National Party

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.

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The Post-Election Hui: A New Members Perspective

TMP_Flav_Fox

Te Ururoa Flavell, Tariana Turia and Marama Fox, 5 October 2014 at the signing of the Relationship Accord with the National Party

[Image sourced from: Māori Party FB page]

An inescapable feature of election debates was the Māori Party’s relationship accord with the National Party and the negative manner in which that relationship is predominantly received particularly by those self-identifying as “the Left”.

There is a common conception that the relationship accord was responsible for the near death of the Māori Party. I thought this too. I’m no longer convinced this is true, rather that the erosion of support factored down to an inability or perhaps even an unwillingness to demonstrate the benefits of that relationship to Māori in the face of relentless opposition from the Left and its support networks, and a lack of resources to support enduring engagement with Māori.

As we know, despite speculation that the Māori Party would not exist post-election, Te Ururoa Flavell retained the Waiariki seat and with special votes now counted Marama Fox joins him as the Party’s first ever list MP highlighting the importance of the Party vote for micro-parties.

The special votes did something else too – they deprived National an outright majority. As a result this had some Māori Party members questioning whether the Māori Party were in a more favourable position post-specials to negotiate bigger gains regarding the invitation to pursue another relationship accord. While it is good news that we do not have a party with an outright majority, in my view, it didn’t change the Māori Party’s negotiating position – unless there is legislation that National want to pass that both ACT and United Future (UF) would not support. In all honesty, I can’t imagine any laws that National would want enacted that only the Māori Party would support. I mean unless it were some policy that supported e.g. affirmative action, which is not something I imagine National would pursue, at least on its own account. Alternatively, the Māori party and either or both ACT or UF might also be in a position to jointly oppose proposed legislation by National (would be rare, although UF and the Māori Party did jointly oppose the RMA last term to prevent it getting to the house).

As with the previous two terms, National are in the same position – they have the numbers without the Māori Party to form a government and to pass legislation, afterall the likelihood of ACT voting against National is incredibly unlikely especially given they are only there because Key endorsed their Epsom candidate, but as some have suggested it is rare that National would want to pass legislation on a bare majority, although we did see the passage of both the MOM and GCSB Acts by bare majority.

Today the Party officially signed the relationship accord agreement. A copy is available here.

In planning for the 2017 election, the Party will need to ensure it can point to achievements in the accord and illustrate where it has acted independently for Māori. An implication is that unlike previous agreements, the terms are broader so it will be difficult to point to specific targets as having been met.

As advised during the election campaign the Māori Party indicated that they would embark on post-election consultation hui with their members and supporters following meetings with National about the kinds of things that were up for negotiation.

In just under a week, the Party have concluded around 30 nationwide hui, conference calls, and informal/cottage meetings, as well as online discussions on Loomio, email submissions, and written submissions via the Party website. The underlying issue was essentially whether the gains negotiated through a relationship accord outweighed the trade offs of continuing that relationship and if members were keen to continue the relationship what kinds of things did they deem as priority in any agreement.

On 28 September 2014, I attended the first hui held in Otautahi. The turnout was relatively small (I estimate about 30-40 people), which was likely the result of the short timeframe within which the party had to promote the hui venue. Something that members across the board picked up on as an area for review and improvement.

To my surprise there was an overwhelming consensus to continue a relationship accord with the National Party, although this was not without some initial reservations. Some expressed what seemed like objections in stating their concerns about the shifting of Māori support to the Labour Party and the hand that the Party’s relationship accord with National might have played in that shift. Additionally, there were also concerns raised over how any controversial  decisions National make, might reflect on the Party by association. The solution offered and accepted by general consensus was for Fox to remain outside the Executive branch to ensure that the Party had an independent voice to challenge National where the Party believed it to be acting against the interests of Māori.

This was considered especially important if Flavell were to accept the Ministerial position/s offered as he would be constrained in his ability to speak against the government with respect to his portfolio’s because he’d be bound by collective responsibility – which has the unfortunate consequence of feeding the negative perception that the “Māori Party are the National Party”.

Flavell was incredibly open about the risks and limitations of being supported into a Ministerial role but the general consensus was to back him so that he could take forward the work begun over the past six years. Part of the discussion for this particular issue included changing the name from Minister of Māori Affairs to Minister of Māori Development. The idea behind this was to support the Party’s ongoing commitment to rangatiratanga by helping Māori communities to become self-reliant and to determine their own solutions and strategies to social, cultural, economic and regional development.

Some other discussion points included (not an exhaustive list) whether there were any bottom lines, how any agreement might affect the party’s future prospects, what issues were to be prioritised, ensuring the retention of the Māori seats, and what the party can do going forward to improve engagement across a range of issues, including to increase support for the Party.

I was impressed with the outward look of the hui – insisting whānau were the cornerstone of any discussions and decisions, acknowledging some hard truths about where improvements or changes were required and voicing those concerns and issues openly. I wasnt sure how collaborative or participatory the consultation would be and I was happy to find it was direct democracy in action: everyone gets a say, everyone votes, and any dissent is respectfully given, received, discussed, and resolved and/or noted.

In saying that, an observation I’ve made more generally (that is not unique to the Māori Party by the way) is that in social media or mainstream media forums there is a tendency to look inwards and a reluctance at times to accept hard truths. I’ve also seen many comment on the defensiveness of the Party’s supporters, which were often true but I also wouldn’t consider it unique to Māori Party supporters either. Often responses are defensive because attacks are framed as ‘genuine concern’ which can come across as patronising for the recipient of such comments. However, a limitation in responding defensively is that it operates as a barrier to engagement so communication strategies will need to play a key role in garnering support for the party going forward.

But I have spent the last few months engaging with a wide range of Māori Party members and supporters, and I have come to appreciate the place from where some of that defensiveness derives: some have supported and nurtured the Party from its inception, many have worked tirelessly out of aroha for the kaupapa, yet they are persistently disparaged by those aligned with other parties, as if their contributions are meaningless. At the hui, I listened to those long time supporters and it occurred to me that the majority of those claiming that the Māori Party must cease all relationships with National to rebuild their support base, actively support other parties but want to determine for these members how this party should proceed. Why does this matter? Because even if the Party had rejected a relationship accord, there is no guarantee that those same critics would return their support to the Māori Party or encourage others to do so.

Interestingly, from the discussions it was clear that if the Party were in a position in which they held the balance of power, the outcome would certainly have not been so clear cut. But members/supporters were deliberating on the reality – that what we have is a National led government and not the hypothetical balance of power.

What came across strongly in all the discussions though is that members do not identify as left or right. It’s not just rhetoric emanating from the leadership, it is something that members themselves strongly believe – that they are kaupapa Māori. And while some may have trouble grasping that idea of not being left/right/centre this is part of the indigenous struggle: to determine our identities for ourselves.

As a new-ish member, those I’ve interacted with will know that I don’t agree with all the decisions that the Party have made (in the past) or may make (in the future), and at times I’ve probably been a bit of a pest! But what I have learnt is that consensus is possible even where there are disagreements and this is made possible through the memberships commitment to the Party’s kaupapa – kotahitanga and manaakitanga which in my experience is strongly practiced among its members and supporters. Hopefully, over the next three years, this can be more widely translated into the public arena.

Silence might imply what you want to avoid

With the first massive fallout from the release of Nicky Hager’s Dirty Politics Judith Collins has finally tendered her resignation as a Minister.

As Matt Nippert reports, her resignation was:

“sparked by a Fairfax investigation into a smear campaign by bloggers apparently backed by controversial financier Mark Hotchin” who “secretly paid bloggers Cameron Slater and Cathy Odgers to write attack posts undermining the Serious Fraud Office, its director Adam Feeley, and the Financial Markets Authority, who were probing his collapsed Hanover Finance in 2011 and 2012”

Many commentators, pundits and journalists have extensively reported on what was uncovered in Hager’s book, and I presume most readers would have a fair idea about the extent of the claims and the subsequent evidence that has emerged since the books release, so I won’t re-cover it.

Interestingly, many predicted the release of the book would likely see a rise in the polls for the left bloc, but what has emerged is somewhat intriguing – NZ First (~6.3%) and the Conservative Party (~4.6%) [as reported on The Nation TV3] suggesting the possibility that both parties may exceed the 5% threshold to enter Parliament. Whether these results are related to Dirty Politics or a reflection of the success of both parties campaigns is arguable.

But the polls aren’t my concern in this post. My concern is about those parties who have remained to a large degree silent on Dirty Politics. NZ Labour, NZ Greens, New Zealand First, InternetMANA and the Conservatives have all been very vocal about cleaning up the  state of NZ politics through an independent inquiry and more robust processes to keep politics transparent and free of the collusion that appears to have taken place.

It might be expected that the ACT Party and United Future would keep a relatively low profile, given they have openly stated a preference for working with the National Party post-election. Notwithstanding, that both parties claim to be principled and support the role of an open and accountable government. But the big silent elephant in the room is the Māori Party and this has not gone unnoticed by the public at large. Critics and many supporters (potential and actual) are left wondering why, a party that claims to be an ‘independent Māori voice’ in Parliament has been absent from the general media coverage on this issue. However, Te Ururoa Flavell, Co-Leader of the Māori Party and Waiariki candidate, told the Rotorua Daily Post that:

 I can’t comment on the book because I haven’t read it. But what I do know is that there are individuals across the political spectrum in New Zealand that engage in dirty politics. It’s not something that the Maori Party has ever done or condones. Manaakitanga (respecting and looking after others) is one of our foundational values and we have always conducted ourselves in a way that reflects this principle. We’re interested in party policies and how we can work with others to effect change. The hacking of emails is not a new phenomenon but it compromises the interactions between MPs and constituents and is a breach of privacy. In that regard we are deeply disturbed”

It is a fair comment given that Flavell hasn’t actually read the book. However, he implies an argument that has been met with much resistance for good reason: that it happens across the political spectrum.

Most would agree that attack politics and possibly even this dirty politics is pervasive, but that in my mind is even more reason to make a statement in strong opposition to its practice. The hacking of emails too is an important issue, but the more pressing issue missed in Flavell’s statement was the collusion and corruption between a Minister of the Crown, bloggers, and other public officials. This may just be a result of not having read the book and not having the contextual grounding to form a stronger opinion or to take a firmer stance.

Flavell also indicates the party’s resistance to commenting in any detail on the claims made in the book also centres around the party’s strategy to reorient the election focus on promoting policies. His mention of manaakitanga, suggests the party want to avoid being part of the dirty politics machinery so are intentionally distancing the party and candidates from being caught up in the negativity of the dirty politics media coverage.

However, an important part of any political campaign involves responding to issues of public importance, such as the very serious claims that are still emerging following the books release. It is possible to make a strong statement that censures the behaviours of dirty politics without being drawn into the negativity while still focusing on promoting the party’s policies. That is part of the balancing act required by political campaigns. Because no matter how well-intentioned the Māori Party are in steering clear of the ‘dirty politics’ coverage, it has brought into question for many potential Māori Party voters whether or not the party are an ‘independent voice’ for Māori or whether they are the silent friend of National. One of my worries is whether there exists an unspoken sense of obligation to the National Party because of the invitation to work in government despite not being ‘needed’ (in a numbers sense anyhow) to form the last two National led governments.

In my view,  it would be incredibly unwise if such a feeling existed because it would undermine the credibility of the party’s ‘independent voice for Māori’ message. Sure, it is a tight rope to walk when you are a party who has openly expressed its willingness to work with whichever party can form the government and not wanting to rock the boat so much that your own waka capsizes. But being independent means being just that: standing on your principles and holding to account those who have wronged no matter what political party is responsible or implicated in the wrongdoing.

For supporters of the party navigating conversations on social media has been particularly difficult absent the strong guidance from leadership on this issue.  In my view, if the Māori Party want to overcome the perception that their silence is an act of support in favour of the National Party, then they will need to make a clear and firm statement that they oppose collusion, corruption and abuses of state power and perhaps even offer some guidance as to whether the party will support an inquiry and other measures to help purge our political system of all anti-democratic practices.

ADDENDUM: 

I’ve been receiving feedback from various comment streams about my approach in this post. And I agree that I haven’t here placed as much emphasis on manaakitanga as is necessary to understand the Māori Party’s position. For a full outline of Māori Party kaupapa see: Ngā Kaupapa o te Pāti Māori

Manaakitanga is behaviour that acknowledges the mana of others as having equal or greater importance than one’s own, through the expression of aroha, hospitality, generosity and mutual respect.

By such behaviour, all parties are elevated and our status is enhanced, building unity through humility and the act of giving.

The Party must endeavour to express manaakitanga towards others – be they political allies or opponents, Māori or non-Māori organisations – taking care not to trample mana, while clearly defining our own.

Tikanga of the Māori Party derived from Manaakitanga

To be recognised by Māori as a political organisation that does manaaki the aspirations of Māori.

To ensure that relationships between the Party and whānau, hapū, iwi, and other Māori organisations are elevating and enhancing

To promote a fair and just society, to work for the elimination of poverty and injustice, and to create an environment where the care and welfare of one’s neighbour is important

To ensure that members agree to work together, treat each other with respect, and act with integrity in their party work

To involve all peoples in the process of rebuilding our nation based on mutual respect and harmonious relationships.

I maintain that public opinion/perception is important but my main concern is that threats to democracy in NZ must be dealt with head on because without democratic processes, such as accountability, then the political parties and the people they represent cannot be guaranteed free and fair representation under the Westminster system we have.

In my view, Māori have been on the receiving end of a history of dirty politics particularly through intentional breaches of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, our culture and rights as indigenous people being legislated against, ongoing institutional racism, and the manipulation of public opinion that has oppressed us as a people. It was the fight of our tupuna that allowed us to be heard and the fight of our many activists (in their many forms) that gave Māori the strength and ability to assert kaupapa Māori politics to counter the forces that work against us. That fight is not over and the struggle goes on.

I do consider that manaakitanga is very important and I wholly commend the Māori Party’s commitment to that kaupapa. My personal view, is that a fair and just society requires (as mentioned in the post) accountability and I truly believe this can be done without ‘trampling the mana’ of others but through co-operation with others to build an environment that is ‘based on mutual respect and harmonious relationships’.

One of the key things that I believe would assist in helping others to understand kaupapa Māori politics is more education on the concepts and providing practical examples. I do think the Māori Party show us how kaupapa Māori works, but I wonder if the public might be better informed if there were more coverage of these concepts, what they mean to Māori and how they can enrich the lives of Pakeha too.

I appreciate that the relative silence I talked about in the post is an expression of manaakitanga, and also resultant from a lack of media interest because the party’s comments that have been made weren’t perhaps as controversial as other parties. I just personally feel manaakitanga can be expressed in other ways too. I don’t here presume to speak for all Māori, this is my opinion, and I wholly respect that others may disagree with my views on this matter and many others.

Goldsmith Flour Bombed

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I must apologise in advance for my lack of maturity, but LOL at Paul Goldsmith on TV3 News. What an appalling effort. He could have said NOTHING and that would have been better than the fumbling that found its way out of his mouth.  Round 2 to the bag of flour.

Sure, journalists are persistent, that’s their job to try and extract information, but if you’re unable to answer a specific question, you might want to think about saying nothing at all, or deflecting using any number or combination of the stock standard National Party answers to questions.

This is an example of what could go wrong if Labour cut a deal in Te Tai Tokerau – they risk Kelvin Davis having to present himself as inept as Goldsmith when faced with a media pack hungry to unearth collusion in the electorates.

 

Williamson should not stand for re-election in Pakuranga or elsewhere

The peculiar thing about this Maurice Williamson scandal, is that he intends to stand again in the Pakuranga electorate. Obviously, Williamson thinks his actions while not of the standard required of a Minister, are acceptable as an electorate MP. I’m not sure how he justifies the difference in standard, but obviously he doesn’t see any moral failing on his part. In tendering his resignation but publicising his intention to stand for re-election, he appears to only acknowledge that he has pissed off his party, for now.

Lets look at the moral failing here. Who in their right mind would call the Police on behalf of a person accused of assault on his wife and her mother if they weren’t intent on exercising some  influence over the building of the case against the accused. And why even raise the consideration that the accused in that case was a highly valued investor, if you weren’t intent on having the Police cut him some slack?

I can appreciate that what Williamson might have been doing was…no actually, I can’t. There is no justification here that warranted making that phone call to the NZ Police full stop.

Sure, Williamson didn’t explicitly ask the Police to grant any leniency in that case, and thankfully the Police treated the accused the same way as they would treat others accused in like circumstances, and continued with prosecution. But Williamson sure did imply that some ‘special’ consideration be given to the defendant based on his economic contributions to NZ.

I think Jono Natusch encapsulates the wrong in Williamson’s actions well:

Let’s get this straight. A Minister who rubber stamped Mr Liu’s citizenship against official advice (with Mr Liu then donating $22,000 to the National party via his company, Roncon Pacific Hotel Management), calls police when Mr Liu is arrested, and let’s it drop into the conversation that somebody needed to review the matter because “Mr Liu is investing a lot of money in New Zealand”.

That’s a hell of a statement to make if you’re “in no way looking to interfere with the process”.

The problem as I see it is that it doesn’t matter if Williamson was acting as a Minister or as an MP because there is never any justification for either to intervene in the criminal matters of any person prior to a case being heard in Court. From a legal standpoint, there might be exemptions where Ministers are entitled to intervene, but this is not one of those exceptions. It is for a judge to decide what is relevant evidence in an assault/domestic violence case, not for a Minister or MP to impute that evidence. Williamson acted outside his remit of power in proceeding to act representatively on behalf of the accused by making that call to the Police. Did Williamson even stop to think about the victims in this case and that there might be women in his electorate who are also victims of domestic violence, whom he re-victimised through his actions in respect of the accused ? Obviously not.

This is not the behaviour of Minister and it most certainly is not the behaviour of an MP.

How can any person think that someone’s economic contributions in any way create immunity or allow some respite when accused of assault?  Williamson makes it clear that protecting women from violence is not only subordinate to the needs of ‘highly valued’ investors but that he considers the degree of investment by an accused to be a mitigating factor in these cases!

There are of course those who think that Williamson has done nothing wrong. I find that deplorable. The general argument is that there was nothing questionable suggested in the phone calls so he shouldn’t have been forced to resign. But this ignores that there was no actual need for the phone call in the first place. The accused surely had a Lawyer to represent his interests, so there could be no other reason for Williamson to make the call, unless he thought his position of power had some influence in the building of the case against the accused.

Williamson is unfit to stand for re-election in either the Pakuranga electorate or elsewhere.

Performance funding is a terrible and harmful idea

Source: Chicane Southland Times

Source: Chicane Southland Times

I’ve preached in many a post that central planning is basically the devils work. I stand by that. Where power can be concentrated, it will be. This isn’t limited to economic issues either – it traverses the entire ‘state sector’.

Minister Hekia Parata’s announcement that she is looking to fund schools according to the progress their pupils make, reinforces my contempt for central planning. Should this proposal come to fruition, it will be extremely harmful for children.

Parata was critical about ‘schools in deprived neighbourhoods’ being paid more, ‘as a blunt instrument’ and admitted that ‘some gentrified areas, especially in Auckland, could lose hundreds of thousands of dollars, while others would gain similar amounts’

This suggests that Parata would cut funding to schools in lower socio-economic zones based on the arbitrary device her government uses to measure the performance of pupils. The zone is important here too – it restricts pupils from attending better funded schools outside their zoned neighbourhood.

Parata’s idea places the funding burden on pupils. In effect, their schools would lose funding if they [the pupils] didn’t perform well in their tests, exams, assessments etc. Reiterating, their performance is subject to a highly contentious arbitrary measure.  This is a perverse policy and is prima facie inconsistent with the Convention on the Rights of the Child (the Convention).[1]

For the purpose of the Convention, child is defined as including generally every human being below the age of eighteen years. So, the Convention applies to almost all pupils who would be affected by Parata’s proposal.[2]

Art 28 of the Convention provides that States must recognise that all children have a right to education with a view to achieving this right progressively and on the basis of equal opportunity. Additionally, Art 2 (2) provides that children should be free from all forms of discrimination.

As Chris Hipkins (Labour Party) states:

a child’s achievement depended on a wide range of factors including whether they were living in a cold, damp house and whether their parents were educated and had time to spend with them

Hipkins barely even touches on the multitude of factors that affect a child’s performance at school, yet we can already deduce that some children, particularly those already at a disadvantage, would suffer greatly under a performance-funding model because the States commitment to provide equal opportunity in education perishes and children could become subjects of discrimination based on their socio-economic backgrounds.

Parata appears to acknowledge that this proposal is discriminatory when she implies that schools in deprived neighbourhoods could potentially lose hundreds of thousands in funding based the progress of their pupils. She also appears to ignore that the increased pressures placed on lower socio-economic families exacerbates the poor performance of those pupils.

Many have criticised the National Party’s implementation of the arbitrary National Standards measures and the shifting in funding from public schools to charter schools[3] and now criticise the proposed potential of the state to transfer school funding from lower scoio-economic areas upwards.

But the standard response is simply to replace one form of centralised power with another, by voting for the other side. This doesn’t fix the problem. It just shifts who holds that centralised power. Concentration of power is susceptible to the same abuses irrespective of who is exercising it.

If we want to avoid policies that are discriminatory and removes equal opportunity, particularly for children, then we need to reject the path that leads to the concentration of power – the centralised state. Because as mentioned at the start of this post, those with the ability to attain power can and (as we have observed) do assert it contrary to popular will. Reiterating here that this is not a feature unique to the National Party – its the flaw in our supposedly ‘representative democracy’.

The usual argument against decentralisation is that without central government, private corporate tyrannies will rule. I think this is misguided. Decentralised public entities could exist to guide and support public institutions because removing central government involves removing the privileges central government grant in favour of big business.

I don’t presume that we could just do away with the central government today and have a perfectly formed, and functioning decentralised community tomorrow, but prioritising it as a goal means we can start planning and implementing the infrastructure that would support decentralisation and in effect the proper measures to deal with social an economic inequality.

If we want quality education for our children, then we need to eliminate central government control of it.

[1] NZ ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1993  subject to specific reservations.

[2] Noting, some students in their final year of secondary school are 19 years old.

[3] I have defended charter schools (to an extent) in previous posts on the basis that they are decentralised educational institutions that have the potential to provide education according to the needs of the pupils who attend and in conjunction with the families and local community (e.g. Te Kura Hourua O Whangarei Terenga Paroa). I’m not convinced that charter schools are necessarily ‘for profit’ entities.

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.

Good Face, Bad Face

Trying to get a glimpse at who politicians really are is difficult at the best of times. But more so in an election year. We have their personal branding on the one hand and their often uncomplimentary actions on the other. Often, we resort to simply acknowledging and perpetuating the faults or flaws in those we dislike, while downplaying the negative aspects of those we preference.

We are exposed to many faces of the politicians depending on how charitable the writer is feeling, and this shapes our perceptions of these people. I have focused on the good and bad faces of David Cunliffe and John Key, because it is one of these two who will be running the country post-Election, afterall.

DAVID CUNLIFFE (Opposition Leader – Labour Party NZ)

The Good Face: the Harvard graduate, the man from humble beginnings, the man who will bring about unity in the Labour Party, the man who wants to ensure the opportunities he had are available for future generations. the man who will challenge the neoliberal consensus, The Union’ s choice, The Peoples’ Choice.

The Bad Face: the man who refused to confirm if a trust was used for his Labour Leadership campaign, the man who failed to disclose a savings investment trust, the man who divided the Labour Party and sought to undermine David Shearer, the man who embellished his CV (not an exhaustive list). Tricky.

JOHN KEY (PM, Leader of National Party NZ)

The Good Face:  the Harvard graduate, the foreign exchange expert, the man from humble beginnings and raised by his beneficiary solo-mother, the man concerned about the growing underclass developing in NZ, the genuine kiwi bloke, the man who can fix the economy.

The Bad Face: the man who treats ‘gay’ as a shallow insult, the man who sold out NZ for transnational corporations (Warner Bros, Anadarko, Rio Tinto), the man who likened our ‘clean green’ ‘100% pure’ image to McDonald’s ‘Lovin it’, the man who forgets everything and nothing,  the man whose Ministers (or ministries) have run amuck under his leadership such as ACC – privacy breaches, MSD – privacy breaches, Min Edu – NovoPay deabcle, GCSB – illegal spying etc, (not an exhaustive list). TricKey.

Fran O’Sullivan remarked on NZ Q + A, that the public are still trying to work out who Cunliffe is and what he stands for; but she says that Key has successfully translated who he is to the public. O’Sullivan seemed to presume that it was the ‘good face’ that the public sees or that Key is perceived of in favourable light, which is extremely questionable. A problem as identified in the introduction is that both leaders brands do not match their actions and I think that is the price of  power seeking in party politics.

National Party and Labour Party loyalists will respectively downplay the bad face and defend the good face of their leader to the death (not literally of course). So its important to be aware of how our perceptions are shaped by the media or information outlets we choose to expose ourselves to and the importance of digging a little deeper, especially in an election year.

Letter to the World

26 June 2012

Dear World,

Today the New Zealand Government passed a bill permitting the Government to sell property that does not belong to them. If an individual sells property that does not belong to them it is theft and constitutes a criminal offence. The Government today legalised the partial conversion of state assets against the will of the people of New Zealand.  
The Government claimed that they had a mandate to partially sell state assets because they campaigned on the issue for the year leading up to the last election in 2011 in which they were re-elected.  On election night, the National Party only secured 47% of the vote while 53% of those who voted did not support the National Party. New Zealand also suffered its lowest voter turnout in history signalling the lack of confidence our people had in the Government.
Public polls, protests, and multiple media streams have demonstrated the persistent opposition to the partial sale of our assets and the people of New Zealand will persist with their opposition until the Government listen to the democratic will of our people.
The Mixed Ownership Model Bill today passed its third reading meaning that it will become law after assented to by the Governor General. It passed its third reading by a single vote – 61:60. The balance of power, the one vote, was held by a Member of Parliament who represents a single electorate. In the months leading up to the passage of this bill, his electorate campaigned heavily against the sale of state assets and urged him to refrain from allowing this bill to pass. He did not listen. He chose to override the democratic will of his constituents and voted in favour of this bill.
During the Select Committee stage 1448 submissions were received.  Only 9 (0.6%) of those submissions were in favour of the bill while 1421 (98.1%) of the submissions were opposed to the sale of state assets. The Government abused its authority and position of a bare majority to ram through the bill knowingly and deliberately in the face of public opposition.
The people of New Zealand have made it clear that they wished to exercise their democratic right to a referendum and petitions for a referendum are currently in circulation. The Government refuses to hold off the partial sale to allow a referendum, arguing that a referendum has been held and it was called the election. This illustrates to the world that our Government is not only arrogant but is also anti-democratic. It is silencing our voices and suppressing our will.
This is a pledge to the world community to reprimand our government for its anti-democratic practices.
This is a pledge to boycott the purchasing of any shares the Government offers in respect of the partial sale of our assets.  The Government will embark on a multimillion dollar advertising campaign which will dishonestly and without claim of right represent to potential investors that they, the Government, have the consent of the rightful owners to sell 49% of shares in these companies.   If you purchase these shares then you do so against the will of the people who are the rightful owners and are simply an accessory to the crime against our people.
The Government has accused us of being xenophobic, we are not. The people of New Zealand value foreign investment and look forward to securing investments with foreign interests now and in the future but we do not want assets that were bought with our taxes to be sold without our consent.
Please help the people of New Zealand raise their voices against the anti-democratic practices of our Government. Please support us in keeping our assets for the benefit of our future generations.
You can support the people of New Zealand by sharing our message.
Thank you.

Maui Street: Kelvin Davis on improving education

Maui Street: Kelvin Davis on improving education: When the government says that national standards, charter schools, league tables, performance pay, quality vs quantity of teachers will all …

Davis provides a brief opinion as to how league tables, performance pay for teachers, charter schools and the like have some benefit to some students but there is no evidence that those who the policies are meant to assist (i.e. the least advantaged students) will benefit from such policies. It would be good to see Davis provide an actual argument next time rather than a simple commentary. My views are simple, the least advantaged students will always be adversely affected by policies that are narrowly focused toward economic outcomes without consideration of social outcomes.

In fact I read an article yesterday from The Listener (June 23) where John Key justifies the mass migration of New Zealanders to Australia – his argument was that its quite rational for low skilled workers to leave NZ for better pay in Australia. Sure John Key, it is rational for the worker, but it is not rational for a government to endorse a system where citizens have to rely on the economy of another country in order to improve their chances in life. Key then proceeds to argue that the problem is that you can lose some people that you want to keep! So clearly Key has no concern about the numbers leaving for Australia it is dependent on whether or not they have the skills that Key sees as valuable.  So what do we have? We have a government that perpetuates inequality and that is committed to a “skills based cleansing” regime.

Returning to the education issue – if National’s education policies only benefit some students (let me make it clear the benefit is not to our least advantaged students), then under a National led government they are submitting those students to a skills based cleansing regime.  It’s no wonder, that National won’t support an increase in the minimum wage – that would incentivise our unskilled and low skilled workers to stay in NZ.