National recycling old ideas, expecting different results

We are less than a year away from either Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern starting second term in office or Leader of the Opposition Simon Bridges becoming Prime Minister. As one has a disappointingly average term in the halls of the Beehive, the other is reviving policy in order to look tough for the elections that look decidedly unoriginal, old and boring.

The old ideas thus far include:

  1. A crack down on gangs in New Zealand, including denying members social welfare benefits if they cannot prove they hold no illegal income or assets
  2. A crack down on welfare including a time limit on the dole for under 25’s

And they have added some new ones, which follow the trend set by the old benefit bashing routine National is well known for. They include fines for parents of school drop outs and truants.

Many of the truants and drop outs come from families where schooling was never a high priority in the first place. They might well be students with parents who work all day until dinner time or later, who are not around to help with homework, cook dinner or organize supervision for under 14’s. The punitive fines that National are proposing fail to recognize a simple fact: the parents or caregivers might not have the money, or if they do it might well have already been sucked up by other expenditures.

Unless National recognize this, which I have no reason to believe Mr Bridges will, there will be only quite limited positive impact on truant and drop out numbers.

As indicated in earlier articles, one of the best ways to reduce the gang issue is to first understand the how and why of their existence in the first place – gang’s do not simply exist because someone got out of bed one day and say “I’ll start a gang today”; the disenfranchised people who join them generally do so because there is no love, no guidance in their lives. When this gets tackled we can start to take National seriously on dealing with gangs.

If National continue this trend of old social policies getting recycled in the hope of different outcomes, there are others we can expect to see Mr Bridges and company reconsidering.

  1. The punitive 3 Strikes regime will get tougher to act as a deterrent, whilst running the risk of becoming like Washington State in the United States where a person on third strike went to jail for 25 years for stealing a car. Yes, it was a dumb thing to do and yes one might reasonably expect a person to have learnt from their previous strikes, but it does not change the fact that 25 years for stealing a car is manifestly unjust.
  2. The badly needed and long overdue changes to the Social Welfare Act and other legislation that the Ministry of Social Development and its umbrella agencies operate under will remain rigidly archaic, which will increase the risk posed to W.I.N.Z., Housing New Zealand and other social agency staff
  3. Employment contracts legislation will try to reverse gains made under Labour

I hold little hope for National whilst they maintain this archaic outlook on policy making. Are they really so bereft of new ideas as to not be able to come up with anything that has not already recycled three or four times? It is almost like they do not want to be in the 21st Century where ideas that were fine in the 1960s-1990s are now well and truly out of date.


University readings resonate with life Vol. 2

In July I mentioned that I had gone back to university and was doing postgraduate planning via distance learning at Massey University. I decided to mention it because the readings for the course discuss planning in ways the vast majority of us probably have not thought about. Whether it is a resource consent application so one can build a new house, or they are negatively affected by something like losing land that will be flooded when a new dam is built, at some point or another New Zealanders will have to deal with the effects of council planning.

I want to come back to this briefly to acknowledge two more noteworthy papers that were part of the readings for 132.732: Planning Theory. In the first article in July I mentioned papers by Marcus Lane (2005) who looked at public participation in planning and Joe Painter (2006) who looks at the roles of ordinary people in positions of power and the effects of their mundane everyday actions.

The reading by Jago DodsonĀ The Global Infrastructure Turn and Global Practice (2016) looks at the rise of infrastructure and the need for urban scholars to take note of this change at national and global level in the context of international frameworks. Notably, as this was written shortly after Donald Trump won the 2016 election, Dodson notes a nationalist dimension to Mr Trump’s emphasis on American infrastructure. His was a response to the need for massive investment in crumbling roads, bridges, derelict dams, water, sewerage and electricity infrastructure. But Mr Trump was merely following a trend that had developed in Canada, Australia and to a lesser extent here in New Zealand that infrastructure development should be a priority issue. An interesting point raised in the Dodson paper was that to avoid the over accumulation of capital, diverting the excess into developing infrastructure should be an acceptable alternative.

The Dodson paper will not resonate so much with the ordinary New Zealander, so much as it will with the economic policy maker. I am talking about the people trying to set a 21st Century course to match the challenges from issues such as sustainability and climate change, diversifying the job market and improve resilience to international shocks.

Perhaps it was the paper by Ambe Njoh Urban planning as a tool of power and social control in colonial Africa (2008) that I found the most striking of the ones in the second half of the course. In reading the paper around the same time as I started an assignment that examined power and social control through urban planning in a local context, I found it striking that Cathedral Square in Christchurch, despite the acknowledgement of Ngai Tahu as local tangata whenua, the Square still has a very English feel and appearance to it. Despite post-earthquake buildings nearby such as the Christchurch public library (Turanga) and the yet to open Convention Centre (Te Pae) having names in Te Reo Maori, those buildings bear little obvious relation or connectedness to Waitaha (Canterbury) or Otautahi (Christchurch). The imposing facade of the old Chief Post Office in Christchurch.

Cathedral Square has battleship grey tiles that in summer have a reflective glare that those with vision problems or those sensitive to bright light find challenging. In writing my last assignment I happened upon a submission to Christchurch City Council from the disabled community for improvements to Cathedral Square. I am not sure how many have happened, but it made me wonder just how accessible this supposedly public place really is. Despite being a public place with trees in built up boxes and temporary installations to offset the unkempt mess behind the fence around the Cathedral, I have on occasion wondered what Ngai Tahu would have wanted had it been given a better say.

As we here in New Zealand look to the future, I can agree with Dodson that there will need to be significant infrastructure investment in the near future. But I can also agree with Njoh, that perhaps unintentionally New Zealand is really no better than other countries in terms of the use of planning for purposes of expressing power and social control.

The troubling case of National M.P. Jian Yang

Jian Yang came to New Zealand in the 1990’s after a stint doing a Masters of Arts and Doctorate of Philosophy at Australian National University. In 1999 he joined the University of Auckland as a senior lecturer in Political Studies and got citizenship in 2004.

15 years later, questions are emerging about the truthfulness of his background and whether or not he was a Chinese spook.

I will be honest that I am concerned that New Zealand authorities were not sufficiently thorough in ascertaining the history of Mr Yang. Mr Yang says that he was at Luoyang University of Foreign Language for the whole of a 15 year period, but did not acknowledge the fact that he was also at the Peoples Liberation Army Airforce Engineering Institute.

It might be that Mr Yang is completely innocent and that his earlier statements that all he did whilst was to teach new recruits English are entirely true. If so then there should be no further reason to doubt his activity. Except that there is.

Croaking Cassandra covered Mr Yang’s past in China and Australia in an article a few weeks ago. Some troubling points arose:

  • He covered up – or was made (his claim)to cover up – how long he was really at Luoyang University – he says from 1978 to 1993, but Baidu and Wikipedia say it was only founded in 1980
  • His praise of the Chinese Communist Party and willingness to be seen meeting with Politburo members of a backward regime
  • A notarised certificate has never been explained
  • Chinese military personnel are generally not allowed to emigrate overseas or even have a stand Chinese citizens passport – Mr Yang

And Mr Yang seems to have an aversion to talking to New Zealand media. All Members of Parliament should understand that they will at some point be interviewed for one reason or another by New Zealand media in the course of upholding their fourth estate responsibilities. They should further understand that as citizens of a democratic nation New Zealanders are entitled to ask critical questions, that unless they are about matters of standard privacy, or genuine irrelevance to the public good, should be answered in good faith.

Perhaps more troubling than the Croaking Cassandra allegations, is the thunderous silence that goes with Mr Yang. No talking to English language media – i.e. New Zealand media; no attempts by his boss Leader of the National Party Simon Bridges or National Party President Peter Goodfellow to find out the full truth about Mr Yang. Nor has the Government said anything. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has not challenged Mr Bridges in Parliament to explain the status of Mr Yang. Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters has gone quiet too, though that might be best put down to not wanting to displease China or his boss.

In my view Mr Yang is not fit to be in the New Zealand Parliament for the duration it takes him to be totally honest about his past. By this I mean both with the Department of Internal Affairs who gave him citizenship to New Zealand and the State Intelligence Service, who need to know whether this man is a security hazard or not.

I would like to see Messrs Yang, Bridges and Goodfellow justify Mr Yang’s involvement in Parliament if he cannot do this.

Labour Government stuck in first gear

2019 was meant to be Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s year of delivery. It was meant to be the year in which her Labour-led Government started making strides on policy. Instead I look back instead with frustration at the number of opportunities to strike major blows for particular issues being instead handled with timidity. In some respects what we are watching is like rabbits caught in headlights – stunned, not knowing what to do or where to go.

But things need to happen. As I have bemoaned before and so have many others, the propensity of Labour to reach for the “review”, the “inquiry” and the “working group” instead of announcing policy, introducing Bills of Parliament to the House of Representatives, is staggering.

My five priorities would be (in no particular order):

  • Education: Restore postgraduate allowance; downsize the tertiary overhaul to perhaps 9-10 instead of just one; wind back N.C.E.A.
  • Economy: A three pronged strike aimed at Northland, East Coast Bays and the West Coast to try to create jobs in these areas – a waste to energy plant for the coast, a biofuel plant for Northland and a big sustainable forestry project for East Coast Bays
  • Justice – Amend law to enable 1 week jail sentences for anyone who flees the Police, relying on the deterrent to make people stop and think
  • Poverty: Swallow a very big dead rat and introduce a wealth tax for those earning over $1 million per annum – can go towards funding children to get them into school by helping with clothes, food, stationery and so forth
  • Health: A one off $1 billion injection to clear as much of the waiting lists as possible

Currently I am not optimistic about this Government. Yes it has announced a large number of reviews, inquiries and working groups – National created more than they admitted to as well – but they need to be delivering their outputs and the Government needs to be converting those reports into workable policy. I do not yet see much of that happening.

A quick review of its major decisions thus far:

  • Defence: Ron Mark has been one of the better performing Ministers in this Government with the P-8 Poseidon surveillance aircraft purchase confirmed, and a preference for the C-130J Hercules shown – despite the latter being inferior to the A400M from Airbus B+
  • Climate change – the announcement of ending oil, gas and coal itself is bold and should be congratulated, but getting around to the nitty gritty socio-economic decisions about how this is going to happen is not happening and has the potential to be a massive drag C+
  • Housing – The idea of Kiwi Build is good, but the promises attached were grandiose and the execution of them frankly appalling, and only passes because houses are being built, though nowhere near enough C
  • Transport – Phil Twyford was relieved of housing so he could concentrate on transport, and because Kiwi Build was not working out, but his handling of rail for Auckland Airport is in danger of becoming a second strike against Mr Twyford C
  • Poverty – this really would have benefited from some bravery when the Tax Working Group came out with its recommendations with something like a Wealth Tax or Capital Gains Tax being announced to help children go to school; the very poor and marginalized to pay living costs D
  • Environment – I have to be frankly honest that Eugenie Sage has been a major disappointment, with climate change dominating the agenda and the reaction to our waste problems has been less than impressive D

The Government is going to have to improve if it wants to win the 2020 election. Simon Bridges might be out of touch with the public on many things, but with 56 Members of Parliament he only needs 4 plus David Seymour to form a Government. Whilst I am sure that is not lost on the Government, the need to make progress before election day next year seems to be Missing In Action (M.I.A.).

Looming referendums: Are politicians passing the buck?

Two referendums are due at the next election in 2020.

One is for A.C.T. Member of Parliament David Seymour and his End of Life Choices Bill, which Mr Seymour hopes will legalize euthanasia. The other is to legalize cannabis.

But are Members of Parliament passing the buck? It depends on whom one talks to. New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters believes that “temporarily empowered politicians” do not necessarily know better than the general public. As a result New Zealand First believes that it is correct to pass the decision making on big decisions or ones that are perceived to be morally divisive back to the people. The party even has a principle in its 15 Fundamental Principles that requires decisions that are not party policy to be sent back to the public for a referendum.

This is the primary reason why New Zealand First voted no in the 2013 Same Sex Marriage conscience vote – the Same Sex (Definition of Marriage)Amendment Bill had not gone to the public as a referendum, so the party chose not to support it.

Whilst Mr Seymour is in support, many conservatives are not. Judith Collins and Maggie Barry of the National Party believe it is an affront to the most important human right there is: the right to life. I would probably support it, but I would need to see what safeguards are in place – not only to ensure that a family cannot use it as a means of getting rid of a terminally ill family member, but to stop pro-life family from interfering if the irrevocable decision to die has been made.

Currently the legislation to legalize cannabis will go before Parliament late this year or early next year. It is being sponsored by Green Party Member of Parliament Chloe Swarbrick, who was handed the legislation by fellow Green M.P. Julie Anne Genter when the latter become a Minister of the Crown.

Support for this is fluctuating. Family First, a small party outside of Parliament with strong conservative family orientation released a survey done by Curia research. It showed that there was low support for the legalization of cannabis, at just 16%. A Newshub poll showed that support among Green Party members dropped from 83% to 64% whilst National Party opposition rose from 40% to nearly 66%.

I personally support the legislation before the House and think it would help to reduce cannabis related crime. But before then should it become law there needs to be firm measures against anyone who sells to minors. I agree with sending it to a referendum as it is too controversial to rely on a party vote or conscience vote in Parliament. Whilst Members of Parliament are empowered to make decisions, I believe the limits of what Members of Parliament can vote on, should be mainstream legislation that was put through the select committee process and in doing so, subject to public submissions.