The Budget and the Benefit

In the 2015 Budget the Māori Party negotiated and secured around $1 billion worth of funding directed toward Māori initiatives and the countries most vulnerable whānau.  The most significant gain being the increase in the core benefit rate of $25 per week. The first increase in 43 years. However, in giving with one hand, National took with the other by imposing stricter obligations on sole parents, who will now be required to return to work two years earlier and for longer hours.

Understandably, many are expressing concern that the hardship package is fraught with challenge and will not remedy child poverty in Aotearoa. For instance, Metiria Turei of the NZ Greens was quick off the mark to point out the flaws and concerns in the package:

In fairness, I’ve not seen anyone claim the hardship package is a panacea to the country’s social and economic ills. Nor would I expect that anyone would think this was some kind of magical fix. Poverty is complex. It is layered and each situation requires different approaches to not only address the hardship each whānau face, but to also step out a plan to overcome hardship permanently. This in my mind, is the benefit of having around $50 million more funding toward Whānau Ora to be distributed by commissioning agencies to ensure those funds reach frontline services, and therefore whānau.

However, unlike some others, I don’t see the increase in the core benefit rate as a negative. I applaud the Māori Party, in Te Ururoa Flavell’s words, for pulling this over the line. I mean even if National only agreed to the increase to save political face, in my mind, what matters is that for the first time in 43 years our core benefit rate has increased. This means that any future government can arguably increase the amount further without causing a massive public outcry. In my opinion, the left (many of whom are being incredibly critical of the increase) should champion this idea. Afterall, the New Zealand public are likely to adapt or perhaps cope better with incremental increases to core benefit rates than they are to sharp increases.

I do agree that the immediate material impact may be minor for many of the whānau targeted by this policy. But the long term prospects for those families who find themselves on a benefit are much better today than they were the day before the budget or indeed since the massive cuts in 1991 under the National government at that time.

A small anecdotal note, however,  for those claiming that $25 per week or the $18.40 or something that it turns out to be is laughable, or not even worth implementing.  I can assure you, as child of a beneficiary parent in the 1990’s, that “something” will always be better than nothing. I am not saying we should just settle for the bare minimum. I am saying that this “something” although not enough to fix hardship, could mean the difference between having a home with power versus a home without power. It could mean the difference between having porridge in the cupboard versus having nothing. It could mean the difference between sandwiches for lunch versus having nothing. It could mean the difference between accommodation versus eviction. It could mean the difference between going on a school trip versus feigning a sick day. So yes, based on my own personal experience I am going to be supportive of any policy that increases core benefit levels.

Is it enough? Absolutely not. But I’d just ask people to be mindful that when you claim $5, $10, $20, or $25 etc is nothing – you might want to check your privilege. It can make a difference. And even if only minor, that difference can change a persons outlook, or even just what kind of day they have. This matters to those who have been forced to become accustomed to having nothing.

Furthermore, when the ethos of a political party changes from ‘slash the benefit’ to ‘increase the core rate’ then progress has been made.  Just over three quarters of a billion dollars targeted at poverty is a milestone in these circumstances. Social change doesn’t happen from people crowing at the sidelines. It takes collaboration and nurturing of relationships to create and instill change. We are yet to see whether the National Party will embody this change in focus and become more receptive to issues around poverty in future. Although, the more stringent work requirements for sole parents on a benefit with toddlers arguably counters the notion of a genuine change.

The other argument as Turei raises above is that these increased work requirements erode the increase in the core benefit rate. I’m not going to dispute that. I wholly disagree with the onerous requirements placed on sole parents to become available for work for 20 hours p/w, as opposed to 15 hours p/w, when their child turns 3 years old, as opposed to 5 years old. Sacraparental sets out 16 reasons why that particular policy is problematic.

However, I think we can support the increase in the core benefit rate for the reasons I set out above, while remaining critical of the increased work expectations. To this end, I think the Māori Party have done some great mahi to negotiate an historic increase in the benefit coupled with the extra funding for Whānau Ora and other initiatives that can help address hardship and also temper some of the challenges inherent in the onerous work availability policy.

WHĀNAU ORA: It was the way our people lived

Whānau Ora has always been in the hissing pit when it comes to NZ politics. Another example of Māori “Special Privilege”. Every jibe simply an attempt by the sneerer to reinforce their assimilationist predisposition and/or self importance. Much of the criticism is misplaced or exaggerated. And it can be quite distressing seeing Māori internalise that lack of faith in Māori systems. It’s implementation is by no means perfect, and sure there are certainly areas requiring vast improvement, but there is no denying that it has helped thousands of family in the four years it has been in operation as a matter of government policy. 

Two days ago, the Auditor General released a report on Whānau Ora. While it has been depicted in the media as a damning indictment, the Report simply sought to clarify what whānau ora is, where the funding has gone, and what Whānau Ora has achieved after four years. The Auditor General appraises Whānau Ora as “an example of innovation and new thinking in service delivery”. She also states that it provides “an opportunity for providers of health and social services in the community to operate differently and to support families in deciding their best way forward”.

Many people have commented that they are not quite sure what Whānau Ora is or does. I’m not convinced that’s due to a lack of information. Arguably,(in many cases at least) it is misunderstood as a result of passive ignorance.

What is Whānau Ora?

Whānau Ora is not a new concept. Like many concepts in Te Ao Māori, no group or individual can determine for others what it means. What can be generally agreed is that from a policy perspective it is an “inclusive and culturally anchored approach based on a Māori view of health that assumes changes in an individual’s wellbeing can be brought about by focusing on the family collective” rather than “focusing separately on individual family members and their problems”. In practice then it requires “multiple government agencies to work together with families rather than separately with individual relatives”.

Three key principles 

Professor Mason Durie emphasises that Whānau Ora is built on three key principles:

Integrated solutions

  • The idea is that “no single sector or discipline has all the answers” to meeting the holistic needs of whānau. This means that a Whānau Ora approach is “cross sectoral, inter-disciplinary, Whānau centred”.

Durie writes:

An integrated approach recognises that economic, social, cultural and environmental dimensions are inter-related and one cannot be adequately progressed without the others.

Distinctive pathways

  • Whānau Ora recognises that “cultural worldviews are important to health”. As well as building on “Māori world views, language [and] culture, networks, [and] leadership”, Whānau Ora reaches out to cultures in all their diversity. The objective is to provide a framework within which all whānau can define their own distinctive pathways in accordance with their cultural practices and values to improve whānau outcomes.

Goals that empower

  • Whānau Ora values “human dignity, positive relationships, self-management and self-determination”.
  • It is about “addressing the impacts of whānau disadvantage as well as assisting families to be strong, capable, resilient and self-managing”. The goal then is not only providing services that address existing disparities, but to unlock potential to help whānau access opportunities and navigate their own futures with the tools they need to improve their whānau outcomes.

In a nutshell, Dame Tariana Turia explains that Whānau Ora is about:

…restoring to ourselves, our confidence in our own capacity to provide for our own – to take collective responsibility to support those who need it most.

See also Te Puni Kōkiri Fact Sheet.

Criticism

Following the Report, Whānau Ora and in particular, Te Puni Kōkiri has come under attack from opposition MP’s. The Iwi Leaders Group (ILG) have criticised the way that some politicians have bought into the “beat-up by politically motivated tirades which do nothing but bring this kaupapa into disrepute”. The ILG argue that as Māori we need to have faith in our own answers and be proud of the progress that has been made to enable whānau to date.  The group asks:

Why would we turn the spotlight on ourselves, and expect an initiative which is still evolving to rectify generations of neglect or indifference from the state?

Critique is to be welcomed. Evaluations ensure transparency and accountability. The Minister of Māori Development Te Ururoa Flavell appreciated the report claiming it affirms “the value of taking an innovative public policy approach to supporting families in need.” He considers that the Report provides valuable lessons for “Ministers, government departments, commissioning agencies and providers”. Flavell highlights that:

Since Whānau Ora began in 2010, around 9,400 families have benefitted from whānau-centred service delivery which includes almost 50,000 people.

The problem with exaggerating the shortcomings identified in the report, as the ILG point out, is that it risks hurting whānau who have or could benefit from Whānau Ora services. The reason being that if the public perceive the services to be performing poorly or at least buy into the misplaced criticism by opposition MP’s, then it provides grounds for the government to withdraw funding despite the gains made to date and the future potential of the approach.

The main criticism refers to the amount of funding spent by Te Puni Kōkiri on Administration based on the Auditor General’s observation that:

…delays in spending the available budgets meant that some of the funds intended for whānau and providers did not reach them as originally planned. In our view, better planning and financial management were needed.

Te Puni Kōkiri

Te Puni Kōkiri is the government organisation tasked with “carrying out the Initiatives, for giving the Government policy advice about the Initiatives, and for assessing and reporting on the Initiatives’ effectiveness”.

The funding made available for their use was administrative “to implement, develop, and evaluate the whānau ora service delivery approach” in the 2010/2011 period and “to implement, develop, and evaluate the whānau ora commissioning approach” in the 2013/2014 period.

The total amount spent was $137.6 million, which was made up of:

$20.8 million (15% of the total) spent through the WIIE fund which “made funds available to whānau through some form of legal entity to enable them to prepare plans to improve their lives”

$67.9 million (49% of the total) spent through the Service Delivery Capability fund which “made funds available to providers, who used it to build their capability to deliver whānau-centred services”

$6.6 million (5% of the total) spent through the funds for commissioning agencies; and

$42.3 million (31% of the total) spent on administration (including research and evaluation).

In response to this criticism, Te Puni Kōkiri’s CEO, Michelle Hippolite, has responded that she can account for where all the funds clustered for administration are currently allocated and asserts that no funds have been misspent. While Minister Flavell acknowledges that there were issues “of design, development, and implementation” and money was allocated to “research, evaluation, and leadership programmes” to assist to that end without which “the administration spending would have been at a normal level for a Government programme”.

Conclusion

There is certainly good reason for being concerned that funding appears to have centralised in administration and bureaucracy. This is especially so when providers are always in need of additional funding to meet the needs of whānau. Former Minister Tariana Turia criticised this last October when she questioned why there was an underspend on Whānau Ora and sought answers to where the money had been allocated as she believed that more funding should have been directed to frontline services.

The Report most likely answers her question: much was tied up in Administration. The challenge going forward will be finding more efficient administration systems to ensure more funding finds its way to service providers and navigators.

The benefit of the Report is that it provides clear observations and recommendations that highlight for Te Puni Kōkiri in particular, where it needs to improve its effectiveness. After all, Whānau Ora is about being whānau centric, so any costing’s and financial planning must always be mindful of how whānau are centred in those plans.

However, Whānau Ora cannot resolve the effects of almost 200 years of colonisation in 4 years. This seems to be the crux of much of the criticism in an attempt to disband Whānau Ora and force a return to the shabby state services that have been in place for decades and have not been able to change outcomes for a large proportion of Māori. It is an undeniably unrealistic expectation to suggest that Whānau Ora would magically solve inter-generational disparity in under half a decade.

In saying that, Whānau Ora has helped numerous families to date. And that success should be celebrated. Although, it is currently geared toward Māori and Pasifika whānau to address the history of disparity in Aotearoa, the approach itself is applicable to all whānau and has the capacity to provide a new way of delivering health and social services to all whānau to improve outcomes and finds solutions for whānau self-determination.

See also Turia’s comments on the long term goals of Whānau Ora.

 

 

The Follow-Up: The Rachinger Posts

In continuing from my previous post: The Rachinger Posts, the following post considers parts 8-11. The allegations effectively revolve around Slater and friends paying hackers to obtain information that can be subsequently used to embarrass opposition MP’s and force them to resign. 

In Part 8, [Information removed  as “Tomasz Grygoruk” has instructed his Lawyer to issue a letter denying Rachinger’s assertions   that (a) he was recently involved in illegal hacking and (b) that he is the Tomas involved in the online conversations with Rachinger . Grygoruk has requested the information be removed as he considers it defamatoy.] Desleigh Jameson (GM, Instra) co-ordinated Rachinger’s meeting with Lentino and the job offer to work with a person called “Tomas(?)”. The role was to be ambiguously called Tony’s Apprentice.

In Part 9, [information redacted for reason noted above]. He also claims that at this time, the identity of the Dirty Politics hacker – Rawshark was circulating in the Press Gallery. It was at this time that Rachinger tweeted “I am Rawshark” as a show of solidarity. Following this, the Instra connection died off, Jameson claims the role never existed and Rachinger receives no further contact.

It’s unclear why Instra shut him out.

Sidenote: Lentino, is the ex-Mega CEO who also spotted money for the Dotcom’s following the raid and asset freeze in January 2013. I am wondering if this will become relevant in later posts. Because there are some unanswered questions:

  • Was Lentino working with Dotcom against Slater
  • Was he working with Slater against Dotcom
  • Is all this purely coincidental
  • Did Lentino simply decide he didn’t want to work with Rachinger

FURTHER INFORMATION (Post publishing this post): (4/5/2015)

On the information above, it appears that Lentino was most likely working with Slater following a fall out with Dotcom. 

In Part 10, Rachinger alleges that in private conversations, Slater makes clear his dislike of Lynne Prentice, author at The Standard.

Weak evidence: It can probably be ascertained from public record that Slater hates Prentice. After all, The Standard and Whale Oil Beef Hooked blogs are polar opposites [left vs right] and it’s likely the authors behind both sites are too. However, unlike previous posts where Rachinger provides screenshots to confirm many of the views Slater held, in this case, he has not. That could be for various reasons. If the conversation were spoken it would have required Rachinger to have taken audio recordings or for there to be another witness. Why does it matter? It could provide evidence of motive.

FURTHER INFORMATION (Post publishing this post): (3/5/2015)

Rachinger then provides a screen grab and email header involving Slater, David Farrar, and Matthew Hooten. The subject of that email involves whether someone can extract information on the authors at The Standard without hacking. Rachinger (somewhat facetiously) posits why he as a hacker was sent that email.

In Part 11, Rachinger makes the unequivocal statement that he was approached by Slater and offered $5,000 to hack The Standard and leave a backdoor to the server for ongoing access.

He claims to have received a $1,000 down payment from Slater and has provided screenshots of his bank statement to support this claim. He states that he never carried out the attack on The Standard.

FURTHER INFORMATION (Post publishing this post): (3/5/2015) further confirmation that the hacking was to be funded. 

See also (4/5/2015)

Weak evidence: The evidence provided by Rachinger, that he was approached to hack The Standard is circumstantial i.e. his assertion that Slater dislikes Prentice, a forwarded email (involving Slater, Farrar and Hooten) identifying a potential interest in obtaining unauthorised information, a down payment from Slater, and Rachinger’s testimony

This allows us to draw strong inferences but is not conclusive proof.

One problem is that the evidence trail is inconsistent with the email trail of previous job offers involving both Slater and Rachinger. However, given the nature of the job, there is the question as to whether email is an appropriate communication platform when organising a hacking operation? However, one might assume Threema would be used given its high level encryption. So the question is why Rachinger does not provide direct evidence explicitly showing Slater soliciting his services for hacking and leaving a backdoor in the Standard system, or more precisely, does he have evidence to that conclusively proves this?

FURTHER INFORMATION (Post publishing this post): (3/5/2015)

Rachinger also alleges there were monetary incentives if the information achieved certain outcomes e.g. embarrassment or resignation of opposition MP’s. But he doesn’t provide evidence to substantiate that claim.

Rachinger claims that he was concerned about how ‘deep’ he was in the Whale Oil machine so he went to the Police and was interviewed and questioned without a Lawyer present. His devices were cloned for evidence and although the evidence sheet is not included in his post, he has made it available via his twitter:

He makes further allegations that Slater owns firearms and is connected to organised crime gangs and has powerful funders/backers.

It appears that Rachinger is ‘framing his case’ to illustrate how dangerous he believes Slater and friends to be. This is unsurprising if the allegations that he and his family have received death threats are true.

Weak evidence: Rachinger would probably need to furnish a copy of the firearms licensed to Slater to prove this claim, and. I doubt he has access to that information. Regarding the gang connection, in an earlier post, Rachinger provides a screen shot of a conversation that implies Slater is connected enough to know that the Headhunters gang assaulted Matt Blomfield due to monies Blomfield owed the gang.  This is not proof of Slater’s actual connection, since that information could come about via the kumara vine. It also is not evidence that this gang is somehow involved in the immediate issue. But the cumulative effect of that information does speak to the harm that Rachinger appears to believe that Slater through whomever his connections, is capable of inflicting.

FURTHER INFORMATION (Post publishing this post): (3/5/2015) on Slater’s admission to owning firearms. Additionally, apparently this is well known for readers of his blog and those who recall from the Dirty Politics book.

Conclusion

In conclusion, it appears that the Whale Oil machine continues to churn despite the revelations and media interest in Hager’s Dirty Politics. I don’t think that is exactly surprising to anyone. But just because it’s not surprising it’s also not an excuse to turn a blind eye either. That these operations allegedly involve the transfer of money and financial incentives to operatives to illegally extract information for corrupt political ends certainly adds a new and disturbing angle to this rancid behaviour. Additionally, the extent that the threats and operations sought to poison the blogosphere by targeting people behind the two largest left wing political blog sites in Aotearoa is also a real concern for democracy.  If it is true that Slater and friends will attempt to destroy any person and undermine every inch of democracy that threatens to expose the machine and disrupt their political agenda then we might want to consider the extent to which the claims made by Rachinger can be substantiated.

Note: It has been suggested to me that I tread very cautiously and very sceptically in dealing with the Rachinger posts. The purpose of writing these summaries was to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the claims made. The analysis is by no means perfect. But I am interested in what readers think, so feel free to leave a (non-abusive, non-threatening) comment.

The Hacker and All the PM’s Men continued:

Part 8: [link removed as requested by TG through his Lawyer] 

Part 9: [link removed as requested by TG through his Lawyer] 

Part 10: https://medium.com/@benrachinger/the-hacker-and-all-the-pms-men-part-ten-be7aa6d1839f

Part 11: https://medium.com/@benrachinger/the-hacker-and-all-the-pms-men-part-eleven-2f3322a0b22a

Not my problem

Had a call to action but experiencing “not my problem” and not sure how to overcome it? Maybe you don’t even know you have it? Read on. 

“Not my problem” Symptoms:

  • Feeling a bit helpless and wonder ‘what’s the point, I mean sheesh, I got my own problems’

  • Got a case of ‘Ah, I’d love to support but y’know I’ve got these “other” plans’

  • Bit concerned about associating with the rabble y’know the whole ‘what will my work mates think!’ or ‘what if someone recognises me?’

  • Care a little but don’t quite wanna muck up your daily routine?

Note: These symptoms do not apply to individual’s and whānau who for reasons of necessity (e.g. incapacitated, daily dialysis etc) must stick to their routines. In such cases, it’s not a symptom of “not my problem” at all – it’s an entirely legitimate justification for not being able to answer the call. In many cases, not answering one call might just be a transitory measure. This post refers to those who pretty much never ever answer the call. 

So if you have or are experiencing one or more of the above symptoms then it’s probably a chronic case of “not my problem”.

What’s the solution? Well, the first suggestion is that you show some humanity. Do more than care a little. Actively give a damn. It’s probably then a good idea to think about the call to action. What’s actually happened or is happening that the call has gone out? Why is it important? How can I help?

Follow these simple steps and your “not my problem” will disappear:

  1. RESEARCH. No you don’t need a degree to type in some search terms on the internet and find a range of news items on a particular issue. You could also ask around – you know talk about it with others. See what their views are and find out where they are getting their information from. But if you do ask around and someone says “not my problem”, well, they’re hardly a solution to your condition are they! Ask someone else.
  2. EMPATHISE. Imagine the same thing were happening to you. Would you want people to passively pass comment? Or would you hope for action with every last bit of energy you possessed?
  3. MOBILISE. Plan it. These calls usually give advance warning so you can be there. So turn up.

Still experiencing not my problem? Repeat (1)-(3) until it disappears. Trust me. It was “not my problem” for years too. It’s amazing how easy it is to overcome.

The Rachinger Posts

Image source: PC World

For the past six or so months, Ben Rachinger has claimed to have a deep knowledge of the extent of corruption in New Zealand’s political system. He has prided Nicky Hager’s book “Dirty Politics” for bringing to the fore the diseased apparatus toxifying the New Zealand government and media. Rachinger has recently begun publishing a series of posts of his direct experience in the Whaleoil machine at the centre of the corruption in this country. [Links to all seven posts he has published so far are available at the bottom of this post]

There has been some criticism of his posts. Some readers suggesting they don’t really reveal anything new, others criticising gaps in the information and some dismissing him as a tin foiler.

Whatever your view, here is what I surmise from the series so far:

Rachinger was a Young Nat and deeply concerned about the lack of information available to voters in the lead up to election. In particular, he took exception to Kim Dotcom’s play for political power and published a video explaining Dotcom’s criminal history and distasteful ethics. He also addressed the rot in the National Party who he supported at that time.  Both videos were published on Cameron Slater’s Whaleoil blog site.

Following this Rachinger built a rapport with Slater offering to assist him with his blog security issues – something Rachinger is apparently skilled in. This led to a job offer to join Slater’s ‘Freed’ media venture. Some emails were exchanged.

When Dirty Politics unraveled Rachinger began to question what he’d got himself into. This was confirmed to him when Slater showed a complete lack of empathy toward the murders of the WINZ workers who had been shot dead at their workplace in Ashburton.

Soon after the election Rachinger advises he was contacted by Police and subsequently did some undercover work for them to try identify Rawshark and gather intel on the Whaleoil machine.

[Missing information: Why did Police make contact with Rachinger in the first place?]

Rachinger continued to work with Slater and his network to identify Rawshark.  But claims to never have engaged in any of the illegal activity that was being carried out.

Communications took place via an encrypted service based in Switzerland called Threema. The service was used on the recommendation of the Israeli Embassy in NZ.

[Inference: Presumably this allowed operators to bypass detection by security agencies or the prying eyes of the State apparatus.]

Rachinger learned that Slater’s network consisted of ten people and they were trying to gather intel to use against Laila Harre and Martyn Bradbury. He was introduced to someone called Tomas with a criminal history as a black hat hacking operative. Tomas was allegedly based in Poland. A subsequent screengrab suggests that Tomas was Jason Ede – the mastermind identified in Dirty Politics.

[Missing information: There is a disjuncture between the screen grab stating (a) Tomas is Ede, and the suggestion that (b) Tomas was actually Tomas Grygoruk. I can’t make out if Tomas is (a) or (b) ]

Rachinger writes that the Israeli embassy were interested in investigating the Rawshark case too, for a not yet specified reason. He then shows he is eventually accepted into the Whaleoil machine when Slater tells him Tony Lentino has a job for him.

To summarise, the Whaleoil machine involves National Party heavies, the Israeli government, Cathy Odgers and a team of hackers not afraid to carry out illegal activities and Tony Lentino. They use an encrypted message service to bypass security agencies and hack into systems to illegally obtain information on people they want to get revenge on. Rachinger claims to have gone undercover for Police to help identify the Rawshark hacker and gather dirt on Whaleoil. Rachinger implies that Tony Lentino pulls a lot of strings.

This is the extent of the Rachinger posts so far.

At the moment there isn’t exactly anything new or at least anything that we hadn’t already inferred. But it is potentially a reinforcement of Dirty Politics and it is shaping up to look like an expose by a person who was directly involved in the Whaleoil machine and who claims to have a personal experience of how this disease operates and precisely who is involved and to what extent.

Shorter still? Here is how I’d describe what I think Rachinger is trying to say so far:

New Zealand’s political corruption – It’s like chucking back a stale marmite sandwich because there’s nothing else to eat and finding out afterwards Slater and his friends took turns discharging their lung butter into it.

Note: If you think I’ve missed something  or misunderstood let me know in the comments.

The Series of The Hacker and All the PM’s Men by Ben Rachinger

Part 1: https://medium.com/@benrachinger/the-hacker-and-all-the-pms-men-part-one-a094cf55ac9c

Part 2: https://medium.com/@benrachinger/the-hacker-and-all-the-pms-men-4d3014ac4ace

Part 3: https://medium.com/@benrachinger/the-hacker-and-all-the-pms-men-part-three-53dc14a53a71

Part 4: https://medium.com/@benrachinger/the-hacker-and-all-the-pms-men-part-four-ac8c01388bc6

Part 5: https://medium.com/@benrachinger/the-hacker-and-all-the-pms-men-part-five-85cbc9d78430

Part 6: https://medium.com/@benrachinger/the-hacker-and-all-the-pms-men-part-six-da511d67e48d

Part 7: https://medium.com/@benrachinger/the-hacker-and-all-the-pms-men-part-seven-1bd54289b05e

Modern Activism and the Potential for Cultural Conflicts

Pōwhiri is an important ceremony in Te Ao Māori. It begins with a wero from tangata whenua to the manuhiri (guests). When tangata whenua are satisfied manuhiri are there on friendly terms, the karanga is issued calling manuhiri onto the grounds.

But there may be occasions where cultural practices and modern activism come into conflict.

When Australian PM Tony Abbott visited Wellington, he was met by a justifiable resistance from local activists. After all, he has been instrumental in policy that has led to human and indigenous rights abuses. However, Minister Hekia Parata complained to Radio Waatea:

“As the karanga was being issued forth protesters were protesting for indigenous rights. It just shows me that there are different ways of respecting indigenous practices. One of them would have been to respect our indigenous practice here in New Zealand”

I have some sympathy with that argument. It seems rather empty to call for recognition of the rights of Indigenous Peoples if simultaneously disrespecting the customs of  local Indigenous Peoples.

At first glance, I did find it unsettling that protesters had allegedly disrespected the karanga during the pōwhiri. However, others  (who presumably attended) have suggested that protesters were well away from the pōwhiri such that any potential for disruption would have been negligible. So it might just be in this case, that there is no issue.

But that doesn’t mean that in the wider context of activism that this isn’t a potential issue.

I’m reminded of the Greenpeace activists that entered a sacred Peruvian site and damaged some of the Nazca lines in order to send a message to UN Climate Talk delegates.

When asking the question as to whether activist causes justify disrespecting cultural practices of the local Indigenous Peoples,  I had a straw man thrown at me. As if somehow, I were defending human rights abuses against refugees in Nauru and the forced closure of Aboriginal communities! I can unequivocally state here, that I absolutely abhor the human rights and indigenous rights abuses of the Australian government. I wholeheartedly support the call to solidarity with the Aboriginal Peoples of Australia and the Refugees in Nauru.

Acknowledging there are legitimate concerns about how activism can potentially flout the rights of Indigenous Peoples does not equate to supporting the perpetrators that protesters are dissenting against.

I am not raising this as an issue to distract from the causes. I think some activist communities should think more carefully about how their actions might have unintended consequences. I think activists ought to be mindful of the cultural practices of others particularly when consciously using culturally significant ceremonies, events and locations as the site of their activism.

 

 

 

 

 

Wai Māori

Poroti Springs. Image sourced from Waimarie Nurseries http://www.waimarienurseries.co.nz/Poroti_Springs.cfm

Simmering away for some years now and probably not too far off blowing its stack is the contention as to whether anyone owns the water, or if any group can claim rights over water. This debate will inevitably lead to the false claims that Māori want to exclude the average New Zealander from access to freshwater.

Water is indisputably an essential resource for the development and sustainability of all societies.  Yet, in countries like Aotearoa New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the US (to name a few) where Indigenous populations have protected and relied on certain water sources for centuries, have had their access to most of these water sources snatched away through the process of colonisation. Many of the newer generations ignore the vital role of water to these communities.

The continual use of statements like no-one owns the water derives from the assumption that ownership as they understand it – as an exclusionary concept, is synonymous with the concept of ownership from Indigenous perspectives. For Māori, the rights over water include use rights but also rights to kaitiaki which allows hapū and iwi to keep water sources clean, and to avoid exploitation to preserve aquifers for current and future generations in the event of scarcity.

Water scarcity arises through both natural (drought, flooding etc) and human forces (commercial exploitation, waste, pollution etc). According to the UN while there is “enough freshwater on the planet for seven billion people” its uneven distribution and the extent to which water is  “wasted, polluted and unsustainably managed” affects around 748 million people in the world.

Those of us living in developed countries have for the most part, uninterrupted access to water. Some countries going so far as to drill into prehistoric reserves to service industry needs.

 The NZ Herald recently reported that the government has rejected a bid by the Iwi Leaders Group (ILG) for rights over freshwater. Minister Nick Smith has indicated that the government may instead “compromise by allowing regional councils to do local deals with Māori”.

The government love the no one owns the water message. Firstly, it polarises public opinion and plays to NZ’s largely nationalist base, which concomitantly supports the government’s unwillingness to grant water rights to Māori. Secondly, it obscures what is happening in the background to the negotiations between the Crown and the ILG – the privatisation of water by regional councils for sale in overseas markets.

For example, the Northland and Whangarei District Councils have collaboratively sidestepped consulting with the Whatitiri Māori Reserve Trust, the owners of Poroti Springs, and have approved the expansion of earthworks by Zodiac Holdings for “a commercial water bottling plant across the road from the springs”. This ought to greatly offend the same nationalists likely supporting the against Māori having water rights brigade given the end product is intended for overseas markets. Yet it won’t. Because parse the message and we get Māori cannot own or have rights over water.

To deny rights to Māori over freshwater while empowering regional councils who have failed to protect these water sources from pollution or exploitation illuminates the racism underlying the governments rhetoric. This is not about ‘no one owning the water’ this is about the Crown stamping its racist little iron feet on Māori.

The actions of these councils also indicates that the governments vision of  cooperation between Māori and Regional Councils is not only flawed but disingenuous since the government is well aware that commercial interests will supersede the rights and interests of Māori native to the particular rohe, especially where investment in those regions is necessary.

Escaping government and the nationalist public considerations is that hapū and iwi have occupied these regions for centuries. During this time, they have cared for the waterways ensuring reserves were not exploited and that they remained free of pollutants. Every single New Zealander has benefited from the kaitiakitanga of our tūpuna over our waterways.

In Aotearoa, access and availability is interrupted usually only as a result of drought (scarcity) or flooding (pollution), and through private ownership of water sources granted to corporations by the government.  For Māori some water sources are taonga from a wahi tapu perspective.

But water is also a vital source of economic security. Access and availability are necessary for growing food, drinking water, health, hygiene and sanitation. It comes as no surprise then that the ILG would seek rights over freshwater in Aotearoa, when the Crown have systematically privatised water systems and allocated rights to public entities in this respect which has led to spiritual, environmental, and economic detachment for many hapū and iwi.

The fact that the government and regional councils seem prepared to draw down on the principal of our water for short term relief should worry all of us. Not because the water is to be shipped offshore, but because we should be mindful of the uneven distribution of freshwater globally and the need to protect against water scarcity in Aotearoa for current and future generations. We should also remain alert to the harmful rhetoric employed by the Crown that intends to entrench a divisive public to reinforce its own power over all us.

[Editors noteThis is the revised version of the original post]

Haere rā homeownership

The Landlords Game (the original Monopoly) used to explain Henry George’s theory. See also: http://harpers.org/blog/2012/10/monopoly-is-theft/

As housing prices in Auckland continue to rise at unprecedented rates, the dream of home ownership, especially for many younger Aucklander’s slips away. Well, more accurately put, it is obliterated. Why? Government inaction and a refusal by policymakers to consider different approaches that might actually address the issue. Land Value Tax (LVT) anyone?!

This time last year, Jesse Colombo warned of an economic crisis for New Zealand. He argued 12 points which you can find more detail on here. With regard to the housing bubble he warned interest rates, overvalued land and demand were key indicators.

Colombo was ridiculed by Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce, as an  alarmist and a bubble-ologist. As the NBR point out, this is despite the endorsement Colombo is given through publishing on one of the US’s most influential business websites.

But here we are. On the downward spiral to that bubble popping. The demographic I’m referring to are those of us who have had or have to borrow for post-secondary school education. Most of us will never own our own home. We will pay rent to a landlord for the rest of our lives. We will continue to pay sizeable taxes on our incomes but we will pay for our own retirements.

I’ve banged on about LVT for the past couple of years. Deirdre Kent & Phil Stevens of the New Economics Party have been writing on it for even longer. The idea derives from the work of Henry George who wrote his seminal work Progress and Poverty in 1879, that makes the case for taxing land and untaxing labour. Oh, and a factoid for fun, Henry George began the original weekly newspaper ‘The Standard’ in 1887.

Some Georgists/Geoists prefer not to use the phrase LVT, and consider land rents or similar as a more accurate description. I’m down with that, after all, the intentions and theory behind it are pretty much the same. I’ve written a few posts on Georgism, so to avoid re-writing, you can read them here.

We are constantly told if we just build more houses the market will cool, well, clearly we can’t really build at a rate sufficient to meet the total demand it seems. If we raise interest rates, then fewer people will buy. But this means lower-middle income earners are priced out. These approaches have done nothing. And all the while the government itself has contributed to the skyrocketing prices, for example, by banking a section of land intended for social housing for over 11 years, which is now being sold off privately at market prices. So perhaps Minister Joyce might want to reconsider his views on Colombo.

My suggestion is why not an LVT? Even if it is something applied solely to Auckland in the interim to incentivise the competition necessary to drive prices down and then rolled out across the country? I’m not saying I have a model ready and available. All I’m suggesting is that we start talking about alternative approaches to housing affordability especially if they have the potential to simultaneously address other issues that are suffocating low-income families and younger generations (X, Y, Z)

The thing about an LVT is it changes the nature of property rights that we currently know. Rather than individual ownership rights, they become use rights where the land is of the commons and the occupant pays a rent to the community for the privilege of taking the land out of the use of the commons. One comment that remains firmly etched in my mind is this by Nate Blair:

The problem with Georgism is not the idea, which is basically flawless.  The problem with this idea is that it seems both radical and inherently moderate to anyone understanding it.  The revolutionary aspect of Georgism threatens the predators of caricature “capitalism” and angers the conservatives. The justice and honesty threatens communist revolutionaries and angers armchair progressives, who are fine with paying a bit more but not with giving up their privilege.

I hear heaps of people online referring to themselves as ‘progressives’, yet comparatively few advance any alternative ideas, to existing failed models. It makes me wonder how much of that is about a reluctance to part with certain privileges. So since many of y’all liked Piketty’s book, here is a video where Joseph Stiglitz & Thomas Piketty gave a presentation on inequality. Toward the end Stiglitz exposes his own Georgism:

If further interested have a look at the LVT tab up top of this page for some documentaries/clips and websites that talk more about LVT. I personally recommend “The Taxing Question of Land” and “Real Estate 4 Ran$ome”.

The Aboriginal Peoples’ Call for Global Action: #SOSBLAKAUSTRALIA

 

 

Whose land are you standing on?

 

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples of Australia have subsidised the lifestyle choices of white Australia since the colonisers arrived and stole their land, stole their resources, stole their children, forced communities into slavery, and denied their human, economic and cultural rights at every step. Benjamin Warlngundu Ellis Bayliss itemises out the costs of colonisation:

…frontier wars; loss of land; loss of culture; loss of wages; loss of languages; loss of songs; loss of identity; genocide; massacres; rape; destruction of sacred sites & land; stolen generations; Maralinga nuclear testing; stolen artefacts and the collection of ancestors remains; oppression; fear & intimidation; no treaties; influenza; poor health; life expectancy; no self-determination; no consultation; disease; exploitation; creating a culture of dependency; famine; introduction of foreign flora & fauna; culture of divide & conquer; discrimination; racism; meddling with the theory of eugenics; attempts to breed our mob out; so called dying softly in the pillow; deaths in custody; incarceration rates; denigration; invisibility & lack of positive representations; attempts of assimilation; policies of control & management, including driving people from their lands; intellectual property theft; meddling with the Racial Discrimination Act; NT Intervention; lateral violence; and trivialising our interests, concerns; upon many, many others I am sure I have missed.

The Abbott government’s recent announcement that around 150 Aboriginal communities would be forcibly closed in Western Australia, prompted a global call to action for our indigenous whanaunga. This decision was made without consultation and without the consent of Australia’s Aboriginal Peoples.

Pause.

We would not accept this in Aotearoa New Zealand. So why on earth are we so silent when it comes to the tyranny of the Australian government?

 

SOS Blak OZ

 

On Blackfulla Revolution’s Facebook is a call to those who have ignored and continue to ignore the oppression and injustice suffered by Australia’s First Nations Peoples.

 [7min 35s]

But this isn’t constrained to Australia. Abroad, descendant’s of settler generations ignore the impact colonisation has had on Indigenous Peoples within the lands they colonised. It is why Indigenous Peoples everywhere are reaching out to their whanaunga across borders  to achieve kotahitanga and bring our Peoples together in solidarity. This is not separatism. This is not an attempt to turn the tepu and oppress non-indigenous people. It is an effort to get the sleepy masses to recognise that: Indigenous Lives Matter.

This policy being pursued by Tony Abbot & his government is the continuance of that dark history of colonisation in Australia. This system imposed on Australia’s First Peoples is designed to disadvantage their communities at every social, cultural and economic opportunity. This policy is nothing less than forced urbanisation and assimilation. It is an explicit attempt to strip these communities of their connection to their traditional lands.

In Aotearoa New Zealand, many Māori have taken up the plight to stand with our First Nations whanaunga in Australia. MP Marama Fox, Māori Party, sought to table a motion that the House of Representatives condemn the the forced closure of these Aboriginal Communities and to call on the Australian government to honour its commitments to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Although tabling the motion was blocked by government Minister Gerry Brownlee, National Party, it has since been tabled and will be voted on in 3 weeks when Parliament resumes.

The kumara vine indicates that the Māori Party, Greens, Labour, United Future and ACT will all support the motion. However, NZ First and National have signaled that they are against it.

As most will know, recently the National Party lost a seat in Northland, to NZ First’s Winston Peters. The compositon of the house has changed slightly such that National now only have 59 seats. In order for the motion to pass, NZ First support is required.

Winston Peter’s spent much of his campaign talking about how successive governments have ignored the issues that matter to the Northland electorate – jobs, poverty, health and so on. In opposing Marama Fox’s motion, Peter’s words would  ring incredibly hollow given the broader context of his concerns – that governments ought not neglect small communities, and instead ought to manaaki their aspirations. If he stands by his commitment to Northland, then I see no reason why he and his party would not support the call to recognise the rights of Aboriginal Peoples in their communities that have been neglected by the Australian government,  who now deem it appropriate to forcibly close those communities without consultation or consent of the peoples. So I urge people to lobby NZ First to offer their support to add international weight to the plight of the Aboriginal Peoples.

So far three events in Aotearoa New Zealand have been organised around the country to coincide with the global action to support our Aboriginal whanaunga.

For further details see:

Tamaki-Makaurau (Auckland), 1 May 2015, 18:00, QE II Square (next to Britomart)

Hamilton, 1 May 2015, 13:00, The Pulse (27b Whatawhata Road, Dinsdale).

Wellington, 1 May 2015, 18:00, Location tbc.

So it’d be cool if everyone could, you know, be present and support the campaign to STOP! The Forced Closure of Aboriginal Communities. Our silence is complicity. Make their voices heard and show your solidarity with all First Nations Peoples of Australia.

Food Security apparently optional for the Children of Aotearoa

Last night the government (National and ACT) voted down two bills that sought to provide food to children particularly in low decile schools. That is, children who live in the most economically deprived areas of the country. The bills essentially dealt with the issue of food security, or alternatively stated, food insecurity.[1]

Food security is considered as existing ‘when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life’.[2] It involves four essential elements: availability, access, stability and utilisation.[3] According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, availability is measured in terms of the quantity, quality and diversity of food available to consumers, while access is measured by both physical and economic access to food.[4] Access and availability are largely guaranteed through national level policy although there is no requirement for a country to ‘achieve food production self-sufficiency’.[5] Importantly, measuring the extent of food security at the national level (that is, that a country has sufficient levels of food to distribute to meet domestic demand) does not necessarily reflect the extent of security at the household or individual levels. A nation can be food secure at the national level while still food insecure at the individual level due to ‘unequal distribution of food within the country’ which may result from food prices and the issue of affordability.[6] Stability is measured through exposure to food security risk, as well as incidences of shocks such as price spikes, fluctuations in domestic food supply and political instability,[7] while utilisation measures the ‘variables that determine the ability to utilise food’ together with ‘outcomes of poor food utilisation’.[8]

Food insecurity has often been considered an issue of  inadequate food supply at the national level. But this is not the case in New Zealand, nor in most developed countries. Instead, it is often the lack of purchasing power on behalf of households.[9] In his entitlements theory, Amartya Sen emphasised similar issues of consumption, demand and access to food by vulnerable people.[10] Sen argued that a person will starve if their entitlement set is absent ‘any commodity bundle with enough food’.[11] Also, that starvation was imminent if there were a change in their factor endowment, such as, loss of land or labour power, or their exchange entitlement mapping, such as food price spikes or loss of employment.[12] He maintained that these changes would restrict a persons ability to acquire any commodity bundle with enough food.[13]

A problem that arises in respect of the Feed the Kids bill, is that critics imply the problem of food insecurity in New Zealand is not one of a chronic nature (as is often found in developing or least developed regions). Therefore, studies that suggest marginal improvements (and perhaps arguments such as Sen’s) which were largely responding to food insecurity in developing countries should not be used to defend policies that attempt to address transitory food insecurity in children in New Zealand through school lunch or breakfast programmes. The reason being that there is little evidence to show that outcomes will provide any significant benefit for the cost of such policies.  For instance, Dr Eric Crampton writes:[15]

[I]t’s hard to make a case for that we’d get any great benefit from the [school breakfast] programmes. Rather, we often find that they don’t even increase the odds that kids eat breakfast at all.

And:

To the extent that they improve outcomes in some studies, we really can’t tell:

whether the effect is from changing the timing of breakfast, in which case we should instead have a morning tea break;

whether the effect is any better than just giving those families an equivalent cash transfer.

However, the cash transfer option doesn’t ensure that children will become food secure. By that I mean it doesn’t ensure that there will be food available or that they will have access to food.  I appreciate that a cash transfer gives the parent more freedom to choose the kinds of food that the child has available to them. However, a cash transfer may also incentivise food producers to increase the price of their foods to exact a benefit for themselves through the increased purchasing power made available at the household level. This could in effect neutralise any benefit that might have otherwise accrued to food insecure households due to affordability issues. Arguably, this problem could be overcome by adjusting for any inflationary effects. But that pattern is hardly desirable and contributes to the cost of government administration. Additionally, a cash transfer may not increase what the parent spends on food at all. Parents who find themselves without work, paying rent and utilities, school costs, and servicing other debts incurred while employed or those parents that simply don’t have enough money to cover the basic bills each month may not be able to increase their food spend, it may mean they’re able to cover costs that they had been unable to cover – car licensing, dentist, school costs, sports fees etc.

However, there are also issues for advocates of the Feed the Kids bill, such as, who supplies the food to the school? Can a government get value for money if entering into a supply agreement with a corporate (who would likely create terms more favourable to itself), or is contracting with a charity necessarily the best option since they may for example, source food products from corporations? There just seems to be a contradiction in fighting capitalism from the left – who are the main advocates of this bill, to partnering with corporations either directly or indirectly.

In principle, I support the Feed the Kids bill. But like many others have suggested, it needs some work. That would have been the benefit of getting it to the Select Committee where the public could make submissions and where robust research was carried out to attempt to construct an effective policy.

An area where I’d like to see research directed, is where food is targeted at the source. That is, where the government invest in local food production. It might be that there is room to incentivise food producers to produce surpluses that are supplied to their local schools. Sure, this is an un-worked idea but we shouldn’t just limit our imagination to cash transfers or supply by food corporations. There is a human right to food and in my mind that means it is a resource first. If the government can improve local food production by investing more in the sector to deal with issues of household and individual food insecurity then perhaps we can tackle a number of issues (such as employment, health, education) while also ensuring children are not subjected to food insecurity whether it be chronic or transitory.

The right to adequate food is recognised and protected in both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).[16] The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food defines this right as:[17]

…the right to have regular, permanent and unrestricted access, either directly or by means of financial purchases, to quantitatively and qualitatively adequate and sufficient food corresponding to the cultural traditions of the people to which the consumer belongs, and which ensure a physical and mental, individual and collective, fulfilling and dignified life free of fear…

The government also has obligations to meet food security goals as set out in the Millennium Development Declaration[18] and the Rome Declaration on World Food Security. [19] I haven’t even touched on issues of undernourishment, nutrition, food sovereignty, the role of agribusiness, deforestation, land grabs, climate issues, infrastructure issues, armed conflict, GMO’s. The topic of food security is vast, and is a priority at the international level. Pity the New Zealand government see it as optional. Perhaps, the next development in the feed the kids campaign, then might be to focus on the wider issue of food security at the household and individual level and find ways to address it that aren’t merely palliative, but involve addressing the network of challenges that cause food insecurity.

 

[1]  Some of the content of this post comprises parts of a dissertation I wrote for my LLM.

[2]  Rome Declaration on World Food Security.

[3]  FAO State of Food Insecurity in the World (2014), at 13.

[4]  Ibid

[5]  Christopher Stevens, Romilly Greenhill, Jane Kennan and Stephen Devereux “The WTO Agreement on Agriculture and Food Security” (paper prepared for the Commonwealth Secretariat, Economic Series No. 42, London, 2000), at 3.

[6]  At 2-3.

[7]  Ibid.

[8]  Ibid.

[9]  World Bank Poverty and Hunger (1986)

[10]  FAO “Chapter 2. Food security: concepts and measurement” in Trade Reforms and Food Security: Conceptualising the Linkages (FAO, Rome, 2003), at 28.

[11]  Amartya Sen Food, Economics and Entitlements (World Institute for Developmental Economics Research, United Nations University, 1986) at 8-9. For Sen, an entitlement is ‘the set of different alternative commodity bundles that the person can acquire through the use of the various legal channels of acquirement open to someone in [their] position’.

[12]  Ibid.

[13]  Ibid.

[14]  Stevens et al, at 5.

[15]   Eric Crampton “Breakfast” Offsetting Behaviour (15 May 2013)

[16]  Universal Declaration of Human Rights GA Res 217 A, III (1948); International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights GA Res2200A XXI 993 UNTS 3 (1966).

[17]  “The Human Right to Food” UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

[18] Millennium Development Declaration

[19]  Rome Declaration on World Food Security