bush on dubious police practices

 

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Though occassionally, the truth slips out, as Greg O’Connor revealed on TVNZ’s Q+A on 25 October, last year;

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Weekend Revelations 3 – Greg O’Connor and criminal statistics

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Fudging statistics, numbers, facts, and dollar-figures is not isolated when it comes to this government. Only a few days ago, English was sprung giving false financial information relating to Sue Moroney’s paid-parental leave bill;

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English admits maths error in bill veto defence

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The Radio NZ report went on to state;

Ms Moroney challenged him about the figures in Parliament.

“Does he stand by his statement to Radio New Zealand on 17 June 2016 that extending paid parental leave to 26 weeks would add when it’s fully in place about $280 million a year.”

Mr English admitted he was incorrect and should have used the figures written in the veto certificate he himself had tabled.

“The government currently spends about $280m a year on paid parental leave, Labour’s proposal once fully implemented would cost around $120m per year on top of that – or $100m per year net of tax. Net of tax the proposal would cost $280m over the next four years.”

Ms Moroney then asked how Mr English got it so wrong.

He replied that he did so because he confused the $280m over four years, with $280m a year.

This is our Finance Minister confusing $280 million per year with over a four-year period. No wonder we’re over $60 billion in debt.

National has been crowing for the last few years that “crime has been falling“;

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Offences at 24-year low, crime down for third year running

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Even the Police Commissioner got in on the ‘act’;

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Crime rate falls to 29-year low

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A huge amount of hard work from our Police has gone into achieving these fantastic results,” said Tolley in 2013. “Fantastic” is right – as in fantasy-fantastic.

Because it did not take long before people started realising that the Police stats were dodgy, and most likely bogus.

This was confirmed by  outgoing Police Association President, Greg O’Conner, on TVNZ’s Q+A, on 25 October, in a very candid  interview with Michael Parkin.

On statistics,  Parkin referred  to  National and Police  trumpeting a 30% drop in crime. O’Conner responded wryly;

@3.10

“Well, it’s uh, lies, damned lies, and statistics. If you look at the crime stats, um, which is those recorded stats, you’ll say the government and police administration are right. If you look at the stats around calls for service, they’re the phone calls that police receive in communications centes, etc, and just an example, family violence, domestic disputes; up by 10% a year pretty much, and across the board, 20% increase. So it’s the calls for service, to the extent that the communications centres couldn’t manage last summer. There’s a fear, and we’re obviously we’re trying to make sure it doesn’t happen this year. So the two are going in completely different directions.”

Parkin pointedly asked if the statistics are being manipulated. O’Conner’s response  was startling in it’s honesty;

@3.55

“Of course they are. Every government department – I mean, what happens is that, the stats themselves are fair, but I mean I see it as a debate [like] about health, y’know, medical – the waitings lists have going down, but people get kicked of waiting lists and so it’s, you achieve – Put it this way, with crime stats, what we’ve set out to do is the way to cut crime stats is to hit your bulk crime. So if you have any success there, of course, that’s going to be big numbers down. And what you ignore is your small  numbers. You ignore, in fact, interestingly enough you ignore drugs. You ignore a lot of your serious stuff that you only find if you go looking. And in the past that’s got us into real trouble. Got us into trouble with the child abuse files, in particular, and you remember, that they were put aside. Because they weren’t politically known. They were business as usual. All of a sudden we were concentrating on the crime and crash reduction, um, and we ignored that stuff. And so you’ve got to be careful. And this is where the politicisation of policing is really dangerous. It’s not done by the Minister saying ‘you gotta do this and you gotta do that’, it’s done by funding.”

O’Conner’s scorn is confirmed by an event last year where one police district was caught out, red-handed, falsifying crime statistics. Seven hundred burglary offences “disappeared”;

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Police made burglaries vanish - greg o'conner - national - crime statistics

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Herald journalist, Eugene Bingham, reported;

“ It transpired others knew about the allegations around the same time, including the local MP and then-Minister of Justice, Judith Collins.”

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Two-year search for 'ghost crimes' truth - greg o'conner - national - crime statistics

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A police report “raised questions over pressures to meet crime reduction targets”, but Police were quick to assure that the fudged stats were “isolated“;

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Police deny being caught out by false review claims - greg o'conner - national - crime statistics

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“Isolated”? As far back as 2012, Police were issuing warnings for petty-crime, instead of prosecuting;

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Warnings to petty crims 'freeing up police time'

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Then-Police Commissioner Peter Marshall said;

“ These are 19,000 people who would otherwise go to court, who would clutter up the system in terms of court time, let alone police officers preparing prosecution files and spending time in court.”

So the policy of issuing warnings “freed up police time” and “un-clogged the Court system”?

It also created a drop in crime statistics.

How convenient.

The above Herald story, “Warnings to petty crims ‘freeing up police time’ ” appeared in the Herald in January 2012. So by April 2013, Police Minister Anne Tolley was able to say with (almost) a straight face;

“ These statistics show that our Police are getting it right, and I want to congratulate the Commissioner and all Police staff for their efforts in preventing crime and making communities safer.”

It’s easy to reduce crime. Just “massage” the stats  away.

“Massaging” statistics does not work for long, as current Police Commissioner Bush recently discovered;

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Police concerned at national crime spike

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(Listen also to Radio NZ Checkpoint interview (2′ 39″))

Both Police Minister Judith Collins and Commissioner Bush resorted to old-fashioned “spin” (aka “bullshitry”) to explain away this embarrassing development;

Police Commissioner Mike Bush told MPs at today’s Law and Order Select Committee the jump in crime had to be kept in perspective.

“Burglary rates are some of the lowest rates in over a decade, in recent times there has been an increase – now that concerns me,” the commissioner said.

Police Minister Judith Collins tried to put a positive spin on the jump in crime when speaking to reporters later.

“Well there may have been a slight bump in crime and I think the commissioner said that was most likely so, but I think what we’re seeing is if police go after drug offenders, that’s always going to be counting as offences,” she said.

On this basis, if  Police  did not arrest anyone; nor prosecuted anyone, there would be zero crime in New Zealand. According to statistics, anyway.

So much for one one National’s vaunted, lynch-pin policies;

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National hoarding staying strong on crime

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National’s ministers have never liked statistics. They have a tendency to show up the failings of this inept government. Who can forget then-Welfare Minister, Paula Bennett in August 2012 giving an explanation (of sorts) why her government was not willing to undertake measuring the poverty line;

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measuring-poverty-line-not-a-priority-bennett

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“ There is no official measure of poverty in New Zealand. The actual work to address poverty is perhaps what is most important. Children move in and out of poverty on a daily basis.”

Though how Bennett proposed to “address poverty” when she was fearful of even measuring it has never been fully explained.

But as we know, since Bennett’s decision, poverty has increased and stories of people living in garages, cars, and families crammed into over-crowded houses have come to light. Despite not being measured, poverty refuses to go away.

What an inconvenient, annoying nuisance.

On 29 June 2016, Statistics NZ announced that it would be changing the manner in which it defined a jobseeker;

Change: Looking at job advertisements on the internet is correctly classified as not actively seeking work. This change brings the classification in line with international standards and will make international comparability possible.

Improvement: Fewer people will be classified as actively seeking work, therefore the counts of people unemployed will be more accurate.

The statement went on to explain;

Change in key labour market estimates:

  • Decreases in the number of people unemployed and the unemployment rate

  • Changes to the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate range from 0.1 to 0.6 percentage points. In the most recent published quarter (March 2016), the unemployment rate is revised down from 5.7 percent to 5.2 percent 

  • Increases in the number of people not in the labour force 

  • Decreases in the size of the labour force and the labour force participation rate

The result of this change? At the stroke of a pen, unemployment fell from 5.7% to 5.2%.

Simply because if a person was job-searching using the internet they were “not actively seeking work“.

Which beggars belief as the majority of jobseekers will be using the internet. It is the 21st century – what else would they be using?

In fact, a government website – careersnz – states categorically;

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careersnz - use the internet

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Work and Income’s (WINZ) website states similarly;

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work and income - where to look

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On-line job advertising company, Seek,  reported a sharp rise in job adverts on their websites.

For the government statistician to unilaterally declare that “looking at job advertisements on the internet is correctly classified as not actively seeking work” beggars belief. One might as well say that if a person admitted to hospital shows no outward signs of serious illness, then that person is obviously not sick.

When most jobs are advertised online – as stated by government agencies!!! – where else would one look for a job? By studying tea-leaves perhaps?

The result of Statistics NZ’s “improvements” by removing online job-hunting as job-seeking is obvious; the rate of unemployment dropped.

How surprising.

Stats NZ actually seemed pleased with the consequence;

Fewer people will be classified as actively seeking work, therefore the counts of people unemployed will be more accurate.

How can “the counts of people unemployed” be “more accurate” if large numbers of unemployed are culled from the count?!?! In what Universe is this an accurate count to include some unemployed, but not others, for the most specious reason?

This makes no sense in terms of accurate statistics. To any sober person, an unemployed jobseeker is one who is;

  1. Unemployment
  2. Job-seeking

There is no rationale for arbitrarily removing job seekers who use the internet to seek work. Especially as two government departments encourage on-line searching because “most jobs in NZ are advertised online“.

There can only be one rational explanation: the unemployment statistics are inconvenient. Therefore change the parameters of the statistics.

This change to Statistics NZ is of considerable benefit to the National government. Their policies have consistently failed to reduced unemployment in a meaningful way.

The perception is that “strings have been pulled”; “whispers made into certain ears”; and Ministers’ expectations made clear to certain senior civil servants.

If all this is true, this would have to be one of the most under-hand things that National has done these last eight years. This would have to be one of the worst.

Aside from the fact that it is another in a long list of lies, bendy-truths, omissions, etc, this one is a wilful attempt to hide the consequences of their failing policies.

It was bad enough when Stats NZ defined being “employed” as;

Employed: people in the working-age population who, during the reference week, did one of the following:

* worked for one hour or more for pay or profit in the context of an employee/employer relationship or self-employment

* worked without pay for one hour or more in work which contributed directly to the operation of a farm, business, or professional practice owned or operated by a relative

If working one hour, without pay, is the minimum measure of being “employed”, then what must our true rate of unemployment actually be?

As much as possible, I deal with facts in my writing. But when supposedly independent, non-partisan, ostensibly-accurate data-collection and presentation is no longer a true reflection of reality, then we have reached a point where I am dealing in assumptions, half-facts, and outright distortions.

This government has done what few other Western democracies have achieved; a state of Orwellianism that Stalinist Russia, Nazi Germany, and other dictatorships required unrelenting brute force to achieve.

When it comes to National, believe nothing; question everything. Misinformation is policy.

Welcome – to National’s “Brighter Future”.

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National-Party-Holds-Conference-Wellington-sJ7OyG8uc6Yl

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Note: Some parts of this story are an excerpt from a previous blogpost,  Weekend Revelations #3 – Greg O’Connor and criminal statistics.

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References

TVNZ: Q+A – Police Association president steps down

Radio NZ: English admits maths error in bill veto defence

Beehive.govt.nz: Offences at 24-year low, crime down for third year running

NZ Herald: Crime rate falls to 29-year low

NZ Herald:  Police made burglaries vanish

NZ Herald:  Two-year search for ‘ghost crimes’ truth

NZ Herald:  Police deny being caught out by false review claims

NZ Herald: Warnings to petty crims ‘freeing up police time’

Radio NZ: Police concerned at national crime spike

Radio NZ: Checkpoint – Police concerned at national crime spike (audio)

NZ Herald: Measuring poverty line not a priority – Bennett

Statistics NZ: Household Labour Force Survey – Revisions to labour market estimates

Careersnz: Job hunting tips

Work and Income: Where to look

Fairfax media: Wellington jobs advertised on Seek up 11 per cent over past year

Statistics NZ: Household Labour Force Survey – Definitions

Other Blogposts

Polity: English canards

The Daily Blog: To make the unemployment stats drop, Government now claims anyone looking for jobs on the internet isn’t unemployed

The Standard: The great big list of John Key’s big fat lies (UPDATED)

The Standard: “Post-truth” politics (and false equivalences)

Previous related blogposts

John Key’s “pinch of salt” style of telling the truth

National – self-censoring embarrassing statements?

Weekend Revelations #3 – Greg O’Connor and criminal statistics

Media stories of the Week: Police Commissioner Mike Bush on dubious police practices

The Mendacities of Mr English – Fibbing from Finance Minister confirmed

The Mendacities of Mr Key # 16: The sale of Kiwibank eight years in the planning?

That was Then, This is Now #28 – John Key on transparency

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 3 July 2016.

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Letter to the editor – National’s “pennies from heaven”

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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: Sun, Jul 3, 2016
subject: Letter to the editor

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The Editor
NZ Herald

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At the recent National Party Conference, Key took a rather childish swipe at other political parties by suggesting that their economic policies were predicated on “pennies from heaven”, referencing Bing Crosbie’s song by the same name.

In the next breath, he advised faithful National party followers that his government would be borrowing $1 billion from overseas lenders, to build houses in a belated attempt to address growing homelessness in this country.

Maybe not “pennies from heaven”, but dollars from overseas banks?

Meanwhile, National is still hinting at more tax cuts to come. This will further increase indebtedness of the government (ie, all New Zealanders) from the current $60 billion (approx) to an estimated $93.9 billion (gross) by next year, according to Treasury.

All of which has to be borrowed and paid back.

There are no “pennies from heaven” – a lesson National has failed to learn.

Who, amongst us, still believe National are “sound, prudent” fiscal managers? Anyone?

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-Frank Macskasy

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[address and phone number supplied]

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References

Radio NZ: $1 billion fund to boost housing build

NZ Treasury: Residual Cash and Net Core Crown Debt (2016)

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Park-up in Wellington – People speaking against the scourge of homelessness

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1949-state-house-in-taita

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Wellington, NZ, 26 June – It was a cold and stormy rainy night… No, really, it was – cold, wet, and miserable. The kind of night that a growing number of homeless people – including families –  are having to put up with regularly in once-egalitarian Aotearoa-New Zealand.

Several dozen cars and between 200 to 300 people – including families with children – braved the chill and intermittent drizzle to make a point about the growing scourge of homelessness in Aotearoa-New Zealand.

The event was organised through Facebook by Sam and Becs. The Wellington event followed a recent, similar “park up” in Auckland on 17 June. Whilst Green and Labour MPs participated in both events, no National MPs attended despite being invited.

The Wellington Cathedral car-park (and surrounding streets) quickly filled with vehicles;

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Frank Macskasy Frankly Speaking blog The Daily Blog fmacskasy.wordpress.com homelessness - park-up - wellington - wellington cathedral

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Each and every car  would contain people sleeping in them overnight. The signage around the area held a simple message;

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Frank Macskasy Frankly Speaking blog The Daily Blog fmacskasy.wordpress.com homelessness - park-up - wellington - wellington cathedral

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Frank Macskasy Frankly Speaking blog The Daily Blog fmacskasy.wordpress.com homelessness - park-up - wellington - wellington cathedral

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The family-symbols on the back of this vehicle indicated how many would be sleeping in it this night;

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Frank Macskasy Frankly Speaking blog The Daily Blog fmacskasy.wordpress.com homelessness - park-up - wellington - wellington cathedral

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Alexia, Claire, Ezra, and Ashton prepared to bunk down for the night. For the youngsters, it was a camping-out adventure. For their older family-members, this was about showing their disapproval of our housing crisis and homelessness.

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Frank Macskasy Frankly Speaking blog The Daily Blog fmacskasy.wordpress.com homelessness - park-up - wellington - wellington cathedral

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Alexia told this blogger that the Park-Up was the first time they had ever done anything of this nature. When asked why, she replied simply;

“There’s just too much homelessness in this country. It’s not good enough.”

She was clearly angered at the problem of homelessness facing many Kiwi families, saying;

“The government’s  not doing enough. Key isn’t doing shit about this problem.”

Alexia’s comments were echoed by one of the organisers, Shannon. She told this blogger that this event was the first political protest she had ever participated in and she had been motivated because her own brother was homeless.

Shannon said that the “Government… what they do is not enough.

A food-tent provided simple, hot food to keep stomachs full and warm for the night, and was cheerfully staffed by volunteers;

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Frank Macskasy Frankly Speaking blog The Daily Blog fmacskasy.wordpress.com homelessness - park-up - wellington - wellington cathedral

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This was one of two barbecues keeping a steady-stream of hot sausages available for the crowd;

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Frank Macskasy Frankly Speaking blog The Daily Blog fmacskasy.wordpress.com homelessness - park-up - wellington - wellington cathedral

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For young people (and some a bit older), face-painting  made the evening a fun-event;

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Frank Macskasy Frankly Speaking blog The Daily Blog fmacskasy.wordpress.com homelessness - park-up - wellington - wellington cathedral

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Veteran city-councillor, Helene Ritchie, with her friend, Peter, attended to add their support for the cause;

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Frank Macskasy Frankly Speaking blog The Daily Blog fmacskasy.wordpress.com homelessness - park-up - wellington - wellington cathedral

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Ms Ritchie derided National’s unwillingness to address the housing crisis, describing their stance as “ideological“.

The Brass Razoo Band – veterans of many previous community activities – kicked off the night’s musical entertainment;

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Frank Macskasy Frankly Speaking blog The Daily Blog fmacskasy.wordpress.com homelessness - park-up - wellington - wellington cathedral

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This family expressed their disgust at the realities of fellow New Zealanders homeless and having to sleep in their cars;

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Frank Macskasy Frankly Speaking blog The Daily Blog fmacskasy.wordpress.com homelessness - park-up - wellington - wellington cathedral

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Young people were in high attendance,  suggesting a consciousness-raising  of their generation  as deep social issues and problems were becoming more and more prominent and harder to ignore;

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Frank Macskasy Frankly Speaking blog The Daily Blog fmacskasy.wordpress.com homelessness - park-up - wellington - wellington cathedral

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Park-up in Wellington - homelessness - 25 June 2016 (79)

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While for the “Littlies”, it was more of who could catch-the-balloon;

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Frank Macskasy Frankly Speaking blog The Daily Blog fmacskasy.wordpress.com homelessness - park-up - wellington - wellington cathedral

 

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Frank Macskasy Frankly Speaking blog The Daily Blog fmacskasy.wordpress.com homelessness - park-up - wellington - wellington cathedral

 

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Sleeping rough the hard way, without a car for at least a modicum of shelter from the elements;

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Frank Macskasy Frankly Speaking blog The Daily Blog fmacskasy.wordpress.com homelessness - park-up - wellington - wellington cathedral

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Wellington Central MP and Spokesperson on Employment, Grant Robertson and Bishop Justin Duckworth, shared their thoughts on the issue problem of homelessness;

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Frank Macskasy Frankly Speaking blog The Daily Blog fmacskasy.wordpress.com homelessness - park-up - wellington - wellington cathedral

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Veteran activists for social justice, Warwick, Greg, and Geoff. The fellow behind them is another Wellington citizen who had turned up with a donation of food to help feed those Parking Up for the night;

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Frank Macskasy Frankly Speaking blog The Daily Blog fmacskasy.wordpress.com homelessness - park-up - wellington - wellington cathedral

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Sam and Becs – organisors of Park-Up Parliament – welcomed people to the event;

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Frank Macskasy Frankly Speaking blog The Daily Blog fmacskasy.wordpress.com homelessness - park-up - wellington - wellington cathedral

 

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Becs spoke first, saying,

“We had Paul Henry last week deride what we were doing, saying that what we were doing isn’t going to make a difference. But this does make a difference. The only thing that  has ever made a difference in history is people protesting in physical form like you are today. So here we are on the back-steps of the Beehive saying to our policy makers, that this is not good enough, that no child deserves to be sleeping in a car, without a home. To be sleeping in a garage or in a tent.”

Sam followed, relating the recent story of “TA”, who along with her family of seven, slept in their van after losing their rental accomodation and their father losing his job. The family had lived in their van for six months.

The story was poignant, and “TA” spoke from her p.o.v. as a child, finding it hard to do her homework in her van. “TA” said that whilst it was warm, with plenty of blankets, she had no private space to do her homework. She said it was stressful for her parents.

“TA” said it was her dream to have her own room, to share with her little sister, and to have books on a shelf beside her bed.

Sam concluded by saying;

“This is an 11 year year old girl who has been sleeping in her van for six months. This is not ok!”

Before Becs introduced the next speaker, she told the crowd;

“Let’s not forget the reason that we are here, and that is to demand that the government starts playing a larger role in the provision of housing for all New Zealanders. So that means that they actually have to put money into good, quality, affordable housing!”

Right Reverend Justin Duckworth was next who spoke that night;

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Right Reverend Duckworth spoke of “homelessness being at the heart of the Christian story” and said it was unacceptable that our fellow New Zealanders found themselves in the position of being homeless.

He led the crowd in prayer, saying,

“We pray for our leaders to do the right thing. We pray there will be a loud voice raised for those who are homeless.”

Next, Jason Clarke, from ‘MAD’, Making a Difference, said that he was part of  a group of concerned citizens in Wainuiomata who had decided to get together to work to alleviate deprivation in their community;

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Jason spoke of the needs of people in their community;

“The problem is really bad, and it’s quite upsetting to see, especially when we have to see our own tamariki having to sleep in their own cars. It’s a shocking thing to see…

… it’s a nationwide problem and everyone just has to get involved. We need to make ourselves heard. Not just because it’s winter and it’s cold now, but to get everybody off the streets and get them into their own homes.”

He thanked the organisers of Park Up,

“It’s quite inspiring to see these younger ones to get involved, and make a difference. It’s… just a blessing.”

Dr Philippa Howden-Chapman, a professor of public health at the University of Otago, spoke next;

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Dr Philippa Howden-Chapman said;

“When I was a teenager, parking-up was something you did on top of Mt Victoria, or at the Hutt River… So what is happening in New Zealand now? What has happened that they can’t find a secure, affordable house? Even when the parents are in the paid workforce. And most of those 42,000 [homeless] people that were mentioned, many of the parents of those children were actually in the paid workforce. So it’s partly a problem of wages being far too low.

What is happening when we hear and see daily that children actually can’t go to school and do as well as they want to? What is happening when a really ill child who should be kept particularly warm and dry in a house is sleeping in a van when she’s recieving chemotherapy? What is happening to our country?”

She questioned the priorities of this government;

“Why do we no longer expect that the government should step in? The state has power over it’s citizens so it has clear responsibilities. I think those are financial, moral, ethical. Good, affordable, housing is a public good. It is a key infrastructure which we need to enhance and maintain.

In my mind it is a thousand times more important than spending three billion dollars each year on roads.”

Dr Howden-Chapman suggested possible solutions;

“We do have choices. Given different instructions by the current government, Housing New Zealand could use it’s assets and land to work with Local Councils and Iwi to again increase the scale and pace of building houses, and set the standards for good, quality, affordable housing. The government should not be taxing and taking dividends from Housing New Zealand.

Housing people, currently living in cars and over-crowded housing, are much more important than the government trying to reduce it’s debt.

Life-choices are being made here, and it’s not the choices of the people in the cars.”

Dr  Howden-Chapman said the property developers were not interested in the lower-end of the housing market as there was more profit to be made building high-end housing, for greater profit. She put the case for Housing New Zealand to take up the challenge;

“Housing New Zealand has the land, it has the skills, it has the capacity to build in scale. We can build affordable housing, in scale. We’ve done it before and we can do it again.”

The following two speakers received a rapturous applause and cheers. Not because of who they were, but because they were appearing together. Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei and Labour’s Grant Robertson walked up to the microphone together;

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They appeared at ease; totally comfortable to be sharing the stage together. As Grant Robertson quipped with a grin, at the cheering and applause,

“Sonny and Cher!”

Metiria quipped back.

“Oh yeah, this is the MoU, changing the government in action!”

The crowd responded with laughter. One of the few lighter moments of the  night.

Metiria became serious again and accused the government of neglecting and degrading essential social services, forcing people to live in cars, garages, motels, and over-crowded housing.

“We as citizens are entitled to decent health, decent education, and decent, safe, affordable housing. How hard is it to make sure that a country as rich, and beautiful, and diverse as ours, can take care of all of our kids and make sure they are living in safe, healthy, affordable homes. It’s not hard at all. It’s [government] choices.”

She added,

“The choices aren’t with the families. Health issues happen to a family. Evictions happen to a family. Redundancy happen to a family. And it could happen to any of us, at any time. Maybe that’s why there’s this huge surge of compassion by New Zealanders, now.

This [homelessness] is not new, but it is so, so, much worse now. And so now is the time to work together; the politicians; with our community organisations that are doing such amazing work; with each other to build compassion, to build connection, that will make our country deliver for our kids. Because if we’re not here doing for our kids, why are we here at all?”

Grant Robertson followed, acknowledging Metiria, before addressing the crowd;

“Every single week, I meet and work with people who are homeless in the city. It happened yesterday. Someone came into my office in Willis Street, who’s been evicted. They’ve got nowhere to live. They’ve got health conditions that they need to manage. And what we find every single time we try and help we try and deal with this, we might have a success. And we’ve been seeing that at Te Puea Marae, the awesome job they’ve been doing there, and they have successes; they get people into homes.

That’s fantastic, and that is rewarding when you can do it, and it’s great to see when people get in [to homes].

But we’re only scratching the surface. We’re not dealing with the systemic problem. That we’re not as a country, and the current governmment is not… housing every New Zealander in a warm, dry, safe home…

…It should be the core of any decent society that we house every citizen.”

Grant said,

“To me that is non-negotiable.  We have  to make a fundamental change. We have to say we will end homelessness and we will only do that if we build houses!”

He added,

“We have a government today that is selling state houses! When forty-odd thousand people are homeless, the government is selling state houses. Their priorities are not just wrong, they are morally bankrupt! And we have to turn that around!”

Grant said that whilst Housing New Zealand had good people working for it, that every mandate to be a social housing provider had been stripped away, and Housing NZ acts as a [commercial] landlord.

“We need a proper social housing agency.”

He said the only way to effect change is to change the government, “It is the only way this will happen. Hashtag change the government.”

Grant finished by making a promise committing both Labour and the Greens to work together to abolish homelessness;

“So you’ve the commitment I know from Metiria and myself, and our Parties that this is our priority. Housing first. House everyone. We will start to solve the education and health issues that are around us.”

Major Campbell Roberts from the Salvation Army followed next;

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In March this year, the Salvation Army had rejected an offer by National to buy state houses. At the time, Major Roberts was damning of the proposal to shift Housing NZ stock onto community organisations such as the ‘Sallies’.

As he stood on the steps to Wellington Cathedral, Major Roberts was in no mood to be placatory to the current government.

“A few weeks ago, I arrived in my office in south Auckland and in the carpark was a car, and I got in a conversation with the young woman who was in the car with her baby. And found that they’d been sleeping there in the carpark overnight. Trying to seek some safe place in which they could sleep for the night.

That’s the situation which is appalling. In which all of us just think shouldn’t be happening in our country and that’s why we’re here tonight.

In the 1940s, in the building over here [points to Parliament, across the road], housing was seen as a priority. Something that actually we needed to something about. And politicians decided to do something about that. And the State house system was born. During the ’40s and ’50s, that was expanded upon by cheap loans; the ability to get in to home ownership, and a number of other things and that carried on.

In the 1980s, suddenly that sort of emphasis on housing started to disappear. And that which over the road [points to Parliament], which was happening since the 1940s, started to disappear… And politicians no longer said, ‘housing is the most important thing’.”

Major Roberts accused successive governments of taking their eyes off the ball.

“And so we have the situation that we now have in New Zealand where appalling circumstances are endured by families. It’s time for government, for politicians, to get back on the horse, and to say we need to do something and we need policies and we need action that will actually change the situation.”

He said,

[The] present government when it came into power said it was going to be involved in housing reform. And housing reform was needed. Certainly our system had run down. Certainly our system wasn’t delivering.

But what we’ve had the five or six years, in housing reform, is not delivering to those people who need it. It’s not delivering to low income people in New Zealand. It’s not delivering to families in New Zealand.”

Major Roberts accused current government policies of delivering “some fairly expensive housing” that some people were enjoying.  Then added,

“But affordable rentals, state rentals, and home ownership which can be afforded, is not being delivered.”

Major Roberts concluded,

“There are policies that can be put in place. Things can be done differently. It needs the will that, over the road [points to Parliament], they had in 1945 but that will is not here today. We need to keep the pressure so that will is recovered and that people are housed in New Zealand.”

The hosts next invited  Harriet Willis (L) and Bella (R)  to read out a poem written by their father;

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A Verse for Neoliberalism

I’m sleeping in the car with my dear old Ma and Pa
‘Coz we can’t afford a house or pot to piss in.
For the rents are all too high, sometimes I think we’re gonna die
For the food from last month’s cheque has all gone missin.

You see they say we’re all to blame, we’re just bludgers who just came
To lean upon the State for far too long.
We could have taken chances in the ladder – climbing dances
Then like the rich we would have become strong.

Yet my family is asleep, at the bottom of the heap,
In the back of Uncle Wally’s Holden Ute.
Some are drugged out in despair, some are just too sick to care,
For government interventions far too cute.

So wake up you investors, and supporting political jesters,
Who exacerbate the gulf ‘tween rich and poor.
All you property owning classes, please get up off your *sses,
And help us find real homes with roof and door.

—  RPW,  May 2016

The following speaker was a woman, Lou, who stood and with her voice shaking, explained to the crowd that she was  imminently about to become homeless herself. She shared details of her situation, which included surviving and escaping domestic violence  and asked if anyone could assist her and her two children;

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Lou’s situation was dire, having only one more night remaining in her current accomodation. Her rent had been increased by $200 to $700 per week, which was totally unaffordable to her on her meagre income.

As she made her way down the Cathedral steps, Grant Robertson approached her;

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Grant later advised this blogger that he had asked her to contact her local MP for Mana, Kris Faafoi, and to also get back in touch with him on Monday.

The band ‘The Hope Genetics‘ entertained the crowd until the “witching hour” drew close;

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Yes, even Every Man’s Dog turned up – reminding us that whether Human or Companion Animal, decent housing was basic to our needs;

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This blogger spent the night in a sedan vehicle. With plenty of old-style woollen blankets, it was not cold – but it was cramped. Four-door sedans are not meant for sleeping in and by the morning my back paid the price of sleeping in a semi-foetal position on the back-seat.

Furthermore,  the psychological aspect to sleeping in a car, out in the open became apparent. One cannot escape a feeling of being exposed and vulnerable. I slept fitfully; awoken by any slight noise outside. People in such circumstances would certainly endure varying degrees of sleep deprivation.

It is barely imaginable how several people could fit in one car, and live and sleep like this for weeks or months on end. It was not pleasant.

I would challenge any National MP to have the guts to spend a night in their car, out on the street. I suspect it would be a challenge not taken up by a single man or woman from the government benches.

Postscript

We like to describe ourselves as an egalitarian society, where fairness and equal access to opportunities are unshakeable social norms. They are the pretty little lies we tell ourselves. We are not those things. Whether it is income inequality, home ownership, or building state houses, we stopped making progress in the late 1980s or early 1990s. Even our treatment of criminals shows that we are not egalitarian, nor equal opportunity.

There is hope. We just need to add a little bit of empathy, love and civic duty to our blind faith in neoliberalism. We will be a better and fairer society for it.” – Shamubeel Eaqub, economist, 23 June 2016

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References

Radio NZ: Hundreds parkup overnight in homelessness protest

Facebook: Park-Up Parliament

Facebook: Parkupforhomes

NZ Herald: This is how the other half lives

NZ Herald: Salvation Army rejects buying state homes – ‘Housing NZ is making a mess’

Additional

Shamubeel Eaqub: Is NZ facing a crisis of conscience?

Shamubeel Eaqub: NZ egalitarian? That’s a pretty little lie

Previous related blogposts

Can we do it? Bloody oath we can!

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

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

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

The cupboard is bare, says Dear Leader

Government Minister sees history repeat – responsible for death

Housing Minister Paula Bennett continues National’s spin on rundown State Houses

Letter to the Editor – How many more children must die, Mr Key?!

National under attack – defaults to Deflection #1

National’s blatant lies on Housing NZ dividends – The truth uncovered!

Wellingtonians say; “Everyone deserves a home – no more homelessness!”

Letter to Radio NZ – Homelessness, Poverty, and the Final Solution

Letter to the editor – “Throwing money at the problem” of homelessness

Letter to the editor – homelessness, class eugenics, and middle class sensibilities

State house sell-off in Tauranga unravelling?

Upper Hutt residents mobilise to fight State House sell-off

Why is Paula Bennett media-shy all of a sudden?

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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John Key can't hear a thing about homelessness

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 28 June 2016.

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John Key – we will not be held to ransom!

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When news of the kidnapping of Australians and a New Zealand citizen in Nigeria hit our headlines, our esteemed Dear Leader’s response was unequivocal;

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John Key - NZ won't pay ransom for Kiwi kidnapped by gunmen in Nigeria

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Key was adamant;

“Our very strong policy is not to pay a ransom and our reason for that is we think if we paid a ransom, we’d potentially put a bounty on any New Zealander’s head who travels to a dangerous part of the world, and it potentially makes the situation worse.”

Our Leader was not for turning. Key does not cave in to pressures.

Or, so it seems…

In October 2010, the country was “rocked” with news that that  the Hobbit movies would be “taken away” from New Zealand;

Jackson’s company, Wingnut Films, said in a statement that Warners representatives were coming to New Zealand next week “to make arrangements to move the production offshore” because “they are now, quite rightly, very concerned about the security of their investment.”

A week after Peter Jackson’s dire warnings of impending Mordor-like doom, Dear Leader Key intervened and rode like a Ranger to the rescue (in a BMW limousine, not a stallion);

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Key comes through $34m deal sees Hobbit stay in NZ - NBR - Peter Jackson - Warner Bros

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Even the Warner Bros movie execs had  stallions limos provided (at taxpayers’ expense, yet again) when they came-a-visitin’ to New Zealand to collect their $34 million bucks;

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Along with $34 million of taxpayer’s money paid over to Warner Bros, the National government passed legislation changing the status of Jackson’s workers from employees, to “contractors”. This lessened the working-conditions of people working throughout New Zealand’s movie industry.

The employment law changes passed through Parliament within forty eight hours – a feat unheard of in New Zealand’s political process. Unions, workers, and the public had no say in the matter.

As Key said at the time,

“It was a commercial reality that without this [law] change, these movies would not be made in New Zealand.”

So the sovereignty of New Zealand’s Parliament was not ransomed by Warner Bros to gain $34 million plus a change in our labour laws?

Note: On 21 December 2010, two months after Jackson declared that there was an imminent threat to losing The Hobbit to another country, he conceded that no such “threat” existed;

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Peter Jackson Actors no threat to Hobbit - Warner Bros

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Three years later, Rio Tinto threatened to close it’s Tiwai Point aluminium smelter if it’s demands were not met;

Mining giant Rio Tinto has rejected the Government’s offer of a short-term subsidy to continue running the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter.

Instead, it has gone back into negotiations with electricity supplier Meridian to try and get a better deal.

If no deal is made, Prime Minister John Key says the smelter, 79 percent owned by Rio Tinto and 21 percent owned by Japanese company Sumitomo, could be shut down in about five years.

In February 2014, National conceded to Rio Tinto’s demands that it’s electricity subsidies be increased. A further ‘sweetener’ of $30 million of taxpayer’s money was paid over to the smelting multi-national;

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As Key said at the time;

“If Tiwai Point had closed straight away then hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of jobs would have disappeared and the Greens would have said the Government doesn’t care about those workers and is turning their back on them so they really can’t have it both ways.”

This was echoed by Finance Minister, Bill English;

“The $30m was a ‘one-off incentive payment’ to help secure agreement on the revised contract because of the importance of the smelter to the stability of the New Zealand electricity market.”

So the jobs of eight hundred jobs in Southland were not ransomed by Rio Tinto to gain $30 million plus cheaper electricity rates?

John Key says his government will not pay ransom to extortionists?

His track record proves otherwise.

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References

Fairfax media:  John Key – NZ won’t pay ransom for Kiwi kidnapped by gunmen in Nigeria

Hitfix:   ‘Hobbit’ Crisis – Peter Jackson warns film could leave New Zealand

NZ Herald: PM defends $30m payout to Rio Tinto

Fairfax media:  Govt pays $30 million to Tiwai Pt

Previous related blogposts

The real reason for the GCSB Bill

Muppets, Hobbits, and Scab ‘Unions’

And the Oscar for Union-Smashing and Manipulating Public Opinion goes to…

Peter Jackson’s “Precious”

The Mendacities of Mr Key #9: The Sky’s the limit with taxpayer subsidies!

The cupboard is bare, says Dear Leader

Government Minister sees history repeat – responsible for death

The Mendacities of Mr Key # 16: No one deserves a free tertiary education (except my mates and me)

The Corporate Welfare of Tiwai Point – An exercise in National’s “prudent fiscal management”?

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KickingThe HobbitRGB

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on day month year.

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CYF – The Hollowing Out of a State Agency

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“CYF’s is gone, you know, it’s finished, it’s gone. It hasn’t worked and we’re changing.” – Anne Tolley

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Information passed on to this blogger raises questions as to why CYF has apparently been “under-performing” and why it seems stretched to deal with a mounting crisis of increasing numbers of  at-risk families.

A fall in staffing levels may have played a part in CYF’s “under-performance” – an allegation which seems to be supported by recently obtained figures under the Official Information Act.

1. Setting the Stage

As announced on 1 June, last year, National was casting it’s eye over social-services as part of it’s next step in it’s privatisation agenda;

Social bonds, in which the return for investors will be partially determined by whether or not agreed social targets have been achieved, will become another tool in the Government’s social investment approach that is aiming to improve the lives and prospects of the most vulnerable New Zealanders.

The announcement was couched in usual flowery terms of spin-doctored waffle;

“The Government is focused on achieving better results for individuals and families in highest need,” Finance Minister Bill English says.

“Where we succeed, there are opportunities to help people fulfil their potential, a chance to break inter-generational cycles of dependency and, in the long term, potential savings for taxpayers.

“So social bonds are a consistent fit with our wider social investment approach which aims to better understand both the drivers and risks of social dysfunction and where we can have the greatest impact in improving people’s lives.”

Vague promises of improved provision of services were made;

Dr Coleman says social bonds are an innovative way for the Government to contract social outcomes. They will see private and public sector organisations operating together to fund and deliver services.

But the ‘crunch’ was this statement;

If they achieve agreed results, the Government will pay back the investors plus a return. The return depends on the level of results, up to an agreed amount.

Jan Logie, from the Green Party, voiced concerns which many people throughout the country must have felt after hearing or reading National’s announcement;

“Mentally ill New Zealanders need the Government to provide more of a commitment to them, not to abdicate all responsibility for them to foreign banks and big money investors.

National doesn’t care that the biggest stumbling block facing New Zealanders with a mental illness who want to work is discrimination. Having a big bank breathe down the neck of a social service provider, demanding outcomes so it can make a profit, isn’t going to make that discrimination go away.

The National Government has ignored the advice of the Department of Internal Affairs which warned investors will only want to put money into programmes that are certain to work – which completely defeats the purpose.

Social bonds are a continuation of National’s attempt to privatise public services, which will always see the most vulnerable left out and National’s mates better off. In two years of charter schools, not one has enrolled a student with the highest special needs.”

2. Reasurances made…

On 26 September last year, Tolley issued stern reassurances that there would be no outsourcing of front-line services;

Lisa Owen: “Can you rule out today that you won’t be outsourcing front-line care and protection services?”

Anne Tolley: “Look, let’s put it to rest. This is a state responsibility. There’s no talk within government at all of outsourcing that responsibility.”

3. And reassurances broken
Seven months later, on 9 April, on TV3’s ‘The Nation‘,  Tolley flip-flopped, and admitted that privatisation of some aspects of CYF was now likely;
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the nation - anne tolley interview - cyf

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Lisa Owen: “But here we have outsourcing, so how do you square that away? Because you were specifically talking about front-line staff.”

Anne Tolley: “So we’re not outsourcing care and protection. What the report talks about is two things – first of all, a partnership arrangement with NGOs and iwi and community organisations as we have currently, and secondly, being able to direct purchase the services that children need when they need. But that will still be the operating system; the responsibility for those children will still be held by government.”

Lisa Owen: “Yes, but you’re talking about people or services that have direct contact with these children. “

Anne Tolley: “Yes.”

Lisa Owen: “Psychologists is one of the examples you talk about.”

Anne Tolley: “Yes.”

Lisa Owen: “That is front-line services, so that is outsourcing.”

Anne Tolley: “Well, that’s no different from what we are now. What was being presumed last time was that we were going to contract some company to take responsibility for children in care. We’re not doing that. It is the government’s responsibility, and the whole focus of the expert panel’s report was a single point of accountability in government for the long-term outcomes of those vulnerable children.”

Lisa Owen: “So you say that using these people from outside agencies, NGOs, et cetera, that’s all about getting the best people?”

Anne Tolley: “Absolutely. Getting the best people for the children when they need it, that’s the whole— one of the major changes about what’s being proposed. At the moment, various people working with those children have to negotiate with all the different agencies, fit in with their criteria, and children wait in line. What we’re saying now, what Cabinet has accepted, is that we need to be able to purchase those services for those children when they need it, and it could well be from DHBs, it could well be from the education service itself, but it could be from NGOs, and it could be from private psychologists, et cetera.”

Tolley’s admission that CYF services would be outsourced/privatised was confirmed only days before her interview on The Nation, with this press release from her office;

“A new system will be in place by the end of March 2017 which will have high aspirations for all children and address their short and long-term wellbeing and support their transition into adulthood.

It will focus on five core services – prevention, intensive intervention, care support services, transition support and a youth justice service aimed at preventing offending and reoffending.

The overhaul, which is expected to take up to five years to be fully implemented, will include:

[…]

  • Direct purchasing of vital services such as health, education and counselling support to allow funding to follow the child, so that these young people can gain immediate access to assistance.”
Veteran interviewer, Lisa Owen asked the Minister about the problem of private-providers “cherry-picking easy cases” of  problem-children;

Lisa Owen: “But one of the concerns is that there is a risk of cherry-picking. You know, if you have a private provider, are they only going to take the easier kids? Because we know… The Nation’s been told of a situation this week where a private provider wouldn’t take a particular child because they said the case was just too tough… Will you stop that happening? … So will they lose their contract if they keep refusing to take tougher cases? one of the major concerns is that the too-hard basket will still be full and it will be CYF who deals with those people.”

Tolley’s reply was like a bombshell – and one that Lisa Owen apparently did not pick up on. In terms that were unusually unequivocal for a politician, the Minister  announced the impending demise of Child Youth and Family (CYF);

Anne Tolley: “Well, CYF is gone. You know, it’s finished. It’s gone. It hasn’t worked and we’re changing, so we’re now going to a system that works with children from prevention right through to transition.”

Further into the interview – and this is also a salient point – Lisa Owen asked the Minister;

Lisa Owen: Okay, there’s a couple of quick things I want to cover off. When you were last here, you said that you may well hire more social workers, but the report says you’re not going to significantly expand in-house delivery, so are you going to have more social workers or not?

In stark contrast to her definitive statement that “CYF is gone… you know, it’s finished… it’s gone“, Tolley’s response to whether or not there would be more front-line social workers seemed more noncommittal;

Anne Tolley: “Well, we’ll see. I can’t see we would be dealing with any less, but, remember, the panel have identified that a large part of the workload is the churn of children coming back through the system several times.”

Tolley’s plans to finish off CYF appears set in concrete. Despite being the  fourteenth restructuring in twenty eight years, CYF’s problems and failures are apparently “unsalvageable”. Or so Minister Tolley would have us believe.

3. The subversion of CYF

We can no longer have a system which sees social workers spending half their time on administration, and less than a quarter of their time actually working with kids and families.” – Anne Tolley,  7 April 2016

On 7 April this year, Minister for Social Development, Hon Anne Tolley, released a public statement accepting the report of the “Expert Panel on Modernising Child Youth and Family”.

Amongst the “Expert Panel’s” Terms of Reference, two main points were given priority, as made clear on pages 34 and 35;

Specifically, the Expert Panel was tasked with:

  • providing the Minister for Social Development with a programme level business case by 30
    July 2015, which was delivered to the Minister in the form of the Interim Report,

and

  • providing oversight and challenge on the development of a detailed business case and a high
    level assessment of options for a proposed future operating model, with any Budget
    decisions considered as part of Budget 2016 (this report, termed the Final Report).

Note the heavy reference to  “a programme level business case” and “development of a detailed business case“.

A more detailed version of the Terms of Reference can be found on pages 241 to 243 of the Final Report.

Nowhere in the Terms of Reference, nor in the latter Objectives is there any mention of poverty, low wages, high living costs, etc.

Indeed, in a critical review of the “Expert Panel’s” Final Report, the group Re-imagining Social Work In Aotearoa wrote;

On receiving the report  Investing in New Zealand’s Children and Their Families I used the very simple textual analysis technique of searching for the frequency of what I considered important words. Such a simple analysis does not necessarily create a window into the minds and thinking of the authors; however it does give some indications about what they consider important at least as measured by how frequently they talk about it.

In descending incidence of occurrence and not including the references and appendixes this is what my word count revealed:

Investment mentioned 240 times
Trauma mentioned 50 times
Love mentioned 36 times
Deprivation mentioned 4 times
Inequality mentioned 1 time
Poverty mentioned 1 time

Despite the often unspoken reality that the vast majority of return visit CYFS clients are poor, and that people on reasonable incomes seldom have long-term contact with CYFS, it seems that the authors of the report do not see poverty as having any great relevance to the business of CYFS. Given the truly astounding amount of data demonstrating clear links between poverty, deprivation and increased levels of neglect and abuse of children it seems an extraordinary oversight (Duva, Metzger, 2010; Wynd, 2013; Sedlak, Mettenburg, Basena, Petta, McPherson, Greene, & Li, 2010).

This seems even more the case when you consider the equally astounding amounts of data (Szalavitz, 2010; Murali & Oyebode, 2004) showing that poverty plays a causative role in many of the other factors associated with increased levels of child abuse and neglect: these are factors such as parental depression, poor mental health, high levels of family stress, insecure overcrowded and unhealthy housing, and increased levels of drug and alcohol abuse as self medication to manage misery (Brown, Cohen, Johnson & Salzinger, 2010).

None of this is news to social scientists, or to anybody who has spent any time at all working with abused and neglected children and their families. People have known this since the days of Dickens. It does not take a great leap of empathic imagination to understand that the fear, despair, and hopelessness created by trying to survive day to day without adequate resources are not useful additions to the tool box of good parenting.

The Final Report led to a raft of recommendations (see pages 20 – 33) but two (on page 21) stand out;

14.

Agree the future department will directly purchase specialist services for vulnerable children and
their families. If other Crown agencies or entities cannot provide them in a timely manner, the
future department will purchase from them, or pursue other sources. (Refer page 65).

15.

Agree the future department take a market building role to create capability, capacity and
supply of services required to meet the needs of vulnerable children and families. (Refer page
67).

“Directly purchase specialist services”, “market building role”, and “supply of services” are specifically what Tolley referred to on TV3’s The Nation on 9 April;

Lisa Owen: “But here we have outsourcing, so how do you square that away? Because you were specifically talking about front-line staff.”

Anne Tolley: “So we’re not outsourcing care and protection. What the report talks about is two things – first of all, a partnership arrangement with NGOs and iwi and community organisations as we have currently, and secondly, being able to direct purchase the services that children need when they need. But that will still be the operating system; the responsibility for those children will still be held by government.”

Lisa Owen: “Yes, but you’re talking about people or services that have direct contact with these children. “

Anne Tolley: “Yes.”

In justifying the outsourcing/privatisation of CYF services, the “Expert Panel” delivered to Minister Tolley a Final Report that presented CYF as a “basket-case”; a totally broken organisation. The term “fragmented” was used no less than thirteen times in the Final Report, to drive home the perception of an irreparably dysfunctional state agency.

This is the same Final Report that mentioned “deprivation  4 times”,  “inequality  1 time”, and  “poverty 1 time”.

It is hard to escape the suspicion that CYF – a government department dealing with “child abuse and neglect, parental depression, poor mental health, high levels of family stress, insecure overcrowded and unhealthy housing, and increased levels of drug and alcohol abuse as self medication to manage misery” – is being undermined and portrayed as itself dysfunctional and in need of radical “reform”.

The “reform”, it seems, consists of “toughlove” privatisation of services.

4. The gutting of CYF

During Lisa Owen’s interview with Tolley on  The Nation on 9 April, she asked the Minister if more social workers would be hired;

Lisa Owen: Okay, there’s a couple of quick things I want to cover off. When you were last here, you said that you may well hire more social workers, but the report says you’re not going to significantly expand in-house delivery, so are you going to have more social workers or not?

As if finding the simple question discomforting, Tolley responded vaguely;

Anne Tolley: “Well, we’ll see. I can’t see we would be dealing with any less, but, remember, the panel have identified that a large part of the workload is the churn of children coming back through the system several times.”

Sources have revealed to this blogger that MSD has been conducting a covert  “sinking lid” policy not to replace departing front-line social workers. This blogger understands that at least  one CYF branch lost at least a dozen front-line staff in the last twelve months. They were not replaced. Existing and new cases are passed on to remaining staff.

In an OIA request made to the Minister’s office on 13 April (and passed on to MSD) released information  appears to confirm the Ministry  has been shedding front-line social-workers from it’s ranks.

To establish a base-line for staffing levels, I first asked;

“How many social workers were employed by Child, Youth Family services in 2008?”

In a response dated 16 June (two months after my initial request), MSD replied that 1,175.8 full-time equivalent (FTE) staff were employed as “Field Social Work Line (FSWL) which is composed of social workers, senior practitioners, and supervisors“. By 2015, that number had increased to 1,349.9 full-time equivalent staff.

But by March this year, that number had fallen to 1,335.0 full-time equivalent staff.

The total number of full-time equivalent staff employed by Child Youth and Family at 2008 was 2,848.3, rising to 3,025.2 full-time equivalent staff in 2015 – and falling to 2,956.9 by March this year.

The MSD response also confirmed “that 147 FSWL have departed between April 2015 and March 2016“.

It is a stark contrast that as notifications to CYF have been steady increasing since 2008 (ref1, ref2), the numbers of front-line and other support staff at the department have fallen.

Which brought into question the case-load of front-line social workers. I asked;

What was the case-load, per CYF social worker in 2008? What was the case-load, per CYF social worker last year and   what is the current case-load, per CYF social worker?

The response was astonishing;

Due to the varying nature and complexities of cases it is not practical to set practice
benchmarks for closure. As you will appreciate, many cases are active over a period
of years and some cases, while not active, may not have yet been formally closed.
The Ministry is unable to provide the current case load per social worker and case
load per social worker in 2008 and 2015 as as this is not a standard reporting
procedure. Therefore, this part of your request is refused under section 18(e) of the
Official Information Act as the information does not exist.

It beggars belief that MSD  is unaware of the case-load of it’s social workers.  It also raises suspicions of ducking the question.

A May 2014 report from the Office of the Chief Social worker, (Workload and Casework Review – Qualitative Review of Social Worker Caseload, Casework and Workload Management, p84) stated;

According to Child, Youth and Family’s organisational caseload report of 31 August
2013, the average care and protection caseload was 14 families or 30 children and
young people per social worker. For youth justice social workers, the average
caseload was nine children and young people.”

The Workload and Casework Review can be found on the MSD website, and was launched by the Ministery’s Chief Executive, Brendan Boyle.

It seems inconceivable that a report commissioned by MSD; released by the Chief Executive; and containing information relating to case load for front line social workers was not available to Viv Rickard, the Ministry’s Deputy Chief Executive, who signed the OIA release.

However, the pertinent point from the Workload and Casework Review is that front-line social workers were over-worked with case-loads (p79);

4. The review found a number of care and protection social workers were holding
unreasonably high caseloads. Priority action needs to be taken to reduce caseloads
for these staff.

The recommendation;

d. As a priority, assess social workers’ caseloads and safely reduce those that are
unreasonably high.

That was two years ago.

Since then, the number of social workers has fallen, whilst notifications continue to rise. The Review by the Chief Social Worker appears to have been Filed and Forgotten.

This is exacerbated by MSD’s response to these follow-up questions;

How many CYF offices/branches lost social workers over the last twelve months? How many CYF offices/branches have not replaced departing social workers over the last twelve months?

MSD replied;

The Ministry is unable to provide you with the number of departing social workers
who have not been replaced or the number of offices which have not replaced
departing social workers over the last months as this is not a standard reporting
procedure. Therefore,  this part of your request is refused under section 18(e) of the
Official Information Act as the information does not exist.

Again, it seems inconceivable that the MSD is oblivious as to how many social workers have not been replaced over the last twelve months.

Social work is the core-business; the raison d’être of the Ministry of Social Development. How can it adequately measure and report it’s KPIs  (Key Performance Indicators) if it is unaware of it’s own staffing levels?

This response from MSD is utterly inadequate and reveals either a high level of incompetence on the part of  senior management – or a crude attempt to evade answering questions. If the latter, then MSD has broken the law by not following the Official Information Act.

My final question to MSD asked if there “was  a CYF policy not to replace social workers departing from CYF?

The answer was perhaps more revealing than the author of the letter intended;

There is no specific policy in place around replacing or not replacing departing social workers.”

At a time of increasing notifications; falling numbers of social workers; and increasing case-loads – which has led to the Minister Anne Tolley being highly critical of MSD – there is no “no specific policy in place around replacing… departing social workers”.

5. Consequences and Cunning Plans

When Tolley gave a blistering condemnation of CYF on The Nation on 9 April, she did not hold back;

“Well, CYF is gone. You know, it’s finished. It’s gone. It hasn’t worked and we’re changing, so we’re now going to a system that works with children from prevention right through to transition.”

Furthermore, in response to a point raised by Lisa Owen on privatisation;

Lisa Owen: “Because the thing is, when the Government went to private providers to manage some of other services, for example, when you got Serco in to look after some of our prisons, in this government press release that I’ve got here, actually, at the time, Judith Collins says— she gave the same justification that you’re giving now, that it was to access world-class innovation and expertise to get the highest standards of professionalism. Well, that didn’t work out, did it, so what’s to stop that happening in this case?”

Anne Tolley: “Well, first of all, we’re not in the least bit talking about big companies like Serco for this. Again, the thrust of this is keeping these kids in their communities, so you’re talking about local services. But are you seriously suggesting that we should continue? One of the outcomes from the current system is that these children wait in line until they can get into the health system, so are you seriously suggesting that that’s better for those kids than if there’s a private psychologist whose services can be purchased to give immediate help to that child who has been damaged and needs that care? I’m going to go every time with meeting the needs of that child when we need it, so that’s what the focus is – on meeting the needs of these children, having them at the centre of everything we do, rather than ideological agendas which say you’ve only got to deal with the health system, the public health system. Actually, let’s deal with whomever can provide. And if the health system can provide that, I have no doubt they’ll step up, as they have with ACC.”

Yet, it appears that one of the prime causes of CYF’s alleged under-performance has little to do with it’s structure.  The loss of skilled social workers and failure to replace their numbers at a time of increased notifications and demands placed on remaining front line staff have one predictable outcome: a down-grading of service.

Which then allows for the Minister to call for yet another “Review” which happens to offer recommendations that Paula Rebstock is noted for: privatisation (or “outsourcing”, to put a polite label on the same process).

Which brings us back to announcements made on 1 June, last year, when  National put social-services on the block as next  in it’s privatisation agenda;

Social bonds, in which the return for investors will be partially determined by whether or not agreed social targets have been achieved, will become another tool in the Government’s social investment approach that is aiming to improve the lives and prospects of the most vulnerable New Zealanders.

The degradation of CYF is not due to the social workers who are at the front-line of this country’s growing social problems – something even John Key was forced to concede was worsening  in 2011, and which is continuing to grow;

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key admits underclass still growing - poverty - foodbanks - homelessness

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If there is fault with CYF, it lies with a covert National government plan to hollow out the service; publicise it’s alleged “short-comings” through “reviews” with pre-determined outcomes; and then announce ‘solutions’ which involve privatisation/outsourcing and an “investment approach”. As Gordon Campbell  pointed out;

“Whenever the government announces an inquiry into a contentious matter, those reviews now routinely function as a tool of political management that’s been tailored to achieve a pre-determined outcome. Such inquiries have neither been set up nor are expected to result in a balanced re-appraisal of all the relevant issues. To that end, the terms of reference are usually conveniently narrow, and selective – and thus allow for the evidence to be then cherry-picked in line with the government’s desires and expectations. “

As usual, Paula Rebstock’s Expert Panel has executed it’s part in National’s secret agenda.

This was never about improving CYF. This was always about National’s maniacal ideological obsession with privatisation.  This time, there are none more vulnerable than the children and young people who will pay dearly for this cunning plan.

National has scrapped the bottom of the barrel with this one.

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“Young people have told me they don’t want the system to experiment with their lives.” – Anne Tolley

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Addendum1

Correspondence: OIA response from MSD – Staffing levels

Addendum2

Expert Panel on Modernising Child Youth and Family“:

Paula Rebstock (Chair)
Ms Rebstock has extensive governance experience and is Chair of the ACC Board, Chair of the Work and Income Board, Deputy Chair of KiwiRail, Chair of the Insurance and Savings Commission, a member of the University of Auckland Business School Advisory Board and a Director of Auckland Transport. She is also a Senior Lead Reviewer for the Performance Improvement Framework for the State Services Commission.

Commissioner Mike Bush
Commissioner Bush joined New Zealand Police in 1978 and has held a number of senior operational and administrative positions including Counties-Manukau District Commander, where he pioneered the Prevention First operating strategy. Commissioner Bush led significant operational changes to Police through the Policing Excellence programme. He was awarded the MNZM for his service as New Zealand Police’s South East Asian liaison officer following the 2004 Asian tsunami.

Peter Douglas
Mr Douglas has extensive senior management experience in both the public and private sectors. He was the principal Māori adviser at the Ministry of Social Development, a Senior Manager in business banking at Westpac and an adviser in the Prime Minister’s Department and Cabinet during the time of the 1992 Māori fisheries settlement. Mr Douglas is the Chief Executive of Te Ohu Kaimoana Māori Fisheries Trust.

Duncan Dunlop
Mr Dunlop has been Chief Executive of Who Cares? Scotland, an independent advocacy charity for young people in care, since January 2012. He has led the development of youth-work infrastructure and programmes in a range of environments from Lithuania and Ghana to the Balkans and across the UK.

Helen Leahy
Ms Leahy is Chief Executive for Te Pūtahitanga o Te Waipounamu, the South Island Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency, and a Specialist Advisor, Strategy and Influence, for Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu.She has held several senior roles in Parliament including Chief of Staff of the Māori Party and SeniorMinisterial Advisor for the former Minister of Whānau Ora. A former high school teacher, Ms Leahyhas worked in a range of community sectors such as domestic violence, adolescent health anddevelopment, youth and women’s affairs.

Professor Richie Poulton
Professor Poulton is the Chief Science Advisor to the Ministry of Social Development and has led the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study at the University of Otago for the past 15 years. He is a Professor of Psychology, Co-Director of the National Centre for Lifecourse Research and Director of the Graduate Longitudinal Study. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand, and recipient of the RSNZ Dame Joan Metge Medal.

 

Addendum3

The chairperson of the so-called “Expert Panel”, Paula Rebstock, has been heavily criticised by the Ombudsman for a previous investigation/report she carried out in 2012 regarding leaks from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Rebstock’s report, attacking the reputations of two senior State servants, Derek Leask and Nigel Fyfe, was released the following year.

Complaints were laid with the Ombudsman who found that that Rebstock’s report into the leaks were “unfair, flawed and caused significant damage to a former diplomat and senior public servant“.

One of the former senior diplomats, Derek Leask, was justifiably angry at the way he had been pilloried by Rebstock;

“It is good to have the slur on my reputation removed. Today’s findings by the Ombudsman go beyond the vindication of my actions. The Ombudsman’s report suggests that the 2012/2013 SSC investigation was out of control from start to finish.”

Despite the 2012/13 flawed report being damned by the Ombudsman, Minister Tolley has announced no plans to review the more recent Rebstock’s report on CYF;

Dame Paula also spearheaded a major report into Child Youth and Family (CYF), for which she was paid $2000 a day, double the normal maximum fee.

That review is now being used as a basis for an overhaul of CYF and the government has no plans to review her work in this area before restructuring begins.

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley, who had wanted to pay her $3000 a day, said Dame Paula did a fantastic job which would deliver better long-term results for vulnerable children.

There is therefore no guarantee that Rebstock’s CYF review is, in itself, also not flawed.

Acknowledgement

I acknowledge and thank the person who brought the critical matter of CYF’s under-staffing to my attention. Whilst keeping the identity of the “whistle-blower” confidential, I will continue to look into this  problem at every opportunity.

Postscript

This blogger will be laying a complaint with the Ombudsman’s Office at the length of time for this OIA request to be answered. Fortyfour days is well outside the 20 working-days stipulated in the Official Information Act. Also, a question will be raised whether or not some of the answers were factually correct.

 

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References

Beehive.govt.nz: Budget 2015 – Social bond to focus on mental health

Green Party: Mentally ill NZers are not a cash cow for National’s mates

TV3 News: The Nation – Transcript – Anne Tolley

TV3 News:  ‘CYF’s is gone, it hasn’t worked’ – Tolley

TVNZ: ‘It’s time for a clean break – CYF is gone’ says Anne Tolley

Beehive.govt.nz: Radical changes to child protection and care

MSD: Expert Panel Final Report – Investing in New Zealand’s Children and their Families

Re-imagining Social Work In Aotearoa: The absent elephant in the 2016 ‘Modernising Child, Youth and Family Expert Panel Report’

MSD: Social work services to children, young people and their families – Notifications

MSD: Notifications

MSD: Workload and Casework review – Qualitative Review of Social Worker Caseload, Casework and Workload Management

NZ Herald: Key admits underclass still growing

NewstalkZB: Demand for food banks, emergency housing much higher than before recession

State Services Commission: Paula Rebstock appointed to investigate Cabinet paper leak

State Services Commission: Report to the State Services Commissioner on Unauthorised disclosure of Information

Fairfax media: Damning inquiry points finger at the Government, State Services Commissioner

Radio NZ: Rebstock MFAT inquiry errors not terminal, says PM

Additional

MSD: Investing in New Zealand’s Children and Their Families

Office of the Children’s Commissioner: State of Care 2016 Report

Ministry of Social Development: Workload and Casework review – May 2014

Treasury: Budget 2008 Vote Social Development

Treasury: Budget 2009 Vote Social Development

Treasury: Budget 2010 Vote Social Development

Treasury: Budget 2011 Vote Social Development

Treasury: Budget 2012 Vote Social Development

Treasury: Budget 2013 Vote Social Development

Treasury: Budget 2014 Vote Social Development

Treasury: Budget 2015 Vote Social Development

Treasury: Budget 2016 Vote Social Development

Related blogposts

No Right Turn: Paula Rebstock should pay for this

Polity: Decrypting “social investment”

Pundit: Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the Leask of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me

The Daily Blog: What’s that? – choke, splutter! – Dame Paula Rebstock???

The Standard: No accountability under Key

Werewolf: Gordon Campbell on the Ombudsman’s verdict on Paula Rebstock and Ian Rennie

Previous related blogposts

Johnny’s Report Card – National Standards Assessment – the social welfare safety net

Johnny’s Report Card – National Standards Assessment y/e 2012 – inequality & poverty

Budget 2013: State Housing and the War on Poor

“You Break It, We Fix It” – Is That How It Works?

On ‘The Nation’ – Anne Tolley Revealed

Child Poverty: Labour on track

Letter to the editor – Key suggests private providers for children in CYF services?!

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 26 June 2016.

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