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Archive for June, 2018

The Many Mendacities of Mr Bridges – The ‘Claytons’ Apology

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On 5 June, Simon Bridges presented himself on Radio NZ’s Morning Report to address the meth-hysteria that led to three hundred state house tenants being evicted over the  last three years where “P” had been detected in a property.  The evictions took place during National’s term in office.

He apologised for National’s part in the hysteria and wrongful evictions;

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“I’m sorry that the advice we got was wrong and has made this situation what it is. We got the wrong advice, we’re not technical experts, we thought we were asking the hard questions.”

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Or, did he…?!?

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from: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to: Listener <letters@listener.co.nz>
date: 18 June 2018
subject: Letter to the editor

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The Editor
The Listener

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When National’s Simon Bridges, fronted up on Radio NZ on 5 June, he apparently apologised for his role in the unjust evictions of 300 state house tenants for meth-testing results that have been shown by Chief Science Advisor, Sir Peter Gluckman, as bogus.

Bridges said;

“I’m sorry that the advice we got was wrong and has made this situation what it is.”

Except – it’s not an apology for the wrongful evictions at all. It’s a lamentation that “the advice we got was wrong”.

He hasn’t expressed regret for 300 people and their families being evicted. He is sorry that the so-called “evidence” no longer backs up National’s policy of ridding itself of pesky state house tenants so that they could sell six thousand properties between 2008/09 and 2016/17.

In August 2016, then Housing NZ Minister, Bill English, admitted on that the meth-testing standards were unsound;

“Now, the test as I understand it, indicates the presence of any P at all which may be a very low health risk.

According to that guideline they should not be moving people into houses where there is P contamination.

It would certainly help housing New Zealand if the scientists applied themselves to coming up with a new guideline.

We would hope that within a few months there will be a standard that all the scientists regard as more appropriate. In the meantime, Housing New Zealand are doing their best to ensure that they don’t inconvenience tenants any more than is necessary.”

Housing NZ tenants weren’t just ” inconvenienced”. They lost their homes; had their possessions illegally destroyed; and were forced to pay reparations for unnecessary clean-up costs.

This was the full force of the State used against the most vulnerable people in our society.

Mr Bridges should try apologising again. This time, not for “the advice we got was wrong”.

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-Frank Macskasy

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(Address and phone number supplied)

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The “Clayton’s Apology”

The apology you’re giving when you’re not giving an apology.

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References

Radio NZ: ‘I’m sorry the advice we got was wrong’ – Simon Bridges

NZ Herald: HNZ boss Andrew McKenzie apologises to tenants evicted because of wrong meth guidelines

Radio NZ: English calls for more specific housing meth tests

Housing NZ: Annual Report 2008/09

Housing NZ: Annual Report 2016/17

Wikipedia: Claytons

Acknowledgement for cartoon

The Spinoff: The Side Eye – Renting in NZ means always moving out and never moving up

Additional

Radio NZ: Meth house contamination debunked by PM’s science advisor

Previous related blogposts

The Mendacities of Ms Amy Adams – 2,000 more state houses?!

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 23 June 2018.

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Mycoplasma bovis, foot and mouth, National Party, and other nasty germs

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Intro

The Mycoplasma bovis crisis confronting New Zealand is a story that will be dissected and commented on for decades to come.

This was not simply a matter of a bacteria infecting cattle. This was a  story on many levels; of flouted rules; a significant inadequacy of the “free market”; critical under-funding by National (no surprises there);  and the best silver-lining that farmers could possibly hope for…

The ‘bovis’ hits the fan

22 July 2017: Mycoplasma bovis was first detected on dairy farms owned by the Van Leeuwen Dairy Group, near Waimate, in Canterbury. In what must rank as the Understatement of the Year, Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) investigator, Kelly Buckle, announced;

”At the moment, we’re pretty confident it’s just on those two farms.”

By 1 August, a second dairy farm in South Canterbury had been confirmed with the infection. An ODT report stated;

The ministry was satisfied the containment measures in place were sufficient to control any spread of the disease from the properties involved.

By 29 May this year, the sobering reality of the outbreak turned earlier optimism of containment into a bleak joke;

The cull will involve 152,000 animals over 1-2 years – or an extra 126,000 on top of the planned cull to date.

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The estimated costs of attempting to eradicate Mycoplasma Bovis [sic] are $886 million over 10 years, against an estimated cost of $1.2 billion to manage the disease over the long term and an estimated $1.3 billion in lost production from doing nothing.

At this point the Government believes that 37 farms have infected livestock and 192 farms in total will face stock culling – 142 in the first year.

But high-risk animal movements have been traced to 3000 farms and 858 are under surveillance.

The ease of spread of the micro-organism quickly revealed a fatal flaw in the administration of our bio-security systems.

NAIT – the system that farmers nobbled

As the infection was detected on one farm after another, it soon became apparent that dairy farmers had either ignored, or been slow to comply with the NAIT (National Animal Identification and Tracing) system of tracking farm animals.

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As Alexa Cook reported for Radio NZ in December last year;

Under the National Animal Identification and Tracing (NAIT) system, all cattle and deer farmers must have stock tagged and registered, and also record and confirm any animals that are bought, sold or moved.

A March 2018 report from Radio NZ found that around half of the country’s farmers were flouting this critical process;

A review of NAIT found only 57 percent of farmers who record their animal movements, do so within the required 48 hours.

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor was not happy. He was moved to state the obvious;

“NAIT is an important part of our biosecurity net and it needs improvement.

Mycoplasma bovis is mostly spread through movement of infected cattle from farm to farm. This means cattle traceability between properties is critical to finding all affected animals, and stopping further infection”

O’Connor warned that farmers who ignored NAIT would face fines.

Even Federated Farmers was not impressed with the slackness shown toward NAIT.  Waikato Federated Farmers meat and fibre chairperson, Chris Irons, was highly critical of his fellow farmers;

“Let’s be frank – the National Animal Identification and Tracing (NAIT) scheme is not working as well as it should, and the blame lies with farmers.

Yes, NAIT could be easier to use but that’s not an excuse for not keeping animal tracking data up to date.

There are a lot of farmers who say NAIT is waste of time and money. If you have that view then I’m sorry, but I don’t think you care about the farming industry and are probably guilty of not being compliant.

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NAIT currently does a good job of tracking animals that are registered and all their movements recorded on the database. But the system is only as good as the data put into it.

Owners, sellers and third party buyers have to be diligent about recording cattle and deer movements on their NAIT accounts. The system is fit for purpose when the data is up to date, but falls down when it’s incomplete, or not entered at all.

If we have a fast moving outbreak it will be vital to have NAIT working so it’s up to all farmers to ensure they are compliant.”

Chris Irons was correct when he pointed out that “NAIT could be easier to use“. The system is clunky, with stock tags having to be manually scanned and then manually uploaded into the central system.  The manual aspect of it makes the system unwieldy and easy to “set aside to do later” – if at all.

Full electronic automation would cost millions, and would raise the question of who would pay. This blogger understands MPI was never adequately budgeted for full automation.

It is unclear who would pay for NAIT to be upgraded; the Ministry or farmers?

By May this year, the full extent of farmers’ undermining of NAIT became apparent. Prime Minister Ardern did not mince her words;

“There was a system in place, it has failed abysmally and we are now picking up the pieces of that.

We want to make sure that first and foremost we deal with the issue at hand and that is Mycoplasma bovis and trying to pin down its spread and still focus on the possibility of eradication. The second question is: How do we prevent this from ever happening again?”

Biosecurity NZ’s spokesperson, Geoff Gwynn, spelled out the consequences of the failure to carry out NAIT processes;

“It’s a reality of New Zealand’s farming system that large numbers of animals are sold and moved across big distances.

This response is serving to underline just how much movement takes place and it is this, coupled with poor record keeping through NAIT that is making our job very challenging.”

In part, the spread of Mycoplasma bovis has been a crisis of farmers’ own making.

The “she’ll be right, mate” attitude simply will not cut it in an age of rapid international travel. Harmful micro-organisms and other pests can easily cross the planet and humanity’s artificial borders within days or even hours, on the back of our 21st century transport technology.

But perhaps the greatest irony is that whilst farmers had been lax sharing critical information on stock movements as per NAIT requirements – they were far less shy demanding information from MPI on what was being done to  identify infected farms; eradication/containment of the microscopic invader; and compensation paid out post-haste for culled stock animals.

If farmers had complied with NAIT and provided stock transfer data in a timely and precise fashion, they might not now be in a position where they were braying for information from those same Ministry officials.

The dreaded disease whose name we dare to speak

Waikato Federated Farmers meat and fibre chairperson, Chris Irons, issued this stark warning to his fellow farmers;

“There’s too many farmers who are just ‘oh nah, just don’t want to do it’, but at the end of the day it’s got to be done because that’s the only way we’re going to be able to track any diseases.

If we get something faster than m.bovis – like foot and mouth or something – we’ve got to have a reliable system. At the moment the system is reliant on farmers doing their bit and having their records up to date.”

Like foot and mouth or something“?!

Mycoplasma bovis is a nasty bug. There is little doubt in that. According to MPI, it is present in most other countries around the world. Only until last year, New Zealand was free of the disease. As MPI graphically described, it has multiple symptoms;

Major syndromes seen in other countries with Mycoplasma bovis include atypical mastitis in cows (both dry and in milk) – (the chance of this disease likely increases with increasing herd size), arthritis in cows and calves, atypical, difficult-to-treat pneumonia in calves, middle ear infection (otitis media) in calves, severe pneumonia of adult cows (usually rare), and abortion. All conditions are difficult to treat once the animal becomes sick.

Yet, Mycoplasma bovis is almost the agrarian version of the common cold when compared to a disease that every animal farmer must live in mortal fear of: foot and mouth (Aphthae epizooticae).

In a 2001 foot-and-mouth outbreak in Great Britain, farms were quarantined and isolated behind Police barriers;

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Movement was curtailed;

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Millions of stock animals were culled and incinerated on massive pyres;

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Each of those cases meant a farm having all of its livestock killed and burned. By the time the last case was confirmed at Whygill Head Farm in Appleby, Cumbria, on 30 September 2001, more than six million sheep, cattle and pigs had been slaughtered.

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The Guardian reported just some of the effects on British farmers and businesspeople;

The list of victims is long. At the head of it should be the nearly 3m animals slaughtered and burned, along with the 68,000 cows, sheep and pigs set to follow them on to the funeral pyres. Next on the list would be the clutch of farmers who, despite £125m already pledged in compensation, will be driven out of business by an epidemic that swept through their land as devastating as a tornado. After them, the hoteliers and restaurateurs who saw their livelihoods dry up as the world’s travellers declared Britain a medievally benighted no-go area.

The financial cost was horrendous; £3 billion to the public sector and  £5 billion to the private sector.

Tourism income  lost/displaced between £2.7 and £3.2 billion. It took nine months to bring foot-and-mouth under control and stop the spread.

Farmers who were not infected with foot and mouth, but still lost income through massive restrictions to livestock movement, were not compensated.

The invisible psychological effects were perhaps the worst;

The disease epidemic was a human tragedy, not just an animal one. Respondents’ reports showed that life after the foot and mouth disease epidemic was accompanied by distress, feelings of bereavement, fear of a new disaster, loss of trust in authority and systems of control, and the undermining of the value of local knowledge. Distress was experienced across diverse groups well beyond the farming community. Many of these effects continued to feature in the diaries throughout the 18 month period.

[…] The use of a rural citizens’ panel allowed data capture from a wide spectrum of the rural population and showed that a greater number of workers and residents had traumatic experiences than has previously been reported.

Despite the effects of Mycoplasma bovis, New Zealand’s meat and dairy exports are largely unimpeded.

That will not be the case if – or more likely – when foot-and-mouth reaches our shores. With tourism numbers at 3.3 million in 2015/16 and expected to reach 4.9 million visitors by 2023, it is only a matter of time when one individual carries the dreaded foot and mouth micro-organism into our country.

If 100% of New Zealand farmers are not 100% compliant with NAIT in the coming years, the nightmarish havoc wrought by a foot and mouth outbreak will be unlike anything Mycoplasma bovis has wrought.

It is a tough lesson, but the farming sector should be thankful of Mycoplasma bovis (and the person who inadvertently imported it). Whatever supernatural deities there might be have delivered a clear warning to us all.

Observe the rules. Follow the NAIT system.

No exceptions.

Or face worse consequences.

National, the Free Market and minimal-government

Remember this guy?

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He must be feeling a bit of a right ‘wally’ right now.

As ‘Advantage‘ recently wrote for The Standard;

Remember those Morrinsville farmers who protested against our ‘communist’ Prime Minister? Those are the guys we are feeding our taxpayer dollars towards right now

A  Herald report backed up the anonymous blogger’s observation;

The Government will cover 68 per cent costs and the dairy and beef industry bodies the remainder.

The estimated costs of attempting to eradicate Mycoplasma Bovis [sic] are $886 million over 10 years, against an estimated cost of $1.2 billion to manage the disease over the long term and an estimated $1.3 billion in lost production from doing nothing.

Perhaps this  US cartoon best shows how those with a distrust of “big government” (or any government) in their lives suddenly have a remarkable Road-to-Damascus conversion when faced with a crisis beyond their abilities to manage;

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Left to the ‘tender mercies’ of a small government, an unfettered free market, and minimal state involvement, how much could farmers expect as compensation for a disease outbreak and culling of their stocks?

Easy answer: nil. As in nothing.

They would be expected to buy their own insurance. User pays would be the rule.

Whether a farmer with an infectious disease would notify authorities (whether such “authorities” would even exist in a minimalist government is a moot point) without compensation, or any other personal benefit, would be an interesting question.

In a purist free market where everyone looks out for him/herself, what would be the incentive to act for the “greater good” of other people?

Fortunately we still have a State and the remnants of collective responsibility when faced with overwhelming circumstances.

Whether a person is a solo mother living in a State house or a farmer with a ten million dollar investment – the State exists to protect it’s citizens when faced with crisis beyond their coping abilities.

The  next time farmers read a media story of a State house tenant unjustly turfed out of their home, or a welfare recipient who has been abused by WINZ until driven to suicide – they should pause for a moment. Perhaps their sympathies may now  be just a little closer aligned with those at the bottom of the socio-economic heap.

National – the party of preference for most farmers – has said on multiple occasions that state assistance should be “targeted“; that tax-payers dollars should only go to those who are most-in-need (even though National then demonises those very same people-in-most-need).

In a free-market, small-government world, a minimal amount of state assistance might be channeled to the poorest of the poor. Just a barely sufficient amount to stave off starvation and prevent embarrassing piles of corpses from inconveniently cluttering up the streets. But state assistance to compensate farmers?

Forget it.

At election time, farmers should think carefully before ticking the Party box. They should ask themselves;

How small do they really want government to get?

In the meantime, our farming friend above should consider changing the text for his next sign;

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A little appreciation goes a long way.

Vote Biosecurity

As the twin effects of the 2007/08 Global Financial Crisis and two tax cuts in 2009 and 2010 impacted on government tax revenue, National was forced to break one of its election promises. It cut back on spending and public services.

It soon became apparent that no part of the State sector would be untouched by National’s then-Finance Minister, Bill English, as Richard Wagstaff of the PSA explained;

The Public Service Association is concerned about the significant risks involved in cutting jobs at MAF Biosecurity, whose staff work on our borders protecting New Zealand’s multi-billion dollar agriculture sector from pests and diseases.

MAF Biosecurity has today announced that’s its disestablishing around 60 jobs by cutting 30 filled positions and disestablishing 30 vacant positions. MAF Biosecurity says the job cuts are in response to falling trade and passenger volumes.

“But the government is also responsible for these job losses as it cut the baseline funding for MAF Biosecurity by $1.9 million in the Budget delivered in May,” says PSA national secretary Richard Wagstaff.

“Our concern is that the New Zealand’s economy depends on our farming and horticulture industries that could be decimated if diseases like foot and mouth and fruit fly got into the country.”

“MAF Biosecurity staff work to prevent these diseases and pests from crossing our borders so it’s vital that these job cuts don’t weaken our defences in this area,” says Richard Wagstaff.

Richard Wagstaff’s stark warning became a grim reality as fruit flies, moths, the psa virus, and then Mycoplasma bovis crossed our weakened border controls.

It is difficult to make direct comparisons with  some of the data from National’s Budgets. Categories were changed from the 2009 Budget to the 2010 Budget onward. Much of the budgetary allocations were “buried” with Vote Primary Industries.

However, it is clear that two overall categories can be compared;

  • Border Clearance Services and Border Biosecurity Monitoring and Clearance
  • The overall total of budgetary allocations to biosecurity which from 2012 onward were obtained from the Summaries of each document.

The figures appear to show a steady decline in biosecurity funding from 2008 (Labour’s Michael Cullen’s last budget) to 2014, of thirteen million dollars. This is not accounting for inflation, which would mean an even greater decline in funding levels.

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Note A: From Budget 2012, Vote Biosecurity was merged with Vote Agriculture & Forestry, and Vote Fisheries into the Vote Primary Industries.
Note B: Linked references to Budget documents listed below..
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Corresponding international visitor arrivals continued rising (with only a slight drop in 2009, post-GFC).

Annual imports fell post-2008,but regained steadily after 2011. By 2013, imports had all but returned to 2008 levels (not taking inflation into account).

What is clear is that biosecurity does not appear to have been adequately funded. National’s cost-cutting (until 2013 and 2014) must have impacted on our ability to monitor and prevent pest incursions.

This would appear to coincide with the appearance of several destructive pests recently;

Whatever “savings” National made by cutting back on biosecurity were, by definition, false economies. Once again, cuts to an essential state sector service inevitably created grave consequences.

This time for our farming sector.

The next time National promises tax cuts at election time and to make “efficiencies” to “do more with less“, this is a lesson that the farming sector should remember with some bitterness.

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Those so-called “cost-savings” didn’t come cheap. A fact farmers should bear in mind when it comes time to cull herds exposed/infected with Mycoplasma bovis.

 

Acknowledgement: thank you to a certain scientist who gave her time to proof-read my article and offer constructive criticism.

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References

Wikipedia: Mycoplasma bovis

NZ Herald:  Confidence mycoplasma bovis outbreak contained

ODT: Another meeting as second farm infected

NZ Herald: MPI will face ‘don’t give a damn’ attitude on M. Bovis, farmer says

Radio NZ: Incomplete farm records slow tracking of cattle disease spread

Radio NZ: Farmers face checkpoints in effort to stop cattle disease

Fairfax media: NAIT responsibility – the buck stops with farmers

Radio NZ: M Bovis spread – Tracking system has ‘failed abysmally’ – PM

NewstalkZB: Farmer slams Govt over bovis communication

MPI: Two-page summary of Mycoplasma bovis

Wikipedia: 2001 United Kingdom foot-and-mouth outbreak

The Guardian: The news from Ground Zero – foot and mouth is winning

BBC: When foot-and-mouth disease stopped the UK in its tracks

The Guardian: A catalogue of failures that discredits the whole system

National Audit Office: The 2001 Outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease

NCBI: Economic costs of the foot and mouth disease outbreak in the United Kingdom in 2001

NCBI: Psychosocial effects of the 2001 UK foot and mouth disease epidemic in a rural population: qualitative diary based study

MoBIE: New Zealand Tourism Forecasts 2017-2023

Radio NZ: Man still repaying debt from unnecessary HNZ meth eviction

Fairfax media: Aggressive prosecution focus at MSD preceded woman’s death, inquest told

National Party: Low income earners to subsidise homes for wealthy

National: Achievements – Social investment

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

Mediaworks/Newshub: Labour – Key promised no job cuts, asset sales in 2008 speech

Fairfax media:  Jobs expected to go in state sector cuts

Scoop media: Risks involved in cutting MAF Biosecurity jobs

NZ Herald: New Zealand fruit fly free after successful operation

MPI: Red clover casebearer moth

Mediaworks/Newshub: Crown opens case in kiwifruit claim over Psa virus outbreak

NZ Treasury: Budget 2008Vote Biosecurity

NZ Treasury: Budget 2009Vote Biosecurity

NZ Treasury: Budget 2010Vote Biosecurity

NZ Treasury: Budget 2011Vote Biosecurity

NZ Treasury: Budget 2012Vote Primary Industries (inclu Biosecurity)

NZ Treasury: Budget 2013Vote Primary Industries (inclu Biosecurity)

NZ Treasury: Budget 2014Vote Primary Industries (inclu Biosecurity)

NZ Treasury: Budget 2015Vote Primary Industries (inclu Biosecurity)

NZ Treasury: Budget 2016Vote Primary Industries (inclu Biosecurity)

NZ Treasury: Budget 2017Vote Primary Industries (inclu Biosecurity)

NZ Treasury: Budget 2018Vote Primary Industries (inclu Vote Biosecurity)

NZ Treasury:  Budget 2012 – Introduction – Estimates of Appropriations 2012/13

Statistics NZ: Exports and imports hit new highs in 2017

Statistics NZ: International visitor arrivals to New Zealand – 2008 – 2018 (alt. link)

NZ Herald: Kiwifruit disease Psa explained

MPI: Pea weevil

MPI: Eucalyptus variegated beetle

Fairfax media: Velvetleaf, one of world’s worst weeds, confirmed on three Waikato farms

MPI: No further Tau flies found and restrictions now lifted

MPI: Culex sitiens mosquito

Radio NZ: English hints at further tax cuts

NZ Herald: Key pledges state service shake-up

Scoop media: Speech – John Key – Better Public Services

Additional

Wikipedia: Biosecurity in New Zealand

MPI: Keeping watch

Radio NZ: Failings in NZ’s stock tracking system (audio)

Radio NZ: Cattle and oysters – a catalogue of issues: Damien O’Connor (audio)

Radio NZ: One in five farmers ignoring safety regs – WorkSafe

Other Blogs

The Standard: It’s Time for a Cost-Benefit Analysis of Dairy Farming

Previous related blogposts

Bugs and balls-ups!

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 15 June 2018.

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Judith Collins wins a Hypocrisy Award

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On 8 June, Coalition government minister, Phil Twyford announced the formation of a new Ministry of Housing and Urban Development. In a media statement, Minister Twyford said;

Addressing the national housing crisis is one of the biggest challenges our Government faces. The new Ministry will provide the focus and capability in the public service to deliver our reform agenda,” Phil Twyford said.

Too many New Zealanders are hurting because of their housing situation. Many are locked out of the Kiwi dream of home ownership. Others are homeless or suffering the health effects of poor-quality housing.

The new Ministry will be the Government’s lead advisor on housing and urban development. It will provide across-the-board advice on housing issues, including responding to homelessness, ensuring affordable, warm, safe and dry rental housing in the private and public market, and the appropriate support for first home buyers.

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The Ministry will be set up by moving functions across from existing agencies, and look at utilising funding from their existing operational budgets.”

The new Ministry would have a small budget of $8 million and employ around two hundred people from existing agencies;

  • From the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment: the housing and urban policy functions, the KiwiBuild Unit and the Community
  • Housing Regulatory Authority.
  • From the Ministry of Social Development: policy for emergency, transitional and public housing.
  • From the Treasury: monitoring of Housing New Zealand (HNZ) and Tāmaki Redevelopment Company

Unfortunately, it does not appear that the new Ministry will be a re-creation of the former Ministry of Works and Development. The now-defunct MoWD was a hands-on government body that actually built much of the infrastructure that New Zealanders now take for granted, and which small government neo-liberalists conveniently ignore.

Amongst it’s many projects were;

– Waitaki Dam (Completed 1935)
– Roxburgh Dam
– Tekapo A (Completed 1951)
– Benmore Power Station (1965)
– Aviemore Dam (1968)
– Tekapo B
– Ohau A, B and C.
– Lake Ruataniwha
– Clyde Dam (Completed 1989)
– Tongariro Power Scheme (Completed between 1964 and 1983)
– Raurimu Spiral (1898)
– North Island Main Trunk Railway (Completed 1908)
– Otira Tunnel (Completed 1923)
– East Coast Main Trunk Railway (Completed 1928)
– Westfield deviation (Completed 1929)
– Auckland railway station (1930)
– Stratford–Okahukura Line (Completed 1932)
– Tawa Flat deviation (Completed 1935)
– Kaimai Railway Tunnel (Completed 1978)

By contrast, free enterprise – often touted as more efficient that state-owned enterprises – finds it difficult to build water-tight houses; keep up with housing demand; or even build a hotel.

The Ministry of Works and Development was split up into a consultancy group  (Works Consultancy Services) and civil construction (Works Civil Construction) and  privatised in November 1996 by the National government at the time.

National – which denied the existence of a housing crisis until it was forced to earlier this year – responded to Minister Twyford’s announcement with a jaw-dropping, eyebrow-raising statement of  naked hypocrisy.

National’s Housing and Urban Development spokeswoman and unofficial Chinese dairy liaison,  Judith Collins, lambasted the new Ministry as “really it’s a bit of a dud“. Ms Collins added;

“We’ve got a minister who’s desperate to look like he’s doing something. A new logo, and a new ministry is not going to build one more new house.”

Which is ironic, to say the least.

In July 2012, the then-National government  merged  the Department of Building and Housing, the Department of Labour, the Ministry of Economic Development, and the Ministry of Science and Innovation into one super-ministry – Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MoBIE).

According to Budget 2013, the cost of Establishment of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment was $119,993,000 – or $111,993,000 more than Minister Twyford’s $8 million Ministry of Housing and Urban Development.

When it comes to establishing new Ministeries, National goes for the deluxe, no-expense spared model.

This included a few optional extras;

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Despite throwing  $119,993,000 of taxpayers’ money at the new “super ministry”, a December 2014 report by the State Services Commission was damning of it’s inefficiencies and poor performance.  Jamie Tahana from Radio NZ summed up the report;

But quietly published on the State Services Commission website last Tuesday, was a 65-page report completed in February that said the ministry had significant and external problems.

Out of 32 areas of review, the report highlighted 22 that needed development, and five that were weak.

Only five areas were considered well placed for future performance, and none achieved the top rating of strong.

MBIE rated weak on leadership and governance; workforce development; improving efficiency and effectiveness, and financial and risk management.

Aspects that needed development ranged from leading economic growth – the core reason MBIE was established – to engagement with ministers.

This was the same MoBie that – according to the SSC report – was tasked with;

… tackling housing affordability and social housing reform, including through the Housing Accords and special Housing Areas, particularly in Auckland.

Even while the National government at the time stubbornly refusing to acknowledge the gravity of the housing housing confronting the country, the SSC report was matter-of-factly pointing it out to anyone who cared to read the document;

It is estimated that 20,000 to 23,000 new houses are required across the country over the next five years to keep pace with demographic changes. The current level of new housing construction is 17,000 per year.

As far back as 2014, the State Services Commission was ringing alarm bells.

Unsurprisingly, it pointed out  that “the housing and construction sector is the lowest productivity sector in New Zealand, while also being a major determinant of growth in the economy”.

$119,993,000 spent on a new super-ministry that was failing to meet the challenges of a shortage of housing – and Judith Collins has the colossal cheek to complain of an eight million dollar investment in a new Ministry of Housing and Urban Development?

Playing politics with social issues is nothing new. National has perfected the art with it’s “tough on crime” rhetoric. It has also demonised solo-mothers; the unemployed; young people, and Housing NZ tenants with it’s meth-testing/contamination moral-panic.

Now National has added housing to it’s list.

It is clear that Ms Collins’ fear is not that the new Ministry will fail. She is frightened it will succeed.

Playing politics with poverty-stricken homeless families and middle class young New Zealanders unable to afford their own homes is gutter-level politics. It reminds us yet again of the depths to which some politicians will go to claw victory as the expense of others.

For outstanding hypocrisy in criticising an eight million dollar new Ministry devoted to solving our housing crisis, whilst National did only the absolute minimum for nine years, including squandering $119,993,000 on a super-ministry that hoovered up cash even as Kiwi families lived and slept in cars, Ms Judith Collins is awarded the Paula Bennett Certificate of Hypocrisy.

Enjoy.

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References

Radio NZ: Stand-alone ministry will help fix housing crisis – Twyford

Beehive: New Housing and Urban Development Ministry

Wikipedia: Ministry of Works and Development

Fairfax media: Housing ministry to advise on house prices and homelessness will be ‘frugal’

Wikipedia: Ministry of Works and Development – Major projects

NZ Herald: Repaired leaky homes worth 1/4 less

Newsroom: Why Auckland can’t build enough houses

Treasury: Income from State Asset Sales as at May 2014

Radio NZ: New National leader says there is a housing crisis in NZ

NZ Herald: National gets $50k donation from Oravida founder

NZ Herald: New Ministry of Housing and Urban Development a ‘dud’, says National

Beehive: MBIE to proceed from 1 July

Treasury NZ: Budget 2013 (p78)

Fairfax media: MBIE admits stone sign cost $24,000 more than it originally claimed

Fairfax media: Ministry spends $140,000 on screen, installs hair straightener

State Services Commission: Review of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE)

Radio NZ: Super-ministry problems ‘inevitable’

NZ Herald: National, Act to get tough on violent crime

Fairfax media: Bill English describes some Kiwis looking for work as ‘pretty damned hopeless’

Additional

TVNZ: Opinion – Government’s handling of housing crisis lurches from chaotic to shambolic

Werewolf: The Myth of Steven Joyce

Other Blogposts

The Standard: Key finally admits there is a housing crisis but says it is all Labour’s fault

Previous related blogposts

National recycles Housing Policy and produces good manure!

Our growing housing problem

National Housing propaganda – McGehan Close Revisited

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

Another ‘Claytons’ Solution to our Housing Problem? When will NZers ever learn?

Government Minister sees history repeat – responsible for death

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

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

The “free” market can’t even build a bloody hotel?!

National’s housing spokesperson Michael Woodhouse – delusional or outright fibber?

The Mendacities of Ms Amy Adams – 2,000 more state houses?!

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 12 June 2018.

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Children’s Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft calls for a fairer, egalitarian New Zealand

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This weekend (26/27 May), two disparate voices called for a more egalitarian society in our country. The voices of Children’s Commissioner, Judge Andrew Becroft, and Chief Executive of the Employers & Manufacturers Association (Northern), Kim Campbell, both made statements on  TV3’s The Nation and TVNZ’s Q+A (respectively), that only a few years ago would have been heresy to neo-liberal orthodoxy.

The neo-liberal economic model demands minimal state intervention in the economy and reliance on private enterprise to provide services and desired outcomes.

After thirtyfour years, the results of our experiment in minimal government/freemarket has been dubious. The housing “market” has failed to meet demand, blaming local government “regulations”, central government regulations/RMA,  “town boundaries”, lack of skilled workers, sunspot activity, etc.

Writing for The Spinoff last year, author and journalist, Max Rashbrooke pointed out;

In short: overall poverty hasn’t increased, but its most extreme forms have. In a way, what the [National] government has done is to revive the old and false idea, never far from middle New Zealand’s intellectual surface, of the distinction between the “deserving” and the “undeserving” poor. The in-work battlers get carrots, the beneficiaries who make “poor choices” get mostly sticks. It’s a “distinction” that gets you nowhere, though, because those struggling the most are generally facing even tougher battles or have even fewer informal supports around them, rather than being lazier or more feckless.

The other point, of course, is that just maintaining poverty and inequality at their current high levels is a colossal failure. Under Labour both were falling, albeit slowly; that progress has been lost. The New Zealand Initiative likes to point out that our big increase in income inequality – the developed world’s largest – happened in the 1980s and 1990s, as if that diminishes the problem. In fact it intensifies it. Unfair inequality divides society, creating concentrated neighbourhoods of wealth and poverty, reducing people’s empathy for each other, and lowering trust. Poverty denies people a fair chance to succeed and leaves permanent scars on children. Every day those corrosions are left unchecked is a day lost, a day in which a child’s life is damaged and the social fabric is further rent. The fact that these problems have compounded for twenty years makes them worse than if they had sprung up yesterday. And such extremes – one in seven children living in poverty, while the wealthiest tenth have 60% of all assets – are neither necessary nor justifiable.

A July 2017 MSD report confirmed Rashbrooke’s observations;

Beneficiary incomes were flat or declining in real terms. The trajectory of incomes after deducting housing costs (AHC) is less favourable for the medium to long-term picture as housing costs now make up a much larger proportion of the household budget for most…

[…]

For under 65s, over the whole bottom quintile, housing costs account on average for just over half of household income (51%), up from 29% in the late 1980s.

The same MSD report also briefly referred to the wealthiest in our country;

The share of income received by the top 1% of tax-payers has been steady in the 8-9% range since the early 1990s, up from 5% in the late 1980s.

[Note: “Quintile“: Any of five equal groups into which a population can be divided according to the distribution of values of a particular variable.]

In a report this year, Oxfam revealed a ‘snapshot’ of inequality in New Zealand;

A staggering 28 per cent of all wealth created in New Zealand in 2017 went to the richest 1 per cent of Kiwis. While the 1.4 million people who make up the poorest 30 per cent of the population got barely 1 per cent, according to new research released by Oxfam today.

The research also reveals that 90 per cent of New Zealand owns less than half the nation’s wealth.

Oxfam New Zealand’s Executive Director, Rachael Le Mesurier,  stated the fairly obvious;

“Trickle-down economics isn’t working. The extreme gap between the very rich and the very poor in our country is shocking. As new wealth is created it continues to be concentrated in the hands of the already extremely wealthy.

2017 was a global billionaire bonanza. This is not a sign of success but of economic failure. Experts are clear, high levels of inequality are bad for economic growth – for everyone except the small number of super-rich, who on a global scale are often able to translate their disproportionate control of resources into disproportionate influence over political and economic decision making. This can lead to policies that are geared towards their interests, often at the expense of the majority.

To end the global inequality crisis, we must build an economy for ordinary working people, not the very few rich and powerful.”

Ms Le Mesurier added something that may not be quite so obvious to some – at least not for those who traditionally vote National;

“Kiwis love fairness, not inequality. Governments can tackle extreme inequality here and globally by ensuring the wealthy and multi-nationals pay their fair share of tax by cracking down on tax avoidance – then using that money to make our country and the global economy a fairer place.”

Since 2008, between 1,053,398 and 1,152,075 New Zealanders – roughly a quarter of the population – have voted for a party that has over-seen a worsening of extreme poverty; falling home ownership; and rising homelessness.

The claim that “Kiwis love fairness, not inequality” may not be as fairly reflecting our society as we might like to believe. At best, it might be claimed that  “*Most* Kiwis love fairness, not inequality”.

Despite not wanting to measure child poverty in 2012,  five years later, Deputy PM Paula Bennett had to concede the enormity of the crisis that National had ignored for so long;

“We had no idea how much it was going to cost. We had no idea it would ever be this big… In hindsight, you always wish you’d gone earlier”.

Thanks to National’s negligence – and supported by over one million voters – our homelessness is now the worst, according to an international report last year;

YaleGlobal Online, a magazine published by the prestigious US university, says “more than 40,000 people live on the streets or in emergency housing or substandard shelters” – almost 1 percent of the entire population, citing OECD statistics.

On 26 May, interviewed on The Nation by Lisa Owen, Children’s Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft said what *most* New Zealanders know in  their hearts to be axiomatic – or the bloody obvious, in Kiwispeak;

“…The gap is now massive. We dropped the ball on policy for children. I think one of the big, I guess, platforms of our office, the one thing I have to say clearly, is we need to have a community-wide consensus on policy for children. We haven’t had that. We could do it. Other countries leave us behind. Scandinavian countries have parental leave for 16 months. They have free school lunches for preschool and school children for the whole community, free doctor and dental visits, good social housing, free early childhood education. That’s what we need. We’ve never had the systemic commitment to a good policy for children.”

To illustrate (literally) Judge Becroft’s comment  a report from UNICEF published last year compared New Zealand’s abysmal ranking with that of our Scandinavian cuzzies.

Food insecurity:

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Income poverty;

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League Table* – Country performance across nine child relevant goals:

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However, to prove that not all is lost, and that New Zealand can excel – we are the eighth largest milk producing nation on the planet;

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Without doubt we display incredible efficiency when it comes to our agrarian sector.

Not so good, however, when it comes to ridding our shores of child poverty and homelessness.

Priorities, eh?

In our rush to achieve neo-liberal nirvana after thirtyfour years of economic “reforms” and the engendering of hyper-individualism, New Zealanders can only look with envy at Scandinavian countries.

Even Employers & Manufacturers Association (Northern), Kim Campbell lamented on TVNZ’s Q+A on 27 May;

“In fact, a government who has stepped right away from the state housing story completely. You know, when I was growing up we had the Ministry of Works building state houses, which were made available through suspensory loans and so on. That’s all gone. And you’re seeing the outcome there. So, frankly, we could fix it if we wanted to.”

But there is no Ministry of Works anymore. It was privatised in November 1996.

We now have to rely on private enterprise to build houses.

We now have families living in garages; overcrowded houses; and cars.

We now have greater income inequality and extremes of poverty.

So as Mr Campbell said on Q+A;

“And you’re seeing the outcome there. So, frankly, we could fix it if we wanted to.”

If we wanted to“…

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[* The Right love League Tables, so that particular one should be in no dispute.]

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References

Scoop media: Mediaworks/Newshub Nation – Lisa Owen interviews Children’s Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft

TVNZ: Q+A – Panel on Homelessness

Investopedia: Neoliberalism

Scoop media:  ACT Party – NZers deserve honest appraisal of Government housing failure

The Spinoff: Why the attacks on National over poverty and inequality are unfounded – mostly

Ministry for Social Development: MSD’s Household Incomes Report and companion report using Non-Income Measures – Headline Findings

Oxford Living Dictionaries: Definition – Quintile

Scoop media: Oxfam NZ inequality data 2018

Wikipedia: New Zealand general election, 2008

Wikipedia: New Zealand general election, 2017

NZ Herald: Home ownership rates lowest in 66 years according to Statistics NZ

NZ Herald: Homelessness rising in New Zealand

NZ Herald: Measuring poverty line not a priority – Bennett

Mediaworks/Newshub: NZ’s homelessness the worst in OECD – by far

UNICEF: Building the Future – Children and the Sustainable Development Goals in Rich Countries

World Atlas: Top Milk Producing Countries In The World

Wikipedia: Ministry of Works and Development

Treasury NZ: Income from State Asset Sales as at May 2014

TVNZ:  Tax is vital for reducing inequality but NZ is not collecting enough of it – Oxfam report

Additional

Fairfax media: Housing stocktake blames homelessness on drop in state housing

Mediaworks/Newshub:  Govt will have ‘failed completely’ if they don’t reform benefits – Andrew Becroft (video)

Previous related blogposts

An unfortunate advertising placement, child poverty, and breathing air

Poor people – let them eat cake; grow veges; not breed; and other parroted right wing cliches

Poor people – let them eat cake; grow veges; not breed; and other parroted right wing cliches… (part rua)

Once were warm hearted

National’s Food In Schools programme reveals depth of child poverty in New Zealand

National’s new-found concern for the poor

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 28 May 2018..

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