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Apartheid in Aotearoa New Zealand – yes, it does exist

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apartheid

noun

1. (in the Republic of South Africa) a rigid former policy of segregating and economically and politically oppressing the non-white population.
2. any system or practice that separates people according to color, ethnicity, caste, etc.

Dictionary.com

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Imagine having to apply a State body to confirm who and how you identify. Imagine if you are a Pakeha or Maori; CIS male or female; or a gay, lesbian, or bisexual,  having to acquire evidence from multiple medical specialists and compile a file to support your identity.

Imagine if you, reading this blog, had to rely on that Court’s decision as to how you would be identified by society.

Imagine, for example, if the identities of fellow bloggers Willie Jackson’s as a male Maori; David Farrar as a male Pakeha; Martyn Bradbury as a male Pakeha; Susan St John as a female Pakeha, former blogger Marama Davidson as a female Maori – were all determined by a Court of law.

Imagine if the required paperwork to present your application to the Court involved corroborating documentation from various professionals.

Imagine that the process was not free, but costs thousands of dollars. Imagine if you could not afford the cost, you could not apply to the Court: it was dependent on your ability to pay.

Imagine that the final decision then rests with a Court and a solitary judge (usually an old white male).

Imagine that your application could be knocked back; denied on a number of grounds.

Imagine that without approval from the Court, you could not identify as the gender, race, etc, that you felt yourself to be.

No need to imagine.

It exists.

There is a class of New Zealanders for whom all of the above is a reality: dictated by law.

But not for everyone. For the majority of us, there is no legal requirement for us to undergo a process to define who we are.

If you are heterosexual, gay, lesbian, or bisexual, you are who you are. The State plays no role in determining who you are or how your identify (for gay and bisexual men, since 1986).

You are a free citizen.

But the same does not apply for 100% of New Zealanders. We have a two-class system operating in this country.

If you accept the broad definition above, it may be surprising to discover we have an invisible  form of apartheid operating in this country.

The following is ‘Andrea’s’* story and how our own apartheid system has impacted on her.

Andrea is in her late 50s/early 60s. She is a university-educated professional, highly respected and successful in her field. Her research papers are required reading and has been referenced overseas by others working in her area of endeavour.

She is smart, observant, highly capable, articulate, and with a strong, supportive, close circle of  friends, loyal work colleagues, and loving family. She has two sons who adore her and are not shy or short of offering plenty of hugs, and an ex-partner with whom she maintains tight bonds of friendship and mutual support.

Andrea is also a trans-woman.

Andrea’s journey to transition to the gender she identifies with – female – did not begin in 2002, when she undertook gender-reassignment surgery here in New Zealand.

Andrea’s journey did not begin in 1999 when she came out to her work colleagues.

Andrea’s journey did not begin a year earlier, when she confronted her own true self and disclosed to her then-wife, Sharon*, that she identified as a woman and not as the male’s body she had been born into. It ended their marriage (which had already been under considerable pressure because of Andrea’s hidden gender dysphoria) – but in turn her disclosure to Sharon created a much stronger bond of trust and friendship.

Andrea’s journey began when she was three years old, when she “didn’t feel right” as a boy, and wanted to be a girl.

Her journey was not a simple one. But she says the surgical intervention she went through seventeen years ago was the least of her considerable challenges.

The surgery itself was reasonably straight forward,” she says.

The real challenges were the legal, procedural, and regulatory barriers she had to face.

To achieve a diagnosis for gender dysphoria and gain access to the female hormone oestrogen she first had to be assessed by a psychologist. That assessment consisted of ten, one hour long, sessions. It was a financial cost she had to bear.

Her next step was another specialist, an endocrinologist. That assessment was paid through her local DHB. This allowed Andrea to be prescribed androgen-blockers as well as critically-needed oestrogen.

She underwent electrolysis for unwanted facial hair. This process would be required for the following fifteen years. Cost, around $25,000, paid by Andrea.

Then came the major event that would transform her forever: genital reassignment surgery by New Zealand’s sole plastic surgeon qualified in this particular field. Cost, around $27,000,  again paid by Andrea.

But first – more professionals came and went through her life. The surgeon required two independent psychologist’s assessments; a psychiatric assessment and report, and an assessment by a social worker. The cost of these professionals – around $4,000 – was paid by Andrea.

In 2003, following succesful surgery, Andrea applied to the Family Court for a Declaration changing her gender, and recognising her as female. This required a sworn affidavit from Andrea’s endocrinologist to be presented by her lawyer.

A personal, sworn affidavit was also demanded from Andrea,  affirming that she would not change her mind – despite already having undergone radical genital reassignment surgery. (Perhaps law-makers thought she might “want it put back” later that afternoon?)

Cost of lawyer and court fees: paid by Andrea.

Andrea suffered an unexpected setback when the Judge refused to accept the endocrinologist’s affidavit. He demanded instead that the operating surgeon supply the required documentation.

Disappointed, but with black humour, Andrea asked her lawyer;

“What does he want? That I lift my dress and drop my knickers?”

Her lawyer replied that would probably not be helpful.

She paid more lawyer’s fees – around $3,000 – to obtain the surgeon’s affidavit. Another Court hearing followed.

That was followed by a process called tracheal shave – paid by Andrea. Cost, around $7,000.

The eventual Declaration by the Court reaffirming Andrea as legally female allowed her to be issued with a new much-needed female birth certificate.

That, in turn, would allow Andrea to apply for a passport in her newly identified female gender.

This permitted her to undertake facial feminisation surgery in Belgium. Cost, approximately $40,000, paid by Andrea.

That was followed by vocal chord surgery in Luxembourg in 2016, costing Andrea about $15,000.

A year later she had additional corrective surgery. More cost for Andrea; $12,000.

Andrea recognises that she is highly privileged. Her social status; high education; generous income; progressive employer and work-colleagues; and well-defined support network have benefitted her in ways that the vast majority of trans-people do not enjoy.

At the time the public health system funded only two trans-gendering operations per year and she could personally afford to “jump the queue”. There is an underlying painful sadness in Andrea’s tone when says ruefully that most trans-people are nowhere as lucky or privileged as she is.

Her decades-long journey to become her true self could by no means be described as a “spur-of-the-moment” fancy. The many years she waited; the number of professionals involved; each momentous step; the milestones achieved; the high financial cost;  the regulatory demands from medical professionals and Court; the incredible patience and support from her colleagues, friends, and family – was not for the faint-hearted.

Yet, this is what we demand from those who are our trans-brothers and trans-sisters.

Nowhere else do we expect people to jump through regulatory hoops and cross artificial barriers to simply be allowed to be who we are. Whether you are straight or gay or bi-sexual, you don’t have to fill out a form and beg a Judge’s approval on a “Declaration”.

But we demand it from people who identify as “trans”. For no apparent, logical,  reason that makes any coherent sense.

There is the spurious argument that trans-men and trans-women are a “special case” because they require invasive surgery to allow them to function as they identify.

Yet we don’t expect the elderly to undergo multiple psychiatric, psychological, social worker assessments, plus a Court Declation, to undergo hip surgery. Or organ transplants. Or any of the myriad millions of other invasive medical interventions which nearly all New Zealanders undergo throughout their lives.

But we demand it from trans-men and trans-women.

There is no clear reason why we treat trans-men and trans-women so completely differently to the rest of the population.

As a person who self-identifies as a CIS Male, who do I have to appeal to, to be recognised as such? No one of course.

If the State demanded such stringent, bureaucratic, legal  rules from the rest of us, there would be widespread, massive public resistance. “State thuggery” and “nanny statism” would be screamed from both Left and Right.

But for reasons that remain unclear, it is considered acceptable to treat trans-people in such a callous, inhumane way.

In some ways, the way we treat trans-people is a form of legally-sanctioned, socialised bullying. As if society has found the smallest, weakest, most vulnerable minority in our community and saddled them with huge demands that exists nowhere else.

On TVNZ’s Q+A, Internal Affairs Minister Tracey Martin, announced that the Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration Bill would  be deferred. She offered the excuse that it was necessary  to deal with “problems” caused by the select committee process;

“However, significant changes were made to the Bill by the select committee around gender self-identification and this occurred without adequate public consultation. This has created a fundamental legal issue.”

The Select Committee is usually the appropriate forum where public consultation takes place. It is unclear where Ms Martin believes “adequate public consultation” should occur, if not Parliament’s Select Committee – the highest “Court” in the nation.

It would be disturbing if a tiny, shrill minority of so-called “gender critical feminists” has put pressure on Ms Martin. If a Minister of a supposedly progressive government cannot act with courage to protect our most vulnerable, then that would be a tragedy.

I hope I am wrong in thinking that is what took place behind closed doors.

When Fran Wilde presented gay reform legislation to Parliament in 1986, she suffered unbelievable threats of intimidation, violence, and death. Opposition to homosexuality elicited insane arguments from homophobes;

Some people argued that the law would lead to more homosexuality and that this would eventually mean the collapse of the family unit. Fear and a lack of understanding led some to claim that young boys would be put at risk. Homosexuality and paedophilia – sex with children – were sometimes regarded as the same thing.

 

Many of the lunatic arguments against legalising male homosexuality in 1986 are being repeated again against trans-people. Most of those arguments are similar to the “claim that young boys would be put at risk” – but this time the supposed “victims” of the trans-bogey are girls and women “threatened in safe places”. Such claims are unclear in specifics and are deliberately vague to create a sense of unease with a phantom menace.

So-called “gender critical feminists” have taken to using offensive and degrading terms such ‘misgendering’ and ‘deadnaming’ to further undermine and deny trans-gender activists’ identities. It is an unnecessary, cruel tactic more commonly found on right-wing websites.

But Ang Jury, from New Zealand Women’s Refuge refutes any suggestion of problems with trans-gender women with Susan Strongman reporting for Radio NZ that “there is a solid process around deciding who gets into safe houses, and that transgender women have been allowed into many refuge spaces for years without issue“.

Last year, National Council of Women and YWCA came out strongly in support of the trans-gender community, with NCW CEO, Gill Greer, stating;

“Trans women’s rights are women’s rights – and ‘women’s rights are human rights.”

Feminists who support the trans-movement know full well that there are few such “safe places” and that most sexual abuse/attacks on girls and women occur in the home (or work place) and the perpetrator is usually known to the victim/survivor.

Exploiting the fear of “stranger danger” against the trans-community – many of whom have themselves been victims of harassment and/or sexual assault – is obscene.

The trans-community and it’s supporters counter opposition to the right to self-ID and describe it as fear-mongering;

Local transphobic campaigners are backed by a large group of extremely bigoted international social media accounts, many of which are controlled by extreme right wing and religious fundamentalists.

This article from the Southern Poverty Law Centre helps explains the relationships between the groups driving the campaign.

Campaigners are making claims about predators using the proposed law changes to gain access to vulnerable people. These claims are manufactured and intended to create a moral panic. Evidence shows that no such incidents have been reported in countries where these changes have been made.

It’s important to remember that anybody making changes to markers on their birth certificates would make a statutory declaration in front of a Justice of the Peace under penalty of perjury. The ability to more easily change the gender marker on your birth certificate can’t be carried out on a whim or with dubious intent. The changes proposed simply brings the process for changing all major forms of identification in line with one another.

Minister Tracey Martin has a moment in our history to do the right thing. Fran Wilde led the way with gay law reform.

But the movement for social justice and inclusion did not end thirty-three years ago. Just as the feminist movement still has much to accomplish.

We cannot, as a society, exclude a small minority by creating a system or practice that separates people according to their status as trans-gendered.

That is apartheid.

And we’re all agreed that apartheid is a bad thing?

To Minister Martin I say this:  thirty-three years years ago, your Parliamentary predecessor, Fran Wilde, did the right thing by standing up for gay men. She endured a storm of personal threats and vitriol that would wither most of us.

But she stood up for what was right.

Will you do the same; will you stand up for what is right?

It’s not a difficult question. Fran Wilde knew the answer.

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Acknowledgement: this author wishes to thank Andrea and others in the Wellington trans-community for sharing their experiences  and allowing me to honour their stories. – Frank Macskasy

* Name changed to protect ‘Andrea’s’ and ‘Sharon’s’ privacy and prevent harassment.

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References

Dictionary.com: Apartheid

Radio NZ: Births, deaths and marriages bill deferred to allow more public consultation

NZ History: Homosexual law reformPage 4 – Reforming the law

The Right To Self ID: What is the Births Deaths and Marriages Act?

YWCA: We support trans rights in Aotearoa

Radio NZ: Sex self-identification debate a ‘cesspool of harmful stereotypes’

Additional

Radio NZ: Transgender and non-binary communities disappointed at bill deferral

Robinhead: Gender Roles

Previous related blogposts

First they came

Fairfax media and Kiwiblog revise incorrect story denigrating trans-people

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 28 February 2019.

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Tracey Martin – The Children’s Champion

1 November 2017 1 comment

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From a blogpost I wrote on 31 December 2013;

Tracey Martin – one of Parliament’s best kept “secrets”. One to watch out for as her career in politics is on the rise. Recently elevated to Deputy Leader of NZ First, she has the potential to increase her Party’s public approval

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NZ First’s Tracey Martin, Minister for Children

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Nearly four years later, and my prediction has become reality. On 25 October, incoming Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, announced that NZ First’s talented Tracey Martin would be appointed to the new Labour-NZF-Green cabinet as a full-ranking Minister;

Tracey Martin (NZ First): Minister for Children; Internal Affairs; Seniors; Associate Minister of Education

… Ms Ardern said New Zealand First’s Tracey Martin would be a strong advocate for children in her ministerial position, which also oversees Oranga Tamariki, the Ministry for Vulnerable Children.

I fully endorse Ms Martin’s appointment to this position. In this blogger’s own experience, Ms Martin should prove to be a dedicated champion to lift children out of the poverty-trap created after thirtythree years of the failed neo-liberal experiment.

In April 2012, Jazmine Heka took a petition to then Opposition MP and NZ First spokesperson for Children, Tracey Martin. The petitions called for;

  1. To provide free healthy school lunches to all children attending schools
  2. To provide free healthcare for all children including prescription costs
  3. To introduce warrant of fitness’s for all rental homes

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Jazmine Heka, anti-Poverty campaigner, meets with Tracey Martin, Member of Parliament.

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There was wide-ranging discussion between Jazmine and Ms Martin with the MP treating her guest with respect. She listened to Jazmine for a full hour, discussing dental treatment in schools; food in schools; a warrant of fitness for all rental housing, and poverty in general.

As I reported at the time;

Ms Martin recalled when, in her youth, every school had a dental nurse and clinic-room on school-grounds, and children’s teeth were properly looked after,

Our policy is that all children must have access to free dental healthcare for the period of their schooling.”

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In depth discussion surrounding the nature of school meals drew constructive discussion from Jazmine and Tracey.

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This blogger also reported Ms Martin’s willingness to draw from other political parties;

Ms Martin agreed and referred to a “brilliant speech” by Russell Norman (Green Co-Leader), where he revealed that government had lost $2  billion of of last year’s tax-take. She said, “three years of that and we wouldn’t have to sell any state assets“.

Had those tax cuts [2009 and 2010]  not happened, we could afford free healthcare for all children.

Ms Martin referred to the Mana Party’s financial transactions tax, which she said  Annette Sykes called “the Hone Heke” tax, and which “was worth looking at, and worth taking really seriously“. It was understood that such a FTT would have to be internationally implemented, as it might otherwise risk causing a capital-flight.

The strength of the Labour-NZF-Greens coalition are the core values which each constituent party has to offer. All three have constructive, forward-looking policies and dedicated, intelligent people willing to deliver them for a better future for our country.

If the willingness of a member of parliament to sit and listen to a sixteen year old is any indication, then our new Minister for Children has been an encouraging,  positive first step for our new government.

Somewhat presciently, I wrote five years ago;

The discussion moved to a related issue, and Ms Heka asked about NZ First’s policy regarding having a high-ranking minister – or even the Prime Minister – as the Minister for Children. The premise being that if the Prime Minister was also the Minister for Children, then it would give extra impetus to policies as they might impact on his portfolio; the nations young people.

Ms Martin agreed saying,

“Well, to keep that in the view, I would have thought. To make sure that it’s part of every conversation; how will this, downstream, affect children.“

If the Prime Minister was Minister for children, it was suggested, then as with US President, Harry Truman,  “The Buck Stops Here” on child poverty issues.

Jacinda Ardern has appointed herself Minister for Child Poverty Reduction. Hopefully, Ms Ardern and Ms Martin will create a powerful partnership with which to combat and eradicate the scourge of child poverty in this country.

Postscript: Meanwhile, back in Rabid Rightwing Ratbag Land…

Right-wing idiocy and mis-information has reached new depths in West Australia with the publication of a scurrilous piece of fake news/opinion, by conservative  so-called journalist and former The West Australian editor, Paul Murray.

In an error-laden, ratbag opinion piece on 25 October, Murray  suggested that homelessness and child poverty did not exist in New Zealand. He dismissed poverty and homelessness;

Well, I’d describe it as hyperbole. If they haven’t got enough to survive they would be dying.

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An inquiry by the New Zealand Herald found Labour was using a very broad definition of homelessness by international standards and judged that claim “mostly fiction”.

While Labour used a university study showing 41,000 people were “severely housing deprived” — meaning sleeping rough, living in cars or garages, or in emergency or temporary shelters — official government figures for those “without habitable accommodation” was about 4000.

Which would be  inexplicable, considering  that  Bill English promised to cut child poverty by 100,000 during the election campaign last month;

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If poverty and homelessness was a “fiction” as Murray asserted, then the Leader of the National Party promised on 5 September, in front of hundreds of thousands of viewers, to raise 100,000 non-existent children out of poverty. And the mainstream media bought it.

Quite a ‘trick’.

He also derided Winston Peters’ decision for his choice in coalition partner;

These themes were echoed by Peters when justifying his decision to bypass the Nationals who won 44.45 per cent of the vote and to install Labour which polled just 36.89 and only 43.16 when combined with the supportive Greens.

Murray omitted to mention that a Labour-Green-NZ First bloc represented 50.4% of the popular vote. Obviously basic arithmetic is not his strong point because 50.4% beats 44.45% every time.

But his outright misrepresentation of facts reached it’s nadir when he shamelessly claimed;

The NZ Nationals got debt down to 38 per cent of GDP compared to Australia’s 47 per cent. Watch that figure skyrocket.

Either Murray is woefully ignorant of recent New Zealand history – or he is wilfully lying. Anyone with even a basic knowledge of facts should  know that by 2008  Labour had paid down net debt to 5.4%;

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National did not pay down debt. They grew it massively, fuelled by two unaffordable tax cuts (2009 and 2010) and shameless corporate welfare.

Never let facts get in the way of a right-wingers flight of fantasy.

This is the sort of rubbish that Labour, NZ First, and the Greens will have to deal with in the coming years.

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References

Radio NZ:  New government ministers revealed

The West Australian:  Opinion – Why the New Zealand poll experiment matters to Australia

Mediaworks:  English says new poverty reduction target was planned

Trading Economics:  New Zealand Government Net Debt to GDP

Other blogs

The Standard:  After nine long years National discovers there is child poverty in New Zealand

Previous related blogposts

2013 – The Year that Was

Ms Heka Goes To Wellington.

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 27 October 2017.

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Ms Heka Goes To Wellington. (Part #Rua)

17 April 2012 2 comments

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Continued from Ms Heka Goes To Wellington

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Shortly after concluding our meeting with Ms Martin, our party met with Metiria Turei’s PA, and we were escorted to the Green’s 14th floor office in Bowen House.

At the Reception, we were introduced to waiting ‘Dominion Post‘ journalist, Kate Chapman, and photographer Kent Blechynden. A TV crew was present as well and after making introductions with the ‘Dompost‘ people, this blogger asked the TV crew,

Are you here for Jazmine Heka’s meeting with Metiria Turei?”

The cameraman replied,

No, we were here for something else.”

This blogger replied,

Oh? Never mind. Come along for the interview anyway. You’re more than welcome and more the merrier.”

Our party, with journalists in-tow, filed into another Conference Room – this one having a magnificent view of the Beehive; Bowen State Building, and the Thorndon hills in the background.

Ms Turei joined us almost immediatly, and more introductions were made,

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Jazmine Heka - Wellington - 13 April 2012

Jamine Heka meeting Greens co-leader, Metiria Turei.

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Ms Turei started by saying that,

We have been campaigning  strongly for a number of years around  issues to do with child poverty and income inequity. The gap between rich and poor is getting bigger and as a result life is harder for everybody, not just those at the real  bottom.

At the election we campaigned very strongely on addressing child poverty and we had four main proposals that we were putting to the public about that.

To fix rental housing.

To increase the income of beneficiaries,  to what’s now called the  in-work tax credits, but would actually be an extension of benefits.

Extending the Training Incentive Allowance to more beneficiaries.”

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Jazmine Heka - Wellington - 13 April 2012

Getting down to it, and dsiscussing the important issues of the day.

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Ms Heka said that those were good policies and asked if the Greens had a time-frame to achieve their policies if they were part of a government.

Ms Turei replied that they would be working toward a goal of getting 100,00o lifted out of poverty in one term. She said that part of New Zealand’s problem was the “working poor”, where people working full time were still in poverty because their wages were to low.

Ms Turei said she recently talked with young children in a poor area. She said that one child, with the gaming nick-name “Master Nighthawk”said to her, “we don’t want to be rich, we just want everyone to be ok“.

Ms Turei noticed that none of the children she spoke with belittled anyone else, and seemed supportive of one another. She noiced  a strong spirit of mutual support between them.

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Jazmine Heka - Wellington - 13 April 2012

The Greens party-policy position was close Ms Heka’s concerns and practically ‘mirrored’ aspects to her petitions.

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Ms Turei said it would take a long time to eliminate poverty . She said many of the causes for poverty were deeply ingrained this country such as having 70,000 too few homes for low-income earners and beneficiaries. Building more homes would create more jobs, creating  economic growth downstream,  with other businesses benefitting from increased housing construction.

Ms Turei commended Ms Heka, saying that “this is the sort of pressure the government needs to act“. She added that this was “the sort of thing the public needs to see happening“.

Ms Turei then asked what sort of support or assistance the Greens could offer Ms Heka and her campaign. Ms Heka asked if her petition could be circulated amongst Gree Party members.  Ms Turei said she’d be happy to assist, and that copies would indeed be included in any future mail-out.

Ms Heka then asked if Ms Turei would sign her petition, to which the Green co-leader readily consented,

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Jazmine Heka - Wellington - 13 April 2012

Ms Turei was only too happy to sign Ms Heka’s petition and said that the Green Party would be willing to circulate copies to everyone on their mailing list.

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Ms Turia commended Ms Heka for her stand on this important issue, and asked her how she felt about standing out in the public eye.

Ms Heka replied that she felt that having it come from someone as young as her – “a child’s perspective” – sent a “powerful” message to the government. She said it was not something she wanted to do but felt she had no choice, especially after watching Bryan Bruce’s documentary last November.

Ms Heka said that it should be the government leading the way instead of kids like her.

The half hour alloocated to our party grew to nearly a full hour, and both women filled the time discussing various matters relating to the issue of poverty in New Zealand. This blogger noticed that they were both very much on the “same wavelength”.

Ms Turei eventually excused herself, as she had another appointment to keep.

The ‘Dominion Post‘ photographer, Kent Blechynden, asked Ms Heka to pose for several photographs, which she (shyly) consented.  Again, this blogger sensed that Ms Heka – like most teenagers – reluctantly agreed to being photographed. But her sense of committment to her cause, though, over-rode her natural shyness,

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Jazmine Heka - Wellington - 13 April 2012

‘Dominion Post’ photographer, Kent Blechynden, lining up Ms Heka for the photo-shoot.

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Jazmine Heka - Wellington - 13 April 2012

Photographer, Kent Blechynden, snapping away for the upcoming ‘Dominion Post’ story.

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Below, the story and photograph as it appeared in the ‘Dominion Post’ on the following morning,

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* Recorded and transcribed mostly verbatim.

Contact Details for Children Against Poverty

Email: childrenagainstpoverty@hotmail.co.nz

Facebook: Children-Against-Poverty

Snailmail: PO Box 585, Whangarei 0140

Additional Media

Divided Auckland: Overcrowding a hotbed for infections

Jazmine Heka grabs politicians’ attention

Teen becomes leading voice on child poverty

Girl with a mission

Teenager brings child poverty crusade to Parliament

Other Blogger’s posts

Jazmine Heka – Hero of the Week

Copyright (c)  Notice

All images are freely available to be used, with following provisos,

  1. Use must be for non-commercial purposes.
  2. Where purpose of  use is  commercial, a donation to Russell School Breakfast Club is requested.
  3. For non-commercial use, images may be used only in context, and not to denigrate individuals.
  4. Acknowledgement of source is requested.

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Ms Heka Goes To Wellington.

17 April 2012 4 comments

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When Bryan Bruce’s excellent documentary, “Inside Child Poverty“,  screened last year, New Zealand’s poor  and powerless burst into the living rooms of middle-New Zealand like never before. It caused a furore, screening only days before the election and becoming an overnight ‘hot’ political issue.

As Bryan Bruce said,

“… It’s not because their parents don’t care. They do.

They’re just poor. Typically they can’t afford Bryan Bruce Inside Child Povertyheating so they huddle together in one room and in large families that’s how diseases such as tuberculosis, meningitis and rheumatic fever are spread,” he explains.

Bruce then travels to Sweden to find out why the Swedes are second for child health and New Zealand is third from the bottom.

“What I discovered is that they work smarter,” says Bruce. “They know that for every dollar they spend on prevention they save about $4 on cure. They have a completely free health care system for children up to the age of 18”. ” – Source

Had it not been for a certain infamous Epsom tea-party, which distracted the public’s attention, it might possibly  have swung the election in Labour’s favour.

Bryan Bruce’s stark, no-holds-barred truth  certainly encouraged one person to take up the cause; Jazmine Heka, 16, student,

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Full Story

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Upon learning of her campaign this blogger wrote, commending Jazmine Heka for  having the courage to make such  a public stand.

See: Kiwi Hero: Jazmine Heka

There is something energising and uplifting about youthful idealism, that is positively ‘infectious’ to others. Youthful idealism seems to  compel older, supposedly ‘wiser’, folk to reassess pressing issues and shamefully we ask ourselves; why are things not any better? Why is it left to children and young folk to prick our consciences?

Why indeed.

Soon after, this blogger wrote  another related blogpiece on Karen, who was promoting not one – but three petitions sponsored by Ms Heka.

See:  Petition opposing child poverty gains strength

The petitions called for;

  1. To provide free healthy school lunches to all children attending schools
  2. To provide free healthcare for all children including prescription costs
  3. To introduce warrant of fitness’s for all rental homes

(The petitions can be downloaded here.)

That blogstory was shared throughout this blogger’s Facebook contacts, including Ms Heka. In March, Ms Heka contacted this blogger explaining that she was visiting Wellington and could we assist her in meeting members of Parliament, to promote her campaign and petitions against child poverty .

It was a privilege to be asked. Phone calls were made. Messages left. Appointments confirmed.

Due to a mix-up in airline arrangements, Ms Heka bussed from Whangarei to Auckland, and after five hours, bussed from Auckland to Wellington over Thursday night. By Friday morning, when we arrived to pick her up at 9am, she and her friend had had only two hours sleep.

Despite her fatigue, she was cheerful and keen. It would be a long day ahead of us.

Our first appointment was with Tracey Martin, New Zealand First’s spokesperson on Youth and Women’s Affairs (amongst other portfolios).

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Jazmine Heka - Wellington - 13 April 2012

First priority: coffee! We all needed to be wide awake and alert.

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Jazmine Heka - Wellington - 13 April 2012

Outside the main doors to Bowen House parliamentary annex. Petitions in hand!

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Jazmine Heka - Wellington - 13 April 2012

Outside Bowen House, Jazmine was recognised by a woman collecting for Rape Crisis. Jazmine took the opportunity to explain the purpose of her petitions to them.

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Jazmine Heka - Wellington - 13 April 2012

Both women were only to happy to sign all three of Jazmine’s petition.

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Once through security, NZ First MP, Tracey Martin came to meet us at Reception and we adjourned to a nearby conference room,

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Jazmine Heka - Wellington - 13 April 2012

Jazmine Heka, anti-Poverty campaigner, meets with Tracey Martin, Member of Parliament.

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The conversation between Ms Heka and Ms Martin took up the full hour we had been allotted, and was deep and wide-ranging.

Ms Heka asked if NZ First had any policies relating to children’s issues.

Ms Martin replied,

“We haven’t got a specific child poverty plan… but there are probably several policies like dental care , for example. *

Ms Martin referred to NZ First’s under 5’s free healthcare programme that had been introduced in 1997. She added that NZF had been a dominant supporter for the “HIPPY” programme, which is a reading and home educational programme directed at  several  low decile areas.

Ms Martin asked if the petition calling for “free healthcare for all children including prescription costs” also involved increased access to dental care for children. She said that lack of dental care was a real problem, especially in the north, where incomes were low and unemployment was high.

Ms Martin said that the mobile dental clinic these days only assessed the child’s teeth, and then advised parents what remedial work needed to be done. The mobile dentist did not carry out the actual remedial dental work themselves,

We shifted from dental clinics at schools to mobile dental clinics. They come under the DHB services.  What we’re now hearing is, and I’ve got to have  this confirmed , but what we’re now hearing is that the mobile clinic  will certainly go to the school and they’ll look at the children’s teeth but they won’t fix anybody So the parent then has to drive the child from where ever that is to the local largest township to go to the dentist to have the tooth fixed.

That’s wonderful when you’re in an urban area perhaps, but… you got to take time off from work to do that. So what that means for our rural areas where many of our lower deciles are, is that the parents now have the costs of transporting their children… 

The parents aren’t going to take those children. Because they can’t afford the gas, to get the children to the free dentist in Te Awamutu.  That is why we put in free mobile dental clinics.

So, you know, there are issues that come up, issue by issue by issue like that. That one hasn’t even broken yet. That one  I’m still waiting to make sure  that I know 100%  that’s it’s taking place.

Ms Martin recalled when, in her youth, every school had a dental nurse and clinic-room on school-grounds, and children’s teeth were properly looked after,

Our policy is that all children must have access to free dental healthcare for the period of their schooling.”

Increased funding for mobile dental vans was one aspect she felt was important in this area.

Ms Heka questioned further,

So what about, like, all their healthcare? Not just dental?

Ms Martin’s response,

Well, it’s in our manifesto. The policy is that we  had  childcare extended and free doctor’s visits for under 5s through to all primary school aged children, so up to the age of 10. And we wanted that to cover 7 day, 24 hour care. When you live close to a major  hospital that’s not a problem. But when you don’t, like in Warkworth for example…the closest emergency place on a Sunday was Red Beach  that’s 30 minutes ‘that’ way [indicates]  and that cost me  $110 to have him x-rayed there so that then  they would put him into hospital. Or the parent in Warkworth   would have to drive the hour and a half to Starship.”

Ms Heka suggested the option of having a doctor in school to check out kids.

Ms Martin nodded in agreement and said they had raised this issue in 2006 with children being assessed for ailments such as glue-ear, and for hearing tests carried out. She said “it was all very well for them being done there, but they weren’t being followed up, and some of that was around  the cost of having to follow up with doctor’s visits, etc, etc.”

Ms Martin said that this issue had been raised in the media, asking for more intervention in schools.  She said it might be feasible if, for example, the largest school in a “hub” of schools had a dentist and clinic, and serviced all schools within the area of the “hub”. Ms Martin referred to schools being in “clusters” so not every school would need such facilities. She suggested a doctor that went out daily to the other schools, but was based in the [largest] school.

Ms Martin was concerned at how such a programme might be funded and said it comes down to the most efficient and effective way of funding.

At this point, this blogger raised the point of how our taxation base inevitably comes into issues like this. The point was made that we have had seven  tax cuts enacted since 1986, and people wonder why we don’t have the social services we once had, or would like to have. It’s not rocket science – we still have to pay for things.

Ms Martin agreed and referred to a “brilliant speech” by Russell Norman (Green Co-Leader), where he revealed that government had lost $2  billion of of last year’s tax-take. She said, “three years of that and we wouldn’t have to sell any state assets“.

Had those tax cuts [2009 and 2010]  not happened, we could afford free healthcare for all children.

Ms Martin referred to the Mana Party’s financial transactions tax, which she said  Annette Sykes called “the Hone Heke” tax, and which “was worth looking at, and worth taking really seriously“. It was understood that such a FTT would have to be internationally implemented, as it might otherwise risk causing a capital-flight.

[Blogger’s note; it’s refreshing to see a politician referring openly and honestly to good ideas from other political parties, instead of remainly stubbornly ‘tribal’  on party-policy issues.  May this local form of ‘detente’ flourish and thrive.]

Discussion turned to school meals, as per one of Ms Heka’s petitions. Ms Martin stated asked if the petition was calling for full, hot cafetaria-type meals, or “brown-bagged” lunches? She said she had costed “brown bagged” lunches  consisting of a sandwich, muffin, piece of fruit, and a drink, at $3.52 per bag.

There was a question as to whether all children should be given school meals (whether cafeteria-style or bagged lunch) or whether it should be targetted only.

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Jazmine Heka - Wellington - 13 April 2012

In depth discussion surrounding the nature of school meals drew constructive discussion from Jazmine and Tracey.

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The pros and cons of targetting were weighed. The concensus seemed to be that targetting children from  low-income families would likely end up as a form of stigmatising.  One idea that seemed to have merit was a universal free school lunch, with an opt-out choice for parents who did not feel the need to participate.

In such an event, parents opting out could select from a range of charities where the money could be re-allocated, perhaps to other charities working with children or increased dental care . It was agreed that there were several options open to how such a programme could be managed and that a fair, workable solution was not beyond our abilities.

Ms Heka asked how NZ First would implement the programmes that her petitions were promoting.

Ms Martin replied by stating that NZ First believed that the primary cause of poverty in New Zealand was a lack of jobs,

People aren’t working. We have to create more jobs,” she said. “One way to do that is to cap the New Zealand dollar like some other countries do, which creates more employment through more exports.”

Ms Heka then asked Ms Martin about introducing a warrant of fitness for all rental housing in New Zealand. She asked if NZ First had a policy on this issue.

Ms Martin replied,

We don’t. But I think it’s a great idea!”

Ms Martin  added that the suggestion of a warrant of fitness for all rental properties tied in with NZ First’s minimum standards of care for the elderly. She said “why  would we not actually  come up with a national standard  in the same way what you’re talking about, which is we’re talking about rental properties,” and added “we’d certainly be interested“.

The discussion moved to a related issue, and Ms Heka asked about NZ First’s policy regarding having a high-ranking minister – or even the Prime Minister – as the Minister for Children. The premise being that if the Prime Minister was also the Minister for Children, then it would give extra impetus to policies as they might impact on his portfolio; the nations young people.

Ms Martin agreed saying,

Well, to keep that in the view, I would have thought. To make sure that it’s part of every conversation; how will this, downstream, affect children.

If the Prime Minister was Minister for children, it was suggested, then as with US President, Harry Truman,  “The Buck Stops Here” on child poverty issues.

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Jazmine Heka - Wellington - 13 April 2012

Discussion moved to having a high-ranking minister for children, as children were the future of this country and nothing could be more important than the wellbeing of our next generation.

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It was suggested that NZ First could make this a priority, for the future of New Zealand. Ms Martin agreed it was a matter she would raise with the NZF caucus.

The issue of Kiwi migration was touched upon, with the suggestion that people – especially young folk – were leaving New Zealand, not just because of lower wages here, but because they felt no connection with society and thus were able to up-and-leave for “greener/richer pastures” in Australia. Because we weren’t looking after them, they had no roots to keep them in New Zealand.

At that point Ms Heka, speaking from deep within her heart, gave us an insight into how young people were viewing things around them,

It feels unfair. It feels like… like if you’re not rich, you’re not counted in society. That’s the feeling I get… the feeling youth get.  I talk with people my age, in my group and stuff and that’s the feeling that they get, they don’t want to be in New Zealand ’cause the feelings not good, not right. And they feel like you’re not being looked after, and stuff.

What I think is that child poverty, like,  I feel like  it’s  swept under the carpet.  And the government, they’re not really tackling it straight ahead. It’s just being talked about; something being hidden and nothing’s done about it. They’re going around in circles. And then you got  all these children suffering and nothing’s… no one cares really…

… In the community you’ve got the Salvation Army, people like that helping but that’s not enough. We need the government to step up and actually be the leaders of it.

Ms Martin replied, and said,

So with regard to how you said about... “

At this point, she paused. Ms Heka had spoken about youth and their feelings about disconnection. It gave her pause for thought. Ms Martin continued,

“… it is an interesting feeling that is happening, and you said about  it’s unfair, that actually the country itself doesn’t necessarily care about it’s citizens. And if you look at the turnout , the voter turnout, that now we’ve  also got  citizens that think actually, ‘I can’t make a difference either, so why should I vote?”.  Now there you’ve got a real problem. Because that will get to a certain level inside your society and people will revolt.”

She added ,

I’ll take all these things back… I’ll take it back to caucus; caucus will meet again in a fortnight when Parliament comes back [from recess] and ask the guys to to start working towards policy  areas for this, for 2014.”

At the concklusion of our allotted time, Ms Heka asked if she could be kept informed on NZ First’s progress on developing the ideas that had been discussed. Ms Martin readily agreed and provided  Ms Heka with her direct contact details.

Ms Heka then asked Ms Martin if she would sign her petitions, to which the MP happily agreed.

Continued at Ms Heka Goes To Wellington  (Part #Rua)

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* Recorded and transcribed mostly verbatim.

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Additional Media

Divided Auckland: Overcrowding a hotbed for infections

Jazmine Heka grabs politicians’ attention

Teen becomes leading voice on child poverty

Girl with a mission

Teenager brings child poverty crusade to Parliament

Other Blogger’s posts

Jazmine Heka – Hero of the Week

Related

HIPPY – home interaction programme for parents and youngsters

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