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National on Child Poverty?!

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Poverty among Budget targets

Acknowledgment: Dominion Post – Poverty among Budget targets

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At first glance, it appears that National has recognised that a crisis exists in our country; a crisis involving 275,000 children living in poverty.

Without doubt, this problem (I refuse to call it an “issue”) hit the public’s collective consciousness on 22 November 2011, when Bryan Bruce’s sobering documentary,”Inside Child Poverty” hit our television screens (see:  Strong reaction to damning TV child poverty doco).

Since then, the problem has become a major concern concern throughout the country.

More and more organisations, schools, political groups, etc, are adding their voice to a growing clamour for action. Most New Zealanders – those with eyes to see; ears to listen; and a mind to understand – want action. They want kids fed, so that they can attend their schools and learn and get a decent chance at life.

This is what Bryan Bruce, the documentary-maker of Inside Child Poverty wrote on his Facebook page;

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OK, let’s get some things straight about providing free healthy meals in schools.

1. First of all let’s decide on the principle before arguing about the detail.

Let’s admit there is a significant problem of children turning up to school hungry and that a lot of kids are eating low cost foods that contain a lot of sugar and fat , causing obesity , diabetes and long term health problems.

And at least get the Feed The Kids Bill to Parliamentary Select Committee. You can argue all you want about how it should be funded or what’s going to be on the menu there.

If you don’t think we have a community responsibility to feed children and/or educate their palates to healthy eating habits – then read no further it will only make you angry.

2. It doesn’t fill a hungry kids tummy to point at their parents and shout “Your problem is you have bad parents”. This page takes the view that kids don’t get to choose their parents and we have a community responsibility to ALL our kids to make sure they grow up healthy. And if that means feeding them for free- then that’s what we do.

3. No one is going to force feed any child food they don’t want to eat or is culturally inappropriate. If you watch the video below which I filmed in Sweden for the documentary you will see children from multi -cultural backgrounds CHOOSING their food. And Yes children with allergies are catered for and Yes children can still bring their own lunch prepared by the parents .

4.Free healthy school meals can be paid for without raising taxes. We just choose to re-distribute the existing pool of tax payer money and give up on some other things. Here are some suggestions, I’m sure you can think of other ways we could spend smarter.

(a) We could fund school meals out of the Health vote rather than the Education vote. In a document released under the Official Information Act I revealed that children under 14 receive 10% of the money set aside for health care. But children under 14 represent 20% of our population. So we could fund some of it – if not all of it – by giving kids their fair share.

(b )It is a well accepted health statistic that for every $1 we spend on preventing disease we save $4 in expensive hospital cure. So within a few years the scheme will fund itself out of what we save. If we DON’T do it, taxpayers will be spending much more than they are now on the Health budget in the future.

(c) We could make children a spending priority. National plans to spend a billion a year on Roads of National Significance over the next 10 years. What about Children? – aren’t they of National Signifcance? I’d much rather feed our kids than be able to by – pass small towns while driving to Auckland .

(d) We could pay the pension to people when they actually stop working and not just because they reach 65.

(e) We could spend more energy making sure people paid their taxes . Last year the IRD detected about a Billion dollars worth of tax evasion mostly by businesses. It’s estimated that the real tax evasion in NZ is between 4 and 5 Billion.
If you pay PAYE you can’t cheat your taxes. So we could easily pay for free school meals if more adults played fair.

Let’s impose greater penalties for tax evasion, and let’s stop thinking of tax as a bad thing. Tax is a good thing – it’s giving to ourselves. That’s how we can have schools and hospitals and yes even Roads Of National significance. Tax is the price of civilisation. Get over it.

Now whether you agree with some of the above, all of the above or none of the above , let’s at least agree that The Feed The Kids Bill should at least go to Select Committee after its First Reading so the issue can be properly debated.

Please contact your local MP today and urge them to support the Feed The Kids Bill.

You can find their contact details here, just click on their name :

http://www.parliament.nz/en-NZ/MPP/MPs/MPs

Thank you
Bryan

Inside Child Poverty New Zealand

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(Please give Brian support by going to his Page and “liking” it. The bigger the numbers, the more ‘clout’ he has.)

It’s fairly obvious to all by the most stubborn-minded that a malnourished child is not well pre-desposed to learning well. A child who cannot focus on his or her lessons and falls behind, eventually becomes alienated and disenchanted. The cycle of poverty, hopelessness, and anger perpetuates.

The Mana Party introduced a “Feed The Kids” Bill – aka the Education (Breakfast and Lunch Programmes in Schools) Amendment Bill – into Parliament last year, on 8 November 2012. The Bill is scheduled to come before Parliament for its first reading on 5 June this year.

With pressure coming hard and fast on Key and his increasingly shakey,  poll-driven,  ‘government’, their strategists are planning to end National’s destructive austerity Budgets and begin spending on essential social services that are critical to the well-being of our communities.

Part of this is Key’s stated intention;

Children who aren’t fed become victims and the Government has to deal with that, Prime Minister John Key says.

His comments come as action on child poverty is tipped to be the surprise package in Finance Minister Bill English’s fifth Budget on Thursday.

“The vast overwhelming bulk are [fed] in New Zealand, but if a child isn’t fed then actually they become a victim and whatever we think of that we need to try and deal with that issue.”

Acknowledgment: IBID

At his regular press conference,  Key was coy at whether National would  rule in or out a  food in schools programme – but was more candid in ruling out support for  Mana’s “Feed the Kids” member’s bill.

So. What we have is;

  1. A firm “no” by National to Mana’s initiative
  2. A firm “no” by Peter Dunne to Mana’s initiative  (Why Peter Dunne won’t “Feed the Kids”)
  3. A vague committment;  “The vast overwhelming bulk are [fed] in New Zealand, but if a child isn’t fed then actually they become a victim and whatever we think of that we need to try and deal with that issue.”

Now, call me a cynic if you like, but National has a fairly poor track record on dealing with social matters, whether it be unemployment, solo-mothers, worker’s rights and conditions, etc.

To give an example; our high unemployment.

Unemployment is high.

Jobs are scarce.

National’s ‘solution’; “reform” social welfare and make it harder for the unemployed to access welfare support, or to retain it. Additional ‘solution’; demonise the unemployed and infer that that are bludging. Ditto for solo-mothers.

That was National’s ‘solution’; force people off welfare and make the numbers look good. (see: Bennett trumpets 5000 fewer on DPB, see: 5000 beneficiaries quit dole rather than reapply, see: Welfare rules force people to struggle on without benefits)

I hope I’m wrong, but my gut feeling is that the Nats plan to pull a “swiftie”. We’re going to see something along these lines;

  1. A WINZ-based “targetted” approach where families that cannot afford to buy adequate food will have an increase in their food grants – but will probably have to re-pay it from their weekly welfare assistance.
  2. A reliance on some form of “PPP”-style programme, such as Fonterra’s milk-in-schools programme. There will be nothing concrete – just a “promise” to “investigate possible options”.
  3. A commision of enquiry of some description.
  4. An increase for school budgets to buy food, but which will be limited; capped; and money will be taken from elsewhere in Vote:Education to fund this.
  5. No increase in welfare assistance; no food in schools; but a form of food vouchers making up a portion of a beneficiaries overall entitlement.
  6. A limited “trial” food-in-schools programme – for a handful of schools only.

Far from addressing this crisis, National, ACT, and Peter Dunne will apply a band-aid “solution” and present it to the public of New Zealand as “Mission: Accomplished”.

It will be nothing of the sort.

Only one thing will begin to address this problem – a change of government.

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References

NZ Herald: Strong reaction to damning TV child poverty doco (23 Nov 2011)

Feed The Kids website

Previous related blogpost

Why Peter Dunne won’t “Feed the Kids”

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

Other blogs

The Daily Blog: Hungry Kids Annoy Frazzled Lobby Group Director

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Once Were Warm-hearted…

16 December 2011 14 comments

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Source

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Once upon a time…

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1935 First Labour government takes office

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The first Labour government assumed office as a result of its landslide victory in November’s general election. Led initially by the charismatic Michael Joseph Savage, it is best remembered for its landmark social welfare reforms.

One of the most significant aspects of this welfare policy was the 1938 Social Security Act, which has been described as ‘the greatest political achievement in the country’s history’. The Act combined the introduction of a free-at-the-point-of-use health system with a comprehensive array of welfare benefits. It was financed by a tax surcharge of one shilling in the pound (5%). The family benefit was extended to all mothers irrespective of the family’s income, increasing the number of allowances overnight from 42,600 to 230,000. This policy, which was often described as looking after New Zealanders from the ‘cradle to the grave’, was a key factor keeping Labour in power until 1949.

nzhistory.net.nz

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Which led to the beginnings of our modern society – a society which placed a high value on fairness; healthy families; and giving children every opportunity to grow up healthy. It truly was a concept of “no child left behind” – but put into practice and not just empty rhetoric,

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The family in the 1930s and ’40s

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The need for the New Zealand government to promote national interests during the Depression and the Second World War created a renewed appreciation of the role of the family within society. From 1935 the Labour government’s social policies supported young families with children, and from the 1940s there was an emphasis on preventative child welfare.

Much of this concern for children and their families stemmed from the perceived need to maintain a healthy nation: one capable of providing robust workers and, if necessary, soldiers for defence. It was also felt, in the spirit of egalitarianism, that everyone should have access to the nation’s resources.

Housing

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By the early 1940s there was a serious shortage of adequate housing in inner-city areas. A ‘needy families’ scheme, administered by the Child Welfare Branch, was set up in 1941. This provided assistance, primarily by re-housing large or poor families to maintain the household unit. By 1946 the scheme had helped over 900 families and more than 5000 children.

The Family Benefit

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In October 1945, Deputy Prime Minister Walter Nash introduced legislation for the Universal Family Benefit. The maternal figure of the family was to be sole beneficiary. William (Bill) Parry, Minister of Internal Affairs, explained: ‘We have to create such enthusiasm for the service the mother renders, that it will be lifted to the highest pinnacles of service in the nation.’ This benefit and other measures such as cheap housing and a well-funded health system did much to contribute to stability of household income and, in turn, to raise living standards.

nzhistory.net.nz

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Which in turn led to this, perhaps one of the most ambitious programmes to lift the health of our nation’s children,

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1937: Free Milk Every Morning

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Young New Zealanders once lined up for a free bottle of milk at school every morning. This scheme was introduced in 1937 to help children who had become undernourished during the Depression. It was also enthusiastically supported by famous dramatist, George Bernard Shaw, when he visited this country in 1934. And so, for the next 30 years, school children sat down for their daily half-pint. Crates of bottles were carried into the classroom by official milk monitors, who were also responsible for collecting up the empties after the session. Occasionally, an older amber glass bottle would arrive with the morning delivery and prove an attraction for keen consumers.

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Linton schoolboys delivering the school milk c. 1941.

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School milk bottles in the 1950s had cardboard tops which had a small hole for the straw and were often put to further use. Lengths of colourful wool were wound tightly around a pair of these cardboard discs to produce a decorative pom-pom.

In the 1960s 3,500,000 gallons of milk was distributed to the schools of New Zealand each year, but the value of the scheme was now being questioned. There were mixed views on the matter; some felt it had become unnecessary and was a disruption to the class, while others claimed that a number of New Zealand children still came to school without an adequate breakfast…

kiwianatown.co.nz

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1967: End of free school milk

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…  The scheme was a world first. Each day, milk monitors supplied a half-pint (284 ml) of milk to each pupil. By 1940, the milk was available to over 80% of schoolchildren. For a few years during the Second World War, pupils also received an apple a day.

The scheme lasted until 1967, when the government dropped it on cost grounds — and because some people were starting to question the benefits of milk…

www.nzhistory.net.nz

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I’m of the age where I can vaguely recall the crates of milk left in the concrete “pill-box” at my Primary School. I recall the “powerful” position of the Milk Monitor… and using the straws as make-shift blow-guns to fire small paper darts at my near-by class-mates.

It is interesting to consider that by 1967, the government-of-the-day decided that school milk was no longer required. Perhaps Keith Holyoake, the Prime Minister of the day, considered that it was a relic from a by-gone age of Depression, poverty, and extreme childhood health-problems that by the mid-1960s were but a distant memory.

New Zealand in the 1960s was healthy; single-incomes were sufficient to live on; and the country exported more than it earned because of our special relationship with Great Britain. But all this was to change…

  • Britain entered the EEC in 1973, impacting on our sheep-meat trade with that country. Suddenly we had lost our  major export market.
  • The oil shocks of 1973 and 1979 drove our balance of payments into the red, as we struggled to cope with  higher and higher fuel-prices.
  • Property prices skyrocketed in 1979, as people abandoned the outer suburbs and satellite-towns, in favour of inner-suburbs, to cut down on fuel costs.
  • Inflation soared, unemployed rose.
  • And in 1984, New Zealand elected a Labour Government with a secret agenda to implement neo-liberal “reforms” to create a free-market; reduce and eliminate trade trariffs; implement a  massive programme to sell state assets; and “reduce government expenditure” (ie; cut services).

We were assured that the implrementation of these “reforms” would generate wealth and that this would “trickle down” to lower socio-economic (ie, poor people) groups in our society.

The rest, I think, we can all remember without too much trouble.

“Trickle down” has proven to be a singularly poor joke – without much of a punch-line.

Wealth has certainly been generated – at the top.

We went from one income to double-incomes to maintain a household. Now even that is insufficient for many families.

Seven tax cuts have benefitted mainly high-income earners and the wealthy.

And wealth disparity has become so bad that even the OECD has taken notice and commented on it, in a recent report.

The Prime Minister, meanwhile, has his own thoughts on why we having worsening poverty in our once egalitarian country,

But it is also true that anyone on a benefit actually has a lifestyle choice. If one budgets properly, one can pay one’s bills.

“And that is true because the bulk of New Zealanders on a benefit do actually pay for food, their rent and other things. Now some make poor choices and they don’t have money left.” – John Key, 17 Feb 2011

Thank you for that, Dear Leader.  By the way, how is your  pay increase of $11,000 p.a. that you were recently given?

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How is it that we have arrived at a situation where, once again, we are returning to 1937 – and having to resurrect milk-in-schools?

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Full Story

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Full credit and kudos to Fonterra for going ahead with this plan.  There are many low-income families that find it hard to buy sufficient quantities of good, wholesome, nutritious food for everyone. After rent, power, rates, phone, etc, is paid for, food is usually at the bottom of the list.

This is especially so for the 90,000+ people who have lost their jobs in the last four years as the global recession hit our economy and impacted on communities.

However, ingrained poverty has been with us since the 1980s, and many of the gains of the last century have been lost.

Little wonder that Bryan Bruce’s recent documentary, “Inside NZ: Child Poverty” generated such a heavy, nationwide response.  Bryan Bruce laid it out for all to see, that poverty had returned to this country and that governments had no idea how to address this growing crisis. Or were unwilling to.

Clearly, we have a choice in front of us. Do we continue down our present course, and keep hoping for the best? Or admit that policies over the last thirty years have been a failure;  change tack; and proactively address the root causes of wealthy disparity and income gaps?

If the latter, then we have the wrong government in power to make good on three decades of failed economic policies.

Bill English was interviewed on Radio NZ this morning (16 December), and his responses to Kathryn Ryan’s questions were not reassuring,

Bill English and the new ministerial committee on poverty

This excerpt from the interview was most telling,

RYAN: “It’s to report every six months, the committee. What measures will it use?”

ENGLISH: “Well, look, we won’t  spend a lot of time arguing over measures, there’s any number  of measures out there ranging from gini co-efficients  to kind of upper quartile [and] lower quartile incomes. Lot of of that is already reported in the MSD social report that it puts out each year…”

If the Committee doesn’t monitor itself, how will it be able to measure it’s success (or fail) rate?

Why has the government not set measures in place – that it expects of every other government department to assess what value they give back to taxpaters?

And how does English’s rejection of measures compare with the National-ACT coalition agreement which stated, in part,

Key features of the agreement are:

• Continuation of ACT’s focus during the last term on publicly monitoring progress on improving the country’s economy wide performance using international benchmarks, and building on the work of the 2025 Taskforce, with a requirement for Treasury to report annually on the progress being made to improve the quality of institutions and policies, raise productivity, and reduce the income gap with Australia.Source

So the “country’s economy wide performance” will be measured using “international benchmarks” – but the Ministerial Committee on Poverty “won’t  spend a lot of time arguing over measures“?

Ok, got it.

We’ve got that, if anything, it is apparent that the so-called “Ministerial Committee on Poverty” is simply going to be another talk-fest, along the lines of the “Jobs Summit” in early 2009. Does anyone recall how many jobs came out of that “summit”? Perhaps this many.

At most, the so-called “Ministerial Committee on Poverty” appears to be little more than a sop to  Maori Party members, to justify the decision of party leaders to coalesce with National.

So here we are: New Zealand, circa 2011A.D.  Poverty. Low incomes. School milk. Growing wealth gap. New Zealanders migrating en masse to Australia. And paralysis/inertia in  our political leaders.

Seventysix years after Michael Joseph Savage implemented radical, bold, policies to create a new, egalitarian society – we are back at Square One.

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SAD STATISTICS

Children who go to school without breakfast – 17 per cent.

Households with children which run out of food – 22 per cent.

Households with children who use food banks – 10 per cent.

Source: Ministry of Health 2003 survey of 3000 children aged 5-14

Source

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Postscript

To all the food-faddists, right wing reactionaries and Me First people – your negative reaction to Fonterra’s plan to reintroduce milk to low-decile schools is simply apalling. Your knee-jerk hostility is not only unhelpful – but is a stark illustration as to why this once healthy and wealthy country is slipping further down on nearly every international and local  indicator-ranking.

Food faddists:  If you think milk is evil – fine. Don’t drink it. But leave our kids alone. They have the rest of their lives to live, whilst your particular food-fetishes come and go with the latest seasonal-fad. Their growing bodies need the calcium, vitamins A, D, etc, and other nutritional benefits of this simple food. Children cannot live on fresh air and sunshine  alone.

Right wing reactionaries: New Zealand has been the experimental “hot house” for neo-liberal, free market policies, since 1984. That’s about 28 years. In that time, the top income earners and 150 Rich Listers have increased their wealth. The rest of society has stayed still or gone backwards.

Latest reports confirm that the wealth-gap continues to widen – and you can’t dismiss  the OECD as some dastardly socialist satrap.

How much longer before this experiment is labelled a failure?

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Additional

Govt likely to back milk inquiry

Minister seeks parliamentary milk price probe

Woolworths lifts NZ supermarket earnings

Special inquiry into milk prices opens today

Soft drinks win in milk debate

Rolls Royce sales rocket as super-rich drive in style

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Labour on farm sales – NOT good enough!

21 October 2011 1 comment

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Full Story

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Labour has stated that,

A Labour government would ensure sales were declined unless potential foreign buyers of farm or forestry land also invested in new processing or other related jobs.Source

Sorry, Mr Goff, but that is totally unacceptable and is merely ‘tinkering’ with the problem.

The sale (or leasing) of our productive farmland means that we lose profits to overseas investors. It means that a foreign owned farm will (a) export their produce (b) make a profit (c) remit much of that profit back to overseas investors, who look for returns on their investment.

It means that New Zealand farmland is priced out of reach of our own people, who cannot hope to compete with Americans, Germans, Chinese, etc. The purchase of the Crafar  farms by Shanghai Pengxin’s over a Michael Fay-led local consortium should ring alarm bells in our heads.  (More here)

Labour needs to lift it’s game on this issue.

There has to be a total ban on the sale/lease of farmland to anyone who is not a New Zealand citizen.  Anything less will ultimately undermine our long term prospects for wealth-generation and prosperity.

We would end up tenants in our own country.

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Are we being milked? asks Minister…

7 August 2011 3 comments

So the Commerce Commission decided not to hold an inquiry into milk pricing in New Zealand?

But Minister of Agriculture, David Carter, still wants a Parliamentary inquiry to investigate the matter?

Hmmmm…  it’s not because the election is only three months away, and National is fearful that Labour and the Greens will be making this an election issue? Surely, politicians can’t be that cynical and manipulative?

Of course not.

What was I thinking.

Perhaps if I might be so bold, and offer Mr Carter a word of explanation as to milk pricing. The price of milk is determined by the free market. The same free market that National endorses, advocates, and embraces with all it’s manly  ‘love’.  The same free market that National has ordered TVNZ to pursue, by cancelling it’s Public Charter. The same free market it chases with the Trans Pacific Partnership free-trade negotiations.

Yes, National is the party of the Free Market. As John Key told our American cuzzies on 22 July,

“At the most basic level, we share a commitment to the democratic, capitalist system.”

So there you have it, folks.  In a nut-sell. Or milk bottle, if you prefer. We are a capitalist system,which means that the price of milk is determined by what you, the public, are willing to pay for it.

Something to consider of 26 November – Election Day.

As for Mr Carter’s call for a  Parliamentary Inquiry – my money is on nothing ever coming off it. Much like National’s much-vaunted Jobs Summit in February, 2009.

Remember that little farce?

Postscript #1;

On TVNZ’s Q + A,  David Carter was interviewed by Guyon Espiner, who asked the Minister if two supermarket chains offered enough competition at the retail end of milk distribution. Carter replied that there was competition and said,

“Well, if people want to buy the expensive brands, they can pay $4.80 up to $5.40. They can buy a cheaper brand at that supermarket for $3.30. They can go round the corner to a dairy, quite often, depending on where they live, and perhaps buy that for $2.90. What I’m saying is there’s a big variation on the retail price of milk.”

‘Scuse me?!?!

Milk is cheaper at corner dairy’s, and on sale for $2.90?!?!

Pray tell, Mr Carter – what colour is the sky on your planet? Because on our world, corner dairy-stores are the more expensive option to buy goods.

National members of parliament – out of touch with reality since 1936.

Full transcript of interview

Postscript #2;

Postscript #3;

*sighs* I didn’t have to be Ken Ring to know this was going to happen (though Ken would’ve been a month wrong in his predictions).  It’s Election Year. This is when politicians play silly buggers up to November 26th…