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Letter to the editor – Bill English dives head first into the cover-up cess-pool

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Frank Macskasy - letters to the editor - Frankly Speaking

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from: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to: Listener <letters@listener.co.nz>
date: 4 April 2017
subject: Letters to the editor

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The editor
The Listener
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On 3 April, our esteemed Prime Minister, Bill English, announced that there would be no independent commission of inquiry into allegations of civilian deaths, injuries, and deliberately destroyed homes in a SAS-led raid in Tirgiran Valley in 2010. It was also alleged that a  prisoner was handed over to Afghan security forces where torture was a well-known interrogation technique.

English’s excuse;

“After considering [that] briefing, [General Keating’s] letter to [Defence Minister] Gerry Brownlee and viewing video footage of the operation, I’ve concluded there is no basis for ordering an inquiry.”

I trust the facts as presented.”

English’s explanation for refusing an impartial inquiry defies credulity.

In effect, an instigator of an alleged crime – the NZ Defence Force – was asked to provide a reason to avoid an inquiry. The NZDF duly complied.

What did English expect, a full admission of wrong-doing by New Zealand forces in Tirgiran Valley? A written, signed confession?

Is this to be the new standard of accountability from National? That any allegations of impropriety is put to alleged offenders; they deny wrong-doing; and English accepts said denials without question?

Let us not forget that on 21 March, the NZDF responded to allegations of civilian deaths and injuries at Naik and Khak Khuday Dad with a flat-out denial;

“The investigation concluded that the allegations of civilian casualties were unfounded.”

Six days later, Defence Force chief, Tim Keating admitted “possible” casualties;

“Subsequent information, received after Operation Burnham indicated that civilian casualties may have been possible […] The investigation team concluded that civilian casualties may have been possible due to the malfunction of a weapon system.”

Both statements are currently viewable on the NZDF  website.

By resisting calls for an inquiry, English has implicated himself in a possible cover-up.

There is no other way to interpret his words.
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.-Frank Macskasy

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[address and phone number supplied]

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Appendix

Email addresses for newspapers for other budding letter-writers wanting to express their demand for a Commission of Inquiry. (Maximum word-length stated in brackets)

Daily Post (250 words)
editor@dailypost.co.nz

Dominion Post (200 word limit)
letters@dompost.co.nz

Listener (300 word limit)
editor@listener.co.nz

NZ Herald (200 word limit)
editor@herald.co.nz

Otago Daily Times (150 words)
odt.editor@alliedpress.co.nz

The Press (150 words)
letters@press.co.nz

Southland Times (250 words)
letters@stl.co.nz

Sunday Star Times (150 word limit)
letters@star-times.co.nz

Waikato Times (200 words)
editor@waikatotimes.co.nz

 

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References

Radio NZ: ‘No basis’ for Afghan raid inquiry – PM

New Zealand Defence Force: NZDF Response To Book

New Zealand Defence Force: Speech notes for Press Conference on Operation Burnham (p6)

Previous related blogposts

Letter to the editor – Commission of Inquiry, NOW!

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 5 April 2017.

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Letter to the editor – Commission of Inquiry, NOW!

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from: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to: Dominion Post <letters@dompost.co.nz>
date: 31 March 2017
subject: Letter to the editor
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The Editor
Dominion Post
 
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Since the release of Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson’s “Hit and Run” on 21 March,  the public has been treated to denials and conflicting information from the NZDF.

On 21 March, the NZDF responded to allegations of civilian deaths and injuries at Naik and Khak Khuday Dad with this statement on their website;

“The investigation concluded that the allegations of civilian casualties were unfounded.”

Six days later, Defence Force chief, Tim Keating stated;

“Subsequent information, received after Operation Burnham indicated that civilian casualties may have been possible […] The investigation team concluded that civilian casualties may have been possible due to the malfunction of a weapon system.”

Both statements are currently viewable on the NZDF  website. They are irreconcilable.

Journalists Hager and Stephenson have presented considerable evidence to back up their investigation findings, including death certificates for those killed in the SAS-led raid.
 

Bill English has refused to undertake a commission of inquiry for reasons that remain unclear.

Until an Inquiry is held, there exists a cloud of suspicion hanging over the NZDF, and the SAS. This is not good enough, especially as there is ample evidence innocent people may have been killed.

What more does Mr English need to warrant an inquiry?

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-Frank Macskasy

(Address and phone number supplied)

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Appendix1

NZDF Statement 21 March 2017

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NZDF Statement 27 March 2017

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Appendix2

Email addresses for newspapers for other budding letter-writers wanting to express their demand for a Commission of Inquiry. (Maximum word-length stated in brackets)

Daily Post (250 words)
editor@dailypost.co.nz

Dominion Post, (200 word limit)
letters@dompost.co.nz

Listener (300 word limit)
editor@listener.co.nz

Otago Daily Times (150 words)
odt.editor@alliedpress.co.nz

The Press (150 words)
letters@press.co.nz

NZ Herald (200 word limit)
editor@herald.co.nz

Southland Times (250 words)
letters@stl.co.nz

Sunday Star Times (150 word limit)
letters@star-times.co.nz

Waikato Times (200 words)
editor@waikatotimes.co.nz

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References

New Zealand Defence Force: NZDF Response To Book

New Zealand Defence Force: Speech notes for Press Conference on Operation Burnham (p6)

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 1 April 2017.

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The Rise and Rise of Daddy State: MSD blackmails NGOs for private data

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Nanny State takes a Shower

What do showers have to do with this issue?

Wait and see.

Spying, Spooks, and Silly Journos

Nearly five years ago, the highly controversial Search and Surveillance Act 2012 was passed by National. As reported at the time;

The Search and Surveillance Act, which was passed through Parliament in March, extends production and examination orders to the police and legalises some forms of surveillance.

It will let more government agencies carry out surveillance operations, allows judges to determine whether journalists can protect their sources, and changes the right to silence.

[…]

Police could complete some forms of surveillance and searches without warrants, but [Police Assistant Commissioner Malcolm] Burgess said the situations were pretty common sense.

Yes, indeed. Police surveillance and seizure powers were being massively extended. But according to the Police Commissioner, citizens could rely on the Police using “pretty common sense” to use them.

Then-Justice Minister, Judith Collins offered this excuse for the extension of police powers;

The new Search and Surveillance Act 2012 brings “order, certainty, clarity and consistency” to messy, unclear and outdated search and surveillance laws.

(Interestingly, the fact that Collins felt the need to use irony-quotation-marks, in her Beehive statement, to enclose the phrase order, certainty, clarity and consistency is revealing.)

This is the same Judith Collins who, in 2009, passed personal phone numbers of a civil servant to far-right blogger, Cameron “Whaleoil” Slater.

A year later,  the Government Communications Security Bureau and Related Legislation Amendment Bill  was being hotly debated throughout the country.

Essentially, the Bill (since passed into law), would allow the GCSB to spy on New Zealand citizens which up to then had been the sole province of the NZ SIS.

National’s  ‘spinned message’ – constantly parroted by Dear  Leader Key – was;

In addition, the Act governing the GCSB is not fit for purpose and probably never has been.  It was not until this review was undertaken that the extent of this inadequacy was known

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The advice we have recently received from the Solicitor-General is that there are difficulties interpreting the legislation and there is a risk some longstanding practices of providing assistance to other agencies would not be found to be lawful.

[…]

It is absolutely critical the GCSB has a clear legal framework to operate within.”

In fact, the law was clear with it’s wording and intent and Section 14 of the Act (since altered to reflect the Amendment) stated with crystal clarity;

14Interceptions not to target domestic communications
  • Neither the Director, nor an employee of the Bureau, nor a person acting on behalf of the Bureau may authorise or take any action for the purpose of intercepting the communications of a person (not being a foreign organisation or a foreign person) who is a New Zealand citizen or a permanent resident.

Some journalists were too lazy to fact-check Key’s lies;

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Journalists who failed to realise that Key was being disingenuous, and simply parroted the government’s official spin, did immense damage to public understanding of the issues involved.

Others, like Audrey Young and Tracy Watkins were sufficiently experienced and knowledgeable to recognise a government ‘stitch-up’ when they saw it;

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“ The GCSB Act 2003 expressly forbids it from spying on the communications of New Zealanders.  But, by a series of snakes and ladders through the stated functions and objectives of the act, it convinced itself it was allowed to help the SIS and police spy on New Zealanders.” – Audrey Young, 26 June 2013

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“ The GCSB’s interpretation of the law was so loose it managed to spy on 88 New Zealanders even though the law specifically stated it was not allowed to do so.” – Tracy Watkins, 3 August 2013

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National ignored strong public opinion wary of extending the GCSB’s surveillance powers. The Bill became law on 26 August 2013.

The Government Communications Security Bureau and Related Legislation Amendment Act was followed by the Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Act (TICS), made law on 11 November 2013.

The TICS law made it mandatory for all electronic communications companies (telcos) to comply with spy  agencies demands to  intercept and decrypt phone calls, txt-messages, and emails.

The excuse for this piece of intrusive legislation from Communications Minister, Amy Adams;

“ The fundamental reason that I have sought to introduce this bill is to safeguard New Zealand public safety and security. ”

The Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Act was, in turn, followed by the Countering Terrorist Fighters Legislation Bill (split into several Bills after it’s Second Reading in Parliament on  9 December 2014).

This Bill, covering  three existing laws, allowed the  SIS  to conduct surveillance on terrorist suspects without requiring a judicial a warrant for up to 24 hours; to conduct secret video surveillance on private property; gave SIS access to Customs Department data in relation to suspected terrorism, and allowed the  Minister of Internal Affairs increased  powers to arbitrarily suspend or  cancel a passport.

The Labour Party were so opposed to this law change  that they voted for it. (NZ First, the Maori Party, and the Greens,  to their credit, voted against it.)

Then Dear Leader  Key used the usual “defending Kiwis against terrorist” bogeyman to justify the State’s growing surveillance powers;

“ The threats faced by New Zealand have grown and it is important that we have the ability to respond to that. The Government has a responsibility to protect New Zealanders at home and abroad…”

Simultaneously in 2014, the IRD signed an agreement to share data with the Police;

Taxpayer information is required to administer New Zealand’s tax system effectively. This information can be supplied by taxpayers, or it can be collected by Inland Revenue during an audit.

Broadly, the government’s current legislative position is that this information is not shared with other government departments on the basis that it is ‘tax secret’.

However, there are instances where sharing taxpayer information relating to serious crime could bring offenders to justice, support the goals of other government departments, and offer the State broad efficiencies.

Up until that point, the IRD expected everyone who earned money – whether from legal or illegal mean – to pay tax. This meant that, for example, sex workers prior to 2003 would be expected to pay tax on their earnings regardless of the fact it was an illegal activity.

The tax department didn’t care where or how the money was earned – they just wanted their “fare share”.

After 2014, the IRD abandoned that policy, and data-sharing with Police was implemented. It means that taxing other illegal activities such as the production and sale of cannabis, is no longer feasible. This has unintentional consequences – such as the hoarding of cash; use of firearms to protect that cash; and violence.

This is part of an on-going wider process of government departments sharing private information with each other.

The Government Communications Security Bureau and Related Legislation Amendment Act, Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Act, and Countering Terrorist Fighters Legislation Bill all follow on from previous extensions of State power, notably  the  Terrorism Suppression Act 2002.

This poorly thought-out law was Labour’s contribution to George Bush’s ill-conceived “War on Terror”.

Throughout National’s three terms in office, it has extended Police powers; widened the scope for the GCSB and SIS to spy on New Zealanders; and created a vast data-sharing network amongst it’s bureaucracy.

MSD, NGOs, and Demands for Data

To date, New Zealanders have been mostly apathetic as the government build up it’s ability to spy and store personal information on us. Most of the government’s “targets” have been so-called “terrorists”, immigrants, criminals, student-debt defaulters, and those on welfare benefits or living in state houses.

Most of Middle New Zealand find it difficult to identify with these elements of our society.

Recently, however, Radio NZ has been running a series of stories and interviews on a disturbing development regarding state aquisition of personal information.

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On 2 March, on Radio NZ’s Nine To Noon programme, Kathryn Ryan interviewed Brenda Pilott, the chairperson  of ComVoices (an umbrella organisation for NGOs).

At issue was the disturbing revelation that the Ministry of Social Development (MSD), presumably under direction from National ministers,  was forcing NGOs to collect and pass  private information about their clients back to the Ministry,  in return for on-going funding. This proviso was to be written into new contracts set to take effect in July this year after negotiations had concluded after Easter.

>Kathryn Ryan interviews Brenda Pilott – 2 March<

Accordingly to Comvoices, NGOs were expected  to pass on;

  • names of clients
  • birth dates
  • ethnicity
  • other personal details such as dependent children’s names

NGOs that refused to share this information with MSD would forego funding. The result would be predictable;

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According to Brenda Pilot, the Ministry’s excuse to demand this data was;

“ They want to be able to find out what services are effective. And that this will provide information over time that will  allow sensible decisions to be made about government funding and where to apply that funding.”

Ms Pilot voiced concerns that private, identifiable  information would be used for tracking individuals who used NGO services. She said that vulnerable people needing to use services such as counselling, Women’s Refuge, Rape Crisis, etc, would be reluctant to engage those organisations and would “walk away”. Ms Pilot was concerned that passing personal, identifiable data to MSD would force NGOs to violate Privacy Laws.

Ms Pilot said that the Privacy Commissioner was also concerned at MSD’s intentions to obtain such data, and was investigating. She said the Commissioner would most likely report on the issue by the end of this month.

On 3 March, Radio NZ reported; grave concerns held by at least one NGO, Women’s Refuge;

Women’s Refuge chief executive Ang Jury said agencies would have to abide by the contract change if they wanted to keep their funding.

“If agencies choose not to share this information they won’t be contracting with the ministry. That’s pretty much where it sits.”

Dr Jury said it was not an ideal situation for the refuge but they were not in a position to say no.

“This is not something that we would happily go out and say, ‘yes, this is exactly what we want to do’.

“If it is going to happen, our job now is to make sure we get the sort of safeguards built around that information that we need to keep our women and children safe,” she said.

At least one privacy lawyer doubted the legality of MSD’s demands;

Privacy lawyer Kathryn Dalziel said the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) looked to be on shaky ground.

“This is a potential breach of privacy because they don’t appear to have identified, anywhere, the purposes for which they are collecting that information.

“There doesn’t seem to be any transparency around it … I also don’t think it’s fair,” she said.

“Principle 2 of the Privacy Act says that if you want to collect information from third party, you have to have a good reason.

“You also have to have … lawful and reasonable purposes for collecting that information in the first place. Now, none of that has been done.”

However, what really raised fears was Ministry of Social Development deputy chief executive, Murray Edridge’s responses to Kathryn Ryan’s  questions. His answers not only failed to reassure, but raised serious concerns as to MSD’s intentions regarding the storage and end-use of personalised, identifiable data.

>Ministry responds to privacy concerns – 3 March<

Edridge parroted the usual monetarist rhetoric of  “the New Zealand public demands that government spend it’s money well”.

When Ms Ryan  put it to Edridge that MSD was attempting to track NGO service-users, he denied it;

“ No we’re not tracking them. What we’re doing is we’re saying to providers, look, for us to understand the effectiveness of services, to understand where the resources are best invested, where we will decide between priorities in terms of investment we need to understand who the people are and what value they get from the services. For some time we’d had concern that investment’s been made in social services where they’re not the most effective mechanism for the people that require them, and this is part of the mechanism by which we understand the clientele better and we understand how we can serve them better and invest in services that are going to support them.”

When Ms Ryan put it to Edridge that anonymised data would work just as well, Edridge kept referring back to needing to know “who these people are“.

Moments later, Edridge contradicted himself by admitting “we know who the clients are, we know all about them“. If that wasn’t creepy enough, Ms Ryan then asked Edridge why MSD demanded further information about NGO service-users. She asked why MSD needed to know who was approaching  (for example) Women’s Refuge for assistance..

Edridge’s response was further contradictory and throughout the twelve minute interview he could provide no satisfactory answer why MSD was requiring personalised data from NGOs. At one point he attempted to cloud the issue by stating that MSD required “demographic information”.

Ms Ryan dismissed that claim by remind Edridge that MSD was seeking names, addresses, ethnicities, children’s names and that was not simply “demographic information”.

When Ms Ryan suggested that NGO service-users might not want their details passed on to MSD or other ministeries, Edridge could only respond,

“ Well, we need to know where to get the money in the right place.”

Four days later, Rape Crisis draw a line in the sand and announced it would  flat out decline to sign contracts with MSD  in return for  passing private information about service-users in exchange for on-going funding.

>Rape Crisis reject “data-for-funding” contracts – 7 March<

By 16 March, pressure on MSD and Minister Tolley was such that the ministry caved, and was forced to step back from demanding personalised data from some NGOs dealing with sexual violence.

>Temporary reprieve over ‘private data for funding’ contracts – 16 March<

The “reprieve”, however, was only temporary, and would last for only one year until MSD “works out how to securely collect and store their clients’ private data”. It also did not apply to all NGOs.

The Creep of Big Brother and the Daddy State

Up till this point, data-collection has centered on those who come in contact with the Justice system; WINZ beneficiaries; and Housing NZ tenants. These are generally New Zealanders who are usually the most deprived and vulnerable socially and financially, and rely on State assistance to survive.

A person seeking help from WINZ and Housing NZ is forced to supply both ministeries their private data. To refuse means no help. Next stop; the street;

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A citizen in contact with the Justice system has even less option to refuse to provide private data.

MSD’s demand for personalised data from NGO service-users marks a new stage in National’s slow advancement in building a data-base on every person in the country.

NGO service users may not necessarily be unemployed beneficiaries or live in state houses or have broken the law in some way – but their details will still be required to be collected and supplied to the Ministry of Social Development.

The ministry has assumed the de facto role of collecting and storing data on New Zealanders who – up till this point – may never have come into contact with any governmental organisation such as Housing NZ, WINZ, or Police.

The implications of this are staggering.

The net to scoop up data on as many citizens as possible, has just widened considerably.

If you think you – the reader – may never need the services of Women’s Refuge or Rape Crisis, consider for a moment that there are thousands  of NGOs operating in this country and hundreds that are funded by the State.

Victim Support is just one state-funded NGO;

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So if you’ve just become a victim of a crime; Victim Support enters your life;  the State now has your personal data on file;

  • Client: Name, address, gender, date of birth, primary ethnicity, Iwi.
  • Dependents: Name, date of birth, relationship to client.
  • Service Level: Information Programme/service name, start date and end date.”

Middle-class New Zealanders who may never have had cause to have personal data collected on them may soon be on file with various ministeries.  With data-sharing, personal information from MSD can end up throughout other ministeries. Or on the desks of ministers;

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Never mind “Nanny State” – this is the muscular arm of Daddy State flexing it’s strength to reach out to grab more and more of our private information.

And it won’t end with this.

Not until we say “Enough is enough. No more“.

Back to Showers

Remember this?

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In the lead-up to the 2008 general election, National attacked the then-Labour Government for  “Nanny Statism”.

Following on from a disastrous drought in 2007 that cost the country’s economy  over $2.8 billion (in 2008/09 dollars), the then-Labour government sought out ways and means to  conserve water. The alternative was the possibility of further water-shortages or costly storage and irrigation systems. Labour opted for conservation. This included measures to save water in residential areas.

It could be  suggested that water-saving shower heads and energy-efficient light-bulbs are the least of our concerns.  National has surpassed anything that Labour envisaged, as this government  reaches further and further into our private lives.

If there is one thing that history has taught us – governments that spy on their own people do not trust their people, and are fearful of them.

National must be very frightened of us.

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References

NZ Legislation: Search and Surveillance Act 2012

NZ Herald: New police search and surveillance law in force

Beehive: Search and Surveillance Bill becomes law

Radio NZ: Collins defends giving details to blogger

NZ Legislation: Government Communications Security Bureau and Related Legislation Amendment Bill

Beehive: John Key – PM releases report into GCSB compliance

Legislation.govt.nz:  Government Communications Security Bureau Act 2003

NZ Herald:  Spying on NZ: More power to watch us

Dominion Post:  Spy bungles start to entangle PM

Fairfax media: Kiwis do care, prime minister

Parliament: Government Communications Security Bureau Amendment Bill

Parliament: Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Bill

Fairfax: Spying bill passes into law

Parliament: Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Bill — Third Reading

Parliament: Countering Terrorist Fighters Legislation Bill

NZ Herald: Foreign fighters bill passes 94 – 27

Fairfax media: Labour backs anti-terror laws, despite attacking it

IRD: Information sharing with New Zealand Police

IRD: Cross-government Information-sharing to Identify, Stop or Disrupt Serious Crime

MacNicol & Co: Tax News – IRD to share information with police

NZ Legislation: Terrorism Suppression Act 2002

Wikipedia: Terrorism Suppression Act 2002

Radio NZ: Government demands private data from NGOs

NZ Family Violence Clearinghouse: Relationships Aotearoa to close; funding models and issues in spotlight

Radio NZ: Govt on shaky ground over data-for-funding contracts, lawyers say

Radio NZ: Rape Crisis reject “data-for-funding” contracts

Radio NZ: Temporary reprieve over ‘private data for funding’ contracts

Comvoices: HomePage

Victim Support: Where does your funding come from?

NZ Family Violence Clearinghouse: MSD to require individual client level data from community agencies

NZ Herald: Bennett gets tough with outspoken solo mums

Dominion Post: Minister defends releasing private details

Fairfax media: Bennett won’t rule out releasing beneficiary details

Scoop: Showers latest target of Labour’s nanny state

NIWA: 2007 – much drier than average in many places

Beehive: Drought costs NZ $2.8 billion

Additional

Fairfax media: UN privacy expert slams government stance on privacy and ‘big data’

Other Blogs

The Standard: Social investment meets the surveillance state

Previous related blogposts

OIA Request points to beneficiary beat-up by Minister Chester Borrows

Audrey Young, Two Bains, old cars, and… cocoa?!?!

National Party president complains of covert filming – oh the rich irony!

An Open Message to the GCSB, SIS, NSA, and Uncle Tom Cobbly

Dear Leader, GCSB, and Kiwis in Wonderland

One Dunedinite’s response to the passing of the GCSB Bill

The GCSB Act – Tracy Watkins gets it right

The GCSB Act – some history

The GCSB – when plain english simply won’t do

The GCSB law – vague or crystal clear?

The Mendacities of Mr Key #1: The GCSB Bill

Campbell Live on the GCSB – latest revelations – TV3 – 20 May 2014

The real reason for the GCSB Bill

Letter to the Editor: John Campbell expose on Key and GCSB

A letter to the Dominion Post on the GCSB

Big Bro’ is Watching You!

The GCSB law – Oh FFS!!!

Dear Michael Cullen: the GCSB is not International Rescue!

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 20 March 2017.

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2017 – Ongoing jobless tally

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Unemployment logo

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Continued from: 2016 – Ongoing jobless tally

By the numbers, for this year;

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Events

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January

February

March

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Unemployment Statistics* at a Glance

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(*  See caveat below)

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Caution: Official Unemployment Statistics

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

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statistics-nz-logo

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

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

The statement went on to explain;

Change in key labour market estimates:

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

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

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

 

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References

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

Statistics NZ: Labour Market Statistics – June 2016 quarter

Trading Economics: New Zealand Unemployment Rate  to January 2017

Previous related blogpost

Lies, Damned lies and Statistical Lies

National exploits fudged Statistics NZ unemployment figures

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

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

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The Mendacities of Mr English – The covert agenda of high immigration

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if-you-repeat-a-lie-often-enough

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Context

Bill English was recently caught on-the-spot when challenged why National was permitting high immigration at a time when unemployment was still high, and rising.

Make no mistake, National has opened the floodgates of immigration because it is an easy way to artificially  stimulate the economy. This was pointed out in May 2011,  by then-Immigration Minister, Jonathan Coleman, who trumpeted the contribution made by immigration to economic growth;

“All of us have a vested interest in immigration and I’m pleased to share with you some specific actions the Government is taking to enhance Immigration’s contribution to the economy, service improvement and changes to business migration.

[…]

…I’m confident that you will acknowledge the partnership approach that Immigration is now taking to provide tangible improvements to help support New Zealand’s economic growth.

[…]

Considering the economic challenges the country faces, lifting immigration’s economic contribution takes on more importance.”

Justifying the need for high immigration to generate  economic growth, Coleman cited “New Zealand [going] into deficit in 2009 after several years of surpluses and the economic situation has been compounded by the September and February earthquakes” and unsustainably “borrowing $300 million dollars a week to keep public services ticking over“.

Coleman  admitted that “If we were to close off immigration entirely by 2021… GDP would drop by 11.3 per cent“. He revealed that, “new migrants add an estimated $1.9 billion to the New Zealand economy every year“.

Easy money.

The downside to high immigration has been to put strain on critical services such as roading and housing, and reduce demand for locally trained workers to fill vacancies. There is a downward pressure on wages, as cheaper immigrant-labour is brought into the workforce.

As Treasury pointed out in June last year;

“There is a concern that recently there has been a relative decline in the skill level of our labour migration. The increasing flows of younger and lower-skilled migrants may be contributing to a lack of employment opportunities for local workers with whom they compete.”

Faced with increasingly negative indicators from high immigration, English was forced to explain why we were seeing high immigration at a time of rising unemployment;

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bill-english-blames-unemployment-on-drug-tests

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English’s response was predictable if not offensive.

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Playing National’s Blame Game

As per  usual strategy, English defaulted to National’s strategy of Default Blame-gaming. When in trouble;

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

(If the trouble is Auckland-centered, Default #4: Blame Auckland Council/RMA/both.)

This has been the pattern of National’s policy to shift blame elsewhere for it’s consistently ineffectual policies;

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national-and-john-key-blames

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The Blame Gaming was applied recently to National’s appalling do-nothing record on housing;

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housing-crisis-national-blame-game

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Resorting to Deflection #2, English had the cheek to blame young unemployed for our high immigration level;

One of the hurdles these days is just passing the 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.

People telling me they open for applications, they get people turning up and it’s hard to get someone to be able to pass the test – it’s just one example.

So look if you get around the stories, you’ll hear lots of stories – some good, some not so good – about Kiwis’ willingness and ability to do the jobs that are available.”

His comments on 27 February were echoing previous, similar sentiments in April last year, when he again abused unemployed workers as “hopeless”;

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Quite rightly, English’s comments were condemned by many. English admitted that his comments were based solely on “anecdotal evidence” . This is the worst form of evidence possible as absolutely no confirmation by way of actual, real data is involved. “Anecdotal evidence” panders to prejudice – a  difficult thing to shift even when real evidence proves to the contrary.

Real evidence surfaced only a day after English made his slurs against the unemployed, when it was revealed that out of over 90,000 (approx) welfare beneficiaries, only 466 failed pre-employment drug tests over a  three year period. That equates to roughly to 155 failed tests out of 30,000 per year.

As Radio NZ’s Benedict Collins reported;

Government figures show beneficiaries have failed only 466 pre-employment drug tests in the past three years.

[…]

The Ministry of Social Development said the 466 included those who failed and those who refused to take the test.

Some failed more than once.

The ministry did not have the total figure for how many tests were done over the three years, but said there were 32,000 pre-employment drug tests in 2015.

Those 466 over a three year period consisted of (a) those who failed the test, (b) those who refused to take the test, and (c) some failing more than once.

Put another way, 155 failed tests out of 30,000 per year  equates to half a percent fail rate.

Which means that 99.5% of beneficiaries are clean, according to MSD’s own collected data.

There was further confirmation of low fail rates from another media story. On the same day as the Ministry of Social Development released it’s data on failed drug tests, The Drug Detection Agency revealed that fail-rates were as low as 5%;

While the rate of positive tests has remained at about 5 percent, the company is doing more tests and therefore failing more people, said its chief executive, Kirk Hardy.

“We’ve seen an increase overall in our drug testing and we now, annually, conduct about 144,000 drug tests,” he said.

Looked at another way, 95% of the workforce was clean.

Which simply confirms Bill English to be the typical manipulating, lying, politician that the public so consistently distrust and despise.

However, English has his own  sound reasoning for blaming welfare beneficiaries for this country’s immigration-caused problems. He has to do it to obscure the two reasons why National has opened the tap on immigration as far as they can possibly get away with…

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Cargo-cult Economics

Remember that in May 2011,   then-Immigration Minister, Jonathan Coleman revealed;

If we were to close off immigration entirely by 2021… GDP would drop by 11.3 per cent“.

A 11.3% fall in GDP would have pushed New Zealand into a deep recession, matching that of the early 1990s.

This was especially the case as only a few years ago the economy was suffering with an over-valued New Zealand dollar. Manufacturing and exports had slumped;

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Combined with the multi-billion dollar Christchurch re-build, mass-immigration was National’s “quick-fix” solution to boosting the economy. It might cause problems further down the track, but those were matters that National could address later. Or better still, leave for an incoming Labour-Green government to clean up the resulting socio-economic mess.

This is  quasi-cargo-cult economics, 21st century style.

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The Not-so-Free-Market

In Coleman’s May 2011 speech, he also referred – indirectly – to the second rationale for opening the floodgates of mass-immigration;

If we were to close off immigration entirely by 2021… The available labour force would drop 10.9 per cent

This was critical for National.

A crucial tenet of free market capitalism  (aka neo-liberalism) is that the price of labour (wages and other remuneration) should be predicated on supply and demand;

The higher the wage rate, the lower the demand for labour. Hence, the demand for labour curve slopes downwards. As in all markets, a downward sloping demand curve can be explained by reference to the income and substitution effects.

At higher wages, firms look to substitute capital for labour, or cheaper labour for the relatively expensive labour. In addition, if firms carry on using the same quantity of labour, their labour costs will rise and their income (profits) will fall. For both reasons, demand for labour will fall as wages rise.

Note the part; “At higher wages, firms look to substitute capital for labour, or cheaper labour for the relatively expensive labour“.

Mass immigration may or may not supply cheaper labour per se, but more people chasing a finite number of jobs inevitably “stabilises” or even drives down wages, as migrants compete with local workers. As pointed out previously, this is precisely what Treasury warned off in June last year;

“There is a concern that recently there has been a relative decline in the skill level of our labour migration. The increasing flows of younger and lower-skilled migrants may be contributing to a lack of employment opportunities for local workers with whom they compete.”

National is wary of wages rising, thereby creating  a new wage-price inflationary spiral, reminiscent of the 1970s and 1980s. English said as much on TVNZ’s Q+A in April 2011;

Guyon Espiner:  “Can I talk about the real economy for people? They see the cost of living keep going up. They see wages really not- if not quite keeping pace with that, certainly not outstripping it much. I mean, you said at the weekend to the Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum that one of our advantages over Australia was that our wages were 30% cheaper. I mean, is that an advantage now?

Bill English:  “Well, it’s a way of competing, isn’t it? I mean, if we want to grow this economy, we need the capital – more capital per worker – and we’re competing for people as well.

[…]

Well, it is a good thing if we can attract the capital, and the fact is Australians- Australian companies should be looking at bringing activities to New Zealand because we are so much more competitive than most of the Australian economy.

[…]

Well, at the moment, if I go to Australia and talk to Australians, I want to put to them a positive case for investment in New Zealand, because while we are saving more, we’re not saving more fast enough to get the capital that we need to close the gap with Australia. So Australia already has 40 billion of investment in New Zealand. If we could attract more Australian companies, activities here, that would help us create the jobs and lift incomes.”

National is circumventing their own neo-liberal ideology by importing large numbers of workers, to drive down wages (or at least permit only modest growth).

In times of scarce labour, wages should grow. Demand. Supply.

This is the counter to recessionary-times, such as the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, when wages remain static, or fall, due to heightened job losses and rising unemployment. Supply. Demand.

But National is subverting the free market process by ‘flooding the labour market’ with immigrant labour. The price of labour cannot rise because National has interfered with the process of supply  by widening the field of the labour market. The labour market is no longer contained with the sovereign borders of our state.

This reveals “free market economics” to be a fraud. It is permitted to work unfettered only when it benefits the One Percent, their business interests, and their ruling right-wing puppets.

The moment there is a whiff that the “free market” might benefit workers – the goal-posts are shifted. (Just ask Nick Smith about shifting goal-posts.)

The game is fixed. The dice are loaded. We cannot hope to beat the House at their game.

Time to change the game.

Inevitable Conclusion

Welfare beneficiaries. Drugs. Drug testing.  It was never about any of those.

The real agenda is for National to create a false impression of economic growth and reign-in wage growth, through immigration. Anything which threatens to expose their covert agenda is to be countered. Especially before it becomes fixed in the public consciousness.

Welfare beneficiaries are very useful as National’s go-to scapegoats. Or herring of a certain hue…

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Postscript: A case of REAL workplace drug abuse

Meanwhile, in what must constitute the worst case of workplace drug abuse, took place on 14 June 1984;

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…Muldoon had made up his mind.  In one of the biggest miscalculations in our political history he decided that he would go to the country. At 11.15pm a visibly intoxicated Muldoon made his announcement to waiting journalists.

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References

NZ Herald: Beyond the fear factor – New Kiwis can be good for us all

Fairfax media: NZ unemployment jumps to 5.2 per cent, as job market brings more into workforce

Fairfax media: New Zealand’s economic growth driven almost exclusively by rising population

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

NZ Herald: Budget 2016 – Feeling the Pressure

NZ Herald: Treasury warns of risk to jobs from immigration

TV3 News:  Bill English blames unemployment on drug tests

Radio NZ: Employers still struggling to hire NZers due to drug use – PM

Radio NZ: Farmers agree Kiwi farm labourers ‘hopeless’

Radio NZ: Tens of thousands drug-tested, hundreds fail

Radio NZ: Drug use not the whole worker shortage story – employer

NZ Herald: Willie Apiata our most trusted again

Radio NZ: Exporters tell inquiry of threat from high dollar

Wikipedia: Cargo cult economics

Economics Online: The demand for labour

TVNZ: Q+A – Guyon Espiner interviews Bill English – transcript

Radio NZ: Unemployment rises, wage growth subdued

Statistics NZ: When times are tough, wage growth slows 

Fairfax media: Shock rise in unemployment to 7.3pc

TVNZ: Frontier Of Dreams – 1984 Snap Election

Additional

TV3 News: Government gets thumbs down on housing

Other Blogs

The Standard: English hammered on druggies smear

Previous related blogposts

Election ’17 Countdown: The Promise of Nirvana to come

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

National under attack – defaults to Deflection #2

National under attack – defaults to Deflection #1

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 5 March 2017.

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Election ’17 Countdown: The Promise of Nirvana to come

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(Or, “The Duplicities of Dr Smith: Dirty rivers, Dubious standards, and Double-talk” )

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“…We should always measure a Government’s environmental rhetoric against its environmental record.” – John Key,

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Water Quality & Shifting Goal Posts

__________________________

On 23 February, Faux-Environment Minister, Dr Nick Smith, announced a seemingly “bold” plan to clean up New Zealand’s waterways by 2040;

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The Government has announced a new target to have 90 per cent of New Zealand’s lakes and rivers reach swimmable water quality standards by 2040.

The target will be based on meeting the water quality standard at least 80 per cent of the time in line with European and United States definition, Environment Minister Nick Smith said.

Currently 72 per cent by length meet that definition and the target is to increase that to 90 per cent by 2040.

Faux-Environment Minister  Smith tried to re-assure New Zealanders;

“This ambitious plan to improve the water quality in our lakes and rivers recognises that New Zealanders expect to be able to take a dip in their local river or lake without getting a nasty bug.

This 90 per cent goal by 2040 is challenging and is estimated to cost the Government, farmers and councils $2 billion over the next 23 years. It will make us a world leader in water quality standards for swimming, and that’s important for New Zealand’s growing tourism industry. It will return our rivers and lakes to a standard not seen in 50 years while recognising that our frequent major rainfalls mean a 100 per cent standard is not realistic.”

A day later, on Radio NZ’s ‘Morning Report’, however, his assertions were taken to task with a more critical style of interviewing by Susie Ferguson.

Smith claimed that new levels of e.coli contamination were set to international standards;

“The level, the 540 e.coli, is the level that is set by the World Health Organisation, it the level that is set both by the E.U. and by the U.S.”.

Ferguson challenged Smith’s assertions by pointing out that other international organisations and jurisdictions held lower e.coli level for permissible contamination levels. At one point she asked the Faux Minister for the Environment how  rivers currently rated as “swimmable” will now be able to have twice the amount of faecal matter in it and still remain safe to swim in.

Smith’s reply was waffly, suggesting that Ferguson was attempting to mix “Medians” and “95 percentile” figures. He ducked Ferguson’s question.

Green Party water-spokesperson,  Catherine Delahunty, pointed out that National had simply re-designated pollution levels by “shifting the goalposts“;

“The Prime Minister thinks he can pull a fast one on New Zealanders by just shifting the goalposts and calling what was ‘wadeable’ now ‘swimmable’.”

The Fairfax article in which Delahunty made the accusation did not disclose what “goalposts”  she was referring to.

Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Jan Wright, also referred to a shifting of “goalposts”;

“There have been some goalposts moved, or some ways of measuring things moved, and it’s very difficult to tell whether things are being tightened or loosened. That’s a big concern of mine.”

Radio NZ reported Dr Wright as being highly critical that the 90 percent target-catchment included  waterways that no-one would swim in, such as  rivers in very remote/very cold regions of New Zealand;

“It’s where do people want to swim and at what time of the year … There’s sort of a dilution that’s gone on by putting the whole length of these rivers in, and the whole areas of these lakes.”

There was  further evidence of “shifted goalposts” to come…

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Media Analysis & What was left out

__________________________

When Faux-Environment Minister  Smith announced a grandoise “plan to improve the water quality in our lakes and rivers recognises that New Zealanders expect to be able to take a dip in their local river or lake without getting a nasty bug“, he omitted to mention a salient fact.

Radio NZ’s Environment & Conservation Reporter,  Kate Gudsell, reported on the morning of 24 February  (the day after Faux-Environment Minister  Smith made his much heralded announcement;

The government has weakened the threshold for what qualifies as the best quality waterway to swim in as part of its target to make 90 percent of New Zealand’s rivers swimmable by 2040.

Under the old system, for a waterway to be considered the best for swimmability the acceptable level of E coli was less than 260 per 100ml of water.

That equated to a low risk of infection, up to 1 percent, when a person was taking part in activities that were likely to involve full immersion.

Now, the government has changed the whole system so that for a waterway to be considered excellent it cannot exceed a new E coli level of 540 per 100ml [of water]  more than five percent of the time, which equates to a less than five percent risk of infection.

To give waterways an “Excellent” rating, National has more than doubled the permissable level of e.coli bacteria in a given river or lake from 260 per 100ml of water to 540 per 100ml of water.

When pointedly asked by a journalist that “the Ministry of Health recommendation is 260 E.coli – how does that relates to the 540 level?“, Smith tried the “baffle-them-with-bullshit-science” response;

“We are saying at 540 E.coli the risk is one in 20 (of getting sick).  But that one in 20 is at the 95 per cent confidence level. So there is an extra level of cautiousness. Even if you put 20 people in water and it has a 540 E.coli level it’s not saying on average one person gets sick out of 20. It’s saying one in 20 of 20 groups will have one in 20 get sick.”

Smith’s “ one in 20” explanation was so confusing, he ludicrously managed to  contradict himself on Radio NZ;

Under the old system, for a waterway to be considered the best for swimmability, the acceptable level of E coli was less than 260 per 100ml of water.

That equated to a low risk of infection, up to 1 percent (one in 100), when a person took part in activities likely to involve full immersion.

Under the new system, for a waterway to be considered excellent it could not exceed an E coli level of 540 per 100ml more than 5 percent of the time.

That equated to a less than a 5 percent (one in 20) risk of infection.

When it was put to him that the new swimmable standard allowed for one in 20 people to become sick, Mr Smith said, “That is junk science”.

Even Smith can’t keep up with his own bullshit.

Unfortunately, not all media reports (initially) referred to National shifting the e.coli goalposts from  260 per 100ml of water to  540 per 100ml of water; such as Fairfax’s “New Government target to see 90 per cent of rivers and lakes ‘swimmable’ by 2040“; Radio NZ’s  “Govt plans to make 90% of NZ waterways swimmable by 2040“; TVNZ’s “Govt wants to make 90% of lakes and rivers clean enough to swim in by 2040“; and NBR’s “Government bows to pressure, adopts ‘swimmable’ target for lakes and rivers“.

The public reading those stories would not have realised that National was effectively doubling the permissable level of e.coli contamination in our waterways.

However, TV3 News (“Govt aims to get 90pct of rivers swimmable by 2040“) and NZ Herald (“Government sets 2040 ‘swimmable’ rivers target“), got it right on the first day (23 February).

To be fair, National’s media release on 23 February – “90% of rivers and lakes swimmable by 2040”  –  was also missing the crucial detail of e.coli levels being increased.

It was a detail which the Faux-Environment Minister did not want publicised, when he fronted up to the media on the 23rd.

Interestingly, commentors on Stuff.co.nz and NBR seemed very aware on 23 February that Smith was trying to pull a ‘fast one’ over the public’s and media’s eyes;

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(Note “Two days ago” correlated to 23 February.)

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Past Targets & Election Year Gimmickery

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The 2040 “target” for supposedly cleaning up our rivers and lakes was not National’s first attempt at setting long-term goals.

National ministers have been setting target-goals for themselves as a kind of “feel good” story for the public. Usually these targets are released to the media in an election year. And usually the target dates are set years, if not decades, into the distant future.

Who can forget these targets;

In 2011 (election year!), National announced that New Zealand would be smokefree by 2025;

The Government has set a long-term goal of reducing smoking prevalence and tobacco availability to minimal levels, thereby making New Zealand essentially a smokefree nation by 2025.

In 2014 (election year!) and announced by Minister for Stomping on Crushed Cars, Anne Tolley, National set this ambitious target for themselves;

Reducing crime

Our aim

  • By June 2017, reduce the crime rate by 15%, reduce the violent crime rate by 20%, and reduce the youth crime rate by 25%.

  • By June 2017, reduce the re-offending rate by 25%.

Another target-goal, set in 2014 (election year!),  and announced by Social Welfare minister, Paula Bennett;

…has set a new target of getting benefit numbers from 295,000 to 220,000 by 2017 – a 25 per cent drop. She is also looking for a 40 per cent drop in youth on benefits – getting 21,000 more young people off the benefit.

And this one, released in June last year (strangely, not an election year);

New Zealand to be Predator Free by 2050

Prime Minister John Key has today announced the Government has adopted the goal of New Zealand becoming Predator Free by 2050.

[…]

“That’s why we have adopted this goal. Our ambition is that by 2050 every single part of New Zealand will be completely free of rats, stoats and possums.”

The budget for this herculean feat to eliminate “rats, stoats and possums” from “every single part of New Zealand” was set at  an ‘extra’ $28 million (above $60 – $80 million already budgetted for pest control) – an amount which was derided for it’s utter inadequacy.

So how are we doing with these laudible, “feel good” target?

Not too well.

In 2015, a Fairfax story revealed that National’s ambitious goal to eliminate smoking from New Zealand was lagging far behind;

However as the deadline looms for Smokefree 2025 – a commitment by the Government to help reduce smoking to minimal levels in New Zealand in 10 years – anti-smoking organisations are calling for it to take bolder steps to preserve New Zealand’s position as a world-leader in the fight against tobacco.

[…]

Even the Ministry of Health admits it’s off track…

[…]

In New Zealand, tobacco manufacturers’ returns supplied to the Ministry show consumption has declined 6 per cent per year since 2010, or 23 per cent since 2010.

[…]

“At this rate, New Zealand will not meet the target of Smokefree 2025,” [Emeritus Professor at the University of Auckland Robert] Beaglehole said. “But it is achievable, and we know what to do to get back on track.”

Perhaps the worst target-goal that has failed was National’s (dubious) committment to cut large numbers from welfare benefits, as conceded by Anne Tolley in July 2016;

Anne Tolley has effectively conceded that National is unlikely to meet its objective of moving 65,000 people off the benefit within the next two years.

In excusing her government’s failure to meet one of their own self-imposed target-goals, Tolley gave this illuminating explanation;

“It’s a very aspirational target.”

Within those five simple words, Tolley has revealed the the eventual outcome and excuse whenever one  of National’s target-goals fails: they are only “aspirational”.

This is critical, because like the “Predator Free New Zealand by 2050” or “90 per cent of rivers and lakes ‘swimmable’ by 2040”, the target dates for these goals to be accomplished are so far into the future that (a) no one will recall these committments being made (b) most National ministers who made them will be long-retired, residing in rest-homes and having drool wiped from their slack-jawed faces by under-paid caregivers or (c) dead.

In short, no one will ever be held to account for these failures of policy.

The great mistake made by National is that, at the beginning when they dreamed up these feel-good gimmicks, they set target-goal dates too close to the present. For example,  when John Key and Bill English published a document entitled “Better Public Services” in February 2014, issuing a whole raft of target-goals, they set the date for accomplishment at 2017  (for most, though not all).

That left National minister in office only three years later having to explain their failure to achieve their target-goals.

In Tolley’s case, she could only offer the lame excuse that they were “aspirational” goals  only.

As  Susie Ferguson pointed out to Nick Smith on Radio NZ’s ‘Morning Report;

“The long time frame of this though means  that you are going to  be long gone whether we see that this has happened or not.”

The ultimate Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card for a politician.

In the meantime – stay out of the rivers and lakes. Nick Smith has been seen bull-shitting in them.

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References

Scoop media: John Key – Speech to the Bluegreens Forum

Fairfax media: New Government target to see 90 per cent of rivers and lakes ‘swimmable’ by 2040

Radio NZ: Nick Smith defends new swimming standard for rivers and lakes

Radio NZ: ‘Very confusing’: Watchdog critical of water quality changes

New Zealand Yearbook: 1984

Radio NZ: Water quality measure ‘less stringent’

Fairfax media: The new ‘swimmable’ fresh water target: Nick Smith defends his plan

Radio NZ: Water quality criticism based on ‘junk science’ – Nick Smith

NBR: Government bows to pressure, adopts ‘swimmable’ target for lakes and rivers

New Zealand Yearbook: 2008

Ministry of Health: Smokefree 2025

Beehive: Better Public Services

NZ Herald: National pledge to cut benefit numbers by 25 per cent

Beehive: New Zealand to be Predator Free by 2050

Fairfax media: Smokefree 2025, predator-free 2050 criticised for a lack of follow through

Beehive: New Zealand to be Predator Free by 2050

NZ Herald: Anne Tolley – Government’s benefits target ‘very aspirational’

Scoop media:  On The Nation – Lisa Owen interviews Bill English, Anne Tolley and Hekia Parata

Statistics NZ: Agricultural Production Statistics: June 2015

Additional

Fairfax: Cattle belonging to Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias’ repeat offenders

Scoop media: Swimmable rivers – Greenpeace says look below the surface

Scoop media: Big Backdown by Smith on Swimmable Rivers

Other Blogs

Green blog: Nick Smith thinks New Zealanders are stupid

Greenpeace: Don’t get freaked by the eco

My Thinks: Come swim with me

No Right Turn: A literal bullshit standard

The Civilian: What’s all the fuss about these rivers? I drank some water once and it wasn’t any bloody good

The Civilian: Government vows that by 2040, 90% of New Zealand’s rivers will be ‘vaguely liquid in nature’

The Daily Blog: National’s ‘swimmable’ rivers policy is another ‘alternative facts’ moment and why we can’t allow it

The Daily Blog: David Parker – Flammable rivers – Smith’s swimmable river con ignites outrage

The Standard: Just allow more shit – a metaphor for this government

Previous related blogposts

The law as a plaything

When spin doctors go bad

Congratulations Dr Smith!!

TDB Investigation into what is happening in our water

Election ’17 Countdown: The Strategy of Ohariu

Election ’17 Countdown: Joyce – let the lolly scramble begin!

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 28 February 2017.

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Election ’17 Countdown: Joyce – let the lolly scramble begin!

25 February 2017 1 comment

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(Or, “Under-funded health, education, and other social services? Let them eat tax-cut cake!”)

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2017 Election – Opening Gambits and Giveaways

You can tell it’s election year; the lolly-scramble (aka, hint of tax cuts) has begun;

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Historical Context

Cutting taxes (and social services on-the-sly) is one of National’s mainstays when it comes to election promises. Bribes work best when a government has nothing left to offer.

Who can forget the infamous  2008 election campaign, where – despite the Global Financial Crisis firmly taking hold of the New Zealand economy – then-National Party leader, John Key promised tax cuts.

In January 2008;

“We will cut taxes, not just in election year, but in a regular programme of ongoing tax cuts.

[…]

And we will do all of this while improving the public services that Kiwis have a right to expect. ”

In March 2008, then Finance Minister, Michael Cullen warned against borrowing for tax cuts;

“ Those who would actively choose to drive New Zealand into further debt to pay for tax cuts lack real ambition for our economy…

[…]

Even before these challenges hit home John Key wants to increase our debt to at least 25 per cent of GDP. But he does not pretend he wants to borrow more to pay for more services and he does not really believe he needs to borrow more to pay for roads. He only wants to outspend Labour on tax cuts.

His plan would cost an extra $700 million a year in financing costs alone, around what the government has invested in new health services for each of the last two years.

But the real worry is that Mr Key’s pro-debt policy shows he does not take long-term challenges seriously. His risky deal for tax cuts today would leave the bill to our children and grandchildren tomorrow.”

Undeterred, Key pursued his irresponsible promises and in August 2008 announced to a gullible public;

National will fast track a second round of tax cuts and is likely to increase borrowing to pay for some of its spending promises.

Key made the incredible assertion that tax-cuts would not impact on government debt;

So that will be extremely clear cut and rather hermetically sealed.

Key’s claim of “hermetically sealing” tax cuts from the rest of government fiscal activity was never fully explained, and nor did the MSM ever challenge that unbelievable promise.

In October 2008, Key repeated his fantasy of affordable tax cuts;

Our tax policy is therefore one of responsible reform…  We have ensured that our package  is appropriate for the current economic and fiscal conditions… This makes it absolutely clear that to fund National’s tax package there is no requirement for additional borrowing and there is no requirement to cut public services… National’s rebalancing of the tax system is self-funding and requires no cuts to public services or additional borrowing’ .

The rest is history. National was elected to power on 8 November and tax cuts implemented in 2009 and 2010. Government borrowing and  debt rocketed;

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A third round scheduled for 2011 was cancelled as the budget blow-out  caused – in-part – by  unaffordable tax-cuts began to hit home even on a profligate National-led administration.

By May 2011, National was borrowing $380 million per week to fund it’s debt. Bill English and John Key seemed startled by the government’s deteriorating financial position;

Finance Minister Bill English said the Government’s financial position had deteriorated “significantly” since late 2008.

“The pre-election update in 2008 forecast that the deficit for this year would be $2.4 billion,” he said.

“It’s much more likely to be around $15b or $16b.”

That level of deficit, as NZPA has previously reported, will be the highest in New Zealand’s history and Mr English confirmed that today.

Prime Minister John Key confirmed the average weekly borrowing figure, which he said was unaffordable.

Michael Cullen’s warnings over unaffordable tax cuts seem to have been long-forgotten as collective amnesia over-took the National Party leadership.

Worse still, it was the rising army of unemployed who were to pay the fiscal bill for National’s profligacy;

More than three quarters of all beneficiaries will be forced to seek work or face cuts to their payments under sweeping recommendations from the Government’s Welfare Working Group… Working group chairwoman, economist Paula Rebstock, said the present high levels of welfare dependency meant major changes were needed. “ There are currently few incentives and little active support for many people reliant on welfare to move into paid work. Long term benefit dependency can be avoided if investments are well targeted and timely…”  Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said the report was an opportunity to change the welfare system and would feed into Government work in the area.

Key indulged in National’s favourite activity when things went horribly wrong after his administration’s apalling policty-decisions. He blamed those at the bottom of the economic heap;

Prime Minister John Key says beneficiaries who resort to food banks do so out of their own “poor choices” rather than because they cannot afford food. “But it is also true that anyone on a benefit actually has a lifestyle choice. If one budgets properly, one can pay one’s bills. “And that is true because the bulk of New Zealanders on a benefit do actually pay for food, their rent and other things. Now some make poor choices and they don’t have money left.”

By 2016/17, National’s net debt had reached $66.3 billion. (Damn those beneficiaries’ “poor choices”.)

The Joy of Joyce’s Tax Bribe

On 8 February this year, Joyce announced aspects of this year’s coming Budget. Joyce  dangled the tax-cut carrot  in  front of voters;

It is also very important to remain mindful that the money the Government spends comes from hard working Kiwi families. We remain committed to reducing the tax burden on lower and middle income earners when we have the room to do so.

On the same day, Joyce voiced concerns about New Zealand’s massive mountain of private debt;

I have discussed DTIs with the Reserve Bank Governor, who remains concerned about the levels of debt in some households in the context of recent increases in house prices.

Joyce has good reason to be nervous. As of this year, New Zealand’s household debt has reached stellar proportions;

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new-zealand-residential-property-hits-1-trillion-mark

 

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Any further tax-cuts will not only be based on cuts to social services (health, education, housing, NGOs, etc), but may further fuel the housing bubble.  This would raise the prospect of a monstrous  three-headed creature of National’s making where;

  • it would likely have to have to borrow to fund the tax-cuts,
  • fuel an increase in private debt as tax-cuts are spent on a property-buying binge,
  • as well as driving first-home buyers out of the market as housing-prices take off again.

Joyce voiced this concern on 8 February;

The use of macro-prudential tools can be complex and affect different borrowers in different ways. I am particularly interested in what the impacts could be on first home buyers.”

So further tax cuts may have negative impacts that a fourth National administration would have to deal with if it wins the 23 Sept election.

On top of which, New Zealanders would be faced with further cuts to social services and increasing user-pays in health and education. From our on-going housing crisis;

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homelessness-in-new-zealand

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… to more user-pays in education;

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…in healthcare;

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… and the gutting of NGO services through budget-cuts;

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When Kiwis take up National’s tax-cut bribes, they end up paying more, elsewhere.

But even slashing the budgets for the state sector and NGOs is insufficient to meet the multi-billion dollar price-tag for tax-cuts.  National is desperately having to scramble to find money where-ever it can. So-called student loan “defaulters” are firmly in National’s eyesights;

Almost 57,000 student loan borrowers found in Australia

The agreement came into force in October and the details of around 10,000 New Zealanders were found in the first data match. The process has since been refined and a total of 56,897 people have now been located.

“These borrowers have a combined loan balance of $1.2 billion and $430 million of that is in default. Inland Revenue will now start chasing up these borrowers and taking action to get their student loan repayments back on track,” says Mr Joyce says.

Mr Woodhouse says “The data shows that more than half of these borrowers left New Zealand over five years ago, with nearly a quarter having been away for more than 10 years. A third of them have not returned to New Zealand in the past four years. One third of the group has had no contact with Inland Revenue, and 43% have not made a payment since they left New Zealand.

“It’s time these people did the right thing and met the obligations they signed up to when they took out their student loan,” Mr Woodhouse says.

Who else will National target to squeeze money out of?

What social services will National slash to fund tax-cuts?

What further user-pays will be implemented?

One further question; if National does not pay down our sovereign debt – how will the country cope with another global financial crisis and shock to our economy? As Joyce himself pointed out;

 

“ We need to keep paying down debt as a percentage of GDP. We’ve set a target of reducing net debt to around 20 per cent of GDP by 2020. That’s to make sure that we can manage any shocks that may come along in the future.”

 

When National took office from Labour, the previous Clark-Cullen government has prudently resisted National’s tantrum-like demands for tax cuts and instead paid down our sovereign debt. As former Dear Leader Key himself was forced to admit;

In 2005, as Leader of the Opposition;

“ Firstly let me start by saying that New Zealand does not face the balance sheet crisis of 1984, or even of the early 1990s. Far from having dangerously high debt levels, gross debt to GDP is around a modest 25 percent and net debt may well be zero by 2008. In other words, there is no longer any balance sheet reason to justify an aggressive privatisation programme of the kind associated with the 1980s Labour Government.

In 2012*, as Prime Minister Key  justified the partial sale of state-owned assets;

The level of public debt in New Zealand was $8 billion when National came into office in 2008.  It’s now $53 billion, and it’s forecast to rise to $72 billion in 2016.  Without selling minority shares in five companies, it would rise to $78 billion.  Our total investment liabilities, which cover both public and private liabilities, are $150 billion – one of the worst in the world because of the high levels of private debt in New Zealand.”

(* No link available. Page removed from National Party website)

With our current debt of $66.3 billion, we no longer have a safety-buffer. That is the current dire state of our government books.

It is astonishing that Joyce has the nick-name of “Mr Fixit”, as he makes irresponsible hints of tax cuts to come.

Little wonder that Joyce’s unearned reputation as “Mr Fix It” was deconstructed by journalist and political analyst, Gordon Campbell;

The myth of competence that’s been woven around Steven Joyce – the Key government’s “Minister of Everything” and “Mr Fixit” – has been disseminated from high-rises to hamlets, across the country. For five years or more, news outlets have willingly (and non-ironically) promoted the legend of Mr Fixit…

[…]

Of late however, the legend has lost some of its lustre. More than anything, it has been his handling of the SkyCity convention deal that has confirmed a lingering Beltway suspicion that Joyce’s reputation for business nous has been something of a selfie, with his competence appearing to be inversely proportional to his sense of self-esteem. Matthew Hooton’s recent critique of Joyce in NBR – which was inspired by how the SkyCity convention deal had cruelly exposed Joyce’s lack of business acumen – got a good deal of traction for that reason. On similar grounds, Joyce’s penchant for (a) micro-managing and (b) the prioritising of issues in terms of their headline potential has resulted in his ministerial office becoming somewhat notorious around Parliament for (c) its congested inefficiency and for (d) a not-unrelated extent of staff burnout.

[…]

Not only is Joyce’s ministerial office renowned as an administrative bottleneck – where issues tend to be ranked in terms of their p.r. potential for the Minister – none of this seems to be in service of any wider goal or vision. As Mr Fixit, Joyce tends to be engaged in the equivalents of blown fuses and leaking taps – rather in the re-design of the political architecture. Joyce has simply never been – and has never pretended to be – a big picture kind of politician. He has been never someone with an abiding interest in – or the intellectual stamina for – systemic change.

The re-election of National this year – by any means necessary, whether beneficial to New Zealand or not, no matter what the social or financial costs – appears to be ‘Mr Fixit’s’  latest ‘DIY’ project.

And like most DIY budgets, wait for the blow out.

Just like 2009.

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References

Interest.co.nz: Finance Minister says Government remains ‘committed to reducing the tax burden

Scoop media: Tax cuts still in the mix for Joyce’s first budget

Sharechat: Tax cuts still in the mix for Finance Minister Steven Joyce’s first budget

Radio NZ: Budget date set, tax cuts likely

NBR: Government hints at tax cuts in Budget 2017

Fairfax media: Joyce signals low and middle earners’ top rates target for tax cuts

NZ Herald:  The Economy Hub – About those tax cuts… Steven Joyce, the big interview

NZ Herald: John Key – State of the Nation speech

Scoop media: Government will not borrow for tax cuts

NZ Herald: Nats to borrow for other spending – but not tax cuts

Guide2: National Party – Tax Policy

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

NBR: Tax cuts scrapped in budget

Interest.co.nz: Budget deficit worse than forecast; debt blows out by NZ$15.4 bln

NZ Herald: Govt borrowing $380m a week

Fairfax media: Extensive welfare shake-up needed – report

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

NZ Treasury: Budget Economic and Fiscal Update 2016

Beehive: 2017 Budget to be presented on 25 May

Beehive: Finance Minister requests cost-benefit analysis on DTIs

NZ Herald: New Zealand residential property hits $1 trillion mark

Beehive: Almost 57,000 student loan borrowers found in Australia

Scoop media: John Key Speech – State Sector Under National

Werewolf: The Myth of Steven Joyce

Other Blogs

The Hand Mirror: A crack in the wall

Previous related blogposts

Tax cuts & school children

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

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

The Mendacities of Mr Key #3: tax cuts

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

The Mendacities of Mr English – Social Services under National’s tender mercies

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 20 February 2017.

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