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Referenda on Euthanasia – NZ First’s Victory – or a Major Miscalculation?

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NZ First’s success in putting the euthenasia bill to a public referenda may not be the victory they believe it to be. They may even have sounded the death-knell for a second Labour-NZ First-Green coalition.

On 23 July this year, NZ First MP, Jenny Marcroft, submitted a Supplementary Order Paper whereby a  binding public referendum on David Seymour’s End of Life Choice Bill would be held at next year’s General Election.

Ms Marcroft voiced her party’s non-negotiable expectations on this issue;

“The New Zealand First caucus’ further support of the Bill is contingent upon the amendment, providing for a referendum, passing.”

Ms Marcroft’s justification for calling for a binding referendum sounded lofty, apparently based on high principle;

“New Zealand First believes this issue directly affects the fabric of society, and is one that temporarily empowered politicians alone should not decide upon. This decision requires the direct participation of the voting public.”

Whether NZ First actually believes that is unclear.

One thing is for certain; if successive polls are any indication, the referendum will pass the Bill into law.

In which case, NZ First can claim – hand on heart – that it “simply had no choice but to follow the will of the people”. So NZ First may escape the wrath of critics of euthanasia who will then focus their electoral retribution elsewhere (or so NZ First hopes.)

But NZ First can also claim praise from supporters of the Bill by pointing out it was instrumental in it’s adoption (albeit indirectly).

Writing for Newsroom, Sam Sachdeva made a similar point;

“But in pushing for referendums on euthanasia and abortion, Peters positions himself either claim the credit or dole out the blame depending on the vote result and fallout, and more easily peel off both red and blue voters come 2020. Politically, it is shrewd.”

All things to all people. It’s a cunning plan, if that was the true underlying reason for promoting the referendum.

Unfortunately, as with most cunning plans, there are often unintended consequences.

This is ACT’s Bill. Relitigating this issue next year as the election campaign heats up gives ACT much needed oxygen –  extra publicity by using every platform available to promote the referendum and promote itself at the same time.

If the publicity of championing the Individual’s right to choice gives ACT an extra couple of percentage points of Party Votes, David Seymour could find himself with three extra MPs.  If National’s support holds at around the 47%-mark – that gives them 57 seats. Fiftyseven National plus four ACT = Prime Minister Simon Bridges.

An unpleasant thought, to put it mildly.

NZ First’s wily old fox and its political strategists may not have thought this one through.

In 1996, the Alliance put forward a Citizen’s Initiated Referenda on whether or not the country’s state forest plantations and cutting rights should remain in public ownership.

The Alliance’s chief stategist-at-the-time, Matt McCarten toured the country, explaining to every electorate Branch that the CIR on forestry ownership would likely boost the Alliance’s prospects at the first MMP election in late 1996. Matt explained that the added publicity of the Alliance policy on public ownership of strategic state assets would be a major draw-card in the coming election. With MMP imbedded as the new, fairer, electoral system, the Alliance would finally be able to capitalise on every vote cast for the party.

No more “wasted votes”.  A CIR, in Jim Anderton’s name, would remind voters which political movement opposed the steady advance of neo-liberalism. That “nudge” in the ballot-booth could benefit the Alliance immensely.

Matt McCarten gave his speech to a packed hall in the Rongotai Electorate in the presence of dozens of party activists; local Alliance candidate, Bill Hamilton, and a much younger Electorate Secretary – Frank Macskasy.

The CIR lapsed due to the high number of valid signatures required – ten percent of registered voters – within an unfeasibly tight time-frame; twelve months.

But the very act of thousands of highly-motivated Alliance activists going door-knocking in the lead up to the 1996 Election Day, presenting the petition; discussing it with householders; reminding them face-to-face that the Alliance was staunchly opposed to privatisation – may have provided an impetus even if the CIR itself failed to gain sufficient valid signatures in time.

In 1993 there were two Alliance MPs.

After the 1996 Election, the number skyrocketed to thirteen.

Even though votes for the Alliance fell from 350,063 in 1993 to 209,347 (siphoned off to a fledgling NZ First, that had also campaigned on halting asset sales) public support was still considerable. The unsuccessful petition event may have contributed to the success of both parties.

Twentyfour years later, and the stark possibility exists that NZ First may – inadvertently – assist it’s nemesis at the next election.

According to media reports, David Seymour, says  “he didn’t feel strongly either way about the referendum, but saw it as a necessity“. A “necessity” to win more votes and seats next year?

Mr Seymour is not without political nous. With one eye on recent polling and the other on next year’s general election, he may also have calculated that NZ First has inadvertently thrown him a life-line.

If ACT gains exposure from the euthanasia referendum throughout next year’s campaigning, finally reminding voters at the ballot box, the outcome  may be the greatest unintended consequence since the a certain intoxicated Prime Minister thought an early election would be a… cunning plan.

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References

NZ First: Binding referendum on End of Life Choice Bill

NZ Parliament: End of Life Choice Bill

Mediaworks/Newshub: Most New Zealanders support euthanasia

TVNZ: Strong support for legalising euthanasia in 1 NEWS Colmar Brunton Poll, as MPs set to thrash out details

Scoop Media: New Poll – Euthanasia Support Overwhelmingly Strong

Wikipedia: Referendums in New Zealand

Newsroom: Why Winston Peters is wrong on referendums

Wikipedia: 1996 New Zealand general election

Wikipedia: 1993 New Zealand general election

ODT: Euthanasia bill to go to referendum

Other Blogs

No Right Turn: Death with dignity (various)

The Daily Blog: Why NZ First are right and the Euthanasia law needs to be a public referendum

The Standard: The End of Life Choice Bill

The Standard: Parliament votes to give disabled people the right to a good life

Previous related blogposts

John Key – Practicing Deflection 101

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 27 October 2019.

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David Seymour – A Valid ‘Hit’ and a Colossal ‘Miss’

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For lone ACT MP, David Seymour, November has been a “mixed bag”.  The leader of a near-non-existent Party scored this month – though only one was a try/goal/bowled-out. The other was a foul/offside/no-ball that all but negated his previous success.

A Hit, A Very Palpable Hit!

ACT’s David Seymour has panned a $24,000 junket by Parliament’s Speaker, Trevor Mallard and former National Minister, Gerry Brownlee. The 48 “diplomatic mission” was timed to coincide with an All Black game being played in Tokyo.

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Aside from the obvious question how  a two-person trip lasting two days could possibly rack up a $24,000 bill for taxpayers, one wonders if our elected Parliamentary representatives aren’t remunerated sufficiently generously that they can pay their own way to a rugby game.

If Mallard and Brownlee were bathing in champagne, I hope they at least had the decency to save tax-dollars by bathing together? (Togs optional.)

As Mr Seymour said, pointing out the blindingly obvious:

They are literally taking the mickey out of New Zealanders by saying a 24-hour trip that happens to coincide with the All Blacks playing was a diplomatic effort.

Gerry Brownlee earns $180,000, Trevor Mallard earns $296,000. If they want to go to the rugby in Japan they can afford it whereas a lot of taxpayers can’t.

There’s no chance that this is about taxpayer benefits. if you believe that you probably think Gerry should be running on for the ABs against England next week – it’s not a public benefit, therefore they should pay the money back.”

David Seymour quite rightly fulfilled his duty as an Opposition MP by making public his concerns and asking why taxpayers were footing the bill for a typical kiwi-bloke’s weekend away for a bit of footy.

This is the raison d’etre for an Opposition MP and in this case, Mr Seymour caught another member of another Opposition Party in his parliamentary snare. Both Brownlee and Mallard had their snouts in the public trough, and Mr Seymour called them on it.

In doing so, the MP from Epsom has earned his place in the House and his pay for the year.

A Colossal Miss!

When it comes to political game-playing, it would be hard to beat David Seymour’s recent Trumpesque utterances on the “deadly perils of the humble shopping bag”.

Three years ago, Seymour became a zealous disciple for the plastic-bag industry. As people became more aware of the damage caused to the environment – especially sealife – moves were made to phase out this ubiquitous aspect of modern life. The threat to sealife was mostly invisible, but evidence quickly mounted that the waste from human civilsation was having dire consequences.

Out-of-sight-out-of-mind was no longer an option.

For some bizarre reason (possibly because ACT is the party of “free enterprise” and is wedded to capitalist values at any cost?!) Seymour thought it would be a brilliant idea to take up the cause of the plastic bag.

In July 2015, Seymour told RadioLive that phasing-out single-use plastic bags  and replacing them with  re-usable shopping bags would kill “20 people a year”. Seymour suggested that a “reusable bag sitting in the hot boot of their car with a bit of blood that’s seeped out of some steak or chicken – you end up with infections and potentially people dying“.

He gave no evidence for his claim. His allegation – much like his Party – was ignored.

In August this year, Seymour was beating the Plastic Drum again – this time raising another ‘bogeymen’ – of people replacing single-use plastic bags with thicker plastic bags. Again the claim was made on a private radio station – NewstalkZB – perhaps because he thought he would be given an uncritical reception by his hosts at a privately-owned, profit-driven, commercial radio station.

In the same month, Seymour berated the Coalition government that “the Greens’ nutty ban on single-use plastic bags has claimed its first victim.”

Seymour was referring to a small Porirua company called “Kiwi Plastics“, which produced single-use plastic bags. The company owner, Angelus Tay, was highly critical of the move to phase out single-use plastic bags;

“The bag can’t defend itself, so you blame the product. People think it’s so easy and they’re all just thrown away. Then they’re ending up in the sea and it’s a ‘plastic problem’.  The days are numbered because the bags will be gone next year … I’ll tell the staff it’s not my fault, it’s the government policy.” 

Angelus Tay blamed the government for having to close his business and Seymour parroted the line.

Except… Mr Tay has a somewhat dubious record when it came to his company’s safety record. In 2011 he had been fined $45,000 for dangerous workplace practices;

Kiwi Plastic Company Limited was convicted of failing to guard two of its bag sealing machines after an unannounced visit by Department of Labour inspectors found the guards had been removed.

The machines, which seal the sides of plastic supermarket bags, could heat up to 210degC.

Inspectors also found an employee had been taught to over-ride automatic shutdown mechanisms.

Earlier, in 2002, “Kiwi Plastics” and its owner/director, Angelus Tay, were prosecuted for a similar offence after three of his employees were badly injured in a workplace accident.

The closure of his factory may have been related to the planned phase-out of single-use plastic bags. It may also have been a direct consequence of Mr Tay’s cavalier disregard for workplace safety.

But you wouldn’t know any of this reading David Seymour’s press statement  lamenting of the closure of “Kiwi Plastics“.

More recently, on 2 November, in an example of political re-cycling, Seymour re-newed his claim that re-usable shopping bags could kill up to 20 New Zealanders a year.

This time Seymour quoted a source for his assertions: a 2013 “research”-paper from George Mason University, located near Washington DC. According to their own website, George Mason University ranks 801st out of 1,000 universities world-wide.

By contrast, the University of Auckland ranks 85th.

Auckland University Professor and microbiologist, Siouxsie Wiles, rubbished Seymour’s claims, stating they had already been debunked;

“So it’s written by two professors of Law and Economics who are not microbiologists or public health experts.

They’ve taken a data set around people who are hospitalised or deaths in San Francisco and looked at before plastic bags were banned and then afterwards. They’ve then drawn a bunch of conclusions which if anybody in public health looked at would say no, not true at all.

I do think we need to have a little bit more education about how people should be using their [reusable] bags and how you should be treating certain food groups.

But to take – I’m not even going to call it a study – to take this information and then draw the conclusions that the researchers have is irresponsible actually.”

Fellow scientist (epidemiologist) and public health expert, Professor Michael Baker from the Department of Public Health at the University of Otago, also slammed Seymour’s claims;

“The authors appear to be well qualified in law and economics. It would have been reassuring to see authors or contributors to this research with skills in key relevant areas such as epidemiology and environmental microbiology.

Based on the data presented here, I don’t think any epidemiologist would say that this study has demonstrated a causal relationship between the ‘grocery bag ban’ and foodborne illness. I think it would be absurd to extrapolate figures from this report to the NZ situation, without doing a lot more analysis and investigation of the US experience.”

Professor Baker also revealed that the  2013 “research”-paper had been funded by a free-market “environmental” think-tank called Property and Environment Research Center (PERC). PERC’s website describes itself as “The home of free market environmentalism“.

It’s funniest statement is presented without a shred of self-awareness of satire;

“Our research examines how markets encourage cooperation instead of conflict over natural resources…”

Donors to PERC have included corporations such as  Exxon Mobil, the far-right Koch Foundation, and Dunn’s Foundation for the Advancement of Right Thinking – a right-wing funder of various causes. The Dunn’s Foundation is known for minimising human influence in climate change.

According to watchdog group, Conservative Transparency;

Dunn’s Foundation’s purpose, according to documents filed with the IRS, is “to advance the understanding and practice of classical liberalism, market capitalism, free enterprise, individual political and economic liberty and to reduce the impact of the use or threat of force by coercive organizations (both public and private) against the people of America and the world, principally through education and persuasion.” It pursues its mission by giving out massive quantities of money to conservative and libertarian groups.

Apparently PERC likes single-use plastic shopping bags.

Little wonder that Seymour has latched onto this dubious “report”.

Seymour’s “solution” to the mounting plastic pollution in our environment? To fine litter-bugs;

“The problem is with this small percentage of people so arrogant they think its okay to let their rubbish fly around and end up in the sea, and we should be punishing those people more stringently.”

The only problem with his “solution” is that litterers do not have their names stamped on their plastic rubbish.  These single-use plastic bags were spotted on an Oriental Bay beach, and in a tree lining the streets adjacent the Upper Hutt railway station.

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Who pays for this littering? (This blogger retrieved the plastics bags on the water’s edge on the beach and placed them in a nearby bin. The yellow supermarket bag in the tree was not readily accessible.)

In fact, much of  the beach was littered with the detritus of human civilisation, with various forms of plastic strewn across the shore;

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There goes our “clean green” image.

Suburbs were not exempt from plastic rubbish. This blogger collected a bagful of (mostly plastic) rubbish on an afternoon walk through his neighbourhood;

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Whilst some have now abandoned the use of plastics such as straws, such as “The Churchill“, in Wellington’s CBD;

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– a certain coffee-chain retailer persists in offering customers these disposable plastics;

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– and sure enough, on the footpath immediately outside “Starbucks“, lay a plastic straw that had been carelessly thrown away.*

According to David Seymour, “we should be punishing those people more stringently”.

But none of the plastic rubbish had anyone’s name on it. So his suggestion becomes meaningless. Except… Seymour isn’t really concerned with increasing littering fines. Seymour wants  to shift focus from producers of plastics to litterers. His suggestion is a strategy of deflecting from  the real problem: the growing mountain of plastic waste that is clogging our oceans, waterways, beaches, streets, gutters, parks, forests… no place is exempt.

In case anyone thinks this is an exaggeration, the next time you are out and about walking – look down. Look at the grass-verges on your street; your city footpath and gutter; along your beach or park. All of a sudden, the amount of rubbish littering our environment becomes more apparent. You may be amazed at what you have not been noticing until now.

This is what David Seymour chooses to ignore. Seymour complains that “It’s not the bags that are harming the environment, it’s the way people are using them.”

And that is the problem: we are using them. And they are everywhere.

But for David Seymour, MP for Epsom, a $24,000 junket at tax-payer’s expense is more worthy of his righteous indignation than the fouling of our environment. He has either been ‘captured’ by the plastics industry (perhaps willingly) – or this was a publicity stunt to improve ACT’s near-zero poll rating.

Neither possibility is  reassuring.

Mr Seymour may know the dollar price of some things – but the value of other, more important things, continues to elude him.

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* Note: Suspicious minds need not worry that this blogger placed these items on the ground. There is enough rubbish in the environment already without having to ‘doctor’ a situation. Most items in images were retrieved and appropriately disposed.

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References

Radio NZ:  David Seymour on Japan junket: Trevor Mallard ‘a well-known sports fanatic’

TVNZ:  ‘They’re taking the mickey’ – David Seymour lambastes colleagues’ $24k Japan rugby ‘junket’

Mediaworks/Newshub:  ACT – Reusable shopping bags can kill

NZ Herald:  Our plastic rubbish killing sea life

ACT: Economy

NewstalkZB: ACT leader – plastic bag ban will backfire

Scoop mdia:  Nutty plastic bag ban killing jobs

Fairfax media: Plastic bag makers say their product isn’t to blame for damaging the environment

NZ Herald:  Porirua plastics company fined $45k

TVNZ: David Seymour – Plastic bag ban could lead to fatalities

Top Universities: George Mason University

Top Universities: University of Auckland

Radio NZ:  Microbiologist slams ‘irresponsible’ plastic ban claims cited by Seymour

Fairfax media: David Seymour’s claims against reusable bags fact checked by leading scientists

Wikipedia: Property and Environment Research Center

Property and Environment Research Center (PERC): Home page

Property and Environment Research Center (PERC):  About Us

Desmog: Property and Environment Research Center (PERC)

Conservative Transparency: Dunn’s Foundation for the Advancement of Right Thinking

Forbes:  Yet Another Dead Whale Found With Pounds Of Plastic In Its Stomach

Previous related blogposts

Anti-Deep Sea Drilling Wellingtonians Take To The Streets (part tahi)

Key’s challenge to Deep Sea Oil Drilling Protesters

Anadarko: Key playing with fire

Drinking river water – Tourism NZ puts visitors at risk

TDB Investigation into what is happening in our water

Copyright (c) Notice

All images stamped ‘fmacskasy.wordpress.com’/’Daily Blog’ 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 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 29 November 2018.

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Observations on the 2017 Election campaign thus far… (toru)

9 September 2017 Leave a comment

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Parliament’s Grassy knoll: who tried to character-assassinate Winston?

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The leaking  of Winston Peter’s superannuation over-payment is well known. Also known is that Ministers Paula Bennett and Anne Tolley were briefed by Ministry of Social Development and State Services Commission, respectively, on Peters’ private details regarding the over-payment before it was leaked to the media and made public knowledge.

Also briefed – though it is unclear why, as he was not a warranted Minister of the Crown – was political appointee, Chief of Staff, Wayne Eagleson.

Evidently the only person in the entire country not briefed was the Prime Minister, Bill “Double Dipper from Dipton” English.

Bennett, Tolley, and Judith Collins have all denied any involvement in the leak.

Paula Bennett was adamant;

“I don’t actually go around the back scuffling around doing leaks. I actually, if I’ve got something to say, I say it directly and up front and kind of bluntly. “

Which is true, in a Bizarro World kind of way. In 2009, when Bennett mis-used her Ministerial powers to reveal personal details of two solo mothers on the DPB, it was done in a very public manner.

However, Bennett never apologised publicly for the breaking of the two women’s privacy. And she stubbornly insisted she would do it again;

Asked if she would do the same thing again, Bennett said “it would depend on the circumstances”.

Perhaps Judith Collins, who disclosed a State servant’s name and personal information to a right-wing blogger, was involved in the leaking of Peters’ situation?

Prime Minister John Key has conceded it was “unwise” for Judith Collins to give Cameron Slater a public servant’s name, job title and phone number which was then used in an attack post on his Whale Oil blog.

However, John Key says no disciplinary action will be taken against the Justice Minister because the action pre-dated the final warning he gave Ms Collins over the Oravida scandal.

Mr Key says he still stands by the Justice Minister.

“I think the passing of private information, in terms of phone numbers, I think that’s unwise. It’s unwise of a Minister. Look in the end it’s one of those things,” Mr Key says.

Collins also refuse to accept she had done anything wrong – despite being forced to resign in 2014;

“I absolutely and strongly deny this and any suggestion of inappropriate behaviour. I am restrained in clearing my name while I am still a Minister inside Cabinet and I believe the right thing to do is to resign as a Minister so I am able to clear my name.

I have asked the Prime Minister for an Inquiry into these serious allegations so that my name can be cleared. I will, of course, cooperate with any Inquiry.”

Only Minister Tolley has not been accused of a direct privacy violation of any individual(s) – at the moment. However, MSD is know to leak like a sieve and it was MSD that briefed the Minister regarding Winston Peters.

One thing is for certain; some Ministers are not averse when it comes to leaking personal details of individuals who run foul of this government.

They have ‘form’.

Postscript

Recent revelations that blogger and activist, Martyn Bradbury, has had his private bank details scrutinised by Police shows how little National and its state agencies respect the privacy of individuals.

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Especially those who dare criticise the current regime.

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A face-palm moment for ACT candidate, Anneka Carlson

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Meet Anneka Carlson, ACT’s New Plymouth candidate and number seven on their Party List;

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Carlson is seventh on the list and would enter parliament if ACT gained 5 per cent of the party vote.

The 28-year-old never dreamt of being a politician but standing for ACT in her home town “just feels right.”

“It was meant to happen.”

Parliament needed people with life skills and her life experiences would help stand her in good stead if she is elected, she said.

The former West Auckland police officer owned her own business in New Plymouth, is a North Taranaki SPCA board member, and ran fitness programmes for cancer support groups.

She is also completing a business studies degree extra-murally at Massey University. 

“I’m fairly young, and I’m surprised to be high on the list because I’m a bit of political newbie, but I’ve already seen lot of things from working in the police.

All well and good – engaging young New Zealanders to enter politics should be encouraged. It should never be  the sole “happy hunting grounds” for Baby Boomers seeking to feather their own nests, at the expense of younger generations.

Unfortunately, there are times when youth counts against a candidate.  Such as when Ms Carlson lamented ACT’s lack of public support;

“It makes me wonder why people don’t know more about ACT in New Plymouth.”

It should be no surprise to anyone that Ms Carlson wonders why ACT is not supported more at the ballot box. It’s not because “people don’t know more about ACT“.

Quite the contrary – most New Zealanders middle-aged and over – are very clear about ACT and what it stands for. After all, we lived through ACT-style so-called “reforms” in the late 1980s and into the 1990s.

That is why ACT is not well supported except by a tiny minority of unreconstructed wealthy, privileged extremists. (Aka, the One Percent.)  At 28, Ms Carlson would be oblivious to all this.

But at least Ms Carlson understands how privileged she is as a middle-class pakeha from an economically well-supported background. As she herself admitted;

“I’ve come from a fairly privileged upbringing…”

At least Ms Carlson has a measure of self-awareness. Given time and experience she may understand how that privileged upbringing gives her a head start in life that is denied many others.

She may even experience that critical Road-To-Damascus revelation that ACT’s market-driven ideology has made matters much, much worse since 1984.

I suggest the next cuppa tea she has is not with David Seymour, but Jim Bolger.

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Another poll indicates coming change in government

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A recent Horizon Poll released on 1 September reconfirms the rise of Jacinda Ardern’s popularity with voters;

Jacinda Ardern has a 6% lead over Bill English as preferred Prime Minister among definite voters.

Among the 860 adult respondents who are both registered to vote and 100% likely to vote, Ardern leads English by 43% to 37%.

Among all of the 960 respondents to the August 11-15 Horizon Research poll Ardern leads 45% to 32%.

Winston Peters is preferred Prime Minister by 15% of all respondents and 14% of definite voters.

James Shaw, the Green Party leader, is preferred by 2%, and David Seymour of ACT and Te Ururoa Flavell of the Maori Party each by 1%.

Coincidentally, English’s current popularity at 37% is similar to Key’s Preferred Prime Minister ratings before he stepped down as Dear Leader Prime Minister.  By May last year, Key’s PPM rating had  fallen to 36.7% – continuing a steady downward trend.

Which means Ms Ardern is now more popular than John Key was, prior to his resignation.

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Another step back from globalisation

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Queensland’s Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, has announced a major step back from neo-liberalism’s prime enabler, globalism, by announcing that the State government would prioritise local businesses for contracts. The aim is to create more local jobs.

Ms Palaszczuk was unapologetic in renouncing globalisation;

“ Our new procurement strategy is unashamedly a ‘Buy Queensland’ one.  No longer will we be constrained by free trade agreements that have seen jobs go off-shore or interstate.

Wherever possible, one regional and one Queensland supplier will be invited to quote or tender for every procurement opportunity offered. Preference must be given to local subbies and manufacturers on significant infrastructure projects of $100 million or more.

This money comes from Queensland taxpayers, it is only right we spent it in a way that benefits Queensland businesses and workers as much as possible.”

According to the SBS report, Queensland spent  A$14 billion per annum  on supplies, services, plus A$4 billion  building and maintaining State infrastructure.

Ms Palaszczuk made a valid case for buying-local when she pointed out “this money comes from Queensland taxpayers, it is only right we spent it in a way that benefits Queensland businesses and workers“.

The prime role of a government in a Western-style democracy has always been (or should be!) to protect and enhance it’s citizens. Creating an environment where local jobs flourish  is part and parcel of that dictum.

Governments are not “in business” to create  jobs in other countries at the expense of their own workers.

ExportNZ’s Executive Director, Catherine Beard, was predictably hostile;

The ‘Buy Queensland’ promotion should be about encouraging Aussies to buy their local product, just like ‘Buy NZ Made’ encourages New Zealanders to buy Kiwi-made. It’s OK to encourage your people to buy local, but it’s not OK to mandate State Government weightings that amount to protectionism.

The protectionism in Queensland’s policy is completely contrary to Closer Economic Relations between New Zealand and Australia.

In plain english, Ms Beard is fine with “it’s OK to encourage your people to buy local,” but “it’s not OK to mandate State Government weightings that amount to protectionism” because it harmed the interests of her members.

Tough. It’s about time globalisation began to be rolled back instead of continually exporting jobs and entire businesses to off-shore jurisdictions where labour is cheaper and easily exploitable because of lax (or unenforced) labour laws.

We need fair trade, not so-called “free” trade. “Free” trade is not free when we, the tax-payers, have to foot the bill to pay for welfare, because workers became unemployed after their jobs were exported to China, Vietnam, Pakistan, Fiji, etc, or cheaper (and often shoddier) goods imported to unfairly compete with locally-made products.

Queensland’s Premier understands this. She wants jobs created for her own workers – not in some other country. Especially when those workers in other nations won’t be paying tax in Queensland.

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References

Radio NZ:  Timeline – Winston Peters’ superannuation overpayments saga

NZ Herald:  Beehive knew of Winston Peters’ super payments weeks ago

Mediaworks:  Paula Bennett says she doesn’t go ‘scuffling around doing leaks’

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

Mediaworks:  Collins ‘unwise’ to pass information to Slater

NZ Herald:  Statement from Judith Collins

Fairfax media:  Government backs down over collecting individuals’ data until security confirmed

Fairfax media:  Former promotional ‘hype girl’ keen to get more dancing to ACT’s tune

Fairfax media:  Tick party vote for ACT to bring quality candidates into parliament, leader says

Fairfax media:  The 9th floor – Jim Bolger says neoliberalism has failed NZ and it’s time to give unions the power back

Fairfax media:  Hamilton social service providers dispute PM’s ‘almost’ no homeless claim

Horizon Poll:  Ardern preferred Prime Minister with 6% lead

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

SBS: Qld govt to prioritise local businesses

Scoop media:  Trade Ministers need firm hand over Queensland

Other Blogs

Martyn Bradbury:  My case against a secret NZ Police investigation that breached my privacy and my civil rights

Previous related blogposts

The slow dismantling of a Prime Minister – downward slide continues

Observations on the 2017 Election campaign thus far… (tahi)

Observations on the 2017 Election campaign thus far… (rua)

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

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Observations on the 2017 Election campaign thus far… (tahi)

6 September 2017 Leave a comment

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So many little occurrences and huge events have transpired over the last couple of months, to brand this as one of the most intriguing (and tumultuous) of election campaigns in my life. Only the 1984  and the 2014 General Elections rank as memorable. In all three, there were two threads weaving through the campaigns;

  1. Events which have successfully engaged even the most disinterested, cynical Citizen;
  2. A  subtle – but palpable – shift in the political concensus.

Over-laying those two threads are the desperate scramblings of a decaying third term government; the rise of a new, popular leader (this time on the Left); and an unreconstructed, vindictive side of New Zealand society.

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It’s just a… jump to the Left!

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The onset demise of neo-liberalism/globalisation has been an on-going topic of discussion since the “Brexit” referendum and the ascendancy of Donald Trump and (to a lesser degree) Emmanuel Macron.

Some have suggested that with our MMP system – which has a diluting-effect on political revolutions whether Left, Right, or Populist – that New Zealand will dodge the rising groundswell of international public resentment against the neo-liberal concensus.

Well, that won’t be happening. Regardless of electoral systems, New Zealand is not immune to the winds of international political change.

Just as neo-liberalism swept over this country in the 198os – imported from Reagan’s USA and Thatcher’s Great Britain – the counter-counter-revolution will happen here, and it has been televised since the courageous Metiria Turei put her hand up and showed us why things were so broken for those left behind by Roger Douglas’ so-called “reforms”.

One of the litmus-tests for ideological positioning on the Left-Right spectrum is the concept of user-pays. Since the late 1980s, user-pays has been gradually implemented by way of “mission-creep”.

Done gradually so as not to alienate the public, National learned a bruising lesson in public resentment after it attempted to implement a $50-per-day public-hospital charge in 1991. The public defied the charges and simply refused to comply with  invoices demanding payment. The policy was dropped prior to the 1993 general election.

User pays for medication has been gradually increased from fifty cents to three dollars (in 2007, by Labour), to five dollars (in 2013 by National).

The other big-ticket item targeted for user-pays was tertiary education. Student fees were raised and student loans implemented by National in 1992 (the same year ‘Shortland Street’ began broadcasting).

Until then, tertiary education was near-free, with student allowances paid to students to meet basic living costs.

Former Prime Minister, John KeyMinister Steven Joyce, and previous Finance Minister, Ruth Richardson (who implemented the policy) were amongst those National Party politicians who benefitted from near-free tertiary education. Like Paula Bennett, who gained a free tertiary education as a young woman whilst on the DPB, using the Training Incentive Allowance – and which she then scrapped in 2009 – Richardson, Joyce, and Key made sure no other young New Zealander would gain from a free (or near-free) tertiary education.

The user-pays regime has remained in place ever since, and student debt had spiralled out of control to a staggering $15.3 billion owed by 731,800 students.

Resentment by students, and refusal to repay this monstrous debt, was such that in 2013 Minister Joyce employed draconian Soviet/Nazi-style policies to arrest and prosecute rebellious loan defaulters;

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

Said the man who had a near-free, tax-payer funded tertiary education – Steven Joyce.

The result of National’s crack-down? Predictable, as Fairfax’s Adele  Redmond reported in May this year;

Five years of arrests and court proceedings have recovered less than $230,000 in overdue student loan debt.

Arrest warrants and Australian court cases pursued by Inland Revenue in the last five years have recovered a fraction of student debt, figures released under the Official Information Act show.

[…]

Three completed court cases recovered $79,610 from two borrowers – the third person’s debt was wiped due to hardship – and $150,221 was repaid following eight arrest warrants to prevent debtors leaving New Zealand.

Twelve more cases covering $621,955 of debt were still under way, an Inland Revenue spokesman said.

The $229,831 recovered so far represented 0.02 per cent of all overdue debt.

The amount of loan debt owed worldwide topped $1.07 billion last year.

User-pays in tertiary education has failed. Like our antiquated marijuana laws, it criminalises those who refuse (or cannot) repay their debt. Others are left with a debt hanging over them as they try to save to buy a house; raise a family; or set up business. The mill-stone of a student debt handicaps young New Zealanders before they have set foot outside of learning institutions and into the workforce.

The innate unfairness and fiscal failure of user-pays is apparent. What is not so apparent is that the majority of political parties have policies that are counter to the user-pays concensus that has existed up till now;

Greens

Loan Repayment

  • Support keeping the current zero interest scheme
  • Ensure that repayment rates reflect borrowers’ ability to repay by adjusting the repayment thresholds to start at a higher income level, and introduce a progressive repayment scheme

Student Support

  • Review levels of student support to ensure they are at an equitable and liveable level
  • Work towards a universal student allowance by progressively reducing the age at which students cease to be means tested on their parents’ income and continue to raise the parental income threshold
  • Reinstate access to the Student Allowance for those studying postgraduate courses

Fees

  • Work towards a public ‘fee-free’ tertiary education system by capping and then progressively reducing student fees
  • Review funding mechanisms to explore alternatives to EFTS funding
  • Ensure Tertiary Institutions are adequately funded

Labour

  • Increasing living costs support with both a $50 a week boost to student allowances and a $50 a week lift to the maximum that can be borrowed for living costs
  • Restoring post-graduate students’ eligibility for student allowances
  • Restoring the eligibility of students in long courses, such as medicine, to access student allowances or loans beyond seven years FTE study
  • Accelerating the three years’ free policy, starting with one year fees free full-time equivalent for everyone starting tertiary education or training for the first time from 1 January 2018, and extending this to three years’ free by 2024.

Mana Movement (not currently in Parliament)

  • Improve access to free tertiary education for all students
  • Abolish all tertiary fees and cancel interest on student loans
  • Provide students with jobs to help them pay off debt
  • Develop a plan to write off student debt
  • Provide students with a living allowance while studying

Maori Party

  • Increase the accommodation supplement by half for all tertiary students.
  • Introduce a universal student allowance with cost of living adjustment to guarantee a livable income during study, for all tertiary students, including post-graduate students.
  • Write off the living cost component of all student loans and explore the viability of writing off the total student loan for those who work in a job equivalent to their qualification in Aotearoa for a period of five years
  • Provide free public transport to primary and secondary school children as well as tertiary students
  • Develop a four year zero fee scholarship to target the ‘First in Whānau’ to engage in a Bachelor level qualification programme.
  • Retain interest-free loans.
  • Reduce the repayment levels on a student loan starting at 4% ($40,000), 6% ($50,000) and 8% (for $60,000 and over)

NZ First

  • Introduce a universal living allowance which is not subject to parent means testing as a priority for all full-time students.
  • Immediately introduce a dollar-for-dollar debt write-off scheme so that graduates in identified areas of workforce demand may trade a year’s worth of debt for each year of paid full-time work in New Zealand in that area
  • Work with NZUSA and the sector to establish an expert reference group with a view to implement two thousand ‘First in Family’ scholarships per year. These will create a step-change in educational aspiration by promoting fee-free education with wrap-around support from secondary, through transition and to completion for those who would be the first in their immediate family to achieve a degree. ($68m over first 3 years 2015 to 2017).

United Future (now defunct)

Fees

[United Future will] Remove tuition fees for tertiary education in New Zealand, accompanied by a push to increase the quality of tertiary education and protect the value of New Zealand degrees. The zero fees policy would mean that students would only borrow living costs, rather than the crippling loans which are currently being incurred to cover fees as well. A zero fees policy also addresses one of the illusions of the current policy, where it is assumed that tuition fees cover all or most of the costs of study, when in fact the taxpayer already covers the majority of tuition costs.

Student Allowance

Abolish the Student Allowance, as a way to help fund the zero fees policy. The student allowance system has become patently unfair, relying on means testing of parental income until a student turns 24, and enabling the wealthy to receive allowances where their parents are able to reduce their taxable income.

National and ACT appear to be the only two parties that stubbornly adhere to the notion of user-pays in tertiary education.

The times, they are-a-changin’, as user-pays in tertiary education becomes less and less popular. We may expect in the coming years to see that deeply unpopular policy slowly wound back and a gradual, inexorable return to free, state-funded tertiary education.

Like the billboard sez;

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Though perhaps the slogan should have read “Return to free education“. If only to remind New Zealanders what we once had – and then lost – in the mania that was neo-liberalism.

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ACT’s Billboard – Blissful Obliviousness to Ironic Hypocrisy

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Seen throughout the country is  David Seymour’s grinning face on ACT’s canary-yellow billboard;

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Note the campaign slogan ACT has adopted; “Own your future“.

Deeply ironic considering that ACT is the party that has at it’s core policy to sell off all state assets to the highest bidders, whether local or off-shore corporates.

Own your  future“? Yeah, nah. Only if you can afford to bid for it.

 

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References

Te Ara Encyclopaedia of New Zealand:  Hospital funding and patient entitlement – Funding public hospitals

Fairfax media:  Prescription price rise hits vulnerable

Wikipedia:  Timeline of New Zealand history – 1990s

Ruth Richardson NZ Ltd: Ruth Richardson CV

Sunday Star Times: Politics – John Key – A snapshot

NBR: Bennett cutting a benefit that helped her – Labour

Fairfax media:  Student loan debt ‘balloons’ by 37 per cent, with average student owing $21,000

Fairfax media:  Joyce defends student loan crackdown

Fairfax media:  Five years of legal action by Inland Revenue recovers fraction of student loan debt

Green Party:  Tertiary Education Policy

Labour Party: Tertiary Education

Mana Movement: Education

Maori Party: Education Policy

NZ First: Education

United Future: Tertiary Education

Additional

Radio NZ:  As it happened – Jacinda Ardern takes charge as Labour leader

Horizon Poll:  New Zealand First voters equally split over coalition options

Radio NZ:  Labour sweeps into lead in latest poll

Previous related blogposts

Steven Joyce – Hypocrite of the Week

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

 

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Note: Replace US references to  Social Security with Superannuation and Medicare with State-funded healthcare for local relevance.

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

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The Labour interns – ACT exposes hypocrisy!

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The headlines!

A few days ago, headlines appeared supposedly “exposing  a rort” by the NZ Labour Party to exploit American interns for electoral campaigning purposes;

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The “Shock! Horror!” story occurred at the worst possible time for Labour and  the Opposition, as National was being held to account for attempting to  cover up the Todd Barclay Tape scandal and possibly perverting the course of justice;

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The facts behind the “headlines”

However, as the initial media frenzy subsided and gave way to a closer look at the allegations, the narrative soon changed from “slave labour conditions“; “substandard conditions“; and “a cramped marae with no working shower” – to some actual facts.

Awataha marae‘s spokesperson, Anthony Wilson rejected  suggestions that his facilities were “substandard”;

“ We don’t know what the organizers promised our guests but we are like any other marae we only have the facilities we currently have.

We don’t think our facilities are substandard although we are not a five-star hotel. We are working on developing our marae facilities to cater for the influx of schools, community and internationals.

Our role is to manaaki and awhi our manuhiri. If the organizers choose better accommodation that’s fine by us, we wish the young people all the best for the future as many of them have become our friends.”

Anthony Wilson appeared on TVNZ’s Q+A on 25 June, and further rejected the smears against his marae;

“ What was not being told was we’ve got eight showers. It’s not like that we only had one shower. And the other thing – the broken cabinet. We get broken things all the time when we have groups of this sort of size and nature using our facilities all the time. So we kind of resent the implications of disgruntled students trying to make a point out of this. I believe it’s quite good now that some of those stories have been outed. I’ve seen a few articles just recently now where the students have actually come out and defended the marae and saying that they had a wonderful time and also the facilities were adequate for what they required.”

The Politik story seemed bemused by the tasks expected from volunteers;

“They were told that they are broken down into teams- they will be either phone soliciting ( they’ve bought 30-ish Alcatel phones, and they sit in a room and call, from this marae, very disorganised, many of these people have been called already ) , door knocking in regions in Auckland, or approaching universities and “unions” to recruit votes ad more volunteers. They have one day of ‘training’ tomorrow. There is nothing else planned for these guys as far as I am aware.”

The complaints regarding campaign work are fatuous. Political volunteer work is never paid. Volunteer work consists precisely of “drudge” activities such as door-knocking, phone calling, leafletting, putting up billboards, staffing stalls; etc.

As a volunteer for the Alliance in the 1990s, this is precisely the work that this blogger, and thousands of others around New Zealand, carried out in the 1999 and 2002 election campaigns; “drudge” activities such as door-knocking, phone calling, leafletting, putting up billboards, staffing stalls; etc.

Unpaid volunteer work is not restricted to parties on the Left.  This is a page from the National party website* outlining what work unpaid volunteers are asked to carry out;

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The Maori Party – which slammed Labour’s use of  volunteers as “slave labour” – also has a webpage touting for unpaid volunteers;

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The ACT Party’s website is even more specific and wide-ranging in the expertise it demands from unpaid volunteers;

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Considering the financial support ACT enjoys from its wealthy donors, it seems almost scrooge-like in it’s unwillingness to pay for services.

Interns and volunteers

The American volunteers were described as “interns” by the media;

A group of 85 interns flew to New Zealand from around the world expecting lectures from Helen Clark and real world campaign experience.

They arrived to a cramped dormitory, no pay, no lectures, and a broken shower.

Aside from the one broken shower out of eight (which – according to some breathless media pundits – pushes New Zealand automatically into Third World status), complaints that interns were not paid appears contradictory.  Internship NZ suggests that interns are paid at aleast the minimum wage in New Zealand, to avoid exploitation;

The only cost to the employer is the intern’s wage. We ask that the interns get paid what workers doing the same job are being paid (we do not want the interns exploited). We advise our interns that the minimum wage in New Zealand is $15.75 per hour, and that in most cases they will be paid more than this. We ask that the interns get between 30 – 40 hours per week (or enough for them to “live” comfortably).

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One broken shower out of eight – a fact missing from most msm coverage of this “story”.

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However, when taken in conjunction with political volunteer work, the very definition of internship can involve paid or unpaid work;

Internships for professional careers are similar in some ways but not as rigorous as apprenticeships for professions, trade and vocational jobs, but the lack of standardisation and oversight leaves the term open to broad interpretation. Interns may be college or university students, high school students, or post-graduate adults. These positions may be paid or unpaid and are usually temporary.

Generally, an internship consists of an exchange of services for experience between the student and an organization. Students can also use an internship to determine if they have an interest in a particular career, to create a network of contacts, to acquire a recommendation letter to add to their curriculum vitae, or to gain school credit. Some interns find permanent, paid employment with the organizations for which they worked upon completion of the internship.

Unpaid work is not only recognised in New Zealand – Statistic NZ even counts it toward employment data;

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A revelation

Following  complaints from some interns, others came forward with  more positive experiences. And there was a revelation of what might have pricipitated  the complaint(s);

An American student taking part in a “fellowship” programme for the Labour Party campaign has defended it, saying most of the 85 interns on it are happy.

The student spoke on the condition of anonymity because most in the programme had signed non-disclosure agreements before starting on the programme.

She believed the complaints and leaks to the media were driven by one or two interns who had a beef with the programme. She claimed one was dropped from a leadership position on the programme after allegedly taking bottles of wine from Labour MP Jenny Salesa’s house after Salesa hosted a meal for them.

“We sat down, we ate and he walked away with two bottles of wine. The organisers called him out for it. Since then it’s been a simmering pot.”

She said it was disappointing to read comments in the media about “sweatshop” conditions and “slave labour”.

“Three meals a day, every single day, were provided. The care they have provided is comprehensive. The one thing that has cause a bit of chatter is the cubicle situation, which I understand is not ideal. But the sweatshop conditions, where we were rallied into a line and forced to work, that’s not true at all.”

She defended Awataha marae, saying most were moved into proper living quarters on the marae which are “more than ideal”.

“The food is great and they are very accommodating.”

ACT exposes hypocrisy

Perhaps the most outrageously hypocritical response to this non-story came from the ACT Party. On 23 June, ACT tweeted;

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ACT is hardly known as a champion of workers’ rights.

ACT’s policy toward the minimum wage, for example, is anything but positive as former party-leader Jamie Whyte expressed three years ago;

“The economists in the National Party aren’t stupid, They know that this will have adverse effects for New Zealand workers and the economy. Yet they continue to intervene in wage rates, in an attempt to position themselves as moderates,” says Dr Whyte.

“In doing this, National perpetuates the myth that minimum wages protect the poor.

“John Key has skimmed over the inevitable consequences of this intervention, saying job losses will be ‘relatively negligible’. What Key doesn’t acknowledge is the unseen effects of minimum wages — those businesses which don’t directly lay off workers will be discouraged from employing more, or replacing those who leave voluntarily in future.

“The best thing that low skilled workers can do is get work experience. It’s hard to think of a more cruel policy than passing a law that bans the people most in need of work experience from getting any.

“Furthermore, many businesses will pass on their increasing employment costs to the consumer, contributing to the rising price of living which many New Zealanders have come to accept as normal.

“ACT doesn’t think it’s okay for the state to put up barriers to employment. Nor does ACT think it’s okay for the state to intervene to drive up the cost of living.”

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“Hero of the Working Class” and former ACT leader, Jamie Whyte

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Whyte’s successor, David Seymour,  gave ACT’s support to the Employment Relations Amendment Bill, which  further eroded worker’s rights and promoted neo-liberal employment ideology;

“  Why, then, do the opponents of flexible labour markets in general, and this bill in particular, not see the futility in trying to legislate a different outcome in the labour market and the damage it is likely to do? Why, indeed, has the National Government compromised on the vulnerable worker clause and the requirement to conclude bargaining when these should be removed entirely?

[…]

I support this bill because it is a step in the right direction towards more flexible markets. Like all attempts to improve public policy, this amendment is imperfect. Economic reality and experience suggests it should have gone further.”

The only hypocrisy exposed in this non-story is the willingness of an amoral Right to seize an opportunity, to leap on an issue in a lame attempt to gain the moral highground.

A closer examination reveals a somewhat different  picture. Instead of skewering the Labour Party with a sloppily-written “exposé“, based on half-truths from a few disgruntled individuals, we are reminded that the ACT Party is no friend of the working class (or even the Middle Classes, who would suffer higher and more intrusive user-pays under a punitive ACT-style neo-liberal system).

Perhaps Laurie Fleming summed it up best on Twitter, when he posted this response to ACT’s faux tears about fabricated worker exploitation;

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Yes indeed, ACT has exposed hypocrisy on this issue: it’s own.

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* National Party webpages are saved and retained, as National regularly removes pages from its site.

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References

Radio NZ:  Labour Party intern programme ‘got out of control’

Radio NZ:  Awataha Marae rejects ‘substandard’ housings claim

NZ Herald:  Mystery funder behind Labour intern programme – and party doesn’t know who

The Wireless:  Unpaid, unhappy and over here – Labour’s intern scandal explained

Maori TV:  Labour Party intern scheme “slave labour” – Marama Fox

Newstalk ZB:  Labour’s ‘looking into’ their unpaid internships

Fairfax media:  Labour Party brings in unpaid overseas students

NZ Herald:  Taping scandal: National Party board member who advised Glenys Dickson to withdraw Todd Barclay complaint named

Mediaworks/Newshub: Todd Barclay tape scandal – More allegations of false statements emerge

Radio NZ: Todd Barclay – ‘I’ve made some mistakes’

Radio NZ:  Barclay apologises for ‘misleading’ answers

Fairfax media:  Todd Barclay fronts after revelations of secret recording

NZ Herald:  Glenys Dickson breaks silence over Todd Barclay secret tapes scandal

Fairfax media:  Todd Barclay invented complaints on staffer Glenys Dickson – allegations

Mediaworks/Radiolive:  Patrick Gower – Todd Barclay’s admission means police must reopen case

The Spinoff:  All the untruths, evasions and, um, bullshit in the Todd Barclay debacle

Scoop media: Q+A – Anthony Wilson and Andrew Little

Politik:  Labour Party volunteer workers rebel over living conditions

National Party: Volunteers

Maori Party: Volunteers

ACT Party: Join

Electoral Commission: 2014 party donations and loans returns – ACT Party

Fairfax media: Internal docs on Labour intern scheme ‘wishful thinking’

Internship NZ:  Information for Employers

Wikipedia:  Internship

Statistics NZ:  Labour Market Statistics Quarterly Concept set – Employed

NZ Herald:  US intern defends Labour’s ‘fellowship’ campaign programme from ‘sweatshop’ claims

Twitter: ACT – Labour interns

NBR:  National bows to minimum wage myths – ACT

Parliament:  Employment Relations Amendment Bill – Third Reading – David Seymour

Twitter: Laurie Fleming – ACT – workers rights

Additional

NZ Herald:  Audrey Young – No comparison between Labour’s intern strife and National’s crisis

Other Blogs

The Daily Blog:  Q+A review – Has anyone contacted slave pen crusader Matthew Hooton yet?

The Daily Blog:  Why the Labour Party Student Intern ‘scandal’ is a smear

The Daily Blog:  At some point people are going to admit this 2month old story about a Labour intern slave scandal was just a distraction from Bill & Todd

The Jackal:  No comparison in substandard housing

The Standard:  Racist attack on marae living

The Standard:  Over egging the scandal soufflee

Previous related blogposts

A great business opportunity, courtesy of ACT

ACT leader, Jamie Whyte, refutes cliched stereotype of solo-mothers?

National-ACT supporters – not the brightest lights in the night sky, eh?

ACT Party candidate David Seymour – revealed

It’s official: ACT’s Jamie Whyte is several-sandwiches-and-a-salad short of a picnic

Today’s irony was brought to you courtesy of former ACT MP and Govt Minister, Rodney Hide

Foot in Mouth award – Former ACT MP exposes flaw in free-market system

Foot in Mouth award – another former ACT MP plumbs new depths of dumbness

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

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Foot in Mouth award – Former ACT MP exposes flaw in free-market system

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Foot In Mouth Award

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Meet Ken Shirley;

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ken shirley ACT MP

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Most folk won’t remember who Ken Shirley was, prior to his current ‘gig’ as  CEO of the Road Transport Forum (RTF), representing road transport interests since July 2010.

From 1984 to 1990, Shirley was nominally a Labour Party MP. He was closely aligned with the likes of Roger Douglas, Richard Prebble, and other right-wingers who had seized control of the party during the 1980s.

From 1996 to 2005, Shirley was an ACT Party MP. As such, he was an acolyte of  the neo-liberal school of economics and a strong adherent of free market forces. Part of ACT’s policies is to scrap the minimum wage.

Indeed, to under-score ACT’s abhorrence of the minimum wage, ACT’s current leader (and sole MP), David Seymour, condemned a recent rise in minimum wage levels. On 26 February this year, Seymour was scathing;

“The new $15.25 minimum wage will hit regional employers especially hard… In Auckland, $15.25 might not sound like much, but small businesses in the regions who generally charge less will struggle to bear the cost. Hikes to the minimum wage will discourage new employment, and lead to more lay-offs and business failures.

The first employees to suffer will be young, low-skilled workers who won’t be offered a chance to prove their worth. Pulling up the jobs ladder will only add to poverty in low-income areas.

This is a wage set for the distorted Auckland economy. Why should the rest of the country have to bear the same costs?”

[Fun Fact: As a Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Seymour is currently a taxpayer-funded beneficiary on a salary of $185,098 p.a. – which equates to nearly $89 per hour. One wonders if “small businesses in the regions who generally charge less will struggle to bear the cost” of Seymour’s salary?]

But returning to Ken Shirley; as an ex-ACT member of Parliament he is still most likely an  advocate for the abolition of the minimum wage.

On 5 May, Shirley was invited to be a commentator on Radio NZ’s afternoon Panel, hosted by Jim Mora;

 “Ken Shirley of the Road Transport Forum discusses what’s behind logging truck crashes and what needs to be done.”

At one point in the discussion, a suggestion was made that low wages in the trucking industry is not attracting the most highly-skilled and experienced workers;

@ 7.50

Jim Mora: “How bad do you think, Ken, is this situation with truck driving?”

Ken Shirley: “Oh, the spate we’ve had in Northland is just unacceptable. There’s no excuse for roll-over[s]. We know we have some difficult roads in New Zealand with topography, Northland’s is particularly difficult.

But there’s an obligation on the drivers and the forestry companies who hire the drivers to make sure they drive to the conditions. That’s the obligation on all drivers, and the spate we’ve had is just unacceptable, and I think inevitably it seems it’s not mechanical failure, it is driver error.

Whether it’s speed, inattention, or fatigue.”

Jim Mora: “So, it’s a…what, is it a hiring of drivers problem, hiring the wrong drivers, or is it a keeping-costs down problem, Ken? What do you think?”

Ken Shirley: “Well, the two are related of course. We have a chronic shortage of H5 drivers in New Zealand. That’s the heavy combination driver, the truck and trailer. It’s a global problem, but it’s particularly severe in New Zealand at this time. We’ve had it for many years, but with the activity in the economy now, that we are currently having, there is a chronic shortage of drivers.

Many of our members throughout the country are just saying they simply cannot get drivers. And I guess inevitably, you can, in that situation, such a tight situation, out of desperation, you can perhaps hire someone who’s not as skilled as you would like or need, out of sheer necessity. But at the end of the day, there’s no excuse. This should not be happening. We’re taking it very seriously.

We’ve actually instigated a series of roll-over prevention seminars in conjunction with NZTA around the country. They started some six weeks back. And these are actually very good seminars. But we have to educate the drivers, the loaders, the dispatchers, the transport operators themselves, but we must not have this level of roll-over.”

Jim Mora: “Ken, is it the… what is it deep down? Is it the meager wages paid, as some people are saying? You’re just not attracting the skills to the industry?”

Ken Shirley: “Ah, no, you do, it’s, you know, you can have a driver error. But it’s, it’s… you have to have better training, better awareness, that has to be the answer.”

Jim Mora: “So, there was this work-force development strategy, wasn’t there, ah, put into place a wee while back to try and try to entice more people to become truck drivers because of that shortage. But what is the point of a work-force development strategy if we know what the problem basically is, which I’m interpreting as maybe a lack of training and a lack of procedures put in place in the industry – [garbled].”

After a further exchange between Jim More, Peter Elliot (one of the panelists), and Ken Shirley, the host returned the discussion to the matter of wage rates;

Jim Mora: “It does seem though, with the wage rates that we see talked about, that you might not be getting the optimum recruits for the job? Is that a fair criticism, or not?”

Ken Shirley: “Well we know that the skilled labour market across the economy, whether it’s a diesel mechanic, a skilled driver, all of of those industries are, are, reporting severe chronic shortages. And because they are so highly skilled, reliant on a high level of, of, of, experience, when there is a chronic shortage, there is a temptation to often, out of desperation [to] take what you can get. And, and, that’s, that’s when you start to get into issues that like we are seeing and that’s when you start introducing potential road safety problems.”

Jim Mora: “I understand, but would you solve your chronic shortage if you paid higher wage rates?”

Ken Shirley: “Well, indeed, and all the members I speak to want to, but there’s been a race to the bottom, it’s –

[panelist scoffing (?) noise]

such a fiercely competive industry…”

Shirley’s admissions are astounding.

His comments appear to be a frank admission that the free market has experienced a spectacular  failure on a key point in the Northland logging industry;  that if there is a shortage of  skilled labour, the price of that labour (heavy-truck drivers in this case) should rise – not fall – to attract skilled labour. That is a basic tenet of supply and demand in the free market system.

As the guru of free market economics, Milton Friedman put it;

“But when workers get higher wages and better working conditions through the free market, when they get raises by firm[s] competing with one another for the best workers, by workers competing with one another for the best jobs, those higher wages are at nobody’s expense. “

And Investopedia described a free labour market thusly;

Assuming there are a large number of employers in a region, or that workers are highly mobile geographically, the wages that a company will pay workers is dependent on the competitive market wage for a given skill set. This means that any company is a wage taker, which is simply another way of saying companies must pay competitive wages in order to obtain workers.

None of which seems to be happening in Northland at present.

To the contrary, logging companies – according to their own spokesperson, Ken Shirley – are engaged in a “a race to the bottom” with drivers’ wages.

To compound the problem, in April of this year, Shirley specifically opposed and condemned outright any attempt to increase the wages of drivers;

“The link between remuneration and road safety is highly questionable and as a recent PWC report highlights, the system will result in a net cost to the Australian economy of more than A$2 billion over 15 years.

It is therefore very concerning that the Labour Party here advocated for the same policy and campaigned on it during the last election.”

National awards and government-imposed orders are not the way to lift industry wage rates or make the industry safer. All they do is saddle the industry with inflexible and time-consuming obligations and additional costs.

Let’s not repeat Australia’s mistake in New Zealand. It has been proven that national awards burden the economy and cost jobs and I hope that Labour and other political parties here will accept that reality and ditch the concept once and for all.”

Shirley’s comments last month are in stark contrast to his public lamentations on Radio NZ.

Not only has the free market failed in one of it’s key tenets – but Shirley is actively opposed to raising wages by any means necessary, to attract skilled, experienced truck drivers.

This should serve as a clear lesson that the innate contradictions of the free market ideology – many of which are little more than articles of faith – will eventually become more and more apparent.

Shirley has inadvertently helped with the slow dismantling of the neo-liberal fantasy.

Appendix1

Unfortunately, knowing how the system operates  in this country,  it will takes catastrophic events with several tragic deaths, before the government acts on this growing problem.

That’s how we roll in New Zealand.

Over bodies.

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Tourist dies in logging truck crash near Matamata

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References

Wikipedia: Ken Shirley

ACT NZ: Welfare and family

ACT NZ: Minimum wage hike whacks regional employers

Parliament: Current MPs – David Seymour

Parliament: Salaries payable under section 8 of Members of Parliament

Radio NZ: The Panel with Peter Elliott and Susan Guthrie

Good Reads: Milton Friedman

Investopedia: Breaking down ‘Demand For Labor’

Scoop media: Government imposed remuneration orders have no place in NZ

NZ Herald: Tourist dies in logging truck crash near Matamata

Additional

Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal: About road safety remuneration orders

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John Key says I'd like to raise wages but I can't

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 10 May 2016.

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It’s official: ACT’s Jamie Whyte is several-sandwiches-and-a-salad short of a picnic

19 September 2014 3 comments

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mad ACT tea party

 

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There aren’t very many times I agree wholeheartedly with our Dear Leader – but on this occassion I believe he spoke for those 99% of New Zealanders for whom common sense is as natural as breathing air.

ACT – with it’s long line of loopy leaders and coterie of strange MPs – has a record for saying and doing things that can best be described as “unwise” (in a Judith Collins sense of the word) – or just down-right Full Moon Barking Mad to be bluntly honest.

Case in point;

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Election 2014 - Act policy a 'recipe for disaster' - Key

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Whyte’s comments were further reported;

Dr Whyte said he had no view on what weapons shopkeepers should arm themselves with but believed firearms were appropriate, “if they felt that there was sufficient threat”.

Full. Moon. Barking. Mad.

When Whyte offered his views on incest on the blog,  “The Ruminator“, ACT’s opponants (and there are plenty of them); the MSM, and blogosphere reacted with disbelief, derision and exasperation.

Personally, I took it as the musings of an “philosopher-intellectual” who had spent way too much time isolated in dusty University halls and had only recently returned to Planet Earth to mingle with us mere humans.  Kind of akin to a left-wing Labour candidate musing out loud about enforced re-nationalisation of all privatised state assets,  or their National counterpart musing out loud about banning all trade unions. Definitely  stuff not meant for public consumption and best kept to one-self.

Except it appears that the incest gaffe was not an isolated incident, and Jamie Whyte’s insane suggestion to allow store owners to “bear arms”  now  confirms his reputation as someone whose grip on reality is questionable.

It was left up to the Prime Minister, New Zealand Association of Convenience Stores chairman, Roger Bull, and others, to inject some sanity into this American Gothic nightmare scenario that an ostensibly  sober Jamie Whyte was casually promoting as a new way of life.

Key pointed out the obvious;

“The reason I think it’s a bad idea is that firstly you’d be putting weapons in the hands of people that are not trained.

Those weapons could be used [against] the very shopkeepers themselves. It’s a recipe for disaster.”

And Roger Bull said matter-of-factly;

“Our policy has always been if there’s a robbery, you comply with the instructions of the person and you do not try to do anything quick or sudden because you don’t know the mental state [of the offender].

You comply and get them out of the way as quick as possible.”

Let me illustrate the type of  wacky-doodle idea that Whyte is flirting with.

Soon after the September 11 attacks, more than one individual – exhibiting a decidedly  dubious capacity for logic – suggested on several internet fora, that passengers be allowed  to carry guns on flights, to protect against further terrorist attacks.

Yeah. Because gunfights on aircraft flying at high altitudes, is just such an amazingly good idea! Add to the scenario of gun-packing passengers,  growing incidences of  alcohol-fuelled high-altititude  high-jinks, and the threat of hijacking becomes the least of our worries.

Take the same concept of people feeling threatened by random, high-profile crimes from 10,000 metres, and relocate it to West Auckland, and the only difference is the absence of the likelihood of explosive decompression when bullets miss their intended targets.

There is a disturbing bizarre pattern to Whyte’s pattern of “thinking”. Whether it is simplistic notions of removing the Resource Management Act or Three Strikes for burglary, his “solutions” are predicated on a naive, almost  black and white world-view, that is reminiscent of an adolescent who has yet  to come to terms with the complexities of society. Generally, pre-adolescent teenagers, when faced with pressing social issues and problems, will  arrive at simplistic, knee-jerk “solutions” based on little more than their own limited life-experiences.

For a supposedly mature, well-educated, worldly individual to express similar naive beliefs suggests that Whyte’s own intellectual development has been ‘arrested’ at some point in his youth and has not progressed to understanding that the world around him is a vastly  complex, messy, inter-twined mass of human threads. Tug on one thread, and there is no telling where that pressure will be exerted.

It does not take a genius to figure out what is wrong with the picture of allowing store owners to keep firearms for “self defence”.

Aside from how such weapons would be stored – under the counter? Easily stolen or picked up by kids. Locked away – then not much use to a store owner facing a robbery situation.

Or a gunfight in a store with other customers present – who else would be injured or killed?

Whyte obviously has not thought the issue through to it’s ultimate, deadly conclusion.  And if he has, and if he is simply exploiting the tragedy of  murdered shop-keepers for political gain to win votes – what does that make him?

I would be hard-pressed to work out which is worse; a parliamentary aspirant with a stupid idea that would most likely end up killing more innocent people?

Or a parliamentary aspirant with an idea that is exploitative of other people’s grief , just to win votes?

Even the right-wing, lock’em-up-throw-away-the-key, Sensible Sentencing spokesperson, Ruth Money, opposed “a crazy increase of firearms behind every counter“.

When even the so-called “Sensible Sentencing” recognise a patently lunatic proposal, you just know it’s a step too far into Wacky-doodle Land

Perhaps Whyte should have stuck with legalising  incest. After all, what’s the worst that can result from incest? Idiot people with idiot ideas?

 

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References

NZ Herald:  Act policy a ‘recipe for disaster’ – Key

The Ruminator: Mr Ryght: An interview with ACT leader: Jamie Whyte

Previous related blogposts

ACT leader, Jamie Whyte, refutes cliched stereotype of solo-mothers?

Letter to the Editor: A great business opportunity, courtesy of ACT

And this is why we call them Right Wing Nut Jobs


 

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ACT

Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen/Lurch Left Memes

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 14 September 2014

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