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NZ Initiative – Bulk Funding Schools

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Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. – Albert Einstein.

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On 6 July, the  “NZ Initiative” – a re-branded right-wing think-tank previously known as the NZ Business Roundtable – released a propaganda-piece entitled, ‘Amplifying Excellence: Promoting Transparency, Professionalism and Support in Schools‘. The so-called “report” advocated more sly “free market” forces unleashed onto our constantly-changing education system.

The title of the  “report” sneakily implies our education system is not transparent; is un-professional; and our schools un-supported.

Amongst the several vague recommendations was this one;

True to New Zealand’s self-managed school landscape, the government largely lets school boards and principals get on with leading their schools. However, in other respects, school leaders can be hamstrung by bureaucratic restrictions; for example, the Ministry prescribes how school leaders should spend parts of their teaching resource budgets.

Recommendation 6: Effective leaders should be trusted as true professionals and granted total budget autonomy to lead their schools.

“Total budget autonomy” is code for bulk-funding – a favourite agenda from the New Right.

Bulk-funding had previously been introduced as part of National’s “Ruthenasia reforms” in the 1990s. It was done away with by the Labour-Alliance government in 2000.

In June last year, then-Education Minister Hekia Parata attempted to resurrect the corpse of Bulk Funding under a new guise, “Global Funding“;

The change would set a “global budget” for each school, delivered as cash instalments for school expenses, and a credit system for salaries.

According to the documents, this would mean:

• Principals would determine the split between cash and credit, with the flexibility to make adjustments during the year.

• Unspent credit would be paid out at the end of the year and a process for recovering credit overspends would be established.

• Teaching staff salaries would be charged against the “credit” portion at an average rate.

• Non-teaching staff salaries would be charged against the “credit” portion at actual cost.

The global budget system would not be the same as the controversial bulk funding of teacher salaries that sparked protests 20 years ago, the proposal said. The documents said: “This is a significant difference from historical bulk funding proposals which would have seen schools charged the actual salary.”

The reaction was predictable, and Post Primary Teachers’ Association (PPTA) president, Angela Roberts, spoke for many when she warned;

“It is bulk funding. It is minor technicalities that make it something different, and I think it’s very cynical of the ministry to think that they can con people with a change in language.”

The schools get to decide how they spend that, how many teachers they purchase effectively and how many teacher aides. So schools will be incentivised through the averaging out to have cheaper teachers or fewer teachers because they can cash that money up.

Bulk funding was resoundingly rejected by the community 20 years ago because everybody understood the cost would be borne by the school when the government couldn’t be bothered putting more money into the system.”

Opposition to Parata’s Bulk-Funding-In-Drag plan was met with heated opposition by parents, teachers, school principals. Donna Eden, a teacher with 20 years’ education experience explained why she was so vehemently opposed to “Global Funding”;

“Teachers really don’t like bulk funding, so much so that they have been out of the classrooms meeting and rallying. And they’re talking to anyone who will listen about how our kids will be worse off.

And they will.

Why? Well, it will mean bigger classes and fewer teachers. It will mean our kids have less time with their teacher because instead of sharing him or her with 15 other children there will be 30 or more classmates needing the attention of their kaiako. It will mean less support for the kids that need it. It will mean fewer teacher aides for fewer hours.

It will likely mean untrained teachers in the classroom because they will be cheaper to pay.

It will mean winners and losers, and that, my friends, is not okay. Every child deserves the best, all of them, all over our country.

It’s simply that schools will be given a lump sum of money. And from this lump sum they will pay teachers’ salaries (which are currently centrally funded, meaning they don’t cost schools) and for everything else (think the power, water, supplies, first aid supplies, the caretaker, the office staff , support staff like teacher aides, any class room resources…)

There will be a separate pool of money for maintenance – property repairs and the like.

Why is it bad news?

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Firstly, because there is no new money. It’s just moving around the money that is already there. And it’s already not enough.

For the first time ever school operations grants, the cash that keeps schools running, have been frozen.

While costs rise, this budget won’t keep up. This means cuts to what schools can offer. It will start with trimming the extracurricular stuff. It won’t stop from there.

Hekia Parata is looking to remove the caps to class sizes and the guaranteed teacher funding this brings. It will mean that classes will get bigger – they will have to in order to stay within budget.

It’s like trying to do the grocery shopping with the usual budget when you have four extra people staying for the week. It just won’t stretch; something will have to give.

If it comes down to a choice between paying the power bill and paying a teacher, it is principals and boards of trustees that will have to decide who goes. What a horrible decision to have to make.”

On 18 November last year, Parata caved to mounting public pressure and announced that National would not proceed on it’s “Global Funding” policy;

“I have therefore recommended, and Cabinet has agreed, that the global budget proposal not proceed. The global budget was a mechanism for payment, not for determining the level of funding, so this decision will not affect the core purpose of the review.”

The successor to Ruth Richardson’s Bulk Funding, Parata’s “Global Funding”, was quietly returned to the Historical Rubbish Bin of Very Bad Ideas.

Barely a year later and the NZ Initiative/Business Roundtable has attempted to breathe life back into Bulk Funding/Global Funding. This time referring to the model as ‘Total Budget Autonomy‘. (No doubt  Crosky-Textor or some other tax-payer funded spin-doctor will come up with some new clever, shiny name.)

But it’s still a pig. Perhaps with a new shade of lipstick. But a pig still.

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The question is, why the Neo-libs keep beating the same drum?  Why keep trying to implement a policy that has been tried; failed; and almost no one wants.

More importantly, the evidence is that Donna Eden’s fears are well-based and grounded in reality.

New Zealand has had bulk-funding in another area of the State Sector – and it has proven to be a dismal failure;

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Analysing budget short-falls and DHB deficits two years ago, Fairfax journalist Stacy Kirk wrote;

Specifically, [Treasury]  documents say DHB underfunding will put pay increases for public sector health workers, including nurses and doctors, at risk.

Cost pressures mean DHBs have not been fully funded to cover wage increases for the 40,000 workers whose contracts are up for renegotiation shortly.

Ms Kirk reported Treasury officials as saying;

“The fiscal strategy presents some tough choices for Budget 2015, there are a number of fiscal pressures across the social sector, and Ministers will need to review options and trade-offs to determine an appropriate Budget package.”

The Treasury document that Ms Kirk quotes makes this observation on funding DHBs;

There are material cost pressures affecting the Ministry-managed NDE [non-
departmental expenditure] service lines that need to be managed as part of
this process. These cost pressures will include demographic demand growth,
wage and price inflation, and other factors. As for DHBs, it is unlikely that
these pressures can be fully funded, so we will be looking to the sector to
deliver substantial efficiencies. To maintain current levels of service
provision, it is likely that a reasonably large injection of new funding will
be needed – in addition to the $275 million already agreed for DHBs – or
Ministers will need to make choices on what services are to be altered or cut back.

Note this bit; “…cost pressures will include demographic demand growth, wage and price inflation, and other factors. As for DHBs, it is unlikely that these pressures can be fully funded, so we will be looking to the sector to deliver substantial efficiencies”.

Treasury’s admonition that “it is unlikely that these pressures can be fully funded” for DHBs is borne out by the number of Boards that are in deficit – and  worsening. A forecasted $58.7 million deficit has blown out to $89.9 million. Half of DHBs either in the red, or perilously close to it;

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In the case of Capital and Coast DHB – currently $28 million in deficit – it is noteworthy that there financial woes started in the mid-1990s;

In 1995-96 Capital Coast Health reported a deficit of $26m, which the following year grew to $70m. Chief financial officer Tony Hickmott said the $68m debt hole left by the construction of the regional hospital in 2008 had contributed to deficits for the past 10 years.

Increased demand for services, high labour costs, increased complexity of patients, and the increasing and ageing population had compounded the issue.

Building construction. Labour costs. Demand for services. Increased complexity. Increasing population. Each one of those factors can easily be translated into the education sector which also requires building upgrades or building entire new class-rooms; growing students rolls; increasing special-needs; and rising population due to National’s exploitation of migration to create the illusion of economic growth.

Now add Bulk Funding/Global Funding/’Total Budget Autonomy’ into the mix for schools.

How long would it be before schools found themselves in precisely the same precarious  financial woes that our DHBs are currently suffering?

As things currently stand, parents/guardians are having to dip more and more into their pockets to pay “school donations”, to make up for obvious shortfalls in the Vote Education budget;

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Of course, the National government still claims – without a hint of self-awareness of the Big Lie – that education is still free in New Zealand;

It’s free to go to a state school — but the school can ask for donations towards their running costs.

But at least one school – St Heliers – is unashamedly upfront in why school “donations” are necessary;

A donation is requested of parents to contribute towards the shortfall in funding from the Government.

Even with direct Ministry funding, schools are still having to make up a “shortfall in funding from the Government“. This dire situation has been compounded by National’s decision to freeze school operational funding this year;

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The above Herald story goes on to report;

The targeted approach means more than 1300 schools will get less money than they would have received, had that money been used for a general increase.

The difference ranges from a few hundred dollars up to $24,000.

About 816 schools will get more, and information on a further 242 schools is suppressed for privacy reasons because fewer than five students are at-risk.

Now imagine the funding constraints that  schools would have to deal with if Bulk Funding/Global Funding/’Total Budget Autonomy’ was re-introduced for their sector.

But we don’t have to imagine, do we? Because half the District Health Boards in this country have already shown us what would be in store for schools throughout the country.

Which is something that the  NZ Initiative/Business Roundtable seems to have studiously over-looked when they compiled their rubbish report, ‘Amplifying Excellence: Promoting Transparency, Professionalism and Support in Schools‘.

Never under-estimate the ability of the New Right to suggest policies that that been tried, tested, and failed. Just keep repeating the experiment over and over and over again.

One day the result will be different.

Of course it will. Just ask Albert Einstein.

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References

NBR:  Roundtable and NZ Institute morph into new libertarian think tank

NZ Initiative: Amplifying Excellence: Promoting Transparency, Professionalism and Support in Schools

Victoria University: The Bulk Funding of Teacher’s Salaries – A Case Study in Education Policy

NZ Herald:  New funding system for schools including a ‘global’ salary criticised

Radio NZ:  Teachers fear ‘bulk funding in new guise’

The Spinoff:  A teacher tells you what you need to know about bulk funding

Fairfax media:  Education Minister signals end of school bulk funding and decile systems

Fairfax media:  DHBs ‘considerably’ underfunded – and more deficits predicted

Treasury NZ: Treasury Budget 2015 Information Release Document July 2015

Fairfax media:  DHB deficits blowing to $90m. Health sector dying ‘by 1000 service cuts’ – Labour

Fairfax media:  Capital & Coast DHB’s debt hole deepens as boss admits 20 years of deficits

Fairfax media:  Parents prop up schools to tune of $250m

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

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

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

NZ Government: Education – school fees

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

Other Blogs

Save our Schools:  Parata backs down on bulk funding plans

Chris Trotter: Morbid Symptoms – Neoliberalism’s Room for Manoeuvre Keeps Shrinking

Previous related blogposts

Can we afford to have “a chat on food in schools”?

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

The Legacy of a Dismantled Prime Minister

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

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Steven Joyce rails against low mortgage interest rates; claims higher interest rates “beneficial”

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National is increasingly on the back-foot with New Zealand’s ever-worsening housing crisis. Ministers from the Prime minister down are desperately trying to spin a narrative that the National-led administration “is getting on top of the problem“.

Despite ministerial ‘reassurances’, both Middle and Lower Working  classes are feeling the dead-weight of a housing shortage; ballooning house prices,  and rising rents.

Recently-appointed Finance Minister, Steven Joyce,  has found a new unlikely scapegoat, blaming the housing bubble and worsening housing affordability  on current low interest rates.  On 11 May, on Radio NZ’s Morning Report, he said;

“We have very, very low interest rates historically, and as a result that’s directly linked to how much house prices are being bid up around the world. It’s not the sole reason for why we have high asset prices around the world, it’s not just houses, it’s shares and everything else. But it is certainly one of the dominant reasons for that. And unfortunately it’s going to be a little bit of time yet before that changes, although there’s indications that this period of ultra-low interest rates that the world has seen is coming to an end. And so I think that, that, will improve affordability over time.”

Radio NZ’s Guyon Espiner reacted with predictable incredulity that Joyce was relying on interest rates rising to “improve affordability over time“.

Joyce’s finger-pointing and blaming “very, very low interest rates historically” is at variance with a speech that former Dear Leader, John Key, gave in January 2008 where he specifically indentified higher interest rates as a barrier to home ownership;

* Why, after eight years of Labour, are we paying the second-highest interest rates in the developed world?

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* Why can’t our hardworking kids afford to buy their own house?

Good questions, Mr Key

Got any answers, Mr Joyce?

Because according to Statistics NZ, home ownership rates have worsened since John Key gave his highly-critical speech, nine years ago;

Home ownership continues to fall

  • In 2013, 64.8 percent of households owned their home or held it in a family trust, down from 66.9 percent in 2006.

  • The percentage of households who owned their home dropped to 49.9 percent in 2013 from 54.5 percent in 2006.

Home ownership reached a peak of 73.8% by 1991. Since then, with  the advent of neo-liberal “reforms” in the late ’80s and early ’90s, home ownership has steadily declined.

Those who have benefitted have tended to be investors/speculators. In 2016, 46% of mortgages were issued to property investors/speculators in the Auckland region. Despite a watered-down, pseudo-capital gains tax,  referred to as the “bright line” test implemented in October 2015, investors/speculators still accounted for 43% of house purchasers by March of this year.

The same report revealed the dismal fact that first home buyers constituted only 19% of sales.

John Key’s gloomy plea, “Why can’t our hardworking kids afford to buy their own house?” rings truer than ever.

Poorer families are fairing no better.

National’s abysmal policy to sell off state housing has left a legacy of families living in over-crowded homes; garages, and cars. This scandal has reached the attention of the international media.

From the Guardian;

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From Al Jazeera;

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As with our fouled waterways, we have developed another unwelcomed reputation – this time for the increasing scourge of  homelessness.

But it is not just the sons and daughters of the Middle Classes that are finding housing increasingly out of their financial reach. The poorest families in our society have resorted to living in over-crowded homes or in garages and in cars.

National has spent millions of taxpayer’s dollars housing families in make-shift shelters in motels. At the behest on National ministers, WINZ have made it official policy to recoup money  “loaned” to beneficiaries to pay for emergency accommodation;

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National’s track record on this growing community cancer has been one of ineptitude.

In 2015, Dear Leader Key made  protestations that  no problem exists in our country;

“No, I don’t think you can call it a crisis. What you can say though is that Auckland house prices have been rising, and rising too quickly actually.”

He kept denying it – until he didn’t;

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Unfortunately, former-and current State beneficiary, and now Social Housing Minister, Paula Bennett, apparently ‘did not get the memo’. She still denies any housing crisis in this country;

“I certainly wouldn’t call it a crisis. I think that we’ve always had people in need. So the other night on TV I heard the homeless story was second in and then the seventh story was a man who’d been 30 years living on the streets.”

Despite  being in full denial, in May last year Bennett announced that National would be committing $41.1 million over the next four years  for emergency housing and grants.

By April this year  it was revealed that National had already spent $16.5 million on emergency accomodation. It had barely been a year since Bennett issued her Beehive statement lauding the $41.1 million expenditure, and already nearly a third of that amount has been spent.

This is clear evidence as to how far out-of-touch National is on social issues.

The stress and pressure on Ministers and state sector bureaucrats has become apparent, with threats of  retribution flying.  This month alone, a MSD manager and associate minister of social housing, Alfred Ngaro, were revealed to have warned critics of the government not to talk to the media;

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Bennett went on to make this extraordinary statement;

“I spend the bulk of my time on social housing issues and driving my department into seriously thinking about different ways of tackling this.”

Her comment was followed on 20 May, on TV3’s The Nation, when current Dear Leader, Bill English tried to spin a positive message in  National’s ‘fight against homelessness’;

“Our task has been to, as we set out three or four years ago, to rebuild the state housing stock. And that’s what we are setting out to do.”

English and Bennett’s claims would be admirable – if they were not self-serving hypocrisy.

In 2008, Housing NZ’s stock comprised of  69,000 rental properties.

By 2016, that number had fallen to 61,600 (plus a further 2,700 leased).

In eight years, National has managed to sell-off 7,400 properties.

No wonder English admitted “we set out three or four years ago, to rebuild the state housing stock“. His administration was responsible for selling  off over ten percent of much-needed state housing.

No wonder families are forced into over-crowding; into garages and sheds; and into cars and vans.

Confronted by social problems, National ministers duck for cover. Especially when those same social problems are a direct consequence of their own ideologically-driven and ill-considered policies.

National ministers English, Bennett, Joyce, Nick Smith, et al are responsible for our current homelessness.

Parting thought

Left-wing parties and movement are generally proactive in identifying and resolving critical social problems and inequalities. It is the raison d’etre of the Left.

The Right seem only able to belatedly react to social problem and inequalities.

Especially when they caused it.

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References

Interest.co.nz: PM says no housing crisis in Auckland

NZ Herald: Housing shortage growing by 40 homes a day

Fairfax media: House prices rise at an ‘eye-popping’ rate for 6 NZ regions – Trade Me

Interest.co.nz: Median rents up $50 a week over last 12 months in parts of Auckland

Radio NZ: Lessons for NZ in Australia’s Budget

NZ Herald: John Key – State of the Nation speech

Statistics NZ: 2013 Census QuickStats about national highlights

Statistics NZ: Owner-Occupied Households

Radio NZ: Homeless family faces $100k WINZ debt

Interest.co.nz: New official Reserve Bank figures definitively show that investors accounted for nearly 46% of all Auckland mortgages

Simpson Grierson: New “bright-line” test for sales of residential land

Property Club: First buyers still missing out in Auckland’s most affordable properties

The Guardian: New Zealand housing crisis forces hundreds to live in tents and garages

Al Jazeera: New Zealand’s homeless – Living in cars and garages

NZ Herald: No house, not even a motel, for homeless family

Radio NZ: Key denies Auckland housing crisis

Radio NZ: No housing crisis in NZ – Paula Bennett

Beehive: Budget 2016 – 3000 emergency housing places funded

Mediaworks: Homeless crisis costing Govt $100,000 a day for motels

Radio NZ: Emergency housing providers instructed not to talk to media

Radio NZ: Ngaro apologises for govt criticism

TV3: The Nation – Patrick Gower interviews Bill English

Housing NZ: Annual Report 2008/09

Housing NZ: Annual Report 2015/16

Previous related blogposts

Can we do it? Bloody oath we can!

Budget 2013: State Housing and the War on Poor

Budget 2013: State Housing and the War on Poor

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)

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

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

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

National under attack – defaults to Deflection #1

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

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Problem…

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Solution.

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 21 May 2017.

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2017 – Ongoing jobless tally

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Unemployment logo

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Continued from: 2016 – Ongoing jobless tally

By the numbers, for this year;

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January

February

March

April

Otago University: unknown

May

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Unemployment Statistics* at a Glance

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(*  See caveat below)

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Caution: Official Unemployment Statistics

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On 29 June 2016, Statistic NZ announced that it would be changing the manner in which it defined a jobseeker. This   so-called “revision”  would materially affect how unemployment stats were counted and reported;

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

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

The statement went on to explain;

Change in key labour market estimates:

  • Decreases in the number of people unemployed and the unemployment rate
  • Changes to the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate range from 0.1 to 0.6 percentage points. In the most recent published quarter (March 2016), the unemployment rate is revised down from 5.7 percent to 5.2 percent
  • Increases in the number of people not in the labour force
  • Decreases in the size of the labour force and the labour force participation rate

When Statistics NZ ‘re-jigged’ its criteria for measuring unemployment in June, unemployment dropped from 5.7% to 5.2% (subsequently revised again down to 5.1%).

All  unemployment data from Statistics NZ should therefore be treated with caution. Unemployment is  likely to be  much higher than Statistics NZ figures indicate.

 

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References

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

Statistics NZ: Labour Market Statistics – June 2016 quarter

Trading Economics: New Zealand Unemployment Rate  to January 2017

Previous related blogpost

Lies, Damned lies and Statistical Lies

National exploits fudged Statistics NZ unemployment figures

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

2016 – Ongoing jobless tally and why unemployment statistics will no longer be used

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

2 December 2016 2 comments

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In troubled times, we are community

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On 14 October, eight hours after two massive 7.8 earthquakes simultaneously rocked the entire country, our Dear Leader John Key made an impassioned (for him, it was impassioned) appeal to the people of Aotearoa on Radio NZ’s ‘Morning Report‘;

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The one thing I’d we’d just say to New Zealanders at the moment is stay close to your family and friends. Make sure you listen to the radio and listen to the best information that you’re getting. And if you do have certainly older neighbours or family, if you could go in and check up on them that would be most appreciated. Because there will be people feeling genuinely alone.“

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It was  an appeal to a sense of community that is rarely made by right-wing governments or their leaders. It was a tacit acknowledgement that No Man or Woman is an Island that that only by acting collectively can human beings survive  and improve their own circumstances and for their children.

Unfortunately, a week later, Key’s sense-of-community-spirit  was returned to it’s hermetically-sealed casket and re-buried alongside cryo-capsules containing New Zealand’s Once-Egalitarian-Spirit and International-Independent-Leadership-On-Moral Issues.

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National dangles the “carrot”

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On 21 November, Key announced that tax cuts were once again “on the table” and Little Leader/Finance Minister, Bill English confirmed it.

With a statement that was more convoluted than usual, Key said;

“We’ve identified from our own perspective if there was more money where would be the kinds of areas we want to go, not what is the make up … for instance, of a tax or family package, what is the make up of other expenditure we want?

Tax is one vehicle for doing that, it’s not always the most effective vehicle for doing that for particularly low income families.”

Tax could be effective higher up the income scale, but lower down it was not that effective because base rates were low or it was very expensive.

Over the fullness of time we’ll have to see whether we’ve got much capacity to move.

Making sure they can keep a little more of what they earn or get a little bit more back through a variety of mechanisms is always something we can consider. It could be a mix, yes.

In the end it’s about equity for New Zealanders and about .. having a rise in their standard of living, and there’s a number of ways you could deliver that.”

Key has once again dangled a billion-dollar carrot in front of New Zealanders as the country heads towards next year’s election.

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National’s previous election “carrots”

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During the 2008 General Election,  as the Global Financial Crisis was impacting on our own economy, Key was promising tax cuts. In May 2008, he said;

“But in 2005 we promised tax cuts which ranged from about $10 to $92 a week, roughly $45 a week for someone on $50,000 a year.

“I described it as a credible programme of personal tax cuts and I’m committed to a credible programme of personal tax cuts,” he said.

Questioned on whether National’s tax cuts programme of 2005 was credible today given the different economic circumstances, Mr Key said: “Well, I think it is.”

At the time, then Labour’s Finance Minister, Michael Cullen  described National’s tax-cut-bribe as ‘reckless‘.

By October 2008, as NZ Inc’s economic circumstances deteriorated, Treasury issued dire warnings that should have mitigated against any notions of affordable tax-cuts;

John Key has defended his party’s planned program of tax cuts, after Treasury numbers released today showed the economic outlook has deteriorated badly since the May budget. The numbers have seen Treasury reducing its revenue forecasts and increasing its predictions of costs such as benefits. Cash deficits – the bottom line after all infrastructure funding and payments to the New Zealand Superannuation Fund are made – is predicted to blow out from around $3 billion a year to around $6 billion a year.

Key’s government won the 2008 election and proceeded with tax-cuts in 2009 and 2010.

Predictably, government debt – which had been paid down by the Clark-Cullen government – ballooned as the recession hit New Zealand’s economy and tax revenue fell;

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National government debt - tax cuts

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Key himself estimated tax cuts to be worth between $3  or $4 billion.

In 2008, New Zealand’s core government debt stood at nil (net)

Current government debt now stands at $62.272 billion (net).

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Nature intervenes in National’s “cunning plan” for a Fourth Term

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According to Dear Leader Key, estimates for the re-build of earthquake damage in and around Kaikoura; State Highway One, and the rest of the South Island  is likely to be at least “a couple of billion dollars“.

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 The repair bill from Monday's earthquake near Hanmer Springs is estimated to be billions of dollars. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

The repair bill from Monday’s earthquake near Hanmer Springs is estimated to be billions of dollars. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

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Finance Minister Bill English has hinted the cost may be much more;

“The combination of significant infrastructure damage in Wellington, obvious damage in Kaikoura – all roading and rail issues – this is going to add up to something fairly significant. We also know that those estimates change over time.”

No wonder Labour leader Andrew Little was less than impressed at tax cuts being mooted. Echoing Michael Cullen from eight years ago, he condemned the irresponsible nature of Key’s proposal;

“Well this is crazy stuff, I mean in addition to a government having $63 billion worth of debt it is yet to start repaying, and you’ve got a billion dollars extra each year just in the cost of superannuation.

Now we have another major civic disaster that is going to cost in terms of repairs. I do not see how John Key can say tax cuts are justified in the present circumstances.”

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National spends-up large on new prison beds

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On top of which, English announced last month that National was planning to spend over $2.5 billion on new prison beds. He questioned whether tax cuts were affordable with such looming expenditure;

Finance Minister Bill English has warned an announcement today of plans for an extra 1,800 prison beds will reduce the room for the Government to consider tax cuts before next year’s election.

English told reporters in Parliament the extra beds would cost NZ$1 billion to build and an extra NZ$1.5 billion to run over the next five or six years.

“It will have an impact because it is a very large spend and, two or three years years ago, we probably thought this could be avoidable,” English said when asked if the extra spending would make it harder for the Government to unveil tax cuts and other spending before the next election.

“It’s all part of this rachetting up of tougher sentences, tighter remand conditions, less bail and taking less risk with people who commit serious offenses,” he added.

Asked if that meant there would be less room for tax cuts, he said: “I wouldn’t want to judge that because it is a bit early, but certainly spending this kind of money on prison capacity is going to reduce other options.”

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The inevitable cost of tax-cuts

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As billions more is wasted on prisons, money spent on health, education, housing, and other social services is being frozen; cut back, or not keeping pace with inflation.

This has resulted in appalling cuts to services such as recently experienced by  96-year-old Horowhenua woman, Trixie Cottingham;

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dhb-threatens-to-cut-off-96-year-olds-home-help-in-levin

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Other social services have also been wound back – as previously reported by this blogger;

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relationships-aortearoa-funding-cuts-anne-tolley-budget-2015

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Cuts to the Health budget have resulted in wholly predictable – and preventable – negative outcomes;

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patients-have-severe-loss-of-vision-in-long-wait-for-treatment

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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.”

As the public healthcare system faces reduction in funding – more and New Zealanders will be forced into taking up  health insurance. In effect, National is covertly shifting the cost of healthcare from public to private,  funding the public/private ‘switch’ through personal tax-cuts.

Tax dollars have previously been allocated to social services such as Education or Health. By implementing tax cuts, those “Health Dollars” become “Discretionary Dollars”; Public Services for Citizens becomes Private Choice for Consumers.

And we all know how “well” that model has worked out in the United States;

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how-the-u-s-health-care-system-fails-its-sickest-patients

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(Yet another) Broken promise by Key

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But equally important is that, in promising to spend the government surplus on tax-cuts, Dear Leader Key has broken yet another of his promises to the people of New Zealand.

In July 2009, National suspended all contribution to the NZ Superannuation Fund. At the time  Bill English explained;

“The Government is committed to maintaining National Superannuation entitlements at 66 per cent of the average wage, to be paid from age 65.

[…]

The suspension of automatic contributions will remain until there are budget surpluses sufficient to fund contributions. Under current projections, the Government is not expected to have sufficient surpluses for the next 11 years.

[…]

Once surpluses sufficient to cover automatic contributions return, the Government intends to contribute the amount required by the Fund formula.”

In 2010, English said;

“We’re managing government spending carefully, the economy is improving a bit faster than we expected, and that means it’s six years instead of 10 years until we start making contributions to the fund. If the economy picks up a bit faster again, we’ll get to that point sooner.”

In 2011, John Key said;

“Once we’re back to running healthy surpluses, we’ll be able to auto-enrol workers who are not members of KiwiSaver, pay down debt and resume contributions to the Super Fund.”

In 2012, English said;

“The Government’s target is to return to surplus by 2014-15 so that we will then have choices about repaying debt, resuming contributions to the New Zealand Superannuation Fund, or targeting more investment in priority public services.”

In 2013, English said;

“It remains our intention that contributions will resume once net debt has reduced to 20 percent of GDP, which is forecast for 2020.”

In 2014, English told Patrick Gower;

“… In this Budget we will have a paper-thin surplus , I mean we’ll just have a surplus but that’s the beginning of a series of surpluses and that means we have choices. And there’s a lot of choices. We’ve got the New Zealand Super Fund to resume contributions, an auto-enrolment for KiwiSaver, paying off debt more quickly, something for households to help them along. Those are choices that New Zealand fortunately will have if we have a growing economy and we stick to being pretty careful about our spending.”

In 2015, Key and English issued a joint  statement saying;

“Through Budget 2015, the National-led Government will…

[…]

Reduce government debt to less than 20 per cent of GDP by 2020/21 when we can resume contributions to the NZ Super Fund.”

In October this year, English said;

“There has not been any broken commitment regarding the Superannuation Fund. We have said for some time that when the Government returns to a sufficient budget surplus and can contribute genuine savings rather than borrowing, National will resume contributions to the New Zealand Superannuation Fund. The straightforward issue is that even when the Government shows surpluses under the operating balance before gains and losses measure, it does not always have cash surpluses until those accounting surpluses get reasonably big.

[…]

I remember that Sunday in 2009 in vivid detail, in fact, and constantly go back to it. The Government has outlined its position many, many times since 2009, and when there are sufficient surpluses and when we have debt down to the levels we think are prudent, which is 20 percent of GDP by 2020, then we will resume contributions, which we would like to do.”

In every year since National ceased contributing to the NZ Super (“Cullen”) Fund, both Key and English have reiterated their committment to resume payments when government books returned to surplus.

By hinting at tax cuts instead, Key and English have broken their promises, made over a seven year period.

Even their “qualifyer” of resuming contributions “when we have debt down to the levels we think are prudent, which is 20 percent of GDP by 2020” becomes untenable with their hints of an election-year tax-cut bribe.

By cutting taxes instead of paying down debt, resuming contributions to the NZ Super Fund is pushed further out into the dim, distant future.

The very suggestion of tax cuts is another potential broken promise.  What’s one more to add to his growing list of promises not kept?

After all, there is an election to be fought next year.

Since National has not thought twice at under-funding the Health Budget, it certainly does not seem troubled at using tax-cuts as an election bribe, and undermining this country’s future superannuation savings-fund for selfish political gain.

Muldoon did it in 1973 – and got away with it.

Carrot, anyone?

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References

Radio NZ: Morning Report – John Key urges New Zealanders to look out for their neighbours

Radio NZ: Morning Report – Key not ruling out tax cuts despite billion-dollar Kaikoura bill

Radio NZ: Morning Report – Government not ruling out tax cuts despite $1B Kaikoura bill

Fairfax media: John Key reveals plans for ‘tax and family’ package, but quake might affect plans

NZ Herald: National’s 2005 tax cut plans still credible – Key

Beehive: National ignores inflation warning

NZ Herald: Key – $30b deficit won’t stop Nats tax cuts

NZ Treasury:  Financial Statements of the Government of New Zealand for the Year Ended 30 June 2010 – Debt

Fairfax media: $4b in tax cuts coming

NZ Treasury: Fiscal Indicator Analysis – Debt  as at 30 June 2008

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

Radio NZ: Earthquake’s billion-dollar bill won’t compare with Chch

Radio NZ: PM ‘irresponsible’ to talk tax cuts after quake – Labour

Interest.co.nz: English says NZ$1 bln capital cost and NZ$1.5 bln of operating costs for extra 1,800 prison beds reduces room for tax cuts

Radio NZ: Checkpoint – DHB threatens to cut off 96-year-old’s home help in Levin

Dominion Post: Women’s Refuge cuts may lead to waiting lists

NZ Herald: Govt funding cuts reduce rape crisis support hours

NZ Doctor: Christchurch’s 198 Youth Health Centre to close its doors as management fails to implement directives from CDHB

TV1 News: ‘Devastating news for vulnerable Kiwis’ – Relationships Aotearoa struggling to stay afloat

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: 174,000 Kiwis left off surgery waiting lists, with Cantabrians and Aucklanders faring worst

Fortune: How the U.S. Health Care System Fails Its Sickest Patients

NZ Super Fund: Contributions Suspension

Beehive: New Zealand Super Fund – fact sheet

Fairfax media: English signals earlier return to Super Fund payments

Scoop media: John Key’s Speech to Business New Zealand Amora Hotel Wgtn

Parliament Today: Questions and Answers – November 7

TV3 News: $23 billion in NZ Super Fund

Throng: Patrick Gower interviews Finance Minister Bill English on The Nation

Beehive: Budget 2015

Scoop: Hansards – Questions and Answers – 18 October 2016

Fairfax media: Compulsory super ‘would be worth $278 billion’

Additional

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

Other Blogs

The Standard: The eternal tax-cut mirage

Previous related blogposts

“It’s one of those things we’d love to do if we had the cash”

Tax cuts & school children

The Mendacities of Mr Key #3: tax cuts

The consequences of tax-cuts – worker exploitation?

Plunket and the slow strangulation of community organisations

The cupboard is bare, says Dear Leader

An earthquake separates John Key and ‘The Iron Lady’, Margaret Thatcher

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cheesecolour-tax-cuts

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

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= fs =

2016 – Ongoing jobless tally and why unemployment statistics will no longer be used

14 November 2016 8 comments

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Unemployment logo

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Continued from: 2015 – Ongoing jobless tally

So by the numbers, for this year;

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Events

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January

February

March

April

May

June

July

August

October

November

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Statistics

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This blogger previously reported how Statistics NZ recently implemented a so-called “revision” which would materially affect how unemployment stats were counted and reported;

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

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

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

The statement went on to explain;

Change in key labour market estimates:

  • Decreases in the number of people unemployed and the unemployment rate
  • Changes to the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate range from 0.1 to 0.6 percentage points. In the most recent published quarter (March 2016), the unemployment rate is revised down from 5.7 percent to 5.2 percent
  • Increases in the number of people not in the labour force
  • Decreases in the size of the labour force and the labour force participation rate

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

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nz-unemployment-rate-october-2015-to-october-2016

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And on-cue, National was quick to capitalise on Statistics NZ’s figure-fudging;

On 2/3 July, TV3’s The Nation, Dear Leader Key told Corin Dann;

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

On 8 August, Key was quoted on Interest.co.nz;

“On the other side, we need these people in an environment where unemployment is 5.2% and where growth is still very, very strong. You’ve just got to be careful when you play around with these things that you don’t hamstring certain industries that need these workers.”

On 12 August, in Parliament, English also gleefully congratulated himself on the “fall” in unemployment;

“The Reserve Bank is forecasting an increase of about 1 percent more growth in the economy over the next 3 years, compared with what it thought 3 months ago. It is forecasting that unemployment is going to continue falling from 5.2 percent this year to 4.5 percent by 2019 and that job numbers will increase by more than 2 percent on average over the next 2 years. A significant component of that, of course, will be the construction boom, where thousands of houses will be built over the next 2 or 3 years. These forecasts are in line with Treasury’s forecast for the labour market and show an economy that is delivering more jobs, lower unemployment, and real increases in incomes when in many developed countries that is not happening.”

The latest Statistics NZ (soon to be re-branded Ministry of Truth) unemployment figures showed another “fall”. The unemployment rate for the September 2016 Quarter is now purportedly 4.9%;

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unemployment-sept-2016-household-labourforce-survey-statistics-nz

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Can that figure – 4.9% – be trusted?

When Statistics NZ “re-jigged” its criteria for measuring unemployment in June, unemployment dropped from 5.7% to 5.2% (subsequently revised again to 5.1%);

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unemployment-june-2016-household-labourforce-survey-statistics-nz

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Predictably, National were quick to once again exploit the September statistics, as their Twitter-feed showed on 2 November;

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national-party-twitter-2-nov-2016-unemployment

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And three days later;

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national-party-twitter-5-nov-2016-unemployment

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It’s all nonsense, of course – made worse by Statistics NZ’s other dodgy criteria used when considering their definition what constitutes being “employed”;

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

  • worked for one hour or more for pay or profit in the context of an employee/employer relationship or self-employment
  • worked without pay for one hour or more in work which contributed directly to the operation of a farm, business, or professional practice owned or operated by a relative

Statistics NZ’s mis-representation of our “low unemployment” environment has gone largely unnoticed and unchallenged. No one in the mainstream media has picked up on the questionable data;

This meant the size of the labour force rose 33,000 and unemployment fell by just 3,000 to 128,000. The unemployment rate fell to 4.9% from a revised 5.0% in the June quarter. This was the lowest unemployment rate since the December quarter of 2008. Unemployment has fallen by 7,000 over the last year and is up 1,000 from two years ago.Interest.co.nz

Unemployment has fallen below 5 percent for the first time in nearly eight years thanks to the growing economy, but it is still not translating into booming wages. Official figures show the unemployment rate declined to 4.9 percent in the three months to September, or 128,000 people, the lowest rate since December 2008.Radio NZ

According to Statistics New Zealand, the unemployment rate fell to 4.9% in the September 2016 quarter. This is the lowest unemployment rate since the December 2008 quarter. There were 3,000 fewer people unemployed than in the June 2016 quarter and 10,000 fewer over the year.Maori TV

The unemployment rate has fallen to 4.9 percent for the September 2016 quarter, according to new figures from Statistics NZ. That’s the lowest it’s been since December 2008. – TV3 News

New Zealand’s unemployment rate fell below 5 percent for the first time since December 2008 as employers took on more staff than expected, although that didn’t spur wages to rise at a faster pace. The kiwi dollar rose on the figures. The unemployment rate fell to 4.9 percent in the three months ended Sept. 30 from a revised 5 percent rate in June, Statistics New Zealand said.Sharechat

New Zealand has recorded its best unemployment rate in almost eight years with third quarter figures falling to a better than expected 4.9 per cent. The jobless rate declined from a revised 5.0 per cent in the June quarter, according to Stats NZ, taking it to its lowest point since December 2008. – NZCity/NZ News

New Zealand’s unemployment rate fell below 5 per cent for the first time since December 2008 as employers took on more staff than expected, although that didn’t spur wages to rise at a faster pace. The kiwi dollar rose on the figures.

The unemployment rate fell to 4.9 per cent in the three months ended September 30 from a revised 5 per cent rate in June, Statistics New Zealand said.NZ Herald

New Zealand’s unemployment rate fell more than expected in the third quarter to drop to 4.9 per cent – the lowest rate since last 2008. The jobless rate declined from a revised 5.0 per cent in the June quarter, according to Stats NZ taking it to its lowest point since the December quarter nearly eight years ago. There were 3,000 fewer people unemployed than in the previous quarter and 10,000 fewer over the year. – TVNZ News

Of course there were “3,000 fewer people unemployed than in the previous quarter and 10,000 fewer over the year“! Ten thousand unemployed people vanished from the data, at the click of a mouse, as Statistics NZ worked their “magic”.

Statistics NZ could potentially make unemployment vanish entirely, overnight, by changing the unemployment criteria to people with only two hearts and scaly blue skin.

Only Hamish Rutherford, at Fairfax media, pointed out the questionable value of Statistics NZ’s data;

Unemployment has fallen to the lowest level in almost eight years, as the economy creates more than 10,000 new jobs a month. Official figures show the unemployment rate dropped to 4.9 per cent in the the September quarter, the first time it has fallen below 5 per cent since December 2008.

Earlier this year Statistics New Zealand revised the way it conducts the quarterly household labour force survey (HLFS), in a bid to bring the survey more in line with international standards. However the changes mean Statistics New Zealand cannot make confident comparisons with all of the figures from previous surveys.

But even in Rutherford’s article, the all-important point of dodgy stats was lost amongst the ‘rah-rah‘ of the mythical drop in unemployment.

The Otago Daily Times made an even less impressive, passing, reference to Statistics NZ’s fudged figures;

Unemployment in New Zealand is at its lowest level since 2008 but there will be lingering concerns about the lack of wage growth and the impact this will have on the inflation outlook.

Statistics New Zealand has changed some of its survey data to measure unemployment and employment and those changes are still bedding in.Otago Daily Times

Government Statistician, Liz MacPherson, has rejected any suggestion of political partisanship in the way unemployment data is now being presented.

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grant-robertson-liz-macpherson

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She was defensive in the face of criticism from Labour’s Grant Robertson and on  16 August, Ms MacPherson stated;

Like my predecessors I am fiercely protective of the statutory independence of the role of the Government Statistician and strongly refute any assertions made by Grant Robertson that there has been political interference in the production of official statistics.

This independence means that I maintain the right to make changes necessary to ensure the relevance and quality of our official statistics. Changes to the Household Labour Force Survey have been made to ensure that we produce the best possible measure of the current state of the labour market and to maintain consistency with international best practice.

Far from ignoring technological change during the past 30 years, such as the advent of the internet, we are incorporating these changes so as to be technology neutral.

Within the survey questions, to be regarded as actively looking for a job you must do more than simply look at job advertisements, whether it is online or in a newspaper.

It is not uncommon for revisions to be made to official statistics as a result of more accurate information becoming available or changes to international standards and frameworks.

In addition we are introducing new measures – for example underutilisation – enabling a deeper, richer understanding of New Zealand’s labour market.

When this does occur it is standard practice for Statistics NZ to communicate reasons for revisions and anticipated changes well in advance of their official release, as we did on 29 June 2016. […]

Statistics NZ has a legislative obligation to release objective official statistics. We will continue to do this at all times.

One of many ironies not lost on this blogger is that other government departments extoll the virtues of jobseeking on-line. As CareersNZ and WINZ state the blindingly-obvious, “most job vacancies are listed online”;

Careersnz;

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careersnz-use-the-internet

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WINZ;

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work-and-income-where-to-look

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Ms MacPherson’s assertion that Statistics NZ has changed it’s definitions of unemployment and jobseeking  “to maintain consistency with international best practice” is not an acceptable explanation.

If “international best practice” does not recognise on-line jobseeking as constituting a definition of unemployment – then that in itself is worrying and suggests that global unemployment may be much, much higher than current international statistics portray.

As a consequence of Ms MacPherson’s decision to exclude on-line jobseekers from official stats, this blogger concludes that official unemployment data is  severely flawed and unrepresentative of our real unemployment numbers.

In simple terms; the numbers are a sham.

Unemployment statistics will no longer be presented in on-going up-dates of the Jobless Tally.

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This Statement has not been endorsed by MiniTruth (formerly StatsNZ)

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ministry-of-truth-logo

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Addendum1: Definition of Employment

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

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

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

  • had a job but were not at work due to: own illness or injury, personal or family responsibilities, bad weather or mechanical breakdown, direct involvement in an industrial dispute, or leave or holiday.

Source

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References

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

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

Interest.co.nz: Key deflects calls for migration review; says migration needed with 5.2% unemployment

Scoop media: Parliament – Questions & Answers – 11 August 2016

Statistics NZ: Labour Market Statistics – September 2016 quarter

Statistics NZ: Labour Market Statistics – June 2016 quarter

Twitter: National (2 Nov)

Twitter: National (5 Nov)

Interest.co.nz: Jobs grew 35,000 or 1.4% in Sept quarter, but unemployment fell just 3,000 and jobless rate falls to 4.9%

Radio NZ: Unemployment drops to lowest level since 2008

Maori TV: Work force grows despite youth unemployment

TV3 News: Unemployment drops to lowest rate since 2008

Sharechat: NZ jobless rate falls below 5% for first time since 2008, wage inflation muted

NZCity/NZ News: Jobless rate falls to near eight-year low

NZ Herald: NZ jobless rate falls below 5 per cent for first time since 2008, wage inflation muted

TVNZ News: Unemployment rate falls to near eight-year low

Fairfax media: Unemployment drops to lowest level since 2008 on booming job creation

Otago Daily Times: Unemployment lowest in eight years

Radio NZ: Statistician denies political interference over job seeker figures

Statistics NZ: Government Statistician responds to Grant Robertson

Careersnz: Job hunting tips

Work and Income: Where to look

Additional

TVNZ: Q+A – Interview with John Key

Previous related blogpost

Lies, Damned lies and Statistical Lies

National exploits fudged Statistics NZ unemployment figures

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

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 9 November 2016.

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National and the Reserve Bank – at War!

15 July 2016 4 comments

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reserve bank vs government

 

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Open warfare has broken out between the National regime and  the Reserve Bank. Recent media statements indicate that we are seeing an increasingly bitter  war-of-words; a battle of wills, taking place over the growing housing crisis.

National is demanding that the Reserve Bank implement policies to “get on with it” to rein-in ballooning Auckland housing prices. The Reserve Bank is resisting, in an almost Churchillian-way.

In April this year, Key denied flatly that there was any “housing crisis” in this country;

“No, I don’t think you can call it a crisis. What you can say though is that Auckland house prices have been rising, and rising too quickly actually.”

But a year ago, on 15 April 2015, Reserve Bank deputy governor Grant Spencer warned that investors/speculators were becoming a major problem in the housing market;

“Investors are often setting the marginal market prices that are then applied to the full housing stock within a regional market.”

Spencer went on to issue what must be the most prescient statement ever uttered by a senior civil servant;

“Indicators point to an increasing presence of investors in the Auckland market and this trend is no doubt being reinforced by the expectation of high rates of return based on untaxed capital gains.”

Predictably, Key rejected taxing capital gains as an instrument to control rampant speculation;

“I remember when everyone said to [introduce] the equivalent of a [capital gains] bright line test, it will solve the issues. Well, it really didn’t.”

Key also rejected calls by the Reserve Bank to curb high levels of  immigration which was exacerbating demand for housing. Key was blunt;

“We’re going to stick with the plan we’ve got.”

Of course Key is not prepared to reduce immigration . It is one of the few drivers for current economic growth that is stimulating the economy. Curb migration and the economy stalls. Stall the economy and National would have nothing to take to the election next year.

As National’s own minister, Jonathan Coleman stated in 2011;

“It’s important to highlight the economic value of Immigration here…

[…]

…New migrants add an estimated $1.9 billion to the New Zealand economy every year.

Immigration recognises the strategic importance of the tourism and export education sectors and the direct links they provide to employers.

Given these compelling figures, my number one priority has been to ensure Immigration is contributing to the Government’s economic growth agenda.”

Coleman’s 6 May 2011 press release was entitled, “Immigration New Zealand’s contribution to growing the economy”.

Key deflected criticism and instead blamed the Auckland Council. In a blustering attack reminiscent of the late Robert Muldoon, Key threatened the Auckland Council with over-riding it’s Unitary Plan;

“The effect of the [government] National Policy Statement would vary around the country, but in essence it linked the price of land to demand in the economy. If the land price is going up too quickly (councils) have to amend their plans to release enough land, and if they don’t do that they’ll breach the law. If the Unitary Plan doesn’t meet the demands of Auckland, the National Policy Statement because of the way it works will drive it, mark my words.”

His solution? Build more;

“Look, in the end, we’ve been saying for some time it is not sustainable for house prices to rise at 10, 12, 13 percent a year. The only answer to that is do what we’re doing: allocate more land and build more houses.  It certainly will stop it, there’s no question about that, because if you build enough supply, you eventually satisfy demand.

The mantra to ‘build more, build more‘ overlooks recent statistics which showed that nearly fifty percent of housing in Auckland was being purchased by  investors/speculators;

The Reserve Bank has for the first time unveiled official figures that break out the Auckland market from the rest of the country’s mortgage lending figures. The figures confirm what some previous research and anecdotal evidence has pointed to. Investors are huge in the Auckland market.

The figures show that in April, investors committed to $1.623 billion of the $3.536 billion worth of mortgages advanced in Auckland. That’s just a tick under 46% of the total.

Labour’s Phil Twyford said that in some areas of Auckland, up to 75% of housing was being grabbed by investors/speculators. Twyford said;

“They should start immediately by banning non-resident foreign buys from speculating in New Zealand property, unless they build a new dwelling. That’s the Australian Government policy and we think it makes a lot of sense.”

So unless National is prepared to ban foreigner and local  investors/speculators from purchasing around half of all new housing in Auckland, building new homes will not address the growing crisis.

On the issue of foreign-ownership of residential property, Key was adamant that his open-door, free-market policy of foreign ownership of housing  would be unchanged. Even if it meant New Zealander’s would find  it harder and harder to buy their own home, in their own country. As he said to Corin Dann on TVNZ’s Q+A last year;

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

But Deputy Mayor, Penny Hulse, was having none of  Key’s bullying tactics. She responded with her own tough message;

“We’ve got six and half years of land planned for, infrastructure in the ground and ready to go. Government themselves have got more than 20 special housing areas that belong to Housing New Zealand that are ready to go.  There’s no shortage of places to build. Our question to government would be, perhaps you just need to get on with it.”

The reality is that National is unwilling to implement any policy that might lower property prices. As Key has said previously;

“If it is left unchecked, some buyers could find themselves substantially overexposed in an overvalued market, and we all know what happens if those values start to fall.” –  John Key, 23 July 2013

“Let’s just take the counter-factual for a moment. Would you want your house price going down?  And what most Aucklanders say to me is ‘I’d rather my house price went up, but I’d rather it went up a little more slowly than this’.” – John Key, 6 August 2015

So Key is in a bind. His government’s  continuing popularity is at the pleasure of property-owners with bloated housing values.

Build too many houses or implement too many restrictions (including new taxes), and property values in Auckland and elsewhere in New Zealand might begin to fall, as they did in the late 1990s. That would be a financial shock for many New Zealanders who, through rising property values, are feeling like “millionaires”, albeit on paper.

If that happens, National’s popularity – riding high on 47% – would finally crash and burn, paving way for a Labour-Green(-NZ First?) coalition government next year.

However, National’s desperation to resolve what has become a major public crisis has apparently found a new scape-goat – the Reserve Bank.

National’s cunning plan is for the Reserve Bank to do their “dirty work” for them. If the RBNZ were to implement policies that would result in property values levelling off – or even dropping – then Key and English would have “plausible deniability”. They could point to the Reserve Bank as an independent body and wash their hands of its actions.

Recent demands from John Key for the RBNZ to “get on with it” are not the first time that National has interfered with  the independence of the bank.

In April last year, in a classic example of nepotistic cronyism, Bill English’s brother was appointed to the RBNZ as an “advisor”;

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Finance Minister Bill English's brother to advise Reserve Bank on interest rates

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A year later, in April this year, Bill English took an unprecedented step in demanding greater over-sight of Graeme Wheeler, the RBNZ’s Governor;

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Bill English seeks talks on Reserve Bank governor's performance 'from time to time'

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According to the Fairfax report, English said;

“The duties of the board include keeping under review the performance of the governor. I would expect to discuss your assessment of the governor’s performance from time to time.”

On National’s* own website, English went further;

“Ministers typically send letters of expectation to the Boards of entities in their portfolio. This letter was prepared after The Treasury identified an opportunity to bring the accountability framework into line with other Crown agencies.”

This is naked interference in an institution that, since 1989, was to be protected from partisan-political interference. The RBNZ supposedly acts according to legislation – not the demands of the Finance Minister. Not since the Muldoon era has the RBNZ been controlled directly by a government minister.

It can only be assumed that National is meeting stiff resistance from the bank’s Governor, Graeme Wheeler, as English attempts to assert direct ministerial “over-sight” (ie, control) over the institution.

The fact that a recent war-of-words has erupted over the RBNZ’s involvement in Auckland’s housing crisis suggests that English’s Very Kiwi Coup may not have been successful.

In fact, the Cold War has become a Hot Conflict.

In the last week, the ‘battleground’ between National and the Bank became more public, as government minister and chief Head-Kicker, Steven Joyce and Grant Spence continued their war-of wills.

6 July, 1.10 AM

John Key;

But my sense is potentially one of the risks is you have got people buying rental properties at the moment, borrowing more money but fearful that the Reserve Bank is going to move. If they are going to make changes, probably they should just get on with it.”

7 July

Grant Spencer (RBNZ);

“Increased housing demand has been driven by record net immigration, low mortgage interest rates and increasing investor participation. Net migration flows continue to hit new records, with annual net PLT migration now approaching 70,000 persons…

[…]

A dominant feature of the housing market resurgence has been an increase in investor activity. In recent months, investors have accounted for around 43 percent of sales in Auckland and 38 percent in other regions […] The prospect of capital gains appears to remain a key driver for investors in the face of declining rental yields. 

The declining affordability of New Zealand housing and increasing investor presence have seen a downward trend in the share of households owning their own home. This ratio has fallen steadily since the early 1990s, reaching 64.8 percent at the 2013 Census. The recent increase in investor housing activity suggests that the home-ownership rate may have declined further since 2013.

The Reserve Bank considers that rising investor participation tends to increase the financial stability risks relating to the household sector in severe downturn conditions.

[…]

…However, we cannot ignore that the 160,000 net inflow of permanent and long-term migrants over the last 3 years has generated an unprecedented increase in the population and a significant boost to housing demand. Given the strong influence of departing and returning New Zealanders in the total numbers, it will never be possible to fine-tune the overall level of migration or smooth out the migration cycle. However, there may be merit in reviewing whether migration policy is securing the number and composition of skills intended. While any adjustments would operate at the margin, they could over time help to moderate the housing market imbalance.”

8 July, 7.46am

Don Brash (Former Reserve Bank governor);

The Reserve bank has no statutory responsibility for Auckland house prices or indeed house prices anywhere else…

[…]

The Prime Minister wants to pretend this is somebody else’s responsibility.  I think the Reserve bank is absolutely right, that this responsibility for Auckland house prices lies first and foremost with local government Auckland and central government in Wellington.

Central government, because it controls the rate of migration, which is by any international standards a very high level, that pushes  demand for housing.  And of course the Auckland Council,  not just now, but for the last couple of decades has restrained the availability of land on which to build Auckland houses...”

8 July, 7.51am

Steven Joyce (Minister for Economic Development);

“Migration is a contributing factor to housing demand…

[…]

The prime minister’s comment was entirely fair, which is to to suggest to the Reserve Bank [that] if you’re going to these things then, then  do move on them quickly…

[…]

The Prime Minister’s comments on Tuesday were just to highlight the fact that actually if you’re going to make these sorts of changes, do make them reasonably  quickly…

8 July, 7.57am

Grant Spencer (RBNZ);

“What we’re saying is that the, what we’re seeing in the last three years is 160,000 net  in-flow is unprecedented and it’s an important driver of the current housing situation and therefore it  can’t be ignored….

[…]

“You can’t manage or fine tune the migration cycle, we know that, but all we’re saying is that given it’s an important driver that we should be taking a look at that policy – making sure that we’re getting the numbers and the skills that government’s really targeting.”

It’s an important driver in the housing market, yes. There’s no doubt about that. But we’re also saying there’s no easy solution. You can’t manage or fine tune the migration cycle, we know that, but all we’re saying is that given it’s an important driver that we should be taking a look at that policy – making sure that we’re getting the numbers and the skills that government’s really targeting.”

[…]

We’re running at a rate of 60,000 at present, but how many years can we continue running at a rate of 60,000 and continue to absorb that rate. It get’s more and more difficulty when the country doesn’t have that absorbtive capacity.”

Current battle-status: stalemate.

Controlling house prices, as former Reserve Bank governor, Don Brash said, is beyond the bank’s statutory responsibility. On top of which, the RBNZ is unwilling to be the “patsy” for implementing policies (even if it could) that might crash house prices, and make them the Bad Guys in this worsening crisis.

Only a government can act decisively in such matters – but to do so would be political suicide for Key and his fellow ministers.

Fran O’Sullivan is usually sympathetic to the National government, but her column on 6 July was damning of Key’s inaction;

Most National Cabinet ministers and MPs are well invested in “real property”. So are many of their counterparts from other political parties.

Like most of us who are “established” – that is those of us who bought into the housing market a decade or more ago – the MPs have seen their own on-paper wealth double.

Having rejoiced at the wealth effect, neither the MPs nor the rest of us want to take a financial haircut. Key is right on that score.

But it is a pretty crap society that pulls the ladder up on younger people or those less well off just because they want to preserve their new unearned wealth.

[…]

Key again duck-shoved the issue, suggesting it was the Reserve Bank’s responsibility to “have a look at the question around investors”.

What’s notable is his Government will not slap investors with an effective capital gains tax, preferring a “bright line” test which is easily avoided by holding a housing investment for more than two years; refuses to introduce specific taxes to punish land bankers; and will not introduce rules to preserve the acquisition of existing residential housing for citizens or curb migration.

Key could pass special legislation to do this.

The question is why won’t he.

“Why”? Because Key doesn’t want to lose the 2017 election.

This is National’s Achille’s Heel, and it is fully exposed.

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Addendum1

In May this year, a TV3/Reid Research Poll was scathing of National’s inaction on the housing crisis. Even National voters were getting ‘grumpy’;

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tv3-news-housing-poll

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Addendum2

Current ballooning property prices are the highest in the developed world;

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Real house price growth - annual % change

Ad

Addendem3

Latest house price figures:

• $975,087- Auckland: Average house price, up 4.7% in past three months and 16.1% since June last year

• $492,403- Hamilton: Average house price, up 6.9% in past three months and 29% since June last year

• $599,915- Tauranga: Average house price, up 4.9% in past three months and 23.6% since June last year

Latest Inflation Rate:

Inflation is currently at 0.4%, according to Statistics NZ.

Notes

* I have downloaded and retained a copy of the National Party webpage. In the past, National Party webpages tend to “disappear”, and are no longer searchable, making referencing and verification of quotes problematic. If this webpage disappears, English’s comments can still be verified to anyone requesting it. – Frank Macskasy

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References

Radio NZ: Key denies Auckland housing crisis

Fairfax media: Reserve Bank call to look at untaxed property gains

NZ  Herald: John Key to Reserve Bank – Housing measures ‘not terribly effective’

Radio NZ: No change on immigration, says John Key

NZ Herald: Housing crisis – Reserve Bank calls on Government to curb immigration

Beehive.govt.nz: Immigration New Zealand’s contribution to growing the economy

Fairfax media: Key gets tough on Auckland with new policy forcing councils to release land

Interest.co.nz: Investors accounted for nearly 46% of all mortgage monies in Auckland

Radio NZ: Auckland’s home ownership rates ‘collapsing’ – Labour

Scoop media: PM – I don’t want to ban foreign buyers from buying

Radio NZ: Get on with it – Auckland Council tells govt

Fairfax media: Key expects LVRs to go ahead

Interest.co.nz: Key says non-Aucklanders tell him they would love it when house prices are rising

QV.co.nz: How fast is the current property market rising compared to the past? (2013)

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

Fairfax media: Finance Minister Bill English’s brother to advise Reserve Bank on interest rates

Fairfax media: Bill English seeks talks on Reserve Bank governor’s performance ‘from time to time’

National.co.nz: English releases RB Board letter of expectations

NZ Herald: Auckland property: $400k deposit please

Reserve Bank: Housing risks require a broad policy response

Radio NZ: RBNZ wants immigration review to rein in house prices

Radio NZ: Government responds to RBNZ housing speech

Radio NZ: Reserve Bank – Housing risks require a broad policy response

NZ Herald: Fran O’Sullivan – Why won’t Key act on housing?

Fairfax media: Why MPs may want house prices in New Zealand to keep rising

TV3 News: Government gets thumbs down on housing

NZ Herald: Auckland property – $400k deposit please

Statistics NZ: Consumers Price Index: March 2016 quarter

Additional

Radio NZ: Reserve Bank refuses to play housing ball with government

Previous related blogposts

Can we do it? Bloody oath we can!

Budget 2013: State Housing and the War on Poor

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)

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

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

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

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

National under attack – defaults to Deflection #1

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

State house sell-off in Tauranga unravelling?

Upper Hutt residents mobilise to fight State House sell-off

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

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reserve bank - rbnz - national government - housing affordability

Cartoon acknowledgement: Tom Scott, Dominion Post

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 10 July 2016.

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= fs =

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

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Frank Macskasy - letters to the editor - Frankly Speaking

 

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from: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to: NZ Herald <letters@herald.co.nz>
date: Sun, Jul 3, 2016
subject: Letter to the editor

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The Editor
NZ Herald

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

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

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

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

All of which has to be borrowed and paid back.

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

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

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-Frank Macskasy

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[address and phone number supplied]

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References

Radio NZ: $1 billion fund to boost housing build

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

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