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On ‘The Nation’ – Anne Tolley Revealed

2 October 2015 5 comments

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On past occassion, I have been critical of ‘The Nation‘ for not making greater use of facts and data when confronting National ministers. Without cold, hard facts and stats, slippery Ministers like Steven Joyce can find wiggle-room to avoid straight answers and indulge in wild flights of fantasy-spin.

But when the team at ‘The Nation‘ get it right, they do it well, and Ministers are laid bare for the public to see, hear, and assess for themselves.

Cases-in-point, the 2 May interview with Corrections Minister, Sam  Lotu-Iiga, and the more recent (26 September) interview with Social Development Minister, Anne Tolley;

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The Nation - Interview - Social Development Minister Anne Tolley

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Both interviews showed Ministers out of their depths, and grappling with critical problems that apparently have “snuck up” on them – though the rest of the country had long been aware that not all was well in the Land of the Long White Cloud (and possible Red Peak).

Recent “revelations” of massive problems for children in State-care are only confirmation of what many in the sector already knew. According to Tolley’s own speech to the Fostering Kids New Zealand Conference  on 24 September;

By the time children with a care placement who were born in the 12 months to Jun 1991 had reached the age of 21:

Almost 90 per cent were on a benefit.

Over 25 per cent were on a benefit with a child.

Almost 80 per cent did not have NCEA Level 2.

More than 30 per cent had a youth justice referral by the age of 18.

Almost 20 per cent had had a custodial sentence.

Almost 40 per cent had a community sentence.

Overall, six out of every ten children in care are Māori children.

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64 per cent of the 61,000 children notified to CYF in 2014 had a previous notification.

In 2013, children who had been removed from home were on average 8 years old and many of these children had been involved with the system since 2 or 3 years of age.

[…]

Seven year-old children should not have eight different home placements.

A study of those in care in 2010 showed that 23 per cent of children who exited care and returned to their biological parents were subject to neglect or physical, emotional or sexual re-abuse within 18 months. Ten per cent of those who returned to kin or whānau were re-abused, while re-abuse rates for those who exited into non-kin and non-whānau placements was one per cent.

It has taken seven years for a National minister to come to understand this? Where have they been all this time – playing golf on Planet Key?

But not only has  this government ignored this crisis in supporting young people in State care – but they have been criminally guilty of making matters worse by job cuts and destabilisation by constant re-organisation of  MSD (Ministry of Social Development);

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Job cuts for MSD

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Then Social Development Minister, Paula Bennett, was adamant that there would be more frontline social workers, despite the massive number of redundancies. Her mantra at the time was;

”I can absolutely assure them that the concentration is on frontline staff, on social workers that are working with those people that need it most, and that’s where this Government is putting their priorities.”

Take note that in the “re-structuring”  in 2009, the job cuts included “a team of 18 child abuse education social workers“.  In effect,  skilled professionals working on behalf of children suffering abuse were sacked.

Only the Minister of Finance trying to balance his books, and those who perpetrate child abuse on small bodies, could possibly have been delighted at that announcement.

To deflect criticism from the growing problem of  child poverty and New Zealand’s “under-class” (which, in  October 2011, even Key was forced to admit was rising), Bennett resisted demands to assess just how bad the problem really was;

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Combating poverty more important than measuring it - Paula Bennett - MSD

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No measurement; no way of telling how bad it is. Very clever, Ms Bennett.

But worse was to come, as National slashed the state sector to make up for revenue lost through two tax cuts and the recessionary effects of the Global Financial Crisis;

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MSD restructure lacks transparency

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98 MSD staff face the axe - union

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This time, the person over-seeing on-going job-losses and re-structuring was the current Social Development Minister, Anne Tolley. This time, the cuts were given a new euphemism; “re-alignment”.

Despite Bennett’s reassurances in June 2009  that there would be a “concentration […] on frontline staff, on social workers that are working with those people that need it most” – six years later the cutting of back-room support staff resulted in inevitable (and predictable) consequences. As Tolley herself was forced to admit on ‘The Nation‘;

“Well, there’s 3000-odd staff, but only 25% of them are actually working with children. And of that 25%, they’re only spending 15% of their time actually with children.”

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twitter - msd job cuts - anne tolley - the nation

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At that point, Lisa Owen asked Minister Tolley the question;

“So are you telling me that we need more back-room staff to allow those people to get on to the front line and deal with the kids?”

Tolley’s reply was pure gobbledegook;

“What we need is a system that is designed to look after those children when they first come to our attention, we need good interventions with them and their families, and we need to free up the front-line social workers to do the work they come in every day to do which is to work with children, not a system that’s built on layers and layers of risk management and bureaucracy and administration, which is what we’ve got now.”

The reason it is risable gobbledegook is that after hundreds of job losses – of mostly so-called “back room staff” one assumes – and restructurings, there cannot be too many “layers and layers of risk management and bureaucracy and administration” left in MSD.

Lisa Owen pushed the Minister further;

“…But some evidence that was provided last year was the case-load review, which said that you were 350 social workers short. So can we expect more social workers?”

When the Minister offered vague assurances that “we may well” expect more social workers, Ms Owen was blunt;

“But ‘may well’ is not a definitive answer, is it, Minister? So yes or no? Will we get more?”

Tolley’s response was anything but reassuring;

“I don’t know, because the final system proposal will come to me in December, so I’m not going to pre-empt what the panel’s coming up with. What they’ve done in this interim report is give us the building blocks…”

Listening to the Minister was not only far from reassuring, but left a sense of unease.

Our esteemed Dear Leader, John Key, has already said that “outsourcing” to private providers for MSD services is possible;

“Child Youth and Family does outsource to the private sector already some contracts, and I think last year $81 million of business went to private sector contractors, so I can’t get up and say there is no involvement with the private sector, because there already is that.

I don’t think we’re seriously talking about the private sector taking control of all the children, but if there is some small function they could do, maybe, I’d have to see what that is.”

“Some small function”?

What is Key referring to – delivery of afternoon tea and biscuits to CYF staff?

Or, as more likely, would “some small function” involve Serco – already in deep trouble over it’s incompetence over running of Mt Eden prison?

This is a possibility that Tolley herself touted as a possibility on TVNZ’s ‘Q+A‘, as recently as June this year;

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Tolley Serco could run social services - MSD - CYF

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On 31 August,  CEO of the Association of Social Workers, Lucy Sandford-Reed,was reported on Radio NZ as saying  she believed call-centre operations might be outsourced;

“That really creates an opportunity for further fragmentation of the service delivery and could potentially create the opportunity for failure. And there has been a sense that a organisation like Serco could be looking at picking up those contracts.”

Tolley was adamant on ‘The Nation‘ that there would be no outsourcing of MSD’s front-line services. She told Lisa Owen to her face;

“Look, I- Let’s put it to rest – this is a state responsibility. There’s no talk within Government at all of outsourcing that responsibility.”

However, only two days earlier (24 September), it was reported that Serco had indeed been ‘sniffing’ around CYF facilities in Auckland;

CYF sites visited by Serco – Tolley

Thursday 24 Sep 2015 4:30 p.m.

Serco case managers have visited several Child, Youth and Family facilities in Auckland, Social Development Minister Anne Tolley has confirmed.

She’s previously denied knowledge of such visits, and told Parliament today she had been given incorrect advice by her ministry.

“I apologise for giving an incorrect answer (to previous questions)… I’m disappointed that I got incorrect information,” she said.

Opposition MPs suspect the visits were connected with the possibility of some CYF services being contracted out to Serco.

The question that begs to be asked is; why has National drawn attention to the (supposed) “failings” of CYF/MSD? Why was Tolley so eager to receive a report so scathing of her own department, as she stated in her 27 August press statement;

“I welcome the release of this report, which makes for grim reading for those involved in child protection, and have met with the Commissioner to discuss his findings.”

Usually, this is a government whose ministers are desperate only to present “good news” stories. They are quick to dismiss, minimise, or deride any criticism that does not fit with their “good management” narrative. Blaming the previous Labour government has become the #1 Default position of National ministers.

The only possible rationale why Tolley has commissioned a report into MSD/CYF – where no public or media pressure had demanded one – is that Paula Rebstock’s highly critical findings of MSD/CYF were pre-determined.

As Chris Trotter wrote in his analysis of Rebstock’s report on 2 April;

“The Rebstocks of this world are spared the close-up consequences of their recommendations. They are experts at reading between the lines of their terms of reference to discover exactly what it is that their commissioning ministers are expecting from them – and delivering it. So it was with Paula Bennett’s welfare review, and so it will be with Anne Tolley’s review of Child Youth and Family (CYF).

Once again in the lead role, Ms Rebstock will not have to work too hard to decode the meaning of Ms Tolley’s comment that: “CYF has drafted its own internal modernisation strategy and while it is a good starting point, it doesn’t go far enough”.”

Without doubt, Rebstock’s eventual (and predictable?) report into MSD/CYF was highly critical of that organisation.

Key has publicly disclosed that he is not averse to privatisation (aka, “outsourcing”) aspects of MSD/CYF’s services.

Despite Tolley’s denials, Serco has shown interest in CYF facilities.

Which leads to the inescapable conclusion that the Rebstock report; the willingness of Ministers to front up to the media to candidly admit to MSD/CYF’s shortcomings; is setting up a Problem demanding a Solution.

That “Solution” is privatisation of services.

Which perhaps is what Tolley was referring to in her 24 September speech;

“While the new operational model is being developed, a feasibility study of an investment approach to improving outcomes for vulnerable children is being commissioned by MSD on behalf of the panel, and the findings will inform the Panel’s December report.”

Investment approach”?

As in business investment.

This explains  Tolley’s rejection of Lisa Owen’s suggestion of paying caregivers more money;

“Well, I think you’ve always got to be very careful that you’re not setting up a professional caregiving regime. And when you talk to people who are fostering, most of them don’t do it for the money.”

Indeed, “people who are fostering, most of them don’t do it for the money” – but it sure helps pay the bills, especially for professional services for some very damaged children.

No wonder Tolley was vague on whether more money or social workers would be provided to MSD/CYF, in her replies to Lisa Owen. This was never about increasing resources to the Ministry or caregivers.

This is about a private enterprise “solution” to a National government “problem”.

The Rebstock Report is simply the means to sell that “solution” to the public and media.

Machiavellian does not begin to cover this mad agenda.

 

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References

TV3: The Nation – Interview – National’s Chief Strategist Steven Joyce

Beehive.govt.nz: Speech to Fostering Kids New Zealand Conference

Fairfax media: Job cuts for MSD

NZ Herald: Key admits underclass still growing

Scoop media: Combating poverty more important than measuring it

Radio NZ: MSD restructure ‘lacks transparency’

Fairfax media: 98 MSD staff face the axe – union

Twitter: Frank Macskasy to The Nation

Radio NZ: Key – More CYF private sector involvement possible

TV3 News: Tolley – Serco could run social services

TV3 News: CYF sites visited by Serco – Tolley

Beehive.govt.nz: Minister welcomes State of Care report

Additional

MSD: Redesigning the Welfare State in New Zealand: Problems, Policies and Prospects (1999)

Other Blog posts

The Daily Blog: Fixing CYFs – Paula Rebstock is asked to “rescue” another state agency

The Daily Blog: Why The State Needs To Support Young People Until They’re 21

Previous related blogposts

WINZ, waste, and wonky numbers – *up-date*

Bill English: When numbers don’t fit, or just jump around

The law as a plaything

Random Thoughts on Random Things #3

John Key’s government – death by two cuts

The cupboard is bare, says Dear Leader

Government Minister sees history repeat – responsible for death

“I don’t know the details of that particular family” – Social Development Minister Anne Tolley

Polls and pundits – A facepalm moment

“The Nation” reveals gobsmacking incompetence by Ministers English and Lotu-Iiga

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 27 September 2015.

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The closure of three prisons and loss of 262 jobs – five issues for the National govt

18 April 2015 10 comments

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The closure of three prisons and loss of 262 jobs

The closure of units in Waikeria, Tongariro-Rangipo, and Rimutaka Prisons, and the subsequent estimated loss of 262 jobs has been openly conceded as a re-distribution of inmates to the new, privately run prison at Wiri.  Corrections chief executive, Ray Smith, stated on 9 April;

I am also proposing to close units at three prisons – Rimutaka, Waikeria and Tongariro/Rangipo…

… With the opening of Auckland South Corrections Facility (at Wiri), and the subsequent reduction in pressure on prison capacity, we can now look at closing these end of life facilities.

The Wiri facility will be managed by multi-national corporation, Serco, as a profit-making venture, paid by the tax-payer.

Smith has blamed the closures and redundancies on the Waikeria, Tongariro-Rangipo, and Rimutaka Prisons being  “50 years old, surrounded by facilities that are 100 years old“. He claims “it would be uneconomic to bring them up to scratch“.

The closure of units at Waikeria, Tongariro-Rangipo, and Rimutaka is estimated to save the National government $165 million. This will be a godsend to Finance Minister Bill English, who admitted on 10 April that National’s much heralded promise of a budget surplus was looking more and more unlikely;

We’re (the Government) is continuing to manage the books carefully but lower inflation, while good for consumers, is making it less likely that the final accounts in October will show a surplus for the whole year.

With the  planned sale of state houses to the  Salvation Army, and other social services, having collapsed, English’s expectation of reaping big cash dividends from the housing sell-of has evaporated.

As I wrote in October 2014;

Meanwhile, Bill English was outlining National’s true agenda, whilst Key was putting on his benign face to the New Zealand public.  As TV3’s Brook Sabin reported,

A big state-house sell-off is on the way, and up to $5 billion-worth of homes could be put on the block.

The shake-up of the Government’s housing stock will be a key focus for the next three years, with Finance Minister Bill English to lead it.

On the block is everything from a tiny 75 square metre two-bedroom state house in Auckland’s Remuera, on the market for $740,000, to a three-bedroom home in Taumarunui for just $38,000. Thousands more properties will soon hit the market.

The reason for putting up to  $5 billion-worth of homes  on the block?

Crashing dairy prices had left a gaping hole in the National Government’s books, and their much-vaunted Budget surplus next year was under threat. Remember that  Key was candid in the implications for the economy and the  government’s tax-take; when he stated – also on 6 October;

It can have some impact because if that’s the final payout, the impact would be as large as NZ$5 billion for the economy overall, and you would expect that to flow through to the tax revenue, both for the 14/15 year and the 15/16 year. My understanding is Treasury is working on those numbers for the incoming Minister of Finance, which fortunately is the same as the outgoing Minister of Finance as well.”

Faced with the imminent sinking of one of National’s cornerstone election promises – a return to surplus by 2014/15 – $165 million saved by the closure of prison units will be  a relief to an increasingly frustrated Bill English.

Key and English couldn’t flog of $5 billion of state housing to social services. So now they are looking at what is effectively privatisation-by-stealth with our prison services.

And bugger the inevitable consequences…

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Justice not for sale logo

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Five issues for the National govt

The closure of units at Waikeria, Tongariro-Rangipo, and Rimutaka Prisons will not be without dire consequences that impact on nearly every aspect of New Zealand society, regions, and the economy.  Even the political landscape may be altered if this ill-considered plan goes ahead.

1. Sending “clients” to a private facility

There is something decidely immoral about up-rooting hundreds of prisoners whose freedom of movement and freedom of choice has been curtailed by State sanctions, and handed over into the hands of a private corporation – Serco – where the prime motivator is making a profit for shareholders. (Overseas shareholders, to be precise.)

In no way can this dystopian scenario be considered part of the “free market”, as all forms of choice have been removed from the prison “clients”.

Serco have been handed “clients” into their “care” whether wanted or not by the prisoners. Not since the slave trade from the 16th to 19th centuries have human being been treated as commodities by Western nations.

Make no mistake; private prisons turn human beings into “things”, to be used by business as investment commodities.

How long before prisoners are sold, bought, and traded by competing corporatised prisons? How long before their labour is sold to other businesses, for profit?

2. Regional economies and job losses

The loss of 262 jobs in Upper Hutt (Rimutaka),  Waikeria, and Tongariro-Rangipo will impact considerably on those regional economies already badly hit by loss of industries, closed businesses, population moving away, and continuing down-turn in the dairy industry.

It is this sort of regional neglect that resulted in Northland voters abandoning the National Party and electing NZ First leader, Winston Peters, as their electorate MP.

Waipa District mayor, Jim Mylchreest, was frustrated and angry at National’s further under-mining of what remained of regional economies;

Here they are with a major change and not even bothering to let us know plans are afoot.

I assume that they’ve done their sums and it’s more efficient for them but they’re not looking at New Zealand in terms of what are the benefits to try and keep employment in the regions.”

Mayor Mylchreest has every right to be angry – closure of a high-security wing at Waikeria Prison will  result in the loss of 148 jobs – creating considerable impact on nearby Te Awamutu (pop: 10,305), only sixteen kilometers away.

Is this how the National Party “supports” the regions?!

It seems that National has not learned a single thing from the Northland by-election.

Rimutaka may well be a safe Labour seat. But it also delivered 15,352 Party Votes for National – now at risk as Upper Hutt will be hard hit by job losses at Rimutaka Prison.

National may have mis-calculated the political fall-out from this move.

3. NZ First/Country Party

A loss of 262 jobs. Millions lost from regional economies. Small towns losing more people. Businesses closing, through lack of turn-over. Which, in a vicious circle leads to more job losses…

A recipe to increase NZ First’s re-positioning on the politicalk spectrum as a de facto “Country-Regional Party”?

It certainly sounds like it.

National may have handed Peters an early Christmas gift to campaign on. Disaffected voters seeing hundreds of jobs lost in their communities – with  subsequent closures of down-stream businesses in their town Main Streets – may wonder why on Earth they should keep voting for National? What’s in it for them?

Not much it would seem.

“Vote National – Lose Your Job” would appear to be the new slogan for National for the 2017 elections.

I have no doubt that even as I write this, and you the reader are reading my words, that Winston Peters and his NZ First strategists are already working on how to maximise these events for their own political gain.

I have no doubt whatsoever; the “Northland Experience” will be repeated throughout the country – much to Winston Peters’ delight.

4. Prisoner’s families

National’s Corrections Minister Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga has stated;

I understand that this proposal may be unsettling for affected staff but Corrections will have extensive support and assistance in place should the proposal go ahead. I also believe that the proposal reflects our commitment to providing safe and secure working conditions for staff and a safe and productive environment for prisoners.

Prisoners have a much better chance of successful rehabilitation in modern facilities where they have access to education, training and employment opportunities.

Being close to their families is an important factor in rehabilitation for some prisoners.”

However, transferring several hundred prisoners from as far afield as Rimutaka, to Auckland – a distance of some 650kms – is hardly “being close to their families”  and one can only imagine how increasing isolation from family and community will give  “prisoners […] a much better chance of successful rehabilitation”.

The distances involved are considerable, as this Corrections Department map illustrates;

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[6] Waikeria Prison [8] Tongariro/Rangipo Prison [13] Rimutaka Prison

[6] Waikeria Prison
[8] Tongariro/Rangipo Prison
[13] Rimutaka Prison

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Minister Lotu-Iiga needs to explain why he thinks that isolating prisoners in this manner, can possibly assist in their rehabilitation and reintergration back into their communities?

It seems that transferring prisoners out of their communities flies in the face of the Minister’s assertions.

It may also prove more expensive, as prisoner’s families make increased calls upon the Child Travel Fund;

The Child Travel Fund provides financial support to eligible children traveling to visit a parent in prison. The fund also supports parents traveling to visit a child who is under 18 years of age and in prison.

Does National even care?

They should. Increasing prisoner’s alienation from family and communities undermines every effort made by the judicial/corrections system to rehabilitate prisoners.

It should definitely be cause for concern for  the corporate managers of Wiri, for whom rehabilitation and reduced re-offending is part of their contract, according to Corrections chief executive, Ray Smith;

They can earn up to $1.5 million in incentive payments if they can reduce the rate of reoffending by up to 10 percent more than the department can do.”

According to Derek Cheng at the Herald, writing three years ago;

For Wiri, Serco will face stiff financial penalties if it does not meet rehabilitation targets – which will be set at 10 per cent lower than public prisons.

The Corrections Department has a target to reduce re-offending by 10 per cent. If that is achieved, Wiri would have to achieve a rate 20 below the current rates or face fines, which have yet to be set.

Though Finance Minister Bill English – quoted in Scoop at around the same time – was more cautious;

It will also face financial penalties if it fails to meet short-term rehabilitation and reintegration measures including prisoner health and employment targets, and safe, secure and humane custodial standards.”

However, speaking to Paul Henry on Radio Live, Corrections chief executive, Ray Smith, was more circumspect when asked directly what penalties were involved in prisoners re-offended after release;

(@ 7:35)

Henry: “If rehabitation rates, if recidivism rates deteriorate, is there a penalty?”

Smith: “Well they just can’t earn the incentive payment if they can’t [meet the targets(muffled)].”

Henry: “So there isn’t actually a penalty?”

Smith: “[Stuttered words]...the penalties are associated with failure on security. The incentives are geared towards having to actually achieve better outcomes than the Department.”

So unlike penalties associated with prisoner escapes, where Serco actually has to pay the government, the only “penalty” associated with not meeting rehabilitation targets is foregoing $1.5 million in incentive payments?

Under Serco’s contract to manage Mt Eden Remand Prison, it is fined $150,000 each and every time a prisoner escapes, as happened in 2011 and 2012.

Under the contract to manage Wiri, it appears that the “penalty” is foregoing incentive payments.

The two “penalties” are not exactly the same and Minister English was being less than clear when he referred to Serco facing “financial penalties“.

Repeating the question – does National care? Not in the least, one may rightly guess. After all, chances are that National will no longer be in government when the ‘chickens come home to roost’ on this little social time bomb, and John Key will be writing his memoirs somewhere on an idyllic Hawaiian beach.

5. Relocating staff?

There seems to be confusion as to what will happen to the 262 staff who will lose their jobs from  Waikeria, Tongariro-Rangipo, and Rimutaka Prisons.

In his interview with Paul Henry on Radio Live on 10 April, Corrections CEO Ray Smith offered to do his best to find replacement jobs at other facilities for 262 redundant staff.

Suggestions that staff would be relocated to Auckland, with a “$20,000 relocation assistance-payment” appears to be farcical for two reason;

1. $20,000 payment to a Corrections staffmember living in a small town, where properties are worth considerably less than the over-heated Auckland housing market, is unhelpful. There is a worsening housing shortage in Auckland, and it seems to be verging on incompetence for this government to be adding to the housing problem by encouraging more workers and their families to move to the the city, thereby adding to congestion.

2. According to various media reports, the new Wiri facility is already fully staffed;

And unfortunately for staff who will be laid off, the opening of a large new prison in South Auckland next month is no consolation as all jobs are already filled. – TV1 News

A new prison in south Auckland will pick up the relocated inmates, but it is already fully staffed.TV3 News

So where are the jobs? Certainly not at Wiri.

Which makes this statement from Corrections Minister Lotu-Iiga unconvincing;

It should also be noted that the number of prisoner places is not reducing and will in fact increase with the opening of [Wiri]. We will have a net increase of 433 beds.”

The closure of three facilities; 262 redundancies; and contracting out to a private provider all reeks of National’s mania for cost-cutting.

As with many other cost-cutting exercises, it is New Zealanders; their families; and economically-fragile regions and small towns, that are having to pay the price. Treating prisoners as commercial commodities adds a particularly nasty aspect to this exercise.

Meanwhile, foreign-owned Serco stands to gain $30 million of tax-payer’s money, per year, from managing the new Wiri prison.

Someone is benefitting, and it is not us.

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Justice not for sale logo

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Prison facts and statistics – December 2014

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Number of prisoners in each prison - nz prisons

Source

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Justice not for sale logo
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References

Fairfax media: Up to 262 prison jobs may be cut in major Corrections restructure

TV3 News: Union – Prison staff can’t afford to move to Auckland

TV1 News: Budget surplus looking increasingly unlikely this year, Bill English admits

TV3 News: State housing sell-off worth $5B

Hive News: Treasury re-crunching Budget numbers for low Fonterra payout

National Party: Remaining on track to Budget surplus in 2014/15

Wikipedia: Serco

TV1 News: Town’s fury at being left in dark over prison closure

Wikipedia: Te Awamutu

Election Results 2014: Official Count Results — Rimutaka

Department of Corrections:  Sustainable Development Framework

Department of Corrections:  Travel assistance for visits

TV3 News: Union – Prison staff can’t afford to move to Auckland

NZ Herald: New private prison at Wiri given green light

Auckland Scoop media: Amazing promises for new Wiri prison: less offending, better safety, superior service

RadioLive: Around 260 staff face redundancy at Waikeria, Rangipo and Rimutaka prisons (audio)

Auckland Scoop media: Private operator of Mt Eden fined $150,000 for prison escape; security improvements made

Radio NZ: Serco fined after another prisoner escape

TV3 News: Govt criticised over prison job cuts

Radio NZ: Serco expects $30m revenue from Wiri prison

Department of Corrections:  Prison facts and statistics – December 2014

Previous related blogposts

The lunatics are running the Asylum

Housing; broken promises, families in cars, and ideological idiocy (Part Rua)

 


 

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140105 Housing in prisons

 

 

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 13 April 2015.

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Mighty River Power, Members of Parliament, and Conflicts of Interest

26 March 2013 16 comments

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On 27 June last year,  on the last episode of TVNZ7’s ‘Backbenches’, Minister for Courts, Associate Minister of Justice, and Associate Minister for Social Development, Chester Borrows, admitted his intention to  buy shares in partially-privatised state owned enterprises.

In an  exchange between ‘Backbenches’ Host Wallace Chapman and Chester Burrows,

CHAPMAN:  “Will you be buying shares in Mighty River Power?”

BORROWS:  “Yes, probably.”

CHAPMAN:  “Ok.”

BORROWS:  “I’m a mum and dad investor, well I’m half of a mum and investor partnership.”

CHAPMAN:  “So you will be.”

BORROWS:  “Yep.”

On 2 July, when I blogged this issue (see: Conflicts of Interest?), I asked three questions,

  • Is this a vested interest in partial-privatisation?
  • Is this a conflict of interest?
  • Is this verging on self-serving corruption?

It will be interesting to find (if at all possible to uncover), how many National/ACT/United Future members of Parliament will end up owning shares in Mighty River Power, and other part-privatised SOEs?

A recent Sunday Star Times story told readers that members of Parliament and government ministers would follow a self-imposed “moratorium” on not buying any shares in SOEs for 90 days,

Cabinet ministers have agreed to a voluntary “moratorium” preventing the purchase of shares by all ministers, and some of their staff, until 90 days after the initial sale.

Finance Minister Bill English’s office said: “Cabinet also agreed that ministers and the staff in those offices . . . should use their best endeavours to ensure that their partners and dependent children adhere to the same moratorium.”

Acknowledgment: Fairfax Media – Call to ban ministers from share float

That is simply not good enough. A politician could easily instruct a solicitor to buy shares on his/her behalf. Or purchase shares via a ‘shell-company‘. There are as many ways to dodge scrutiny as the human mind can imagine.

The implications of government MPs and Ministers owning shares in state assets which they themselves have decided to privatise is a serious matter.

The only three ways to avoid such a spectacular conflict of interest is,

  1. Pass legislation banning MPs or their spouses from ever owning shares in SOEs (not very practical)
  2. Make the Pecuniary Interests register a permanent feature for all politicians to fill out for the rest of their lives. (possible – though a real pain in the arse)
  3. Scrap the asset sales programme. (Much easier.)

If politicians such as Borrows purchase shares in SOEs, it will further lower their reputations in the eyes of the public. “They’re in it for themselves” will become a reality in the minds of people, rather than just a vague suspicion.

We’re treading on thin ice here and the prospect of real political corruption takes one step closer to reality.

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Additional References

Call to ban ministers from share float (24 March 2013)

Previous related blogposts

Conflicts of Interest?

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That was Then, This is Now #14

20 June 2012 1 comment

How Can A Minister of Finance Get It So Wrong???

28 February 2012 4 comments

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Five days ago, Finance Minister Bill English released a statement on the part-privatisation of several State Owned Enterprises. It is worthwhile re-printing his statement in full, and responding to it, point-by-point,

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Running up $5-$7b more debt not the answer

by Hon Bill English, Finance
23 February 2012

Opponents of the Government’s mixed ownership programme need to explain to New Zealanders why it would be better to borrow an extra $5 billion to $7 billion from overseas lenders, Finance Minister Bill English says.

Speaking to an Auckland Chamber of Commerce and Massey University business lunch today, he said the challenge was how the Government pays for forecast growth in taxpayers’ assets over the next few years.

“Taxpayers own $245 billion of assets, and this is forecast to grow to $267 billion over the next four years. So we are not reducing our assets. Our challenge is how we pay for their growth, while getting on top of our debt.”

The rationale for offering New Zealanders minority stakes in four energy companies and Air New Zealand is quite simple, Mr English says.

“First, the Government gets to free up $5 billion to $7 billion – less than 3 per cent of its total assets – to invest in other public assets like modern schools and hospitals, without having to borrow in volatile overseas markets.

“Our political opponents need to honestly explain to New Zealanders why it would be better to borrow this $5 billion to $7 billion from overseas lenders at a time when the world is awash with debt and consequent risks.

“We would rather pay dividends to New Zealanders on shares they own in the energy companies than pay interest to overseas lenders on more borrowing.

“The fact is, the Government is spending and borrowing more than it can afford into the future. So it makes sense to reorganise the Government’s assets and redeploy capital to priority areas without having to borrow more.

“Most nights on television, we see the consequences of countries in Europe and elsewhere borrowing too much. We don’t want that for New Zealand.”

Secondly, under the mixed ownership programme New Zealanders will get an opportunity to invest in big Kiwi companies so they can diversify their growing savings away from property and finance companies.

“Counting the Government’s controlling shareholding, we’re confident 85-90 per cent of these companies will be owned by New Zealanders, who will be at the front of the queue for shares.”

Thirdly, mixed ownership will be good for the companies themselves, Mr English says.

“Greater transparency and oversight from being listed on the stock exchange will improve their performance and the companies won’t have to depend entirely on a cash-strapped government for new capital to grow.

“We already have a living, breathing and successful example of mixed ownership in Air New Zealand, which is 75 per cent owned by the Government and 25 per cent by private shareholders.”

In his speech, Mr English reiterated the Government’s economic programme this term would focus on rebuilding and strengthening the economy.
It’s main priorities are:

  •     Responsibly managing the Government’s finances.
  •     Building a more productive and competitive economy.
  •     Delivering better public services within tight financial constraints.
  •     Rebuilding Christchurch.

“So there will be no big surprises from this Government,” Mr English says. “We have laid out our economic plan and Budget 2012 will focus on implementing that plan.”

Source

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Firstly, let’s call a spade, a spade here. Whilst National ministers use the euphemistic term, “mixed ownership model”, the issue here is partial-privatisation of state owned enterprises.  National’s spin-doctors may have advised all ministers and John Key to always use the phrase “mixed ownership model” – but the public are not fooled.

To begin, I take great exception to English’s opening statement,

Opponents of the Government’s mixed ownership programme need to explain to New Zealanders why it would be better to borrow an extra $5 billion to $7 billion from overseas lenders…”

Opponants of National’s part-privatisation do not “need to explain” anything. It is up to National to explain why it feels the need to part-privatise tax-payer owned corporations that are efficient and give a good return to the State.

Demanding that the  opponents of the Government’s mixed ownership programme need to explain” their opposition is the height of arrogance.  Governments in western-style democracies are accountable to the public – not the other way around.

English then goes on to say,

Taxpayers own $245 billion of assets, and this is forecast to grow to $267 billion over the next four years. So we are not reducing our assets. Our challenge is how we pay for their growth, while getting on top of our debt.”

Pardon?

“…we are not reducing our assets” ?!?!

Selling 49% of Genesis, Meridian, Solid Energy, Might River Power, Air New Zealand (from 75% to 51%) down to a 51% holding is “not reducing our assets” ?!?!

Bill English’s command of his namesake language is strange at best. I believe this is what George Orwell wrote about in his dystopian novel, “1984“, when he described “doublethink“,

To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them…”

English laments that “our challenge is how we pay for their growth, while getting on top of our debt”.

This involves two distinct issues;

Paying for the growth of state assets.

Genesis, Meridian, Solid Energy, Might River Power,  and Air New Zealand are all profitable enterprises in their own right. In the 2010 financial year, these  assets made a combined profit of $581 million dollarsNone of these five SOEs are loss-makers.

They can each pay for whatever growth programme they require, using their profits.

Where National interfered in SOE operations, the results were highly distorted,

Genesis paid out no dividend and had a zero yield on its operating profit of $293 million.

It had a 30.5% shareholder return on total assets.

Meridian had a dividend yield of 10.4%, achieved by paying out 428.8% of its profit. The increase came from the $300 million special dividend it received during the sale of Tekapo A and Tekapo B stations to Genesis, which was forced by the Government to borrow to pay for the purchase.” – Source

The reason that there is a  “challenge [in] how we pay for their growth”  is simple: National demands high dividends from these  SOEs (often by forcing them to borrow) leaving little for the companies to reinvest in their own growth.

Under-funding is a problem only because National has created the problem.

Getting on top of debt.

Linking  New Zealand’s $18-plus billion dollar debt to funding the growth of SOEs is  deliberate sophistry (ie; a deliberate deception).

The reason we have out-of-control debt is because,

As a society and as an economy, we had no control over the first two crises to hit us.

But we sure had control over our taxation policy, and doling out generous tax cuts to millionaires and wealthy businesspeople was a luxury we could not afford. (Many maintain that National was “rewarding” certain affluent socio-economic groups for electoral support at the ballot box.)

Next. English states,

First, the Government gets to free up $5 billion to $7 billion – less than 3 per cent of its total assets – to invest in other public assets like modern schools and hospitals, without having to borrow in volatile overseas markets.

???

National appears confused (as with most of its ad hoc policies) as to the proceeds it may gain from the partial sales. Only a year ago, Key stated authoritatively,

“If we could do that with those five entities … if we can make some savings in terms of what were looking at in the budget and maybe a little on the upside you’re talking about somewhere in the order of $7 to $10 billion less borrowing that the Government could undertake.” – John Key, 26 January 2011

Then again, as recently as eleven days ago, English let slip that,

I just want to emphasise that it is not our best guess; it’s just a guess. It’s just to put some numbers in that look like they might be roughly right for forecasting purposes.  That’s an honest answer.” – Bill English, 17 February 2012

The best description of Key and English on asset part-sales: clueless.

It is also worrying that National is selling state assets to pay for  “other public assets like modern schools and hospitals, without having to borrow in volatile overseas markets“.

Every householder will tell you that if  you have to sell of your furniture; whiteware; tv, family car, to pay to maintain your home – then you are in deep financial trouble.

What National is doing is “selling the household furniture to pay for painting the house”.  Selling off assets to pay for maintenance is not sustainable – eventually you run out of stuff to sell. It is a really dumb idea.

But more than that, it indicates that National is not “earning” enough, by way of taxation revenue to pay for it’s house-keeping. If we have to borrow or sell assets to do simple things like paint schools or properly resource hospitals – then it is a fairly clear indication that taxation revenue is insufficient for day-to-day operations of public services.

It also indicates that we are paying for the 2009 and 2010 tax cuts by selling state assets.

This is not “fiscal prudence” – this is foolish profligacy.

Bill English again demands, in his speech,

Our political opponents need to honestly explain to New Zealanders why it would be better to borrow this $5 billion to $7 billion from overseas lenders at a time when the world is awash with debt and consequent risks.”

No,  Mr English. Perhaps you should “honestly explain to New Zealanders” why you believe it makes greater commerciall sense to part-sell  profitable assets that are returning a higher yield on investment, than what the government pays to borrow?


The Government is estimating a $6 billion reduction in net debt after the sale of the state-owned enterprises – but concedes the savings on finance costs will be less than what it would have booked from dividends and retained earnings if it kept them.

Treasury  forecasts released today in the Government’s budget policy statement outline the forecast fiscal impact of selling up to 49 per cent in each of the four State-owned power companies – Mighty River Power, Meridian, Genesis Energy and Solid Energy – and by reducing the Crown’s current shareholding in Air New Zealand.

They assume a price of $6 billion – the midpoint in previous estimates of a $5 billion to $7 billion sale price – and a corresponding drop in finance costs of about $266 million by 2016.

But the trade-off is the loss of an estimated $200 million in dividends by 2016 and the loss of  $360 million in forecast foregone profits in the same year.

Documents supplied today state that the overall fiscal impact of selling a partial stake in the SOEs is a reduction in net debt, but the Government’s operating balance will also be smaller, because foregone profits would reduce the surplus.” – Source


Yet, only a year ago, Bill English was forced to concede that state owned power companies were indeed, highly profitable. In fact, he was complaining bitterly about State-owned generators  “earning excessive returns”,

Generally the SOE model has been quite successful in that respect. But if you look at those returns being generated particularly out of the electricity market, the Government has taken the view that that market is not as competitive as it should be.” – Source

The State will be losing money on the deal; earning less dividends from the SOEs than the cost of borrowing. The sums simply don’t add up.

There also seems to be some confusion (no longer a surprise) as to what National intends to do with sale proceeds.

On the one hand Bill English sez he wants to reduce debt,

We are firmly focused on keeping the Government’s overall debt as low as possible and that is the most important consideration over the next few years.” – 16 February 2012

And a week later, English is spending it,

First, the Government gets to free up $5 billion to $7 billion…  to invest in other public assets like modern schools and hospitals…”  – 23 February 2012

I guess Mr English is hoping that no one is paying attention?

Further in his speech, English makes this rather candid admission,

The fact is, the Government is spending and borrowing more than it can afford into the future. So it makes sense to reorganise the Government’s assets and redeploy capital to priority areas without having to borrow more.”

And there we have it, folks: the clearest statement yet from our Minister of Finance that the partial-sale of our state assets has little to do with giving “mum and dad” investors a share in our power companies; or making them more efficient; or paying down any of our $18+ billion debt; or putting a new coat of paint on your local school – the government is desperate to raise cash because it  “is spending and borrowing more than it can afford “.

The tax cuts of 2009 and 2010 were never “fiscally neutral” as National kept insisting.

The “tax switch”  left a $1.4 billion “hole” in the government’s revenue and this is how they are attempting to “plug that hole”.

We have been conned.

The tax cuts will be funded by the sale of state assets that we, as citizens of this country, already own. And because the bulk of tax cuts benefitted the highest income earners/wealthy – who are also in a better position to acquire shares in Genesis, Meridian, Solid Energy, Might River Power,  and Air New Zealand – the transfer of wealth from low and middle income earners will be two-fold.

The legacy of John Key’s government will be to make the rich richer, and for the rest of us, we can look forward to,

  • more expensive power
  • losing half ownership of our taxpayer-created state assets
  • and the top 10% to increase their wealth even more

But, to be generous, I will leave the last word to the Hon. Bill English,

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"Would you be willing to increase the mortgage on your house to go and borrow the money to buy shares on mighty river power?" Bill English, 16 February 2012

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Thank you, now p*** off!

13 February 2012 3 comments

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When New Zealanders erupted in anger and  disgust at the sale of sixteen farms to a Chinese consortium, Maurice Williamson and his right wing groupies labelled critics of farm sales as “racists”.

When people opposed the sale of ‘Young Nick’s Head” to New York millionaire, John Griffin, and South Island high-country farms to Shania Twain – their cries to stop land sales were ignored.

We have privatised and sold dozens of former state-owned-assets to offshore investors. Australians now own half of Contact Energy and the BNZ, as well as other profitable businesses, and we lose billions annually by way of dividends remitted to overseas investors.

In the latest news, Australian-owned banks,  ANZ National, BNZ, ASB and Westpac, made a staggering $3 billion dollars in profit – most of it remitted to Australia,

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Full Story

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However, our elected representatives; our Honourable Members of Parliament; those most learned men and women; assure us that privatisation of state assets and farms is a good thing.

Privatisation, they say, creates jobs.

Yes, of course it does,

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BullshitFull Story

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No pain, no gain.

Except – we seem to be getting the pain and others are creaming the gain. How does that work?!?!

I know! Let’s ask the politicians!

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“They are not here for lands but bring the investment in, which can create jobs for us. We should not be hostile to foreign investment, whether the money is from China, Australia or America.” – Prime Minister John Key

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“Beneficial foreign investment makes a positive contribution to New Zealand through increased jobs, capital and access to export markets.” – Bill English, Finance Minister, Deputy PM, and sheep farmer

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“Not enough New Zealanders appreciate the benefits of foreign investment and economic growth. The reaction of too many people was “you can’t do this, you can’t do that, you can’t do the other thing with little thought to the impact it had on potential jobs.” – Development Minister Steven Joyce

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Are we convinced?

Ok, New Zealanders… Time to wake up to the fact we are being rorted – with the connivance of most of our elected representatives.

Wake up!

Really.

Now is good.

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Kiwirail – back on track, on the sea

22 September 2011 3 comments

Full story

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It’s nice to see more investment in the up-grading of our rail and inter-island ferry service.  Kiwirail is fast being brought back up to standard, after 15 years of neglect under private ownership.

Railways was privatised in 1993, by the then-Bolger-led National Government.  (Source)  The new owner, Tranz Rail Ltd,  paid $400 million to the government and was made up of  a consortium consisting of  Fay, Richwhite & Company (40% ),  the American railroad Wisconsin Central (40%), and Berkshire Partners (20%).

From then, until 2008 – when railways was re-nationalised by the then-Clark-led Labour government – the asset was owned by a variety of private owners. In 2003, one of the major institutional shareholders was AMI – now facing insolvency after several major earthquakes in Christchurch.

Continuing losses, such as $346 million lost in the half-year ended December 2003, did not help the companies viability, despite carrying considerable amounts of freight such as 2.1 million tonnes of coal on the Midland line in the South Island.

The rail network was badly run-down by 2008, with many urban lines and stations dilapidated, vandalised, and in need of urgent maintenance.

In the Hutt Valley, for example, very few stations had any identifying signage which indicated which stop it was. They had all been mostly vandalised beyond recognition or destroyed totally. It was not until post-2008, and with State investment, that suburban rail began a programme of considerable improvements and upgrades. New passenger carriages; freight wagons; and locomotives were purchased, and Kiwirail began a slow progression back to a modern service, that is fit-for-purpose and a valuable asset for the 21st century.

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The privatisation of railways has been a stark and expensive reminder that privatisation is not a guarantee for better service. In the case of railways, the taxpayer is now footing the bill for fifteen years of neglect – even when the directors and managers of Tranz Rail walked away with $6 million in severance payments. Not exactly a good look,  one might think.

In fact, the only pirece of major capital investment in 15 years of private ownership was the sub-charter of the new inter-island ferry,  ‘Kaitaki, in 2005. No other capital investment, rolling stock, or improvements were made to the rail system during the period of private ownership.

As the price of fossil-based fuels continues to rise, transport based on alternative systems such as railways will become more and more critical to a modern, functioning economy.  Railways is simply too vital to be rested in private ownership which – as recent history has demonstrated – is not capable of managing such a strategic asset.

In the coming decades, this author predicts that railways will assume a greater role in our economy and society.  As petrol and diesel escates in price, rising on an almost weekly or monthly basis, rail will once again become profitable. It may also reverse the primacy of the internal-combustion automobile, making rail a preferred option for long-distance travel.

In the decades to come, it may become apparent that the decision of the  Labour Government in 2008 to re-nationalise railways was perhaps the single most prescient act on their part.

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In retrospect

Lack of ongoing maintainance reached critical levels in the summer of 2002/03, when high temperatures resulted in tracks buckling and the LTSA ordering Tranz Rail to reduce train speeds and to re-hire track de-stessing crews,

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Broken-down trains… unmaintained tracks… disgruntled passengers. Sound familiar?

It is fairly evident that the current maintenance and purchase of new rolling-stock are things that should have been carried out over the last couple of decades. The neglect of our rail system allowed private owners to attempt to make short-term gains, over long-term necessary expenditure.

The tax-payer is picking up the ‘tab’ for this misguided experiement in privatisation.

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