Archive

Archive for the ‘The Body Politic’ Category

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

.

.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But all was not well in Neo-liberal Nirvana.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

.

.

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

.

.

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

In 2016;

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

Last year;

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

And again in December this year;

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

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

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

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

.

.

National’s response was predictable,

.

.

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

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

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

.

.

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

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

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

She also stated,

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

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

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

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

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

.

.

Yeah, that one!

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

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

.

.

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One was forced to suicide;

.

.

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

.

.

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

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

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

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

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

.

.

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

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

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

The common term for this is sleep deprivation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

.

.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

.

~ In Memory ~

.

~ Emma-Lita Bourne ~

.

~ Wendy Shoebridge ~

.

.

.

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RBNZ: Banking crises in New Zealand – an historical perspective

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

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

Wikipedia: The Alliance

NZ Initiative: Defeating the trickle-down straw man

The Atlantic: The Education of David Stockman

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

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

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

NZ Herald: Auckland teen couple face sleeping in car

TVNZ: More homeless people sleeping in cars

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

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

NZ Herald: Benefit cuts for drug users defended by PM

NZ Herald: Bennett increases pursuit of welfare ‘rorts

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

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

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

Fairfax media: House call plan to nab benefit fraudsters

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

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

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

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

Dominion Post: State tenants face ‘high need’ review

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

Fairfax media: Housing policy will destabilise life for children

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

Fairfax media: Housing policy will destabilise life for children

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

National: New crack down on gangs and drugs

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

Beehive: PM appoints Chief Science Advisor

NZ Herald: Minister claims low drug result as victory

NZ Herald: Bennett trumpets 5000 fewer on DPB

Fairfax media: Number on benefits drops, reaction mixed

NZ Herald: Over 5300 benefits cut due to info sharing

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

NZ Herald: 11,000 disabled children lose welfare benefit

Radio NZ: About 2000 children hit when parents lose benefits

Radio NZ: Thousands losing benefits due to paperwork

Mediaworks/TV3: The Nation – Welfare Debate

NZ Herald: Key admits underclass still growing

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

NZ Herald: Damp house led to toddler’s death

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

Radio NZ: Homeless shaken awake as Rotorua shelter awaits consents

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

BBC: Binyam Mohamed torture appeal lost by UK government

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

Wikipedia: New Zealand general election, 2008

Wikipedia: New Zealand general election, 2011

Wikipedia: New Zealand general election, 2014

Wikipedia: New Zealand general election, 2017

Additional

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

Other Blogposts

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

Pundit:  Beneficiary ‘impact’ highlights poverty of social policies

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

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

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

Previous related blogposts

Week Watch – 7 June

Easter Trading – A “victimless crime”?

Professor Bill English lectures young New Zealanders on free education

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

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

.

.

.

.

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

.

.

= fs =

Advertisements

The Legacy of a Dismantled Prime Minister – Revisited

.

.

Following John Key’s sudden (and largely unexplained) resignation on 5 December 2016, I wrote a piece lamenting that he had left no positive  legacy of significance;

.

.

… much  has been said of Key’s “legacy”. Pundits have been scratching their heads, trying to figure out what  “legacy” can be attributed to eight years of a Key-led administration.

Despite screeds being devoted on the subject, it appears that little can actually be attributed to any form of Key “legacy”.

[…]

[Brent] Edwards contrasted Key’s administration with that of Jim Bolger and pointed out the latter’s legacies, which have had a lasting impact of New Zealand’s social and political landscape. The first was the advent of MMP which forever changed politics as it is done in this country. The second was Bolger’s courage to stand up to his party’s redneck conservatism and engage with Maori to address Treaty of Waitangi grievances.

[…]

In an era marking the rise of nationalistic political movements (Brexit, Trump, et al), Key’s “package of reforms” will be rolled back and many, like Charter Schools, swept away entirely.

These legacies of a failed economic ideology – neo-liberalism – may rate a mention in the footnotes of future history books, but not much more. In fifty years time, no one will point to Key’s supposed “reforms” as people still do to Michael Savage’s achievements.

[…]

… and I leave this brief assessment for future historians;

John Key – Master at spin, photo-ops, and PR, but nothing else. When the teflon was stripped away, there was nothing underneath.

And that will be his legacy: nothing. We simply couldn’t think of a single damned one.

As I pointed out then – and which has subsequently been proven – National’s  “growth” was illusory, based mostly on high immigration and unsustainable ballooning house prices in Auckland.

Unfortunately, my dismissal of Key’s administration as historically inconsequential may have been a rush to judgement. I regret that I failed to pick up a vital policy change that has had a long term – albeit utterly unforeseen at the time – beneficial impact on  this country.

On 21 May 2009, John Key announced the appointment of Professor Peter Gluckman as the first  Chief Science Advisor to the Prime Minister. At the time,  Key stated;

“This appointment delivers on the Government’s goal of including science at the heart of our decision-making.

I campaigned on creating this role because I recognise that New Zealand’s prosperity rests on our ability to make full use of the expertise that our scientists can contribute.

Professor Gluckman will provide me with a direct line to advice when I need it. He will be an independent voice that will complement existing channels of advice such as government departments and the Royal Society.

This role is one of vital importance that demands not only a high level of science expertise, but also the utmost integrity to fairly represent the state of science knowledge.”

Fast forward to almost exactly nine years later;

.

.

Sir Peter was unequivocal; there was no credible data to support the meth hysteria that had swept the country;

“There’s absolutely no evidence in the medical literature anywhere in the world, of anybody being harmed by passive exposure to methamphetamine at any level.

“We can’t find one case in the medical literature, we can’t find one case by talking to experts where there is evidence of harm … it makes no sense.”

It backed up a curious admission from National Party leader, Bill English, in August 2016, where he questioned the validity of p-contamination levels in state houses;

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

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

They’re operating to a Ministry of Health guideline which I understand is internationally standard, but is regarded as not quite appropriate”

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

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

Astonishingly, despite Bill English knowing two years ago that meth-testing levels were probably bogus, National’s current Housing spokesperson, Judith Collins, voiced ignorance to its validity;

“We didn’t know. I spoke to [then-Minister of Social Housing] Paula Bennett about it, and she’s absolutely adamant she didn’t know. She got advice from the Housing NZ and also the Ministry of Health, and apparently Standards NZ were involved. So it’s the first time that we knew.”

Ms Collins was happy to pass the buck;

“But Housing NZ needs to front up, because they have refused to front up to media, and their minister Phil Twyford, he’s not making them front up. Let’s just find out what they knew.”

In October 2016, the Ministry of Health repeated it’s assertions that P levels in houses were only dangerous if manufacturing – not smoking – had taken place;

Ministry of Health Director of protection, regulation and assurance, Stewart Jessamine, said;

“Underpinning those conversations has always been the Ministry’s view that the Ministry’s guidelines only cover clandestine laboratories and this has been routinely pointed out.”

Despite clear statements from the Ministry of Health and from then-Prime Minister Bill English, Housing NZ continued its policy to evict around 300 families from State houses; disrupting lives; and demanding compensation from some former tenants.

On 6 June this year, Housing NZ’s CEO,  Andrew McKenzie, denied point blank ever being advised by the Ministry of Health that they were mis-applying P-levels;

“We weren’t warned repeatedly.

No, we weren’t  [told].

[…]

So, certainly, the organisation is very clear, we were not told. There’s no record of being told that we were mis-using the guidelines.”

Evidently, the Prime Minister of the day’s public comments on national radio, questioning meth-testing levels,  did not constitute “being told”.

National party current-leader, Simon Bridges gave a belated qualified “apology” – of sorts;

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

Bridges’ apology was for “advice we got was wrong” – not for wrongful eviction of tenants.

But not one single individual has taken responsibility for 300 families losing their homes and $100 million of tax-payer’s money flushed down the toilet on pointless testing.

Since Sir Peter’s meth-testing bomb-shell, Housing NZ has been forced to apologise to tenants who were caught up in the hysteria; cease demanding repayment for unnecessary clean-ups; and taken evicted tenants’ names of a Housing NZ black-list. There is also consideration of making compensation payments for Housing NZ tenants who lost their homes and possessions (though tenants in private “social housing” may miss out).

The policy of evicting tenants for flawed meth-levels, and where culpability for who (if any of the current tenants) smoked the drug, has been put to a stop.

For 300 people whose lives have been unnecessarily disrupted, it is too late. But at least no more vulnerable families will be put at risk of summary eviction and imposition of hefty punitive financial penalities.

In a curious way, this is due to Key’s decision to implement the role of a Science Advisor nine years ago. Sir Peter’s description of his new role in 2009 was remarkably prescient;

My primary task is to give the Prime Minister strategic and operational advice on science and science policy issues.

[…]

… I have a role of advising on specific matters related to science. In general this will be in the form of formally commissioned reports that will summarise the evidence base to suggest a specific mode of action or secondly where new scientific developments create either opportunity or risk. Again, I anticipate that my role will be limited to situations where my independence and hopefully high public respect can add value beyond what can come from departmental or sectoral advice.

[…]

… I will serve as a conduit of alerts that might arise where scientific progress shows either opportunity or threat for New Zealand. I will not be a lobby for individual science projects, but where scientists see something emerging that they think policy makers need to be aware of, I can assist with communication.

More recently, in an interview on TVNZ’s Q+A with Corin Dann, Sir Peter expanded on the role of Science Advisor for sound policy-making;

“So most of the things that governments really need help from the science community over are remarkably complex. The water system, the climate system, the agricultural system. That’s what we can try and do is explain both to the public and to the policy maker and to the politician. What are they options that then emerge? Complexity always means there are multiple options.

[…]

…the whole question of, ‘How do we have complex conversations over difficult matters in a constructive, collegial manner. Because this is a matter where, clearly, people come to it with different personal perspectives. We have put the evidence on the table, and I would hope that over time – we said that when we released the report – it would hopefully promote a conversation where people would look at the evidence across all the political parties, and with the public, and perhaps reflect that perhaps we’ve gone too far into the retribution model of justice and not enough into the restorative, rehabilitative and particularly preventive form of justice which other countries, such as Finland, Germany, have done. And the evidence there is, in my view, that we could have a conversation…

[…]

And what a science advisory system can do is provide the evidence on the basis that it will help, over time, governments and societies make better decisions.”

For far too long, New Zealand’s policy-making by our elected representatives has been predicated on knee-jerk reactions and populism. Whether it was Muldoon’s disastrous  decision to abandon compulsory superannuation payments which left New Zealand at the mercy of overseas financiers – or the current explosion in incarceration rates in our prisons based on “tough on crime” jingoism – political decisions have hardly been predicated on sound science.

As a nation we have paid heavily – in both social and financial measures – for flawed political decision-making.

Sir Peter’s revelations that meth testing was a sham was based on science. The data was hard (if impossible) to refute.

It is high time that Science Advisors should be mandatory and well-resourced for every single Ministry and department in this country. Their advice should be critical in all aspects of crucial policy-making.

Otherwise we lurch from one ineffectual populistic policy extreme to another. All to win votes in a vacuum of real information and hard data.

Make no mistake, we end up paying for policy extremes that are not founded in sound science. National’s populistic tough-on-crime mantra and harsher bail laws has resulted in a massive explosion in our prison population.  The number of prisoners (including non-sentenced people awaiting trial, whose guilt/innocence has not yet been decided) now exceeds 10,000 and approaching 11,000.

As Justice Minister Andrew Little pointed out;

“The Netherlands, where I was last week, a country of roughly 15½ million, has a prison population of 7000. We’re a country of 4.7 million and we’ve got a prison population of approaching 11,000. What is happening in New Zealand is abnormal, and we’ve got to get to the bottom of it.”

National would have wasted $1 billion of our taxes on a new mega-prison in Waikeria. They have lambasted Labour’s attempts to grapple with a burgeoning prison muster by parroting the “soft on crime” mantra. Simon Bridges and his National party MPs have capitalised over fear-mongering on this issue;

.

 

.

Sir Peter Gluckman weighed in;

“Cabinet will be considering a range of questions and issues in the next two to three weeks, and a range of decisions will be taken about stuff to do in the short term and stuff we’ll be able to do in the longer term.

I was shocked by the rate of rise in the prison and justice system costs in the past 30 years, and in particular that this rise has continued and is actually enhanced at the very time that crime rates are actually declining.

We say, ‘Lock ’em up, lock ’em up, be tough on crime.’ But all that’s going to do is keep driving up costs.”

Of course, some offenders still needed prison time for retribution and to protect the public.

But if you look at what’s driving the costs – it’s that we’re making more severe sentences.

Now is that sensible when we know people who are in prison for longer often become professional criminals? It’s an inevitability of what the environment creates.

Evidence in the report suggests prisons are often training grounds for further offending. Prisoners can build their criminal careers by learning criminal skills in prison, which damages their employment, accommodation and family prospects, and compounds any existing mental health and substance use issues.

Associate professor, Ian Lambie, a Science Advisor to the justice sector and clinical psychologist, stated with crystal clarity;

“This Government has clearly indicated they want some work done and are interested in reform.

Where we are heading is not where we should be, and it does not create a safer society, a safer New Zealand.

What we have to do, rather than building more prisons, is focus the money on ways to create fewer prisoners, and we have to look at early intervention.

We have to remember that the majority of people [prisoners] get out. They have mental health needs, literacy needs, housing needs – and those life needs need to be addressed. We need to give the support and services if we’re really going to turn their lives around.”

So who do we listen to?

Politicians such as tough-on-crime National MPs with an eye on the next election in 2020?

Or Science Advisors who act on information and are impartial and dispassionate on issues?

It is time that New Zealand put more weight on evidentially-based policies. Relying on emotive, political, headline-grabbing sound-bites designed to scare people and elicit their votes is a poor way to formulate sound policy.

The meth-testing scam is a clear case of where emotion and politicisation leads us. It is a warning we should heed as a nation if we are to learn from our mistakes.

That’s not a bad legacy from a Prime Minister who otherwise wasted nine years.

.

.

.

References

Fairfax media: John Key dismisses rumours surrounding resignation

Radio NZ: PM to resign – ‘It feels like the right time to go’

NZ Herald: NZ’s half-trillion-dollar debt bomb

Beehive: PM appoints Chief Science Advisor

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

Radio NZ: English calls for more specific housing meth tests

Mediaworks/Newshub: National had no idea meth guidelines were wrong – Judith Collins

NZ Herald: Housing NZ on the defensive over meth testing as it says just five state house tenants have been evicted over P use

Radio NZ: Housing NZ boss apologises over faulty meth tests

Radio NZ: Housing NZ boss ‘regrets’ meth-testing approach (audio)

Fairfax media: Housing NZ report into meth test saga to cover ‘every aspect’ of ‘policy failure’

Fairfax media: Housing NZ backtracks after saying it has no plans to stop taking payments for meth clean-up costs

TVNZ News: Social housing tenants evicted over meth contamination may miss out on compensation

Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor: The Role of the Chief Scientific Advisor

Scoop media: TVNZ – Q+A – Sir Peter Gluckman interviewed by Corin Dann

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

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

Fairfax media: Prisons under ‘immense pressure’ with only enough space for 300 more inmates

Fairfax media: Government aims to cut prison population and fix ‘abnormal’ system

Fairfax media: $1 billion prison expansion entering final stages of approval

TVNZ: Waikeria Prison expansion is ‘unfortunately’ needed and Government is ignoring the reality of high inmate numbers – Simon Bridges

Additional

Radio NZ: Sir Peter Gluckman: Meth fiasco shows science advisors crucial

Other Blogposts

Liberation:  Cartoons about John Key’s resignation

No Right Turn:  A tiny start

No Right Turn:  Priorities

No Right Turn:  Calling bullshit on “P-contamination”

Public Address:  “Meth contamination”: the making of a moral panic

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

Pundit: Meth house clean-up only just begun

The Daily Blog:  Well, well, well – so the meth contamination hysteria was bullshit? When will the Mainstream Media & Paula Bennett apologise to NZ?

The Daily Blog: New meth hysteria allegations – Auckland Health Board narked on tenants using their addiction services to HNZ

The Daily Blog:  Shocking new details – HNZ kicked 300 onto street AFTER they were told meth hysteria was wrong

The Daily Blog:  Drug driving hysteria will become our new Meth housing hysteria

The Daily Blog:  Radio NZ continue to promote the lie that National didn’t know about meth testing scam

The Daily Blog:  Soper demanding answers over Metiria when HNZ blew $100m for meth testing hysteria – the double standards are unbelievable

The Standard: Gluckman – Methamphetamine policy was a crock

The Standard: Dud advice

The Standard: National’s strategy on the Housing Corp P fiasco

Previous related blogposts

The Dismantling of a Prime Minister – Completed

The Legacy of a Dismantled Prime Minister

Letter to the editor – John Key’s legacy?

.

.

.

.

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 2 July 2018.

.

.

= fs =

The Many Mendacities of Mr Bridges – National’s fair-weather “commitment” to a Climate Change Commission

.

 

 

 

.

Current National Party Leader, Simon Bridges has been making ‘noises’ about his Party’s new-found revelation that climate change is a major environmental issue

.

 

 

 

 

 

 

.

from: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to: Dominion Post <letters@dompost.co.nz>
date: 24 June 2018
subject: Letter to the editor

.

The editor
Dominion Post

.

National leader Simon Bridges recently announced that his Party would “sign up” to a Climate Change Commission. However, his so-called commitment contained so many caveats as to make it meaningless.

On TVNZ’s Q+A, he said;

“But he can’t even say what exactly that means. My point to you, let me give it straight on, my point to you really is this – there is a difference in politics, there still is today. And it is around, on our side, us thinking we need to be practical, have sensible environmental solutions. We don’t want to see the disruptive damage to the economy quickly.

[…]

And we don’t want to see real costs imposed on hard-working Kiwi households overnight.”

A day later on Radio NZ’s Morning Report, Bridges repeated the same carefully-rehearsed speech;

“You want to be considering not only the environmental impacts but the economic impacts.”

[…]

We’re going to be practical, sensible, and solutions-oriented. We’re not going to veer to the extremes that mean really dramatic effects on our economy and huge costs on household, that disrupt quite quickly.”

Despite acknowledging that “Climate change is real”, he refused to commit to a Commission’s findings.

Mr Bridges has a long way to go.

.

Frank Macskasy

[Address and phone number supplied]

.

As if to underscore Mr Bridges’ double-think on this grave crisis confronting our civilisation;

.

.

 

 

 

 

 

.

from: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to: NZ Herald <letters@herald.co.nz>
date: 24 June 2018
subject: Letter to the editor

.

The Editor
NZ Herald

.

How can current  National Party leader, Simon Bridges, expect to be taken seriously on his so-called ‘signing up’ to a Climate Change Commission when;

(1) He will not undertake any meaningful change to reduce greenhouse gas emissions if it may “harm our economy” or “drive up costs” – both propositions being examples of hyperbolic fear-mongering to do nothing meaningful. (Or as little as possible.)

(2) He refused to undertake to commit to any findings from a proposed Commission despite acknowledging that “climate change is real” and solutions should “be science based”. If he doesn’t commit to science based solutions, what will he commit to?

(3) On 12 April, National launched a petition to “Stop this Ardern-Peters Govt from banning oil and gas exploration”. Two months later, Bridges was ascending the moral highground demanding that “National wants to take the politics out of climate change and work with other parties to create an independent climate change commission. Climate change is a major environmental issue”.

Interviewed on  Radio NZ and TVNZ’s Q+A, Mr Bridges’s qualified his “commitment” to a Climate Change Commission with so many caveats, “ifs”, buts”, and “maybe in the future”, as to expose his supposed Road to Damascus conversion as politically expedient vote chasing.

.

Frank Macskasy

[Address and phone number supplied]

.

As an example of That was Then, This is now,  nothing better illustrates National’s duplicity than their two recent posts of Twitter.

Then

.

.

Now

.

.

So much for “National want[ing] to take the politics out of climate change”.

Some things do not seem to have changed much from May 2005, when a certain Member of Parliament dismissed climate change as a hoax;

“This is a complete and utter hoax, if I may say so. The impact of the Kyoto Protocol, even if one believes in global warming—and I am somewhat suspicious of it—is that we will see billions and billions of dollars poured into fixing something that we are not even sure is a problem. Even if it is a problem, it will be delayed for about 6 years. Then it will hit the world in 2096 instead of 2102, or something like that. It will not work.” – John Key, Debating Chamber, Parliament, 10 May 2005

Hat-tip: MickySavage, The Standard

.

Green Party leader, James Shaw, took a more charitable view of Mr Bridges’ sudden change-of-heart;

“I think it is a genuine offer. National as the so-called party of business has been hearing from particularly the corporate end of town who have been saying that there really has to be a stable policy environment that has to survive multiple changes of Government.

[…]

I think it is pretty unreasonable to ask them to support a piece of legislation that they haven’t seen yet and I think that engaging them in the process of drafting increases the chances that they will eventually vote for it.”

National may vote for it – but will they honour and abide by findings and recommendations from a Climate Change Commission? Especially when in 2012, National scrapped a crucial  five-yearly State of the Environment Report.

Broken promises have also played a significant part in National’s climate change policies. In May 2007, John Key promised to bring farmers into the Emissions Trading Scheme;

“National will bring all Kiwis – industry, energy producers, farmers, mums and dads – closer to a shared and well-understood goal. We need to be united in our pursuit of a ’50 by 50′ target”

By 2012, National had reneged, passing legislation exempting agriculture indefinitely from the ETS.

It is unclear why anyone would believe National’s concession to a Climate Change Commission when their track record has been one of broken promises, back-tracking, prevaricating, and conflicting statements on addressing emissions.

.

 

.

Meanwhile, Nature waits for no Man, Woman, or out-of-touch political careerists. For the last quarter of a century, an increase in greenhouse gas emissions and rising temperatures have quietly wrought it’s damage;

.

BBC: Antarctica loses three trillion tonnes of ice in 25 years

13 June 2018

Satellites monitoring the state of the White Continent indicate some 200 billion tonnes a year are now being lost to the ocean as a result of melting.

This is pushing up global sea levels by 0.6mm annually – a three-fold increase since 2012 when the last such assessment was undertaken.

Scientists report the new numbers in the journal Nature.

Governments will need to take account of the information and its accelerating trend as they plan future defences to protect low-lying coastal communities.

The researchers say the losses are occurring predominantly in the West of the continent, where warm waters are getting under and melting the fronts of glaciers that terminate in the ocean.

[…]

Space agencies have been flying satellites over Antarctica since the early 1990s. Europe, in particular, has an unbroken observation record going back to 1992.

These spacecraft can tell how much ice is present by measuring changes in the height of the ice sheet and the speed at which it moves towards the sea. Specific missions also have the ability to weigh the ice sheet by sensing changes in the pull of gravity as they pass overhead.

[…]

In total, Antarctica has shed some 2.7 trillion tonnes of ice since 1992, corresponding to an increase in global sea level of more than 7.5mm.

[…]

“At the moment, we have projections going through to 2100, which is sort of on a lifetime of what we can envisage, and actually the sea-level rise we will see is 50/60cm,” said Dr Whitehouse. “And that is not only going to impact people who live close to the coast, but actually when we have storms – the repeat time of major storms and flooding events is going to be exacerbated,” she told BBC News.

.

For those with an aptitude for science, the raw date can be found on the Nature website. As well as orbiting satellite sensors,  the Argo Ocean probes continue to feed continuous data on temperature, salinity, and velocity of the upper ocean. Real-time data is collected and made publicly available soon after collection.

.

.

New Zealand’s own NIWA has been part of the Argo Project since the early 2000s. Dedicated crew and scientists from New Zealand’s research vessels Tangaroa and Kaharoa placed over a thousand Argo Floats between 2004 and 2011.

.

.

.

(Images courtesy of NIWA)

From space; to the planet’s surface; and undersea, sensitive instruments are revealing a grim picture of humanity’s impact on the environment and on our climate.

It is against this backdrop that Simon Bridges is playing silly-buggers with the greatest existential threat to humanity since the Americans and Soviets confronted each other during the Cold War.

Small-minded politicians can play their games to win elections.

But it will be at our expense.

Addendum

A recent survey by Horizon Polling has revealed that the majority of respondents “support all parties in Parliament agreeing on plans to act on climate change”;

.

.

Cross-Party support for action on climate gas emissions showed a majority in favour;

.

  • 41% of National voters support an all-party approach (31% are neutral, 21% oppose)
  • 67% of Labour voters support, 17% are neutral, 6% oppose
  • 93% of Green voters support, 3% are neutral and none oppose
  • 47% of NZ First voters support, 30% are neutral and 21% oppose

.

Simon Bridges’ luke-warm ‘support’ for a Climate Change Commission threatens to make him more irrelevant than he is already. At this rate he will have to run to catch up with the rest of the country.

.

.

.

References

Radio NZ: Nats change tune on commission for climate change

Scoop media: Q+A – Simon Bridges interviewed by Corin Dann (transcipt)

Scoop media: Q+A – Simon Bridges interviewed by Corin Dann (video)

Radio NZ: Morning Report – Bridges offers to work with govt on tackling climate change

Twitter: National – Sign our Petition

Twitter: Simon Bridges – Climate Change Commission

Parliament: Climate Change Response Amendment Bill – First Reading

NZ Herald: Climate change minister James Shaw welcomes ‘genuine’ approach from Simon Bridges

NZ Herald: National scraps crucial environmental report

Scoop media: John Key Speech – Climate Change Target

Radio NZ: Farmers’ ETS exemption progresses

BBC: Antarctica loses three trillion tonnes of ice in 25 years

Nature: Mass balance of the Antarctic Ice Sheet from 1992 to 2017

Argo: What is Argo?

Argo: Argo Floats

NIWA: Argo Floats

Horizon Polling:  Majority support all-party action on climate change

Additional

Fairfax media:  Simon Bridges blows hot air into climate change debate

Parliament: Climate Change Response Amendment Bill – First Reading – John Key

Radio NZ: ‘The science is clear – climate change is real’ – National

Other Blogposts

No Right Turn:  Climate Change: National’s forked tongue

The Daily Blog: National proclaiming they want to find climate change solutions is like the Tobacco industry proclaiming they want to find solutions to cancer

The Standard: Does National really want climate change to be a bipartisan issue?

Previous related blogposts

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

Simon burns his Teal Coalition Bridges

.

.

.

.

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

.

.

= fs =

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

.

.

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

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

.

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

.

Or, did he…?!?

.

 

 

 

 

 

 

.

 

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

.

The Editor
The Listener

.

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

Bridges said;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

.

-Frank Macskasy

.

(Address and phone number supplied)

.

The “Clayton’s Apology”

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

.

.

.

References

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

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

Radio NZ: English calls for more specific housing meth tests

Housing NZ: Annual Report 2008/09

Housing NZ: Annual Report 2016/17

Wikipedia: Claytons

Acknowledgement for cartoon

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

Additional

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

Previous related blogposts

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

.

.

.

 

.

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

.

.

= fs =

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

.

 

.

Intro

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

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

The ‘bovis’ hits the fan

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

NAIT – the system that farmers nobbled

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

.

.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The dreaded disease whose name we dare to speak

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

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

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

Like foot and mouth or something“?!

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

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

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

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

.

.

Movement was curtailed;

.

.

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

.

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

.

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

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

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

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

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

The invisible psychological effects were perhaps the worst;

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

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

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

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

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

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

Observe the rules. Follow the NAIT system.

No exceptions.

Or face worse consequences.

National, the Free Market and minimal-government

Remember this guy?

.

.

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

As ‘Advantage‘ recently wrote for The Standard;

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

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

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

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

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

.

.

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

Easy answer: nil. As in nothing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forget it.

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

How small do they really want government to get?

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

.

.

A little appreciation goes a long way.

Vote Biosecurity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

.

Note A: From Budget 2012, Vote Biosecurity was merged with Vote Agriculture & Forestry, and Vote Fisheries into the Vote Primary Industries.
Note B: Linked references to Budget documents listed below..
.

Corresponding international visitor arrivals continued rising (with only a slight drop in 2009, post-GFC).

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

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

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

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

This time for our farming sector.

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

.

.

.

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

 

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

.

.

.

References

Wikipedia: Mycoplasma bovis

NZ Herald:  Confidence mycoplasma bovis outbreak contained

ODT: Another meeting as second farm infected

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

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

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

Fairfax media: NAIT responsibility – the buck stops with farmers

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

NewstalkZB: Farmer slams Govt over bovis communication

MPI: Two-page summary of Mycoplasma bovis

Wikipedia: 2001 United Kingdom foot-and-mouth outbreak

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

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

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

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

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

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

MoBIE: New Zealand Tourism Forecasts 2017-2023

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

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

National Party: Low income earners to subsidise homes for wealthy

National: Achievements – Social investment

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

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

Fairfax media:  Jobs expected to go in state sector cuts

Scoop media: Risks involved in cutting MAF Biosecurity jobs

NZ Herald: New Zealand fruit fly free after successful operation

MPI: Red clover casebearer moth

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

NZ Treasury: Budget 2008Vote Biosecurity

NZ Treasury: Budget 2009Vote Biosecurity

NZ Treasury: Budget 2010Vote Biosecurity

NZ Treasury: Budget 2011Vote Biosecurity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Statistics NZ: Exports and imports hit new highs in 2017

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

NZ Herald: Kiwifruit disease Psa explained

MPI: Pea weevil

MPI: Eucalyptus variegated beetle

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

MPI: No further Tau flies found and restrictions now lifted

MPI: Culex sitiens mosquito

Radio NZ: English hints at further tax cuts

NZ Herald: Key pledges state service shake-up

Scoop media: Speech – John Key – Better Public Services

Additional

Wikipedia: Biosecurity in New Zealand

MPI: Keeping watch

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

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

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

Other Blogs

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

Previous related blogposts

Bugs and balls-ups!

.

.

.

.

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

.

.

= fs =

Judith Collins wins a Hypocrisy Award

.

.

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

Amongst it’s many projects were;

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which is ironic, to say the least.

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

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

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

This included a few optional extras;

.

.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now National has added housing to it’s list.

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

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

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

Enjoy.

.

 

.

.

.

References

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

Beehive: New Housing and Urban Development Ministry

Wikipedia: Ministry of Works and Development

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

Wikipedia: Ministry of Works and Development – Major projects

NZ Herald: Repaired leaky homes worth 1/4 less

Newsroom: Why Auckland can’t build enough houses

Treasury: Income from State Asset Sales as at May 2014

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

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

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

Beehive: MBIE to proceed from 1 July

Treasury NZ: Budget 2013 (p78)

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

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

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

Radio NZ: Super-ministry problems ‘inevitable’

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

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

Additional

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

Werewolf: The Myth of Steven Joyce

Other Blogposts

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

Previous related blogposts

National recycles Housing Policy and produces good manure!

Our growing housing problem

National Housing propaganda – McGehan Close Revisited

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

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

Government Minister sees history repeat – responsible for death

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

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

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

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

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

.

.

.

.

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

.

.

= fs =

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

.

 

.

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

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

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

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

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

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

A July 2017 MSD report confirmed Rashbrooke’s observations;

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Food insecurity:

.

.

Income poverty;

.

.

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

.

.

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

.

.

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

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

Priorities, eh?

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

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

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

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

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

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

We now have greater income inequality and extremes of poverty.

So as Mr Campbell said on Q+A;

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

If we wanted to“…

.

.

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

.

.

.

References

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

TVNZ: Q+A – Panel on Homelessness

Investopedia: Neoliberalism

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

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

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

Oxford Living Dictionaries: Definition – Quintile

Scoop media: Oxfam NZ inequality data 2018

Wikipedia: New Zealand general election, 2008

Wikipedia: New Zealand general election, 2017

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

NZ Herald: Homelessness rising in New Zealand

NZ Herald: Measuring poverty line not a priority – Bennett

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

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

World Atlas: Top Milk Producing Countries In The World

Wikipedia: Ministry of Works and Development

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

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

Additional

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

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

Previous related blogposts

An unfortunate advertising placement, child poverty, and breathing air

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

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

Once were warm hearted

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

National’s new-found concern for the poor

.

.

.

.

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

.

.

= fs =