Month: September 2012

Cunliffe’s economy

To be honest, I’m not convinced by David Cunliffe’s speech to fix NZ’s economy. If you haven’t had the opportunity to read it click on this link: http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PA1209/S00472/speech-cunliffe-fast-forward-growing-good-jobs.htm.

Yes, I am sympathetic to the Scandinavian economic model of free health care, education and generous welfare scheme for the unemployed and pensioners and the focus on human rights. But in reality, this is a mixed market model that will naturally fall back into the neoliberal trap in order to service the large debt incurred through the excessive government spending and borrowing required to maintain the standard of living currently enjoyed by those citizens. It only takes a quick search on the internet to see that Sweden is stepping up its privatisation scheme to do exactly that.

Additionally, Cunliffe’s speech appropriates the ‘renewable energies’ policy advocated by the Green Party since entry into Parliament, knowing that Labour’s competition has not so much been National, but evidently the Greens as apparent in the polls and recent elections. However, in my view, Cunliffe has failed to sell it. Why? Because the objective of implementing policies for the manufacturing of renewable technology is profit. Cunliffe insinuates that if NZ is to be a leader in renewable technology and get in on the $6 trillion dollar industry that it is, the measure of its leadership will always be in dollar value. Also statements such as ‘sustainable growth’ are hyperbole – economic growth is not sustainable, the earths resources are finite. I do agree that NZ should be aiming to be a user of renewable technology and should ensure in the process that all the steps taken to produce this technology is in accordance with ecologically sustainable practices. NZ should be leaders in effecting global environmental change and simply producing exports that are purportedly ‘green’ is not enough. It is counterproductive.  To manufacture these technologies requires the use of minerals and therefore mining. So there will be degradation of the environment in order to make such technology. If we do not have the minerals needed in NZ, then we will probably import them in their usable form, so while we may be limiting the effects on our own environment, we increase our ecological footprint through the very process of getting the products needed to make these technologies and then exporting them once they are ready for the market.  

My intuition is that Labour are trying to reduce the influence of the Greens by pushing similar policy, but Cunliffe is a little insincere in proclaiming the evils of neoliberal policy, when his mixed market economy leads to the same neoliberal trap. This is not a long term solution, because the Scandinavian countries are showing us that a mixed model economy cannot be sustained long term, and this is likely the result of a capitalist based system that functions on crisis.

What do I believe is the answer? I don’t know. But what I think is a better way of economising, is as stated in the comments section of my post on ‘Poverty is the result of inequality’:



where resources are used more efficiently and effectively (ecological sustainability). Capitalism claims to be efficient, but its efficiency is in regards to what it can produce versus how much it cost to produce, so efficiency here is related to ‘money’ – it works against environmental preservation and sustainability. Efficiently economising, would mean that we were not exploiting resources, but in using them we were ensuring that we were not destroying biodiversity and creating environmental hazards. Effectively economising would mean that we were not depriving any person of their basic needs – clean air, water, food, shelter”  

In my view, NZ should be leading the way in global environmental protection/preservation and advocating for the universality of human rights. However, we need the credibility to take up that challenge, which means addressing the inequalities and environmental hazards that successive governments continue blame on global economic conditions – cop out. 

Poverty is the result of inequality

Okay blog readers, brief plug first: if any of you do not watch or have not heard of Native Affairs, highly recommended viewing. Mondays 08:30pm on Maori TV. It’s a current affairs show – the best, to be honest.  This week, the main topic was poverty, specifically in relation to living conditions.  You can watch past episodes online, just click on this link: http://www.maoritelevision.com/default.aspx?tabid=636&pid=212.

The definition of poverty differs according to whose doing the measuring. Typically, in NZ we measure relative poverty, simply meaning that we measure according to the ‘minimum level of income deemed necessary to achieve an adequate standard of living’. We can therefore see that poverty derives from the inequality in respect of  the distribution of incomes. So while there are many people out there proffering solutions such as community gardens to feed the poor or housing projects to shelter them, within a monetary economic system, the only way of restoring equality and eliminating poverty is through the redistribution of wealth.

But what government is willing to advocate for that?

I acknowledge that there are many groups out there trying to ‘fix’ poverty or individuals wanting to ‘fix’ it. But only the government is in a position to make the changes necessary. The government must look at income distribution and tax if they have any real intent to solve poverty in NZ. (see link at the bottom of the page for an interesting blog on tax)

Let us look at the minimum wage, because it is not just beneficiaries living in poverty. The argument is that we cannot raise the minimum wage because of the adverse effect it would have on small business. Well, while we are busy protecting small businesses from going bust by increasing the minimum wage, we are also subsidising medium and large corporations who pay many of their employee’s minimum wages and punishing those who are working for crumbs. Low-income earners are entitled to claim subsidies such as accommodation supplements, working for family tax credits and food vouchers. In an attempt to blind the public to who the taxpayer is really subsidising, the government posit these social security schemes as being benefits to our low-income earners and claim this as some great deed that we as taxpayers are subsidising the incomes of low wage employee’s. Bullshit. We are subsidising businesses so that they can pay the employee less than their labour is worth so that they can make a bigger profit. Taxpayers are doing no more than topping up the wages of low income earners because the government privileges businesses over people. As a result, the government cut further spending in the social services (including health and education) because of the allocation of our taxes to subsidise businesses who cry wolf at the thought of paying a living wage to an employee for their labour. Interestingly, these business owners are usually the same people harping on about individual responsibility, welfare statism and a free market even though they are products of the same labels they use to chastise the poor.  

So my point is, while community gardens and housing projects will feed the poor and provide shelter, they do not address the inequality issue. Redistribution of wealth will help solve the inequality issue, but land ownership and an insistence on private ownership of land, will always ensure that inequality prevails. Think about it – we as human beings are always occupying a physical space. Yet, every space we occupy has some rights, interests or obligations attached to it. We cannot simply choose to opt out of society – because even if we did, someone or some entity has rights and interests in every inch of the land. So if we wanted to just go to sleep somewhere either local government would prevent us from doing so on council owned land, DOC would prevent us from doing so on conservation land, homeowners, renters and business owners would prevent us from doing so on their privately owned land. Yet we must sleep. In commodifying land, we have taken out of the commons a resource necessary for all land dwelling species to survive. Successive governments have arbitrarily determined the boundaries and the rights and interests that can be attached to land notwithstanding that land is not a manufactured good whose origin can be traced to a particular person. Additionally, land ownership has forced people to participate in a society that they were contingently born into even if that means participating to the detriment of their own well-being. 

Highly recommended read on NZ tax system as regressive not progressive: http://pantograph-punch.com/from-each-according-to-his-need-how-our-tax-system-punishes-the-poor/ 

Also checkout: http://www.cpag.org.nz  there are some great resources on this site.

WEEKLY RANT #6

This morning I watched a hugely insightful documentary: “Call of Life: Facing the mass extinction”. You can watch it for free on the link below:

I thought that I might use this documentary as the baseline for answering a comment by Mark Hubbard who writes the “Life Behind the Iron Drape” blog as part of my weekly rant. Both Mark and I have a mutual understanding that we are worlds apart in our thinking, but are happy to exchange ideas without feeling the need to attack the others position. After all, that is what freedom of expression is about, and it is a value that we both view as inherently important (albeit with some disagreement as to whether or not it incorporates the freedom to offend, but I digress!).

The suggestion made was that I might be better off voting for the Libertarianz Party and perhaps accept an economy principled on laissez-faire capitalism. I first have to make one point very clear. I dislike capitalism. Fullstop. I am pragmatic in understanding that we currently operate within a capitalist economy, but as has always been my position, and being enlightened even further this morning, we cannot have an economy if we no longer have the environment that produces the resources needed to satisfy our demands. Consumerism erodes our environment as long as capitalism lingers on.

Whilst watching the documentary,I had one of those moments where I thought: how could I not have organised my thoughts more coherently to see the fallacy of economic growth? The answer:consumerism teaches us to detach ourselves from dealing with the reality. For example, I particularly enjoyed a analogy made in the documentary that under consumerism humans are insane.  Insanity being “a state of mind which prevents normal perception…” (Online Oxford Dictionary). Analogously, as consumers we deny the realities of the effects on the environment in both the production and disposal of the things we buy.  

So returning to the point I was making, the government predicate their policies on economic growth.Every party in Parliament uses economic growth as a political tool for illustrating why one party is better or worse than the other. They are all wrong. A perfect summing up of economic growth in the documentary was that we cannot have infinite economic growth in a finite world, and as such capitalism is ecologically illiterate. So while the government marvel at all the prospects they have for our future and how this is dependent on economic growth,they are mistaken. Without biodiversity, we have no future. The current government have gone as far to vote against a bill that would protect endangered Maui Dolphins because of the impact it might have on commercial fishing and hence their economic growth plans. This is absolute lunacy.

So an answer to Mark (in a nutshell) while I appreciate that we both see ‘freedom’ as a core value in both our ideal societies, my view is that freedom must be regulated in order to protect the very thing that sustains life on this planet – the environment or more specifically, biodiversity. This is also why I disagree with a freemarket and deregulation, in my view these very concepts undermine ecological preservation. I understand that a criticism of regulating freedom is that it is not truly ‘freedom’; but my view is probably Kantian in that respect, insofar as we cannot as rational beings ever comprehend absolute freedom. Libertarianism holds everyone responsible for the choices that they make, but Libertarianism does not provide solutions to preventing degradation of our biosphere, because the regulation required cannot be reconciled with Libertarian principles. I accept that there may be a counter-argument and I am open to hearing it.

I am discovering that I am a mish-mash of ideologies, theories and principles, and am finding the labels less and less attractive. Like Mark states in his blog, ideas are more important and more interesting! 

An analogy: bio-engineered salmon

Recently I tweeted that “As an indigenous person, I’m feeling a little like a bio-engineered salmon”. This may seem a little random, but while attending the recent World Indigenous Lawyers Conference this made sense, to me at least.

Let me explain. In the very first seminar, Rebecca Tsosie gave an example about the backward way in which we approach a crisis. Instead of taking a precautionary measure to preserve the environment in its natural state, we intervene. She spoke of an example where salmon populations had depleted because of climate change. The waters were warmer and became inhabitable for the salmon that had a history of breeding in those waters. This affected not only the salmon migration patterns, but also affected the availability of a food resource for the indigenous people in that area. The suggestion (and I am unclear on whether this actually happened or whether it was simply a suggestion or merely a hypothetical) was to bio-engineer the salmon to adjust to the warmer waters. The consensus is that climate change is a result of excessive carbon emissions. The peculiarity is why we would bio-engineer a species to adapt to worsening environmental conditions, when we could simply change human activity that adversely affects the environment. Prevention or precautionary measures are more sustainable and therefore, better in the long term. 

How does this relate to my statement? Well, the example stayed with me throughout the whole conference – in every seminar I attended, whether it be about education, politics, banking and so on.

Lets talk about the banking seminar. The issue was: Do we need a Maori bank or do banks need to be more Maori? It was claimed that a key factor in accelerating Maori success in business was overcoming issues of access to finance. The suggestion was that the banks need more Maori in banking roles and to be more Maori – this being more Maori was about ‘pastoral care’ of whanau and Maori enterprise to improve the Maori experience of banks. Personally, I seethed throughout the whole seminar. My view was: in what ways was it conducive to tikanga Maori to promote capitalist structures to trap Maori in a fake credit system? Encouraging Maori to take on debt in order to fit within the structures of a society that has a different modus operandi so to speak – where success is measured by the profitability of a business or personal wealth is not particularly tika in my view. I am not here suggesting that business and profitability are negative in all aspects. 

My view is that as indigenous peoples, Maori should be very careful about conforming to an economy that conflicts with Te Ao Maori (the Maori worldview). So here’s where the salmon analogy comes back in. Prior to colonisation Maori had a very productive economy. It may not have been capitalist, but it functioned in a way that was beneficial to all its members. Since colonisation, Maori have been forced to adapt to the ways of the colonising empire in all aspects. This adaptation is analogous to the bio-engineered salmon example. Instead of recognising that Maori had an economy, that they had rights and interests in natural resources and allowing them to continue to operate in that way, a way that was sustainable and a way that every member was cared for, deculturating Maori prevailed.

Additionally, instead of educating Maori in Te Reo, in an environment that was suitable for their learning and in subjects that enabled individuals to find their own talents and roles in Maori society, the education system assimilated Maori. Maori were and predominantly are taught in English, taught subjects important to those in power and are taught to behave according to the norms and values of a foreign culture.  Bio-engineered salmon. Suffice to say when sitting in the politics seminar on the last morning of addresses, I realised that we Maori, as indigenous peoples, enable the deculturation. The status quo is that the key is to be at the table. My opinion, this buys into the bio-engineered salmon. The disharmony at the moment over consultation as to water rights and interests shows that while the government can divide Maori, Maori will remain politically modified to fit within a system that refuses to recognise Maori indigeniety and the rights, interests, duties and obligations that come with that indigeneity.

The conference also helped me make sense of a reading that I had done prior to the conference. It was from an International Environmental Law paper I am doing, the chapter comes from a book called “When two worlds collide” written by my lecturer Klaus Bosselmann. In this particular chapter, Klaus sets out a planetary calendar from the beginning of time to the possible moment of the extinction of the world in which we have to make a radical choice to prevent the decimation of humankind . It is very dramatic but reminded me of the presentation given by Justice Joe Williams, who told a similar story but more specific to Maori about there being two scenarios in the future for Maori which depends on a common vision within and between Maori. Those scenarios were a dystopia and a utopia, with the former being a world where our indigeneity was simply seen as an experiment and has no value in that world with Maori continuing to dominate the negative statistics, while the latter is a world where Maoridom is embraced by all New Zealanders and is integral to national identity (I will discuss this further in a later post).  

While the bio-engineered salmon analogy impacted how I understood and interpreted the seminars I attended, another statement also had a profound effect on my thinking. Bentham Ohia shared a statement made to him by Bolivian President Evo Morales: “I am not a capitalist, I am not a socialist, I am Indigenous”. Bentham shared this with the audience because it resonated with him. I am pretty sure it resonated with every indigenous person in the audience. 

The key ideas, that I took away from the conference are as follows:  

(i) Recognising the struggles of indigenous peoples as being analogous to struggle of the salmon and the foreign solution – to bio-engineer; and  

(ii) Acknowledging that I am an indigenous person and that I need not subscribe to a dichotomous political spectrum that does not appropriately recognise my idigeneity. 

NOTE: The World Indigenous Lawyers Conference 2012 was the first ever held and was hosted by Te Hunga Roia o Maori Aotearoa. I will write more on these seminars when time permits. My understanding is that Maori Lawyer Joshua Hitchcock intends to do a write up on this conference so keep an eye out: http://roiamaori.wordpress.com/ 

WEEKLY RANT #5

The similarities between sports and politics.

Loyalty. Its often a hard pill to swallow. Especially if the team or party you are supporting just aren’t performing.

Sunday mornings Q + A was a prime example. David Shearer, for all the good he means, was abysmal. John Key let out a whole heap of political flatulence, and Shearer sat in the stench. No, I’m not a political commentator, and I’m not particularly good at making predictions, I couldn’t tell you what the parties will do, nor how the public will respond. What I can say, is what I perceived. And John Armstrong, as a blogger, I have a ‘right’ to impart my opinion on any one in any form.

So what were some good points that David Shearer could have combated?

Firstly, that John Key stated rather triumphantly that with 3/4 of New Zealanders on the 17.5% PAYE tax rate our tax system was the envy of the world. Of course, I’m no tax specialist, but you only need to look at the PAYE income tax rates for individuals to see, that those on the 17.5% rate are on low incomes (less than $48,0000), and this was misleading also, since this is the rate that excludes the ACC levy. Effectively, John Key affirmed that it was enviable that 3/4 of New Zealanders are on the lower tax rate, which translates to an endorsement of 3/4 of New Zealanders being on low incomes. Shearer could have gone to town on this point, especially given Labours constituency are predominantly those on the 17.5% PAYE tax rate.

Secondly, that John Key tried to provide his ‘own’ interpretation of Te Tiriti couched in language that favoured the majority. It is unfathomable that the Government continue to interpret the Treaty in terms favourable to them, which in any other circumstance would be inequitable. The international standard is  the rule of contra proferentem which states that in the event of ambiguity a provision should be construed against the party which drafted or proposed that provision.  David Shearer, had the opportunity to address this ignorance, but his failure to do so, leaves me skeptical about what Labour actually believe about Te Tiriti. 

Thirdly, national standards. They are a measure. Is that all you have Shearer? They are an inaccurate measure. They don’t take into account confounding variables, i.e. those factors that might also impact on a child’s learning such as socio-economic background, social or cultural values and pre-school learning etc. They are based on some arbitrary measure that the government has determined all children must meet at a particular age. That would be fine if all children had the same start in life or if all children learnt at the same rate, or in the same ways. 

Anyhow, there will be those of you who viewed Shearer’s performance differently from me, but note, my criticism is not because I think John Key did a spectacular job, on the contrary, John Key was an egg. 

So back to my point, how is supporting a political party similar to supporting a sports team? 

For any Warriors fans, I’m sure you know what I mean here (even though I don’t really watch sport, nor do I have a particular interest in doing so). Many supporters have expressed that sometimes the Warriors are a hard team to support, but presumably, out of loyalty they continue to do so. Where does the loyalty derive? In my view, from a history of supporting them. Similarly, like those who have the same set Lotto numbers week in week out. This is then coupled with a self-creating paranoia that the moment they stop picking those numbers, will be the moment they become the winning numbers, or in the sports sense, the moment the team start performing and likewise in politics. I suppose it also involves a element of faith or belief that their performance will improve. In my view, this is an irrational basis for supporting either a sports team or a political party.  

At last election, I took a tactical vote. I didn’t vote Labour, like I normally would have in the past, why? because I hated the idea that a party rules out working with another party especially if they both sit on the same side of the political fence. In a representative democracy, it seems rather undemocratic to choose not to represent a particular group of voters, especially since in New Zealand we have a two party system, so the smaller parties only have some effect if they work with either National or Labour. I was going to continue on with this issue, but I think I have made my point.

My conclusion is that loyalty + faith + paranoia = irrational support. If we took more stock of the smaller parties who might offer better solutions, or at least a more creative solutions, then we might be able to escape the irrationality of voting for one of the big parties who both seem to be stepping in and out of each others domains on a persistent basis and  both making shithouse decisions. 



Student Politics: SJP censure forum

Today in the University of Auckland Quad, the SJP (Students for Justice in Palestine) censure forum took place. Prior to the meeting, I was sitting at a table where an SJP advocate handed out some material on apartheid in Palestine. It became clear at that moment that the agenda was more than just the process by which the AUSA enabled their President Arena Williams to accept an invitation to participate in the trip to Israel hosted by AIJAC (Australia/Israel Jewish Affairs Council) an independent Australian organisation. This is contrary to what I think I had initially posted, in that it was my understanding that there was some correlation between the group hosting and the Israeli government. While I was present for the first two motions, I was not there for the third. 

The first motion was to censure President of AUSA Arena Williams for failing to consult students. The motion carried and Arena was censured. 

The SJP advocates fiercely denunciated the oppression of the Palestinian people. In doing so, the SJP intimated that had Arena travelled to Palestine, then her travel would not have been disputed. The insistence was that for a person to truly understand the Israel/Palestine conflict they must visit Palestine. I understand this point, that a broader worldview requires seeing the conflict from both sides; however, the trip was hosted by an Israeli organisation and the opportunity to see it from the Palestinian view was probably unavailable on this occasion, but that does not amount to a rejection by Arena of the Palestinian struggle. The presumption of the SJP is that Arena was not interested in understanding the conflict from the point of view of Palestinians. This is unfounded and suggests that the attack was on Arena as an individual rather than a criticism of her accepting the invitation as President of the AUSA. Even in the midst of the personal attack on her, when the mover of the censure was asked to finish up, it was Arena who voiced “let her speak!”

The second motion was that Arena Williams apologise in writing for the offence she has caused to students for her trip to Israel.

The debate here revolved around the offence caused by Arena’s presence in Israel. Omar Hamed did make the concession during his address that an apology from Arena was not going to resolve the conflict in Palestine. However, others alleged that Arena’s presence in Israel and in accepting the invitation to travel there amounted to an endorsement of the Israeli Government’s inhumane treatment of Palestinians. The motion for apology passed and Arena gave a very emotional apology for any offence she caused. She wore her heart on her sleeve, and showed a great degree of composure and strength in delivering her address.

I have been keeping a close eye on Twitter for other updates. It is reported that some Israeli students stood up to speak and were shouted down by the SJP. Additionally, it is reported that the SJP were recording the forum even though a pro-life group had previously not been allowed.  

The third motion was for AUSA to consult on ‘contentious issues’ with students. The motion passed. Although it appears, that there is actually a referendum process for this as part of AUSA’s constitution.

In all, this appears to have been a smokescreen for the SJP to advocate their opposition to the Israeli government. However, the rally they had going today suggested that  anyone who intends to travel or has travelled to Israel is by default a supporter of the Israeli government. I am wondering if every person who travels to New Zealand, Canada, Australia, the United States and any other country where indigenous peoples were colonised, are endorsers of colonisation? Hypocrisy?

To the SJP, no-one condones the oppression of Palestinians and the cruel and inhumane treatment suffered by Palestinians at the hands of those empowered by the Israeli government. However, it was unnecessary for your organisation to launch an attack on Arena Williams, the criticism should have been directed at the process by which executive members (including the President) of the AUSA are enabled to participate in contentious political forums, which was basically the last motion carried. 

(If you want to see the Twitter updates, search #sjpcensure)

Food in schools

This week the Labour Party announced that it would be supporting the provision of food in low decile schools, in a way coat tailing on the election policy of the Mana Party.
This has spawned a lot of debate between those who think it promotes a lack of parental responsibility and those who think no child should ever go hungry, irrespective of their background.  
The argument behind providing food in schools is that it is estimated around 270,000 children are turning up to school without having had breakfast and without lunch. In a country that prides itself on fair equality of opportunity, the figure is astounding. Some will argue that the State has a duty to ensure that its citizens, especially the children, are not deprived of food. Critics of that argument suggest that it is the role of parents to provide food for their children and not the role of the State. 
So who should be responsible for feeding children during school hours?
Matt Nolan, an economist, who writes on the TVHE blog, suggests that as children are forced to be in an institution for most of the day, we ought to make sure that the institution provides the services required. His baseline for his argument is as follows: 
“We need to think about primary and secondary school education more clearly to get a good idea about the policy of free lunches.  Why do we provide this sort of education, and what does public provision achieve?  We provide this type of education to ensure there is equality of opportunity for individuals in society.  On that note, having shared lunches at school ensures the same thing – we know that appropriate nutrition at a young age is essential for the physical and mental development of an individual.  We know that, especially in low decile schools, there is a definite “underinvestment” in this attribute for kids”

see: http://www.tvhe.co.nz/2012/09/10/free-food-in-schools-equality-of-opportunity/

I agree with this argument. The State specifies certain learning outcomes and in order to achieve those outcomes, every child needs to have the same starting point. While food is not the only factor influencing how a child learns, it is certainly a key factor for ensuring they have the energy to learn.
My issue with the policy proposed by Labour is that it does not go far enough. My view is that lunches provided by the State should be provided in all public and integrated schools. Without detracting from the issue of child poverty, my concern is that while some parents can afford to send their children to school with lunch, are they sending them with the appropriate food? Children’s lunchboxes are often packed with sugar.  The impact of sugar on a child’s learning, in my view, has an effect similar to a child who has little to no lunch. When a child comes crashing down off the sugar, they are lethargic and lack the energy required to learn. It is common knowledge that in many Scandinavian countries, food in schools is standard practice, and this correlates to the relatively good health outcomes in those countries as well. Therefore, by providing lunches in all state funded schools, we could address the correlative issues of hunger and health.
Criticisms that I have heard or read about suggest that feeding children in schools does nothing to address parental responsibility. The assumption is that parents will get lazy and rely on the State to feed their child or children. That attitude is the result of a punitive mind and a lack of compassion through an inability to understand the complexity of the issues faced by parents raising children in poverty. Additionally, they label parents who are unable to feed their children as lazy, useless and negligent, as well as alcoholics, drug addicts, smokers, gamblers and so on. These “labels” do not belong to poor parents. Wealthy parents can also be lazy, useless, negligent, alcoholics. Drug addicts, smokers etc.  My point is that publicising these attitudes affects children and has a huge impact on their confidence. 
When I was at primary school and my mother was on a benefit, if we had no food for lunch, I would pretend I was sick so I didn’t have to go to school, or at lunchtime I would go wait down the road outside the school grounds and tell my friends I was waiting for my lunch to be dropped off, or I would go hide in the cloak bay until the lunch bell rang and everyone had finished eating. Children feel the shame of their parents not being able to feed them and that shame comes from people characterising poor parents according to the labels mentioned above. 
Moving on, with all the socio-economic indicators aside, no parent wants to be in a situation where they are unable to provide lunch for their child or children at school. In fact, I would go as far as to say, that being unable to provide such necessities is likely to be a huge factor exacerbating the stresses that cause the above-mentioned problems. 
Punitive measures suggested by the critics of state funded lunches for children, would rather have poor parents criminalised for not providing lunch for their children or stopping their benefit. My view is that by addressing child poverty through penalising parents is counterproductive. Such penalties add further stress to these families, and stress does not make for good outcomes. 
Providing food in schools as a standard practice is more a rehabilitative approach. It signals to poorer families that the State will take care of the child at school and provide all that is necessary for that child during their time in the school and encourages the parents to take responsibility while the child or children are in the home. Critics will argue that this is highly idealistic. However, if the government makes clear that the raising of the child is a shared responsibility, then the parents can focus on ensuring that they can provide at the least the necessities at home removing the stress of wondering how they are going to provide those necessities for the child at school. The stress is diminished through knowing the State is supporting you, and through that co-operation, parents may start to see hope in their future and in their children’s future.  I am not denying that some parents may still take advantage of the situation, but children should not bear the penalty of the choices made by their parents. 

Student politics: Arena Williams & the SJP

Let me clear up a few potential biases before I start. I am a Maori Law student. I know Arena Williams. I am not an AUSA member nor am I a member of SJP; however, I am affiliated with Te Rakau Ture. None of these organisations or its members have commissioned this post, nor have I sought endorsements from any of them, including Arena.
Recently, President of AUSA, Arena Williams was invited on a trip to Israel. She took unpaid leave from her role as President to go on this trip, which was granted by the AUSA Exec team. The backlash has been severe from the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and has created significant level of rhetoric as to the duties and obligations of Arena in her role as President and what she can and cannot do in her own time.  

The SJP have taken exception to the decision of Arena Williams who accepted an invitation to visit Israel on unpaid leave from her role as President of the AUSA which was granted by the AUSA exec. In response the SJP issued the following statements:  

“In July, the AUSA President took a ten day trip to visit illegal Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine. The trip was funded by the Israeli government which targeted two prominent young leaders from both Young Labour and Young Nats and our AUSA president”
“…what message is AUSA sending its students when its president is visiting a country that is facing heated political criticism by academics, lawyers, politicians and student bodies internationally? And what exactly does this trip reflect in regards to AUSA’s policies? In our eyes it reflects a serious biasness for the Israeli view and one that is detrimental to the Palestinian BDS movement.  Ignoring the international boycott movement which has been recognised by much of the International community, universities throughout the world,  our AUSA president proceeded to visit the Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine, settlements which have categorised as ‘illegal’ under International law, and even by the United States
Additionally, the SJP have demanded an apology which they believe is justified on the following assertions:

Students for Justice in Palestine call for an official apology from the President of our Students’ Association, Arena Williams, for her:
  1. For her disregard for human rights
  2. For visiting an apartheid country under an international boycott
  3. For being unfair and bias on such a contentious issue
  4. For not representing or consulting with students
  5. For not adequately addressing student concerns after they had been raised directly with her
  6. For not being direct, transparent or inclusive
  7. For her disregard for New Zealand’s long history of social justice, especially since AUSA stood up against South African apartheid in the 80’s by supporting the international boycott movement.

On point 5 above, when the issue was raised with Arena, she met with members of the SJP and agreed to make a statement as to her reasons for visiting Israel. This article was published in Craccum, and Arena made clear that her reasons were personal, and that she was not representing the views of AUSA, hence ensuring that she was on unpaid leave to remove any doubt of a perceived conflict of interest.

On point 1 above, the Craccum article indicates that Arena was in fact passionate about understanding the conflict between Palestine and Israel, evidenced by her admission of engaging in discussion, extensive reading, and debate about the issues. A person with this level of curiosity and thirst for understanding, is in my view, not the kind of person who could be characterised as having a disregard for human rights. I would have thought the contrary to be true, since a person who takes an interest in trying to understand injustices and conflict is more likely to care a great deal about human rights. Additionally, a student known to be very politically active and who accepted a role as AUSA president is surely indicative of someone who seeks fairness and justice.
On point 4, the SJP are arguing that Arena should have represented students on the one hand, while on the other hand claiming that by virtue of her role as President of AUSA she was representing students. The implication is that Palestinian students or those who support SJP were not represented. This is difficult, since the AUSA represent a diverse student body, raising the probability of grievances among those they represent. My point is that, had Arena attended a Palestinian hosted event, then Israeli students may have reacted in much the same way as the SJP.

On point 2 above, if there were an international boycott, then surely the NZ government would have voiced its own denunciation of the invitation by the Israeli government. Note, that I do not endorse at all the inhumane treatment of Palestinians by the Israeli government, nor do I accept the treatment of Israeli’s by Palestinians (I am a pacifist and do not support any kind of violence). Additionally, it was perhaps not the best example to use the United States to illustrate a country that disapprove of the Israeli tactics, given the US have provided a significantly larger amount of aid to Israel than it has to Palestine.  

On point 3 above, the assumption is that if the Palestinian government had made the same offer to Arena, that she would have turned it down. As far as I am aware, she has not made such an assertion, and given her explanation in Craccum, I suspect that she would have accepted such an offer to give her the wide ranging view of the issues since it is an issue she feels deeply and passionately about.

I do have to say though, the absolute kicker here is point 7 above. This is seriously flawed. New Zealand does not have a long history of social justice. Do the SJP have any understanding about the impact of the Treaty of Waitangi on Maori? I do not mean to insult anyone’s intelligence here, but to make that assertion is insulting to all Maori subject to the ongoing injustices of the past. Do the SJP accept that their assertion about the long history of social justice in New Zealand is effectively an endorsement of colonisation and the displacement and dispossession of an entire indigenous population? Moreover, that the ongoing breaches of Te Tiriti and the refusal of the Crown to acknowledge the Maori version is indicative that colonisation is still very real for Maori? 

The main issue as I perceive it is this: whether a President of a student body has a right to carry out activities in their personal time that may come into conflict with their role as President.

I framed it as a rights issue because much of the discourse has revolved around s14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 (NZ BORA) – the right to freedom of expression.

The level of obligation and accountability expected by SJP exceeds, in my view, what could be reasonable in a free and democratic society. It was argued that the freedom of expression right is not absolute. This is true. But is it true in this case? The right entitles the individual to seek, impart or receive any opinion in any form. The purpose of the act is to limit state interference on the rights of individuals. The SJP imply that there is some civil standard on which Arena’s choice to extend her learning and understanding in certain areas must be limited by virtue of her status as President of the AUSA. However, unless there is some state authorised regulation that limits Arena’s right to engage in political affairs in her own time, then she cannot and in fact should not be forced to make an apology.

I want to acknowledge here that the SJP is most certainly an admirable and worthwhile cause in advocating for human rights. My heart goes out to any human being individually or collectively who is the subject or subjects of hatred and oppression. However, Arena was not in my view advocating for the Israeli government in attending the trip they hosted. She was simply exercising a great degree of tolerance in accepting the invitation in her quest for understanding the conflict, and she did this in her own time, as Arena Williams and not as President of the AUSA. Members or supporters of the SJP suggested that as President of AUSA, Arena must always be representing students whether on paid or unpaid leave for the entire tenure of her role. If that is the case, then that is the directive that she should have received when she was sworn into the role. If we look comparatively at the Prime Ministers choice to watch his son play baseball in the US instead of attending a fallen soldiers funeral – was he at that baseball game acting in his capacity as Prime Minister or as a father? This was a highly contentious point in New Zealand, albeit for different reasons, but it highlights that people are not always acting in their official duties and that they are entitled to act in their personal capacity, especially if they make that clear, whether we agree with it or not. Is that not what democracy is about? 

The SJP are holding an event in which Arena Williams has signalled that she will attend. For anyone interested in attending follow this link:  https://www.facebook.com/events/497169913645441/
The event will take place at 1300hrs on Wednesday 12 September in the University of Auckland Quad. 

WEEKLY RANT #4

I’m a little behind the times this week…was too busy watching it all unfold, Marriage Equality, Keep it 18, Waitangi Tribunal report, all of which have been extensively covered. 

So what am I going to rant about? Driving. 

In no particular order the following things deserve a mention: 

1. Pulling out past the yellow lines at a stop sign – you want me to take out the front of your car? 
2. Changing lanes without indicating – you’re lucky I was paying attention, unlike you who appeared to be on your phone. 
3. Driving 40km in a 50km zone then driving 70km in a 60km – spastic logic and did you not see the speed camera? 
4. Not merging like a zip – why because you’re one car in front of me that means you’ll get to your destination how much quicker, really? and I cannot stress this enough really irritating. 
5. Slow starts on green lights – honestly, if you’re not paying attention to the traffic lights then are you sure you should be on the road? or do you treat traffic lights as a snooze button and my beeping as your final alarm, just saying. 
6. Not staying in your lane – yes you big freaking bus, stay in your lane and if you want to change then indicate and check your wing mirrors. Near miss. 
7. Tailgating – so unnecessary. You drive up the butt of my car and I will ensure that you endure an even more frustrating journey. 
8. Right turning traffic – c’mon the law has changed. We all know now you give way to left turning traffic, so don’t give me your growly face old man when you nearly ram my car and you’re in the wrong. 
9. Treating Stop signs as Give way signs on a busy road – you must bring your vehicle to a complete stop, I know, I’ve been ticketed for this, you came really close to messing up someones morning. 
10. Not allowing a vehicle to move into your lane – despite their efforts at indicating for quite some time. Really? will it interrupt your flow to such an extent that there is no way you could be a courteous driver and let them in. 
11. Using the flush median to edge your way up the Pakuranga Highway and then back into the line of traffic  during peak hour – what a wanker. 

There are so many more things that are frustrating. Feel free to add your driving peeves to the comments section. 

Overall, my gripe for the week was the extreme lack of knowledge of the general road rules and a lack of common courtesy.