Monday, February 1, 2016

Labour's Three Free Years Of Tertiary Education - A Critical Appraisal

There's no denying the palpable enthusiasm around Labour's recently announced free three years' of tertiary education policy. While there are some issues with the policy (including its glacial pace of rollout that won't fully deliver for another decade, its non-accessibility to people looking to retrain, and the lack of full funding for skilled and needed degrees like medicine) ... it's overall a pretty decent start.

But what's got me slightly annoyed at present is the number of pro-Labour people I've sighted on social media claiming this is some sort of ground-breaking never-before-seen-in-New-Zealand-Political-History moment.

It isn't.

We used to have free tertiary education in this country - and not just for three years, either.

What happened to it? Well, a certain fellow who's drawing a bit of opprobium at the moment called Phil Goff who was Labour's Tertiary Education Minister at the time ... went and started charging fees for higher learning.

One wonders whether Goff will be allowed to cross the floor and vote against Labour's planned free tertiary initiative (should he still be in Parliament by the time it's rolled out) on the basis of his own previous record on this issue, as well.

Anyway. Progressively-inclined parties never really gave up the fight to fix what Labour had done. I'm pretty sure The Alliance made noises about this sort of reformism as part of its snap-back against Rogernomics in the 1990s, while in more recent times both New Zealand First and the Green Party have advocated solidly for a return to the zero-fees model.

NZ First's embracing of the abolition of tertiary education fees holds a particular point of pride in my memory, as it was one of my first 'back-room' political skirmishes to get something passed.

However, there are two key areas where I definitely think Labour's missed the mark.

The first issue is how little Labour appears to be ready to do to help those present-day (and former) students who're even now groaning under the weight of serious student-loan debt. It's great that Labour has joined NZ First and The Greens in wanting to do something about the ruinous burden of tertiary fees which cause students to go into debt in the first place ... but this does nothing for the more than seven hundred thousand New Zealanders who have a student loan presently, nor the $15 billion in debt which they currently owe.

New Zealand First, by contrast, *does* have policy in this area. It's called Dollar-for-Dollar, and it helps those students and graduates who were unfortunate enough to be born in the quarter century wherein NZ decided inexplicably to abandon free tertiary education. How does it work? It's a debt write-off scheme. For every dollar you put in in repayments, the state matches that dollar with one of its own. This incentivizes quick repayment, gets rid of a large chunk of "bad debt", and does something for those present and previous borrowers who're often neglected in the mad scramble-a-rush to do things for as-yet the unenrolled (or perhaps even born) masses.

If Labour is serious about helping Kiwis who've been disadvantaged by its previous imposition of fees for tertiary education, it needs to consider implementing something similar.

The second area where there's a clear gap in Labour's tertiary policy concerns the notion of a Universal Student Allowance. Living costs can represent a serious barrier and impediment to pursuing tertiary education for thousands of potential and present students; with thousands more going into debt, forgoing food, or otherwise detrimentally altering their lives in order to make ends meet while studying. While there is a student allowance available at present for some students, the way accession is set up at the moment it's all too easy for many to fall through the cracks of the eligibility criterion.

Rolling out a universal student allowance would help to support students while they study, in ways that simply reducing the amount they have to borrow to fund their course fees simply wouldn't. We already feel quite comfortable, as a nation, paying the unemployed to survive (and look for work) - why not do the same for students who are seeking to better themselves and their future earning potential.

Now once again, this is an area where Labour's shortfall is not shared by other parties. New Zealand First has advocated for a Universal Student Allowance consistently right the way since our founding in 1993. The Green Party has also been pretty solid on it. Labour, to its credit, did flirt with the idea when attempting to secure a fourth term in 2008, but the policy appears to have fallen from favour since then, and was not part of its 2014 (or subsequent) platform.

In sum, then, Labour's announcement of three years' free tertiary education by 2025 isn't quite the unprecedented 'game-changer' some are making it out to be. It's a good first move, certainly. And while, on its own, it obviously loses out by comparison to other parties' actual free tertiary education policies, for the next generation it nonetheless represents a considerable improvement.

But if we're serious about fixing the way we do tertiary education in this country and restoring the standards of equity, accessibility and affordability which we once enjoyed, then more needs to be done.

I look forward to upcoming policy announcements from Labour which serve to rectify this situation, and certainly hope they take appropriate heed and inspiration from the already-extant policy of their potential coalition partners in New Zealand First and The Greens.

Because we can't afford to let another generation go through the same thing and come out owning fifteen billion.

Friday, January 29, 2016

With Goff & Shearer Showing Their True Colours, The Number Of Parties You Can Trust To Protect NZ Sovereignty Shrinks

There's something sadly inevitable about Labour self-sabotaging on issues of genuine and serious national importance. We saw it several times over the last two electoral cycles with a succession of frankly bizarre policy decisions on the campaign-trail that helped to keep Labour (and, for that matter, a presumably Labour-led left-wing coalition government) out of office.

It should therefore come as little surprise that the two men who presided over these defeats, former Labour leaders Phil Goff and David Shearer - men who, if we'd listened to Labour may very well have been Prime Minister - have come out and done exactly the same thing on the TPPA.

And yet somehow, it still rankles.

Labour activists can take to social media to claim (with some legitimacy) that these two men's personal stances do not represent the Labour Party as a whole; and Bomber can mount a valiant rearguard action for Phil Goff's Mayoralty campaign by pointing out Goff remains the presumptive left-wing option for Auckland's top job.

But any way you choose to slice it, the fairly public spiking of the Party Line by these two former leaders represents fairly incontrovertible evidence that there remains a prominent and powerfully represented Neoliberal wing to the Labour Party.

Matters grow somewhat worse when we consider Andrew Little's defence/contextualization for his renegade MP's remarks.

The justification for Phil Goff being able to take an overtly pro-TPPA and anti-sovereignty stance, according to Andrew Little, is that it's allowable on the basis of Goff's previous involvement in kicking off the TPPA in the first place. As you may recall, he was the Labour Party Trade Minister under whose watch this whole abomination got off the ground in the first place.

Goff himself goes further. He's explicitly fine with a loss of sovereignty for New Zealand as part of this trade deal, and points out that Labour's record includes other instances of sacrificing our sovereignty for somewhat nominal trade-deal gain.

So why's Little allowing this? It's not just because Goff is not long for Parliament due to his local body career ambitions. It's because Goff is free-and-frankly stating and defending Labour's record when it comes to endorsing pernicious trade deals.

I also have little doubt that there are other not-so-closet neoliberals in Labour's upper echelons who are having their views on this matter represented by Goff and Shearer. By allowing one MP the freedom to speak his mind on the issue, Little is therefore creating a 'safety-valve' for any more-than-residual neoliberal opinion still hankering around his Caucus.

In any case, even though I've been quite hard on Labour both in the past and in this post, I should like to warmly congratulate a large chunk of the Labour Party - including its *present* leader, if not two of his immediate predecessors - for taking a stand against the loss of sovereignty represented by the TPPA.

It may have taken them quite some time to decide what on earth they were actually going to do, and which side of the fence they'd line up on ... but they have, eventually and for the most part, made the right decision.

But with highly public outbursts from prominent and high-powered MPs undermining and undercutting Labour's announced stance on this issue, it's not hard to see why many voters are asking questions about whether they can actually trust Labour to genuinely represent their views and play a vital role in stopping the loss of our sovereignty - as well as other neoliberal shenanigans - dead in their tracks.

There's only two parties in Parliament which have been dead set against this kind of thing right fro the beginning: New Zealand First and The Greens.


Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Referendum Approach To Cannabis Law Reform - An Idea Whose Time Has Come

A #Reeferendum represents the best way forward for cannabis law reform at this point in time. We should therefore all be pleased that it's no longer just New Zealand First advocating on behalf of one. Thank you Helen Kelly for helping to lend legitimacy to the Reformist side of this debate.

But why a referendum? Why not go with the tried and tested previous approaches of Private Members' Bills or voting for the Aotearoa Legalize Cannabis Party?

Because, frankly put, these simply don't work.

It's arguably something of a travesty that the ALCP at the last Election scored nearly double the support of the "party" which brought us legalized synthetic cannabis, yet doesn't similarly possess a seat in Parliament with which to advance its cause. But that's the electoral system for you.

Meanwhile, there's a lack of serious political will on the part of our MPs to get even the best-thought-through legalization, decriminalization, or medicinal marijuana bill over the line.

To be fair, both the Parliamentary climate and broader political terrain are changing. No doubt inspired by successful US experiments in this area, popular support for the reform of cannabis laws continues to wax strong. MPs and Party Spokespeople have responded to this trend, and are softening (or strengthening, depending on side) their languageor even actively campaigning on the issue.

But we have some ways to go before enough MPs are prepared to get up, stand up, and be counted with their votes to change the law.

Opting for a referendum instead, however, represents something of a 'softer' option. Putting forward a Private Member's Bill to give effect to or enact a referendum is viewed in a rather different light to acting directly to change the law.

After all, it's merely giving effect to the pre-standing Will of the People on the issue.

And popular opinion seems to be fairly squarely on the side of law reform.

This is particularly the case in the wake of the synthetic cannabinoid "dairy dak" debacle, which not only demonstrated that legitimate selling of drugs is within the realms of possibility (and, for that matter, that it's something the government's quite prepared to countenance) - but more importantly conclusively demonstrated to many New Zealanders that the continued illegality of regular weed is allowing far more damaging trades to flourish.

Numerous examples from the United States and further afield have also proven time and time again that successful drug law reform isn't just a pipe-dream, but instead a viable - even desirable - way forward.

The trouble is, in the absence of a mechanism to turn popular will into political reality, the feelings and opinions of the electorate on this matter remain impotent.

They're roadblocked by the seeming fear many politicians have of being seen to make a change.

A referendum is therefore the logical way forward, as once enacted it removes politicians from the process by allowing us to go around them in order to get our voices heard.

We finally get to have our say.

It's also the mechanism by which a number of US states successfully secured their own pathways to cannabis law reform both last year and earlier, proving (albeit in a number of foreign contexts) its efficacy as a change-vector for this issue.

Now to be fair, there are a number of potential issues and obstacles with pursuing this avenue to law-change here in New Zealand.

First and foremost is finding an MP or MPs prepared to stump up and sign their names to a Private Members' Bill. It doesn't matter whether the referendum process used is the Citizens Initiated Referendum one or a Parliamentary-initiated binding proposal. If we want our result to count like the Flag Referendum rather than being ignored like the Asset Sales Referendum, we need an enactment of Parliament to make it so.

And while I have no doubt whatsoever that there are more than a few MPs in Parliament right now who'd be prepared to support a cannabis referendum bill once it was already submitted, I regrettably suspect that there might be some difficulty to be had in finding an errant MP brave enough to sign their name to and put forward the bill in question.

The next obstacle will be ensuring sufficient MP support for the putative bill to make it through Parliament.

Assuming no abstentions (which reduce the numbers necessary for victory), this requires 61 votes.

This is a tall order, but not necessarily an insurmountable one. A clear and decisive majority of Parliamentarians, after all, voted for the Psychoactive Substances Act and its commitment to nominally evidence-based drug policy last term, while the number of staunch 'moral conservatives' in both National and Labour appears to have decreased somewhat in the interim.

So the obvious question is: "where to from here?"

At the moment, Concerned Citizens and cannabis crusaders need to be asking the strategic political questions.

What MPs to target for lobbying? What arguments to use in swaying swinging Parliamentarian consciences - and more importantly, the predominantly greying voters said politicians seem inordinately to listen to.

How, in a nutshell, do we turn the sadly extant quagmire of political intransigence on this issue into resolute and galvanized popular/parliamentary political action.

Because ultimately - whether you support a broader use of medicinal cannabis, less restrictive decriminalization, or full-blown legalization ... this is an idea whose time has come. And who can argue against the greater use of the fruits of democracy.

With the tool of the #Reeferendum, we finally have the ability to make meaningful progress on this issue.

Let's make the best possible use of this opportunity.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Why I'm Not Celebrating The Martin Shkreli Arrest. Much.

Ok, so the title's a little misleading. I guffawed when news of Shkreli's arrest came to my attention - as, seemingly, did just about everyone else on my corner of the internet.

If you've just joined us, and were living in heretofore blissful ignorance as to who and what Shkreli was ... allow me to disabuse you. Remember that pharmaceuticals investment exec from a few months back who massively jacked up the price of a vital medication (by about five thousand percent) - and then appeared ready to "fight the whole internet" when people asked him to relent?

Few men in modern times have inspired such widespread revulsion. On the (American) political spectrum, everyone from Bernie Sanders to Donald Trump appeared to believe he was a nasty, entitled piece of work - and arguably more than a little evil.

Pro-tip: when even The Trump thinks you're acting like a "spoiled brat", you've gone so far over the line they might as well build a wall over it.

So - at least initially -  the fact that one hundred percent of people who've bought the latest Wu Tang Clan album are now in federal custody seemed like a cause for celebration.

But then I sat down and thought about the situation ... and something just didn't add up.

People were talking about how Shkreli's arrest was evidence of "karma" in action. And while that's certainly an amusing and narratively appropriate thought (to say nothing of the added levity that this comes less than a week after the whole Wu Tang fiasco), the evidence unfortunately doesn't bear this out.

Shkreli's being done for securities fraud. The charges he's facing are for offences which he committed in the late 2000s and early 2010s. He's not in custody for the vile acts of pharma-profiteering which earned him a hefty score in public opprobium and reviled infamy earlier this year.

Those outrages aren't illegal. Hence why (with the possible exception of some amusing Tinder rejections) he wasn't really punished for them.

Ripping off a few multi-millionaire investors, however, was against the law. And he'll very likely suffer some reasonably serious consequences for it. (Which may play out quite positively for his purported future rap career - Shkreli's gone from shoehorning the truth by claiming he's hard and got cred because ... get this ... "I sell drugs!" to potentially facing jail)

And that's the problem here.


Think about it this way:

All this jubilation about Shkreli's arrest misses the point that the *wrong* crime is being punished.

Because according to the American legal system, it's apparently entirely a-ok for one self-declared gangsta-capitalist to extort ordinary people by holding them hostage for the price of their vitally needed medicine.

But taking from the wealthy rather than the unhealthy? That'll get the book thrown at you.

See how this is an inequitable situation?

Now don't get me wrong. Investment fraud is a serious issue, and those Shkreli has misled possess every right to demand justice. But in all the noise and self-congratulatory hubbub about Shkreli's arrest for securities fraud, there's a very real danger that we lose sight of the real issue here: the pressing need for serious reform in how America (and thus, much of the rest of the world) does pharmacy and drug-selling.

Shkreli made his money (the non-Ponzi scheme parts of it, anyway) by exploiting FDA loopholes. Those loopholes still exist.

And 'Big Pharma' is probably quite pleased Shkreli's now out of their game. His balls-out no-holds-barred approach to shameless profiteering by maliciously manipulating drug-prices is pretty much how many of the big guys in the industry make their millions anyway. The only difference was how brazen and bereft of sound PR Shkreli was about it.

Now that Shkreli's presumably more worried about his own court-case than bailing out errant rappers from prison, he'll presumably have less time, energy and effort to inadvertently and incandescently (to say nothing of "indecently") highlight how the pharmaceutical industry operates.

That's why Shkreli's arrest *can't* be the end of the conversation. We haven't "won" anything - not really, at any rate. If anything, the fact he's now in custody simply strengthens a perception being deliberately fostered by others in the pharmaceutical industry that Shkreli was a rogue and a 'bad egg' - rather than a shining, stinking embodiment of conscience-free profiteering to which they all blandly aspire; and to some extent partake in. Getting jubilant about his comeuppance changes the focus to minor-retribution rather than attempting to force real systemic change

So have a laugh at some of the many - and glorious - Shkreli-memes that are presently circulating the Internet. They're quite funny - and needless to say, eminently well deserved.

But remember: Shkreli's emphatically just the tip of the iceberg. He represents an extreme - but not the exception - of industry practice. And his arrest changes nothing.

For meaningful change to occur, the entire system needs to be put in the dock - not just one public bete-noir fraudster who got caught with his hand in the till.

Monday, December 21, 2015

White Ribbon NZ Plays 'Spot The Difference' Defending Prime Minister

Yesterday, White Ribbon New Zealand issued a statement concerning the Prime Minister's recent on-air antics. This was in response to a petition that had been in circulation which called for the Prime Minister to be dropped as a White Ribbon Ambassador due to the fact that our dear PM appears to have a bit of a serial problem with trivializing sexual assault.

Not a great look for a charity whose purpose is to remind us all that as applies sexual violence ... "It's not OK".

Their statement on Key reads, and I quote:

"White Ribbon asks men to stand up and not remain silent when we see behaviour that is violent and/or demeaning to women. Remaining silent allows the violence and sexism to go unchallenged and to be accepted. [...] Recently, The Rock radio station created a segment that referenced male rape in a manner that trivialised this horrific violence. It was an awful exercise in bad taste and helped to perpetuate violence by normalising and trivialising it. We understand that some people won’t see it that way, it will be in their eyes just a joke. We however do not agree."

So far, so good.

But then it also states:

"As many people know, a White Ribbon Ambassador (the Prime Minister) was involved in on-air segment on the Rock which was highly offensive. We have reached out to the Prime Minister, and we are informed that he did not know what was about to occur, and did not at the time comprehend the rape references or make any. We take the Prime Minister at his word."

There is, needless to say, more than a bit of a contradiction here. White Ribbon NZ can't have it both ways.

Even assuming it's possible to believe that a middle-aged and very much theoretically mature man *didn't* comprehend what dropping the soap while behind bars was supposed to connotate and entail, this is hardly the first strike.

Who could forget his shameful conduct of less than a month ago in attempting to use rape (or, at least, the supporting and endorsement of rapists) as a political weapon during the Christmas Island debacle - and his hiding behind the Speaker shutting down female survivor voices speaking on our behalf to demand an apology from the Prime Minister.

Or what about the workplace assault (arguably with a sexualized element) which became his apparent calling-card in the popular imagination towards the start of the year. It's sufficiently closely connected to his public image and perceptions that another radio station - The Edge - felt it a good joke to give him the option of pulling on the pony-tails of a number of female staff in an on-air stunt the same week.

A successful White Ribbon Ambassador would have embodied the organization's values and virtues by "[standing] up and not [remaining] silent" in the face of problematic on-air behavior ... rather than participating in and perpetuating it. If "remaining silent allows the violence and sexism to go unchallenged and to be accepted", then what exactly does "going along with a puerile and offensive trivialization stunt lent legitimacy by the presence of the Prime Minister" do.

Furthermore, it's rather difficult to believe that the Prime Minister genuinely felt the prison-rape references went over his head. After all, his own Minister of Corrections has previously obliquely endorsed prison-rape as a deterrence policy for serious offenders.

So the questions must be asked: first, if White Ribbon believes Key's litany of conduct is acceptable for one of its Ambassadors; second, whether it would be prepared to tolerate this sort of behavior from anyone else representing the organization; and third, if not, why Key's being given a 'special pass' by White Ribbon (and surely, what else does "taking him at his word" that he didn't know what he was doing was offensive ... over and over and over again ... represent if not that).

From where I'm sitting, the answer is both obvious and sad.

It's not just that the office (if not necessarily the person) of the Prime Minister still carries a pretty significant weight of prestige and potency.

As an analyst friend of mine put it: "Look at the way the Key government responds to its critics and those who embarrass the government. The Ninth floor has become very adept at manipulating public opinion against people or groups who get offside."

And he's right. Ever since it got into office, the Key government has made quite a specialty out of manipulating public opinion to marginalize if not outright discredit groups and individuals who start to become somewhat inconvenient in their truths. In fact, this literally became such an all-pervading pattern for the government that there was literally enough of it to fill a book with. It was called Dirty Politics. You may remember it.

White Ribbon New Zealand will have made the cruel calculation as to whether the limited positive PR boost supplied by keeping the PM on retainer with a ribbon on his lapel is worth the trade-off from the continued hypocrisy inherent in lending the puller of ponytails and dropper of soap added legitimacy by *their* association with him, rather than the other way around.

They will have decided, one way or the other, that they can't afford to drop him. Either because the marginal benefits of connection to such a high-profile figure (regardless of *why* he's making headlines seemingly every other week) will be regarded as too important to lose ... or, more insidiously, because they're too afraid of the fallout to make the right call.

That's sad.

That's scary.

That's "Not OK".

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Neoliberalism, Not Drug Addiction Is The Social Ill Causing Child Poverty

There's two heavily contrasting ways people in the political sphere try and attempt to explain poverty.

Either it's the result of poor choices and personal deficiencies on the part of the individual (the right-wing view - and I note that "the individual" in question is rarely if ever thought to be the Minister of Social Development) ... or it's the result of huge and impersonal systemic failures which leave the fate of those individuals precariously unaffected by any decisions nor virtues of their own.

The real answer's probably somewhere in the middle. Yes - hard work, energy and effort can help to lift a citizen or their family out of poverty. But it's incredibly, insanely hard to do when the cards are so heavily stacked against upward mobility. We are, after all, living with a system which gives us average house-rents of over five hundred dollars a week, yet which has also caused real wages to decline by around twenty five percent since the onset of neoliberalism.

Regrettably, there are few signs that this sorry state of affairs might change at any point in the not-too-distant future. Our political system has, for three Elections running now, continued to give us National, National and more National - a party which possesses no great nor abiding interest in making fundamental alterations to our economic fate.

Instead of winning us over with serious and enduring policy solutions, then - and, y'know, actually *leading* - the National party has become amazingly adroit at coming up with cockamamie buck-passing excuses for the failures and short-comings of their governance.

When pressed about their dismal economic performance for their first two terms in office, for instance, they'd respond that our economic circumstances simply weren't their fault. National had inherited a perilous economic situation from Labour, or so the story went, and that was held up as the sort of self-evident political truth which explained everything. (Funnily enough, it's even sort-of true ... except the woeful economic orientations National inherited from Labour come down to us from the Fourth Labour Government in 1984 rather than the Fifth Labour Government in power from 1999-2008)

Equally, when Minister of Social Development Anne Tolley was asked to explain the dismal phenomenon of substantial and long-term endemic unemployment within her own electorate, she didn't give a serious response.

Instead, she ascribed the situation to the downright curious idea that "it can be a pretty good lifestyle [on the dole]", thus rendering it a "pretty tall ask sometimes to convince people" to go into paid employment instead.

That's an excuse, not an answer - and one which is custom-crafted in order to resonate with National's core support base ... people who don't particularly care to look beyond the easy explanations and subtle rhetorical rightness-feeling afforded by beneficiary-bashing in order to see how "broken" the system actually is for themselves.

Yet it was another part of Tolley's statement which popped instantly to mind when news of John Key's clanger that poverty - and especially child poverty - in this country could be largely explained by drug addiction. She'd effectively claimed that what made a benefit livable for some of her constituents was "a cash crop and good kaimoana". Or, in other words, whatever foraging they were able to pull off, and some drug-dealing to make ends meet.

I must say, it's rather extraordinary for the welfare minister of what's very theoretically a modern, first-world country and enlightened social democracy to outright state that families on the benefit apparently need to engage in illegal conduct in order to survive with a viable standard of living ... but that's our government for you.

In any case, Tolley's remarks inadvertently help to shine a light on one of the most important contributing factors to poverty in New Zealand: whether working poor or people on a benefit, we simply aren't paying enough to actually allow many of our citizens to enjoy a decent standard of living.

Experts agree, and when National announced its "hardship reduction package" as part of the 2015 Budget, academics from Victoria and Otago Universities were quick to note that families on a benefit would require between $100 and $200 a week extra in order to be above the poverty line - not the $25 a week National had promised some families.

As NZ First Social Development spokesperson Darroch Ball pointed out at the time ... the Government would have to be delusional to believe that a mere two dollars a day would have a serious tangible impact when it comes to tackling - much less ending - child poverty here in New Zealand.

The same problem applies for those actually in paid employment in the first place. The minimum wage in this country is $14.75 an hour. The living wage is estimated to be $19.25. There are more than a hundred thousand workers in New Zealand still stuck on the minimum wage, and tens of thousands more earning various figures above the minimum wage yet well below a viable income. The minimum wage also represents an ever-diminishing slice of the economic pie - in 1946, for instance, the minimum wage was 80% of the median wage ... yet has regressed to just over half the median wage in the years since.

All of this together means that even if there were any truth to Key's assertion that drugs represent a barrier to people getting off a benefit and into (presumably entry-level) paid employment ... they'd hardly be likely to find themselves escaping poverty in so doing.

Our labour market just simply doesn't work like that any more.

More to the point, on the face of all available evidence it would appear the Prime Minister is simply making up misinformation in order to 'justify' his Government's woeful lack of action on this pressing social issue.

Let's consider the facts:

At the start of last year, then-Minister for Social Development Paula Bennett trumpeted figures showing only twenty two beneficiaries had either failed drug tests or refused to take them upon being referred to jobs.

Not twenty two thousand or twenty two hundred ... twenty two individuals.

By the end of the year, this had risen to a grand total of 134. To put that figure in context, that's a hundred and thirty four failures out of a pool of nearly three hundred thousand beneficiaries nationwide.

So for these 134 people, yes I suppose it's fair to say that their drug use may have presented a bit of a barrier between them and their more full participation in the workforce. This is true, but there are literal orders of magnitude worth of difference between that number and the more than three hundred thousand Kiwi kids who are presently living in poverty. (Oh, and while we're on the subject, the New Zealand Drug Foundation have also argued that National's more punitive approach towards drug-using beneficiaries may actually *worsen* rather than ameliorate poverty while not actually meaningfully reducing beneficiaries' barriers to work)

So what's happened here?

Well, like I said. The Key-led National government doesn't have any serious solutions for poverty or income inequality in New Zealand. They're not really that interested in that sort of thing.

Instead, when questions like this come up ... they present us with excuses for why things haven't improved, rather than ways we can work together to improve them.

National also possesses a highly regrettable penchant for scapegoating, wedge-politics, and trying to blame the economic victims of neoliberalism for their own misfortune.

It all makes for good politics. Their base doesn't care if the Government lies where convenient - particularly where the deliberate falsehoods "sound right".

And it doesn't matter if there's a wealth of evidence including the Public Health Agency coming out to openly contradict the Prime Minister's breathless claims. Beneficiaries on drugs sounds like something that happens. People who don't want to confront the reality that the government they voted for lacks ideas and is instead inarguably making the situation worse ... are quite happy to believe in stereotypes instead.

But as the lies get ever more desperate, and the gulf between rhetoric and reality becomes steadily more insurmountable by the year ... I have every hope that more and more people will start waking up to the fact that whenever the Prime Minister comes up with an outrageous falsehood like this, it's actually because he's desperately trying to cover for the failings of his own social and economic system.

Because let's be clear about this: the only time poor choices by ordinary New Zealanders creates systemic poverty ... is when a large proportion of us vote for National.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Maori Party, Bereft Of Relevance Or Insight, Tries To Claim NZ First Stealing From Them

There are few parties in Parliament more chalk and cheese than New Zealand First and the Maori Party.

One's a group of unitary nationalists who've provided some of the most trenchant opposition to a hell(a)-bent neoliberal government in recent times, and put "one law for all" into our political lexicon. The other, an ethnically-constituted government lapdog who can be described as "nationalists" only in terms of their steadfast if not slavering support for the Government which is their meal-ticket. We refuse to campaign in the Maori Seats ... they're only able to poll above the margin of error when running in same.

We castigate and criticize Budget after Budget which delivers little for the great majority of New Zealanders - and assets and asset sales revenue to the fiscally and politically privileged few.

The Maori Party, by contrast, takes great pride in getting up and supporting the Government and its economic measures every year when they're presented for a vote.

And yet there are some similarities, too.

To their credit, the Maori Party joined with New Zealand First and others in opposing the #TPPA. They also voted for Fletcher Tabuteau's excellent Fighting Foreign Corporate Control bill in order to help us to try and protect New Zealand from the pernicious implementation of Investor-State Dispute Settlements designed to undermine our nation's economic sovereignty.

And perhaps somewhat surprisingly, given this Government's woeful stance on child poverty throughout most of its history, the Maori Party also agrees with New Zealand First about the pressing need for free healthcare for under-13s.

Ordinarily, this would be cause for celebration. The more parties we have advocating for the same positive change, the better ... right?

Except yesterday in the House, Maori Party Co-Leader Te Ururoa Flavell got up and tried to claim sole credit for the policy. More than that, he outright stated that New Zealand First had been "pinching [their] ideas". He said we should feel "shame" about this.

This is thoroughly out of order - and not just because Flavell appears to have been attempting to claim that finding common cause with other parties in pursuit of a demonstrably positive end is something to be "shamed" over.

Here are the facts:

New Zealand First spent a good chunk of the mid-1990s campaigning for free healthcare for under-13s. To be fair, we were never *quite* able to implement it. In 1996, when we entered into that abominable and apology-worthy relationship with National, we attempted to - but were only able to negotiate them to rolling out free healthcare for under-6s. Which is, at least, almost half-way.

Subsequent to this, we continued to push for the policy. In 2005, for instance, we'd elevated the policy to the status of a "key negotiating plank in post-election talks". We also campaigned on it in 2014.

So it's a bit rich for Flavell to turn up in 2015 and try to claim exclusive credit for the policy ... still, much less, to state another Party who first put it firmly on the political agenda almost a decade before the Maori Party was founded ought to feel "shame" for such advocacy.

It goes on:

In his speech in support of this year's Budget, Flavell claimed of the Opposition (of which New Zealand First is a proud member) "They get nothing. They have delivered nothing to this country. Why? Because they are in Opposition, and here we are at the table getting gains for our people. Today, the Maori Party can, and will, take every bit of credit that comes its way."

Clearly, that remark by Flavell is a statement of general Maori Party policy - namely, that they're so incredibly desperate for something to point to as evidence to justify their sorry existence ... that they're quite prepared to lie outrageously about another Party in order to make political ends rhetorically meet, and ensure those "bits of credit" "come their way".

So let me put it this way.

On Wednesday, when Flavell got up to make that speech in Parliament which this blog is responding to, he embarrassed himself. And not simply due to his idiotic bobble-tinsel antenna.

Parliament should be above this sort of shysterous and inaccurate political point-scoring. We're all there for - at least nominally - the same reason: making peoples' lives better. There's no "shame" in that.

But where there *is* "shame", is in having so little to show from seven long years supporting a corrupt and iniquitous Government that you have to try to shout down and rhetorically de-legitimate the contributions of others in order to try and grasp some sorry shred of relevance for yourselves.

In his speech - by his tone, tenor and mannerisms - Flavell revealed himself to be a frightened, desperate man.

He knows that his party's time is ending.

It's a pity he can't take a leaf out of that other political footnote of a minnow David Seymour's book and embrace (political) death with dignity.