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.


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


Māori politics: Seats, Alliances, Demise and Choice

Māori politics is in for an incredibly tumultuous ride this election year. Rather than a unified Māori position, the Māori vote is widespread. Many will find a home on the Left under the Internet Mana Party alliance, Greens and Labour. While others will find comfort in the Māori Party and a smaller contingent in National and NZ First.

I wrote last year on how I declined to enrol under the Māori electorates. That post is available here. It is incredibly harsh, and on reflection I do have some regrets about my decision to stay on the general roll and many regrets about some of the things I wrote. I suppose these are the issues when writing a blog, i.e. that new information or changes in circumstances can change perceptions and views. However, I remain unmoved in my position that the Westminster system does not serve the ends of Māori because the state is a necessarily coercive entity.

The Internet-Mana Party

Anyone who follows my social media accounts will know that I’ve been particularly critical of the Internet Mana Party (IMP) temporary merger. Its touted as a strategic alliance. It’s alleged that this move is a ‘game changer’. It’s certainly interesting and there is the possibility that it may have positive effects. There is an equal chance that it wont. The problem isn’t that Mana are taking advantage of a flaw in the MMP system, it is that the seat is being used to prop up a party founded and funded by someone lacking in the mana the Māori seats deserve. Its clear in the idea that the merger is less about Māori and more about its funder, since the MOU agreed between the parties shows this merger disbands after the election so each party can pursue their own policy agendas.

Hone Harawira absolutely deserves to run in Te Tai Tokerau (TTT).  But so to does Kelvin Davis. Both men are extolled by TTT and they provide choice to their electorate.  It is true that non-Māori can also run in those seats, and this illustrates that Dotcom’s connection as founder and funder of the party attempting to coattail in on it is well within the rules but it is not in the spirit of the Māori seats which embody the struggle of our tupuna to obtain and retain representation in a system that works against us.

Trotter on Kelvin Davis

Chris Trotter is propagating the idea that Kelvin Davis is showing dangerous signs of being an authoritarian because he values his principles and the spirit of the Māori seats over being bullied into rolling over for the IMP strategic alliance. Trotter demands that Davis be told to STFU. What even? Old white guy, self-appointed member of the socialist establishment tells highly respected Māori representative to STFU about retaining the mana and integrity of the Māori electorate seats. Tell me again about how these left socialists want a democratic society, but want to limit the choices of those who reside in strategic voting regions? Whose the authoritarian again?

As a left libertarian, the only authoritarians I see are those claiming for the left that unless we listen and vote according to what Trotter and Bradbury tell us then we will be responsible if National win at the election. If we don’t dispose of our principles for strategic purposes then we are basically against progress and for authoritarianism. The irony of that.

On the Māori Party

While Mana and the Greens have a very strong Māori emphasis and incredibly strong and devoted Māori candidates, they are not representative of the Māori voice alone. They are representative of broader struggles that include Māori issues but focus on the gap between the rich and poor and the environment. Important and necessary struggles but not equivalent. Labour also have some very strong and devoted Māori candidates, but again, these candidates are representative of their party membership, and while all these parties have Māori members, they do not act as an independent voice for Māori in parliament. That has been the niche role of the Māori Party. Yes, there is some conflict about their relationship with the National Party.

For ages, I have been arguing against the ‘at the table’ positioning of the Māori Party. This stems from my perception that being at the table was a justification for compromising on so many of the Māori Party values. That the best Māori could hope for was to have a voice at the table. I hadn’t considered that this was the minimum we should hope for, irrespective of who is in government. As I wrote earlier, the Māori struggle is not a left thing. In my ideal world, I envision full self-determination, complete horizontalism and a functioning participatory democracy in a society free of a coercive state and the oppression of poverty. In my practical world, I envision independent Māori voices focused on kaupapa Māori politics, where Māori can begin to operate alongside the system rather than oppressed under it. Both Mana and the Māori Party offer policy in this regard. The Māori Party having a more open line because they are willing to work across the political spectrum if necessary.

IMP & Maōri Party

Some commentators have suggested that if the Internet Mana Party (IMP) successfully persuade Māori en masse to vote for them, the Māori Party may indeed struggle to re-enter parliament. While some of the radicals on the Left (Trotter/Bradbury) are calling this a potential victory, it will (for the reasons outlined above) be a commisserable event for Māori, if it occurs.

I am not suggesting that the Mana Movement are not incredibly dedicated and admirable in their intent to preserve and extend the kaupapa Māori approach. On that, Mana cannot be faulted. Mana seek similar goals, but the path pursued relies on a heavily regimented state, presuming that a state “by the people for the people” is necessarily benevolent while ignoring the coercive reality of nationalist statism. As Max Weber highlights, the state is a “a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory”.  The territoriality of states is itself the strategic use of a defined geography in which the political institutions attempt to control and influence those within its boundaries, while the notion of boundaries communicates to outsiders that a particular jurisdiction is operational within.

Mana also appears to hold tight to the myth of nationalism, that it is about cultural or historical ties to land and I can see the attraction in thinking nationalism is the path to preserving indigenous connections to land. But nationalism largely developed out of the Westphalian system as a narrative to accentuate differences between ‘citizens and aliens’. It is the result of the militant nation-state. Culture for nationalism is not indigenous culture, it is the imposed colonialist realties that represent the nationalist claims. Nationalism strangles indigeneity, and restricts full participatory democracy, subsequently, endorsing the idea of a global segregation that would be considered deplorable at the inter-state level.

At this election, for Māori and non-Māori alike, each must determine for themselves which path they want to take. I will vote but in doing so I am not conceding that I think the state is a legitimate entity. My bias is clear because I am anti-statist and anti-nationalist, but my views are not for everyone, and should not be taken as judging you for your views if they are different. Māori in particular must not let others decide for us what the best way forward is we should take the time to talk to our friends and whānau and to reflect on those discussions. Whether your decisions are based on bigger picture issues or are more narrowly defined the decision belongs to you and no-one else.

Opposites attract? Harawira & Dotcom

Speculation has begun regarding the assertions Kim Dotcom made in the Herald on Sunday (HoS) about recruiting at least one current sitting MP to his Internet Party, with others in talks from across the political spectrum.

Although Dotcom confirms that he is in talks with the Mana Party about a potential merger, its unclear if Harawira is the sitting MP Dotcom claims to have already secured.

However, the idea of a merger between the Mana Party and the Internet Party is rather bizarre.  Two glaring issues complicate the Dotcom/Harawira relationship:

  1. Harawira’s recent grotesque assertions endorsing public executions; and
  2. The Mana Party’s press release that unequivocally states that the meeting between Harawira and Dotcom did not encroach on discussions about a possible merger

In regards to (1),  Dotcom’s crusade against the excesses of government is entirely inconsistent with Harawira’s totalitarian outburst.

Its quite possible that Dotcom is oblivious to Harawira’s revolting comments, or that he hadn’t seen them prior to his interview with the HoS. But, in any case, Dotcom will have great difficulty reconciling that inconsistency or justifying why he would want to unite with a party whose leader would endorse excessive government force.

I imagine it may actually damage Dotcom’s campaign, since those who might otherwise support a party that advances internet freedoms, may be loathe to support it with Harawira’s involvement (whether or not Harawira had spoken so vilely on public executions).

I should also point out here, that many Mana supporters also despise Dotcom as a representation of the excesses of capitalism, so a merger could be the worst outcome for both parties.

In regards to (2), it was only a few days ago the Mana Party admitted to meeting with Dotcom and Harawira states unequivocally:

For the record, I didn’t ask him to fund MANA, and he didn’t offer either. I didn’t ask him to join MANA, and he didn’t ask me to join his party.

But Dotcom tells a contrary story:

he was also in talks with Mana Party leader Hone Harawira to unite their two parties under one umbrella, enabling the Internet Party to ride into Parliament on the coat-tails of the Te Tai Tokerau electorate MP

Despite Harawira’s assertion that:

There are no further meetings planned

While the HoS confirms that:

Only the Mana Party admitted having talked to Dotcom about an electoral accommodation


The Mana Party executive will this week consider a merger proposal. Mana would bring one or two electorates, the Internet Party would bring a more broadly-based party vote and $1 million-plus in campaign funding.

Harawira may have made a disclosure, that at the time seemed both a responsible and respectable position for him to take. But his disclosure was clearly dishonest and that should concern Mana Party members. It also doesn’t bode well for the solidarity of the relationship, given the contrasting accounts of the meeting.

Harawira declares his totalitarian darkside

MP Hone Harawira,  Mana Party NZ

Appalled. That is how I feel about Hone Harawira’s latest outburst.  Endorsing the public murders of legally abiding citizens is a grotesque proclamation to make.

Harawira made the statement during a Public Meeting in Waitakere (West Auckland) regarding  legal highs and the recently enacted Psychoactive Substances Act 2013 (PSA).

Section 3 of the PSA provides that the purpose of the act is to:

regulate the availability of psychoactive substances in New Zealand to protect the health of, and minimise harm to, individuals who use psychoactive substances.

The Act banned certain synthetic drugs and requires all synthetic drugs to undergo scientific testing and to obtain approval for sale from the Director General of Health (s1o) who receives advice from an expert advisory committee (s11). The list of banned or controlled drugs are found in Schedules 1-3 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975.

Understandably, tensions were high (no pun intended) as families present had experienced the destruction caused by many of the synthetic products.

Simon Collins from the NZ Herald reports:

Mana MP Hone Harawira…said drug retailers should be killed.

“If there is one law I could pass, it would be line up the guys who are making the most money out of this legal drug stuff, put them on TV and then publicly execute them, and then introduce a law to say the next bastard that does it is going to get the same treatment,” he said.

I am prepared to accept that Harawira was probably just speaking hyperbolically  to the mood of the crowd but as an experienced MP, I would have expected Harawira to make a more considered statement.

Instead, he confirms for critics of the Mana Party’s state socialist ideology, that he backs the totalitarian excesses of the communist military dictatorships that ‘Movements of the People’ typically despise.

Declaring approval for public executions of people acting within the bounds of the law and alluding to introduce a law to legalise executing people acting legally, Harawira has dug a ditch that will be almost impossible to dig his way out of.

I am by no means defending the legal high industry. I happen to agree that synthetic drugs are more harmful than the naturally occurring product they are trying to replicate. However, Harawira’s words are unforgivable and are a tremendous insult to the many freedom seeking socialists that support his movement.

Brief note on party politics and MMP

Thinking about oppositional versus collaborative representation

Election promises are heating up but the messages are muddier than ever. With the Conservative leader suing the Green leader because name-calling. The Greens complaining to Labour because mollyhawk name-calling.  ACT sniggering at everyone for their lack of vision but offering none. And National throwing Labour in the snake pit about secret trusts and donations only to trip and fall in the pit straight after. Hypocrisy is rife.

But what messages have been clear?

Despite being one of the party’s with the least public and political support, the Mana Party positively conveyed the strongest and clearest message Feed the Kids and in the process etched the concept deep into the public consciousness. The message seems to resonate widely including with unlikely supporters of the right wing variety, even though it is highly unlikely to draw any election votes from such persons.

And the National Party has managed to ingrain the message that the economy is in great shape, and on track to improve and strengthen thanks to the expertise and persistence of its front bench corporate clergy and a National led government.

This is the message a large proportion of the public are buying and redistributing back into their enclosed middle to upper class circuits. Notwithstanding, that house prices are overinflated, interest rates are on the rise, power prices are increasing, children and vulnerable persons are still living in poverty and education and human rights standards on the downward curve and so on.

But other than those I struggle to see any other really strong on topic messages sustained in public discourse. While I was thinking about the poor messaging I  drifted into a petrifying hypothetical Parliament where National and Labour were in a coalition government. And I think its relevant, but will draw the connection further on.

So thinking out loud: why do Labour and National never talk about creating a coalition government?

Ideology conflicts? Nope. The hacks might make a distinction. They have to. But the underlying themes in policy – really aren’t that different. At least not as different as say National (centre right, moderately liberal, statist) and ACT (far right, libertarian, anti-state) or Labour (centre left, moderately liberal, statist), and Greens (eco-left, eco-liberal, eco-statists). Those parties we might typically think as traditional allies have less in common, than the two pillars we tend to think of as opposition who share many commonalities.

I’m not at all seriously suggesting that these two parties form a coalition government. I mean it’s laughable to even conceive of one of the two surrendering its political power to its supposed foe. But its important to recognise that the system supports and maintains this duopoly on Parliament. The MMP system did not remove the FPP duopoly, it reinforced it (at least in some capacity). MMP was intended to increase representation and its unclear if the net effect was even remotely significant. The oppositional nature of MMP is contrary to the idea of collaborative democratic representation.  Its arguably natural, and perhaps necessary for smaller parties to gravitate toward larger ones. But this always entails mass compromise on principle and policy and therefore relinquishing constituency voting power to the majority. Its no wonder most people just vote on the two pillars.

In terms of stronger messaging, I think its worthwhile considering the capacity of parties – particularly the minor ones, to work across the spectrum on shared views. There are likely grounds where ACT and Mana have a common view (even if its very small), or Greens and United Future etc and I think these small areas of agreement are important to help inform voters and promote a collaborative MMP system over the oppositional structure we have, which could encourage collaborative societies.

Further comment: 

I appreciate that parties across the spectrum enter into Memorandums of Understanding, for example,  the Greens and National with the home insulation initiative. But I am mostly referring to minor parties working together more, and in a more public way since these parties are set up in response to the lack of representation of their members and potential constituents to the major parties.  The total votes for all minor parties is not insignificant.