NZ Law

Book Release – The Interregnum: Rethinking New Zealand

BWB7760_Text_Cover_The Interregum_HighRes_0

Kia ora e te kaupapa whānau,

It’s been a while. Aroha mai for that. I can’t say that I’m back writing here on a regular basis, but maybe. It all depends on time. However, I want to pānui out the release of Morgan Godfery (ed.) The Interregnum: Rethinking New Zealand (2016, BWB Books:Wellington).

From the BWB website, here is a teaser:

Is New Zealand’s political settlement beginning to fray? And does this mean we’re entering the interregnum, that ambiguous moment between society-wide discontent and political change? In BWB’s latest book of essays, edited by Morgan Godfery, ten of New Zealand’s sharpest emerging thinkers gather to debate the ‘morbid symptoms’ of the current moment, from precarious work to climate change, and to discuss what shape change might take, from ‘the politics of love’ to postcapitalism.

The Interregnum interrogates the future from the perspective of the generation who will shape it.

I have contributed a chapter on Kaupapa Māori Politics. I’m totally open to discussing (debating!) it, so if you do buy the book, and then want to have a mutually respectful kōrero with me about my chapter, please do comment here.

 

Ngā mihi nui ki a koe.

Collective Efforts

In his recent post, Too quick to take the credit? Morgan Godfery argues that it was a “crass” move by the Māori Party to put out a statement taking credit for the $790 million hardship package included in this years Budget. His key argument was that there were others who shifted political thinking such as Matua Hone Harawira with his Feed the Kids Bill and various advocacy groups, and as such that credit lies with those people not the Māori Party. It’s not that I don’t think others have been strong advocates on poverty. I absolutely do and of course agree they all deserve credit for their advocacy. But I think it’s unfair to discount the efforts of Dr Pita Sharples and Dame Tariana Turia and the continued efforts of Matua Te Ururoa Flavell and Whaea Marama Fox, as well as the party’s previous MP’s, parliamentary staff and members and supporters who have advanced the issue of poverty within the party and in their respective communities for the past decade.

Godfery writes that:

[C]laiming the credit for forcing the government to act seems a little, well, crass. Much of the credit belongs to Hone Harawira. It was Hone who did more than anyone else to help put child poverty on the Parliamentary agenda with his Feed the Kids campaign

Firstly, if you have had an opportunity to listen to Flavell’s Budget Speech, you will note that he said the Māori Party pulled it over the line…with a little help from National. After all, no Budget measures can take effect unless the government agree to it. The Māori Party have been strong advocates for poverty since entering Parliament, and the evidence is readily available in their policy manifesto’s. [Discussed further below].

Secondly, I completely agree that Harawira has been an outstanding advocate on issues of poverty and social justice. He certainly put child poverty on the media agenda but the claim he put it on the parliamentary agenda is bold. It’s worth noting that despite his advocacy in the media, Harawira had 2 years to put his Feed the Kids Bill before the house, yet withdrew and delayed on numerous occasions. It was only put forth following the 2014 Election, by NZ Greens Co-Leader Metiria Turei. Also note, the Māori Party voted in favour of that bill.

I also wholeheartedly agree that Campbell Live, Action Station, Child Poverty Action Group, and Auckland Action Against Poverty among other groups have been at the forefront of many community led initiatives to get the government to address poverty in Aotearoa. That doesn’t mean in order to recognise their strong advocacy that we need devolve into adversarialism. To allege misattribution by the Māori Party and essentially accuse them of riding on the coattails of the work of others is itself a misplaced attribution. The collective efforts and the varying roles each of the organisations have in policy development were not dismissed by the Māori Party. But in my view, they have every reason to say we pulled it over the line, since it is the Māori Party who through their relationship accord were able to directly influence that budget decision and absolutely the public pressure from these groups played a vital role in the Māori Party being able to secure that funding for poverty.

Action Station have expressed their tautoko of the Party in the fight against poverty:

And have acknowledged Fox for receiving the Action Station petition at Parliament on 20 May 2015.

On the above it is only fair then that we also take a brief look at the Party’s history of poverty advocacy.

In 2008, the Māori Party entered their first relationship accord with the National Party. At that time, Harawira was an elected MP for the Māori Party under the leadership of Turia and Sharples. The 2008 Policy programme that the Māori Party campaigned on included Ending Child Poverty by 2020. Part of that policy programme included:

  • Rais[ing] core benefit levels
  • Establishing an Every Child Matters fund
  • Investigating the reintroduction of a Universal Child Benefit

In 2011, the Māori Party entered a second relationship accord. At this time Harawira had left and formed his own Mana Party. The 2011 Confidence and Supply Agreement included:

  1. Supporting the ongoing implementation of Whānau Ora
  2. Establishing a Ministerial Committee on Poverty
  3. Urgently addressing the effects of poverty through health and home initiatives

See also: 2011 Maori Party policy package.

In 2014, addressing the effects of poverty was weaved through critical areas of the Party’s policy platform: Whānau Ora, Health, Education, Economic Development, Homes, Family Violence, Enabling Good Lives and so on. The goals stated were to build on the objectives and the progress made since 2008.

For the Party to be reproached for being proud of their contributions, that is, seeing the materialisation of the work their MP’s and the kaimahi behind the scenes have put in to the relationship accord over the past 7 years, is awfully undermining of their efforts.

I do agree with Godfery where he states:

Improving even one life is a positive step, but we can’t claim success until we begin changing the system which reproduces Maori disadvantage generation after generation. Budget gains may help stop the slide, but they won’t reverse it.

However, to my knowledge the Party haven’t claimed success on the “reversal” of poverty – they’ve indicated that the budget gains are a start to improving the lives of our most vulnerable whānau.

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 [person] 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. [Person] 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 [Person] through his Lawyer]

Part 9: [link removed as requested by [Person] 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

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”.

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

Disunity as the year comes to an end for the Māori Party?

Te Karere reports that Tariana Turia is furious over Te Ururoa Flavell’s Whānau Ora housing decision:

“The newly-appointed Minister for Whānau Ora has come under attack from the person who setup Whānau Ora and the party he currently leads. Tariana Turia is angry that the co-leader of the Māori Party Te Ururoa Flavell has overturned a decision she made in July to give millions of dollars for social housing to Māori. Te Karere understands the money, intended to be managed by Māori, will now be administered by a government agency.”

Of note, the headline is a little misleading since the decision was not advanced by Flavell and after watching the interview, Turia seems disappointed more than she is furious.

The issue: Flavell has supported Housing Minister Nick Smith in abandoning the previous Māori housing policy which would have seen Te Pou Matakana (an independent Māori organisation) administer $25 million to coordinate Māori housing.

The decision: to transfer this responsibility of Māori Housing to Crown entity Te Puni Kokiri.

As the architect of the previous policy, it is unsurprising that this move has upset Turia. Mainly because it seems to contradict the objectives of Whānau Ora to create rangatiratanga for Māori as opposed to micromanagement by the State. And after scrolling through the feedback on this decision, Turia’s criticism appears to resonate with a sizeable proportion of Māori Party supporters and Māori more generally, including myself.

To be clear, I have much respect for Te Ururoa Flavell. This post is not about trampling on his mana. And I suspect that was not Turia’s intention either. Rather, it is acknowledging that as a Minister of the Crown, his decisions will be scrutinised even by his wider support networks, and that critique is a healthy part of the democratic process. One thing to be mindful of is that Flavell is bound by collective responsibility in his portfolios and must represent the government’s position in relation to his ministerial responsibilities.  This was made clear when the Party members and supporters voted in favour of the relationship accord. It is the primary reason the membership supported Co-Leader Marama Fox as an independent voice in Parliament. That outside cabinet position is intended to give Māori a voice and provide an avenue for criticism of decisions that Māori believe are not in our best interests and do not  steer us toward tino rangatiratanga.

Why the abandonment of Māori governance in favour of State management of Māori housing? Money.  According to Turia:

[If] they were worried about the amount of money, which is what they told me, worried about the amount of money for administration, they could have put that in the contract.

The reason supplied to Turia is a major cause for concern. It explicitly says that the Crown do not trust Māori to manage our affairs. In my view, it is both a condescending and oppressive attitude that intensifies ingrained views of Māori as ‘needing to be civilised’. Moreover, it imposes a view of Māori criminality (i.e. Māori organisations cannot be trusted to act legally or appropriately with significant sums of money) and is further evidence that the heavy chains of colonisation are still firmly in place.  There are, of course, clear instances of the mismanagement of funds within Māori organisations. However, this is not unique to Māori and flagging it as a reason for ‘State’ retention of control entrenches the perception that the behaviour of the few is reflective of the entire Māori population.

The government talks about its role  in creating an enabling environment for Māori. This is language drawn from international trade policy, in particular, the WTO. Unfortunately, the way it is being employed in NZ is eerily similar to the way the developed countries advocate the enabling of developing and least-developed countries but in reality have sidestepped their obligations.

 In response to Turia’s criticism, Māori Party President, Naida Glavish made the following comments as reported on Twitter by Te Kaea Journalist Maiki Sherman:

@MaikiSherman  writes:

Māori Party president Naida Glavish tells former co-leader Tariana Turia to “let go” following her public criticism of Te Ururoa Flavell.

“We would all hate to see Whaea Tariana detract from her own mana and spoil her distinguished record of service to our people and our party”

“It was her own decision to leave Parliament, which necessarily meant passing over the reins to her successors” – Naida Glavish.

Tariana Turia criticised a decision to change administration of funding for Maori social housing to Te Puni Kokiri.

Naida Glavish says the decision was made by Nick Smith, based on a Cabinet decision, on recommendation by the Auditor General.

Apart from the Māori Party’s embarrassing public spat, this also shows they’ve been railroaded by Cabinet. #RelationshipAccord

In my view, Turia’s criticism was not overstepping the boundary – it was a legitimate concern. As a founder of the Party and a key architect of Whānau Ora, it is understandable that she would express her views about its future in light of the decision made. The question asked of her: ‘What message do you have for Te Ururora Flavell?’ was provocative and seems to have baited the Party into a public war of words. Inadvertently implying a disunity that does not, in fact, exist.  The Party will need to mindful of how easy but also harmful it is to conflate legitimate criticism with personal attacks going into 2015 and beyond.

Addendum:

Link to Māori Party Press Release here re: Maiki Shermans commentary on Twitter.

The Greens get a little personal

I like the Greens. A lot. Their predilection for social and environmental justice and commitment to clean politics was something that set them apart from the other two main parties toward the end of the 2014 election campaign. So naturally it seemed out of character for Metiria Turei to make what might be construed as a deeply offensive personal remark in her public condemnation of  Tutehounuku (Nuk) Korako (National), as the newly appointed Chair of the Māori Affairs Select Committee (MASC).

In context, Turei was making valid constructive criticisms about the changes to the MASC under the National government. She raised three fundamental concerns.

(1) Scheduling debates on Treaty bills at the same time as the MASC meetings. This is an entirely justified concern, because surely any Te Tiriti issues fall within the scope of Māori Affairs.

(2) That National are wasting the MASC time by not pulling the Te Reo (Māori Language) Bill, despite the Minister of Māori Development establishing an independent advisory group.

The Greens consider that ‘it is not fair on submitters that the bill could be changed significantly after the select committee has already heard their submissions’. Out of interest, I had a look at the terms of reference for the Māori Language Advisory Group (MLAG). The document states that the MLAG will provide expert and independent advice about the Māori Language (Te Reo Māori) Bill including any changes to policy intent and legislation. Moreover, the group will be supported by Te Puni Kōkiri (TPK) and Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori (Māori Language Commission). It also specifies:

“For the avoidance of doubt, it is noted that the Māori Affairs Select Committee will undertake its inquiry into the Māori Language (Te Reo Māori) Bill, and provide its report to the House by 30 March 2015. The establishment and operations of the Māori Language Advisory Group is not related to, and will not affect, the operations of the Māori Affairs Select Committee. The Māori Language Advisory Group will be able to review and comment on the findings and recommendations of the Māori Affairs Select Committee with regard to the Māori Language (Te Reo Māori) Bill”

It seems that the two groups have distinct roles. The MLAG to consider the technical aspects of language revitalisation and implementation of the strategy. The MASC to provide a more holistic role in hearing and addressing the concerns of submitters through a final report with recommendations. While that might seem pretty straightforward, it would be good to get some clarification around the process so that the public can see whether it is or isn’t ‘wasting the committee’s time’. However, I am not entirely convinced that the criticism is about public interest in the process. Especially,  given the Greens and Labour have been highly critical of the Bill since its inception and would probably prefer it to not progress any further.

However,  as an opposition MP, Turei does have an obligation to outlay her concerns as a representative on the MASC. But her comments about Korako  I found a little troubling, perhaps I’m overreacting.

(3) Questioning the selection, competency and experience (and impliedly mana) of the person elected by majority vote to position of Chair seemed to me to go beyond the remit of an opposition MP and enter more personal territory. Because it is the Māori Affairs select committee, I’d have expected a measure of manaakitanga be shown, especially once the process of election were complete.

 Turei commented on Māori TV [see audio] that:

 “National put up a first termer as the Chair of this committee, it is an important committee, it should be chaired with someone who has much more experience than that”

I refer to the audio because it gives other cues in the form of tone and body language that cannot be translated in its written form and the text in the article and the interview differ slightly.

Te Rōpū Pounamu (The Greens Māori caucus) also emphasised this sentiment in a tweet:

I wondered on what grounds a first term MP might lack experience to Chair the Committee. Obviously a first time MP has no Parliamentary experience, but all MP’s enter the House with their unique skills and life experiences. I also considered if the same criticism would have been raised if it were a Labour first term MP who was nominated and elected to Chair the Committee.

Anyhow,  I took a peek at Korako’s public profile. Having sat on a number of Boards and having been involved in iwi organisations as well as running his own business, I do not see how he wouldn’t have the necessary skills to do the job. The suggestion that he wasn’t up to scratch was probably deeply insulting to him. It also came across as rather elitist highlighting perhaps a sense of hierarchy within the Greens that would appear to run counter to their narrative of equal opportunity.

What Turei doesn’t mention is the process by which the Chairperson is selected.  Its an important part of the context. In short, at the first Committee meeting nominations are called for by any member of the committee, and the nomination must then be seconded. Once nominations are ready, then the Chairperson is elected by majority vote.

So it is misleading to say National put a first termer as Chair, when the reality is, that Korako’s nomination must have been seconded, and then he was elected to that position by the majority of the committee.  My understanding is that there was a deadlock during the election process and if it weren’t broken then the meeting would have been dismissed and the committee unable to carry out its work. Apparently, Marama Fox relinquished her nomination for Deputy Chair to Nanaia Mahuta (Labour) to break the deadlock and to enable the Committee to carry on.

It is great that the Greens are stressing the importance of the Māori Affairs Select Committee and that they are (and have always been) committed to Te Tiriti. I just think the little snipe at Korako stooped to a level below which I’d expect the Greens to go. I may not agree with his party politics, but his perceived lack of experience by the Greens, isn’t something I’d expect to see his Committee colleagues dragging out in public after he were elected.