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A proposed Labour-Green-Mana(-NZ First?) agenda – part rua

24 January 2014 9 comments

Continued from:  A proposed Labour-Green-Mana(-NZ First?) agenda – part tahi

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new-zealand-national-party_3382 adapted 2014

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An incoming Labour-Green-Mana(-NZ First?*) coalition government will have much work to do – especially in it’s first three years.

In the six years that National has been in power, they have passed many odious and often repressive pieces of legislation. Labour and the Greens have already committed to repealing some of these laws and policies.

As a Labour-led coalition government addresses growing problems of child poverty; income inequality; a shortage of decent, affordable housing; and chronic unemployment (currently at 7.1% according to the 2013 Census), a legislative programme will demand a long list of progressive reforms.

In no particular order;

Welfare “reforms”

Drug testing welfare recipients – the sign of a National government desperate to deflect attention away from it’s lack of credible job creation policies, and stigmatise the victims of the Global Financial Crisis by insinuating that they are lazy, shiftless, drug-numbed layabouts.

Or, as the Salon website wrote  last year about this very same issue in the United States,

The logic behind extant drug testing laws goes something like this: Taxpayer money shouldn’t be used to buy illegal drugs. People collecting welfare receive taxpayer money. Some of these people use illegal drugs. Therefore, we should test them in order to stop giving taxpayer money to those who use illegal drugs.

It’s true, people on welfare use drugs. But so do people from every socioeconomic level. People on welfare also receive taxpayer money. But so do people from every socioeconomic level. If the goal is to stop people from potentially using taxpayer money to purchase illegal substances then we should apply these programs to every person receiving government funds. That means testing students who receive government scholarships, laboratories receiving government research grants, and farmers receiving farm subsidies. It means testing veterans, police officers and firefighters. It means testing the employees of the companies that administer the tests. And it most certainly means testing politicians, from the governor all the way down to city council members.

But you won’t see any governors calling for extensive testing. This is because none of these other groups have the stigma of poverty attached to them — a stigma that leads many to turn a blind eye to harmful policies that affect only the poor, but would never be tolerated if done to other groups.

Welfare-based drug testing is only a symptom of a larger societal ill that sees the poor as inherently parasitic and viceful (e.g., “They take advantage of government programs, not us.” “They do drugs, not us.”). As a result, legislators heap unfair, ineffective policies on those in poverty simply to court public favor by playing to their prejudices. The welfare queen, cashing government checks, smoking drugs and living the life of luxury, continues to be a useful myth when it comes to winning votes. And as more of these policies, whose support is borne by an unfounded disdain for the poor, are enacted, the humanity of those living in poverty is further eroded as the chasm between the haves and the have-nots grows even wider.

The same Salon article reported,

In 2009, Arizona was the first state to adopt a program that drug-tested recipients of welfare whom officials had “reasonable cause” to believe were using drugs. Besides stigmatizing recipients of government assistance, implying that they’re a group of no-good drug fiends, the bill was implemented to try rand resuscitate a failing budget, and Arizona officials believed that testing could save the state $1.7 million a year.

But in 2012, three years and 87,000 screenings later, only one person had failed a drug test. Total savings from denying that one person benefits? $560. Total benefits paid out in that time? $200 million. Even if we include the savings from cutting benefits to the 1,633 people who didn’t return the pre-test survey, it brings the total to only 0.1 percent of the amount distributed over that period.

Similar results were found for Oklahoma and Florida,

Similarly lackluster results have dogged Oklahoma’s drug testing program in which only 29 people failed. When contacted, Oklahoma’s Department of Human Services said it didn’t keep track of the amount the state saved by denying benefits to those who tested positive, but testing fees are estimated to have totaled $74,000.

Florida had a testing program in 2011 that was halted by the courts not long after it was started. During its brief lifespan it had similarly poor results. Only 2.6 percent of those tested turned up positive for illicit substances. And since Florida reimbursed those who were clean for the cost of their tests, the state actually lost $45,780 because of the program.

So what were the results here in New Zealand? As the NZ Herald reported on 11 January, this year;

Of the 8,001 beneficiaries sent for jobs requiring drug testing, only 22 tested positive to drug use or refused to take tests.

Twentytwo people. Out of 8,001. That’s a “fail” rate of – wait fer it – 0.27% !!

When asked how much this exercise in futility has cost the taxpayer, deputy chief executive of Work and Income, Debbie Power, replied that “there was no information available showing how much the drug testing scheme cost.  There was also no information showing actual or estimated savings”.

Which, intriguingly, mirrors the United States situation, where they also could not provide financial details when requested.

Similar policies in both the USA and New Zealand, and a similar lack of available information surrounding costs.

Coincidence? Or is this right-wing strategy emanating from the same (or inter-connected) right-wing think tank/s?

The lack of information is made even more farcical when Welfare Minister Paula Bennett claimed that the policy was “driving beneficiaries away from using drugs“. Yet, her office admitted to having no data to support the claim. Nothing. Zilch. In other words, she made it up.

She probably also made up the original “costings” figures in August 2012, when she announced the policy,

She said estimates at the high end put the cost of enforcing the policy at $10 million. “We really think the real cost is around $3 million for those that will be known as dependent, once this testing comes in. The savings are estimated to be around $10.5 million.”

The crackdown would involve up to 13,000 beneficiaries a year getting treatment for drug dependency.

Ms Bennett said a Ministry of Health report from 2007/2008 said beneficiaries were three times more likely to be cannabis users. “That would put them at around 20 per cent of beneficiaries, if you went by that number. The UN says that New Zealand and Australia have the highest use of cannabis anywhere in the world,” she said.

Funny how Bennett had the figures available  in 2012 – but not readily available now, after the drug testing policy has been in force for a little over six months?

Nor did Bennett have “time to trawl through evidence” supposedly provided  “from face-to-face meetings with employers and others” who had supposedly complained “about beneficiaries failing drug tests“, when requested by Helen Kelly from the CTU.

Perhaps  everyone in this country should be drug-tested? No exceptions. John Key can lead the way. His wife and children next.

After all, as a civil servant, he himself is a beneficiary of the State. (A very highly paid one, at that.)

It is also worthwhile noting that Police Minister Anne Tolley categorically refused to consider drug-testing for New Zealand’s police,

Anne Tolley says the overwhelming majority of police staff are doing a fantastic job and they should not face workplace drug testing. She says police are quick to prosecute their own if there is any wrongdoing.

Considering that police officers have access to deadly weapons, one would have thought that mandatory drug testing would be done as a matter of course.  Only recently, a Police Prosecutor was convicted for possession and use of cannabis and methamphetamine.

Why are all New Zealanders not drug tested? Why the insistance by this government of focusing only on welfare recipients?

Because, as The Salon article above pointed out with crystal clarity, it serves the purpose of the National Party to deflect attention onto the unemployed; depict them as lazy drug-users; and thereby Key and his Ministers avoid  taking political responsibility for chronic levels of high  unemployment. As Bennett alluded to on 28 August 2012,

Welfare reforms are resetting expectations and obligations and recreational drug use is simply not an acceptable excuse for avoiding available work.

Illegal drug use should not get in the way of getting a job if you are on a benefit.

Too many beneficiaries are missing out on job opportunities because of recreational drug use and that’s just not acceptable.”

She used all the dog-whistle references in that speech. This is what is known as scape-goating, and if sufficient numbers of gullible, uninformed voters ‘buy’ into this strategy, then it serves National’s purpose as it seeks re-election this year.

As “Bomber” Bradbury pointed out on Tumeke in August 2012,

“…National don’t believe in creating jobs, they create ‘environments’ where jobs are created, likewise they won’t find the unemployed jobs, they’ll find ways to create an environment that disqualifies them from gaining a benefit in the first place.

Drug testing beneficiaries isn’t aimed at making them work ready in a 9.1% real unemployment labour market, it’s aimed at disqualifying them from recieving a benefit, thus removing them from the official 6.9% unemployment rate into the invisible world of poverty.”

Which Paula Bennett confirmed on TVNZ’s Q+A, on 29 April 2012, in a roundabout way,

There’s not a job for everyone that would want one right now, or else we wouldn’t have the unemployment figures that we do.”

Regardless of the obvious bullshit nature of this machiavellian policy, an incoming Labour-led coalition must repeal this odious policy forthwith. In doing so, Cunliffe and the new Minister of Social Welfare must explain clearly and concisely to the electorate the duplicitous nature of this policy and why it serves no purpose in creating jobs.

Labour and it’s allies must not only dump this policy – they should take the opportunity to educate the public so that National will find it impossible to ever reinstate it again.

National Standards

Another favourite of right-wing politicians, National Standards was introduced in 2010, and  has been steadily opposed by every education sector group, whether it was the NZ Principals’ Federation, NZEI, Boards of Trustees; PPTA; and many parents.

A year earlier, an open letter had been sent to then Minister of Education, Anne Tolley. The letter was signed by high-regarded professionals and experts in the education sector;  Prof. Martin Thrupp (University of Waikato); Prof. John Hattie (University of Auckland); Prof. Terry Crooks (University of Otago); and Lester Flockton (University of Otago), and stated in part,

Minister, in our view the flaws in the new system are so serious that full implementation of the intended National Standards system over the next three years is unlikely to be successful. It will not achieve intended goals and is likely to lead to dangerous side effects.

We are very concerned that the intended National Standards system wrongly assumes that children are failing if they do not meet the standard for their age. This will lead to the repeated labelling of many young children as failures and will be self-fulfilling because it will damage children’s self-esteem and turn them off learning and achieving in literacy and numeracy and other curricula areas. There are many successful New Zealanders with unexceptional school records who would not have succeeded had they been constantly labelled as failures during their childhood. A better form of assessment and reporting would focus on the progress that children are making and we believe this is the approach that should be being used.

Minister, you are aware the international record on the effects of national testing is damning. We recognise the intended National Standards are not national tests, but our understanding of why national testing has such adverse effects convinces us that the intended National Standards system will suffer most of the same problems. We are concerned about the damage that will occur if the performance of children against the Standards is reported publicly, as has happened internationally. We stress that such reporting of results at each year level will distort and impoverish the  culture of teaching and learning and assessment within schools. It will undermine the new curriculum and lead to a narrower, less interesting form of primary education for New Zealand children. It will also result in inappropriate judgements about the quality of schools and teachers.

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In our view the intended  National Standards system has little chance of engaging the hearts and minds of New Zealand primary teachers. Our primary teachers have a strong ethic of care for children. We believe they are opposing National Standards not because they are reluctant to be accountable but because of genuine concerns about the effects of the national standards system on children and their learning. “

Part of the problem of National Standards – aside from the bizarre notion of attempting to “standardise” all children’s learning – was the likelihood of National Standards results being turned in to League Tables. Such a move would pit school against school and introduce competition into a system that was better served by collegial, co-operative action.

In other words, this was a thinly-veiled neo-liberal policy being implemented. The ultimate goal? Further commercialisation of schools? Privatisation?

As a sop to mounting criticism, in October 2009, then Education Minister, Anne Tolley, pledged not to facilitate National Standards,

After months of disputes, Education Minister Anne Tolley has struck a deal with primary school unions that will see them work together on its controversial national standards policy.

Under the agreement, the Government has confirmed it will make it as difficult as possible for the media to produce league tables that rank schools.

Mrs Tolley told The Dominion Post the deal was a “a momentous occasion”.

She said she told the groups she was prepared to work with them to stop the use of league tables. “We want to make it as difficult for you [media] as possible. It will be too hard and too much work and not worth it in the end. There are a few ideas we will discuss as to how we can do that.”

By 2011, that pledge had changed,

National leader John Key this afternoon announced the party’s full education policy, including early childhood, schools and the tertiary sector.

He said National’s “next steps” on the controversial National Standards scheme would include using performance information to “strengthen the accountability of schools”.

[…]

Education spokeswoman Anne Tolley said a National-led Government would not roll out any league tables of its own but primary schools would, from next year, be required to publish their results against the National Standards. There were be no steps to stop media or anyone else from constructing league tables out of the information.

“We want the system to be far more accountable to parents and communities,” Tolley said.

(Hat-tip: Dim Post blog)

Unsurprising really. Experience has shown that trusting National politicians to keep their word is a wholly futile exercise.

On 11 June 2013, Labour’s education spokesperson, Chris Hipkins pledged that an incoming Labour-led government would scrap National Standards. He made no bones about Labour’s view on the policy,

It’s now abundantly clear that National Standard results are neither national nor standard. There is no proper process in place to ensure that a student judged as meeting a standard wouldn’t get a different outcome if assessed by a different teacher at a different school. The data released today is therefore is completely useless.”

Useless indeed. This is another of National’s ideologically-motivated policies that deserves to be “filed” here,

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(* At this point in time, NZ First’s leader, Winston Peters,  has not indicated which bloc – Labour or National – he intends to coalesce with. As such, any involvement by NZ First in a progressive government cannot be counted upon.)

To be continued at:  A proposed Labour-Green-Mana(-NZ First?) agenda – part toru

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Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 17 January 2014.

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References

Salon: An inane, money-eating sham: Drug tests for welfare a huge failure

NZ Herald: Drug testing of beneficiaries set to come into force from July

NZ Herald: Minister claims low drug result as victory

Radio NZ: Bennett defends drug-testing of beneficiaries

Dominion Post: PM gets $9200 pay rise

Radio NZ:  Police minister says no to drug tests at work

Related blogpost: Letter to the Editor: Was Paula Bennett ever drug tested?

Radio NZ: Prosecutor sentenced over drug charges

Beehive: Pre-employment drug testing for jobseekers

TVNZ:  Q+A – Transcript of Paula Bennett interview

Tumeke: What the real aim of drug testing beneficiaries is

Roy Morgan: unemployment statistics

Open Letter to the Minister of Education, Hon Anne Tolley

Fairfax media: Tolley and unions strike league tables deal

Fairfax media: Nats open door to primary school league tables

NZ Herald: Labour would dump National Standards

Labour Party: Only constant is Hekia’s waffle

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