Supporting our tertiary students

When I was studying at the University of Canterbury, there was a student debt clock on the wall of the main dining room in the Student Union building. When I started it was about N.Z.$4 billion in 2000. It was a depressing sight. The speed with which it kept going up was shocking – in the space of a lunch time period you could watch it put over $1,000. I queried the accuracy of it and got told by both the Student Union and the Accountancy Department that it was. Whilst watching the numbers soaring, it got me wondering about the best approaches to supporting students academic endeavours without financially crippling New Zealand.

There was a Emergency Unemployment Benefit. This could be applied for by students who have been working part time to help cover living costs whilst studying and found that their own funds cannot bridge the gap. This was New Zealand First policy during the 2002-2008 period.

My own idea is of an universal tertiary allowance proportionate to the amount of time one spends studying a week. An EFTS 1.0 student is one who is understood to be committed to full time study, and can only work if they have time left over after studying. For them the allowance should be a living wage of $680 per week, or $17 x 40 hours. It enables them to pay their fees on time and should supercede all existing tertiary education allowances and benefits.

The way it would work is, if a student is studying 15 hours or more would get half of the allowance. Those doing say 30 hours or more would be eligible for the full sum. Students working part time whilst studying would only be eligible if their work was casual or less than 10 hours per week.

During its time in office, National removed the Postgraduate Allowance, which was to support students doing Postgraduate qualifications such as Certificates, Diploma’s, Masters or Doctorates of Philosophy. At the time it was justified by the then Minister for Teritary Education along the lines of: “students can go on the student loan scheme as it is interest free”, whilst quite missing the general problem with loans being that at some point they have to be paid back.

I support any plan where a student has a portion of their debt wiped for every full year they spend working in New Zealand once their study is completed. One such plan could be a dollar for dollar scheme, whereby for every dollar paid in tax, a dollar is wiped from a students debt. So, a person with a $20,000 debt who is paying $5,000 in tax per annum would be all done in 4 years. Such a win win scenario will make New Zealand considerably more attractive to New Zealand students who might have been eyeing a one way ticket to another country.

All these years later and with the promise of $50 extra per week in the pockets of students studying starting on 01 January 2018, I am once again wondering whether tertiary support for students is appropriate and if not, what can we do about it?

Make addressing violent crime a priority

So, another dairy has been robbed. An occurrence happening all too frequently the length and breadth of New Zealand with the perpetrators getting away just as frequently.

But the worst part of this horror show is the courts. Soft as butter judges playing namby pamby games with peoples lives and livelihoods. The conservative parts of society might call for a return to the gravel pits for such offenders, but this fails to address the core societal issues that are leading to these horrendous crimes in the first place. By this I am talking about the lack of role models in their lives and the presence of drugs; their failure in the school system and a lack of a job.

But at the same time the courts have a job to do and they are failing at it in an abject way. It is almost like in some cases the judges do not care any more. I find it hard to believe that human rights laws for children have advanced to the degree that some say they have and that as a result the judges somehow have their hands tied.

I wonder if part of the justice process, a judge has ever asked an offender what their ambitions in life are. I am certainly not suggesting showing sympathy, but almost none of these offenders have probably thought about where they want to go in life. Maybe – I could be totally wrong, but just assume for a moment I am not – they simply need someone in a position of authority to show them right from wrong. If they don’t care, then that is a different story.

So, what are some of the steps that need to be taken? Several steps:

  • For starters I think Civics/Legal Studies needs to be compulsory in Year 12. Students need to know how the law works because at some point they are going to have to deal with it, so they better learn.
  • A youth policing section needs to be established so that young people learn to work with the police and see that they will only be in their lives if they commit crime or are the victims of crime
  • Synthetic cannabis needs to be banned immediately and all shops given one weeks grace to hand over their stock – all in possession of it should be given an equally short grace period to hand over their private stock
  • Small amounts of cannabis should be decriminalized – police are wasting their time and resources dealing with anything under say 5 grams
  • Importers/dealers and manufacturers of illegal substances should have a 10 year starting jail sentence plus anything purchased using the profits of their criminal activity should be seized and sold – money raised goes to funding drug treatment; non New Zealanders should be deported and permanently barred from reentering

But none of this will work if there is not a co-ordinated approach involving the co-operation of the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Social Welfare and the Ministry of Education.

If a rise in tax is necessary to fund this, do it. Done properly, it will pay for itself in time.

Guns in schools in the gun

Recently there was an uproar after the Army visited a primary school with semi automatic weapons. They were there to show the children how to use the guns safely. Minister of Education Nikki Kaye was horrified, as were parents and politicians alike. But in the midst of the uproar, during which it was suggested that schools might not be permitted to have guns, we seem to have been overtaken by a bout of knee jerk reactionism.

I support high schools having rifle clubs. I was in the Burnside High School Rifle Club in 1998 and 1999. I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunities for competitive shooting and in my second year in the club I was one of the better male shooters with an aggregate (the sum of your three best scores)of 275.9. The purpose of the club, whilst encouraging competitive shooting was also to provide a safe environment in which students could safely learn how to handle small arms – .22 calibre rifles in this case. Each student had to take home a permission request to let them participate and return it with the signature of a parent or caregiver on it. They also had to provide $1 at the start of each session to cover the cost of ammunition.

The Burnside High School rifle range was built under one of the two gymnasiums under the school ground. It was a standard length range and had resting pads for four people at a time. Behind each target was a drop zone for the expended rounds to land in. The two teachers running the club were licensed firearm holders and showed us their licenses on day one. The same first day was a demonstration day where the teachers would show us how to set up the range, go over procedures for firing. The procedure:

  1. Upon setting the range and issuing the shooters with their ammunition the supervising teacher would instruct them to lay their guns down with the breaches open
  2. Once satisfied, he would tell them to get into position, put on ear muffs
  3. They would be told to wait until he gave the order “Load Gun”
  4. Take aim at their centre target
  5. Fire
  6. The teacher would sight the individual centre targets and tell them where in relation to the centre of the target they were
  7. Upon that, they shooters could commence shooting the remaining ten targets on the sheet
  8. Upon finish, the shooter will call out “FINISHED” and lay their gun down with the breach visibly open
  9. When all have called FINISHED the teacher will say GUNS DOWN, CEASE FIRE
  10. Shooters collect targets for checking

There was a competition that high school rifle clubs participated in, called the Winchester Postal Shoot. The best marks from each high school (where students scored 90.0 or more in a shooting session)would be sent away and collated. The Rifle Club also had an award handed out in the Burnside High School sports awards each year for the male and female shooters with the highest aggregate (often in the high 280-290 range out of a possible 300.30).

I can understand the concern about guns being shown to children in primary school. The intentions of the Army were good – there is no doubt about that, but the target audience was very poorly chosen. It is a different story with high schools though. Given that this was highly successful and enabled students to learn how to something that otherwise they might not have had the chance, I am totally against guns being taken out of high schools.


End of the good weather for National

The announcement in December of former Prime Minister John Key resigning was like a cold front arriving in the National Party. The warm breezes and clear skies had been replaced by a distinctly colder and more unsettled looking horizon. Three months later despite the assurances of Prime Minister Bill English, the cloud of worries, consistent with those that accompany a third term Government in terminal disarray, now looks more like a thunderstorm in the vicinity.

For National Party members on the right, perhaps tiring of Mr Key’s centrist politics and fearing a swing to the left if Labour and the Greens find a way of getting into office, Mr English comes as a welcome change. For them the accelerated deregulation of New Zealand, and an appetite for funding expenditure through asset sales appears considerably more enticing, as will a focus on traditional allies and a harder line on justice.

For centrist National members aware of how Mr Key unified a party that was seen as too rough around the edges for female and Maori voters in 2005, Mr English may be viewed as more of a caretaker Prime Minister to the election rather than a long term replacement who will give them a fourth term. These voters will be aware of the gains made with middle New Zealand when National under Mr Key did not change the superannuation age. They will have noted the absence of asset sales and how this deprived Labour and the Greens of a significant topic with which they could have caused damage.

For Labour and the Greens, there will be both optimism and fear. The optimism will stem from a Bill English led National Government with its support partners adopting a more conservative overtone with less emphasis on the issues that had enabled former Prime Minister John Key to win three consecutive terms in office. This in turn will  It will stem from the pragmatism and the every man charisma that made him so popular and such a huge threat to the left wing of New Zealand politics, no longer being there.

And there will also be the fear. This fear will stem from Mr English being a staunch Catholic, whose views on abortion have ensured that there will not likely be any serious attempt to remove the criminality from abortion law in New Zealand. It will stem from his appointment of Steven Joyce to be Treasurer. This is an appointment that shows an increased eagerness for the traditional conservative fiscal diet of less spending on social welfare, health and education and a higher probability of tax cuts.

For me there is no doubt. Mr English is a swing to the right and this has been backed up by changes in policy that show a solid conservative streak emerging. Attacks on the Resource Management Act, a defunding of health, education, social welfare and the Police have created a cocktail of socio-economic problems that will only worsen if the current neo-conservative prescription of economic medicine is continued. To this end though, the appointment of Mr English as Prime Minister might be, after 8 long and at times ugly years, the break that the left so desperately need.

And even if Labour and the Greens do not gain from National having a swing to the right, and alienating its centrist supporters, there is one party that will:

New Zealand First.

If National want a fourth term in office, the biggest threat is not Andrew Little and Labour.

It is Winston Peters.

After all, those thunderstorm clouds look more black with flashes of white, than they do red or green.

What has Maori-National coalition achieved

When the Maori Party formed in 2004, I had hopes that a political vehicle was being made to address the poor socio-economic standing of Maori in New Zealand. I had hopes that under Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples the disproportionately high levels of Maori involvement in crime, truancy and unemployment would be addressed.

In fairness to the Maori and National Party, Whanau Ora, a significant health care plan that is community rather than institution based, enabling Maori to access healthcare with recognition of cultural principles was passed into law. This was in 2008 as a result of the coalition agreement, and became a cornerstone in the 2011 coalition agreement.

But beyond that, what has this coalition achieved in terms of addressing Maori socio-economic issues? Not a lot.

Although the Treaty of Waitangi settlements are very important to Maori and to Aotearoa/New Zealand on the whole, I have the feeling that Maori are being further marginalized by a party that is set on dealing with historical issues rather than what is in front of them. I fail to see how arguing over kaitiakitanga of the seabed and foreshore is going to assist someone trying to explain to Work and Income New Zealand why they should be on the unemployment benefit.

At this point, it is perhaps appropriate to acknowledge significant Maori land is locked up in the sense that legal constraints on who can do what with it means development options are limited. These constraints, which are not all that well understood by the Government or indeed by Maori themselves arise from cross ownership and the income stream is negligible, thereby not giving incentive to invest in the land. Because of this, some opportunities for employment and income generation are lost, but still the socio-economic problems remain.

Family violence, truancy, crime, youth unemployment, drug use are all issues that are affecting Maori disproportionately more than non-Maori. Some of these issues can only be solved with community input, whiilst others will require legislative changes enable an appropriate response. To some extent this is supported by research done by the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment, whose January 2016 report found Maori still under perform in labour market indicators.

How can the Maori Party be a true advocate for Maori and Maoridom when it is failing to advocate for those Maori on the fringes of society? I am thinking of those from broken homes, with little or no direction in life, few or no life skills and no mentor figures to keep them out of trouble. I am thinking of – but not limited to – those who come from “Once Were Warriors” type backgrounds, and those who have clashed with the law and want to turn their lives around but have no idea how.

When these people and their needs are addressed, maybe then the Maori Party can say it has done some good. But that is not now.