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The Free-market, Hyper-individualism… and a Culture of Cruelty?

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Up till recently, I had believed that there were two facets comprising to create a  neo-liberal economy (not “society” – neo-liberalism does not recognise community or society where individuals organise for a greater collective good).

The first was a free market predicated on minimal regulation; reduced government; greater reliance of private enterprise to deliver services; and a lower tax-take which forces future left-leaning governments to curtail vital infra-structure and social-spending.

As Coalition Finance Minister, Grant Robertson clearly told the told the country in March this year;

“We’ve put aside $42bn over the next four years for capital investment but you know what? It won’t be enough. We understand that we need to take a more innovative approach to the financing of infrastructure.”

Which was well understood by National’s former Finance Minister, Steven Joyce,  when he accused Labour of a so-called “$11.7 billion fiscal hole” in their pre-election costings.

National’s tax cuts of 2009 and 2010 were not just an election bribe at a time the country could ill afford them – they were a strategic move to constrain a future Labour-led government in a tight fiscal straight-jacket.

Then-Finance Minister, Bill English, said that the 2009 tax cut represented a $1 billion loss of revenue to the National government;

“About 1.5 million workers will receive a personal tax cut, injecting an extra $1 billion into the economy in the coming year.”

The following year, National’s tax would be estimated to cost the State at least $2 billion in lost revenue.

This was well-under-stood by commentators, analysts, politicians. National-leaning John Armstrong explained this in straight-forward terms;

The message is Labour – if it wins – is not going to spend money the new Government will not have…

… is not going to make promises in advance he cannot keep.

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The yawning chasm of the Budget deficit meant there was no new money to spend. Some cherished policies would have to be introduced progressively – rather than in one go. Savings would have to be found; sacrifices would have to be made. And so on.

That was penned by Mr Armstrong in 2011. It still holds true today.

The second facet of neo-liberalism is promulgation and amplification of the Cult of the Individual. Whether this means cheaper imported goods at the expense of local industry and jobs; doing away with retailing restrictions (or even planned, deliberate breaking of the law); easier access to alcohol and subsequent social impacts; the primacy of the Individual’s rights for self-interest and gratification would trump communities expectations of collective  responsibility; social cohesion; the health and wellbeing of the population, and the greater good.

For example, attempts by communities to restrict and reign in plentiful availability of cheap alcohol is usually  met with a predictable vocal chorus of indignant outrage from people for whom the Right To Buy When/Where-ever supercedes any societal problems. The most spurious arguments are presented, attempting to portray consumers as hapless “victims” of “bureaucracy-gone-made”. Or “Nanny statism”.

Yet, the cost of alcohol abuse was estimated to be approximately $5.3 billion in 2016. That’s $5.3 billion that could have been invested in education, health, public transport,  housing, conservation and pest control, increased research in green technologies, etc.

The heavy  costs of alcohol abuse is socialised, whilst profits are privatised to business and their shareholders. For many, it is more important to be able to buy a drink at 4am in the morning than social problems arising from easy availability.  For some individuals, that convenience outstrips whatever harm is occurring elsewhere. “It’s not my problem”, is the thought that often runs through the minds of many who demand their rights – regardless of consequences.

But there is a third aspect – like a third leg to a three-legged stool – that must exist if neo-liberalism is to thrive: Cruelty.

A certain amount of callousness; disdain; and outright hatred must replace  compassion, egalitarianism, and a sense of community cohesion if the neo-liberal version of “society” is to operate successfully.

It is the reason why neo-liberalism never took hold in Scandinavian countries.

It is the reason why – once a foothold was gained in the late 1980s – successive governments ensured the neo-liberal model was maintained in this country.

Almost by definition, neo-liberalism cannot operate in a society which has values diametrically opposed to it. It took an “economic crisis” in 1984/85 for the Lange-led Labour government to impose Rogernomics.

In 1991, Ruth Richardson used the “BNZ Crisis” to implement drastic cuts to health, education and welfare. Housing NZ tenants were forced to pay market rents. User-pays was introduced for hospitals and schools – though the public resisted and ignored the $50/nightly charge for public hospitals.

Neo-liberalism could not have been introduced so easily without the convenient constructs of various so-called “economic crises”. The mainstream media at the time was complicit in the “reforms” sweeping every aspect of New Zealand’s cultural, social, and economic activity.

But once introduced, the speed of so-called “reforms” accelerated and opposition became harder. Mass protests seemingly had little or no effect. The change of government in 1990 from Labour to National only made matters worse – Richardson’s “Mother of All Budgets” plunged the country further into recession.

For the following thirty years, the neo-liberal paradigm ruled unchallenged, with perhaps the rear-guard action from the now-defunct Alliance, and a few stubborn media commentators who still asked uncomfortable questions where we were heading as a country.

By 2002, the Alliance was crippled and forced out of Parliament.

The remaining critical voices of media commentators grew fewer and fewer.

The “revolution” was all but complete. Neo-liberalism was bedded-in, supported by a propertied Middle Class feeling “wealthy” with bloated house-values and bribed with seven tax cuts since 1986.

But all was not well in Neo-liberal Nirvana.

There were embarrassing reminders that the notion of “trickle down” – now repudiated by the New Right as an ‘invention’ by the Left – was not working as per expectations of devotees of the Chicago School model. As Budget Director for the Reagan Administration, David Stockman, said;

“It’s kind of hard to sell ‘trickle down, so the supply-side formula was the only way to get a tax policy that was really ‘trickle down.’ Supply-side is ‘trickle-down’ theory.”

It became apparent that the promises of neo-liberalism were largely faith-based. Enormous social problems were being caused as corporate power increased;  union power waned; wages stagnated; wealth drained away to a tiny minority; and simple things like home ownership rates were falling dramatically.

Tellingly, it was the gradual loss of the great Kiwi Dream of home ownership that was a litmus test-paper for the toxicity of neo-liberalism’s false premises and empty promises.

Ironically, this was happening at a time when mortgage money was easier and cheaper to obtain from the banks. But only if you earned a high income or already owned property to borrow against. Or could rely on the Bank of Mum and Dad.

Those who already had the assets could hope to get more.

Those at the bottom, or struggling middle classes, would miss out.

For many, they discovered that hitting rock-bottom wasn’t as low as you could go. For growing numbers of New Zealanders, “bottom” meant a shredded welfare safety-net  that had gaping holes in it under the National government;

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Added to a mounting housing crisis, various National ministers exploited every opportunity to portray the poor; the homeless; the chronically sick; unemployed; young people; in the worst possible light. They were authors of their own misfortune, according to former PM, John Key;

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National’s Bill English disdain for young unemployed was made abundantly clear on several occasions;

In 2016;

“ A lot of the Kiwis that are meant to be available [for farm work] are pretty damned hopeless. They won’t show up. You can’t rely on them and that is one of the reasons why immigration’s a bit permissive, to fill that gap… a cohort of Kiwis who now can’t get a license because they can’t read and write properly and don’t look to be employable, you know, basically young males.”

Last year;

“ One of the hurdles these days is just passing a drug test. Under workplace safety you can’t have people on your premises under the influence of drugs and a lot of our younger people can’t pass that test.”

And again in December this year;

Government’s fees-free policy will ‘soak up staff out of McDonald’s’...”

English’s demonisation of unemployed and young New Zealander’s appeared at complete variance with those same people desperate for paid work. But that did not make him pause in his attacks.

Housing for the poor, the homeless, and vulnerable was also on National’s “hit list”, as they pursued their agenda to down-size state activity in housing.

First came the “reviews” and people’s live upended as National ended tenancies based on an ideological notion that state houses were not for life. The social problems resulting would be euphemistically known later as “unintended consequences”;

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National’s response was predictable,

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Therein lay their own seeds for electoral  defeat three years later.

In the years that followed, National portrayed welfare beneficiaries and Housing NZ tenants as negatively as they could possibly get away with.

The meth-hysteria portrayed HNZ tenants as hopeless, lazy drug fiends. National was only too happy to fan the flames of demonisation, as it allowed National to evict tenants and sell off state houses.  Their policy in September last year was unequivocal, and linked gangs and drugs, with Housing NZ tenants;

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The press statement above was issued by former welfare beneficiary-turned-National Minister, Paula Bennett. The same Paula Bennett who, only eight months later, lamented on Radio NZ;

“I’ve always had concerns… I just didn’t think that the 0.5 [microgram limit] sounded right. I questioned [the Health Ministry] in particular who had set that standard, questioned Housing NZ numerous times, got the Standards Authority involved.”

She suggested tenants should be compensated. That was ‘big’ of her.

She also stated,

“[I] was horrified that people might be smoking P in houses, I’m not going to shy away from that.

Then I started seeing reports and I remember one in particular from an expert – he said, ‘You can just about get more P residue off a $5 note than you could have at some of these houses with 0.5 micrograms’ and so that raised alarm bells for me.

But … then who am I to be standing in and saying at what level I felt that [the limit] should be?”

Maybe she could have asked Sir Peter Gluckman. He was the government’s Science Advisor at the time. The one appointed by John Key. Yeah, that one.

Or, she could have paid more attention to a 2014 MSD report which revealed a staggeringly low rate of drug-use amongst welfare beneficiaries;

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Yeah, that one!

But that would have gotten in the way of National’s cunning plan.

Plans that drove thousands of welfare rolls, as Key’s administration struggled to balance the government’s books after two unaffordable tax cuts in 2009 and 2010;

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In September 2017, on TV3’s ‘The Nation‘,  then Welfare Minister, Anne Tolley, described National’s drive to reduce welfare recipients in the most Orwellian way;

“But we do have a significant number of people who are looking for work, who are capable of working, and so most of them, it’s just a light touch to help them along the way.”

In the same interview, Lisa Owen challenged Minister Tolley on the fate of welfare beneficiaries who had been pushed off welfare. Minister Tolley admitted that she and the National government had no idea what had happened to the thousands of people, including families with children;

Lisa Owen: How do you know that they’re going on to a better life?

Tolley: Look, there’s a whole lot of people that don’t want the state in their lives. Tracking people is awful. They go off the benefit—

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Anne Tolley: They go off the benefit for a whole variety of reasons.

Lisa Owen: How can you claim success, though, for that when you don’t actually know if they’re earning more money than they were on the benefit—?

Anne Tolley: We do track if they come back on to benefit, and we do have a close look at what has happened. As I say, we do do a lot of training. We do provide a lot of opportunities for people to retrain.

Lisa Owen: But you don’t know what’s happening to those people. You’ve got no idea.

Anne Tolley: We have 44% who self-identify to us that they’re going off into work. You know, people go overseas. They age into superannuation. There’s a whole lot of reasons why.

Lisa Owen: All right, so you don’t know.

Thankfully, former PM John Key was more forthcoming in 2011 that New Zealand’s “under class” was growing.

As National ramped up it’s campaign of  denigration and punitive action against welfare beneficiaries and Housing NZ tenants, compliant State organisations were reaping their victims.

One was forced to suicide;

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One was a victim of damp housing and poverty-related disease;

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One was chased for a welfare debt she could have no chance of repaying – but MSD pursued it “in case she won Lotto“;

MSD was trying to recover approximately $120,000 from a chronically-ill beneficiary in her 50s who will never be able to work again. The Ministry has pursued her for years and spent a large amount on the case, even though it is plain the woman has no money and her health will never allow her to work again.

The judge asked the Crown lawyer whether it was worth continuing to pursue the beneficiary.

The lawyer responded that it was, as the beneficiary might win Lotto and would then be able to repay the money.

And the most recent example of victimising the homeless simply defies comprension;

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Homeless men at the “drop-in centre” were shaken awake through the night every half hour.

All because the facility was not compliant with fire and building consents. To it’s credit the Rotorua Lakes Council said “fire and building consents were being rushed through so people could sleep at the shelter“.

But Mr Deane – the organisor of the facility ” was told yesterday [5 July] that they had to remain awake until the necessary  consents were granted”.

The common term for this is sleep deprivation.

It should not be forgotten that the practice of sleep deprivation was one of the five techniques used by the British government against Northern Irish citizens arrested in 1971. Subsequently, in January 1978, in a case taken by the government of Ireland against Great Britain, in the the European Court of Human Rights, ruled that the five techniques – including sleep deprivation – “did not occasion suffering of the particular intensity and cruelty implied by the word torture … [but] amounted to a practice of inhuman and degrading treatment“.

Sleep deprivation was determined to be a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In 2010, the British government lost a Court appeal to prevent public release of a report revealing the practice of sleep deprivation torture had been used against British resident, Binyam Mohamed. The Court judgement stated;

“The treatment reported, if it had been administered on behalf of the United Kingdom would clearly have been in breach of  [a ban on torture].

Although it is not necessary for us to categorise the treatment reported, it could be readily contended to be at the very least cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of BM by the United States authorities.”

In 2014, the UN committee against torture condemned the United States for allowing sleep deprivation to be used as a torture technique against prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. The United States governments calls such practices “enhanced interrogation”.

To discover that sleep deprivation is being used against homeless men in New Zealand is disturbing.

To realise that a practice considered torture by various international organisations has barely been reported by the mainstream media – is deeply troubling.

We have reached rock-bottom as a society when people are being subjected to “a practice of inhuman and degrading treatment” – simply because they are homeless.

This is the definition of  abuse against the vulnerable: they are unable to fight back because they are utterly powerless.

If this practice of sleep deprivation was carried out in our prisons, there would be a major Royal Commission of Inquiry.

But not when the subject of this abuse is the homeless. Their powerlessness is worse than men and women incarcerated in our prisons, despite being “free”.

The cruelty shown to our welfare beneficiaries; to Housing NZ tenants; and to the homeless, has been sanctioned by a sizeable ‘chunk’ of our population;

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(2008) (2011) (2014) (2017)

Fully a quarter of the country’s population has continued to endorse the National Party at four consecutive general elections.

What does this say about a quarter of the population’s attitude to what has amounted to a campaign of vilification and  denigration against those at the bottom of our social-economic ‘ladder’ – a campaign that has been skillfully carried out to facilitate pushing people off welfare and selling off state houses.

This degree of callous cruelty has been led by various  ministers in the previous National government who have mis-used information; misled the public; and made derogatory comments against those whose sole ‘crime’ was to be poor.

This was bullying from the highest level of power, toward those at the lowest level of powerlessness.

National’s subtle and graduated vilification of the poor made cruelty permissable in a country which once valued tolerance, fairness, and egalitarianism.

When depriving homeless men barely merits a mention in our media, and few bat an eyelid, what other possible conclusion can be made?

This Coalition government is constrained fiscally when it comes to welfare and state housing.

It suffers no such constraints when it comes to showing strong moral leadership to reject State-sanctioned cruelty.There is no fiscal cost to compassionate leadership that lifts up the powerless.

There are good men and women in Labour, the Greens, and NZ First. That is perhaps their strongest common bond between all three; a rejection of the culture of callousness that has seduced and poisoned the hearts and minds of so many New Zealanders.

Every Minister in this coalition government can reject decades of a culture of cruelty by reaffirming the humanity of the unemployed; solo-mums; youth; sickness beneficiaries; state house tenants; the drug and alcohol addicted; and the homeless.

Every Minister in this coalition government can use their position of power to speak on behalf of the powerless.

Every Minister in this coalition government can remind all New Zealanders that we are not bullies; we are better than that. If we cannot look after the powerless in our own society – then what possible hope is there for us and our children’s future, to be a compassionate society?

This will be the defining point of difference between what we have been – and what we hope to become.

This is what will inspire New Zealanders to choose what we aspire to be, and what kind of leadership will take us there.

Cruelty or compassion? Hopefully that will be the true point of difference in 2020.

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~ In Memory ~

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~ Emma-Lita Bourne ~

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~ Wendy Shoebridge ~

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References

Radio NZ: Robertson on infrastructure – $42bn ‘won’t be enough’

Fairfax media: Steven Joyce sticks to $11.7 billion hole in Government budget

Scoop media: Government delivers April 1 tax cuts, SME changes

Scoop media: Govt’s 2010 tax cuts costing $2 billion and counting

NZ Herald: John Armstrong – Labour confined to a fiscal straitjacket

Dominion Post: ‘Pressure valve’ medics patch up night’s drunks

Fairfax media: Alcohol – How can we reduce the harm it causes?

RBNZ: Banking crises in New Zealand – an historical perspective

NZ Herald: July 1984 – When life in NZ turned upside down

The Encyclopedia of New Zealand – Te Ara: The ‘mother of all budgets’

Wikipedia: The Alliance

NZ Initiative: Defeating the trickle-down straw man

The Atlantic: The Education of David Stockman

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

Interest.co.nz: Housing mortgage rates are more likely to go down rather than up

Fairfax media: Bank of mum and dad could be NZ’s sixth largest first-home mortgage lender

NZ Herald: Auckland teen couple face sleeping in car

TVNZ: More homeless people sleeping in cars

Mediaworks/Newshub: The hidden homeless – Families forced to live in cars

NZ Herald: Minister spells out $43,000 ‘salary’ claim for solo mum

NZ Herald: Benefit cuts for drug users defended by PM

NZ Herald: Bennett increases pursuit of welfare ‘rorts

Fairfax media: Key – Mums of one-year-olds better off working

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

NZ Herald: Beneficiary birth control ‘common sense’ – Key

Fairfax media: House call plan to nab benefit fraudsters

NZ Herald:  Unions demand Bill English apologise for describing jobseekers as ‘pretty damned hopeless’

Fairfax media:  Bill English says employers are regularly telling him that Kiwis can’t pass drug tests

Twitter: Newshub – Bill English “soak up staff out of McDonalds”

Frankly Speaking:  Fact Sheet – Employment-Unemployment and Queues for Vacancies

Dominion Post: State tenants face ‘high need’ review

Fairfax media: Nearly 600 state house tenants removed after end of ‘house for life’ policy

Fairfax media: Housing policy will destabilise life for children

NZ Herald: State housing shake-up – Lease up on idea of ‘house for life’

Fairfax media: Housing policy will destabilise life for children

NZ Herald: ‘No point’ in new state houses – Bill English

National: New crack down on gangs and drugs

Radio NZ: Paula Bennett: HNZ too cautious on meth testing

Beehive: PM appoints Chief Science Advisor

NZ Herald: Minister claims low drug result as victory

NZ Herald: Bennett trumpets 5000 fewer on DPB

Fairfax media: Number on benefits drops, reaction mixed

NZ Herald: Over 5300 benefits cut due to info sharing

NZ Herald: Benefits cut for 13,000 parents in new regime

NZ Herald: 11,000 disabled children lose welfare benefit

Radio NZ: About 2000 children hit when parents lose benefits

Radio NZ: Thousands losing benefits due to paperwork

Mediaworks/TV3: The Nation – Welfare Debate

NZ Herald: Key admits underclass still growing

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

NZ Herald: Damp house led to toddler’s death

Catriona Maclennan: Loans to feed kids are income and disqualify benefit, says MSD

Radio NZ: Homeless shaken awake as Rotorua shelter awaits consents

European Court of Human Rights: Case of Ireland v. The United Kingdom

BBC: Binyam Mohamed torture appeal lost by UK government

The Guardian: UN torture report condemns sleep deprivation among US detainees

Wikipedia: New Zealand general election, 2008

Wikipedia: New Zealand general election, 2011

Wikipedia: New Zealand general election, 2014

Wikipedia: New Zealand general election, 2017

Additional

Gordon Campbell:  Ten Myths About Welfare – The politics behind the government’s welfare reform process

Other Blogposts

Public Address: We are, at last, navigating out of the “meth contamination” debacle

Pundit:  Beneficiary ‘impact’ highlights poverty of social policies

The Daily Blog: A Fair suck of the sauce bottle!

The Daily Blog: New Government response to MSD sadism is just not good enough

The Standard: Loans to feed kids are income and disqualify benefit, says MSD

Previous related blogposts

Week Watch – 7 June

Easter Trading – A “victimless crime”?

Professor Bill English lectures young New Zealanders on free education

The Mendacities of Ms Amy Adams – “hidden borrowing”?!

Tracy Watkins – Getting it half right on the “Decade of Deficits”

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 10 July 2018.

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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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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…

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

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Soon after criticising the Coalition for “hiding debt in SOEs” – a capital offense that National was guilty of in 2009, and which contributed to  bankrupting Solid Energy by 2015 – National Party’s finance spokesperson, Amy Adams, was at it again.

This time, Ms Adams was making claims on housing that official figures could not sustain. Her talking-up of National’s so-called “achievements” in social housing collapsed when exposed to scrutiny.

Appearing on TVNZ’s Q+A on 20 May, Ms Adams’ criticisms of the Coalition government were rigorously  challenged by a bemused Corin Dann. At every opportunity she took to attacking the Coalition, Corin Dann was able to turn the criticism back on National.

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National Party’s Finance Spokesperson, Amy Adams – A bad case of Foot-in-Mouth affliction.

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When Ms Adams asserted that;

“Even Treasury is saying that the GDP growth that they’re forecasting is only held up because of strong and, in fact, growing immigration numbers…”

– Corin Dann responded with undisguised disbelief;

“Are you seriously criticising this government for relying on immigration to grow its economy when your government relied on immigration and housing?”

Ms Adams became increasingly defensive. Instead of holding the current Coalition government to account, it rapidly became a cross-examination of National’s own track record whilst in government.

At one point, Ms Adams asserted;

” Just take state housing for example — we promised 2000 new houses a year, so 6000 over three years. This government is now committing to deliver less than they promised and only 1600 a year. “

If National had been re-elected last year; and if those six thousand new State houses had been built – it would have made little appreciable difference to homelessness in New Zealand.

In 2008, according to it’s 2008/09 Annual Report, Housing NZ stated that it’s housing stock stood at 69,173 (p25).

Housing NZ’s 2016/17 Annual Report revealed “we own or manage approximately 63,000 homes”. (p7)

After eight years in government, National had managed to “lose” six thousand state houses.

Meanwhile, waiting lists for state homes have rapidly ballooned as the scourge of homelessness worsened under National.

In March 2008, there were 206 applicants for a State house in the “A” Category: deemed “at risk”. There were 3,605 in “B” Category: deemed “in serious housing need”. Total: 4,017.

(NOTE: There were additional categories – “C” and “D” – considered less urgent by Housing NZ. These two categories were removed from Housing NZ’s books after July 2011.)

Since March 2016, the waiting list for a state house went from 4,017 in 2008, dropping to  3,352 in June 2015, and skyrocketing to 7,890 in March this year;

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Indeed, had National not disposed/sold/transferred 6,000 state houses and had they proceeded to build an additional 6,000 as Ms Adams asserted on Q+A, they could well have put a serious dent into homelessness, over-crowding, and living in sub-standard hovels in this country.

Instead, homelessness has worsened to an extent where National was forced – reluctantly – to even concede that there was a crisis. National went from this last year;

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– to this, this year;

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It took a long time.  Ocean-going behemoth oil tankers have made course corrections faster than National Party policy changes.

Unfortunately, National’s election policy on Housing offered scant information how they intended to resolve this crisis. Tellingly, their policy document referred to “social housing” once – and then only very briefly;

Freeing up Crown Land to see 34,000 more affordable, market and social houses built over the next ten years.

There is no reference to state housing.

Despite a NZ Herald report in July 2016;

In the past financial year, HNZ built or bought 871 state houses.

Its rate of construction will now be ramped up to around 1300 state houses this financial year, 1500 the following year, and around 2000 the year after.

– there appears to have been very little movement in increasing Housing NZ’s stock.

The same Herald story reported that;

Over the next two years, Housing New Zealand will also build another 800 affordable houses to be sold on the open market.

– effectively turning Housing NZ into a profit-driven property developer.

Ms Adams may have based her claim of  “2000 new houses a year, so 6000 over three years” on that Herald story. But Housing NZ’s own Annual Reports do not back up her numbers.

Once again, National’s spokespeople have been caught out embellishing the truth at best – or – telling deliberate fibs at worst. (A third option is that Ms Adams was simply making-up-policy-on-the-hoof.)

One thing is clear. Under a re-elected National government, this;

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– would have become this;

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References

Mediaworks/Newshub: Govt not honest about debt in new Budget – Amy Adams

Fairfax media: Solid Energy announces voluntary administration ahead of sale

Scoop media:  Q+A – Amy Adams interviewed by Corin Dann (transcript)

Housing NZ: Annual Report 2008/09

Housing NZ: Annual Report 2016/17

Housing NZ: Quarterly Housing Sector and Housing Assistance Report – March 2008

Housing NZ: Briefing for the Minister of Housing – December 2011

Ministry of Social Development: Housing Register

Mediaworks/Newshub: Flat house prices prove there’s no crisis – National housing spokesman Michael Woodhouse

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

National Party: National’s comprehensive housing plan

NZ Herald: Housing New Zealand to spend $2 billion on new state houses

Other Blogs

The Standard:  There is no housing crisis in New Zealand

Previous related blogposts

Solid Energy – A solid drama of facts, fibs, and fall-guys

Solid Energy and LandCorp – debt and doom, courtesy of a “fiscally responsible” National Govt

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!

National continues to panic on housing crisis as election day looms

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

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

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National’s new-found concern for the poor

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There are times when National’s opposition to the Coalition government’s new policies leaves one shaking their head in utter dismay.  Jami-Lee Ross – a notorious union-basher and unrepentant enemy of workers – shedding crocodile tears for the poor of this country, is not a pretty sight…

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A response was called for, pointing out the crass hypocrisy of National to invoke the welfare of the poor to score a cheap political point;

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from: Frank Macskasy
to: NZ Herald <letters@herald.co.nz>
date: 29 April 2018
subject: Letter to the editor

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Letters to the editor
NZ Herald

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National’s transport spokesperson, Jami-Lee Ross, recently criticised the new Coalition government’s plans to promote the use of electric vehicles. On 27 April, Ross said;

“It would effectively be a tax on the poor, you’d see the poorest New Zealanders who are purchasing second-hand Japanese imports having to pay the levy which would go towards subsidising electric vehicles for those who are more likely to be wealthier – and more likely to be able to purchase an electric vehicle.”

The sheer hypocrisy for Ross to cry a river of crocodile tears for the poor when, for nine years, National caused great harm to the poorest families and individuals of our once egalitarian nation.

Specifically, National;

  • raised ACC levies for workers by a staggering 21%
  • increased GST from 12.5% to 15% – raising food prices 4% that year
  • announced increases for petrol excise duty of 3 cents per litre for 2013, 2014, and 2015*, with Road user charges increasing similarly
  • raised Family Court fees to $900
  • increased prescription charges from $3 to $5
  • implemented the infamous “paperboy tax” in 2012 by cutting children’s tax refunds
  • and other increases to government charges, fees, surtaxes, et al

Ross would do well to examine National’s own abysmal record. They hardly helped the poorest families struggling to make ends meet.

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-Frank Macskasy

[address and phone number supplied]

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* 9 cents/litre, spread over three years.

Ross also demanded that the Coalition government do more to purchase electric vehicles;

“I’d encourage this government to continue with what National did by exempting road-user charges, I’d encourage them to continue to purchase more electric vehicles as a government, so the government fleet is full of more electric vehicles.”

The new Labour-Green-NZ First government certainly could not do worse than their National predecessors. In 2016, National’s then Minister for Energy, Simon Bridges, dumped proposals to assist in the purchase EVs for  State agencies;

Cabinet has pulled the handbrake on its Electric Vehicles plan, pulling proposals to help agencies cover the extra cost, documents show.

Bridges’ excuse was about as pathetic as a Crown minister could possibly get;

But Transport Minister Simon Bridges says he canned the two proposals, in order to be “more ambitious” later.

This is the National Party lecturing the rest of us how to curtail greenhouse gas emissions.

They have nothing to offer except more of the same failed policies from the 20th Century that have led humanity to the abyss of cataclysmic climate change.

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References

Scoop Media:  Union biting the hand that feeds

Youtube: Ports behind bill

Radio NZ:  National – petrol car levy will hurt the poor

Fairfax media: Workers to pay large increase in ACC levies

Radio NZ: PM defends proposed GST increase

NBR: GST increase pushes food prices up

Fairfax media: Plans for Family Court attacked

Fairfax media: Prescription price rise hits vulnerable

Ministry of Transport:  Increases to petrol excise duty and road user charges

NZ Herald: Budget 2012 -‘Paper boy tax’ on small earnings stuns Labour

Fairfax media:  Cabinet handbrake proves ‘government lack of leadership’ on electric vehicles – Greens

Radio NZ:  NZ’s summer the hottest on record – Niwa

Other Blogs

The Standard: National’s 18 new taxes

Previous related blogposts

National MP admits collusion with bosses to set up strike-breaking law!!

The many mendacities of Mr Bridges – a few volts short of an EV

2017: Parting shots from the Right: tantrums, bloated entitlements, and low, low expectations for our Youth – toru

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 3 May 2018.

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National spins new “fake news” narrative: there is no health crisis

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National is under attack. It’s reputation as a “prudent fiscal manager” is threatened by a growing realisation that it has achieved government surpluses at the expense of under-funded DHBs, decaying infrastructure, poorly resourced mental healthcare, budget cuts to DoC, frozen funding for Radio New Zealand, cuts to early childhood education and schools, etc.

After nine years of frozen budgets (a cut, once inflation, population growth, and other pressures are factored in), New Zealanders have been made to understand the painful realities of austerity-National-style;

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It is against a backdrop of  startling revelations that hospital buildings are rotting from within and threatened with sewage leaking through walls, that National’s credibility has been challenged.

The new narrative is that National’s so-called “successful fiscal stewardship” has been achieved by deferring vitally-needed spending on critical infrastructure and basic social services.

In essence, after nine years in government, National is being held to account.

But National is beginning to push-back on the new narrative.

This became apparent on 29 April, on TVNZ Q+A’s Twitter account when several ‘tweets’ by obvious-National tribalists (and one disaffected ex-Labour member) all featured a similar theme.  The recurring use of the terms “false story” appeared several times along with the short-hand cliche, “fake news”;

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All of which could be dismissed as the self-induced, delusional denials of individuals who identify a little too closely with the National Party – except it does not end with a handful of misguided National Party members.

On the same day Q+A was broadcast, and whilst National’s faithful Keyboard-warriors were engaging in “fake news” denials all over social media, NewstalkZB posted this on their Twitter account;

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NewstalkZB’s website carried this story that the above ‘tweet’ referred to;

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On  TV3/Newshub, Woodhouse was reported as saying;

[Michael Woodhouse] said the Government has racked up a “woeful litany” of broken promises in just six months, including “the manufactured Middlemore crisis, raising massive expectations for nurse pay increases he won’t now meet, the debacle of the air ambulance tender, inertia and an unnecessary inquiry in mental health”.

Woodhouses’ statements were taken from a National Party Press Release, dated 29 April, where he alleged;

“The Prime Minister recently stated the issues at Middlemore Hospital are emblematic. I agree – emblematic of a Government that has manufactured a crisis that doesn’t exist in order to mask its broken promises.

The Minister’s record now includes the manufactured Middlemore crisis, raising massive expectations for nurse pay increases he won’t now meet, the debacle of the air ambulance tender, inertia and an unnecessary inquiry in Mental Health and now a billion dollar broken promise. This is a woeful litany after just six months in office.”

Woodhouse has a singular gift for misrepresenting facts and ‘bending the truth’ when it suits him.

On 12 February 2018 on Radio NZ, National’s Housing spokesperson – Michael Woodhouse – responded to New Zealand’s housing crisis – by denying it!

He stated categorically;

“They acknowledge that social housing includes housing provided by NGOs [non governmental organisations] but then ignore that when they conclude that the number of state housing properties have gone down. Clearly that hasn’t happened, they’ve gone up.”

His assertion “that the number of state housing properties have … gone up” was a bare-faced lie.

After nine years in office, National had disposed of some six thousand state houses. As this blogger reported in February this year;

In the 2008/09 Annual Report, Housing NZ stated that it “manages a portfolio of more than 69,000 houses” (p4).

Nine years later, Housing NZ’s 2016/17 Annual Report revealed “we own or manage approximately 63,000 homes”. (p7)

Either Mr Woodhouse’s or my arithmetic is way out, because that is a 6,000 drop in State housing.

National’s track record after nine years in government is so bad that that cannot rely on the truth to validate themselves.   Instead, they must resort to lies.

National’s MPs and their tribalist supporters have nothing to be proud of.

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References

Fairfax media: Is National really better than Labour with the Government books? Well, not really

Radio NZ: Doctors blame under-funding for DHB blowouts

Mediaworks: Sickening state of Auckland hospital buildings revealed

Radio NZ: DoC funding cut by $40m – independent expert

Mediaworks: What’s behind New Zealand’s mental health funding crisis?

NZ Herald: Govt has cut millions off early childhood education – Study

Manawatu Standard: Struggling schools cut teacher aide hours to keep up with minimum wage increase

NZ Herald: John Drinnan – Radio NZ survives the big freeze

Fairfax media: Funding in Auckland health sector not keeping up with population growth, politicians told

Radio NZ: Sewage leaking into Middlemore building’s walls

Fairfax media: Over 5000 at risk of going blind waiting for treatment, Ministry of Health says

Twitter: TVNZ Q+A

Twitter: NewstalkZB – Michael Woodhouse – 29 April 2018

NewstalkZB:  Government manufacturing a health-sector crisis – Michael Woodhouse

Mediaworks: GP visits might not get cheaper soon after all

Scoop media: Clark confirms broken promise on GP fees

Radio NZ: Housing report paints ‘sobering picture’ of crisis

Housing NZ: Annual Report 2008/09

Housing NZ: Annual Report 2016/17

Related Other Blogs

The Standard: Micky Savage – National’s fiscal ineptitude over Auckland transport

The Daily Blog: Martyn Bradbury -New Zealand’s new Alt-Right Twitter Trolls – Dirty Politics 2018

Previous related blogposts

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

“Fool me once”

The many mendacities of Mr Bridges – a few volts short of an EV

The Mendacities of Mr English – No, I wasn’t told – Yes, I was told

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

Newsflash: apparently our public hospital system is in crisis?!

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 1 May 2015.

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Is this the Political Cartoon of the Year?!

24 April 2018 4 comments

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Can this political cartoon from a Fairfax community newspaper  be the most insightful and damaging to National, ever penned?

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After all the criticisms; all the protests; all the thousands of media stories; and seven years of blogging from myself – it all comes down to one searingly scathing cartoon.

The scandal of rotting hospital buildings and thousands suffering on waiting lists for surgery may prove to be the the beginning of the deconstruction of the myth of National’s “reputation as a responsible fiscal manager”.

The reality is brutally simple. So simple that even the most low-information voters should be able to comprehend: National won elections not on any fiscal responsibility – but by bribing the electorate with tax cuts.

With tax cuts came cuts to state services in health, education, border security, police, DoC, housing, etc. For many New Zealanders, our under-funded state services is more than an academic exercise by the Wellington ‘Beltway’. It’s personal;

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“Doing more with less” became a National government mantra that meant, in reality, over-worked, stressed, and under-paid teachers, nurses, doctors, police, et al, and essential public services pared back or cancelled entirely.

Unfortunately, it may take a while for it to sink through to New Zealanders that we cannot expect a Gold Standard of public services – whilst paying only for a cheaper Bronze-plated level.

We get what we pay for.

That brutal lesson in basic arithmetic started this year: taxes = services.

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References

Fairfax media:  Over 5000 at risk of going blind waiting for treatment, Ministry of Health says

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

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

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 19 April 2018.

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