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.

National’s M.S.D. failure

Every election we hear about the need to address social welfare in New Zealand. We hear the Greens and Labour going on about the need for compassion and making sure that people on the benefits are reasonably able to afford basics. We hear about the need to reform social welfare to stop it being a hand out as opposed to a hand up from National and A.C.T. After nine years of National and A.C.T. being in office, I get the distinct impression that they have lost sight of their message.

Or that the message they are putting out is perhaps not the message that the centre-right should be putting out about social welfare. I mean, the supporter base of both parties are the ones talking up employers – and there are many great employers, don’t get me wrong – and talking down the beneficiaries whom they claim are druggies, fraudsters and so forth. The same also generally go for bureaucrats as being financial wastage costing hard earned income. Which brings me nicely to my next point.

A good example of bureaucratic mismanagement is the Ministry of Social Development. I have heard stories of time, money and resource wastage by staff from others who have dealt with the M.S.D. and its umbrella agencies such as Work and Income New Zealand, Child Youth and Family Services, as well as Studylink. I have also seen inept practices with my own eyes.

To some extent I believe the Social Welfare Act is to blame. It is a rigid piece of legislation that is not fit for 2017 and its application forces staff to straight jacket cases that simply cannot be. The result is a misguided attempt to help clients that just as regularly damages individuals and their trust in the very agencies that are supposed to be assisting them, as it actually helps anyone.

But also there is a need to have a sea change from the Minister down in terms of how the Ministry operates. The culture of the management does as much to fuel the wastage as the Act. When one has staff treating completely innocent clients as if they are criminals, with an air of suspicion and a complete lack of empathy, of course one should expect them to treat one with contempt. It is not to say the staff member/s in question are necessarily bad people and it might be their training, or lack of that is to blame.

An average request in my experience at W.I.N.Z. took two meetings to do what generally could have been done in one. For the most part the second meeting was simply an exercise in time wastage, as were subsequent meetings. When across five separate meetings you find yourself telling staff the same data each time and no tangible changes being given effect to, I think the client has a good reason to ask what is going on. When a staff member who has never had your case before tells you what he thinks of you after just five minutes, is he not jumping to conclusions – or off a proverbial cliff? Especially when it happens without even looking at your case notes or even realistically giving you a chance to explain your situation.

And the paperwork. I understand the need to leave a paper trail to cover ones legal behind, but sometimes the sheer pedanticism of the letters that get sent out makes one wonder if paper wasting is not part of their brief. An example that I remember clearly was being told in one letter that I was over paid by $0.65c or similar in a weekly benefit payment and that W.I.N.Z. would correct this over the next two weeks – yes such pedantic nonsense actually does happen.

Given this wastage and ineptness costs hard earned income by requiring more tax and more money to be borrowed – which has to be paid back at some point (but that is another story) – the silence from National and A.C.T. about one of the biggest waste machines in Government is quite extraordinary.

Social Welfare: My view

Every election New Zealand has a debate about the social ills being inflicted on the country. Every election promises are made to get tough on crime, to put the unemployed into work and get truants back into school. And every following election we realize how much talk there was (and how little of it turned into demonstrable actions).

And so we are staring down the barrel of another election. Leader of the Opposition Jacinda Ardern and Prime Minister Bill English are going at it on national debates about how they plan to address these issues. But really are we not just reciting an old New Zealand-specific definition of insanity once more?

It is an issue that I have blogged on several times before. However it is important that if we are going to address the violent crime being committed by youths, the numbers of people being forced into work in social situations where they are out of their depth that this issue be subject to a comprehensive overhaul. I am not just talking about a Ministerial review or even an inquiry. I am talking about enacting a sea change, because without this, the statistics that earn us condemnation at the United Nations and which are an embarrassment to look at, are only going to worsen – the suicide rate; the unemployed; youth offending rates; child abuse and so forth.

I want to acknowledge that there have been earnest attempts at addressing the issue, by New Zealand First list Member of Parliament Darroch Ball. Mr Ball, formerly ex-N.Z. Army and teacher drafted a Bill of Parliament that sought to put youth in a military run training programme where they could stay on if they wished afterwards. Mr Ball’s work unfortunately was defeated at its first reading in Parliament.

It is also just part of a much bigger and more complex set of interconnecting issues. Some of the kids that would have benefitted from Mr Ball’s work come from broken families where the parents are in absentia. Some have never been taught and struggle with basic writing, reading and mathematics. Some come from families where they never had breakfast in the mornings and went to school with no lunch, thus were disruptive or inattentive simply because they were hungry. Others have come from families where they were loved, but might have mental health issues, such as those in Canterbury dealing with earthquake related issues, or those vulnerable teenagers subject to peer abuse because they are perceived to be somehow different.

And then there is the Ministry of Social Development itself. A large Ministry, with multiple umbrella agencies constrained by a constrictive piece of legislation. It can be a thankless task working at any one of them as the legislation often forces employees to make decisions that negatively impact their clients, arousing the fury and frustration of the latter.

What I propose:

  • Rolling out breakfast in schools nation-wide between 0800 and 0830 daily for children who have not been able to get breakfast
  • A Commission of Inquiry into the Social Welfare Act with recommendations implemented within a year, and a second inquiry into how staff and clients can work together better (for lack of better phrasing)
  • Appending benefits to the Consumer Price Index or other suitable economic indicator
  • A working group establish how grand parents who are care givers/legal guardians of minors and solo Dads can be better supported
  • A job programme specific to disabled people who have been recommended as capable of working limited hours with buy in from employers

Turei’s big gamble becomes Turei’s big regret

I have had a – I would not call it a love/hate relationship since it never reached either extremity of how I feel towards the participants – distorted view towards the leader of the Green Party Metiria Turei. I have always been more conservative than the Green Party, but what a dilemma she has thrown the beneficaries of New Zealand into.

After yeas of being in Parliament and nearly 9 years of straight forward election victories in heavy favour of National, Metiria Turei might have finally committed a fatal stroke as co-leader of the Green Party. Her coming clean on benefit fraud and admitting she has indulged in the lower end of the offending range for this looked like it just might pay off until about Thursday morning New Zealand time. At this point, Ms Turei went and played a card that will reverberate for a few years by announcing she used to do the ver thing that National and A.C.T attack people for: being on the benefit, justified or not.

There is one unfortunate truth now more than ever before that even Metiria Turei will have to admit to. Her career is in jeopardy. It was an admirable gamble to come clean on such an action as that which got her into this mess in the first place – admitting you have done wrong – even if it is somewhat historic – and signalling you are willing to take the consequences when you are in such a place as a New Zealand Member of Parliament, carries huge risks.

Metiria Turei knew that when she made the initial statement of guilt. Yes it opened up a can of baby rattle snakes – all of them poisonous! – by giving the Government reasons it could have only dreamed of, to launch an all out attack on the Greens

But when Ms Turei went one step further and said two days ago that she had used an address that she was not living at to justify her conduct, perhaps we should not be surprised that in the space of a few hours an audacious gamble has backfired so catastrophically. For many many New Zealanders that was just a bridge too far. Those that might have risen to her defence in the initial phase and said “Okay, she’s admitted to something daft, but we need her on board – can’t happen if she quits” – must now be thinking “Oh dear Metiria, but what the heck were you thinking?

I seriously wonder now, how much Ms Turei is regretting the sustained rage emanating from the front line of National defenders. Their calls for her head following this are not surprising in the least. Members who might have voted for her instead of Labour during its week period are now suddenly being forced to think whether N.Z. First is a viable alternative.

I seriously wonder if Ms Turei realises that she has torpedoed below the water line any chance of her ever holding a Ministerial portfolio. Labour leader Jacinda Ardern has said no. A.C.T. leader David Seymour want her gone.

I personally am not yet ready to see her go, but she deserves the election rap that I think is now a certainty to hit the Greens. If it brings a centre-left Government, Winston Peters and New Zealand First might not be such a bad vote to cast after all.

Metiria’s Gamble

It was a bold thing to do. When Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei admitted that she had lied to Work and Income New Zealand about her housing arrangements whilst collecting the Domestic Purposes Benefit, she knew full well it was putting putting her in a minefield.

In some respects I admire her honesty. She could have said nothing and left New Zealand, the authorities and the Green Party delegates assembled none the wiser.

In other respects though there is a degree of cynicism about her admission. In doing so, she had another goal in mind other than living up to her statement that an M.P. has to be honest. That goal was to give an example – and a very risky one – of a person struggling with the D.P.B. and making a choice to not be honest with Work and Income New Zealand.

I have had my own struggles with Work and Income. But the whole time I have been transparent with them, however much I might have been tempted to lob a verbal grenade across the desk. My association with Work and Income started back in 2000 when my parents decided to check out what legal assistance a 19 year old with permanent hypertension.

It is not to say that I have got on with W.I.N.Z. or the Ministry of Social Development at large – I have not. In August 2011 after 2 months on the unemployment benefit post 22 February 2011, I started studying for a Certificate of Business Administration (about 25 hours per week)and notified W.I.N.Z. Without telling me, despite asking, how to change my support, they cut the benefit and I only found out when I went to buy lunch one day and my EFTPOS card was declined – I had gone into overdraft because I was withdrawing money that I did not know that I didn’t have. After an argument with W.I.N.Z and another with Ministry of Social Development they put me on a student allowance, which – shock, horror – was actually worth $30 LESS per week than the unemployment benefit. I finished the C.B.A. and went back on the unemployment benefit just before Christmas 2011. For the two years I played a relentless game of cat and mouse – them trying to find a way of getting me off the benefit, and me staying one step ahead of them. It is not that I did not want to work – I was desperate to work, but the job market in post-earthquake Christchurch had essentially collapsed unless you were prepared to work in construction or hospitality, neither of which I thought I was capable of doing. When I finally got a job, it was no thanks to W.I.N.Z. and totally because of my own perseverance and a gentleman at Avis Budget Group being impressed by my ability to tough out a job.

But back to Metiria. She was admittedly between a rock and a hard place. She had bills to pay. She was certain her support would be cut if she told them the truth, which would have complicated her life considerably with her university degree and having to raise a daughter on top of expenses.

I don’t think there was any malicious intent in what she did then – or in admitting her past actions – but at the same time this is the kind of activity that has given National its licence to wage war on beneficiaries. And yes, she should pay back the money anyway.