Can we still address poverty in New Zealand?


New Zealand has just ruled out one of the best measures for helping to address poverty. Is it still possible to do so?

Good question and one that irrespective of governing coalition, New Zealand must try to. The country that likes to think it is egalitarian and that the spirit of giving people a fair go is alive, has no choice if it wishes to reasonably continue thinking this.

It is a question that will rankle the supporters of the Labour-led Government of Jacinda Ardern. It will rankle many of them because the C.G.T. to many was a fundamental part of any policy platform for dealing with poverty. It would appear New Zealand wants to address poverty, but is absolutely loathe to introduce any sort of measure that check the unsustainable wealth accumulation by the top 5-10% of income earners. So, to cut to the chase, what are the options?

Is New Zealand even agreed on a definition of poverty?

To me poverty is the inability to afford and access the essentials for a life of dignity. What is life if it cannot be lived in a state of dignity where a human being is not degraded? To me, nothing. It is when one is unable to afford basic medical care, shelter, food, transport and education.

In one respect New Zealand is making progress, in that we are enacting a progressive increase in the minimum wage. It rose last year from $15.25/hr to $16.50/hr; from 1 April this year to $17.70/hr; from 1 April next year to $18.90/hr; from 1 April 2021 to $20/hr.

One thing New Zealand can do is ensure that the benefits administered by the Ministry of Social Development are fixed to a Consumer Price Index or other appropriate measure, and adjusted annually on 1 April each year. The rules for administering the schedule of benefits should be reviewed at the same time.

New Zealand can also try to implement the nearly 100 other recommendations that were made by the tax working group.

I still believe though that New Zealand should broaden its income tax regime. Currently the brackets sit at:

  • 10.5% for income up to $14,000
  • 17.5% for income between $14,000-$48,000
  • 30.0% for income between $48,000-$70,000
  • 33.0% for income above $70,000

A top tax rate of say 37.5% could take effect on incomes over $250,000 per annum, whilst the others are more evenly spread instead of a tight range covering just $56,000 between the end of the lowest bracket and the start of the highest.

No mention in the T.W.G. report appears to have been made of a luxury goods tax. Some might call it a jealousy tax. I disagree as it would be on assets that probably out of the reasonable reach of 95-99% of the worlds population. How would it be implemented and at what financial value does something become a luxury good? To be clear to me a luxury good is something that is surplus to the reasonable maintenance of life, and purchased simply because the buyer wants it for reasons of prestige and can afford it. As for what passes as a luxury asset, it would be any car, property, jewellery, aircraft, helicopter, rare items such as art works, other collectables. One can discuss valuations at which such assets can be defined as luxury goods upon inspection, however I think the following could be a good start (and exclude family homes, immediate business assets):

  • vehicles worth $250,000+;
  • yachts worth $1 million+
  • property other than the family home worth $1 million+
  • any helicopters, private jets

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The fine line between free speech and hate speech


Speech is one of the most artful modes of communication and also the most fundamental. It can happen in many different ways, through body language, through oral or visual actions or other medians. It is also, in the wake of the Christchurch terrorist attack, as we try to understand “hate speech” and separate it from “free speech”, a mode that is being subject down to a very personal level.

There is a fine line between free speech, which to me is the honest expression of ones opinion or ideas and hate speech. To me the latter is the overt and deliberate attempt to discriminate and/or degrade an ethnicity, nationality and so forth.

On the side of free speech there are those with sincerely held views that might come across as offensive and possibly discriminatory. I have met people who sincerely believe it is not proper for a man to be in a relationship with another man. They did not go so far as to suggest that those engaging in such conduct should be killed or otherwise persecuted, but their upbringing had taught them that it should be frowned upon.

Another example of an offensive, yet honestly held view was when I was at the New Zealand First Convention in 2010. A gentleman from Dunedin South during a general Q+A session stood up and commented that Muslims should be put on a plane and sent home. The general chorus of disgust shut him down promptly and he was not heard from again for the rest of the conference.

So, where does freedom of speech transition into hate speech? Where does a personal dislike of a particular grouping in society become a hatred?

In terms of graphic content such as video, photography and so forth, the line is blurred. But the slope is slippery and down hill in nature. In terms of personal behaviour, simple things such as crossing the street when someone of different skin colour comes towards you, refusing to visit certain stores because of the ethnicity of the owners/operators suggest intolerance. However, in terms of wording I believe on the freedom of speech side, certain key phrases or terms denote the boundary. For example a derogatory comment might be made out of disgust, or in the heat of a situation and not be intentional. However discriminatory and degrading comments about a subject are intended to hurt and cause harm. The latter two are low level hate speech. Where it becomes graphic and is used in conjunction with descriptions of harm, violence or destruction it becomes high level hate speech.

But the key is both are hate speech examples and if the commentator has achieved low level hate speech, then the commentator is capable of high level hate speech as well.

Lesser, yet deliberately provocative hate speech, that puts down a particular group with irrational and often ill founded claims – “they’ve come to take our jobs; our land our homes”; “they have diseases; they don’t know how to parent” – can be heard being used by some fringe politicians. Former Australian Minister of Immigration and Border Protection, Peter Dutton, has been frequently criticized for his views on asylum seekers and refugees, in particular those from Africa and the Middle East.

A good example of hate speech was the incitement of Hutu’s to kill Tutsi’s during the Rwandan genocide 25 years ago. To get Hutu militiamen into the frame of mind necessary to kill their Tutsi neighbours or any Tutsi’s they saw, radio stations would broadcast incendiary content particularly aimed at degrading Tutsi’s and encouraging their murder. 800,000 Tutsi’s were killed, often with machete’s and often in places of worship where they thought they might be safe in a bit more than 100 days.

 

Supporting the victims of the Christchurch terrorist attack


Over the last two weeks I have watched a huge out pouring of grief. I have seen and participated in very sombre services for the dead and with more to come, it is time to address how we may best support the victims of the attack in the long term. It is too late for the dead, but not for stopping any future attacks.

Whilst all of this is great and shows a compassionate and caring society, it is somewhat short term. If we are to deal with the hazard the gunman and anyone aspiring to be like him, then we must look at the social environment that spawns terrorism in the first place.

The best thing we can honestly do to support the victims of the Christchurch terrorist attack is go forward espousing and being everything the gunman never wanted us to be about:

  • Working towards a sort of utopia
  • Compassion
  • Tolerance of diversity
  • Dealing with injustices
  • Free from fear

Dystopia is the negative reversal of utopia. It is a society imagined or otherwise of suffering, considered undesirable or scary. Unfortunately in some countries – the United States, Russia, China, France, Australia, Hungary and Britain being notable examples – a dystopian future is becoming a real prospect. All of these countries have either influential groups stoking discontent, or large Government projects such as the Chinese data profiling, which is being used to build up profiles of individual Chinese citizens on a massive scale. The profile, if the outcome is negative, can then automatically deny them social assistance, passports, medical assistance and a disturbingly large range of other essentials.

The gunman wanted a dystopian society where a distrust of people, organizations, authorities and society at large is a good thing to have. In a dystopian society, compassion for others, for minorities and is discouraged, and one is perceived to be surrendering to the “enemy”, which is never quite revealed. A survivalist mentality can take hold, which can lead to accumulating weapons, joining organizations like the National Front and other supremacist groups.

Tolerance of diversity is one of the reasons why New Zealand was attacked. For years we have been seen as a nation that respects and welcomes newcomers from all countries. Contrary to what many people believe all are screened by Immigration New Zealand before they arrive, so this idea of anyone coming in willy nilly is quite wrong, not to mention misleading. An asylum seeker or refugee will be taken to the Mangere facility, where they will be held whilst I.N.Z. process their claim, and ascertain whether the intelligence agencies or the Police have any concerns about them.

Injustices that have been knowingly committed and are deliberately left to fester, are dangerous for several reasons. Some are historical ones that have been passed down the generations, such as the confiscation or land or other property; abuses of a particular group – acts like this, where no compensation or recognition become grievances. Out of grievance comes a desire to resist any (c)overt moves to enact laws or carry out activities that might worsen it.

This is why I am pleased that New Zealand has taken steps in recent years to address injustices and continue to do so. Is this country perfect? Nope, and the world will be watching to see what it can learn from our approach.

Terrorism is built on fear. The whole premise of terrorism is to terrorise, which means instilling fear, distrust of people, of organizations of authorities and the government. Fear is the fundamental building block in a destabilized society. The sentiment is one of “They” are your enemy. They want your land, your home, your job, your life.

This is why in order to defeat terrorism a nation, a region, city or otherwise must not ever give into fear. When one gives into fear, they stop their daily routines – it might be going to pray, or taking your child to the park or going to certain places or meeting certain people. That can become toxic.

 

International Womens Day and International Mens Day should complement each other


International Womens Day was on Friday 8 March. It was an opportunity to celebrate everything that females have contributed to society. It was a chance to acknowledge that whilst much good has been done, there is a lot more still to happen, and that not all countries are trying to move their women forward.

In 8 months time we will have International Mens Day. It will be a chance to acknowledge the contribution of men to our society, the issues we face and how we can move them forward. And it is a fully justified international day on the calendar. It is linked to I.W.D. whether either side likes it or not and proponents of both need to realize the opportunities for co-operation are too big to ignore.

To understand fully the problems that caused the #MeToo movement to form, and which drive and will continue to help drive the problem, we must look at the upbringing of men in our society. We must look at the broken families that many sexual offenders come from, the messages that men from those kinds of hostile environments where they would have had to fend for themselves and might have grown up with no father or mother figures in their lives.

I say “we” because both men and women have contributed to this sorry state of affairs and all who have need to own their contribution. I probably sit off to one side from the mainstream #MeToo movement and that is fine by me. I want people to stop and think about why, because there is a purpose behind it.

I am different. From a very early age I have known I am different, and have grown to accept that.  A combination of hearing loss (now compensated by a hearing aid), physical handicap (which has largely been overcome, except for a slight speech impediment) and severe hypertension mean  I grew up mentally in some respects much faster than many in my age group.

It has caused me inordinate amounts of grief. When I was younger and trying to get my head around all of this, there were days when I just wanted to shut myself off from the world. The worst part was missing social cues in various social situations, such as a change of subject, interrupting, not realizing I was not involved and so on. I would get grumpy at some of my best mates for no reason and they eventually stopped being friends and to this day I regret it, but I knew no other way. The one or two times someone confronted me about things I had done or not done I would get upset that no one had the courage to tell me earlier.

When I was at intermediate I experienced heavy and prolonged bullying that only stopped when another classmate got so upset that he went home and told his dad, who rang my Mum. The following day there was an urgent meeting between my mother, myself and the teacher. The perpetrators were very lucky not to get suspended. It was a combination of physical and mental bullying – after P.E. belongings would be thrown into the girls changing quarters so that I would have no choice but to wait until they had changed and left; down trousers; flour being thrown on food I was cooking in home economics classes among other things. Both girls and boys participated in it. The worst though was actually by a girl who smashed my hearing aid.

There was mental bullying too. I was a sissy, a fat bastard, someone who would never be able to love or be loved. I was apparently a pervert and a fiddler. The accusers even arranged a boys only class meeting with the teacher to lay into me with further false accusations.

I am lucky. I had a supportive family. I learnt right from wrong before anything happened. Not everyone does. Because not all boys have that support they are prone to derailing and becoming abusers themselves, but not nearly enough is done to stop that kind of situation happening.

So, my message is simple. We should help our men folk get over bullying, because in turn we are probably doing ourselves a major favour getting them out of an environment where they might come to believe that abusing women is an acceptable idea.

If you do nothing else, show your teenage son/daughter this. It does not need to be like this, but until we accept the damage that this kind of behaviour does, #MeToo will have a purpose for existing.

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?