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Posts Tagged ‘Dr Jonathan Coleman’

National’s $11.7 billion hole is right where they left it

3 November 2017 1 comment

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Remember Steven Joyce’s claim there was a “$11.7 billion hole” in Labour pre-election budget?

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The claim of an $11.7 “fiscal hole” became a dominating irritant throughout the election campaign, even though in large part it failed simply because no one else (except Bill English) agreed that it existed.  TV3’s “Newshub” even created this now-famous, handy, infograph to illustrate the fact that Joyce and English were effectively on  their own;

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The claim has been largely forgotten, except when the Left need a handy reminder of right-wing duplicity to throw at National/ACT trolls – just to wipe any smirk of entitlement  from their silver-spoon-fed faces.

Except, on Thursday, 23 November, there was a curious – and disturbing – juxtaposition of media stories in Fairfax’s Dominion Post;

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Joyce seems curiously very sure of himself on the existence of the “hole”;

“Unfortunately, sadly, I think it looks like over time I will be proven correct. I genuinely don’t take any joy out of that because actually all that says is that the new Government is going to spend more than it said to meet its promises, and that’s because it didn’t allow enough money for other things

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Sadly I think we’ll get to the ($)11(b) over time.”

Where might this “hole” come from, if it exists?

One possible answer lay on the front page of the same edition on the Dompost;

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The report, by Fairfax journalist Rachel Thomas, revealed a massive shortfall in spending on medicines alone;

Cancer patients say they are sick of paying for their own survival after an independent report revealed a $682 million “hole” in government funding for lifesaving medicines.

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The $682m figure in Wednesday’s report from the New Zealand Institution for Economic Research (NZIER) is the amount it says would be needed to restore the community pharmaceuticals budget to 2007 levels.

In real terms, Budget spending for prescription medicines, vaccines, haemophilia treatments, nicotine replacement, and cancer medicines – sometimes administered in hospitals – dropped from 6.2 per cent in 2007 to 3.6 per cent in 2018, according to the report.

Now granted that Medicines New Zealand is a “drug lobby group” – but the NZIER which analysed the problem also revealed their methodology;

The NZIER report was commissioned by Medicines New Zealand, a drug lobby group, and collated from Pharmac annual reports and Official Information Act requests.

When former Health Minister, Jonathan Coleman, was asked to explain the massive $682 million hole in the medicines budget, his reply was;

Since 2007, almost 900,000 Kiwis had received 426 new and widened-access medicines. “It’s important to note that … Medicines NZ [has] a direct interest in increased Pharmac spending.”

Notice that Coleman – whose working relationship with DHBs has been frought over the last three years – deflected from the issue itself. His reference “to note that … Medicines NZ [has] a direct interest in increased Pharmac spending” fails to address the relevant fact that, according to NZIER, spending on medicines has fallen under the previous National government.

He deliberately evaded the question.

Which is hardly surprising given that English’s miraculous budget surpluses appear to have been made at the expense of  under-funding for services such as healthcare – including  mental health – throughout the country.

This poses some serious questions for the new Coalition government…

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from: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to: Dominion Post <letters@dompost.co.nz>
date: 26 November 2017
subject: Letter to the editor

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The editor
Dominion Post

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Let us recall that on 5 September, National’s then-Finance Minister and “Fix-It Man”, Steven Joyce, made a startling claim that Labour’s alternative budget concealed a $11.7 billion “hole”.

Joyce’s claim was scrutinised by economists, commentators, and even a right-wing think-tank and lobby group – and declared to be unsusubstantiated by any known facts. Only Joyce, supported by his leader Bill English, maintained the existence of a purported “hole”.

On 23 November, Fairfax reported findings by the NZIER that PHARMAC’s medicines budget was underfunded by a whopping $682 million. (“$682m ‘hole’ in medicine budget”). When asked to respond, former National Health Minister Coleman criticised those that commissioned the report – Medicines NZ, a pharmaceutical lobby group – but in no way disputed the figures.

In essence, PHARMAC’s funding budget suffered a savage cut from 6.2% in 2007 to 3.6% in 2018 – the equivalent of $682 million in vital medicines.

No wonder Joyce was so confident that a fiscal “hole” existed where none could see one.

Joyce knew precisely that the $11.7 billion “hole” was of National’s own making; a legacy “gifted” to the incoming Coalition government, and a ticking fiscal time bomb waiting to detonate as incoming Finance Minister, Grant Robertson, uncovered further hidden funding shocks.

What other “legacy gifts” has Joyce left us?

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-Frank Macskasy

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[address and phone number supplied]

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References

National Party:  Labour must explain where the money is

Mediaworks:  Economist consensus – there’s no $11.7b hole in Labour’s budget

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

Fairfax media:  Cancer patients renew call for more funded medicines, as report reveals $682m ‘hole’

Radio NZ:  ‘Extraordinary’ conflict between DHBs and health officials

Other Blogs

The Standard:  Health disasters – useless Coleman in all kinds of shit

Previous related blogposts

Weekend Revelations #1 – Dr Jonathan Coleman

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

Dollars and sense – Joyce’s hypocrisy

St. Steven and the Holy Grail of Fiscal Responsibility

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

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The Negotiated Pay Equity Settlement for Care Workers – beware the fish-hooks amidst the hyperbole

29 July 2017 2 comments

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Historic & Hyperbolic

It’s been touted as the most “historic pay rise” in  history. But the actual mechanics of the deal; the “fine print”; and other undisclosed facts may raise questions as how much of a “historic pay rise” the deal actually is.

As of 1 July, an estimated 55,000 healthcare workers would be in line for pay-equity increases ranging from a reported “15% to 50%”. The increase is estimated to be worth approximately $2 billion;

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Meanwhile, the media, unions, and several blogs, lauded the settlement;

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About 55,000 low-paid workers, mainly women, are about to get one of the biggest pay rises ever after details of a historic pay equity settlement are revealed today. – Dunedin Stadium blog

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The government will implement a historic pay equity pay deal for aged and residential care workers worth $2.05 billion of extra pay for some 55,000 people – close to 2% of the total New Zealand workforce. – National Business Review

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About 55,000 low-paid workers, mainly women, are about to get one of the biggest pay rises ever after details of a historic pay equity settlement are revealed today.New Zealand Herald

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In 2014 Kristine Bartlett won a huge victory in the Court of Appeal over pay equity. Now, it looks like that victory is about to pay off, with the government about to approve a huge pay settlement for underpaid women.No Right Turn

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The historic $2 billion pay rise for 55,000 care and support workers announced yesterday has been welcomed by unions, workers, and industry leaders.Otago Daily Times

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The government has agreed to the principles of equal pay outlined by Unions, Government officials and Employers. This is a historic achievement and brings us one step closer to achieving equal pay for underpaid women. – PSA

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Tens of thousands of aged-care and disability workers will get a hefty pay rise today as a landmark equity deal kicks into effect.Radio NZ

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A historic pay deal for thousands of low-income care workers, mainly women, will be signed off today.TV3

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It is a day they should celebrate […] great day for worker rights.The Daily Blog

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This is a huge victory for health care workers, and for women. – The Standard

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Obviously, the aged care settlement is excellent news for the workers who will directly benefit.Werewolf/Gordon Campbell

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Radio NZ described the settlement in simple terms;

Parliament last month unanimously approved a $2 billion settlement, boosting the wages of about 55,000 workers by between 15 and 50 percent.

It follows a legal battle by Kristine Bartlett, who argued she was underpaid because she worked in a mainly-female industry.

Ms Bartlett’s pay will now jump from $16 an hour to $20 – and then again to $23 by 2021.

However, what many people fail to fully appreciate is that the pay-increases will be spread over five years, as this Ministry of Health table, below, illustrates;

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In Ms Bartlett’s case – and others in her Level 4 pay bracket – her pay will increase from $16.25 per hour to $23.50 per hour – a 44.6% increase. However,  it should also be noted that [some] community support workers covered by this “equity pay rise” had not had any pay increase since the last collective agreement raised wages in October 2015;

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But in correspondence to this blogger dated 14 July, E tū Union’s assistant national secretary, John Ryall, disagreed. He pointed out;

Those on collective agreements had increases from the funding increases given to their employers during this period (very low – about 1%) and from the movement in the minimum wage in April 2016 and again in April 2017 (about 3% plus on each occasion).

What is undisputed is that the pay increases will be doled out in small multiples;

In 2018, the increase will be an addition $1 per hour (for Level 2 pay rates) – a 5% increase from 2017.

In 2019 the increase will be  50 cents an hour – just under 2.5%  from 2018.

There will be zero pay increase in 2020.

In 2021, there is a $1.50 per hour pay increase from 2019 – a 7% increase, but over over two years.

John Ryall made clear that the settlement was an on-going process;

The Care and Support Equal Pay Settlement Agreed Position of the Parties says the following about the settlement – “Both parties (Unions and Government) are agreed that this settlement is an historic step forward for women workers in the elimination of systemic undervaluation of care and support work. As such, it is a significant step in addressing gender based inequality in New Zealand.” We did not even say in the settlement that pay equity had been achieved. We said it was a “significant step” as like the treaty settlements we did not believe that the rates themselves were high enough, but we were prepared to put this deal to a ratification vote (which incidentally was approved by 95% of care and support workers who voted) on the basis of settling, extinguishing claims for 5 years and having another go later if we felt there was still some ground to make up in terms of the Equal Pay Act.

John Ryall’s caution appears to be well-founded. However, the mainstream media and some blogs’ uncritical lauding of the settlement clearly failed to  reflect the real situation that the settlement was a “significant step” toward pay equity. The complexity of the problem may have contributed to the ‘fog’ surrounding the settlement.

An inflationary fish-hook

Furthermore, a considerable portion of those planned increases will be swallowed up by inflation, as this Treasury graph, below, shows;

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The inflation figure for year-ending June 2017  is 1.7%, according to latest Statistics NZ figures. Ms Bartlett is apparently well ahead  this year.

Apparently.

Calculating  inflation requires averaging several contributing  factors. While domestic airfares were down 15% – vegetables were up 19%. It takes no stretch of the imagination which is more applicable to the daily lives of low-paid community care workers.

By  2018, inflation is around 1.7% – still ahead with her 5% increase.

By 2019, the inflation rate has climbed to 2.2% –  almost swallowing up her 2.5% increase.

By  2020, inflation remains at 2.2% – and with zero pay increase this year, Ms Bartlett’s pay rise last year has been well eroded, and nibbling into her 2018 increase.

By 2021, inflation stands at 2.1% – eating into her 7% pay increase that covered not one, but  two years.

On 22 April, I wrote to Minister for Health, Dr Jonathan Coleman, to ask how the pay equity settlement would take inflation into account;

“Will the planned increases be inflation-adjusted, to prevent any increase being watered-down by inflation?”

Seven weeks later on 8 June, Minister Coleman responded;

“The settlement agreement contains an agreed formula linked to the All Industries Labour Cost Index to ensure wage rates remain current over the five year settlement.”

This is critical, as the Care and Support Workers Pay Equity Settlement Agreement is a mechanism for pay equity. Any erosion by inflation negates the intent as well as benefits of the settlement.

The Settlement Agreement document confirms Minister Coleman’s statement that there will be an “agreed formula linked to the All Industries Labour Cost Index to ensure wage rates remain current over the five year settlement“. But there is a ‘fish-hook’. Any adjustment for inflation is post-poned for four years;

“If the All Industries Labour Cost Index by 30 June 2021 (for the period 1 July 2017 to 30 June 2021) moves on average by more than 1.7% annually then the figures in the above tables applying from 1 July 2021 will be adjusted accordingly.”

According to the Settlement Agreement, inflation adjustment will  not “ensure wage rates remain current over the five year settlement“, as Minister Coleman asserted. Instead, any inflation-adjustment to pay-equity is not made until 1 July 2021 – at the conclusion of the agreed  Settlement period.

I asked Council of Trade Union  economist, Bill Rosenberg, to comment on inflation adjustment to the Settlement. Bill said he was not confident of Treasury inflation forecasts;

“…Forecasts, Treasury’s as much as any forecaster’s, are just forecasts and the further out they are the less reliable they are. Treasury takes the view that the long term rate of inflation is 2% and all their forecasts trend towards that.

Secondly their Budget 2017 forecast for March 2017 was out – they forecast 2.0 percent but it came in at 2.2 percent  (illustrating the above point – though usually forecasts in the next year to 18 months are more reliable than further out). That puts out their June forecast. Recasting that, assuming they at least had the June quarter about right, their annual increases would be something like [this]“;

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Bill compared his estimated inflationary figure with the 2017 BEFU (Budget Economic Fiscal Update), which yielded this table for predicted inflation;

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“I’m not confident the June 2018 figure will be that low,” said Bill.

John Ryall was also unconcerned about inflationary pressures on the settlement, saying;

The wage rates will increase over the period from 1 July 2017 until 1 July 2021 by 13% on the bottom rate, 15% on the second level rate, 19% on the third level rate and 15% on the top level rate. This is still ahead of what the inflation rates are predicted to be for this period.

He also pointed out the settlement’s provision to make up for inflation in 2021;

Under the Care and Support Worker (Pay Equity) Settlement Act 2017 if the labour cost all industries index moves by more than 1.7% on average over the period 1 April 2017 to 31 March 2021 the final rates at 1 April 2021 will be adjusted upwards by the outstanding percentage.

However, that will not assist workers who leave the profession before 1 April 2021. Nevertheless, John did point out  the significant gains to workers, adding;

There are very strong provisions in the Care and Support Worker (Pay Equity) Settlement Act 2017 for employers to do everything practically possible to “ensure” that all of their care and support employees get to the top step (ie complete a level 4 qualification). This means that very few of the care and support workers will be remaining on the same level as they complete their transition through from 1 April 2017 to 1 April 2021 and the increases take place as soon as they complete the qualifications, not having to wait for a service milestone after this date. This is a major piece of work for the unions in this period and I think will lead to a lot of future litigation and organising.

Whichever forecast becomes reality is almost irrelevant. What is relevant is that – spread over five years – the benefit of the $2 billion pay-out will be affected – perhaps weakened – by inflation.

On-going negotiations

I also asked Minister Coleman if the pay equity settlement would impact on future union wage negotiations;

“Will the equal-pay settlement and increase in wages have any impact on future Union-Employer wage negotiations? Or will future negotiations and demands for pay rises be considered a part of the pay-equity settlement?”

Minister Coleman responded that;

“The settlement addresses historic issues of systemic gender discrimination and does not extinguish the right of the 55,000 care and support workers  to negotiate  further rate increases or additional terms  and conditions  of employment with their employers.”

However, on page 5, the Settlement Agreement has done precisely that: extinguished rights;

“7. Subject to Executive and Parliamentary processes, the Parties acknowledge that the Legislation will cover the following matters:

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(c) extinguish retrospective claims by Current Employees against Employers”

And  on page 18,

“The unions accept that this settlement will from 1 July 2017 extinguish any separate ongoing service allowance or qualifications allowance for care and support workers within the scope of this agreement that is contained in any employment agreement.”

The page 5 proviso extinguishes  past claims, whilst the page 18 proviso extinguishes current, on-going service and qualifications allowances.

Coleman added,

“The increases in care and support worker wage rates are not expected to significantly impact on contract negotiations with the approximately 1,100 employers. As noted above, the pay equity settlement does not extinguish the right of employers to negotiate price increases to meet increased operational costs.”

It is unclear what Minister Coleman bases his belief that “increases in care and support worker wage rates are not expected to significantly impact on contract negotiations”.

It remains to be seen whether future Union-Employer wage negotiations will yield further wage increases. If Employers point to the Pay Equity settlement as de facto pay-increases, then any equity in the settlement will be quickly eroded. By 2021, healthcare workers could be back to Square 1.

Should that happen, Unions may have to re-new pay-equity negotiations from scratch, as this Settlement agreement has a “sunset clause”;

This Settlement Agreement

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(b) expires on 30 June 2022.

More hooks

Newsroom’s  Teuila Fuatai also identified another potential fish-hook; under-funding the equity funding by government/Ministry of Health. Should the Settlement funding be insufficient for any reason, employers may opt to hire relatively inexperienced – and thus cheaper – staff.  On 29 June, Ms Fuatai wrote;

Jessica Buddendijk, CANZ committee member, said the Ministry had fundamentally failed to account for “staffing numbers and length of service” in its calculations.

“Where a provider has a lot of very well educated, long serving staff, this tends to push them into the upper pay bands. With large numbers of [carers] needed because of the high dependency of those in aged care, this caused a huge error for which the providers have to bear the cost,” she said.

Simon Wallace, NZACA chief executive, warned that long term “many aged care providers may be forced to employ lower qualified and less experienced staff” because funding was weighted against having higher numbers of experienced and well-qualified workers.

There is precedent here.

National froze funding for ECE providers in 2010/11, sparking a massive, angry response from parents, ECE providers, and teaching staff. National’s  agenda was to cut costs by abandoning the requirement to having early childhood centres fully staffed by qualified teachers.

In November last year, the NZEI released a survey pointing to increasing use of unqualified staff  used by Early Childhood Education providers;

A new survey shows a six year funding freeze is threatening the quality of ECE as services say the freeze is forcing increases to parent fees, cuts to teacher pay, deteriorating child to teacher ratios, and increased reliance on unqualified staff.

An NZEI Te Riu Roa survey of 264 early childhood centres around the country found that 87% had experienced shortfalls since the Government first froze per-child funding six years ago, and 70 percent had increased fees – by an average of 29% – as a result.

Since 2010, increases in government funding for ECE have been for increased participation only, meaning services have faced real-term cuts to their core per-child funding.

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• 41% of centres have reduced their ratio of qualified teachers in favour of cheaper unqualified staff.

According to the Newsroom story;

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said he was unaware of any providers being underfunded. “No one has told us that they’re underfunded, but the Ministry is working with some providers who have raised viability issues.”

Remain Calm – Don’t Hyperbolise

Interestingly, it was the student magazine, Salient, that reported the pay-equity settlement announcement on 1 May with restrained language. There was no hyperbole  such as “historic”, “victory”, “big pay rise”, etc;

Care workers win equal pay

The New Zealand government has announced a $2 billion settlement for care workers, after a lengthy court case led by aged-care worker Kristine Bartlett. Bartlett argued that the sector’s low wages were due to it being a female dominated industry, and were in conflict with the Equal Pay Act.

On July 1, depending on qualifications and experience, 55,000 workers across the sector will receive pay rises between 15 and 49 per cent.

The significance of the pay rise was explained by Health Minister Jonathan Coleman: “For the 20,000 workers currently on the minimum wage of $15.74 per hour, it means on July 1 they will move to at least $19 per hour, a 21 per cent pay rise.”

The settlement includes pay rises for workers who are above minimum wage and rewards those with qualifications and experience.

To back-pay or not to back-pay – why is it the question?

Lastly,  on the issue of back-dating  salary increases, I asked Minister Coleman;

Why was the settlement not back-dated when MPs automatically have their pay-increases backdated? Especially when negotiations with relevant parties was announced nearly two years ago on 20 October 2015 (by yourself) and has been on-going since.

Members of Parliament regularly have their salary increases backdated by the Remuneration Authority;

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Despite the Minister  responding to a previous question stating that “the settlement addresses historic issues of systemic gender discrimination and does not extinguish the right of the 55,000 care and support workers  to negotiate  further rate increases or additional terms  and conditions  of employment with their employers” – his response to the  question of back-dating the claim was in direct contradiction;

“The unions and the Government  agreed that the settlement would extinguish  all pay equity claims made prior to 1 July 2017 for eligible employees.”

Not just contradictory – but a total evasion of the question itself. Minister Coleman simply could not explain why highly-paid members of Parliament have salary increases back-dated – but lowly-paid healthcare workers do not enjoy the same privilege.

E tū’s  John Ryall, however, was less critical and more pragmatic with his explanation;

In the history of NZ all settlements under the Equal Pay Act have been negotiated settlements. In the 1970s these were normally done in 3 or 4 steps and none of them included backpay because of the complications that arise with who is entitled to it (previous employees or current employees, union members or non-members) and when large industry settlements are done the backpay can sometimes be worth more than the settlement. Are we trying to put right historical injustices or pursue compensation and in the case of the private sector will the compensation mean that employers become insolvent rather than lifting wage levels across the sector market to a minimum level that everyone has to pay. In the view of the unions who negotiated the settlement we were trying to put right an historical injustice that I personally have spent the last 35 years of my life on (I was worried it could take another 35 years before we ever saw a cent of what we were seeking and that Kristine Bartlett and myself would be dead and buried).

The pay equity movement by unions is a nobel cause and long past it’s due-date. It is disappointing that the settlement was marred by a government unwilling to apply principles of compensation that Parliamentarians regularly apply to themselves.

As John Ryall was determined to explain;

…this settlement has given confidence to hundreds of thousands of low paid workers who have found some leverage to get their abysmal pay rates increased. Already we are signing off a settlement on Monday for 1700 vocational disability support workers, we are pursuing a case in the Employment Relations Authority and putting pressure on government about 3000 mental health support workers and we have heaps of other workers who are approaching us about getting organised around equal pay as a lever to increasing wage rates across their industries. Other unions have cases running for 12,000 school support staff, about 3000 social workers, 2000 hospital administration workers and WINZ front line staff as well as a case for Countdown workers (distribution centre male employees v checkout female employees)

However, it still remains to be seen if this de facto Wage Order by National will achieve it’s intended aims. Especially where a National government is concerned.

But as John Ryall made clear;

The National Government could have ridden the Bartlett court case out and we may have got a judgement in another five years time, by the time it went through all levels of the courts, and then we would have needed to take cases for all the other workers in the three sub-sectors as well as vocational disability and mental health.

We made the judgement that negotiating a settlement was the right way to go. There are issues around the funding but the bigger picture is the re-distribution of income that this process has set up, which I think is eventually going to mean some hard questions about governments about the taxation system that is going to be needed to pay for it.

This blogger accepts the hard work by Ms Bartlett and the unions involved. But one thing we cannot over-look – there is no room  for complacency. Once the hyperbole is stripped away, it is clear that far from being a giant leap for low-paid workers, it was a small step.

Last word

From John Ryall;

We made the judgement that negotiating a settlement was the right way to go. There are issues around the funding but the bigger picture is the re-distribution of income that this process has set up, which I think is eventually going to mean some hard questions about governments about the taxation system that is going to be needed to pay for it.

Disclosure

The author of this story is employed in the community-care sector, and therefore has a vested interest in pay equity.

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References

Beehive: $2 billion pay equity settlement for 55,000 health care workers

National Business Review:  $2b pay equity package for aged care workers confirmed

NZ Herald:  Big pay rise for women – Deal likely to alarm private sector

Otago Daily Times:  Carers’ $2b pay rise hailed

PSA: Equal Pay

Radio NZ:  Dollars in pockets as historic pay equity deal takes effect

TV3:  $500m pay rise for care workers

Ministry of Health:  Care and Support Workers (Pay Equity) Settlement Operational Policy Document (p10)

Treasury: Economic Outlook – The outlook for the economy is positive

Statistics NZ:  Consumers Price Index – June 2017 quarter

Treasury: BEFU 2017

Ministry of Health: Care and Support Workers (Pay Equity) Settlement Agreemen (For Aged Residential Care) (p 5, 18)

Ministry of Health:   Care and Support Workers (Pay Equity) Settlement Agreement (p4)

Newsroom:  Pay equity deal’s missing millions

Fairfax media:   Hundreds march over early childhood cuts

NZEI: ECE survey shows children and families paying for funding cuts

Salient:  Care workers win equal pay

Beehive: Government to enter negotiations over pay for care and support workers

NZ Herald:  MPs’ pay rise officially confirmed

Radio NZ: MPs given 2.5 percent pay rise

Acknowledgements for assistance

Dr Jonathan Coleman, Minister for Health

Bill Rosenberg, NZCTU

John Ryall, E tū Union

Additional

Employment New Zealand: Previous minimum wage rates

The Spinoff:  After the equal pay decision, joy – and anxiety – from care workers who missed out

Other Blogs

Dunedin Stadium:  Payrise for low-wage workers in aged care and home support #genderpaygap

No Right Turn: A victory for women

The Daily Blog: Courts finally give the poorest workers what the Government wouldn’t and the Unions couldn’t

The Standard: Thank you health care workers

Werewolf: Gordon Campbell  on the aged-care settlement

Previous related blogposts

1 March – No Rest for Striking Workers! (1 March 2012)

No Rest for the Wicked (23 March 2012)

“It’s one of those things we’d love to do if we had the cash” (28 May 2012)

Roads, grandma, and John Key (18 July 2012)

John Key’s track record on raising wages – 4. Rest Home Workers (11 November 2012)

Aged Care: The Price of Compassion (16 November 2012)

That was Then, This is Now #22 – Lowest wages vs Highest wages (31 January 2014)

The consequences of tax-cuts – worker exploitation? (31 October 2015)

Special Education Funding – Robbing Peter, Paul, and Mary to pay Tom, Dick, and Harriet (27 August 2016)

Health care workers pay increase – fair-pay or fish-hooks?   (28 April 2017)

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 24 July 2017.

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We don’t want to send the wrong message – John Key

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Junk-Food_KHushKhazana

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One morning, on Monday, 15 August, Radio NZ’s Guyon Espiner briefly interviewed our esteemed Dear Leader for the Checkpoint programme;

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john key on cannabis - radio nz - checkpoint - 15.8.16

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Subject; a recent poll  showing that 64% supported possession of a small amount of cannabis for personal use should be  legal (33%) or decriminalised (31%). Only 34% of the 1,029 respondents  supported the current status quo of prohibition.

Espiner pointedly asked Key whether he thought cannabis should be decriminalised or legalised.

Key responded that he “was not a fan” of making cannabis legal.

Key referred to Parliament “sending a message” to society;

@ 0.38

“…Y’now, one of the things that Parliament does is send a message to people about, um, activity we want to see or not want to see. And, um, in the case of drugs, um, I think if we were, as Parliament, were to decriminalise then one of the messages we’d be sending is that increased drug use is ok.”

@ 1.20

“…We see longer sentences for instance for domestic violence because we’re, um, trying to send a message as a Parliament that we’re deeply opposed to the domestic violence statistics in New Zealand [and] we’re going to do something about it.”

Dear Leader stuck to his spin-doctored script, using the phrase, “sending a message”, three times.

So the National-dominated Parliament was “sending a message”?

Key’s rationale, as he stated at around 0.38 into the interview was “ were to decriminalise then one of the messages we’d be sending is that increased drug use is ok“.

Really?

Are “messages” from Parliament to the rest of New Zealand critically important?

The previous Labour Government also intended that a  “message” was sent from Parliament  to our children, back in 2008;

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As I wrote back in November 2015;

As with taxing tobacco products in New Zealand – a method proven to work – increasing the price of an unhealthy product reduces consumption. Especially amongst the poor, who are particularly susceptible to pernicious marketing and supply of cheap, unhealthy ‘foods’. A Parliamentary report here in New Zealand showed that obesity was especially prevalent in lower socio-economic areas;

In 2012/13, a Ministry of Health-led survey estimated that three out of ten New Zealand adults were obese (31.3%), an increase of 2.7% from 2011/12  and an increase of 18.6% in the 25 years since 1989   Obesity rates were highest amongst Pacific adults (68%) and Māori adults (48.3%).

The same survey found that after adjusting for age, sex, and ethnicity, adults living in the most socioeconomically deprived areas were 1.5 more times as likely to be obese as those living in the least deprived areas.

However, our esteemed ‘Health’ Minister, Dr (!) Jonathan Coleman was/is not convinced.

On 28 June, last year, speaking on TVNZ’s Q+A, Dr Coleman said;

Dr Jonathan Coleman: Not necessarily. No, the evidence doesn’t show that. If you look at the evidence for sugar tax, right, it shows actually it’s very low in terms of disability-adjusted life years lost, so that’s basically saying that, look, there’s no evidence that it’s going to end up with people living longer, healthier lives. What there is evidence for is actually eating less and exercising more, and so I’m focusing my efforts on education, getting people to actually live more healthy, active lifestyles. Sugar taxes get a lot of attention. No evidence that it works.

Four months later, in an interview with Dr Jonathan Coleman, on TV3’s The Nation, on 24 October;

Patrick Gower: Looking at a soft-drink tax –why not?

Dr Jonathan Coleman: Because, actually, there’s not the conclusive evidence, right? There might be a correlation in those Mexican studies, so they put a 9% tax on soft drinks.

Patrick Gower: And consumption dropped. That’s evidence, isn’t it?

Dr Jonathan Coleman: Sales decreased, but it’s not clear if that’s a correlation or a causative effect, so there were other things going on – a tanking Mexican economy, $30 billion drinking-water programme. It’s also not clear if there’s substitution to other beverages. So we’re saying, look, you know, there’s some evidence that’s being assessed – it’s going to be reported on in 2017 at Waikato University as well as the University of North Carolina – but there isn’t any direct evidence of causation that anyone can point to.

Patrick Gower: Well, the World Health Organization, which put out that major report recently, led by our own Sir Peter Gluckman, you know, that has said, and I will quote it for you, ‘The rationale and effectiveness of taxation measures to influence consumption are well supported by available evidence.’

Dr Jonathan Coleman: Well, they might be talking about a decrease in sales. But what we want to know about is – is there a link to obesity directly? So, for instance, there might be a decrease in consumption of soft drinks, but are people drinking more flavoured milk? Are they drinking beer as a substitution? What is says in that report is that, actually, there isn’t clear evidence. On balance, they recommend it, but, look, that’s the WHO, you know? You would expect that they would take a very purist view. And I met with the commissioners personally. I talked to Sir Peter Gluckman.

Patrick Gower: What about this for evidence? If a tax doesn’t work or there’s no evidence for it, what about with cigarettes? Because your own government’s putting up the price of cigarettes and saying that that is working to stop smoking.

Dr Jonathan Coleman: Well, that’s a different issue. So, yes, if you put a tax on something, it will decrease consumption, but what I’m interested in is – will that decrease obesity? So say, for instance, we tax something. You might drink less Coke, but are you drinking beer or flavoured milk instead?

This was an interesting exchange between Gower and Coleman. Note that his first contention is that sugar taxes do not work;

“Because, actually, there’s not the conclusive evidence, right? There might be a correlation in those Mexican studies, so they put a 9% tax on soft drinks […]  Sales decreased, but it’s not clear if that’s a correlation or a causative effect […] but there isn’t any direct evidence of causation that anyone can point to…

But only a few seconds later, Coleman makes this startling admission;

“So, yes, if you put a tax on something, it will decrease consumption…”

That was a slip on his part. The National Party politician in Dr Jonathan Coleman was instructed to parrot the official line: ‘there is no evidence that sugar taxes work‘ (even though that is precisely the same mechanism used to reduce tobacco consumption).

As I then asked;

What could be wrong with providing healthy food options for our children? Who could possibly object to fighting obesity in our youngest citizens, who are vulnerable to the highly-processed, addictive, sugary and fatty foods that are a plague on Western (and increasingly developing) contries?

Who indeed…

Need we ask? And are we surprised?

It was 2009, and National was in power;

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schools-healthy-food-rule-scrapped

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Two and a half years later, the consequences were predictable, dire, and costly;

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more-weight-loss-surgery-funded

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By April 2016 – seven years after National scrapped Labour’s healthy-foods-in-schools legislation, the cost of weight-loss surgery has continued to escalate;

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Dollars up as pounds go down for funded weight loss surgery

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Which raises the fairly obvious question; what message was Parliament (ie; National) sending to our children in March 2009, when it abandoned the campaign to implement healthy food options in our schools?

What “message” was Parliament (ie; National) sending to all New Zealanders?

To paraphrase John Key’s statement to Guyon Espiner on 15 August;

“…Y’now, one of the things that Parliament does is send a message to people about, um, activity we want to see or not want to see. And, um, in the case of unhealthy, disease-causing foods, um, I think if we were, as Parliament, were to permit unhealthy foods in schools then one of the messages we’d be sending is that increased obesity use is ok.”

That would be a good message to send.

I look forward to it.

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References

Radio NZ: Morning Report – Is there appetite for change on legalising cannabis?

Radio NZ: Majority back decriminalisation of cannabis use, poll suggests

NZ Herald: Greasy school tuckshop food on way out

NZ Treasury: Increase in Tobacco Excise and Equivalent Duties

Parliament: Research papers – Obesity and diabetes in New Zealand

Fight the Obesity Epidemic (FOE): NZ: National reversal on healthy food in schools “incredible”

TVNZ Q+A: Coleman – We’ll tackle obesity but no tax or legislation

TV3 The Nation: Health Minister Jonathan Coleman

World Health Organisation: Healthy diet

Fairfax media: Schools’ healthy food rule scrapped

Radio NZ: More weight loss surgery funded

Sunday Star Times: Dollars up as pounds go down for funded weight loss surgery

Other Blogs

Politically Corrected NZ: Keywi integrity at it’s finest

Previous related blogposts

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

10 August: Unhealthy Health Cuts

When is ‘Nanny State’ not a ‘Nanny State’?

From “Nanny” State to “Natzi” State?

You’ll have a free market – even if it KILLS you!

Why did the fat kiwi cross the road?

Weekend Revelations #1 – Dr Jonathan Coleman

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

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National fiddles – while Cancer Kills

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say-no-to-cancer

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Fun Fact 1: New Zealand has one of the highest bowel cancer rates in the world. Bowel cancer is the second highest cause of cancer death in New Zealand. More than 2800 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year and more than 1200 die from the disease. By 2016 the number of new cases of bowel cancer diagnosed each year is projected to increase by 15% for men and 19% for women to 3302 (for all ages). Ministry of Health

Fun Fact 2: Bowel cancer is more common as you get older, particularly from the age of 50. Bowel cancer affects more men than women. IBID

Fun Fact 3: People who are diagnosed with bowel cancer, and receive treatment when it is at an early stage, have a 90% chance of long term survival. If there is a delay in diagnosis and treatment, and the cancer is more advanced, it is harder to cure. Bowel screening can detect cancer early, when it can be more successfully treated.  IBID

It is a sobering statistic that we try to ignore and put out of our minds; more than 2,800 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year and more than 1,200 die from the disease. If that were a death toll from a communicable disease, the media would be carrying front page newspaper stories  and lead bulletins on 6PM news. The government would impose a State of Emergency, and strict travel conditions imposed on everyone.

But we don’t.

Bowel cancer is hidden away. Victims are not acknowledged.   People go about their every day lives. Media focuses on sensationalism or trivia (with few exceptions).  Government does nothing. The death toll continues to rise.

And it is wholly preventable.

In October 2011, the Ministry of Health began a four-year-long bowel screening pilot in the Waitemata District Health Board area. The screening was offered to  everyone aged between  50 to 74, living within  the Waitemata DHB zone, and who was eligible for publicly funded healthcare. Those lucky to be eligible were sent an invitation letter, a consent form along with detailed instructions, and the necessary free bowel-screening test kit.

By July 2013,  data from the screening pilot detected cancers  in seventyfive people within the first fifteen months of the pilot. Around 60% had been picked up at an early stage when they could be more successfully treated.

Between  1 January 2012 to 31 December 2013,  six thousand people had a colonoscopy or a CT colonography through the Bowel Screening Pilot.  By 1 April 2015, two hundred and fiftyfive people had been identified with a cancer.

Those are 255 people who might not have approached their medical clinic for a test screening kit, or followed up with a colonoscopy. Those are 255 people whose cancer was detected early, and who had necessary treatment.

The pilot screening have also picked up non-cancerous polyps (adenomas) and those  participants will still be at an  increased risk of developing more adenomas or bowel cancer. These participants will require on-going regular bowel checks  in the future.

The initial four year pilot project, initially costing $24 million, was extended to the end of 2017, with a further $12.4 million invested in the programme. But only in the Waitemata District Health Board area. Those living outside the WDHB are not eligible to participate.

That result is from just one DHB “catchement” area. There are twenty DHBs  throughout the country. If similar results were obtained from the nineteen other DHBs, that could mean approximately 5,100 people detected with cancer.

The government’s response can best be described as slow – at worst, reluctant to invest in a nationwide programme. On 6 July, Health Minister Jonathan Coleman announced a graduated roll-out of a nationwide screening programme.

First, Minister Coleman began with the usual meaningless platitudes;

Delivering better cancer services is a top priority for the Government. Bowel cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in New Zealand.”

Minister Coleman then explained in a little more detail;

I expect to take a business case to Cabinet by the end of the year which will consider a potential staged roll out of a national bowel screening programme from early 2017.”

However, note the caveats;

I expect to take a business case to Cabinet by the end of the year which will consider a potential staged roll out….”

To inform the next steps towards a possible roll out of a national bowel screening programme, the Ministry of Health will be consulting with the health sector and other agencies on how the service could be provided across the DHBs.”

So not only will any nationwide extension of the life-saving screening programme not begin until “early” 2017 – which happens to be an election year (no connection of course)  – but at this stage it is still only  a   “possible” or “potential staged roll out”. At this point, Coleman will be only be taking “a business case to Cabinet by the end of the year”.

Unsurprisingly, health advocates and professionals are not impressed

Bowel Cancer NZ’s, Dr Sarah Derrett, did not hold back when she condemned National’s lethargic response to the sucessful screeing programme;

Currently this Government is more interested in holding a referendum for a flag as a legacy to our Prime Minister at a cost of $26.5 million than it is at saving lives… it was scandalous there had been no action on a national programme, given 1200 people a year die from bowel cancer in New Zealand.

Bowel Cancer NZ’s chairwoman, Mary Bradley, was also scathing;

We are really pleased that this is happening and that they are talking about a staged roll-out, but we would like to see potential moved to definite roll-out in 2017.

We would like to see a staged roll out now or a start next year would be fantastic. We’ve always known it [screening] is proven, so why wasn’t it done sooner. It could have happened a couple of years ago. This is great, but it’s taken a long time to get here. In the meantime, people are dying.

There is no feasible reason why Coleman is delaying a national extension of this screening programme that has already saved 255 people.  Delaying the roll out condemns hundreds of New Zealanders to a horrible illness and unnecessary death.

Coleman claims that that the delay is caused by a shortage of skilled staff;

The largest constraint to a national bowel screening programme is having the workforce to do the colonoscopies. There are a number of initiatives underway to address this.

[…]

Initiatives to strengthen the endoscopy workforce include increasing the number of gastroenterology trainees. The sector is also considering increasing the use of CT colonography where appropriate.

Yet, the pilot programme has been in operation since October 2011 – giving this government a lead time of five years to begin training required staff. Where was the planning for staffing a nationwide screening programme that was being considered after the  Waitemata DHB pilot?

Did no one at the Ministry of Health or the Health Minister’s office pause to think; “Ok, what happens after the pilot?!

The only possible explanation for this tardiness is purely financial. As Bill English attempts to balance the books and deliver a budget surplus, cuts to health services become more invasive;

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Health fund loses $18 million

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National’s reluctance to spend on much-needed, critical services is no secret. Successive National governments have cut services, whilst giving away billions in tax cuts.

But it is also not averse to spending taxpayers’ money on projects it deems “necessary”;

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

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Flag referendum to cost $26M

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Government accused of wasting $11.5 million on wealthy Saudi farmer

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Govt pays $30 million to Tiwai Pt

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Those four examples alone come to $78.5 million that could have been invested in rolling out a nationwide bowel screening programme plus pay for training of required specialist staff. Instead, the money has been spent on a luxury apartment; bribing a Saudi businessman; John Key’s vanity-project to change the flag; and acceding to a multi-national corporation’s demands for a cash subsidy.

This is worse than wasting tax-payer’s hard-earned money.

New Zealanders are dying whilst National fiddles and wastes time.

It is not the first time this has happened;

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Public hospital ills blamed on fund - Otago Daily Times - 20 august 1999

‘Public hospital ills blamed on fund’ – “Otago Daily Times” – 20 August 1999

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'Four forced off waiting list die',

‘Four forced off waiting list die’, “The Press”, 15 March 1999

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On 21 July, I wrote to Minister Coleman on the issue;

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Kia ora Dr Coleman,

I understand that you plan to “take a business case to Cabinet by the end of the year which will consider a potential staged roll out of a national bowel screening programme from early 2017”.

Considering that a Ministry of Health  pilot programme carried out by the Waitemata District Health Board since October 2011 has saved the lives of approximately two hundred and fiftyfive people who had been identified with a cancer, it seems unbelievable that New Zealanders will have to wait at least another year and a half before a screening programme is rolled out nationally.

You stated on 6 July this year that;

“The largest constraint to a national bowel screening programme is having the workforce to do the colonoscopies. There are a number of initiatives underway to address this.” (https://www.national.org.nz/news/news/media-releases/detail/2015/07/06/Consultation-on-next-steps-for-bowel-screening-programme)

Surely the training of skilled staff should have been started in 2011, when the pilot programme at Waitemata was initiated?

Waiting until the beginning of 2017 means that thousands of people around the country may be stricken by bowel cancer.

How many will contract the illness during the time it takes to extend the screening programme?

The Ministry of Health states;

More than 2800 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year and more than 1200 die from the disease. By 2016 the number of new cases of bowel cancer diagnosed each year is projected to increase by 15% for men and 19% for women to 3302 (for all ages) (http://www.health.govt.nz/our-work/diseases-and-conditions/cancer-programme/bowel-cancer-programme/about-bowel-cancer)

I urge you to re-visit this problem and to begin an immediate, strategic  roll-out throughout the country, so that screening can begin to take place.

It is simply unacceptable that 1,200 New Zealanders will perish this year; next year; and the year after, when an effective screening programme is available to save their lives.

If this government can spend $78.5 million on a Saudi farm; a Manhattan apartment; an aluminium smelter; and a flag referendum – then spending at least half that amount to save lives should not be beyond us.

2017 may be an election year – but we should not have to wait until then. Not when thousands of lives are at risk.

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One of Minister Coleman’s staff replied the following day;

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The Minister has asked Ministry of Health officials to advise him on the matters you have raised.  Please be aware that due to the large volume of correspondence we receive, a personal reply to your email may take some weeks.

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Time, evidently, is not of the essence here.

What is truly shameful is not that a National government Minister is prevaricating on this critical medical problem – but that the Minister in question is a qualified medical clinician.

He, more than any other politician, should know better.

Somewhere in this country, another person has just developed bowel cancer. And doesn’t know it.

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References

Ministry of Health: About bowel cancer

Ministry of Health: Bowel screening pilot

Comprehensive Care: Bowel Screening programme successes

Radio NZ:  Govt told to act now on bowel screening programme

Ministry of Health: Bowel Screening Pilot results – January 2012 to September 2014 – How many colonoscopies have been performed?

Ministry of Health: Bowel Screening Pilot results – Round 2 – January to December 2014 – Footnotes

Ministry of Health: DHB Location boundaries (map)

National Party: Consultation on next steps for bowel screening programme

Radio NZ: Govt told to act now on bowel screening programme

Radio NZ: Health fund loses $18 million

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

TV3 News: Flag referendum to cost $26M

TVNZ News: Government accused of wasting $11.5 million on wealthy Saudi farmer

Fairfax media: Govt pays $30 million to Tiwai Pt

National Party: Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman

Previous related blogposts

Unhealthy Health Cuts

Priorities?

Terminal disease sufferer appeals to John Key

Health Minister circumvents law to fulfill 2008 election bribe?

Johnny’s Report Card – National Standards Assessment – Compassion

Children’s Health: not a high priority for Health Minister Tony Ryall

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 22 July 2015.

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1 June: End of the Week Bouquets, Brickbats, & Epic Fails

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– End of the Week Bouquets, Brickbats, & Epic Fails –

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Frank Macskasy - blog - Frankly Speaking

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Nikki Kaye (National MP)  & Kevin Hague (Green MP)

For putting aside their political tribalism to work together to draft a Bill that would legalise adoption by gay and lesbian parents.  The two MPs are to be congratulated for setting a fine example of Parliamentarians working on behalf of minority groups.

Ms Kaye also campaigned strongly to stop mining on conservation land on Waiheke Island.  Is she becoming  National’s de-facto conscience on public issues?

Andrew Williams  (NZ First)

Former North Shore Mayor, and current NZ First MP, Andrew Williams,  for taking a decisive step to remind the great New Zealand public about recent history. On the excellent TVNZ7 programme, ‘Backbenchers‘, on 30 May, Andrew Williams held up a simple chart for the viewer to take note of.

See images here

It was damning indictment  of National’s track record.

What with collective amnesia and deliberate lies spread by National Party groupies, many New Zealanders forget that under a Labour-led coalition, this country enjoyed,

  • low unemployment
  • decent wage increases
  • substantial surpluses
  • apprenticeships to train our young people
  • and our sovereign debt paid down

So when National suggests that Labour left the country in poor economic shape in 2008 – they are simply telling lies to mitigate their own poor fiscal management.

And when the public lazily believe that Labour were not good economic managers – oh, what a fickle bunch you are. Collective amnesia – allows politicians to get away with the Murder of History since the Year Dot.

Myles Thomas (Save TVNZ7 organiser)

For campaigning tirelessly on our behalf to save our last remaining bastion (aside from the much-underfunded Radio NZ) of public broadcasting – TVNZ7 – from being canned by the Barbarians who currently govern us.

This  has no doubt been an expensive, time-consuming, stressful campaign, and the  country owes considerable gratitude to this person and his fellow campaigners.

It is people like Myles Thomas who remind us that there is more to our society than what some politicians think we deserve.

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Frank Macskasy - blog - Frankly Speaking

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Dr Jonathan Coleman (National, former Broadcasting Minister)

For mis-stating  viewing figures for TVNZ7 in Aril 2011. Dr Coleman stated that the viewing figures were only 207,000 viewers per week. The real figures were actually 600,000 to 800,000 at the time. Since then, the viewing  audience  has since risen to 1.4 million per month –  around 1 million  viewers per week.

When this was pointed out to Dr Coleman, his response was… interesting,

I can’t remember exactly but at some point we decided it was 200,000 per week. That formula was not correct but at the end of the day that was not central to the argument.”

See:  Coleman admits he got it wrong on TVNZ7

It’s interesting to learn that National ministers do not consider accurate facts to be ” central to the argument “.

Which begs the question;  if Ministers do not make decisions based on facts – just what do they use? Astrological star signs? Tarot cards? Tea leaves?

With this kind of arrogance from our elected representatives, no wonder people look down of politicians as being less trustworthy than used-car salespeople. Politicians bring it on themselves.

John Key (Dear Leader)

For his breath-taking statement dismissing basic human rights for around 10% of our population,

”  My own personal opinion is the issue of gay adoption is not hugely significant issue and it’s not because it doesn’t matter to those couples who might want to adopt children, but the truth is less than 200 non-family adoptions take place in New Zealand at the moment. ”

See:  Gay adoptions not a priority – PM

Mr Key might be correct in that “ less than 200 non-family adoptions take place in New Zealand at the moment ” – but the gay and lesbian population is estimated at 10% – 440,000 men and women.

It beggars belief that a Prime Minister could be so dismissive of promoting equality and basic rights for a minority in our society.  How can human rights “not be  a hugely significant issue  “?!

This is yet another insight into John Key’s personality; a man who knows the cost of everything, but the value of nothing. Who considers money to be more  hugely significant than rights for our fellow New Zealanders.

Shame on you, Mr Key. Would you be so dismissive if your children were discriminated against? We suspect not.

Hekia Parata (National, Education Minister)

For undermining our excellent education system; undervaluing the hard work our teachers put into preparing our children for their adult lives; and undertaking a fictitious “performance pay” system that will never eventuate – and if it does, will be funded on the backs of hundreds of experienced, highly trained, teaching staff who will lose their jobs in this shambolic process.

In case anyone has missed it, National’s  so-called “reforms” in education are little more than a cost-cutting exercise. Just as National has spent the last three and a half years cutting expenditure, state sector workers, and services.

See:  Q+A: Interview with Hekia Parata, Education Minister

See:  Technology back-down still not enough for intermediates

See:  2500 jobs cut, but only $20m saved

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And for the final category, the Epic Fail of the Week,

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See:  Budget 2012 – Investing In Our Future

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A Budget that successfully contained every piece of ambitious and optimistic phrase, cliche,  and word known to politicians since the Ancient Greeks. And like Greeks bearing gifts, this Budget was one to be handled with extreme caution and suspicion.

Because whilst the Budget will be forgotten in a years’ time, the social consequences that remain will be a slow-detonating  bomb we will all feel in decades to come.

It is unbelievable that a government can create a debt of $40 billion –  with so little to show for it.

In the last three and a half years  National has cut taxes; cut state sector workers; and cut social services. Now, National will be borrowing billions more for building new pointless roads, whilst cutting teacher numbers.

So much for National’s earlier promises that no “front line” services would be cut. What does one call teachers, if not at the very coal-face of our social and economic future?

At a time when we should be encouraging more and more young people to stay in education and not drop out in joblessness – John Key, Bill English,  and Hekia Parata are planning to cut teaching numbers?

This blogger can’t make up his mind if those foolish New Zealanders who voted National last year elected short-sighted fools; lunatics; or ideological saboteurs, to govern us.

School’s out on that point.

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