Developing welcoming communities for refugees in New Zealand

New Zealand has a proud history of being a compassionate nation, a believer of giving people a fair go. With an unprecedented number of people having been made refugees by international or internal strife, some countries are shying away from accepting them. Some are becoming openly hostile. But that does not mean New Zealand should be like them.

Introducing the “I Welcome” pledge, whose aim is to pledge to help settle refugees in New Zealand. The I Welcome pledge is an Amnesty International New Zealand initiative that targets decision makers – district, city and regional councillors as well as Members of Parliament – and get them to help get refugees setled. It aims to help them with basic things that might be foreign to them such as establishing a bank account; getting a General Practitioner, helping them build a curriculum vitae, catching public transport and so on.

When a refugee arrives, they are likely to be bewildered, confused, wary. Such different ways and customs, expectations and  hopes. Whereas many of them might have lived day to day wondering where their next meal is going to come from, here it is different. Here they will be wondering how to make the most of these strange yet welcome new opportunities and getting around everyday challenges. That is where people who have taken the I Welcome pledge come in.

You might have knowledge on writing C.V.’s or be familiar with the workings of the local public transport system. Maybe you are a nurse or G.P.; have cultural experience or familiarity with the countries that refugees are coming from. If you have knowledge and/or skills, or simply want to help, but am not sure how, take the pledge.

I am not suggesting and nor is anyone else that we take all known refugees – not least because New Zealand does not have room for well over ,50 million refugees from all corners of the world. But there is no reason on Earth why New Zealand cannot double its refugee quota from the current pathetic 750 per annum.

By taking the simple I Welcome pledge you are committing to helping vulnerable people getting settled in New Zealand. The experience Amnesty has with refugees suggests that they will be hugely grateful for the opportunities and assistance, desperate not to make mistakes and very willing to learn.

Aggressive police or more volatile protests? You be the judge

New Zealand Police operating costs attending protests are mounting.

Peace Action say it is troubling that the Police act as a “taxpayer funded security service” for big business. Police for their part say their actions are proportionate and totally legitimate.

The distrust I suspect is mutual. Many of the organizations that participate in such protests have always viewed Government force – be it through the Police, military or other armed means – with distrust and this dates back to the days of World War 1 and World War 2 when there were dissenters who were arrested. They would sometimes wind up overseas performing non combat roles such as building roads or being a cook or a doctor.

New Zealand Police in reality are for the most part one of the more tolerant police forces in the west. And compared with those in third world countries, almost squeaky clean. All Police forces will have instances where they get the balance between enforcing the as opposed to being outright thugs wrong. It is down to whether or not the the force is willing to learn from its mistakes, make appropriate changes and give effect to them before something worse happens.

It is also true that an individual has a right to attend the event where the protests are happening – whilst I disagree with the apparent need for an armaments conference here, to step on another individual’s equal right to attend is not something I would condone or want to see New Zealand and New Zealanders condoning.

Action Networks (Coal Action Network, Peace Action Network among others) are among the more likely groups to have members arrested. Their stunts are often eye catching, but have problematic characteristics such as damage to property; trespassing on land that they did not have permission to be on. The extent to which one participates in such progress is up to the individual, but it is worthy noting as example the arrest of former Xena: Warrior Princeess actress Lucy Lawless for being illegally on a Shell Todd Oil Services oil drilling ship that was in port at New Plymouth. She was prosecuted and convicted, being made to pay a fine of $600+.

On the flip side of the coin, peaceful activism is an incredibly powerful phenomena and one that should be totally endorsed as a means of righting a wrong. The power of it is shown in the response of some – instead of accepting the message that change is needed, there are powerful elements who prefer to shut down any movement seeking changes in their conduct.

One need look no further than Amnesty International to see a large organization that can use its considerable membership in a peaceful manner to effect significant change. Amnesty International activism can range from peaceful public protests outside Government offices and businesses, to letter writing. Its appeal lies in the vast range of ages, nationalities, backgrounds and cultures. From ending torture and the death penalty to advocating for refugees and prisoners of conscience, the organization has grown a reputation for credible research conducted by on the ground researchers, not from some office in a far away country

Social campaigning has also evolved with the development of advocacy platforms such as New Zealand’s Action Station and overseas ones such as Change, Sum of Us and others. These tend to pick a few major campaigns and pour their significant resources into them – the Bees and insecticides being one by Change; fresh water resources being one run by Action Station.

For some the allure of being seen protesting outside such events as the armaments conference in Wellington, shutting down the motorway during the Trans Pacific Partnership signing ceremony in Auckland will always appear more attractive than peaceful activism along the lines of Amnesty International. But with the allure comes risk – is the activity going to cause major disruption, put people in danger and/or warrant a strong Police response?

I say: happy protesting – make it loud and bright, but keep it non disruptive and be thankful it is the New Zealand Police you are dealing with and not that of a less tolerant state.

Housing New Zealand boss must quit

Andrew McKenzie is a man skating on thin ice. As the boss of Housing New Zealand, Mr McKenzie had oversight of the meth testing done on houses in its stock. During those many tests a bill of hundreds of thousands of dollars was racked up across a number of clients who found their tenancy aborted. Now with the meth testing industry in a state of disarray and the whistle having been blown on what could be a major cover up, why is the H.N.Z. boss not being forthcoming with answers?

His reluctance to be interviewed by media – declining twice in the space of a few days – suggests an agency boss with something to hide.

However, Mr McKenzie has compounded his problems. His failure to properly stop the charging of people in meth houses for costs incurred in their decontamination is just one other problem among several. Housing New Zealand’s failure to apologize for the charging of decontamination, thus leaving landlords and tenants alike significantly out of pocket should have been Mr McKenzie’s responsibility. Comprehensive methamphetamine testing has been known to cost up to $3,000 with decontamination costing up to another $15,000.

If one believes Minister of Housing Phil Twyford, Housing New Zealand was supposed to have stopped charging tenants for meth testing that had to be undertaken nearly 18 months ago. Yet just the same day that the meth testing story broke it was found out that Housing New Zealand was still pursuing tenants. When that was put to Mr Twyford i in a radio interview, Mr Twyford said that he had felt misled by the agency and demanded that it come clean with answers.

This leaves Mr McKenzie in an untenable spot. As the person in charge of H.N.Z., he would have known what it was doing, despite making a commitment to stopping such charges. The public of New Zealand have a right to know what went on and why its word was not backed by the matching actions.

There is only one thing for Mr McKenzie to do and that is apologize and resign immediately from Housing New Zealand. He is not fight to continue in that role.

It is highly improbable that it will happen, but former Minister of Social Development, Paula Bennett who took great zeal in kicking tenants using methamphetamine out of their homes, also owes an apology. It is highly improbable since it is not like Government ministers to apologize for their past actions.

Another agency that needs to review its actions despite not committing to doing so is the Tenancy Tribunal which would have heard numerous cases of people being unfairly evicted and left to fend for themselves.

Across the board there were failures at all levels in this sorry saga. Across the board all of the agencies and individuals who knew things were not right, but failed to take the appropriate actions should be taking an ice cold look at themselves in the mirror. Are they still fit for purpose? What will it take to make them fit for purpose? And why are they not actively seeking to learn from this?

Of gays and Freedom of Speech

Over the last week a raging storm has been in progress in rugby. No, it wasn’t the one that pounded the Canterbury Crusaders with heavy, rain and hail on Saturday night – audibly and visually spectacular as it was – so much as one kicked off by the comments of Australian rugby player Israel Folau about gays and hell.

But just as an atmospheric storm does, this has sucked in unstable air from across the board – politicians, Pastors, rugby bosses, fellow players and former All Black Sir Michael Jones have all jumped into the debate. Some of them have sought to fuel the storm. Some have attempted to calm the storm

Mr Folau, a Christian by faith, stated that Gods plan required people to repent their sins or be prepared to suffer for eternity. His statement went onto say that he thought gays would go to hell unless they repent of their sin and turn to God.

Mr Jones, a devout Christian himself perhaps spoke the wisest words of anyone so far. He acknowledged Mr Folau’s right to his opinion with grace, but then pointed out that with an opinion that might be divisive such as this, one must temper it with love and respect for the other person. As a newly elected Board member of New Zealand Rugby, a place that has had some rather unfortunate brushes with issues of sexism and sexuality, Mr Jones would have been seeking to look after N.Z.R.’s best interests when seeking to moderate the tone.

Wise words. Much more intelligent and gracious than those that were uttered by Pastor Brian Tamaki. Mr Tamaki, whose anti-LGBTQ views are widely seen as divisive, inflammatory, and in some quarters, degrading made use of the hash tag #CryBabyGays highlight on social media his problem with the LGBTQ community.

But there are also very credible reasons for showing concern about the impact this debate and Mr Folau’s words has on people of poor mental state, especially those who might have harboured suicidal thoughts or showing symptoms of depression. Nigel Owens, a widely respected international rugby referee, who is openly gay told media that he had fought his own demons in the 1990’s when realizing what his sexual orientation was. It came a head with him considering suicide in 1996.

Labour Member of Parliament for Manurewa and former Black Fern Louisa Wall spoke out against Mr Folau’s commentary. As the author of the Same Sex (Definition of Marriage)Amendment Act, 2013, Ms Wall believes they are dangerous and send the wrong messages to people struggling with sexual identity issues. Ms Wall goes on to say that rugby contracts between player and club should have a clause in them forbidding bringing the game into disrepute.

I personally have no problems with Mr Folau having an opinion. Anyone is entitled to one. But with an opinion as Mr Jones noted, one needs to be aware of its potential for negative impact and a willingness to make utterances with respect and grace.

This particular thunderstorm is going to rumble on for a while longer yet. More politicians and other identities on the social landscape of New Zealand and Australia might yet jump in with their own views of what is going on.

Across the Tasman Sea, Australian rugby might be sharpening the knives, but who are they sharpening them for? They should not be sharpening for Rugby Australia Chief Executive Raelene Castle who through no fault of her own finds her tenure plunging headlong into a socially and professionally explosive issue. If they are sharpening for the scalp of Mr Folau, it might be remembered that to his considerable credit he did offer to quit the sport that he no doubt loves and has until now represented Australia with great skill in.


The supposed war on (largely) “old white men”

The recent speech by Minister of Womens Affairs, Julie Anne Genter, seems to have touched a raw nerve in some perhaps not so surprising areas. Whether it is on talk back radio with Chris Lynch, Mike Hosking or in the print media with Kate Hawkesby, some touchy characters have come out of the woodwork complaining about a supposed war on “old white men” (and old white women?). Is the war really on, or just a figment of conservative imaginations gone mad?

But before we start, I want to single out two particularly awesome people in my life. My parents John and Sue Glennie are, along with my brother Craig, the primary reasons I am who I am. The general knowledge, technical aptitude and social outlook they have instilled in me has made people remark in respect of my knowledge and at the same time marvel that I am a car groomer by profession.

She is a lady of incredible generosity, support and compassion. She was at home when I collapsed in the hallway with high blood pressure in 1989. She has been at my side through all of my medical trials, good and bad. She has made sure I get my medicine. Her time in Papua New Guinea as a charge nurse in Wewak gave her vital experience in the medical system. She has taught me much about social compassion and understanding the mechanics behind the scenes about why people behave as they do and how their circumstances influence them.

He is a man of immense integrity, fairness, and kindness. He has raised two very capable sons and now has an equally capable daughter-in-law. John Glennie taught me much of what I know today about environmental planning and sustainability, its impacts on society, the socio-economic arguments for and against proposed activities. He taught me to think critically and championed the sciences to me – my marks at school in science were mediocre, but my new found respect for the substances of the Periodic Table of the Elements is at least in part. Over many an evening meal – sometimes with relatives, and sometimes just with myself and/or my brother – many an informed conversation was had on subjects ranging from politics, to science, to arts to our own lives and outlooks. And all the better for it.

So much of my vision of New Zealand and the world today is formed by critical conversations I have with my parents and my brother, but also the many and varied people I have met – Colombians, Peruvians, Aussies, Americans, Canadians, French, Germans, Britons, Japanese, Filipinos. And so much of this was made possible because my parents and brother – like me – do not see these nationalities as any lesser, even though we are the white people who know some of those Ms Genter was referring to. And the people of these nationalities have become great mates as a result.

Mr Glennie married a lady six years his senior. They are now in their 44th year of union. They are retired and living life as well as they can – art, gardening, fishing, among other pursuits, fill their time. Are they rich? I wouldn’t say that, but I can say that their earnings are the result of rock solid work ethics, a desire to learn and grow with their employment roles. But at the same time there is no denying she went to nursing school and he to university before market economics had a significant impact in New Zealand. They purchased the property they have before the market lost the plot. Their generation might be the ones under Ms Genters critical eye, but it is a fair demonstration that not all are bad.

So, pardon me if I look a bit surprised at people who say that there is a supposed war going on against old white men. When Ms Genter made that speech she was pointing out an elephant in the room.

If one looks at where the wealth and the socio-economic influence radiates from geographically, it is largely not from Africa or South/Latin America through no fault of their own. For very little in return, the outflow of considerable economic and social wealth, these two continents, along with south and central Asia, the southwest Pacific (barring Australia and New Zealand) It is largely from nations that are predominantly European-Caucasian in ethnic make up, and which have at one time or another been colonial powers whose combined control would have covered much of the world’s surface. If one looks across the corporate boardrooms of the major companies around the world – be it Facebook or British Petroleum, the cold fact of the matter is they are largely middle aged and white.

Since World War 2, a number of Asian nations, notably Japan, China, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore have become significant economic power houses in their own right. Rebuilt rapidly to counter the perceived (and real)threat of Communism, they developed trade ties, built up their industries based on education and science and developed what are today well known brands and product lines. Most of the workforce was male and thus “old boy” clubs were allowed to develop, which still exist today in an attempt to defend what were golden times for their founding members. These companies exist across the westernized world. Toyota, whilst largely – and understandably Japanese – in composition, is like the others almost exclusively made up of middle aged or otherwise older men. Similarly, China’s C.N.O.O.C. is almost exclusively made up of middle aged or otherwise older men.

With such similarity in the composition of these boards, despite – and perhaps because of – the small scattering of females (two on the Toyota board; three on the B.P. board; two on the Facebook board; 0 (zero) on the C.N.O.O.C. board), the truth is that Ms Genter is correct in her assessment. The lack of diversity potentially means a lesser interest in the social impacts on their staff, on their customers, on society and on the environment. A great example of this is Tokyo Electricity Corporation, who operated the defunct Fukushima nuclear power station before Dai-ichi, Dai-nii  and Dai-san reactors melted down after being hit by the tsunami following the earthquake of 11 March 2011. Their social disconnect with Japan at a time when they needed to be left right and centre on the meltdown emergency was thunderous – that no one has been formally charged with criminal negligence and endangering the lives of so many people is mind blowing.

But whatever you think or say because of this, remember that not all “old white men” are bad. I know a number of such men in my life other than my father who are absolute gentlemen, a pleasure to be around, with considerable knowledge that they are happy to impart and willing to acknowledge not all like them have been so well grounded.