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Archive for the ‘Social Issues’ Category

Letter to the editor – Who are the Real Greedies?

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Frank Macskasy - letters to the editor - Frankly Speaking

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It is amazing how many blame the victims of neo-liberal ideology, rather than looking at the causes of why things happen.  Are some people really so simple-minded that they can’t see beyond their immediate prejudices…?

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letter to the editor - dominion post - sylvia moore

 

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So yet again, I point out some ‘home truths’ to people like Ms Moore, who seems to have selective amnesia when it comes to recent history…

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from: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to: Dominion Post <letters@dompost.co.nz>
date: Sat, May 21, 2016
subject: Letter to the editor

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The editor
Dominion Post

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In attacking so-called “loan defaulters”, Sylvia Moore has targetted the wrong group. (letters, 20 May)

She is indeed correct that increased student fees and student loans were introduced in 1992. Before that, tertiary education was near-free.

Beneficiaries of free tertiary education were people like John Key, Bill English, Steven Joyce, et al. Even Paula Bennett was recipient of free tertiary education, through the Training Incentive Allowance – which she scrapped in 2009 after becoming Minister for Social Welfare.

When Moore states that “perhaps if they [student loan defaulters] repaid their loans, the government, might be able to allocate a grant to parents in need of help” misses the point that since 1986 there have been seven tax cuts. The last two in 2009 and 2010 cost over $2 billion per annum

That is why schools and hospitals are being under-funded and children are in need in equipment such as lap-tops, as Ms Moore pointed out.

It is a double standard that we now saddle our youth with massive student debts and threats of prosecution.

Perhaps she should cast her ire at National Ministers who have gained personal benefit from free education and are now abusing their power to force others to pay for what they got for free.

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-Frank Macskasy

[address and phone number supplied]

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References

NBR: Bennett cutting a benefit that helped her – Labour

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

Previous related blogposts

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

Roads, grandma, and John Key

John Key’s track record on raising wages – 4. Rest Home Workers

Aged Care: The Price of Compassion

Tax cuts & school children

Nick Hanauer – a devastating demolition of the Neo-liberal dogma of tax cuts!

Tax cuts and jobs – how are they working out so far, my fellow New Zealanders?

Letter to the Editor – tax cuts bribes? Are we smarter than that?

The consequences of tax-cuts – worker exploitation?

The Mendacities of Mr Key #3: tax cuts

A Message to Radio NZ – English continues fiscal irresponsibility with tax-cut hints

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student-loan-debt

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 22 May 2016.

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Letter to Radio NZ – Homelessness, Poverty, and the Final Solution

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Frank Macskasy - letters to the editor - Frankly Speaking

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from: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to: Morning Report <morningreport@radionz.co.nz>
date: Wed, May 18, 2016
subject: Homelessness and the Final Solution

Kia ora Suzie & Guyon,

I’ve been hearing some of your listeners making comments that the homeless should not have children.

In effect, what they are doing is blaming the poorest in society for their predicament. Really? When did the poor ever decide economic policy in this country?

What those correspondents are saying is only the well-off should have children.

The only question that remains to be answered is what do working families do when they are made redundant and end up in garages or cars with their children – what method do your correspondents advocate to euthenase those children?

Because that is what they’re advocating; a Final Solution for the Poor.

– Frank Macskasy

 

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2016 – Ongoing jobless tally

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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

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Statistics

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jobless rate in New Zealand 5.7 percent April 2016

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Source

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December 2015 quarter – Employment & Unemployment

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unemployment - december 2015 quarter - Statistics NZ

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Labour market at a glance

  • Unemployment rate falls to 5.3 percent.
  • Labour force participation rate falls for third consecutive quarter.
  • Employment growth rises to 0.9 percent for the quarter.
  • Annual wage inflation lowest since March 2010.

Source

Additional analysis;

However, there was also a fall in the number of people looking for work, which also contributed to the lower jobless rate.

The jobless rate fell to its lowest level since 2009, with strong growth in the construction, retail and hospitality sectors.

Job growth was strong in the Auckland region as well as Wellington and Manawatu.

But the data also showed 14,000 people had stopped looking for work for various reasons, even though the size of the workforce had increased, driven by record immigration.

This led to a fall in the participation rate – the number either in work or looking for work – which Statistics New Zealand said also reflected people who had left the labour force, such as the retired.

But an economist said the fall in participation did not tally with growth in jobs and raised doubts about the reliability of the jobs data.

“The HLFS (household labour force survey) has long had questions over its accuracy given that there have often been cases where large ‘surprises’ such as today’s outcome are thrown up. Those questions will linger today,” ANZ senior economist Philip Borkin said.

Source

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March 2016 quarter – Employment & Unemployment

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march 2016 quarter employment at a glance

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Labour market at a glance

  • New Zealand’s labour force grows 1.5 percent, the largest quarterly growth since December 2004.
  • Employment growth exceeds population growth over the quarter.
  • The unemployment rate increased to 5.7 percent, from a revised rate of 5.4 percent last quarter.
  • Wage inflation remains subdued.

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Unemployment – Decadal Comparison

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unemployment decadal comparison 2006 2016

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2006 Source

2016 Source

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Addendum1: Under-employment

The  under-employment stats;

People who are underemployed are those who work part-time, would prefer to work more hours, and are available to do so. In unadjusted terms, the number of underemployed grew by 12 percent over the year. While the number of part-time workers increased over the year, the ratio of people underemployed to employed part-time also rose – from 17.1 percent in June 2013 to 18.7 percent this quarter.

Official under-employment: up

Definitions

Jobless: people who are either officially unemployed, available but not seeking work, or actively seeking but not available for work. The ‘available but not seeking work’ category is made up of the ‘seeking through newspaper only’, ‘discouraged’, and ‘other’ categories.

Under-employment: employed people who work part time (ie usually work less than 30 hours in all jobs) and are willing and available to work more hours than they usually do.

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

Addendum2: Other Sources

Statistics NZ:  Household Labour Force Survey

Addendum3: Definitions

“Labour force participation rate”  –   the total labour force expressed as a percentage of the working-age population. Labour force participation is closely linked to how the working-age population is defined.

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To  be periodically up-dated.

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

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national-and-john-key-blames

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As I have pointed out in previous blogposts, when threatened with bad headlines or a scandal of some description, National’s automatic defense is to generally to default to one of three* deflections;

  1. Blame previous the Labour government
  2. Release story on ‘welfare abuse’
  3. Blame Global Financial Crisis or similar overseas event

There are plenty of past instances of this kind of strategy.

In February 2013, the Auditor-General found that National gave Skycity special treatment when negotiating a convention centre in return for 500 additional pokie machines. In a damning report, Deputy Auditor-General Phillippa Smith said;

“Although decisions were made on the merits of the different proposals, we do not consider that the evaluation process was transparent or even handed.”

National’s response was immediate. The following day, Associate Social Development Minister Chester Borrows launched into an attack on so-called welfare fraud;

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government-cracking-down-on-benefit-fraud

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In May 2014, faced with mounting criticism over National’s incompetent mis-handling of legalised synthetic marijuana, our esteemed Dear Leader announced a new policy to introduce a new, restrictive, regulatory framework for psychoactive substances. Key had no shame in blaming Labour for the  Opposition attempting to offer solutions to a botched drug-policy that National was wholly responsible for;

Mr Key said that, in hindsight, the Government should have taken an ultra conservative view last year and not given any legal high substances a waiver.

And he said the Labour Party forced his Government’s hand over announcing a new ban on synthetic drugs, which will take effect on 8 May.

The Government’s new ban was announced late on Sunday after the Labour Party said it would announce on Monday its own plan to immediately stop the sale of synthetic cannabis and other psychoactive substances.

Mr Key said his cabinet decided last Tuesday on a ban but wanted to keep quiet about it to cut down on stockpiling by consumers.

He said the Labour Party has not affected the Government’s policies on synthetic drugs but forced its hand in terms of the announcement.

Also in mid-2014, National was hit with multiple bad-news media stories;

Smith gives nod for open-cast coal mine on conservation land

NZ unprepared for a deep water oil spill,  Greens say

Consumers hard hit by hefty electricity price rises

National’s fix over GCSB draws a storm of protest

Loans door shutting on first-home buyers

High petrol prices hit struggling families

Job ad stall hints at unemployment rise

SkyCity deal doesn’t add up: Treasury

Housing plan ‘a weak compromise’

Right on cue,

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thousands-stopped-from-getting-benefits-not-entitled-to

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Currently, our esteemed Dear Leader is facing political, media, and public heat over New Zealand being a party to the tax-haven industry. When challenged, Key first denied that New Zealand was a tax haven;

“Tax havens are where there is non-disclosure of information – New Zealand has full disclosure of information, and so all you’ve got is New Zealand’s taken a different view from a lot of different jurisdictions and that’s because the way we tax is we tax a settlor.

In other words, it’s all about making sure New Zealanders pay their fair share of tax, what we’ve got is quite a legitimate regime.”

As mounting evidence from several sources disproved Key’s weak assertions, he was forced to announce an enquiry into the country’s trust laws.

Then Labour Leader, Andrew Little, challenged Key to disclose his tax-returns – which Key refused point blank.

Again, on cue, National’s media strategists dropped a Deflection #2 ‘bomb’ into the public discourse, with this offensive vilification of ” basically young males” from Bill English;

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Farmers agree Kiwi farm labourers 'hopeless' - radio nz - bill english - beneficiary bashing

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English’s disparagement of young, unemployed New Zealand men was roundly condemned by fair-minded New Zealanders – but the demonisation tactic had worked. For a moment, the public and media had taken their eyes of the Tax Haven ball. Which would not be the first time;

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hey everyone look up there

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However, in making that ill-advised comment, English may have accidentally opened a can of inconvenient but still-salient facts;

  1. Prior to the 2007/08 GFC, unemployment stood at around 3.4% – or 78,000 workers.
  2. As the GFC/Recession impacted on our economy, unemployment reached 7.3% by 2013 – throwing 154,000 people out of work.
  3. Seventysix thousand people lost their jobs as a result of dubious activities in the financial markets. Or did those 76,000 suddenly decide to voluntarily give up their jobs to go on the dole for $200 a week?
  4. Though the official unemployment rate is currently at 5.3% – there still remains 133,000 out of work.
  5. In 2009, National scrapped the Training Incentive Allowance which benefitted many solo-parents looking to re-train and move off welfare into paid employment

The history of entrenched high-unemployment can be seen to have taken root in the late-1980s, as right-wing economic “reforms” were implemented by Roger Douglas and his cronies. Note the rise of unemployment rate and numbers from late 1987 and early 1988, when neo-liberalism was introduced into the economy and workplace;

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trading economics - unemployed persons - 1986 - 1989

 

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trading economics - unemployment rate 1986 - 1989

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Reference: Trading Economics – Unemployed PersonsUnemployment Rate

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So not only was English blaming 133,000 workers for being out of work as the global economy was slowly recovering from the Global Financial Crisis – but is evidently blaming workers for the steady rise of unemployment since the implementation of neo-liberal economics in this country.

Free trade agreements have also played a role in the destruction of jobs in New Zealand. As more and more manufacturing and service jobs were relocated to low-wage societies (China, Vietnam, Pakistan, Fiji, India, etc), the numbers thrown out of work increased in our own country.

Cheap clothes and shoes from low wage societies are not cheap. They were paid for with the jobs of our fellow New Zealanders.

Bill English’s repugnant diatribe at Federated Farmers – where his ignorant, red-neck views no doubt found sympathy with certain elements from the crudely-informed rural community – are in stark contrast with his stated comments on 28 May 2009. As the GFC storm was beginning to buffet our economy, English was full of sympathy as more and more people were ending up unemployed;

“We are particularly concerned that the economy creates new jobs. The burden of a recession falls most harshly on those who lose their jobs and on their communities. We owe them every effort to create the opportunity for a new job.”

Mr English apparently no longer believes “we owe them every effort to create the opportunity for a new job” and has shifted the “burden of recession” firmly back onto the shoulders of the unemployed.

Or perhaps it is high time that people started asking the acolytes of the Church of Neo-liberalism – at what point do they understand and accept that blaming the victims of their failed, inflexible, free-market doctrine will not make that ideology work?

How long do we have to wait, Mr English?

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stock-photo-9680569-square-peg-in-a-round-hole

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Postscript

* In Auckland’s on-going housing-crisis situation, a fourth Deflection can be applied as a useful tactic to take the heat of National’s inept policies;

4. Blame the RMA

Number 4 deflection can be used in conjunction with Number 1 deflection. Or even Deflection #2, for maximum reactionary responses from the ill-informed.

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References

Fairfax media: SkyCity report slates Government ministers

Radio NZ: Govt cracks down on benefit fraudsters’ partners

Radio NZ: Legal highs to be regulated by July

Radio NZ: Thousands stopped from getting benefits not entitled to

Radio NZ: NZ’s ‘world-class’ tax system defended

Parliament: 3. Prime Minister—Statements

TV3 News: ‘No doubt’ NZ is a tax haven – expert

Radio NZ: Farmers agree Kiwi farm labourers ‘hopeless’

Fairfax media: ‘Hopeless’ comment a sign of a tired Government

Employment.govt.nz: Employment and unemployment – March 2008 Quarter

Trading Economics: Unemployed persons

Statistics NZ:  Household Labour Force Survey: September 2012 quarter

Statistics NZ:  Labour Market Statistics: December 2015 quarter

NBR: Bennett cutting a benefit that helped her – Labour

Scoop media: Speech – Bill English – Budget 2009

Additional

Radio NZ: Deputy PM will not apologise for comments (alt. link) (audio)

Other bloggers

The Daily Blog: Hypocritical narrative blames the victim rather than the cause for economic ‘failings’

The Standard: Trickledown has failed

The Standard: Offers of help flood in to Bill English

Previous related blogposts

Benefit fraud? Is Chester Borrows being totally upfront with us?!

The Mendacities of Mr Key #2: Secret Sources

John Key – Practicing Deflection 101

National under attack – defaults to Deflection #1

National under attack – defaults to Deflection #2

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Yellow-crosses

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 17 April 2016.

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

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milk-crate-4bottle

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Recently obtained OIA figures from the Ministry of Social Development reveal that 836 schools currently participate in the Kickstart food-in-schools programme. The programme began in 2009, between Fonterra and Sanitarium, to address a growing child poverty crisis.

According  to MSD’s data, over 100,000 breakfasts  are served to 27,061 children on a weekly basis.

This is in stark contrast to John Key’s claims on 5 November 2014, that hungry children in schools was only a minor problem;

“I do not believe that the number of children who go to decile 1 to 4 schools who do not have lunch is 15 percent. I have asked extensively at the decile 1, 2, 3, and 4 schools I have been to. Quite a number of principals actually even reject the notion that they need breakfast in schools. Those who do take breakfasts in schools tell me that for the odd child who does not have lunch, they either give them some more breakfast or provide them with lunch. But what they have said to me is that the number of children in those schools who actually require lunch is the odd one or two.”

The odd one or two” is contradicted by the ministry’s own figures which states that from 13 December 2013, “more than 5.9 million breakfasts  have been served since expansion“.

This would tally from Key’s own admission, on 18 October 2011, that poverty in New Zealand was continuing to worsen under his administration;

Mr Key made the concession yesterday when asked about progress with the underclass, saying it depended what measures were used but recessions tended to disproportionately affect low income earners and young people.

He said he had visited a number of budgeting services and food banks “and I think it’s fair to say they’ve seen an increase in people accessing their services. So that situation is there.”

National expanded the Kickstart programme in May 2013, in response to growing public disquiet and clamour to address the spectacle of children turning up hungry in our schools. It was also in response to Hone Harawira’s  Education (Breakfast and Lunch Programmes in Schools) Amendment Bill (aka, “Feed the Kids” Bill), which had been included six months earlier in the private member’s ballot system.

As Harawira explained in May 2014,

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"I know this bill isn't the full answer — that families need more work and better wages to feed their kids every day all week long and that much more needs to be put in place to turn around rising child poverty levels in Aotearoa. "All I want to do with this Bill is make sure our kids get fed while this is being done."

I know this bill isn’t the full answer — that families need more work and better wages to feed their kids every day all week long and that much more needs to be put in place to turn around rising child poverty levels in Aotearoa.
“All I want to do with this Bill is make sure our kids get fed while this is being done.”

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National’s subsequent, watered down programme to feed hungry children was derided by then-Labour leader, David Shearer;

“National’s been dragged kicking and screaming to the finish line on this. It’s only through public pressure and the pressure of Opposition parties like the Labour Party that’s got them there. But overall, it’s good for those kids who go to school hungry.”

In June 2013, then Social Development Minister, Paula Bennett, assured Radio NZ that only another hundred schools would take up the expanded Kickstart programme.

By the beginning of 2014, the programme was expanded to include all decile 1 to 10 primary, intermediate, and secondary schools.

However, MSD’s Deputy Chief Executive, Murray Edridge,  revealed that there had been a “47 per cent  increase since the expansion of the programme” in 2013;

“82 per cent of all participating schools are now providing KickStart breakfasts for more than two days per week and 58 per cent of schools are serving breakfasts for all five days of the week.”

This is at variance with Key’s assertions – made as late as 19 March last year – that hungry children going to school was not a problem. In minimising the problem, Key said;

“These are the facts,” Mr Key said. “At Te Waiu o Ngati Porou School, Ruatoria, Decile one, how many children came to school without lunch – answer – zero.”

At Sylvia Park School, decile two – there one or two kids, and at Manurewa Intermediate, a decile one school with a roll of 711, perhaps 12 had gone to school with no lunch.

Yes there is an issue where some children come to school without lunch. That number of children is relatively low.”

The rise in demand for KickStart breakfasts occurred at the same time as those on  welfare benefits was cut dramatically;

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley said today the 309,145 people on benefit at the end of the December 2014 quarter was 12,700 fewer than last year.

“This is the lowest December quarter since 2008 and the third consecutive quarter with such record lows,” Tolley says.

Numbers on the Jobseeker Support benefit had fallen by more than 5500 since last year and had declined consistently since 2010, even as the overall working age population increased.

Even children with disabilities did not escaped this government’s culling of welfare recipients;

More than 11,000 disabled children have lost access to a welfare benefit that is supposed to support them, as officials try to rein in previously-ballooning costs.

A Child Poverty Action Group report on disabled children, launched in Auckland today, said children supported by the child disability allowance almost trebled from 17,600 in 1998 to 45,800 in 2009, but were then cut back to just 34,500 last June.

The cut has been achieved both by tightening criteria and by simply not publicising the allowance.

The problem of hungry school children drew John Key’s attention as far back as 2007, when he was still Leader of the Opposition;

National launches its Food in Schools programme
Sunday, 4 February 2007, 1:21 pm
Press Release: New Zealand Government

John Key MP
National Party Leader

3 February 2007

National launches its Food in Schools programme

National Party Leader John Key has announced the first initiative in what will be a National Food in Schools programme.

“National is committed to providing practical solutions to the problems which Helen Clark says don’t exist,” says Mr Key.

During his State of the Nation speech on Tuesday, Mr Key indicated National would seek to introduce a food in schools programme at our poorest schools in partnership with the business community.

Mr Key has since received an approach from Auckland-based company Tasti foods.

“I approached Wesley Primary School yesterday, a decile 1 school near McGehan Close, a street that has had more than its fair share of problems in recent times. I am told Wesley Primary, like so many schools in New Zealand, has too many kids turning up hungry.

“We’re putting Tasti and Wesley Primary together. This is a fantastic first step. In addition to this, Tasti has indicated they may wish to expand their generous donation of food to other schools in need, and we’ll be looking to facilitate that.

“We all instinctively know that hungry kids aren’t happy and healthy kids.”

Mr Key is also inviting other businesses to contact National so it can work on expanding the programme.

“I want this to be the first of many schools and businesses that we put together. I’m interested in what works and I am humbled by the support this idea has received already. We are going to put together the package while in Opposition. We are not waiting to be in Government, because all our kids deserve better.”

According to National,  this was a critical problem in 2007.

Yet, on 19 March, National and it’s coalition supporters voted down Mana’s “Feed the Kids” Bill (which had been taken over by the Green Party after Hone Harawira lost his Te Tai Tokerau seat in 2014). The Bill was defeated 61 to 59, courtesy of National, ACT, and Peter Dunne.

MSD also disclosed that 26 applications for participation in the KickStart programme had been declined. This included Early Childhood Education (ECE) providers. No reason was given despite the OIA request specifically asking the basis for which applications were declined.

This indicates that pre-schoolers are presently attending ECE facilities and going hungry.

The MSD also admitted that Charter Schools – which are funded at a higher rate than State and Integrated Schools – also participate in the KickStart programme. Their information did not reveal how many or which Charter Schools were participating. The MSD statement confirmed that “the provision of the [KickStart] programme  does not affect a school’s funding“.

Kidscan currently lists fourteen schools that are still awaiting “urgent support, that’s 1,661 children waiting for food, clothing and basic healthcare“.

In contrast, several European nations provide free meals to school children;

The school lunch provides an important opportunity for learning healthy habits, and well-balanced school meals have been linked to improved concentration in class, better educational outcomes and fewer sick days. Given the importance of these meals, what is being done across Europe to ensure all children have a balanced and enjoyable lunch?

Many countries in Europe have policies to help schools provide nutritionally balanced meals which also reflect the general eating culture of each nation. Often, lunch is eaten in a cafeteria-like setting where children receive food from a central service point (e.g. Finland, Sweden and Italy).

In Finland and Sweden, where all school meals are fully funded by the government, lunches follow national dietary guidelines including the ‘plate model’. An example meal is presented to guide children’s self-service…

Finland – which consistently scores highly in OECD PISA educational rankings – introduced free school meals in 1948;

Finland was the first country in the world to serve free school meals. 1948 is seen as being the year when free school catering really  started, though catering activities on a smaller scale had been around since the beginning of the 20th century.

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Section 31 of the Basic Education Act states that pupils attending school must be provided with a properly organised and supervised,  balanced meal free of charge every school day.

[…]

The role of school meals is to be a pedagogical tool to teach good nutrition and eating habits as well as to increase consumption of  vegetables, fruits and berries, full corn bread and skimmed or low fat milk.

Interestingly, the Finns describe free school meals as an Investment in Learning;

In Finland, we are proud of our long history of providing free school meals…

… A good school meal is an investment in the future.

With rising housing and rental costs, and wage increases  at or below inflation, not every family can successfully balance budgets to ensure a nutritious meal for their children. When it comes to a decision whether to pay the power bill, or cut back on groceries for the week – it is often the latter that is sacrificed.

The Salvation  Army recently  outlined the problem of the phenomenon known as the “working poor“;

Every week 314 new people contact the Salvation Army for assistance, and those who are currently working are often at risk too.

[…]

The Salvation Army says it is meeting more and more responsible people who have experienced misfortune that has derailed their lives.

It believes the cost of rent is a dangerous factor, even for those working.

“It doesn’t leave a lot of room for something to go wrong,” says Jason Dilger, a representative for the Salvation Army. “I do believe there are a significant number of people out there who are vulnerable.”

It says an increasing number of Kiwis are living pay-by-pay, but ideally everyone would have a financial safety net set aside to help with any unexpected hiccups.

“So many people aren’t even in a position to think that way because they’re just trying to meet expenses week to week.”

In a 2014 report, the Salvation Army stated;

Given the recent growth in the number of jobs available and the gradual decline in levels of unemployment, we should have seen a  tapering off in demand for food parcels from food banks. We have not seen this. Such demand has remained virtually unchanged since 2010, which suggests that many households are still struggling to pay bills and feed their family despite the economy recovery. Overall living costs of low income households appear to be moving in line with general inflation.

Which illustrates that the problems faced by poor, lowly-paid, and beneficiary families is not choices in expenditure – but low incomes which fail to meet the many day-to-day, week-to-week, demands placed on them.

From the 1950s through to the  1970s, a single income was often sufficient to raise a family and pay the bills.

In contemporary New Zealand, this is no longer the case. Falling rates of home-ownership is just one indicator that incomes are not keeping pace with rising costs of living.

Growing child poverty is another symptom of the increase in inequality since the mid-1980s. Prior to the 1980s, food banks were practically an unknown rarity;

Nationally, the number of foodbanks exploded following the 1991 benefit cuts, and the passage of the Employment Contracts Act (ECA). For those in already low-paid and casual jobs, the ECA resulted in even lower wages (McLaughlin, 1998), a situation exacerbated by the high unemployment of the early 1990s (11% in 1991). The benefit cuts left many with debts, and little money to buy food (Downtown Community Ministry, 1999). In 1992 the introduction of market rents for state houses dealt another blow to state tenants on low incomes. By 1994 it was estimated that there were about 365 foodbanks nationally, one-fifth of which had been set up in the previous year (Downtown Community Ministry, 1999).” – “Hard to swallow – Foodbank Usage in NZ”, Child Poverty Action Group, 2005

Shifting responsibility for this ever-growing problem onto  victims of inequality and poverty is a form of denial. It is little more an attempt to evade the problem, especially when no practical solutions (other than class-based eugenics) are offered.

Addressing the real causes of poverty and working-poor will be a tough call. Ensuring that all children are provided nutritious meals at school is the first step down this road.

As John Key said nine years ago;

“We all instinctively know that hungry kids aren’t happy and healthy kids.

… all our kids deserve better.”

Indeed, John. I couldn’t have said it better.

Postscript

The MSD response to my OIA request also confirmed that the increased up-take of the KickStart programme was not restricted solely to low-decile schools;

Since the expansion [in 2013] 170 schools rated decile five or higher have joined the programme.

Which indicates that schools in middle-class areas are now requiring State assistance to feed hungry children.

 

 

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References

Email: OIA Response from Ministry of Social Development

Kickstart Programme: Home

NZ Herald: Key admits underclass still growing

NZ Herald: 300,000+ Kiwi kids now in relative poverty

Parliament Today: Questions and Answers – November 5

Scoop media: Hone Harawira – Feed the Kids Bill

NZ Herald: Harawira’s ‘feed the kids’ bill begins first reading

Radio NZ: Govt gives $9.5m to expand food in schools programme

Radio NZ: Government to expand food in schools programme (audio)

Kickstart Programme: FAQ

NZ Herald:  Government votes down ‘feed the kids’ bill

Radio NZ: Parliament rejects free school lunch bills

Fairfax media: Beneficiary numbers fall again: Government

NZ Herald: 11,000 disabled children lose welfare benefit

Scoop media: National launches its Food in Schools programme

Radio NZ: Ministry says charter schools “over-funding” is $888,000

Kidscan: Supporting Schools

European Food Information Council: School lunch standards in Europe

Wikipedia: Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) – 2012

NZ Federation of Family Budgetting: Why are so many of us struggling financially?

Child Poverty Action Group: Hard to swallow: Foodbank use in New Zealand

Additional

Fightback: Feed the Kids, end the hunger system

NZ Herald: Number of Kiwi kids in poverty jumps by 60,000

Previous related blogposts

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

National dragged kicking and screaming to the breakfast table

Are we being milked? asks Minister

High milk prices? Well, now we know why

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

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 29 February 2016.

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Letter to the editor: Setting it straight on user-pays in tertiary education

19 February 2016 3 comments

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Frank Macskasy - letters to the editor - Frankly Speaking

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Labour’s promise of a return to (limited) free tertiary education appears to be unsettling some, for whom the last thirty years has been dominated by the implementation and bedding-in of  user-pays (often gradually, so as not to spook the punters) ; reduced-tax; and minimalist-government ideology;

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letter to editor - the wellingtonian - sue usher - student debt

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I replied to Ms Usher’s public expression of “guilt twinges”…

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from: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to: The Wellingtonian <editor@thewellingtonian.co.nz>
date: Sat, Feb 13, 2016
subject: Letter to the editor

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The editor
The Wellingtonian

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Sue Usher defends user-pays in Universities, asserting, “anyone who takes out a loan on anything surely knows that there’s no such thing as a free lunch; you are not given money, you are lent it”. (letters, 11 Feb)

Prior to 1992, there were no student loans/debt. Tertiary education was paid from taxes, with the expectation that graduates would, in turn, pay for following generations.

That was the social contract.

That contract dissolved when successive governments introduced user-pays, with seven tax cuts in 1986, 1988, 1996, 1998, 2008, 2009, and 2010. The burden of higher education shifted from society, onto individuals. By 2014, student debt reached $14.8 billion.

Ms Usher admits this unfairness, “I acknowledge that repaying a loan and trying to buy a first home is a mighty challenge and feel slightly guilty that my generation did not have any such system”.

John Key and Tertiary Education minister, Steven Joyce, should also feel a twinge of guilt. Both obtained their University degrees free, paying almost nothing.

Those who parrot the cliche that education is a “private good” should consider if our doctors, scientists, engineers, teachers, et-al, all decided to pack up and move overseas.

Or if none of us could read and write.

Education benefits us all, which user-pays fails to recognise.

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-Frank Macskasy

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[address and phone number supplied]

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Additional

Salient: A short history of tertiary education funding in New Zealand

Ministry of Education: Student Loan Scheme Annual Report 2014

IRD: Student Loan Scheme Amendment Act 2014 – Arrest at border

Fairfax media: Joyce defends student loan crackdown

Fairfax media: Student loan arrest could prompt others to address debt

NZ Herald: ‘I don’t think I’m a criminal’

Teara.govt.nz: National Party – The ‘mother of all budgets’

Sunday Star Times: Politics – John Key – A snapshot

Wikipedia: Steven Joyce

National Party: Steven Joyce

Related blogposts

Letter to the Editor: Steven Joyce – Hypocrite of the Year

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

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 14 February 2016.

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

11 February 2016 6 comments

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student-loans-debt

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Prologue

As reported in a previous blogpost last year (Steven Joyce – Hypocrite of the Week);

Fun Fact #1: Student loan stood at $14.235 billion, as at 30 June 2014 – up from 9.573 billion in 2008.

*Up-date* – Student loan stood at  $14.837 billion as at 30 June 2015 – up from $14.235 billion in 2014.

Fun Fact #2: As at 30 June 2013, 721,437 people had an outstanding student loan, registered with Inland Revenue. That’s roughly 16% of the population.

Fun Fact #3: Approximately 1.2 million people – roughly a quarter of the population –  have taken out  student loans.

Fun Fact #4: Students have borrowed $20.119 billion of which  $9.157 billion has been collected in loan repayments.  More than 415,000 loans have been fully repaid.

Fun Fact #5: $1.031.7 billion in loan repayments were received, $22.2 million less than last year. The total number of students completing formal qualifications reached 144,000 in 2013 – a decrease of 0.6% from 2012. The number of people enrolled in tertiary education has dropped, from  504,000 in 2005 to  about 420,000 (in 2014).

Fun Fact #6: The student fees/debt system began in 1992. Prior to that, students  had access to Bursaries and Student Allowances and tuition fees were minimal.

Fun Fact #7: “The median borrowing increased – from $7,441 in 2013 to $7,708 in 2014. The median loan balance also increased – from $13,882 in 2013 to $14,421 in 2014. Both were driven by higher fee borrowing: fees are rising and students are more likely to take more expensive courses. In the 2014 academic year, 72.4% of eligible students took out a loan, down from 73.8% in 2013… The number of borrowers in default has declined slightly on 2013/14, but the amount in default has increased.”

Fun Fact #8: On 17 May 2013, National announced new legislation would give the IRD powers to arrest loan defaulters at “the border” (ie, airports) if they are “about to leave or attempt to leave New Zealand after returning from overseas”.

Fun Fact #9: On 18 January this year, the first person arrested at the border for non-payment of a student debt was a 40-year-old with  an  outstanding debt that, with interest,  had ballooned from $40,000 to $130,000.

Fun Fact #10: The Prime Minister, John Key, and Tertiary Education Minister, Steven Joyce, both received near-free tertiary education, paid nearly entirely by the New Zealand taxpayer.

Sources: Ministry of Education, Beehive, NBR, and The Wireless

Some Recent History: 1972 – 1992

Prior to 1992, tertiary education at Universities was mostly free, with minimal course fees. On top of which, a student allowance plus part-time paid employment, was usually sufficient for students to graduate with minimal debt hanging over them.

This allowed graduates to start their adult lives, careers, and families with only as much debt as they chose to take on. This was usually in the form of a mortgage and business start-up costs (if they elected to be self-employed).

Those that earned more in a professional capacity, paid a higher rate of tax. This ensured that those who stood to gain the most, financially, from a near-free tertiary system, paid more in taxation. This – in part – assisted funding for future generations to move through the tertiary education system.

Those that did not achieve high income-brackets could contribute in other ways.

When National’s Ruth Richardson became Finance Minister in 1990, the social contract between generations “paying it forward” was broken. University fees were increased; student loans were made available to cover payment for increasing user-pays;

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Prime Minister Jim Bolger and Finance Minister Ruth Richardson make their way to the House of Representatives for the presentation of the 1991 budget. Richardson was from the radical wing of the National Party, which promoted individual liberty and small government. This was reflected in the budget, which severely cut government spending, including on welfare. Richardson proudly proclaimed her plan as the 'mother of all budgets', but such was its unpopularity among voters that it – along with high levels of unemployment – nearly cost National the next election.

Prime Minister Jim Bolger and Finance Minister Ruth Richardson make their way to the House of Representatives for the presentation of the 1991 budget. Richardson was from the radical wing of the National Party, which promoted individual liberty and small government. This was reflected in the budget, which severely cut government spending, including on welfare. Richardson proudly proclaimed her plan as the ‘mother of all budgets’, but such was its unpopularity among voters that it – along with high levels of unemployment – nearly cost National the next election.

Acknowledgement of image: NZ Herald

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Ironically, Ruth Richardson herself was a beneficiary of New Zealand’s then near-free tertiary education system. In 1972, she graduated from the University of Canterbury with a Bachelor of Law  (Honours).  She immediately went to work – debt-free – for the NZ Department  of  Justice  (NZ).

She has made herself a Limited Liability Company, ostensibly to minimise her tax “liabilities”.  According to her website, her husband is General Manager of “Ruth Richardson Ltd”.

Some Recent History: 1986 – 2010

Though the tertiary education system was far from perfect – for example polytechnics could charge higher student fees – it offered near-free higher education and taxpayers were ultimately beneficiaries of a system that produced doctors, engineers, scientists, and other skilled professionals to take New Zealand into the 21st Century.

Even those who went overseas in pursuit of lucrative work gained valuable experience which benefited the country as a whole, upon their return.

Unfortunately, the social contract between generations was broken as the Lange-Douglas Labour Government implemented neo-liberal policies that included user-pays as a new concept upon which to base State/individual transactions.

Labour did not implement user-pays in tertiary education – but it laid the fertile ground for the following Bolger-Richardson National government to radically change University funding for course fees.

For the right-wing Labour (of the 1980s) and National, smaller government meant tax-cuts, and from 1986 there were no less than seven cuts to taxation;

1 October 1986 – Labour

1 October 1988 – Labour

1 July 1996 – National

1 July 1998 – National

1 October 2008 – Labour

1 April 2009 – National

1 October 2010 – National

Each cut to taxation has meant less revenue for the government and resulted in either reductions to social services, and/or increases in user-pays.

The ballooning of “voluntary” school fees to over a billion dollars since 2000 is the clearest example yet of  tax-cuts making way for the covert rise in user-pays for what is supposedly “free” schooling in this country.

The under-funding of schools and desperate need for parents’ “donations” has become such a pressing problem that Patrick Walsh, of the Principals Association of New Zealand,  has openly suggested that the ideal of  free education should be abandoned;

“I think the basic principle is you undertake a study … of what it costs to actually run a school, all the operational costs including staffing, and you either fund it to the level it actually costs, or you say the pie isn’t big enough to support that and we will now allow schools to charge parents for some of the services.”

Perhaps Walsh has a point. It would at least acknowledge the current semi-user-pays system as a reality, rather than fooling ourselves with dishonest and quaint notions of “school donations”.  Only then might New Zealanders clearly comprehend how we have arrived at a toxic mix of tax-cut bribes and implementation-by-stealth of user-pays in education, and other state services.

Education is not the only state service suffering from lack of adequate funding, as recent media reports from Canterbury and Waikato DHBs indicate. The increasing waiting times for public operations, and painful suffering of people with debilitating medical conditions,  is a telling indicator that our health care system is ailing through lack of funding.

A September 2012 Treasury paper,  “Average Marginal Income Tax Rates for New Zealand, 1907-2009“, revealed;

In 1900 tax revenues were approximately 8% of GDP. They rose to 28% of GDP during WWII and to a high of 37% in 2006. Currently tax revenues make up around 29% of GDP.

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government-tax-revenue-by-source-1903-2011

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Source

Taxation has fallen – as have once-free services which New Zealanders took for granted. At the same time, population growth has put pressure on (reduced) government revenue and spending.

In 1984 the population stood at 3,175,737 (as at 1981 Census).

By 2013: our population had swelled by over a million to 4,242,048 (as at 2013 Census).

We are spending less, for more people, to meet expectations that are simply unrealistic after seven tax cuts.

Rather unsurprisingly, the consequences of successive tax-cuts have been predictable, and well-reported in the media;

According to the most recent data, taken from the 2013 Credit Suisse Global Wealth Databook, 44,000 Kiwis – who could comfortably fit into Eden Park with thousands of empty seats to spare – hold more wealth than three million New Zealanders. Put differently, this lists the share of wealth owned by the top one per cent of Kiwis as 25.1 per cent, meaning they control more than the bottom 70 per cent of the population.

New Zealand’s wealthiest individual, Graeme Hart, is ranked number 200 on the Forbes list of the world’s billionaires, with US$7 billion. That makes his net worth more than the bottom 30 per cent of New Zealanders, or 1.3 million people. 

The Progressive Response

January 31st marked a giant step Kiwi-kind that – if endorsed by voters – could prove to be the the first nail-in-the-coffin for user-pays.

Labour leader, Andrew Little, announced a policy that, while seemingly radical in the 21st century, was common-place policy in this country pre-1980s.

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Labour's announcement welcomed and slammed

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Little proposed;

“… that the next Labour government will invest in three years of free training and education after high school throughout a person’s life.

[…]

Three years of free skills training, of apprenticeships or higher education right across your working life.”

He then pointedly explained not just where the money would come from – but that bribes in the form of  successive tax-cuts had under-mined our once-proud cultural expectations of state-provided services;

“The money is there – the Government just has it earmarked for tax cuts. We will use that money instead to invest in New Zealand’s future.”

In effect, this would be a massive admission of failure in user-pays, and the beginning of rolling back thirty years of New Right doctrine.

The Neo-Libs Strike Back

The response of the National Party and it’s front-organisation, the so-called “Taxpayers’ Union“, has been utterly predictable.

From Tertiary Education minister, Steven Joyce, came these two ‘clangers’ via Twitter;

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Steven joyce - tertiary education - hypocrite

Source

Source

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Judging by the angry responses on Joyce’s Twitter account, his comments were more provocative and self-defeating, than achieving any ‘hits’ on Labour’s policy-announcement.

John Key fared little better after his jaw-dropping gaffe on this issue;

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John Key draws flak after questioning why waitresses' taxes should fund students

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Aside from the usual tactic of playing on low-paid workers’ dire plight to criticise free education (or free anything provided by the State), links were quickly drawn to Key’s on-going assault on waitress Amanda Bailey, in Auckland’s Rosie Cafe;

Prime Minister John Key has drawn a barrage of criticism after questioning if Labour’s fee free study policy was fair on waitresses who would be paying tax to subsidise students.

His comments also drew a quick response from some critics on social media who drew the link with Key’s repeated pulling of Auckland cafe waitress Amanda Bailey’s ponytail.

Key’s rhetorical question attempted to paint free tertiary education as unfair on low-paid workers;

“How much should the waitress.. how much of her taxes should go to a student who will absolutely earn a lot more?”

The question could equally be put;

“How much should the waitress.. how much of her taxes should go to…”;

  • National Ministers  gifting themselves 34 new BMWs. The last batch – bought in 2011 – are to be replaced only after about three years’ use. Cost? Unknown. According to National, the price is “commercially sensitive”. (Code for *politically embarrassing*.)
  • Subsidies and special tax concessions to Warner Bros for ‘The Hobbit‘, and to other movie companies? Cost – ongoing.

But the main question should be;

“How much should the waitress.. how much of her taxes should go to paying for tax-cuts for the top 1% of  New Zealanders.”

When National cut taxes for high-income earners in 2010, and raised GST from 12.5% to 15%, this was essentially a transfer of wealth from low-income earners to the uber-wealthy. Low income earners pay disproportionately more in GST than the wealthy.

People like Ruth Richardson can structure their tax-affairs by registering as a limited liability company (or using Trusts and other accounting trickery) – which allows her to claim back on GST – this puts the rest of us at a distinct disadvantage.

Other companies such as Facebook and Apple have made big profits in New Zealand, but paid minimal tax. Facebook paid $23,034 in 2013/14 (out of alleged revenue of just $846,391), whilst Apple paid $5.5 million in 2012/13 (out of $571 million revenue).

As for criticisms from the so-called “Taxpayers Union” – this is a front-organisation for National. It’s organisers are party apparatchiks from National and ACT;

Jordan Williams is closely connected to the likes of David Farrar, Cameron Slater, and Simon Lusk – all of whom are hard-Right National/ACT supporters and apparatchiks.

Right-wing blogger, David Farrar, is one of the  Board members of the Taxpayers Union. He has been a member of the National Party since 1986, as his candid Disclosure Statement on Kiwiblog reveals.

John Bishop; businessman; columnist for the right-leaning NBR; and authored a “puff piece” on National’s Deputy Leader, Bill English; Constituency Services Manager,  ACT Parliamentary Office, April 2000 – August 2002, “developing relationships with key target groups and organising events”.

Gabrielle O’Brien; businesswoman; National Party office holder, 2000-2009.

Jordan McCluskey; University student; member of the Young Nationals.

Jono (Jonathan) Brown; Administrator/Accounts Clerk at the Apostolic Equippers [Church] Wellington, which, amongst other conservative policies,  opposed the marriage equality Bill.

See: A Query to the Taxpayers Union – ***UP DATE ***

Publishing criticisms from the “Taxpayers Union” is simply another PR statement from National, masquerading as independent analysis.

People’s Exhibit #1 – The Case for Key’s and Joyce’s Hypocrisy

Undeniably the worst aspect of National’s condemnation of  free tertiary education rests with our esteemed Dear Leader, John  Key, and Tertiary Education minister, Steven Joyce.

Both men were recipients of free, tax-payer-funded, University education.

In Key’s case, his  was obtained at Canterbury University, from 1979 to 1981;

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POLITICS - John Key - A snapshot - tertiary university education - free education

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Has Key re-paid any of his University education? One suspects the answer is a firm “no”.

And with seven tax cuts, neither did he pay for it with taxation, as high-income earners paid less and less since 1986 – five years before graduating.

In Joyce’s case, as first reported on 6 August 2015, in a previous blogpost;

  1. Steven Joyce, born: 1963.

  2. After completing a zoology degree at Massey University, Steven started his first radio station, Energy FM, in his home town of New Plymouth, at age 21 (1984).

  3. Student Loan system is started: 1992.

Joyce completed his University studies and gained his degree eight years before the Bolger-led National government introduced student fees/debt in 1992.

One wonders how Joyce reconciles his free tertiary education – as well as benefiting from seven tax-cuts, along with John Key – with justifying National’s  issuing warrants-to-arrest for loans defaulters;

Just because people have left New Zealand it doesn’t mean they can leave behind their debt.  The New Zealand taxpayer helped to fund their education and they have an obligation to repay it so the scheme can continue to support future generations of students.

Key and Joyce never paid for their free University tuition.

Yet they expect other New Zealanders who followed in their foot-steps to pay for theirs.

Or face arrest.

What does it say about us as a nation, when we elect hypocrites as our elected representatives, who bludge of the tax-payer?

If this does not fly in the face of New Zealanders’ values of fairness and giving everyone a fair go – then we are not the same people we once were.

Postscript

Tweet from Steven Joyce, condemning Labour’s policy for free tertiary education;

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Steven joyce - tertiary education - hypocrite - achieving nothing

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Can we take it from the Tertiary Education Minister that his own university education “achieved absolutely nothing”?

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References

National Business Review: Budget 2015 – student loans – does the government dare to act?

Ministry of Education: Student Loan Scheme Annual Report 2014

Beehive.govt.nz: Celebrating student support under Labour

Ministry of Education: Student Loan Scheme Annual Report 2015

The Wireless: Getting by on a student budget

IRD: Student Loan Scheme Amendment Act 2014 – Arrest at border

Fairfax media: Joyce defends student loan crackdown

Fairfax media: Student loan arrest could prompt others to address debt

NZ Herald: ‘I don’t think I’m a criminal’

Teara.govt.nz: National Party – The ‘mother of all budgets’

Statistics NZ: Annual unemployment rate has increased from 1987

Ruth Richardson NZ Ltd: Ruth Richardson CV

Ruth Richardson NZ Ltd: Home page

Fairfax media: ‘Free’ education cost set to mount to more than $1 billion

Fairfax media: ‘Human scandal’ as Christchurch elderly refused access to surgeries

Fairfax media: ‘Painful wait’ for surgery

NZ Treasury:  Average Marginal Income Tax Rates for New Zealand, 1907-2009

NZ 1984 Yearbook: 3A – General Summary – Increase of population

Statistics NZ: 2013 Census Usually Resident Population Counts

Oxfam NZ: Richest 10% of Kiwis control more wealth than remaining 90%

Radio NZ: Labour’s announcement welcomed and slammed

Andrew Little: State of the Nation speech

Twitter: Steven Joyce

Twitter: Steven Joyce

Fairfax media: John Key draws flak after questioning why waitresses’ taxes should fund students

NZ Herald: Govt backtracks on limo statements

NZ Herald: Complaints laid against Murray McCully over Saudi farm deal

Radio NZ: Saudi abattoir deal will proceed – PM

Fairfax media: NZ government shells out $11m on New York apartment for UN representative

Fairfax media: NZ diplomat involved in decision to buy $6.2m luxury Hawaiian mansion

Otago Daily Times: Smelter gets Meridian, Govt lifeline

Rio Tinto.com: Rio Tinto announces a 10 per cent increase in underlying earnings to $10.2 billion and 15 per cent increase in full year dividend

NZ Herald: GST rise will hurt poor the most

Fairfax media: Time to pay some tax, Facebook?

NZ Herald: Apple’s NZ unit coughs up 0.4pc tax

Kiwiblog: Disclosure Statement

Sunday Star Times: Politics – John Key – A snapshot

Wikipedia: Steven Joyce

National Party: Steven Joyce

Fairfax media: IRD monitoring 20 for possible arrest in student loan repayment crackdown

Additional

Salient: A short history of tertiary education funding in New Zealand

NZ Herald: Minister to students – ‘keep your heads down’

Other bloggers

The Daily Blog: John Key said WHAT about waitresses’???

The Daily Blog: Why does Steven Joyce hate education so much?

Previous related blogposts

A Query to the Taxpayers Union

A Query to the Taxpayers Union – ***UP DATE ***

Know your Tory fellow travellers and ideologues: John Bishop, Taxpayers Union, and the NZ Herald

Greed is good?

It’s official: Political Dissent Discouraged in NZ!

Shafting our own children’s future? Hell yeah, why not!

Hon. Paula Bennett, Minister of Hypocrisy

Budget 2013: How NOT to deal with Student loan defaulters

Budget 2013: Student debt, politicians, and “social contracts”

Steven Joyce – Hypocrite of the Week

Anne Tolley’s psycopathy – public for all to see

Letter to the Editor: Steven Joyce – Hypocrite of the Year

The Mendacities of Mr Key # 15: John Key lies to NZ on consultation and ratification of TPPA

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*Note: For New Zealand audiences, simply replace "Social Security" with Superannuation, and "Medicare" with public health system.

*Note: For New Zealand audiences, simply replace “Social Security” with Superannuation, and “Medicare” with public health system.

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

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