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Expose: Winston Peters; the 1997 speeches; and neo-liberal tendencies

13 September 2016 2 comments

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winston peters no yes maybe who the fuck knows

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On Radio NZ’s Morning Report, on 5 September, NZ First leader  Winston Peters, told Guyon Espiner that his party would be a force for major economic change. NZ First, he insisted, would spell an end to neo-liberalism;

“It’s no use having what we’ve had, perhaps you can call it tweedledum and tweedledummer, who have persisted with the neo-liberal experiment. Who have gone along with allowing the foreign banks to dominate New Zealand market for example. Allowed the overseas ownership of our share martket which went from 19% when this experiment started to beyond 70% now.

[…]

New Zealand First is not going to swap one side for the other side because they think it’s their turn so that they can carry on the same economic direction they’re going.

[…]

You’ve got a group on the Right, with a whole lot of cling-ons. You’ve got an unholy wedding or pre-nuptials on the Left, and we don’t want to be part of either of those things. We’re out for economic change and we intend to be successful.

[…]

We believe, if we’ve succeeded in getting our message away then economic and social direction change is a certainty.

[…]

And we’re not going to go around starting negotiating pre-election, with parties who have proven since the last 32 years, one started this economic disaster and the other one has continued it.”

Peters’ repudiation of the neo-liberal economic model had been made two months earlier on TVNZ’s Q+A, when he told Corin Dann;

Corin Dann: Do you think globalisation has failed?

Winston Peters: Of course it has. Because, see, it’s not so much about free trade, so to speak; it should be about fair trade, and there’s a world of difference.

Corin Dann: What is the alternative to globalisation if you believe that it’s failed? Is it a return to protectionism, nationalism?

Winston Peters: No, no, it’s not. It’s being like Norway; it’s being like Switzerland; it’s being like Taiwan. It’s being as smart about protecting the interests of the economy you’re trying to build rather than just going along with being told internationally what you must accept. There’s a world of difference, and right around the Western world, there is a coming now rejection of the neoliberal experiment after 30, 35 years. It is under serious challenge now.

Corin Dann: Mr Peters, globalisation has lifted millions and millions of people out of poverty. It’s brought New Zealand great diversity; it’s brought us all of the mod cons that we take for granted – our phones – everything like that. Hasn’t globalisation been great?

Winston Peters: You’re just confusing sound trade arrangements with globalisation. Globalisation in the UK consequence meant they were being told, out of the European Commission – unelected, in the UK Parliament – they were being told how their laws would be. 55% of the laws in the UK were being dominated out of Brussels. Now, no self-respecting country’s going to take that.

Peters’ comments roundly rejected globalisation, free trade, neo-liberalism. He  inferred protectionism when he told Dann, “It’s being as smart about protecting the interests of the economy you’re trying to build rather than just going along with being told internationally what you must accept“.

However, in a speech made in 1997, when Peters was Treasurer in the National-NZ First Coalition Government, he told the NBR Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Government to Business Forum that he would be pursuing conservative fiscal management; supporting  an “open, internationally competitive economy”; lower taxes; and a de-regulated market.

Peter’s speech is in the form of a hard-copy in this blogger’s possession. It is headed “Office of the Deputy Prime Minister & Treasurer” and is dated 11 February 1997.  It was embargoed till 8.35am for that day, when Peters made his speech at Wellington’s up-market Park Royal Hotel.

Peters began by saying that there were “four core economic principles at the heart of the government’s strategy;

  • “sound, stable government
  • ensuring an economic climate conducive to sustainable development and growth, more employment opportunities, high quality education and social services, a strong commitment to low inflation, prudent and conservative fiscal management and over time, lower taxes and reduced public debt
  • an open, internationally competitive economy, a strong export sector, and policies to stimulate private sector and individual performance
  • planning for the country’s future, emphasising intergenerational fairness and increasing the nation’s saving”

Later in the speech, Peters reiterated the Coalition’s fiscal policy;

“That is why we are committed to low inflation, prudent and conservative fiscal management, lowering taxes and reducing public debt.”

Peters made clear that those were the core principles of the National-NZ First  Coalition. They  also happen to be core ideological tenets of neo-liberal doctrine.

Peters’ “core principles” are mirrored by the so-called “NZ Initiative” (formerly the Business Roundtable), a right-wing, neo-liberal think-tank;

We [NZ Initiative] are committed to developing policies that work for all New Zealanders, and we believe that promoting such policies will benefit all of our members as a matter of fact. But we are certainly an Initiative that usually prefers Adam Smith’s invisible hand to government’s visible fist.

Most of all, though, we believe that our goals and values are similar – if not identical – to what most New Zealanders want to see achieved:

  • A good education system.
  • Affordable housing.
  • An open economy.
  • A free and democratic society.
  • The protection of our natural resources and heritage.
  • Sound public finances.
  • A stable currency.

The NZ Initiative/Business Roundtable also promotes lower taxes; a competitive, open economy; and prudent and conservative fiscal management – in short all the core principles expressed by Peters in February 1997.

In case his audience did not understand Peters’ commitment to “an open, internationally competitive economy” he repeated himself again, in his speech;

“The key to maintaining an open internationally competitive economy  will be:

  • stable macroeconomic policies;

  • de-regulated, competitive and open market;

  • quality public services provided as efficiently as possible;

  • and the lowest possible taxes”

He went on;

“Another reform… removing restrictions on air services to and from New Zealand is important for reducing barriers to trade and tourism. To this end, the government remains committed to reciprocal liberalisation where possible…

[…]

To make the most of the opportunities a global economy provides…”

Not content to cement in an  adherence to a neo-liberal agenda, Peters then attacked the social welfare system in this country – another prime target of the New Right;

“What distinguishes this government is the prominence given to the value of self-reliance… moving people away from State dependence to independence.”

Bear in mind that Peters was giving his speech only six years after Ruth Richardson’s notorious “Mother of All Budgets” in 1991. By the time Peters addressed the Government to Business Forum in 1997, 19% of households were already living below the poverty line and unemployment was at 6.8%. By June the following year it had ballooned to 7.9%.

Peters’ response was to attack and demean the welfare system that  kept many of these people alive as the scourge of neo-liberalism ravaged the country.

Peters’ speech continued, parroting many of neo-liberal cliches that we are now so familiar with;

“We want to create an environment which encourages New Zealanders to move away from welfare dependency to employment. And for those who still need welfare support, we want a move away  from a welfare mentality to a positive attitude  and greater acceptance of social obligations.

It is also about people taking greater responsibility for their futures rather than simply relying on the state.”

Peters was promoting the Cult of  Individualism and cutting back state support – another basic tenet of neo-liberalism.

Next, he took a swipe at families and their “reliance” on welfare;

“A prime area needing attention is the family… this government will create an environment which instils greater levels of parental responsibility.

Our destiny is ultimately in the hands of individual New Zealanders. Breaking the cycle of dependency means taking primary responsibility for our own welfare and the welfare of our families.

This government expects each and every New Zealander to… live up to their responsibilities…”

This speech and it’s conservative message sounds ominously as if the  ACT Party might have given it;

“To alleviate poverty, reduce dependency and shift able-bodied people from welfare to work.”

“To put personal responsibility, self-reliance and work above welfare dependency.”

“Welfare must not put children at risk by undermining the two-parent family.”

“True compassion demands welfare that provides a hand up to work, independence and a better future.”

Source: Welfare and The Family, ACT Party policy, September 2014

In  a later speech by Peters, on 28 February 1997, to the American Chamber of Commerce in Auckland, Peters reiterated his commitment to a free market regime;

“…Maintaining an open, internationally competitive economy, supporting a strong export sector, particularly  by managing cost structures downwards and continuing deregulation and policies to stimulate private sector and individual performance.

[…]

The government’s approach to fiscal management is orthodox and consistent

[…]

Maintaining an open and competitive enterprise economy is essential because an open and competitive economy drives New Zealand firms to lift their game, and provide a more profitable investment base for our savings.

Let me be clear, this government is not opposed to foreign investment. When it is in the national interest we welcome all investment that boosts employment, productivity and growth.”

Peters was reassuring his capitalist audience; this man was not for ‘turning’.

Conclusion

There is little clear evidence that Peters is hostile to neo-liberalism, whether of the brutal Ruthenasia variety or the more insidious neo-liberalism-with-a-relaxed-face.

Instead, the evidence from his 1997 speeches is there for all to see. Peters may profess to have distanced himself from the neo-liberal experiment, but his own words betray him.

There is not one monolithic conservative/centre-right party in New Zealand, but two, distinct parties on the conservative spectrum. Just as Australia has the Liberal Party and it’s own rural-based National Party,  we have National and NZ First. Like left-wing voters who have a choice between Labour or the Green Party,  conservative voters in this country have a choice between National and NZ First.

As long as everyone is crystal-clear on this; NZ First’s leader remains committed to neo-liberalism.

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Addendum1

The following are scanned images of Winston Peters’ 1997 speech to the Government to Business Forum;

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Winston Peters - Government to Business Forum - 1997 (1)

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Winston Peters - Government to Business Forum - 1997 (2)

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Winston Peters - Government to Business Forum - 1997 (3)

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Addendum2

The following are scanned images of Winston Peters speech, on 28 February 1997, to the American Chamber of Commerce in Auckland;

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winston peters - american chamber of commerce - 1997 (1)

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winston peters - american chamber of commerce - 1997 (2)

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winston peters - american chamber of commerce - 1997 (3)

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winston peters - american chamber of commerce - 1997 (4)

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winston peters - american chamber of commerce - 1997 (5)

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winston peters - american chamber of commerce - 1997 (6)

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winston peters - american chamber of commerce - 1997 (7)

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winston peters - american chamber of commerce - 1997 (8)

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Addendum3

All media enquiries can be made to the author at fmacskasy@gmail.com.

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References

Radio NZ: Morning Report – NZ First leader targets youth (audio)

TVNZ: Q+A – Winston Peters interviewed by Corin Dann

NZ Initiative: About Us

NZ Initiative: The Case for Lower Taxes

Business Roundtable (NZ Initiative): Submission to the Finance and Expenditure Committee on the 1997 Budget Policy Statement (March 1997)

Te Ara Encyclopedia: Mother of All Budgets

Ministry of Social Development: Assessing The Progress On Poverty Reduction

Statistics NZ: When times are tough, wage growth slows

ACT Party: Welfare and The Family

Other Blogs

Fightback: Nationalism and the left: A reflection on Winston Peters and the Northland by-election (2015)

The Standard: Can We Trust Winston Peters?

Previous related blogposts

An open letter to Winston Peters…

John Banks and Winston Peters, Apples and Oranges

Winston Peters recycles pledge to “buy back state assets” – where have we heard that before?

Northland by-election – a damning poll and a damnable lie?

The Mendacities of Mr Key # 18: “No question – NZ is better off!”

A Message to Winston; A Message to John Key; and a Message to the Regions

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 7 September 2016.

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Letter to the editor – Do National voters want us to be tenants in our own country?

12 September 2016 Leave a comment

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Frank Macskasy - letters to the editor - Frankly Speaking

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The latest on housing unaffordability made worse by speculation. It seems our Canadian cuzzies are on the right track;

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Vancouver's property market - foreign speculators - radio nz - housing prices

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Which merited this response from me, addressed to National voters;

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from: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to: Dominion Post <letters@dompost.co.nz>
date: Mon, Sep 5, 2016
subject: Letter to the editor

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The editor
Dominion Post

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Canada’s Vancouver has been suffering a mirror-image of Auckland’s runaway housing price boom. Like Auckland, average house prices were past the $900,000 mark. Canadians were being locked out of buying their own home by cashed-up foreign speculators.

Last month, the State government of British Columbia imposed a 15% sales tax on foreign house buyers (Chinese, Americans, etc) and the result has deterred foreign speculators.

Here in New Zealand, National is obsessed with it’s free-market doctrine and is willing to sacrifice our tradition of home-ownership. Foreign (and homegrown) speculators are inflating a housing bubble that is not only unfair to New Zealanders wanting to buy their own home, but is ultimately unsustainable.

Unless we literally want to become tenants in our own country, the sale of houses to non-New Zealanders must be banned immediatly. The free-market doctrine serves wealthy overseas investors, as well as local speculators, but not New Zealanders wanting their own homes.

I urge those who vote National to consider what sort of country they want to live in, and what sort of country they want to leave their children.

If National voters think that money is all that matters, then we truly will get the kind of society we deserve.
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-Frank Macskasy

[address and phone number supplied]

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Let’s hope the ‘light goes on‘ with National voters…

 

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References

Radio NZ: Lending restrictions start to take effect on Auckland’s housing market

Radio NZ: Vancouver’s property market slumps after new foreign buyers tax

Previous related blogpost

That was Then, this is Now #10

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plutonians protect their own housing

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on  6 September 2016

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Congratulations Dr Smith!!

11 September 2016 1 comment

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Dr Smiths

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Congratulations are in order for Dr (Nick) Smith.

Not content with National’s default Blame-Game targets, Dr Smith has come up with an entire new scape-goat for National’s never-ending botch-ups; failed policies; scandals; mismanagement; under-funding; accident-prone Ministers; cronyism, and every other cluster-f*ck that a politician can conceivably come up with.

Up till now, National’s  favorite Default Deflection targets have been;

Deflection #1: The Previous Labour government done it

Never mind that National has been in power for nearly nine years, they can still point the finger at Labour for “the mess that they left us”. (“Mess” being record low unemployment; positive economic growth;  national debt paid down, and posting eight surpluses in a row. How many countries would love to have been bequeathed Labour’s “mess“?)

How that “mess” has survived unchanged and “fixed”,  by National,  throughout nearly a decade is never explained. Only Guyon Espiner on Radio NZ’s ‘Morning Report‘ cuts of Ministers when they attempt to resort to Deflection Number One, with an exasperation in his voice that would do the parent of a toddler proud.

The Housing crisis was a recent example of Deflecting blame to Labour;

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housing-crisis-national-blame-game

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Key’s latest exercise in responsibility-avoidance;

“Under the nine years that Helen [Clark] was Prime Minister, my friend, nationally house prices went up 102 percent. Under us in eight years, they’ve gone up 43. In Auckland they went up 87 percent I think – under us it’s about the same.

If it was a state of emergency now, a crisis now, why wasn’t it a state of emergency and a crisis then?”

Even the passing of National’s ill-fated synthetic drugs laws (later repealed as an utter legislative failure) was blamed on Labour;

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labour-forced-our-hand-on-timing-key

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Who would have thought that after eight years in Opposition, Labour still wields such powerful influence? Who thought it possible to govern from the Opposition benches?

Labour, take a bow.

Which is all rather ironic, as Dear Leader is pushing Heaven, Earth, and Planet Key to support Helen Clark as the U.N.’s next Secretary General;

“There are major global challenges facing the world today and the United Nations needs a proven leader who can be pragmatic and effective.

Coming from New Zealand Helen Clark is well placed to bridge divisions and get results. She is the best person for the job.

I’ll do everything I can to get her over the line.

[…]

If Helen became the next secretary general of the UN New Zealanders would celebrate in the same way they celebrate Lorde for her singing and Lydia Ko in golf.”

Most people would say she was a very strong prime minister for nine years and she’s done a great job in the last seven years at UNDP.”

And subsequently;

“If they’re doing that, that is everything that’s wrong with the United Nations because, for goodness sake, let’s get the best person in the job…

[…]

I still think anyway if its a drag race between Kevin Rudd and Helen Clark, New Zealanders, and I reckon a hell of a lot of Australians, know who the best candidate is.”

Wow! Is this the same Prime Minister of a previous Labour government that Key blames all New Zealand’s economic and social woes?

Deflection #2: Welfare Beneficiaries/Housing NZ tenants done it

It’s the fault of those “lazy benes”. And/or Housing NZ tenants. It’s their fault that poverty has increased; wages have remained low; the income/wealth gap has widened; that there is over-crowding and homelessness.

Of course it’s their fault. Key said so;

“But it is also true that anyone on a benefit actually has a lifestyle choice. If one budgets properly, one can pay one’s bills. And that is true because the bulk of New Zealanders on a benefit do actually pay for food, their rent and other things. Now some make poor choices and they don’t have money left.”

Didn’t you know that government social and fiscal policy is set by  WINZ beneficiaries  and Housing NZ clients?!

Deflection #3: The GFC/Great Recession/Overseas Events done it

Unemployment is still high (even with Statistics NZ fudging unemployment stats). It’s the GFC, stoopid, as Key pointed out;

“We did inherit a pretty bad situation with the global financial crisis. We have had three terrible earthquakes in Christchurch. We have had the collapse of finance companies. We have had to bail out what is, in terms of the earthquakes, the single biggest economic impact on a developed economy as the result of a disaster. The public don’t agree with every decision… but I think they believe on balance it’s been a tough three years and we’ve handled most things well. The second thing is it’s all relative. Yes, our unemployment went to 7 per cent and now it’s 6.5, but in America it’s 9 per cent officially and 14 per cent unofficially and in Spain it’s 20 per cent… “

And,

“While I think we have to acknowledge that the last three years have been pretty tough with the Global Financial Crisis, on a relative basisNew Zealand’s been doing a better than a lot of other countries.”

Of course, Deflection #3 has a limited shelf-life, and sooner or later the public and media will wise-up to the fact that the Global Financial Crisis event was eight years ago.

Time for another handy international crisis?

Deflection #4: The Auckland Council/RMA done it

When it comes to Auckland-related problems such as housing unaffordability; homelessness, and over-crowding, the Nats have a geographic-specific Deflection solely set aside for that contingency;

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Govt blames RMA Auckland Council sunspots

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Very handy.

Deflection #4 is better than ‘Persil‘ at removing embarrassing and unsightly, Auckland-issue credibility stains…

But now, in a masterful, brilliant stroke of creative political bullshit-artistry, Dr Smith has come up with a brand new Deflection category.

Drum roll, please…

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Deflection #5: The birds done it!

In a speech on 30 August, Dr Smith was at pains to rationalise away his government’s abject failure at cleaning up New Zealand’s heavily polluted waterways. His surrender to a future of rivers so contaminated with animal faeces and harmful micro-organisms that they can no longer be  swum in, was summed up when he lamented;

“A national requirement for all water bodies to be swimmable all of the time is impractical. Most of our rivers breach the 540 E. coli count required for swimming during heavy rainfall.”

The target to blame? Birds.

“We’ve got water bodies like the Washdyke Lagoon here in Canterbury and Lake Papaitonga in the Manawatu which are home to many birds whose E. coli make it impossible to meet the swimming standard without a massive bird cull.”

The… Birds!?!? Priceless.

Hear that, birds?!?! It’s all your fault!!

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Dodo_Ice_Age_Adventures

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Expect to hear more of Deflection #5 in future, as the chorus of complaints about our rivers and lakes continues to grow.

Never let it be said that National cannot find a convenient target to deflect blame onto, whenever a situation demands it;

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national-and-john-key-blames

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Obviously, any chance of National taking responsibility for the mis-management of our waterways is… for the birds.

But the public, the media, and environmental groups will not allow Smith to escape his responsibilities. He will be held to account and reminded of his failures at every turn. Like New Zealand’s polluted, unswimmable  waterways, his Environmental portfolio has become utterly toxic.

We can hear Dr Smith now; “Oh, the pain, the pain

 

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References

Hive News: Hive News Tuesday – Key blames ‘Dirty Politics’ for lack of state house sale debate

Reuters: NZ Prime Minister says central bank should get on with housing measures

Parliament Today: Housing NZ’s Woes Blamed on Labour

TV3 News: Housing blame game flares up in Parliament

NewstalkZB: Govt accused of blaming Auckland Council for its own failings on housing

Sharechat: Key blames Labour for barrier to foreign buyer ban

Youtube: Bill English Blames Greens for Housing Crisis

TV3 News: John Key blames Helen Clark for housing crisis

Radio NZ: Labour forced our hand on timing – Key

Fairfax media: Government backs Helen Clark for top UN job 

Fairfax media: John Key – Don’t write Helen Clark off yet, after UN polling

NZ Herald: Food parcel families made poor choices, says Key

Dominion Post:  View from the top

Fairfax media: Key and Goff Q&A – Creating jobs

NZ Herald: Minister blames RMA for land price rise in Auckland

Fairfax media: Council blamed for Auckland housing delays

Beehive.govt.nz: Improving freshwater management

Other Blogs

Greens: Swimmable Rivers tour – Waikirikiri/Selwyn

No Right Turn: Lowering expectations

No Right Turn: So much for 100% pure

The Daily Blog: When Nick Smith said making every river swimmable ‘was not practical’ did a little bit of you die?

The Standard: Water quality too important for bird-brained excuses

Previous related blogposts

Labour: the Economic Record 2000 – 2008

John Key – Practicing Deflection 101

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

National under attack – defaults to Deflection #2

National under attack – defaults to Deflection #1

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

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Special Education Funding – Robbing Peter, Paul, and Mary to pay Tom, Dick, and Harriet

1 September 2016 3 comments

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mother-and-children

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Beware of so-called “Reforms”

In December last year, National announced plans to  “overhaul its educational support for children with special needs“. Radio NZ reported;

From the middle of next year it said the system would be significantly redesigned to be simpler and provide more support for teachers and parents.

Today it published the results of 150 public meetings held this year to identify ways of improving education for children with special education needs, such as a physical or mental disability.

As a result of those meetings it is planning changes that would include giving families, teachers and specialists a single point of contact for arranging support for children.

Before that happened, the Education Ministry would begin 22 projects aimed at improving special education in groups of schools and early childhood centres around the country.

As with all reforms from National, there would be ‘fish hooks’.  Promises to  “provide more support for teachers and parents” would prove to be a sugar-coated pill at best – or most likely illusory in actuality.

Rumblings in the Education Sector

On 15 April this year, Radio NZ reported further criticisms of under-funding for children with special needs;

Special education desperately needs more funding, which should be included in the government’s overhaul of the sector, parents and educators say.

The Ministry of Education says it is simplifying the $590 million system for helping children with disabilities, but there won’t be any more money to accompany the changes which will be introduced in 2017.

Critics say that is not good enough, because too many children are not getting the help they need.

The Early Childhood sector criticised National for under-funding special needs children;

Early Childhood Council chief executive Peter Reynolds said more support was also desperately needed in the early childhood sector.

“The model isn’t working that’s there at the moment. It needs to be changed and it’s got to be done quickly.

“It’s okay to take your time over doing a review or whatever you want to call it, but at the end of the day we’ve got people falling through the gaps right now, and they shouldn’t have to.”

Parata responded;

But Education Minister Hekia Parata said she was confident there would be tangible benefits from the special education changes, without more money.

“We want to get this right. We have a vision for a system that is inclusive, we’re recognised internationally as being so and we just want to continuously improve.”

Note the caveat from Parata; “without more money“.

Where would increased funding for under-fives with special needs come from if it was achieved “without more money“?

Answer: National resorted to one of it’s old tricks.

Parata’s Proposal

The answer came as a bombshell on 22 August.

Education Minister, Hekia Parata, revealed that primary and secondary schools’ funding for special needs students would be slashed, and the money re-directed to under-fives. As Radio NZ explained;

The [Cabinet] documents also indicated the government would reduce the amount of special education funding spent in the school sector, and dramatically increase the amount spent on those under the age of five.

“Analysis of the spend by the age range of the recipient indicates that a disproportionate amount of the funds are for school-age children. This is despite clear evidence in some areas that early support can have greater benefits in terms of educational outcomes.”

As implications of Parata’s scheme began to percolate through the education sector, reaction was scathing. A day later, the Secondary Principals’ Association responded;

A proposed cut to special education spending in schools would be a disaster, the head of the Secondary Principals’ Association says.

Documents show the government wants to greatly increase its spending on under-5s with special needs, at the expense of spending on school-aged children.

One of the areas it has singled out for urgent review is the Ongoing Resourcing Scheme for children with the most significant special needs, and in particular, the those aged 18 to 21 who use it.

Secondary Principals’ Association president Sandy Pasley said secondary schools would not cope well with a cut.

“We haven’t got enough as it is and to lose some funding from secondary sector would be quite dramatic for schools.

“We understand that it’s good to put it into the early years but not at the expense of students in secondary schools because often the special education needs don’t go away and sometimes they’re exacerbated by adolescence.”

Ms Pasley said the association would try and persuade the government not to go ahead with the proposal, which she said would be a disaster.

Kim Hall from Autism Action told Nine to Noon children under 5-years-old with autism needed more support – but funding for that should not be taken from school-aged children.

Hall made this critical point;

“Some children aren’t diagnosed until they start school or even later, so that means those children already miss out on that vital funding at the start.”

More on that issue in a moment.

Shamefully, the Early Childhood Council seemed willing to be an accomplice to National’s shuffling of scarce funding for vulnerable children. Early Childhood Council CEO, Peter Reynolds, did not hide his enthusiasm;

“On paper it looks good. It’s a shame we’ve got to wait another few months before we start seeing this thing roll out, but we’ll be wanting to work very closely with the ministry to ensure kids who are struggling right now get some sort of relief in the future and their parents get that relief as well.”

Parata justified the money-shuffle, with the usual spin;

“Evidence shows that providing learning support early in a child’s life will have much greater impact. We’re at a proposal stage of the process. Any changes wouldn’t come into effect until March 2017 at the earliest and will be managed incrementally and carefully to ensure ongoing support. What we are looking at, based on a year’s worth of consultation with the sector is, how do we redsign the service going forward, without compromising the service for those currently in it. So there will be a long transition.”

However, it is simply not correct that early detection and support for children – who will only gradually exhibit complex behavioural, intellectual, and other disabilities over time – is possible.

For children on the Autism Spectrum, recognising that a child is presenting may take up to five years, according to the  on-line  Ministry of Health document,  “Does this person have ASD? New Zealand Autism Spectrum Disorder Guideline“;

There are three more common times when individuals are likely to present:

1. between the ages of 1 and 3 years, lack of development in the areas affected by ASD, such as language and play, becomes more obvious
2. between the ages of 5 and 8 years, when increased social and educational demands highlight difficulties
3. in adolescence or adulthood, when social isolation or relationship difficulties result in depression and other comorbid conditions.

The US group, Autism Speaks, points out;

In the United States, the average age of diagnosis with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is around 4 years of age.

All of which is confirmed by the very personal story of “Sally” and her son, “Zack”.

“Zack” – A Personal Story

From a blogpost published on 6 March 2012 (see: Once upon a time there was a solo-mum), on the problem of Minister Paula Bennett cutting the Training Incentive Allowance;

Sally* is 37 and a solo-mother with an 18 year-old (Wayne*) and 11 year (Zack*) old sons.

Sally had Wayne to her first partner, but the relationship did not last because of drug-taking and violent abuse on his part. (Some months after they separated, he committed suicide.) Sally went on to the DPB, raising her newborn son by herself.

Seven years later, Sally met someone else and formed a relationship with him. The relationship went well and she became pregnant (a son, Zack) to her new partner.

As  her pregnancy progressed, Sally’s partner seemed to go off the rails,  and he increasingly  took up  drink and drugs with his boozy mates. As Sally said, he “was more into his mates than his family” and she finally  threw him out.

Sally was adamant she did not want someone like him as a role-model for her sons. She went back on the DPB and began to examine her options in life.

Eventually, Sally  applied for a course at Victoria University for a bachelors degree  in early childhood education. She applied for, and got, the Training Incentive Allowance (TIA).

Zack’s father saw his young son a couple of times during his first year as a newborn and infant, but thereafter showed little interest in maintaining contact. He eventually disappeared from Sally and her children’s life. She was on her own to raise her sons – a role she took seriously, and sought no new relationships with men.

Instead, she applied herself to her university course.

Sally says that the TIA helped her immensely, paying her transport, study-costs, fees, and childcare for her sons. She says,

You could only get the TIA on the DPB, not on the dole, which I thought was unfair.”

After her graduation, Sally followed up with a Masters degree, which took another four years in part-time study. During the final two years of her uni studies, she took up a part-time job. This decreased the amount she received on the DPB, and her part-time job was taxed at the Secondary Tax Rate (her benefit was considered as a “primary job” by the IRD).

Sally took out a student loan for her M.Ed, as WINZ would not pay the Training Incentive Allowance for higher university education.

One could view the “claw back” of her DPB and higher tax-rate on her part-time job as a dis-incentive which penalised Sally, and others in her position, but she persevered. With end-of-year tax refunds, she says it “all squared out” – but she could have done with the extra money through the year.

Sally graduated and got her Masters degree in early childhood education. By this time, Wayne was 14 and Zack, 6. One month later, she found a full time job and replaced the DPB with a good salary. She says that the MA gives her an extra $11,000 per annum.

During her studies and part time job, Sally raised her two sons – one of whom was increasingly “challenging” with Aspergers and ADHD.

(This blogger can confirm that young Zack – whilst a bright, personable child – can also be “a handful”, and was effectively thrown out of his previous school for “disruptive behaviour”.)

Zack’s story was continued in another blogpost on 8 June 2013 (see: When the State fails our children), on the issue of Special Needs Education. I provided more detail on Zack’s circumstances;

Zack is an intelligent, charming, highly curious, young man (12) who requires one-on-one support during his entire school day. Not having that one-on-one support is untenable for both Zack or the school, as he can “flip out” at provocations which other children might not notice.

Zack was expelled from two previous schools for lack of one-on-one support from a teacher-aid.

He was enrolled at his current school with the specific agreement that Zack would be provided full-time, one-on-one support from a dedicated teacher-aid.

It soon become apparent that the Ministery had assigned this teacher-aid (who was doing the best she could under the circumstances) to two children; Zack, and another child at another school.

Not being able to violate given laws of physics by being in two places simultaneously, the school took action to cut down Zack’s hours in class. He was permitted to attend class only when the teacher aid was present (approx 4 hours per day). When she left to attend her second client, Zack’s grandmother collected him. (Zack’s mother, Sally, is a solo-mum who works at an early childhood facility.)

Implementation of promises of full support – the current fashionable term is “intensive wraparound support” – by the Ministry of Education have been erratic and never fully implemented. (At the beginning the Ministry was reluctant to offer any support for Zack. They relented only when schools refused to accept him unless there was  funding for a teacher-aid.)

Zack’s teacher-aid was funded through the Ongoing Resourcing Scheme (ORS). According to the Education Ministry website, ORS is described as;

“Ongoing Resourcing Scheme (ORS) funding is used to provide specialist services and support for students with the very highest needs for special education.

ORS helps students join in and learn alongside other students at school. Any student who meets the ORS criteria is included in the scheme.”

For Zack, ORS provided;

“teacher aides to support teachers to include students in class programmes and activities”

Without a teacher’s aide present, Zack was easily distracted or could become stressed and angry at the usual background classroom noise, chatter, and other stimuli which other children mostly never notice. The consequence  almost always resulted in an outburst from Zack and disruption of the class.

Without support from a  teacher aide, funded by ORS, Zack’s education would have been limited and no school would have enrolled him. He would have had to be home-schooled by his mother who would have had to quit her job and return to the Domestic Purposes Benefit. Even that form of home-schooling would have had limited success, as Sally found it increasingly difficult to manage her son.

With minimal education and an Aspergers-personality, Zack’s future prospects would have been grim.

Zack’s fascination with fire resulted in coming to the attention of Police (though this aspect of his behaviour has improved considerably in the last few years). The local community police constable played an outstanding and sympathetic role in helping Zack move past this dangerous obsession.

Zack’s Aspergers condition was not identified until later in his childhood, as this interview with Sally revealed;

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Frank: “Kia ora Sally.

You’ve heard of government proposals to shift funding for Special Needs programmes from schools to pre-schools. As someone who works in Early Childhood Education, and with a teenage son with Aspergers, you have a foot in both camps. What are your views on this?”

Sally: “Rather than a ‘shift’ I think there needs to be an increase across the board. There are big gaps in funding meaning many children miss out on funding and thus the extra help that could benefit their education greatly.”

Frank: “At what age was Zack diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum?”

Sally: “He was 4 when we first wondered. By 5 or 6 he was considered to have aspects. I think he was about 8 or 9 when he was officially classified as having Asperger Syndrome.”

Frank: “So funding for pre-school Special Needs children would not have met Zack’s needs?”

Sally: “It wouldn’t have been available because [his] ‘needs’ at that age wouldn’t have met the requirements for funding.”

Frank: “So in effect, that would have left him ‘stranded’, without any government-funded support?”

Sally: “Yes.”

Frank: “Without funding for Zack’s teacher aide, would Zack have been able to cope at school? He was asked to leave one school at least, wasn’t he?”

Sally: “He didn’t and doesn’t cope without extra teacher aide support. The funding for anyone not considered ‘high needs’ is non-existant. He only ever received funding when, because he wasn’t coping, his behaviour was out of control. Then when the extra support helped and his behaviour went down, funding and thus support was taken away and then his behaviour became an issue. ‘Asked to leave’. That’s a nice way to put it. Yes he left two schools because without funding and support they couldn’t deal with him. Although in all fairness I need to point out that the first of those schools didn’t try to work with him in appropriate ways and didn’t have a positive attitude towards children with special needs.”

Frank: “So if Zack was unable to cope at schools, without funding for support through a teacher’s aide, what would have happened to his education opportunities?”

Sally: “Not ‘would have’ but ‘has’. He is years behind academically and is struggling to gain credits for NCEA Level One. This is partly due to the several years at primary school where he didn’t learn a lot due to no funding or support and being in a highly emotional and behavioural state. It is also because of what workload he can cope with though. He will do Level One NCEA over three years so he can cope.”

Frank: “Would you have been able to carry on working in your own career if Zack had been forced through circumstances beyond his control, to stay home and be home-schooled?”

Sally: “No. I would have ended up back on the DPB. Luckily he ended up in a wonderful Intermediate for his last year there and then a great college that, even without extra funding, has an amazing learning support system. He doesn’t have teacher aides though because he gets no funding and that would help immensely, especially with English.”

Frank: “Without funding for a teacher’s aide, what do you believe would have been the outcome for his development?”

Sally: “The only teacher aide funding he ever got was in primary when his behaviour was out of control. If that had not been available he wouldn’t have been able to be supported to cope in class. The outcome of him not getting funding for a teacher aide in terms of his learning for all these years is he has learnt things a lot slower than he could of and he is still struggling to understand a lot of the curriculum.”

Frank: “Without funding for support for other children with Special needs at schools and secondary schools, what do you foresee as the outcome?”

Sally: “Schools being under even more pressure to help children without the funding or resources they need. The already limited resources being stretched to breaking point. An increasing number of children who leave school without the education they deserve or need to be active members of society. An increasing burden on the welfare system to support these adults that weren’t supported as children.

Plus an increased burden on the criminal system because without a good job people are more likely to steal to survive.”

Frank: “What do you say to Education Minister Hekia Parata’s proposals to cut Special Needs funding for schools and shifting the money to pre-schools?”

Sally: “Hekia, heck no! Funding needs to be increased across the board. While it is true that in ECE there needs to be increased funding for children with special needs and that the early years are the most important in terms of development, children still need support throughout their school lives.”

Frank: “Finally, how is Zack these days?”

Sally: “Struggling academically but he is at a very supportive school who are tailoring their approach to his learning to suit him. He no longer has extreme behaviour at school, partly because he is older but also because of the positive school environment he is in.”

Frank: “Thank you, Sally. All the best to you and your sons.”

Sally: “All good.”

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Conclusion

National has come up with many “reforms”, proposals, policies, and ideas that eventually fail, or create unforeseen (or often foreseen; pre-warned; and ignored) problems.

On this occasion, the proposal to increase spending for under-fives children with special needs, at the expense of older children, is short-sighted madness that beggars belief.

There is simply no sensible rationale for this ill-considered, incoherent policy.  If there is scientific backing, Parata is yet to release it to the media and public.

Parata is playing god with the lives of vulnerable children – children who are often unable to cope in a classroom-environment without constant  “wraparound” support.

Taking money from children who can barely cope is simply beyond any measure of comprehension.

Is Parata so badly advised by her officials that she cannot understand the consequences of cutting support for children with special needs?

Is Parata’s Ministry so cash-strapped that she even considers taking funding from those who need it the most?

Children with special needs are highly vulnerable,  facing considerable difficulties, with many lacking simple coping mechanisms. They live stressed, difficult lives that most New Zealanders are unaware of. They have started life several steps behind their peers. They are running, just to barely keep up.

If Parata is willing to undermine what little support these children receive, then she is a damaged person lacking in any measure of human empathy. I hold her in utter contempt.

Parata must resign.

 

 

* Sally and her son’s names have been changed to protect their privacy.

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References

Radio NZ: Govt promises to overhaul special education

Radio NZ: Children with disabilities missing out as education funding falls short

Radio NZ: Govt to phase out ‘special needs’

Radio NZ: Secondary principals fear special education ‘disaster’

Autism Speaks: Hunting for Autism’s Earliest Clues

Ministry of Education: Overview of Ongoing Resourcing Scheme (ORS)

Ministry of Health: Does this person have ASD? New Zealand Autism Spectrum Disorder Guideline

Other Blogs

How Melulater Sees It: Special Education – Let’s Change the Name and Solve Everything!!

How Melulater Sees It: Where are those wrap around services, Hekia?

Public Address: Some aspects of New Zealand’s disability history – part one (Nov, 2014)

Public Address: Some aspects of New Zealand’s disability history – part two (Dec, 2014)

Public Address: Some aspects of New Zealand’s disability history ‒ part three (Feb, 2015)

The Daily Blog: Martyn Bradbury – Removing the word ‘special needs’ so you don’t have to fund ‘special needs’

Previous related blogposts

Why Hekia Parata should not be sacked

When the State fails our children

National’s prioritises Education needs

Once upon a time there was a solo-mum

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1995 Tom Scott Cartoon featuring Minister of Education Lockwood Smith and three children with special needs. Ref: H-242-020 Turnbull Library

1995 Tom Scott Cartoon featuring Minister of Education Lockwood Smith and three children with special needs. Ref: H-242-020 Turnbull Library (Acknowledgement: Public Address Blog)

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 27 August 2016.

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