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

31 January 2017 1 comment

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Introduction

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The following is the amount spent by Labour, on Vote Education in the 2008 Budget;

Total 2008 Vote Education: $10,775,482,000 (in 2008 dollars)

Total students in 2009: 751,330* 

spend per student: $14,341.88

The following is the amount spent by National, on Vote Education in the 2016 Budget;

Total 2016 Vote Education: $11,044,598,000 (in 2016 dollars)

Total students in 2016: 776,948**

spend per student in 2016 dollars: $14,215.36

Total 2016 Vote Education: $9,608,800,000 (re-calculated in 2008 dollars)

spend per student in 2008 dollars: $12,367.37

Calculated in real terms (2008 dollars), National’s spending on Vote Education was $1,166,682,000 less last year than Labour budgetted in 2008.

In dollar terms, in 2016, National spent less per student ($14,215.36) than Labour did in 2008 ($14,341.88). Converting National’s $14,215.36 from 2016 dollars to 2008 dollars, and the sum spent  per student is even less: 12,367.37.

In real terms, National has cut the total*** education budget by $1,974.51 per student.

*  Not including 9,529 international fee-paying students

**  Not including 11,012 international fee-paying students

*** Total spent on Vote Education, not just schools and tertiary education.

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Tax-cuts and Service-cuts

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Writing in the Daily Blog recently, political commentator Chris Trotter had this to say on the matter of taxation and social services;

Speaking on behalf of the NewLabour Party, I felt obliged to spell out the realities of tertiary education funding. I told them that they could have free education or low taxes – but they could not have both. If the wealthy refused to pay higher taxes, then students would have to pay higher fees. If the middle class (i.e. their family) was serious about keeping young people (i.e. themselves) out of debt, then they would have to vote for a party that was willing to restore a genuinely progressive taxation system.”

Since 1986, there have been no less than seven tax-cuts;

1 October 1986 – Labour

1 October 1988 – Labour

1 July 1996 – National

1 July 1998 – National

1 October 2008 – Labour

1 April 2009 – National

1 October 2010 – National

 

The 2010 tax-cuts alone were estimated to cost the State  $2 billion in lost revenue.

Taxes were raised in 2000 by the incoming Labour government, to inject  much needed funding for a cash-strapped health sector. The previous National government, led by Bolger and later Shipley, had gutted the public health service. Hospital waiting lists grew. People waited for months, if not years, for life-saving operations. Some died – still waiting.

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During that time, National cut taxes twice (see above). Funding for public healthcare suffered and predictably, private health insurance capitalised on peoples’ fears;

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A decade late, National’s ongoing cuts, or under-funding, of state services such as the Health budget have resulted in wholly predictable – and preventable – negative outcomes;

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A critic of National’s under-funding of the health system, Phil Bagshaw, pointed out the covert agenda behind the cuts;

New Zealand’s health budget has been declining for almost a decade and could signal health reforms akin to the sweeping changes of the 1990s, new research claims.

[…]

The accumulated “very conservative” shortfall over the five years to 2014-15 was estimated at $800 million, but could be double that, Canterbury Charity Hospital founder and editorial co-author Phil Bagshaw said.

Bagshaw believed the Government was moving away from publicly-funded healthcare, and beginning to favour a model that meant everyone had to pay for their own.

“It’s very dangerous. If this continues we will slide into an American-style healthcare system.”

Funding cuts to the Health sector have been matched with increases to charges;

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cuts to NGOs offering support services;

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… and  leaving district health boards in dire financial straits;

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The critical correlation between  tax cuts and consequential reduction of state services was nowhere better highlighted then by US satirist and commentator,  Seth Meyer. He was unyielding with his  scathing, mocking, examination of  the travesty of the Kansas Example of “minimalist government”;

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Here in New Zealand, National’s funding cuts have not been restricted to the Health sector and NGOs. Government agencies from  the Police , Radio NZ, to the Department of Conservation have had their funding slashed (or frozen –  a cut after inflation is factored in).

The exception has been the Prime Minister’s department which, since 2008, has enjoyed a massive  increase of $24,476,000 since 2008 and  a near-doubling of John Key’s department and Cabinet expenditure since Michael Cullen’s last budget, seven years previously.

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Tax cuts, slashed services, and increasing user-pays

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By contrast,  parents are finding more and more that the notion of a free state education is quietly and gradually slipping away. User-pays has crept into the schools and universities – with harsh penalties for those who fail to pay.

In May 2013, National’s Tertiary Education Minister, Steven Joyce, announced;

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True to his word, in January 2016, the first person was arrested for allegedly “defaulting on his student loan”. By November the same year, a third person had been arrested. Joyce was unrepentant;

“There probably will be more, we don’t know of course how many are in Australia but that’s a very good start, and I think it’s probably a reasonable proportion of those who are in Australia.”

Joyce, of course, has nothing to fear from being arrested for defaulting on a student loan. His tertiary education was near-free, paid for by the tax-payer.

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National had no choice, of course. The entire premise of user-pays was predicated on citizens paying services that until the late ’80s/early ’90s, had been either free or near-free. With student debt now at an astronomical $14.84 billion, National cannot afford to let ‘debtors’ get off scott-free. That would send the entire unjust system crashing to the ground.   According to Inland Revenue;

… nearly 80,000 of the 111,000 New Zealanders living overseas were behind on their student loan repayments.

IRD collections manager Stuart Duff said about 22 percent of borrowers living overseas were in Australia.

He said the $840m owed to New Zealand was a substantial amount of debt.

Figures show that student debt has been increasing every year since it’s inception in 1992. At this rate, student debt will achieve Greece-like proportions;

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Graphic: acknowledgement - NZ Herald

Graphic acknowledgement:  NZ Herald

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Unsurprisingly, loan ‘defaulters’ have surpassed $1 billion, including $16 million  written off through bankruptcy. Some never pay off their “debt” with $19 million  lost after death of the borrower.

But it is not only tertiary education that has attracted a user-pay factor. School funding has also been frozen, with operational grants the most recent to suffer National’s budgetary cuts;

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Education, Inc.

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Schools are so starved of funds that they are having to rely on outside sources of income  to make up shortfalls;

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Reliance on foreign students to make up shortfalls in government spending is essentially turning our schools into commercial ventures; touting for “business” and ensuring “clients” achieve good results so as to ensure repeat custom.

When did we vote for a policy which effectively commercialised our education system?

Schools are also funded more and more by parents – to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. Fund-raising and ever-increasing school fees are required, lest our schools become financially too cash-strapped to function.

In 2014, school “donations” (actually fees by another name) and necessary fundraising reached  $357 million and is estimated to reach a staggering $1 billion by this year;

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It is estimated that a child born this year will cost his/her parents $38,362 for thirteen years of  a “free” state education. In 2007, that cost was 33,274. Our supposedly “free” state education is being gradually whittled away, and replaced with surreptitious user-pays. According to Radio NZ;

Some school principals say many schools are considering a hike in parent donations next year and cutting teacher aide hours, as they respond to a freeze on core school funding.

More than 300 school principals responded to a survey by teacher unions.

About 40 percent of school principals said they were considering cutting back on the hours of teacher aides and other support staff next year.

Thirteen percent said they were looking to increase parent donations.

The president of the teacher union NZEI, Louise Green, said the survey showed it was students who miss out when school funding was frozen.

The neo-liberal princiciple of user-pays is being covertly implemented throughout the public sector and nowhere is this more apparent than in education. Parents and guardians are expected to pay more for education and this is “off-set” by cuts to taxes. This is core to the concept of user-pays.

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User-pays is hard to pay

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The problem is that this is not an overt policy by National. The public have not been given a clear choice in the matter and instead increasing user-pays has crept in, barely noticed by the voting public. Even when challenged, a National Minister will use mis-information to attempt to use Trump-like “alternative facts” to hide what is happening;

But Education Minister Hekia Parata said parents contributed just $1.80 for every $100 spent by the taxpayer on education.

The Government was set to invest $10.8 billion in early childhood, primary and secondary education, more than the combined budget for police, defence, roads and foreign affairs.

New Zealanders have been lulled into a false sense of security that, even after seven tax cuts, we still have “free” education.  But as Chris Trotter pointed out with cool logic;

I told them that they could have free education or low taxes – but they could not have both.

The question is, what kind of society do New Zealanders want: a free education system or  tax cuts and more user-pays?

Because we can’t have both.

At the moment, politicians are making this choice for us.

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Postscript

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From a Dominion Post article on 24 January;

Student loans are getting bigger and graduates are taking longer to pay back the money they owe.

Figures from last year’s Student Loan Scheme Annual Report show the median loan balance in this country grew from $10,833 in 2008 to $14,904 in 2016.

The median repayment time for someone with a bachelor’s degree also lifted from just over six years, to eight and a half.

Since a peak in 2005, the numbers of people taking up tertiary education have declined.

[…]

Labour education spokesman Chris Hipkins said there was a variety of factors that lead to higher student loans and longer repayment times. Tuition fees continued to rise, as did living costs.

“The long term impact for people is quite significant, basically they have a large debt for longer,” Hipkins said.

“If they’re weighed down with student loan debt it will be difficult to get on the property ladder, it’s already a burden, and this is making it even harder for the next generation.”

Universities New Zealand executive director Chris Whelan said that when it came to universities fees increasing, one need only look at published annual accounts of the country’s eight universities to see they were not “raking in” a lot of money.

Currently two-thirds of the cost of tuition was covered by subsidies, and one-third was covered by the student.

LOANS ON THE RISE

Median loan balances

2010 – $11,399

2012 – $12,849

2014 – $13,882

2016 – $14,904

Median repayment times for a bachelors/graduate certificates or diplomas

2010 – 6.9 years

2012 – 7.8 years

2014 – 8.5 years

 

 

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References

Reserve Bank NZ: Inflation calculator

Treasury: Vote Education 2008

Treasury: Vote Education 2016

Educationcounts: School RollsStudent Rolls by School 2005-2009

Educationcounts: School RollsStudent Rolls by School 2010-2016

The Daily Blog:  Don’t Riot For A Better Society: Vote For One!

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

The Press: Four forced off waiting list die

Otago Daily Times:  Heartwatch Insurance Cover

Radio NZ: Patients have ‘severe loss of vision’ in long wait for treatment

Fairfax media: Researchers claim NZ health budget declining, publicly-funded surgery on way out

Radio NZ: Patients suffering because of surgery waits – surgeon

Fairfax media:  Prescription price rise hits vulnerable

TVNZ News: Kiwi charities and NGOs face closure with impending funding cuts

NBR: Leaked document shows 10 District Health Boards face budget cuts – King

Fairfax media: Police shut 30 stations in effort to combat budget cuts

Youtube: Kansas Tax Cuts –  A Closer Look

Scoop media: Budget cuts continue National’s miserly underfunding of DOC

Fairfax media: Student loan defaulters to face border arrest

NBR: Arrested student loan defaulter claims to be Cook Island PM’s relative

Fairfax media: Third arrest of student loan defaulter made following government crackdown

Radio NZ: Govt tightens education purse strings

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

Fairfax media: Student loan borrowers seeking bankruptcy as millions in debts wiped due to insolvency

NZ Herald:   Schools using foreigners’ fees to staff classrooms

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

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

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

Motherjones: Trickle-Down Economics Has Ruined the Kansas Economy

The New Yorker: Covert Operations

CBS News: Kansas loses patience with Gov. Brownback’s tax cuts

Kansas City Star: Gov. Sam Brownback cuts higher education as Kansas tax receipts fall $53 million short

Bloomberg: Kansas Tried Tax Cuts. Its Neighbor Didn’t. Guess Which Worked

Fairfax media: Tourism industry claims DOC will be severely handicapped by funding cuts

Previous related blogposts

The slow starvation of Radio NZ – the final nail in the coffin of the Fourth Estate?

12 June – Issues of Interest – User pays healthcare?

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

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

The seductiveness of Trumpism

Steven Joyce – Hypocrite of the Week

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 26 January 2017.

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St John management applies tourniquet to workers’ throats

20 January 2017 1 comment

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Charitable organisation, St John, which operates ambulance services nationwide, as well as other medical services, has been engaging in  anti-worker actions during recent industrial negotiations to conclude a collective agreement.

On 5 January, St John announced that workers wearing apparel bearing a pro-union message “Healthy Ambos Save Lives” would be docked 10% of their wages;

St John Ambulance officers who ditch their uniforms as part of ongoing strike action will have their pay docked by 10 per cent.

The First Union, which represents 1000 ambulance officers across the country, has condemned the move as “astounding”.

But St John says it didn’t take the step lightly, and it was done out of concern for the health and safety of staff and patients.

The wage deductions come as ambulance officers enter their third month of industrial action, following stalled collective agreement negotiations with St John.

Striking workers are continuing to respond to emergencies and call-outs as normal, but are breaching St John policy by refusing to wear uniforms.

Instead, unionised St John workers have been wearing T-shirts reading “Healthy Ambos Save Lives”.

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St John clinical operations director, Norma Lane,  ‘spinned’ the wage-docking as a “safety” issue;

“It is important ambulance officers are identifiable in an emergency environment where circumstances can change rapidly. Not complying is a health and safety risk not only to the employee but to fellow officers and other emergency workers. While there is only a very small number of ambulance professionals refusing to wear hi-vis vests, we have advised First Union and our staff that those employees not complying with this requirement will receive a 10 per cent deduction of wages.”

How cutting wages improves safety for workers is not made clear by Ms Lane.

St John’s threats echo that made by AFFCO employers, almost exactly a year ago;

An AFFCO worker has been suspended without pay, and will probably be sacked after filming workers in union t-shirts being refused entry to work, the Meat Workers’ Union says.

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[…]

AFFCO said it was company policy that union t-shirts were not worn on site, and that they were associated with inappropriate and threatening behaviour.

One Union member made his/her feelings perfectly clear with this image posted on First Union’s Facebook page;

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What is clear, though, is that St John is engaging in all-out repugnant industrial warfare against the First Union.

St John Station managers have used emotional blackmail, legal threats from law firms,  and deliberate mis-information in a calculated strategy to undermine First Union and its  members’ resolve. As  Ambulance Professionals First spokesperson, Lynette Blacklaws, revealed on 7 November last year;

“When a crew arrived in mufti at a station in Auckland this morning their manager snapped that ‘if someone dies because they didn’t let you in be it on your heads’. This comes on the same day station managers in the Bay of Plenty told several ambulance officers over the phone that industrial action was cancelled, even though this isn’t true.”

More aggressive  anti-union activity was to come.

On 24 November last year,  St Johns announced on it’s media page that it had  concluded a successful collective agreement with the  Amalgamated Workers Union NZ Southern  (AWUNZ), Central Amalgamated Workers Union  (CAWU), NZ Ambulance Association (NZAA), and the Ambulance Officers Workplace Union  (AOWU).

First Union was not a party to the new collective agreement. St John stated on it’s webpage,

It is our preference to have nationally consistent terms and conditions for all St John employees, accordingly, St John and the four union parties have made provision for the First Union members to become party to the new Collective Agreement should they wish

The statement continued with this ominous ‘rider’;

If First Union decides not to become party to the new Collective Agreement, St John will continue to work through the various options available.

On 7 January this year, First Union learned what “various options” St John had in mind. As reported in The Daily Blog, St John was flexing it’s industrial muscle using new anti-union laws passed by National in 2015.

The union representing over 1000 St John Ambulance staff has today received confirmation from the Employment Relations Authority that St John has lodged an application to withdraw from bargaining without concluding a collective agreement.

If St John were to be successful they would be the first company to withdraw from bargaining without concluding a collective agreement under the 2015 amendments to the Employment Relations Act.

Simply put, National’s so-called “reforms” allowed employers to cease negotiations to conclude a collective agreement with a union, by applying to the Employment Relations Authority;

Before the law change, parties bargaining for a collective agreement were required to conclude that agreement unless there was genuine reason not to. The change means that a collective agreement does not have to be concluded, however parties must still deal with each other in good faith.

[…]

The Act provides some protections against parties that end bargaining by deadlocking on one issue. Specifically, either party can seek a declaration from the Employment Relations Authority (the Authority) about whether bargaining has concluded. The process is discussed in more detail below.

First Union officials were not impressed. They understood the agenda that St John was playing out;

Jared Abbott, spokesperson for Ambulance Professionals First, the network within FIRST Union representing ambulance officers, said the application confirms what the union suspected: that St John had no intention of reaching an agreement.

“St John have spent less than two hours with us at the table since we started our protest actions. Applying to conclude bargaining now is outrageous. This is no way to treat your staff.”

Mr Abbott said that despite writing to the company on several occasions and requesting a proposed collective agreement, St John repeatedly refused to make a formal offer.

Ambulance Professionals First has also written to St John highlighting how no collective agreement was presented to the ratification meetings for the smaller unions who agreed to settle, a requirement under the law for a collective agreement to become operative.

“We’re astounded with how unprofessional St John has been. Ambulance staff just want fair recognition for the hard work they do. This is only going to get more staff off-side,” said Abbott.

“We don’t believe St John’s application will be successful.”

St John is using ‘the stick’. Other employers opt for ‘the carrot’ to break legal strikes;

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Whether by ‘carrot’ or ‘stick’, the bosses’ agenda remains the same: to smash unions and undermine workers’ rights. The end result – dampen wage growth and wind-back hard-won worker’s conditions.

St John management’s unscrupulous behaviour makes a mockery of that organisation’s so-called “five values”;

We do the Right Thing – Whakaaro Tika
We take responsibility. Make the tough calls. Think of others.

We stand Side by Side – Whakakoha
We respect, value and support what others contribute.

We Make it Better – Whakawerohia
We find solutions- step up, own it, do it.

We have Open Minds – Whakahangahanga
We listen openly. Encourage ideas. Welcome feedback.

We are Straight Up – Whakapono
We act with honesty, courage and kindness.

They even have ‘badges’ proudly displayed on their webpage;

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Obviously St John’s “five values” do not extend to their own workers.

Curiously, whilst St John proudly announced it’s collective agreement with four other unions on its “News Articles” page, it made no mention of it’s application to the Employment Relations Authority to abandon negotiation with First Union;

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Neither has it disclosed to the public on it’s website that it is taking draconian steps to dock ambulance drivers’ pay packets by 10% for  wearing shirts bearing union messages.

Is St John ashamed to present this information on their website, where public eyes can see what the organisation is doing to it’s ambulance drivers? It is evidently not a “good look” that an organisation nearly a thousand years old, and  dedicated to helping people, is screwing its own staff.

According to Norma Lane, the wearing of the First Union shirts constitutes   “participation in a partial strike” and thereby justifies docking ambulance drivers’ pay.

Which is about as mean-spirited as a charitable, non-profit organisation can get. As  Jared Abbott correctly pointed out;

“The wage deductions are pretty astounding. The actions ambulance officers are taking cost St John nothing.”

At first look, St John’s actions appear to contravene the Wages Protection Act 1983 which prevents employers from arbitarily docking workers’ pay;

Deductions may only be made from an employee’s pay if they are required by law, agreed to by the employee or are overpayments in some circumstances.

However, it appears that St John is stretching an exemption to what is known as a “partial strike“;

Employees strike when a number of employees totally or partially:

  • break their employment agreement
  • stop work or don’t accept some or all the work they usually do
  • reduce their normal output, performance, or rate of work.

Employees don’t have to stop work completely for them to be on strike.

However, one suspects that more reasonable-minded people would find it difficult to define a “partial strike” as wearing a shirt. If that is St John’s justification for docking ambulance drivers’ pay, then it may be on very shaky ground, both legally and morally.

Whether by luck, or clever design,   this has all transpired over the Year’s End/New Year period when current affairs programmes such as The Nation and Q+A are on hiatus, and even Radio NZ is operating on a “summer holiday programme”. The later  is closer to listening to The Breeze rather than serious news and current affairs.

Once the public begin to understand the machinations of St John’s management, that organisation’s reputation may risk a real hit. “A good reputation” as Colin Beveridge once reflected on,  “is hard-won and easily lost. But the lost reputation has invariably been given away by the actions of the holder, rather than been taken away by somebody else.”

Words that St John’s management would do well to consider.

St John – heal thyself.

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Postscript

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It will be interesting to find out what salary increase St John’s CEO will have this year or next.

 

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References

St John: Ambulance Services

St John: A quick snapshot of what we do

NZ Herald: St John ambulance officers to have pay deducted over industrial action

Radio NZ: Worker suspended over union t-shirts

Facebook: First Union – Healthy Ambos Save Lives

First Union: St John threatens jobs… over wearing a badge

First Union: St John employ “emotional blackmail” in badge dispute

St John:  AWUNZ, CAWU, NZAA & AOWU Unions and St John reach agreement

The Daily Blog: St John apply to end bargaining with FIRST Union

Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment (MoBIE): Amendments to the Employment Relations Act 2000 (March 2015)

Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment (MoBIE): Law changes to collective bargaining

Radio NZ: Junior doctors offered up to $200/h to break strike – union

St John:  Vision & Values

St John: News Articles

St John: The Order of St John

Radio NZ: Ambulance staff to have wages cut over strikes

Employment NZ: Deductions

Employment NZ: Strikes and lockouts

Fairfax media: Big pay rises for district health board heads

Additional

Facebook: First Union

Facebook: Ambulance Professionals First

Previous related blogposts

If anyone wants to see the Working Class

Help Talley’s Affco Workers!

Immovable and Irresistable forces – combined!!

The Talleys Strikes Back

John Key’s track record on raising wages – 7. Part 6A – stripped away

John Key’s track record on raising wages – 8. An End to Collective Agreements

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

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Letter to the editor – Juliet Moses does NOT speak on my behalf!

17 January 2017 4 comments

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Frank Macskasy - letters to the editor - Frankly Speaking

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This recent NZ Herald story was brought to my attention by Martyn Bradbury writing on The Daily Blog;

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Which prompted me to send this response to the Herald’s editor;

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from: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to: NZ Herald <letters@herald.co.nz>
date: Sun, Jan 15, 2017
subject: Letter to the editor

Letter to the editor
NZ Herald

Regarding Juliet Moses’ comment in the New Zealand Herald article, that UN Resolution 2334 “was an affront to all New Zealanders” (6 Jan) – I will thank her and her fellow travellers not to assume they speak for me and others.

Last I looked, Israel has not added Aotearoa to it’s list of illegally annexed territory.

As for Moses’ assertion;

“…Israel’s Arab neighbours mounted a second unsuccessful attempt to exterminate her in 1967”

– is either woeful ignorance or wilful misrepresentation of historical fact.

Israel launched the so-called Six Day War on 5 June 1967 against it’s neighbours;

“In response to the *apparent* mobilization of its Arab neighbours, early on the morning of June 5, Israel staged a sudden preemptive air assault that destroyed more than 90 percent Egypt’s air force on the tarmac. A similar air assault incapacitated the Syrian air force.” – Encyclopedia Britannica

Arrogant and mis-informed. She most certainly does not speak on my behalf.

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-Frank Macskasy

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References

NZ Herald: Juliet Moses – Israel vote was an affront to all New Zealanders

Encyclopedia Britannica: Six-Day War – Middle East – 1967

Additional

Causes: Petition – Aerosmith boycott apartheid Israel!

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The Legacy of a Dismantled Prime Minister

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Prime Minister elect John Key with Picton the kitten on arrival at parliament, Wellington, New Zealand, Monday, November 10, 2008. Credit:NZPA / Ross Setford.

Prime Minister elect John Key with Picton the kitten on arrival at parliament, Wellington, New Zealand, Monday, November 10, 2008. Credit:NZPA / Ross Setford.

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Following his unexpected announcement to resign as New Zealand’s Prime Minister on 5 December last year, 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”.

On 29 December, Radio NZ’sDirector of News Gathering“, Brent Edwards, wrote;

“At the time of his departure, his own personal rating remained high…”

Whilst Key’s Preferred Prime Ministership rating remained higher than his rivals, Key’s public support had plummeted since 2009. In October 2009, Key rated a phenomenal  55.8% in a TV3/Reid Research poll.

By May last year, TV3/Reid Research reported Key’s support to have fallen by 19.1 percentage points  to 36.7%. The same poll reported;

National though is steady on 47 percent on the poll — a rise of 0.3 percent — and similar to the Election night result.

So something was clearly happening with the public’s perception of Key. Whilst National’s overall support remained unchanged from election night on 2014, Key’s favourability was in slow-mo free-fall.

Edwards’ analysis of Key’s “legacy” appeared mostly to consist of this observation;

Within the political commentariat Mr Key has been highly regarded, mainly on the basis of his political style.

He added,

He was quick to dump any political unpopular policies before they did terminal damage to his government and he had an uncanny knack of skating through the most embarrassing political gaffes with little damage, if any, to his political reputation

What other Prime Minister, for example, would have escaped with their political credibility intact after revelations they had repeatedly pulled the ponytail of a waitress at their local cafe?

In effect, Key’s ‘qualities’ appeared to consist of constant damage-control and “an uncanny knack” to avoid being charged with assault.

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.

Key’s “legacies”, according to Edwards, was a failed flag referendum costing the taxpayer $29 million and this;

He did help manage the country through the Global Financial Crisis and the Christchurch earthquake. But National was left a legacy by the previous Labour Government – a healthy set of government books – which gave it the financial buffer it needed to deal with both crises.

Irony of ironies – Key’s one claim to a “legacy” was the product of a prudent Labour finance minister whose own legacy was a cash-gift to Key. Yet, even that cash-gift to Key could have been squandered had then-Finance Minister, Michael Cullen listened to Key’s wheedling demands for tax-cuts;

“Mr Key can’t have it both ways. One moment he says there is a recession looming then he thinks there are still surpluses to spend on tax cuts.”

… he is almost the kinder, gentler Kiwi Donald Trump. He is a populist who has been able to read and respond to a national mood in ways that few other politicians have, although that has more to do with a reliance on opinion polling than some kind of semi-supernatural intuition. 

Matthews’ reference to Key’s ability “to read and respond to a national mood in ways that few other politicians have, although that has more to do with a reliance on opinion polling” was pointed out by Radio NZ’s John Campbell, in his own assessment of the former Prime Minister’s tenure;

Key entered Parliament in 2002. His maiden speech was a pre-Textor, pre-dorky, pre-casual, pre-everyman piece of rhetoric, ripe to the point of jam with admonishments and exhortation.

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And the key passage, in this respect, was: “We mustn’t be scared to do things because they might offend small groups, or seem unconventional. Good government is more than doing what’s popular. Good government is more than blindly following the latest opinion poll.”

On election night 12 years later, having just been made prime minister for a third term, Key triumphantly thanked his pollster, David Farrar, by name: the country’s “best”, he declared, admitting, as the New Zealand Herald reported, that he had rung Farrar “night after night, even though he wasn’t supposed to”.

The man who’d entered Parliament declaring a belief in something better than poll-driven politics had subverted himself. Gamekeeper turned pollster.

Matthews summed up with this conclusion;

He was somehow politically untouchable, even when New Zealand was laughing at or with him, or just cringing. Future historians will provide a clearer picture of his failures: A flag change that was supposed to be a personal legacy became an expensive embarrassment; the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal is dead in the water; he could have used his political capital to do something meaningful about inequality and poverty.

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But over on the West Coast, the government’s failures to satisfy the grieving Pike River families remain entirely embodied in Key.  

Again, Key’s abilities appear to lie with being “politically untouchable”. His “legacies” amounted to a list of dismal failures.

The unknown author of an editorial for the Otago Daily Times was kinder, as if it had been written by one of National’s small army of taxpayer-funded Beehive spin-doctors;

The legacy Mr Key will leave is one of financial stability, a unified government, a record of strong economic management and a commitment to lift as many New Zealanders out of poverty as possible. A shortage of suitable housing has been laid at the door of Mr Key but his efforts in trying to sort out that particularly difficult area have been assiduous.

One of the issues he received the most criticism for is failing to bring home the bodies of the Pike River miners who died in the explosion. While Mr Key would have meant what he said at the time, the pragmatism which ruled his career meant he made a tough call to allow the mine to be sealed. Then there was the failed flag referendum.

But, his leadership during the Christchurch, and latterly Kaikoura, earthquakes was seen as outstanding by most New Zealanders. New Zealand secured a seat on the United Nations Security Council in no small part due to the work carried out by Mr Key.

Curiously, the un-named author glosses over the “commitment to lift as many New Zealanders out of poverty as possible”, “a shortage of suitable housing … laid at the door of Mr Key”, “criticism for … failing to bring home the bodies of the Pike River miners who died in the explosion”, and “the failed flag referendum”. Because at least –  the author crows – we “secured a seat on the United Nations Security Council”.

The ODT’s mystery cheerleader for our former Dear Leader may be one of the few attempts to put a positive ‘spin’ to Key’s administration. It was, however, glaringly light on specifics.

In direct  stark contrast to the ODT’s lame attempt to canonise Key, Audrey Young was more caustic in her piece, Key – No vision, no legacy, no problem. Her conclusions were;

… two other areas I consider to be legacies for the Key Government although he has not claimed them as such: the Ross Sea sanctuary and the modernization of New Zealand’s spy agencies.

Unfortunately for Young, the original proposals for a MPA (Marine Protected Area) for the Ross Sea began as far back as 2005, and was first mooted by the US delegation to the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Living Marine Resources (CCAMLR).

If Key’s sole legacy was to increase the spying powers of the SIS, GCSB, and uncle Tom Cobbly – that may not be something his descendants bring up at polite dinner parties;

“Yeah, it was grand-dad Key who helped turn New Zealand in the virtual police state we have now. Sure we have spy cameras in every home, workplace, and cafe, but crime is almost non-existent!”

– is not something Max or Steph’s own kids will be heard crowing about.

Young suggested that Key’s “legacy” was more akin to a ‘state of mind’;

When I’ve asked people this week what they thought Key’s legacy was, many have said he gave New Zealanders a greater sense of confidence, especially about New Zealand’s place in the world.

That is true but it is a state of mind. It could just as easily disappear through circumstances well beyond our control.

Giving “New Zealanders a greater sense of confidence, especially about New Zealand’s place in the world” were the legacies of former Labour Prime Ministers – notably Norman Kirk and David Lange. Their leadership against the war in Vietnam; atomic bomb testing in the South Pacific; opposing apartheid in South Africa; advancing gay rights,  and turning the entire country into a nuclear-free zone are legacies that are with us today.

Going back even further, and the legacies of Labour’s Michael Savage are still discussed today.

Cringing whilst Key recited his “Top Ten Reasons for Visiting New Zealand” on the David Letterman Show would hardly have given Kiwis “a greater sense of confidence, especially about New Zealand’s place in the world“;

[Warning: Cringe Level: Extreme]

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Most who saw that episode would have  hidden their heads beneath a pillow or blanket. Hardly the stuff of legacies, except of the Silvio Berlusconi variety.

She then concluded;

The fact that Key doesn’t really have a legacy is of no matter.

Well, that’s alright then. According to Young, Key’s “legacy” would be in the same vein as the manner in which he handled his own and ministers’ scandals and stuff-ups; nothing to see here, folks, no legacy, move along please.

Comedian, Jeremy Elwood, offered;

We may never have another Prime Minister who provides as much fodder for as many late night comedy shows around the world, as well as right here, again, but that’s all been part of his “popular appeal”.

Another ‘comedian’ – albeit unintentional – was Roger Partridge, writing on behalf of the so-called NZ Initiative (formerly the now largely discredited Business Roundtable). Partridge offered a lengthy list of neo-liberal “reforms” from Key’s tenure as PM;

Key’s was also a reforming government. After the Fourth Labour government, it was perhaps New Zealand’s most radical in the post-war era. The GST for income tax swap, welfare reforms (the likes of which might have brought down another government), the investment approach to social services; labour market reform, partial-privatisation, reforms in education, including national standards and charter schools: these may have occurred incrementally, but together they comprise a prodigious package of reform.

None of Partridge’s listed “reforms” will stand. 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.

The Herald’s “business editor at large”, Liam Dann pointed to;

…ongoing GDP growth at about 3 per cent, unemployment at around 5 per cent and the crown accounts are solid with the Government booking surpluses that are forecast to top $8 billion within five years.

– but had to concede that much of this “growth” was illusory, based mostly on high immigration and unsustainable ballooning house prices in Auckland;

The housing boom has been a global phenomenon driven by the unusually low interest rate environment in the wake of the GFC. Investors have been looking for somewhere to put their money outside of the bank and assets prices have soared – both sharemarkets and property.

And far from National’s books being in surplus, Key has  managed to rack up a debt of  $95 billion according to a recent Treasury document.  Dann must have missed that salient bit in his rush-to-gush. He did, however, acknowledge the nature of the “ongoing GDP growth” further into his piece;

Overall population growth and record net migration is widely cited as a factor taking the gloss off New Zealand’s strong growth story.

Per capita GDP isn’t nearly so strong and the extra population is adding to the housing bubble and highlighting some deficiencies in infrastructure spending.

Almost reluctantly, Dann concludes;

He has not been a reformer but he has created a stable platform, in unstable times, for growth.

He exuded confidence and it rubbed off on the economy. Whether he has done enough to set the nation up for long-term prosperity, as outlined in those rosy Treasury forecasts, remains to be seen.

He also repeats Brent Edwards’ observation;

…Key made the most of the market conditions he had to work with.  He has benefited from some ground work done by the previous Labour Government, particularly in booking the gains from the China free trade agreement.

Writing for Radio NZ, John Campbell asks;

So, in the end, how will history judge John Key?

In his earnest, boy-scout, way, Campbell is charitable about one possible legacy left by Key;

In the age of Trump and Brexit and Manus Island, and having succeeded Don Brash and his divisive Orewa rhetoric, part of what may endure is a sense that, under him, New Zealand did not embrace xenophobia and paranoia and the vilification of Māori, Muslims, Mexicans, blue-collar immigrants and almost anyone who wasn’t Tribe White.

To this point, writer and trade unionist, Morgan Godfery, not a natural ally of Key, tweeted on the day the prime minister announced his resignation: “I’ll go into bat for Key on this: he rejected the politics of Orewa, avoiding what might have been an ugly decade of tension and conflict.”

Which might be true… except that Key and his Ministers were not above vilifying those who dared criticise National, or when it suited party-politics;

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See also: National Minister refers to PM as “Wild Eyed” Right-Winger!

In his usual manner of gentle admonishment, John Campbell chides Key and his Administration for their failing in housing;

“When I was six”, [Key] said in his maiden speech, “my father died; leaving my mother penniless with three children to raise. From a humble start in a state house, she worked as a cleaner and night porter until she earned the deposit for a modest home. She was living testimony that you get out of life what you put into it. There is no substitute for hard work and determination. These are the attitudes she instilled in me.”

Campbell responded;

Key was six in 1967. Among the many things that have changed since then is housing affordability. The IMF’s latest Global Housing Watch lists New Zealand’s housing market, in relation to household income, as the most expensive in the OECD. Could a penniless solo mother, working as a “cleaner and night porter”, paying market rents, now earn the deposit for a modest home?

Then Campbell issued what may well be Key’s one and only true legacy – if one could call a broken promise to the grieving families and friends of 29 men entombed deep within a mine on the West Coast, a “legacy”;

This is what John Key said, behind closed doors, when he met with Pike families on September 22, 2011.

“The first thing is I’m here to give you an absolute reassurance we’re committed to get the boys out.”

An absolute reassurance. The boys out. When the families heard that, there was spontaneous applause. The human details. The empathy, sincerity and trust. When the clapping stopped, the prime minister continued:

“When people try and tell you we’re not, they’re playing, I hate to say it, but they’re playing with your emotions.”

And then John Key made it personal:

“So, you are the number one group that want to get those men out. And, quite frankly, I’m number two. Because I want to get them out.”

Five years on, the men are still in. It may be that the risk of getting them out is too great. But, when he was alone with them, Key didn’t say that, or qualify his words with that possibility. His was an “absolute reassurance”, and the families believed him and have clung to that belief in the years since.

Of all the many broken promises from Key, that will be the one most remembered. Because as Campbell so astutely pointed out, “John Key made it personal”.

‘Mickey Savage’ writing for The Standard was more brutal and unforgiving in his/her appraisal of Key’s administration;

Key has perfected the aw shucks blokey persona that some clearly like.  Although this was only skin deep.  His management of dirty politics and the Cameron Slater Jason Ede axis of evil won him the last election but at the cost of his soul.

As to the substance he did not really achieve or create anything.  He saw off the Global Financial Crisis and the Christchurch Earthquake rebuilds basically by borrowing money which New Zealand could because Michael Cullen had so assiduously paid off debt.

His economic development policies were crap.  Expanding dairying only polluted our rivers and increased our output of greenhouse gasses. The growth of tertiary education for foreign students only caused the mushrooming of marginal providers.

The primary economic growth policy now appears to be ballooning immigration.  Auckland’s population grew almost 3% last year.  The symptoms are clear, rampant house price increases, homeless caused by ordinary people no longer being able to afford inflated rental amounts and a whole generation shut out of the property market.  And services are stretched as budgets are held but demand increases.

And child poverty has ballooned.  Key was great with the visuals and the talk of an under class and the trip to Waitangi with Aroha Ireland before he became Prime Minister was a major PR event for him to show that at least superficially he cared about the underclass.  But the reality?  Over a quarter of a million of children now live in poverty and kids are living in cars even though their parents have jobs.  There is something deeply wrong in New Zealand.

S/he concluded;

Overall Key was great at the spin and the PR but appallingly bad at dealing with the reality.  Despite his hopes the country is now in a far worse situation under his stewardship than it was when he took over.

‘Mickey Savage’ has summed up Key’s legacy perfectly 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.

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References

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

Radio NZ: How does John Key’s legacy compare to the Bolger years?

Scoop media: 3 News Poll – 2-10 October 2012

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

Beehive: Cullen on Key’s tired old tax cut mantra

Fairfax media: The boy from Bryndwr – John Key’s Christchurch legacy

Radio NZ: Brand John – The Key to National’s success

ODT: The John Key legacy

NZ Herald: Key – No vision, no legacy, no problem

US State Department: A proposal for the establishment of the Ross Sea Region Marine Protected Area

Youtube: John Key’s Top 10 Reasons to visit New Zealand

The Telegraph: Best of Bunga Bunga: 7 most outrageous lines from Silvio Berlusconi’s new biography

Fairfax media: John Key’s most enduring legacy is make the right like Madonna

Interest.co.nz: Roger Partridge assesses the legacy of John Key as Prime Minister and finds an impressive record given the constraints of MMP

NZ Herald: Liam Dann – John Key’s economic hits and misses

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

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

Additional

NZ Herald: Bennett gets tough with outspoken solo mums

Scoop media: Justice Minister Judith Collins resigns from Cabinet – PM’s announcement

Dominion Post: Forced sterilisation ‘a step too far’

Newstalk ZB: Key – Nicky Hager a conspiracy theorist ‘because I think he is’

NZ Herald: PM attacks journalist over SAS torture claims

NBR: Collins on her last chance, PM says

NZ Herald: He’s Dotcom’s little henchman – PM attacks journalist’s spy claims

NZ Herald: Eleanor Catton has ‘no particular great insights into politics’, says John Key

Other Bloggers

Against the current: John Key’s Dismal Record on Climate Change

Bowalley Road: What A Way To Go! Some Initial Thoughts On John Key’s Resignation

Local Bodies: John Key’s Real Legacy

Sciblogs: Key’s legacy – an economist’s view

The Daily Blog: The true legacy of John Key

The Standard:  John Key’s legacy

Your NZ: Key’s legacy

Previous related blogposts

National Minister refers to PM as “Wild Eyed” Right-Winger!

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

The Mendacities of Mr Key # 18: “No question – NZ is better off!”

National and the Reserve Bank – at War!

National exploits fudged Statistics NZ unemployment figures

The Dismantling of a Prime Minister – Completed

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audrey young political column cartoon john key's legacy

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 4 January 2017.

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Protestors condemn Russian involvement in atrocities in Aleppo

24 December 2016 3 comments

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Wellington, NZ, 16 December  – About three dozen people attended a rapidly organised protest outside the Russian Federation’s sprawling  embassy in Messines Rd, Wellington.

The protest was organised  by Syrian Solidarity New Zealand and supported by local members of International Socialist Organisation (ISO). The gathering soon doubled in size from a dozen people to around three dozen;

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Various signs gave a simple message, demanding an end to violence, killings, and support for refugees;

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Some made a pointed link between state-sponsored oppression in Syria and in Gaza;

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Behind an iron barricade, the flag of the Russian Federation fluttered from a pole that, a quarter of a century ago, was adorned with it’s Soviet predecessor;

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Flags may change, but super-power imperialism remains a stubborn constant.

Gayaal was the first speaker to address the protestors;

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Gayaal thanked people for attending the protest in front of what he called sovereign Russian territory;

“We have come here to remind Putin and to remind  the Russian state that even if Aleppo falls, the Syrian revolution will not not be defeated. The people of Aleppo, who have already sacrificed so much heroically to maintain their freedoms, will never be the same.”

He said,

“We are here to send a message from people in New Zealand to the Russian government and to Putin and to al-Assad that the struggle will continue.”

He said the protest was called to show solidarity with the Syrian people in their darkest time in history. He led the protestors in chants that would have been heard throughout the Embassy buildings;

Free Free Syria

Putin Putin you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide

Down Down Assad

Blood blood blood on your hands

The next speaker was “Ani”;

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“We are here because the greatest refugee crisis this generation has ever seen has just got substantially worse… We’ve seen this extreme escalation of what’s happening  in Aleppo, people wanting to evacuate but being held up at the same time by Iranian militias.”

Ani sheeted home blame to Russian adventurism,

“We need to be really clear that this is Russian imperialism that’s  backing up al-Assad.”

Ani said that the US was “actually very marginal to what was happening in Syria”,

“If we want to talk about the US then we can talk about Iraq or Palestine. And we can certainly draw comparisons  between Syria and Palestine. They are a besieged people.  They are a people that are being exterminated  and that extermination is backed up by an empire. But like the Palestinian people the Syrian people are revolutionary, they are fighting back. So even if Aleppo falls, the revolution  will not fall.”

And added,

“We need to stand up with the Syrian people as revolutionaries… we need to stand with the Syrian people who are fighting for their rights.”

Ani said  a collection of donations which would be passed on to the “White Helmets”, a community-based organisation in Syria who, under extreme conditions facing constant bombardment  and gunfire, helped to dig people from the rubble of collapsed buildings.

Ani was followed by Daniel;

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Daniel accused Russian and Syrian government forces of indiscriminate attacks on civilians;

“As we know, Russia and al-Assad’s forces are known to target humanitarian facilities, hospitals, to bombardments so as to make the lives of the people of Aleppo unbearable. This is the largest humanitarian crisis of our lifetime, and possibly one of the greatest refugee crisis.”

Daniel said that a message should be sent to the New Zealand government;

“Refugees are streaming out of Syria, across the world. The West has a responsibility to open it’s doors to these people, having substantially caused the problems of imperialism that are now affecting these people’s lives. So New Zealand has a role to play to allow these refugees to re-settle and live among us here in peace.”

Daniel led a loud chant,

“Refugees are welcome, racists are not!”

Daniel accused (President)  al-Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies of waging unremitting war against the people of Syria, to crush a popular uprising. He read from a a piece written by US socialist, Ashley Smith;

“They subjected Eastern Alleppo to a siege to starve the people and force them to flee.”

Daniel said that from a population of two million people, there were now only a quarter of that number remaining.

“In  the past month, al-Assad’s forces moved in for the kill. Everything from the schools, to hospitals, to homes have been bombed.”

He accused al-Assad’s forces of killing not only so-called “terrorists” but untold numbers of civilians,

“His regime is responsible for the vast majority of the 400,000 of lives lost in the five years of warfare.”

Daniel said that five million refugees had been forced to flee to nearby countries for safety.

He said,

“al-Assad had to take to this kind of barbarism to crush the revolution that began in 2011. It was a popular, pro-democracy uprising. Just as legitimate as the other rebellions against the atrocities throughout the rest of the Middle East and North Africa collectively known as the Arab Spring. Syrians rose up against al-Assad’s dictatorship organising a tide non-sectarian, multi-ethnic demonstrations throughout the country. al-Assad responded to the the uprising by sending his police and military to fire on peaceful protests.”

He said that activists had been hunted down, arrested, and tortured in what he described as “Syria’s vast gulag of prisons”. Gayaal said that the regime’s slogan had been “Either al-Assad or we burn the country”. He said that instead of deterring the revolt, al-Assad’s opponants had been forced to take up arms in self-defence. He said that whole sections of the military had defected to form the Free Syrian Army.

Daniel said that liberated areas of Syria had;

“The popular revolt and armed resistance liberated large areas of the country, where local co-ordination committees and regional local councils were set up to begin to re-elect democratic Syrian society democratically, from below.

Russia, with the aim of protecting itself as an imperial power in the region, deployed it’s air force targeting, not ISIS as it claimed, but Syrian revolutionaries. Indeed, 90% of Russian bombing runs were carried out against targets other than ISIS.”

Daniel pointed to a “bizarre division amongst the Left”,

“Where claiming that everything coming out of the mainstream media, because it’s controlled by the US, must be in the US imperialist’s interest. But instead,  the response to this is to parrot Russian propaganda, al-Assad’s propaganda!”

He said that as soon as the rebellion had started, al-Assad had started claiming that the revolutionaries were puppets and funded by US imperialist interests.

Daniel dismissed that claim and insisted the uprising against al-Assad remained a popular cause.

Daniel also called on the government to increase New Zealand’s refugee quota, saying it remained the lowest in the world per head of capita. He said it was apalling that the number of refugees had been 750 for decades. He was disgusted that Australia, with it’s racist policies toward refugees, still accepted more refugees than New Zealand did.

Daniel concluded by saying,

“So we’re here to day to stand in solidarity with the people of Syria, with Aleppo, to call for a stop to the massacre of people of Aleppo, and to allow refugees free movement out of the country.”

The next speaker was “Karam”;

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Karam thanked people for coming to the protest to stand in solidarity with his country. He said that he was not only Syrian, but came from Aleppo;

“That’s Eastern Aleppo, the part that has fallen recently under attacks from the regime.”

Karam said,

“I do believe we are protesting in front of the right place. Although there are so many other places we need to protest in front. It’s Russia that started in September 2015 bombing civilians and bombing moderate opposition  [rebels] while claiming to be targeting terrorists. While in fact all they have been doing is supporting Assad to stay in power.”

Karam made the point of differentiating the roles played by imperial super powers in Middle East affairs,

“We might be protesting in front of the American embassy, but not for the Syrian issue. Maybe for the Iraqi issue. But for what’s taking place in Syria, it’s Russia. Solely, basically, the one [Russia]  that’s killing civilians and the one that’s supporting a dictator who has been ruling this country for sixteen years, who inherited it from his father, who ruled the country for thirty years!”

He described how Bashir al-Assad had assumed power in Syria, even to the point of the country’s constitution being amended to permit  34 year old al-Assad to become President. The constitution specifically forbade anyone under 40 from assuming that role. That criteria was changed overnight from “40” to “34”. [See also: Bashar Al Assad – Ten years later ]

Karam  was derisory of the gangsters ruling his country calling them “dirty thugs”.

“Shomi” from International Socialist Organisation then addressed the protestors;

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Shomi said that the Russian Embassy had blood on their hands and said;

“This popular  up-rising was that close to actually over-throwing Assad and it was only with the military backing of Russia that prompted Assad to make a comeback. That’s how close the revolutionaries were to actually succeeding in Syria.”

Shomi described the massacres we were seeing today in Aleppo “as an absolute outrage” and condemned the New Zealand government for it’s inaction;

“Here, in Aotearoa, we need to be quite firm in saying that the New Zealand government, whilst they’re quite happy to talk about this in the United Nations forum, have done absolutely nothing to actually  condemn Assad.

I think the New Zealand government has been absolutely atrocious. We need  to be putting the pressure on the government here to be increasing, not doubling, but quadrupling the refugee quota, if that’s that it takes. Because they have  a played a hand in being silent about the massacre that’s been happening Syria.”

Shomi criticised the Left parties for being silent on Syria, saying;

“Where are the Left parties? We’d like to see more condemnation of what is happening Syria. We need to have a huge anti-war movement globally, to show  we  stand in solidarity with the people of Syria!”

Shomi read out graffiti that was left on a wall in Aleppo;

“This is graffiti  as people were being bombed by Assad, by Russia, and by Iran as well. Here is the graffiti that was left;

‘We will return, Aleppo. Our destroyed buildings are witness of our resistance and you criminality!’

And that is why it is so important that we’re standing here outside the Russian. They are war criminals and they have blood on their hands!”

Shomi concluded with another round of loud anti-Assad, anti-Russian chants.

Phil was the last speaker to address the protest;

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Phil said he was  a member of  the NZ Labour Party, and said that this demonstration  would have “huge support from the public in general”. He said that his daughter had been collecting for UNICEF for Syria and the public had expressed their support for the Syrian peoples’ struggle. He pointed out that more people would have attended the protest, had it not been called at such short notice.

Phil referred to the Arab Spring coming to “some fruition” in five countries in the Middle East and said that it”can’t simply be attributed to terrorists”.

He said it was a “huge lie to describe the opposition to Bashir al-Assad as simply terrorist opposition”.

The protest concluded with loud chants;

“Russia out of Syria!”

Toward the end of the protest, a lone policeman arrived in a police stationwagon to talk with ISO organisers,

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There was a short, amiable conversation with “Ani”, who assured the constable that the protest was peaceful. The constable’s main concern that the driveway remain clear should vehicles passing through the Embassy gates;

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As with previous protests, it was regrettable that the constable was seen to be carrying a weapon – a yellow taser;

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The presence of the policeman was fortunate, as one of the protesters collapsed through sudden ill-health. He assessed the situation, and it was decided that a friend would drive the woman directly to hospital rather than wait for an ambulance.

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Note1: Thanks to Daniel for follow-up information. (Some corrections to factual errors have been made on 20 December 2016)
Note2: Vehicle license plates and the face of one person who declined consent to be photographed, have been obscured.
Note3: Certain names have been changed to protect people from potential repercussions.

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References

Socialist Worker: The counterrevolution crushes Aleppo

Al Arabiya: Bashar Al Assad – Ten years later

Additional

Facebook: Syrian Solidarity New Zealand

Facebook: International Socialist Organisation, NZ

Facebook: Fightback – Aotearoa/NZ

Other Blogs & media

The Wireless: ‘Tomorrow, I am going to leave my homeland’

Green blog: The Atrocity of Syria – What to do?

The Daily Blog: The war machine rolls on while children beg for blankets

Redline: Syria – regime change from above or revolution from below?

Previous related blogposts

Citizens march against TPPA in Wellington: Did Police hide tasers at TPPA march?

Dear Michael Cullen: the GCSB is not International Rescue!

What do Hungary and New Zealand have in common?

Media stories of the Week: ISIS revealed by Middle East expert

Coming soon: A terror alert near you!

Copyright (c) Notice

All images stamped ‘fmacskasy.wordpress.com’ are freely available to be used, with following provisos,

» Use must be for non-commercial purposes.
» Where purpose of use is commercial, a donation to the Syrian White Helmets relief org or  Child Poverty Action Group is requested.
» At all times, images must be used only in context, and not to denigrate individuals or groups.
» Acknowledgement of source is requested.

 

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 19 December 2016.

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Charter Schools in a Post-Truth Era

16 December 2016 1 comment

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Charter Schools’ NCEA Results  in a Post-Truth Era

On 8 December, Radio NZ’s Benedict Collins reported  that Charter Schools had been using dodgy statistics to inflate their apparent “success” rate;

Charter schools use a different method of calculating their NCEA pass rates to state schools – one which inflates their success.

Education Minister Hekia Parata has been warned by her ministry that an imperfect impression of charter schools’ performance is being created as a result.

Advice to Ms Parata shows that when charter schools are measured using the same roll-based methodology as state schools, their pass rates plummet.

The Vanguard Military charter school on Auckland’s North Shore reported a 100 percent Level 2 NCEA pass rate, but that fell to 60 percent when the school’s results were calculated the same way as state schools report.

Labour’s education spokesperson, Chris Hipkins quite rightly slammed the fake results;

“It’s disappointing that we’re not getting apples for apples comparisons but it’s even more disturbing that many kids are leaving these schools without the qualifications the Government says every child needs.

The latest Ministry annual report data also shows charter schools’ National Standards results are actually in decline.

Last year charter schools were awarded performance bonuses for their results while state schools are staring in the face of major funding cuts next year.

It’s simply not fair that students are leaving these school with minimal qualifications while charter schools receive special treatment as state schools struggle.”

ACT’s David Seyour – current Leader of the neo-liberal party responsible for Charter Schools – gave this bizarre explanation for the why the figures had been willfully fudged;

“The reason that there is a difference, just remember, is that we have been pioneering holding schools to account through a contract, and it was necessary if you wanted to do that to have a different system of measurement.”

Seymour tried to regain the moral high-ground by hitting back at Hipkins to defend the bogus data;

“More importantly, Hipkins seems oblivious that there is more than one way to measure NCEA performance. Indeed, there are a range of different measures, including NZQA and what the Ministry reports on Education Counts.”

Seymour fails to explain why it was necessary to use “more than one way to measure NCEA performance“.

As PPTA President, Angela Roberts said;

“Charter schools are a bad idea, for a multitude of reasons, but to hear that their so-called success rates are not based on fair measures is disheartening. We question why the Government put in place a different system for measuring student success for charter schools in the first place.

Benedict Collins also revealed that officials expressed disquiet at the way Charter School performance was being measured;

Education officials are to change the way charter schools report their NCEA results to bring their methodology in line with state schools.

[…]

Education Minister, Hekia Parata has been warned by her ministry that an imperfect impression of charter schools’ performance is being created as a result.

Advice to Ms Parata shows that when charter schools are measured using the same roll-based methodology as state schools, their pass rates plummet.

Parata – herself no stranger to controversy within her education portfolioclearly wanted to tidy up the perception that National and ACT were trying to deceive the public;

“I want there to be a consistent system, for the purposes of reporting to the government, which is about roll-based, which means everybody who is enrolled at that school counts and how well did they do, versus only those who sat NCEA”

Yet, this is not the first time that National and government departments and organisations have been caught out falsifying data.

Police crime-reporting in a Post-Truth Era

A bizarre story of Police employing bogus statistics broke in the NZ Herald in July, 2014;

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It took journalist Eugene Bingham two years to uncover information requested under the Official Information Act;

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When the Herald finally received the information they had requested, a startling item of incriminating nature was discovered;

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A damning internal police document has emerged that appears to show senior officers discussed not releasing embarrassing details about the “ghost crimes” controversy in which 700 burglaries vanished from official crime statistics.

[..]

The memo, known within police as a job sheet, states John Tims had been advised by then-deputy commissioner [Mike] Bush and assistant commissioner Allan Boreham not to respond to the [OIA] request. Brady [see image above] wrote: “(Tims) had been advised to let the request sit and when and if (3rd Degree) followed up with a request the matter would be addressed then.

“The direction to me was to not respond to the Official Information Act request and file the file as it is.”

Up until then, National had been  gleefully trumpeting the fictitious “fall in crime”;

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On TVNZ’s Q+A, on 25 October 2015, Michael Parkin interviewed outgoing Police Association President, Greg O’Conner.

O’Connor was unusually candid  when he made clear the extent to which statistics are fudged to make politicians and State officials look good;

@3.10

“Well, it’s uh, lies, damned lies, and statistics. If you look at the crime stats, um, which is those recorded stats, you’ll say the government and police administration are right. If you look at the stats around calls for service, they’re the phone calls that police receive in communications centes, etc, and just an example, family violence, domestic disputes; up by 10% a year pretty much, and across the board, 20% increase. So it’s the calls for service, to the extent that the communications centres couldn’t manage last summer. There’s a fear, and we’re obviously we’re trying to make sure it doesn’t happen this year. So the two are going in completely different directions.”

Parkin pointedly asked if the statistics are being manipulated. O’Conner’s response  was startling in it’s honesty;

@3.55

“Of course they are. Every government department – I mean, what happens is that, the stats themselves are fair, but I mean I see it as a debate [like] about health, y’know, medical – the waiting lists have going down, but people get kicked of waiting lists and so it’s, you achieve – Put it this way, with crime stats, what we’ve set out to do is the way to cut crime stats is to hit your bulk crime. So if you have any success there, of course, that’s going to be big numbers down. And what you ignore is your small  numbers. You ignore, in fact, interestingly enough you ignore drugs. You ignore a lot of your serious stuff that you only find if you go looking. And in the past that’s got us into real trouble. Got us into trouble with the child abuse files, in particular, and you remember, that they were put aside. Because they weren’t politically known. They were business as usual. All of a sudden we were concentrating on the crime and crash reduction, um, and we ignored that stuff. And so you’ve got to be careful. And this is where the politicisation of policing is really dangerous. It’s not done by the Minister saying ‘you gotta do this and you gotta do that’, it’s done by funding.”

Herald journalist, Eugene Bingham, also reported;

“ It transpired others knew about the allegations around the same time, including the local MP and then-Minister of Justice, Judith Collins.”

Judith Collins featured heavily in Nicky Hager’s ‘Dirty Politics‘, and recently stood as a candidate for the next Leader of the National Party.

Mainstream media is often criticised for reliance on superficial ‘news’ reporting; ‘clickbait‘; and dubious ‘stories‘. On this issue, the Herald and Eugene Bingham revealed to New Zealanders the extent to which State agencies will go to “massage the truth” to present deceptively favourable impressions to the public.

Statistics NZ in a Post-Truth Era

In August of this year, I reported how Statistics NZ had radically changed the manner in which it defined a jobseeker;

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

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

Statistics NZ explained the ramifications of the “revised” definition of unemployment ;

  • Decreases in the number of people unemployed and the unemployment rate

  • Changes to the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate range from 0.1 to 0.6 percentage points. In the most recent published quarter (March 2016), the unemployment rate is revised down from 5.7 percent to 5.2 percent 

  • Increases in the number of people not in the labour force 

  • Decreases in the size of the labour force and the labour force participation rate

A person  job-searching using the internet  was “not actively seeking work“. Predictably, at the stroke of a pen, unemployment “fell” over-night from 5.7% to 5.2%.

It was “manna from heaven” for the incumbent government which has  been besieged on several fronts for worsening social and economic indicators.

Despite being little more than a dressed-up “accounting trick”, politicians could claim with a straight-face that “unemployment was falling”.

Which did not take long.

Statistics NZ announced it’s changes on 29 June 2016.

Four days later, our esteemed former-Dear Leader, John  Key, gloated on TVNZ’s Q+A  to Corin Dann;

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

By August, both Key and Bill English were joyfully quoting the “new unemployment stats”.

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

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

So not only was Key quoting the  “new, revised” unemployment stats – but his government was now actively predicating their immigration policy on the bogus data.

Three  days later, in Parliament, English also gleefully congratulated himself on the “fall” in unemployment;

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

Whilst it is expected for politicians to mis-use questionable data for their own self-aggrandisement (and re-election chances), worse was to come.

On 10 August,  Radio NZ‘s Immigration Reporter, Gill Bonnett, reported;

“The unemployment rate stood at 5.2 percent for the three months ended in March.”

Bonnett did not  quote a reference source for that statement. Most likely it was Statistics NZ and it’s now-“revised” figures.

It is unfortunate that some journalists seem unaware of the new regime which portrays unemployment lower than it actually is. The fact that Statistics NZ has fudged their  data which now skews unemployment should be common knowledge throughout the mainstream media.

Especially when National ministers are now “patting themselves on the back” for a “fall” in unemployment that never happened, as their Twitter-feed showed on 2 November;

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And three days later;

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As I wrote on 14 November about Statistics NZ’s decision to change it’s criteria for unemployment,

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

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

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

In simple terms; the numbers are a sham.

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

When data cannot be relied upon to be accurate, it ceases to have value, except as propaganda.

Those who welcome the Post-Truth Era

On 10 July this year, Radio NZ’s Colin Peacock asked if “a ‘post-truth’ era is upon us?”  He quoted journalist Andrew Vance’s misgivings about the way half-truths and outright lies were now becoming more and more a feature of current political discourse;

…TVNZ’s website, political correspondent Andrea Vance said “the polls don’t punish National for straying from the truth”, and she pointed to the success of fact-free campaigns by Donald Trump in the US and Brexit backers in the UK.

“We are living in a ‘post-truth’ era and it has infected New Zealand politics,” said Ms Vance, who worked for newspapers in the UK before reporting on politics here. 

She’s not the only one who thinks so.

Massey University philosophy professor Bill Fish also sees echoes of the UK’s “post-truth” Brexit campaign in New Zealand politicians’ attitudes towards expert opinion and evidence.

“This is different,” Ms Vance told Mediawatch. “With Trump, Brexit and what’s happening here you’ve got political players actively deceiving the public. Politicians have always been selective with truth, but now it is brazen. I’ve been doing this for 17 years and its getting worse. It’s also crept into the public service. This lack of accountability and obfuscation feels like it’s sanctioned by political masters”.

Post-Truth has it’s sibling, “fake news” – which has shown to be an effectively vicious political weapon in the recent Presidential elections.

The phenomenon of Fake News – promulgated and spread repeatedly predominantly by conspiracy and alt.right websites – recently came to violent conclusion in the US when a 28 year old “lone gunman” (did he act alone or was it a conspiracy?) attacked  Comet Ping Pong, a pizza restaurant in northwest Washington;

Edgar M. Welch, a 28-year-old father of two from Salisbury, N.C., recently read online that Comet Ping Pong, a pizza restaurant in northwest Washington, was harboring young children as sex slaves as part of a child-abuse ring led by Hillary Clinton.

The articles making those allegations were widespread across the web, appearing on sites including Facebook and Twitter. Apparently concerned, Mr. Welch drove about six hours on Sunday from his home to Comet Ping Pong to see the situation for himself, according to court documents. Not long after arriving at the pizzeria, the police said, he fired from an assault-like AR-15 rifle. The police arrested him. They found a rifle and a handgun in the restaurant. No one was hurt.

In an arraignment on Monday, a heavily tattooed Mr. Welch, wearing a white jumpsuit and shackles, was ordered held. According to the criminal complaint, he told the authorities that he was armed to help rescue children but that he surrendered peacefully after finding no evidence that “children were being harbored in the restaurant.” He was charged with four counts, including felony assault with a deadly weapon and carrying a gun without a license outside a home or business.

According to alt.right websites  Comet Ping Pong contained a secret underground facility where  “young children were used as sex slaves as part of a child-abuse ring led by Hillary Clinton“.

None of it was true, but in an  ironic twist, the gunman  who attacked Comet Ping Pong is now himself viewed as part of a conspiracy cover-up to protect the non-existant pedophile ring;

The viral nature of the misinformation was illustrated again late Sunday, not long after the police arrested Mr. Welch and called Pizzagate a “fictitious online conspiracy theory” in their report. Some individuals on Twitter said Mr. Welch was an actor used by the mainstream media to divert attention from the alleged crimes at Comet Ping Pong. Followers of a shuttered Reddit thread on Pizzagate dissected the episode on a new online network called Voat.

Witch-hunts based on paranoid conspiracy theories become more bizarre when they turn on – and cannibalise – their own followers.

Even here in New Zealand, individuals were not immune to the moral-panic fanned by the flames of  Fake News. Some commentators uncritically reposted the pedophile allegations.

Pointedly, no citations were ever provided to the parroted allegations. (Mainly because the allegations were a fabrication. Perhaps even a conspiracy in itself, to undermine Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.)

As Clinton herself warned, Fake News can have disastrous “real world consequences”;

“This is not about politics or partisanship. Lives are at risk. Lives of ordinary people just trying to go about their days to do their jobs, contribute to their communities. It is a danger that must be addressed and addressed quickly.”

This seems to have been recognised by the Trump transition team who took action against one of their own, caught spreading Fake News;

President-elect Donald J. Trump on Tuesday fired one of his transition team’s staff members, Michael G. Flynn, the son of Mr. Trump’s choice for national security adviser, for using Twitter to spread a fake news story about Hillary Clinton that led to an armed confrontation in a pizza restaurant in Washington.

At first Vice President-elect Mike Pence denied that Flynn had ever worked for the Trump team, saying on MSNBC that he had “no involvement in the transition whatsoever”;

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However, soon after,  a transition spokesman, Jason Miller, admitted that  Flynn had worked for the transition team. Miller said Flynn would no longer be involved.

From Flynn’s Fake News to Pence’s dishonest denial – the truth eventually came out.

Curiously, Michael Flynn’s father – Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn – is also well-known for his John Key-style of “truthiness”;

“He has regularly engaged in the reckless public promotion of conspiracy theories that have no basis in fact, with disregard for the risks that giving credence to those theories could pose to the public,” Representative Adam Smith of Washington, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said on Tuesday.

“Someone who is so oblivious to the facts, or intentionally ignorant of them, should not be entrusted with policy decisions that affect the safety of the American people,” Mr. Smith added.

The Mainstream Media

As Fake News websites and “stories” proliferate, the mainstream media may actually take on a fresh breath-of-life.

In a functioning democracy; with the need for  vital checks and balances; the msm will become more critically vital to determine what is real and what is fantasy. Which also adds greater pressure on msm to ensure that it’s stories are well-researched and cite accurate facts and data.

Relying on dubious sources (such as the Herald did with the now-discredited Donghua Liu allegations) or questionable data from governmental bodies such as Statistics NZ, Police, etc, is no longer be sufficient.

This will be an opportunity for the msm to re-gain their relevance in a post-truth era of Fake News and deliberate political prevarication.

The question is; will they seize that opportunity?

Fake News, Post-Truth, Lies, Charter Schools

Charter Schools are an ideological response to State schools. It is an exercise designed to confirm that profit-driven, private-run education services are more effective and deliver better results than that offered by the State.

One of the core tenet’s of the New Right is that private enterprise/endeavour is superior to anything available from the State.

In 2002, businessman Phil Barry, author of  The Changing Balance Between the Public and Private Sectors, published by the Business Roundtable (aka NZ Initiative), wrote in the NZ Herald;

“Private firms tend to be more efficient than their state-owned counterparts, especially in competitive industries.

Privatisation of SOEs is likely to lead to improvements in their efficiency and to more open and competitive product markets, benefiting consumers, taxpayers and the economy as a whole.

The evidence does not suggest that private ownership is always more efficient. Some state enterprises can perform very well, at least for a period.”

And in 2012, then ACT-leader, John Banks said in Parliament;

“Public or private ownership of assets has been studied to death in many, many studies, and the jury is in. Private enterprise runs businesses better than the Government can.”

For many on the neo-liberal Right, education is a business not a public good and therefore should be no different to electricity supply (semi-privatised); Air New Zealand (semi-privatised – again); or a whole host of other services and assets that were once owned by the tax-payer but have been sold off over the last thirty years.

But to ensure that the basic tenet that “private enterprise runs businesses better than the Government can” is believed to be true by the public – and especially the voting public! – it must be shown to be true.

If it cannot be proven to be true, using accurate measurement and data, then fudging the truth will have to do.

In essence, that is what  ACT’s David Seymour was saying when he lamely attempted to justify  the inflated success rate for Charter Schools by claiming different standards of measurement;

“The reason that there is a difference, just remember, is that we have been pioneering holding schools to account through a contract, and it was necessary if you wanted to do that to have a different system of measurement.”

“…there is more than one way to measure NCEA performance. Indeed, there are a range of different measures, including NZQA and what the Ministry reports on Education Counts.”

When there “there are a range of different measures” you simply pick the one that gives you the results you want.

Which raises the question: what does it say about an ideological experiment if it requires a lie to sustain it?

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Note: certain portions of this story have been re-published from previous blogposts.

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References

Radio NZ: Charter school NCEA reporting to be brought into line

Scoop media: Ministry reveals shocking charter school results

NZ Herald: Charter schools not deceiving public over NCEA exam results, David Seymour says

The Northern Advocate: Charter school pass rates plummet when brought in line with state schools

NZ Herald:  Police made burglaries vanish

NZ Herald:  Two-year search for ‘ghost crimes’ truth

NZ Herald: Calls for ‘ghost crimes’ inquiry after police note revealed

Twitter: The crime rate is falling under National

TVNZ: Q+A – Police Association president steps down

Fairfax media: Firefighter injured after cat decides it does not want to be rescued from tree

Radio NZ: Stuff of substance in a clickbait climate

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

TVNZ: Q+A – Interview with John Key

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

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

Twitter: National (2 Nov)

Twitter: National (5 Nov)

Radio NZ: Is a ‘post-truth’ era upon us?

New York Times: In Washington Pizzeria Attack, Fake News Brought Real Guns

Snopes.com: Chuck E. Sleaze

The Daily Blog: Slippery

Buzzfeed News: Hyperpartisan Facebook Pages Are Publishing False And Misleading Information At An Alarming Rate

The Guardian: Hillary Clinton warns fake news can have ‘real world consequences’

New York Times: Trump Fires Adviser’s Son From Transition for Spreading Fake News

Twitter: MSNBC – Morning Joe – Mike Pence

NZ Herald: Phil Barry Private ownership outperforms public

Parliament: State-Owned Enterprises and Crown Entities (Protecting New Zealand’s Strategic Assets) Amendment Bill — First Reading

Additional

New York Times: As Fake News Spreads Lies, More Readers Shrug at the Truth

Wikipedia: List of fake news websites

Radio NZ: Unemployment rate falls after Stats NZ revision

Other Blogs

The Standard: Charter schools fiddling their results

Previous related blogposts

The Donghua Liu Affair: One Year On

Roy Morgan Poll: Unemployment and Under-employment up in New Zealand!

Weekend Revelations #3 – Greg O’Connor and criminal statistics

Lies, Damned lies and Statistical Lies

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

National exploits fudged Statistics NZ unemployment figures

“Spinning” in a post-truth era

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

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 11 December 2016.

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The Dismantling of a Prime Minister – Completed

12 December 2016 4 comments

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As with the death of Princess Diana; Trump winning the Presidency,  or (if you’re old enough) the assassination of JFK, you will recall where you were when you heard this sudden, unexpected and gob-smacking  public announcement from John Key;

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At 12.50pm, Radio NZ  interrupted it’s international-segment – Worldwatch – to announce John Key’s resignation and crossed live to his press conference.   Ironically, the Worldwatch segment featured an  interview about the  resignation of Italy’s own Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi.

Like 4.4  million other New Zealanders, this blogger was taken by surprise. (At first, I thought Radio NZ was reporting on Bill English stepping down.)

There are two aspects to Key’s resignation which have taken my attention.

Key’s “Popularity”

Media personalities, pundits, and political opponants have all praised Key’s popularity.

In the NZ Herald, Audrey Young gushed;

“He is still immensely popular after eight years.

[…]

They will abound because what Key has done defies political gravity.”

Writing for Fairfax media, Tracy Watkins said;

“Nothing can be the same when a leader as popular, and as successful, as Key bows out.”

John Campbell on Radio NZ’s Checkpoint enthused;

“…And after eight years [Key] still sits at honeymoon levels of popularity in opinion polls.”

To Key he remarked;

“Your popularity has defied the laws of gravity.”

None of which is true.

The media and political pundits have been reading glowing “obituaries” for a man still  very much alive and drawing breath.

In fact, Key’s popularity has been spiralling downward since a high of 55.8% in October  2009;

Oct/Nov 08: 36.4%

(Source)

Feb 2009: 52.1%

April 2009: 51.1%

Aug 2009: 51.6%

Oct 2009: 55.8%

Feb 2010: 49.4%

April 2010: 49.0%

June 2010: 49.6%

Jul/Aug 2010: 48.7%

Sept/Oct 2010: 50.6%

Nov/Dec 2010: 54.1%

Feb 2011: 49.1%

April 2011: 52.4%

May 2011: 48.2%

Jun/Jul 2011: 50.5%

Aug 2011: 53.3%

Sept 2011: 54.5%

Oct 2011: 52.7%

1-8 Nov 2011: 50.0%

9-16 Nov 2011: 49.4%

16-23 Nov 2011: 48.9%

Feb 2012: 45.8%

April 2012: 44.2%

May/Jun 2012: 40.5%

July: 43.2%

(Source)

Feb 2013: 41.0%

April 2013: 38.0%

May 2013: 41.0%

Jul 2013: 42.0%

Nov 2013: 40.9%

Jan 2014: 38.9%

Mar 2014: 42.6%

May 2014: 43.1%

Jun 2014: 46.7%

Jul 2014: 43.8%

5-3 Aug 2014: 44.1%

19-25 Aug 2014: 41.4%

26 Aug-1 Sept 2014: 45.1%

2-8 Sept 2014: 45.3%

9-15 Sept 2014: 44.1%

Jan 2015: 44.0%

May 2015: 39.4%

(Source)

15-22 July 2015: 38.3%

(Source)

8-16 Sept 2015: 39.5%

(Source)

22 Nov 2015: 38.3%

(source)

24 May 2016: 36.7%

(source)

Only four months ago, Key’s Preferred Prime Minister rating had levelled;

8 Aug 2016: 36.7% (n/c)

(source)

By contrast, National’s most recent  Party-poll ratings remained astronomically (and somewhat unfeasibly) high;

Roy Morgan: 49.5%

Colmar Brunton: 50%

Reid Research: 45.1%

As a party, National has been consistently out-polling it’s own supposedly “popular” Prime Minister. If Key’s personal polling had continued to drop further, it is conceivable that he would have become a Muldoonesque  liability instead of the gilt-edged asset he has been for the last three elections.

Which would go some way to explaining why Key’s photo-ops with National Party candidate,  Parmjeet Parmar, during the Mt Roskill by-election seems to have had zero positive effect on her  election result;

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 Parmjeet Parmar and John Key on the campaign trail ahead of the Mt Roskill by-election. Photo: RNZ / Sarah Robson

Parmjeet Parmar and John Key on the campaign trail ahead of the Mt Roskill by-election. Photo: RNZ / Sarah Robson

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When asked if he would attend Ms Parmar’s by-election campaign party, Key replied;

“I don’t go to any of the by-election ones. I haven’t historically and I won’t be going whether we win lose or draw.”

To which Jenna Lynch, writing for TV3 News, pointed out;

“That’s only partly true though – he didn’t attend the party of Mark Osborne in Northland – he lost. He also didn’t go to Melissa Lee’s failed campaign for the Mt Albert by-election.

But he did attend parties where it seemed he thought his candidate had a chance.”

“Reading the entrails”, Key understood that his days of surging popularity were drawing to an end. The media and pundits were simply  slow to catch up with Key’s own realisation of his inevitable fate.

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Key’s “blues”

In the same interview yesterday (5 December) on Checkpoint, John Campbell tried to pin down the reason(s) for Key’s departure.  With his usual boyish charming honesty, John Campbell asked Key;

“You sound buggered…

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… Are you exhausted?”

Key soundly rejected Campbell’s suggestion that he was in any way “buggered” or “exhausted”.

But in May 2012, Key was already showing signs of wearying from the demands of political life;

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john-keys-midterm-blues-tracy-watkins-fairfax-john-key-resignation

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Watkins reported;

The frustration continued to show yesterday when Mr Key did a radio show and was asked about the $350 million SkyCity convention centre.

I’m out there trying to promote a convention centre which we don’t put any money in and all I get is grief. OK? That’s what I get is grief,” he complained.

“Sure I can sit around and do absolutely nothing for the next nine years and I might survive that long but it’s not going to take New Zealand anywhere.”

Four years ago, Key was already showing signs of becoming jaded.

More and more people were becoming disillusioned with his administration – a fact highlighed by his steady decline in the Preferred Prime Ministership polls (see above).

Whatever things Key may be, he is no fool and he was no doubt perceptive enough to recognise that his “chumminess” was no longer a facade he could use to mask growing social problems in New Zealand. Homelessness; child poverty; worsening home affordability; near-stagnant wages; declining environmental quality – coupled with constant scandals; ministerial cock-ups; and dubious dealings, were taking their toll.

Key was friendly with the corporate sector, but his administration showed unrelenting hostility to workers, unemployed and other other beneficiaries, and anyone else at the bottom of the economic heap. National’s decision to increase benefits was announced in May 2015 – but not set to start until a year later. This was a clever ploy to paint National as “caring” for those on benefits, with two publicity-bites from the “media-cherry”.

At the same time, beneficiaries were being forced of WINZ books; state housing was being sold off; and unemployment made to look “low” by  Statistics NZ’s fudged figures [see: Lies, Damned lies and Statistical Lies – ** UPDATE **].

But there were social pressures building that National’s “hands off” (or reluctant intervention) could not hide with “massaged”, dubious statistics. Nowhere was this more apparent than in our current housing crisis, affecting both the poor (living in cars and garages) and the Middle Class (facing rising home unaffordability).

The crushing defeat of Key’s vanity-project, the flag referendum which cost taxpayers $29 million at a time when early child educationschool operational funding, and many social services  were being frozen/cut, was perhaps confirmation that his “popularity” was no longer sufficient to govern.

Key’s charming affability could no longer hide the real right-wing agenda being covertly implemented.

Key could see the writing on the wall.

It was time to go; the charade was over.

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References

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

BBC: Matteo Renzi – Italy PM resigns after referendum defeat

NZ Herald: Audrey Young – John Key’s resignation – the question everyone is asking is why?

Fairfax media: Tracy Watkins – Key’s resignation changes election odds

Radio NZ: Checkpoint – “The timing feels right” – PM

Roy Morgan: National Party support up again in November

Colmar Brunton:  Poll 12-13, 21-23 November 2016

Reid Research: TV3 Poll Results

Radio NZ: Mt Roskill by-election nears

TV3 News: John Key expecting National candidate Parmjeet Parmar to lose Mt Roskill by-election

Fairfax media: John Key’s midterm blues?

Radio NZ: Budget 2015 – Govt targets child poverty

Fairfax media: Unemployed losing the paper war in reapplying for the benefits, says Labour

Fairfax media: Government to sell 1000 – 2000 state houses – John Key

ABC News: New Zealanders label $23 million flag referendum a waste of money

NZEI: Cuts to early childhood education revealed in ministry figures

NZ Herald: ‘Frozen’ school funds heartbreaking

Previous related blogposts

The slow dismantling of a populist prime minister

The slow dismantling of a Prime Minister continues

The slow dismantling of a Prime Minister – downward slide continues

Special Education Funding – Robbing Peter, Paul, and Mary to pay Tom, Dick, and Harriet

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John Key resigns as PM. Rod Emmerson 06/12/16

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

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