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Cutting taxes toward more user-pays – the Great Kiwi Con

31 January 2017 3 comments

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Introduction

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The following is the amount spent by Labour, on Vote Education in the 2008 Budget;

Total 2008 Vote Education: $10,775,482,000 (in 2008 dollars)

Total students in 2009: 751,330* 

spend per student: $14,341.88

The following is the amount spent by National, on Vote Education in the 2016 Budget;

Total 2016 Vote Education: $11,044,598,000 (in 2016 dollars)

Total students in 2016: 776,948**

spend per student in 2016 dollars: $14,215.36

Total 2016 Vote Education: $9,608,800,000 (re-calculated in 2008 dollars)

spend per student in 2008 dollars: $12,367.37

Calculated in real terms (2008 dollars), National’s spending on Vote Education was $1,166,682,000 less last year than Labour budgetted in 2008.

In dollar terms, in 2016, National spent less per student ($14,215.36) than Labour did in 2008 ($14,341.88). Converting National’s $14,215.36 from 2016 dollars to 2008 dollars, and the sum spent  per student is even less: 12,367.37.

In real terms, National has cut the total*** education budget by $1,974.51 per student.

*  Not including 9,529 international fee-paying students

**  Not including 11,012 international fee-paying students

*** Total spent on Vote Education, not just schools and tertiary education.

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Tax-cuts and Service-cuts

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Writing in the Daily Blog recently, political commentator Chris Trotter had this to say on the matter of taxation and social services;

Speaking on behalf of the NewLabour Party, I felt obliged to spell out the realities of tertiary education funding. I told them that they could have free education or low taxes – but they could not have both. If the wealthy refused to pay higher taxes, then students would have to pay higher fees. If the middle class (i.e. their family) was serious about keeping young people (i.e. themselves) out of debt, then they would have to vote for a party that was willing to restore a genuinely progressive taxation system.”

Since 1986, there have been no less than seven tax-cuts;

1 October 1986 – Labour

1 October 1988 – Labour

1 July 1996 – National

1 July 1998 – National

1 October 2008 – Labour

1 April 2009 – National

1 October 2010 – National

 

The 2010 tax-cuts alone were estimated to cost the State  $2 billion in lost revenue.

Taxes were raised in 2000 by the incoming Labour government, to inject  much needed funding for a cash-strapped health sector. The previous National government, led by Bolger and later Shipley, had gutted the public health service. Hospital waiting lists grew. People waited for months, if not years, for life-saving operations. Some died – still waiting.

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During that time, National cut taxes twice (see above). Funding for public healthcare suffered and predictably, private health insurance capitalised on peoples’ fears;

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A decade late, National’s ongoing cuts, or under-funding, of state services such as the Health budget have resulted in wholly predictable – and preventable – negative outcomes;

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A critic of National’s under-funding of the health system, Phil Bagshaw, pointed out the covert agenda behind the cuts;

New Zealand’s health budget has been declining for almost a decade and could signal health reforms akin to the sweeping changes of the 1990s, new research claims.

[…]

The accumulated “very conservative” shortfall over the five years to 2014-15 was estimated at $800 million, but could be double that, Canterbury Charity Hospital founder and editorial co-author Phil Bagshaw said.

Bagshaw believed the Government was moving away from publicly-funded healthcare, and beginning to favour a model that meant everyone had to pay for their own.

“It’s very dangerous. If this continues we will slide into an American-style healthcare system.”

Funding cuts to the Health sector have been matched with increases to charges;

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cuts to NGOs offering support services;

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… and  leaving district health boards in dire financial straits;

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The critical correlation between  tax cuts and consequential reduction of state services was nowhere better highlighted then by US satirist and commentator,  Seth Meyer. He was unyielding with his  scathing, mocking, examination of  the travesty of the Kansas Example of “minimalist government”;

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Here in New Zealand, National’s funding cuts have not been restricted to the Health sector and NGOs. Government agencies from  the Police , Radio NZ, to the Department of Conservation have had their funding slashed (or frozen –  a cut after inflation is factored in).

The exception has been the Prime Minister’s department which, since 2008, has enjoyed a massive  increase of $24,476,000 since 2008 and  a near-doubling of John Key’s department and Cabinet expenditure since Michael Cullen’s last budget, seven years previously.

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Tax cuts, slashed services, and increasing user-pays

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By contrast,  parents are finding more and more that the notion of a free state education is quietly and gradually slipping away. User-pays has crept into the schools and universities – with harsh penalties for those who fail to pay.

In May 2013, National’s Tertiary Education Minister, Steven Joyce, announced;

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True to his word, in January 2016, the first person was arrested for allegedly “defaulting on his student loan”. By November the same year, a third person had been arrested. Joyce was unrepentant;

“There probably will be more, we don’t know of course how many are in Australia but that’s a very good start, and I think it’s probably a reasonable proportion of those who are in Australia.”

Joyce, of course, has nothing to fear from being arrested for defaulting on a student loan. His tertiary education was near-free, paid for by the tax-payer.

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National had no choice, of course. The entire premise of user-pays was predicated on citizens paying services that until the late ’80s/early ’90s, had been either free or near-free. With student debt now at an astronomical $14.84 billion, National cannot afford to let ‘debtors’ get off scott-free. That would send the entire unjust system crashing to the ground.   According to Inland Revenue;

… nearly 80,000 of the 111,000 New Zealanders living overseas were behind on their student loan repayments.

IRD collections manager Stuart Duff said about 22 percent of borrowers living overseas were in Australia.

He said the $840m owed to New Zealand was a substantial amount of debt.

Figures show that student debt has been increasing every year since it’s inception in 1992. At this rate, student debt will achieve Greece-like proportions;

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Graphic: acknowledgement - NZ Herald

Graphic acknowledgement:  NZ Herald

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Unsurprisingly, loan ‘defaulters’ have surpassed $1 billion, including $16 million  written off through bankruptcy. Some never pay off their “debt” with $19 million  lost after death of the borrower.

But it is not only tertiary education that has attracted a user-pay factor. School funding has also been frozen, with operational grants the most recent to suffer National’s budgetary cuts;

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Education, Inc.

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Schools are so starved of funds that they are having to rely on outside sources of income  to make up shortfalls;

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Reliance on foreign students to make up shortfalls in government spending is essentially turning our schools into commercial ventures; touting for “business” and ensuring “clients” achieve good results so as to ensure repeat custom.

When did we vote for a policy which effectively commercialised our education system?

Schools are also funded more and more by parents – to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. Fund-raising and ever-increasing school fees are required, lest our schools become financially too cash-strapped to function.

In 2014, school “donations” (actually fees by another name) and necessary fundraising reached  $357 million and is estimated to reach a staggering $1 billion by this year;

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It is estimated that a child born this year will cost his/her parents $38,362 for thirteen years of  a “free” state education. In 2007, that cost was 33,274. Our supposedly “free” state education is being gradually whittled away, and replaced with surreptitious user-pays. According to Radio NZ;

Some school principals say many schools are considering a hike in parent donations next year and cutting teacher aide hours, as they respond to a freeze on core school funding.

More than 300 school principals responded to a survey by teacher unions.

About 40 percent of school principals said they were considering cutting back on the hours of teacher aides and other support staff next year.

Thirteen percent said they were looking to increase parent donations.

The president of the teacher union NZEI, Louise Green, said the survey showed it was students who miss out when school funding was frozen.

The neo-liberal princiciple of user-pays is being covertly implemented throughout the public sector and nowhere is this more apparent than in education. Parents and guardians are expected to pay more for education and this is “off-set” by cuts to taxes. This is core to the concept of user-pays.

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User-pays is hard to pay

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The problem is that this is not an overt policy by National. The public have not been given a clear choice in the matter and instead increasing user-pays has crept in, barely noticed by the voting public. Even when challenged, a National Minister will use mis-information to attempt to use Trump-like “alternative facts” to hide what is happening;

But Education Minister Hekia Parata said parents contributed just $1.80 for every $100 spent by the taxpayer on education.

The Government was set to invest $10.8 billion in early childhood, primary and secondary education, more than the combined budget for police, defence, roads and foreign affairs.

New Zealanders have been lulled into a false sense of security that, even after seven tax cuts, we still have “free” education.  But as Chris Trotter pointed out with cool logic;

I told them that they could have free education or low taxes – but they could not have both.

The question is, what kind of society do New Zealanders want: a free education system or  tax cuts and more user-pays?

Because we can’t have both.

At the moment, politicians are making this choice for us.

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Postscript

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From a Dominion Post article on 24 January;

Student loans are getting bigger and graduates are taking longer to pay back the money they owe.

Figures from last year’s Student Loan Scheme Annual Report show the median loan balance in this country grew from $10,833 in 2008 to $14,904 in 2016.

The median repayment time for someone with a bachelor’s degree also lifted from just over six years, to eight and a half.

Since a peak in 2005, the numbers of people taking up tertiary education have declined.

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Labour education spokesman Chris Hipkins said there was a variety of factors that lead to higher student loans and longer repayment times. Tuition fees continued to rise, as did living costs.

“The long term impact for people is quite significant, basically they have a large debt for longer,” Hipkins said.

“If they’re weighed down with student loan debt it will be difficult to get on the property ladder, it’s already a burden, and this is making it even harder for the next generation.”

Universities New Zealand executive director Chris Whelan said that when it came to universities fees increasing, one need only look at published annual accounts of the country’s eight universities to see they were not “raking in” a lot of money.

Currently two-thirds of the cost of tuition was covered by subsidies, and one-third was covered by the student.

LOANS ON THE RISE

Median loan balances

2010 – $11,399

2012 – $12,849

2014 – $13,882

2016 – $14,904

Median repayment times for a bachelors/graduate certificates or diplomas

2010 – 6.9 years

2012 – 7.8 years

2014 – 8.5 years

 

 

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References

Reserve Bank NZ: Inflation calculator

Treasury: Vote Education 2008

Treasury: Vote Education 2016

Educationcounts: School RollsStudent Rolls by School 2005-2009

Educationcounts: School RollsStudent Rolls by School 2010-2016

The Daily Blog:  Don’t Riot For A Better Society: Vote For One!

Infonews: Government’s 2010 tax cuts costing $2 billion and counting

The Press: Four forced off waiting list die

Otago Daily Times:  Heartwatch Insurance Cover

Radio NZ: Patients have ‘severe loss of vision’ in long wait for treatment

Fairfax media: Researchers claim NZ health budget declining, publicly-funded surgery on way out

Radio NZ: Patients suffering because of surgery waits – surgeon

Fairfax media:  Prescription price rise hits vulnerable

TVNZ News: Kiwi charities and NGOs face closure with impending funding cuts

NBR: Leaked document shows 10 District Health Boards face budget cuts – King

Fairfax media: Police shut 30 stations in effort to combat budget cuts

Youtube: Kansas Tax Cuts –  A Closer Look

Scoop media: Budget cuts continue National’s miserly underfunding of DOC

Fairfax media: Student loan defaulters to face border arrest

NBR: Arrested student loan defaulter claims to be Cook Island PM’s relative

Fairfax media: Third arrest of student loan defaulter made following government crackdown

Radio NZ: Govt tightens education purse strings

NZ Herald: ‘At risk’ school funding revealed – with 1300 to lose out under new model

Fairfax media: Student loan borrowers seeking bankruptcy as millions in debts wiped due to insolvency

NZ Herald:   Schools using foreigners’ fees to staff classrooms

NZ Herald: Parents fundraise $357m for ‘free’ schooling

NZ Herald: Parents paid $161m for children’s ‘free education

NZ Herald:   School costs: $40,000 for ‘free’ state education

Motherjones: Trickle-Down Economics Has Ruined the Kansas Economy

The New Yorker: Covert Operations

CBS News: Kansas loses patience with Gov. Brownback’s tax cuts

Kansas City Star: Gov. Sam Brownback cuts higher education as Kansas tax receipts fall $53 million short

Bloomberg: Kansas Tried Tax Cuts. Its Neighbor Didn’t. Guess Which Worked

Fairfax media: Tourism industry claims DOC will be severely handicapped by funding cuts

Previous related blogposts

The slow starvation of Radio NZ – the final nail in the coffin of the Fourth Estate?

12 June – Issues of Interest – User pays healthcare?

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

The Mendacities of Mr Key # 19: Tax Cuts Galore! Money Scramble!

The seductiveness of Trumpism

Steven Joyce – Hypocrite of the Week

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 26 January 2017.

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St John management applies tourniquet to workers’ throats

20 January 2017 1 comment

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Charitable organisation, St John, which operates ambulance services nationwide, as well as other medical services, has been engaging in  anti-worker actions during recent industrial negotiations to conclude a collective agreement.

On 5 January, St John announced that workers wearing apparel bearing a pro-union message “Healthy Ambos Save Lives” would be docked 10% of their wages;

St John Ambulance officers who ditch their uniforms as part of ongoing strike action will have their pay docked by 10 per cent.

The First Union, which represents 1000 ambulance officers across the country, has condemned the move as “astounding”.

But St John says it didn’t take the step lightly, and it was done out of concern for the health and safety of staff and patients.

The wage deductions come as ambulance officers enter their third month of industrial action, following stalled collective agreement negotiations with St John.

Striking workers are continuing to respond to emergencies and call-outs as normal, but are breaching St John policy by refusing to wear uniforms.

Instead, unionised St John workers have been wearing T-shirts reading “Healthy Ambos Save Lives”.

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St John clinical operations director, Norma Lane,  ‘spinned’ the wage-docking as a “safety” issue;

“It is important ambulance officers are identifiable in an emergency environment where circumstances can change rapidly. Not complying is a health and safety risk not only to the employee but to fellow officers and other emergency workers. While there is only a very small number of ambulance professionals refusing to wear hi-vis vests, we have advised First Union and our staff that those employees not complying with this requirement will receive a 10 per cent deduction of wages.”

How cutting wages improves safety for workers is not made clear by Ms Lane.

St John’s threats echo that made by AFFCO employers, almost exactly a year ago;

An AFFCO worker has been suspended without pay, and will probably be sacked after filming workers in union t-shirts being refused entry to work, the Meat Workers’ Union says.

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[…]

AFFCO said it was company policy that union t-shirts were not worn on site, and that they were associated with inappropriate and threatening behaviour.

One Union member made his/her feelings perfectly clear with this image posted on First Union’s Facebook page;

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What is clear, though, is that St John is engaging in all-out repugnant industrial warfare against the First Union.

St John Station managers have used emotional blackmail, legal threats from law firms,  and deliberate mis-information in a calculated strategy to undermine First Union and its  members’ resolve. As  Ambulance Professionals First spokesperson, Lynette Blacklaws, revealed on 7 November last year;

“When a crew arrived in mufti at a station in Auckland this morning their manager snapped that ‘if someone dies because they didn’t let you in be it on your heads’. This comes on the same day station managers in the Bay of Plenty told several ambulance officers over the phone that industrial action was cancelled, even though this isn’t true.”

More aggressive  anti-union activity was to come.

On 24 November last year,  St Johns announced on it’s media page that it had  concluded a successful collective agreement with the  Amalgamated Workers Union NZ Southern  (AWUNZ), Central Amalgamated Workers Union  (CAWU), NZ Ambulance Association (NZAA), and the Ambulance Officers Workplace Union  (AOWU).

First Union was not a party to the new collective agreement. St John stated on it’s webpage,

It is our preference to have nationally consistent terms and conditions for all St John employees, accordingly, St John and the four union parties have made provision for the First Union members to become party to the new Collective Agreement should they wish

The statement continued with this ominous ‘rider’;

If First Union decides not to become party to the new Collective Agreement, St John will continue to work through the various options available.

On 7 January this year, First Union learned what “various options” St John had in mind. As reported in The Daily Blog, St John was flexing it’s industrial muscle using new anti-union laws passed by National in 2015.

The union representing over 1000 St John Ambulance staff has today received confirmation from the Employment Relations Authority that St John has lodged an application to withdraw from bargaining without concluding a collective agreement.

If St John were to be successful they would be the first company to withdraw from bargaining without concluding a collective agreement under the 2015 amendments to the Employment Relations Act.

Simply put, National’s so-called “reforms” allowed employers to cease negotiations to conclude a collective agreement with a union, by applying to the Employment Relations Authority;

Before the law change, parties bargaining for a collective agreement were required to conclude that agreement unless there was genuine reason not to. The change means that a collective agreement does not have to be concluded, however parties must still deal with each other in good faith.

[…]

The Act provides some protections against parties that end bargaining by deadlocking on one issue. Specifically, either party can seek a declaration from the Employment Relations Authority (the Authority) about whether bargaining has concluded. The process is discussed in more detail below.

First Union officials were not impressed. They understood the agenda that St John was playing out;

Jared Abbott, spokesperson for Ambulance Professionals First, the network within FIRST Union representing ambulance officers, said the application confirms what the union suspected: that St John had no intention of reaching an agreement.

“St John have spent less than two hours with us at the table since we started our protest actions. Applying to conclude bargaining now is outrageous. This is no way to treat your staff.”

Mr Abbott said that despite writing to the company on several occasions and requesting a proposed collective agreement, St John repeatedly refused to make a formal offer.

Ambulance Professionals First has also written to St John highlighting how no collective agreement was presented to the ratification meetings for the smaller unions who agreed to settle, a requirement under the law for a collective agreement to become operative.

“We’re astounded with how unprofessional St John has been. Ambulance staff just want fair recognition for the hard work they do. This is only going to get more staff off-side,” said Abbott.

“We don’t believe St John’s application will be successful.”

St John is using ‘the stick’. Other employers opt for ‘the carrot’ to break legal strikes;

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Whether by ‘carrot’ or ‘stick’, the bosses’ agenda remains the same: to smash unions and undermine workers’ rights. The end result – dampen wage growth and wind-back hard-won worker’s conditions.

St John management’s unscrupulous behaviour makes a mockery of that organisation’s so-called “five values”;

We do the Right Thing – Whakaaro Tika
We take responsibility. Make the tough calls. Think of others.

We stand Side by Side – Whakakoha
We respect, value and support what others contribute.

We Make it Better – Whakawerohia
We find solutions- step up, own it, do it.

We have Open Minds – Whakahangahanga
We listen openly. Encourage ideas. Welcome feedback.

We are Straight Up – Whakapono
We act with honesty, courage and kindness.

They even have ‘badges’ proudly displayed on their webpage;

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Obviously St John’s “five values” do not extend to their own workers.

Curiously, whilst St John proudly announced it’s collective agreement with four other unions on its “News Articles” page, it made no mention of it’s application to the Employment Relations Authority to abandon negotiation with First Union;

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Neither has it disclosed to the public on it’s website that it is taking draconian steps to dock ambulance drivers’ pay packets by 10% for  wearing shirts bearing union messages.

Is St John ashamed to present this information on their website, where public eyes can see what the organisation is doing to it’s ambulance drivers? It is evidently not a “good look” that an organisation nearly a thousand years old, and  dedicated to helping people, is screwing its own staff.

According to Norma Lane, the wearing of the First Union shirts constitutes   “participation in a partial strike” and thereby justifies docking ambulance drivers’ pay.

Which is about as mean-spirited as a charitable, non-profit organisation can get. As  Jared Abbott correctly pointed out;

“The wage deductions are pretty astounding. The actions ambulance officers are taking cost St John nothing.”

At first look, St John’s actions appear to contravene the Wages Protection Act 1983 which prevents employers from arbitarily docking workers’ pay;

Deductions may only be made from an employee’s pay if they are required by law, agreed to by the employee or are overpayments in some circumstances.

However, it appears that St John is stretching an exemption to what is known as a “partial strike“;

Employees strike when a number of employees totally or partially:

  • break their employment agreement
  • stop work or don’t accept some or all the work they usually do
  • reduce their normal output, performance, or rate of work.

Employees don’t have to stop work completely for them to be on strike.

However, one suspects that more reasonable-minded people would find it difficult to define a “partial strike” as wearing a shirt. If that is St John’s justification for docking ambulance drivers’ pay, then it may be on very shaky ground, both legally and morally.

Whether by luck, or clever design,   this has all transpired over the Year’s End/New Year period when current affairs programmes such as The Nation and Q+A are on hiatus, and even Radio NZ is operating on a “summer holiday programme”. The later  is closer to listening to The Breeze rather than serious news and current affairs.

Once the public begin to understand the machinations of St John’s management, that organisation’s reputation may risk a real hit. “A good reputation” as Colin Beveridge once reflected on,  “is hard-won and easily lost. But the lost reputation has invariably been given away by the actions of the holder, rather than been taken away by somebody else.”

Words that St John’s management would do well to consider.

St John – heal thyself.

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Postscript

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It will be interesting to find out what salary increase St John’s CEO will have this year or next.

 

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References

St John: Ambulance Services

St John: A quick snapshot of what we do

NZ Herald: St John ambulance officers to have pay deducted over industrial action

Radio NZ: Worker suspended over union t-shirts

Facebook: First Union – Healthy Ambos Save Lives

First Union: St John threatens jobs… over wearing a badge

First Union: St John employ “emotional blackmail” in badge dispute

St John:  AWUNZ, CAWU, NZAA & AOWU Unions and St John reach agreement

The Daily Blog: St John apply to end bargaining with FIRST Union

Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment (MoBIE): Amendments to the Employment Relations Act 2000 (March 2015)

Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment (MoBIE): Law changes to collective bargaining

Radio NZ: Junior doctors offered up to $200/h to break strike – union

St John:  Vision & Values

St John: News Articles

St John: The Order of St John

Radio NZ: Ambulance staff to have wages cut over strikes

Employment NZ: Deductions

Employment NZ: Strikes and lockouts

Fairfax media: Big pay rises for district health board heads

Additional

Facebook: First Union

Facebook: Ambulance Professionals First

Previous related blogposts

If anyone wants to see the Working Class

Help Talley’s Affco Workers!

Immovable and Irresistable forces – combined!!

The Talleys Strikes Back

John Key’s track record on raising wages – 7. Part 6A – stripped away

John Key’s track record on raising wages – 8. An End to Collective Agreements

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 15 January 2017.

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Letter to the editor – Juliet Moses does NOT speak on my behalf!

17 January 2017 4 comments

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Frank Macskasy - letters to the editor - Frankly Speaking

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This recent NZ Herald story was brought to my attention by Martyn Bradbury writing on The Daily Blog;

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Which prompted me to send this response to the Herald’s editor;

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from: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to: NZ Herald <letters@herald.co.nz>
date: Sun, Jan 15, 2017
subject: Letter to the editor

Letter to the editor
NZ Herald

Regarding Juliet Moses’ comment in the New Zealand Herald article, that UN Resolution 2334 “was an affront to all New Zealanders” (6 Jan) – I will thank her and her fellow travellers not to assume they speak for me and others.

Last I looked, Israel has not added Aotearoa to it’s list of illegally annexed territory.

As for Moses’ assertion;

“…Israel’s Arab neighbours mounted a second unsuccessful attempt to exterminate her in 1967”

– is either woeful ignorance or wilful misrepresentation of historical fact.

Israel launched the so-called Six Day War on 5 June 1967 against it’s neighbours;

“In response to the *apparent* mobilization of its Arab neighbours, early on the morning of June 5, Israel staged a sudden preemptive air assault that destroyed more than 90 percent Egypt’s air force on the tarmac. A similar air assault incapacitated the Syrian air force.” – Encyclopedia Britannica

Arrogant and mis-informed. She most certainly does not speak on my behalf.

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-Frank Macskasy

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References

NZ Herald: Juliet Moses – Israel vote was an affront to all New Zealanders

Encyclopedia Britannica: Six-Day War – Middle East – 1967

Additional

Causes: Petition – Aerosmith boycott apartheid Israel!

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The Legacy of a Dismantled Prime Minister

9 January 2017 3 comments

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Prime Minister elect John Key with Picton the kitten on arrival at parliament, Wellington, New Zealand, Monday, November 10, 2008. Credit:NZPA / Ross Setford.

Prime Minister elect John Key with Picton the kitten on arrival at parliament, Wellington, New Zealand, Monday, November 10, 2008. Credit:NZPA / Ross Setford.

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Following his unexpected announcement to resign as New Zealand’s Prime Minister on 5 December last year, much  has been said of Key’s “legacy”. Pundits have been scratching their heads, trying to figure out what  “legacy” can be attributed to eight years of a Key-led administration.

Despite screeds being devoted on the subject, it appears that little can actually be attributed to any form of Key “legacy”.

On 29 December, Radio NZ’sDirector of News Gathering“, Brent Edwards, wrote;

“At the time of his departure, his own personal rating remained high…”

Whilst Key’s Preferred Prime Ministership rating remained higher than his rivals, Key’s public support had plummeted since 2009. In October 2009, Key rated a phenomenal  55.8% in a TV3/Reid Research poll.

By May last year, TV3/Reid Research reported Key’s support to have fallen by 19.1 percentage points  to 36.7%. The same poll reported;

National though is steady on 47 percent on the poll — a rise of 0.3 percent — and similar to the Election night result.

So something was clearly happening with the public’s perception of Key. Whilst National’s overall support remained unchanged from election night on 2014, Key’s favourability was in slow-mo free-fall.

Edwards’ analysis of Key’s “legacy” appeared mostly to consist of this observation;

Within the political commentariat Mr Key has been highly regarded, mainly on the basis of his political style.

He added,

He was quick to dump any political unpopular policies before they did terminal damage to his government and he had an uncanny knack of skating through the most embarrassing political gaffes with little damage, if any, to his political reputation

What other Prime Minister, for example, would have escaped with their political credibility intact after revelations they had repeatedly pulled the ponytail of a waitress at their local cafe?

In effect, Key’s ‘qualities’ appeared to consist of constant damage-control and “an uncanny knack” to avoid being charged with assault.

Edwards contrasted Key’s administration with that of Jim Bolger and pointed out the latter’s legacies, which have had a lasting impact of New Zealand’s social and political landscape. The first was the advent of MMP which forever changed politics as it is done in this country. The second was Bolger’s courage to stand up to his party’s redneck conservatism and engage with Maori to address Treaty of Waitangi grievances.

Key’s “legacies”, according to Edwards, was a failed flag referendum costing the taxpayer $29 million and this;

He did help manage the country through the Global Financial Crisis and the Christchurch earthquake. But National was left a legacy by the previous Labour Government – a healthy set of government books – which gave it the financial buffer it needed to deal with both crises.

Irony of ironies – Key’s one claim to a “legacy” was the product of a prudent Labour finance minister whose own legacy was a cash-gift to Key. Yet, even that cash-gift to Key could have been squandered had then-Finance Minister, Michael Cullen listened to Key’s wheedling demands for tax-cuts;

“Mr Key can’t have it both ways. One moment he says there is a recession looming then he thinks there are still surpluses to spend on tax cuts.”

… he is almost the kinder, gentler Kiwi Donald Trump. He is a populist who has been able to read and respond to a national mood in ways that few other politicians have, although that has more to do with a reliance on opinion polling than some kind of semi-supernatural intuition. 

Matthews’ reference to Key’s ability “to read and respond to a national mood in ways that few other politicians have, although that has more to do with a reliance on opinion polling” was pointed out by Radio NZ’s John Campbell, in his own assessment of the former Prime Minister’s tenure;

Key entered Parliament in 2002. His maiden speech was a pre-Textor, pre-dorky, pre-casual, pre-everyman piece of rhetoric, ripe to the point of jam with admonishments and exhortation.

[…]

And the key passage, in this respect, was: “We mustn’t be scared to do things because they might offend small groups, or seem unconventional. Good government is more than doing what’s popular. Good government is more than blindly following the latest opinion poll.”

On election night 12 years later, having just been made prime minister for a third term, Key triumphantly thanked his pollster, David Farrar, by name: the country’s “best”, he declared, admitting, as the New Zealand Herald reported, that he had rung Farrar “night after night, even though he wasn’t supposed to”.

The man who’d entered Parliament declaring a belief in something better than poll-driven politics had subverted himself. Gamekeeper turned pollster.

Matthews summed up with this conclusion;

He was somehow politically untouchable, even when New Zealand was laughing at or with him, or just cringing. Future historians will provide a clearer picture of his failures: A flag change that was supposed to be a personal legacy became an expensive embarrassment; the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal is dead in the water; he could have used his political capital to do something meaningful about inequality and poverty.

[…]

But over on the West Coast, the government’s failures to satisfy the grieving Pike River families remain entirely embodied in Key.  

Again, Key’s abilities appear to lie with being “politically untouchable”. His “legacies” amounted to a list of dismal failures.

The unknown author of an editorial for the Otago Daily Times was kinder, as if it had been written by one of National’s small army of taxpayer-funded Beehive spin-doctors;

The legacy Mr Key will leave is one of financial stability, a unified government, a record of strong economic management and a commitment to lift as many New Zealanders out of poverty as possible. A shortage of suitable housing has been laid at the door of Mr Key but his efforts in trying to sort out that particularly difficult area have been assiduous.

One of the issues he received the most criticism for is failing to bring home the bodies of the Pike River miners who died in the explosion. While Mr Key would have meant what he said at the time, the pragmatism which ruled his career meant he made a tough call to allow the mine to be sealed. Then there was the failed flag referendum.

But, his leadership during the Christchurch, and latterly Kaikoura, earthquakes was seen as outstanding by most New Zealanders. New Zealand secured a seat on the United Nations Security Council in no small part due to the work carried out by Mr Key.

Curiously, the un-named author glosses over the “commitment to lift as many New Zealanders out of poverty as possible”, “a shortage of suitable housing … laid at the door of Mr Key”, “criticism for … failing to bring home the bodies of the Pike River miners who died in the explosion”, and “the failed flag referendum”. Because at least –  the author crows – we “secured a seat on the United Nations Security Council”.

The ODT’s mystery cheerleader for our former Dear Leader may be one of the few attempts to put a positive ‘spin’ to Key’s administration. It was, however, glaringly light on specifics.

In direct  stark contrast to the ODT’s lame attempt to canonise Key, Audrey Young was more caustic in her piece, Key – No vision, no legacy, no problem. Her conclusions were;

… two other areas I consider to be legacies for the Key Government although he has not claimed them as such: the Ross Sea sanctuary and the modernization of New Zealand’s spy agencies.

Unfortunately for Young, the original proposals for a MPA (Marine Protected Area) for the Ross Sea began as far back as 2005, and was first mooted by the US delegation to the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Living Marine Resources (CCAMLR).

If Key’s sole legacy was to increase the spying powers of the SIS, GCSB, and uncle Tom Cobbly – that may not be something his descendants bring up at polite dinner parties;

“Yeah, it was grand-dad Key who helped turn New Zealand in the virtual police state we have now. Sure we have spy cameras in every home, workplace, and cafe, but crime is almost non-existent!”

– is not something Max or Steph’s own kids will be heard crowing about.

Young suggested that Key’s “legacy” was more akin to a ‘state of mind’;

When I’ve asked people this week what they thought Key’s legacy was, many have said he gave New Zealanders a greater sense of confidence, especially about New Zealand’s place in the world.

That is true but it is a state of mind. It could just as easily disappear through circumstances well beyond our control.

Giving “New Zealanders a greater sense of confidence, especially about New Zealand’s place in the world” were the legacies of former Labour Prime Ministers – notably Norman Kirk and David Lange. Their leadership against the war in Vietnam; atomic bomb testing in the South Pacific; opposing apartheid in South Africa; advancing gay rights,  and turning the entire country into a nuclear-free zone are legacies that are with us today.

Going back even further, and the legacies of Labour’s Michael Savage are still discussed today.

Cringing whilst Key recited his “Top Ten Reasons for Visiting New Zealand” on the David Letterman Show would hardly have given Kiwis “a greater sense of confidence, especially about New Zealand’s place in the world“;

[Warning: Cringe Level: Extreme]

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Most who saw that episode would have  hidden their heads beneath a pillow or blanket. Hardly the stuff of legacies, except of the Silvio Berlusconi variety.

She then concluded;

The fact that Key doesn’t really have a legacy is of no matter.

Well, that’s alright then. According to Young, Key’s “legacy” would be in the same vein as the manner in which he handled his own and ministers’ scandals and stuff-ups; nothing to see here, folks, no legacy, move along please.

Comedian, Jeremy Elwood, offered;

We may never have another Prime Minister who provides as much fodder for as many late night comedy shows around the world, as well as right here, again, but that’s all been part of his “popular appeal”.

Another ‘comedian’ – albeit unintentional – was Roger Partridge, writing on behalf of the so-called NZ Initiative (formerly the now largely discredited Business Roundtable). Partridge offered a lengthy list of neo-liberal “reforms” from Key’s tenure as PM;

Key’s was also a reforming government. After the Fourth Labour government, it was perhaps New Zealand’s most radical in the post-war era. The GST for income tax swap, welfare reforms (the likes of which might have brought down another government), the investment approach to social services; labour market reform, partial-privatisation, reforms in education, including national standards and charter schools: these may have occurred incrementally, but together they comprise a prodigious package of reform.

None of Partridge’s listed “reforms” will stand. In an era marking the rise of nationalistic political movements (Brexit, Trump, et al),  Key’s “package of reforms” will be rolled back and many, like Charter Schools, swept away entirely.

These legacies of a failed economic ideology – neo-liberalism – may rate a mention in the footnotes of future history books, but not much more. In fifty years time, no one will point to Key’s supposed “reforms”  as people still do to Michael Savage’s achievements.

The Herald’s “business editor at large”, Liam Dann pointed to;

…ongoing GDP growth at about 3 per cent, unemployment at around 5 per cent and the crown accounts are solid with the Government booking surpluses that are forecast to top $8 billion within five years.

– but had to concede that much of this “growth” was illusory, based mostly on high immigration and unsustainable ballooning house prices in Auckland;

The housing boom has been a global phenomenon driven by the unusually low interest rate environment in the wake of the GFC. Investors have been looking for somewhere to put their money outside of the bank and assets prices have soared – both sharemarkets and property.

And far from National’s books being in surplus, Key has  managed to rack up a debt of  $95 billion according to a recent Treasury document.  Dann must have missed that salient bit in his rush-to-gush. He did, however, acknowledge the nature of the “ongoing GDP growth” further into his piece;

Overall population growth and record net migration is widely cited as a factor taking the gloss off New Zealand’s strong growth story.

Per capita GDP isn’t nearly so strong and the extra population is adding to the housing bubble and highlighting some deficiencies in infrastructure spending.

Almost reluctantly, Dann concludes;

He has not been a reformer but he has created a stable platform, in unstable times, for growth.

He exuded confidence and it rubbed off on the economy. Whether he has done enough to set the nation up for long-term prosperity, as outlined in those rosy Treasury forecasts, remains to be seen.

He also repeats Brent Edwards’ observation;

…Key made the most of the market conditions he had to work with.  He has benefited from some ground work done by the previous Labour Government, particularly in booking the gains from the China free trade agreement.

Writing for Radio NZ, John Campbell asks;

So, in the end, how will history judge John Key?

In his earnest, boy-scout, way, Campbell is charitable about one possible legacy left by Key;

In the age of Trump and Brexit and Manus Island, and having succeeded Don Brash and his divisive Orewa rhetoric, part of what may endure is a sense that, under him, New Zealand did not embrace xenophobia and paranoia and the vilification of Māori, Muslims, Mexicans, blue-collar immigrants and almost anyone who wasn’t Tribe White.

To this point, writer and trade unionist, Morgan Godfery, not a natural ally of Key, tweeted on the day the prime minister announced his resignation: “I’ll go into bat for Key on this: he rejected the politics of Orewa, avoiding what might have been an ugly decade of tension and conflict.”

Which might be true… except that Key and his Ministers were not above vilifying those who dared criticise National, or when it suited party-politics;

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nationals-targets-of-vilification

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See also: National Minister refers to PM as “Wild Eyed” Right-Winger!

In his usual manner of gentle admonishment, John Campbell chides Key and his Administration for their failing in housing;

“When I was six”, [Key] said in his maiden speech, “my father died; leaving my mother penniless with three children to raise. From a humble start in a state house, she worked as a cleaner and night porter until she earned the deposit for a modest home. She was living testimony that you get out of life what you put into it. There is no substitute for hard work and determination. These are the attitudes she instilled in me.”

Campbell responded;

Key was six in 1967. Among the many things that have changed since then is housing affordability. The IMF’s latest Global Housing Watch lists New Zealand’s housing market, in relation to household income, as the most expensive in the OECD. Could a penniless solo mother, working as a “cleaner and night porter”, paying market rents, now earn the deposit for a modest home?

Then Campbell issued what may well be Key’s one and only true legacy – if one could call a broken promise to the grieving families and friends of 29 men entombed deep within a mine on the West Coast, a “legacy”;

This is what John Key said, behind closed doors, when he met with Pike families on September 22, 2011.

“The first thing is I’m here to give you an absolute reassurance we’re committed to get the boys out.”

An absolute reassurance. The boys out. When the families heard that, there was spontaneous applause. The human details. The empathy, sincerity and trust. When the clapping stopped, the prime minister continued:

“When people try and tell you we’re not, they’re playing, I hate to say it, but they’re playing with your emotions.”

And then John Key made it personal:

“So, you are the number one group that want to get those men out. And, quite frankly, I’m number two. Because I want to get them out.”

Five years on, the men are still in. It may be that the risk of getting them out is too great. But, when he was alone with them, Key didn’t say that, or qualify his words with that possibility. His was an “absolute reassurance”, and the families believed him and have clung to that belief in the years since.

Of all the many broken promises from Key, that will be the one most remembered. Because as Campbell so astutely pointed out, “John Key made it personal”.

‘Mickey Savage’ writing for The Standard was more brutal and unforgiving in his/her appraisal of Key’s administration;

Key has perfected the aw shucks blokey persona that some clearly like.  Although this was only skin deep.  His management of dirty politics and the Cameron Slater Jason Ede axis of evil won him the last election but at the cost of his soul.

As to the substance he did not really achieve or create anything.  He saw off the Global Financial Crisis and the Christchurch Earthquake rebuilds basically by borrowing money which New Zealand could because Michael Cullen had so assiduously paid off debt.

His economic development policies were crap.  Expanding dairying only polluted our rivers and increased our output of greenhouse gasses. The growth of tertiary education for foreign students only caused the mushrooming of marginal providers.

The primary economic growth policy now appears to be ballooning immigration.  Auckland’s population grew almost 3% last year.  The symptoms are clear, rampant house price increases, homeless caused by ordinary people no longer being able to afford inflated rental amounts and a whole generation shut out of the property market.  And services are stretched as budgets are held but demand increases.

And child poverty has ballooned.  Key was great with the visuals and the talk of an under class and the trip to Waitangi with Aroha Ireland before he became Prime Minister was a major PR event for him to show that at least superficially he cared about the underclass.  But the reality?  Over a quarter of a million of children now live in poverty and kids are living in cars even though their parents have jobs.  There is something deeply wrong in New Zealand.

S/he concluded;

Overall Key was great at the spin and the PR but appallingly bad at dealing with the reality.  Despite his hopes the country is now in a far worse situation under his stewardship than it was when he took over.

‘Mickey Savage’ has summed up Key’s legacy perfectly and I leave this brief assessment for future historians;

John Key – Master at spin, photo-ops, and PR, but nothing else.  When the teflon was stripped away, there was nothing underneath.

And that will be his legacy: nothing. We simply couldn’t think of a single damned one.

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References

Radio NZ: PM to resign – ‘It feels like the right time to go’

Radio NZ: How does John Key’s legacy compare to the Bolger years?

Scoop media: 3 News Poll – 2-10 October 2012

TV3 News: Newshub poll – Key’s popularity plummets to lowest level

Beehive: Cullen on Key’s tired old tax cut mantra

Fairfax media: The boy from Bryndwr – John Key’s Christchurch legacy

Radio NZ: Brand John – The Key to National’s success

ODT: The John Key legacy

NZ Herald: Key – No vision, no legacy, no problem

US State Department: A proposal for the establishment of the Ross Sea Region Marine Protected Area

Youtube: John Key’s Top 10 Reasons to visit New Zealand

The Telegraph: Best of Bunga Bunga: 7 most outrageous lines from Silvio Berlusconi’s new biography

Fairfax media: John Key’s most enduring legacy is make the right like Madonna

Interest.co.nz: Roger Partridge assesses the legacy of John Key as Prime Minister and finds an impressive record given the constraints of MMP

NZ Herald: Liam Dann – John Key’s economic hits and misses

NZ Herald: NZ’s half-trillion-dollar debt bomb

Treasury NZ: Financial Statements of the Government of New Zealand for the Year Ended 30 June 2016

Additional

NZ Herald: Bennett gets tough with outspoken solo mums

Scoop media: Justice Minister Judith Collins resigns from Cabinet – PM’s announcement

Dominion Post: Forced sterilisation ‘a step too far’

Newstalk ZB: Key – Nicky Hager a conspiracy theorist ‘because I think he is’

NZ Herald: PM attacks journalist over SAS torture claims

NBR: Collins on her last chance, PM says

NZ Herald: He’s Dotcom’s little henchman – PM attacks journalist’s spy claims

NZ Herald: Eleanor Catton has ‘no particular great insights into politics’, says John Key

Other Bloggers

Against the current: John Key’s Dismal Record on Climate Change

Bowalley Road: What A Way To Go! Some Initial Thoughts On John Key’s Resignation

Local Bodies: John Key’s Real Legacy

Sciblogs: Key’s legacy – an economist’s view

The Daily Blog: The true legacy of John Key

The Standard:  John Key’s legacy

Your NZ: Key’s legacy

Previous related blogposts

National Minister refers to PM as “Wild Eyed” Right-Winger!

Lies, Damned lies and Statistical Lies – ** UPDATE **

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

National and the Reserve Bank – at War!

National exploits fudged Statistics NZ unemployment figures

The Dismantling of a Prime Minister – Completed

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audrey young political column cartoon john key's legacy

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 4 January 2017.

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