Make New Zealand egalitarian again

Egalitarianism (noun): the doctrine that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities

My interpretation is identical: egalitarianism is based on the premise of a fair go for everyone, with same access to opportunities and same responsibilities before the law.

This is how many New Zealand politicians believe New Zealand should be. This is how I believe New Zealand should be as well. Egalitarianism is not something that we should allow to die. It was once something we collectively took pride in before the politics of division, the idea that dystopia is somehow better began to creep in.

I see some dangerous distortions creeping into New Zealand society. They are mainly socio-economic, such as encouraging proverbial rat race conditions that make a few get very wealthy, whilst. These are aided by willful hindrance of justice by removing or undermining watchdogs such as the Human Rights Commission and Privacy Commission, and also deliberate dilution of Bills of Parliament to sit in legally murky zones.

It should not be like this. New Zealand is better than that.

We can address these distortions though. But to do so one needs to understand what they are and how they work.

  1. Justice – whilst some aspects of justice certainly need a kinder, more compassionate approach such as that which Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern espouses, failing to address the very weak “wet bus ticket” approach of judges when handing down sentences erodes confidence in the justice system
  2. Dilution of laws – the deliberate dilution of various Bills of Parliament regarding these mean employers can operate in legally grey zones; people on work visas can be exploited because there is not a strong judicial and enforcement component. The same can be said for environmental laws – the R.M.A. still works, but there is a lot of grey zone non-compliance because councils have been made to streamline their regulatory sections, which has contributed to the decline in fresh water quality
  3. Constitutional reform – whilst no politician has directly attempted to usurp key Acts of Parliament, the risk remains, and there has been attempts at tinkering around the edges, which is why I believe a light but robust constitution that checks the executive, legislative and judicial wings of governance, needs to happen
  4. Education about the legal system – some of the arrogance shown today by youth is down to a refusal by politicians to make civics compulsory in school, even though everyone deals with the law at some point in their life

When these are addressed I think much of the social injustice happening in New Zealand and loss of confidence in society, the marginalizing and isolation of vulnerable sections, as well as the perceptions of greed will disappear. It will not be an overnight job – the best time for constitutional reform would be when the Queen of England passes on and we are left to decide whether to accept her successor as a head of state. The distrust between some sectors of the community and law enforcement will persist until the judges become more consistent and all students are made to learn how the legal system works.

But it can be done.

The real question is does New Zealand have the will to do so?

Attitude change to Police pursuits needed

On Saturday 3 people were killed when the car they were in ran over Police spikes, crashed into a tree and went up in a ball of flames. They were in a car that was the subject of an abandoned Police chase when it went over spikes that punctured the tyres, causing immediate and catastrophic loss of control. As families of the dead prepare to mourn the loss of their loved ones, it is time to have a look at why so many people are making the really silly mistake of running from the Police.

A Police chase starts because it is an offence to evade law enforcement. If the Police see someone has noticed their presence and is trying to evade, it is an offence to harbour or otherwise assist them in their evasion.

Despite this there is a long and sad litany of people who have or killed/injured others as a result of running away from Police chases.

  1. A pregnant woman and fleeing driver are killed in a two car collision.
  2. A vehicle in Lower Hutt flees the Police, flips, injuring 3
  3. An underage driver and passenger killed in a crash fleeing Police

I personally believe that the ability to stop a chase from happening before it starts lies solely in the hands of the person that the Police want to talk to. Simply stopping for the Police will save lives, money, and resources.

However that attitude change is not going to happen unless there is an effective deterrent. It needs to be something that is grave enough to make someone contemplating a pursuit think twice, such as a week or a month in jail for simply evading arrest. Few, if any will want an instant jail rap on their criminal record. The potential impact it would have on ones employment prospects and ability to obtain things like a passport or go overseas because they had committed an offence for which they would receive a jail sentence, is something the sentencing judge should consider remarking on – crime has consequences and often the longer term aspects such as loss of certain liberties could be better highlighted.

For their part though, Police might want to look at the case of Queensland, Australia where officers are only permitted to chase if there is an immediate danger to life or have good reason to believe a serious crime has just been committed. The same applies in the state of Victoria. In South Australia incident controllers can terminate a chase at any time. That said, a lot of chases in New Zealand only last a couple of minutes or even seconds, because Police see that the danger of continuing the pursuit is too hazardous and stop.

But it is all too late for three boys aged 13, 13 and 16 who are now dead, and devastated families wondering how it came to this.

The hour of legalized cannabis is approaching

It started with the release of the report into “meth houses”, houses that had been contaminated by methamphetamine production. Within months debate about how New Zealand view drugs and what should be done about them had turned its sights on potentially legalizing cannabis. Now with a referendum set down for 2020, I believe that the hour of cannabis legalization is approaching.

There is, I believe, no escaping the fact that public support for cannabis being legalized is high and rising. A number of reasons for this exist, but I believe in part the driver for change comes down to some basic myths around cannabis and its effects being blown wide open:

  • The so called “War on Drugs”, both in New Zealand and abroad has failed/is failing
  • Numerous other substances such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and synthetic cannabis are much more potent than regular cannabis
  • Judicial systems in New Zealand and abroad have been clogging up with cases big and small
  • Medical marijuana – whilst its legal status is still in limbo – is no longer something that the police are actively prosecuting
  • If done properly, the tax take from legalizing marijuana would be substantial and could be used for funding treatment programmes

A nation wide referendum, scheduled to coincide with the 2020 General Election, and possibly the first in the world to ask such a question, will ask New Zealanders point blank whether they believe cannabis should be legalized.

Synthetic cannabis, also known as “Spice”, is illegal and supermarkets and dairies have been banned from selling legal highs since 2014. It has been linked to several deaths in New Zealand, people being dangerously spaced out with no idea or comprehension of their surroundings and is the cause of considerable public concern.

But for many people a few quite high profile deaths have highlighted the use of cannabis as a medicating agent against chronic pain. One of these cases was that of trade unionist Helen Kelly who was diagnosed with lung cancer, despite never having been a smoker. As a result of these high profile cases and in depth interviews conducted with those suffering, public support for the use of medicinal cannabis has rocketed.

Some opposition inevitably stems from conservative parts of society who are concerned about the effects of liberalizing drug laws and believe that it will have detrimental effects on society.

Some nations, notably the United States, which has long waged an expensive, often violent and now – ultimately – failing “war on drugs”, will also probably express concern. America though is starting to see that Federal law is no longer keeping up with changes in state laws, particularly in states like Colorado and Washington where restrictions on possession, distribution and manufacture of cannabis have been relaxed. A good example of this is in Washington State – my parents visited a friend whose daughter used to work in the first cannabis store in the state. The store had several restrictions on how it could operate, so that it would not be in breach of Federal law these included not being able to take credit cards; banking the earnings from the days business was a problem because banks are bound by Federal laws.

New Zealand is not the United States and there will need to be strict conditions on how we permit stores that sell cannabis to operate cometh the day when buying, selling and manufacturing cannabis  is no longer a criminal offence. But if a few common sense ones are followed such as, strictly 18+; all stores selling registered with authorities and only New Zealand grown product is permitted, maybe it will not be the catastrophe some believe.

The need to reform employment assistance in New Zealand

A few months after finishing my Graduate Diploma of Sustainable Management I find myself in a familiar situation: trying to figure out how to wield my latest academic acquisition to the best effect, in a constantly changing job market where sometimes it seems I am always behind the 8-ball.

If we wind the clock back to 2004, I was in a similar situation. I completed my undergraduate degree (Bachelor of Science)in Geography. My G.P.A. was poor – about 3.5, but I was finished in 3.5 years, which for someone who needed assistance with note taking and had a writer for exams was probably not a bad achievement.

The job market had moved a bit in that time. Not necessarily a problem at that point, because I had always intended to go back and try postgraduate study part time at some point, which I started in 2005 and completed in 2006 with a G.P.A. of around 4.5

By the time I finished though the job market was about to experience the effects of the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-2009. The market for environmental/planning/natural hazard jobs dried up. A solitary job came up in September 2008, which I went for, lost at the interview stage, but got offered a temporary job anyway.

When I took my job at Environment Canterbury it was a summer student job that was meant to end at the end of February 2009. It lasted until mid April 2011. During that time I discovered the limitations of my office skills – I was fine on Word, but not Excel, my report writing style was substandard.

So, after the quake whilst casting around for a job I enrolled at Vision College to do a Certificate of Business Administration. The course content addressed all of those deficiencies and a few I did not realize I had.

Re-entering the job market was still not any easier. Thousands of jobs had been lost in Christchurch in the quake and the market had changed considerably. The agencies normally tasked with helping people find work or re-enter the work force found and – I suspect still find – themselves grinding against straight-jacketed social welfare law.

For example, between February 2017 and October 2018 I was working on a Graduate Diploma of Sustainable Management. The purpose of gaining this Diploma was three fold:

  1. Renew dormant research skills that I know I have, but which my current employment does not allow the use of
  2. Show employers that I am still capable of learning
  3. Do original research

Now as I seek once more to try to change my employment direction, I realize that this might be my final throw of the academic dice – it is certainly my best. I do not know what my G.P.A. is, but my guess is that a high end B average is probably nearly 7.0.

I wonder what the future holds for those who are being rehabilitated back into the work force. Employers want to know – rightfully – why one has not been working for extended periods of time. However they often take an unnecessarily conservative approach that I think costs them potentially very loyal employees who not only would stick around, but who could be developed into people capable of bigger roles such as team leaders or managers.

Yes some of these people have had a prior criminal history. They might have been on drugs in their youth after leaving school with no qualifications and have committed a crime 25 years ago. But what if they have done the time, renounced the drugs, got a stable partner, gone back to school or some other educational institution and done a trade or a degree?

Well done to them for rebuilding their lives. Do they not deserve a chance? I think they do. Otherwise it is not only they who suffer, but if it leads to a relapse in their condition then the whole of society suffers.

Some people have medical history, like me. Diagnosed at age 8 with severe hypertension. Coupled with hearing impairment, I have struggled for work in the fields of academic endeavour that I studied in. Part of it might be because employers, seeing that I have hypertension possibly suddenly become nervous about hiring someone that they worry might have an accident on their watch. It is kind of interesting that I hold a steady 40 hour a week job in the rental car sector, a sector I knew nothing about and had no connections in. I have now been in it for nearly 5.5 years.

Will this continue to limit me? I hope not. In some respects I have been lucky to have good parental support, a good current employer, but not everyone is like that.




Challenges for New Zealand in 2019

A range of social, economic, political and environmental challenges loom large on New Zealand’s horizon as the year 2019 gets underway. In a turbulent world and stressed domestic situation New Zealand finds itself trying to live up to the international reputation bestowed on it as a clean, friendly and – for the most part – safe place to visit, live and do business. Addressing these challenges will go some distance towards improving our future. So, what are those challenges?

Environmental challenges are numerous. But they also present some opportunities which are beyond the scope of this article, and which will be discussed at a later time.

  • Our fresh water continues to be stressed by the demand placed on it by domestic consumption, dairying, industrial and other uses. Despite increased acknowledgement of the threat posed to it there is still resistance in some economic and social sectors, who view it as green wishy washy politics.
  • Waste is a rapidly growing problem and despite moves to tackle plastic bags, it ignores significant other sources such as electronic waste, food waste, packaging and our poor recycling. This may threaten our reputation for being clean.
  • The level of carbon in our atmosphere is the highest it has been for 3 million years. Whether one believes in climate change or not, this carbon is having serious effects on the marine environment, peoples health through air pollution and potentially cancerous dioxins

Economic challenges exist both on the world stage and domestically. Some are challenges that are decades old and some are challenges that have only arisen in the last few years:

  • A trade war between the United States and China might have flow on effects for New Zealand and other trade partners of these two countries – no immediate talks on ending the hostilities which started last year seem likely in the near future
  • A continuing reluctance to diversify our economy so that fewer eggs are in the same proverbial basket means opportunities to develop niche sectors such as recycling and environmentally friendly technologies are being passed up
  • New Zealand is supposed to be carbon neutral by 2050, but the Ministry for Environment and the Ministry of Energy and Resources have not given thought as to what a long term blue print for this might look like.

Tackling social challenges might be one of the bigger success stories of the Sixth Labour Government. In adopting a policy of greater kindness and compassion, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern took a great step forward in including the more vulnerable parts of society that have been marginalized by market economics. But challenges remain:

  • Whilst moving to address the effects of drugs on society is a laudable action, clearly some such as heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine have more damaging effects on individual than cannabis – having a referendum on cannabis will not address the need to be firm on the manufacturers, importers and sellers of these more damaging substances
  • Our road toll – what a disaster it has been these last few years and too much of it caused by offenders thinking that a wet bus ticket judicial system is a licence to reoffend. Whilst true simple ownership of attitudes will also go some distance towards lowering the road toll as well.
  • Reform of the labour laws is necessary to stop New Zealand developing a wild west reputation for employing non-New Zealanders and then exploiting their likely lack of knowledge about their rights and responsibilities under our laws

New Zealand has some serious decisions to make in the near future politically. What sort of constitutional system do we want? Is our flag still relevant? Do we want Prince Charles as our head of state?

An alternative New Zealand flag. Designed by R. GLENNIE

The above is a flag design that I conceived over Christmas and New Year. Whilst I supported the New Zealand flag in the referendum, that was not so much because I like the design of the existing one, as I found it suspicious that replacing it should suddenly be a raging priority. The time to have that debate is when we are forced to address the constitutional issue, which I suspect will be when Queen Elizabeth II passes on.